From the terrace of Cherry’s Restaurant in Cherry Grove, Fire Island, you can carve what you will into the wave crests below unrolling like diamonds on the Great South Bay. The ferries and water taxis bob haphazardly back and forth, but somehow keep reaching the pier. I’m oblivious to the wind until it pries the hair loose from my forehead. I cover my napkin with a glass. Is there anyone else here doing the same thing?
Thankfully, the other tables around me are empty. Elena, who’s been taking my orders the past two days, comes back to ask what I want for lunch. Her curly, auburn hair is pulled back off her face but her t-shirt gets ruffled in the breeze. I stare at the patterns she said her sister embroidered on her apron. There’s this purplish circle and some maybe cyan thing I’m about to make out when she sits down beside me.
“I think I’ll have the same thing I had yesterday.”
“You should try something different.”
“Well…Is there anything as good as the twinkie burger?”
She pulls the menu closer to her.
“I was just cleaning up after this guy who had the fried chicken and picked the bones clean. It was like I couldn’t even tell what he ate from looking at the dish. He said, ‘Now, honey, that was the best chicken I’ve ever had and I’m a black man so you know it was good, girl!’”
She flips over the menu and laughs.
“So I guess the chicken’s not too bad. It’s the best on the Island.”
I tell her I’ll have it.
She stops. “Are you sure?”
“Yeah,” I reply. “I’ll give it a go.”
In the afterglow of chicken and a plate of sweaty fries, I gaze out toward the line of Long Island. Two young women sit down over my shoulder and Elena entertains them with this apparently incomparable coffee thermos. It’s made to keep both hot and cold liquids; but, more importantly, get this: If you were to change your mind about the color–as much as a year or two later–the manufacturer would send you a whole new thermos for free. In fact, Elena pronounces, you could chew the straw useless and still have it replaced. She’s written the company three times already, and will probably do so again.
The women are sold. They say she should be on the QVC or something. Elena exclaims, “That’s the job I’ve been dreaming of!”
She tells me today that she’s done with Fire Island. She’s lived here the past ten years, but people’s attitudes have changed. The drugs have changed too. Where once people were after the quick highs that dissipate overnight, now they prefer the somnambulant kind that leave them a mess for days on end. She’s served so many wrecks.
But Elena still hopes I’ll find what I came for. She says I should walk on the beach to the Pines. She says I should see what the Sunken Forest is like. She says I should even consider getting lost in the Meat Rack. I promise I would; and later I did despite having to do it alone.
Today after lunch, on my way out of Cherry’s, I meander toward the hostess stand where Elena’s been writing on her pad. The bartender behind her is rattling around a fresh cocktail shaker and glances from his customer to me.
“Thank you so much.”
“Awwww…You’re so welcome, dear.”
She puts down her pen, comes around a big stack of menus and says, “Let me give you a hug.”
We embrace for a moment: a real, melting clasp.
“Thanks for everything…. I really…thanks for talking with me…and everything.”
“Oh, you’re welcome, dear. Are you coming back out before the season ends?”
“Nah…I was only gonna be here for a few days.”
“Well then, good bye. No…I don’t like good byes! I’ll see you again when we’re meant to see each other.”
“Then I’ll see you again. Bye.”
I turn away smiling.
Author’s Note: This story was originally posted to my old Tumblr site on August 31, 2014.