Coney (Island) Barrett

Of course, she had never done anything like this. It was completely against her nature to be spontaneous, let alone flee to a city so renowned for impropriety. She had gotten enough of that while she was living in New Orleans, and even Memphis. Notre Dame was supposed to be a safe haven, a reprieve from sin. But she was still young then, prone to the temptation of the serpent. And it would be a few years yet before she met Jesse. She was still too free, given too much leash to explore the prospect of sowing her oats. She supposed that’s why she consented to accompany her friend Janet on the roughly eleven-hour road trip she was taking to New York City. She could feel the crushing weight of the weeks ahead of her once their winter break was over, and she knew somehow that this was her last chance to experiment with anything like “fun.” 

So off they went in her silver Honda Accord, the side pockets of the passenger and driver’s doors stocked with as many cassettes as possible, in addition to some that were stuffed in the glove compartment. Amy didn’t want to admit it, but she was quite into the scandalously titled Nirvana album, In Utero. She pretended to feign shock and disgust whenever “Rape Me” came on, but in truth, she thought it was best song on the tape. They also listened quite repeatedly to The Cranberries’ No Need to Argue. “Zombie” was an obvious repeat (or rather, rewind). When she thought about it now, she couldn’t believe she had ever been so brazen. Deigned to be lulled toward such a dark path because this was the “popular” music of the day. It was bad enough she was going to New York, but now she was listening to this heathen music as though to further infect her mind before even showing up to the city of sin (at least in Vegas, there was an all you can eat buffet for those looking for more wholesome distractions). 

They arrived in South Brooklyn, where Janet had a friend who lived in a house in Sheepshead Bay, late in the night. It looked haunted, and the interior matched the vibe of something Shirley Jackson might write about. While it was spacious inside, it was also dark and musty, and the furniture seemed to be inherited from the century before, when the original family might have first been living here. Amy said nothing about her distaste for the accommodations, instead politely thanking their host, John, for taking them in for a whole week. “It’s my pleasure,” he said. “It can get pretty lonely in this place anyway. It’ll be nice to have some… fresh meat.” He grinned at Amy, who shuddered. Janet rolled her eyes, accustomed to John’s lechery after years of knowing him. 

She rummaged through the cabinets of the kitchen in search of alcohol and pulled out an unopened bottle of red wine, asking John, “How old is this?” 

He shrugged. “Don’t know, it came with the house.” 

Janet uncorked it and poured three glasses in various styles of “chalices,” one of them being a mug that said “I Voted For Dukakis.” The sight of it made Amy blush, for she had voted for George Bush in the last election, and wished she had been old enough to vote for him in 1988 as well. She took the wine reluctantly, deliberately sidestepping the mug by picking another glass from the trio as quickly as she could. Janet smiled at Amy’s conservative nature, wondering if she would ever grow out of it–after all, she listened to Nirvana–how prudish could she really be? Taking a sip from her own purple sippy cup, she told John, “We’re gonna hit Coney tomorrow, you wanna come?” 

“That shithole? No thanks. It hasn’t been worth a damn since its ‘resort’ years.” 

Janet sighed. “Suit yourself, but I think it’s important that Amy sees it. It is her namesake, after all.” 

Amy suddenly felt her cheeks flushing from the wine–or was it the comparison of her last name to Coney Island? It didn’t matter. She needed to lie down. “Do you mind if I…?”

John motioned for her to follow him down the hallway, where he showed her the bedroom she would be staying in, right next to a medium-sized bathroom that had a shower and tub, even if it looked like it might spout nothing but brown water. “Thank you,” Amy said shyly, brushing back a strand of hair behind her ear. John was uncomfortably close to her, and she knew that if she didn’t move away soon, something was going to happen. So she did. 

Throughout the night, she went in and out of consciousness, occasionally hearing the hushed laughter and voices of Janet and John trickling in from the living room. She supposed they had turned one bottle of wine into two and then three. Yet Janet was somehow still the one who woke her up the following morning at nine a.m. to say, “Breakfast is ready, Princess.” She winked as she walked away. Amy threw on some jeans and a navy turtleneck, brushing through her hair meticulously before putting a headband over it. She then went into the bathroom to splash her face with water and brush her teeth. The smell of pancakes was wafting with increasing ferocity toward her area of the house, and she rushed all the more to finish her ablutions so that she could taste the bounty. 

