Freeze Frame Girl

Steep wooden steps led down to the beach. Each was slatted and warped, curved up at the edges. Between the slats you saw a strip of green below. If you dragged your hand on the railing, you’d splinter your thumb. You’d leave the asphalt boundary of the club and descend. Shouts from the pool faded as trees engulfed you.

At the bottom of the steps, a wide-enough patch of grass curved down to sand. It was all in shade as a tree branch canopy rose along the slope. A naturally protected grassy cove. We’d plant ourselves behind the steps, against a rock wall in full shade and gaze at the moored boats bobbing in the harbor beyond the dock.

The property belonged to the people who lived at the top of the bluff. It was kind of their back yard, but we never saw them. So we claimed it as our own.

“Who’s got a match?” Angela asked, her brown eyes surveying our circle, mouth curved up in a slight smile as she tapped a cigarette out of the pack.

“I got ‘em,” I said, unzipping my ditty bag. I handed them to Angela as she passed a pack of Winstons around the circle.

She was the oldest in our group. She wore an orange tee shirt with a gigantic bee on it that read, “I caught the sailing bug.” She had just started lessons last year. The rest of us had started at 10, when you’re allowed to be a Novice.

I sat next to her. My tee shirt read “Breezin’. Junior Yacht Racing Association of Long Island Sound. 1974.” Blue letters on white, with a picture of a Blue Jay, the boat we all sailed. It was the one season our instructors had given us shirts the first week of class, so we wore it with some pride, and some confusion. Would we always get a JYRA shirt now?

The difference between my tee shirt and Angela’s was that her figure was in full force beneath it. It was kind of a sight to behold. She was going out with our friend Steve who had just gotten a Fireball. You didn’t know what they did but you knew it was something in the way they disappeared at the Fireman’s Fair and re-emerged clasping hands, distracted.

The difference between my tee shirt and Angela’s was that her figure was in full force beneath it. It was kind of a sight to behold. She was going out with our friend Steve who had just gotten a Fireball. You didn’t know what they did but you knew it was something in the way they disappeared at the Fireman’s Fair and re-emerged clasping hands, distracted.

Angela lit her cigarette and exhaled slowly, jutting out her lower jaw. Her teeth made a thin white line above her lower lip. Smoke circled up her nose in an opaque screen.

Next to me was my best friend Bridget. We took class together, ate lunch together and swam together. I had slept over her house. Her sister and brother took lessons too and her dad took us tubing on his boat near Sand City. The Cassidys were the family you equated with the club. Always there. Day and evening. On land, on water.

Natalie sat next to Bridget. She was the tallest, the most regal. She had blonde-brown hair that went all the way down to her waist. Natalie had a way of being there and not being there at all. In the clouds but still paying attention in a dream-state kind of way.

Leah was fifth around the circle. Leah was our problem-solver. The one that would pull out a tube of Coppertone before you started to burn and actually rub it across your shoulders. Big smile, easy laugh, black hair, a little wavy. The shortest. She blew out the match and bobbed her head in time with a tune in her head.

Leah was fifth around the circle. Leah was our problem-solver. The one that would pull out a tube of Coppertone before you started to burn and actually rub it across your shoulders. Big smile, easy laugh, black hair, a little wavy. The shortest. She blew out the match and bobbed her head in time with a tune in her head.

“So when do we leave? And what are we bringing, Bridgey?” she asked.

We were planning our sleep-over on the Cassidys’ boat.

“Oh yeah, right! We gotta plan. Well, bring pajamas and a pillow. You know, pjs and a p!” Bridget laughed. “The boat already has a lot of blankets. It’s gonna be tight but we can definitely fit five. My mom’s packing hot dogs and hamburgers and make your own ice cream sundae stuff. I’ll bring Clue and cards. And definitely George.”

George was Bridget’s big bulky music player. It had FM radio and a cassette deck. It was scuffed and decorated with stickers. A star-spangled hand flashing the peace sign. Snoopy lying on his doghouse. LOVE.

“Let’s meet after class on Friday. We’ll have to hang out at the pool and take like a 7:00 tender. My mom’s dropping the stuff off around then.”

“What about beer?” I asked, looking at Angela.

