It's almost too much for one Manhattan quasi-socialite to handle—so Miriam's escaping to the enchanted and mysterious land of Sullivans Island, deep in the low country of South Carolina, a place where she can finally get her head on straight—and perhaps figure out that pride is not what's going to keep her warm at night . . .
About the Author
Hometown:New Jersey and Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
Date of Birth:1951
Date of Death:September 2, 2019
Place of Birth:Sullivan's Island, South Carolina
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The Land of Mango SunsetsA Novel
By Dorothea Benton Frank
William MorrowCopyright © 2007 Dorothea Benton Frank
All right reserved.
Chapter OneManhattan-Some Time Ago
Dear Ms. O'Hara, Your father was such a lovely man and this tragic loss will be felt by everyone who knew him for years to come. In my mind's eye, I can still see him cleaning my grill with a vengeance. That man surely did love a clean grill. Please accept my deepest and most sincere condolences. There is the small matter of his rent for the month of January. Not wanting to be an additional burden at this terribly sensitive time, I will simply deduct it from his security deposit. Although I am loath to broach this subject, I must notify you that the timely removal of his personal property will obviously impact the amount of money I am able to return to you. Once again, please accept my profound sympathy. Cordially, Miriam Elizabeth Swanson
Making my way across Sixty-first Street, I checked that the stamp was secure and slipped the envelope in a mailbox. The weather was fast changing from cold and damp to a bone-chilling arctic freeze. My snow boots were tucked in my PBS member's canvas tote bag, just in case. I knew it was not very chic to be traipsing around Manhattan with a canvas tote bag. But the proud logo sent amessage to all those people who enjoyed the benefits of Public Television but felt no compunction to support it even with the smallest of donations. The fact that people took without giving irked me. On the brighter side, I had always thought it would be great fun to be a volunteer in their phone bank during a campaign, to sit up there doing something so worthwhile as hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people, looked on. I had submitted my name as a candidate for the job many times, but I had never been called. Perhaps I should have sent them a more thorough bio with a more flattering photograph. Something youthful. Ah, me. Another disappointment. Another rejection. But what member of the human race didn't have unfulfilled little fantasies? Chin up, Miriam, I told myself, and trudged on.
The weather continued to deteriorate and Charles Dickens himself would have agreed that it was a perfect day for a funeral. Bulbous gray clouds lowered toward the earth and covered every inch of the sky. They were closing in and threatening to burst. It would surely pour snow or sleet at any moment. There was nothing I could do about the weather or my feelings of gloom brought on by a claustrophobic sky. After all these years in New York, I was as resigned to winter as I was to any number of things that fed my love/hate relationship with the city. Anyway, where else was I to go? Live with my sons? No way. Live with my mother? Not in a million years.
I adjusted my muffler to protect my cheeks. At least I had written Ms. O'Hara a note, and despite the inclement conditions, I had been sure to get it in the mail. I couldn't help but pause to think there was something so lazy about people who abandoned fountain pens or pens of any kind in favor of the expeditiousness of e-mail on any and every occasion. Including expressions of sympathy. Believe it or not, I actually heard a story of someone receiving an e-mail telling of a close friend's death. Including a frowning emoticon, God save us. The reason I remember was that it was so completely absurd to me. And speaking of fountain pens, they now had a disposable variety available at all those office-supply chain stores, which to me defeated the purpose of using a fountain pen in the first place. Wasn't it about holding a beautiful object in your hands and feeling its solid weight? Its worth and the importance of its history? Remember when penmanship was taught in the classroom and its beautiful execution was prized?
But that is what the world has come to. Quick this and disposable that. To my dying day, I would remain a lonely standard-bearer in a world that continued to toss aside every inch of civility we have ever known. Handwritten notes seemed to have gone the way of corsages-their existence was rare. It just was the way it was.
I hurried along to the funeral service, tiptoeing inside the church and finding my seat next to my dearest friend and other tenant, Kevin Dolan.
"I have always loved St. Bartholomew's," I whispered to him. I removed my coat and gloves and, as inconspicuously as possible, settled in the pew. The service had already begun and I regretted the fact that I was late, even if it was only by a few minutes. In the steamer trunk of middle age, folded, packed, and wrinkled with one physical and emotional insult after another, perimenopause had delivered a measure of intolerance, even toward myself.
"Me, too," Kevin whispered back, and sighed. "Poor Mr. O'Hara. Whoever thought he would just drop dead on the crosstown bus? Just like that! Poof. Gone." He popped his wrist in front of him in a gesture that equated Mr. O'Hara's death with a magician's now you see it, now you don't!
"Hush," whispered someone in front of us.
We paused in silence in deference to the occasion and then couldn't resist continuing our recap of the fragile nature of life in the Big Apple. That was the effect Kevin always had on me. In his presence I became a young gossiping washwoman, emphasis on young.
"Pockets picked and ID stolen," I added at a carefully calibrated low volume of clear displeasure. "Disgusting!"
"Five days in the city morgue? Dreadful! If I hadn't called his family ..."
"He's lucky he wasn't eaten by rats. Thank heavens for dental records ..."
"Who could believe he went to a dentist with his snaggleteeth?" Kevin said.
"Please. He was my ..." said the woman in front of us, her shoulders racking with sobs.
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