Copyright 2015 by Kirby Wright
I sat on the floral-print couch between my big brother, Barry, and our mother. We were waiting for Dadio to get home. Nobody talked. Barry gnashed his gum and blew a bubble. We were both in eighth grade because he’d been held back. I looked at the reflection on the glass door in the living room—we all looked worried. It was as if we were waiting for the judge to hurl a guilty verdict. I looked strange sitting between two blonds, as if I belonged to another family with my dark hair and eyes. The only times I felt connected to them was when my father was in the house, since I took after him in looks. Barry ached for his attention. I’d always wondered if my brother resented me for looking like Dadio, especially after our Moloka’i grandmother said, “Mistah Kirby’s da spittin’ image of his fathah.”
I wanted to run to the beach. But I knew facing the music was better than my father hearing directly from the principal. I wondered if Barry’s punishment would exceed mine since he was a year older and Dadio expected him to set an example. I was glad Julie, our kid sister, was over at her friend Heidi’s. I was certain there’d be fireworks.
I’d started referring to my old man as “Dadio” after hearing a beatnik use it in Beach Blanket Bingo. It made him seem cool and less threatening. I called my mother “June Spoon,” the nickname her father had given her in Boston. I knew using it made her feel young and closer to him, even though he lived four thousand miles away in Chicago’s Pick-Congress Hotel. She was wearing a yellow cocktail dress that matched the color of her bouffant. She thought she was a dead ringer for Marilyn Monroe, but less trashy. She even had that Marilyn beauty mark on her cheek.
My past with Dadio was troubled. As a toddler, I’d hidden in the bamboo patch to avoid the belt and watched him scramble like one of the Three Stooges scouring the back yard. Fire ants bit me into the open—Dadio yanked off a shoe and whacked the top of my head with the heel. After my hernia operation at nine, he told the nurses I was faking it when I limped through Queen’s Hospital. Sometimes I imagined him as the portrait of the iridescent-winged devil in my New Testament.
I’d left the front door open. I figured an open door would pose one less obstacle after a hard day in the salt mines. Things went easier if you prepared for Dadio’s arrival, such as placing the Honolulu Star- Bulletin on the dining room table and filled the ice bucket for his pau hana martinis.
Tires churned outside.
“Ready or not,” Barry groaned.
I knew it was the Olds by the rumble of the big block and the wheezing of its out-of-tune carb.
“Is that him?” June Spoon asked.
“Duh,” Barry muttered.
The engine died and shoes grumbled the asphalt. The front door slammed shut and feet shuffled through the foyer. Dadio peered into the living room. His face was drained of the blood that usually gave him a ruddy complexion. His cheeks were as gray as his slacks. He held a leather briefcase in one hand and a gray suit jacket in the other. He clenched his jaw. His glasses seemed fused to his head. He’d invested $100,000 in an oil well tax shelter scheme with the other lawyers at his firm and the IRS was investigating.
“Hello, Dear,” June Spoon cooed, “did you have a nice day at the office?”
He entered the room. “Who the hell’s leaving this front door wide open?”
The top two buttons of Dadio’s white dress shirt were unbuttoned and his sleeves were rolled up over the elbows. The knot on his black tie was fat from being loosened. Two decades of litigation had taken their toll: his back hunched, his teeth were nubs from chewing pencils, and his once-proud UH swimmer’s chest had become a pair of sagging breasts. He dropped his briefcase on the asbestos tiles. “What’s wrong?” he demanded.
“Well,” June Spoon answered, “the boys had a little trouble at Punahou.”
“Oh?” he asked, staring at me suspiciously. “What kind of little trouble might that be?”
“You’re to phone Dr. Johnson first thing in the morning.”
“He suspended Barry and Kirby.”
“For the luva Pete. How’d this happen?”
I spoke first. I told him how we’d decided to skip woodshop to study for midterms. I avoided mentioning we’d used a scoop net to troll the lily pond for coins and used the loot to buy candy at the Snack Shop. Barry said he didn’t need woodshop anyway, since he didn’t plan on carpentry work for a life profession. He tried flattering Dadio by claiming he wanted to be a lawyer just like him. I suggested Dr. Johnson was getting revenge because I’d broken it off with his daughter Lucy.
Dadio yanked off his glasses and chewed on the stems. His face flushed red. He tossed his jacket on a mahogany chest with a framed invitation to my parents’ Brookline wedding. “Tell me the real reason you both cut class,” he said.
“Woodshop sucks,” I admitted.
“You learn nothing,” Barry tossed in.
“Two poor excuses,” he scowled, “by a coupla stupes.” He paced the tiles from the mahogany chest to the TV and back again. His oxblood shoes sounded like the ratta-tat-tat of small caliber fire. There was a look in his face between disgust and worry, one that reminded me of Richard Nixon. Dadio stopped in his tracks. “I don’t blame Doctor Johnson for suspending you both,” he glared. “Now get in your rooms.”
“What for?” Barry asked.
“You know what for.”
“Dear,” June Spoon said, “the boys are sorry for what they’ve done. They won’t do it again.”
“You believe that?”
“They’re getting too old for spankings.”
“June,” he snapped, “butt the hell out when I’m disciplining them.”
