I SWEATED IT OUT on the floral-print couch between Troy and our mother. We were waiting for my old man to get home. My brother gnashed his gum. Jenny was visiting her friend Heidi Bathen and I was glad she was gone. I saw our reflection in the living room mirror—we had looks of impending doom. My mother wore her platinum wig with the Marilyn flip. She’d taken the “blondes have more fun” commercial to heart.
I’d started calling my father “Daddyo” after hearing a beatnik use it in Beach Blanket Bingo. It made him seem cool. I called my mother “June Spoon,” the nickname her father had given her in Boston. I knew using it made her feel young and closer to him, even though he lived in Chicago’s Pick-Congress Hotel. June Spoon had on a yellow cocktail dress and white heels. I prayed her outfit would help take some of the steam out of Daddyo when we told him what had happened.
My relationship with my father had always been rocky. As a toddler, I’d hidden in the bamboo patch to avoid the belt and watched him scour the backyard; fire ants bit me into the open and Daddyo banged the top of my head with his fist. After my hernia operation at nine, he’d told the nurses I was faking it for sympathy when I limped down the hall.
I’d kept the front door cracked so my old man would have one less obstacle after a hard day’s work. You had to prepare for his arrival, such as placing The Honolulu Star-Bulletin on the dining room table and filling the freezer bucket with ice cubes.
A car pulled into the driveway. I knew it was the Olds by the rumble of its big block. “Ready or not,” I groaned.
“He’s home too soon,” June Spoon said.
The rumbling quit. Shoes shuffled over the blacktop and the front door swung open. Daddyo entered the living room. His face was drained of the blood that gave him a ruddy complexion. I imagined a swarm of vampire partners sinking their fangs into his neck. He held his leather briefcase in one hand and a gray jacket in the other. His glasses seemed fused to his head. He’d invested one-hundred grand in a Texas oil tax shelter. The IRS was investigating.
“Hello, Dear,” June Spoon said, “did you have a pleasant day at the office?”
Daddyo’s white sleeves were rolled up over his elbows. The knot in his black tie was fat from loosening. A decade of litigation had taken its toll: his back hunched, his teeth nubs from nervous chewing, and his once-strong swimmer’s chest sagging. “What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Well,” June Spoon answered, “the boys had a little trouble today at school.” He clenched his jaw. “What kind of little trouble?”
“You’re to phone Dr. Johnson first thing tomorrow morning.”
“He suspended the boys.”
“Jesus H. Christ. What the hell did you stupes do?”
I told him we’d skipped woodshop to study for midterms. I neglected to mention we’d used a scoop net to troll the lily pond for coins and that we spent our booty at the Chink Store. Troy said woodshop was worthless since he didn’t want to be a carpenter. He told Daddyo he wanted to become a lawyer.
My father pulled off his glasses and chewed on the stems. His cheeks surged with blood. He tossed his jacket on the mahogany chest and knocked over a framed invitation to his Brookline wedding. “Gimme the real reason you two ditched class.”
“Woodshop sucks,” I confessed.
“You only learn how to hammer nails,” Troy tossed in.
Our father paced the tiles from the chest to the TV and back again. His oxblood shoes made the ratta-tat-tat of machine gun fire. His face reminded me of Richard Nixon. “I don’t blame Doctor Johnson,” he scowled. “Get in your rooms.”
“What for?” Troy asked.
“You know what for.”
“Dear,” pleaded my mother, “the boys are sorry for what they’ve done. They’re too old for spankings.”
“Not in my book, June.”
* * *
I sprawled naked on my bed. Troy’s door slammed shut. I touched the wall and felt my brother’s screams rattling the redwood. Daddyo enjoyed doubleheaders, with Troy serving as a warm-up. He would work up a healthy sweat by the time he reached my room. Waiting was torture. I pulled on my clothes, crept down the hall, and listened at my brother’s door.
“I’m sorry, Daddy. I won’t do it again!”
I eased past my mother’s pink bathroom and peered into the kitchen. She was pouring bottled teriyaki sauce over chicken thighs lining a Pyrex dish. Troy’s door opened and shoes tapped toward my room. I opened the front door, plucked my slippers off the Welcome mat, and ran.
