Across the Catwalk

By Lindsay Larson

“Hello.”

“Answering the phone today, are we?” Julia asks in a sarcastic tone.

“Absolutely, between the hours of eleven and twelve anyway. ‘Lucy’ starts at noon though, so then the phone comes off the hook.”

“Are you still in bed?”

“Where else?” I can hear Julia clicking her tongue and I can see her shaking her head in pseudo-disappointment. “Oh, like you aren’t!” I shoot back defensively.

‘As a matter of fact, I’m not,” Julia proclaims, brimming with feigned pride. “I made it ill the way out to the couch by ten-thirty this morning.” I try to lift my free arm out from under my enormous down comforter in order to clap for her grand accomplishment, but somewhere in the middle of my mocking gesture, it feels too heavy. I am powerless to stop it from dropping back to my side.

“Forgive me if I don’t bound out of bed and do the dance of joy; I’m a little tired today. So, what’s up, Juj?” I try to sound enthusiastic about this morning’s conversation, although I know it will be the same as it was yesterday and the day before yesterday and the day before that.

“Well, not much really. I woke up super hungry and . . .”

“Yahoo!” I interrupt. “‘Waking up hungry is the best. Remind me again what hungry feels like.”

“We11, usually I’d be jumping for joy too, but I’m fasting today for a blood draw this afternoon. The good doctor said that if I ate anything this time, he’d be forced to keep me overnight under constant supervision. He says that I purposely keep trying to sabotage the test results. As if!” Julia says in her best Clueless voice. I never get tired of that impersonation; it’s one of those timeless things, like Disneyland and The Beatles.

“Oh, hey, before I forget,” I begin, sounding more excited than usual, “I found the funniest picture from Girl Scouts stuffed in an old notebook. We’re at the beach house and everyone is wearing their tiny swimsuits and I’m dressed in, like, full body armor those faded olive green jeans I used to have and a long sleeve shirt. But get this, I’m carrying an umbrella.”

“And you wonder why I used to make fun of you so much. You were such a freak when you moved here. We11, you still are really. Wasn’t that the weekend that we made Melanie wear her underwear on the outide of her clothes?” The mental picture that came back to me made me start to chuckle and Juj could never resist playing for a laugh. “I think that was also the time we spray painted our . . .”

And so we started to play the memory game for the thousandth time because sometimes, that’s all we’ve got. And probably all we’ll ever have, I think to myself. As Juj rambles on about the ‘old days,’ I have trouble focusing. I miss seeing Juj tell these stories face to face. Her eyes are so big and expressive, her head softly shakes back and forth when she laughs, her bouncy hair always in that same disheveled bob. I remind myself for the thirtieth time that she doesn’t have hair anymore, but somehow Julia is not Julia without that coarse brown hair. Some days I can hardly remember what she looks like. I can’t believe it when I remember that the last time I saw her she was visiting me at school from a couple hundred miles away. Now she is just a baseball diamond and a catwalk away and they won’t let us get closer than a phone call. Mom used to say “life is never fair” when I was a kid, but I think that if she’d known how unfair it would turn out, she might never have said it. It doesn’t matter anymore; I don’t need anyone to tell me of the inequities of life. I want out as it is.

“. . . that was just the best,” Juj chuckles as she concludes her reminiscences. “Hey, Em, I’ve gotta go. I didn’t realize what time it was. I’ve got a date with the needle.”

“Give him my regards. You know what. . . don’t. I’ll see him soon enough myself.”
“Okay, b . . later.” Juj tries to cover her slip, but I know what she was going to say. She doesn’t want to be the one to break our no-goodbyes pact. She doesn’t want to remember that there are such things as goodbyes, especially not permanent ones.

 

“Hello.”

“Hey you.”

“How in the heck are you, Juj? I was just going to call you, but . . . ”

“Sure you were, Em. Do you even know how to dial on a touch-tone phone? You know my Mom saw your Mom at the store yesterday. Your Mom is spreading this horrible rumor that you actually got out of bed this week. I just thought that I should let you know, so that you can stop this before it gets out of hand.”

“Cute. Real cute. Not only did I get out of bed, but Wahpidi and I went for a brief stroll around the cul-de-sac. I wanted to stay out longer but wahpidi was just getting so tired. I was heading for the catwalk to revisit our hobo days, but he practically begged me to turn around.”

“So you’re still referring to your wheelchair as if it were a living thing? And you wonder why they make you go to therapy, you freak.” I love it when she calls me that, it feels like old times.

“Oh, you should talk, you’re the one who announced in your Homecoming speech that you were delivered to your parents by an alien spaceship from the Planet Vulcan. You were wearing the most hideous lime green excuse-for-a-dress I’ve ever seen.” My grin is getting wider and wider as I remember how funny she looked next to the other girls in their maroon, navy, and black formals. “And anyway,” I continue, “you were the one who came up with the hobo idea.” We both laugh for a few minutes, thinking about how much trouble we got into for dropping all that garbage in the catwalk and pretending we were homeless. You just don’t mess with the richest-city-per-capita-in-California like that, unless you want to become eleven-year-old criminals. We never did clear out everything; we left some miscellaneous booty underneath one of the loose bricks, promising to come back periodically and maybe even bring our kids sometime to tell them about our hellion days. It seems farther away now than it did when I drove cross.
country for college. And the days of making promises seem even farther.

“Okay, so maybe I came up with the garbage caper. But at least I wasn’t the one who burned the lamp shade in that motel room, lit Ryan’s pine tree on fire, and burned all the plastic forks at Girl Scout camp, you pyro! And come to think of it, I never stapled my hair to the top of my head so that it would stay ratted during the ’80s dance either.”

“You know that would’ve worked, if . . . ” I am interrupted by my alarm clanging from across the room.

“Time for your meds, is it?” Juj knows it well enough.

“Yeah, it’s time to pick my poison.”

“Go take your Prozac, you need it.” She always tries to play it off, but we both know it’s true. I turn my head and look at the bright orange buffet that hugs my bedside. Pick my poison, indeed. I ceremoniously breathe out before swallowing my handful of pills. I flip on the TV to check the Sports Center highlights while I wait for my pain pills to kick in. When the umps make a bad call, I shout at the television, imagining that I can change the outcome. Really, I don’t even think I can change the outcome of my own life. But I never give up, on the Red Sox at least.

 

“Hello.”

“Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday, dear Emma, happy birthday to you!”

“I thought that we agreed that you’d never sing in my presence again,” I laughingly respond, when she finally finishes her off-key “and many more.”

“So, tell me, what exciting things do you have planned to celebrate the big one-nine?” Juj asks with genuine excitement in her voice.

“Oh, well, where do I start? First, I thought I’d do some resting and then some TV watching and then, just for a change, I’ll probably rest some more. And if I get really ambitious I might just go downstairs to watch the Laker game so that I can actually read the score off the bigger screen.”

