STARGAZING

Marcy Grey was sixteen, neither a kid nor a woman. She was one of those unpopular girls, just her unlucky lot in life for which there was no explanation. A wisp of a thing, she had a constant look of sadness in her eyes. Having no friends she’d spend most of her time alone, often on the roof of her apartment building gazing at the stars and listening to her parents Beatles CDs. Their music and message resonated with her more than anything else in the world and it was the only time she didn’t feel lost and scared. 

Her parents worried about her, as parents are wont to do, and they encouraged her to pursue activities in school or join a club of some sort. Marcy half-heartedly tried a few times but never felt accepted or welcome and eventually gave up. School was almost over for summer break and while others were chit-chatting about going to camp or planning a family vacation, Marcy knew the long days of July and August would be no different for her than any other day in her life. Her parents worked hard, barely making ends meet; there was no time or money for recreation. 

One night Marcy overheard her mother talking on the phone with her sister, Marcy’s Aunt Rita; from the snippets of conversation she knew they were talking about her. “She really needs a diversion … We’re worried … She’s so sullen … Well, that sounds wonderful – are you sure? … I have no idea how she’ll feel about it, though … Yes, I’ll talk to her and call you back.” 

Not surprisingly a few minutes later Marcy’s mother knocked on her bedroom door. “Aunt Rita bought a little beach café in Atlantic City and wants to know if you would like to spend the summer with her. Rita would love the company and could use some help at the new place.” 

Marcy frowned and told her mother she’d think about it; at least that wasn’t a flat rejection. And she did think about it, weighing her options. The pros: she really liked Aunt Rita; Marcy had never gone anywhere, ever; she was stuck in a small apartment with her parents; she could look at the wide-open sky at night and the stars dancing off the ocean; she might actually have fun. The cons: leaving her rooftop comfort zone. The next morning she shocked her parents by announcing she would spend the summer in Atlantic City with Aunt Rita. 

Marcy was met at the bus depot by Aunt Rita all decked out in her bright pink sundress, straw hat, Ray Bans and sandals, giddy and happy as a clam. As she drove to her house Rita talked non-stop about her fabulous new beach café, The Pink Flamingo. Even Marcy found her aunt’s enthusiasm contagious and couldn’t help smiling. 

There were seven other teenagers waiting tables at the café; all of them were nice and greeted Marcy warmly. Work wasn’t easy and it took Marcy about a week to get accustomed to her new life but she found she actually liked it. Surprisingly Marcy enjoyed being with her co-workers and meeting new customers every day. But the best part was climbing the dunes at night, sitting on a blanket and gazing at the stars while listening to “Rubber Soul”. 

One night on the beach Marcy saw someone approaching. She got nervous until she realized it was Adam, one of the guys she worked with. He asked if he could join her and Marcy said yes. Adam had an MP3 player, as did Marcy, and she asked him what he was listening to. He smiled shyly and answered “Revolver. I was raised on the Beatles”. Marcy grinned and handed Adam her earbuds. Music wasn’t the only thing they had in common; Adam spent most nights back home gazing at the stars. He was a loner with no real friends and this was his first time away. And to their complete amazement they discovered they both lived in Queens, NY. 

Marcy and Adam met at the beach every night and talked about everything. The end of summer was drawing near and their time together in Atlantic City was almost over. They rode the same bus back to Queens, exchanged phone numbers and gave each other a quick hug before going their separate ways. 

Late that night as Marcy sat on the roof of her apartment building she got a text. It read “Hey, Stargazer. Dream sweet dreams for me”.

Smiling, she quickly wrote back “Dream sweet dreams for you”. 

Stars aligning? Time to make a wish. 

NAR © 2021

AND THE BAND PLAYED ON

Promenaders strolled down the sun-streaked boardwalk of Atlantic City, New Jersey. Ladies twirled their parasols while the gents tipped their straw hats as they passed each other and stroked their handlebar mustaches. It was Labor Day weekend, the unofficial end of summer, a perfect day with sunshine, blue skies and children laughing.

Margaret Wilson and her boy Sam came from Philadelphia for the fresh sea air, to gaze in awe at the hotels built like fairytale palaces along the seafront and to admire the piers dripping with neon lights. The most famous was the Steel Pier, known for its dance bands, water circus and other such attractions. In fact, it was revealed that the famous composer John Philip Sousa and his band would be performing that very afternoon. 

There were barkers selling salt water taffy and cotton candy, minstrel shows, fairgrounds and the famous Diving Horse, specially trained to charge up a 60 foot ramp to a platform atop the Steel Pier where a woman clad in a smattering of sequins leapt onto its back just before it plunged off the pier. Horse and rider flew through the air, hitting the water to the applause of delighted throngs waiting below.

But one didn’t have to venture far from the boardwalk to sample less wholesome activities. In venues like the Paradise Club, tourists could watch nearly naked women dance to jazz music. And if they wanted something not just risqué but illegal, they could visit the brothels catering to every taste, gambling dens and slot machines. There was the criminal element, too, with occasional holdups and shoot-outs. 

However today was a holiday. Children played gleefully, the start of school the furthest thing from their minds, while their parents strolled in their most fashionable clothes, making small talk. Nothing could spoil a day like today. 

Suddenly the cacophony of gun shots rang out. People screamed and scattered as gun-wielding robbers ran from the pawn shop, shooting wildly. They jumped into a waiting car and took off. All was silent until a piercing wail rose to the heavens and everyone turned to see Margaret Wilson cradling the body of little Sam, shot in the heart by a stray bullet. In his jacket pocket was a folded essay, now stained with innocent blood – “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”. 

The police arrived, removed mother and child and the band played on. 

NAR © 2018