A Killing Knish

A killing knish
Chapter 1
It was 11:30 am: lunchtime at the Benomi Menorah Retirement Home. I squirmed in my red plush-upholstered chair and pretended to be somewhere else.  This was so embarrassing!  Pearl Green, the 82 year old drama queen who sat at my table in the elegant dining room, had worked up a full head of steam and was lambasting the long-suffering maitre d, Maurice.  “This chicken is inedible!” she intoned, waving away invisible crumbs from her expensive beige linen trouser suit with her napkin. “Take it away and bring me…let’s see. I’ll have the brisket and knishes instead. I hope they’re better than this garbage.”

“For heaven’s sakes, Pearl, keep your voice down,” I whispered to her. But it was hopeless trying to stop her.  Pearl was enjoying herself.  She now turned her attention to me, as if instructing a lesser being. “You can’t let the staff get away with this kind of thing, Sophie,” she said distastefully. “You have to keep them in line. We’re paying enough here for proper service.”

Stone-faced, Maurice removed Pearl’s plate. She’d actually eaten half the so-called inedible chicken. I winked at him, hoping he’d catch my meaning – “She’s nuts. What can you do?” –  and not take offense:  He winked back. He knew.

As Maurice strode to the kitchen bearing the discarded plate of chicken, the place buzzed with shocked delight. There was nothing the other 196 residents of the Menorah Retirement Residence loved better than a scene, and here was Pearl throwing a tantrum… again. This would give the mah jongg ladies something to talk about at today’s game. Pearl, who was forever reminding one and all that she came from the better part of town and had not one, but two granddaughters married to Jewish doctors, was a constant and dependable source of wicked gossip.

Sometimes I thought that if I had to listen to Pearl kvetching about the food, or any of the other myriad things she found to whine about, one more time, I would toss a pickle at her.  But changing tables was considered a social no-no.  Pearl was the burden I had to bear for moving into the Menorah Retirement Home, where I spent meal times putting up with her and my other table mates – Bernice Baumgarten, who had trouble remembering where she was half the time, and Riva Kaplan, a dignified, grey-haired woman with a slight European accent who didn’t seem to want to be friends with anyone at all.

Right now though, Bernice seemed relatively on the ball.  “Why were you so rude, Pearl?”  Turning to me, she whispered hesitantly, “Pearl was rude, wasn’t she, Sophie?”

“Yes, she was,” I agreed.  Bernice needed confirmation about just about everything.  Satisfied, Bernice adjusted her plus size yoga pants and smiled vacantly.
Pearl sniffed, but didn’t bother to reply. She had no time for poor, addled Bernice and generally ignored her. She inspected her long, manicured nails, paying particular attention to the huge diamond ring her husband, a furniture manufacturer, had provided.

Maurice appeared with a fresh plate which he deposited in front of her.

“Here you are, Mrs Green,” he said. “Brisket and knishes.”

“That looks good! I’ll have some too, Maurice, please,” said Bernice, batting her eyelashes girlishly at him, as she did at every opportunity. In fact, I’d noticed that when she’d gone to the rest room a few minutes ago, she’d taken a detour via the kitchen, no doubt in hopes of flirting with him.

Bernice was, of course, in love with Maurice. So were half the women in the room. Most of the rest mooned over Sam Levin, the only widower in the place who could still drive at night and had a full head of black hair. Personally, I found Sam a bit too full of himself, and Maurice, I knew, had a boyfriend back in Des Moines. But who was I to deny anyone the thrilling joys of unrequited love? (And if truth be told, even I had my secret dreams.) There was little enough excitement around here, unless you counted Pearl’s tantrums and the occasional whine of ambulance sirens.

The truth was, none of us really could complain. The Menorah Retirement Residence was the best in the city and the staff members, in true Florida style were generally gracious and helpful. The suites were roomy, there was a pool and gym, an internet facility and nursing staff on call around the clock. (Although why they want to keep us alive longer is beyond me. The faster we go, the faster management can sell another suite.)

The flies in the ointment were, well, us.

When people live in close proximity, whether in a college dorm or an apartment house, they will almost certainly get on one another’s nerves. And here, they really, really did.

