One summer many years ago, the Rubins and the Berkowitzes were out on the porch of the house they rented on the Jersey Shore in Allenhurst. It was a moonless night and stars were rising out from beyond the fold of the horizon. Two constellations kept on growing, almost like trees.
Anthony Rubin watched the ocean. Each time another star popped over the horizon, he readjusted his idea of just what the shapes resembled.
First he saw something that looked like a big panther. Then the shape turned into a box kite.
Claudia Berkowitz lit a cigarette. She turned to Anthony's father and said, "Michael, you were a Boy Scout. Shouldn't you know the constellations?"
"He was too busy chasing Girl Scouts," said Jess Rubin, Anthony's mother.
Michael stood up and said, "Well, I can at least tell you what I learned from my great-uncle. He sold scrap metal. We used to visit him in Binghamton."
"Michael, you're drunk," said Jess. "Sit down."
Claudia smiled and said, "Wait, I want to hear this."
"These are the Yiddish constellations," Michael continued.
"Somebody stop him," said Claudia's husband, Douglas, but no one did.
Anthony's father raised his hand. He pointed up to a bright zigzag of four stars. "Right there," he said. "We can see the shiny belt of the Yenta, Miriam." He pointed lower, to a cluster of stars that looked like a falling teapot. "And below Miriam, down on the horizon. That's Ira Nusbaum, the Swindler. Good thing that bandit's 40,000 light-years away."
He moved his hand across the sky and then picked out another random cluster.
He said, "And here, to the north, we can see Maury, the Disappointment. This constellation was named after my third cousin, Maury Rosenthal. You'll always find it near the luminous Sophie Schatzberg, also known as the Great Kvetch."
He paused and Claudia chimed in, "Wait. I think I'm seeing Howie Grossman, the Great Schlemiel."
"That's very good," Michael said. "Do we all know the myth of Howie?"
"Michael, enough," said Jess.
Anthony saw that his mother's eyes were incandescing with silent anger. He wondered whether she was offended. She'd been raised Orthodox and had gone to a yeshiva as a girl. But she'd stopped going after sixth grade. She had renounced all that yeshiva had tried to teach her, not to mention her parents' orthodoxy. When asked, his mother always claimed to be an atheist, and so he could not fathom why the Yiddish constellations made her angry.
"Poor Howie dropped the Torah during his own bar mitzvah," Michael continued.
"Such a schlemiel," Claudia said, and raised her cigarette to her lips.
"To keep him out of temple on High Holidays, God gave Howie his own place in the night sky."
Jess yelled out, "Stop!"
She glared at Claudia and rose. She crossed the porch and descended the wooden stairs, down to the sand. Anthony's father followed after her. When he caught up with her they stood talking on the beach for a few seconds. Then Jess walked off and headed down the shoreline.
Anthony knew where she was going. In recent weeks she'd spent half of her time out on the jetty. She sat alone, watching the ocean. She sometimes sat so far out that she got drenched by the spray of waves. Anthony saw that his father was returning, a web of stars hanging directly above his head as he walked back. When he stepped onto the porch, he said, "She's fine. She's just going to the jetty." He grabbed his drink and went inside to wait for her in their room.
Later that night, Anthony and Jay Berkowitz were out wandering the Asbury Park boardwalk. It was just one beach away from Allenhurst, and the boys often went there several times a day. They were with their closest down-the-shore friends, Bradley Kalish and Andy Sullivan. They all played Skee-Ball for a while, then walked the boards, acting like jerks, as they often did.
Andy Sullivan was a studlong white-blond hair and blue eyes. Having him with them seemed to give the foursome license to talk to any pretty girls they saw. Not that they knew what to do when girls would actually respond. They were all thirteen, except Jay, who was eleven.
At some point they returned to Allenhurst, went down to the beach, and midget-wrestled. They had seen tag-team midget-wrestling on television. Now they had given themselves names. Jay was Wizard Eyes. Bradley was Laughing Man. Anthony was Puckhead and Andy was Dr. Death. They'd be announcers while they wrestled and always staged impossible situations. They would announce things such as, "Wizard Eyes, in a brilliant move, has ripped Dr. Death's arm off." Andy would then have to wrestle with one arm behind his back.
