by Michael Gold

Don’t go near the water? Don’t go near the beach.

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



The first things that get you are the heels. Red spikes hit the wood floor like bullets. Each step explodes in your ears.

Then there’s a pause, a very short blessing. The heels have run up against a boundary, like a couch or a wall. The feet turn and the bullets rattle against your skull once more. Your eyes lock on the heels with murder in mind.

Ah, yes, the eyes, those betrayers. For no sooner than your eyes have closed in on the heels like lasers, they cannot stay there for more than a collection of seconds. Because the ankles, then the calves, and then the curve of the thighs invite your eyes ever upward. And you curse yourself because you know what’s coming next.

The bikini is fire-engine red, to match the spiked heels. And it’s not just any bikini. She’s wearing just the barest snippet of cloth over her thighs and chest. The protrusions emanating from the chest are impossibly high for a woman of 45, almost even with the shoulders. The chest is somebody else’s idea of pure sex. Hefner’s, of course.

The trouble starts with the stomach. It’s not exactly flat. It blooms out, to be kind. There’s some flab there. I don’t know much else besides construction, but I did know that bikini was all wrong for her.

Flabby stomach or no, I had been trapped by another tomato. My wife was going to kill her and me, I was pretty sure. I wasn’t sure who would be first.

The name of the tomato was Jenna. For those who don’t know me, I use the word “tomato” to describe women who are very good looking and yet have an obnoxious quality about them. Some people might call these women divas. Whatever name you want to use, they make you want to run for the hills.

Jenna wore her brown hair in a shag, coming to just above her green eyes. She laughed too loud and too much. The constant drink in her right hand gave away the reason for the laugh.

In the left hand, permanently attached, was a hot-pink cell phone. Jenna sold high-end real estate in the city. She spent most of the day stomping back and forth through the kitchen and the living room, trying to close deals and talking to her friends.

My wife and I took a share in a beach house on Fire Island so my four boys would have a fun summer. We bought the share in a town called Seaview. Boring, I know. But we thought it would be safe for the boys—Richie, 14 years old, Max, 11, Jon, 9 and Mark, 7.

The other towns on the island, like Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park, have too many bars and single twenty-somethings and drunks and who knows what else. We wanted the boys to have fun, not spend time with people and things they didn’t understand.

So now here I had put our sons in a place they didn’t understand.

My sons hated Jenna, but they couldn’t stop staring, even Mark. My wife, Helen, hated her even more. We knew we would have to live with her and her friends for the rest of the summer.

Jenna first met my family and me at the house the afternoon of the first weekend of our rental, Fourth of July. I was hoping we could stay that whole week and just sit on the beach, watch a few sunsets, go swimming and take long walks. After that I wanted to let them stay and play at the beach during the week while I went to work in Queens. Then I would come see them on the weekends. I wanted nothing more ambitious than that.

“So, where do you people live?” Jenna asked.


“Queens. Yuck!” was what she said.

My first thought was to pop her in the mouth. She didn’t understand me? Let her understand a fist. I’ve hit men for smaller insults.

But doing it to her would mean trouble. With cops, of course. But more so in my mind. I’ve never punched a lady. Never. And I had to reluctantly concede that I wasn’t going to start now.

Then she turned everything around on me.

“You are kind of cute, in an ape-y sort of way. You have that puppy dog face. And those shoulders! Those arms!”

I just looked at her.

My wife, Helen, was in the kitchen, silently getting lunch ready for our family. Her face rose up from the cutting board. She had been chopping up iceberg lettuce for the boys’ turkey sandwiches.

My wife is a tough lady in many ways. Her father was a cranky old guy. She put up with a lot from him, but she walked out on him when she was 19. Her dad wanted her to move from their home in South Carolina to Florida and run his new house for him. Her mom had died seven years before. But Helen wouldn’t have it. She got into a college in the suburbs of New York City and ran off. That’s where we met.

She told me that story on one of our first dates. I admired her for it. She’s generally pretty quiet, but she’s like a general with the boys and the house. This, however, was an entirely new situation. She wasn’t sure what to do.

I could picture Helen, wearing her black cat’s eye glasses, swiveling around and pointing the foot-long axe of a kitchen knife at Jenna and saying something really nasty. I saw it all happen, and then it vanished. Her tongue was about set to yell, but her innate quiet held her back. My wife kept her thoughts inside. She saved the anger, put it away in the bank for another time, probably keeping it for me.

I didn’t breathe any kind of sigh of relief. The next time Helen heard something obnoxious from Jenna, her comeback might be that much worse. And I would still be in the doghouse.

I rented the house over the phone at the last minute. OK, I admit it—it was a bad move. But I wanted to get the boys to the beach for July and August.

The Queens streets are hot and angry in the summer. The Queens where I grew up and where I live is the kind of place where if you cough in the subway, somebody is very likely to say, “Cover your mouth and go back to your own country.”

Queens means people throwing their plastic bags away by tossing them into the wind so they get caught in the branches of trees. Except for a few bumps in the road, the borough is one long flat plain extending to Kennedy Airport, and the streets bake under the sun. Drivers fly through stop signs and yellow lights, ignoring nervous old people who edge out to try to cross the street, then stumble back to the safety of the sidewalk as fast as they can. Some don’t make it to the curb.

Women fight about who was first on line at the fruit stand. Bums on the street shout at pregnant women, “You’re fat!” Junior high school girls get into fights after school. They try to stab each other in the neck with house keys.

Boys run after each other and beat their friends on the back with juvenile fists. High school kids walk the streets with baseball caps turned backwards, their pants hanging down below their hips, escorting pit bulls that look like their muscles have been pumped with steroids, to show they’re tough. Minor-league drug dealers hang around the candy stores with a long stare that can freeze you cold.

Helen and I wanted to move, but we didn’t have the cash to run to the suburbs. I’m in business with my dad, building houses. But it’s a tough life. The cash flow is uneven. My wife took a part-time job at the local hospital to help pay the bills. We have four sons, who have large appetites.

So the rental was an effort to help my family right now, to do my job as a protector. The rental was sitting there in the newspaper, un-rented, and unloved, for months. It looked like a big, fat steak to me. And I wanted to eat.

“Schreiber, lunch is ready.” She didn’t call me “Harold” or “Daddy,” her usual names for me. Now I knew I was dead meat as far as my wife was concerned. Whenever she called me by my last name she was mad at me.

The Schreiber family ate quickly in silence, except for Mark, who said, “Mom, when are you going to make your special cookies?”

“They’re in the fridge, sweetie.”

My boys all smiled, temporarily relieving the tension. Helen makes cookies with nuts and chocolate chips melted and spread through a thick dough that’s more like a brownie than a thin cookie. This is no mass-market cookie. It’s a cookie that attracts my son’s friends from all over the neighborhood. People have asked my wife to sell the cookies, but she refuses.

“That would spoil things,” she has said to these people.

After the quiet excitement of the cookies was over, my four sons took turns eating their turkey sandwiches, punching each other in the arm and calling each other names.

“Pong-head, pass the mustard,” Richie said to Max.

“Pong-head yourself!” Maxie shouted back. But he passed the mustard. Jon laughed.

“You stink,” Max said to Jon.

“You rot.”





After a while it didn’t matter who did the saying, just what was said. My sons are very witty.

My wife took turns staring at me, Jenna and her plate. Jenna was on her cell, jabbering away about a real estate deal and drinking something pink from the widest martini glass I had ever seen.

“That’s so dramastic! I’m majorly interested!” she said into the phone. I think she was trying to say “Fantastic.” Or maybe it was “dramatic.” Anyway, it sounded weird.

Helen looked over at Jenna and mouthed the words, “Slut. Whore.” I smiled, which was the wrong move. My wife turned to me and narrowed her brown eyes to slits.

I rushed the boys through lunch and had them run out to the beach. I jumped into the waves, violating all the rules about not swimming after eating. Richie, my oldest, stayed on our towel. 14 years old, he’s talking up every girl he sees and acting like he’s too cool to hang out with his family. Max, Jon and Mark threw themselves into the water, paddling after me like little puppies.

