More Than a Mouthful
Tony swept the beach with his Geiger counter and concentrated on the steady click, click, click. Then, clack, clack, clack, the staccato double beat of a winner. He stopped, dug with a shovel into the sand, and took a minute to pocket some change. Not quite a dollar’s worth, but a decent haul. Tony sang aloud, butchering his favorite Jimmy Buffett song “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” After a final chorus, he turned off his machine, wiggled his tan toes in the sand, and calculated his early morning effort at almost ten dollars, not to mention some sea glass, a Casio sport watch, and a Frisbee. The song made his stomach growl and he glanced at his cell phone to check the time. He could hit the boardwalk, afford a monster lunch, and then stroll to work at Mack ‘N Manco’s.
An ocean breeze ruffled his blond hair and made the new fuzz on his arms and legs shiver with goose bumps. He ran a finger across his upper lip trying to decide if he had a mustache yet. Fifteen was so futile. “I’m nothing. Oh my seashore goddess,” he called out to some seagulls swooping overhead. “Mary Ellen Castellanoto.” He shouted her name and it muffled in the wind. Gulls squawked and Tony’s ears heard “sucker.”
Layers of clouds in the distance built a wall and the sun now hid. Normally near noon the beach would be festooned with colorful towels and lazy bodies. Tony inhaled but there was an absence of suntan oil today. Predicted rain and the stormy deep green surf did not beckon. Instead movies, arcades, and the pizza joint would be jammed as bored vacationers dodged under the awnings and sought entertainment. He chatted at a crab scuttling towards the water. “Might as well go to work and at least look at girls. Busing tables makes me invisible.” He collapsed his equipment and stuffed it in his backpack, but decided to wear his sunglasses as a shield from the wind.
Jogging on the wet packed sand, Tony veered away from the water to the boardwalk. He churned along, his large feet flipping sand behind him. At the stairs, he slid on his Adidas flip-flops. Taking the steps two at a time, Tony decided on a double-double burger/tot combo. He ambled over to Gino’s stand, placed his order at the window, and attempted to flirt with the cashier. She rolled her eyes as he dropped sandy coins on the counter. Greasy bag in hand, he smiled thanks and asked for extra ketchup. The girl turned her back to answer Gino’s phone and jot down an order. Tony stood for another second, shrugged, and then hurried to nab a bench facing the ocean.
Tony liked to watch storms roll in. He sprawled on the seat so he could view both the water and the boardwalk, wave or talk to a few friends, and wolf his lunch. Most guys were late to work, so no one lingered to beg a tater tot or kill time. Chewing, Tony projected himself into the future, hosting an end of season beach party. He’d have a bonfire, kegs of beer, and tons of girls, like Mary Ellen, in bikinis. As owner of Mack ‘N Manco’s, he’d have way more fun than his father. “Hell,” he thought, “if you’re gonna live at the beach, you might as well make it worthwhile.” Tony shuddered, picturing his father’s pale stork legs poking out of swim trunks, and the ubiquitous socks and sandals. “So not cool.” He took a huge bite just as a group of giggling girls sauntered past.
Sitting up straight and swallowing whole, Tony nodded. “Yo, Mary Ellen,” he squeaked. Mortified, he shrank back into his seat, and then watched as a petite redhead, who he recognized from school, peeled off from the pack to speak. “Hey, Mr. Clueless. Mary Ellen’s mine.” She reached over and popped a tot allowing her lips to form an “o” around it before actually taking a bite. Walking back to her group, she turned her head, puckered, and blew him a kiss.
Speechless, Tony sat and processed this information. What chance do I have in this town competing with lifeguards AND cheerleaders? It’s hopeless. With that, there was a whoosh of wings, and Tony was left with remnants of greasy paper smeared with mustard. “Half a cheeseburger gone? You gotta be kidding me,” Tony groused. “Compete with the damn seagulls too.”
Joanne Faries, originally from the Philadelphia area, lives in Texas with her husband Ray. Published in Doorknobs & Bodypaint, Off the Coast, Orange Room Review, and River Poets Journal, she also has stories and poems in Shine magazine, A Long Story Short, Up the Staircase, and Freckles to Wrinkles. Joanne is the film critic for the Little Paper of San Saba. http://word-splash-