Cromer

A short story

small figure in red hoodie sits by shore with 2 sailboats and pier in distance
Nora Hollstein / Connected Archives

In New Malden, they owned a corner shop together. It was the place where you could get the gossip magazines and newspapers from Seoul. Then, when everyone got smartphones, it became the place to get your smartphone cases: cute cats, cows, hippos. Gel pens, too. The students picked out a few colors while they got their fizzy drinks or, when it grew warmer, waited their turn at the shaved-ice machine that Harry had convinced his wife they should buy. At first, Harry had wanted a pinball machine and Grace had been forced to tell him that was ridiculous. What kid played pinball these days?

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Harry never minded the kids—kids helped him forget that they had woken up one day to find themselves in their mid‑40s—but Grace went to the back whenever they came in. She said it was because their voices sounded to her like paper shredders, and they always picked up a box of something and left it somewhere else. But Harry knew it was because years ago, one of them had come up to the counter while Grace was arranging the pens and asked if they were really North Koreans and what life was like there and whether they had any health defects or bad teeth or were actually siblings or something.

A parent had made a comment about them, maybe at dinner, maybe while passing the shop, and their kid had overheard. This had happened a few times over the years, would happen probably until they died.

Harry and Grace weren’t North Koreans, not technically. Their fathers had defected together in the early ’70s and then a month later found a home here in the Korean community southwest of London that only grew larger as the decades went on. Grace’s father had found work as a delivery-truck driver, Harry’s at a home-and-garden shop where, later, Harry and Grace roamed the greenhouse, trying to learn the names of plants and flowers. If there was talk about the two men who had escaped from the north, the focus on them dimmed as the years went on, because more and more did the same and came to New Malden. Their fathers both married South Korean women; they had children, Grace older than Harry by a year.

Harry and Grace had known each other all their life, their marriage an eventuality they never really spoke of until it happened. As children, they stayed over in each other’s apartments and their mothers cooked for them and they went to school together and they fought over what to watch on the television and who could pedal the bicycle and who would sit on the seat. When they were older, they poked each other in the stomach over who stole the other’s cigarettes, and they went to the park to smoke and to read bad sex scenes in novels out loud to each other. They snuck away to Wembley to watch the Freddie Mercury tribute concert, and when Annie Lennox opened her mouth to sing, Grace understood what it meant for your breath to be taken away. As the years went on, they practiced their Korean because they were forgetting some words and phrases, and they also wondered more and more about their fathers’ childhoods because their fathers never spoke about their life before this one.

One winter, Harry and Grace were out walking when an IRA bomb went off two blocks away. Even from there, the force of it lifted Grace into his arms, like she was a parachute that had caught the wind. He remembered the strange, floating silence of it all. The ballooning of her red coat. Then the snow, which wasn’t snow but the dust of bricks that had been blown apart. And Grace suddenly tucked in his arms, the safest place she could ever imagine being, she told him later.

He saw the unfolding map of them. He always had. It kept them going through the decades and the success of the shop. What he didn’t see coming was losing three of their parents within two years. Harry’s father died of a brain aneurysm and his mother of cancer, Grace’s father of a bad heart. Or a broken one, perhaps, after losing his friend, Harry’s father.

Then Grace’s mother decided she’d had it with New Malden. Grace and Harry were unaware that she had ever felt restless there. She planned to move to Arizona, where she had a cousin, and to take almost nothing with her.

Harry wasn’t a superstitious man, or for that matter a spiritual one, but with his parents and Grace’s father gone, he believed in grief, inexplicable, dumbstruck grief. That slow, heavy, animal feeling that was like a coat he could never take off. It altered the day’s colors, its sounds. Every moment reminded him of his father: A woman walking by cradling a plant in a pot. A voice from the street corner. A news report about North Korea. Grace’s mother showing up with a list of things that Harry and Grace could have if they wanted—an old photo album, clothes, an ashtray, an unopened bottle of whiskey, a bicycle.

He never told Grace this, but he was almost relieved when her mother announced her decision to go to Arizona. Every few months, she sent a postcard of the desert, which Grace taped to the side of the register and which he almost always forgot about until the next one came.

Harry thought maybe he would grow closer to Grace in some new way, now that it was just the two of them—that he would discover some different part of the map he had been carrying in his head. That eventually they would shed that coat and find some hobby to do together or make new friends or see more of the ones they had gone to school with. Maybe they would save up some money and go on holiday—somewhere, even briefly, where no one knew anything about them, where they were anonymous.

