Willie Lowenstein stretched his long legs out on the backseat of their grey DeSoto. His shoes were off. Eyes opened and closed off and on. His head rested on an army-issue green duffle. In the front, his parents were talking. His father was driving. His mother next to him, a paper sack on the front seat between them, holding three egg salad sandwiches on white, paper napkins, and a thermos of coffee.
All of the car windows were rolled down. The open side vents barely moved the lazy air around him.
Their ribbed-sole shoes had left impressions in the soft tar in the street in front of their Bronx apartment, like at the scene of a crime.
Along the highway heading east, spreads of dusty yellow ragweed and rangy red sumac covered the hills on one side of the road. On the other side was the long curve of the Atlantic, the sky above it like a just-washed robin’s egg.
At the end of the expressway they took the two-lane toward Montauk. They drove past the galleries and high-hedged houses of the Hamptons. Further out, they pulled into the gravel drive by the sign for the White Sands Motel. Theirs was the only car in the lot.
Willie unloaded the few bags from the trunk onto the patchy dirt and clumps of leggy crabgrass out front of the building. He set down a webbed beach chair for each of his parents, facing them out toward the water. His mother unwrapped the sandwiches, and afterward, his mother said ‘why don’t you go look around.’
He trailed his fingers along the dry chalky paint on the side of the building. Salt-crusted screens shifted back and forth in the breeze. The smell of chlorine reached around the corner.
It was her firm late-summer-brown legs he saw first. The sun glanced off them. A red bathing suit. One piece. A birthmark in he shape of Venezuela at the roundness at the top of her hip. Her toes curled over the edge of the chair.
“Those your folks out front?” she said.
“They checking in?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“You’d be the only ones. It’s off-season. Just so’s you know, my father will close up for the year when he gets back if they don’t.”
“They’re sort of trying it out. See if they like it enough to stay the night.”
Soft downy blond hair covered her arms. Her ponytail was pulled through the back of a Yankees cap and a trail of curls tapered down the back of her neck. Her eyes were shaded and there was a thin crescent scar low on her cheek.
“What are they arguing about?” she asked.
“We got a ticket on the highway. We passed a tractor with a flatbed of pumpkins just past Water Mill and a cop pulled us over.”
“So, my mother said if he hadn’t been so sarcastic like he was to the cop we’d only have gotten a warning.”
“Oh,” she said. “You from the city?”
“Ever kissed a girl?”
“What? Yeah. Once… Penny Feldstein.”
“You like it?”
“Yeah. Pretty much. It was good. But her mother found us hiding under her sister’s crib and she said she’d call my mother if I didn’t get out of her house.”
His father’s voice was starting to get high and tight. His mother shushing him.
‘Don’t shush me’ he said.
He could picture the throbbing thick vein on his father’s forehead.
“How old are you?” she asked.
“I’m seventeen… almost,” she said.
They both looked down at the pool. Nothing moved.
“How’d you get that scar?”
“I tried to use my father’s razor once when I was a kid.”
“Did it hurt bad?”
“Crazy bad,” she said. “My dad grabbed me up in a towel; drove like maniac all the way to Riverhead, saying ‘my baby, my baby,’ the whole way there. Twelve stitches.”
She put a slim finger to her face like it was a warm wet blade on her cheek. Her mouth was all squinched up to the side like she was looking at herself in a mirror.
“You going in,” she said.
“I don’t know.”
“No. Not really. ”
“You want to meet me later up by the lighthouse.”
The sun had moved behind her. Her shoulders glinted gold. She leaned forward, her arms crossed in front of her resting on her knees. Her hands cupped around her elbows.
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“There are these old abandoned bunkers out by the dunes. You know, for the U-boats. Nobody goes there much now. Not this time of year, anyhow. It’s cooler and dark in there.”
She reached behind her head to tighten the ponytail. The top of her suit lifted and swelled.
“Yeah, maybe,” he said. “I guess.”
A deep-throated jeep downshifted to make it up the driveway. The rustle of balloon tires spinning and grabbing the gravel, spitting it back like scattershot. Its door opened.
Willie’s mother called to him. He heard doors open hastily. She called again, “Willie, get here right now!”
“Be right back,” he said.
He rushed away and flung himself into the car instead, and his father spun out of the lot.
“Can we go see the lighthouse?”
“No. Ask your father.”
“Why didn’t we stay?”
“Ask your father.”
“Could we go back?”
His father flicked the radio on.
Willie lay there on the backseat, his arms folded behind his head, eyes closed. The Shadow, Dragnet, and Your’s Truly, Johnny Dollar, came on, filling the otherwise silent space around him.
In the early dusk, Willie carried the soft duffel back into the apartment.
“So tell me,” he said, “what were you two doing out there anyway? Casing out the joint?”
“Ask your father, wiseguy.”