The Last Ride on the Summer Trolley

by Adelaide B. Shaw

Here we are," the blonde teenager said.  "Sandy Cove Beach." She ran around to the other side of the car and extended a hand to help her great-grandfather. "What a dump."

"I can do it myself," he said, ignoring her comment and outstretched hand. The sour look on his face hadn't changed much since he arrived at the family home to celebrate his 100th birthday. 

Carl lived in a senior home in another town which was close enough for family to visit.  He and Tess had moved there 20 years ago.  Her death eight years earlier had jolted him, leaving a void that he couldn't fill no matter how often his four children, 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren visited.  It wasn't simply her absence that left him feeling hollow inside.  The past was fading, some of it disappearing altogether like snowflakes in June. If he lost the past, he would lose his life.

He had reservations about the celebratory nature of a 100th birthday. Four generations under the same roof used to be miraculous, but not so uncommon now days with the advancements of medical science able to prolong life.  These advancements should be condemned, he thought, not celebrated, in spite of having benefited from them. 

Tall and straight, Carl had a surprisingly fast gait, and Karen had to run to catch up with him, checking the time as she ran. "Granddad, it's going to rain.  You can't go down there."

Carl lowered himself to a rock in preparation of pushing himself down to another rock.  "I can do it," he said.  "Stop fussing."

"I'm supposed to keep an eye on you and bring you back for the party at five o'clock."

"You can keep an eye on me from up here if you don't want to come down."

"There's nothing there.  Just a littered beach, this broken wall and a lot of crap left from some amusement park 100 years ago.  Nobody comes here.  It's condemned.  Didn't you read the sign?"

"A lot you know."  He pushed away her offering hand and slid down to a lower rock, then repeated the movement three more times.  "See.  Not a scratch."  His still very blue eyes sparked with his success. Discarding his shoes and socks, he left them where they fell and walked towards the water. 

"You worried me," Karen said, catching up with him, still wearing her sandals. "Yuk!"

She ran back from the water and the trash that had sloshed over her. "You'll catch some disease.  The water's full of crap."

"Tide's coming in,"  Carl said.  "And don't you know another word besides crap?"

"That's all that's here."

"Lives are here.  People...friends...family."

Carl walked towards the chain link fence that ran up from the water's edge along the sand, to where the amusement park had begun. What remained were acres of weeds, gravel, pieces of rusted, twisted metal, broken concrete, deep rutted streets cutting through a ghost park where even the ghosts were hesitant to inhabit.

"See those pilings?"  Carl indicated with a slender finger the rotting stumps of four pilings in the water and three on the sand.  "That's where the roller coaster was.  At high tide it was real scary to a kid, but not as I got older.  The girls were always scared.  Boy, did they scream."

"It doesn't look like it was a very big amusement park, not like Coney Island or Playland."

"It was big enough.  Big isn't always better."

"Come on Granddad.  It's starting to sprinkle."

 Carl retraced his steps along the beach, picking up shells, with Karen giving him an occasional yank to hurry him along.

"There's talk of putting up a shopping mall," Karen said, "with restaurants and a hotel and a movie theater."

"A mall."  Disgust was evident in Carl's voice.  "The world doesn't need another mall."

"There can never be enough malls, Granddad."

Carl sat on a rock and began to slip on his socks. "We came out on the summer trolley.  This was the only line that had one.  One of those open trolleys.  They were fun."  He slowly put on a shoe and tied it. "That Sunday we were planning to spend out at Sandy Cove, my friends and I.  It was the end of September and still hot, but the hurricane hit that Wednesday and that was the end of Sandy Cove."

"Why wasn't the park repaired?"

"Too much damage.  The company began some repairs, but then there was talk of war and then, war.  What could be salvaged was sold to other parks.  The rest was demolished and the scrap was reused–metals, boards, bricks. "

He turned to face the rocks and the climb up to the road. "Don't hover. I made it down myself.  I don't need help." With the agility of a younger man, Carl bent low and placed a hand on the rock above.  Steadying himself he raised one foot firmly on the rock and pushed himself upright.  He repeated the process, slowly but with sure movements. Once on top he walked out to the middle of the road.  "Here's where the trolley stopped.  The end of the line.  Old John O'Malley rang the bell as loud as he could, especially on the last run.  He didn't like to wait too long for stragglers.  If you missed the last trolley, it was a long walk to town."

Back in the car Carl leaned his head back and closed his eyes and began to mumble.

"What's that Granddad?"

"With the beach and park gone, the trolley out there never ran again.  I didn't get that last ride on the summer trolley."

Except for the rain pattering on the roof of the car, they rode in silence for several minutes.  Then Karen braked slowly, checked the traffic and made a U-turn.

"Where are we going?" Carl mumbled through his dozing.

Without answering Karen drove for nearly an hour before stopping.

"We're at the trolley museum, Granddad," she said, giving Carl a nudge on his arm.  "I've not been here before.  Maybe there's a summer trolley on display."

The large cavernous building was nearly empty of visitors.  Their footsteps echoed as they walked past the trolleys, a mix of very early models and later one. All closed trolleys.  They held no interest for Carl.

"There, Granddad!"  Karen led Carl to the far end of the museum. 

Set on a low platform was a summer trolley, painted bright yellow and cream with highly polished wooden bench seats that could be shifted to face the front or rear. Circling the trolley was a black velvet rope.  Seeing no one nearby, Karen pushed aside a pole securing the rope and led Carl up the platform.  She climbed the running board and sat down, sliding over for Carl.  He ran his hand lovingly over the wood.

"It's the same," he said, more to himself than to Karen.  Grasping a brass pole he closed his eyes.

The trolley began to move slowly.  He was 20 years old, and it was Sunday. All the seats were occupied.  The overflow stood in the aisles and on the running boards.  That's where Carl and his friends stood, laughing, braving the danger of getting clipped by a passing car, hanging on with one hand, showing off for the girls.  Once out of town, the motorman went faster, faster like a train.  Better.  All open like it was the wind took Carl's breath away.  At every intersection Mr. O'Malley rang the bell.

First the beach.  Diving into the waves, splashing the girls.  Later, the park.  The roller coaster.  Was it high tide or low?  Either way, it was a long drop down into the rushing waves or the hard packed sand.  On the carousel trying for the brass ring. A walk down Fun Alley.  The penny toss, darts, racing cars.  Filling up with hot dogs, cotton candy and ice cream.

They stayed until midnight when the park closed and caught the last trolley, running, pulling the girls along.

"Hey!  Get out of there, you two!"  A security guard approached quickly. He climbed  the platform and reached over to pull Carl off the bench.

"Leave him alone," Karen said.  "We were just sitting."

Carl pushed the guard's hand away and stood up.  "No need to get violent, young man.  We're leaving."

"Didn't you see the rope and read the signs?  What are you doing up there, anyway?"

Carl stepped off the running board and stroked a brass pole.  "Just taking a ride," he said, a slow smile softening his usual expression .  "Just taking a last ride on the summer trolley."

BIO: Adelaide B. Shaw lives in a small rural community in New York State.  Her stories have been published in several literary journals, including The Toronto Star and The Writer's Journal, both contest winners, American Literary Review, Green's Magazine, Sunscripts, The Villager, Reader's Break, Dogwood Tales, Housewife Writers' Forum, New England Writers' Network, Emrys Journal, The MacGuffin, Griffin,  The Country and Abroad and in Loch Raven Review  In addition to writing fiction, Adelaide writes haiku and other Japanese poetic forms, such as tanka and haibun.  Her collection of haiku, An Unknown Road is available at www.modernenglishtankapress.com