Max got to me before the other boys. He likes to be first and he’s desperate to be near me. His big brother has little interest in him.

The boys and I floated along for a while on the salt water, the sun blazing away. We were very relaxed and happy.

Then Max and Jon decided to body surf and I let them go. Mark swam with me a few feet away.

A dark mass floated under Mark, just a few feet away. You have to be a father to understand the fear that ran through me. This thing looked to be about 10 feet long. I thought shark, but I was wrong.

Mark saw it too and started to cry.

“Don’t move!” I yelled at him. I knifed through the water to him and held him near me.

The mass floated up and I could see it. It was purple with a huge pot-belly shape, a pulsating quiver of jellyfish.

I held Mark and kicked away from the pot-belly shape. Mark cried really hard. It was a monster to him. The tentacles floated out toward us. I kicked harder, but the tentacles kept extending. I held my precious son in front of me and away from the beast.

It kept coming. I found the sea bottom, and stood up with Mark’s arms around me. Jon and Max saw us get out of the surf about 100 feet away and they swam toward our blanket.

I thought we were safe. Something touched my leg. There was a moment when the day seemed to freeze. Then it hit me. A sting like a knife through the Achilles tendon almost jolted me off my feet. I grunted. Mark screamed.

I couldn’t move my leg.

“Mark, run for the beach! Find your mom!”

In a foot of surf, my seven-year old boy did the right thing.

I fell down in the water and nearly broke my spine on the hard surface of the beach. I got hit around the kidney with another lash. My nerves blew up.

By this time, Richie had seen me. He ran to the lifeguards and they ran over. Two boys, maybe 19, but almost as broad as me, dragged me out of the water.

A guy like me does not get helped out of the water. A guy like me does not need help from lifeguards. The physical pain ran deep. The humiliation ran deeper.

I remember my eyes shut tight against the sun. I heard lots of breathing around me.

“What’s wrong with him?” somebody shouted.

“Jellyfish stings. Thing must have been big,” somebody else said, close to me.

“Dad, are you OK?”

That was 11-year old Max, crowding close to me. I could hear his voice coming like a hollow whine through the din of onlookers.

“Get back!” one of the boy lifeguards shouted.

“He’s going into shock. We have to get him out of here,” the lifeguard said to his buddy, from deep in a black hole in the sand.

* * *

“You look even cuter when you’re so vulneripple.”

“Vulnerable. I think the word is vulnerable,” I said slowly. I felt like I was talking with gauze on my tongue. How was it that Jenna would be the first person I saw when I woke up?

“I said that.”

“How did I get here?”

Jenna’s enormous chest thrust forward.

“I asked the lifeguards to bring you in,” she cooed. “I had the town doctor treat you. Your wife wants to take you to the hospital across the bay, but I think that’s a bad idea.”

“Where is my wife?”

“Right here, Schreiber.”

Helen stood behind Jenna, hands on hips, and ready to kill.

Jenna turned around.

“I need to speak to my husband.”

“I’m trying to help him.”

“I need to speak to my husband. Alone.” For my wife, that was restraint. She’s full of iron but too polite to do what they do in the movies, where they say, “Get out,” through clenched teeth.

Jenna looked at the ceiling fan. My wife stared at her with knives in her eyes.

“This is so flusterating!”

Jenna scooped up the remains of her pink martini glass and stomped out of the room on those red heels, shooting bullets in the wood, and yelling, “It’s my house!”

Through the haze, I could see my wife approaching. Her hands were plastered with red sauce.

She saw me looking at them. “I was preparing dinner. Spaghetti with tomatoes and meatballs.”


“Look, Harold, I know you’re not feeling well. I think we should get out of here. This isn’t a good situation and now you’ve been bitten by a jellyfish.”


“You need to see a doctor.”

Searching through my host of responses, I kept thinking of the money I had sunk into this house share. “I’ll be OK.”

“You’re not OK now.”

“I just need to rest.”

“How am I going to handle the kids alone with you laid up? If we go back to Queens, I can get your parents to baby-sit the boys for a few days.”

“I don’t know if I should travel right now. And what about the share?”

“Forget the share. You think we’re having a good time? Mark, Jon and Max are terrified.”

“What about Richie?”

“He’s OK. He says he wants to fight the jellyfish.”

I looked at her. The sun streamed through the bedroom window. Her brown eyes and brown hair looked like chocolate melting in a yellow wrapper. The silver spokes in her cat’s eye glasses lit up like little stars. She was quite pretty. Angry, but pretty.

“Let’s give it a few days. Then we’ll see if we should stay or go.”

* * *

A day later, I was feeling a lot better. I walked stiffly to the refrigerator looking for breakfast cereal. It was about five in the morning. I usually get up early. I’ve had trouble sleeping since we started having kids.

Sprawled unconscious on the couch next to the kitchen was an unfamiliar female, wearing tight jeans and a belly shirt, silver-sparkle high heels still attached to her feet.

I shook hard wheat flakes out of the box into a blue glass bowl. That woke up Silver Heels.

“Hello, sailor,” floated up in a dreamy haze from the couch.

I looked over at the heels. They swung down, slow and shaky, to the target practice floor.

Her cheeks were puffy, the eyes barely open. Yet, despite all, they held a glint of mischief.

She had “tomato” written all over her.

I tried to head her off immediately.

“Listen, I’m sure you’re a very nice person. But I’m a married man, with four boys.”

She fell off the couch. The thud echoed through the main room.

And there she lay, not moving. I thought about trying to lift her back on the couch, a midnight-black leather job (totally inappropriate for a beach house, of course), then thought about how that would look to my wife. I let her stay there, watching the rise and fall of her back as she breathed deeply face down into the wood planks of the living room.

The wheat cereal tasted especially good.

Jenna broke into the room a few moments later, wearing a pink silk nightie. Just what I needed.

She shouted at me, “Harold, what’s going on?”

I pointed at the tomato on the floor with my cereal spoon.

“Your friend is drunk. She fell off the couch.”

“Why didn’t you help her get up?” Jenna put her hands on her nightie hips and said, and I don’t know if she was kidding, “You’re not using the seven habits of highly effective people.”


“The seven habits of highly effective people. It’s a book. You should read it. It’s important.”

(The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was first published in 1989. It’s a self-help book, written by Stephen R. Covey. It has sold more than 15 million copies in 38 languages since it was first published [source: Wikipedia].)


“One of the habits is put first things first. Laura’s need to be put back on the couch is greater than your need to eat your cereal.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me. She’s dead weight and she’s a person who’s not my wife.”

“You’re very flusterating, Harold. You’re not the person I thought you were.”

I continued to eat my cereal.

My 14-year old, Richie, walked out the boys’ bedroom at that moment and took a look at Laura.

“Ha, ha, ha!”

“You, what’s your name?”

“Richie. I’ve told you like 800 times.”

“Can you help me get Laura back on the couch? I can’t do it by myself.”

Rich looked at me. I looked at him. “OK,” he told Jenna, “but this is going to cost you.”

“What kind of kid are you?”

“The kind that wants money for helping you.”

“You’re in the wrong miasma here, Richie.”

I piped up. “I think you mean 'milieu'.”

Jenna gestured for Richie to come over. They tried lifting Laura back on the couch, but she was way too heavy.

The body sank back down into the floor. Quickly exhausted, Jenna wiped her forehead and said, “Isn’t milieu the French word for toilet?”

“Toilet means toilet,” Richie said. “Milieu means environment, or setting.”

“How did you know that, you little creep?”

“How do you know how to speak like an idiot?”

My 14-year old son had defeated the woman who had humiliated me and fought off my wife in one-to-one combat.

“You should read the seven habits of highly effective people,” Jenna said to him. “You’re creating a lose-lose situation here. You need to focus more on the win-win. “Help me try to lift up Laura again.”