But in the absence of their families, they grew more solitary, more separate in the life outside their shop windows and with each other. And if someone were to ask him why, or how, that had happened, he wouldn’t know. He would look up from the counter to find the afternoon almost gone and realize that if Grace had vanished, he would not have noticed. It was as if the days, and all the hours in those days, had hardened into a ring around them. He kept waiting for something to duck under the perimeter and reveal itself.

They drove to work, opened the shop, stayed until closing, sold what they sold, received shipments, cleaned the floors, wiped the counter, kept the books, took turns eating lunch in the back room, called the police a few times a month for the drunks or the people who wouldn’t leave.

Nothing changed. In their bedroom one night, he turned on his side, exhausted, and not for the first time startled himself with the understanding that the woman beside him was the only person left in the immediate circle that could be called his family. Maybe their decision not to have children had been wrong. Was it too late for that?

Grace laughed.

“But that doesn’t mean we can’t try,” he said, and winked at her.

“Did you just wink at me?” Grace said.

What was she always looking at online? He wondered how often their fathers had thought about the place they had left behind. Whether they had truly been happy here and whether they’d had good marriages and been able to ignore the South Koreans who said things to them and to their wives because of who they were—whether they’d gotten over the inevitable scuffles and the word Communist spray-painted on their cars. Whether they’d ever regretted having children. And what had come into their mind the moment they’d died. If anything had come at all.

“Let me die first,” Harry said, more than once, and Grace always replied, “I don’t think so.”

He started giving away the gel pens, trying to remember all the kids’ names, what the gossip was, what they thought was cool, what movies and TV shows to watch.

If he tried too hard, he couldn’t remember his father’s face. It came to him only when he didn’t try.

He had dreams of flowers whose names he kept forgetting. Enormous flowers that Grace carried away across a wide river, almost tripping as she kept saying, “I don’t think so.”

Harry was closing up the shop one fall night when the bell rang and the door swung open. At first he thought it must be one of the kids, because it was a kid. He had a hoodie on, so Harry didn’t see the blood right away. Then the kid turned under the shop’s lights. His nose was banged up. The blood was coming down over his lips, which the kid kept licking like he was a dog.

Harry reached for his arm, but the kid flinched. Harry said, “All right. All right. I’m Harry. This is my shop.” He spoke in Korean, wondering if the kid would understand. He did.

“What’s your name?” Harry said.

“I don’t know,” the kid said.

He was 12, probably. At most 13.

“I can’t,” the kid said. “I can’t remember.”

Grace walked in from the back. She had been dumping out the bucket of water for the floors and was holding the mop. The kid froze and Harry assured him it was okay, she was his wife.

They had planned to see a movie that night and go out to dinner, something they hadn’t done in a long time. He had even made a reservation at the sushi place they had gone to for her birthday one year, the one with the corner booth in the back with the curtains that had made her feel like they were celebrities.

It was dark outside, and the three of them were reflected in the window, standing still.

“We should take care of that,” Harry said.

The kid wiped his nose with the sleeve of his hoodie and winced.

“Let’s get you away from the windows,” Harry said, and reached for him again. This time, the kid let him. Harry guided him down an aisle into the back room, Grace looking at them the whole time, still holding the mop as she locked the front door.

Harry sat the kid down. He pressed a handkerchief against the kid’s nose and told him to lift his head back. He asked if he remembered anything, and the kid nodded and motioned for Harry’s phone.

The kid dialed. Harry could hear the woman on the other end pick up and begin to scream hysterically. The kid nodded a lot, as though the woman was there with them, and repeated that he couldn’t remember. The kid asked Harry where they were and he said, “New Malden, southwest London.” And then gave him the street corner where the shop was. The kid repeated everything back and then hung up and paused. He looked up at Harry. He said when he dialed and was talking to the woman, he knew that she was his mother, but now he wasn’t sure anymore.

“Who else would it be?” Harry said.

The kid rubbed his head and then lifted his head back again. He said he had never felt so confused. He said things were coming back to him, but it was like the things were a step away always, knowing he was trying to reach for them.

Two policemen arrived. Grace had called. Harry thought the kid would try to run but he didn’t. He slid down in the chair, holding his nose, and shut his eyes.

