Alyssa Greenberg is a fiction author living in Brooklyn with her fiancé and cat. When not at work, she can be found cycling, gardening, or collecting art, books and records.
THE MAGIC OF THE COVE
Growing up we all knew there was a disused miniature golf complex at the edge of town; it was so disused that it had started to grow back into the town. Like a person who gets too drunk and outspoken at a party and sullenly leaves without saying goodbye. We knew basic facts about the golf course, like who had opened it and who had made a fortune off of it and who had driven it into the ground. It had been called the Cove, and it had featured a tropical motif that fell somewhere between Mario Kart and Margaritaville. This was Devon’s mother’s description. She always said that as long as we checked in with her before going, it was fine to explore. We didn’t particularly like spending time at Devon’s house, though, because around the half hour mark of leaning her elbows on the counter Devon’s mother’s eyes and skin would become the same color as the scotch she drank prodigiously and the leather armchair she often fell asleep in. I like scotch, she’d say, it’s a thinking person’s choice. We always left as soon as we felt we could without upsetting her, shuffling our toes inside our decaying sneakers.
Devon knew how we felt about his mother and as a result never turned down the chance to do a dangerous stunt. He jumped off of roofs, he dove off of dubious rope swings, he rigged up inadvisable trampoline situations. He was absolutely insatiable for danger and had the knitted bones and crooked nose to show for it, but no matter how many injuries he picked up doing stunts it was never enough. Anyway, once he fell through the fake grass pit trap of the Cove, something changed for all of us.
The Cove was disreputable somehow. We knew that much from the way the adults in our lives talked about it. Why are you always going over there? they would ask us, laughing but also squinting. It’s so scummy. It was scummy, yes, and it never quite looked the same any two times. But we could see the remains of plaster-and-wood coconut trees, what might have been lagoons, little hazards and dangers and threats that infuriated and beguiled legions of golfers. Nobody had ever beat it, we told ourselves.
There was the real golf course too, the classy one that was part of the country club, that sat behind millionaires’ row. The adults might have been disturbed by our preoccupation with the Cove, but they should've been more worried about our activities on the fancy golf course. We drank there on cold autumn nights and threw our empty bottles into the sandtraps and ran when someone shouted that the police were coming, pouring through the back gate of the Randalls’ house. There were rotund, urinating Cupids in the Randalls’ yard, squinting at us with rancid glee, like we had consumed one too many bloody Marys at the country club next door.
We remembered the Cove, even when we went off to college for our degrees. We were told we had no choice but to obtain these degrees if we wanted anything in life. When we got close to graduation and it became clear that there had been a mistake, we came home for weekends, sometimes longer. It was explained to us by career counselors that now, if we wanted good jobs in our fields we would have to go back for other degrees, degrees that would cost far more money than our first ones. This was not the way it had worked in our parents’ time. Our parents asked why we didn’t just go to the offices where we wanted to work and hand the hiring manager our resumes and explain to them that we wanted jobs. Instead of answering this seriously, we put on our shoes, slightly nicer ones than we’d had in high school, and went to the Cove, and the Cove came home with us.
Devon’s mother no longer drank until her eyes turned the color of scotch or Barcalounger. Instead, she occupied her time with crystals and stones, many of which could be deployed for various causes. Every human emotion had a crystal, everything could be targeted.
We went over there very little now, instead focusing our time as a group at Garrick’s parents’ house. This isn’t the way it worked in our time, Garrick’s mother said more than once. You poor boys. Nobody’s looking out for you anymore. Garrick’s mother was Vice President at a bank. When we were in high school, she had interceded on Garrick’s behalf when he was accused of plagiarizing a history paper.
I didn’t do it, he'd told us, you have to believe me. His mother had gotten Mr. Davila fired, and their family went on vacation to Australia not long after. The Great Barrier Reef had looked bleached to them.
We sometimes felt uncomfortable at Garrick’s, specifically with the way Garrick spoke about girls he dated, but we had a new thing to focus on, and that took all of our attention away. That thing was the Cove, and specifically the merchandise we were making for it. We'd unearthed the golf complex's old website, a jumble of colors and words from a happier internet that no longer exists, and instead of applying for jobs, we'd gotten ideas.
Some of the ideas were easy enough to execute. Ordering Tiki drink mugs, plastic leis and other trinkets was easy. We had custom Cove t-shirts made. They were aqua, with a big yellow disc in the middle through which the name “The Cove” hotly sliced in neon green script, like a sign at the end of a long journey. We wore the shirts around town, buying sandwiches and soft drinks from the sandwich shops, triumphant. It’s the Cove, man, we told the sandwich shop workers and the confused classmates we ran into downtown. It’s a whole lifestyle.
