From WTP Vol. VI #3
By JS Khan
Olivia Goldblatt sulks, frowning at her reflection in the glass: her ghostly double trapped in the windowpanes conjured by the dawn’s pale glow: how she haunts herself these sleepless mornings. Swiveling in her wheelchair, she scowls at the rec-room of the Orange Grove Retirement Home as sunlight streams through the windows and illuminates her shriveled legs and bony shoulders, her sharp cheekbones and puckered lips. Dust motes dance about the immaculate pile of her frost-white hair as it quivers with the cold draft of an air vent above.
Where is that schleppity bitch? Olivia wonders, listening to the clock’s ticking from the room’s shadowy corner. She does not need to see its face—her bones tell her it is almost six already. How can such a sloppy cow get a nursing license anyway?
Things aren’t what they used to be, she considers. The youth of today have no hustle.
But at last the door at the end of the hallway swings open and Nurse Angela steps inside wearing her uniform and a blue sweater. She walks with a hurried step, her heels clicking, a white purse that matches her uniform swinging on her right shoulder. She carries two Styrofoam cups, one steaming with coffee and the other with Olivia’s initials written on a strip of white tape on its side. The cup is full of medication: the vitamins to keep Olivia’s health up, the anticoagulants to keep her heart pumping, the diuretics to keep her bladder flowing.
The nurse forces a smile, and her face is smeared with sleep despite too much makeup.
Good morning, she says. Thought you might be awake, Ms. Goldblatt.
Yes, Olivia says. The Good Lord has provided me another day to curse this miserable hellhole. Somehow this is cause for great celebration?
Angie says nothing, merely handing both cups to Olivia, who downs the coffee despite its near-scalding temperature. She takes the pills too and reaches in her own purse hanging on the wheelchair’s shoulder to withdraw a fresh pack of Virginia Slims.
Angie protests but Olivia tells her to shut up and open a window.
And where is my money? she asks.
Hesitating, Angie removes a wad of bills folded down the center and held together by a rubber-band. She hands this money to Olivia, who—exhaling smoke from her nostrils—snaps the band with her long polished but unpainted nails and counts it.
Nothing smaller than twenties. How many times have I told you that?
Angie looks down at her heels.
Do you need a hearing aid? The salesperson comes every first Wednesday.
Angie mumbles an apology but Olivia casts the money in her face. The separate bills flutter all over the floor.
Pick it up—and all the portraits in the same direction! Why do I keep helping you?
Angie squats to organize the money. Olivia watches her with an imperious stare.
What does my schedule look like today?
Very busy, Ms. Goldblatt. You have many visitors coming to see you today.
My doctor and who else?
Your doctor and your hairdresser. At noon. Then several grandchildren.
Olivia nods and grins. She reaches in her purse and extracts an unlabeled amber bottle. Angie stands and passes the money to her, though this time Olivia does not throw it in her face but instead gives the RN the bottle, which passes between them with a lively jingle. Then she issues orders concerning her breakfast: two tangerines, half a cantaloupe, a small low-fat yogurt. Angie nods and heads down the corridor to let the cooks and care assistants know she’s here, then scrambles to the resident’s kitchen to turn on the AM radio and make decaffeinated coffee. Olivia watches her bustle about before spinning her wheelchair and buzzing back to the window. She pulls a white ball of silk from her purse and commences to embroider, listening to the coffee percolate over the political commentators’ rants on the radio. As always, the country is headed in the wrong direction. Occasionally Olivia looks up to frown at her reflection in the window again, her face veiled in shadows beneath her painted eyebrows.
Outside, the horizon catches fire. Blue glistens off palm trees. Sparrows twitter. Distant ducks honk.
Drawn by the scent of the coffee and the voices on the radio, a couple of other residents shuffle in the room. Louie appears first, still in his pajamas but wearing his Marlins cap. He rubs his sizable belly, holding it like a dear object, like a pregnant woman. Following him comes Ms. Gretel clad in a brand new red dress and wearing eyeliner and pink lipstick. To Olivia she looks almost garish, like some cross-dressing rodeo clown.
Peeping Toms, Lou, I’m telling you! Ms. Gretel declares. They were watching from the parking lot, spying through my window!
Maybe they’re as excited about the talent show as you are, Gret, Louie replies.
