Happy Sunsets


Marisa Birns


The women stood together in their pajamas and watched as the body was placed in the ambulance.

“That’s Ethel.” One of them whispered.

“She’s the third one this month.” Another added.

An attendant came over to shoo them away from the driveway. Maude, the de facto leader of the small group of women, led them inside after a last look behind her.

Ethel had been her roommate.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The women lived in a continuing care retirement community nestled in a bosky Maryland neighborhood. Though their rooms were in the independent living section of the facilities, they chose to share all meals in the main dining room. They were capable of cooking in their private, well-appointed kitchens, but they tired of such a chore several years ago. Our Kitchen is Closed is the group’s unofficial motto.

After a long afternoon of sitting alone in her study and mourning Ethel, Maude powdered her face and skimmed a comb through her steely grey hair before heading to the dining hall.

Her heels clacking across the tile floor alerted the others already seated to her arrival. Aida passed a plate with one chicken leg and small salad with no dressing, which Dolly placed at the head of the table for Maude.

After saying grace the women ate and chatted. The topic concerned losing bone mass due to aging.  Well, I’ve heard worse dinner conversations, Maude thought.
Dolly smiled at her tablemates. “I think I’ve shrunk two inches since I moved here.”
“Nonsense. You’re wrong,” Maude answered.

Betty turned to her. “I’m not as tall as I was either, Maude. Put your glasses on for once.”

“Don’t need my glasses. Anyone can see you are humped over like some old thing.  Sit up straight, for mercy’s sake!

The other six women swallowed their thoughts along with the main course.
Dolly tried again. “And just think, in 20 years, I’ll probably shrink some more.”

“Yes,” Maude said in a gruff tone, “It’s called decomposing, dear.”

After dinner the women joined the other residents of Happy Sunsets in the large Social Activities room. They sat at their usual corner by the picture window overlooking the expanse of lawn bordered with crepe myrtle and knitted while they talked.

Maude cleared her throat after a few minutes. The others gave her the attention she sought.

“I don’t want to die.”

The women stared, wide-eyed and worried. There wasn’t going to be another ambulance run, was there?

Maude frowned. “Stop it, you silly hens! I’m talking about…that.” She pointed to the center of the room where the basket weavers sat, then to a corner where the mah jong players called out “bam” or “crack,” and lastly, to the spot where the TV watchers fought over the remote.

“Every night it’s the same. Weekday. Weekend. Makes no difference.”

Dolly looked down at her left hand and twirled the gold band she received 50 years ago. “I remember when Joe and I went out every Friday night to dance.” She sighed. “It was such fun.”

Maude stood and walked to the window. While her friends reminisced and laughed about life before Happy Sunsets with their husbands, may they rest in peace, she looked out at the moonlit grounds and listened.

“I have a plan,” she finally said.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The next morning at breakfast the denizens of Happy Sunsets found small white cards propped against their glasses of prune juice and read:


“Dance till the stars come down from the rafters
Dance, Dance, Dance till you drop…”

~W.H. Auden~


You are cordially invited to join the Nine Dancing Ladies this Friday evening at 8:00 p.m. in the ballroom (dining hall) for an evening of music and movement.


Please wear non-bathrobe attire.

At the appointed day and time, the ballroom gleamed and glittered with its polished floors and walls festooned with fairy lights and gossamer swags of fabric. The men and women wore Sunday best outfits. They stood in groups and laughed at old jokes. When the music started, they were ready. For the rest of the evening, everyone took turns dancing with each other. The nine ladies made sure of that.

So as they swayed and twirled and moved to the music, they were no longer Aida or Karen or Isabel.

Nor were they Liz, Betty, Catherine.

It was not Maude, Toots, or Dolly who coaxed the wallflowers to the middle of the room.


For a few hours during this special evening they were nine dancing ladies joyfully sliding, spinning, and stepping with their partners to the syncopated beat of life.

BIO:  “My bio?  Well, all that I write, including short stories, can be found at http://www.marisabirns.com.  My twitter name is @marisabirns.  This will be my first published piece!”



  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jim Wisneski, Marisa Birns. Marisa Birns said: Here's mine! RT @Wisneski On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me. @marisabirns and her #12days story! http://ow.ly/OwRO […]

  2. 2
    ditty1013 Says:

    What a lovely, sweet story. 🙂 Inspiration for us all to enjoy life every single day. Thanks for sharing it!

