Happiness Contained in a Single Bite
When my parents announced that they were becoming snowbirds, I imagined they’d choose a place more serene than South Beach. The hottest clubs, restaurants and stores, a playground for celebrities and the very wealthy, “but look,” my mom points out now, “there’s the Miami ballet, and look, a library, and another museum.”
Little girls, like pocket sized dolls, their hair in tight buns, their posture perfect, all sparkles and determination, duffle bags slung over their shoulders, holding their mom’s hands as they run across the street, into the studio for lessons.
I’ve watched from the sidewalk, through the giant store front window, the coordination as eight little girls dip their bodies and bend their knees and point their toes out in unison. I smiled and clapped and two of them curtsied. I was a terrible dancer as a kid. I could never follow instructions, I could never concentrate enough, or get my body to cooperate. My mind was always running off to more interesting places.
I like the board walk first thing in the morning, when the sun is breaking through, like tiger’s eyes on a disappearing grey satin canvas. If you go early enough, you can watch the homeless people sleep curled into themselves like caterpillars, their faces peaceful and angelic. You can see their eyelashes flutter mid dream, their eyebrows expressive and thoughtful. You can hope that today they’ll find the resources they need to become who they used to be, or everything they could still be.
I love the majesty of the ocean when it’s not teeming with highlighter yellow bikinis, or bright red thongs, bros laughing on jet skis or tiny planes with signs up above that announce the hottest place to be.
My parents neighbour’s tell me not to walk around alone at night, but I ever since Marc and I separated, ever since I moved out into the closet sized room I try to spend as little time as possible in, it’s the only way I manage to get any sleep.
Besides, I tell them, I lived in Parkdale.
They shrug at me, former New Yorkers who think all of Canada, including Toronto is a frozen backwater.
“There isn’t much I haven’t seen before,” I say, which is both true and not true.
I know someone famous is coming out of a hotel because I see their bodyguards, the flash of their hair extensions, their tiny shorts. In the Walgreens, at 1:00 am one night, I see the runner up from the current season of the Voice, and I tell him I’m a fan, and he looks at me incredulously, like even he doesn’t feel that way about himself.
There are giant, hot pink Lucite snails in the park, an installation left over from Art Basel. I think back to art school, when installations were trendy and all we were told over and over was to write thought provoking artist statements so that everyone could tell the work had meaning.
Half a block further down, next to another expensive hotel is a ceramic Hello Kitty fountain. I’d thought it was part of the art show too, I imagined the statement, an unabashed homage to youth and kitsch, but apparently it was permanently there, a fixture of the hotel.
I picture the hotelier’s young daughter, an anti- Eloise with dark hair and permanently crossed arms who won’t visit her dad unless he puts in something especially for her. A trip to Japan that she took with her dad when she was five is her happiest childhood memory.
I picture her sitting beside the fountain, tossing pennies in, wishing for things that seem so simple, that the girl she likes will like her back, and not just as a friend, that she’ll be able to come out to him one day, and that he’ll still love her, that she’ll find Umeboshi plums as good as the ones she had in Japan, the tangy sour salty flavour, the soft melting peel, the giddy feeling of happiness contained in a single bite.
A thin man with tanned skin and greying beard is walking a Chihuahua and a Samoyed, a study in opposites, one tiny, one large, one with glossy, fine fur, the other a walking stuffed animal that actually smiled as it panted from the humidity.
The Samoyed and I locked eyes, and he ran over to me, breaking free of his owner. He jumped on me, two paws on my shoulders like I was being knighted or something, and I put my arms around his neck.
“He’s a great hugger,” he said, and offered me some weed when he saw that I was crying.
I shook my head.
He offered me a handful of strawberry Tic- Tacs and I accepted, the sugar spreading slowly across my tongue.
He asked me where I’m from, and I thought of saying Williamsburg but I just said Canada.
He smiled at me. “I’m from Dominican Republic.”
I think of all the resort town pictures I’ve seen, of people excited to tell you they’re going South for their vacations, and I think of how little of the place they’ll actually get to see.
The only person I can think of from the Dominican is Junot Diaz, and I start to mention it, to gush about how much I love This Is How You Lose Her.
“You’re a writer?” he asks, and I nod slowly.
“One day, there’ll be material in all of this, you’ll see.” He started to walk away.
One day, I thought, I hope I’ll have forgotten how interminable this loneliness feels. A few weeks ago, I looked at my wedding pictures. My favourite was the one where he’s shoving a slice of spongy, heavily iced cake in my face, and I’m laughing. The cake was tasteless but it was my only spontaneous smile. I thank him and pat his Samoyed one more time as I find myself walking past the curled up, sleeping lizards back to my parents’ apartment.
Danila Botha is a fiction writer based in Toronto, Canada. She is the author of the critically acclaimed short story collections, Got No Secrets, the Trillium and Vine finalist For All the Men (and Some of the Women) I’ve Known, and the forthcoming Things that Cause Inappropriate Happiness (Guernica Editions, 2024) She is also the author of the novel Too Much on the Inside, and the forthcoming A Place For People Like Us (Guernica 2025)