They tried. My other sons, Max, Jon and Mark, hearing all the noise, scrambled out of the boys’ bedroom in their little summer pajama shorts like clowns jumping out of a little clown car.

Jenna looked up and saw a win-win situation.

“You three little bozos. Come here. I need you.”

Max looked hurt. I knew he would never forget the insult. He hangs on to everything. In fact, he wrote it down later in his black-and-white school composition notebook. He always writes as if the words really matter.

“Go bozo yourself,” Jon told Jenna. Nevertheless he tried to help.

Jenna grunted and whined. Max temporarily forgot the insult and the boys all laughed as they got to grab a grown-up woman’s leg here or an arm there and tried to lift Laura back to the couch. It was great fun, but they got nowhere.

“All right now, I’ll help,” I said.

I asked Jenna to step aside. I took Laura’s torso and told the boys to get an arm or a leg. We had a good hold of her now.

“Now you’re using the seven habits, Harold,” Jenna said approvingly. “You’re being proactive.”

We were in the middle of lifting our new house guest onto the couch when my wife came out of the bedroom. My blood ran cold.

If Helen’s eyes had been daggers I would have been gushing blood from the chest and shoulder.

“Hi, honey!” I said in my lightest voice.

“Schreiber, I need to speak with you right away.”

“She is just one bundle of bitch,” Jenna said.

Richie, Jon and Mark snickered. Max looked at Jenna, open-mouthed. In many ways he’s the most innocent of all of them. He can’t believe that people are capable of being so nasty.

My boys and I put Laura on the black-leather couch, as carefully as we could. I marched off to our bedroom. I wondered if my wife had built an electric-chair in there somewhere. Because if she had, I was going to sit in it, with the power turned on full blast.

* * *

Another habit of highly effective people is to seek first to understand, then be understood. The author of the book, Stephen Covey, says that you need to listen to a person and empathetically understand their situation before giving them advice.

If you don’t listen empathetically, your advice may be rejected. Alas, I did not know this at the time. Otherwise, I could have avoided the prolonged miasma with my wife.

“Harold, this is getting out of control. I want to leave.”

“I can handle it.”

“You may be able to handle it. But the boys and I are not doing well.”

“The boys are fine.”

Helen stared at me for what seemed like several minutes.

“Schreiber, you don’t know what you’re doing.”

In the end, we agreed to stay at the house. My wife agreed to stay mad at me.

* * *

That night the martinis flew out of glasses and into parted lips. Jenna decided to have a small party. Laura lay prone on the couch for most of the day. She woke up in time to drink.

The party further endeared my wife to me. I wish I had listened to her. Our little family would have avoided a mountain of trouble if we had left when Helen asked to go.

A guy, about 25, walked in first. His dirty blonde hair, parted in the middle, reached past his shoulders. He didn’t have on a shirt.

Following the seven habits of highly effective people, he decided to be proactive. He hit the refrigerator first, took a cold light beer off the bottom shelf.

With the beer open, he looked around, as if for the first time. My sons looked at him as if he had arrived from outer space. He looked back, somewhat unbelieving at first.

“Hey, little dudes!” He saluted them. Then he saw me.

“Hi, Ace. These belong to you?”

“No, I rented them from the police.”

He looked somewhat doubtful. Then he smiled. “Aw, you’re messing with me, Ace. Four boys, man. I should bow down to you.”

And he did just that. Shirtless got down on his hands and knees and bowed down to me four times. My boys snickered.

“You got a name?” I asked. That was a mistake.


My three younger boys crowded around him, excited, bubbling about his name. For some reason, this made him their hero.

Only Richie held back, muttering, “Cloud, my ass.”

Laura woke up out of her stupor and smiled. “Hey, Cloud. I missed you.”

“I’ve been running around,” he said.

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Laura said. “How many beds have you been running in?”

“OK, OK, that’s enough of that talk. This is a family show.” I gestured at my sons.

Cloud tipped his beer at me. “Right, right, Ace!”

My wife entered the room at that moment. She decided to stay close to the enemy. I knew the tactic. Stay in sight and shoot threatening looks at everyone with the hope of dampening spirits so the party would break up early.

Jenna came in too, carrying vodka and rum bottles from the package store.

“Cloud, this so dramastic!”

“What does that mean?” Richie demanded of her.

“You’ll learn when you’re in the right metric.”

“I may have to kill you,” Richie said, “unless you learn how to speak English correctly.”

Helen nodded approvingly. It was the happiest I saw her all night.

Jenna didn’t take it well.

“You really hurt me. You don’t know how fragile I am. I don’t even know how fragile I am.”

Another boy came in shortly after. He too was shirtless, but had short black hair and blue eyes. He was about 25 years old, I guessed. Richie’s comment was soon forgotten.

“Hi, Bobby Black!” Laura and Jenna said at the same time. Bobby Black looked like a Ralph Lauren model—cool and deadly.

“Hey. Can I have a drink?” Bobby ignored my family and me. I respected his proactive, go-for-the-gold attitude. He had obviously read the seven principles.

Jenna poured drinks for Laura and the two man guests.

It was about eight-thirty. Helen and I tried to send the boys to bed. We wrestled with all of them to get them into their pajamas. They fought and shouted. Max, Jon and Mark protested, but we got them into their bedroom.

Richie was the only I couldn’t muscle or convince. He stayed up, with the party. My wife decided to give me another slit eyed look of hatred.

I couldn’t get used to that. It hurt every time I saw it. I was beginning to see it a lot. I wondered how I could use the 7 habits to help ease the situation. According to Jenna, visualization is an important part of the 7 habits.

You must think about the end you want to achieve. Of course, she had a drink in her hand and she didn’t say it that way.

She said this, “You gotta got think about what you want, Harold. Then, grab it by the nuts.”

The party revved up. Jenna turned on the music—strictly club stuff—loud, with a strong electronic backbeat.

Cloud filed four drinks down his throat in 15 minutes. Cloud was definitely putting first things first. He decided to dance on the dining room table abutting the living room. Laura joined him, wearing a new belly shirt and those silver heels.

I’m pretty sure I looked at them both with my mouth open. My wife made an evil face and looked at me. She flew off to our bedroom.

Richie and I stared as Cloud and Laura went into a private rhythm only they seemed to understand. The table shook as they bounced up and down on it. I wondered if the beast would buckle.

Jenna and Bobby clapped along. I decided I needed a drink. I went to the bar and poured myself a vodka with purple Kool-Aid. I took a gulp, trying to forget what was going on behind me. Beside the welcome burn of the vodka in my throat, the Kool-Aid tasted too sweet, too much like candy. It hurt my teeth.

I put the drink down and turned around. My 14-year old son was gone.

“Have you seen my son?” I asked Bobby, who was dancing with Jenna by this time.

“He went out the front door, Daddy,” he said, mocking me without breaking a step with Jenna.

I made a mental note to punch him in the mouth later. I put first things first and decided to be proactive. So I ran out of the house looking for Richie in the midst of a Fire Island Saturday night.

The crowds on the walks were thick with kids. Seaview is between Ocean Beach and Ocean Bay Park. You can’t drive a car on the island, so everybody walks everywhere. Twenty-something professionals from Manhattan get together in big groups and rent houses for the summer. They walk all night from town to town, looking for alcohol and hook-ups.

I found myself in the middle of several packs of people shuffling casually and slowly in the darkness, laughing, talking, planning the night out. The moon was the only significant light for me. Fire Island has no street lights outside of the main towns.

I tried running around them, but just off the three-foot wide walks are strands of hedges, brush, sand and poison ivy. There isn’t much room to maneuver. I had to slow down to the kids’ pace.

I called his name. Some kids in front of me said, “Yeah!” But they were just goofing around. I walked to Ocean Beach. I looked in the ice cream parlor. He wasn’t there. I walked back to Ocean Bay Park. I looked on the shoreline fronting the bay. Small boats hung on the beach, silent and dark.

