Shore Stories

An Anthology of the Jersey Shore

Edited by Rich Youmans

351 pages, 47 photographs, 6"x9"
hardcover with dust jacket (above) $29.95
ISBN 0-945582-50-1
pbk. (right) $14.95
ISBN 0-945582-71-4

The following excerpt is from
The Finished Sound, by Sandy Gingras
Copyright © 1998 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

(continued from Shore Stories page)

When I meet him for dinner, he says, “What’s up?” I know what he’s asking. He’s given me a week to decide, and it’s been four days. “You’re stalling,” he says. “You must know what you want?”

This restaurant is full of air plants that need no soil or pots. They’re hanging on strings over our heads like puppets with no feet. They sway and rustle slightly with every air draft. I bat at one and send it whirling around in a circle. “Remember tether ball?” I ask him. He shakes his head.

Throughout the rest of the meal, I study him hard. I pretend I don’t know him. I ask myself if I would want to meet him. I angle my head and squint like artists do to see contrasts. My eyes gravitate to certain parts of his body. It’s as if there were magnets embedded in his cheek bones, his neck, his forearms. I know I’m not seeing the whole picture, even squinting. If there’s one thing I can’t trust it’s my eyesight, next is my taste in men, next is my intuition. I wonder if I rely on my senses too much. I think maybe I should do those exercises that the eye doctor told me to do: focus on something close and then something far away. Then I realize I do that all the time; I can’t stop doing that.

After dinner, he comes over to my place and, while we’re watching TV, the screen goes blank. He fiddles with the wires behind it while I say, “No. Not yet. Nope,” for what seems like hours.

He says, “I’ll make a new connection for you.”

I hesitate, thinking of his neat garage with shiny tools hanging on their own pegs, glass mayonnaise jars with sized bolts and screws, labels on each one. Edgar believes that living is an assembly problem. I mean, he really believes that. He thinks that if he gets the parts and follows the directions carefully, something solid will be built. I don’t know anymore if this is wisdom or unbearable innocence, so I say, “I’ll just wait.”

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“Time sometimes works on mechanical things.”

“You need a new part,” he argues.

“Maybe it’ll work later,” I say.

“What do you have against logic anyway?” he says.
I remember my relatives telling me, “You’ll know if he’s the right one.” They never said anything about the possibility of bad reception, of knowledge flying by me as invisibly as electricity while I wait on my couch for a clear picture.
On my lunch break at work, I make the list of pros and cons that all my friends have been advocating. I list all the things I like about him: “That blue and white flannel shirt; the gray in his mustache; the way he says ‘I got you’ when he holds me; the way he rubs his dog’s throat....” Then I write the things I don’t like: “How many wrenches he has; those geometric sheets; the persistent way he cooks dinner (i.e. the way he keeps patting things with a spatula).” These lists make my shoulders bunch up. I total them up, but that doesn’t seem to be enough. I wonder if I should subtract or divide. I do both. I come up with 17 and 2.4.

I was never any good at math story problems. The teacher with the string tie had to keep me after school every Wednesday in 5th grade. He would repeat in a patient way, reassigning emphasis to different words: “If JANE goes on train A.... If Jane GOES on train A....” I’d stare down at the yellow desk and let the words choo-choo by. I’d smile regretfully, sure that this would always be a sticking point.

That night, there’s a storm. The moon and tides and wind and rain align overnight, and the island is buried. I wake up and there’s a flood around my house like a liquid lawn stretching out into the bay. The bay swarms over the bulkhead; it swells out of the storm drains. It’s everywhere. The road is gone. My neighbor’s zinnias stick their skinny necks out of the water like desperate umbrellas — red and pink and yellow. My truck’s tires then doors are lapped by waves. The electricity goes quietly out.

Edgar and his dog Sammy are stuck with me in my house. They’re both pacing. I sit on my plaid skirted couch feeling oddly cozy in this flimsy cottage swaying on its pilings in the battering rain. I think that this is what marriage is. Another part of me argues that this is a weather anomaly, but the other part is more sure: This is marriage. Even at low tide, the water barely recedes, and we can’t leave.

Edgar has to put on waders to get the canoe from the garage just so he can put his dog in it and row her to the ocean side, up to the high ground of the dunes so she can get out and pee. He keeps coming back drenched and wild-eyed, carrying things — a large piece of a fish jaw with black teeth, driftwood shaped like a fat nude woman (there’s a hole that goes all the way through her for a belly button)—giving these things to me so I can find a place for them. I line the objects up on the kitchen table like hypothetical wedding gifts.

The wind keeps shoving at the house. “Oh,” I say when the house moves.

“A house on pilings is built to move,” he keeps telling me.

“I know, I know,” I say.

For dinner, we have canned beefaroni and canned asparagus. We light candles and spoon up our mushy food while the water rises under the house. We imagine it rising. It’s too dark to see, but we know that the tide is coming in again.

“You want dessert?” I ask him.

He sticks his finger right through the driftwood woman’s belly and wiggles it at me beckoning.

“What?” I say.

He just keeps on beckoning.


He won’t stop until I bend my head down and look through the hole. Then he withdraws his finger and puts his face down and looks at me through the hole. All I see is this big eye winking at me.

“I don’t get it,” I tell his eye.

“I see right through you, baby,” he says.

“Oh yeah?” I say, and pick up the jaw bone and put it in front of my mouth. “Now what do you see?”

He reaches over and snaps one of the teeth off. A big one just comes off in his hands. I can’t believe it. “So what?” I say.

He puts the tooth between his lips, and it looks like a big hole in the middle of his smirk. The he chases me around humming that “dum-dum dum-dum” shark music. Maybe I hate him a little as I throw pillows at him and hurdle over the couch into the dark living room, but I can’t stop laughing either. He spits the tooth out by the time he catches me, but I swear he still tastes like something fierce when he kisses me. I could have told him then that I loved him, that I’d marry him, but I didn’t. Instead, I just listened to the storm, and it sounded like it was rushing right through us.

By the next day, I guess I’m used to being surrounded by water. I don’t even look for glimpses of land anymore. I trust the pilings under the house so absolutely it’s a kind of purity of denial. Now I understand why people get so hooked on faith. Why it makes them want to sing. It’s concentration of energy into something that doesn’t deserve it. It’s crazy. I vow that IF this storm is ever finished, WHEN this storm is finished, I’ll get a piling sunk into my yard and paint it and carve it like a totem. I’ll dance around it and sacrifice things to it. I’ll worship the mad concept of having thin legs to stand on.

I expect the same of him somehow, but Edgar can’t sit still. He’s nervous. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. If he were out there slinging sand bags or battening hatches, he’d be fine. But he’s not. He’s on my couch flipping the pages of New Woman magazine, impatient to get somewhere.

By afternoon, the wind slows and the rain is less sheeting and absolute; the waters seem to have peaked. Now it’s just a matter of waiting. I know that something in both of us is disappointed. We’ll find out later that the eye of the storm didn’t really hit us, that it veered off at the last moment and headed back out to sea. When I hear this, it doesn’t surprise me. In my experience, most things hold themselves back like this, hint at their full potential, then tuck into themselves and wait for next time.

About the author: Sandy Gingras is an artist and writer with her own wholesale design company called "How To Live", and is the author of numerous "How to Live" books published by Down The Shore. She lives with her son next to a salt marsh on Long Beach Island.
P.O. Box 3100, Harvey Cedars New Jersey 08008
email • fax (609) 597-0422

Copyright © 2004 Down The Shore Publishing Corp. The words "Down The Shore" and logo are a registered U.S. Trademark.