Both pour coffee and settle into facing sofas, taking up pencils and their daily crossword puzzle, as Olivia wonders if her memory is slipping. Could it be the pills? But somehow she’d forgotten about the talent show. She thinks of her grandchildren who will visit, all calling her “O.G.”—their pet name for her. Wassup O.G.! they holler, unable to stand still. They hoot and teach her pet parrot idiot phrases, but always she’s thrilled to know they will be here, one and all.
Pushing her needle through the network of white thread in her hands, she watches as a row of silky diamonds emerges in her lap.
Yeah, ‘mano, O.G. run that nursing home like a mobster run a prison. She got that place sewn up!
But she getting’ old, right? Frail too?
Right, Viper-Loc. So how stacks the chavos?
She got chavos locos, ‘mano, in a safe under her bed. I seen it.
O.G. got mad cream, Piju. She done cut into Young Dirty’s old turf like sixty percent when she became kingpin of fogeyville. Just think. We could be runnin that.
Dunno. She’s old school. Ricky Starr says he seen her beat one kid holdin’ out on her with a Sega Genesis controller.
She ex-New York. Old money. Brutal. Real vestige of the Kosher Nostra.
None of that racist shit, Ricky. Jews is Jews the way we all be—
Enough preachin’. Does olden goldie keep her supply swoll or what? Just papers?
No Je, Piju. Stop that ageist mierda too. We all got kinfolk.
Kiss me joyo, Viper. Is we stickin’ the old broad up or is we stickin’ the old broad up?
In the rec-room, the care assistants build the stage and dance floor for the annual Orange Grove Talent Show. They push the tiles together and latch them with a key. The excitement is palpable—a restless, bristling confusion in the air. The show, always a hit with the residents, draws countless relatives and friends. The male residents help decorate the walls with streamers, overeager or overly critical, taking baby steps and standing on their tiptoes holding strips of bright paper. Ed bickers with Sam who waves his cane at Martin. The ladies crowd together in the kitchen to bake cupcakes and lemon meringue pie. Some of the more catatonic sit in fold-out chairs set in the space before the dance floor and smile placidly. The assistants try to shoo them away, to get them to go play Jingo or Uno with the other residents in the dining hall.
In the kitchen, in-between arguments about various recipes, the women gossip:
Do you think Ole Carl will win third year in a row?
With the same hillbilly songs and harmonica? How many times is he going to play ‘Swamp Pop Papa?’
Until one of his strokes finally finishes him off, I imagine.
Mary Ann’s been practicing her tap dancing, I hear.
We’ve all heard: she clatters around like a nag with two left feet!
Betty! The things you say!
Doctor Fang, very good to see you. Please close the door behind you.
Of course, Ms. Goldblatt. How you been? New room?
I change rooms often, Doctor. Just in case.
I suppose the light is better in here. And call me Wu. Shall I take your pulse?
Cut the shit, Doc. Just hand over the pills.
Olivia reaches behind her into a small safe on her bedside table, withdrawing a wad of cash before adding the roll Angie gave her earlier. She passes it all to Dr. Fang, MD. As he counts the money, she turns and coughs hard over her shoulder. In the round cage by the window, her parrot, Elton, flaps his wings and squawks:
O.G. does it like it should be does! O.G. got dem chrome wheels!
I don’t have that much on me, ma’am, Dr. Fang says after counting the money.
Everything you got then. Including your next stops. I’ll pay premium.
Could I survive without you?
You’ll find out soon enough, Olivia says.
Doctor Fang hands her his entire suitcase, keeping only his tote with his stethoscope and utensils. His enormous face is as emotionless as always.
You shouldn’t say things like that. You haven’t been using too much yourself?
Only as much as I need for the pain.
Worse than before?
Always the same.
Which makes it worse.
You could say.
Dr. Fang watches Olivia’s face. They listen to the sprinklers outside.
Stay strong, Ms. Goldblatt.
The hairdresser shows up a half hour later, and by now the anxiety around the talent show verges on hilarity. Families swarm in by the carload, their children gnawing plastic toys or running figure-eights between their parent’s legs. Angie stands beside the receptionist at the front desk, making them sign in as visitors. The receptionist gives them all badges with their names written in red. The female residents waddle and bumble in bright shirts whilst cooing over the young ones, most of whom meet their gazes with discomfort. The male residents stand in corners whispering. Angie greets the hairdresser and lets her skip over signing in with the receptionist, leading her personally to Olivia’s room.
Angie’s pupils are quite small, the hairdresser notices. Just pinpoints really, her eyes rimmed in red.