We drank at the Cove almost nightly, the prrrrrrrrrp of a mosquito bumbling into our ears every so often. Once I slapped and felt a tiny, warm, bubble of blood erupt against my hand. I had read that despite the massive reduction in the number of insects globally the mosquitoes had brought a new kind of virus to parts of the country for the first time. The next time we brought our six-packs of shandy and handles of rum to the Cove, I brought a large can of DEET spray. A must-have when you’re on island time, I said, and we all screamed with laughter.
We went to each other’s houses to show off our new acquisitions. At one point, Connor opened the door in a Hawaiian shirt, holding up his arms like a gladiator. Is that a fucking vintage Alfred Shaheen Hawaiian shirt? Devon yelled. You son of a bitch.
Connor stepped back, smiling ear to ear, and said, Guess you could say it was just the magic of the Cove that led me to it, at which point we all began jumping up and down, yelling so loudly that Connor’s mother stormed down to the landing to tell us to get it together.
We ordered progressively more expensive and elaborate Hawaiian shirts for ourselves, blowing through the meager savings we had made at our work-study jobs in college. We ordered golf shorts, too, to more fully look the part. We listened only to exotica, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, anything we could think of that fit our agenda, burning CDs to go in our cars. Some of our parents had given us records to take to college and presumably to our first apartments, now postponed indefinitely. We had brought those records right back home with us and now dug through them for a hint of anything that spelled escape. One night, as we sat in the basement playing the records on Keith’s dad’s Harman Kardon sound system from the sixties, the door opened, and Keith was there, saying, Can you help me with this?
He was panting, dragging a pallet of something, and a plastic baby pool. We jumped up to help him take both things inside, and then saw that the pallet was labeled SAND. We began cheering and clapping. SAND was unbearable to us. Magic of the Cove, we chanted, red in the face. Magic of the Cove. Keith managed to fill the pool with about half the sand, spilling small eddies of it on his parents’ tile floor. We elbowed each other out of the way to be the first to take our boat shoes off and scoot our asses across the floor so that we could dip our bare feet in the sand, howling with laughter. A portrait of Keith’s grandfather, a union elevator operator, rattled on its stand.
We decided to revive the golf course itself, bringing rakes and garbage bags. We cleared off the links and dusted off the obstacles, finding for the first time a grotto high up on the hillside. Its entrance was guarded by creatures of some kind, dragons or lizards. Devon went for a look inside the grotto, and we got the old thrill, the one we used to get before he did something dangerous. Now, though, he retreated from the cave’s pillowing darkness after just a minute. Too dusty, was all he said, and we sensed something had gone from the world.
That was the night the neighbors made their first complaint to the police. We never got word on who exactly, but we had our suspicions. In any event, it was an embarrassment on par with the worst of our high school misbehavior. There were interventions for all of us, discussed on our group thread. I’ve fucking had it with this shit, Mike’s dad said. Stop acting like losers. You have no time left.
And it was true: we had no time left. The U.N. issued landmark statements that we all had to greet with seriousness, and we would have to take lowly jobs in order to get the jobs we really did believe we deserved, even if we couldn’t stand to act like it around one another. Embarrassed, we hung our Hawaiian shirts up in our closets at home, put our Tiki mugs under the sink, allowed the tropicalia records to blend carelessly in with other records.
We never went back to the Cove. As far as I know none of us have been back. It’s been turned into mews.
Gradually, we began to get internships and then low-paying but decent jobs. Those jobs led to slightly better ones. Some of us met and fell in love with women, others with men. As those relationships progressed, we talked less to one another, the way that always happens even when you say it won’t.
I had gone to the same school as Garrick, and we ran into each other a few times as we went back into the city for alumni networking events. He had always been popular, in large part due to his house having been cavernous and perfect for parties, but as we got older I came to realize that his parents’ money meant more than good times: it meant insulation. Elevation. I had gone to our university on scholarship, while his parents had paid the sticker price. Now, as my parents took me to dinner to celebrate my first job that offered a 401k, Garrick moved from venture to venture. Someone always had a problem with the way he approached business and life. He had a lot of enemies, and people were always trying to get a cut of him. Women in particular had to be carefully managed and defused. There were ways to do this, he told me and a group of other people. Afterwards Sarah, my girlfriend at the time, said I’ve heard about this kind of shit before. It’s spreading. I didn’t know what she meant at the time.
It goes deep, as Garrick said on his livestreams. It goes all the way to the center.
I got used to the post-election world and the personalities revealed by the results, the ones I came to realize had been there all along. After a certain point there was only so much you could do. The protests and marches and posts blended together into a filmy layer on the drudgery of everyday obligations. My parents were among the parents who had moved out of town as soon as their youngest children graduated, seeking lower property taxes and smaller homes. They went out of their way to express disgust at every turn, condemning the direction of the country. Their friend groups blasted apart, like pottery shards overheated in a kiln. The parents who'd stayed in their colonial mansions said we had to trust the president, that the weight of the office would change him. When I ran into Louis in midtown one night after work, he confessed over drinks that the time immediately before the election was the first time he'd heard his parents use certain words.