“Whew, it sounds like your day is booked solid. Do you want me to get off the phone now so that you can get started?”

I pause for a while, pretending that I’m really giving it some thought. “‘We11, since it’s ‘Andy Griffith’ hour, I guess we can talk for a little while.”

“So guess what I’m having my Mom drop off at your house today?” Juj asks, sounding like she can hardly wait for my guess before blurting the answer out.

“Well, let’s see, it is my birthday and,” I slowly begin, trying to drag out the suspense as long as possible, “often on birthdays people tend to . . . ”

“Okay, okay, I can’t take it anymore. Just let me tell you,” Juj finally interrupts. Juj can never keep anything to herself for longer than a couple of minutes. She doesn’t know what secrets are. “I looked all over my room; well actually, my mom looked all over my room until I finally found your official birthday hat. You know the one Christine and I made for you for our special ’70s flashback birthday celebration? Do you remember which . . . ”

“Of course I remember. Are you kidding? That was the best birthday ever. Didn’t it say ‘Spank Me’ on it? I remember that one lady at Olive Garden who came up to me and said ‘Do they call you Spanky?’ and we all lust sat there like ‘what?!’ That was just the best night ever.” I can’t help smiling as I remember the details of my sixteenth birthday. I remember how perfect the night was. I thought that if I never had another birthday that great again, the memories of that night would be enough. I really believed that once.

“Yeah, dinner was great, but the Land of the Lounge Lizards was even better. we finally forced you to go to a dance to find out how much fun they were, and every time you moved, the pin holding up your bell bottoms came popping out.” I can hear Julia huffing as she tries to stop laughing, As our laughter winds down, we ease into a calm silence.

“Em, when my T-cell counts get a little higher, promise me that we’ll go out and celebrate and you’ll wear your birthday hat.” Juj has a quiet hopefulness in her voice, not her usual blatant defiance.

“I promise,” I say, hoping that she will believe me.

 

“Hello.”

“What’s up, girl?” Juj asks, leaving little time for an answer before  continuing, “Have you been keeping your phone unplugged or what?! I’ve been trying to call you for like ten days. I really needed to talk.” A pang of remorse shoots through my body when Juj says those words. She hardly ever wants to talk and I promised myself I would always be there when she did.

“Sorry. Last week was pretty bad and you know me, always trying to cut myself off from the human race whenever I’m feeling crappy'” I have to use words like ‘crappy’ because Juj can’t stand ‘suicidal.’ Perennial optimism is her creed; I think how much like my Mom she is.

“Anything in particular happen, or just general badness?” Juj asks, probably praying that I don’t get too somber all at once.

“Actually it all started out kind of funny. I went in for my draw on Tuesday morning and Verna wasn’t there . . . ”

“I thought Verna worked every morning.”

“l know, so did I. But they have this new girl, still wet behind the ears. Usually I won’t let anyone touch my veins but Big-V, except the good doctor said I had to get the blood taken by noon, so I was trapped. Anyway, she is sticking around in my arm and she says that she’s sorry but they’re all collapsed.”

“Even your money vein?”

“Yep, even my beautiful money vein. So finally, she gets out this little pump thing with a needle attached and sticks it into the top of my hand and starts pumping.”

“Ow! That is harsh.”

“I got my payback though. It hurt so much and it just kept throbbing as she kept pumping and the room started spinning and the next thing I knew I was staring at her shoes and yacking my guts out'”

“No way.” Jui starts to laugh and I can hear her head gently hitting the phone. “You puked on the new girl.”

“All over her little, white Keds.”

“Now tell me again how a week that starts out like that could get bad.”

“Well, the blood work came back: lgM skyrocketed, lgG plummeted.” Julia is silent, which hardly ever happens. I think she realizes that our joyous reunion has just been pushed back indefinitely. I hope she does anyway, because that’s not something I can tell her right now.

“That sucks,” she finally says. The resignation in her voice makes me want to cry. Juj was not meant for sadness like this. Juj was not meant for any kind of sadness. I suddenly flashback to that picture from when she was named ‘Spartan of the Year.’ Nate and Michael were hoisting her up on their shoulders and we were all standing around looking up at her in awe.

“As long as we’re sharing bad news, I might as well tell you that the chemo was a bust.” This quiet statement abruptly shakes me out of my memory. I know the words but I can’t seem to line them up in my mind. I feel the blood rush out of my hands, as the phone slides down my cheek. I quickly grab for the phone; I feel like I have to hold on to something. I try to think of something funny to say. We both like to laugh when we should cry. All I can think is how scared she must be. Juj has so much fear of death and I have so much fear of life. I always think that together we should be able to get through anything, but somehow we just end up in silence, lost in uncertainty. I cannot even see her face.

“Remember what it used to be like?” I finally begin to speak.

“When?” Julia wonders, anticipating what memory lane we will stroll down today.

“When we were alive.”

Staff

Editor
Brooks Briggs

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Gayle Kunz
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Linda Hunter Adams

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Gayle Kunz

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Poetry Editor
Brooks Briggs

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Craig Morrison
Emily Nichols
Patty Porch
Karl Rees
Lindsey Rodgers
Julie Schutthies
Teresa Silfries
Anne VanDyke
Rebecca Vernon
Valerie Whiting

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.

Understanding India

By Audrianne Porter

Sarah went to India. That’s what she always told people. In all the stupid get-to-know-you games where everyone is supposed to say something unique about himself, hers was always, “I lived in India for three years.”

And well-meaning people always asked, ‘And how did you like that?”

Her placid blue eyes would look off just above their right shoulder and she would say, “It was a good experience,” which is what she had learned to say when asked to describe something difficult and confusing to someone who didn’t care anyway. And they would nod as if that was an adequate response because it was really all the response they wanted.

Sometimes they would follow it up with, “Was your dad in the military?” and she would say, “No, it was just my dad’s business that moved us around a lot.” Sometimes she just said, “Yeah.”

She had lived in India and Texas and L.A. and now she was in Ridgeland, South Carolina, living on the edge of a saltwater river in a house her grandparents bought decades ago. She was staying with her aunt and uncle and her cousin Annie until her parents found a house. She remembered she had liked her aunt when they came for Christmas a few times when Sarah was younger, but, for the most part, they were strangers to her. Sarah supposed that South Carolina was her home when people asked because she was born there and had aunts and uncles and cousins there, but the Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the white, waxy magnolias didn’t bring a feeling of familiarity. Nothing really did that. Her dad told her that people who moved around a lot were well-rounded individuals and good at making friends. Her dad also said they would stop moving some day.

2

Sarah pulled out a navy blue address book from her suitcase and flipped through the pages. She saw addresses and phone numbers from India and Texas and California, but she knew she’d never use them. It was just part of the ceremony of moving away.

The people she didn’t really know yet would say, “You’re moving? Already? You just got here. Well, here, let me give you my address. Keep in touch.”