You’d think that by their eighth decade, people would have learned to behave like adults. Uh, uh.  Living at the Menorah, the premier retirement home in San Benomi, Florida was like being in seventh grade all over again, only with cataracts and a walker. Cliques and in-groups abounded – not to mention gossips, such as Molly Levine, who spent most of her time in a strategically placed armchair in the lobby, inspecting the comings and goings. There were the popular girls, the mean girls (the two categories often overlapping), the socialites, the bridge fiends – and also, I had to admit, a lot of perfectly nice people. The luckiest were those who boasted a husband still alive, preferably with all his marbles. There weren’t too many of those.

The next best was being an eligible widower. Those were even scarcer.

14 thoughts on “A Killing Knish

  1. CKB says:

    Hello!

    It threw me at the beginning while I was trying to figure out what was going on, but I love that the voice of this is youthful, and that the approach to the thoughts of the main character isn’t… moldy. However, it did take me reading three and a half paragraphs before understanding that the main character is in fact one of the residents, and not a visitor.

    Why is it a social no-no to move tables? Especially when you don’t enjoy the people you are sitting at the table with? I understand the “clique” mentality, but that isn’t explained until the second to last paragraph. Up until that point, it seemed like the tables were assigned.

    How old is Maurice? When the population of the story is of a certain age, Maurice’s age will be something that sets him apart, and will have an effect on people’s attraction to him.

    I’m left wanting to read more!

    Good work, and good luck!

    • johnsonofdaw says:

      Sorry but I stopped reading on the third paragraph. I was turned off at the outset because a retirement home was the last place I wanted to read about (I’m sixty something). I only kept reading long enough to confirm that that was the setting.

    • johnsonofdaw says:

      Sorry but I stopped reading on the third paragraph. I was turned off at the outset because a retirement home was the last place I wanted to read about (I’m sixty something). I only kept reading long enough to confirm that that was the setting. And now you’ve got this downer twice. Sorry.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much. These comments are really helpful. I will certainly incorporate them into the book.
    It’s difficult to get much across in 1000 words, so I didn’t get to the murder (which occurs at the end of the chapter) , but I hope I can manage to keep up interest.
    Again, thank you for your comments.
    Carol

  3. Lori Parker says:

    Given the setting, I take it this is going to be a “cozy mystery”? Hope so, I like those. I read the entire piece because I hoped to see some foreshadowing of what was to come but there wasn’t one. I know cozies aren’t meant to be full of action but they do need a bit of intrigue, something to tickle the little grey cells, as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot would say.

    Too much time is spent on descriptive narrative, i.e. telling rather than showing. Rather than tell us about the various characters, give them a line of dialogue or observe an action that will introduce us to their characteristics. Then, as the book progresses, let the rest come out organically, again through dialogue and action as much as possible.

    There are some places where less wordiness and better word choices would be beneficial. For instance, “For heaven’s sakes, Pearl, keep your voice down,” I whispered to her. The “to her” is unnecessary because you address her in the dialogue. Another example is, “As Maurice strode to the kitchen bearing the discarded plate of chicken . . .” We already know it’s a plate of chicken, it’s been discarded and sent back to the kitchen in favor of the brisket and knishes. By shortening it to “As Maurice carried the plate away . . .” you avoid repeating what we already know.

    Look at adverbs as red flags signaling the need to use stronger words or action, ones that don’t need the crutch an adverb (and many adjectives) provide. An example of this is in the dialogue tag, “she said distastefully.” The fact that she is saying these things at all, and that she is saying them in a loud voice, already tells us she finds the situation distasteful. Or is it the narrator who finds what she is saying distasteful? There’s a bit of confusion there, I think. “This chicken is inedible!” she intoned,” is another example of what I mean here. He said/she said are almost invisible when read on a page. Not so when you use adverbs. Let the strength of your words, both the dialogue and any actions that go with it, inform the reader how it is being said.

    There’s a lot of repetition that I think with careful revision can be eliminated. For example, you tell us three times within the first four paragraphs that Pearl loves to make a scene, you even call her a drama queen in the third sentence. You tell us that Bernice doesn’t know where she is most of the time so we don’t need to told that she “needs confirmation about just about everything,” or that Pearl doesn’t have time for “poor addled Bernice.” Riva Kaplan, on the other hand, intrigues me because a) you only mention her once and b) nobody seems to know her at all.