Garrick got fired from his job at a bank, and went back to living at home for a while, where he began making his videos fulltime. By this time many of us had master’s degrees, a couple were Ph.D candidates, and almost all of us were in relationships. I had broken up with the girlfriend who'd seen him at our alumni event, and met a woman in my own master’s program, the woman I proposed to, one who had never met Garrick. Isabel found what she called all of that stuff threatening. Serial killer shit, she said.
One thing that occurred to me, was that the more the rich parents won, the angrier they got. They had gotten the president they wanted, the movement they desired, and the laws they had pushed for, and they were furious, believing that someone was coming to take it away. Garrick was like this too. As his total followers climbed, his posts racked up dozens, if not hundreds of approving replies, but it wasn’t enough. The videos became angrier, more rambling. He had a wife now. Sian. His parents bought them a house in town. Sometimes Sian appeared in the background of his videos, gently placing plates of food on a console table. A German Christmas pyramid sat on that console table as well. I recognized it from when we were growing up; his mother had bought it during a family Christmas in Dortmund.
Imagine spending hours of your life watching that content, Isabel said, hovering over my shoulder. You’d have to be so hollow inside.
Some of us reconnected in the months leading up to the next election. We snapped into action, signing up with local organizations and those in other states. We put in long weekends and took time off work, knocked doors with clipboards in hand, sweated through our masks. Everything felt glazed over and distorted; there was an interlude where we believed for a day or two that the president might die of disease, which would no doubt cause chaos but also be the funniest thing to happen in years. When we got the results we wanted, it felt hollow, somehow. We started to wonder if certain moments in the last four years had actually happened. Some of us met up in the city the day of the election results, and joined the celebrations. They had a jaundiced tinge though, because it was seventy-five degrees in November, and the scientists had been telling us we were nearing a point of no return.
Hey, Devon said when we saw people in bikini tops and shorts. Little Magic of the Cove for ya. We started laughing and couldn’t stop, despite the fact that some of us were fathers now. Or perhaps because some of us were fathers, eager to excavate some molecule of what the thing once was and bring it home.
Garrick had been unreachable to us for a while and now it was no longer possible. His channel became more desperate. I had been watching it out of a sense of anthropological fascination but I had stopped. In a way, I told Isabel, we had all enabled this kind of thing. Not me, she said. Leave me out of this.
Garrick’s follower count increased. He began tweeting certain phrases and acronyms, and it grew. Sian was seen less on video, and when she was, it was clear that she was hugely pregnant. Garrick said on air that it was up to ordinary citizens to protect our freedoms. The defenders of democracy had something planned, something special. Join me, Garrick said. We will not be replaced, and we will not be forgotten.
The day after Inauguration Day, we all got the same message. Turn on the TV, Keith texted us all, in the group thread that had been dormant for several months.
Isabel and I sat on the couch, all the way forward, unable to look away. The crowd onscreen pushed its way past police and barriers and into the building. Every few moments it seemed to grow in size, magnifying and surging into the halls. It couldn’t be stopped. It was Mike who sent the first attached screenshot. It showed three men in unstoppable motion, the bug-like mass of their body armor covered in crew neck shirts and over those, Hawaiian shirts. We all felt a prickling crawl of embarrassment and something deeper. We sent some stupid texts, laughing distantly. Then there was another message, this time sent by Keith.
Jesus Christ, I said out loud, so that Isabel jumped. She made me show her, and I held my phone out. It was a post from Garrick’s account. Someone had taken a picture of him sitting in the Speaker’s chair, proudly holding his palms to the ceiling.
Reporting the tweets took only a moment. It was when I went in for my interview with the FBI agents that I felt a kind of petrifying ooze envelop me. I never told Isabel this part. It was as if a younger version of myself stepped out of the grotto, to remind me: you all went to the Cove together.
As I sat in my interview, with the two agents who looked like classmates, I thought about the German Christmas pyramid that had sat on the table next to Garrick as he told his followers how to bend everyone they felt should bend. I thought about how Garrick’s family had all traveled to an ancient city, to celebrate Christmas at people rather than with people. There had been some kind of attack, I knew, aimed at one of the Christmas markets, and Garrick’s family had been warning about it their whole lives. I wanted to ask the agents if they knew which city I meant. I wondered if Garrick’s family had ever thought to bring Sian along to the market with them or if they left her in the hotel. I could not picture her face in the market, even though she resembled something you could purchase there. When I tried to picture her face all I could see was a glass sieve.