Paradise, published on August 27, 2003 [v11 i35], is a biting vignette of a day in the life of the modern bourgeois summer time-share dweller. Know to Voice readers as a poet, Sara published only one short-story in The Voice, and it was selected by a Voice reader for inclusion in this year-end issue.
Dusk is falling and the gated condo community appears to be deserted. The beach is empty; her sands blemished and scarred from another day of fun in the sun. All that remains poolside is someone’s dog-eared copy of the latest Nora Roberts best-seller. The smell of barbecue wafts in the air. The fathers are out on their lanais firing up their grills after a long day of ritualised male bonding, either poolside or on the golf course. They carefully watch the charcoal while swigging on tins of Budweiser, from a six-pack “the wife” picked up at the market in Kihei – the king of beers for self-dubbed kings of the grill. Typically, the men are shirtless despite their pelts of back hair and paunches that hang over the waistbands of their Bermuda shorts. The majority of them have moustaches a la Tom Selleck; this is Maui after all. Magnum would be proud, except that his many disciples fall far from the mark. None of them come close to exuding that same playboy charm, which in no way deters them from trying.
The wives are all wearing sarongs and too much makeup. Despite being in Hawaii, many of them show no signs of a tan for all of them are scared shitless of aging. Many even forgo facial expressions in an effort to avoid wrinkles. There is the odd sun goddess who spends all the daylight hours soaking up the rays with blatant disregard for the evil effects of the sun. In fact, she is often seen putting on tan amplifier; no sunscreen for this girl. She knows she looks better with a tan, and no one can convince her otherwise, not even her dermatologist. Needless to say, when it comes time to fly back to the mainland, she goes home with skin that looks about ready to be reincarnated into a Louis Vuitton steamer trunk.
By dusk the kids are all planted in front of the TV watching Nickelodeon or MTV, chugging Cherry Cokes, and picking at their peeling skin, a result of the inevitable sunburns they got by ignoring their mothers’ pleas to “please put on sunscreen.” The combination of excessive amounts of sugar and lack of scheduled activities fuels misbehaviour and hyperactivity.
This typical dusk scenario is being acted out in condo 18. Mr. Smith is out on the lanai carefully watching various meaty hunks darken on the grill. He calls into the condo, “Hey Babe. Can you take the rest of my Buds out of the freezer and put ’em in the fridge?”
Mechanically putting the beer into the fridge, she looks at her zombie-like kids sprawled out on the floor in front of the television. “Not so close to the TV. How many times do I have to tell you? Are you drinking pop before dinner?”
“Dad said we could,” they respond in unison.
Mrs. Smith brings her husband another beer. “Hon, did you tell Bobby and Susie they could have pop before dinner?” He grunts as he prods the steaks with the super-astro tongs he bought in Lahaina. “Hon, are you listening?”
“Did you tell Bobby and Susie they could have pop before dinner?”
“Come on, Babe. We’re on vacation.”
“Fine,” she says, and lights up one of her Marlboro Lights. She takes a few deep drags and stares off into the distance. “Did I tell you Burt and Marla want to meet up with us at the Aston later for the hula show?”
She flicks her ash off the edge of the balcony, completely unconcerned about the hibiscus bushes below. “I keep forgetting this is their first time here. That kind of thing is still exciting for them. What do you think Hon? Do you want to go?”
“I guess it could be fun. Maybe if Marla has one too many Mai Tais she’ll go up on stage when they call for volunteers. I’d give good money to see that. Especially if she wears that hideous tangerine wrap dress she tries to pass off as a Diane Von Furstenberg, when I know for a fact that she got it at Winners.”
She sprawls herself onto the lounge chair on the far side of the lanai. “Do you think it’s okay to leave the kids alone?”
“Babe, they’ll be fine. You have to loosen up a bit. We’re on vacation.” He pours more of his “secret sauce,” which consists solely of HP sauce and some chili powder, on his 24oz T-bone steak. “Burt played a round today. I’d love to know how the course is treating him. I’m just getting raped out there. I shot a ninety-seven yesterday.”
“Uh huh. Did you see Aileen at the putting green? Ugh, that woman has no class. She can barely play the game, which isn’t surprising since I’ve heard she and the pro certainly aren’t working on her technique, at least not pertaining to golf.”
