"Found 'em!" The Skipper shouted as we neared camp. We were instantly set upon by a mob of concerned comrades. Neither the Skipper or I were given a chance to speak over the din of their rapid-fire inquiries.
Ginger set down a pair of island-made bongos as we approached the table. "Oh, no! Professor, what happened to your foot?"
"Are you okay? Is it broken?" Mary Ann asked.
"Professor, if you wanted to go for a ride we do have that quaint little bamboo car, you know."
"What in the name of J.P. Morgan happened here?"
The Skipper shouldered his way through them and set me carefully on the table. He dropped onto the bench and with a small groan touched his fingertips to his forehead. He was most certainly spent from hauling me for such distance but it was clear that his exhaustion was more than physical.
"I'm alright," I insisted in an attempt to compose my anxious friends. "Yes, it's broken. But not too badly, I believe."
"I daresay, Professor," Mr. Howell began. "I do hope you have good health insurance."
Mary Ann was the first to take note of the Skipper's disposition. "Are you okay, Skipper? You don't look so good either." Before he had an opportunity to respond her eyes widened as if suddenly interpreting his expression. She glanced worriedly around the clearing. "Where's Gilligan?"
"Good question." Mr. Howell said. "I was forced to golf today without a caddy. Nearly broke my back. That lad can be so inconsiderate."
I couldn't help but bristle at the remark, especially considering all I had recently learned about the young man. It was the Skipper, however, that spoke.
"Pipe down, Howell." He didn't look up as he gave the order, but continued to stare at his hands which were folded in front of him. "The Professor's got something to say." He glanced at me briefly before lowering his head again. "Tell them what you told me...about Gilligan."
The somber tone of his voice elicited an immediate response.
Mary Ann's face turned ashen and for a brief moment I feared she would faint. "Oh dear! What happened? He...he's alright isn't he?
Ginger's hand went to her mouth. "Is he hurt?"
Mr. Howell's brows came together in concern and irritation. "For heaven sake, Professor! Surely a broken foot doesn't cause laryngitis! Where is the boy?"
"The poor boy hasn't fallen into one of those nasty quicksand traps has he?"
I held both hands up, again trying to ebb the tide of anxiety. "He's fine. Don't worry. He's fine. He simply decided not to accompany us back to camp."
There was a unified sigh.
"Dash it all, Captain! What's the meaning of scaring us like that?"
Before the Skipper had a chance to respond to Mr. Howell's demanding query I continued. "However, there is something about Gilligan that I must tell you." Once again, I felt rather awkward discussing something of this magnitude openly, without Gilligan's consent. However, knowledge of his difficulty could prove essential in a death-dealing situation. So I told them. I divulged everything I knew about the disorder and my reasons for diagnosing our young friend.
When I had finished there was a long silence.
Then Mary Ann exclaimed, tears slipping down her cheeks: "Oh! Poor Gilligan!"
Ginger looked pointedly distressed, biting back tears as well. "All this time we've been chewing him out for something he couldn't help. I don't know about the rest of you but I feel like an absolute villain."
"No need for insults." Mr. Howell interjected. "However, it does seem I've misjudged the boy. Perhaps some kind of retraction is in order."
Mrs. Howell tapped a thoughtful finger on her chin. "Perhaps we could buy him a pair of glasses. It would make him look much more studious, you know."
Despite the gravity of the conversation I couldn't help but be amused. "I'm afraid glasses won't help, Mrs. Howell. Although the condition affects eyesight it essentially stems from the brain."
"Oh, gosh." Mary Ann sat heavily on the bench. "It must have been awful. What did Gilligan say? Do you think that's why he ran off?"
I shook my head. "I haven't told him yet."
"You've got to tell him, Professor." Ginger said. "He has the right to know."
"I know. I'm...just not sure how to go about it."
"It's not good for sure. But you've given him worse news than this." Ginger said.
I let out a long breath. It was true, I have had to divulge more unpleasant announcements than this. However, the nature of this news was somewhat different from telling the others the island was sinking or the transmitter couldn't be repaired. In fact, the more I considered it the news wasn't exactly detrimental to Gilligan. He was accustomed to his condition and knowledge of it wasn't going to change his sight. But it could easily alter his perception of himself and the world around him and that alone made the message I had to deliver somewhat delicate.