I was forced to admit to myself that he might be in one of the bars. I started searching them. I went to Flynn’s first, in Ocean Bay Park. It’s on a point fronting the bay side of the island. The place was stacked wall to wall with hot, grasping, clumsy boys and girls eager to help them. It took me 20 minutes just to walk through them.

I tried the line of bars in Ocean Beach. I saw a boy, half in the tank, pour a drink all over his thigh to impress a girl. She wasn’t. I saw another boy who had pinned a girl to the wall of a joint. She didn’t seem to mind. I saw boys and girls playing drinking games at wooden tables. But I didn’t find my son, my 14-year old word warrior.

I walked back to our rental, then passed it. I decided to sit on the beach and think about how to find Richie. After about 20 minutes, I saw a mound lying near the dunes, packed with beach grass. I walked over. The hair was covering the eyes. I kneeled down and brushed the hair away. It was my son, sleeping. I picked him up. I’m used to hauling lumber, so his weight wasn’t much of a problem.

As soon as I picked him up, he woke up, looked at me.

“Hi, Harold.”

“Richie, why did you run off like that?”

“I didn’t want to see anybody embarrass themselves. Even people I don’t like.”

I set him down. As soon as I did, I noticed another mound further on down the beach. Richie and I walked over to see what it was.

It’s a funny thing about dead bodies. They’re all jangled up. The elements have an immediate run at them. This one, at the water’s edge, had wet sand all over it. The body was facing straight up, as if staring at the stars. The body had seaweed entwined around the soft belly, which was cold and bare.

It was a woman. I brushed the hair away from the face and I recognized her right off. The mouth was frozen forever in shock, like it couldn’t believe what had happened. The eyes were still open and the face still beautiful.

It was Laura, Jenna’s best friend.

“That must have been one hell of a party,” Richie said.

I looked her over. Even in the dark, you could see some things out of the ordinary. There were holes in both of her shoulders, about two inches wide. The skin was completely gone there. The muscle underneath poked out of the holes. I looked at her arms. They had similar holes with the flesh pulled up, both front and back.

I thought of my options at this point, none of them good.

* * *

“She killed my best friend!”

Jenna pointed her very long index finger at my wife.

My wife shot me a look that said death.

Fighting for her life, my wife’s tongue unloosened.

“I had nothing to do with your friend. I didn’t even want to be here. And we wouldn’t be, if Schreiber had listened to me.”

Jenna, using one of the first principles of highly effective people, took the proactive stance. She came at my wife, her finger and her chest marching as one unit, purple slip of a nightie thrusting forward, pushing slowly but inevitably across the living room floor at the midnight hour. She stopped just inches from Helen, who was wearing her cat’s eye glasses and long white cotton pajamas, with placid yellow flowers on them.

“You took your big kitchen knife, and you stabbed Laura, over and over again.”

My wife appraised Jenna coolly. She said nothing. She stared back.

Jenna repeated the accusation.

Helen stared at Jenna, her eyes squinting now behind the cat’s eye glasses.

Jenna stared back, until she broke.

“Ahhhh! This is so flusterating!” Jenna yelled and walked away.

“This isn’t helping your case, Mom,” Maxie said, ever the serious, legalistic one in his little short pajamas with cowboy lassoes on them.

“I’d like to not visit you in jail, Helen,” Richie said.

“We’ll have to smuggle your kitchen knife into prison so you can still make your amazing cookies,” Jon said. “But I wonder how we’ll get the chocolate chips and flour inside. The guards would never go for that.”

Mark looked up at the ceiling, as if to God. Not finding any answers, he stared at Jenna with quiet incomprehension.

I looked at them all, then the police officer who had joined us in the room. I had never been so depressed. And I don’t get depressed easily. I wished I could go bowling. That always makes me feel better. I would have pretended Jenna’s face was on the first pin.

After we found Laura’s body, Richie and I walked to the police station in Ocean Beach and told the police what had happened. I still believe in straight-forward honesty. Perhaps that’s wrong, considering all the greed and craziness of the world. But I didn’t have any reason to believe that anyone in my family would be implicated in the beautiful lady’s death. And I had to put first things first.

The station was a plywood shack. Two police officers were sitting behind a desk writing reports on drunken kids and someone who had been hit by a bicycle.

One cop looked up. “Hello. What can I do for you?” He looked tired, but friendly.

I wasn’t used to politeness from cops. Fire Island isn’t like Queens. I kept telling myself that.

I didn’t know quite what to say. I was trying to turn all the thoughts over in my mind, thinking about how to frame a sentence that would mean something yet not sound too shocking.

“We found a dead body on the beach, in Seaview,” Richie said.

“Really?” The other cop perked up. “You sure she’s dead? Sometimes here people just get dead drunk and sleep on the beach. They’re not actually dead.”

“She’s as dead as a whore at 8 o’clock in the morning,” Richie said.

“Where did you get that from?” I asked.

He shrugged. “I read it in a book. I just wanted to try it out at the right time.”

“This may not be the right time,” I told him.

“OK, Dad.”

The cops were impressed by Richie’s description.

“Jack, why don’t you go? I’ll fill out the rest of the paper work.”

“You sure? Your shift is almost over.”

“Don’t sweat it. Go.”

We went. Officer Jack took a flashlight. The walk was short. We marched like soldiers. The sand was cool through our sneakers.

I walked with Officer Jack over the rickety wooden steps over the dunes and through the waves of sand to the spot where Laura was. The officer flashed his light on the face, then saw the holes in the rest of the body.

“She’s pretty dead,” Officer Jack said.

“I’ve never heard of somebody who was pretty dead.” Richie was about to say something else. I poked him in the ribs with my elbow. He shut up.

Officer Jack radioed in his location to his partner in the Ocean Beach shack, then called the Suffolk County Police.

We waited about 45 minutes for the Suffolk cops to arrive. They had to take a boat across the bay, then drive in a slow golf cart on the boardwalks to get to the beach.

After the crime scene people arrived with their little evidence-gathering tools and baggies and floodlights, Officer Jack asked us where we were staying. I gave him the address. The three of us walked back to the house.

When we came in, Officer Jack knocked on Jenna’s door. She answered the knock by staying in bed and murmuring incoherently in that sullen, sleepy way we all have. Her boy Bobby was with her.

“Who is it, Jen?” he asked in a dream-time slur.

“Ocean Beach police,” Officer Jack said in a dull voice.

A blur called Bobby ran like a cannonball out of the bedroom. He knocked Officer Jack down and flew toward the door. I tackled him around his knees.

The noise woke up my wife and boys. The three younger ones came running out of their bedroom to see their father wrestling with a half-naked man in the living room.

Officer Jack was pretty mellow considered he had just been assaulted by a drunk in his underpants.

“Mr. Schreiber, let the young man go. Sit down on the couch, young man.”

I let Bobby go. He tried to run out the door again. This opportunity was too great for my boys. They were raised playing football in the street. They yelled and ran and jumped on Bobby, gang-tackling the poor schmuck and punching him over and over again in the ribs. He looked like a deer trying to run away from a bunch of tigers. It was one of our happiest moments as a family that whole weekend.

Except for my wife, who killed me again with just a look.

“OK! Enough!” Officer Jack shouted. He had finally lost his cool, with good reason.

Bobby, chastised and beaten, sat down on the black leather couch. He looked as if he wanted to swim inside the beast.

Officer Jack composed himself. “Why did you try to run away?” Officer Jack said to Bobby.

He smiled weakly. “No reason.”

“Well, we’ll have to find out about that. The Suffolk County Police will do a search on you in their database when I call them.”

That’s when Jenna stumbled out of the bedroom, drunk.

“What’s goin’ on?”

“She’s quoting Marvin Gaye songs,” Richie pointed out helpfully.

“Hi, Jenna.”

“Hi, Jack. What are you doing here?”

“She knows the cops and the lifeguards. This is great,” Jon said.

“Your friend is dead,” Officer Jack said, deciding to be proactive, as Jenna lurched toward the couch where Bobby sat.