That night while wrestling, Anthony saw his mother. She'd just come off the nearest jetty and was walking back toward the house. He saw the stars in the sky above her. In some strange way his mother seemed like a constellation. He was about to run off after her, ask her why she got upset about the myth of Howie Grossman. Then Andy decked him. Jay jumped on top. He yelled, "And Puckhead is now crushed by a double dogpile!" Bradley dove in and yelled, "But Laughing Man...now mutilates Dr. Death and Wizard Eyes!" Anthony squirmed out from the pileup, rolled, and looked again for his mother. He tried to find her in the darkness, but she was gone.
During that summer they all became junior lifeguards. They got paid five dollars an hour. It was Andy's idea. His older brother, Shane, was the Allenhurst Beach lifeguard. Shane started out as a junior lifeguardat least, he claimed to have. Anthony couldn't remember there ever having been such a thing as the junior lifeguards in the past.
As junior lifeguards they didn't do much lifeguarding. From time to time, Shane would take one of them up on watch. Mostly he took Anthony's sister, Dani, who was fifteen and just starting to fill out her bikini. She got more lifeguarding instruction from Shane than anyone, though she wasn't an official junior lifeguard. She wouldn't take part in the main junior lifeguard dutycleaning the beach.
It was their job to get up at seven every morning and sweep the beach for whatever garbage the tide had brought in the night before. They'd get old sneakers, plastic bags, strange cans, occasionally a T-shirt. They also found lots of nonjunkpieces of coral, dead starfish, shells, and that amazing ocean phenomenon known as sea glass. They would find rounded, opaque glass in colors ranging from dark brown to green to lavender. Anthony always thought it miraculous that broken glass, pollution, could be transformed into these gems that lined the shore of Allenhurst Beach each morning.
One day they woke up and found tar balls. It seemed another amazing ocean phenomenon, but not something they really wanted to keep. The balls were sticky and gross, though they looked hard, almost like marbles, when they washed up in the tide line. All week long Anthony, Jay, Bradley, and Andy collected the balls with shovels. They gathered hundreds of balls each day, while never knowing what they were or where they came from.
One morning in July, they woke to find the beach covered with syringes. It made the news hundreds of plastic little syringes without needles. Apparently, they'd been illegally dumped at sea. The syringes were reported from Sandy Hook all the way to Manasquan.
People were frightened of the syringes, which came in heavy for a week or so. Barely anyone would show up on the beach. Each day the junior lifeguards collected bagsful. At first they had to turn them over to the Environmental Police. Then it became a kind of mission. From seven to eight each morning, Anthony gathered them up as if his life depended on it. Despite the fear most people had, he knew the empty syringes were quite harmless. He always trusted the magic of the ocean to make things safe.
One night the four boys were playing Skee-Ball at the arcade on the Asbury Park boardwalk. To his own stupefaction and even mild discomfort, Anthony found that he couldn't miss. He barely tried, it seemed, yet almost every ball he rolled up the ramp jumped gently and arced right into the small bull's-eye, worth fifty points.
During one game he scored a rare, perfect four hundred. The machine spit out a very long strip of win tickets. He turned uneasily to Bradley, who was playing in the lane next to him.
"Hey, check this out," Anthony said. "A perfect game."
Bradley rolled his ball and got a thirty. He said, "No way," and turned to Anthony. He eyed the win tickets, which hung all the way to the floor. He said, "Hey Andy, check this out. Rubin just scored a perfect game."
Anthony glanced around for Jay. The last he'd looked, Jay was playing three lanes away.
He said, "Where's Jay?"
"Beats me," said Bradley. "Maybe the wizard boy went to do some math."
Andy said, "Jesus, check out all those tickets."
Anthony grabbed them and stuffed the tickets into his pocket. He turned to Bradley and said, "I'll be right back."
