It Happens Every Time
                    by Corinne H. Smith
     When I heard the sound of a truck idling, followed by male voices and shovels scraping, I looked out to discover that a local road crew was outside my home, casually filling a small pothole.  As I watched them from an open upstairs window, the aroma of hot tar rose up and overpowered me.

     Suddenly I was a kid again, vacationing with my parents in Atlantic City, before gambling.  We relaxed on large beach towels, placed far enough from the water that the tide couldn’t reach us.  After grabbing a dollar away from my parents, I hot-footed it across the thick sand to the wooden steps leading to the boardwalk.  My progress was unfortunately delayed as I sank several inches with each sizzling step.  I kept my eyes on the boardwalk, my goal, and leaned forward in the hopes that I could build some kind of momentum that would propel me faster toward the walkway.   From that angle, I could see a black substance coating portions of the support beams and the planks of the boardwalk.  It glistened in the warm summer sun, and its fragrance mixed with an air already thick with heat, humidity, suntan lotion, washed-up seaweed, and fried food. 


     The lowest steps were still sandy, no doubt catching grains from dozens of soles and shoes pounding up them.  By the time I reached the boardwalk
a dozen steps later, even my own feet were relatively clean.  But if I thought the sand had been hot and troublesome to walk in, I was unprepared for the
searing heat the dark boardwalk had to offer.  After taking one firm but burning footstep, I sprinted the rest of the way across the diagonal strips of wood,
to the small snack bar just on the other side. 

     In spite of my discomfort, I was happy.  Already I could hear the radio blaring from the refreshment stand.  It was in mid-song, and I recognized the
perky instrumental from one of my favorite tunes of the day.  Quickly I ordered a medium vanilla and chocolate twist cone.  When the lyric returned, I sang
loudly with the vocalists, eager to show everyone around me that I wasn’t just a kid, I knew things, important things, especially songs that were on the
current pop charts:  “And Windy has stormy eyes that flash with sound of lies and Windy has wings to fly, up above clouds, up above clouds, up above
clouds, up above clouds.”  I was handed my ice cream cone, and I had to stop singing to slurp up the melting drips with my tongue.  I took brief refuge in
the narrow two-foot shade the awning provided and listened to the rest of my song.  I swirled my tongue around the ice cream to prevent more drips from
forming.  Here out of direct sunlight, the boardwalk under my bare feet was merely warm, not broiling. When other customers walked up to place late lunch
orders, the space got crowded fast.  I had to return to the beach and my parents.

     I was down to the cone by the time I darted back across the boardwalk, skipping over the black and pungent streams of tar.  I flew down the steps,
trudged hurriedly through the deep sand, and at last made it to the cool and solid flatness created by the waves.  I stood there nibbling the rest of my ice
cream cone while the ocean water lapped repeatedly at my ankles.  I wriggled my grateful toes into the sturdy sand underfoot.  I was indeed refreshed,
all over, inside and out. 

     Two doors slammed, and the maintenance truck drove away.  Inhaling as deeply I could, I knew that the road crew had taken the majority of the tar smell
with them.  But for just a few minutes on that fall New England day, I was a girl again, hopping across the hot sand and boardwalk and singing with the
Association in Atlantic City, before gambling.

Fall 2006

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