The Siren’s Call
Eight-year-old Jenny Bishop was picking up trash around the grounds of the Pink Flamingo Motel aka the Last Chance Motel when she happened upon a boy at the motel’s lagoon. Jenny started to say hello when she noticed that the boy was throwing rocks at a manatee, which was swimming in the warm, turquoise water.
“Hey, there. Don’t do that.”
The boy threw another rock before turning to face Jenny. “Says who,” the boy shot back.
Jenny was quick with a retort. “Says me, that’s who!”
“You might hit the manatee.”
“I’m trying to hit it.” He picked up another rock.
“Don’t,” demanded Jenny, growing angry. “That manatee comes around to swim with my mo . . . Eva. She’s very gentle.”
“I don’t care,” sneered the little boy, throwing another rock.
The manatee ducked under the water.
“You better stop!” warned Jenny.
“Who’s gonna make me?”
“I will,” replied Jenny, dropping her trash bag and balling her fists.
Eva was always reminding her to be nice to the guests, but Jenny couldn’t stand to see anything mistreated. In her anger, she completely forgot what Eva had told her.
“What’s going on here?” demanded a woman who looked suspiciously like the boy–pale, skinny, and eyes that looked like they squinted all the time, even in the shade.
“This girl was throwing rocks at that big fish out there and when I told her to stop, she started throwing rocks at me,” complained the boy to his mother.
Jenny’s mouth dropped open from astonishment. She had never heard such a bald-faced lie in all her young life. “You’re a stinkin’ liar!”
The woman gasped, putting her arms around the boy protectively. “My son does not lie,” she insisted. “You are a bad girl for telling such fibs.”
“I’m not lying,” insisted Jenny, her face growing red from frustration.
“What’s going on here?” asked Mary, Jenny’s grandmother, coming up from behind a bungalow with fresh pool towels in her arms.
“This little girl was throwing rocks at that fish out there and tried to put the blame on my son,” protested the mother. “And what’s more, when my son tried to stop her, she started throwing rocks at him.”
Jenny’s shook her head as she glanced at her grandmother.
“I see,” replied Mary, cupping her hand over her eyes to shield them from the intense sun. “Are you referring to the manatee out there?”
“Yeah, that big dumb fish,” spat out the boy.
“Thank you for letting me know. I’ll take care of this,” assured Mary.
“But . . . but,” sputtered Jenny being led away by Mary. “That boy’s lying and getting away with it.”
“I know he’s lying,” replied Mary, “but it isn’t our job to correct him.”
Jenny pulled away from Mary and yelled at the boy, “Manatees are mammals, not fish, stupid!”
The little boy stuck his tongue out as his mother gave Jenny a dirty look.
“Come away, Jenny. What’s gotten into you?” admonished Mary.
“Excuse me, ladies” came a voice from underneath a floppy hat that was stationed in a hammock, gently swaying in the breeze.
Mary and Jenny stopped and stared at the hat.
“Did you say something, sir? Were you talking to us?” asked Mary.
A thick, hairy masculine hand lifted the floppy hat from a grizzled, tanned face. The face brightened to a warm smile and spoke. “I saw everything from here and the little girl is telling the honest truth.”
Mary replied, “I know she is, but her step-mother owns the Pink Flamingo. It’s not our policy to contradict our guests. That’s something we’re trying to teach Jenny, with varying degrees of success it seems.”
The man sat up and with surprising energy swung his legs onto the ground, rocking back and forth in the hammock. “Well, my good woman. I’m a guest of this motel and it seems that you’re contradicting me right now.”
Clearly flustered Mary didn’t know how to respond.
Jenny sassed, “That boy is just plain mean.”
“Yes, he sure as shootin’ is, little lady,” claimed the man in the floppy hat. “Something should be done about that rascal. Unfortunately, he’s my grandson.”
“No way!” blurted Jenny.
Mary pushed Jenny ahead of her. “Go to the office, Jenny. Now scoot.”
Jenny beamed at the older man, reluctantly leaving her new champion with her grandmother.