And they smiled while they said it, but something inside her would always feel uncomfortable and hot and strained as they wrote in her navy blue book and when it was over she would feel tired and she would hope no one else would try to be kind because it always made her so tired.

A few reckless, impulsive times she had dialed one of the telephone entries in her book. She would fill up with a strange excitement at the thought of talking to someone as a friend, of asking and being asked genuine questions, and for a few moments she would almost believe it. So she would pick up the receiver and dial, but always, just before the last digit,
the play would run through her head.

“Hello?” Let’s say it was Becky from Texas.

“Hi, is Becky there?” Sarah would nervously fidget with the address book or a loose thread on her pants. And she would always be pacing.

“This is Becky.”

“Hi, Becky. This is Sarah.” Then nothing. There would be a pause and Sarah would hear maybe a weather forecaster’s voice floating in the background.

“Um . . . Sarah Robbins,” she would stammer as the blood flooded to her cheeks.

“. . . Oh . . . uh . . . Sarah! Hi, how are You?”

And that was when she got tired, when she heard the tension in the girl’s voice and could even see the polite, forced smile as she tried to think of the right questions to ask. She could even hear her after she hung up the phone, talking in the kitchen to her mother.

“Becky, who was that?”

“This girl named Sarah Robbins. Her family moved a couple months ago. Do you remember?”

And Becky’s mother would scrunch up her face and look up to the ceiling and then shrug her shoulders and continue peeling potatoes.

“‘Were you very good friends with her?”
“Um She was nice.”

3

Sarah slumped down in the far corner of an old booth at Mudcat’s Diner observing the new arrivals. Annie had overlooked Sarah’s reluctance and dragged her out of the house insisting that meeting new people would be fun. Sarah had her doubts. The plastic covering on her seat was in the process of disintegrating and the rough edges rubbed against the back of her legs. Annie had left her seat next to Sarah to mingle with the rest of the group.

Annie was easy with things. She was good at talking. She drew people in with her words and intense, bright eyes.

“Like one of those Sirens in the Odyssey,” Sarah thought. “The Sirens probably had beautiful hair flowing down beautifully feminine shoulders too.”

Sarah watched a boy walk confidently into the diner and immediately approach the group, which had been slowly gathering for the past fifteen minutes. Sarah watched him go from one person to the next, meeting them and then carrying on a perfectly appropriate three-minute conversation before moving on. Annie was talking, but Sarah wasn’t paying attention. she was vaguely aware that she was being introduced to the group and Annie was making some reference to India. Sarah uncomfortably smiled at the listeners as if to confirm whatever Annie had just told them.

She suddenly realized the boy had exited a conversation and was making his way to her corner booth. she involuntarily shifted her legs across the rough seat. Her breath shortened and she turned to stare out the wall-length window at the drizzling summer rain, pretending not to see his intimidating figure in her peripheral vision.

“I’m Adam. What’s your name?” he said as he plopped down across from her as if she were an old friend. Sarah knew there was no question in his mind whether Sarah, or anyone else for that matter, wanted to have a conversation with him and even share their booth with him. He had never encountered an exception and his ease mocked her discomfort.

His question was simple, but apparently overwhelming because Sarah couldn’t speak. She mumbled something in response to his few polite questions and then sunk further down in her seat as he touched her elbow with a “‘Well, it was nice to meet you,” and moved on to the next person, which happened to be Annie still jabbering in the neighboring booth.

“So natural,” she thought, while she mentally crucified herself for the completely forgettable first impression she had just made. She let all her
air our with one frustrated huff. “Why should this time be any different?”
She watched him the rest of the night as the newcomers of summer were
introduced to the regulars. And she envied everyone who felt his equal. The
chief offender, of course, was her own flesh and blood, her cousin Annie.

4

After they got back from the party, Sarah tried to escape off to the marsh behind the house to breathe, but Annie accompanied her without an invitation. Once each month, during spring tide, the river receded and left a long stretch of marsh naked and muggy. Annie plopped herself down next to Sarah and they watched fiddler crabs run in and out of the sandy black mud while Annie effortlessly carried the conversation. Sarah admired and hated her ability at the same time. It was undeniably comfortable around Annie, not like around other people when awkward silences hung in the air and everything felt so forced. They tried too hard. But as the two oddly paired cousins sat together, Sarah didn’t try and Annie didn’t have to.

“So what’d ya think of the party?” Annie asked as they settled down in between the wildly positioned weeds. A few random raindrops were still falling.

Sarah shrugged.

“Don’t you hate those stupid get-to-know-you games?” Annie laughed.

“Yeah,” she mumbled. “I do.” She absently scanned the horizon and the slow pace of the river.

After a dozen more attempts at trying to get her cousin to talk, even Annie began to feel a slight challenge. She shifted her position on the ground and watched a floating branch passing by out on the river. She thought hard until she found something and began again. “And what I really hated was when they had us all go around and say a memory cue to help people remember our name. Man, I couldn’t think of anything.” She turned to Sarah for a response.

But the summer humidity was pushing down too hard and Sarah suddenly jumped up and bounded across the marsh, stomping pointlessly on as many fiddler crabs as she could. Silhouetted against the fading sky, trampling through the weedy marsh, Sarah looked rough, exasperated. And Annie, for maybe the first time in her life, felt inadequate for the situation.

“Sarah,” she called, her smile fading, “what are you doing?”

Suddenly Sarah stopped, spun around, and shouted across the marsh, her voice muffled by the humidity, “I don’t CARE if anyone remembers my
name! I couldn’t care less if ANIYONE EVER remembers my name!”

5

That night was almost awkward at dinner. Nothing could ever really be awkward with Annie, but for once Annie hadn’t known what to say out on the marsh.

Annie’s mother set down a plate of biscuits next to the greasy fried chicken she was famous for. The table was loaded and Sarah wondered when her aunt would stop bringing out steamy dishes. Sarah had realized soon after she came to Ridgeland that it was a Southern thing, this mass amount of food at every meal. Apparently, it was a point of pride with every Southern cook. She didn’t understand it, coming from a world of microwavable dinners, but she liked it. Sometimes her aunt’s frequent stomachaches prevented her from making dinner, but she always apologized profusely and went on and on about not being a decent hostess.

Her face was always pink, permanently tinted, perhaps, by her pots of green beans and black-eyed peas through all those years of cooking luscious Southern meals. She also never quite quit talking and her abundant questions about the party caused Annie to become quieter than usual, while Sarah consumed herself with the movement of the brilliant beta fish swimming around the plant bowl. Finally, the focus of the questions shifted and Annie and her mother carried on in their usual, pleasant manner, joking
and laughing and thoroughly enjoying each other’s company. They talked
about the preparations for the upcoming crab boil, the leather sandals Annie
had just purchased, and the stomachaches Sarah’s aunt seemed to never be rid of. A soon as Sarah felt she had stayed long enough to avoid any pleas for her to stay longer, she excused herself from the table and left them laughing together in the dining room.

