John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

A woman came out of the house and cleared her throat. “Is there anything else I can do? The nurse has had her lunch. Your lunch is on the table, sir.”

“That’s all, Lottie. Thanks. Have a nice weekend.”

“Thank you, sir.”

After she left, Tucker Loomis said, “I shouldn’t be too hard on you, Bern. After all, this whole screw-up is my fault. I make dumb mistakes because I don’t think things through. It was sort of a half-joke to sign up those four to buy lots on Bernard. Every other purchaser can damn well afford his lots.”

“I… I hope it all works out.”

“You run along now, Bern. Like they say, don’t call me, I’ll call you. Just clean it up fast.”

Tuck Loomis got up and stretched and listened to the snarl of Gibbs’ little BMW heading away into the early afternoon. He went into the abrupt coolness of the air-conditioned house and padded back to Thelma’s room and looked in on her again. Maria had cranked her bed back down and Thelma was having her afternoon nap. She made a bubbling sound with her lips at each exhalation.

He went to the kitchen alcove and took the plastic wrap off the bowl of salad Lottie had fixed for him, and took his glass of iced tea out of the refrigerator. It was a Greek salad with a lot of feta cheese, the way he liked it, and he added a trace of oil and vinegar.

After he put the empty salad bowl and glass in the sink, he went looking for Maria and found her sitting cross-legged on the end of his bed, looking at the small television screen on the bookshelf. She grinned at him. The whiteness of her teeth and the whiteness of the whites of her eyes against that golden skin always startled and pleased him. He shucked off his shirt and stepped out of his shorts and stretched out behind her.

As he began stroking her, she said, “Hey. Wait a minute. I want to see how this comes out.”

He stretched out and hitched over to the side so that he could see the screen. The woman was standing at the edge of a cliff. The sea was smashing against the rocks. The man came up to her and she turned and smiled at him. There was a close shot of their long hungry kiss, and the man said it would be forever and the woman said she never had any doubts and, as they walked down the curving path from the cliff top, the credits began to scroll down the screen. Maria hopped up and punched the set off, and turned to him, glowing, and said, “That was beautiful. It was really beautiful, Tuck.”

“Everything is beautiful, sweet thing,” he said, and she took her uniform off and hung it on a chair, sat on the chair and took off her white nurse shoes and her white socks. She put her brassiere and panties on top of her dress, and reached to take off the little starched white cap.

“Hey, leave the cap on,” he said.

“You want me with it on? It’s real old-fashioned. Hardly anybody wears even the uniform anymore. Okay, so it stays on.”

She came and put one round shiny knee on the bed and said, “Well, look at you!”

“I’ve been thinking about you, kid.”

“I like Saturdays. I really like Saturdays a lot,” she said, smiling, and lowered herself upon him with delicacy and precision.

Wilbur Barley stopped at the Sunset Nursing Facility to look in on his sister on his way home. She was in a room at the back on the ground floor. The only window looked out iupon the service entrance and a big blue dumpster. If she couldn’t look out the window, she didn’t need a view. She could open and close her eyes. She could breathe. She could swallow the gruel they spooned into her. One could say it was an improvement over the months of tubes and intravenous drips. She was as white and soft as suet. There had been some trouble with bed sores, and some trouble about keeping her hair washed and brushed, until finally Barley lost patience and had a talk with the administrator, promising to do his best to have the state investigators take a closer look at SNF with a view to lifting the license. Now the care had improved. Unguents and massage. A better balancing of diet to keep her from getting any bigger. They had explained the last encephalogram to him. Not totally flat. A little bit of activity. But no essential change from the previous one.

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