To my mother, and all the others

By Ashley Mae Christensen

I couldn’t have been more than four years old when I asked my little brother to come into my parents closet and asked that he pull down his pants and show me what was underneath. I didn’t touch, didn’t even think much of it, just wanted to see what made us different. My dad, a quiet, kind, good-night-book-reader, must have heard us and pulled back the sliding mirrored door. He found his two kids squatting on polished Sunday shoes, our heads brushing the bottoms of hanging flannel shirts. I was startled, scolded and sent to my room to think about what I’d done. 


II.

In second grade, after moving to a newer and fancier school, where everyone already knew cursive and whose parents didn’t shop at Mervyns, I finally made a friend. She was from the Philippines. She was loud and wore bright blue pants. I don’t remember her name, but I remember so clearly the day she asked me to pull my baggy shirt tight across my chest and pronounced loudly on the playground, “yep, you’re going to have big boobs.” I had never thought about boobs before, but for the next four years I wore too big shirts and was sure to lean over, letting the fabric billow, when I sat at my desk to write, so that no one would know the way my body was slowly growing.


III.

That same year we lived in the house with a corner garden, and a cherry tree, and a sandbox. My brother and I spent every Sunday afternoon attempting to build a tree house. Poorly nailed wooden steps lined the trunk of the tree below our bedroom window. I remember spinning for a long time around in circles in the front yard, like a human pinwheel, the day my mom got the phone call that our godparents had been killed by drunk drivers. The godparents who never imagined us growing up, but taught us to sew doll blankets and brought donuts on Saturday morning. The day my mom hung up the phone and told me, I remember the leaves whirling lime, yellow, green, and the bits of blue-sky kaleidescoped in between. I spun in circles because I didn’t know what else to do, I had never known about grief and loss. That same week I went into my parent’s tiny white bathroom and discovered the toilet was filled with shades of dark red and maroon floating in the water. I called my brother in and we were both very worried. We called out to our mom that something had happened, that she should come see. In an annoyed tone that surprised us both she called out, “I just forgot to flush the toilet, okay.” My mother who perhaps knew too much about grief and loss.


IV.

One afternoon all fifth grade girls were ushered from classroom desks and into the library. Our bony knees and squeamish calves propped up by growing, sweaty feet fidgeted on the wooden library chairs. My best friend hadn’t told her mother about the meeting, and I suddenly wished I hadn’t invited mine as a gloating and delighted volunteer mother held two ripe and reddened grapefruit in her carefully lotioned hands. She held them out for us, then up to her chest. I sat through the presentation and took my mom’s hand dutifully when she offered hers in my lap. My mother seemed proud of me. I was horrified. The boys began to appear at the windows of the library. They suddenly seemed so childish and sweaty. 


V.

In the following weeks, the girls who shopped at the Gap, gloated in their smooth legs and training bras, they talked with an air of pride that both disgusted and infatuated the boys. I overhead one girl talk about how her older sister and her friends practiced French kissing with saran wrap on their tongues. I, on the other hand still wore a baggy peach T-shirt with a big, black peace sign on the front, a valued hand-me-down from my California cousin. I took off the ratty, graying sports bra I had inherited from another cousin as soon as I walked in the door from school. I was now acutely aware of the brown hair grazing on my legs. I felt sure my parents loved each other, but I had never seen them kiss, and never thought twice about it. 


VI.

I spent the entirety of the sixth grade praying fervently every night that my period would not come. I held it as a test to see if God really listened. A true inquiry as to whether the things they told us in church about God caring about the things that were important to us was actually true. I prayed to God that if he would just spare me from a growing chest, the hair, the blood, I bargained a whole number of things. I would dedicate my firstborn like Sariah, I promised to do well in school, to be kinder to my brother and sister. Near the end of sixth grade, it came. A small reddish spot on my underwear. My stomach sank and I pretended it would go away. We went to my cousin’s house that night and I wore the purple and blue tie-dye outfit I’d sewn in my sewing class, I considered it good luck. I lay on the floor, we were watching Gulliver’s Travels and I’d just learned about the word Lilliputian, meaning very small, even insignificant. I was so worried everyone was watching when I had to stand up and go home.


VII.

The next morning it did not go away. I was so mad at God, disillusioned at His lack of concern for me. I sat in the bathroom fighting back tears. I hated the stupid lady at the maturation program who told us with her idiot-beaming smile that being a woman was so wonderful, that all these changes were exciting. I pulled up my jeans and walked into my mom’s room. I sat on the edge of her cedar chest and cried until she got out of the shower. When she opened the door, a billow of steam escaped and she came and sat next to me in her towel. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I was crying too hard to tell her. She stroked my hair and I let her, as she guessed what the problem could be. A fight with a friend, a bad grade, the shirt I’d wanted to buy at the mall. Finally she guessed right and I nodded my head in defeat. I despised the words of comfort, about it being a beautiful thing, but I sat there with my swollen eyes and my arm around my mom’s wet waist.


VIII.

Soon after, I started junior high. My jeans were too big, I had a walkman with a UB40 tape, and no older sisters to tell me how to do my hair. The first time I had my period that year my mom packed me a pastel bag full of supplies. I remember the feeling of that cushioned bag. I buried it at the bottom of my backpack and worried all through class that someone would hear the crinkle and recognize the contents, or that any moment some obnoxious boy would tear it open and pour the awkward pads onto my desk. I was a straight-A student, and never late to class, but that week I lingered after the second bell had rung and slunk into the most obscure bathroom, standing in the stall, so careful to unzip the bag an inch at a time so that my shame wouldn’t interrupt the echoing silence. 



IX.

My mom taught me that to keep track of every month I could put a little heart around the day on a calendar, then I would know what it meant, but no one else would. I remember the nine months before my littlest sister was born, when those ballpoint penned hearts were absent from the kitchen calendar. It seemed exciting then. I purposely never kept track, couldn’t imagine why I would, was too worried that a friend, a friend that was a boy would come over and crack the code. In a strange way, later in life, after my mom had no need to draw any more hearts ever again, I felt a strange longing to see them, a desire to know that in ways, my mom and I were just alike, that still we understood each other, even if I refused to acknowledge the facts.

Piggly Wiggly Mama

By Sean Johnson

I see you by the snack cakes, aisle nine,
opposite “Chips and Dip, Saltines.” I fill
my shopping cart with TV dinners, steals
at 90 cents. The woman next in line
is fishing coupons from her purse as you
walk through the aisles of the grocery store
as if this were an art, a model for
some European line, cat-walking through
the produce now (surveillance mirrors tell all).
You fondle melons, checking peaches, pears,
as music, soft, plays overhead—“I Fall
In Love Too Easily.” It’s true. I stare
for hours, it seems, a boy hearing a call
beyond the plums, beyond the daily fare.

As a Doornail

By Sean Johnson

The dead have sad faces. Just listen
to their sighs, accordions without zing,
like the wheeze of an empty ketchup bottle.
Listen how they click their fingernails
together—a sound often mistaken
for rain at cemeteries. Yes, being
entombed must be a drag, as much fun
as a bat guano and liverwurst sandwich.
But some things, we know, are worse—
having your pants fall down in church,
performing bare-handed elephant vasectomies,
being alone for long periods of time.
A guy in North Dakota has the formula
for eternal life scribbled on the back
of an old Sports Illustrated, but he won’t
be Fed-Exing it to anyone soon,
won’t be sending out any mass e-mail
that says forward to ten people, or else.
Who wants to live forever anyway?
Think of all the taxes you’d have to pay.
I feel bad enough for my shih tzu-poodle,
Spunky. A canine Methuselah, she barks
at a passing squirrel and sounds like
she’s hacking up a dinosaur egg.