6

Sarah stood awkwardly next to the piano, not quite sure what to do with her hands. It was a late Tuesday afternoon. Her uncle was working and Annie was at volleyball practice. Her aunt was playing the piano, and when Sarah walked through the living room to get a drink in the kitchen, her aunt had asked her to come and sing with her. Sarah tried to refuse, but her aunt seemed so oblivious to any awkwardness inherent in the situation that quite a bit of the awkwardness Sarah was feeling seemed to dissipate. Her aunt swung into “Moon River” and her low alto voice was full and calming. Sarah began singing softly, lips barely moving. She cringed and waited for her aunt to look over and evaluate her poor posture or deliver a reprimand to sing louder. She always got that. “Stop singing like a mouse! What are you afraid of! Just shout it out!” and Sarah would try and fail and get hot inside as everyone gathered around and tried to give her singing tips. “It’s all about support from the diaphragm.” How many times she had heard that!

But as they sang together through “All the Things You Are” and “When I Fall in Love,” Sarah’s aunt never once stopped to critique so Sarah forgot about her volume and posture. As they sang, a gentle smile tugged at the corner of the older woman’s mouth and Sarah wondered if the light reflecting off her glasses looked a little more like a tear. Sarah listened to the words and the harmony her aunt filled in around her soft soprano, and, as the last note faded, Sarah was vaguely aware that her voice had grown almost loud enough to match her aunt’s.

7

Sarah threw Annie’s bedroom door open and then threw in the words, “Adam called for you,” as fast as she could before whipping around to return back down the hallway. She thought she heard Annie say something but decided to ignore it as she headed back to her room.

She sat down at her desk and began her reading assignment: A Tale of Two Cities. She realized after three pages that she hadn’t understood a word and determinedly slammed the book open flat against the desk and bore into the sentences with her eyes.

It wasn’t really Adam. It wasn’t really the boy who came last night. It wasn’t really even the other five people who’d been by in the last forty-eight hours. It was why Annie possessed the innate ability to connect and Sarah didn’t and it was why Sarah knew it would always be that way. Then came the sound of the doorbell, then the creaking screen, then her aunt’s cheerful Southern greeting, and then Adam’s voice, like all the other voices before, comfortable and excited.

Something rose up through her and stopped at her throat. It was tight and it hurt and she couldn’t swallow as the sound of a third voice, Annie’s, floated down the hallway intermixed with Adam’s laughter. She had said something funny. Annie had said something perfectly funny.

She slid her chair over to the window and watched the mosquitoes buzzing outside. The trees and the river looked beautiful from where she sat in the air-conditioned house, but she knew its deception. The stifling heat and suffocating humidity would drown anyone who stepped outside. Sarah could almost feel it through the window. For a moment, she couldn’t breathe.

Adam and Annie walked outside and into Sarah’s view. Sarah watched the circle of fog on the glass expand and contract in front of her mouth. Annie climbed into Adam’s car and they drove away, neither of them noticing her face in the window.

8

Sarah’s aunt looked beautiful under the big live oak trees. She just did, beautiful in a motherly way. She was spreading newspaper over three wooden picnic tables in preparation for the crab boil. Sarah was watching from the window. She had gone out earlier to help shuck the corn alongside her aunt, but the mosquitoes had eaten her alive in a matter of seconds, so she was instructed to go inside and apply calamine while the South Carolina “natives” got everything ready. They had been talking about the crab boil for days now and Sarah couldn’t repress her curiosity and even excitement about this family tradition that had never been a tradition for her. Her dad said it was better than Christmas.

Unknown and semiknown relatives slowly gathered to the open yard in between the house and the river. The men were filling up the huge metal
pot positioned over the stove while the women brought out cut sausages and
corn on the cob. Sarah watched the sun going down behind the river and
decided the stinging bugs had reduced their numbers sufficiently for her to attempt another outing. As she pushed through the screen door to the back
porch, she was met by her aunt coming inside, one hand over her abdomen.

“What’s wrong?” Sarah asked as her aunt swept past her into the kitchen.
“Oh, nothin’,” she called back over her shoulder with her same easy smite. “Just these stomachaches. They come and go, usually at the worst times. I’m fine. Just goin’ to lay down for a second.”

Sarah knew there wasn’t much she could do for a sick adult who refused to admit she was sick, so she continued out to the backyard to watch the lively chaos up close. She observed with a smile that the men were decidedly more excited about the live blue crabs in their wooden crates than the children, although all took turns sticking a small twig in the box and watching it break under the crushing power of the claws. The kids would squeal and the men would jump but pretend not to. Sarah peeked over the edge of the crate in time to see one crab grab hold of another crab’s claw and snap it in half. She looked at the exposed gray flesh as the injured crab sunk out of sight beneath the crawling crustaceans. She wondered if it hurt.

Annie walked up to the boiling pot and stole a piece of sausage. She shoved half of it at Sarah and dared her to eat it. A man called LeGrand, apparently Sarah’s great uncle, had dumped an entire bottle of cayenne pepper into the pot to spice things up.

“You gotta know how to flavor it,” she had heard the old men discussing earlier. “That’s what makes all the difference.”

As Sarah bit into it, her eyes began watering and the numbness started to spread to her cheeks and the inside of her lips. Conscious of the eyes upon her, she determinedly ate all of it, trying very hard to act as if she was capable of eating another piece if so called upon.
“Oooh, just like a born and bred crab-eater!” Annie announced loudly. “Mom should’ve seen it.”

Once Sarah could feel her mouth again she said, “Your mom went inside to lay down. She said she had a stomachache.”

“Oh, yeah. She gets these stomachaches lately. Don’t really know what they’re from, but they go away after awhile and she’s good as new.”

“Don’t stick yer fingers in there now. They’ll come right off, ya hear!” the old men warned the little boys who would never have thought about placing their chubby, pink fingers into the mess of vicious saltwater creatures, who sometimes fell to attacking each other while they waited for their imminent death.

Sarah was a quiet but contented observer of all the latent excitement in the humid air. She loved the accent, the slowness, the hospitality of the distantly related Southerners surrounding her.

For the evening’s climax, the men opened the wooden crate with adolescent joy and dumped the frantic crabs into the boiling pot. They struggled silently for a while and then just floated in and among the reddening shrimp and spices. The cooking was timed to perfection, and then the whole lot of boiled sea life was drained and dumped in large piles over the news-covered tables.

A second cousin once removed, Eugene, took great pleasure in showing Sarah how to thrust her thumbs into the middle of the crab’s shell, right between the eyes, and rip back the top to expose the sweet meat inside. There was something disgusting and utterly splendid about it all to Sarah. She ate with fervor and imagined an awakening inside her, true Southern blood flowing a little more freely through her veins.

