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Under the Sun
Wed April 20, 2011
Walter And Edith, By Jeremy Glazer
Jeremy Glazer is a legislative analyst, a former high school teacher and a Miami native. On his phone message, he has been known to identify himself as a “future hall-of-famer,” but he says he hasn’t decided yet which hall of fame or what his achievement will be. He recently finished his first novel and is looking for a publisher.
Glazer crossed our radar as a winner in Under the Sun’s unpublished writers competition, with his story Home. Jeremy is also the author of Souvenir, They Always Leave and Mismatch.com. We can’t get enough of Jeremy’s wry style and way with words. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The song in the piece is Northern Bird by Miami-based singer and songwriter Jill Hartmann.
Walter & Edith
Walter and Edith knew the very best spot. The place where the cruise ships passed so close you felt like you were on board. So close you could see the ballrooms, see the lights in the cabins, see through rows and rows of portholes. That’s where they’d always sit on Sundays, in their lawn chairs on the grass just at the edge of the rocks of Government Cut on Miami Beach.
“We live in paradise, Walter,” Edith would say, as they put down their chairs. They made sure to arrive at least half an hour before the first ship went out. They’d learned the patterns over the years. Cruises left in the late afternoon so passengers could see the sun set over downtown Miami: over the skyline that had become a skyline as Walter and Edith watched. It used to be only two or three towers, lightly poking up at the clouds. Now there were so many buildings, the sun went down in slits between them.
Walter and Edith weren’t the only regulars at the spot. There was a shifting crowd over the years. The steadiest was another older couple, Luis and Silvia. They didn’t speak much English, but they always nodded warmly to Walter and Edith. Luis and Silvia brought their own chairs as well, a thermos of cafe con leche — and extra cups for Walter and Edith, just like Walter and Edith brought extra mandelbrot, or hamentashen, depending on the season, for Luis and Silvia.
Sometimes Luis would bring a radio and play music softly, but he’d always turn it off once the ships started to approach.
A crowd would gather at that point—tourists with lobster-red skin, people coming out of leaving the restaurant Smith & Wollensky after a late lunch, joggers, locked into silence by their ear buds, and bikers — sometimes alone, sometimes in packs. Everyone would get quiet as the ship’s horn bellowed three times. It was more a feeling than a sound, vibrating through them, through the chairs, the bikes, and the ground beneath.
“Here it comes,” Edith would announce to Walter. “Looks like the Valor.” Edith loved the names: Valor, Liberty, Triumph, Destiny. They were all so hopeful, so strong.
Walter would never watch the ships approach. He’d simply look straight ahead, to the other side of the channel, with the wealth of Fisher Island in the background. First he’d see the knife of the ship’s bow as it cut through the water directly in front of him. Then the whole gigantic thing almost on top of him. He liked the jolt — watching the calm water and then — bang! — the silent behemoth, a moving building, filling his field of vision. It felt like an orchestra at full volume, smashing the silence of a concert hall.
And it was no different on this summer Sunday afternoon. The rain had just finished, one of those fake Miami rains where the sky spits for a few minutes, out of obligation almost. The sun was back out, steaming the sheen of water off the ground. It was no different than any other Sunday, as Walter walked up with his lawn chair. Except everything was different. Walter was alone.
Edith had been there, next to him, always. Holding hands, watching the ships that had gotten so big, so quiet, so pristine. So different from the crowded ship that had brought Walter and Edith after the war. After losing so many and finding so few, they had found each other in those camps where people gathered and partnered off, two-by-two, to make, or re-make, a life, a people. So many couples came to America on ships, these crowded Noah’s Arks.
New York was where most stayed, unless they had family out West. Miami was the light at the end of the long tunnel. Kids, jobs, retirement. Then Miami.
But Walter and Edith had gone in a different direction. He had asthma, she couldn’t tolerate the cold and what it reminded her of. So they started where they should have ended, in Miami Beach. Back then they were told Jews had to live south of Lincoln Road. Had to. As if being surrounded by the ocean were a prison. And they weren’t allowed to own property north of Fifth Street, but who could own property anyway? He was a tailor, she was a waitress. And then she was pregnant and her feet swelled and he took on both — tailor by day, waiter by night, father on weekends.
One Sunday, years ago, they were walking at just the right spot at just the right time and saw a ship go by. From then on, that spot, on the southern tip of the island, was theirs. It was in a park, which got torn down and became a park again, and then got torn down and became a park again. Condos sprouted up, first one, then another, then two more, each going higher, like layers added on a wedding cake. Funny colors, too. Not normal building colors — pastels. But their spot remained.
After a few years, Luis and Silvia found the spot too. The ocean had brought them all. And every Sunday they gathered. To watch.
“Have a nice time,” Edith would yell, to the arms waving from the top deck. She waved back heartily, even as she got thinner, even when they had to bring a blanket for her in the summer. Walter never waved. It felt too silly.
He never watched the ships leave, either. They’d crash into his frame, and rush out. Gone as quickly as they entered.
Edith would see them all the way off.
“That one’s going north,” she’d say. “Maybe to the Bahamas. That one turned south. Probably to Key West and over to Mexico.”
On the day Walter arrived alone, Luis and Silvia were already there, and had left space for two chairs. When they saw him, Walter shook his head.
“She’s gone,” he coughed out. “Muerto.”
Silvia came up and hugged him and started crying.
“Lo siento, Walter. Lo siento”
Luis patted Walter on the back and rubbed his own eyes. He took the chair from Walter and made a show of adjusting it so it was flat, he wiped it off before Walter sat down, a small kindness. Silvia poured Walter cafe con leche, turned off the radio, and they sat in silence.
Walter could tell that the ships were coming, even without Edith’s warning. The patter of the runners’ feet behind him stopped. The bikes squeaked a little as they braked. The fog horn rang out three times. He stared straight ahead, through the tears, and let the ship surprise him – like always. And like always, it was larger than life. Larger than his life. Larger than hers.
The words of the Kaddish, the mourner’s prayer, came into his head – Yis’gadal v’yis’kadash sh’mei raba.
As he heard them, felt them, his arm started to wave. As soon as he noticed, he stopped, but he couldn’t take his eyes off the ship, off the little stick figure bodies, waving back.
He watched it all the way to the horizon on that Sunday. Saw the ship get smaller and smaller until finally, when he blinked and opened his eyes, it was gone.