Brontide Beach

You remember Brontide Beach, Terry? Running barefoot down the boardwalk and sinking our toes in the sand? Playing pinball in the amusement park till the bleeps and whirls were scored into our skulls? Watching the girls in their summer dresses getting hussled by the uptown guys, biker kids with their shirts open and their hair slicked back: so much grease you could coronary in their wake? All the jukeboxes playing Patti Smith and Tom Waits and the Cars, the scent of Chilli Dogs chasing us down the pier?

You remember the mound, Terry? That huge black rock swelling up out the beach when the tide was low, smooth and round like a dark moon rising up through the sand? How kids pulled switchblades and wrote their names in it, Billy and Janey, Class of ’81, Kiss with the zigzag Ss. How the tide’d come in and we’d stand out on that rock till the sea wrapped round us, the pier lights reflecting in the surf, then finally we’d have to swim back to shore and build a fire on the beach to dry our clothes. You remember how we’d stay up all night and wait till the tide went back, how we couldn’t believe what happened, man, couldn’t believe there wasn’t someone going out there and wiping out our names somehow – acid or paint or… hell, maybe even a whole new mound for all we knew… how else d’you explain it always being so smooth again the next day, so clean and jet and pristine – like a teacher wiping chalk from a blackboard between classes? We’d sit up all night, sleep out on the beach – and no-one came, no-one ever went near the mound while the water was high… but always, always it was clean and smooth and blank once the tide went away. Like we’d never even been there. There’s been times, Terry, I’ve wondered if we ever were.

So anyway, last summer, 4th of July – guess I was lonely and having one of those crazy forty-something moments, trying to… hell, since Rosie left I’d bought a new bike and everything. Polished up the chrome till I could see a younger face in it, then drove on down to Brontide Beach. Stood there feeling alien, wishing the girls had worn clothes like that back in our day, then being glad they didn’t. Played some pool, had me a couple of beers, then walked out to the surf and watched the fireworks reflecting in the waves, as far out as I could see – the aurora, man… d’you remember? Only – the mound ain’t there no more, Terry. Three kids drowned in the Nineties, swimming back from that rock – only three, but I guess that was enough. Then there was the one got himself shot. Hopped up on god knows what, pulled a .38 on that perfect black sphere and unloaded into it till one of the ricochets caught him dead set between the eyes. After that, the city council set to and dug the mound right out of the beach, smashed it to rubble and used it to fill up the potholes on the Jersey turnpike – I guess we’ve both driven over it and never been the wiser. The sand smoothed over, you can’t even tell where it was anymore.

Still, I’d come all that way… so in the end, I wrote my name in the sand with a stick and waited for the tide to come in and take that away. Only thing was, Terry, and maybe you can explain this, ‘cos man, I sure as hell can’t… what I’d written – it was still there in the morning. Me though, I was gone, gone, gone…

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Rol Hirst was the first man in space from Huddersfield. The Russians still beat him up there.

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