Race to the Jersey Short

by Ruth Z Deming

Rob was my buddy. On the bulletin board up here in my office, I have letters he mailed me from over the years. He had a minor problem with delusions. He thought our mutual friend Pam, a psychiatrist, was in love with him. No way! Without telling a soul, I grabbed a bag of Snyder's Pretzels and Planter's Unsalted Peanuts and began driving to Long Beach Island, where his family spent the summer.

He was in anguish every time he drove there. Why? "Roberto," as I playfully called him, believed his life was meaningless. Every one else, from his two sons with whom he played tennis back in Conshohocken, where he lived in a spacious condo, had something to be proud of.

Rob was a saint. He helped everyone in his family. His Aunt Thelma was an old lady he would drive to the Acme Food Store. His best friend, Phil, he would drive to kidney dialysis. Rob was everybody's "best friend," including mine.

You've heard of a "sixth sense." Something bad, very very bad, was about to happen in Long Beach Island. Motorists drove their cars and Jeeps on the smooth sands and Roberto would drive his maroon Volvo.

Many a time he had picked me up at home and would take me out to dinner. His folks were wealthy. He had a trust fund and insisted on paying for me. He knew how I loved going out to eat: Bonefish Grill, where I'd eat scallops, dipped in butter; or TNT Diner in Hatboro, PA, now out of business due to the pandemic.

If only I could race him to LBI and avoid a catastrophe I knew would happen. Like in Oedipus, where an assassin would be found and killed, I raced the 25 miles in my white Toyota Corolla to that nearly mythical land on the Jersey Sea Shore.

Sure, I would get sand in my shoes and hair and clothes, but it would be worth it.

As I approached, I heard a loud radio playing. It was the song "Heroes and Villains" by the Beach Boys. And then I saw it.

Rob's car. Crushed like a tin can. My buddy was stone-cold dead.

Other cars had gathered around. Nothing better than the spectacle of the dead.

I brought my pretzels and peanuts out of my car, sat in the sand, and wept.

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