“Laura,” I said, desperately trying to find the win-win scenario.

Jenna shook her head slowly as if trying to shake something loose. “Laura, Laura. How?”

“We don’t know,” Officer Jack said. “She may have been stabbed.”

Jenna sat down on the couch next to Bobby and started to cry for several minutes. Bobby, in his under pants, hugged her.

Max brought our landlord a glass of water. He’s always trying to help the mean ones.

We all stood there, embarrassed and feeling sorry for Jenna, until she turned on my wife.

“Where’s the knife, Helen? Jack, that’s the murder weapon!”

My wife looked at Jenna. Her cat’s eye glasses fluttered very slightly.

“And Cloud is missing! She probably killed him too!”

Jack had no idea what was going on. He let the two women face off for a few tense moments.

“Jenna,” he finally said gently, putting his hand on her bare shoulder, “we need evidence to charge anyone with a crime.”

Then he turned to my wife. “Mrs. Schreiber, may I have the knife Jenna’s talking about?”

Helen walked slowly to the kitchen sink. She silently dug into the silverware cabinet and withdrew the knife in question. It shone brightly in the yellow light of the house. Then Helen wrapped the blade in a yellow cloth towel so no one would get hurt.

She brought it over to Officer Jack as if she were carrying a wounded friend, holding it with the blade turned inward, even though it was covered in cloth.

My sons looked sad. This knife had cut and prepared thousands of meals and helped slice un-countable numbers of cookies.

Helen gave the knife to Officer Jack with the blade pointed down and away from him. He took the knife with what seemed to be great respect. Then he slipped it into a clear plastic half-gallon freezer bag he had taken from the kitchen, belonging to my wife, no doubt.

“Thank you, Mrs. Schreiber. We’ll examine the knife as part of the investigation.”

Her eyes, framed by her black glasses, were cast down to the floor. Helen asked, “Will I get it back?”

“If the investigation shows that the knife was not part of Laura’s death, you will get your knife back.”

Officer Jack turned quietly away toward the door. He walked a few steps with the freezer bag, then turned around toward us.

“Mrs. Schreiber, don’t try to leave the island until we give you the say-so. Jenna, we’ll check out the situation. We’ll see what we turn up.”

“You’re majorly under-promiscuating!” she yelled at Jack.

“How does she sell so much real estate?” 11-year old Max whispered to his brothers.

“Sex, you big pong-head,” Richard whispered back.

“I think you mean under-promising,” I said quietly to Jenna.

“We’ll do what we can,” the officer said. “In the meantime, you come with me.”

He motioned to Bobby to get off the couch.

“Can I get dressed?”

“Sure. Jenna, bring this boy’s clothes out from the bedroom so he can get dressed.”

Jenna did so. When Bobby walked out the door with Officer Jack, she yelled at him, “Helen Schreiber should be under arrest, not Bobby! What an un-justice!”

No one tried to correct her.

* * *

In our bedroom, I tried to put my arms around Helen, to comfort her. She turned her back to face the wall.

When you get hit with the silent treatment, it sends a chill through you. It means the other person doesn’t want to think of you as human at that moment.

I knew I had to do something. After I thought Helen was asleep, I got out of our bed and put my clothes on again. I walked out to the beach with a flashlight, to the spot where Richie and I had found Laura’s body.

The crime scene people had gone. There was no police tape. The ocean doesn’t understand crime. The waves just keep coming.

I sat down on the beach for a long time, about ten feet from the surf. I looked at the moonlight spraying over the mirror of water beyond the breakers.

Our Fourth of July weekend was a shambles. I had indirectly put my wife in legal trouble of the worst kind. My boys had been exposed to all sorts of adult issues. That just about covered things.

A fiery sting exploded in my foot, through my left shoe, up to my kneecap. I crab-walked backwards as fast as I could.

I felt like my leg had been lit up like a Vegas Strip casino at 6 pm. My leg vibrated from the pain. My head got jolted backwards into the sand, then sideways. I ate part of the beach and swallowed some sand. I started to choke. The sand turned into mud into my mouth. I tried to cough it out.

Something dragged me back toward the surf. Another sting filled my leg with dynamite.

The water soaked me through. I pushed down on the shore and tried to move back to the beach. The thing wrestled with my leg, got a good tight lash around it. The black water and the dark night both got into my eyes. My heart exploded with panic.

I felt two hands grab mine and pull. Whoever it was pulled hard against the beast holding onto my leg. I was being pulled in two different directions. It was tug of war with Harold as the rope.

I started kicking, blindly, at the thing dragging me into the water. I got a few good kicks in, and a few more stings too.

The person pulling my hands yelled with everything he had and jerked me hard backwards like he was running. This guy was pretty strong. The lash around my leg slipped off just enough.

I was being dragged again, as far away from the surf as possible, up near the dunes and beach grass. I wasn’t in any position to complain. My leg felt as if it were cut in two and my ribcage felt like it was trying to strangle my heart.

The guy put me down behind a dune. My breath came in short gulps, like a kid who’s taken in too much seawater.

I vomited up some sand. I leaned sideways and just retched for what seemed like several minutes. My breath came in little stabs at the air.

I sat up.

“Ace, I thought you were gone.”

I coughed some more. Wet sand came out of my nose and mouth.

“Cloud, Cloud,” was all I could get out.

We sat there in silence for a few minutes. I breathed the air. The pain in my leg was a burning dead heat.

“Where did you go?”

He thought for a minute. “I couldn’t save Laura,” he said, sick with dread. “The thing got her. We never saw it.”

“What happened?”

“Laura and I were making out on the beach. The water was coming up on us. Laura wanted it like that.”

I stayed silent.

“She was on top of me one minute. Then she was just gone. I went in after her.”

“I’m not feeling too great here. I don’t understand.”

I retched again, my hands planted on the beach for many minutes. Cloud sat next to me and watched.

When I recovered, Cloud said, “I grabbed her hand, but the jelly had her, man. I saw it take her in his arms and hug her tight. He stung her good. All over. Every sting looked like a little lightning bolt.”


“She was screaming and I tried to grab her. A wave hit me in the knees and I fell, man. I got stung too. That was it.”

“What do you mean?”

“I tried to get her out, man, I tried.” He started to cry. “It ate parts of her, man. It took chunks out of her with its arms.”

I stared hard at a dune.

“Why did you run off?”

“I didn’t know what to do, Ace. I didn’t know what to do.”

He put his head between his knees.

I looked hard at the ocean. The throbbing pain from the stings began to ease off a bit.

“I know what to do.”

“What? What?” he cried.

“We have to catch that thing and kill it.”

“You don’t understand. The thing is huge. It’s got tentacles and it’s huge. You saw what it did to Laura.”

“That’s why we have to kill it.”

Cloud started to cry again.

“We can’t, man. It’s too big. It’s too strong.”

I looked at him. “Nobody steals our lunch money.”

“What does that mean, Ace?”

“It’s a Queens expression.”


“Somebody takes something from you. You take it back. They punch you. You punch back. Harder. Much harder.”

“You’re crazy.”

“I’m from Queens.”

“What’s the difference?”

“I don’t know. But this thing is going down. Now, are you going to help me or not?”

He looked doubtful. “I guess.”

“Don’t talk to me like that, Cloud. I need muscle. Strength. Resolve. No doubts. Like Batman. Like Captain America.”

He looked at the water and laughed grimly. “You’re pretty nuts.”

“Yes, absolutely. Are you going to help me?”

Cloud got quiet again. He wiped the tears from his cheeks. “Yeah.”

“Good. Let’s work on a plan.”

* * *

Jenna moved out. She took a room in the Ocean Beach Hotel, over one of the big bars, called The Palm. My wife reported that Jenna said she did not want to live with “a murderer.”

“We don’t want to live with you either,” Richie told her. “You murder the English language every day.”

“Your odor permenates my nostrils. I can’t stand you or your family.”

“You mean permeate. If you’re going to insult me, get your words straight.”