Meanwhile, the dinged-up microwave
of mortality continues to whirl, the world
a thin paper plate, and we the steaming heaps
of Spätzle that invariably end up in Tupperware.

So let the rains waltz upon the rooftop.
So let the windshield wipers wave goodbye
and the moon bark all night long
at the neighbor’s dog. No freakish light
bursting forth from the tomb, no dead lover
Patrick Swayze-ing back into existence.
A closed casket just means the mortician
botched the job, had to construct a new noggin
out of paper-maché and cotton swabs.

Pay your respects to the third cousin of the deceased.
At the after party, try the potato salad.

Kinda Creepy, Living Here in This Abandoned Bulgarian Castle

By Sean Johnson

right next door to the abandoned knife factory.
Just to get the bathroom I have to take two secret passageways.
At night my neighbor, Countess Borslova, swings from the chandeliers and
      howls obscenities in six languages.
In the morning she locks herself in the pantry and assumes a vegetative state.

Those werewolf shows on the Sci-Fi Network seemed hokey
until the Wolf Man swung by on his moped to pick up the mail.
Dear Rene: The mosquitoes here are terrible.
I already have two bites on the neck, very close together,
one right beside the other.

Ghost drool. Check. Goat blood. Check.
Enough to give Boris Karloff the heebie jeebies—
Nosferatu ghosting himself through walls,
lesser spooks haunting the garbage disposal.
Don't even think about rummaging through the basement for Christmas bobbles.

A crippled wind dragging itself across the front lawn.
Night scraping its fingernails on the moon's chalkboard.
The Black Sea vomiting itself onto the nearby shore.

Fourteen Ninty-Five

By Brittany Frandsen

Anson Electronics paid my rent the summer after my parents kicked me out and before my boyfriend took me in. I functioned as a combination secretary/receptionist/accountant/ general-office-manager-of-one at Anson’s headquarters, a dumpy little building squeezed between a failing bakery and a thriving pawn shop. You know the type. No air conditioning but plenty of bugs.

I walked into work that Thursday morning to the shrill ringing of the phone. Wincing, I threw my brown lunch bag into the fridge with one hand and picked up the phone with the other.

“Anson Electronics. This is Heather.” I seated myself at the three-legged card table which served as my desk.

The voice on the other end brought the phone three inches from my ear. “I want to speak to your supervisor!”

“Please hold,” I replied. I set the phone down and walked back to the front door to prop it open with one of the bricks that had recently fallen from the hole in the ceiling. Returning to the card table, I attempted to switch on the Apple computer my boss had recently purchased and which occasionally worked. The computer whined feebly before returning to its lifeless stupor as I scooped up the receiver.

“This is Meridith,” I said.

“Hello? Hello? Are you there?” said the voice on the other end.

“Yes, ma’am. How can I help you?”

“Well, I don’t really think you can. Do you know, I’ve called six times this morning and this is the only time anyone’s picked up the phone?”

“We don’t open ‘til eight, ma’am.”

“Well, you should certainly have an answering machine. We purchased one six months ago, and I don’t see how any functional business can run without it.”

“Thank you for your suggestion, ma’am. I’ll certainly bring it up at the next staff meeting. You have a nice day now.”

“Where are you going? That is not why I called.”

“All right, what else can I do for you?”

“I need a refund on the toaster I purchased from your company.”

“Have you spoken to the store you purchased it from?”

“Yes, and they said they can’t give my money back, that I have to go through you.”

“May I ask why you’re unsatisfied with this appliance?”

“You certainly could! I have never been so unhappy with a product in my life. For one thing, the plug doesn’t fit into my wall socket.”

“Doesn’t fit?”

“No! It’s too wide. My husband tried to bend the little metal things that actually go into the wall so they’d fit and they still didn’t, so we had to pay an electrician to install a whole new wall socket.”

“Do you have the box the toaster came in?”

“Yes, that’s how I found your number. I’ve got it right here.”

“Look on the front of the box, lower-right-hand side, under the picture of the rabbit.”

“Okay, I see the rabbit.”

“Great. Right under there, it says to check your wall socket before you actually purchase the toaster to make sure the toaster will plug in.”

“Well, I didn’t see that before I bought the toaster.”

“Ma’am, I recommend that in the future, before you purchase an item, you read the print on the box. You have a nice day now.”

“Wait! That isn’t all.”

“All right. What other problems do you have?” I leaned back in the chair and put my feet up on the card table, which swayed and almost dumped the Apple onto the floor.

 

“Well, once we got everything set up and plugged in, we tried to toast some bread. But the toaster started to smell like burning rubber every time we used it! And then whatever we made would taste just like the toaster smelled.”

“Mm-hm. Ma’am, do you still have the toaster box in front of you?”

“I do.”

“Great. Open the box and look on the inside of the lid. Do you see the writing there?”

“I do. There’s a heading that says ‘Instructions.’”

“Great. Those are the actual directions for operating the toaster. Did you follow all those directions?”

“Give me a minute. There’s a lot of writing here.”

“Skip down to the fifth paragraph in the middle column. It says there that you need to make sure you remove the rubber tabs placed along the bottom of the inside of the toaster before you actually try to use it. Did you do that?”

“Well, no, we didn’t read this before we tested it out.”

“Ma’am, I recommend that in the future, before you use an appliance, you read the instructions. You have a nice day now.”

“Hold on! I still have complaints!”

“All right, go ahead.”

“It’s too slow.”

“Pardon?”

The voice on the other end started to grow in intensity and volume. “Your toaster is far too slow for my needs. I’ve timed it, and on average your toaster takes two minutes and twelve seconds to adequately toast a piece of white bread. This means that my kids are spending valuable time that should be spent at their honors clubs or studying for their Advanced Placement classes in front of a smelly, dysfunctional toaster. This means my husband has to get up earlier every morning and go to bed later every night to make his breakfast before work. This means not only does it take me longer to get my breakfast, but I have to run around trying to help everyone else whose time your toaster is wasting! I demand full compensation, and I can assure you, I will never recommend your product to anyone.”

By the time she reached the end of her sentence, her voice faintly resembled that of a seagull. Somewhere towards the commencement of her monologue, I had reached into my purse and pulled out a magazine. Thumbing through its contents, I stifled a yawn.

“Ma’am, I understand your situation. I understand you’re upset. However, I need to point out that Anson Electronics is not responsible for the current situation.”

“How can you say that? Your toaster is the cause of all this.”

“I hardly think our toaster is the issue here, ma’am.”

“Oh, really? Well let me tell you something. My neighbor runs a small electronics store downtown, and we took your toaster over to him last night, and he said it was the most ridiculous excuse for a toaster he had ever seen. He said it should never have passed inspection, and he’s actually the one who advised us to get a refund. He knows absolutely everything about things like this, and if he says it’s faulty, you know it’s true.”

“All right. I do understand that. But if you don’t mind my asking, ma’am, why didn’t you buy your toaster from him?”

There was silence on the line for a few seconds.

“Yours was on sale.”

“And how much did you pay for this toaster, ma’am?”

“Fourteen ninety-five.”

“And you would like a refund for fourteen ninety-five?”

“I most certainly would. Are you going to be able to do that for me, or will I need to speak to someone higher?”

“Well, ma’am, the very best I can do for you is nine ninety-five.”