Harry went with him to the hospital. The kid gave him the number he had dialed, and Harry left a message for the woman about where they were going. He stayed at the hospital the three hours the kid was there, keeping him talking while a nurse bandaged up his broken nose, answering the policemen’s questions, listening to the policemen ask the kid questions.

One policeman asked if the kid had been in a car. He said the nose injury indicated a possible car accident. The head trauma would have caused the partial memory loss. He asked if the kid had been driving.

All the kid kept saying was “Cromer.” He thought he lived in Cromer.

“On the sea?” Harry said.

The policeman jotted something down in his notepad.

Cromer was where Harry and Grace had gone on their honeymoon. The owner of the Korean restaurant down the street had a cousin who worked at a seaside hotel, and the cousin had gotten them a discount. They had spent hours on the boardwalk and visited the pubs and shopped. It had been grand.

He wondered if the kid knew the restaurant owner in some way, if that was why he had ended up in New Malden. He said the man’s name but the kid shook his head.

Then the kid’s mother arrived. She was much younger than Harry had imagined, in her early 30s and wearing the same kind of hoodie as the boy. She came up to Harry and said, “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” and began to cry. She smelled like a strong shampoo. She showed the police her license and then a photo of the kid in her purse.

“Cromer,” the policeman said, handing back her ID.

“Ten quid,” the policeman whispered to Harry as they watched the reunion. “Ten quid says it was the father. Took the boy. Got drunk. Crashed somewhere. We’ll find the car and then the man.”

The kid clearly recognized her, but couldn’t quite place her. Still, when she hugged him, he put his arms around her, and they stayed like that for a while, their bodies like a giant clamshell on the bed.

When Harry headed back to the shop, it was almost one in the morning. On the street, a taxi drove by and then two girls in skirts walked down the sidewalk, swaying their hips and twirling glow sticks.

Grace was where he had left her, mopping the floors. He told her she had already done that. She yawned, rubbed her eyes with her knuckles. She asked about the kid. He wanted to say something about the movie and the dinner they had planned, but his throat was raw, his body suddenly as heavy as a potato sack. The radio switched to a commercial, the shop filling with the hurried sound of language like birdsong, and Harry reached over and unwrapped Grace’s fingers from the mop.

Harry never found out who the kid was or what exactly had happened to him. He didn’t know whether the police had ever found a car, or whether there had indeed been a father. He looked for news online about a neighborhood incident the following day and the whole week but nothing was mentioned. He even asked a policeman, a different one, who stopped in the shop for a coffee. Harry explained. The policeman picked up a few of the pens on the counter and said that he was sorry, it wasn’t his case, but that Harry seemed to have done everything right.

Harry wasn’t sure what the policeman meant.

Grace was better at finding things on the internet, but she came up with nothing as well. “Forget about it,” she said, and moved on to whatever she was watching on her phone in bed.

Maybe Harry himself had watched too many of those TV shows the kids liked lately. He felt a small knot inside him that he wanted to pick at but couldn’t reach. He wondered if the kid’s memory had come back. He wondered if the father was sick or into drugs or both. When Harry was a child, a man had approached his father one day and asked him if he was “right in the head.” Harry’s father was delivering plants to the restaurant down the street the day before it opened, and he had dropped a box. The accident wasn’t the reason the man had asked, though; his father hardly spoke and people wondered if he was mute.

What did “right in the head” mean? Harry remembered thinking to himself.

The next day, Harry asked Grace to cover for him and walked down to that restaurant. The owner, John, was sitting at a table preparing takeout kits, placing chopsticks and napkins into plastic bags. If he was surprised to see Harry, he didn’t show it. Harry himself was surprised to find that John’s hair had grown grayer. How long had they gone without seeing each other? John had lived not far from Harry’s father’s home-and-garden shop—he had even gone to the Freddie Mercury tribute concert with them—but they hadn’t spent much time together since Grace’s mother had left for Arizona.

Harry asked about the cousin.

“He’s no longer working at the hotel,” John said.

He proceeded to tell Harry that his cousin had slipped on a step last winter and shattered his hip. The hotel couldn’t keep him on so he had gone farther north, to York. “We send him what we can,” John said.

He asked if Harry was looking to get a deal at the hotel again, but Harry didn’t continue. Instead, he flipped through the menu and ordered lunch for Grace, pretending not to notice that John was looking at him. He knew John was wondering why they hadn’t come by in a while, not even for dinner. He waited for John to say something, like he was angry, upset, or confused, but John only smiled and kept going with his takeout kits.