* * *
I sprinted down Aukai Avenue and hustled up Elepaio. The sun hovered up the crater’s rim. Shower tree shadows turned the sidewalk black. A yellow VW Bug rolled down the hill with Mrs. Bathen driving. Jenny sat in back with Heidi. I hid behind a plumeria tree until the Bug puttered by.
I headed east on Kilauea Avenue. I was worried about Jen. She’d avoided hearing Troy’s screams today but she was usually around when we were getting it. One day, she believed, Daddyo would come for her.
I reached Waialae Avenue and stuck out a thumb. The Kalani bus belched by. The sun was below the crater and the highway streetlights ignited. Men in dress shirts zipped by in cars. A Dodge van with a hippie behind the wheel braked. He had a red beard and wore a tie-dye tee.
“Where to, little brother?” he smiled.
He flipped open the passenger door and I climbed in. The van reeked of pakalolo.
We drove through Aina Haina and continued east to Hawaii Kai. The van rounded Koko Head Crater as Janis Joplin boomed “Piece of My Heart” over fat twin speakers behind me. The hippie said he’d been to Woodstock and dropped acid with Grace Slick. He lit a joint, took a pull, and blew smoke into the windshield. He extended the doobie. “Toke?”
“No,” I said. I felt like a square for turning down the offer. But I’d never smoked.
We skirted Sandy Beach. Orange clouds stuck to the horizon. Bodysurfers carved paths through the waves. The road got steep. The van chugged through a pass in the mountain and we reached the lighthouse. He pulled over.
I climbed out. “Thanks, man. You saved my life.”
The hippie gave me a puzzled look and flashed the peace sign. “Be mellow, little brother.”
I eased down a dirt path glittering with shards. Beer cans, bullet casings, and plastic cups cluttered the red dirt beneath the naupaka. I made it to the beach and kicked off my slippers. The warm sand felt good. Plover scuttled the shore. The high tide line was a puzzle of puka shell fragments, bamboo driftwood, and limu. The beach ended at a lava pinnacle. I finger-raked the sand with my fingers and discovered whole puka shells. I built a shell house on the sand, using green limu for my welcome mat.
A man in black trunks rounded the lava. He had a net draped over one shoulder and brown Tabbies protecting his feet. Silver splinters glinted in his black hair. He swung weights from the net over his forearm and gathered the catgut webbing. He leaned back and threw. The net bloomed in mid-air and splashed in the shallows. He waded in, gathered the weights, and carried in a silvery prize of flapping fins. He emptied o’ama into a plastic bucket. He struggled to balance the net while carrying his two buckets. “Hey, keed,” he said, “you spendin’ da night?”
“Get sleepin’ bag?”
The canvas tops of his tabbies had gaping holes. “Akualele stay heah,” he warned. “I don’t believe in ghosts.”
“You get name, keed?”
“Howzit, Kirbz. I’m Uncle Freddy. I get two bucket o’ama, like help carry?” “Sure.”
“Come den. We go make fish fry.”
I put on my slippers, grabbed a handle, and we headed for the parking lot. The gills inside my bucket fluttered like wings.
* * *
I rode shotgun. Freddy shifted his pickup passing Sea Life Park. He pointed out a turtle pond offshore built by King Kalanikupule. The truck leaned around a curve and our buckets slid over the bed. A rusted-out Plymouth in the opposite lane honked. Freddy waved and blew his horn. He told me he “worked construction.”
Freddy pulled off the road. Our tires grumbled over a red cinder passage flanked by hibiscus. The cinders ended and the narrow road turned into crushed coral. A man in jeans flashed the shaka sign. We pulled alongside a forest-green house. Poi dogs crawled out from beneath the house and barked. A black lab foamed at the mouth. A white pit bull with rust-colored spots gnawed on a front tire.
“No pilikia,” Freddy told me, “buggahs only bite haoles. You get local blood?”
“I have some Hawaiian.”
“Good. Try make friends.”
I cracked my door slightly. The pit bull stuck in his nose and sniffed my slipper.
“Mind yo’ mannahs,” Freddy groused the dog. He got out and tossed a handful of fish. The pit bull raced the other dogs for the fish. Freddy tossed a second handful for good measure.