It’s like the first day of kindergarten in here, Angie says with a smile.
She opens Olivia’s door and the hairdresser steps in as she shuts it behind her. She does not see Olivia at first—only a crumpled brochure on a tightly made bed. She bends to look at the brochure and examines the cruise ship on its cover. Elton whistles from his cage at her short skirt and black stockings.
Over here, Veronica.
The hairdresser turns and sees Olivia in the bathroom, her wheelchair backed up to the sink, her head already resting on the porcelain.
There you are, Ms. G.
You are twenty-seven minutes late, Veronica.
Knowing better than to apologize, the hairdresser opens her pink bag and pulls out bottles of shampoo, hairspray and styler, as well as a pair of scissors. She fills the sink with warm water and massages Olivia’s wrinkled scalp—the color of an old grape webbed with white fuzz. She looks at herself in the mirror, and sees the elderly woman staring at her chin. Without meaning to, the hairdresser thinks how easy it would be to drown the frail old hag. Or choke her dead, either one.
After her haircut and drying, Olivia looks exactly the same—which is how she likes it. She has the younger woman put her seahorse earrings in too, frowning with dignity at her reflection in the mirror.
How much? she asks as she buzzes her wheelchair into the bedroom.
Three, the hairdresser says, cleaning her scissors and putting them away
Olivia grunts in reply, reaching under her bed and pulling out the suitcase. She spins the locks and opens the case, removing three fresh bottles identical to the one she gave Angie. Each contains a hundred tabs of Oxycodone, forty milligrams each.
No bulk price, she says. They’ll be twenty-five a piece.
C’mon, Ms. G!
You’ll sell each one for forty. I know.
But that’s almost eight G’s!
Then kick rocks.
I only got five. What about the hairstyling?
Olivia broods, tapping her fingers against her armrest.
Two precisely, she says at last. My final offer.
The exchange is made. The hairdresser shoves the bottles in her bag, between the shampoo and conditioner. Neither says a word as she zips the bag closed and returns the other bottle to the suitcase. She nods once at the old woman and spins around on her tan heels, opening the door and stepping out in the hall.
She passes back through the rec-room, hearing the door she left open behind her slam shut. She sees a large bowl of juice set on a table beside the disc jockey’s setup, and two gentlemen stand there in old suits at least two sizes too large, both constantly peering over their shoulders. One of them, she sees, is trying to hide an empty tequila bottle.
Should’ve choked her all right, the hairdresser thinks, too angry to notice the punch-spiking. What makes her think she can rip me off that way? Her disability? Her age?
Her criminal ties coast to coast?
How old is this broad anyway?
Sixty-nine, Piju. Wanna smash it?
Damn Ricky Starr you nasty.
What can I say? Some like it in lingerie, some like it large, some like it geriatric.
Or ecstatic. Look at that mama in the black stockings and skirt walkin’ out now.
Damn she a saucy lil tart. Roll down that window.
Hollerin’ at a nursin’ home? Ain’t we supposed to be scopin’ this place or what?
Viper-Loc all bizness, son.
Is dude in tollbooth lookin’ at us funny?
We could enter there. See? Break the window with a crowbar.
Y’all notice that black Mercedes over there, in the corner? Someone just sittin’ there.
Why are there so many cars? A funeral?
Where’s the hearse?
Or a wake? Careful, Ricky, you spillin’ all yer syrup on my fine leather seats.
How come we don’t got a inside man?
Olivia takes her second Oxycodone since waking, shooting out her grainy tongue to snatch the pill from her palm and leaning back to gaze at the brochure for the world cruise. The shiny laminated pages rattle in her splotchy hands, corners stained long ago by her constant handling. The sound of clapping echoes down the hall. So, she thinks, the so-called talent show begins. She would go watch but finds the whole affair a shameful farce—especially after all the shows she saw on Broadway. She cannot abide the company of so many wet-faced, nasty kids—and would not even meet with her own so-called grandchildren if she wasn’t getting paid.
