He had six bags of colored sand, each taken from a different beach on Lake Michigan, the ones he knew were her favorites. Some 120 pounds in total he had filtered through a screen and dyed with large pouches of food coloring. There was blue, red, purple, another blue, black and yellow, plus a sixth, larger bag of sand-colored sand.
This sixth bag was the first he emptied, spreading it along the road in front of their home in a thick line where the yard met the pavement. Next he emptied out the first bag of blue sand, in a line that followed the first, covering the near third of the road. He further thickened this with two-thirds of the second bag of blue sand, setting the rest aside for later.
The neighbors were crowding around their lawns as he began to pour out the black sand, using less than half of the bag to make a thin line bordering the blue. He had pulled a permit to block off the road directly in front of his yard for a vaguely defined social event. As the barricades didn’t block anyone’s driveway but his own, providing a very minor inconvenience for the slow suburban street, none of his neighbors had cared to complain when they’d received postcards from the city notifying them of the pending closure, though several wondered why they were not invited to the block party. No one had asked in the weeks since, but now they shouted their cheeful inquisitions, carefully minding the lines of the barricade.
He politely acknowledged their questions as he walked the still bare third of the street with the bag of yellow sand, looking for the ideal spot. He explained only that it was a surprise and time was of the essence.
He dumped out all of the yellow sand in a spot directly in line with their master bedroom window. Atop of this he threw a handful of the red sand.
Lastly, he spread all of the purple and remaining red, blue and black on the road until it was completely covered from the edge of his yard to the Johnsons’ across the street. Satisfied, he went inside to see his wife.
“I don’t think I’ve seen you all day,” she says, her voice hoarse from the respirator. “Is that sand on you? Have you been going to the beach without me?”
In answer he turned her bed toward the window. It was nearly dusk, but not quite. Dark enough for the yards and houses to have grown shadows. There were no street lights on, nor were the barricades’ blinking safety lights visible. More then enough light to bring out the colors of the sand.
Although he had never been a great painter, he was practiced enough with the colors of the scene. Far from perfect, the view below their bedroom window was a reasonable approximation. There was the dune sand beach and the crisp blue waters, the thin line of the horizon, the big, bright, yellow-orange sun, and the melting purple-red color of the sky.
“Oh,” she said. “Oh my.”
As forecast, there was a thunderstorm overnight that washed the scene away into the sewer, where the sediment would soon find its way back to the beaches from which they came. It would take only minutes for his sunset to reach the river, and but a day for it to empty into the Great Lake.
That morning he cleared the barricades away and despite his best efforts, regretted that he had not been the type of provider that could give his wife a home on the lakeshore she so loved, where she could see the sunset every night the clouds allowed. Few are, he knew, yet it was no comfort at all.
Nine days later he brought his wife to her six favorite beaches one last time, a few hours walking along each, finally ending the long day at her most beloved spot just before dusk. It was perhaps the most beautiful sunset he had ever seen, the colors too vibrant for his memories to ever give justice. When they had faded to the dull of early night, he dumped his bag of gray onto the beach just ahead of the water line, where he knew the tide would shortly rise and take his wife away.
Daniel Schoonmaker lives and writes in West Michigan. His wife tells him he’s very good at both. He is also an environmental activist, journalist, and occasional winner of small-town writing competitions.