Whisper to Me - Nick Lake Page 0,2

The boardwalk: pizza slices, girls gone wild, and people with facial tattoos.

— The beach: swimmers, lifeguards, seagulls stealing fries.

And of course there are layers of time too—the ghost town of winter, the crowded madness of summer. This story, since it’s the story of you and me, happens in the summer. But you know that already. It’s weird, telling you what happened, when you know so much of it.

But there is so much you don’t know.

So much.

So, I walked past the crazy motels until I came to the start of the boardwalk, where the wooden struts of it collapse into tufted sand dunes. The way my route goes, I join the walk on the south side, right at the end, so when you come to the sand you have the whole sweep of the bay to your left, the long, wide wooden boards lined with little shops and restaurants, one of which is Dad’s restaurant of course, my restaurant too, I suppose you could say, the family restaurant, where … well, we’ll get to that later; and jutting from the boardwalk, the enormous piers with their roller-coaster rides rising up like the backs of sea monsters, the expanse of gray-yellow sand. The fairground atmosphere.

From that vantage point, it’s beautiful. Which is why I have never tried to draw it.

I scanned the sand until I saw something that looked more promising. Then I walked out onto the beach, checking it out, taking my time. Yeah, it looked good. I went out farther, toward the ocean.

Now I was just past Pier One and a little south, so I could see the curve of the old Accelerator, like a wooden dinosaur’s back, and the slowly turning wheel of the Elevator taking people in their little seats high up into the sky, for a bird’s-eye view of the worst town on the Eastern Seaboard.

What I was doing, I was planning to draw a dead seagull. That was my thing: I don’t think you ever knew that. I don’t remember mentioning it. The thing being: to find the ugly things, the things people don’t usually notice, and draw them in my sketch pad. Like:

Electricity poles.

Trash cans.

Broken windows.

And, in this case, dead seagulls. The bird was just where the water and sand met, way beyond the end of Pier One. I don’t know why the ocean has receded so much here, I—

Oh my God.

I just realized something. My dad with his gross insects. Me drawing the ugly things. We were both collecting stuff other people discounted as unattractive. We were doing the same thing. Mom always said we were more alike than I realized, he and I.

So, right here, I want you to make a mental note of this: me and my dad, we’re not too different. We both got threatened, and we both reacted in the only way we knew how, by instinct, like millipedes rolling into balls. He’s not as bad as you might think, you know, from him throwing you out and all. He’s like me—he just faced his anger outward instead of inward.

Of course, when I say he’s like me, you may view that as a bad thing, I don’t know. I guess I’ll see on Friday, from whether you turn up or not.

Where was I?

The beach. I don’t know why the ocean has receded so much and left such an enormous strip of sand—three hundred yards at least. I mean, I read almost anything but definitely not geology or whatever the right -ology would be. Mom said the ocean was scared of the white trash who come here in the summer, so it retreated. That day, there weren’t too many people to retreat from: it was happy hour and the vacationers were already in the bars, apart from a few I could see posing for photos in the just-abandoned lifeguard stands, holding each other, kissing.

That’s a tradition: to sit in the stands and watch the sunset, with a boy or a girl. It’s like our version of the overlook in those movies where people drive up to the vantage point above the town, and make out on car hoods.

Something else you already know, I remind myself, and the thought of it, of you and me pressed against each other in that deep, wooden lifeguard’s seat, the warmth of you … it makes me almost come undone, slide into loose disarray, like untied laces.

Deep breath.

Another.

Apart from that, the only people on the beach were a couple of runners and a kid flying a