Olivia Goldblatt neé Gechtman never had a natural child, and no grandchildren either. She’d been married only once—during the mid-sixties—but after her husband, Jedi Goldblatt, an investor and paid consultant for several banks, had an affair with his secretary, she divorced him and fleeced him for all he had. Which was a lot. She got the mansion; he kept the yacht. After the settlement she swore she would never marry again, but Jedi married his mistress, a Methodist Midwesterner named Melanie. Olivia might have been able to swallow this insult, but when Jedi left with his new bride on a honeymoon to Venice as soon as their divorce was finalized, she was livid. She ambled around their old house drinking Scotch for weeks, not once changing out her pajamas. It was a trip she’d planned for Jedi and herself only months prior—and she’d laughed and cried at the same time when her lawyer called to tell her the yacht sank off the coast shortly after leaving the harbor.
Still, while Olivia kept Jedi’s name, she never spoke of him again. This had less to do with her feelings and more to do with the fact that she hated her own family, Orthodox to the core. She never spoke of them either, and began hanging out with lots of underground intellectuals living in New York at the time, riding up and down the coast with caravans of hippies, all younger than she but less financially independent. She smoked a lot of dope. Her sexual exploits were legend. Rumor was she funded a few illegal organizations of the extreme leftist variety, one of which was implicated in an explosion that resulted in a missing child. When she reemerged in the seventies, she bought as much real estate as she could. Slumlord could very well be one of the many titles ascribed to her when her obituary is finally written. She sold a lot of jewelry in Queens with the residual income—real and faux gold—and spent most of her offtime at strip clubs with her book club whenever they drank too much champagne. Who, in the late eighties, didn’t do a lot of cocaine? No one Olivia knew in the city.
Then came the nineties, and her age could no longer be denied: she was beyond fifty. Dating had grown into a wearisome masquerade. She became a vegetarian, bought a Lhasa Apso she named Mama Leone. Several business partners went to prison on embezzlement charges. She herself had a few run-ins with the IRS and some ex-KGB types who’d started making moves on her properties in Brooklyn. They tried to force her to sell cheap, and when she refused they threatened her for protection money. Two of her laundromats burned down; two of the Russians’ laundromats burned down soon after. An intense season of paranoia followed this brief but vicious turf war, punctuated by multiple rehab tours. Amidst the upheaval, the heat of menopause nearly drove Olivia mad.
Still, by the new millennium, she’d truly thought she’d overcome the worst life had to offer. Only, one day she took Mama Leone for a walk in Park Slope, stopping in her pinstriped pantsuit to buy chocolate ice cream from a vendor. Just as she was licking the double scoop to keep it symmetrical, Mama Leone began to bark and tried to run back in the direction they’d come. She pulled on her leash, thinking she was only attempting to chase pigeons, but suddenly she felt something jolt her into the street directly in front of a bright yellow taxi—
Dosvidanya, babushka! she’d heard someone shout. Eat death, Yankee Jewess!
After that, she remembered nothing but the bang of the car against her hip and the chocolate splotching the windshield—both scoops—then darkness and Mama Leone, who she never saw again, yapping as if from an ever-growing distance. When she woke in the hospital a week later, no one could tell her where her darling girl went.
Instead, they told her she would never walk again.
Her therapy sessions were hell, but she attacked them with the same tenacious rage she expressed when confronted by all previous life challenges—which she viewed as affronts to her dignity. Regardless, the doctors said she simply could not care for herself, and since she had no family or employees she truly trusted, she chose to fly south to West Palm Beach and take up residency in this Home. Her first response on arriving was disgust, her pride revolting at finding herself corralled with a bunch of half-senile kooks smelling of mothballs and sour milk. They did little but talk about their abysmal domestic lives and the dead people they had known. Still, the Russian Mafia couldn’t get her here, she thought—especially since she knew someone on the board of owners who’d let her sign the official papers under her maiden name. Finding the staff incompetent, she complained and got several nurses fired, and in three months ran every Bingo game they held, charging an entry fee on every card played. Her Bridge deck was deadly; she swept all the tournaments, taking huge tricks. It wasn’t long before all living in the Home either feared or respected her. Those had their wits about them simply avoided her.
Unfortunately, Olivia became addicted to the Oxycodone shortly after arriving in Florida—although she’d been taking the medicine ever since waking in the Brooklyn hospital. She managed the addiction better than her distress or useless anger, dealing discretely to a couple residents just to get her pills free. But when she started selling to their grandchildren too she realized the possibilities and used old connections to meet Dr. Fang, who would get her as much as she wanted as long as the price was right. She cut deals with the guards and nurses, and not only was soon running the nursing home but was one of the most active dealers in the region; her pills sold in Miami and Ft. Lauderdale too.