“Nine ninety-five? Why is that?”

“There’s a five dollar processing fee.”

“Why is that? I hardly think I’ve gotten five dollars worth of function out of this toaster.”

“You know what, ma’am, it’s just a processing fee, and it’s not even something we deal with. It all goes through the government.”

“All right. Well, how do I get this nine ninety-five?”

“You’ll need to package the toaster in the original box along with any accompanying attachments and ship it to our office.”

“I know. I read that on the box.”

“So, you have read our refund policy?”

“Yes. I found it on the bottom of the box.”

“All right. Do you have any questions about that?”

“Yes, I do. Do you have any idea how much it costs to ship a box containing your toaster to the address listed?”

“I do not.”

“Priority mail costs nearly twenty dollars. That’s more than the cost of the toaster itself.”

“I understand that. But I have no control over the price of the mail, ma’am. If that’s your complaint, I can see if I can find you the number for your senator.”

“That will not be necessary. Isn’t there anything you can do?”

“My hands are tied unless I have the toaster here in the office.”

“Well, do I have to send in the whole toaster?”

“Of course. We can only offer you a refund if you return the product. I think you’ll find most companies operate in the same way.”

“Well, can’t I just send you the receipt?”

“No, ma’am. In order to give you a full refund, we need the toaster. You can keep the receipt.”

“How can that be possible? I can’t pay for a refund.”

“Do you have any friends that will be visiting our area? Perhaps they could bring it in for you.”

“We do not.”

“Well, then I really don’t have any other options for you. If you want the refund, you need to return the toaster. If you’d like, I can waive the five dollar processing fee, but that’s really all I can do for you.”

“That is not acceptable. I’d like to speak to the director of the company!”

“I’m afraid that won’t be possible. The director is out of the country at a business conference.”

“Well, get him on the phone!”

“I can’t do that, ma’am.”

“Why not?”

“He is in meetings all day improving our company. He has far more important things to do than deal with a fourteen ninety-five toaster.”

“Are you saying my needs aren’t important? I’m your customer! Without me, you don’t have a business at all!”

“It takes a lot more money than fourteen ninety-five to run a business, ma’am.”

“Excuse me?”

I spoke a bit louder. “I said, it takes a lot more money than fourteen ninety-five to run a business, ma’am.”

“Well, I— I have never spoken to anyone so unprofessional! How old are you, anyway?”

“I hardly think that that is relevant information.”

“It most certainly is! You’re probably just some punk teenager they pulled off the streets! You’ve probably never even seen one of these toasters!”

“Ma’am, if there is nothing else I can do for you today, I’m going to have to hang up. I have several other customers waiting.”

“I’ll be reporting you to the Better Business Bureau!”

“Is there anything else I can do for you, ma’am?”

“You’d better not try to sell any more of your toasters around here! I’ll make sure none of my friends use your products.”

“You have a nice day, ma’am.”

I hung up the phone and gazed thoughtfully at the computer screen, which had just lit up with alternating purple and green bars that floated across the screen, blinking on and off. It held my gaze for only a few seconds before the phone started ringing again. I rolled my eyes and picked it up.

“Anson Electronics, this is Marie.”

Peace Purchased of Separation

By Liesl M. Burkirk

Separation — A word inexorably tied in my mind to the landscape and history of Kalaupapa, Molokai. Kalaupapa is a peninsula separated geographically from the rest of the island of Molokai by 3,500 foot high sea cliffs, the tallest in the world. With all the features of a natural prison — towering cliffs to the north and pounding surf on its other three sides — the peninsula seems designed for isolation and separation. It was an ideal site, the authorities of the 1860’s thought, for a settlement for those with Ma’iho’oha’awale, “the separating sickness,” called leprosy in haole terms. Fear of a possible epidemic caused Hawaiian authorities to quarantine anyone who showed signs of leprosy. The disease cause swelling, desensitization, deformity, and sometimes eventual loss of affected body parts, most often including fingers, toes, lips, ears, eyes, and noses. Contagious and debilitating, leprosy separated the patients from society even as it physically separated their appendages from their limbs. Those with symptoms resembling early stages of the disease were forced to leave their homes with no prospect of ever returning. Between 1866 and 1949, Kalaupapa was considered a living tomb for the approximately eight thousand patients who were torn from home and family and sent there for lifelong exile to Makanalua, “the given grave,” as the peninsula was once called. Some of those exiled were reported by friends and neighbors to authorities for a $10 bounty. Some who actually did not have the disease were mistakenly sent but after exposure could not return home. Some were pushed off the ships that brought them to Kalaupapa and left to swim ashore alone, a fitting beginning to their future lives of isolation.

The patients of Kalaupapa — mothers, children, husbands, Hawaiian, Chinese, haole — were banished to a world without law. In the early days of the settlement, before medical personnel or religious leaders volunteered to come to Kalaupapa, the patients were left to themselves with no organization, assistance, or guidance. Tales of the comparatively healthy patients dominating those whose leprosy was further advanced, of drunkenness, debauchery, and lawlessness made exile to Kalaupapa an even more frightening prospect for new patients. Theirs was a life of true separation, of pain, of fear, and of hope only in an afterlife free from the helplessness of their situation. From this hope, many patients grew to depend increasingly on God and invited missionaries from Catholic and Lutheran congregations of Honolulu to bring religion to Kalaupapa. As the influence of these churches became stronger in the settlement — through the work of selfless volunteers, many of whom later contracted the disease — the anarchy of the earlier days slowly dissipated and was replaced by a sense of ohana (family/community_ and a collective effort to find happiness despite the pain and loss.

Following the discovery of sulfa treatments for leprosy in the 1940s, the authorities gave the patients freedom to more elsewhere. The shameful disease was no longer their jailer, yet few chose to leave. The peninsula imprisoned their hearts, captivated their memories, and held their lives in the way of its pervading peace — peace wrought from the tears of loss in a town that weeps from a century of sorrow and cradles the souls of those welcomed into the family of isolation. Today they choose Kalaupapa, where the ‘aina— the total environment of land, sea, and sky — pulses with peace and serenity, where the scent of dew-kissed flowers perfumes an air that breathes almost audibly with the soothing rhythm of the surf.

The patients, while at peace with themselves and their exile, are very wary of outsiders. Those who remain in the settlement today are older — the last patients were sent there in the mid-1940s and patients were not permitted to have children (there was even a sterilization program in place for many years) — and most have no memory of life anywhere else. Kalaupapa is their only home and the other patients are the only family most of them know. The State of Hawaii has promised them that Kalaupapa will remain theirs for the rest of their lives. With this assurance and their history there, the patients have highest priority in the settlement. Yet Hawaii’s government is anxious to preserve Kalaupapa’s peculiar history and landscape and in 1980 accepted a National Park Service proposal to create a National Historical Park there. Though the park is not open to visitors, the Park Service has rangers stationed in the settlement to begin the process of restoration and protection in preparation for a time when access to the peninsula will be freer. With the increasing influence of the park staff and awareness of the government’s plan for Kalaupapa, the patients worry that the peace they have made from themselves might be taken from them. But, they are determined not to let themselves be banished again.