Ah, my oldest son, ever the diplomat. Jenna stalked out on her red heels, tussling with one of those huge luggage carts on wheels you see in the airport.

Helen was just a little less tense after Jenna left. She had a less than credible murder charge hanging over her, but we’re the type of people that don’t like any uncertainty. As for me, I was more tense. Jenna said she was going to charge the Schreiber family for every day she was in the hotel. I had a beast to kill, and I didn’t think I should have to pay for it.

During the day, the boys enjoyed themselves for a change. Officer Jack had closed the beach for several hours to see if there was anything else the Suffolk cops could find out about Laura’s murder. I was glad. The jelly couldn’t get anyone else, at least for another day.

So I kept the boys away from the beach and they didn’t seem to mind. First, even though I was limping from the new jelly stings won the night before, I took the boys to play basketball at the village court. Then we went for a walk through a nature preserve. You walk on a boardwalk through trees and swampy water. There were lots of dragonflies. The boys were pretty interested in it, even Richie. He seems to be calmer in a more natural setting than Queens.

After dinner, at sunset, we built a huge sand castle and watched the sun go down to the west. You can just barely see the tip of downtown Manhattan from the beach if you look really hard. Richie searched for driftwood.

I enjoyed it, but I knew there was a giant jellyfish out there lurking. I did a little reading about jellies in an online science magazine after I talked to Cloud the night before. They can grow up to 300 pounds. They’re increasing in number, due to the warming of the oceans. They don’t have a brain. But this one certainly seemed to have something more going on in that mass of tissue.

As the sun went down in a shower of red, Officer Jack walked up to our blanket and sat down.

“Hey, you mind if I sit down?”

“Not at all, Officer.”

My boys stayed cool and stared at the ocean. So did Helen, hiding behind her cat’s eye glasses.

“That kid, Bobby, I found out why he tried to run off last night.”

“Why’s that?”

“He’s wanted for penny stock fraud by the Manhattan prosecutor’s office.”

“Where is he now?”

“Sitting tight in the Suffolk County lock-up.”

“Well, that takes care of one of your loose ends.”

“Yeah, but the main question is who killed Laura?”

“Maybe the question isn’t who, but what.”

“I’m not sure what you mean by that.”

I looked at the white caps. “It’s not important.”

Officer Jack, being Officer Jack, let another one slide by. He was one mellow cop. But then, he spent most of his days and nights patrolling a barrier beach with the summer wind at his back and his most serious problem public drunkenness. Even a murder didn’t seem to pull much intensity out of him.

“We did some tests on your wife’s knife.”

“Did she kill a brownie by accident?” Jon asked. I was raising a brood of sarcastic children and I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.

Officer Jack decided he didn’t need to show respect to a nine-year old wise guy by acknowledging the comment. He talked to me.

“There’s nothing to indicate the knife was involved in the killing.”

“Do you know what your next move is?”

“The Suffolk County Medical Examiner is going to take a look at the body and do an autopsy. We’re going to wait for his investigation. That could take up to a week.”

I thought to myself, “We don’t have that much time.”

On the blanket, my wife nudged me.

“Officer, my wife would like to know if she can have her knife back.”

“Uh, I’m sorry, Mr. Schreiber, but the knife has been impounded. You’ll need to fill out some paperwork to get it back, if you want it back.”

“I don’t understand.”

Officer Jack took an apologetic tone. “Even though the knife is innocent, it’s now in an evidence room in the Suffolk County police system.”

Helen stared at the officer and grimaced like a man betrayed by his best friend. It was a difficult moment. My boys looked at the sand.

“How do you get a knife out of jail? Maxie, see if you can come up with a plan for that,” Richie said.

Max, not getting the joke, wrote the idea down in his black and white notebook and said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

Helen smiled a little at that one.

“Officer, would you do our family a little favor?”

“What’s that?”

“Would you please tell Jenna that my wife didn’t kill her friend?”

Officer Jack wrote the request down in his book, and said, “I’ll see what I can do.” Max nodded, approving of the officer’s technique.

I didn’t want Jenna to move back in. I just wanted her to ease up on my wife.

That didn’t happen.

After dinner, we got a note from Jenna, delivered by a well-tanned man wearing a shirt and no jeans. It was a bill for her stay at the hotel so far, about $300 for one day. She was being very pro-active, but was failing in the win-win principle. Nevertheless, she was a highly effective person, as seen in the effect the bill had on my wife.

“Harold, let’s get out of here,” Helen said to me. “There’s no reason to stay now. We can go home.”

“There are a couple more things I have to do,” I said.

Helen looked as if she were going to choke me. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, Schreiber.”

“Yes, dear.”

* * *

After we had put the boys to bed, Helen went off to sleep. I begged off going to bed, saying I wanted to watch some TV. Then I sneaked out of the house to find Cloud.

Jellies can grow tentacles up to 80 feet long and weigh 300 pounds. The jelly that attacked Laura had apparently eaten some of Laura’s flesh. Had jellies evolved into carnivores?

Whatever the case, I knew I needed a lot of protection. Earlier in the day I looked in the kitchen to look for weapons I could use against the jelly. Helen had a toaster oven, a waffle iron, a frying pan and several knives. I hadn’t spent much time looking at my wife’s kitchen utensils. It never seemed important before. I didn’t think the toaster oven would do much. I considered the weight of the waffle iron and how I could swing it in the water. I held the frying pan. A frying pan might not hurt a jelly much. It didn’t even have a head. I might have trouble with the knives. Helen was already mad about losing one knife. I couldn’t risk losing another. I took the spatula.

I met Cloud at the cabana behind Jenna’s house. He brought everything I asked for – fins, a thick rubber scuba suit for the body and the head, with a face mask so I could see clearly as possible in the dark water.

At the scuba shop, the sales clerk knew Cloud as Jenna’s friend. So, at my suggestion, Cloud put the rental on her credit card.

Cloud also brought me two tasers, which he got across the bay at the gun shop in Bay Shore. I was suddenly grateful for gun dealers.

Cloud and I walked to the beach, carrying the gear and the spatula. The shore was dark, except for a swath of beach lighted by a three-story house with a deck facing the ocean.

On the beach, I dropped the spatula in the sand next to me. I got dressed in the scuba suit and fins. I tucked one of the tasers in my scuba belt and held onto the other. Then I kneeled down to pick up the spatula and put it in my scuba belt.

“How do I look?”

“Like a guy who doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“That’s never stopped me before.”

“Just because you’re sarcastic doesn’t make it any less true.”

“That may be the most intelligent thing you’ve ever said. Wish me luck.”

“Good luck.”

“Stay here and spot me.”

“What does that mean?”

“Call the cops if anything goes wrong.”

“You’re giving me a lot of room on this, Ace.”

“You betcha.” I patted him on the face, gently. “Use your best judgment.”

I went down to the water’s edge. The ocean lapped gently at my fins. I took off the mask to spit into the side facing my eyes. I don’t know why I was supposed to do that, but I had seen divers do it on TV.

I was about to put the mask back on, when a tentacle whipped around my leg and pulled me off my feet. The mask tumbled out of my hands.

The great beast took me on a roller-coaster ride out beyond the breakers for about 30 seconds. The tentacle stung, but the rubber suit shielded me from getting seriously hurt.

The ride put me into a kind of trance, though. When you’re going fast in the water, it’s really easy to get disoriented. That’s what happens to body surfers who get pulled into the curl of a wave and smashed into the sand. You can’t see very well and you’re not sure where you are. Water is pouring into your mouth and the only thing you know is that you better close your throat fast.

I was being curled into the jelly’s body. It got very quiet for a few seconds. I couldn’t see very well under the water. My mask was missing. But I could appreciate the mass in front of me. The thing was very large. And it had no face. If the thing had a face I would have found some comfort.

The jelly’s tentacles wrapped around me. I should have been dead from the stinging in a matter of moments. But the suit was thick and the beast didn’t have the intelligence to find my unmasked face.