And yet, Olivia knows she cannot do this forever—but is there life after crime, after the nursing home? For years she’s dreamed of going on a neverending cruise, a cruise plotted and charted through various lines—Carnival and Royal et al.—a cruise that will not only never end but also take her to Florence, then Venice, like she’s always wanted, and from there all over the globe. She will cling to the equator like a wedding band, married at last to her freedom. She almost has enough to keep cruising through her early nineties, but what then? She’ll buzz her wheelchair right off the deck into the sea—through the safety rails if she has to.
Like many residents at the Home, she nurtures a healthy obsession with death. What is death, she sometimes thinks, if not in some sense the ultimate freedom?
Olivia sighs, dropping the brochure and staring out the window. She listens vaguely to the talent show through the walls and tries to imagine a sunrise off Australia, penguins at the African Cape, a seal clapping at her arrival in Alaska. The Oxycodone dissolves in her blood, pulses through her veins. Unfolds in her cells like the blue dayflowers outside her window.
She smiles and crosses her fingers at her waist. She closes her eyes. She dreams.
Ms. Walters, the junior high nurse, buys three hundred tabs on her lunch break, all while trying to tell Olivia about her janitor closet hi-jinks with Coach Peal. Ben from the local high school comes next and buys twenty-five. Lindsey, his ex, buys fifty. Luke and Billy and Sean—all local college boys—buy a couple bottles each.
The talent show is in full swing as Olivia’s customers arrive. Louie bungles a couple card tricks but manages to yank a chickadee from his granddaughter’s ear even though she won’t stop crying. Franny sings “Forever Young.” Granny Belle plays violin. Ms. Gretel dances a salsa with an extra step no one can account for.
Olivia is in the exercise room, in the middle of her workout routine, when Abdullah arrives. He is on time as always and looks his usual sharp self in a white jumpsuit and long hair braided tightly in squares. Abdullah is Olivia’s favorite—she can’t help it. He’s charming, good-looking, precise; he brings her various delicious soups from the sandwich shop he manages when not attending night school. Busy as Abdullah is, he maintains a side-hustle. Good for him.
Stayin’ swoll, O.G.? he asks as she finishes a set of military press with a couple twenty-pounders.
Enemies stay creeping, she says with a grimace.
Sweat trickles down the well-worn lines of her face and Abdullah spots her for a couple more sets, dabbing this sweat gently away from her temples with a small white towel.
Let me show you what I got for protection, he says.
He unzips his jumpsuit, removing a semi-automatic Micro Uzi from a holster and pulling out his wallet to flash his concealed weapon permit. He detaches the weapon’s magazine and encourages her to aim the gun through the glass separating the exercise room from the hall. Angie—walking by monitoring the talent show’s perimeter—looks up stricken, as if she’d squeezed the trigger.
Olivia cackles, slapping her free hand against her knee.
I don’t do guns, she says, passing the weapon back. Overkill.
Let me know if you change your mind, Abdullah says. I got guns galore.
Ole Carl howls some stricken bayou blues down the hallway, making his usual dreadful improvisations on his harmonica. Once in Olivia’s room, Abdullah buys the rest of Fang’s supply and crushes one of the pills with a pocketknife. Olivia—surprised and thrilled he is buying everything she has—agrees to snort it with him. They crush and snort a couple more.
I’m getting out, she says as they lay side-by-side on her bed, her pale blue eyes full of a distant light. Starting over. A neverending cruise.
Heard it before, O.G. You can’t quit. You’re in love with the struggle.
She allows Abdullah to kiss her on the cheek before he departs, and withdrawing he takes one of the seahorse earrings in his hand and says they are beautiful. She blushes. Taking the suitcase, he is halfway out the door before she calls:
Abe, before you go, tell Angie to prepare my water, please. I am ready to be bathed.
Yo wake up, Piju. Here come cherry beams!
Shit. Where’s my gat?
It’s just an ambulance. Chill.
Maybe some old geezer had a stroke.
‘Old geezer’ is a pleonasm, Piju.
Damn. College really changin’ you, Viper-Loc.
That security guy in the tollbooth keeps lookin’ at us funny.
There goes that Arabian kid! He been inside awhile now.
A whole suitcase! Roll on him?
Too many fogeys and their families.
You think those peeps in the black Mercedes are with him? They got crazy beards. I seen one of ‘em smokin’ a cigar.
Some old lady cryin’. Her leg look funny.
