Norman Corenthal is a retired lawyer who has driven the streets of Queens many times, at 2 a.m. and otherwise. He lives there and in Woodstock, NY. He is married and has two daughters and two cars. “Joyriders” is his first foray into fiction.


by Norman Corenthal

Her days had been boring, useless, spent at stupid school or hanging out, chafing, angry, putting up, or not, with counselors, teachers, house parents, the occupying army of the annoying. He was as big as she was little, as tall and square and blonde as she was short and full and dark. He would circle outside the group, stomping and prowling, exasperating the counselor, always on the edge of leaving, until, once, he stopped, looked at her and got that light in his eyes. Outside the Center, she put her hand on his chest and shushed him and got on tiptoes, her lips on his neck, her dark eyes confusing him, until she ran off a little way, the image of her tiptoes making him follow.

He was good with cars. He’d get them silent and unmoving, and he’d wake them. They’d tremble and roar and settle down around him. Queens would empty for him at night. He’d idle his hotwired Charger, Camaro or Grand Prix in front of wherever she was living, and she would run down the stoop and jump in. He would floor it, freedom surging inside both of them as the speed took them, her foster parents looking through the blinds and shaking their heads slowly. The asphalt, the gray, vacant streets, roads, avenues, lanes and drives reflecting unending rows of street lights, decorated by changing patches of red, green and yellow, purposeless at 3 a.m. because no one was stopping.

One night they went out to the club on Bell Boulevard, packed and loud and glittering with moving bling. Disco balls blinded them every few seconds to the dancing shoulders and arms pumping the air, other people’s eyes sweeping over them and moving on as they entered and hesitated on the steps. She yanked him into the mass of muscles and breasts and mullets, put up her arms, and began moving to the blare. Her tenseness ebbed as the noise drowned out the world, but his increased. He was aware of girls looking at him, and he closed his eyes to them as he shook awkwardly, head tall above the others.

She danced with others to watch him stew, to see the bubbles form and rise in the roiling mass inside him, until the steam began to burn her and the time for watching was over. They went outside into the cool, into the welcoming dark, and drove into the night. Relieved by their growing speed, he tore up Frannie Lou and down Utopia. They felt for each other and hung back a few times, not speaking, something growing in their chests. They sped up 164th, to where it narrowed and jogged to the left at the cemetery. She grabbed at the roof, and he went faster, tasting her screams, adding his own, and he lost it in the curve. The Fury fishtailed and slammed into the parked cars, facing backward.

There was broken glass and that buzzing feeling in the teeth when the blood loses control inside you, and there was smashing up and everything going numb, and pounding metal and silence. She was bunched up in the far corner and the driver’s door was crushed. They looked at each other as the lights went on in the houses, and the people came out in their undershirts and robes and looked into the windows. They saw each other breathing, and knew they were alive, and he pounded the dashboard and he pounded her arm, triumphant, and she was awed by his craziness and they heard the sirens and got out and ran into Kissena Park and into the bushes. She felt his back, touched his hands, looked up at his eyes, which darted around until they slowed and settled on her. She was soft, he lost his face in her dark hair. He felt her softly stroking him settling him like a child, for a little while.

He got better at hotwiring and he was able to take any car, Mercedes on down. He could open doors with screwdrivers and pliers. Killing time during the day, he’d go by the garages on Northern and ask to look in on the men, and he’d offer to roll tires away and back. He’d hang out and help at a place over behind Shea Stadium, and he stopped going to school altogether. Sometimes the cars appeared and left again at night, without customers. Sometimes the cars became pieces, stacked or hanging up awaiting buyers or reassembly. The boss started paying him, and one night he let on that he could get into and start any car, and the boss listened.

It was 3 a.m. when he headed out on Horace Harding to see her in a little Beemer the boss had asked for. He ran a light and heard a siren and got blocked by a garbage truck. He didn’t have license or registration, and the cop saw the keyless ignition. He called her from the precinct and asked her to meet him at court. She called the boss, who called a lawyer.

She sat on the high radiator bank lining the hallway in the basement of the courthouse on Queens Boulevard, waiting for the lawyer, legs knocking against the grating, surrounded by the half of Queens County the other half wanted nothing to do with. The men around her, playing unconcerned, cool, slapped five with each other and checked her out, tempted until they saw the set of her jaw and the no in her dark eyes. Used-to-it-looking wives herded children from the bathroom,waiting to be displayed to the judge, to show that their husbands were somebody, that they had family. Lawyers scurried from one court part to another, checking calendars and calling out names in hopes of finding their clients’ community ties.

