The sun set in November, we’ll feel it again come May.
During the short, dark days of the year, Lake Michigan changes its personality.
In June, the waves lick your ankles like a house cat, comforting and soft on the skin.
In December, the white-laced swells of summer are gone; in their place the waves roll shoreward in slow motion, thick with blocks of ice.
In January, the waves barely undulate, flattened by large ice sheets that crunch under each other, moaning with a bone-breaking murmur.
In February, the water doesn’t move at all, and you can walk as far toward the horizon as your courage will carry you.
For no reason at all other than enjoying the painful challenge of it, Jason Wills walked home along the edge of Lake Michigan, pushing against unceasing winter winds that scream out of the north in loud, cold bellows. He headed north from downtown, into the wind, walking on the huge concrete embankment that keeps Lake Shore Drive from sliding Lake Michigan.
It wasn’t quite March, so the water still moved, though reluctantly. Chunky waves collided into and collapsed over each other like one would expect ice cubes to do in God’s highball when He sits alone in His armchair swirling, swirling His drink.
Jason kept a safe distance from the Widow’s Edge – the portion of the wide embankment where the waves smashed into the retaining wall, sprayed in the air and froze to the concrete in thin sheets of fatal icing. Like a good story, the Widow’s Edge is the point where you fall in and there is no coming back.
The negative-temperature winds slapped Jason’s thighs numb. He turned around quickly, feeling that someone was behind him. But nobody was there. Nobody walked out on Oak Street Beach at midnight in below zero weather.
The moon and stars had retired to bed by then, giving the rest of the night to the icy winds and low clouds, which began to blot out from sight the pink neon sign atop The Drake Hotel. The groan of nonstop ice collisions drifted out of the darkness, like the sound of a neighbor’s domestic argument close enough to hear, but not understand.
Jason turned back into the wind to continue walking home, but he was instantly gasped out of shock. Someone was there after all, just as he had thought seconds ago. There were no other people out by the water at this time of night. Fifteen feet away stood a young black man – maybe a college student, possibly high school – balancing on the Widow’s Edge. He wore a Bulls jacket, puffy, like it was inflated, and a black fleece hat with a red dragon embroidered on the front. But Jason only remembered those things afterward, when he had time to think and grow more scared.
Jason’s eyes were riveted to this guy’s face, not his clothes. While Jason was surprised and this a little scared; this other guy was terrified, his eyes wide as bus windows and he stood hesitantly on the icy edge of the embankment.
“Hey!” Jason yelled waving him away from the edge. “Watch it!”
The young black man turned his back to Jason and stepped forward. A rush of water spouted high into the air, escaping like a bird from a cage.
“Jesus!” Jason yelled, running toward the edge.
Blocks of ice the size of tabletops and dining room chairs crashed together in muffled power.
“Help!” Jason yelled, turning around.
“Anyone? Help!” He spun around again.
Help. He needed help. Where’s an officer?
Nobody was there.
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