“Da coast stay cleah,” Freddy told me.
I got out, grabbed my bucket, and followed him past a plywood table loaded with hooks, wire leaders, and rusted reels. He draped his net over a laundry cord and we headed up a stairway. I heard growling and saw the black lab play-wrestling the pit bull. Freddy tugged off his tabbies and put them on the railing. I placed my slippers on the railing too.
“Come meet my boy,” Freddy said, holding open the screen door.
I carried my bucket into a small parlor with large windows. I smelled Chinese black beans, garlic, and curry. The floor was a patchwork of linoleum, Astroturf, and hala mats. Glass balls hung from the ceiling in cord nets. A boar’s head and deer skulls were mounted above a TV with rabbit-ears. The top of the TV served as a shelf for an 8-track and conch shells. A wicker table displayed family photos wedged between poi pounders and ulu maika stones.
A husky boy sat on a loveseat. He had his nose in a World Book encyclopedia and wore a green Crater Festival shirt. The book hid his face. “Howzit hangin’, Dads?” he asked.
“Planny o’ama Maks side,” Freddy replied.
I trailed after Freddy and lifted my bucket onto a steel counter in the kitchen. He returned to the parlor and I stood in the doorway.
Freddy sat on the arm of the loveseat. He nudged his son’s shoulder. “No can see, Sonny?” he scolded. “Get guest.”
“No ack pilau.”
The boy lowered the World Book. His nostrils flared and he threw me the stink eye. Somehow, he looked familiar. Then I remembered. He’d been the most feared student at Star of the Sea, the big guy who’d acted in my play.
“Chee,” he smiled, “you stay Kirbz, da haole who make me be one pro wrestla small keed days.”
He popped off the loveseat, stomped the linoleum, and bared his teeth. “I like fo’ drink yo’ bloods!”
“Unreals,” said Freddy. “You boys go same school?”
“Shoots yeah, Dads.”
Freddy chuckled. “Small world.”
“Wot you doin’ heah?” Da Destroya asked.
“No lie. Must be good reason fo’ haole boy come Waimanalo side. You on da run?”
“Sonny,” Freddy interrupted, “try call Cyril an’ Buffalo dem. See if dem buggahs like come ova fo’ grind.”
“Shoots,” Freddy said. He barefooted a strip of Astroturf back to the kitchen as if walking the plank. I heard buckets emptying and pots clanging.
“Big kine changes, Kirbz,” Da Destroya said solemnly. “Now my name stay ‘Lawrence.’” “Like Lawrence of Arabia?”
“Dat’s right. Wot high school you go?”
“Play dem next Friday. I stay da Crusadahs fullback, second string. How come you no go Saint Louis?”
“My father wanted Punahou.”
“I get it. He like you fo’ be wit’ haoles.”
“Quit dat yakkin’,” Freddy scolded from the kitchen, “an’ staht cleanin’ dis hale.” * * *
Lawrence swept. I unfolded card tables and propped them up on their skinny legs. We shoved the tables together to make one big one. Lawrence found lauhala placemats, paper napkins, and red plastic plates. We set the table for ten.
“Gotta split,” Lawrence told me.
“Can I split too?”
“No need. Gotta kennel da dogs, den light da torches to spock vampiahs.”
I found Freddy melting butter in an iron skillet. Instead of gutting and scaling the o’ama, he tossed them into a pie pan full of flour. He coated them white and dropped them in the crackling skillet.
“You don’t clean them, Uncle Freddy?”
“What about heads?”
“Heads stay ono, Kirbz.”
Freddy handed me a spatula. I flipped the frying fish while he folded taro leaves into a pot of water. He splashed sherry in a sauté pan and heaped in black beans. A tiny pan simmered a soy garlic-watercress dipping sauce. The rice cooker clicked off. Freddy kept it simple, cooked fast, and made plenty. Lawrence came in and I handed him the spatula.
Freddy opened the fridge and pulled out a sealed jar of black meat dotted with yellow suckers. “Opihi,” he said.
An engine chugged outside and doors slammed.
“Go see who dat,” Freddy told us.
“No need help, Dads?”
“Nah. Got t’ings undah control.”