She answered to her name, and hopped down to let the lawyer know she was there. He told her it would be OK. First arrest, no violence, no kilos, she wrote everything down in her notebook and he told her to stop, and she wrote that down, too, not allowing the words or the situation to spin away from her. The lawyer headed for the holding cells.

Everyone in the cells was bored into exhaustion, lying down on the wooden benches or squatting on the floor, looking away from each other. They were anonymous; whatever had happened hadn’t happened. They stared; they were anywhere but there. He was there, though, and he was angry. He stood out, tall and blonde and walking and pacing and annoying the others, reminding them of the present. He was new at this. His eyes flitted between details outside of the cells, he went back and forth like a Bronx Zoo hyena, fists clenching, hating the walls.

They brought him to a little desk outside the cell, and he was confused when the lawyer shook his hand, saying she was outside and waiting for him. He wondered how she knew a lawyer and then realized she had called the boss. He told the lawyer his aunt’s name and address, and where he was registered for school. The lawyer told him he had roots and gave him the keep-your-mouth-shut speech. Out in the courtroom, his whiteness got him released, and that was that.

Out he went, onto the dirt next to Queens Boulevard, and down toward the subway. She ran to catch up to him, a mother chasing down her little kid. She pushed him, said, “What do you have to say?” He turned on her, asking, “You called the boss, didn’t you? You stupid….” “‘Course I did. You’d still be in jail. He owes you.” “I would have got out with a legal aide. He doesn’t owe me nothing. Now I owe him, he owns me.” He raised a fist up against the side of his head and she stepped back. He put it down again and they stood for a minute. “C’mon,” she said, and he followed her down into the subway.


The streets behind Shea Stadium were largely unpaved, with water-filled holes and tow-trucks and old Chevy Novas and Fords parked every which way. Other cars threaded their way through the holes and junk-piles, their owners choosing places that would sell them parts. No cop cars here; this was a place apart from the rest of the city, somewhere tropical, placed incongruously amidst the orderly and paved streets. He was one of a number of men who walked in the cloudy morning, heads down, hands in pockets, passing through doors cut into the plywood fences and through rows of fenders hanging on 2 x 4 frames, acetylene torches sparking alongside garbage pails filled with rags and towering piles of tires. The boss called him into his office and told him he had his back. He did heavy stuff in the shop and time dragged on. Nights were bad. He ached for the pavement and the excitement in the turns.

He went by her job at the Grand Union and watched her bagging. Then they got on the bus and went straight to the back, past the old ladies staring out the windows and the kids hanging from the swinging handles. They got off where the A train banged overhead and had slices with powdered garlic and freezing gulps of glass-fountain grape drink. They climbed up the stairs to the train and they looked over the buildings, toward the bay. The daylight faded as they barged through the cars and the train crossed Broad Channel. They watched the planes take off from the airport and they got off in Rockaway. He settled against the boardwalk, watching her run in wide circles on the beach as he tried not to think about jail, her arms outstretched, her clothes blowing in the night breeze, the waves humming like traffic and the sunset a cold redness off to the right.

A week later, they walked into the courthouse basement and sat in the back of the courtroom, watching the cases being called. The lawyer came in and they went out by the radiators to talk. The same people were hanging out in the hallway – the same men, the same mothers, the same drone of talk. His face fell when the lawyer told them this would go on a while, until the car-owner stopped thinking about it and it all became another file for the D.A. to get rid of. She wrote that down. It took forever for them to call his name. He had to go out into the hallway a few times and walk while she hovered by the door in case it was time. Then he went past the chain and stood there while the lawyers went up to the bench, the D.A. resting his elbows and the judge looking over his glasses, wondering how much to care. “It was a joy ride, an act of stupidity,” the lawyer said, “a kid on a lark,” “abandoned in the street,” “who knows who took it?” “We’ll see,” said the judge, and told them to come back.

Each time they returned she brought him to the courthouse, and each time she wrote down what happened in her spiral note-pad. Finally the lawyer said that if he stayed out of trouble for six months the case would go away and did he consent? Oh yes, make it go away, and she wrote down “six months” in her spiral notebook and underlined it six times. That last time they didn’t completely believe it was over, until the lawyer looked like he had really done something special and jogged across the traffic on Queens Boulevard to the Pastrami King to celebrate, while they walked away. That night, she hugged him on the couch in her new apartment upstairs and in the back on 188th Street, while he stared at the ceiling, telling himself over and over that he was free of that courthouse bullshit.