It’s 8th Grade Class Picnic Day. Our destination is the south shore, a kama’aina coastline known for shaved ice stands, manapua trucks, and old-timer restaurants like Pat’s at Punalu’u and the Crouching Lion. Barry rides behind me on a blue bus exiting the school parking lot. I turn around and say, “Pounders Beach or bust!” My brother winces. He shares his bench seat with Chuck Marsland, the DA’s son and Howdy Doody lookalike. Chuck has a transistor and listens to KKUA, a rock station beginning its Top 40 countdown. My bench mate is Cecily Mayne. She’s a track star with skin the color of koa and a river of auburn hair spilling down to her waist. She told our history teacher her birth country was Argentina and that English was her second language. She’s the only girl I know with pierced ears. This morning Cecily wears a green camisole over a white bikini and her lobes glisten with turtle shell studs. She shifts and her leg bumps mine. It’s the first time a girl has ever touched me. We pass the Makapu’u Lighthouse and enter the jagged shadows thrown down by the cliffs. Chuck blares “Bad Moon Rising.” Pastor, the Filipino driver, spins his head. “Turn dat damn racket off!”
Chuck lowers the volume and flips the bird. My brother laughs about how easy it was to tackle Wendell Westlake, a bruiser on a rival team. I know Barry’s laughter is a bluff. He’s secretly miserable. Low admission scores forced him to repeat and now he’s in my grade. Students think we’re twins but we look nothing alike. I have our hapa haole father’s thick nose and dark skin. Barry shares our Irish mother’s complexion and refined features. Dadio hates it that his son is repeating but doesn’t think he’s dumb. On the contrary, he believes he’s as smart or smarter than me and only needs good teachers to fire up his ambition and drive. “Proud Mary” plays on the transistor.
We make Laie by ten. Pastor pulls up beside a buff and blue tent and we all climb out. Barry accepts a challenge. Seems Cecily and her friends want to play football against the boys, on a ragged sand-and-crab-grass field beside the shore. “Touch?” I ask my brother. “Tackle,” he grins. The boys vote him captain. Barry decides on key positions, filling our front with the heavy guys and sticking the scrawny ones in the backfield. He tells me my job is rushing the quarterback.
Some of the challengers are cheerleaders, such as the brunette fox Evelyn Twigg-Smith. Most wear bikinis. I flash to Goldie Hawn and Judy Carne gyrating like love goddesses on Laugh In. Our girls give off the sexy aromas of coconut oil and Coppertone. Their skin glistens. Tops and bottoms have patterns of orchids, hibiscus, and torch ginger. Barry flips a dime into the sky. “Heads,” calls Evelyn. The girls win and want the ball. Mr. Meecham, our swim coach, accepts Evelyn’s invitation to referee. Chuck kicks off. Debbie Curley, a cropped blonde, fields the bouncing ball and returns it five yards before getting tripped by Brian Cody. Meecham places the ball near their goal. Barry crouches down opposite Ernette Cabrinha, a Portuguese girl. Ernette’s their center. Her thighs are thick and her woman-sized breasts make her top resemble a Band-Aid.
Lisa Yamashita, a Japanese girl in my English class, is their quarterback. Lisa always makes my heart leap, especially after she congratulated me for winning the short story contest. Her admiration makes me want to be a writer. Lisa’s got the best legs on campus and always wears micro skirts to show them off. Even the men teachers check her out. Today Lisa sports a black one-piece. Two blockers flank her: Debbie Curley and Lacy Johnson, the principal’s daughter.
Lisa calls out colors. Barry drops into a three-point stance, his right plant hand becoming a fist. I recognize a wildness in his eyes, the kind of anger that pushes him to punish the weak. It was the same wildness I saw when he strangled me in my crib. I crouch but avoid the three-point. “Blue!” calls Lisa. Ernette hikes the ball underhand. Lisa looks downfield while Barry bulls forward. Cecily runs out for a pass. I pretend to rush. So do most of the boys. We’re all floating in a sea of lust brushing against half-naked babes. Evelyn grabs my forearms with her small strong hands. I let her squeeze. My brother hustles into the backfield, knocking Debbie down. Lacy grunts trying to block him. Lisa fakes a throw and my brother leaps. Brian races toward Lisa but she sidesteps him and zips away. Barry catches up. He slams into her, his hit as ferocious as the ones uses to halt the fullback rambles of Kealoha “Big K” Williams. Evelyn releases me. Lisa drops beside a row of rubber slippers marking the sideline. She clutches her belly. Meecham jogs over and says, “Got da wind knocked outta you.” Teammates swarm their injured leader. Cecily glares at the boys. Evelyn says, “Crap.”
Barry hides his hands in the pockets of his trunks. “They wanted to play,” he mutters. A few boys nod. Chuck rubs his face with both hands and laughs. His face turns beet-red. Most of my teammates rest their hands on their hips and keep their eyes fixed to the ground. I feel lousy. How could my big brother hit a girl like that? I pray for his transfer to another school or for him to get expelled for bad grades.
It takes Lisa time to recover. She finally accepts Evelyn’s outstretched hand and gets pulled to her feet. She wobbles into their huddle. They break and the ball is hiked. Lisa drops back to throw. Barry brutes forward, waving his hands like a madman. Lisa rolls right. I rush in. Cecily lowers a shoulder and drives it into my chest, sending me backwards. Our impact pops a breast over her top and she slips it back. I wrap my hands around her warm belly to contain her. Cecily presses hard into me as though we were dancing. She spins and escapes. “Pass!” warns Brian. I spot a shadow the size of a bird sailing over the field and Cecily reaching up. She snags the pigskin and weaves through would-be tacklers, her koa thighs flexing. Meecham signals “touchdown” and her teammates go pupule. I know scoring first will be something these girls never forget. They charge past us and celebrate on our end of the field.
The boys, including my brother and me, gather at mid-field. It’s noon and the day turns hot. Brian spits. “Crap on us,” Chuck cusses. We all stand numb in silence as the waves pound the shore mercilessly.
A few explanations:
hapa haole: part Hawaiian and part white
koa: reddish-brown hardwood
manapua: pork-filled bun
pau hana: after work
pupule: crazy with excitement
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