He started searching the arcade. He traversed three rows of Skee-Ball lanes and wove his way through all the rake-a-prize machines. He walked around the corner by the fun house, looked across the room toward the squirt-gun balloon clown game. He had the inexplicable sense that he'd find something, and he did.
He saw his father standing next to Claudia. She was leaning over the railing, her big butt staring Anthony in the face. His father's hand was resting on her back. She held a squirt-gun and was squirting at the mouth of a plastic clown. A red balloon was inflating out of the clown's head.
One balloon popped. It wasn't Claudia's. A little freckly-faced boy on the end had beaten her. Anthony sprinted out of the arcade before they turned.
He found Jay wandering by the railing. He ran up wildly and said, "I saw them."
Jay said, "Me too."
"It wasn't anything," said Anthony. "They're in there playing that stupid clown game."
Jay nodded. Anthony could not tell whether Jay was denying or confirming the assessment. Jay said, "Let's go down to the beach before they see us."
They weren't Asbury Park junior lifeguards, but it was bright from all the boardwalk lights and easy to find syringes. They gathered them out of habit, dropping them into an empty popcorn box they pulled out of a trash can. When they hit Allenhurst Beach they kept on walking. They passed their house and barely looked. They got as far as the next town, Deal, then something happened. As if some magical wind were blowing, the ocean sky grew clear and dark, and filled with stars.
"Holy shit," Jay said. "They're even brighter than that night your father did the Yiddish constellations."
"There's Sophie, the Kvetch," said Anthony, and pointed.
Jay said, "That's actually part of Cepheus, the King."
"How do you know that?" Anthony asked.
"I bought a star chart. I've been learning."
"You bought a star chart?"
Jay said, "Yeah. They have them on sale at the Shop Rite. My mother bought them for my brother and me. You should get one, or else you could steal Stuart's. He'd never notice."
It turned out Stuart, who was eight, had already lost his star chart. The next day Anthony bought a star chart of his own. For a few weeks he and Jay walked the beach at night and learned whatever summer constellations they could find. Sometimes they couldn't match a cluster to the chart, but Jay explained that there were many more stars than people would ever name. Jay said he'd read long ago in Ranger Rick that there were more stars in the universe than grains of sand on the whole earth. When Anthony thought of deserts, this seemed impossible. Most nights in Allenhurst they were lucky if five constellations were visible.
One night when Anthony got up to use the bathroom, he could see part of a constellation out the window. Framed by the windowpane, it looked just like a map. He moved closer, to see it all, and quickly realized it was Scorpio. Then he heard breathing from below.
When he looked down he saw his father and his mother. Out on the porch his dad was kissing her neck and unbuttoning her baggy flannel shirt. He kept on watching, thinking maybe he was dreaming. It almost didn't make sense that his parents would be kissing. Anthony kneeled and let his chin rest on the windowsill. There was a glow from the other porch lights, and an ocean wind that carried their breaths and sighs up to the window.
He saw his mother push his father's head back. He saw her slide the flannel shirt off her shoulders, then draw his face into her bosom. Her assertiveness amazed him. He kept wondering if somehow it were Claudia in disguise. But she was too tall and too agile, too lithe and sprightly in her movements to be Claudia. He saw his father kissing her breasts while his mother laughed and caressed his head. They both seemed happy, or else they were both drunk.
The next morning, she seemed calmer than she had for all that summer. She didn't go out to the jetty. She read and listened to the radio on the porch. At noon she asked Anthony and Dani if they wanted to go for burgers at the Windmill, their favorite restaurant. They all piled into her blue Honda and drove to Long Branch.
It was Dani who finally asked the question. They were eating on the top deck of the converted windmill, the lowest blade of the wooden rotor angling off to the right of Dani's head.
She said, "So Mom, what's going on?"
Their mother looked up from her burger.
"What do you mean?" she asked.
"She means you've been kind of a nervous wreck all summer," Anthony said.
She put her burger down and said, "I had a scare. There was a chance that I had cancer of the cervix."
"And you found out it isn't anything?" Anthony asked her.
Their mother nodded. She said, "Last night."
"Everything's fine then?"
She said, "Everything is fine for the time being."