But he wasn’t, which shouldn’t have been surprising when all the money wanted the good stuff and all the good stuff was illegal. The boss had friends who needed transportation for product, cars with legal plates and owners who wouldn’t miss them. Trouble was, every black or Latin driver kept getting stopped and searched whether they owned the car or not. He definitely had work for the blond kid.


He sank down into his collar, which was turned up against the February wind, put his reddened hands into his pockets and leaned against the chain link fence, away from the lights on Conduit Boulevard, as a landing plane whined just overhead. The only man working this late in the long-term lot was warm inside the office-trailer. He watched the trailer a while, making sure the guy didn’t come out. A quick jog to the right around the corner of the fence and he made it through the cars to a nice, anonymous Toyota. He got it humming just fine but he didn’t count on the guard dog.

It was four months after Queens Boulevard. This time they set bail. And they did again a month later when he got pulled over. Someone had to have talked. He was careful driving—but what was this cop’s lie in court about drugs on the seat? Before they left the precinct a detective asked if he wanted to talk. About what?

Jail was worse this time. When he got out of the House of D, he knew, no matter what, he wasn’t going back. He was there longer, until the boss sent over the money, and this time the lawyer wasn’t so smug – he worried about the other case, which was still open, he worried that the long-term lot had to show they were blameless and insisted on pressing charges. The charges were piling up. So she worried, too, and wrote a lot in her spiral notebook. Later, she looked at him on the couch and knew he had no idea there was such a thing as a future. The case took the usual year, and who knew if the witnesses still cared.

One Sunday afternoon they met on Roosevelt Avenue, not far from the shop, and walked through the old fairgrounds, over the railroad tracks and the little white bridges over the ditches until they were in the middle of the park and there were bicycles and baby carriages and quinceaneras and it looked like hundreds of people in colors and stripes playing soccer on the worn yellow grass while their families cooked huge meals on barbecues. There were some big statues in their pools of dark water and little carts selling pretzels and ice cream. Then they were at the giant metal globe and there was a rush of sound, and shining silver water shot way up high in the air and hissed and caught the light. The breeze blew the water and through the spray the continents stood out in flat plates. Children ran wetly along the rim of the fountain and a few splashed in the water under the globe, and parents ran after them, also getting soaked. She pointed to the children as she laughed in the silver spray, holding her wet ice cream pop. Her hair and forehead were wet and reflected the sunlight, and then they left.


“They offered a deal,” the lawyer told them. “They’re offering a single charge to cover and a bullet, that’s what we call a one year sentence.” She sat up a little and wrote it down. The lawyer went on. “That’s to cover your three arrests, the drug charge, the two grand larcenies and the joyriding. It’s your decision, but I can’t do any better and we’d have to win all three trials, which we won’t. If we lose, it could be years. If you have any more arrests this is off the table. Just think about it.”

She called the lawyer a few days later to say he would take the deal, and she went to court on the next date and waited until the lunch break. But he didn’t show. He couldn’t do it thinking of what it felt like to be locked up. He wouldn’t take any bullet. He called her that night and she told him about the warrant. He said he had better stay away for a while.

He went to 188th Street a number of times, but each time he couldn’t sleep, worrying if the door would be kicked in and looking out into the driveway whenever there was a noise, so he stayed away. He sat on one of the benches facing the green, algae-scummed pond in Crocheron Park, the bay just visible to the left past the end of 35th Avenue. At least the winter was over and he could sit outside. The big tree to his right hung black branches over the water and cast its shadow into it. There were some ducks swimming around, hunting for whatever was down there and maybe crumbs left over from some old man. The pond wasn’t very big, he thought, but the ducks can go back and forth, and they could fly, and they could make those stupid quacks without worrying about drawing attention. Why didn’t they just fucking fly away? “Hey ducks,” he said to them. He was like them, he did the same thing too, over and over, and none of them were going anywhere. He got cars, picked up packages and money and people, rang doorbells and made deliveries like a damned mailman, and left the cars walking distance from some subway station. He drove carefully, and he never got to just drive, let alone fast. The cars and the packages and the money had stolen his life. He picked up a rock and threw it into the water with a satisfying plop, right at the ducks, just to watch them fly away. But they only went around in a little circle and landed again.

