Short Story Masters - 1

Hanging Out at the Buena Vista ( I )

From When the Women Come Out to Dance, by Elmore Leonard

They lived in a retirement village of cottages set among palm trees and bougainvillea, maids driving golf carts. The woman, Natalie, wore silk scarves to cover what was left of her hair, a lavender scarf the afternoon Vincent appeared at her door. He told her through the screen he thought it was time they met. She said from the chair she sat in most of the day, “It’s open,” closed the book she was reading, a finger inside holding the page, and watched him come in his khaki shorts and T-shirt.
“You didn’t have to get dressed up on my account.”
She liked his smile and the way he said, “I was right. I’ve found someone I can talk to.”
“About what ?”
“Anything you want, except golf.”
“You’re in luck. I don’t play golf.”
“I know you don’t. I checked.”
She liked his weathered look, his cap of white hair, uncombed. “You’re here by yourself ?”
“On my own, the first time in fifty-seven years.”
She lay the book on the table next to her. “So now you’re what, dating ?”
He liked the way she said it, with a straight face.
“If you’re interested, Jerry Vale’s coming next week.”
“I can hardly wait.”
He said, “I like the way you wear your scarves. You’ve got style, kiddo.”
“For an old broad ? You should see me in a blond wig.”
“a woman can get away with a good one. But you see a rug on a guy, every hair in place ? You can always tell.”
“That’s why you don’t comb your hair ?”
Again with a straight face. He shook his head.
“I made a decision,” Vincent said. “No chemo, no surgery. Why bother ? I’m eighty years old. You hang around too long, you end up with Alzheimer’s like Howard. You know Howard ? He puts on a suit and tie every day and calls on the ladies. Has no idea where he is.”
“Howard’s been here. But now I think he and Pauline are going steady. Pauline’s the one with all the Barbie dolls.” Natalie paused and said, “I’ll be eighty-two next month.”
“You sure don’t look it.”
“Not a day over, what, seventy-five ?”
“I’ll tell you something,” Vincent said. “You’re the best-looking woman here, and that’s counting the maids and the ones that pass for nurses. Some are okay, but they all have big butts. You notice that ? Hospitals, the same thing. I’ve made a study : The majority of women who work in health care are seriously overweight.”
“You’ve spend a lot of time in hospitals ?”
“Now and then. No, this is the closest I’ve come, this assisted living. Or as it says in literature, “The gracious and dignified living you deserve. As long as you can afford it, live in your own prefab cottage. I did all right with prefab, built terraces, row housing. Some, it turned out, in the wrong place. Andrew came along and blew’em of the lot.” He said, “I know you were married. What’d your husband do ?”
“Commercial real estate.”
“I might’ve known him.”
“In New York City.”
There was a lull. Vincent glanced around the room, at furnishings from another life, expensive-looking pieces.
“You’re happy here ?”
“Am I happy ?”
“I mean, do you like living here ?”
“It’s all right.”
He waited before saying, “Are you in pain ?”
“I have my pills.”


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