(I entered this story in a writing contest for a fund-raiser to restore the South Haven south pier head light. The story didn’t win first place, but it was published anyway. Here it is, slightly altered. That’s the trouble with stories; they’re never quite finished.)
(c) 2015 by Don Bemis
It was a perfect day for a sunset. Scattered purple clouds trimmed with red and gold drifted high above sparkling waves. Vapor trails streaked the bright August sky like comets bound to and from Chicago. If one looked closely, one might see the flash of reflected sunlight from an airplane at the point of a stripe.
Cruisers and sailboats dotted the lake. The Friends Goodwill presided over them, its puffed sails and flapping pennants dark against the sky. The long, low line of the pier, topped by black filigree of an iron catwalk, directed eyes from shore to the red South Pier Light. On shore, photographers lined the bluff and the beach forty feet below.
Clusters of sightseers ambled westward on both the North and South Piers, drawn like moths toward the setting sun.
I was a moth that day. Family friends, up from the Southwest, had to see the lake. We walked out the South Pier, grownups to the right along the channel rail, and kids chugging like a train down the middle beneath the catwalk arches. Fishermen sat along the left edge, casting out and reeling in, but rarely catching anything. Ducks in the channel congregated below anybody willing to toss food.
We finally reached the pier’s end. Seventy miles to Chicago, ninety to Milwaukee, and nothing in between but water. To the left, more water. To the right, the river channel, North Pier, and water. Half a mile behind, South Haven. Looming over us, the light. A hundred or so strangers milled about, conversing in multiple languages. Garb ranged from barely legal to Old World All-Encompassing. Irrespective of dress, arms waved cellphones like amulets, catching pictures.
“Where do all these people come from?” our she-friend asked.
“Kalamazoo. Indiana. But Chicago, mostly,” I replied.
“For this. This, blueberries, and ice cream.”
She wasn’t convinced. “You can’t get blueberries and ice cream in Chicago? They could watch a sunrise from Navy Pier for a lot less money.”
“True, but our sunsets come at a more sensible hour.”
The sensible hour arrived. The solar orb flattened on the bottom, as if it didn’t want to get wet. Finally, though, it touched the line of the horizon. Slowly, but perceptibly, it began to sink from view. One almost expected to see steam.
Halfway point. The sky was changing color, especially the clouds. The Friends Goodwill sailed directly between sun and pier. A hundred cameras clicked.
The sun was down to a sliver. Anybody with a camera was hard at work, trying to capture a sensation that really couldn’t be captured. A few folk without cameras watched the real show instead of three inches of screen. The fishermen, paying no attention, cast and reeled, cast and reeled.
The crowd quieted. The sun, so reluctant to get its feet wet, was even less willing to disappear. Finally, there was only a yellow slit on the horizon, and it popped out of view.
The audience applauded.
The he-friend was incredulous. “Are you kidding?” he asked.
“No, they do it every time there’s a decent sunset, but it doesn’t do any good. There’s never an encore.”
“I suppose not. What happens next?”
“Nothing. The show’s over.”
We started back toward town, but we didn’t get there. Not yet. A shout from the end of the pier stopped us. We turned to see what had happened.
A brilliant yellow stripe glowed on the horizon, right where the sun had set. It broadened and brightened until it no longer was a stripe, but the top of a shining arc. The sun slowly rose from the lake, just as it had descended. Minutes later, it cleared the horizon entirely. The light and catwalk again cast sharp shadows toward shore.
Everybody was silent. Nearly everybody stood stock still gaping at the sight. All but the fishermen, who cast and reeled, cast and reeled.
The sun shook itself dry like a wet dog, flinging streamers of clouds across the sky. Shadows jiggled in the bouncing light.
The shaking stopped. The sun again started down. First it flattened, then it dipped, and finally it winked from sight.
There was no applause this time. People were afraid to invite another appearance.
There also were no pictures. The stunned audience was so caught up in the event that nobody thought to take any.
And that is why nobody believes us.