Harry sat down by the window. Shadows panned across the sunny floor between them like the carousel at the nearby park where they had gone as children. Watching the shadows, Harry suddenly felt as though he had been sitting here for many hours, as though it was much later in the day than he’d assumed it was.

“You look tired, Harry,” John said. “You’re working too much.”

“I’m all right,” Harry said.

The smell of hot cooking oil drifted in from the kitchen. Harry leaned forward and took some of the napkins and chopsticks, placing them inside the plastic bags.

“Does this have something to do with the boy last week?” John said.

“He was from Cromer,” Harry said.

“They say he was a runaway,” John said.

“Who says?” Harry handed John a few of the kits he had finished.

“They say he lost his memory before he got to where he wanted to go,” John said. “And now he must be back home with no idea of why he was running away in the first place. Or from whom.” John took some more kits from Harry and laughed. “Imagine us in front of Wembley, forgetting why we were there at all and turning around.”

“She seemed all right,” Harry said. “The mother. I don’t think he would do that.”

“Man, Annie Lennox,” John said. “Break your fucking heart. Bowie, too, of course. But really no contest. Look at my arm. Chills just thinking about it.”

Harry scratched his own arm. He thought about what John had heard. He remembered the mother, who he admitted to himself was pretty, and the way she kept saying thank you to him.

The food was ready. The staff gave Harry extra rice. John said to give Grace a hello. And then he said that they should both come to the next bingo night, and Harry said that they would and returned to the shop.

He thought it would stay with him the way certain things did. A man asking his father whether he was right in the head; Grace in his arms as building debris fell on them like snow; the greenhouse at night; the spray paint on the cars. But the truth was that as time passed, whatever had been caught inside him got dislodged and fell. Harry stopped thinking about the boy or his mother. Or if the memory surfaced, he no longer lingered on it the way he had done that first week.

No other news of it ever came through the shop, and no one, not even Grace, ever spoke of it again. The shop kept them busy enough that the days sped by. A few months later, they had a mishap with a large order—the delivery truck never arrived—and their life was consumed by the fallout for a week, as they tracked down the delivery, made phone calls, handled customers coming in and complaining. He expected that the stress would boil over, and that he or Grace would start a fight or shout or walk away, which was how they always dealt with stress.

small red cup centered on large brown table
Stefan Dotter / Connected Archives

But that never happened. They shared a laugh. They rolled their eyes at each other over a customer who considered it a disaster not to have milk. They said there was nothing more to do tonight and closed early and went to that movie they had missed, which was still at the local theater—a comedy about a small-town girl in America heading into the city.

The holidays came, which was always a boon for them, all the partygoers stopping in on their way to somewhere else. They sold out of things they never otherwise sold out of, like wrapping paper and scissors and those glow-in-the-dark stickers intended for children. For New Year’s Eve, they headed over to the community center, played bingo, and watched the new season of a Korean historical drama until John shouted about what losers they were and began a dance party.

They played Queen, of course. Harry thought Grace looked beautiful, a little drunk, attempting to keep up with John as the two of them sang along and avoided the small puddles of melted snow from their boots. He thought the decades hadn’t been that long at all. He could still see them sneaking into the greenhouse one night as children because Grace was convinced something happened to plants when humans slept, and she wanted to watch. How they fell asleep under a tarp before they could notice anything, and how his father found them an hour later, worried sick.

It was the only time his father had ever struck him. “You never run away,” his father said, on his knees, and then struck Harry again, quickly, the moon bright in the greenhouse and his father only a silhouette.

Grace was the one who brought up Cromer early the following year. She was behind the counter and scrolling through a travel website on her phone. Her birthday was coming up. Winter also meant the off-season, and they could find a good deal. At the community center, while dancing drunk, they had promised each other that if they remembered the conversation they were then having, they would close up the shop for two days.

They remembered. It was a New Year’s resolution, although they heard that no one called them resolutions anymore. Was that true?

“How about Cromer?” she said, and he wondered if she remembered the boy. He had told her about how the boy kept saying that word over and over until his mother showed up. Harry reminded Grace now, and she said, “My God, I haven’t thought about that in ages. Whatever happened to him?”

