The Redshaw Sea Star
His grandfather, Frank, started Funland Amusement Pier in 1935 with a jumbo lime-green slide on a wide section of boardwalk that stretched out over 7th street beach. Grew it into one of the greatest parks on the Atlantic coast with an imported carousal and state-of the-art roller coaster. In 1982, when Frank was hit by a car while riding his rusty Schwinn to work, operations went to Jimmy’s dad, James Redshaw Sr, who added a water flume and the county’s first go-cart course in time for the upcoming season. That summer eighteen-year old Rosalind Cooper was hired as a ticket taker, and Jimmy became her first real boyfriend. By the end of the season, she was pregnant, much to everyone’s surprise, particularly Sherry, the girl he’d dumped only weeks before. But the future was bright and marriage seemed the easiest thing.
Two decades and not a technical glitch. Until last May when, without consulting him, Ros tried out for the beach patrol. A thirty-eight year old mother of two college girls! It had been a tough year. His father had died of a heart attack over Christmas, and Funland operations fell to him. Two weeks before opening day, Rosalind announced: “They took me.” As if he could simply replace her with any old high school kid still needing a seasonal job.
He was not entirely surprised. Eventually the Tilt-a-Whirl made the children too dizzy. Over time they lost interest in the galloping horse on the Merry-Go-Round, stopped stroking the coaster dragon’s golden head, screaming “faster!” at his iridescent scales—the days of half-expecting real fire to stream from his open mouth gone with a snap. Not for him, however. Never for him. The flume ride still made Jimmy’s stomach leap in a way that nothing ever could.
She’d left him the Thursday after Labor Day. He came home from work at 8pm after grabbing a hotdog on the boardwalk. The carousal horses were starting to flake and chip; the train couldn’t go another year without dismantling and oiling all the tracks. The house was dark. Ros had taken to staying out late those last few weeks. Guard parties after races. “They expect me,” she’d said. He drank coffee, surfed websites, and read customer reviews on the FunLand site. When he got around to checking the time, it was almost midnight.
The note was in their bedroom. Propped against layers of frilly pillows. The soft loops of her handwriting reminded him of others left in lunch boxes. He half-hoped a love letter, but it had been years. He called her phone. It was disconnected. He called again. Checked the number and called again. And again. In her closet were sweaters on shelves, some pants, winter things. The red velvet dress she wore when they took the girls to the Rockettes at Christmas. In the crowded theater row, her face had been shadows of green and red, she clutched each daughter’s hand. They were seniors in high school then, Jess and Jen. In a year, they’d be gone. After the show he’d taken them to dinner, a new restaurant at the top of the city. White search lights, bright yellow neon flashing in crystal, glass, and steel—all of it reflected and blurred from skyscraper to sky. He splurged on a vintage Bordeaux. Said something funny, and Ros had tossed her head back. Peals. Oh God, her laugh. Jimmy took the dress off the hanger. Pressed his face deeper into the plush fabric, trying to pull something out. Her scent, some clue, anything. He lay on the bed with her dress until it grew wrinkled with dark matted splotches. The sky was black and starless. Black, then blue, then blue black, thick with fog.
When it seemed morning enough, he went to work. No doughnuts, too much coffee. He shut the door to the office and locked it. Tore apart her desk. She’d taken her computer and the photos. He found her keys in Jess’s 2nd grade clay pinch pot. The bottom drawer revealed a photo of him, face up under a stack of printer paper. He’d given her that camera for her birthday. She made him pose so many times that day. He wore an impatient smile. Employees were calling on the walkie-talkie, and Rosalind wouldn’t let him answer. When had he last seen that photo on her desk? The other day? A month? He waited a week before calling the girls. If anyone asked, he said she was on a trip.
The London Eye, the Cosmo Clock— those were the real deal. Even the online images gave him chills. All lit up in the night, towering into the clouds at the edge of a waterway. Metal spokes and bright white cars against a blazing pink sunset at the Georgia State Fair. Ferris wheels of this scale were not cheap. After several days searching, he found a company in Ohio that could build one the size he needed for the least amount of money. He’d need a loan, but his dad always financed rides like this. Certainly the wheel would pay for itself after five successful years. He would check with his mother. A courtesy, at this point, since he was in charge now. Jimmy had taken to visiting her every few days since his father had died, delivering status updates, reports and asking questions. After Ros left, he resorted to phone calls; she was worried, and he was long overdue to go see her.
Sally Redshaw greeted her son on the porch of the Queen Anne where they both grew up. At seventy-eight, she still walked the length of the boardwalk most days, held onto her height with shoulders thrust back. Her white hair was sleek and styled a sharp chin-length. Same bright smile. Keen mind. She only stopped doing the books and payroll a few years ago.
“Jimmy. What a surprise. Look at you. Skin and bones. Let’s make you a sandwich.”
Black and white photos of aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins posing in front of various FunLand rides looked down at him from the entry hall.