“Poolside at the Hemingway House” by Holly Hollar

When you ask—how much is enough?—like Cecilia Malone, who reclines in the sun on a sailboat at harbor in Key West, who asks herself, how much money did I donate to the Humane Society of Greater Orlando last year? Is this particular shade of green from the Michael Kors fall collection over now? If you dare to ask that dangerous question—how much is enough—do try to find yourself in less opulent surroundings. Not a word about it on a boat. Otherwise, it’s just obnoxious.

A thirty million dollar beauty floats less than fifty yards away. It boasts a neon-lit hot tub on the second story and a seventy-inch flat screen TV she can see through the floor to ceiling windows on the main deck.

She was looking inside when she saw a man, she presumed the owner, remove his shirt, so she fixed her aging eyes on his taut abdomen—he must be in his thirties?—and felt a familiar twinge that had been gone since her last husband, Frank, passed away two years ago. She is sixty two. The yachtsman looks at her and she glances away and eyes her phone instead, wishing her daughter would call her back, and wondering where the hell Manchi is, because he should be back by now. But most of all she thinks, people just don’t know when to stop. What else could he have done with his money, how many people might have benefited from those millions; in her smug staring she miscalculates the distance to her mouth and spills mimosa on her silk scarf. There’s such a thing as limited, acceptable indulgence, she is sure of it. Really, how much is enough for some people? But also, she is jealous. She should be on that yacht. Not Manchi’s dinky sailboat.

Manchi glommed on at a Humane Society event when Gouda, her pug, wound up in his lap. A neighbor of Cecilia’s, a rigid woman, whispered to her husband, appalled about the dog at the event. But Cecilia didn’t care because she’s the organization’s largest donor.

Cecilia had popped a bruschetta in her mouth and realized too late it was too large for a single bite. She was chewing painfully when she saw Gouda run to Manchi’s feet and Manchi bent down to pick him up and Cecilia had no choice but at least to say hello and retrieve her pet. She noticed his smile. He wanted her contact information and so she gave it to him. She decided he was not bad looking.

Gouda grunts and pants whenever Manchi rubs his belly. Manchi is wealthy and bright. He made his money with a well-placed chain of Señor Frogs along the Mayan Riviera, which allowed him to purchase the boat Cecilia now habituates, for the week at least. The boat is named Rana, Spanish for frog.

The sail from Miami to Key West made her nauseous, excited, afraid and claustrophobic, all of these feelings now exacerbated by the capacious yacht napping in her line of sight. All the more reason to get out and explore. Today they will see the Hemingway house, something she has wanted to do from the moment Manchi floated the idea of Key West over afternoon iced coffees a month ago.

The mimosa sweetens her unbrushed teeth. She curls her toes on the fiberglass floor and tucks a strand of short red hair behind her ear, annoyed with the wind for the constant tousle. The tethered boom swings from side to side. Cling clang, cling clang, metal pieces flapping metal mast. Far off, by the Cuban Coffee Queen, she sees Manchi carrying two iced coffees. He does not see her, but she sees him whirl one eighty to ogle two passing girls in bikinis. So this is what he’s like when I’m not around. She adds a tally to her growing list of “cons.”

Should she say something to Manchi about the bikini girls? No, she decides. Instead, she picks up a tube of sunscreen and rubs the lotion on her face. Maybe.

I got you a Cuban coffee.

Manchi’s aviator sunglasses are mirrors of her ghostly face as he leans in to kiss her good morning. He exchanges a cup of coffee for the tube of sunscreen and begins massaging a dollop onto his bald head.

She rubs the last of the sunscreen into her cheeks. Can we go to the Hemingway House today? I want to see it.

You’re the boss.

She hates it when he says that. She wants him to be the boss. He thinks she wants to be the boss.

I saw you checking out those girls in bikinis.

Beautiful weren’t they?

She snorts. If you’re into that sort of thing.

Every red blooded man is into that sort of thing. Sorry sweetheart.

Maybe I’ll go by myself to the Hemingway House. Maybe that’s my sort of thing. She stomps down into the main cabin.

He sighs and follows her, pausing long enough on the steps to see her rummaging through the onboard cooler.
If you’re looking for the other bottle of champagne, I drank it last night. Come here, don’t be mad. I’m crazy about you. It’s just girls in bikinis.

He pulls her into a hug.

She’s not really mad about the bikini girls. She is mad at time.

When they finally leave the boat, the morning fishing charters have returned to dock. Tarpon undulate in the water below the filet table; from time to time they thrash at skins and heads from snappers which flip into the water with the flick of the first mate’s filet knife. Silver arcs emerge from the murky water and disappear below. The water churns and froths, each fish greedier than the last. No patience, all survival. Tarpon wake slaps piling.

Cecilia holds Manchi’s hand, even though it sweats, and they stare for a while at the feeding frenzy. Cecilia, mesmerized, looks away only when Manchi motions to three skippers hauling a coffin-sized cooler down the dock. She makes way, dropping his hand. If she took one more step back and fell into the water, would the tarpon move in for the kill? And how long would it take for them to finish? And what if Manchi dove in behind her?

We should get a cab. Manchi walks to a line of pink sedans. Cecilia follows, the tarpon still twirling in her mind.

When they arrive at the Hemingway House, they are approached by a fat man in a small t shirt holding a roll of tickets. His face sweats like a cold glass of sweet tea, the droplets eventually dribble down into his beard and fall from the wiry ends onto hot cement below. The man motions for money. Cecilia reaches for her wallet slowly, glancing at Manchi. He does not move. She pulls it from her purse, making an event of the thing, spilling a compact onto the cement that erupts into fine powder on impact.

