Coney Island Midnight by Matthew Lesaule

The B screeched to a halt at Brighton Beach as night fell. I’d been alone on the subway since Prospect Park. As the train gradually emptied throughout the ride, I recalled the vines and plants which blossomed from the crevices of Prospect Park station, lining the walls and tracks with green, and which were fed by the setting sunlight. I’d hoped to pass it on my way back and see the plants at night.

The doors slid open at Brighton. I walked onto the platform. A summer breeze wiped the chill from my skin, and I began to sweat. Looking down the street, I saw the lamplights leading to the boardwalk, and the black ocean at its ends. Wiping the sweat from my forehead, I made my way down the steps. The train screeched away.

It was midnight in the city, its people and machinery howling on, dozens on sidewalks and many more in cars and buses off to the next diner, bar, club, or in my case, the boardwalk. I walked down the lamplit street, the occasional car rolling by. A passing couple, engrossed in one another, seemed blissfully oblivious to the night around them. There was the scent of salt in the sea breeze.

I arrived at an entrance and looked off towards the water, black in the evening light, reflecting the high white moon. The Brighton half of the boardwalk was barren, as was its beach. I stepped onto the planks and glanced instinctively towards the lights. Coney Island: a kaleidoscope of distant laughing heads and bobbing bodies beneath the vibrant Wonder Wheel, a cacophony of music and talk and a thousand footsteps upon wood. The city, though ceaseless in its raging motion, was drowned away into afterthought by the cool waves and the carnival. I approached the joyous scene, strolling along in the calm of the sea breeze before the colorful storm.

Music blared and people danced along the boardwalk. Couples retreated to the sparsely populated beach and lay upon the sand beneath the moon. Light from the night sky was diffused behind the yellow and neon bulbs that coated the path in vivid color. The carousel’s song rang–even through the inane pop music emanating from the shops and the melodies of the musicians which lined the opposite side of the terrace. It was the anthem of youth, reverberating across the island. It played on as lyrics faded and guitars slowed their strumming.

A drummer amassed a crowd of revelers. I joined in and soon after we all started dancing. We danced until we were drenched in sweat and danced some more, the rhythm and the dazzling carnival lights urging us on and on. Regardless of age, we were invulnerable to exhaustion, ignorant of the spectacle we were making of ourselves.

After awhile, I left the riotous dervish. I bought an ice cream cone and a ticket for the Wonder Wheel. I sat alone in the gondola, but that was fine. The ice cream was good and my sweat dried away. At the wheel’s peak ascension, the full moon pierced through the haze and shone brightly. Below me, the dots of people were so numerous that they made the buildings look alive and moving. Waves lapped the shore.

***

Sat at a cafe, my foot tapping to the music, drinking coffee, taking in the night, watching people pass. I looked to the Parachute Jump; grinned as the red bulbs turned blue, then green, then yellow, then gray. My eyes closed. When I opened them, the light returned in a pale spiral of rainbow, and I laughed as though a joke had been played on me. I stared into the neon like I was a child watching white cherry blossoms in a pool. A warmth separate from the summer heat reached me in a wave of tranquility, and I smiled.

From nowhere, a figure of beauty stood a few feet before me, obscuring my sight of the tower. She stood in profile, smiling towards Luna Park, in the direction of the Wonder Wheel. Her auburn hair fell to her shoulders, the outline of her slender figure illuminated by the lights. She glowed. Music suddenly ceased. Laughter stopped. The machinery of night screeched to a halt. There was only her radiant silhouette and the whisper of distant waves, and the breeze that flew through her hair which rose and swirled across her face. She combed her hair back with her fingers, still looking toward the Wonder Wheel. She smiled as though recalling a far off and fond memory; as though in the backdrop of a starless night, the light of the giant wheel projected the recollected scene into the heavens. I looked towards the wheel. There was only it and the empty sky above. I felt my warmth recede into the hollow night.

The gears were switched back on, turning slowly, allowing the black nighttime to accommodate the beauty of a lovely, ghostly figure, making all else banal and transparent. My gaze fell back to her. She took a breath of the sea breeze and closed her eyes. Then she walked back into the crowd, never glancing in my direction despite how near I was. I saw the tower once more, its rainbow light beaming brightly. But as I looked on, the glow faded away. Music which seemed a part of the air slowed and thinned, and what remained was grotesque and heartless. Looking around I found the cafe empty. Noise of sole to plank, physically no more than inches from me, was distant and obscure, slowly suffocated by the void. Passing voices morphed and blended together into little more than the mutterings of an insane asylum where the inhabitants were permitted to roam free and fill the halls with whisperings. The wind died away. Breathing through the still air felt like inhaling a thick mist. Standing, knocking over my coffee, I ran onto the boardwalk, pushing through the dense masses and whispers.

There was her hair, glowing and swaying as she moved towards the carousel. The polychrome carnival began to dim, but the bulbs of yellow remained, like a lamplight on a darkening street. A voice rang through the park: “Ladies and gentlemen: the park is closing. Please make your way towards the exits.” A general groan rose from the crowds of monstrous men and women. Musicians stopped playing their shrill, untuned instruments and the shops of yelling, screeching voices closed their doors with a slam. But the carousel played on clearly through the shroud of distortion, and as I entered, the merry-go-round began to spin. Its horses, frozen in their half-cantors, rose and fell with the song. I watched the empty steeds, looking for her. I neared the steps and stopped. Elegant vanity mirrors, bordered by fantastic designs, lined the center of the carousel, and as it spun I could see myself: standing, sweat dripping from my matted hair, desperation, desire and despair in my eyes. And as my image leapt from one mirror and onto another, I became clear through the prism of light and music, and was repulsed by the sight.

Suddenly she was there, standing before a mirror smiling and laughing, trailing streaks of chestnut tresses as she spun. I ran onto the revolving platform and against the current, dodging the galloping and neighing beasts as they bobbed before me. I glanced towards the mirrors, searching for her, hearing a giggle through the tune. I watched myself charge against the stampede. I heard a harlequin cackle which seemed to blend with the music. I turned, nearly falling against a white horse, and found her laughing, facing away from me, riding side saddle. She jumped off, and nearly skipped away from the carousel, leaving me with the horses and the mirrors and the now maddening music. I meandered through and jumped from the machine, sprinting to the boardwalk. I stopped.

The brilliant color–the prismatic wonder of neon bulbs and pale rainbows–was shut off, condemned to the night. Not even the yellow remained; the street lamp went dark. Despondent, I walked towards the Wonder Wheel, glancing around for her; her glowing figure, her copper hair that would bring light again to the park. But she was gone. The park was silent. My steps upon the planks forced sound upon a scene devoid of noise, like a scream in a graveyard, so I stood still, looking to the wheel. The boardwalk was now shrouded in shadow and quiet, and the silence struck me with the strength of a roaring train. I glanced at the carousel. It, too, was dark and quiet. I looked past the silhouette of the park towards the never-ending city. I heard its distant gears turning in the night.

I didn’t go back to Prospect Park. I didn’t go back home. I stayed at the island, content with the weeds which grew in short patches along the boardwalk’s edge, and sat along them by the sand. I looked to the ocean. The waves crashed against the shore. The moon was falling.

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