When she couldn’t eat anymore, she pushed back from the table and surveyed the carnage. Piles of crab and shrimp shells, empty cobs, and sausage skin sat in front of each eater. The reddish-haired man next to her,
either a relative or a neighbor, glanced over and declared for the rest of the group to hear, “‘Well, looky there! Not a bad pile for an India girl. Not bad at all.”

Sarah beamed and felt her face getting red, partly from the spices, but mostly from something else and, in spite of her swollen stomach, she reached out for another crab.

9

“‘What?” Sarah looked up in confusion. Cancer. She’d heard the word cancer.

“They’re all at the hospital. She was having those stomachaches and finally went in and they found a tumor. She has a two percent chance of surviving according to one of the doctors. The other three say there’s no way.”

The neighbor lady, possibly a relative (it seemed, last night, that all of Ridgeland was somehow related to her), kept talking as if the talking would help things, but Sarah just stared at a spot on the kitchen wallpaper that was tearing away from the ceiling. The paint was a baby blue underneath. The scent of spicy crab and shrimp still permeated the room from the night before.

“She should be around a couple more years if she starts heavy Chemo,” the concerned neighbor continued. “I just feel so awful about the whole thing. It was just so sudden . . .”

After that, the lady went on forever. The neighbor had accosted Sarah as she walked up the sidewalk to the back door and just spilled everything out before Sarah had a chance to realize that she was being told her aunt had cancer.

“My aunt is going to have Chemo therapy and she will lose her hair.” For some reason, the hair was all Sarah could think of. She kept trying to picture her aunt without any. As the woman continued on with her heartfelt sympathies, Sarah mentally compared it to what it must be like to change an elderly person’s diaperpainfully undignified.

10

The front screen slamming shut behind someone interrupted Sarah’s
Pythagorean theorem exercises. She heard the voices of her cousins talking
in the other room and then the door shut again and things were quiet. A few minutes later, banging noises came from the kitchen. Sarah got up and hesitantly walked into the kitchen. Annie turned around with a large smile on her face and a fork in one hand.

“Do you know how to make guacamole? Adam said he loves guacamole and I have no idea how to make it.”

Sarah looked over towards the table at a half smashed avocado, its green and yellow guts clinging to the sides of a bowl.

“So . . . how’s your mom doin’?”

“Isn’t there some kind of mix you’re supposed to use? I can’t find it.”

Annie was attacking the contents of the cupboard with such force that Sarah thought it would come off of the wall. When Annie saw her staring she casually said, “They said we have another two years. She’ll be here for at least one more Christmas. It’s not like I’m losing her right away. I’m staying in school and everything. She’ll probably even be around for graduation . . . .I mean, of course, I wanted my mom to be there for my wedding and my first kid and everything, but . . . ”

Annie might as well have been lamenting the fact that a sweater had shrunk in the drier; the emotion just wasn’t right. She sounded, to Sarah, like she was reading a script from a play and doing a bad job of it.

“So Adam asked me if I knew how to make guacamole. I guess he really likes it. You know how to make it, don’t you?”

Something seemed wrong with making a chip dip when her aunt was just diagnosed with cancer, but there was a frantic, pleading look in Annie’s eyes that Sarah had never seen before.

“Sure,” she said as she reached into the next cupboard and brought out Produce Partner’s Great Guacamole mix. She brought it over to the
table.

“Just finish mashing it up while I get the mix ready.”

Annie started to stab at the avocado with her fork and then began laughing again. It was a strange laugh, choked or muffled, not like her normal laugh that was always free and uninhibited and filled a house.

“Is it supposed to be this hard?”

Sarah looked over at it and took a couple stabs herself. She bent down and smelt the acidic scent of premature produce.

“‘Well, maybe it’s not quite ripe? Let’s try another one,” Sarah suggested. She became aware of the distinct feeling that she was talking to a child, being careful not to disappoint her. The fate of the whole world suddenly rested squarely on the shoulders of the unripe avocado.

“This is the only one I have. I just bought one on my way home
today.” Annie’s smile was fading.

“‘Well, I’ll pick another one up tomorrow.”

“No! I have to . . . I mean, I want to make it now. This one will work,” Annie said as she tried in vain to control her rising voice. She picked up the fork and began stabbing away again. Sarah stood silent on the cold kitchen floor for what seemed like a long time.

Annie’s head bent forward and the fork dropped to the floor. She crumpled into a chair as her arm fell against the messy bowl, sliding it across the table. Sarah started for her. She felt like she should touch her but didn’t know how. Standing there while Annie cried was awkward, but leaving the room didn’t feel right either. After three minutes or so, Annie raised her red, streaked face. She apologized as she left the kitchen and headed down the hall to her room.

“We’ll make guacamole tomorrow,” she said.

11

The next few days were strange. Adam stopped coming over, probably because he, like Sarah, had no idea what to do. Sarah didn’t blame him, but still found herself hoping, for Annie’s sake, that he would come to see her or at least call. Annie acted differently, of course. She always held on to herself, but it was a delicate balancing act to Sarah.

One night, a couple days after her aunt had begun Chemo, Sarah woke at 1:30 in the morning. It took her fuzzy mind a second to identify the sound that had woken her. Quiet sobbing was coming from Annie’s bedroom. Sarah lay on her bed staring up at the ceiling as the yellow porch light shone through the window. She listened to the sound for a few minutes and turned to watch the giant bugs flying around the light in the hot summer night outside. Her throat got tight again. Tears ran down her cheeks and landed on her pillow.

It was hard for Sarah to slowly pull back the blanket and walk down the hall to Annie’s room. She felt like an intruder, trespassing into a private world, not knowing if there would be a place for her when she got there.

Annie was on the floor, face buried in the mattress. Sarah stood still in the darkened room for a minute and watched the movement and rhythm of Annie’s childlike shoulders as they rose and fell with her sobs. Finally, she reached out and touched Annie’s arm.

Annie immediately whirled around and began wiping her face as she said a little too quickly, “Oh, Sarah! You scared me. ‘What’s up? Whaddaya need?”

Sarah felt the power of the temptation to just let Annie carry it as usual. Annie was the one good with words. Annie had other friends and people to lean on. She would be fine. Sarah knew Annie would let her leave right then if she wanted, both pretending, and both knowing it.

Instead, she looked at her cousin, straight in those intensely bright but reddened eyes. Now it was Annie’s turn to make a decision and Sarah was waiting for her to make it. Both cousins stood facing each other . . . hesitating . . . awkward. Even though the room was dark, Sarah saw it happen. Annie’s face lost the smile and her chin began to quiver. They both bent down to the edge of the bed. Annie slowly crumpled down onto Sarah’s lap and cried for a long time. Sarah felt the dampness of the tears spreading out over the 1eg of her pajama pants. Her face trembled, but she was very still, afraid something would break if she moved.

After a while, Annie turned to look up at her. The sound of the buzzing mosquitoes outside filled up the room.

