JOYLAND • by Shera Hill

I say, “Don’t you think the name’s a little simplistic, a little unsophisticated?”

“Joyland,” Elaine repeats as we walk the dry brown hills. She adjusts her Ray-Bans. “I think it’s perfect, Stephen.”

She found the property a few weeks ago. As her chief financial advisor, I’m here to look it over and give my opinion on a possible purchase, but I can tell she’s already made up her mind.

I skip a few steps to keep up with her. Damn the woman’s fast for someone her age — never underestimate the power of personal trainers and private nutritionists.

Elaine’s my richest client, and why she chose me when she could have any of the profession’s top players, I attribute to her mania for surrounding herself with younger people, going with the unconventional, and seeking out new ideas. I’d do anything to keep her, even show up at this God-forsaken acreage to rubberstamp her half-baked scheme for creating a dude ranch/health spa/rehabilitation center for drug addicted females. I hear she was an addict once, turned tricks until a customer left her a small business. From there she took off, changed her name, expunged records.

Probably baseless gossip.

I latch onto stories like that because of my own stuff.

Elaine opens her arms as if to take in the hills, the sky, the abandoned farmhouse in the distance. “Horses— we must have horses. Gentle of course, well-trained, with professional cowboys to lead the rides. Hiking trails as well. We’ll need some cattle for atmosphere. I envision a pool and jacuzzi. A gym — dry and steam saunas. Yoga classes, Pilates — good food — professionally trained chefs, but health conscious. Doctors on retainer, counselors—”

I swallow a snort. Even with her fortune, this grows mind-boggling expensive. Is she going to sink everything into it?

“Can’t you just donate a big chuck of money to an already established rehab center?” I ask and remember how once I intended to do that. Was it from guilt?

I love the family who adopted me, but in college set out to track down my biological parents. No trace of a father, and when court records made it obvious my mother was a junkie, I stopped searching.

Elaine says, “Poor women are consigned to rundown urban facilities that constantly have their funding cut. Only wealthy women can go to places out in open air, with trees and hills and walking trails…”

“But only wealthy women would be able come here. To recoup your costs alone, this place will need to be ultra-exclusive—”

“No,” she says. “Emphatically no.”

“It will bankrupt you.”

“I have enough to keep it going for years, not to mention my backers, and we’ll eventually set it up to be self-sustaining.”

“I don’t understand why this is so important—”

We walk side by side, but now she stops, pivots to face me. “Don’t you, Stephen? You must have suspected.”

I say, “Suspect? What do you—” but the words shrivel away, and for the first time I hear wind through the dead grass, a dog barking in the distance.

She says, “I was nineteen, your father already dead from an overdose when I gave you up. I’ve been a coward waiting this long to tell you. I wanted to be close to you but was afraid. I knew today was the day.”

Nothing to reach for in the middle of a dusty field, no chair to fall into. My knees give way. Sticker burrs poke through my suit. Elaine sinks next to me, folds herself into half-lotus, and smiles, a female buddha in expensive sunglasses.

“What am I supposed to with this?” I whisper.

She gathers my hands in hers. “It will take time, but stay with me, forgive me, and help me build this center.”

Shera Hill grew up in California and has written short stories, poetry, and novels, since she was a child. A retired library branch manager, she has published fiction and poetry in such journals as the First Literary Review – East, Adelaide Literary Magazine, and Bright Flash Literary Review.

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