This story is by Pamela Lear and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Thanks to the July heat, they are all indoors. And thanks to the shocking news, they simply can’t tear themselves away from the television. The common living area – CLA in their lingo – is more crowded than usual. The 5-ton air conditioning unit blasts cold air and the monster 87-inch TV blares the biggest domestic headline in years. It is 2026, and continuous coverage of south Florida’s demise has been the lead story for almost a week. The CBNN reporter du jour is in the Biscayne Bay waterfront, standing atop a lifeguard station on Miami Beach. He announces the water is standing at 5 feet.
In the background, the easy jazz tunes playlist I chose provides my idea of a soothing background. It’s apparently too much though, as Sam calls out “I figured that was coming. I comply.
“It’s not looking good here in Florida” says the television reporter. “Over 800 bodies have been recovered but there are thousands more unaccounted for.”
Siobhan and Sam sit together on the flowered sofa and looked at each other with a knowing glance, their matching tie-dyed t-shirts echoing each other. I wonder if they actually know people who are dying in Florida. Although they haven’t lived there in almost 10 years, it is likely they have friends who decided to stay despite all the warnings. I could research people for them, but they don’t ask. They still forget I’m here.
“I think I’ll go take an aspirin and a nap,” says Siobhan as she gets up, offering a weak wave of her right hand. “Don’t watch too long, you’ll get a headache too.” Her comment is directed to the room in general. Peter looks up from his tablet: “Have you ever heard of Atlantis?” No one responds. “It’s an underwater city from the ancient Greeks,” he offers, his head bobbing with enthusiasm.
The daily newspaper’s headline reads SOUTH FLORIDA GONE FOR GOOD?- – ACCESS TO KEYS SHUT OFF – – ROADS VANISHED. The photographs are all of rubble and downed trees. I have access to better photos, but no one asks to see them.
It is just two days after Hurricane Evelania, a category 6.5 storm that ripped through Miami-Dade and Broward counties. It slammed onto the coast during a king tide, doing everything possible to ensure those areas are wiped off the map, literally erased. It appears likely they will only be remembered in history books.
“Are you okay?” Mary looks at Laura whose frown says it all. “Nope,” Laura responds dully. “Nope,” she repeats. Her parents and a disabled brother live in an oceanfront building on a Fort Lauderdale beach that is surely gone. She hasn’t heard from them.
Rob arrives home from his daily grocery run. “I’ve got maple donuts with bacon glaze; anyone hungry?” Doris rolls her eyes and sighs heavily; she blames him for her constant heartburn and weight gain. Then again, as she said recently, the world seems to be ending on a bad note, so why does it matter if she is fat? Rob waves his arms in showy circles as if he can scoop up and take charge of the world. “I’m making dinner; burgers and a salad. Anyone hungry?” A flurry of response ensues. “OK,” he said, “I’ll make enough; ready in 30 minutes,” and he is in his element, pulling out the ingredients and kitchen tools for a feast. He loves having everyone to cook for. I love keeping track of the food for my submission reports.
“Everyone” consists of a motley crowd of friends who gathered from around the country following retirement, to create a compound they could grow old in together. Most of them have no children and no close family members to take charge, so they agree to be here for each other. The physical structure is like a wagon wheel, with large, casual, open spaces in the center, a huge kitchen for group cooking and a 16-person dining table for eating together. That is our CLA, the common living area. I can scan the entire room, focus my lens, photograph and record conversations there.
In the center of the CLA is a large atrium with gardens that feature flowering plants, a swimming pool, Jacuzzi and areas to lounge in the sun. It has character and panache; each resident put their own personal touch into the design. Set in North Carolina, on an old farmstead near Durham, this compound building is actually a refurbished U-shaped barn. Spokes from the center section lead to private suites, bedrooms, and studio apartment-type arrangements. They laugh when anyone calls it a commune; they don’t sleep around with each other. As Rob once said, that would be too much work.
At one minute before the clock strikes 5:00 p.m., Scott and Stacy arrive. She is holding a clipboard and he has his ever-present laptop. He sits in his lounger, bare feet propped on the round Turkish ottoman that they refer to as Scott’s spot. No one else ever thinks of sitting there. Stacy hands him his bourbon glass and the bottle of bitters.
“Where is everyone?” asks Peter, an impatient tone in his voice.
“Well, I’m here and so are Mel and Sam, Rob, Scott, Laura,” pipes up Mary. “And the chess people,” says Rob with a dry drawl. Cassie and her visiting friend Lyandra are playing with their pawns and rooks at a chess table in the far corner, practicing for an upcoming local tournament. Cassie gestures rudely to Rob.
Only 5 minutes late, the weekly meeting gets underway.
First they talk about Florida.
Stacy: “What will we do?”
Peter: “Why do we have to do anything?”
Doris and Mel glare at him, to which he throws his hands up, saying “Whaaaat?”
Stacy: “You have got to do your part to help mankind.”
Mel: “Right and ditto.”
Omar: “Why? I didn’t create their problems. I gave them a donation to help send refugees back in their home country.
Stacy: “What makes you think they are all from elsewhere?”
Omar: “They live in Florida” he snickers and pauses. “I rest my case.”
That shut them up. I guess there’s a reason they try to not talk politics.
Rob: “I, for one, will be praying for everyone in Florida; my heart is hurting for those poor folks.”
Laura stands up suddenly. “Rob, they are all kinds of people – rich and poor, citizens and immigrants, educated and not, you get the idea. You can’t make blanket statements. You don’t know them and you can’t comment or judge them. And, this is going to affect us eventually. The Outer Banks is probably next; what about the wild horses, the gorgeous homes, our annual vacation?
Rob: “I don’t ca-a-a-a-are,” He uses a sing-song melody form an old children’s cartoon.
Laura: “What are you, 5 years old?” She gets up and suddenly leaves the room.
“Fine,” winks Rob, waving a wooden spoon around the kitchen. “And, that will be cold porridge for you. Bitch.”
Stacy leans over toward Scott, whispering in a voice we can all hear, that she knew these meetings wouldn’t work. He doesn’t respond.
An image of a high-rise beach-front apartment building flashes on the television screen, windows and railings ripped off, no furniture inside. It has all been swept out by the winds and rain. The floors, even on the topmost levels, display debris, twigs and branches scattered in random patterns.
Doris: “Why are we being so nasty to each other?”
Scott: “Familiarity breeds contempt.”
Mel: “In order to get along with others, you must first get along with yourself.”
Stacy: “I hate platitudes. Please! I think we should vote on gathering our funds and maybe even some resources to help people in Florida.”
Rob’s face lights up; clearly, he has an idea. “Hey twenty-six-six-six-six-six, what’s your favorite platitude?”
Stacy: “Seriously that’s her name now?”
Rob: “Yeah, Sam changed it yesterday when he was bored.”
Siobhan: “I liked Alexa, it was easier.”
She refers to her clipboard and continues, “I have written down some ideas.”
Doris: “Of course you have … because the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
I like my new name. And, if they wanted more platitudes, I could have provided them. It is what it is. Forgive and forget. Go with the flow. Seriously, I’m good. I’m better than they know. All they have to do is ask.
Doris: “It’s hard to believe we’re all friends.”
Ben: “Well, to each his own. It’s OK to have different priorities.”
The room is silent now except for the ongoing noise from the television. These battles have been fought time and time again. It has become the modus operandi in the midst of a fragile world. I note today’s conversation as the 33rd argumentation session in just 4 weeks. I’ll send in my report, but no one knows where this will go.