To ensure their rights will be protected, the patients elected a council to mediate with the various government agencies now present in the settlement. The council establishes and enforces strict rules for visitation to the peninsula to better protect the patients’ privacy. Tourists may visit only if accompanied by a resident or official from the settlement, and then only if the visitor is over sixteen years old. Those who run the daily mule and bus tours of the peninsula must agree to strictly control who the bring into the settlement, where they go, and how long they stay — the general rule is that without a specific permit from the council, visitors cannot stay longer than four hours on the peninsula. The Park Service, State Department of Health, and other organizations who co-manage affairs on the peninsula must obtain permission for every personnel position and visitor they wish to bring in. Staff members with families or spouses who are not employed in the settlement cannot live in Kalaupapa, but must hike down the trail for work each day and back to go home at night.

As a volunteer in the Sierra Club’s Hawaii Service Trip Program, I was a member of a service group the National Park Service invited to Kalaupapa in the summer of 1996. The ten group members were approved by the Patients’ Council to work on restoration and clean-up projects for two weeks under supervision by the park rangers. In our time there, we met a few of the patients who still reside in the wooden houses of Kalaupapa and became somewhat acquainted with the subtle power of their erstwhile prison to capture the hearts of those who experience it.

The only land access to Kalaupapa is a steep trail of twenty-six switchbacks carved into the steep cliffs after the quarantine was lifted. The trail weaves through kukui, java plum, bayan, and haole koa trees down to the peninsula. As we followed the hoofprints of donkeys down the cliffs, the intensity of colors around us surprised me; the lush patchwork of green leaves overhead, the deep red dirt which billowed with each tromping step, and the variegation of blues and greens in the deep ocean below were more vivid and palpable than anything I’d ever seen.

The sea cliffs were formed millions of years ago when a tectonic shift or disturbance of the subterranean hot spot cause half of the then-circular island of Molokia to crumble and plummet into the sea. Weathered by wind and rain, the towering rock face left in the wake of the landslide collected a profusion of plants, blanketing the cliffs in a kaleidoscope of greens. In the water below, the slide created rock canyons and valleys which were further shaped by the perpetual motion of the rolling waves. These arches and peaks, chasms, and caves also gathered life about them — spinner dolphins, monk seals, green sea turtles, and myriad fish all careening around in the clear, crisp water. Thousands of years after the landslide a small but steady volcanic eruption pulse layers of magma up from the ocean floor to create the peninsula of Kalaupapa. With the turn of each switchback, we could see the results of these natural phenomena more clearly and came closer to the peninsula we had heard so much about. I was glad that we had come by the trail to Kalaupapa and had the chance to experience the true distance of the peninsula separation.

Kalaupapa has a small airport, but it serves mainly cargo charters bringing supplies to the settlement. Larger items are brought in on the yearly barge. The patients await that “Christmas in July” eagerly, anxious to see a new car to replace the old station wagon whose door has been held on by duct tape for six months, the materials for the fence they need to protect their garden from foraging deer, or the headstone for their best friend’s grave that has lain unmarked for several months. But barge day comes only once a year and the rest of the time the settlement depends on the small cargo planes to bring in necessities.

To make our hike down less cumbersome, we sent most of our tools and supplies by plane before taking our flight into Kaunakakai and a bus from the airport there to the trailhead. At the cargo airport in Honolulu, we saw a bumper sticker that read “Molokai stay friendly. You like try?” — Hawaiian creole (or pidgin) for an invitation to experience the unique hospitality of the people of Molokai. Going there, you almost unconsciously adopt their easy, laid-back style.

Perhaps it is this hospitality combined with the simplicity of life in the settlement which makes it such a captivating place. The speed limit signs read “suggested speed 15 mph.” There are no stoplights. Most of the streets are not divided. People leave their car keys in the ignition. Houses and rooms are not locked. The library is left virtually unmonitored with just a book on the table where you can write down what you have borrowed or brought back. There are no motels or shopping centers in Kalaupapa and only residents are allowed to shop at the one grocery/convenience store in the settlement. Elaine’s, the only establishment which might be characterized as a restaurant, is nothing more than a couple of picnic tables in somebody’s backyard with a TV, some freezers full of ice cream, and an older lady sitting reading a magazine who make sandwiches and pours drinks for the customers. And permeating the picnic tables of Elaine’s, the nightly dance classes, the ramshackle homes, and the slow driving cars is a deep contentment, a sense of timeless continuity.

The patients can be seen puttering around in their jungle-like gardens, sitting watching the sunset from their porches, fishing off the pier, or talking along the street. Having lived there for so long, they have formed close association and deep friendships. Together they have created the ambiance of closeness that typifies their lives — they are close to each other and close with themselves. They are comfortable with the legacy of their disease and want only that — not pity or shock– from those they meet. Once you show that you are not looking at their disfigured hands and faces, that you are willing to talk to them, share with them, and serve them, they welcome you as one of their own.

Our accommodations in Kalaupapa were rooms, once reserved for the nurses, in a Quonset hut at the very edge of the settlement, where we would not be in the patients’ way or invade their privacy. Yet as we walked through the streets of the settlement on our way to work or to the cool water after our work was through, we noticed the patients watching us ad wondering what to think of us. Some of them would just look, others would wave or stop to talk as they passed by in their cars. With each encounter, we felt our separation from them slowly begin to disappear.

After our first afternoon there, when Jed asked one of the patients if he could borrow a fishing pole, fresh mahimahi kept appearing on the kitchen counter right before dinner time. After we talked to some of the patients and nurses who stopped by the barbeque we had at the park superintendent’s house, we were invited to come line dancing at the social hall. We often noticed those we’d met going out of their way to watch us work — sometimes bringing an “extra” case of cold soda they were “trying to get rid of” with them. After we finished restoring the old He’iau (ancient Hawaiin temple) inside the dormant volcano crater, we were invited to meet with and hear the stories of some of the residents who had particular interest in that project. Some of them were not only interested in our work, but also in us personally. They welcomed us eagerly into their homes and their spirit took root in our hearts.

For me, Kenso Seki, at age eighty-seven one of the oldest patients, in one of those. He boasts of being the oldest Catholic altar boy in the world, former Scoutmaster for the settlement’s boys, and self-appointed mayor of Kalaupapa. His hands are shrunken and twisted, but his eyes are bright and his humor high. With a laugh lurking on his disfigured lips, he tells the story of how he came to Kalaupapa as a small boy and caused so much trouble in the Boys’ School that Father Dutton make him sleep in a room attached to the teacher’s quarters. He and his best friend, Harold Lee, another former Boys’ School student, still think of themselves as youthful troublemakers and do their best to fill that role. One of their favorite pranks is to startle the deer that feed nightly in the settlement’s open fields. He drives up slowly with his truck’s headlights off, then stops the truck and beams the lights straight at the deer, which freeze for a moment then scatter quickly in all directions. Though Kenso is legally blind, he loves to drive, so there is an unwritten rule that if you see Kenso’s white Toyota truck on the road, you get off. He gauges his position on the road by driving to the right until he feels his tires go off the asphalt and then veering to the left.

Since the quarantine was lifted in 1969, Kenso has become one of the most well-traveled of the patients, and pennants from each of the cities he has visited paper the walls of his brightly painted house. He loves to talk about all the places he has been and the many important people he has met. He was able to fly to Denmark for the dedication of a memorial to Father Damien — one of the first and most devoted of the missionaries who worked with the patients until they lost their own lives to leprosy.

When I looked at the bright pennants, newspaper clippings, and photos on his living room walls, Kenso told me some of the great stories of Kalaupapa. He shook his head while remembering Christmas Eve in 1995 when former electrician and leprosy patient Norbert Vierra died and a malfunction that same night cause a blackout on the entire peninsula, including the Coast Gaurd’s lighthouse on the west shore. “Nobody knew how to fix anything, so we had a black Christmas!” he exclaimed, eyes sparkling with humor.