"You must have been so scared," said Anthony.
"It would have been okay to tell us," Dani said.
"I didn't think so," she said, and took a sip of her Diet Coke. "I always knew it wasn't cancer. Still I was trying to get ready, just in case."
During the second week of August, the fecal coliform count got so high that all the beaches closed. Apparently, there was some sort of flesh-eating bacteria in the water. Shane Sullivan claimed that the bacteria came from raw sewage that had been dumped into the ocean. He also claimed that it caused human skin to molt and come off like a crab shell.
The beaches stayed closed for six days. Anthony, Jay, Bradley, and Andy midget-wrestled and hung around the Asbury Park arcade. One rainy afternoon the four boys stood around the prize counter. They discussed prize options and what they planned to cash in all their win tickets for come Labor Day. Andy and Bradley both wanted the Muhammed Ali boxing gloves. Jay, who had barely any tickets, said he would probably go for the plastic back scratcher. After much deliberation, Anthony found that the only thing he liked besides the boxing gloves was a ceramic winged horse that was actually a coin bank. When he pointed the horse out, Jay said, "That's Pegasus, from mythology, just like the constellation." They had seen Pegasus several times while star-watching that summer. Somehow this incidental correlation settled things. Anthony nodded and said, "Yeah, that's what I'm going for."
That was also the week Bradley started them listening to Bruce Springsteen. He had just purchased a small boom box. He had four Bruce tapes and claimed that Bruce once dated his older sister. He started toting the boom box everywhere, playing all songs as loud as possible. One day while blasting the album Born To Run, Bradley suddenly stopped walking. He turned the volume down and looked at his friends dramatically. Then he said, "We are walking through Bruce's songs."
Jay and Anthony immediately got their parents to buy them Born To Run on cassette. They started listening to it religiously, and soon they knew every cryptic word of "Jungleland." Anthony found that Born To Run evoked a sadness, that certain songs were almost cinematic. Each time they listened to "Thunder Road," all of the lyrics would unfold again inside him. He'd always see a screen door slam. Then he would picture some wondrous girl named Mary, her dress waving as she danced across the floor of their house in Allenhurst.
Toward the end of that week of the closed beaches, they even had one Bruce-related miracle. They met two Teaneck girls, Denise and Jackie. The girls approached while Bradley was blasting "Rosalita" on his boom box. They started singing along and saying things like, "Totally awesome song!" Both went for Andy, of course, but he played soccer. Just a day after they met the girls, Andy left the shore in order to go to soccer camp in Maryland. This made things easier and soon they were all hanging out together on the boards.
Denise and Jackie were best friends. Jackie was fragile and quiet. She had short light brown hair and a gaze that always caused Anthony to wonder what she was thinking. Meanwhile Denise seemed the quintessential Jersey girl. She had thick black hair and plump breasts and would call out "Jinx!" whenever she and another person spoke the same word at the same time. Then she would punch the person's arm until the person named five movie stars or beer brands or whatever Denise asked for. Likewise Anthony always had to say "safety" if he burped, otherwise Denise would say "slugs" and then start punching. She had three brothers, which explained her sort of tomboy roughhouse nature. She even liked to midget-wrestle. Both she and Jackie got their own names, the Big Babe and Psycho Kitty.
One afternoon Anthony wound up alone with Jackie on the boardwalk. He had a crush on her by then. Jackie was eating cotton candy. They were both leaning against a railing, talking and watching small children ride the Asbury Park carousel. He got his guts up and placed his hand on hers.
She didn't move her hand away, but also did not respond to his bold gesture. They continued chatting as Jackie ate her cotton candy, her captured hand still clasping the metal railing. Finally Jackie pulled her hand back. She held out the purple cotton candy and said, "Want some?" He took a bite.
She said, "You're Jewish, right?"
"Then why the heck is your name Anthony? I've never met a Jew named Anthony in my life."
"I had this cousin," he said. "Anthony Spignatelli. He was half Jewish, half Italian. He died two months before I was born. Until then my parents planned to name me Eric, or else Jill."