The grip got tighter. It seemed as if the jelly was a python and it thought I could be squeezed to death.

Water was flowing into my nostrils and mouth. I had no air. I tried pushing against the jelly, but the texture of its surface just gave way to my hands.

I didn’t know what else to do, so I punched the jelly in what I imagined to be its face. I kept punching, punching, punching. It was very liberating.

My hand smashed through part of the jelly’s mass. A drifting tentacle touched me delicately on the cheek. It felt like razor wire. The shock lit up my face like a heavyweight’s punch. I hit the blob again and again.

Jellies have nerve receptors that can sense light and smells. Maybe they can feel pain too.

The next few seconds felt slow. I hated the slowness of time grinding forward. The seconds clicked off and I felt the tentacles release me. I pushed away and up as fast as I could.

I got up to the surface and sucked at the air, a blessed relief.

I was facing open water and turned around. The light from the big beach house oriented me. I was about 50 yards out. I swam back to shore. The sting on my face was starting to swell up.

As I walked out of the surf, I found my mask half-buried in sand. I brought the mask up to my chest and hugged it, as I sat down on the beach, the waves lapping at my fins.

Cloud wasn’t there. The kid was always running off when there was trouble.

I breathed long and hard, and looked out at the ocean. I considered the options. One of the tasers was gone. I must have lost it on the ride with the jelly. I still had one left in my belt.

During these times, after a stressful event, some people may thank their own personal gods that they’re still alive. I didn’t. I was ticked off. The bastard was still out there and I hadn’t done my job.

I cleaned the mask with sea water and spit. I placed it on my swollen face. I checked to make sure I still had the other taser. I put my hands around my scuba belt. My wife’s spatula was still in place. I felt good about that.

The water was clean and cool. The sand slipped out from under me and gave way to the ocean and the soulless beast prowling around for something to eat.

I swam out about 50 yards. I was starting to feel stupid because it was dark and I had no real way to find a 300 pound jelly except by dog paddling around and glancing down into the murk of the sea.

The Atlantic Ocean isn’t supposed to have jellies this size. The Pacific does, in increasing numbers. The Atlantic used to be a little more civilized, but not anymore.

I heard someone shouting from the beach, but it sounded like a small voice. I tried to track it. The tentacles were around me then. The stings landed like bullets from a machine gun, but were dulled by the suit.

I’d had enough. I took out the taser and jammed into it the blob’s body, blasting away. The jelly lit up with sparks. It looked confused. The tentacles drooped a little. I took the taser to it, but I ran out of juice fast.

The tentacles rose up. I had nothing left. So I stabbed the jelly with the spatula. This little kitchen implement is really handy when it comes to attacking jelly fish.

Two tentacles lashed me in my rubber-covered head. That just made me mad. I plunged the spatula into its mass again and again.

One time when I had pulled the spatula back, a tentacle tried to sting it. A little flick of fire came down my arm. The spatula dropped into the deep, forever lost.

So I took my other arm and dug into the jelly, grabbing hunks out of its body. The frenzy was in me now and I just clutched at it over and over. I was in a fever to kill.

As I was fighting the blob I was vaguely aware of other voices, excited voices, shouting from the beach.

“Are you alright, sir?”

A Suffolk County cop was shouting at me through a bullhorn from a police boat about five feet away.

Gasping, I squeezed out, “Just killing a large jellyfish!”

“I’m not sure you can do that,” he yelled.

“Right, right, but this thing killed a girl!”

“How do you know that?” he shouted at me. The bow of the boat was almost on top of me.

I was about to answer something incoherent when a nest of tentacles stung the cop. He dropped his bullhorn into the water and fell backwards into the boat.

Another cop pulled a gun to shoot the jelly.

“Get out of the way!” he ordered.

I didn’t listen. I thought I was spent, but I just dug in and started scratching out its jelly flesh. The tentacles flew at me. Massive stings bounced off the rubber suit.

I got inside the blob’s skin. The thing has no spine, no brain. I just kept ripping away at jelly matter. The cop continued to yell.

“Get away from the fish!” he yelled from the bow of the boat.

“He’s not a fish!” I yelled back.

Perhaps it wasn’t the right time for a science lesson. A tentacle whipped out of the sea and burned the officer in the neck. He fell into the water, gurgling in pain.

I ripped out more pieces of jelly flesh. Then I remembered the cop. He had fallen on the other side of the jelly, and he had been stung badly. I got around the back of him, clasped my arms around his chest and started pulling him toward the shoreline.

A tentacle grabbed my leg and started to sting. I felt a burn, but kept going. The cops on the boat put a wide yellow light on the jelly and shot. The stinging tentacle let go of me. The cops’ bullets sounded like little puckers in the water. At first I thought a submachine might help speed up the process of killing the beast, but then I figured it might not.

I dragged the officer out of the surf and laid him down at the water’s edge, then ripped off my mask. The officer wasn’t breathing. I slammed my fists down on his chest. Nothing. I pushed seawater out of his lungs. I gave him mouth to mouth resuscitation. Nothing. His mustache bothered me. I pushed more seawater out of his lungs.

People had surrounded us in the dark. Among the voices shouting with excitement and fear were all of my sons. The loud drama of the police activity on the beach was far too much for them to resist.

“Dad! Dad! Dad!” Mark, the little one, was shouting. “Breathe harder!”

My breath flew into his mouth, heap upon heap of oxygen. I flailed at his lungs, fighting against time and brain death.

“Get back, pong heads!” That could only be Richie, yelling at the crowd.

I punched the cop’s chest as hard as I could. One cough came out.

I breathed into his mouth again. He turned himself over and spit out what seemed like a gallon of seawater. Breath came and went from him in quick jabs. His neck was bulging out and bleeding where the jelly had struck him.

“We gotta get this man to a hospital,” I said, more quietly than I wanted. One of the island cops called in the emergency number on his walkie-talkie. Now we would have a spectacle.

My own cheek started to burn. I took off my scuba glove and felt blood mixed with the salty sea water.

Officer Jack leaned into me. “You OK, Harold?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“You should have told me about this.”

My cheek throbbed. “You wouldn’t have let me go.”

“Damn right,” he said, half-smiling. “This was a really crazy, dumb thing to do.”

“Yeah, Ace. Yeah, Ace. I ran and told the cops,” Cloud said, crowding in, shaking my hand. “But what you did was cool enough.”

My sons gathered around me, edging Cloud out, gave me a hug. Except for Richie, of course. He hung back, seeing that I was OK and giving his younger brothers the chance to show emotion. Hugs are not usually within the spectrum of a 14-year old boy’s behavior.

My wife watched from the perimeter of the crowd, nodding. I looked at her, tried to hug her with my eyes. The cat’s eye glasses were hard to see in the dark, so I never did see what she was feeling.

“How are they doing out there?” I asked Officer Jack.

“They’re still shooting at the jelly.”

* * *

The hospital in Bay Shore treated my facial wound and drained the toxin out of the cheek. My boys insisted on coming with me across the bay, so of course Helen escorted all of us there and back to Fire Island on the water taxi for one last night to sleep in Jenna’s house.

Before we left the next day, I begged my wife for a couple of hours to clean up some business. I checked in with Officer Jack. My sons came with me while Helen cleaned up the kitchen and packed. The cop I had pulled out of the surf was doing OK. He’d been flown to the County Medical Center by helicopter. The cop, name of Young, was in guarded condition, but breathing on his own.

Maxie wrote down Young’s name and badge number to send him a get-well card. He seemed to be getting a little smarter about whom to treat nicely.

“The Suffolk County cops dragged your little friend in from the water,” Officer Jack said, not quite believing it.

“What little friend?”

“The jelly.”


“He’s sitting on the beach now. They netted him and dragged him onto the sand and shot him hundreds of times.”

“Oh, my God.”

“They were never really sure he was dead. It can be hard to tell with a jelly. And they were pretty upset about the jelly stinging one of their men.”