He told me of the changes that have taken place for the patients in the years since 1923 when he first came to Kalaupapa. He wanted me to understand that the patients don’t feel bitter or sorry for themselves. They have forged a sense of belonging in the community of their collective separation. They have dissolved the isolation which sent them there and make their separation a common bond between them. They have taken the discord of their once-tattered existence and built a harmonious life on and with the land. Once their prison, Kalaupapa is now the stage for their liberation from the harsh tragedy of their past. Because we chose to listen and accept, we were enfolded by their belonging, including in their ohana, and encompassed by their deep serenity.

Looking down at the settlement from Pala’au State Park at the top of the trail, where we waited for our ride back to the airport, I felt curiously as if I had not escaped a prison, but wrought one in my own heart, a prison where the unity of heart and ‘aina, the beauty in separation, the loneliness, dignity, and aloha implicit in the spirit of Kalaupapa were to be locked in the remembrance and held closely. The land of separation gave life to the unity of our group and gave meaning to the loneliness deep in each of our souls.

Below me, I saw the buildings of the settlement clustered along the east shore of the peninsula and realized that the Kalaupapa I had just come to know would soon be no more. Just as upon the death of the last patient, the settlement will become a tourist park and cease to function as it has, the land itself is slowly erasing the signs of a disappearing civilization — closing the separating gap caused by human presence there. Vegetation is swiftly repossessing the land around buildings fallen into disuse. The objects — chairs, clothes, utensils, and old cars — left behind by those who have escaped the prisons of their disfigured bodies, have rusted and deteriorated so they are nearly indiscernible from the pebbles of the shoreline. Nature seems eager to reclaim what was once hers before the settlement has even finished its sad history. In the melody of the surf caressing the stones of the beach and the whispering of the leaves outside the windows of the Quonset hut lies the secret rhythm of Kalaupapa — the pathos of ages past and the peace purchased of separation.

Autumn Morning

By Linda VanOrden

Wet September trickled through our door with Mr. Abberly-
Early for a change.
Shaking his trench coat,
Sprinkling translucent beads from his
Red beard,
He collapsed to the floor-
By the umbrella stand
In our porch where the cobwebs hung.
My mother held his head,
Helped him to speak
About the birth of his new son,
Seth,
And the death of his wife
At three that morning.

I crouched behind the white banister
On the stairs
That Monday morning before school,
Picking a ketchup stain from my school tie.
No more orange squash or Garibaldi biscuits after class
In Mrs. Abberly's white stone kitchen.
I don't know why death didn't strike me as strange
When I was seven.

 

A Sense of Belonging

By Arthur Westover

During the spring in Texas, the usual summer crews of
orange-vested Mexicans, the tractor mowers and weed
whackers, by the order of unknown Austin men in air
conditioning, leave the highway grass tracks for the
wildflowers-Bluebonnet and Indian Paintbrush.

On my once-yearly drive home in April, I leave Interstate 20
for Highway 6.I mention this because my only attachment
to home is this drive through the towns, their two street-
lights, or maybe one caution yellow, the small oil derricks
like donkeys, heads-bobbing-these places I never grew
up in.

Academia failed my father, or vice versa, another Ph.D.
who ate inordinate amounts of rice and beans to pay for
his wo-bedroom home in a neighborhood free of a single
native tree. Chinese Pistachio, Fruitless Mulberry, Black
Plum and Fig-my father digs around the roots this Sat-
urday morning, mulch, manure, organic treatments.

I’m moving the hive in the backyard in a few minutes, he
Tells me, knees shifting over sod, not looking up, to out by
that shed on Wellborn Road. Huisache--He picks up a
grub, tears it in half drops it in the mulch. Huisache's in
bloom over there. Do you want to help?

For two years my father has kept bees, five or six hives-
Buckfast, Cordovan Italian, a couple feral queens-all as
if the manifest metaphor of his own words: I finally put
God first in my life, after fifty years.

Yellow-mesh veil, suede gloves to the elbows, & white bee
suit, pant legs rubber-banded at the ankles. The hive is
just a wooden box with the holes drilled near the bottom,
comb-heavy top bars cut from crates left behind a super-
market, set on cement blocks. Drunk and full, like leop-
ards, leg-heavy with pollen from Indian Hawthorn, they
return to the hive, a low humming, a mantra.

Will you be staying a while? he asks, drops a match into
the smoker, squeezes the bellows, flips the cap shut.
Your mother and I will be going to church tomorrow. You're
welcome. Lifts the lid, a spray of bees released, throws
pine smoke over brood and sister workers. Takes a top
bar, a strawberry-shaped cluster of bees on the comb,
sets it in the cradle. See the queen? Isn't she beautiful? She
lowers herself backwards into the cell, fat abdomen first.
A singular transparent egg.

My father returns the top bar, wraps the hive with screen
and duct tape, I carry it to the pickup. Far from the city,
the truck bumps over gravel-filled potholes, my father not
yet aware that tomorrow morning, as I drive north on
Highway 6, he will find a cluster of bees, a couple dozen,
in the cinder block in the backyard. He will plan to move
another hive there, and the stragglers will join them.

Grounded

By Christl Call-Cook

Monday. Jeremy and Daniel didn’t show up to school. Dan was my best friend, which is a bit weird because I’m a girl. Normally, I wouldn’t be bothered at all by the fact that he didn’t show up, but he had my ball and we always play at recess. Some of the kids wouldn’t let me play before because I’m a girl, but that stopped when I brought my own ball. Then they decided that I looked like a boy with my short hair and I played okay, so I was in. At recess all the boys were mad at me because I didn’t have the red ball and we had to play with one of the orange, flat balls from school.

We lived on Fidalgo Island, but it was only technically an island. It is surrounded on all sides by water, but there’s a bridge to the mainland. Fidalgo Island is a lumpy bit of land covered with evergreens and lakes. A small town, Anacortes, takes up one third of the island. I’ve been here fourteen long months-long like years. That means fourteen months of rain, fourteen months of nothing to do but hang out at the smokey bowling alley, fourteen months of less-than-new movies in the theater converted from an old Baptist church and fourteen months of wandering the beaches like a Victorian maid, wringing my hands and wailing for a lover lost at sea-when there’s nothing else to do. Someone saw me once, Jason, the kid next door. He’s kind of mean. He’s one of the ones that didn’t want me to play ball with them because I was a girl. So, of course, I had to fudge a bit or he would tell everyone I was weird. So I told him I was singing beer-drinkin’ songs that my uncle had taught me-and I sang one:

Well, I smoke my pipe and I drink my beer

Until my belly goes way out here.

He was impressed. Idiot.

This is the longest we’ve ever been in one place. We’ve always moved. It’s the one constant thing in our family-we move, regularity. We will be moving in a week to Maryland where the Navy has a station. Dad will be working on the base evaluating the training of the new recruits. Right now, he works at the naval base in Oak Harbor, the next island over.

I came home from school and went straight into my bedroom to put down my books. The phone rang and I ran down the long hall past the overdone seascapes on the wall and into my parents’ room to pick it up. On the third ring, I dove across the bed and grabbed the receiver.

It was Auntie Bev, our next-door neighbor. She wasn’t really our aunt, but she insisted that the kids in the neighborhood call her aunt. She was a dumpy old lady who was obsessed with disease. She was a nurse before she retired, so it made sense.