That night it started to rain. He knew what his job was when he saw the guy inert and trussed up. Money had been missing after a delivery had been made, a lot of money, and no one bought the Spanish guy’s story of being shortchanged and forgetting to count it. Small factories and freight depots lined the cracked and potholed streets down past Maspeth. The heavy trucks that had so abused the pavements were gone, the streetlamps casting silver pools onto asphalt, black and shining in the heavy rain. Past the yards, past the rusting freight rails, the streets got smaller and were lined with corrugated metal and padlocked chainlink gates until they petered out against the brown water or crossed it on steel mesh bridges. Oil slicks left wet rainbows as dark rivulets ran into the gutters, scouring out small objects and sending them into the creek. The inlet had lost its way a hundred years back. Its wastewaters were lifeless, and its stink had burned off whatever vegetation had clung to the bulkheads.

He turned the car into a block-long alley and nosed behind a dumpster at the end. He got out and closed the door carefully behind him. He was dark in his raingear, his head hidden inside his hood. He walked out briefly into the street and stared out into the downpour, satisfied that he saw only rain as far as the intersection.

He bent down, opened the trunk and pulled and lifted. His hood fell back and rain plastered his hair to his head, soaked his eyes and ears and sent cold into his collar.

He had to pull the man against him as he lifted him under the arms. It was only a few steps to the bulkhead and a splash unheard in the rain, and he watched as the tide pulled the dark form away and toward the river.

He went back to an apartment on Junction Boulevard where he’d been staying and looked out the window into the dark a long time, ignoring the neon. He knew too much, he had seen too much. Even Rikers wouldn’t be an escape. A few days later there was a message. She wanted to meet at the diner and talk. He closed his eyes a minute, wanting to smile but unable to.


The Blue Bay Diner sat on Francis Lewis just above the Expressway, nowhere near the bay, a ‘63 Oldsmobile of a building, all glass and chrome and lights shining above the curb, a temple to gravy and all-night breakfasts, a place of layer cakes twirling in glass displays, of trays heaping with house specials and chicken baskets moving high above the heads of families in booths and horse-players on stools. People would stop there late on summer nights after days at the beach and concerts at the Jones Beach Theater, and sit in the air conditioning, they and their French fries in the big half-empty room.

That night they would have seen her come in, kiss the cheek of the greeter, go to her regular booth in the big window, glance distractedly at the menu and look out the window, waiting for him, her face lit intermittently by truck headlights. He came in, looked around and out at the street, walked quickly to her and told her to move over to the booth next to the curtain, all the way across the room from the occupied tables. They ordered coffee and sat in silence as he moved the curtain from time to time, and the coffee came and he looked around and out at the street again.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, as the coffee grew cold. He finally looked up at her, his eyes a succession of confusion, of panic, of anger, of warmth. He muttered, “But we can’t.” Thank God, “we.” She cried. She had held it in too long, and his “we” broke the dam. It took a while, but she spoke. “I didn’t mean this. I know you think I’m stupid or careless, or that I’m trying to trap you. I’m not, I’m not, I’m not. It just happened, that’s all. It just happened. It just did.”

Time passed.

“Say something, say something please.”

He couldn’t. She took his silence for accusation, but he put his hands on top of hers, and he felt the wetness of her tears on them. “I can end it. I can. You have enough to worry about. This is no time…”

“Stop,” he said. “No one wanted me.” They sat a while in silence. He wasn’t aware of the diner any more, he forgot about the boss and the police and the cars and the packages. He didn’t want her to cry. He didn’t want her to hurt. He didn’t want her to be alone. She sensed it. She felt a lightening. She liked his big hands. She sat up a bit. The tears came again, but it was different. She felt giddy. The lines she rehearsed came pouring out. “A year isn’t so long. We can do this. Maybe the offer’s still open.” Focus returned and his face felt hot. No we can’t, he thought, no it isn’t. “We can live,” she pleaded. “We can live, together, we can have a life, it’s only a year and they’ll… we can have a life…”

He slammed the table. She didn’t understand, he had to be, what, he had to be outside, not sleepless on some cot under some fluorescent light, listening to constantly closing doors and other people talking in their sleep. There was no “only” about it. The bang of his hand on the formica filled the diner. He got up, turned abruptly and walked quickly to the door, to the outside, where it was darker and quieter.