“I guess this means it was OK with the Suffolk Police for me to go after him.”

Jack waved me off. “Nobody mentioned that to me. It’s not like you were trying to kill a bald eagle.”

“Dad, can we go see him?”

“I don’t know, Mark, I don’t know.”

“Dad, come on! We want to see him!”

My cheek burned.

“Let’s go, let’s go!”

Jon ran out the door first and Maxie and Mark followed. I walked with Richie and Officer Jack over the sandy sidewalks to the little wood steps moaning in the wind over the dune. And there, plopped on the first slope on the beach was the beast I had fought the night before. A few dozen kids and adults were staring at it.

“Don’t get too close,” I shouted at the boys. “The tentacles can still sting.”

He was about the size of a small car and must have weighed 300 pounds. The size of the thing can throw off your sense that we’re the kings of the planet.

“This is a Nomura Jellyfish,” Officer Jack explained. “They’re found in the Sea of Japan.”

“Wow. How did this guy get so far away from home?”

“Don’t know. Maybe some jellyfish eggs hitch-hiked on a freighter coming into New York. We called the Marine Biology guys at Stony Brook University to come down here to take a look.”

The beast was sliced up with hundreds of bullets, which you could see through its translucent flesh. You could also see dozens of the hunks I had torn out of the thing.

“Their stings don’t usually inflict so much harm. This one seems to have evolved in a different direction.”

“No kidding,” Richie said. “It eats human flesh.”

“Well, we’re not sure of that,” Officer Jack said. “The Stony Brook people will help figure out the biology of the jelly.”

(I got a call from Officer Jack several weeks later. He said the Stony Brook team, working with the Suffolk County Police, had confirmed that the jelly did in fact kill Laura. Some of the tentacles on the Nomura had hooks that could slice and sink into flesh. Nobody had ever seen a jelly that could do that before. Pieces of human skin and muscle fibers had been found in the jelly’s stomach. Laura’s DNA matched up to the contents they found inside the jelly’s digestive system. Even though there was never another sighting of a Nomura Jellyfish there, we never went swimming at Fire Island again.)

“Hey, there’s Mom,” Mark said.

Helen marched down the wooden beach stairs and waved her largest kitchen knife at us.

“Schreiber, I told you, we’re leaving.”

“We are.”

“This isn’t leaving. This is lingering.”

Helen got very close to me, close enough to hold my hand. Underneath the cat’s eye glasses, there seemed to be something resembling anger. My wife raised the knife to about the level of my chest. Officer Jack, my sons, the rest of the crowd all looked stunned.

The knife went higher in the air, as if it would be launched like a javelin. It came down in a perfect arc and landed solidly in the flesh of the jelly, in the farthest part of the body from the tentacles.

“You lost my best knife. You lost my spatula.”

“How did you know about that?”

“I couldn’t find it when I was packing up. I can only imagine what you did with it.”

“Mom, the spatula sleeps with the fishes,” Richie said.

“You had to fight a giant jellyfish to prove you’re a man?”

“Aw, Mom, lighten up. You can always get another knife set,” Jon said.

“Yeah, I think Target’s holding a special knife sale just for you, Helen,” Richie said, snickering.

My wife took the knife out of the jelly and waved it at all of us.

“I’m not going to Target. I’m going to Fortunoff’s. No, no. Williams-Sonoma. I want a deluxe set.”

”OK, Mom,” Maxie said.

“Schreiber, you’re paying.” Helen waved the knife in another arc at my sons and me. “And you all are coming.”

“Aw, no, Mom,” all the boys said at the same time.

She plunged the knife into another part of the jelly.

“Oh, yes, you are, all of you. And I don’t want to hear it. Now we’re leaving.”

Helen looked as satisfied as I had ever seen her. The crowd around us applauded Helen’s little show of steel as the Schreiber men bowed their heads and shuffled off the beach.

We packed quickly and quietly. The boys walked with their backpacks stuffed with toys, softballs, mitts and games. Maxie carried his notebook and a basketball. Richie carried a jelly jar and a piece of driftwood he had found on the beach. Jon held a book of Buddhist philosophy and Mark a science fiction book and his DVD case.

On the walk to the ferry, we ran into Jenna. Officer Jack had alerted her that we were leaving.

Over her bathing suit, she was wearing a black tee-shirt with the name of a punk rock band I had never heard of. I was relieved she had dressed more modestly.

I wanted to be civil, and yet, not. But I didn’t get the chance.

“So the evil doers are going.”

“We are,” Jon said.

“I heard you cut off some animal’s testicles because you thought it killed Laura.”

The three younger boys all giggled.

“I can’t take any more of this,” Richie said.

“I know she did it,” Jenna said, pointing at my wife.

Maxie looked in his notebook. “It was a jellyfish. A jellyfish has tentacles, not testicles.”

“Your summer rental’s been evoked,” Jenna said.

“That’s revoked. Your summer rental’s been revoked!” Jon yelled.

“How would you know, you little tweezer?” Jenna said.

“I never miss a thing.”

“Tweetie, did she say tweetie?” Maxie said.

All the boys huddled together.

“Tweetum?” Jon asked.

“Twit?” Mark said.

“She said tweezer,” Richie decided. “You meant to say tweener, pong-head. And Jon is no tweener. Maxie is.”

“Whatever,” Jenna said in a huff.

“You’re not using any of the seven principles here,” Maxie said quietly.

“Oh, yes I am,” Jenna said insistently. “I’m sharpening the saw.”

“Yes,” Richard said, “but sharpening the saw is supposed to be about balanced self-satisfaction. And there’s nothing balanced about you.”

“You are all so self-involved. You don’t know anything about the principles. Besides, I’m dispensing with you all. I’m getting rid of you and you’re paying for the whole summer’s rental.”

Maxie mumbled something. Nobody heard him.

“What did you say, you little tweezer?”

Maxie searched through his notebook, leafing quickly through the pages, talking to himself, eyes wide with panic when he couldn’t find what he was looking for. He settled on one page and smiled.

“Umm, actually, you can’t. That’s a breach of contract.”

“What?” Jenna screamed.

“If you want us out, you have to refund my dad’s money.”

“This is ridiculous.”

“It’s in the contract. You signed it,” Maxie said in a low voice, never looking up from his notebook.

“I don’t accept what you’re saying,” Jenna said, cocking one hand on her ample hip.

“You’re a stinky-head,” Mark said to Jenna.

“A clownie,” Jon told her.

“A meatball,” Maxie joined in.

“You’re done. Face it,” Richard said, glaring at Jenna. My wife smiled quietly behind her cat’s eye glasses.

“This isn’t over,” Jenna said.

“You’re right. It’s not,” I said. “My lawyers are going to look into your business relationships with your boyfriend Bobby Black. I believe he’s been arrested for penny-stock manipulation. The Manhattan District Attorney will be very interested in your friendship.”

“This is so flusterating. I’m not wasting any more time on you,” Jenna said, sticking her nose in the air. She stomped off to her house.

And there it was, our golden moment as a family—exactly what I had hoped would happen on our vacation. The Schreibers had realized one of the seven principles. We had just engaged in a carefully selected recreational activity together—insulting our landlord.

“What can we do to her?” Jon asked.

“Dad, her house would burn down in a matter of minutes,” Richie said. “A few vodka bottles and matches are all we need and the house is history.”

“Yeah, let’s burn her house down!” the three younger boys all shouted.

I laughed and said, “While that would be lots of fun for all of us, it’s not what we do.”

“Aww,” the boys all said together in a fake moan.

Some monsters you can kill. Others you have to let walk around in red heels. But you can sue them.





Copyright © 2008 Michael Gold

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Michael Gold: I live in Queens, NY, with my wife and baby daughter. I have worked as a public relations writer for industrial and technology companies, a reporter for small-town newspapers, and a freelance writer. My last published piece was “Manhattan at 30,000 Feet” on Silverthought. I read too many comics. Major influences include Kurt Vonnegut, Frank Miller and Kilgore Trout.

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