“Will you tell me about India?”

Sarah’s usual, preconstructed answer came to the tip of her tongue, but then it stopped. She sat for a moment on the bed while Annie looked at her and waited. Annie’s eyes had the same intensity Sarah had always seen in them, but they were more searching and somehow more familiar than before.

Still being careful not to move, Sarah told Annie about India until she was stopped by the sound of slow, heavy breathing.

Wrestling Esau

by Jonathon Penny

-Read this one. The June entry-

June, 1995. I’m being devoured. Digested. It means to have me, totally and gluttonously. It whispers to me of freedom, unencumbered by family and church. It tells me not to waste my time. It makes me angry. It makes me rate: “I want to sleep! Be quiet, son! Shut up! Shut UP! Go to SLEEP!!” I alternate lonely, wakeful nights between the infant child of my love and that other motherless, gnashing thing that calls me father, leering in lewd bastardy. I weep and rant, with my son whimpering in my arms as I curse and shout.

When my calmer mind prevails, he lies quiet and sweet across my knees and I recite desperate, penitent litanies toward heaven and sob apologies to my poor child, punctuated by kisses and promises of improvement.

But heaven is a solid, and oppressive. I feel everything turning in me as I pray, souring. I grow old. I grow fetid.

-When did it begin? Do you remember?-

A long time ago—two years, maybe more—I don’t’ know.

This is the first time I’ve been able to stop and think about it clearly. I noticed it first when Riley was born. It followed close behind him at his birth, grasping his heel like a late-born Esau (that’s what I call it now—The Esau), wrestling for my attentions, gnashing my patience in its teeth. Long nights have passed like that one in June, lonely days deep down inside myself with no way out. Perhaps it isn’t over yet. Perhaps this is only the eye of the storm—but oh Dear God, I hope not!

When did it start? When Heaven went mute. Before Riley was born, when I think of it. Bu that’s when I first noticed some nights are better than others. Like tonight. We are both quiet, and I study his face. He is a knowing child, a loving child, and the Esau is lurking somewhere far away and nearly forgotten. I think about the times when I can’t think straight, when I can’t do right. I see my own haughty faults n t those moments. Thinking about them reconjures the darkness.

-Keep reading.-

Is this one alright?

October, 1995. I’m okay when I teach seminary, or lay on hands. Then I am huge, deliciously swollen, and I ache with joy; march, race exult, weep, and trumpet “God loves you! And so do I!” And I actually mean it. I am drunk with spirit, an evangelist praising and testifying. My students look back at me with the beginnings of eternal hope in their eyes. The room is full of light.

And then I go to class.

The loneliness there steals every precious thing that all who know me think I am—that I think I am—and leaves me a black longing.

“I AM SICK TO DEATH OF PEOPLE WHO HIDE BEHIND THEIR ANTHROPOPMORPHIC GOD!” bellows Professor Blackburn, snarling and maniacal in front of the class. He prowls toward me, glares at me with fiercely intoxicated eyes from under a black, unkempt mane and hairy brow. His teeth are yellow, his finger tips stained by rich tobacco from his cigars They wag secretly at me from beneath the tattered wool of his jacket cuffs. His body is darkly upholstered. He had bee to China. He knows more, is more powerful than me, and I shrink before him, equally offended and embarrassed by the challenge. Every one in the room turns and sees. The moment has passed too quickly, and I am too late. That evening my prayers go nowhere, as usual. It is on no consequence that I meekly (worm!) approach him days later, whispering out a trembling Christian apology.

I am alone in God’s universe. I wish it were Godless. Maybe I wouldn’t care.

-No. You aren’t alone. Remember a better time.-

Like when I proposed to Wendy? I was commanded to propose, really. Not that I didn’t want to eventually. But God removed all of my excuses by making it a commandment.

I’d not been home from Italy long, and the old, tentative friendship had been renewed, dissolved, and replaced gloriously the day we went to report our missions together—our first uncomfortable date. I still remember her dress, a simple affair, was regal on her body—not tight, but an accentuation of her beauties. She was tall and splendid. Pure. I hardly breathed. I tapped the steering wheel. I hummed. I bounced my knee on the inside of the car door. I looked straight ahead. I didn’t say anything silly. I didn’t say anything at all. I breathed her in. Sometimes I even breathed out. In. Out. All day. Breathed her greedily in, breathed her reluctantly out . . . here it is:

August, 1993. I awoke today already in prayer.

“. . . and Lord, it seems that thou has arranged all of this, and if so—” There was no need to go on The familiar calor spread sweetly in my chest.

“Thank you, Father,” I whispered, through tears and nervous laughter.

Later, mowing her father’s lawn, the second undeniable communique startle out of a stupor.

-Ask her.-

I saw my hands, still soft and fresh from the mission gripping the handle of the mower. I saw the front of the machine. I saw a browning weed stand obstinate on the green. I felt God breathing down my neck.

“I will! When the time is right,” I replied parenthetically, ignoring the immediate stiffness in my back. Twenty minutes passed.

-Ask her today!-

“WHAT!?”

-ASK HER TODAY! –

“Too soon,” I protested, “We need more time, more common ground. More time!”

-Are you finished?-

“Yes,” (meekly now).

-Ask her today—or else.- 

For the first time in my life I was allowed to glimpse, or rather sense Eternity, my Eternity, but without Wendy. Without her there was only sempiternal Annihilation, the Cartesian plain denuded of all its philosophic effrontery, a sensory mewithout any of me in it, a ‘Je ne serai plus.’ She would complete me. That was the promise. And without her I could not be happy, could not be anything more than I was at that moment. Could not be.

Ask her today, or you will lose her forever. –

So I asked her.

I long for that again, that God that was once so immediate, so reliable. But He won’t speak to me! He won’t magnify me anymore! I feel like crying out to him; “Where art thou?” But the question ends, unarticulated, ground between my jaws. Hah! I don’t even have myself to talk to, usually. Is that screwed up, or what?

It’s okay. Be still. Read another good one. Here. This one. April.-

April, 1993. It is sometime during the early mountain tempests of spring. This morning my companion knocked on the first door of the second apartment building on the crest of a long, steep, broad boulevard in Teramo. The building was leprous against the digesting clouds at its roof, shedding patches of stucco and growing mottled, cancerous molds in preparation for future decrepitude. It stood by itself in the universe, shrinking strangely as we approached. We went inside and climbed the stairs our chattering hushed by the darkness.

Hélène opened that first door of the second building on the crest of that boulevard, beautiful and dark and French in an Italian mountain, in simple blouse and jeans, auburn hair falling across her face.

We loved her immediately, with the pure love of servants and the innocent love of boys. The conversation began as so many others had, but with a new intensity.

“We are missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (“Hélène,” we urged silently, “the gospel was made for such as you. Listen to us.”)

“I am not interested. Je suis athée. I am an atheist.”