Can you just pay the man please. She fusses over the compact but keeps an eye on Manchi who is now reaching for his wallet.

She takes in the property as she crouches— yellow shutters, green hedges like a sea wall and palms casting shade on the roof. A cat curls under the porch, Cecilia spots its needy eyes as she stands again and clutches her purse under her left arm.

It’s just like the day she was married to Frank. Nothing has changed except for the people and how they are dressed. Cecilia feels a familiar squeeze on her heart and abdomen—the clenching of grief muscles for the sucker punch of fond memories. Frank’s face on their wedding day flashes in her memory like a movie clip.

Walking tour starts in ten minutes. We close at four. Private event – a wedding. The man hands Manchi two tickets.

Cecilia wore her mother’s gown. Her mother looked severe that day, she wore a high bun, with three karat diamond earrings. Her father’s business partners smoked cigars on the lawn. She was afraid, when she hugged the man her father called Chuck, the man responsible for their fortune, that ash would fall on the fine silk of her dress and burn a hole. Her father – honey, you remember Chuck. She smiled and touched his arm. I’m so glad you could make it. Her father teared up moments before they walked down the aisle. What did he tell her? Compromise only on the little things.

And Frank was so eager to be married to her he went directly to I do before the proper time. Everyone laughed, even her mother. Later she and Frank and their friends drank beer and danced the streets to reggae. And when they made love on their wedding night, the need of their bodies was like a category five hurricane.

Cecilia, the tour is starting. Manchi places his hand on her lower back and she refocuses on his face, on the present, and follows him into the house which smells of the sea, and of old books and maps. A welcome memory.

Her mother was hungover the next morning at breakfast. So was Cecilia. Party of the year, she heard one of her father’s friends say to another.

After the breakfast they caught a ferry to Dry Tortuga. Frank’s blonde hair blew in the wind like the fronds of palms. He handed Cecilia a strawberry daiquiri. She put her free hand around his neck and drew him in for a kiss.

They camped for a night on Dry Tortuga. Frank played a ukelele on the brick walkway surrounding Fort Jefferson. The sunset looked like a cocktail of cranberry and orange juice for the imbibing darkness.

Manchi walks upstairs first, Cecilia follows, to the bedroom, and the old typewriter. Manchi looks around the room. Would you like to live in a place like this?

Frank and I were married here.

Manchi looks back blankly. In this room?

Cecilia smiles. No. On the grounds. We got married on the lawn. I hope that isn’t strange for you.

I imagine it’s rather strange for you.
Strange isn’t the word. She rifles through her purse and finds a lipstick. She uses a mirror in the nearby bathroom to apply it. Manchi observes from the doorway.

Does being here make you miss him? Are you sad?

Sad isn’t the word. Yes, of course I miss aspects of him. Being here reminds me of myself when I was younger, as much as it does of him. No matter how much time we had with each other, it would never have been enough. I probably shouldn’t talk about it with you. I’m sorry.

Then let’s not talk about it. Manchi walks down the stairs and out onto the veranda by the pool where a cluster of people stare down into the cement. A tour guide tells the group this is where they can see the infamous penny in the concrete, buried after Ernest yelled at his wife about the cost of the pool project, something about taking every last penny. The boxing ring once occupied the space in the backyard, before the pool. But Manchi can picture the bloody noses and knuckles and Manchi is only looking on an empty pool but being with Cecilia is like that. Maybe he needs it.

It’s hard to start over, she says from behind him.

I know. He takes her hand. They look at one another. His eyebrows lift and he nods toward the pool. She smiles.

They’ll kick us out. She slides her feet from her sandals and sets her purse down.

Screw ‘em. Manchi pivots toward the pool and pulls her hand. Cecilia does not protest. They splash into the pool. The sound of Cecilia’s laughter fills the courtyard and with its eruption comes a moment of lightness she didn’t know she needed. He stands still beside her, watching her mouth, his own mouth open as he exhales in bursts. Manchi hauls himself out of the pool. For a moment he resembles a frog splayed on the concrete as he pulls his knees to his chest and stands.

Let me give you a hand. He reaches down and lifts Cecilia from the water. No chiding from the staff. Only a little girl takes issue; she huffs and throws her braid over her shoulder. They wet her new shoes.

Cecilia and Manchi squish in their sandals as they walk two miles back to the pier. They stop at a bait shop selling beer cozies and frozen squid and ice cream sandwiches. Manchi buys two of the sandwiches. The white cream runs down Cecilia’s fingers as it melts. Cecilia scrapes the melty brown sandwich from her fingers with her bottom teeth. She is happy and for now that is enough.

A month after their return to Orlando she will appreciate Manchi’s patience, how he knows to calm her when she grows impetuous. She will introduce him to her daughter over lunch at the country club and her daughter will remark on how well-matched they seem. She will laugh as Gouda’s loyalty drifts so that the dog responds only to Manchi’s commands and not her own. And she will go on feeling some need has been filled. But she will still be mad at time.

Holly Hollar is a financial advisor living and working in Nashville, TN. This is her debut work of fiction. Holly received a degree in Creative Writing from Emory University and holds a Masters in Business Administration from Wake Forest University. She is originally from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When she is not working or writing, Holly enjoys hiking and camping with her husband Aaron and their sassy boxer, Alice.