"How did he die?"
"It was a mystery."
"They have to know."
"They say they didn't."
He took her hand again. For a few seconds Jackie stared as if assessing the situation. Anthony smiled, clasped her hand tighter. "I barely know you," she said, and pulled her hand away.
Allenhurst Beach reopened on a Sunday in mid-August. By then Anthony, Jay, and Bradley were getting bored with being junior lifeguards. They'd make one garbage pass in the morning, then they would run off to find Denise and Jackie. The girls belonged to The Breakwater Club in Deal. They had a freshwater pool and a snack bar, unlike Allenhurst. They had a shuffleboard court, and Anthony loved shuffleboard.
Because of Denise, they would always do laps in the swimming pool. Denise was big on self-improvement and was always pointing out the benefits of their various activities. Swimming laps helped both your muscle strength and cardiovascular capacity. She applied this logic to other things. For instance, midget-wrestling was good for learning how to defend yourself. Having to say "safety" after you burped taught you to think fast, or not burp. Playing shuffleboard honed your hand eye coordination. Weaving through people while jogging on the boardwalk was good for quickness. Anthony found this way of thinking to be contagious, though Jay did not. Once while star-watching, Anthony said, "It's teaching us to see better." Jay said, "You think I really care how well I see?"
One afternoon they were all getting ice-cream cones and milkshakes. The nicest thing about The Breakwater was the charge account. Denise and Jackie charged everything to their parents. When Jackie's younger sister, Lizzy, got her cone, she took one lick and the ice cream fell. Anthony happened to be standing right beside her. Without thinking, he reached out with his left hand and caught the ice cream. Denise said, "Wow, you're like Mr. Lightningfast Reflex." He placed the scoop back on Lizzy's cone.
An hour later they went body-surfing in the ocean, having conveniently forgotten that one week before the water was filled with flesh-eating bacteria. Anthony tended to get cold fast. After five minutes he was shivering uncontrollably. He caught a wave and missed the crest, so he got crashed, as they always put it. The wave's force slammed him against the sand, twisted him here and there and then pulled back. He rose and trudged out of the water. He could feel sand inside his bathing suit. So he walked over to the tidal pool by the jetty, and there he crouched in the shallow water to get the sand out.
He saw a blue-claw crab move past his feet and tried to catch it. He saw the starfish that always magically appeared in the tidal pools. He felt a tap on his left shoulder, turned around, and there was Jackie.
She said, "I followed you."
Anthony said, "I see that."
She stared in that sexy way that always made him want to know what she was thinking. So then he said it. He said, "Jackie, what are you thinking?"
She said, "Guess."
He said, "You want to look for crabs?"
Jackie said, "No."
She stepped into the tidal pool, sending a crab scuttling in Anthony's direction. It disappeared and then Jackie was beside him.
"I want to kiss you," she said. "That was so cool when you saved my sister's ice cream."
"You want to kiss me because I saved an ice cream?"
She never answered. They started kissing as they stood in the tidal pool. He'd never kissed anyone, though clearly Jackie had. Her touch was practiced, tender and delicate. She kept on pressing the tip of her tongue to his, then pulling back and saying, "You taste good."
They kissed in the tidal pool for about five minutes. He was just starting to press his tongue in far enough to touch her fillings. Then Denise, Bradley, and Jay ambushed them. They didn't see their three friends until they were running at them through the shallow water. "Break it up!" Denise yelled. She jumped on Jackie. Soon they were all tag-team midget-wrestling. Jackie and Anthony teamed up and went for Denise. They pinned her down and made her name five Democratic presidents. That day they also invented a new move they called "the starfish." To do the move required a tidal pool and abundant starfish. During a pin, the winner quickly grabbed a starfish and rammed it into the loser's face.
Just before Labor Day weekend, Anthony's mother got arrested. It was a weekday. Anthony's father and Douglas Berkowitz were each at home that night in Livingston, which was an hour's drive from Allenhurst without traffic. Sometimes they stayed there on weekday nights instead of braving the Parkway after work.