“Babe, you don’t know that for a fact.”
“I do know that if I was married to Stan, I’d be on the prowl for young virile men too.”
Without thinking she begins to bite her thumbnail, totally unaware of the fact she is ruining her French manicure. “Funny how money and power will make almost any man attractive. We, of course, know what he saw in her. Ex-Dallas Cowboys cheerleader turned pseudo-catalogue model? Yeah sure, fifteen years and twenty pounds ago. Anyway, she sat herself down next to me at the Jog ‘n’ Java this morning after I dropped the kids off at day camp. She talked my ear off. ‘Tiffany this and Nicholas that.’ Talk about living through your kids. All she does is brag about them. ‘Well Tiff is going to New York on a special ballet field trip, and our Nicky is quickly becoming a football hero.’ She has no reason to be so high and mighty about those kids. From what I hear, precious Tiffany hasn’t eaten a square meal without running to the bathroom with her fingers down her throat in years, and Nicky is no sweetheart either. It’s common knowledge that he knocked up his girlfriend over spring break last year when they were in Cancun. Stan even paid to have things taken care of, if you know what I mean.”
“Stan never mentioned anything about it to me.”
“And tarnish his golden boy’s reputation. Come on, Hon. What would he say? ‘My boy knocked up his latest girlfriend. Please pass the guacamole.’ Not likely. If that boy doesn’t get smart he’s liable to do it again. I’ve seen the way he and that DeLucca girl have been sneaking around over the last week. You’d have to be blind not to. As soon as Stan and Aileen have teed off the first tee, she’s on her way over to their condo. Most mornings when I walk by the curtains are closed. It’s not like they’re even trying to be discreet about it. God knows what’s going on in there, but that doesn’t stop everyone from trying to guess.”
“Well, boys will be boys. Babe, do you want another wine cooler?”
“Actually Hon, bring me a light beer. I’m on diet, remember?”
Gazing off to the west, taking in the last of the sunset – the perfect sunset, like on those cheesy Hawaiian tourism brochures with captions reading, “Come experience paradise” – she thinks about the two teens fooling around. If she was truthful, she couldn’t blame the DeLucca girl. Although she’d never admit it out loud, even with half a dozen martinis in her, Nicky had certainly done some growing up in the last two years. She’d always had a weakness for football players. In fact, the adolescent sports hero had starred in a few of her fantasies in the past year. There’d been a few mornings last fall when, after dropping the kids at school, she’d returned home ,made herself a Stoli martini and retired to her bedroom with her drink, her trusty Hitachi Magic Wand, and memories of that rock hard body on the beach the year before.
“What?” She sighs, exasperated. Her reverie broken. She turns, looking back into the living room.
“Mom, can we go shopping in Lahaina tomorrow?”
“And then can we go to Snorkel Bob’s and pick up a mask and fins?”
“Please, Mom. Can we?”
“I’ll discuss it with your father.” Her husband drops a big bag of Doritos in front of the kids to pacify them. He comes out onto the lanai with a fresh Bud for himself and a light beer in an icy tumbler for her, closing the sliding door to block out the aggravating sound of the TV.
“Babe, did you notice that there’s an oriental family staying in the Carter’s condo?”
“I know. I was talking to Patsy at the pool bar this afternoon. She says that Pete lost a bundle in tech stocks. Poor fool. He never did take your advice and see our broker, and look where it got him? If only he’d listened to you, Hon.”
She fumbles with her cigarettes lighting another one. “Of course, Pete and Janelle are saying they couldn’t make it this year because her mom’s sick, but Patsy assures me it’s because Pete almost lost his shirt. Janelle won’t let him sell the condo either. It was her dad’s, and she refuses to sell it no matter how dire their predicament. So they compromised and are renting it out.”
She pauses and blows almost perfect smoke rings into the sweet night air. “Apparently, the stress of it all got to Janelle. It seems she’s turned into quite the little lush. From what I hear, there was a messy incident at the country club back home. The bartender tried to cut her off and she caused a huge scene. I can only imagine. Anyway, Pete had to kiss some serious ass to get back in the manager’s good books. So long story short, Janelle is at a ‘spa’ in Arizona ‘unwinding’.”