Time passed. He needed to see her, it was too long. But he was confused, undecided if he should risk it. He stood in the lamp-shadow cast by a big tree on 188th Street and saw there was no one around, no cop car idling among the parked cars, no pedestrians nearby. He moved carefully up the driveway and saw the light on in her apartment, and he quietly let himself into the back door and made his way softly up the stairs. Standing inside the door, he saw her clothes on the bed and heard the hiss of water from the bathroom. He went in. She was in the shower and didn’t hear him come in, and she continued soaping and rinsing in the hot water. As he leaned against the wall in the steam, shapes and details diminished in his vision to nothing but an awareness of tiles and light and a mirror obscured by condensation.

The steady sound of water was interrupted repeatedly as she moved around in the stall, and her limbs fluttered and bulged the curtain. He liked his invisibility; he was unseen, a spirit hovering near her, and he savored the aroma of coconut.

A quiet came into him. If only he could stay invisible, and she remain an aroma and steam in his nostrils. He backed out of the bathroom and left the apartment, careful not to let the doorknobs click as he closed the doors and went down the stairs. Emerging from the shower, she dried herself and sensed something was different. She looked around and went through the bathroom door, seeing an image of him in her mind’s eye, but there was no one there. Her time was getting close.


They told him they were worried about this guy. He was in with people who bought product and last time it turned into a bust. Still, that was always a possibility, and you couldn’t throw away business. They had followed the guy home and he lived on the Island. They told him the guy needed talking to, just let him know they knew where he lived. Maybe he had a family. That should stop him talking to the wrong people. And the guy didn’t know him, and wouldn’t see him again.

But first he had heard from her, she was at the hospital. He had to see her. It was after eight when there weren’t supposed to be any visitors. The girl in the next bed was asleep. The nurses were elsewhere. The baby in his blue blanket was feeding quietly, and she felt warm and peaceful. She looked down at the tiny face, at the little lips working against her, and then she looked up. He was standing in the doorway, leaning awkwardly against the doorjamb. She hadn’t seen him in a while. He looked shy, sort of scared, of the baby maybe. Nothing to be afraid of, she said in her mind. With a quick look down the hallway, he came inside and knelt beside the bed. He touched the little head with his lips, inhaling the baby aroma. After a while, he looked up at her. No one said anything. He stood up, leaned down, kissed her softly, and went back to work.

It was a little one story house out on the Island, a little Tudor-looking, with bushes under the windows and some more down a little slope next to the driveway. A small evergreen tree stood on the other side next to the garage. He had parked a block away, around a little curve, and he had to walk in the street to get there since there weren’t any sidewalks. Things are smaller around here, he thought, and there’s more sky.

He looked at the door for a second, at the big wrought iron hinge against the wood, and he rang the bell. A woman came to the door after a little while and opened it, not too old, scraggly hair, a pale face, flip-flops and a cigarette. He put his hand onto her shoulder. Her eyes widened and she caught her breath. “A message for your husband,” he said, and she exhaled. “Watch it.” He lowered his hand and turned away. He hadn’t left the pool of light outside the door when he saw a car slowing down in the street.

He ducked behind the evergreen just as the car turned into the driveway. A man came out of the car, slammed the door, and still held his keys in his right hand as he glared at him, right at him. He came around the tree and took three quick steps to the man, stopping against his side, his hand seizing the man’s right wrist at his pocket, immobilizing it against his waist. That was all, as the man’s left hand quickly pulled a dark object from his jacket, drew it across his front, and shot him in the chest. Quiet followed the echo. In the faint light his blood was a black pool on the driveway, which expanded slowly as his life seeped into it and away.


The next morning among the other papers on the hallway-cart outside the room, the Daily News had a picture of a man splayed out on stained asphalt, covered by a tarp and surrounded by police tape. She knew. She walked down the hall to the room with the bassinets and looked down at the baby’s face. He was sleeping quietly.

Six months later, she left the Grand Union, and went by the day care. She took the train to Rockaway, picked up the stroller and carried it down the stairs. She walked the long block to the beach, alongside the headless parking meter stanchions, past the rubble of the urban-renewing cottages, and across the boardwalk. She took a blanket and tucked it around the little body, only a tuft of blond hair showing. She settled against a boardwalk pier, watching the sunset off to her right, and shivered a little as the wind blew cold from Jersey.

Copyright 2024 by Norman Corenthal