“Are you really? I have always wanted to speak to a devout atheist. Are you devout?” Parry, thrust, retreat, reprise, rebuttal, rebuild. (This is getting nowhere. Something’s missing. But what?)

“Oh, you’re married? Have you any children, Signora Hélène?”

And suddenly there was a hurricane in her marvelous face. We didn’t know whether she shrieked or whispered. We didn’t know which would have been more terrible.

“Non ho dei bambini! I don’t have any children! Your God takes them from me before they are born!”

For half a moment we were permitted to enter the storm, to see into her soul, to flounder, drowning in her pain and solitude, in her self-imposed exile from the love of God. It was pitch—painfully, horribly black and endless. We wept there in her godless infinity. We held out our hands, stigmatized and scarred with small sacrifices, miniatures of the Hands that led us to her, that pulled us from her soul before we, too, were overcome Like His, our bowels were filled with mercy. Like Him, we were moved to compassion.

-My child suffers. Bring her unto me.-

“Tell Him, Hélène! Pray to him in your anger!” we cried in residual despair and spiritual alarm. “Pray in your sorrow! He must hear you speak! Oh, Hélène, you must ask for healing! You believe he is! That is the beginning! Now let him teach you how he is! Let him show you that he is your Father! Learn to love him!”

We were still shaking hours later—weak, weary, and weeping. I remember that.

Last Sunday, I told my gospel doctrine class about Hélène as part of the lesson. I realized that I am now as Hélène was then. I am angry and I am alone. Am I also in self-imposed exile?

He spoke to me once, you know—the Esau—sneering through mannequin teachers and peers in a theory seminar:

“Beware false prophets!”

But not all prophets are false, I replied.

“God is dead!” he proclaimed.

I know he’s not. I have too many witnesses, too many clear memories of Him (see how faded they are. I hadn’t realized. Still memories, though. Still clear).

“FREEDOM IS TO BE FOUND IN THE REJECTION OF A GOD OF COVENANT AND LAW! DON’T YOU WANT TO BE FREE?” (He was shrieking, now. Like Hélène. The old argument. But in malice, not pain.)

Preposterous. I have always known the proponents of such illiberal education to be sophists in the clothing of the sagacious. “These are the Hollow Men,” I remind myself.

“YOU HAVE NO SUPPORTING EVIDENCE! Ahem. Does that not suggest . . .”

Suggest what? I have never put much stock in evidence. You make inferences, I can do the same! These are matters of the soul, and the soul includes both spirit and body. Truth is more profound than supposition and conjecture—it is buried deep in the marrow of the bones!

“But do you care if it is true?”

I fear it is true. I fear it so that I cannot let go of it.

“Do you want it to be true?”

I—don’t have an answer for that. Perhaps there isn’t one.

Perhaps I . . .

“DO YOU WHAT IT TO BE TRUE?!”

I DON’T KNOW! ALRIGHT?

Oh, God. I don’t know.

Ah. There it is. Unearthed at last.

Remember.-

June, 1993. Emilio knelt with us in his music room, his holy of holies, a shrine adorned by his jeweler’s skill. A blinding ivory piano stood behind me in antiseptic slumber. My companion’s suit pants were dark and offensive against the pristine white of the rug. A glass menagerie peered over Emilio’s shoulder. Here he would finally pray to know Truth as he knew us.

We waited silently, willing an effort from this man whose eyes shone with tears whenever we talked, who sensed an affinity with us that grew beyond mortal encounters and cognisances, too deep for cheap, inflated talk of premortal friendships and promise. We know infinite brother- and son- hood together, and an infinite choice lay before him.

Nostro Padre che sei in Cielo, he began. “Our Father, who art in Heaven.”

(Father, help him know. Help him see. He is such a good man.)

Caro padre, io . . .”

(For his sake, Father, answer his poor prayer. Tell him that thou art with him, and with us. Tell him that we are thine.)

“. . . non sono un brav’uomo. I am not a good man. These young men tell me to pray to you for knowledge . . .”

(Oh, Father! Please, please, please PLEASEPLEASAEPLEASE—”)

An hour passed, and we heard only the silent pleading of our hearts and minds, felt the ache in our souls, and then in our knees. It was too much, and he surrendered.

(Father? Is it enough?)

-He does not want me sufficiently yet, my son, and you will abide. Leave him in my hands, wham Am his Father.-

Two years is a long time. I have pretended, have wondered covertly through High Council talks, seminary lessons, and the birth of a second child what was wrong with me, and if this thing would ever leave me peace. The truth has come out, finally, the truthful question and the naked answer, in those dreary, dumb prayers I have repeated for twenty-four months: Heaven is not mute; I am deaf. I am deaf on purpose.

Sometimes, when I come home exhausted, I cling weeping and helpless to my dear wife. I look at my children and long that they be given a father, one worthy of them in my place. I ache for them, and the old me. On longer days, when I have had no respite from the secular, I push my wife away, despising my life, despising her goodness and her forgiving heart that make my charade so obvious and vacuous. I wish to be free of the bonds of family and of church. I sit in the car listening to harsh, desperate music. I wish to be free of theology. I wish to be free of belief. I almost drive away. Other times I see the Esau standing greedy and threatening beside my wife and children in photographs and mirrors, his face where mine should be, His arm around them.

I hate him.

-What else?-

Well, I was my old self again when Hollywood perpetrated sacrilege on The Scarlet Letter in ’96. I wrote a paper called “The Psychology of Repentance,” asserting that Hawthorne was actually standing in merciful judgement over Hester and Arthur, that they never fully repented but that they longed to. “He was talking about hell,” I preached, “about separation from God.” It was incredible to write that paper, to smuggle truth into it.

Later that year, I wrote a poem censuring Wallace Stevens for misunderstanding his own questions, his own problems. I insisted that it was man’s idea of God that offended Stevens. The truth of it stood on them heavily, and whispered to them things beyond their expectation, beyond their comprehension. It stood more heavily on me. It was my idea of God that turned me from Him, for He would be shaped by me, but would rather do the shaping, and I had be an unwieldy subject, an arrogant patient.

Like Darren.

January, 1997. Darren, another seminary teacher, just left his wife. The coordinator told him that they weren’t going to hire him, so he left her. I guess there was no longer a reason to pretend righteousness. We were in a class together last semester. I knew he was struggling, but I had no idea how much. More and more, the things coming out of his mouth sounded hollow and “liberated,” and I had been alarmed.

He must have given in. I saw him tonight at the theatre. He was with a girl. They stood too close to each other, vacant and giggling at nothing, denying the world and its consequences. They are lovers. I wanted to smack him. Thank heaven I am not that far gone! I annon live without the commandments, covenants and relationships I have been conditioned t0 keep, accept and engender. I need them.

I need God.

-You must call me Father.- (The exhortation is disturbing and soothing all at once as I pace the floor on another sleepless night, this time without Riley, who sleeps quietly and obediently now.)

