When my family moved to Miami in 1957, it was a sleepy town. Like many northerners, we took a while to get used to the heat. Sweat clung to us, dripping from our noses, matting our hair, sloshing in our shoes. When my family had enough money, the first thing we did was buy air-conditioners, noisy little boxes that we jammed into the walls. No one thought much about alarm systems back then. Who had anything to steal?

Today I live in a gated community. A man with a gun and a holster greets you at our guardhouse. Crime is rampant. If you haven’t been pistol-whipped in your driveway for a ring or a watch, you know someone who has.

Privilege and poverty live side by side. While BMWs and Porsches vroom through the streets, panhandlers loiter on every corner. Luxury stores sell Louis Vuitton, Hermes, and Cartier. Little old ladies with dun-colored skin hawk fruit on the sidewalks, sell flowers in plastic tubs.

It’s easy to avert your eyes. We all do it. But the disparity is always there. Some neighborhoods are so poor that people can’t afford cars. Middle-aged men on kid-sized bikes dart in and out of traffic. At night, they bleed into the darkness. My foot stays on the brake staring and not staring, straining and not straining to see them.

For many the ladder to success is missing the rungs. There is no toehold up, no helping hand, no pathway to promise. Yet people are literally dying to come here every day. What’s Paradise Lost for some is still heaven on earth for others.


“I’ve been in Miami for six years,” says my Uber driver. He looks around thirty. Clean-cut. Good-looking. A slight Hispanic accent softens the words.

“Where are you from?” I ask. Each refugee, I have learned, has a story.

When he says he’s from Cuba, I’m surprised. There are thousands of Venezuelans, Brazilians, Peruvians. But young men from Cuba? Not so much. A saga unfolds that leaves me speechless.

“You see first I went to Jamaica. A lot of Cubans vacation in Jamaica. From there, getting to Miami is not that hard.”

He peeks into the rearview mirror. I sit straight up, listening.

“The key is an illegal passport,” he says. “Ten thousand dollars. They don’t come cheap.”

Cubans, even professionals, generally earn less than $100 a month. I can’t imagine how he raised the money.

“Thousands are trying to leave,” he says. “They hopscotch the islands. They plot and they plan.” Then he sweeps his hand over the dashboard and smiles. “Why? I’ll tell you why. No place is like this.”

A few days later, I’m in bed trying to sleep. It’s after midnight when the phone rings. It’s the security guard on duty. He’s never called our home before. He’s breathless, rushing the words.

“Stay in your house, don’t take out the trash, don’t go anywhere.” A group of intruders, he tells me, have somehow jumped the walls and climbed over the gates. “The police are chasing them,” he says. “They’re using dogs.”

I flick on a lamp and look outside the front window. I see lights flashing, a glint of metal in someone’s hand. My first thought is a home invasion or professionally planned siege. Machine guns. Tear gas. Explosions of shrapnel come to mind. My heart in my throat, I race to the back of my house.

Then I see the pig.

He’s scurrying through my schefflera bushes, burrowing his little feet. Even through the hurricane proof glass, I can hear his cries. A chicken wanders alongside him. There’s a petting zoo eating my begonias on one side of my home and a full-scale military assault on the other.

I call a neighbor who lives in one of the bayside homes. The houses are more expensive there. The views go straight to Key Biscayne.

“It’s like a war zone,” says my friend.

A few feet from her dock a large wooden boat has run aground, it’s hull listing on a pile of shallow rocks. Three ships from the Marine Patrol have surrounded it.

“I think they’re Haitians,” she says. “Half of them are in the boat, but the other half made a run for it. ”

I peek between the curtains, looking and not looking. Bodies are thrown on the asphalt, black against black. Handcuffs glow in the streetlight. And all at once my heart sinks. There’s no welcome mat for these folks. They’ll be trucked to detention centers and sent back home within weeks.

Eventually the guard calls to assure me that all is well. The streets are safe, the coast is clear.  I turn off the lights and head back to bed, exhausted yet wide awake, relieved and not relieved, secure yet shaken.

The next morning is like any other morning. I get dressed, sip my coffee, walk the dog. As usual, we stroll toward the bay. Palm trees sway. Pink hibiscus bow and bend, dancing like flamingos in the breeze.

We smell it before we see it, the dog whining while she pulls on the leash. Random planks of wood are floating in the water. And bobbing beside them, along with the beer cans and condoms and assorted ocean trash, is the carcass of a goat. In and out flow the waves, the goat stuck on the riprap, the rocks both cradling and cleaving its bloated body. I look up toward the surrounding homes. A neighbor is glancing out a window. Someone, no doubt, will call a cleaning crew. Before the day is over, men in rubber boots will scoop and sanitize.

But for now, I stop and stare. What a world we live in. One man’s burden is another man’s sacrifice. One man’s nightmare is another man’s dream.


Marlene Olin was born in Brooklyn, raised in Miami, and educated at the University of Michigan. Her short stories and essays have been published in journals such as The Massachusetts Review, Catapult, PANK, and World Literature Today. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Best of The Net, Best Small Fictions, and for inclusion in Best American Short Stories.