Atlantic City, 1972
“’Beware,’” Mrs. Marshall, the psychic, had
“’. . . a man with predatory eyes.’”
“Yeah, right,” Mom said. Spread-eagled,
and dead, they found her in Room 314. Nude, but for that gold turban I hated. Cruel
sunlight made it shimmer, as Jessie the maid opened the door. Then Jessie
But Creepy Eyes was gone.
Hotel guests swarmed the room.
Like the teen sisters: fat, bug-eyed Ramona,
and Melanie, who’d snatched Howard from me. Sobbing wildly, like it was their
mom, not mine. Howard rushed over to Melanie, held her close.
Nobody noticed when I left.
Maybe I can’t face death.
When Aunt Millie’s old chihuahua died, I’d cried
for days. “Cut the crap,” Mom had said, “It’s only a dog.” She deserved to die,
just for that.
If only . . . Jessie hadn’t
found Mom . . . yet. Done Room 314 last,
instead of next. In 313 Jessie had caught us: Howard nude; me in just
underpants. I can still hear that laugh.
Before her scream.
We’d just got started. Sucking
face like mad. For the first time, I
reached for Howard’s thing, lightly squeezed it.
“Pam the Prude,” he’d
called me. Till today.
We were supposed to fuck. Till
today, Howard was the only guy I’d even
kissed. Fourteen, we both were, but he thought he was cooler.
For weeks we’d snuck around,
while his dad, Mr. Hertzberg, booked sexy French-Canadian
tourists. (“Oui-Oui’s,” Mom had called them.) Making out where we could,
like the ancient elevator, or that sleazy bathhouse out back. . . .
Sour-smelling, it was, with sea-green
walls. Like an underwater hell. Cold
water, never hot. Puddles everywhere.
“DO NOT,” the sign
said, in English and French, “TRACK SAND INTO THE HOTEL
LOBBY.” Still, everyone did. When a bikini blonde walked in all sandy, Mr.
Hertzberg leered, his eyes bugging out.
Beware . . .
In the bathhouse we’d met
Ramona and Melanie, rinsing sand off their legs
and feet. Ramona’s were like an elephant’s, but Melanie looked like a mermaid, turned
mortal. Sixteen, she was, with red hair that nearly reached her perfect thighs.
“We’re from Maryland!”
Ramona told us, like I cared. “The waves were so
big today! And I almost got bit by a jellyfish!”
Melanie and Howard shared a smirk.
And that’s how it started.
If only . . . I thought, Creepy
Eyes had got Melanie, instead.
Marshall, the psychic, had called that guy’s eyes. I’d
never seen hers, as leopard-print shades hid them.
Peepers was what Pop called eyes. Poor, drunk
trying to be funny. Laugh, or jump, he would say.
Predatory Peepers . . .
With Mom dead, would Pop laugh
. . . or . . .
It was hours since they’d
found her. By now, they’d be wondering where I
was. Maybe searching for me.
Come and get me, I thought,
curling up my legs on the bench.
In plain sight, I was, on the
boardwalk, close to the Steeplechase Pier. Around
me, a few people sat on benches, overlooking the beach. Families were packing
up umbrellas, flowered towels, their kids still running wild.
Beware . . .
Roasted peanuts, I smelled, and
popcorn. Yummy stuff from across the
boardwalk. Howard’s pretzel stand was outside Woolworth’s, a few blocks down.
how the day we’d met, he was sticking dough in the oven. “That’s
too much salt,” I told him.
too much . . .” he said, smiling, “Of everything.”
He suddenly turned
and pulled me close.
Even in glasses,
he was the cutest guy, ever, with sea-green eyes I could
drown in. And the curliest blond hair. By the time a customer came, my hands
were filled with his hair. We’d almost kissed.
Later, in the
lobby, Mr. Hertzberg flirted with Mom. “That’s some tan,” he
said, meaning where it ended.
She adjusted the ties to show more cleavage.
We were headed
out to eat, and my stomach growled so loud, they heard it.
he said. “Somebody’s hungry.”
joined him, hopping onto the desk. In his hand was a
paper bag. “Want a pretzel?”
I had no appetite
Would I ever,
A gull screeched. Swooped down
for discarded popcorn near my feet, then shot
back up into the sky.
Behind me, the guy’s eyes
I’d sensed when he’d
sat down. No smell, like cologne, or booze, but somehow,
I’d smelled him over peanuts and popcorn.
Sweat poured down my back. If
he leaned over and wiped it off, my heart
Another screeching gull flew past.
I felt him lean over . . .
But before he could speak, I jumped
Heading my way was . . . Ramona!
It was the fastest I’d ever seen her move,
across the boardwalk, on those elephantine legs.
Looking right at me.
Blindly, I ran. Away from her,
and that monster behind me.
Past tourists strolling before
dinner and kids chasing pigeons. Past the
Steeplechase Pier, where teens screamed on sissy rides.
I ran till my legs almost gave
“Pamela!” Right into
Mrs. Marshall, I’d run. Her old bones almost cracked.
I caught my breath. “She’s
She nodded, then gripped my arm,
tightly. Behind those “cat” sunglasses, she
was seeing something I couldn’t. Something horrible. When she shivered, I did,
“Go back to the hotel,”
On leaden legs, I trudged back.
Knowing each step brought me closer to a
grief I never knew I could feel. I’d hated Mom but loved her, too. And in her
own way, I think she loved me.
Each step brought me to a new
life I didn’t want. The chance to kill “Pam
It was dusk when I got back. Too
early for the cocktail lounge to be
mobbed. Mostly ‘cos a guest was found dead. Still, the jukebox was playing: “Baby,
Don’t Get Hooked on Me.”
Thanks, Howard, I thought.
Soon I would cry, over everything.
But right now, something was dragging
me out back. I had to go to the bathhouse.
Inside, it was almost dark. But
the cold water was running, like someone
was rinsing off sand.
Predatory peepers . . .
In a puddle of sandy water lay
Ramona, bug eyes wide, unseeing.
saved my life, without realizing it. Searching for me, she was the
one grabbed. Elephant legs, and all . . .
If only . . . Melanie had looked for me, instead . . .
Sighing, I shut off the water.