I wish I could. There is an aggravation, an incontinence of spirit that menaces when I close my eyes. I see you, Father, looking at me, the Oldest Man, penetrating, challenging, glaring.

But it is emotionally and spiritually taxing to defend an ideology against a jealous world. It is painful to deny the seduction of books, of learning, of knowledge over and over again, to read and not revert, to think and not regress. I long for hypothermic numbness. To lie down. TO be without feeling.

I won’t walk away from you, but will I ever walk with you again? Do I really want to give myself completely over to you, to accept what reason and fashion and learning (motley triplets!) tell me I cannot?

June, 1992. I called Irene yesterday before I left Italy finally behind.

“Penny!” she answered, “You called! I didn’t think you would!”

“Of course I called. How are you?”

“Oh, Penny. Have the others told you?”

“Told me what?”

“Yesterday my brother died in a car accident.”

Irene, cara Irene. Mi dispiace tanto. I am so sorry. What will you do?”

I remembered she wouldn’t accept resurrection She said she wanted some sort of Zen-consciousness thing to happen to her at death; wanted to become a faceless, formless part of some huge, spiritual organism that concerted the dead in vast anonymity. We argued, we testified, we begged. She just didn’t want resurrection. It had been the only thing that held her back.

“Oh, Penny,” she wept shamelessly into the receive, “Ci credo! Ci credo tutto. I believe it all I need to believe it all.”

“What will you do then, Irene?”

Lo so, Penny. So che devo fare. I will do what must be done.”

That’s it, then. I am faced not, at graduation, with unemployment and feeding wife and two children, and I must do what must be done. I must do it for my wife, and for my children, I must do it because it is expected of me. I must do it because you have commanded it.

-And now, my son?-

I hope this is no the eye of the storm, Father. But if it is I a m no stranger to its strength anymore, nor to thine. I’ll see it coming next time, I think, see it rising up against a clear ideology, forceful and pointless and overwhelming, and when it lays its dark pitiless bulk across my vision to suffocate me with its pressure, memory, better than terror, will be ready, and whisper stolidly that the darkness in finite, that it will end.

And I will try to remember better times.

June, 1993. My companion and I were standing at the mouth of the piazza on the eve of my retirement among the smells and jocular warmth of a tobacco shop, of an open bakery, of a pizzeria and a cobbler’s workroom. It was a delightful, final baptism; a happy moment in worn clothes, ruined shoes and tired bodies, with the music of traffic and voices all around us. We saw Hélène, three months a stranger to us. “How are you?” we asked.

Sto meglio.I am better. Thank you . . .

I am better, too.

It is a dim morning at the end of another sleepless night, I put Christopher gently in his crib and look at my two sons, helpless and dependent on me, peaceful, perhaps aware somehow of what has happened in their father tonight. They will bring me peace now, peace that I’ve tasted the last few hours, will bring humility and healthy, helpless dependence on my own Father not always, perhaps, but more often.

I turn and close the door, return to bed for a moment to hold Wendy and to enjoy silent tears, then prepare myself quietly for the day. When I am ready, I step out into the half-light of the cold dawn of another winter, intent today on a reconciliation, hoping to embrace that other child, the Esau, with the strength of growing humanity and wisdom of accompanying Divinity, and win him to me. Despite the cold, my face is smooth, my shoulders relaxed and broad under an open heaven.

At least for now.

 

 

fountain in city square

by Mike Farr

and
                   water flows
                   from Christ's fingertips
                   (like blood)
                    into the
                    fountain
                    of which
                    he stands
                    king
and
                    people,
                    those
                    city inner
                    and those 
                    who would 
                    come from 
                    city outer 
                    to buy,
                    those
                    all those
and
                    mothers and
                    teens 
                    with cameras 
                    stand below
                    the longing 
                    lonely one 
                    to
                                            a)    photograph
                                            b)    capture a 
                                                    portion of
                                                    Him
and
                   the preacher
                   yells and
                   screams
                   and curses
                   the sinners
                   photographing
and
                   an angry
                   black man
                   damns the
                   white men
                   who
                   hate for no
                   reason
                   within
                   Christ's arms
and
                   his brother—
                   mother's son
                   shot
                   lying
                   in his pool
                   flat on 
                   his back
                   into 
                   heaven
                   staring
                   shot by
                   they
and
                    a boy
                    upward
                    looking
                    tear filled
                    who people
                    step away from
                    because 
                    he cries
and
                    a woman
                    back
                    turned
                    who will
                    turn
                    tricks
                    lost
                    against
                    the immense
                    skyline
                    outer square
but
                    all of
                    them
                    beneath
                    the statue
                    all of them
                    invited
                    and water
                    Christ's water
                    offered to
                                               them all



If Mike Farr had named himself, he would now be going by Ed. He enjoys drinking Kool-aid, playing loud music, and reading Orson Pratt. You can visit him at home at http://www.byu.edu-mfarr.

Happiness

by James Richards

Frogs on fire. Dried and pinned
to newsprint. Legs stretched straight. Eyes
open, blind. That was the fun we had

in the June-marsh outside the fence
of Farmington's amusement park.
Fists full of frogs, cream bellies bulging

theirs and ours. Me, Buddy, and Clara
flinging them, watching them fall, accompanied
by the roller-coaster's roar, and the scream

of spirits. We all fell that summer.
Was it the kiss inside the skeleton of a car
hidden in tall grass, the cigarette butts we sucked?

I ran through the fields seeing only green,
tasting smoke-stain and Clara's spit—real
laughter catching up with me. Falling

never crossed my mind; bones and blood
were evidence, not fears. Grass stains, scabs—
proof that happiness is coming down.

Orchard

by Sarah J. Carter

 

I open the oven and step back,
breathing a day of orchard windfalls.
My middle-aged legs are nine again
and barefoot, hiding

in the tall grass between
columns of apple trees,
then chased, crushing fruit
splattered and warm.

We never ate those fruit.
They all fermented, and the rolls
are warm and swollen,
waiting for the oven.

Cutting Sunday School

By Sarah Jean Vantassel

Slipping out the stained glass doors
into the drawling Alabama sunshine
Leaving our sacred patent leathers
on the rocks like
shiny sacrifices on the altar
We wade deeper
with our flowered cotton dresses
clinging to our knees.



Sarah Jean Vantassel is a sophomore majoring in English from Columbus, Ohio. Sarah likes to dance and to read, and she absolutely loves her new baby sister.

The hoe

by Bryce Knudsen

Twilight begins unabruptly—
white cotton settles
against bare arms;
the hoe,
caked with mud
rests on its hooks
in the shed.



Bryce Knudsen is in the English Master's Program at BYU and plans to pursue an art minor. He enjoys nature writing, imagistic poetry, and taking photos. Recently he has established a letterpress printing shop, Bjorn Press.