    I found a couple of elements confusing. For instance, “There was nothing the other 196 residents . . .” Am I to understand all 196 residents were witnessing Pearl’s dinner show? If Bernie doesn’t know where she is most of the time, how is she able to navigate the environment well enough to purposely visit the kitchen to flirt with Maurice? The first example is just a logistical issue and can be cleared up with a short sentence, perhaps something to the effect that thanks to the avid attention of the 50 residents eating during the 5:00 dinner, the next shift will be all abuzz for the 6:00 hour. Okay, lousy example but I think you get my drift. Regarding Bernie, if her dementia is an important part of what happens in the story then you may want to rethink having her purposely going to the kitchen.

    I hope you continue with the book. I’d be interested in seeing how it all comes together.
    -PEACE-

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you. So helpful! This is indeed a cozy mystery and the reason Bernice goes to the kitchen will be revealed in good time – she is the murderer! (She isn’t quite as addled as she appears.)

  5. Rona says:

    I’ll admit this isn’t my normal genre (I’m a romance gal), but I really enjoyed this piece. Like the first reviewer, I initially thought that the MC was a visitor and not a resident, and I thought s/he didn’t leave because they were either there to spend time with a particular guest or were somehow related to Pearl and couldn’t leave. It wasn’t until later that I realized the MC was a resident as well.

    I also agree that there is some unnecessary repetition, but I don’t know that I mind you mentioning Bernice being not all together as much. That may be because I now know she’s the murderer, which actually just makes me want to read more. But perhaps it can be spaced out some, to reinforce the red herring aspect of that impression of her, as opposed to putting it together in such a short frame.

    Also, while I loved the MC voice, knowing that it’s a resident of the facility makes me wonder if the voice is a little young. I think it can be more mature and still retain that resident home gossip feeling that you’ve got going on, which works well.

    I would definitely be interested in reading how this moves forward and concludes. Best of luck!

  6. raelenepurtill says:

    HI. This was very entertaining. Good job.
    I was not sure at the beginning that the character was a girl. There is lots of telling and description which could be conveyed through dialogue or action from the residents and staff. I don’t think you need to tell us that people in close proximity get on each others nerves as this will be shown eventually. I also wondered if it was the author’s opinion, rather than the character’s. Her observations seem a bit clinical, she seems detached from what is going on – are her observation skills going to help solve the mystery? Keep writing. Cheers Raelene

  7. welshlady says:

    I love your voice. I had in mind Sofia Petrillo from the Golden Girls telling us about the other residents. I don’t think I agree with someone else’s comment about the voice being too young for the retirement home. I’m attracted to humour and I really enjoyed your descriptions. Also I disagree with the statements others made about whether it was a visitor or a resident. To me it was very clear because Pearl the drama queen wouldn’t be sitting at ‘my’ table. Visitors wouldn’t have ‘my’ table nor know that Pearl was a drama queen. I do agree there is repetition and could do with more dialogue and action but overall I think this has potential and the humorist in me wanted to keep reading. Perhaps I’m wrong but I’m hearing this narrator either like Sofia or Bridget Jones if she were old and Jewish and lived in a retirement home in Florida writing about the residents in her diary.

    • welshlady says:

      Glad it did. The comments from peers are often harsher than from editors because they are looking for what’s wrong. I entered three competitions last year based on first three pages, first 30 words and first 75 words. The 30 and 75 word submissions were judged by editors and creative writing teachers. They loved my first line, told me I had a great voice, it was funny and a worthy submission. From the first three pages competition I had esteem crushing reviews, they were other aspiring writers and not editors, though one was a published author and she gave the nicest review. I realised I needed to make a few things more clear but sometimes with show don’t tell other writers point out issues when a reader wouldn’t notice. Take heart. You’ve got real potential with this. I recall stomping, ‘she’s not a spy. When did I say she was a spy!’

  8. Stephanie K. says:

    This is great. I would love to read the rest, even though mystery is not my first pick in genres. The voice is rich, as is the setting. I love how you compare the retirement community to a group of 7th graders. That’s a great bridge between the generations and it rings true.
    Best of luck!

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