• Vol. 03
  • Chapter 03
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The Big Slide

I was eight the summer that he climbed the steps of the big slide, stretched his arms over his head, and slid head first into the murky water of the bay. I recall the whispered shock of the women who sat in a circle on the small beach, their knitting in hand, beach towels strewn over plastic woven chairs, squinting children, wet hair slicked back on their heads.

"He went off of the high dive head first. Hit his head on the rocks. Ambulance...not sure...died."

Was this my first time hearing of death? The high dive was the secret danger of all the kids—the first pier, the high dive, so far from our small beach where we spread dragnets to catch jellyfish, minnows, baby shrimp. Sometimes, we were allowed to walk along the boardwalk to the first pier to watch the older kids go down the water slides. The first pier was the place of teenagers, hanging around the pavilion, cigarettes hanging from the sides of the boys' mouths, held delicately between the second and third fingers of the girls. Two piece bathing suits, Chubby Checker singing Twisting Time, the soda fountain at the snack bar, and the high dive.

There were rules. Never to go down the big slide head first.

Ocean Gate summers were the sweetest and loneliest times. Finally, out of school, I was free. My mother sat on the beach all day with the other women, glowing golden, bandana holding back her summer blonding hair, a look of seduction in the black and white photos I still have of those summers. Husbands showed up on Friday nights and stayed until Monday mornings. Shirtless, stomachs growing over the waist bands of their bathing shorts, they drove the motor boats, flirted with each others' wives, hooked minnows onto the ends of fishing lines, and made love to their wives while the children sat on the dock, legs hanging over the side, waiting for crabs to bite onto the bunker tied to the ends of the string


The Big Slide

attached to the clothespins in their hands. On a good day, working as a team, one of us would hold the clothespin, and another would hold the net, ready to scoop up the crab before it realised that it would be this evening's dinner. Of course, we knew nothing about lovemaking or what our parents actually did while we were crabbing. Crabbing was enough. We carried our full baskets back to the cottage where our mother set a tall pot with water onto the stove. Later that night, would would sit at tv tables in the small living room and suck the meat out of the crabs while watching the million dollar movie.

So far from our thoughts would be the boy who later that summer accepted the challenge of his friends to slide head first down the big slide.