Birdland

by Ruth Z Deming

George and Pamela had a wonderful life in Langhorne, Pennsylvania. She was a psychologist and her husband, a physician. Time to move on. Unlike most Americans, they planned their retirement carefully. George wrote letters to his hundreds of patients, thanking them for trusting him with their concerns. Pamela did the same. She said goodbye to the fish tank in her office, passing it on to fellow therapist Judy Diaz. They bid each other Godspeed.

George had flown to one of the Greek islands to check it out. Very reasonable. They purchased a roomy white house that perched on the same sands where Odysseus had set sail for the Trojan War. How odd it was that Trojans were also the name of a contraceptive.

"Darling!" cried Pamela as she fell into his arms at the small airport of their new homeland.

"Birdland" they decided to call it.

Pamela was a beauty with shoulder-length blonde hair. She was fortunate she had the money to have a nose job - yes, she had what she thought was a Pinocchio-long Jewish nose - and got rid of the wrinkles in her fair skin.

A proud Jewess, she convinced her George to convert. And, yes, they attended El Shalom synagogue on the island.

Every morning they dined outdoors on the patio, even when it rained.

Their maid simply raised the striped umbrella at their table.

"Thanks, Cleome," said Pamela.

The coffee was fresh and hot, its steam heading upward toward the blue sky which skittered with a few clouds.

Pamela, coffee cup in hand, leaned back and looked at the sky.

"A penny for your thoughts," said George, who sat wearing a green Phillies cap, over his mostly bald pate.

She explained that as a kid she would form shapes from the clouds.

"Never knew that about you, dear!" he said.

"Look!" she pointed. "A humpback whale! And a huge pine cone, like the pine tree we had back in the States."

George laughed. "What a gal!" he said. "And we've never been happier."

They clinked their coffee cups.

It was true. But soon enough, that would all change.

On Saturday mornings, George and Pam would walk to the synagogue.

There had always been Jews on the Greek islands. The two doors were open as they walked inside. George, a former Catholic, had the urge to cross himself, as he walked to their seats. "The Schulers," read the silver sign tacked to the back.

Pam wore her black Mikado watch, with its easy-to-read hands, and two jade bracelets, along with matching jade earrings.

They waved to their new friends - The Eisenmans, the Levins and the Krolls. Many lived here part-time to escape the cold winters on the East Coast of the United States.

On the empty chair next to him, George placed a huge cloth bag of groceries for the everyday residents, many of whom lived in poverty. The economy of Greece had plummeted. The island was in debt, seemingly unescapable. They were glad to employ Cleome, but how many servants could live in their house?

Rabbi Rudolfo Rosenthal arrived on the bema. The Torah with its red handles and white embroidered cloth, shone under spotlights.

"Good Sabbath, my friends," he wished them.

"Good Sabbath," they answered, admiring his black top hat, matching black suit, with striped tie, and fringed tallis, swinging merrily from his black suit.

How they admired his leadership, something missing in the United States with the election of one Donald J. Trump. In fact, Pamela had posted on her Facebook page, a simple poem:

TRUMP'S THANKSGIVING

Trump rhymes with bump, stump, and chump

My Uncle Donny is oft-times

The laughing-stock of the western world

Not that he plays golf in Miralago

Or cheats on that Slovenian wife of his.

Why? He's the great pretender.

Knowing nothing, he pretends he has

The wisdom of a god

How good he feels to ride

The chariot of the gods

Burning down what wiser men

Have set up. O, Zeus, if you're

Still around, pump some sense

Into that fool, make it flow

Like hot gruel for breakfast

In Miralago.

In his halting English accent, the rabbi reminded his congregation of perhaps fifty individuals that Jews had always had a sense of justice and of helping the less fortunate. The congregation nodded. Pamela grabbed Ron's hand, her jade bracelets clacking together. Her pink nails shone. Back in the States, many of her clients lived in poverty. She bought them Christmas gifts. Fifty-dollar gift cards where they could buy their own clothing or books.

