At the boardwalk they light the ferris wheel and your new girlfriend speaks in parables. Like they always do.
"Back when there were headphones..."
"When I was in school we had marshmallows..."
"There was a dog who protected the field mice from cats..."
"My friend, Harriet, says that all boys are born with holes in their skulls."
You follow along, building pictures in your mind's eye with each step. Your sneakers against the weathered decking. Fall in step, in time. Four feet synchronize.
There's purple ice cream and blue sky clouds that speak in unpunctuated poetry. A field of glowing wheat where she kissed Glen Antonio and sent him home crying.
It's a world of jigsaw puzzle pieces that have been smashed together by an impatient geriatric. The sky pressed into the sides of buildings. Windows in the ground.
At first you're looking for the lever. At first you're searching for the key. The way. How to get into this universe of singing stars and upside-down gravity where hot is cold and everything turns gray when she gets angry.
She gets angry. She gets angry and you don't know why. Then the dragons come and bloody their claws.
And then you ask God the questions.
"Why am I here?"
"Why am I doing this again?"
No one answers. Get in line behind the other three billion. The end of a queue of thousands of years of bipeds with empty minds and endless questions.
You're supposed to have been born knowing how to deal with her heart. But where there should be a dial to turn or button to push, there's just an empty socket of mystery. No clue. No control.
She asks you what you're thinking.
This is the trap. This is how they always get you. Your heart sinks into your stomach knowing that this one is now blown too. Back to the drawing board.
You go into her pile of losers. She goes onto your list of never-call-back.
There is no further way to win. It's not even worth trying to lose gracefully.
So you say, "I was wondering why you got mad at me when I asked you if you loved Glen Antonio, but I stopped."
"I stopped wondering."
"What's wrong with you?"
In front of the arcade the air is filled with children and the tinkling sound of coins falling through lighted metal. You're standing because you forgot about walking. Walking was going somewhere and you're not, anymore.
Parents wipe dribbled ice cream from the chins of recalcitrant toddlers. Opposite, the Atlantic crashes in paleolithic sequence onto yellow-gray Jersey sand churning shells long vacated by the clams who left, having had enough of all the grit and plastic shovels, it has to be better over the horizon. In Spain. Wedding rings lost by newlyweds strain to glint in the moonlight, embedded in the churning tide. A buck three-eighty allowance money falls out of a kid's bathing suit pocket and nobody even knows how much that is.
Pencil thin wafts of salty rot rise to your face from decaying fish left ashore by the last tide. Why do people come here when the boardwalk smells so bad?
This is the death of the thought that crossed your mind, that you first refused and then learned to live with the past couple of weeks. You wanted, really wanted, to be in love. Wouldn't it be better? To stop all the struggling, dropping the defense, then ultimately bare and utterly vulnerable. With her. You wanted her staining every waking thought with those eyes and the way she melts time when she smiles. To love making yourself still when you wanted to leave. To listen to her stories wondering if she made them up. It would have been for you making her happy making you happy. That there would in this world be someone happy to see you.
But not now. Not maybe. Not ever, will be. Never.
You say, "What's wrong with me is I'm me."
"But I'm not mad at me."
"You're not mad at me?"
"I'm not mad. Come here, me."
Then there is a warm arm around your waist. She pulls you in, and your arms come up around her as if someone else is driving them.
She says, "You think way too hard. This is very, very simple."
She kisses you quick and the mothers who pass pushing strollers backhand the arms of their zombie husbands, glassy eyed, remembering.
There is a connection, these times, with everyone and everything who has ever touched the glimmer of a meaning to life. It is the perfection of the void left in all of us by that ever unanswerable question.
And you wonder if this is what it means to be happy. Why you have to think about it, rather than just be.
"What?" she says, looking up through your eyes into your mind.
Dare not speak, this jumble of thought.
So you say, "For a split second I had this vision of us in a cabin by the base of Yosemite falls. And I was cutting trees with an axe and you were frying pancakes in an iron pan. And we were wearing these really old clothes - well, they weren't old then but they would be now. With buttons made from balled up thread and belts made from rope. And we had a yellow dog named Bo who caught racoons. And you were calling me in for breakfast but then I realized that they don't have cabins at Yosemite and if we were near the bottom of a waterfall we'd be wet all the time, so it was really a stupid idea."
She takes a quick breath like there's a chill, and she shivers. Buries her face in your chest, then looks up.
Shakes her head. Squints as if you've gone blurry, dissolving into her background. Says, "What?"
"Sorry. It's first thing that came to my mind."
"That was the first thing?"
"Well, maybe the second."
She says, "Good. Stick with the second. We'll save the first thing we thought. I'm thinking."
"For when it's time."
Then she squeezes, tightening her embrace. Her head against your chest. Eyes growing wet.
What did you say? What did I say?
"When it's time," she says. "When it's time, it will be."
And then you are standing forever in each other's arms, on the planks at a nothing beach, amid hundreds of aimlessly wishing people.
Glowing like radiation.
Happy and clueless as the stars.