Sharon Frame Gay grew up a child of the highway, playing by the side of the road. Her work can be found in several anthologies, as well as BioStories, Gravel Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Literally Stories, Halcyon Days, Frontier Tales, Mid American Fiction and Photography, Write City, Literally Orphans and others. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee.
4th of July at Birch Lake, Michigan
The old Century outboard pulled away from the dock in the late afternoon, heading into the sun, across the lake, to the celebration at the cove in the meadow. I sat in the back, the light smell of gasoline mingling with the slight essence of trout as droplets of water splashed along the bow, spilling over my trailing hand. Behind us, the cottage was draped in shadow, towering trees crouched, holding it safe until our return.
Peering down into the water, I saw only sun shafts, striking into the green depths, 100 ft or more, mysterious and thick, until we reached the shallows, where the sandy bottom showed itself, rocks leading a cobbled path to the shore.
We jumped out, securing the boat with an anchor on dry land, storming the beach like pirates, food, jackets and shoes in hand, ready to celebrate 4th of July in 1959.
Others were gathered around tables, late pinpoints of sun dappling their faces, warming the wooden benches. Several grills were smoking, sizzling with hamburgers and hot dogs. A separate table groaned with relish, beans, and salads on a checkered cloth under a lofty birch. Hopeful dogs sidled under the tables, searching for dropped morsels, or a handout.
I took our cobs down to the water, and washed them, the corn silk wrapping around my hands like seaweed. Minnows were curious as the strands floated above their heads, their mouths opening and closing in amazement. I folded Folding the ears back into the husks, they were brought to the grill, where they were placed among the coals, sizzling in protest. Later, the husks were peeled back, the ears dipped in melted butter, liquid sunshine, dripping down our hands, our lips.
The lake called to me and I couldn't resist, kicking off my shoes, diving into the coolness, exploring a part of the cove I didn’t know yet by heart, reveling in the foreign feel of new sand, a different view across the water. Above, the meadow sloped upwards into the trees, smooth and verdant, a wooden bowl cradling the ancient place, its ancient secrets.
Lifetimes ago, a runaway slave wagon was pushed into the depths by raiders one January day, drowning those aboard seeking only freedom on their way North. The wagon slid deep under a ledge on a rocky promontory, an end to liberty, swallowed up in icy darkness. I thought I heard old bones crackle and ghostly soulful dirges as waves lapped the rocks. My skin under the water looked darker. Almost black. I turned back towards the beach, wading ashore, water tugging at my ankles. The breeze on wet flesh sent shivers up my spine.
The sun fell in fatigue, the heat beating it down behind the hills, and soon we donned jackets and shoes, stepping over rocks, finding blankets on the ground. The night sky exploded in fireworks – colors blinding the retina, then falling fallow into soothing waters, their life, like a Mayfly’s – sudden, beautiful, and abrupt. We sent out cries of delight, pointing at bursts of light, battling the slivered moon for dominance, and winning.
We held sparklers in our hands, writing our names in loops that started and ended with the hissing of ember, soon to be forgotten in the night sky. Older boys tossed firecrackers at our feet, making us dance like marionettes. Freedom comes so easily. We tipped our heads back and laughed, unfettered in our youth, our innocence.
The bonfires burned down, just right for toasting marshmallows. Impatient, I toasted mine into charred darkness, then marveled at the sweet melted insides that seared my mouth, leaving the slight tang of the hickory twig on my tongue. The sound of fireworks gave way to the songs of locusts, as fireflies put on their own display.
We pulled up anchor and headed back across the water, inky and thick, the boat slicing through the fabric of the day, heading east with sticky fingers and tousled hair, furled in colored towels like flags at half-mast.
It was the last 4th of July at the cottage for us – though little did we know that soon the water would trickle through our hands and we would find ourselves hurtling down desert highways with parched lips, the sound of lonesome tires replacing the lullaby of the waves.
We found our way back that night by dead reckoning, and I jumped into the cool shallows, leading the boat home to the dock, and into the future.~Sharon Fame Gay