Short Stories by Bill Lorriane

"Waiting for Something to Happen" By Bill Lorraine,  published by SeaStory Press, $13.95

Review by George Fontana

Bill Lorraine has been a quiet but influential island presence since 1975. A soft-spoken, multi-talented gentleman who is a composer (four CDs of his original music have been produced to date), a pianist (his cruise ship “working vacations” have taken him throughout Europe), a sculptor (Sculpture Key West has exhibited his work) and a writer. “Waiting for something to Happen” is his third literary outing. His previous work includes a novel, “The Heat,” as well as a book of poetry, “From the Balconies of Key West,” illustrated by his wife Ann, an artist well-known for her savvy window displays at Fast Buck Freddie’s. And for more than 10 years, Lorraine hosted the local radio program “Classical Concert,” a much-missed Sunday morning staple for music lovers.

“Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans…” Lorraine seems to invoke John Lennon’s trenchant insight in his character Theron, who appears in three short stories in “Waiting for Something to Happen.” In the first story, whose title is the same as the collection, Theron’s observations on the people walking by the Duval Street trinket shop where he works are priceless and familiar to anyone who has witnessed the Duval Crawl. “The white-bread couple from Indiana, the husband wearing socks under his sandals” and “two teenage girls in identical red bikinis” are easily recognized walking clichés; we’ve all seen them. But it’s Theron’s interior life, his musings on his current situation, that are at the heart of the piece. His passivity – “All his life, he just let it happen” – touches on the existential everyman. To Theron, life is to be endured. There are some benefits: Key West’s “just about perfect” sub-tropical weather and the attractive members of the opposite sex who appear occasionally in the passing crowds.

The next two stories in which Theron appears feature, in fact, two such women. As “Kiss the Rose” opens, Theron’s thoughts are as usual in the dark place where he ruminates about “his life on the sidelines of living.” His meditations are interrupted by a “stump of a man, barely five feet tall, with mean, beady black eyeballs… Every inch of his left arm was covered by bad jailhouse tattoos.” Danny DeVito, anyone? This vulgar little man demands change for the parking meter. As he leaves his newly pneumatic girlfriend enters the store. Theron can’t resist staring at the “giant mass of breast flesh.” “It’s okay, you can look,” she purrs. “They’re new.” Things quickly heat up as she encourages Theron to kiss a rose tattoo on the inside of her right breast. On cue, the DeVito-like troll – “Honeybuns” to his girlfriend – reappears just in time to witness this compromising exchange. Lorraine stages the inevitable confrontation as a slyly humorous posturing between the two men. No punches are thrown and may the best breasts win.

“Red High Heels” features a shapely, long-legged young thing parading down Duval in stiletto shoes that accentuate her considerable physical attributes. She clearly enjoys the spectacle as much as Theron, whose imagination takes him to lustful places where “she kept her red high heels on the whole time.” Sexual fantasy served straight up, with a twist.

“Mystery Man” is a sci-fi piece in which two men, distantly related, inadvertently exchange identities in a time-travel adventure that spans 800 years. Lorraine envisions an idyllic utopia free of pollution, poverty, war and disease. In the year 2811, Captain Edward Bethel beans through time from Alpha Station to the Key West weather station to Fantasy Fest 2011. He wears a chicken suit that may, or may not, have been worn by a former Key West city commissioner. Bethel’s mission is to secure vital data lost in the great computer meltdown of 2615. What ensues is an updated variant of “The Prince and the Pauper – switched identities, confused personal alliances and violence-tinged encounters. To add drama, the action takes place against the background of a Category 3 hurricane rolling over Key West. Mission accomplished. Bethel returns to Alpha Station and the beautiful Lt. Zola Simmons. Ray Bradbury would approve.

Lorraine seems fascinated with mangroves as home to the Keys’ more peripheral residents. Several stories – “Invisible,” “Paddy-Boy,” “Simple Jimmy,” “Dusty Went Home” – are set in tropical hammocks. A recurring theme is the symbiotic relationship between the stories’ lead characters, one of whom is a bit “off.” It reminds one of George and Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” Sharing mangrove settings, the stories sensitively explore the emotional dynamics of individuals living on the fringes of society with commendable dignity and respect.

Certainly the most haunting of the stories is “The Graveyard Rats of Solares Hill.” A gravedigger, Miles Butler, is enticed by sparkling emeralds adorning the remains of one of the dearly departed who are entrusted to his care. Greed overwhelms caution as he digs and crawls his way among the caliginous catacombs to reach the objects of his desire. Things go horribly wrong when he encounters the huge Haitian rats that inhabit the tunnels. A creepy ending worthy of Poe or “Twilight Zone.”

Bill Lorraine is an astute student of the human condition. Throughout these stories, his humanity, humor and compassion are manifest. “Waiting for Something to Happen” is an enjoyable read from one of Key West’s most gifted citizens.

Originally published in the Sept 18, 2011 issue of Solares Hill.

Bill Lorraine

My home town of Key West is a lot like every other American town of 30,000 population. The differences begin with the palm trees, the unusual abundance of flowers, and the tropical weather. But the biggest difference is the boundry line that forms a circle around the outskirts of our city. Most Americans can hop in their cars and drive into the country, but the ocean surrounds Key West, and the town takes up all the land area. Only a thin string of sandbars and mangrove islands connect it to the mainland 160 miles away.

Before Henry Flagler extended his Florida East Coast Railroad to Key West in 1912, the only way to get to the island was by boat. So the history of Key West is the history of people who had a strong connection to the ocean. Books on Key West's history talk about the wreckers, the spongers, the pirates, the Navy, the shrimpers and the boatbuilders. Many of the first residents were ship's carpenters who built their homes with highly elevated vantage points call "widow's walks" which gave them an unobstructed view of the ocean. In their travels they brought back exotic tropical plant life from all parts of the world - flowering trees, orchids, coconut palms, mahogany, Queen's umbrella trees, and flowers that bloomed all year long like Hibiscus and Bougainvilla.

Key West is located beside a natural coral reef that breaks the ocean's waves six miles out, giving Key Westers calm beaches and crystal-clear water at the shoreline.