Wednesday, July 7, 2010

People They Come Together. People They Fall Apart

It's the first week of August at Macatawa, and the sun is setting.  We rent a cottage up here for one week nearly every summer, and we lucked out this year by getting into one right on the waterfront.  As we gather on the front porch to watch the sun dip under the horizon, someone says, "The Perseids start tonight."  The meteor shower.  We've been here almost a full week - we know how dark it gets out here on the beach, when the only light for ages is Big Red, the lighthouse at the end of the channel.  We scurry upstairs to grab our sweatshirts, pillows, and extra blankets, and run out onto the sand.

Well, most of us run.  I put a stick through the heel of my bare foot almost immediately, and hobble after the rest of them, trying to keep the stinging sand out of the wound.

We spread our blankets out half-way to the water line, away from the row of cottages lining the beach front, and especially away from Party House next door, their CD player, and their endless supply of Pearl Jam albums.  The sand swallows most noise - all we hear is the gentle brush of water against the shore.  We lose the light quickly out here, where there are no street lamps or traffic lights, just the steady flash of the lighthouse above our heads.  The lake is empty as far as our eyes can see - most of the day sailors have called it quits for the night - but Big Red spins dutifully on.  You never know what might come ambling in or out on this clear summer night.

It's cold out here, and we pull our blankets tighter around our shoulders while we wait.  And wait.  And wait.  

"Are we sure this is tonight?"

"That's what the paper said."

"If they don't show up soon..."

"Is that one?"

"That's a plane."

It's like that for a while.  The group of us smooshed together on the blankets, one of us with her foot stuck in the air, staring into the night sky, waiting for something, anything, to happen.  And then: 

"There's one!" someone cries, excitedly.  And the rest of us twist our heads around on our blankets, asking, "Where?" and they who saw the star points their finger up at the night sky as if to say, "It went that-a-way!"  

It's a silly thing to do, really.  The star's not there any more, and it's certainly not coming back, but our eyes are fixed on that spot as if maybe, just maybe, it might double 'round and surprise us all.

"There's one!"

"Where?"

"There."

"Where there?"

"Well, it's not there now."

"Then why am I - ooh!  There's one!"

And suddenly, it's as if the night remembers that we're down here, all of us.  The stars come quickly and freely, blue-white fire burning hot trails across the sky and disappearing into the dark blue after.  It's the closest thing to magic I've ever seen.  

We stay there, watching and pointing, until it gets too cold, even for stars.  We pack up and wander back to the cottage, where there are band-aids, and s'mores over the barbeque.

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