by Vee Cipperman
The six of us bundle up and out to Coney Island—which isn’t an island, as much as a salted strip of land that cuts a rind around New York.
The Q train rumbles from underground tunnels to late-December sunlight. We blink; an hour has passed; the East Side has given way to lower roofs and trestle tracks. The train shakes back and forth. The sky shines like the inside of an egg, blank and new. We step onto a platform of green tiles, and we grin sleepily at each other.
There is food. Two of us draw the rest toward a Georgian café, a postage stamp, all lacy designs and bottle-green windows and tables that creak from the legs. The waitress makes small talk with one of us. Another maps our future route through Brighton Beach.
We share all our food. We stir khachapuri egg yolk into runny, molten cheese, and the mixture melts inside our mouths. Tarkhuna pops against our tongues, liquid hard-candy of tarragon, anise, and pear. We share three wine glasses of soda around the table. They glow three different, gemlike colors.
Three of us sit with our backs pressed against the green windows. Green like the soda. Full-fogged between our breaths and all the late-December atmosphere beyond. We rub our hands over the warping, lurid surface like sea glass. We drink our sea-glass soda from a sea-glass crystal cup.
When the glasses run dry, we lick grease off our fingers to re-don our mittens. We step back out into December.
There is sun and then wind and then sand. We flow across the concrete like an egg yolk, bright and slow, and we smush our sneakers into the beach. Beneath the boardwalk, in December, no one walks around us. We press our palms into cold sand. One of us takes videos of all our stupid tricks.
The long gray strand flinches hard against the sea. It huddles up against the boardwalk. The sea smells fiercer in winter, and two of us remark on that. Another three draw patterns in the sand. We think about people and summer.
Above and behind us, frozen roller-coasters loom. The wind rustles silver tiles on the aquarium roof. The painted walls along the boardwalk glow with a dozen-odd colors, and those draw us in from the sands.
We take pictures together. One of us is always taking pictures. One day, a few of us say, we’ll make a scrapbook. We’ll bind all this together and remember how exactly the sea smelled today.
There are people on the jetty bridge. We catch them in our pictures, like ants in honey, while we try to snap shots of the blistering sunset. It glows like a highlighter mark between canyons of cold-weather clouds. It doesn’t belong in this monochrome reality, but it hangs above the fisherfolk nevertheless. The jetty feels a mile long, and we walk to the end for the best sunset pictures.
Men in rubber boots draw trout from the restless surf. We watch them wriggle and wrinkle our noses. One of us lies on a modern art sculpture, and the others follow quickly. We’ve walked around all day. Our feet are tired.
The picture-taking one of us takes pictures. The rest of us gossip, recalling that wonderful lunch. The stony-gray ocean holds no trace of green, but it will soon enough. Soon it will be summer, and life will return to Coney Island. Soon it will be summer, and we will be gone. Some of us close our eyes and wince against the wind.
The sun sets. The world gets bluer. Four of us are hungry, and two of us want to catch the Q train, so we trundle back up past the sands and the skeletal coasters. We pass padlocked backdoors with mermaids and clowns painted over the sides.
Our breaths wreathe the blue night. We pass into empty streets, stopping at a candy shop. The lighted window attracts us like flies, and we stand there salivating with no intention of entrance.
Florid candy apples stand straight in their foam stands. Pastel marshmallow twists hang over the boxes of licorice and taffy. We’ve never seen something like this in real life. This shop belongs to full fairgrounds, to long-awaited carnivals, to summers–not like the summer to come, but like all summers past. Fantasy summers. The kind that only lives inside our winter-addled, new adult-ish heads.
Two of us drag the rest to the hot-dog place, famous and yellow and brash. We order at the counter. People mill about and eat like any other fast-food joint. We’re still hungry after our hot dogs; a pair of children scream. We’re silently glad that we chose not to enter the glowing, fantastical candy shop.
The Q train whisks us over the trestle tracks, back underground, back to East Harlem and home for these fast-waning months. Christmas is coming. The carnival is over.
We grab bubble tea just to stay out a little before going back to our building.
I’m thinking not of summer relics: candy apples, neon sunsets, surf.
I’m thinking of—still feeling—when you clutched my mittened hands within your own. When our breath traced lacy frostings in the sky. When we laid, all six, on the boards beneath unyielding stony skies, and we took blurry pictures that I treasure more than fairgrounds and boardwalks all lit up and living.
December has come to subdue Coney Island. I’m thinking of you, now the carnival is over.