We raced through the parlor. Lawrence beat me to the screen door and swung it open wide. Cyril, Freddy’s brother, clomped in with moccasins carrying six-packs of bottled Primo. He was Freddy’s size, but younger and with sideburns. The family followed. I met his wife Anna and their little girls, Evelyn and Nadine. Anna cradled a gau gee cake with firecracker-red wrap. Cyril removed his moccasins, wedged them between a conch shell and the 8-track, and eyeballed me. Lawrence explained we’d gone to the same elementary school and that he was in my play pitting 50th State Wrestlers against vampire surfers.
“Who you?” Cyril asked. “Da vampiah or da wrestla?”
Lawrence held up his arm and flexed a bicep. “Wot,” he said, “no can guess?”
A motorcycle rumbled through the yard and I bolted out with Lawrence to the porch. A chopper with a red teardrop tank roared by the coops. A burly man with a crew cut was the driver and his passenger was an Asian woman with long hair. He accelerated toward a torch on the far side of the yard and looped back.
“Who’s this?” I asked Lawrence.
“Buffalo. My muddah’s wastoid bruddah.”
“Who’s the chick?”
“Violet. Fresh off da boat from Manila.”
Buffalo pulled alongside a gray-primered Dart, jammed the kickstand out with a black boot, and climbed off. He had muttonchops and wore white overalls. Violet had on a blue crochet bikini top and gray cords. Her legs were long and her breasts the size of mangoes. I tried not to stare as she sauntered up behind Buffalo.
“Howzit, Buff,” Lawrence greeted.
“Still hangin’,” he replied.
“I should say so,” Violet giggled. Her eyes were sensitive and doe-like. Her abalone shell choker sparkled in the torchlight.
Buffalo pulled off his boots and stuck them on the railing. He walked the deck in white socks and crossed his massive arms when he reached me. “Who dis haole?”
“Kirbz,” Lawrence answered. “He stay cool.”
“Last time get haole was da fuzz. You fuzz, keed?”
“No,” I said.
We all mingled in the parlor. Cyril showed his girls how to roll ulu maikas over the hala. Violet slipped off her cork heels. Anna gossiped with Buffalo about making a stand in Waiahole Waikane before the farmers were evicted.
“Hui!” a man called from the porch.
“Wowza,” Buffalo said, “stay ol’ man Brum, da sneaky Portagee.”
A wizened man entered. He was the one who’d greeted us with the shaka sign. He handed Violet a stack of white pie boxes bound together with pink string.
Cyril popped in an 8-track. Tiny speakers played the ukulele-and-guitar intro to “Moonlight Lady.” Lawrence sat beside Evelyn on the loveseat strumming his uke. Nadine showed Violet some hula moves as Gabby Pahinui sang about a lost love and losing the land.
“Let loose da hips,” Nadine instructed, “no shame.”
Violet’s hips swayed. She had a natural rhythm and picked up the basic moves of the kaholo and ami poe poe.
Cyril elbowed my ribs. “Nice Flip, eh?”
“No let Buff catch you spockin’ his wahine.”
“Bring me da pies,” Freddy called.
I plucked up the pie stack and hopped from hala mat to hala mat back to Freddy. I placed the stack beside the cake and watched Anna lomilomi poi in a glass mixer. Freddy forked a hunk of pork out of a plastic container and parked it on a bed of steaming taro. He placed the pork and taro on a ti leaf, folded the ti, and secured the package with twine.
“Hele mai ‘ai!” he announced.
I squeezed in-between Lawrence and Freddy on the wide oak bench. Buffalo sat opposite me and draped his arm over Violet’s shoulder.
The men gulped Primo. The women drank Boone’s Farm Strawberry Hill from paper cups. The girls guzzled ginger ale and burped while Lawrence and I slugged down Cokes.
The 8-track of Gabby ended. Nobody got up to pop in a new one.
“No be shy, haole boy,” Freddy said. “Get planny.”
Cyril submerged steamed pork in the dipping sauce and devoured it.
“Gross!” Nadine squealed.
I crunched a fish head. Freddy was right about it being ono. I folded the o’ama into my mouth. The bones weren’t sharp and they snapped like potato chips. A rooster crowed in the yard. Dogs barked. A truck grunted on the coast road. I looked at Violet. She gazed back.
