Kate sat at the end of the north pier and looked out to where the too-blue sky met the too-blue horizon. Green swells pushed their way down the channel toward the Yacht Club and the drawbridge. Sunlight lay hot on her left thigh. A lake breeze from the north lifted the hair off her forehead. Down the sweep of the shoreline to the south, the nuclear plant billowed steam above the bluffs. The red lighthouse across the channel shimmered in the heat.
“Can we walk around to the south pier?” her son, Tommy had asked that morning as they stood on the beach. Sunlight surrounded them, but the fog had not yet burned off the lake.
“You can’t even see it yet,” Kate said.
“We should go to the craft fair in the park,” her daughter Susie said. She filled her multicolored tin pail with water and poured it on Kate’s feet.
“Can I go out on the pier and take a picture of the lighthouse with my new phone?” Tommy said.
Kate pointed, “Look at the fog, the mist.” At the water’s edge the flat waves rattled the gravel, and ten feet farther out the lake disappeared under a white shroud, “Let’s wait till Aunt Amy is up and has had her coffee. Till the mist rises.” This would be their last year at Sleepy Hollow.
Tommy said, “Susie doesn’t care about the craft fair. She just wants a funnel cake or an elephant ear.”
“Elephant ear!” Susie echoed, dipping another pailful of cold morning lake water.
After lunch Kate and her sister Amy took the children and walked south along the beach toward South Haven. The day was hot and the children splashed in and out of the cold lake. As they drew closer to the condos with the swimming pool, the oversized houses, and the fences marking the private beaches, the last of the mist lifted and they could see the red lighthouse on the south pier.
“Why doesn’t it light up at night?” Susie asked.
“Nobody on the lake needs it now,” Tommy said; “Everybody’s got radar and GPS.”
“Not everyone,” Kate said, trying to keep the peace.
“So we do need it,” Susie said, swinging her pail.
“We need it because it reminds us of how things used to be,” Aunt Amy said.
“Before me?” Susie asked.
“Before you, before Tommy, before your Mommy, before me—before all of us.”
Susie looked down at the sand, “Before Daddy?”
“Oh, yes,” Kate said.
“He’s gone,” Tommy said; “Like the light.”
“But we still need both,” Kate said; “Like Aunt Amy said. To remind us of how things used to be.”
They stopped at the public beach in front of Packard Park, where there were picnic tables and restrooms. Susie trotted off up the hot sand to the stairs.
Tommy jeered, “Susie has to go to the bathroom! Susie has to go to the bathroom!” But he followed his sister all the same.
“I’ll take them to the craft fair,” Amy said; “For elephant ears and string bracelets. You go have a moment to yourself.”
So here she was, sitting on the hot cement at the end of the north pier, watching the lake stretch blue and dark-blue to the horizon. They would be back in other years. Just not like this. But no matter what, the lake would always be there. And there was the red lighthouse across the channel, reminding her of how things used to be, of things we need.