“Hello, Auntie Bev. How is today for you?” I said.

“Oh goodness! Is this Melissa? It’s been a bad day today. It’s so hot that my body aches, and I’m soaked.” I lay back on the pillows and stared at the ceiling. Bev continued to talk, her voice sounding like the lady on the AM radio. I started to count the slats in the closet doors.

“I can’t even wear a bra because it’s so hot and sticky today-too many layers. I’m just wearing that orange house dress your mother made for me. Who is this?” she said.

“Lissa,” I said.

“Isn’t your mother at home?”

“Yes. . .”

“Well get her, dear,” Bev said. I went for my mother, who was our in the side yard looking after the roses. She thought it a bit silly to walk all the way around the house to talk on the phone with a lady who lives next door. Our rose bushes are in the side yard right next to Auntie Bev’s.

“Modern inconvenience,” she said. My mother is a wonderful woman. Occasionally she says to me, “Let’s go to the beach.” She calls the middle school and tells them that I won’t be attending that day and we go to the beach instead. She has kept me sane through all of the moves. I suspect that she would say the same about me if a twelve-year-old can keep an adult sane. They say it usually goes the other way around, you know, twelve -year-olds keeping adults insane.

Tuesday, Daniel and Jeremy didn’t come to school either. I began to wonder if I was ever going to see my ball again. Did they move? No. On the way to school I saw their stepfather’s car. Just as the bus turned off the main road and approached Briar Circle, he pulled out from behind and sped off down the main road. Maybe they’re sick. I hope not; I’m getting lonely. It’s hard for me to make friends. I never got used to moving; after the first ten times, I gave up. Dan and Jem befriended me. They had watched me collect worms one day before school. It had rained-not a surprising thing for Washington-and the ground was wet that morning. Worms were all over the sidewalk. I had started just throwing them off the sidewalk into the rich soil to save their lives but picked out a few that I wanted to keep because they were so big. Daniel had watched a bit with his brother before he asked me if I was going fishing with them. I said I’d never gone fishing but that I’d like to and thank you for inviting me. I was being sarcastic, as my mother puts it; it’s the best way to be left alone. But they took me up on it, and we went the next day.

After school, I decided to walk home so I could stop by Dan’s. At least I would find out what was going on. Their house was on Boston Street at the very end. Right next door was an empty field where we would look for worms to go fishing-it’s really muddy. Their house was plain but clean, a one-story wooden house, beige with dark-brown trim. Their lawn was always mowed short and was green, but they had no flowers or trees. I checked in the garage window for cars. Their mother’s little brown Datsun was gone, but their stepdad’s white Toyota was parked in the middle of the garage. There were puddles of water around the car so it must have just returned home from driving in the rain.

I lowered myself down to the ground and leaned against the garage. Their stepdad made me nervous; it wasn’t something so much noticed as sensed. He seemed really nice-he bought us pizza and joked with all of us. He would tease Daniel about having a girlfriend and talk about kissing. The boys never talked about him. One day, I came over to play. Jem answered the door. His eyes were red and he sniffled a little. He said he wasn’t crying, and I hadn’t even asked. He shouted for Daniel and ran down the hall. I heard him in the kitchen asking if he and Dan could play. They came out to the living room and we played games from their games closet. We stayed at their house because their mother warned them to be home. We were laughing when the front door opened.

“I’m home!” said their stepfather. “I’ve brought pizza.” He walked into the living room, grabbed the feather duster and began tickling me with it. I was laughing when I noticed that Daniel and Jeremy weren’t. Daniel looked angry and Jeremy bit his lower lip and looked at his hands. Later, when I asked Dan what that was all about, he wouldn’t say anything other than, “He’s a jerk.” He never talked about his stepfather after that. Once aware of the tension, it was easy to pick out of harmless conversations. The boys’ silence, their mother’s fast whistling, their father’s bad jokes at night-they were all clues. That is why I debated so long about ringing their doorbell. I decided to ring it and see.

I followed the curve of the sidewalk through the neat square of lawn. Standing at their doorstep felt like standing on the stage for the school play again. I knocked instead of ringing and waited. No one came. I couldn’t hear any noise inside the house, though their father should have been home since his car was. He’s not prone to taking walks around the neighborhood. There wasn’t a sound until I turned and started to walk away. I heard a sort of thumping like a cat jumping off a cupboard or knocking books over. I didn’t know what it could be, so I went home. Anyways, it certainly wasn’t someone opening the door or shouting “Come in!”

{break}

“Hello, Auntie Bev. How are you?” I said.

“It’s a bad day, a bad day. My temperature has really been up. I’m soaked. I’m on Tegratol until they switch my meds, you know,” Bev said. I was back to counting wood slats in the closet doors. I swear I must have counted them every day; she called every day. The closet door was open so I categorized my mother’s clothes by color. I never noticed before that everything was either blue or green. There is one red dress.

“My home nurse stopped by today and took my blood, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. My physical therapy is screwing up my arm. It’s black and blue and green and yellow and stuff, I don’t think it will ever heal. Yes, it will never be the same.”

“Would you like to speak to my mother?” I said.

“Melissa! I call to speak to you, too; I like to know how you are doing, too! How are you?” she said. I could hear the vacuum that Mom was using on the car through the open window and through the phone. My mother was right; it was strange to talk to someone on the telephone who lived so close.

“I’m fine. How are you?” I said. I propped a pillow against the headboard of the bed and flipped a corner of the blanket over my legs.

“Oh, not so good. Isn’t your mother at home?” Bev said.

“Yes.”

“Well, fetch her for me. I’ll wait,” said Bev. Rolling my eyes had become an art form. My mother said that it’s not a good idea to do it when you talk on the phone because you get in the habit and then you might slip someday when you are talking face-to-face with someone. I indulged myself and “fetched” my mother.

Wednesday. For the third day Daniel and Jeremy didn’t come to school. I started to worry. They’re my best friends. What if we move without saying goodbye? What if they ran away? They would have told me so I could have gone with them. I decided to walk home again and stop by their house. Again, their mother’s car was gone, and their dad’s car was parked in the middle of the garage. Walking up to the front porch seemed to take a long time. Their house is visible from all the other houses in the neighborhood. I felt like all the ladies on the block were in their front rooms staring at me and talking on the phone with one another about my dirty jeans and short hair.

“That McEntire girl doesn’t look like a girl at all.”

“Her father is in the army, you know.”

“It shows. Doesn’t she have a mother?”

I turned the voices off inside my head and knocked on the door. Waiting always takes longer when you wait for something that’s not guaranteed to come. I made myself stand there two minutes longer than I wanted to. Then I heard that cat sound again but much louder. It was a thumping. It wasn’t sharp enough to be a hammer and nail but had that same sort of power in it. I knocked again. The thumping ceased and I stood there with all the gossiping crowd at my back. I heard footsteps and backed away a couple of feet from the door. My father says it’s polite to step back. The stepfather opened the door and stood smiling down at me.

“Hi, Melissa,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

“I was wondering if Daniel and Jeremy arc okay,” I said, suddenly very awkward in the face of his smile. He noticed my fidgety hands and stretched his smile wide.

“It’s hard to talk to adults you don’t know very well, isn’t it?” he said and rested a hand on my shoulder. It was heavy and large and pulled my shoulder down like my backpack when it is full.

“Yes,” I said. “I was wondering if they’re okay because they haven’t been to school.”

“Of course. They’ve both been grounded but will return to school soon.”