Buffalo flicked his bottle cap—it whizzed by, narrowly missing my cheek. “Local boy?” he asked me.
“No,” I said. “My great great grandma was piha kanaka maoli.”
“Waihee town, on Maui.”
“You get chance, brah.”
“Wot yo’ faddah do?” Cyril asked.
“He’s a lawyer.”
Buffalo shook his head. Cyril polished off his beer. They had good reason to dislike Honolulu attorneys. The firms worked against Hawaiians struggling to get homestead land and were helping wealthy landowners evict local farmers from Waiahole-Waikane.
“You know,” I said, “My great Uncle Sharkey used to train fighters at CYO Gym, in the old days.”
Brum smiled big, revealing an upper row of silver teeth. “Sharkey wen train my faddah,” he said. “Only reason Fearless Frankie neva make champ was his bruddah wen die LA plane crash. He stay hewa of planes.”
After dinner, Lawrence and I set up the metal chairs on a porch lit by torchlight. Anna and Violet carried out beanbags. I leaned against the railing beside Lawrence. The women and girls giggled on their beanbags while Freddy served custard pie topped with sliced papaya.
Lawrence lined up ukuleles, acoustic guitars, and a banjo on the railing. Brum nabbed a uke. Cyril chose a guitar. Buffalo lit a cigar with a chrome lighter and picked up the banjo. Nadine whined about being cold so Freddy covered her with a quilt of the Hawai’i State flag. The men sat in a circle and played. I had trouble with the words but I could hear sadness in their voices and the blue notes off the strings. It took me back to the auwe dirges I’d heard at kama’aina funerals on east end Moloka’i. The men played steady and didn’t drink. A dog howled. Moths circled the torches. One got too close and spiraled off into darkness with its wings in flames.
* * *
The music ended when the first torch sputtered and died near midnight. Violet hopped on the back of the chopper. Buffalo screeched away, his tires kicking up coral dust. Cyril and Anna carried their groggy girls down the stairs.
“Latahs,” Cyril called.
The Dart clunked off into the night.
I helped Lawrence fold the chairs and re-stack. He unfurled sleeping bags and we put our backs to the deck and stared into the sky. A half-moon with a yellow tinge floated above a papaya tree. Pots and pans clanged. A dog whimpered. I had phoned home before dessert and told my mother I’d be back by morning. “Sonuvabitch,” I’d heard my father say in the background. I thought about the Wrights. Part of me didn’t want to return. I was sick of the beatings and the way my mother usually stood on the sidelines. But a bigger part of me insisted I go home if only for my sister’s sake.
Lawrence stretched. “How come you wen run, Kirbz?”
“My old man.”
“Yo’ faddah geev you dirty lickin’? ”
“He wanted to.”
“Tell ‘im fo’ lighten up.”
“I don’t like him.”
“I no blame you.”
“I’m sorry about your mother, Lawrence.”
“My faddah wen tell?”
He tucked his hands behind his head. “Kirbz,” he said, “you evah try talk God?” “Sometimes.”
“I ask planny questions all da time. But God neva like ansah.”
“Maybe He does,” I said, “in other ways.”
“Maybe. Or maybe He stay shy.”
I thought about fate and coincidence that early morning in Waimanalo. I’d never imagined seeing Da Destroya again, yet here we were contemplating the Heavens and talking about the Almighty. I felt closer to him than to Troy. I wondered how much of the love I might have had for my brother had been wrecked by Daddyo.
* * *
A green Malibu with a blue roof light kicked up dust on the coral road and parked. Cyril got out in his HPD blues. “Howzit, Kirbz.”
“Where’s your Dart?” I asked.
“Back home. Dis ma town car.”
“Gotta have a cool ride for Five-0,” I said.
“Steve McGarrett take ordahs from me,” Cyril laughed.
Lawrence boogied out wearing his school uniform: a white short sleeve, khaki pants, and a cobalt tie. His hair smelled of Vitalis and he carried a stack of books. “Mo’ bettah hele, Kirbz,” he said, “befoah Dads make us hana hana.”