They wrote her letters of thanks, all of which she brought with her to Greece.

"You have read, haven't you," said the rabbi, "about the tragic situation of refugees, heading straight to the Greek coastal lands?"

Again, they nodded.

"I have it on good authority that these refugees will be arriving by boat on our fair land. We will welcome them. We will house them wherever we can."

There were many empty houses on the island. They were abandoned as the owners could no longer afford the rent or the mortgage.

"I call for volunteers to help with the renovation of these homes. Hands please?"

Most of the able-bodied men, who were not in wheelchairs or needed walkers to help them navigate, raised their hands, including George.

When the service was over, George kissed his wife and said he'd see her later.

Arms swinging, Pamela walked back to Birdland, named after her love of jazz, and for all the colorful birds that swooped over the waters.

No, she thought, she would not waste time on her Facebook page.

She changed into her blue bathing suit, which showed her svelte sixty-two-year-old body. The waters were calm today. She also wore a floral bathing cap and white bathing shoes. She sprinkled her arms and face with the water. She considered it curative. That it would keep her young forever. It was salt water, the same as Napoleon Bonaparte had sailed over, as well as the ancient historian Herodotus and perhaps even Josephus, a Jewish historian.

Taking a deep breath, she breast-stroked out to sea, then switched to the Australian crawl, then floated on her back, closing her eyes in peace and contentment.

Then she heard it. A faint whirr. It got louder. And louder. She thought of George and the others renovating the empty houses. May they be safe, she thought. And let them hurry.

She needed him now. Now that the boats would land. Where, no one knew.

"Cleome!" she called when she reached the house.

"Yes, Miss Pam."

"I'm afraid the boats of the refugees are on their way. We must get ready."

                Pamela trotted into her bedroom, peeled off her swim suit, letting it drop on the carpet, and entered her dressing room to towel herself dry. The salt water had already healed a place on her shin where she had bumped into a coffee table in the living room, a table that held the porcelain figure of a mermaid, a stack of books she would one day - soon! - she hoped - read, including short stories by Nobel Prizewinner Alice Munro.

"What will happen, Miss Pam?"

"Beats me! We must be kind, though. We must be kind."

"Where is your husband?"

Before she could answer, a rubber boat, yes, made of rubber, sailed right onto their patio.

"Lord, have mercy," thought Pam.

"Follow me," said Pam to Cleome.

She rushed out to help the twenty or so people who spilled out of the boat.

"Come, Cleome, quickly! Tell them we will be glad to help them."

Cleome, wearing a bright yellow dress, spoke quickly. Try as Pamela did, she still did not understand the Greek tongue. She and George watched "Zorba the Greek" with subtitles.

The survivors burst into the house, grateful to be out of the punishing waters.

Twenty men, women, children and infants ransacked the house. They found the refrigerator and looked for water.

"Stop!" said Pam. "I will give you water."

A water cooler with paper cups stood in the dining room.

She poured the water into a large pink container. She and Cleome stood there passing out cups. The thirsty refugees attempted to chug it down.

"No! No!" said Pam.

"Drink it slowly." She demonstrated this but no one paid attention.

A pool of water sopped into the Oriental dining room carpet.

Then came the retching, as vomit poured from their mouths and nostrils.

Pam scooped up an infant and carried her into her dressing room. Reflexively, she carried her against her bosom as if she could still breast-feed.

She cradled her in her arms and sat down, looking at the two of them in the mirror.

The baby began to laugh. How old might she be? Three months perhaps.

Someone was banging on the piano in the living room.

Soon a melody found its way out.

"Why, it's Vangelis!" exclaimed Pam, with the baby still in her arms.

She looked around at the crowd beside the piano.

"Chariots of Fire!" she said. "A song of freedom!"

And you all shall be free, she thought, one way or another.

"You all shall be free!" she shouted.

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