“I’m sorry if Jenny or I offended you,” apologized Mary. “Jenny likes to help out here. She has a lot of spunk though and it’s an effort to keep that in check, especially of late it seems.”
“No offense taken. My grandson has grown into a little twit because his mother indulges him so.” The man shrugged. “I’ve tried talking to her about him, but she thinks I’m too old fashioned to know how to raise a child in today’s complicated world.”
Mary laughed, “However did we raise our kids during the uncomplicated times of the past?”
“Yeah, life was so simple then. No problems, huh?” agreed the man, raising an eyebrow. “Let’s see. There was the Depression, WWII, Korean War, Vietnam War, Civil Rights movement, Women’s movement, political assassinations, the oil crisis, loss of jobs overseas, and stock market crashes. How did our parents and our generation ever raise kids in such a simple world?” mocked the stranger.
Mary smiled. “Yes, parenting is sure different from when I was raising my boy. Still, children in the Keys are more independent than children of the mainland. They have to be.”
The stranger looked around the motel. “The name of the motel has been changed. Back in the day I knew it as the Last Chance Motel.”
Mary’s face softened. “Ah, you’ve been here before.”
The man stood up. He was tall and handsome for his age. His hair was still brown and just beginning to gray at the temples. It was apparent that he exercised regularly.
Mary gauged him to be about her age. She felt her face flush as she realized she was actually sizing this gentleman up. She clutched the stack of pool towels she was holding a little tighter.
“I used to come here with my wife when our children were little. I can’t believe how the islands have changed. It used to be that when you came to the Keys you thought civilization was left behind.”
“I’m afraid we’ve been discovered,” agreed Mary.
“Oh, by the way, my name is River Egan,” announced the man, holding out his hand.
Mary shifted the stack of towels so she could reach out to shake River’s hand. “My name is Mary. Jenny is my granddaughter.”
“Okay. Nice to meet you, Mary.”
“Nice to meet you too, Mr. Egan.”
“Call me River, please.”
“All right, nice to meet you River. Very unusual name.”
“My parents were early San Francisco beatniks.”
Mary laughed, “Really? Not hippies?”
“You make me too young. Our generation was the hippies. No, my parents were before that. They were heavy into the poetry, folk music, and the coffee house scene before it was fashionable. You know, Neal Cassady, Kerouac, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and that crowd. I actually have a photo at home of my mother holding me as a baby in front of the City Lights Bookstore.”
“Interesting. Well, I have towels to deliver. Nice talking to you, Mr. Egan. Goodbye.”
“River, please.” He strode after her. “I’ll walk with you. Let me help you with that big stack of towels,” said River, reaching out and taking half of Mary’s towels. He walked with her toward the pool. “Is there a Mr. Mary?”
Mary pursed her lips, thinking that Mr. Egan was being intrusive. There had recently been a serious stalking incident at the Pink Flamingo that left Mary wary of men. Fortunately the woman who had been the target of the stalker was fine and still working at the motel.
“Is there a Mrs. Egan?” asked Mary, hoping to deflect River’s line of inquiry.
“There was. She was a wonderful woman, but she passed away several years ago.”
“I’m so sorry for your loss, Mr. Egan.”
“What about you?”
Mary reached to take the towels from River’s arms. “Goodbye Mr. Egan. Hope you have a wonderful stay with us,” said Mary, swerving onto another path.
“River!” called the man after her. “My name is River.”
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River Egan is a sixty plus widower, on vacation with his daughter and grandson. Having spent many wonderful vacations at the Last Chance Motel in his prime, River returns to relive his past, but finds he can’t.
Time has moved on, and so has the Last Chance Motel.
It is now called the Pink Flamingo Motel and has a new owner, Eva Hanover Bishop.
Not ready to park himself in a rocking chair, River vows to begin his life anew. It doesn’t hurt that Eva Bishop’s mother-in-law, Mary is attractive, vital, and near his age.
The problem is that Mary doesn’t return River’s enthusiasm.
River has a solution to that. He’ll just wear Mary down.