Ginger glanced into the jungle for a moment as if expecting Gilligan to appear at any moment. Then she took in a small determined breath. "When he gets back you can tell him. First we've got to do something about your foot. I'll get the first aid book."
Mary Ann nodded in agreement. "I'll get some bandages."
Mrs. Howell twiddled her fingers excitedly. "I'll go change into something white."
I walked around for a long time, just thinking. I did find something I thought the Professor would like. It wasn't going to fix what had happened but I thought it might make him feel a little better.
It was awhile after lunch when I finally started back to camp. I really didn't want to go back becauze I knew that every one was going to be mad. But I couldn't stay away forever and by that time I was starved. I was hoping to kinda sneak into camp without anyone noticing but it didn't quite work that way.
The Skipper saw me as soon as I stepped out of the bushes. I was expecting to be in trouble, for him to holler at me.
"Gilligan, Little Buddy! Where have you been? You just wandered off." He came over real quick and I thought I was going to get whacked over the head again. I knew I had it comin. Insted he put a big hand on my shoulber. He looked upset...not mad but upset.
"Well, I put the ladder and the Professor's stuff in the supply hut." I shrugged a little, not too sure what else to say and wondering why I wasn't getting bawled out. "Um...is there somethin wrong, Skipper?"
"Yeah, there is. I was pretty hard on you yesterday about that laundry business." He took his hat off and brushed his hair back and looked at the ground.
"That's okay. I should have been watchin where I was going."
"It wasn't your fault. Even if it was I shouldn't have blown my stack like that. Especially considering..." He stopped a second to swallow. He looked like he was going to cry! "Well, I just want you to know that I'm really sorry."
I thought my ears weren't working! The Skipper hardly ever appologizes to me about anything and never over just a little yelling. Usually when he feels bad about something he'll take me fishing or set up a game of checkers but actually saying he's sorry...well, it was something I never exqected. I didn't even know what to say!
I didn't get a chance to say anything anyway becauze Mary Ann, Ginger and the Howell's appeared out of nowhere.
"Oh, Gilligan! There you are!" Mary Ann was the first to come up. Before I knew it she hugged me around the neck and kissed me! I thought I was gonna choke. "I was worried about you."
"Y...you were? How come?"
Mrs. Howell stepped infront of me and looked me over with that glasses-on-a-stick thing she carries around. "His eyes look fine to me."
Now I was really confused. "My eyes?"
"Lovey!" Mr. Howell said, like she had said something that she wasn't supposed to. He kinda scooted her behind him before talking to me. "What my dear wife is trying unsuccessfully to say is that perhaps we acted a bit harshly during that whole laundry mishap yesterday. And your debt is hereby canceled."
I wasn't quite sure but I think he was saying he was sorry. Mr. Howell and the Skipper both appologizing to me? I couldn't believe it! I thought it was a dream!
Before I knew it Ginger came up behind me grabbed me by both arms and kissed me. I was too confused to try and get away. "What was that for?"
"Oh, Gilligan. I never realised you were so misunderstood."
"Huh?" Either I was going crazy or every body else was.
Mary Ann took my hand. "The Professor told us about-"
Before she had a chance to finish the Skipper pulled me back a bit so I wasn't in the middle of every body. I couldn't figure it out! If the Professor told them everything how come they weren't mad? "Gilligan, Little Buddy. The Professor's got something he needs to tell you." He gave me a little shove toward the supply hut.
I gulped. That didn't sound good.
There was a tentative knock on the door. "Yes?"
The door opened slowly and Gilligan hesitantly peeked inside. "Hey, Professor."
"Gilligan! Come in." I beckoned him in with a wave and set my pen and journal on the table.
Gilligan swallowed hard and stepped inside. He seemed reluctant to meet my eyes, although he did glance at the large cast that now encased my foot. "How ya doin'?"
