“Baby, can you explain why you have a beach chair in your apartment? You must realize it’s very odd.”
“Is it odd? I guess it is. You might find it surprising, but that chair’s over two decades old.”
“That’s not surprising, but why is it here?”
“It isn’t much of a story, hardly worth telling. When I was around twenty, maybe a bit younger, a bunch of my friends and I rented this crummy little smudge of a motel room out in Wildwood, that’s way the hell south on the Jersey shore, takes about three hours or so to get there.”
“I know where it is,” she butted in.
“Anyway, the place was a sty, you would’ve hated it! We had a pretty good time though, I suppose, that is until me and my buddy Tommy Gallucci got sun poisoning after we’d laid out the whole day slathering Johnson’s baby oil all over ourselves.”
“Oh god, what a thing to do,” she said with serious eyes and a melodic laugh. “What were you thinking?”
“Getting a good summer tan was very important back then, but I have to say we paid for it in spades. Tommy and I sat up all night, our bodies burning and shivering, playing gin rummy to take our minds off our misery. I loved Tommy – everyone did. He was like the older brother I never had. I used to follow him around like a puppy dog, he never minded though. He looked out for me, even taught me how to drive in his old Fiera – it was a manual transmission. To this day, I still consider that to be one of my greatest skills – being able to drive a stick. Yeah, Tommy was always doing stuff like that for me. Jesus…just talking about it makes me miss him.”
“Where were the others during all of this?”
“Out scoping for chicks and gorging themselves on cheap beer, pizza, and frozen custard.”
“Were they really?”
“I dunno, that’s what I would have done.”
“So they left you all alone – the creeps. That still doesn’t account for the chair.”
“I’m getting to it,” I said. “When the rest of the gang came back to the room, it was around five in the morning. They were drunk as skunks, bragging about their conquests and boardwalk hijinks, all lies of course. Tommy was feeling a little better by then. I was still sick as a dog.”
“It got to a point where I couldn’t take it anymore, so I staggered outside, thinking that the fresh air might do me good. Dawn was breaking, and the sky was crazy, just this psychedelic mix of purple, coral, ruby, orange, I even remember green – I’m not kidding. It was still dark, but somehow I made my way on to the beach, which of course was deserted at that hour. I remember walking around feeling disconnected and alone, all I could hear was the insistent pounding of waves and maybe the occasional screech of a seagull. In some ways, I consider it to be one of the most beautiful moments I’ve ever experienced in my life.”
“Yes, I can picture it so clearly.”
“When the sun finally woke and stretched itself across the shore line, I could see it, resting in the middle of it all, my beach chair, striped like a solitary peppermint drop in a giant candy dish. Someone had abandoned it there. Maybe they’d been in a rush, or were distracted, I dunno. I guess they’d had their fun and didn’t need it anymore. But as soon as I laid eyes on it, I knew it was coming with me and would remain with me for the rest of my days, and it has…so far at least.”
Rolling over my torso, she hopped to the floor and inspected the subject of our discussion for a few moments before taking a gentle seat in its tired arms.
“I get it now. So, what became of Tommy Gallucci and all your friends?”
“Oh, we lost touch long ago. Tommy became a Marine, I dunno what happened to the rest of them. He was the only one I ever cared about, to tell you the truth. I’m sure they all got married, maybe had some kids. Isn’t that what people are supposed to do?”
“This is true,” I agreed. “I never did a lot of things I was supposed to do.”
“Well, you turned out alright…I think so anyway.”
“I think the coffee must be ready by now.”
“I’ll be right back,” she chirped.
I closed my eyes, taking pleasure in the sound of her graceful footfall and the expectant clinking of glass against ceramic.
“You must’ve had some tan that summer!” I heard her call from the kitchen.
“I was brown as a berry,” I said, not loud enough for her to hear. “Brown as a berry.”