We headed for Diamond Head. The Malibu purred. Hawaiian music came from the speakers mounted to the deck below the rear window. I slipped my hand in the space between the front seats and Lawrence scrawled his number on my palm in red ballpoint. He passed Great Expectations forward. I inked my number on the title page.
Cyril reached Kilauea Avenue and hooked a left. Cruising with them made me feel tough.
I imagined Cyril and Lawrence as bodyguards and pretended I was the King of Oahu. Maybe I’d trash Mr. Applestone’s lawn for giving me twenty bucks less than our agreement for detailing his T-Bird. I might drop in on Chuck Marsland and have Lawrence beef him.
Another left took us to Aukai. Lawrence loved the green streetlamps, the ranch homes, and the circular driveways. “Wen I can move in?” he asked. We closed in on the hala tree marking our driveway and I powered my window down.
“Here,” I pointed.
Cyril screeched in. The Barracuda was parked in the open garage. The Olds was gone. I hesitated to get out but Jenny entered my thoughts. She’d be alone in a world dominated by a controlling father. Our mother didn’t really care.
The front door swung opened. June Spoon appeared in a pink dress, a strand of pearls, and gold hoop earrings. Her gold sandals snapped over the blacktop as she made her way to the driver’s side.
Cyril lowered his window.
“Hello, officer,” my mother said. “Has Kirby done something wrong?”
“No, ma’am,” Cyril replied. “He wen stay with my bruddah Freddy Waimanalo side last night. Kirbz wen call, yeah?”
“Oh, yes. Yes, he did. Well, thank you for driving him safely home.”
“My pleasure, ma’am.”
I got out. Lawrence joined me on the blacktop.
“Mom,” I said, “come meet Lawrence, my old friend from Star of the Sea.” She waltzed around to our side. “Hello, Lawrence,” she said. “So nice to meet you.” “You get nice kine place, Missus Wright.”
“Well, thank you. You’re welcome to visit us sometime soon. We’d love to have you.”
“Anytime Kirbz like come Waimanalo, stay okay by me.”
“That’s so nice of you to say, Lawrence.”
The police radio crackled. A lady dispatcher requested backup at First Hawaiian Bank on Bishop Street.
“Gotta hele,” Cyril called.
Lawrence took shotgun and I shut his door.
“Hey, haole boy,” he said.
He held out his hand. I took it and we did our secret vampire shake.
Cyril reversed away.
I walked to the curb. The Malibu cut a left at the stop sign and vanished. I felt alone. June Spoon joined me and the trades rustled her skirt. She seemed heavier and older somehow in the sun, as if something in the dark house kept her young.
“We were all so worried about you, Kirby,” she said. “God only knows what might have happened.”
“Your sister didn’t sleep all night and I nearly kept her home from school. Promise me you’ll never do that again.”
“Do I get the belt?”
“I told your father that you and Troy were too old for spankings.”
* * *
June Spoon drove the Barracuda to Kahala Elementary and picked up Jenny. My sister was glad to see me. We watched Checkers & Pogo. I told her I’d completed a marathon swim over to Moloka’i and back.
“Did not,” she said.
Troy strutted in. He was getting fat from all the soda and Hershey bars he gobbled after school. I’d felt embarrassed when he peeled off his shirt in PE and Leighton Yin quipped, “Hail, Sir Fatso.” Troy pursed his lips, tucked his hands in his armpits, and flapped his elbows like wings. “Puck, puck, puck,” he chortled, “say my name to win a prize.”
“Big Bird!” Jenny squealed.
“Foghorn Leghorn,” I said.
“Nope. I’m Chicken Kirby. The big chicken who ran away from home to escape a little spanking.”
“You’re a fool for staying,” I told him.
“At least I took it, which is more than I can say for you. Where’d you go anyway?” “Waimanalo.”
“Kanaka Central,” he chided. “The locals coulda stuck you in an imu.”
“Wanna hear something funny?”
“The General swore you were hiding in the garden. He runs out like a madman and blasts the sprinklers to flush you out.”