  3. 3
    Laura Eno Says:

    A heartwarming story, Marisa! I can’t believe this is your first published piece. You are a great writer. Get out there and submit!

  4. Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wisneski: On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me. . . @marisabirns and her #12days story! http://ow.ly/OwRO

  5. 5

    Glad you liked! And see? There was a death!

    Seriously, though, I’m one of your biggest fans so your encouraging words mean a lot. Thanks!

  6. 6

    Marisa, that was just delightful. I’m with Laura. I think you have a great future in writing. I, like you, had never been published until the 12 Days of Christmas. Thank God for Jim, eh?

    Keep writing!

    Have a magical holiday!

    • 7

      Thank you so much for your wonderful and supportive comments! It’s wonderful that we ended the year published. Here’s to many more for us.

      Yes, thank God for Jim!

  7. 8
    Deanna Schrayer Says:

    Beautiful story Marisa, and what a great way to start the new year – with a published work. Now all you need do is build on that.
    Love the instructions on the invitation “Please wear non-bathrobe attire” – a hoot!

    • 9

      Thanks, Deanna! The weird thing is that I’m still in my bathrobe! But getting ready to drive to NYC. I’ll change, of course 😉

      Talk to you soon! Enjoy the holidays…and your writing!

  8. 10


    This was absolutely delightful! It was such a heartwarming tale! I have extensive experience with the elderly, my parents, and all their living habits. So, I could relate to your details so intimately. And, how uplifting to see that the feelings of sadness and grief underneath didn’t squelch their spirit to live with joy. Good twist on the “I don’t want to die.”

    So well-written and enjoyable! Congrats!

    • 11

      Oh thank you so much for your comments!

      I’m glad that the details were believable; my only experience with a nursing home was two hours spent visiting a friend’s mother-in-law.


  9. “Please wear non bathrobe attire” made me laugh.

    Sometimes breaking out of a rut is the best thing for the spirit.
    This was lovely.
    congrats on your first published piece!!!!
    Karen :0)

  10. 14
    Deirdre Says:


  11. 15
    jimcast Says:

    Congrats Marisa on your first published piece! I’m glad I was able to meet you and work together. . . and I’m the one who is thanking God for you and everyone else who wrote the stories AND reads them AND comments on them!

    I’m shocked and awed everyday I look at the traffic count. . . and how all day long my phone vibrates with comment after comment. . .

    Thanks for writing this story!


  12. 16

    I love it when people take things into their own hands and find positive solutions for what may be something impossible. Always a sign of hope and joy. I love this tale for the same reason. I’ll probably be a slightly more crankier Maude when I grow old (I hope). This story made me very happy.

    Congrats on the brilliant first published story!!! (we are in the same boat!)

    Hope to read more of your writing soon.

    Merry X’mas and best wishes for the holidays!


  13. 17
    Kathleen Gilbert Says:

    I cannot believe this is your first published piece. You have a way of writing that I enjoy reading very much. I loved how the old ladies talked among themselves. Reading this made me smile more than once. Nice work.

  14. 18

    I hope this is the first of many. You have a spirit that should be shared.

  15. 19
    Linda Says:

    Please wear non-bathrobe attire – snort!

    This is your FIRST publication? I think other stories will be joining these soon. Merry Christmas, Marisa! Peace, Linda

  16. 20

    I’m glad they managed to find some real happiness. Merry Christmas, Marisa.

  17. 22
    Melissa Says:

    I love this! Dancing truly does transform… I worked in a retirement center at one time and there was one lady there who planned things like this. She kept things alive for everyone (including me). By the way, she was 85 and had more energy than I did at 23. I also laughed out loud (my son looked at me funny) with the non-bathrobe attire.:) Congratulations!!

  18. 23

    Congratulations on such a sweet story.

    Straight From Hel

  19. Hi Marisa!

    I agree wholeheartedly with Cynthia Schuerr and Anne Tyler Lord (hi Anne! :). Delightful story, and beautifully written. Well done! I smiled during the whole reading. Thanks for that! 🙂

  20. 25

    I have to say like everyone else- I can’t believe this is your first published piece! I kept thinking of the Twilight Zone, in the last story when everyone at the retirement played kick the can and turned into children again. I simply love this story. Well done!

  21. 26

    I enjoyed this very much. You have a knack for writing those lil’ old ladies. Forgive my late arrival, but as they say, better late than never.

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