Both Jess and Claudia got tanked at a bar called Tides, which was in Belmar. On the way home, Jess was pulled over in Asbury. She was arrested for drunk driving and locked up in an Asbury Park jail cell. All four children were there when Claudia returned in a kind of frenzy. She said the officers acted like rough jerks and had left her standing on the roadside. Clearly as plastered as Jess Rubin, she had walked back because she figured she'd get pulled over if she drove.
Michael arrived an hour later, after receiving his wife's phone call from the jail house. He explained the situation to his children. Then he and Claudia went out. Anthony didn't know what to feel. He kept on thinking that his mother was somehow part of a Bruce Springsteen song. She was behind bars in the Asbury Park jail house. She'd had a cancer scare and wouldn't laugh at Yiddish constellations. Maybe it wasn't as mythical as "Jungleland," but it still seemed too confusing to be reality. He also knew that his mother would freak out when she got home.
The children sat around that evening playing Scrabble. They watched The Sound of Music on TV. They played Monopoly, the beach wayusing sea glass in place of the plastic houses and hotels. They had lost most of the parts long ago, one night in Livingston when Dani got mad and threw the whole game at her brother's head.
Three hours later, Anthony's father returned with Claudia. He said that bail would not be posted until the morning. Anthony asked if this meant his mom would spend the whole night in a jail cell. His father said, "Unfortunately, yes."
Claudia told them not to worry. Dani yelled, "Why! It's your fault that she's in there!"
"It's no one's fault," said their father, and made Dani apologize to Claudia.
Still there was something completely off about the way Claudia was acting. Anthony sensed that she was secretly quite thrilled with his mother's fate. He couldn't read his dad as easily, but he seemed calmer than he should have been. They left the room, sat in the kitchen, and drank vodka.
Later that evening, Anthony saw them leaving. He was out on the porch with Jay. They had their star charts. It was the first starry sky they'd had in weeks.
He saw them skip down the stairs and turn right onto the sand below him. Before he thought very hard, he called out, "Going to see the Yiddish constellations?"
His father stopped and looked up. He said, "Anthony?"
He said, "Hi. I'm out here watching stars with Jay."
"I'm taking a little walk with Claudia," said his father. "Just down the beach, to calm our nerves. Then we have to go get the other car."
He said, "Okay," and understood for the first time that they were guilty. He watched them go and turned to Jay.
He said, "Our parents are definitely screwing."
Jay said, "I know," and shined a flashlight on his star chart. He turned it off and then looked up at the sky. "It took you this long to figure it all out?"
"My mom's in jail," Anthony said. "It's like she's locked up while they do this."
Jay said, "She is locked up," and shined his flashlight on the chart again. He shut the light off and then pointed. "Right there's Pegasus," he said. "Do you still plan to get that bank?"
Anthony fell asleep that night before his father returned with Claudia. He tried to slough the whole thing off as a bad dream. At about six he heard a car pull up. He heard the front door opening and closing. Soon he could hear his parents' voices. When he went down, they were sitting in the kitchen. His mother's elbows rested on the table and her forehead was pressed into her hands.
She looked up and said, "Honey?"
Anthony stepped into the kitchen and said, "Hi. Are you okay?"
"Fine," she said. "It was a very comfortable jail cell."
"We're talking," said his father.
He said, "I have to clean the beach."
He went upstairs to get dressed. He woke up Jay and they went out to do their Allenhurst junior lifeguard beach sweep. That morning Bradley didn't show up. For a few minutes they waited by the lifeguard chair. Then Jay suggested they get to it before a garbage tide floated in.
The found the usual plastic bags and beer cans. They stamped down seafoam in the places where it looked gross. They found a tennis ball in the tidal pool by the jetty. Anthony picked it up and noticed dozens of starfish lying placidly beneath the shallow water. He said, "Hey, look. They're making a constellation."
Jay said, "It's Miriam, the Kvetch."
"You mean Sophie."
He said, "Whatever."
Jay reached down into the water and grabbed a starfish.
"Don't even think it," Anthony said.
Jay said, "Think what?" and was all over him in a second.
