bungalows whose faux stone arches bore fibreglass signs advertising ribs and burgers along with the most involved bodily restructuring: Corneal Transplants, Kidney Extraction, Neck Lifts and Fat Transfer â¦ all of it as ghastly as sheâd imagined Florida might be â¦ what had possessed her to come? Imagine a Stunning New You , the signs proclaimed. Begin Your New Life Today!
Sanibel Island was different, it was true: it had a great deal of wilderness preserved by benevolent citizens and the government. On trees that fringed the little beach that her cottage brochure had promisedânot the big beaches everyone visited, but a scrap of sand hardly existent at high tideâthe ospreys were nesting, and they glared at her as if they would peck her eyes out if she made one wrong move. And the pelicansâhow ungainly they were, plunging for fish with a great splash as if someone had lobbed them into the water and they had no control over their own tangle of wing and claw.
Her cottage was next to a famous little cafÃ© that had a long porch and many kinds of ice cream that you could not persuade the staff to administer in anything but triple mounds no matter how you beseeched them to give you one small scoop on a childâs cone. She tried not to lose her temper but lost it anyway, as she had done at home over trivial matters with her loved ones â¦ when the pretty student handed her the teetering scoops she tore off the top two, threw them in the bin and grabbed a napkin for the impossible task of cleaning the stickiness. Way to go, Claireâyouâre really going to enjoy that ice cream now.
The porch was lined with painted recliners, filled with ancient couples from Michigan and Illinois, couples whoâd stuck it out with each other through intense underground hostilities and now shared expressions of fathomless grumpiness that no amount of Sanibel Coconut Banana Tango could help. Morbidly obese, legs spindly, theyâd come in cars, cars, cars that choked Periwinkle Way, driving the locals crazy with the schizophrenic knowledge that without tourists this place would be a forgotten backwater, but with them â¦ god, what was it?
On the big beach a bike ride away, near the lighthouse and pier, Claire watched them walk barefoot on the cold sand, picking up moon shells and clamshells and lightning whelk egg cases that they all mistook for eel skeletons: discs of cartilage on a spiralling cord. A net bag of shells in one hand, cellphone in the other â¦
âDid Joan feed the rabbit?â¦ Has Moe moved Aunt Cindyâs car? Donât forget to shovel her back gate â¦ â
In the fish shack on Periwinkle Way a woman in capris exhibited the familyâs latest photos on her phone, the friend dutiful â¦ âOh my, nice, yes, I love your new yellow countertop.â
In the restaurants it was impossible to get a meal that would have passed muster had anyone involved in its preparation performed the most rudimentary taste test. Arugula salad with buffalo mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes sat drenched in vinegar. The butterfish, from which, it was true, the waiter had tried to dissuade her, had the texture of a candle extinguished just as the wax had turned soft throughout. Everything here was meant for tourists, for sale, and not for real life, which was why Claire congratulated herself on the fact that she had at least rented a cottage that had a two-burner stove, which meant she could cook rice and beans and a bit of kale, or boil the tiny non-stick pot for tea, though she could hear her mother now telling her how non-stick coatings break off and migrate into oneâs body taking up permanent residence, being made of elements the body canât recognize as substances to be eliminated. They migrated, undetectable, to the far reaches of every capillary.
Claire had realized, too late to do anything about it, that the people she had not brought to Sanibel with her were