"Fine. Just catching up on some writing." I nodded vaguely at my journal
"Oh." He shifted uncomfortably for a moment. "Um...I brought you something." He opened his hand to reveal a long brown feather with a white tip and several small yellow ones. "Doreen is molting and I thought you might like these for your book. You know, so when we get rescued you can prove you saw her."
I could scarcely contain my excitement as he set the delicate plumes into my hand. I was overcome by the history that I was holding. "Gilligan, these are wonderful!" I held them up and looked each over in turn. Pulling my journal from the table I flipped through it until I found an empty page toward the back. Delicately I placed the feathers between the leaves and closed the book over them. "The history of ornithology owes you a great debt. And so do I."
Gilligan shrugged a bit self-consciously. "Aw, it's just a few feathers. No big deal."
I shook my head. "That's not what I mean. Your courage last night and this morning was quite commendable."
He looked puzzled. "It was? I don't remember doin' anything brave. I was scared to death the whole time."
"Gilligan, bravery is not the lack of fear. It's being afraid and doing it anyway."
He looked down as he shuffled his feet. "It doesn't matter. There weren't really any headhunters."
"There's a wise old expression, Gilligan: 'It's the thought that counts'. You didn't know that it was only Ginger and neither did I."
I knew I was blushing. I didn't deserve all that credit. But it was kinda nice to hear. At least I knew that he wasn't mad at me for everything. The Professor's a real swell guy.
"Um...the Skipper said you wanted to see me for something."
"Yes. I do." He looked a little uncomfortable for a minute like he had to say something that he didn't really want to. "Do you remember last night when you told me that in school your teachers told said your work was often mixed up, backward?"
"Well, I believe that you really do see things backward."
I shrugged it wasn't anything I hadn't heard before. "People have been tellin me that for years."
He shook his head and told me that he meant it litterally. That I see wrong.
I laughed at that. "Professor, I've got great eyesight. Even the Skipper says so. I can see those sea mark buoys way before he can. You know, it's funny, I can see just fine but I never do score well on those eye charts."
That's when he told me that I don't see bad just different. I didn't think that made much sense. He said that the reason I don't read good is becauze there's somethin in my head that switches what I see around.
I didn't know what to say. I didn't know what to think. I didn't know what to feel. I didn't even know if I believed him. If it was anybody else I woulda thought they were playing some kind a mean joke. But the Professor wouldn't do that.
That meant that all this time, since I was a little kid, that I was seeing things different from everyone else? How come I didn't know? How come nobody told me before? If I'da knew maybe I would have done things different. It felt like I didn't know myself at all and it was scary.
But it also meant that I really wasn't as dumb, becauze I couldn't read good. I didn't know weither to believe it but it sounded real nice.
But he could be wrong. He was wrong about the drums.
"Are you sure? I mean really sure? How could you know?"
"Well, I've been observing you and-"
Observing me? I didn't like the sound of that. He must have saw it on my face cuz he interrupted himself.
"Don't take it personally. I do it to everybody. I guess it's kind of an occupational disease."
I nearly choked! In a second I forgot all about what he had just told me. "A disease? Oh, Professor that's terrible! What kind of disease? Are you going to be alright?"
I tried not to smile. One never knows what Gilligan will take literally. "I mean when you're a scientist you tend to study things more closely than others generally would. As I was saying; I've been observing you and you are a lot smarter than you think you are."
Gilligan looked surprised and embarrassed but somewhat dubious, as if he wasn't sure where this conversation would lead. "Um...gee, thanks Professor. But I'm sure I'd be a lot smarter if I'd had you for a teacher."
I couldn't help but smile at the praise. "Actually, Gilligan, that's exactly what I wanted to talk to you about. I have a proposition for you."
The first mate's brows furrowed in a puzzled expression. Then he shrugged and held out a hand. "Well, as long as it's nothin' big. The Skipper says if I bring any more junk into our hut he'll throw it all out and me with it."
"Gilligan, a proposition is a suggestion."
"Oh. Well, I guess that wouldn't take up much room." He grinned, clearly proud of the joke.