They midget-wrestled. Jay kicked wildly. Anthony got hold of his arms pinned him easily. He grabbed a starfish and pressed it to Jay's face.
Jay yelled, "Okay! I think I'm lying on twenty starfish! I might kill them!"
He pushed Jay's face under the water. For one strange instant he truly felt like drowning him. Somehow Jay managed to kick him in the groin.
Jay squirmed away, brought his head up, and screamed, "You psycho!"
Anthony said, "What's your problem? I just dunked you."
Jay coughed some water, then looked up and yelled, "You psycho with a totally psycho mother!"
"I'll fucking kill you!" Anthony yelled, and lunged down at him.
Jay rolled away in the shallow water. He grabbed his garbage bag, got up, and darted out of the tidal pool. He yelled, "You'll never fucking catch me, you psycho idiot!"
"I'm sorry!" Anthony yelled, suddenly realizing he was a psycho idiot.
Jay yelled, "I don't accept your apology!"
He turned and ran down the beach with the green garbage bag. With his free hand he gave Anthony the finger. He held it up over his shoulder while he ran.
Around nine, when Anthony got back, he learned his family would be leaving the Jersey Shore that afternoon. His father had already begun packing. He talked to Dani, who said Mom had a nervous breakdown while making pancakes. She was now sitting out on the jetty. Anthony went outside and found his father cleaning out the car.
He said, "It's Labor Day. We can't stay here three more days?"
His father turned and said, "You know how your mother gets."
"But I can't go," Anthony said. "I met...a girlfriend. I also haven't cashed in my Skee-Ball win tickets."
"You have the day," his father said. "We leave for Livingston at five."
Even though Jackie wasn't really his girlfriend, Anthony searched for her, maniacally. In the course of just that morning, he jogged up to The Breakwater Club three times. He felt a panic but reminded himself of how he was improving his heart and lungs. After the third time he ran home and called Bradley, who said that Jackie must have gone yachting with her family. He yelled, "Since when does she have a yacht!" Bradley said, "Hey, take it easy. I'm just joking."
He packed his suitcase and made a final trip up to The Breakwater. He left a note with one of the club's cabana boys. The note explained that he unexpectedly had to leave, but that he hoped they would talk soon. He gave his phone number and home address in Livingston. He signed his name and at the bottom wrote: Please call!
In his last hour at the Jersey Shore, Anthony went alone to the Asbury Park boardwalk. He'd counted out all of his win tickets and had tied them with rubber bands. Had he not tried to drown Jay that same morning, he knew Jay might have lent him the forty-seven tickets he still needed. But by then Jay had disappeared with his mom and brother. They had all gone to see a drive-in movie.
At the arcade, he told the man he had four hundred fifty-three tickets. He asked for the winged-horse bank, which cost five hundred. The man suggested he take a frog bank, which cost less.
He said, "It's ugly. Can't you just give me the winged horse?"
The man said, "No."
"But I've been saving for it all summer."
"We're not a Burger King," the man said. "You can't always have it your way."
In the end, he wound up handing all his tickets to a long-haired boy who passed by on the boardwalk. He looked to be eight or nine and held a hockey stick, which was why Anthony had noticed him in the first place. He jogged right up to the boy and said, "Do you play Skee-Ball?"
The boy nodded.
"Then take these," Anthony said. "I don't have time to cash them in."
The boy said, "How come you don't just keep them for next summer?"
He said, "Just take them," and handed him the bag.
The boy said, "Thanks."
He said, "For forty-seven more tickets, you can get the winged-horse bank which is Pegasus, from mythology. He even has a constellation. You'd need a star chart."
The boy just nodded, then Anthony took off.
He could see Allenhurst Beach ahead of him. He smelled the tangy smell of ocean, which made him sad. He jogged with high steps, for no reason the way he sometimes did with Jay when they were imitating football. Two girls made fun of him as he passed, but he didn't care that he looked ridiculous. He knew that running this way improved his balance. He also knew that he would never be coming back.
Copyright (c) 2000 by Frederick Reiken, published by Harcourt, Inc. and reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.