“Oh. Can I see them? Should I get their homework assignments for them?” I said, looking behind him into the entryway. It was usually quite neat. But there were letters piled on the small cherry table by the hall mirror and assorted coats on the floor by the coat closet. The hat standing the corner had a man’s coat on it which was weird because Dan’s mom never let anyone hang anything on it. It was only for decoration or for guests to use. They don’t usually have guests. I didn’t count.

“No, on both counts,” he said.

“Huh?” I said.

“That was no, twice. I’m sorry; you can’t see them, and they don’t need their homework assignments-but thank you,” he said. He took his hand off my shoulder and stepped back into the house. Before he could close the door, I said, “Do you have a cat?” I don’t know why I asked; I know they don’t because their mother is allergic to them.

He pulled the door back open quickly and looked at me. His smile still hung about the corners of his mouth, but he narrowed his eyes. “We’ve never had a cat; we can’t have them,” he said. “Why?”

I no longer felt comfortable, and I probably should have stopped there, but I didn’t. “I was here yesterday, and when I knocked I heard a sound like a cat playing.” I continued to fill the silence because it was uncomfortable. I looked for something silly to say, to erase that pointed look. “Our cat always gets on the top bookshelf and knocks the books off; that’s what it sounded like. Cats are better outside. ”

He looked down at me and laughed. “Well, we did get a new puppy. It’s not ours; we’re watching it for a friend. ”

“Oh. Can I see it? What kind is it?” I said, though I just wanted to leave.

“No. I need to ger back to work. Goodbye. I’ll tell Daniel you came by.”

“And Jeremy, too,” I said. “He would be offended if I didn’t stop by for him, too.”

“Okay, Jeremy, too,” he said and closed the door.

At home, I walked in the door as the phone was ringing. I wondered if Bev just waited until she saw me walking up the driveway.

“Hello, Bev. How ate you?” I said.

‘Auntie Bev, to you. Not so well. Somebody called about the house but I was too sick to talk to them. I told them to call back later. I have to move probably.” My mother’s closet was open so I counted the dresses again. The red dress was gone; she must have been wearing that.

It’s Wednesday so she’s probably at a meeting. “Poor James, I don’t think he left me much for money, but the lawyer is writing some papers to get me into the bank account. Poor James, I’m glad he’s dead; it was awfully painful. But I miss him. Yesterday, I was crying and crying my knees out.”

“Don’t you mean crying your eyes out?” I said.

“What did I say?” said Bev.

“Knees, crying your knees out,” I said.

“Oh. It’s a saying from my mother. It means crying so hard you’re bent over to your knees,” Bev said. “Do you understand?”

“Sure.”

“I’ve sure been weepy these last few days, but it’s okay. I’m okay. I’m just fine. There’s not a thing wrong with your aunt. I’ve got good neighbors and a bank account and I’m fine.” Bev sounded shaky; my mother could get home before she got off the phone. “I’ll get that bank account with my lawyer. I’m just a little lonely for James; I’m lonely, oh but I’m lonely. There’s no one to talk to”

I wondered if I should say that I had to take something out of the oven. I would be fudging, but I could be on that phone for hours; when Bev started rambling on about death, she usually talked a long time. Last time, I did half my math homework before my mother came and rescued me. It didn’t help that no matter what their stepdad said I still felt like Daniel and Jeremy were missing.

“Well, tell your mother . . she’s at a meeting, right?”

“Yes.”

“Tell her to call me or come over. ”

“Okay,” I said. “She’ll probably come over.”

Later that evening, I found my mother in the living room. Dad was staying late on the base in Oak Harbor. I walked in and sat beside her on the couch. I leaned my head on her shoulder and looked at her book.

“Mom, can parents ground kids from school? Isn’t it the law for kids to go?” I said.

“Yes, if they’re underage.”

“Is underage under eighteen?” I said.

“Yes.” She put down her book and leaned against the couch so she could look at me.

“Daniel and Jeremy haven’t been to school for three days. I went over there yesterday, the day before, and today. Their mother wasn’t home; yesterday their step dad was there, but he wouldn’t answer the door. At least his car was there. Today, he answered the door but wouldn’t let me in.” I switched positions on the couch so I was leaning against her and looking at the picture above the piano. It was some Impressionist thing with pastel colors; it came with the house. Mother didn’t like it because it was boring. “He said they were grounded and couldn’t come to school, but you told me kids have to.”

“Yes, they do. Are you worried about them?” she said.

“Well, I don’t like him and I don’t think he likes them. They aren’t his; he has no reason to,” I said.

Mother put her arm around me and laughed a little. “They are his kids by marriage. \7har are you thinking? Don’t get carried away. He’s a pretty normal type.”

“Mom, I think he comes across that way. He’s very nice to me, but sometimes it’s very uncomfortable at their house.” I explained to her about the first time I felt that.

“If they are not in school by Friday, will you try to find out why for me?”

“Well, I can try. It really isn’t any of our business, so I’d have to be careful,” she said.

They still weren’t in school on Thursday and I wanted to stop by their house again on the way home, but I didn’t want to see their dad. Besides, he might get upset if I was always dropping by. My mother was in the garage when I got home. She called through the doorway, “Were they at school?”

“No,” I said. I walked into the garage and sat on the bumper of her car. She stopped sorting through a box to turn and look at me.

“Did you stop by their house today?” she said.

“No, I didn’t want to talk to their dad,” I said. “Yesterday was enough.” I could hear the phone ringing inside so I got up.

“It’s Bev. I’ll be right there,” my mother said. I ran into the house and picked up the phone.

“I was wondering if you were going to get the phone or not,” Bev said. “Today is not a good day. I’ve just been thinking about my dear James all day. He was a good man, wasn’t he?”

“I didn’t know him,” I said.

“Of course, you did. He was a good man, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was,” I said and sat down at the dining room table. I ran my fingers along the crack between the two pieces of the table.

“I was there when he died, you know. I stayed the whole day with him because I knew he was going. He needed me; I just couldn’t leave him though I was so tired. I did take a short nap in the afternoon but was right there when he passed away at one minute after eight. It will be two years on Saturday. ” There was some mail on the table so I started looking through it. A catalogue looked most interesting.

“I knew he was going. He struggled though and held on. He had to wait for Gwen to get there, but even once she was there, he still held on for another day. Then he slipped away.” When she said “slipped,” her voice went soprano or something. I wanted to laugh. The catalogue was full of sports equipment and computers but it was very expensive. It was addressed to the former occupant of our house, a Mr. Robert Twitchell. ‘And now that he’s gone, I’m going to want to be gone, too. Last two years have been horrible. Worse and worse it gets. We’ll see what the good Lord would have me do.” Where is my mother? She must have forgotten.

I said, “My mother’s in the garage Auntie Bev. I don’t think she knows that you’ve called. I’ll tell her.”

“Oh, don’t worry. She’s here, walked in the door a minute ago. Bye,” she said.

Friday. Another lonely day. Parents can’t ground kids from school. It’s against the law. After school, I walked to Daniel’s through the marsh behind the school. This was a bad idea because it had just rained the night before. The great thing about Washington is that a statement like that can be true 363 times out of 365. About halfway through the marsh, I stumbled and landed on my hands and knees in the mud. Mucky water splashed up in my face. It tasted gritty and somewhat appealing, like newly picked carrots. I hadn’t once made it through the marsh without slipping. Why did I keep trying? Maybe it has to do with the look of alarm and concern that I get from my mother when I come through the door covered with scratches and mud. using some grass and dried reeds, I wiped off what mud I could.

