“By the sea, beneath the yellow and sagging moon.”
The two of them walked on the boardwalk. The moon, recently risen, hung low over the ocean, beaming down a cascade of yellow half-moons undulating with the waves as they silently approached and then suddenly crashed to the beach. The air was crisp but in a summer sort of way—fresh, sea air, bracing but in no way stinging.
He held her hand. He did so with trepidation. It always seemed like he had to cross some sort of threshold to show her some affection. And when she dared let him, she reciprocated in such a way that let no indication through her internal wall of whether she appreciated that affection. But she did let him hold her hand, which at least was something. Before that, they would have just walked side by side, with a barrage of invisible, opposite magnetism drawing them together and keeping them apart at the same time. He wondered why it had to be so difficult. Why won’t she let me love her. It was an answer he would never fully receive from her.
Her mind was elsewhere. Yes, she was holding his hand. Almost in spite of her better self. Here was a guy who had been battering at her defenses ever since they met several years before. She couldn’t understand why he was paying so much attention to her. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, so I must be, and this nut is after me anyway. I wish he’d leave me alone. But then again—I’m glad he’s not leaving me alone. I don’t know. But regardless, she wasn’t completely thinking about him. If anything, the whole handholding business and the affection behind it was no more than an annoyance, like a mosquito that needed to be swatted away. She was thinking about Higher Things. Like, what am I doing back in this dinky little beach town after experiencing that Spiritual High on the other side of the world earlier this summer.
He was content to be in that beach town. His experience was the diametric opposite of hers; she had been in Israel and tasted its spiritual high, and he wanted none of it. Instead, here she was back again on the Jersey Shore, with all its working-class stiffs taking their allotted two-weeks-a-year and living it like it was the be-all of their circumscribed world; all the boardwalk bennies from the north with their mindless pickup games. On the other hand, he had spent the preceding four years in precisely that place where she wanted to be, experiencing no kind of high or spirituality, just an enforced sort of religiosity that meant nothing to him and never did. For him, the high was to be achieved right here at the Shore, standing on a stage with his own band marshaled behind him like an attacking force, dominating a roomful of those very bennies that she couldn’t get away from fast enough.
Yet here they were, holding hands, walking down the boardwalk. He could hear the acoustic guitars, electric pianos, and accordions of his chief musical influence oozing up from between the boardwalk cracks with all their maudlin splendor. But she could only hear a song from a different time and place, telling her she needed to get out of this place if it’s the last thing she’d ever do. How could he ever understand that, she thought.
He looked out at those yellow half-moons in the surf. “Look at the moon,” he told her in a silly conglomeration of English and Hebrew. “Look at that reflection.”
She shuddered when she heard that. He felt the shock wave and understood at that moment that she could never be his. But, unbeknownst to him at the time, he would only find that out much later—well after their long future history together would have painted itself onto all the local walls and etched itself into all the stones and trees of the countryside, and imprinted itself in the sands of every beach from the hook in the north to the cape in the south. It would take nothing less than an uprooting from this place and an attempted replanting in vastly different soil and climate to understand that the tainted flower they endeavored to plant here could never, ever flourish elsewhere.
But how could he ever know it. And how could she ever express it. There was no way. And so they continued … to the Nut House near the fun house at the southern terminus of the boardwalk.