Snorting unflatteringly, she hands what’s left of her smoke to her husband. He lets it hang from the corner of his mouth as he flips the steaks. “It doesn’t take Dionne Warwick’s psychic network to know that divorce is on the horizon for those two.”
The sliding door opens. Bobby comes outside holding up a piece of skin the size of his hand like a prize. “Look, mom. I peeled this off my back,” he says with a wicked grin.
“That’s disgusting Bobby. Get that out of my face this instant.” Pleased with his mom’s reaction, he skips around holding it above his head proudly like a banner. She picks up the latest copy of Cosmo magazine, which she left on the table earlier, and starts flipping through it, blatantly ignoring her son’s obnoxious behaviour. She tries to concentrate on an article entitled, How to get rid of Cellulite: Once and for all.
Realizing his mother won’t rise to the bait, he goes in search of a new target. The shock value having worn off, the skin is chucked over the edge of the balcony to join the cigarette ash among the hibiscus. “What’re you doin’ dad?”
“I’m busy cooking dinner, Bobby. Why don’t you go inside and play with your sister?”
“She’s boring. All she wants to do is watch that stupid Justin Timberlake special on TV. He sucks.”
Bobby spots a lone gecko trying to hide along the balcony railing. Stalking his prey, he tiptoes as quietly as possible in an effort to catch it. With uncharacteristic agility, he catches the poor creature. With a sly grin, he heads back over to his dad. “Dad, I don’t think I want steak for dinner.”
“Well, I’ve already started cooking you one, bud. So that’s what you’re havin’.”
“I’d rather have this,” he says with a devilish grin, and throws the poor gecko onto the grill, to its inevitable demise. He promptly runs back into the condo, shutting the sliding door behind him.
“That kid can be such a pain in the ass.”
“What was that you said earlier, Hon? ‘Boys will be boys.'” She looks up for a split second at her obviously frustrated husband, as he attempts to extract the charred gecko remains from under the grill.
“Dinner’s almost ready. Will you see if the kids are ready to eat?”
“Sure. But don’t get angry when they don’t clean their plates. I wasn’t the one who let them fill up on chips and pop before dinner.”
Opening the sliding door, she is assaulted by arctic cold air. “Holy shit! Susie, how high do you have the a/c cranked? Turn it down and come set the table for dinner.”
Her daughter remains motionless. “Susie, did you hear me? Susie?”
“She won’t answer you mom.”
“She will if she doesn’t want to spend the rest of the vacation grounded.”
“She’s decided to change her name to Christina. She thinks she’s Christina Aguilera.”
“Well, daughter of mine. I don’t care what your name is. You have until the count of three to get off your butt and set the table. One, two…” Susie gets up in a huff and stomps to the kitchen. Bobby sits on the floor with a pleased smirk on his face. “Don’t just sit there. Go help your sister. Go get the potato salad out of the fridge.”
“No but moms. Just do it.” Turning to her husband, “Whoever coined the phrase ‘the joys of motherhood’ must have been drunk.”
With the table finally set, the Smiths sit down to dinner. Mr. Smith places the now well-done T-bone on his plate, a plain grilled chicken breast on his wife’s plate, a hamburger on Susie’s plate, and the charred remains of the gecko on Bobby’s plate.
“Gross, dad. I’m not eating that.”
“You said that’s what you wanted for dinner.”
“I was kidding.”
“Too bad. It’s that or nothing.”
“I’m not eating it.”
“Fine. Then go to your room.”
“Mom,” the boy whines.
“Bobby, listen to your father.” The boy stomps off to his room.
Pleased that her gross little brother had been banished, Susie begins to devour her burger. “Mom…”
“Not with your mouth full. Do I have to tell you a thousand times?”
Swallowing, “Mom, can I go to Madison’s house to watch a DVD later?”
“Not dressed like that you can’t.”
“What’s wrong with it? This is what Christina wore in her last music video.”
“You look like a slut. No daughter of mine is going out in public like that.”
“Mom, that’s so unfair. Dad…”
“Susie, you listen to your mother.”
The Smiths watch their daughter storm from the table, and hear her bedroom door slam. Mrs. Smith sighs and takes a sip of beer. “Hon, this chicken is delicious. Really tender.”
“I’m glad you like it, Babe.”