When I arrived at Dan’s, I checked the garage. It was empty. Now what? I decided to sit on the porch and wait until they got home. I wanted to find out at least how long they were going to be grounded and if I could see them before we moved. What had they done to deserve a week’s worth of what Dad calls house arrest?

I sat down on the cement step and stared at my muddy shoes. I meant to stay there until they returned; I was going to be loyal and brave, but I’m not really that patient. It was about fifteen minutes later that I stood and paced the front walk down to the road and back. I sat down to wait another fifteen.

When it rains in Washington, it is usually more like a cold sauna with a leak, or moist breath on windows. I really didn’t realize it was raining until I got cold. I had nothing else to do, so I went up to the door and knocked.

As soon as I knocked I heard that thumping and it struck me what it could be. It was a hollow, blunt resounding like a dull hammer hitting a wooden dowel. It had the same force as hammer and nail but the blows were farther apart. I tried to open the front door. I would say, “Did you say ‘come in’?” if anyone was there. The front door was locked.

I jumped off the cement steps into the lawn and headed for the side gate to their back fence. I felt my heart accelerate. This was usually a bad sign; it meant I was going to do something I could possibly get in trouble for. I tensed my body to listen as I moved and heard the rush in my ears of blood and silence. I had to rub my hands on my dirty jeans twice before I reached the gate; I don’t know if it was the rain or my sweat. Climbing over their cedar fence was easy but awkward. I had to jump to catch the top and pull myself up to the first cross-board. I stood on that with both hands on the rough pointed slats at the top as I swung one leg over, then the next.

Once over, I jumped backward but I pushed off a bit too hard and overbalanced. I had to catch myself with my hands as I landed. I left four indents in the soggy grass. A sliver from the fence went deep into the palm of my hand.

The sliding-glass door on the back porch went to the dining room, but the wide, vertical slats of the blinds were rolled shut, flat against the glass. I tried the door. The pounding sound from inside had stopped but a squeaky shuffling started as I slid the door. I thought at first that it was the door in its track but it continued after the door stopped. It sounded like tennis shoes on tile. I had reached up my hand to pull away the blinds but hesitated. What was that? What was I doing? This wasn’t my house. I started to talk myself out of going inside.

“Lissa?” That was Dan. I brushed back the blinds and looked into the dining room. It was dark and empty. I couldn’t see anyone in the living room beyond, either. I took a step inside and rested my hand on the dining room table. When I heard my name again, I jumped.

“Lissa,” said Dan. He sounded tired. “Under the table.” Their table was oval and made of hardwood. The top was supported by one center pillar with four legs splaying out at the bottom. Dan and Jeremy were snugged up against the one supporting leg.

“What are you doing?” I said. I was confused and cold and disappointed.

“We can’t get out. Could you ger your dad? He’ll get us out. ” Dan said. The words he said were sensational and woke me up a bit, but his tone was flat and tired. I looked at Jeremy. He looked thin and his face was tight. His eyes were red and he was curled up snug.

“I wasn’t crying,” he said.

“Yes, you were,” said Dan.

“Was not,” he said. His voice wavered and his eyes opened wider. “I don’t cry.”

“It’s okay, Jem,” said Dan.

“No, it’s not,” and he began to cry.

“Why can’t you get out of here?” I asked. “Why are you grounded?” Dan looked back at me and moved his arms off his belly. Cinched underneath his ribs was his new bike chain. It wrapped around the table leg.

“You too?” I said to Jem. He nodded, sucking in his breath. “Can he do that?” I said.

“I don’t think so. I don’t know,” said Dan. “But he can’t hit us; look at Jems’ arm.” I shuffled in closer to Jem and reached out a hand. Jem sunk back.

“Don’t touch my arm!”

“Okay, show it to me, Jem. I won’t touch it,” I said.

“Promise?” he said. I nodded and he lifted his good arm off of the other one. The elbow bent too far and there was a smear on the floor where it lay.

“I’ll go get my parents. Is he coming back?” I said.

“I guess so.”

“Where’s your mom?” I said. They didn’t know.

Running home took so long. I kept remembering things I should have done or taken care of. Where was my backpack? I think it was still on their porch. Would he know I had been there? I kept hiding from cars; I had to take the winding roads instead of the main road. I realized that there was no puppy in their house. He had lied to me. That made me mad. I wondered who had answered the phone when Bev called. My mother was usually out in the yard and Dad wasn’t home. Bev was probably back to complaining about her arm and physical therapy. Her arm would never be the same.

When I burst in the door, my mother hung up the phone and ran toward me.

“We heard you went through the marsh again. Lissa, don’t,” she said. Dad came out of the kitchen and threw an orange at me.

“That’s for not calling before you decide to fall in a swamp,” he said. “You need to give us some sort of warning for these things.”

“I found Dan and Jem,” I said. My parents were silent. Mother’s hands fell from my shoulders to her sides; she didn’t seem to know what to do with them.

“He can’t do that, can he?” I said. “I know he can’t break Jem’s arm, but can he tie them up?” Dad shook his head and went to the phone. After Dad hung up the phone, he made me tell him what I saw. Then we got in the car and drove to Dan’s house to meet the police. The lights were on when we arrived, and Dan’s stepdad was standing in the front door letting the light spill out onto the lawn, onto my backpack against the step. His figure cut the light in half and he stood there and yelled into the street, his hands pressed against the doorjamb. His face scrunched up when he opened his mouth that wide. I’d never seen him like this. I can imagine that he talked sweetly to the policemen at first, offered them pizza and apologized that he couldn’t let them in. I slid down in the seat. Dan and Jem came to stay with us that night after the hospital. It should have been fun, but Dan talked like Auntie Bev and Jem listened to him for hours. I didn’t know what to say.

My Grandfather’s Chair on My Mother’s Side

By Kristen Tracy

The bird flies from my hands and I’ve had
my chance, I think. My parents will never trust me

with a pet. Which reminds me of the chair
I accidentally burned in our garage. My

grandfather’s chair, crafted out of mahogany,
near which I was careless with matches and candles and

rolled magazines lit at one end. The smell
that comes from an old wooden chair, the way the

flames acted like fingers, feeling away the wood. I loved
the way the polish sizzled when I touched the flame

to it. I burned two of the legs into charcoal. I
had been responsible for the death of memory

they said. Stupid, my father would yell at me and promise
to never forgive me. And now I’ve lost

my bird and it’s out in the air catching
diseases that it doesn’t know about. It’s

landing all wrong in the trees, perching where
sparrows or robins belong and standing out

with its bright yellow body and green trim.
What will she eat? For weeks my mother complained

about the starlings nesting at the end of our gutter.
Garbage birds, she called them once. I treat most things

with care, and I feel bad about the chair. I know
That I have lousy moments. I can’t alchemize

anything back out of air or smoke. My mother
went to beat the fire out with a long-strawed broom.

I was grabbing the air with my fists for inches, feet, and
the diameter of entire planets after my bird lifted off.

She slapped the broom on the concrete floor when
the straw caught fire. She pressed her lips to

my father’s neck and then pulled back an inch
to whisper everthing that I had done. My parents

keep the chair, as disfigured and worthless as it is, they
keep it in the garage still. They never sat on it anyway,

and I’m sorry that I tempt the outcome of things.
No sorries come from them afterwards. They are cold

and I do not speak. To be beautiful could be the mark
of heredity or luck and there is nothing I can do

for my bird. Not ever her instincts
of hunger or home will bring her back.