At the table, the three of them appeared to be some ragtag family, and Amy imagined this is what liberal people must feel like all the time: cobbling together ersatz families because their own won’t approve of them. She couldn’t really decide if she liked it, but her gut was telling her that it wasn’t the right path to be on. That she had to get back on track after this little diversion of a trip, and certainly never speak of it to her own parents. 

John stood in the doorway to watch them leave, Janet taking her rightful place in the driver’s seat as they proceeded to Coney Island. They parked near the Nathan’s Hot Dogs “entrance.” If this had been anytime before World War II, the place would have been teeming. Alas, this was the post-war era, and it mirrored that reality in the ghost town aura of the milieu. Amy meekly offered, “I guess it was special at one point.” 

Janet patted her shoulder. “Just wait Amy, just wait. Prepare to be wowed.”

They walked onto the boardwalk and paused to take in Luna Park, the Wonder Wheel and the Cyclone. Rides that once represented “great American ideals” now seemed incongruous, some bizarre attempt at futurism during a time when the future still seemed rife with possibility. Janet started to rattle off some factoids as they kept walking, including how baby incubators were one of the many marvels–“sideshow attractions”–initially showcased at Coney Island during the 1900s, starting in 1903. This interested Amy greatly, even though she found such an environment to be grotesque for a baby incubator to be unveiled. At least back then, no one was discussing the idea of aborting their babies, but rather finding new ways to keep them alive and healthy. This warmed her heart for a moment until they passed the aquarium, dingy and depressing, even on the outside.

Janet then went into the history of how it was once much grander and in the better, more central location of Battery Park before Robert Moses decided to carry out a vendetta against preservationists that rallied to keep him from building his precious Battery Park Bridge. That meant a tunnel instead, prompting Moses to insist that Castle Clinton’s (where the aquarium was housed) infrastructure couldn’t accommodate the building of the tunnel, therefore needed to be torn down. While he didn’t ultimately get his complete revenge by destroying Castle Clinton, the removal of the aquarium was a highly sufficient wound, not just to the preservationists, of course, but to the public that once found it so easy to get there. But Moses never gave a fuck about the public, contrary to his title as a public servant. Out of everything Janet told her that day, Amy believed that’s what she remembered most clearly. This little detail about Moses. 

They continued to Brighton Beach, where Russians leered at them and Amy could have sworn she saw the glint of someone pulling a switchblade out. But she tried her best to ignore it as they sat on the grimy sand and looked out at the ocean. It was cold and inhospitable, yet Amy didn’t complain. She knew it was important to Janet to show her this part of New York because it was her namesake. It was seeing its dilapidation and decay that made Amy realize she would need to do something truly spectacular in order to lend new weight to the moniker. 

When they finally got back to the car, it was dusk. All that history-rehashing and philosophizing Janet had done really put a dent into the day, and now Amy was ravenous. When they got back to John’s he was making couscous from scratch, complete with the stew that’s supposed to accompany it in its authentic form. Amy fell a little bit in love with him then, for she could never resist a man who understood the value of French things. As her own great-great-grandparents had emigrated from France to New Orleans, she had been compelled to carry on the tradition of her legacy by minoring in French at Rhodes College. She was loopy enough to tell John that later when she found herself in his bedroom upstairs. Apparently, she shouldn’t drink wine, no matter how much she thought a “few sips” wouldn’t affect her. They had affected her, and now here she was having unprotected sex with John. 

Thus, a Coney Island keychain was not the only souvenir she took back to Notre Dame with her. Roughly a month later, when Amy’s suspicions had been confirmed, and her period did not arrive, Janet was the sole person she could tell, and also the last person that she wanted to. For she knew that their friendship would be over after Janet dropped her off at her apartment from the abortion clinic. She knew that it was unspoken that John was off limits, and that she had now tainted something between him and Janet.

She didn’t give her real name at the clinic, and even got a fake ID to back it up. She could never be linked to such depravity. She had a bright future ahead of her, unlike the fetus that had just been plucked from the depths of her vaginal canal. And as she sat huddled in the dark on her couch, law books strewn all over the coffee table, she had a flash of one of those baby incubators being shown as a medical curiosity at Coney Island. 

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