“No way,” I said. “Did he truly think I’d be pupule enough to hide in the yard?” “He thinks all the Wrights are stupes. When you didn’t appear, he gets in the Cutlass and drives through Kahala. I hear his carburetor whistling circling the block. He returns for Mission Impossible but goes out again. ‘Where’s that sonuvabitch?’ he asks Mom. He makes her bike up and down Aukai. ‘Kirby, oh, Kirby boy,’ I hear her say, like she’s lost a pet cat or something.”
“The General starts looking worried. Real worried, like he’ll go to prison or get sued if you killed yourself eating rat poison or jumping off a cliff.”
“What about the cops?”
“What about them?”
“Did he phone 5-0?”
“You pupule? He wants nobody knowing you flew the coop. Imagine the firm finding out! Sayonara, senior partner. Anyway, you’re chicken for not taking it. He’s older now and his belt only stings a little.”
“I heard you screaming.”
“I was faking it.”
He was right. Running was cowardly. But it sent Daddyo the message he was losing control.
* * *
I thought my father might still whack me when he got home from work. He played the Ignore Game. The ground rules were no eye contact and no conversation. He retreated to the master bedroom after his pau hana martini and locked the door. He thought he was punishing me by denying me his attention. But being ignored was what I wanted. He didn’t come out until June Spoon called, “Dinner time!”
Lamb was the main course. I had my usual ration of one dry chop, a splatter of Birdseye peas, and a scoop of Minute Rice. The meal was served on sand-colored stoneware. As usual, I sat across from Daddyo. Jenny was beside me. She kept her eyes glued to her plate. June Spoon winked at me.
Daddyo gnawed on his chop. His lips and the edges of his mouth glistened with fat. His glasses made his eyes look huge. “Got you boys back into Punahou,” he said. “You return Monday morning.”
“That’s wonderful news, Dear,” June Spoon said. “Don’t you think so, boys?”
“Goody gumdrops,” Troy replied.
“Never run off like that again,” Daddyo warned me. “Where’d you spend the night?” “Waimanalo.”
“Some big local guy,” Troy said.
“Let Kirby answer.”
“We met at Makapu’u. His brother’s a cop.”
“Yes,” said June Spoon, “he drove your son home in a nice police car.”
I nodded. “Cyril said to call whenever I want.”
“Think you’re pretty smart don’t you, wise guy?”
“Run again, you don’t get back in.”
Troy laughed drinking his milk. White droplets shot out of his nose and splattered the plastic tablecloth.
Daddyo’s cheeks flushed. “What’s so funny?”
“Imagine the firm knowing you locked out your underage son.”
Daddyo shoved his plate forward—rice and peas flew. A plug of marrow scooted past my milk, bounced over the lip of my sister’s plate, and parked in her peas. My father got up. He stuck his glasses back on and headed for the living room. This was the first time he hadn’t asked Troy or me if he could gnaw on our bones.
* * *
I went to bed knowing my relationship with Daddyo was doomed. I imagined being Cool Hand Luke, the slick prisoner who escapes but ends up back in jail. The warden knew I was no longer a model prisoner. He had a runaway. I heard my mother tell Jenny to brush her teeth.
The deep voice of the KGMB anchorman drifted out of the living room and floated down the hall. He mentioned the Punahou Carnival. The TV clicked off. I heard spraying and sniffed the perfumed stink of Had-A-Bug. The mosquitoes feasted on my old man. I wanted to love him a little or to at least find some way to get along. But he’d hunted down any love he had to give and banished it to a place deep inside, to a poʻele box where he stored everything that could hurt him or make him cry.
KIRBY WRIGHT was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. He is a graduate of Punahou School in Honolulu and the University of California at San Diego. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University. Wright has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and is a past recipient of the Ann Fields Poetry Prize, the Academy of American Poets Award, the Browning Society Award for Dramatic Monologue, and Arts Council Silicon Valley Fellowships in Poetry and the Novel. Before the City, his first book of poetry, took first place at the 2003 San Diego Book Awards. Wright is also the author of the companion novels Punahou Blues and Moloka’i Nui Ahina, both set in Hawaii. He was a Visiting Fellow at the 2009 International Writers Conference in Hong Kong, where he represented the Pacific Rim region of Hawaii. He was also the 2011 Artist in Residence at Milkwood International, Czech Republic.