I gave him a smile of acknowledgment, even though I was quite uncertain how to go about presenting my offer. It was a delicate question and I did not want the young man to think I was insulting his intelligence for that was the last thing I wished to do. However, I have always found that, scientifically as well as metaphorically, a straight line is the shortest route between two points and the direct approach is generally the most logical course. "Gilligan, would you like me to be your teacher?"
His brows came together in a look of perplexity. "What do you mean?"
"You said yourself there are things you missed in school. If you like I could help you. I'm qualified to teach up to twelfth grade history and even higher math and science."
He stared at me for a long moment with an expression I could not quite interpret. But it was clear he was pondering something deeply. Finally he shrugged and gave me a wry smile. "I don't know Professor. I didn't learn all that stuff the first time I probably couldn't learn it again."
"There are other ways of learning besides textbooks." I insisted, not prepared to let him give up so easily. "Charts, illustrations, stories, games, they can all be educational tools."
He perked up slightly. "Games?" He thought about it for a moment. "Do you really think I could learn all that stuff?"
"Certainly. If you want to."
"I'd like that. But my neighbor Scotty O'Hara got a personal teacher once and it cost his mom a bundle. I could never pay you back, Professor."
"I'll tell you what. You can introduce me to all your animal friends and we'll call it even. Deal?" I extended a hand.
A smile swiftly engulfed his face. He seized my hand and pumped it vigorously. "Deal!"
"Okay, Gilligan, for your first class go get the checkerboard from that shelf over there, and the box beside it too."
He did as he was told and set both items on the small table at my bedside. "But I already know how to play checkers."
"And very well at that. But this isn't checkers. It's chess."
Gilligan began to protest. "I couldn't learn that. Chess is for-"
"Gilligan if you insult your own intelligence one more time I'm docking your grade."
The first mate clamped his mouth shut.
"Pull up a chair." As he did so the I began pulling chess pieces from the box, and held each one up for him to inspect. "This is your king, queen, knights-"
Gilligan laughed, picking up one of the pieces. "Sounds just like a fairy tale."
I couldn't help but smile. "Just like a fairy tale."
The Professor taught me how to play chess. I thought I could never learn something with so many rules like that. But he was really nice, even when I kept making mistakes. It's hard to rememder that each of those pieces moves different, but I think I've got it figured out now. Even though I lost every game he says that I'm good at it. I'm not so sure, but it was fun anyhow.
He says that when his foot is better we can go on walks and he'll teach me about the plants and stuff on the island. But tomorrow he says he's going to tell me all about this place called Rome and the people that used to live there a long time ago. He says it's really exciting.
I wish all teachers were like him. He gets excited about stuff and he doesn't get mad when I don't understand things. He just explains it different.
Every one else has been aweful nice to me today too. The Skipper says that he's gonna try to give clearer orders and Mr. Howell says he wants to teach me book keeping. I don't know what good that'll do me because I don't own that many books, well, except my comic books. And he couldn't care less about them. Mrs. Howell said that I can borrow Mr. Howell's glasses any time I want. I'm not sure why but it's nice of her. Mary Ann is making her coconut crème pie for dessert tonight and Ginger says she's gonna sing some songs from the Mosquitoes! This day started out rotten but it really turned around.
Gilligan frowned at the words he had written. His penmanship looked like a third-grader's. But he didn't care, not anymore. The Professor said it would get better. His gaze shifted from the page to the rippling lagoon and he stuck the pockmarked end of the pencil in his mouth and chewed thoughtfully. After a long moment he made one more entry.
I don't think I'll ever meet anyone smarter than the Professor. But he's not just smart. He's my friend. Maybe I shouldn't say this but I'm kinda glad that we got shipwrecked so I could get to know him.
The Professor stared down at the black script for a long moment, brushing the feather pen against his chin as he read over the entry. Keeping one finger on that page he thumbed through the large tome until he came to a page where several bright yellow feathers were pressed between the sheets. He lifted one, fingering it delicately before replacing it and returning to the written entry. Dipping the quill pen in his little bamboo inkewell he once again touched the tip to the page:
I have made many marvelous discoveries on this remarkable island. But none so moving as the one I made that dark night just speaking with a friend.
Author's Note: Thank you callensensei for your invaluable beta reading!