Photo by Iakov Kalinin
One summer afternoon when I was 18, I was standing in a long line at the Dairy Queen behind a girl in a raspberry polka-dot sundress fantasizing about the freckles on her sunburned shoulders. Suddenly, she turned and asked me what my favorite flavor was. Her vibrant blue eyes startled me. “Uh … bu … butterscotch,” I stammered. Hers, too, she said.
After that, we saw each other almost every day. She was a local. I was a summer cabin kid. We went fishing, water-skiing, golfing, berry-picking and to the drive-in movies.
On Labor Day, our last day together, she suggested we climb the Bena Hill Fire Tower to watch the sunset and the stars come out.
Driving to the tower, she must have sensed I was a little afraid of heights. “It’s not that scary,” she said. “I go up there sometimes to get away.” She was more adventurous than me, one of the many reasons why I liked her so much. I knew I was going to miss her something crazy, this summer girl with the vibrant blue eyes.
She went first up the tower’s narrow iron ladder. Hanging on to the ladder with one hand, she swatted away flocks of mosquitoes with the other. About halfway up, the mosquitoes mysteriously departed. “What if it’s locked?” I wondered aloud.
“Don’t worry about stuff before you have to,” she said.
The deck was open and we sat down facing the sun with our backs resting against the fire ranger’s observation cabin. Sitting high above the vast forest and looking at the distant lake, I swore I could see the rim of the Earth. I felt as if something magical were about to happen.
At the last moment of sunlight when the sun kissed the horizon goodnight, I shifted my body and turned to kiss her. Suddenly, she pointed over my shoulder and said, “Look! The Green Flash.”
This sunset phenomenon Jules Verne once wrote about – as giving you the ability to see into people’s hearts – was an event almost as momentous as kissing a girl. But I had missed it – “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.
Back at the cabin, we sat on the dock and talked late into the night about everything and nothing, about our college plans and about getting together during Christmas vacation. Across the lake, shimmering curtains of red and green northern lights rose and fell along with my heart. The lake breeze was cool and I took off my letter sweater and put it around her shoulders. When she pulled her long auburn hair out from under the collar, I took her hands in mine, pulled her up, and kissed her goodbye. “Until Christmas then,” I said.
I wrote her almost every day that fall, until she stopped writing back.
Sometimes when I’m at the beach with my grandson, I watch for The Green Flash. And sometimes, I think about that summer girl with the vibrant blue eyes in the raspberry polka-dot sundress.
Paul Sullivan has never met a cabin he didn’t like.