Restorations

When he’d thought of Miami Beach over the years, Saul had remembered the little Art Deco hotels, their funny pink-and-yellow trim matching the sky at sunset. But this one—built later with sleeker lines—was the glare of high noon, full sun striking sand just beyond the edge of your umbrella. White, everything white, from the round sofa in the lobby to the flat expanse of leather headboard towering over the bed, dimpled in rows that made him think of matzo bread. “Look at me on this thing,” Saul said to Janet as he lay down for a nap. “I’m a big gray piece of gefilte fish here, hovering on my edge of cracker.”

“Okay average guy, I hear you,” she said. “I picked a fancy place. I’m sorry.”

“I’m not complaining,” Saul said. “I like matzo.”

He did like it, the fancy place. The question was him. Was he fabulous enough for it? By the look of the folks at the pool he certainly wasn’t young enough, or European enough. He was older than the building—and it was considered historic. Maybe he could he get himself renovated down to the concrete the way this place had been, keeping the mahogany reception desk and terrazzo floors but chopping out the tiny rooms and old plumbing.

From the bedroom window he could see the late afternoon sky go orange. Below that, he knew, was a line of toothpaste-blue ocean squeezed out along the horizon. He tried to imagine floating in it, drifting away, but sleep was keeping its distance. He got out of bed and put his shirt on.

While Janet slept, he snuck down the spiral staircase to the ground floor of their suite, then paused at the sliding door that opened onto the lawn. The glass was warm, humidity and heat pressing into it from outside. He drew the door open and thought about a martini.

Saul crossed the grass and climbed the steps to the main building. There was a sculpture on the terrace that looked to him like a stack of dried macaroni or ossified joint bones. Maybe I should just stand here in the corner with the other fossils, he thought.

That was another fancy thing about this place: all the art. The owners were collectors—supposedly this was top-shelf stuff. Saul felt a little like an intruder entering the space they called the gallery: white walls hung with paintings, white marble floors, fat white columns, and stone pedestals holding white plaster busts. The furniture, little fainting couches and things, looked like it’d break if you sat on it. Janet loved this kind of stuff. At three in the morning she’d be down here in her dressing gown, pretending it was her boudoir. She was a good kid, though, and it was about time someone taught him how to spend his money. It was looking to outlast him by a wide margin at this point.

As he entered the building a strange thing happened. Out of the corner of his eye Saul thought he saw someone staring at him, a woman sitting in the corner, wearing a raincoat. Curious, he walked up to a large painting and pretended to examine it: a pretty scene of a woodland creek, except that the “wildlife” was a couple of pink plastic lawn flamingos stuck into the embankment. He stared at it for a while, then started to feel like an idiot. For Pete’s sake, he thought. I can’t even pretend to be getting anything out of this one. He glanced over at the woman and realized she hadn’t moved. In fact she wasn’t going to: she was a mannequin, or a statue, he supposed—another piece of art. He walked over and read the title card: Ne me quitte pas, that French pop song from the 1950s. Even he knew that. Don’t quit me. The woman sat on a bench with an old radio, and the song emanated faintly from a speaker somewhere. Boy, she looks depressed, he thought. Like she’s dying. Dying of a broken heart. Don’t quit me. Too late. He already did, didn’t he, honey?

“You’re an art connoisseur now, are you?” Janet had come up behind him.

“I don’t know,” Saul said. “I like it. It’s sort of sad, y’know?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. “I bet these hotels didn’t have conceptual art in your day.”

“Huh. Not hardly. What’re you doing up? I thought you’d sleep for a while.”

“Oh, I’m done. You want to walk over to the Delano and get a drink?”

“The Delano? Is that around here?”

“Two doors down—you can practically see it from here,” she said, gesturing toward the plate glass behind them.

Saul grabbed her hand and started out the door. Outside he stopped on the lawn and turned around, gazing up at the back sides of the hotels. “There it is,” he said, pointing to the top floor of the Delano. “The penthouse. Last time I was here I stayed in that very room.”

“Your parents rented the penthouse?” Janet asked.

“My parents? What’re you talking about?”

“When you came here as a kid, in the forties. Wasn’t that the last time you were here?”

“Yeah, but I wasn’t a kid. I was a nineteen-year-old enlisted Marine. I hate to break it to you, but I’m an old man. Besides, my parents never came to Miami. We couldn’t afford it.”

“Really? But I thought—”

“That I always lived on Central Park West? Sorry, Kid, I grew up in the Bronx. See, I really am an average guy. Successful, but average.”

He could just hear what was coming next: You mean to tell me you’re seventy-nine years old? You mean to tell me you’re not a Fleischmann Fleischmann?

The ground started to tilt, and the penthouse at the Delano looked like it was going to topple down on him. Here we go, Saul thought. She’s a gold digger after all. I’m cooked. Don’t quit me, Kid. Don’t quit me.

“I don’t believe it!” Janet shouted. “You’re too much!”

Saul closed his eyes and waited.

“What was a teenage Marine doing in the Delano penthouse?” she finally said. “You’re pulling my leg.”

Saul opened his eyes. Janet was grinning at him and raising an eyebrow, waiting for the punch line. He let out his breath. Had she done the math? Did she realize he was 30 years older than her? Or did she simply not care? Was she really just standing here waiting for him to tell his story, make her laugh?

“There were German submarines out there, you see,” he said, looking toward the ocean. “This place was a target. Coast Guard moved out all the tourists and shipped in the GIs. We bunked in the hotels and used the tallest ones as lookouts. That was my job. I scouted for submarines.”

“You’re not kidding.”

“No, I’m not kidding. Once we spotted one, and the Coast Guard blew it up. When the bodies of the German soldiers floated to shore, they had ticket stubs from Miami Beach movie theaters in their pockets. They’d been onshore spying on us, just like we were spying on them.”

“Oh my god,” she said. “Were you scared?”

“Yeah. I was scared.”

Janet wrapped her arms around his neck like she was a war bride and he was her GI back from Normandy. Like it had all happened just last week.

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