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Ninety-Sixth

By Lauren Sanders

The sun was setting and the sand, scorching during the afternoon, was cool to the touch. Thin, wooden fences lined the length of the beach, and a steady, even breeze played along the shore. The dull, ceaseless thunder of the waves could be heard over two blocks away.

Three girls stood near the dunes, squinting against the wind and surveying the beach. A couple walked barefoot, the water splashing at their ankles, a flock of sandpipers scuttling out of their way. Two boys played Frisbee near the pier, their lime green disc hurtling through the air, and a man and woman holding hands made their way across the sand toward the girls.

“Let’s ask them,” Jess suggested, brushing a strand of dark hair out of her eyes. .

The girls clambered up a faded, white lifeguard chair and sat in a row, legs dangling, arms loose around eachother’s waists as the woman took their picture. They were all three deeply freckled by the sun, and their skin tones ranged from bright grapefruit-red to dark, golden tan.

“Did you plan that?” the woman asked, nodding at the girls’ shirts, which were all some vague shade of teal.

“No,” Kristin said. “It just kind of...happened.”

“Cute,” the woman said, handing Jess the camera, and the couple continued down the beach.

“Do we want to do miniature golf tonight?” Lauren asked, as the girls started up the ramp that led off the beach and onto 96th Street.

“Yeah, but let’s get coffee first,” Kristin said, and Jess nodded.

They walked the block-long, brightly-lit strip at the center of town, where vacationers were strolling in and out of stores, relaxing on benches, or wiping the faces of children licking ice-cream cones. They passed the navy blue and white awning of Pete Smith’s Surf Shop, and Lauren turned to Kristin, grinning.

“Remember when you knocked over that whole rack of surfboards?” she asked, darting away before Kristin could backhand her on the shoulder.

“Oh, come on...I was what, twelve? That was...okay, that was only three years ago, but still. It was your fault, anyway,” Kristin said, pointing to Jess, who ducked her head and laughed. “You had to try those ugly green stilettos on, not like anyone would ever be able to walk in the–”

“Are we going to get coffee, or what?” Jess cut her off, and they turned down Third. At the vacant lot on the corner, metal fencing surrounded the tangled, overgrown weeds that pushed through the cracks in the dirty concrete. The lot was out of place next to the street's tiny, bright shops with glass exteriors. Wooden benches banked the sidewalk of the narrow street.

“I’ll give you a dollar if you sing Row, Row, Row Your Boat on that bench,” Lauren challenged Kristin.

“For a dollar? No way.”

“Five dollars,” Jess countered, pulling the bill out of her purse.

Kristin looked back and forth between them and shrugged, snatching the money from Jess’s hand. She climbed up onto the bench and began to sing, making exaggerated rowing motions with her arms. People slowed to watch as they walked by, some smiling, some shaking their heads in confusion. One woman muttered, “Is she drunk?” as she passed, but Kristin’s voice, loud and out of key, never faltered. When she finished, she jumped down from the bench grinning.

“Come on, I want coffee,” she announced.

Coffee Talk was in a small, dimly-lit, brick building. The aggressive sound of simple chords played hard and fast on an acoustic guitar greeted them. The shop was worn and familiar; it smelled like cinnamon and rising dough. The menu was scrawled across two large blackboards in multi-colored chalk, and they placed their orders and brought steaming mugs to a square table with a black checkerboard painted across its top.

“Okay. Egyptian Ratscrew, let’s go,” Jess decided, pulling out a deck of cards.

“What? I’m drinking, here,” Kristin protested through a mouthful of hot coffee.

“You’re going to win anyway,” Lauren pointed out, pulling Kristin’s cup away from her and clearing an area on the table. “Deal.”

It was a game of quick eyes and quicker hands, and Kristin, as she usually did, ended up with the entire deck at the end of it.

“How do you do that?” Jess grumbled, collecting her cards and putting them away.

“You two should be used to it by now,” Kristin said, leaning back in satisfaction.

“Okay, champ,” she replied. “Let’s go play golf.”

They left Coffee Talk, made their way back to 96 th, and headed up an outdoor staircase painted obnoxious shades of green, pink, and yellow. It led to the rooftop of Neptune’s Jewelers, where Stone Harbor Miniature Golf had set up their course.

The girls paid for their game.

“I’m really, really bad at this,” Lauren said. The faded orange ball didn’t quite make it up the turf hill, and rolled slowly back down to the start.

“Shit. Yeah you are,” Kristin agreed, gathering her long, pale hair into a ponytail. She flexed her arms and bent her knees, taking a practice swing.

Jess smirked. “You look ridiculous.” 

Kristin attempted a glare, but broke into a grin. “Yeah, I know.”

The second and third holes were lined with miniature houses, potted plants resting on the turf in front of them. One house—with white, with brown siding--had three open windows, surrounded by tiny, twinkling yellow lights.

“We have to take a picture in there,” Lauren announced. Jess enlisted the help of two boys who had just started on the third hole, and the girls ducked inside.

“Ready?”

“I think so,” Jess said. “Wait, what are we doing with our arms?”

“Anything you want,” Kristin decided, resting her chin on her hands.

After the picture was taken, they climbed out of the house and stood against the fence that enclosed the course, staring down at the street, at the flashy orange and yellow of Hoy’s Five And Dime, at the muted green and blue of Island Pursuit, at the purposely faded brown of Breezin’ Up next to the sharp, classy, white and black of Bellenova.

“Take a picture,” Kristin commanded quietly.

Jess did. The three looked out at the street without speaking. This street, with its gaudy signs, its sparkling concrete, with its crowded, cobblestone sidewalk and sticky, stained, wooden benches: this was their street. It was always their street.

 

Lauren Sanders is a sophomore English major at Cedar Crest College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in In Other Words, the school's literary magazine.

Photo "Fence" courtesy of Mark Miller, Exton, PA.

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