Yo one of us should follow that fool!
Dude just popped out his booth. Chill, ‘mano.
Roll down that window—
Yo who is that?
Joel? What up, son? I know your cousins. Bito. And Tito.
Yo that Piju? Wazz’appenin’, my dude? You here to see O.G.?
Naw, just rollin’ one. Stopped from the corner store up the road.
I’d roll outta here is how I’d roll. Capiche?
Who called the ambulance? Everything okay?
Mary Ann just broke her hip tap dancin’ in the ruckus room. Ain’t nothin. We see plenty of broken hips. Who asks the questions around here, anyway? Y’all got visitors’ badges?
Who gives guns to punk-ass security guards at nursing homes?
Is that bitch-ass Ricky Starr in the backseat?
Piss in his yellow Kool-Aid, Ricky.
Better skeet, boys.
How we ever gonna raise the money to get Young Dirty out of prison now?
Yo what about a diversion? To create confusion?
Yo I say we smoke this joint before it gets too hot.
Night descends over the Orange Grove Retirement Home with a cool breeze. Angie is replaced by Brunhildë, the night nurse, and at the gate Joel is replaced by Tony. The guests who came for the talent show leave amidst a flurry of hugs and kisses. In the parking lot, the children let their balloons go and gape upward united in their wonder with their grandparents who stand beside them watching the dots of red and blue dance away on the wind.
Inside, Ole Carl—the Orange Grove Talent Show champion three years in a row—wears the crown Nannie Mae made from gold cardboard, silver glitter, and too much glue. He leans on his cane and chews his lips still sore from so much soulful harmonica blowing. Three widows flutter around him and throw their hands up and laugh flirtatiously.
No one can battle me, he says. I’s the most talented there is. Black gold.
The dancing got a little fresh, I think.
My Lord, Ellen! That new music, where does it come from?
If Ms. Gretel got any lower I think she’d of been crawling on the floor!
Did you see the lovely balloon animals Margie made? The monkey on the bicycle?
Works well with her hands, I see.
The staff all agree—despite one broken hip and a few stitches—the event was a victory. Olivia too has had her triumph, moving everything in one day. Bright pink from her hot bath, she counts the money in her locked room, then she counts it again. She flips the bills through her fingers and smells them, wishing to smack someone in the face with it. She feels quite, quite high. She opens the window and smokes one last Virginia Slim.
Enough, she thinks. She has enough.
What smells better: fresh money or an ocean breeze?
Down the hall, Brunhildë leads the other residents in need of assistance to their rooms. A few remain in the rec-room watching the evening news, but eventually all the dentures are dropped in water and lights flipped off. Olivia too turns in for the night, though she is restless, unable to sleep. Elton clacks around his cage, still singing:
Money in the bank! Awaak! Money in the bank!
Not long after light’s out, a new sort of commotion commences.
Oh! What is that noise?
It’s the fire alarm! Is that you, Franny?
I can’t see anything! Are those my glasses?
It’s the smoke! Where’s Brunhildë?
Everybody form a line, hold hands!
I have lived to see the End Times! I knew it!
As if we hadn’t had enough excitement today already!
Someone is breaking through the side door!
ICU up in here! Intensive Care Unit for life! Viper-Loc for life!
Eeeh! Louie—it’s those damn peeping toms!
Oh God, they’ve got guns!
Where O.G., nurse? No foolin’!
I knew that woman would bring ruination on us all!
You hear bird calls, Ricky? She speakin’ pigeon?
Ninja kick the damn door in!
Outside in the parking lot, the heat of the flames is oppressive. They hadn’t meant to start such a large fire, but they were buzzing hard off all the smoke and drink and once the flames caught they took off with a will all their own. Piju Killa stands with his nine milli to Tony’s head in the booth by the gate. Both watch as the fire eats its way into the Home.
There’ll be retaliation, Tony says. O.G. ruthless.
Shutup, Tone Def.
She had her ex-husband and his pregnant wife killed. Sunk their damn boat.
She just an old fart, Tone Def. Ain’t no bogeywoman.
But Piju gets more and more nervous the longer he waits for Viper-Loc and Ricky Starr, especially as several of the residents stumble into the parking lot in their nighties and jammies like a kicked-over ant colony, all confused and shouting while staring in a daze. He sees a nurse pushing one in a wheelchair. Gusts of smoke billow from behind them coughing, squinting, rubbing their eyes.