“I’ll ask Chris. How many sixes do we need?” she asked, exhaling smoke through her nose.

Chris was the Commodore’s son. He drove the tender, shuttling people and their day trip gear to their boats and picking them back up in the afternoon when they blew their horn three times. He drove standing, dipping when he turned the big silver wheel.

Chris was the Commodore’s son. He drove the tender, shuttling people and their day trip gear to their boats and picking them back up in the afternoon when they blew their horn three times. He drove standing, dipping when he turned the big silver wheel. The men stood next to him in wide stances and made small talk about tides or where they were going as he maneuvered through all shapes of boats. Women sat on cushioned seats next to their canvas bags and coolers.

His best friend Danny drove the second tender. They wore plain brown uniforms and boat shoes. They were in high school. Much older than us. One night me and Bridget had smoked and drank cans of Bud with them on the beach. As it got late, Bridget paired off with Chris and disappeared for a while, leaving me and Danny on the blanket. But he sensed I wasn’t ready for any of that so we just lay on our backs counting shooting stars.

Chris could easily get beer even though he wasn’t 18 yet. He had lots of friends in Northport. All Angela would have to do is give him the money and directions. People like Chris listened to her because she was matter-of-fact and beautiful so you just kind of took notice.

On Friday evening, Mr. Cassidy escorted us to the boat. It was a power boat, around 32 feet with fancy script writing on the transom: Shamrock II. He stood next to Danny on the tender, his stout body short in comparison, telling him how the girls were staying overnight and they’d be coming back about 10:00 in the morning.

Danny pulled alongside the Shamrock. We bobbed from side to side as Mr. Cassidy grabbed the railing and jumped aboard, holding onto the tender. Danny helped pass the gear and gave us each a hand as we stepped off. I was last off. When Danny took my hand, I stopped as I crossed, a freeze frame girl.

Danny pulled alongside the Shamrock. We bobbed from side to side as Mr. Cassidy grabbed the railing and jumped aboard, holding onto the tender. Danny helped pass the gear and gave us each a hand as we stepped off. I was last off. When Danny took my hand, I stopped as I crossed, a freeze frame girl. Danny was sweet and too old for me and maybe I’d see him later.

When they pulled away, it was just us five, alone among all the moored boats in Northport Harbor. A rare freedom from parents, and one I nearly didn’t earn because my mother usually said no to sleep-overs. It was only because Mr. Cassidy took her aside and in his jovial way assured her we’d be fine that she changed her mind.

We grilled hot dogs and hamburgers and made hot fudge sundaes. Chris brought the beer just before 9:00 and drove his tender in for the night. Where was Danny?

We drank and played rummy. Bridget played Band on the Run until she agreed to switch to the radio. We put on our bathing suits and dove in.

Little magical sparkles of light trailed your arms, sinking. Kick your feet and it was like sparklers on the Fourth of July. Dive like a porpoise and come twisting out to see little lights tracing the outline of your body.

The water sobered me up a little. We swam around a nearby L16, giggling and singing snippets of songs in hoarse voices. The bell clanged at the edge of the moorings. The four of them went back in.

I felt heavy pulling myself up the ladder. I wrapped myself in a towel, grabbed another beer and unplugged George from the outlet below deck. They were setting up a game of Life but the stars and fresh air lured me back out.

I took George to the front of the boat. The batteries weighed him down. I leaned back against the glass, drew in my knees and cradled the radio on my thighs. Below me, dark water lapped against the Shamrock. I drank my Bud, my head spinning a bit. Chris and Danny weren’t coming. As “Hooked on a Feeling” faded I realized I was starved so I stood up to go back below. As I turned, my ankle rolled. I reached for the railing and in that moment, I lost hold of George’s handle. He tumbled into the water and I watched him sink slowly, two silver speakers at a diagonal, going to black.

Bridget was a good sport about it even though I knew she was disappointed. I felt I had violated a sacred thing. She trusted me with her prized possession and I had watched it drown in the harbor. There was nothing I could do to replace it. I ached knowing I lost it so stupidly. I tried to hug her but she brushed me off. I was sad for everything then. Natalie and Leah helped me to bed.

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