When Fanny Grossman turned eighty-six, she decided she’d had it with life at the Magnolia Village Assisted Living Home in Peachtree City, Georgia.
But it was mainly Nellie Mae Karr and her damn Southern accent that got to her. Nellie, the perennially smiling director of Magnolia Village, oozed so much sweetness, Fanny feared she’d lapse into a diabetic coma whenever Nellie approached.
She tried her best to avoid her, but Nellie was intent on persuading Fanny to join her ceramics class.
“Why, dear, you’ll just love it to death. I declare, we have so much fun it’s almost sinful.”
“Almost isn’t good enough for me,” Fanny said in a throaty Mae West voice.
Nellie blushed. Still, she kept smiling, displaying newly capped teeth. “Why, look at the time, sugar. I must get back to work.”
Fanny turned to Mac, the black security guard who was sitting at a table nearby. “Wake her up in the middle of the night and she’ll talk normal.” Fanny stressed her New York pronunciation of “tawk nawmal,” and winked.
Mac put his whole body into his laugh. “You something else, Fanny. I swear, if you was thirty years younger, I’d make a honest woman of you.”
“If I was thirty years younger, what would I want with your fat ass? I’d get me a kid about twenty-five and show him such a good time he’d have a smile on his face even when he was with his wife.”
Mac resumed his laughing. “Is it true what I hear about you, Fanny? That you danced in the burlesque when you was young?”
Rumors about Fanny filled the overheated air at Magnolia Village and spread like kudzu on an abandoned trailer during a Georgia summer. She, of course, started most of them.
Her appearance shocked the good Baptists of Magnolia Village. She wore her pants tight and her blouse cut low enough to display a wrinkled, but ample bosom. She dyed her hair flaming red and applied enough lipstick and rouge to make Barnum and Bailey’s clowns appear understated. A career in burlesque seemed perfectly reasonable.
She smiled and winked. “You promise not to tell anyone, Mac? The closest I ever got to burlesque was watching Milton Berle on television. I worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard during the war. When I got married, I kept the books for my husband’s dry cleaning business. Fifty-three years we were married. My only regret is we never had children.”
“So how’d you end up here?” Mac asked.
“My husband, he only wanted to retire someplace warm. He knew Georgia from being stationed here during the war. This is where he wanted to die.” She exhaled a loud sigh. “He had his wish. We bought a house in Peachtree City and for a year he rode around in a golf cart with an American flag. I kept telling him he should put on one of those funny hats and at least collect some money. One night, before bed, he said he didn’t feel so good. He never woke up.”
Mac lowered his eyes. “How come you didn’t go back to New York?”
“I got sick and couldn’t keep up the house, so I came here.” She shook her head. “But this isn’t for me. I never had patience with people who sit around waiting to die. And I’ll be damned if I start now. That’s the problem with Nellie. You spend enough time with her and you want to die. What this place needs is a little excitement.”
With that, she pulled out of her oversized handbag an issue of Creative Loafing, an alternative newspaper in Atlanta. “I want you to read what I put in the paper.”
He read a highlighted ad: Ex-Burlesque queen seeks females or she-males to practice with. Pros or amateurs, welcome. Days or nights. Call 404-555-6985.
“Hey,” Mac said, his eyes bulging. “I thought you said you was never in burlesque.” He wrinkled his eyes. “You ain’t going senile, are you? I won’t have no one to talk to then.”
She laughed. “Look at the phone number.”
Mac studied the number. Slowly, he looked up from the newspaper. A smile formed on his lips and gradually exploded into a full-bodied guffaw.
“That’s Nellie Karr’s number, ain’t it?”
Fanny winked and turned to walk away. Certain that Mac was watching, she twitched her behind as if she really were the queen of burlesque.