The flash of pink caught the rush of foamy white water, disappeared for a moment, swallowed whole, then emerged again, spinning in the foam pile, rushing backwards into the falls to disappear again, pop up and swirl back in.
“Junior!” I yelled. “Junior, get out of there!”
I scrambled down the rocks to the edge of Recollet Falls and watched Frank Jr. swirl in the foam, tossed up, drowned, spit out, shoved back in again and again, just a few feet away, but out of reach in the swirling hole of whitewater.
It wasn’t the Flamingo I was worried about. He’d volunteered to run the falls for the group after we decided to portage it. He knew the risks. It was the rope that Junior had yanked out of my hands, that was the problem.
I’d sent Junior down because I wanted to see if I’d read the water right. I thought the hole at the bottom would be sticky and I’d tied the rope around him to pull him out if It was. Now it was in there with him, swirling in the nastiest of spots.
It was stupid of me. I should have held on or tied it to something. I knew it as soon as I felt it disappear between my fingers. Now I had to get it out.
I grabbed my paddle and and reached as far as I dared, leaning over the water. Junior swirled by, inches from the blade, but never close enough to touch. I felt dizzy over the current and pulled back, staring at the pink flamingo spinning and diving in the water.
“Come on Junior!” I yelled. “Get out of there. Come on.”
He looked so small caught under the rapid, just a smear of pink spinning in the foam, the rope still tied around his body. I stood and watched for five minutes. Feeling like an idiot. Hating myself for such a dumb, dangerous mistake. Knowing the only path to redemption lay in the hands of a plastic pink flamingo.
I felt bad for all the times I made fun of him.
“Frank at least holds my ropes,” I’d tell people. “And he once got me a slice of key like pie. Junior doesn’t do anything, just sits there and rides around for free. Kids are lazy these days.”
It’s probably what made him volunteer for the job. That, Frank Senior’s quiet disappointment in his son, or Ali’s constant threats to “eat the freeloader.” Whatever did it, Junior had volunteered and there he was, stuck in a hole, reminding me of my failure to hold the rope every time his pink head touched the surface.
“Come on, Junior, come on!” I yelled because there wasn’t much else to do.
Then Junior popped up, pink surrounded by white, spun back, surged forward on a rush of water, caught an eddy line, and escaped, rope and all, down the river. I stared at him for a moment, not quite believing, then cheered.
“Yea, Junior!” I yelled, running to the boat and throwing it into the water. “We’re coming for you! We’re coming for you! Hang on, hang on!”
Frank, Ali, and I jumped on board and slipped out of an eddy after Junior. We found him floating calmly a hundred yards down the river, the rope still attached to his belly, smiling.
“You did it, Junior!” I said. “You did it.”
I stashed him back in the boat, vowing to never complain about him not doing anything again, knowing that in one glorious moment, he’d earned his place as part of the crew.
“Welcome aboard, son,” Frank said.
Ali just nodded and smiled like alligators do.