a short story
We thought we’d try FICTION this week. This story is our first
fiction here. We’re also interested in having guest writers. If you have
something you want to say (or something you don’t) let us know.
And what a complicated summer this has been. Floods and fires and
Afghanistan and every single day Something Else. Our belief is that
no matter what, there are Good Stories.
Love from Jessica and Larry too. Esther
P.S. Here’s the story:
Morris and Selma moved to Florida from Brooklyn each February.
Not Florida types, they weren’t fit or svelte or anything like trim. Neither one was an especially good swimmer. The side stroke was their default move. They did not jog or kayak or canoe or play mahjong or bridge. They each read books, big serious hardbacks they borrowed every single week for the 51 years they lived together. They got their books from the very same branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. Morris went every single Tuesday at 5 and Selma’s visit was Thursday mornings, before her weekly Tai Chi class. She’d been studying for years with a Chinese master, and although she wasn’t agile, at least she could move.
In spite of their strong anti-Florida prejudice, they spent a good month a few years ago in a place where their longtime friends Alice and Bill lived. A retirement community even though they were ambivalent about each of those words: retirement, and community, on the West Coast of Florida. For the sake of this story we will call the place Fort Royal because of the large number of Fort Royals there are in this world. Florida alone has four Fort Royals, although no one has a satisfying answer as to why.
This Fort Royal is known for good talkers: teachers and union activists, therapists and social workers, creative types who sculpt and paint and photograph and draw. A man named Moe makes wonderful prints from pieces of vegetable left over from his salads (pepper slices, radishes, onions, cucumbers) and he once he even had an exhibit in a major gallery nearby.
People there all have interests.
Different in so many ways from the usual Condos With Golf. Fort Royal is intentionally mixed, not just a few token people of color here and there. They are anti gated anything. Politics and continual conversations, not somewhere anyone at all would imagine a surreptitious brothel could take hold.
Well landscaped, even beautiful, with large and bright community rooms for movies and classes and lectures all day long, Fort Royal was modeled on Kfar Blum, a socialist kibbutz in the western Galilee in the days when Israelis said Socialist often. Interesting programs every single day. Politics too. Once a week a big yellow bus takes residents to demonstrations: anti-Walmart, pro-Immokalee workers, in favor of Black Lives Matter.
Residents, no matter their health conditions, they called them Organ Recitals and there are many, they are an unusually lively bunch and Morris and Selma, social people both of them, conversationalists, still working in their seventies –adjunct teachers now, seemed to have found their perfect February spot.
The very first day in their small rented apartment, a one bedroom for $1,500 with a good porch overlooking a Florida canal, their next door neighbors Teddy and Breena, from Jersey City, Teddy and Breena knocked on their door and invited them to dinner the next night.
It seemed that life, although it never was, could be almost perfect there.
Dinner was more than pleasant. Organic chicken and sweet potato pie. The chicken was fried the way Breena’s mother made it in Missippi, and the pie could not have been better.
It took no time for Morris and Selma to feel like they belonged.
There was a Publix supermarket less than a mile away, and beaches, very beautiful beaches, a short drive from their home. Though neither Morris nor Selma were lying on the sand types they liked the idea that there were beaches there. One day, if they suddenly decided to see the ocean without ever having to swim, they just could.
Still they liked it in Fort Royal. Loved it even. A neighbor told them that the complex of 750 had 9 known Trump supporters. A reasonable percentage.
One day when Selma went to the pool to move around (so many of the residents took their swimming very seriously and swam a Definite Amount of Laps each day ,say 50 – they called themselves the Above the Ground Club) she heard a story from a woman named Sarah. Sarah was a serious lap swimmer herself. But she could talk as well as she could swim and Sarah would come sit next to Selma knowing how much Selma liked listening.
Did you hear the story of the brothel in the Wilpons cottage? That beautiful house painted yellow next to the butterfly garden.
Sarah settled in and so did Selma. The Fort Royal didn’t seem a likely spot for a brothel.
And not only that Sarah said. Susan the Rabbi was the purveyor. She said she was going to change up the story. She found willing men - some young, some old, with no requirements to work. Just a certain willingness to make women happy any way you could. Some of the men had problems. Who cares, Susan told them. We all have problems. They’re beside the point.
Many of us had no idea what was happening there.
A cranky neighbor reported the noise, and that was that. They were busted.
Fort Royal decided to hold its own trial.
As it turned out we all had friends who were regular customers. Old Mrs. Gimpel spoke on behalf of Susan and the men at the Fort Royal community board meeting.
I was happy for once she said. Gilbert has been gone forever. A woman can get lonely.
So the business is over. But now, said Sarah, that sweet yellow cottage is available for rent.
Maybe you know someone.