Harry didn’t know. Grace made a sound with her lips. She scrolled down and said that the hotel they had stayed at for their honeymoon was still too expensive for them, but that she had found another, smaller one a little farther down the street.

“But still across from the boardwalk,” Grace said, and smiled.

Harry wiped down the drip tray of the shaved-ice machine. He wrote a reminder to himself to do inventory tomorrow.

“That’s what you want?” Harry said.

“That’s what I want,” Grace said.

They drove up at the end of the month. They notified everyone in the neighborhood, and everyone asked when they would finally hire help so that the shop could stay open on days when they were away. Harry and Grace promised to consider it, and then they considered it on the drive up, promising each other to start looking.

“Any one of those kids who come into the shop,” Harry said, and Grace rolled her eyes. They stopped for lunch in Norwich. He mentioned that they needed to order more biscuits, and Grace made him promise that was the last thing he would say about the shop until they returned. They clinked their beers, ordered too much, so by the time they arrived at Cromer, the thought of dinner seemed impossible.

They didn’t want to waste the holiday, however, and figured that a walk through the town would help them work up an appetite. They bundled up in their parkas and gloves and headed inland first, following a winding, narrow road lined with squat, two-story buildings each painted a different color.

Grace was trying to recall a ceramics shop they had stopped in on their honeymoon. They had bought dinner plates there. She thought maybe they could add to the collection. She checked her phone, but couldn’t remember the name. Maybe it was a block away from where they were, but they found only a souvenir shop there, next to one that sold clothes. They surveyed the coats on display in the window, Harry following Grace’s reflection, the pale puff of her breath. She caught him looking. For some reason he was embarrassed, and he looked away.

They didn’t locate the shop, but they found the fish-and-chips place they had eaten at almost every day. The diners in the small, half-filled room stared at them as they made their way to a table. They ignored the stares and reminisced about their honeymoon, remembering the church and the small park where they had sat sharing an ice cream. Then they remembered an argument they’d had about whether to head down to Great Yarmouth, Harry telling her what difference did it make, a coastal town was a coastal town.

Grace smiled. Now, years later, she confessed maybe that was true, maybe he had been right. A man at the table behind her kept glancing at them. Harry glanced back and then asked if Grace was bored here. She nodded her head yes.

“I’m sorry,” Grace said, reaching across the table. “I didn’t mean that.”

He said it was all right. He turned to the window, where some large birds were flying out to sea.

“Something on your mind, Harry?”

“It’s better than I remember it,” Harry said, tearing open the fried fish with his hands and dipping pieces into the sauce.

Grace’s father had liked fried fish. He mentioned this: Every time he had fried fish, he thought of Grace’s father.

“Did you ever see them fight?” Harry said, taking another bite.

“What?”

“I don’t remember our dads ever fighting. They always got along.”

“They did.”

“They were too polite to each other.”

“Don’t be absurd, Harry.”

The waiter came by, and they ordered another round of beers.

“I’d like to have seen them as children,” Harry said. “In their village. I bet they got into some nasty fights. Children aren’t polite. That’s what I like about them.”

“They were half dead,” Grace said. “And when they made it here years later, they were more than half. They never caught up to being alive. That was their life. Catching up to everyone else. You know better, Harry.”

“What is it about children that you don’t like?”

Grace put down a chip. He could see her inhale and then exhale. And then she reached across and held his hand, squeezing a little.

“I don’t know where you’re going with this, Harry.”

Another couple walked in. Their beers arrived and music began to play quietly on the speaker.

He didn’t know where he was going with this, either. As he squeezed her hand back, he noticed that the man behind Grace had gone. They finished their dinner, listening to the music.

A light snow began to fall on the seaside town. They were going to walk some more, but they headed back to the hotel, passing the larger one they had stayed in, where John’s cousin used to work. They peered through the revolving door at the bright lobby, wondering if anything had changed, but when a bellhop welcomed them, they grew shy and kept going down parallel to the boardwalk, the ocean across from them.

The snow never grew heavier but remained steady enough to dampen their jackets. It wasn’t unpleasant. He could taste it when in the small hotel room Grace leaned up to kiss him, and then the smell of it was everywhere as they undressed. It was like he was drunk on the snow and not the beer. He laughed, louder than he usually did. He was glad to be here. It was good that they had come up here again.

