The red and blue and white lights from the wheels and coasters play on the black water as it rolls inshore past the pilings. In the dark, from a distance, the rides all look like pieces of the same machine: a moving, glittering Rube Goldberg contraption producing shrieks and laughs and music.
The pier looked just as bright and loud forty years ago, but back then, I never looked at it from a distance. Back then, I was always inside the machine. Every kid I knew spent time in the machine.
It’s that time when we’re all out there on the dusky streets, dog tugging at the end of a leash in one hand, a poop bag rustling in the other. I see him across the street, big guy, big hands, arms filling his sleeves to bursting, still in dusty work twills and muddy Frankenstein work boots. At the end of his leash, a little white-and-black fluff leading him, showing him when to stop, then waiting for him to grunt down in a tired squat to pick up the mess.
He sees me looking, he smiles, I smile – we’re in the same union, brother – and we each walk on.
On Sundays, I always stop by the lottery counter before doing the groceries. Sometimes Cat is with me. When she is, I say, “For luck,” and she kisses my new tickets.
She kisses them a little peck, but it’s not for luck I think. That little half-pucker is like what she used to do as a baby just learning to kiss. It’s not for luck. I like to think it’s for me.
We don’t win, we never win, but that’s okay. It’s something we do.
“I’ve been thinking,” her mother says.
Whenever she says something like that – “I have an idea,” “You know what might be nice? Might be fun?” – the hair on my neck goes up. Whatever it is, it’s something I’m not going to think is nice or fun or a good idea.
“We should do something special for our next vacation.”
Yep, there it is, right there in the way she hit special.
At that point, I know I’m supposed to express some interest, some eager curiosity. Any other option would only put off the inevitable. But if all I can buy is a 20-minute reprieve, I’m going to take it.
“Hold that thought, sweetie,” I say, and give her a quick kiss on top of her head as I pass. “I think the dog has to go out.”
The coaster, they called it the Wild Mouse when I was a kid, I only rode it then and haven’t been on it since. Later, it was the Jet Star but it was the same thing. Now, it’s debris. Some latticework and a piece of rail out in the surf. The rest – the pier, the boardwalk, the big machine once filled with shrieking kids – out there in the ocean somewhere.
A piece of me washed out to sea with it.
This is a reprint of work originally published in KYSO Flash.
Bill Mesce, Jr. is an occasional author, screenwriter, and playwright, currently on the faculty of the Creative Writing program at the University of Maine at Farmington.