Three loud explosions erupt from inside, shaking the building’s frame. The fire spreads.
Hot damn! Piju shouts.
Oxygen tanks for the iron lungs, Tony says. You brought the whole house down!
Sparks of fire leap into the trees surrounding the parking lot, igniting the palms with a dazzling rush. Piju hears sirens in the distance and scans the parking lot but doesn’t see O.G. anywhere. The black Mercedes—the one they’d noticed earlier—suddenly slides out the parking lot and into the street. Undercover cops, he wonders?
Deciding they have the right idea, Piju steps out of the booth dragging Tone Def with the nine still against his afro. He shuffles toward his white Oldsmobile but a few of the fogeys shout when they see him, pointing in his direction, and an incensed crowd of them suddenly give chase with mournful fury, surrounding him and beating on his back with scarecrow fists. Piju turns to raise the gun but Brunhildë swats it from his hand.
I lost all my photobooks!
My Sinatra records!
Get off me, you old geezers!
Piju nearly fights his way loose before a walker crashes on his back and the world goes dark, and the last thing he hears are the sirens arriving over the fire’s massive roar.
Cutting a deck of cards, Olivia sits in the shade of an umbrella table. Three others sit at the table around her sipping martinis. Faraway, she can see the Florida coastline receding on the horizon: a light blue atop a deeper blue-green. The cruise ship’s horn sounds and fills her soul with a gleaming gushing golden light. One of the ship’s waitresses approaches and she orders a daiquiri—a Papa Doble—before dealing out the cards.
Wilds aces and one-eyed faces, she says.
Not bored taking our money yet, Ms. Goldblatt? one of the players asks, a vice president of some Fortune 500 company that has several other vice presidents and makes billions selling water with vitamins in it. Never get bored taking anyone’s money?
You ever get tired of losing it?
Whoever thought such a sweet-looking old lady could be so ruthless? a blonde woman at the table asks, blowing a wisp of hair from her face. She wears a white bikini top and cut-off jeans. She smiles to let Olivia know she’s only joking.
Olivia grins too, looking down at her hand and thinking of the copy of South Florida Times stowed in her room. The story on page three discussed the arson and attempted armed robbery at the Orange Grove Nursing Home, detailing how—despite the stroke suffered by Ole Carl in the parking lot—the only casualties had been poor Elton and Victor Lòpez, a.k.a. Viper Loc, who died of smoke asphyxiation. The other two culprits—Ricky Fuentes, a.k.a. Ricky Starr, and Myung-Ki Lee, a.k.a. Piju Killa—were both apprehended after sustaining multiple injuries. The firemen who entered the Home found Lòpez and Fuentes sprawled in the corridor, heads bashed in by what was later identified by police as a twenty-pound weight. Olivia was discovered nearby, her wheelchair flipped over as she moaned.
According to the article, the two suspects had so far upheld their Fifth Amendment Rights, despite the fact that several tattoos mark them both as members of the notorious ICU Gang. Since Olivia was able to hide all the money in the new purse she’d recently sewn and stuffed in her unmentionables, their motives still remain a mystery. The investigators found Olivia’s safe but it was empty of everything but a photo of her old darling Mama Leone.
Naturally, the residents and nurses were too afraid to finger her.
She wins the next two hands, raking in another three hundred bucks before the other players quit. One, a bald man in a Hawaiian shirt, shakes his head and sulks.
Let that be a lesson to you, she says. Respect your elders.
The three card players wander back to the bar on the boat’s aft side as she puts the money in her purse. She orders another daiquiri and buzzes in her new wheelchair to the rails. There, she watches the sun set behind a spray of clouds. Children scamper round a nearby pool, their tiny feet pattering and trailing spots that evaporate almost immediately. She lights a cigarette and mentally counts the new roll of dough in her purse, wondering how long it has been since she took her last Oxy.
Sharks out of water! one boy shouts with eyes half shut, flailing in a circle, and other children splash him mercilessly.
Just as she proceeds to snuff out her cigarette and toss it to the sea, she smells a cigar and turns to see two tall dark-haired, dark-bearded men in collared shirts and bright red swimtrunks. One smokes the cigar while the other shuffles a deck of cards.
Ms. Goldblatt, yes? he says in an accent she recognizes at once. We hear you play a wicked game of Bridge.
JS Khan has published fiction in Post Road Magazine, Yalobusha Review, and Fourteen Hills, among others.