Afterward, as they lay on the bed together, Grace’s hair dampening the sheet, she began to dream. He could hear her talking but couldn’t make out what she was saying. He watched her mouth move in shapes and then, giving in to an urge, he stuck his finger inside, gently, feeling her lips graze his fingertip. Her mouth moving like that aroused him. He looked down at her soft belly and the maze of veins on her thigh, growing convinced that she wasn’t really asleep, and then realizing she really was.

What was she dreaming of? What lives did she live these days, or hope to live, that she didn’t tell him about?

Grace rolled to her side, pulling the blanket over herself in her sleep. The room had grown cold. Harry stood to check the electronic thermostat only to find that it wasn’t working. He pulled on his pajamas and threw on the hotel robe.

“I’ll be right back,” he said, knowing she wouldn’t answer, and shut the door as quietly as possible behind him.

In the lobby, he mentioned the thermostat, and when the receptionist said that she would get someone up there right away, he hesitated. He didn’t want to wake Grace. He said, “We have an extra blanket. It’s fine, it’s late, how about tomorrow?”

He had no idea what time it was. He was the only one in the lobby. He was about to head back up but found himself stepping outside instead. The snow had stopped. A thin layer covered the street and the sidewalk. He luxuriated in the cold and listened to the ocean waves. It was so quiet that he felt as though the world had vanished, leaving him and Grace behind. How would he feel about that?

He was thinking of this when he spotted the figure on a boardwalk bench. The figure was wearing a hoodie and turned now and then to look at the pier and the ocean.

Harry crossed the street. When the kid looked up, Harry immediately knew he wasn’t the kid he was looking for.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I thought you were someone else.”

“Who did you think I was?” the kid said.

Harry thought about that. “Someone I met,” Harry said.

“You a perv or something?” He eyed Harry’s robe. “I don’t swing like that.”

Harry shook his head, aware that shaking his head was ridiculous. He explained that he was a guest at the hotel but then wondered if he should have said that. A car drove by, the headlights lighting them up briefly. If the kid was frightened, he didn’t show it. When Harry asked what he was doing here, the kid replied, “This is my spot.” He opened the duffel beside him and asked if Harry was interested in the goods: Inside were counterfeit watches and sunglasses, cigarettes, jewelry, and small plastic bags of something Harry didn’t recognize.

Harry looked around. At the end of the pier, a bird landed on the railing as if it were balancing itself on the edge of the world, looking down at the receding water.

“It’s not a very popular time or place,” Harry said.

“I can be here anytime I want,” the kid said. “I can float like a butterfly. I can sting like a bee. Every day is free. You free, old man?”

He wasn’t sure how to answer that. He wasn’t used to people calling him old.

The kid opened one of the small plastic bags, picked up one of the things inside, and shook it. It began to glow. It looked like a cartoon drawing of a star. “It’s for the children,” the kid said. “They love it.” He inserted the star into a plastic gun of some kind and then aimed up above them and fired. Harry followed the glowing star as it shot up into the sky, going higher than he expected, and then floated slowly back down, swaying a little in the wind. Harry took three steps to the right, opened his hand, and caught it.

When he looked back at the railing, the bird had gone. As Harry returned the star to the kid, he asked if he was from around here and whether he had heard about a runaway last year.

“A Korean boy,” Harry said. “Twelve, 13, about the same age as you.”

“Mate,” the kid said. “You’re shivering bad.”

He tightened his robe and blew into his hands. Out on the water, near the dark horizon, a small vessel was speeding across as if sliding on glass. Where was it going? He suddenly didn’t know what lay directly east of them, across the ocean. Or how long it would take a small boat to get to that other coast. He had never been anywhere outside England. Neither had Grace.

“What’s next?” Harry said. “What happens next for me?”

Ignoring him, the kid stared behind Harry at another kid, a girl who had just walked out of the hotel where Harry and Grace were staying. She zipped up her puffer, waved, and crossed the street.

“Hi,” she said to Harry, or the kid, Harry wasn’t entirely sure, her breath ballooning around them as she stuffed her hands into her jacket pockets and hopped in place.

The kid had pulled down his hoodie and was fixing his hair. Then his face softened.

“I’ll look out for your boy,” he said, and before Harry could correct him or figure out their story, the two of them hurried up the boardwalk together, going farther and growing fainter—another star flying up into the distance, the moonlight playing on the water, all their footprints in the snow.


This story appears in the April 2022 print edition.