Steven took my hand and looked into my eyes. “Trust me, Heidi, I know where the car is for sure this time.” I saw the beads of sweat on my brother’s forehead and knew in that instant that he was still guessing. I hated him for how forgetful he was. He had just started driving last week. Our parents were stupid to let us out alone.
As we walked along the boardwalk at our city’s beachside amusement park, I could see the Ferris wheel turning in slow motion in the distance. We passed the bumper cars, and I could hear the electricity sparking against the metal ceiling atop the funny long hooks. The smell of cotton candy mixed with the unmistakable aroma of hot dogs and greasy French fries reminded me of how hungry I was. But we had no money for food. We passed the huge churning arms of the saltwater taffy machine as the sun dipped into the ocean, stealing daylight and casting the park into a burnt shadowy tapestry for the short time until the lights came on for the evening.
“Can’t we go home?” I said.
“I told you. We’re heading to the car. It’s right over here. I’m sure of it,” Steven said. We pressed on. I could see Steven was trying to get his bearings. When Steven sensed my concern, he added, “We’ll be there in a minute. Promise.” Just then, a man emerged from out of the funhouse doorway to our left.
“Come with me,” the man said to Steven. “And bring the girl.”
I started to tell him we were brother and sister, but Steven squeezed my hand and shook his head imperceptibly.
The man had one continuous eyebrow, dark glasses, and wore a black leather jacket with grimy, dried splotches of mustard on his sleeve, which disgusting as it was, made my stomach rumble with hunger almost as much as it twisted with apprehension.
“I am taking you to the end of the boardwalk. There you will see a very tall woman wearing black silk stockings held up by a satin garter belt. She will have on a red sequined vest, and matching red sequined high heels. You must go with her,” the man said, reeking of sweat, stale cigars, and maybe beer. I don’t really know.
Steven was holding my hand so tightly now that I began to lose feeling in my fingers. The prickly sensation started crawling up my arm, and I tried to wriggle free, only making Steven hold my hand tighter now, his class ring cutting into my hand because he always wore it turned around backward.
The man in the sunglasses peeled away as we approached the tall woman. She, too, had dark glasses on. At night. And her hair was big. Big and black. Like a witch. I thought we should run. But we were not free. Something drew us to the woman. Something we could not see and something from which we could not escape.
“How do you do?” she said, looking down into both of our panic-stricken faces. “We have been waiting for you.”
We looked at her purse with a big F on it, and she told us to follow her past the end of the boardwalk, around the side of the brightly lit Ferris wheel, and out to the place where she said something was waiting for us. Oh, God. What was it? Who was it? We had been holding hands, but now, our hands became gently disengaged.
We would see each other again, my brother and I, but on that night we bid our childhoods and each other goodbye. We were no longer those kids, holding hands, my brother trying in vain to protect me from harm. No. He could not protect me from this.
When we walked away from the boardwalk that night with the big-haired woman wearing dark glasses and red sequined high heels, we were leaving behind our childhood. We would become adults. The hunger I felt was more accurately a profound emptiness stemming from the premature loss of my youth. And so, we entered the next stage of life with that woman as our guide. For it was our fate to grow up. Like kids do. In fact, that was her name. Fate. Even then, I wondered what the garter belt meant. It worried me, and I am sad to say, it was indeed a sign of things to come. For our fate is not ours to know in advance, but ours to look back upon, and wonder why.