The Fifth Floor
The Sea Towers on Amelia Island was purported to be built on an old Indian relic site that the developer simply chalked up to jealous condo owners across the street because the high towers blocked their view of the ocean. The new high rise commands a beautiful ocean view with access over quaint wooden bridges that protect the dune-like nesting sites of Florida’s fabled sea turtles. Like the sea turtles, the ancient Indian inhabitants buried their ceremonial items.
Unit seventy-eight was the dream condo for Henry and his now deteriorating wife, Arlene, who in recent years was confined to a wheel chair. The many doctors’ opinions were that she could probably walk if she would commit to physical therapy. Henry never pushed her to do it because he suspected that she was using her mild depression and disability to hold on to his loyal attentiveness.
They both had made many friends throughout the complex Lilly and Ted McBride were their constant companions and most evenings you find them enjoying cards on their sunlit high rise verandah. Ted suddenly passed a few years ago and for some reason Arlene took to her wheel chair soon after.
What started out as a simple kind gesture by Henry, of checking on Lilly in her fifth floor condo became a constant routine. Lilly could read the angst and sorrow in Henrys’ eyes when they discussed Arlene’s reluctance to attend the physical therapy classes at the condos pool.
The evening conversations grew longer as their mutual attraction grew stronger. Arlene’s suspicions were mild and she only nodded when Henry announced after dinner that he was going for a walk on the beach or might stop to play a little pool with the guys but his hidden agenda was to stop and see Lilly on the fifth floor.
Since their condo was close to the elevator, Arlene could hear the short hum of the elevators motor, knowing it wasn’t running long enough to get to the ground. She disregarded her suspicion because she was consumed in her own self pity.
When Henry exited the elevator on the fifth floor, he could see the slight welcoming illumination from Lilly’s open door creeping through.
Pleasant smiles greeted each other’s eager faces as they sat down to a well prepared table of soft candles, a deck of cards, and a large bowl of cashews that Henry was addicted to. An easy conversation overcame the ripple of shuffling cards. The bright smiles and laughter twinkled through the flickering candle light as they teased and cajoled each other through every hand played. It was a simple developing pleasure of an honest and open love.
I know your question but every act of love between a man and a woman does not necessarily consummate in sex. Yes, they were both more than capable, but it was an easy expanded love beyond the carnal and of course, guilt maintained their generational sensibilities.
“Goll dang it Lil, you gotta be the luckiest woman alive!” Henry said as she threw down a near perfect hand and called gin.
Her light hearted giggle would always warm Henry’s mind.
“Oh stop Henry, I’m sure you let me win. It’s just the kind of man you are.” She teased.
“Oh no lady, I play for blood. By the way, I never asked but is Lilly your real name or is it Lilith? You know Lilith was one of Adams wives. She was banished from the garden because she always wanted to be on top. Can I assume you have the same problem as your namesake?” He winked devilishly.
Her blushing face rolled with laughter as she reached to slap his hand with an admonishing love. “Yes it is my real name and I do enjoy being on top, and right now I’m on top of this game. If you’d pay more attention to your cards instead of those cashews then maybe you’d get to the top.” She winked.
Lilly wanted this man ever so desperately, but her heart could never betray her old friend. To steal his honest warmth was enough. The never ending Florida sunsets blended into eager trysts that fed their souls.
An early morning phone call disrupted Lilly’s fruitful dream of Henry. Arlene’s panic stricken voice sobbed. “Please get up here Lilly. Henry’s not moving. Please help me! I don’t know what to do.”
Lilly’s mind numbed with pain and her heart fell into an abyss of remembered anguish. Her heart had tread these horrific grounds with Ted.
The ensuing funeral was simple and short. Henry’s wish was to be cremated and his ashes to be washed out to the beloved ocean that he admired. His children, two daughters and a son complied with his request over the objections of their mother.
Arlene always thought she would be the first to go and desperately wanted to hang on to Henry any way she could. Thoughts pulsed through her mind.
“When and where did we let each other go? Was it my obsession with my own weakness? I truly wanted to die and let him live his fantasy. Did I kill him with my needs? I know my evil soul killed his earthly needs. I should have died first. I want to trade places but it’s too late.”
Jarring words of her eldest daughter announced that she was to move back to Indiana to a nearby nursing home that was convenient to her home. Arlene objected vociferously. Somehow she wanted to stay; she needed to stay. The spirit of her fifty year mate would be walking the beach without her. Not that her legs could take her there but a smiling wave from the patio was all she ever needed to bring the sand to her feet. Henry’s smile always plodded through the multitude of tourist seashell collectors as he secretly waved to multiple floors. An unbounded wave was all he needed to pass his smiling love upwards. His heart knew that kindness could easily transcend the elevator.
Moving day came with frustration. The elevators would automatically stop at the fifth floor. It didn’t matter which elevator they used. On the way up to the seventh floor, elevators did not stop. The enigma aggravated her son Dave.
“This is fuckin’ stupid mom. You need to call the repairman stat. This is irritating as hell.”
The maintenance men scratched their collective heads in frustration and proclaimed that they could find nothing wrong with the wiring or electronics. One wag jokingly suggested the old story of the sacred Indian site might be the cause but Arlene harbored her own suspicion.
Arlene blushed to herself. “It’s not important Dave. Forget it. We need to go to the beach before we leave to spread your father’s ashes.
The next morning’s ceremony found Arlene waving from her wheel chair on the little wooden bridge over the dunes as the children lovingly flung the ashes from the carved urn into an unusually calm lapping ocean.
A distant figure trailed the entourage in solemn repose. No one noticed except Arlene. Lilith breathed the wind as if to gain some small ash into her body. It was the quiet sanctity of love she needed to express. Her frail body trailed the funerary knowing that cremation always left many chards of bone intact and that the fragmented bones would wash back to shore. With the eye of a shell collector she tried to spot every fragment as they washed up.
Supple fingers lovingly gathered every fragment her failing sight could find. The container was the silly dark blue glass vessel that they used to put their dollar winnings in from their gin games.
Each chard nestled into the folds of the currency. The wind whispered her thoughts.
“It’s your money Henry, rest easily. I may have to give them back one day if you quit letting me win.”
To this day, the elevator at the Sea Towers stops at the fifth floor. Numerous repairmen have tried to fix it but their consensus opinion was it was far too expensive to correct.
And if you ever visit The Sea Towers the down button will always stop at the fifth floor. Not on the way up mind you but only on the way down!
If by chance you’re there at seven o’clock, get off at the fifth floor , look for a welcoming light through the open door of unit fifty-two and if you walk to the door, you might see a candlelit table set with cashews and playing cards. A voice might permeate over the easy lapping of the waves but listen closely for soft subtle eerie sounds resonating from the blue jar perched on the mantle.
“Goll darn Lilly, you must be the luckiest woman in the world.”
A tender giggling refrain will melt your heart. “Your right Henry; I am the luckiest woman alive!”
Edward Dean's book, The Wine Thief is a fantastic read and can be found on Amazon.com. Ed is also busy working on getting his latest and greatest novel published.