This is the short story I wrote as my final project at Wesleyan University’s Creative Writing Specialization program.
A bright green gecko darts out his tongue to lick the lilikoi butter off her plate. She shoos him away.
“What good are you?” Samantha scolds Dasher, her black cat. Dasher continues to clean his paw, ignoring his human companion. Her dog, Skye, sits on the front porch sniffing “Essence of Sheep” wafting over from the fields to their left.
A whirring noise from the basement competes with the tropical bird song from the jungle bordering their house. Mason, Samantha’s husband, works on another home restoration project. She gazes at the ocean. California is somewhere across those waters—worlds away from her new life.
Mason and Samantha had been searching for a locale to retire to for five years. It seemed more of a game to her. They checked out places, traveled, and fantasized. And then they would return to their sanitized suburban home in San Diego, California.
It was exciting traveling to Ecuador, Ireland, England, and Canada. They also looked up and down the California coast but nothing felt right. She felt a deep calling to begin a spiritual journey—a time of reflection and letting go. A time to find out what was right for her.
Dissatisfaction with her job, kids grown and moved away, and distant echoes of their boys’ laughter and squabbles down the hall—the emptiness spread before her. What was she supposed to do with the next phase of her life? The unease inside grew. She could ignore it no longer.
A trip is what she needed, she thought. Samantha imagined traveling to a land filled with beautiful scenery where she can find her soul again. Visions of soft breezes and turquoise waters beckoned her. “Hawaii,” she announced one day over breakfast. “Let’s go to Hawaii.” She convinced herself that a vacation would repair the crack in her soul.
Samantha loved being a tourist—packing as much into a trip as possible. A brochure at the hotel extolled the beauty of a remote beach covered in green sand. “This is it! We have to walk this.” She knew it would be a spiritual hike.
Green Sand beach is a three mile walk to a shoreline at the southern tip of the island. It is covered with olivine, a green gem. She used the time walking the six miles praying to G-d and asking for guidance. The walk was grueling but she felt a glimmer of peace after completing it.
On the drive back to the hotel from Green Sand beach, Samantha drifted off to sleep while Mason drove. She awoke to Mason pulling into a neighborhood. “I just want to get a feel of the area,” he said.
She knew this behavior well. Mason was on the hunt again for a possible retirement location. They cruised up and down the rural streets that looked much more like a mountain resort town than a tropical island.
“I want to live where I can see the ocean and hear the waves crashing at night from our bedroom,” he reminded her for the umpteenth time. There was no view of the ocean in this neighborhood—only tall pines and a cooler climate than most of the island. The area felt very different than what she imagined Hawaii to be.
As they drove up one street Mason noticed a “For Sale” sign. He pulled over for her to grab the flyer in front. Samantha read off the features—three bedrooms, one and a half bath, wood burning stove, two acres, and a stream running through the property. “A stream would be my second choice if I can’t see the ocean. I’m going to call the agent,” he said.
She didn’t take any of this too seriously. They’ve been down this road many times. The agent, Arlene, let them know that the home was already in escrow but she had others if they were interested. He said he was and told her his dream requirements. They drove back to the hotel with the idea already flushed from Samantha’s mind while Mason’s eyes were wide with possibility. She turned away from him and let her gaze soften allowing the trees to blur together into a dusky green.
They awoke early the next morning to a phone call from the agent. She had a couple of homes for them to check out. Samantha sighed—her vacation was slipping from her.
The first house was off a road near a quaint historic town. Calling the path a road was being generous, she thought. “Off road” seemed more accurate. The potholes and scarce asphalt had them bouncing roughly in the car. Samantha’s teeth clanked together on a few dips. She ran her tongue across her teeth to make sure they weren’t chipped. Giving him “the look”, he turned around immediately.
With low expectations, they headed to the second home on the list. The back of the house was off the highway but the view was incredible. The home, up on a hill, overlooked the ocean. Samantha read Mason the details as he pulled in front of the house. “1933 Hawaiian Plantation home. Three bedroom, one bath. Large workshop downstairs. Laundry. Ocean view.” Mason peeked in the windows as she stared at the ocean. The front of the home was across the street from a small cemetery. She walked the cemetery while Mason continued his examination of the property.
As Samantha climbed the hill above the house to the cemetery, the air became still, sound appeared to stop, and a hush settled inside her. She felt as if she entered a sacred bubble where the rest of the world couldn’t touch her. The gravestones kept her company. She read the names and dates.
She struggled to sound out the name on a stone. “Ku’uaki Kane, 1937-1946.” Samantha ran her finger over the letters. “What was your story, little one?” she asked the small grave she crouched beside. She looked up at the cloudy sky and noticed an angel statue towering over her. Samantha stared at the loving face of the angel and felt comforted. She closed her eyes and tried to memorize the small details of this moment—the stillness, the angel, and Ku’uaki. She had the feeling she would need to remember this someday. “Thank you,” she whispered and left the bubble to rejoin her husband.
Mason informed her that he had called Arlene and asked to see inside. Unfortunately, the agent had an emergency and couldn’t come out to meet them and wouldn’t be able to before they were due to fly home. Oh well, she thought.
The last two days of their trip was filled with waterfalls and garden tours. Her feet were tired from walking but it felt good to step away from her restless mind for a while.
She read and slept on the plane while Mason was wide eyed and awake. He was distracted. What was he pre-occupied with? It couldn’t be that green and white plantation home, she wondered. They spent the next day adjusting to California time and getting over jet lag. They walked the pier close to their home and had a leisurely brunch.
“About that house,” Mason began.
“House?” Samantha sipped her latte and closed her eyes for a moment, still sleepy from the trip.
“I want to make an offer.”
Her eyes popped open. “We never saw the inside.”
“I looked in the windows and we looked at the photos on the internet.”
She frowned then nodded her head giving him the approval he sought. She watched as he got up from the table to find a quiet spot to call the agent. In moments, he came back to the table with a hopeful look on his face.
“Now we wait and see. I made a cash offer and Arlene will present it to the sellers.”
She felt her stomach clench. Did she want them to accept the offer? She wasn’t sure.
The next day she was back at work as a claims examiner and the dissatisfaction returned. A heaviness, like a cloak, rested on her shoulders. The trip hadn’t helped. She spent the last eighteen years at this job and it was eroding her spirit. She felt as if she would lose herself completely if she stayed there. And, yet, it was stable. She would be irresponsible to throw away a stable job in this economy, she told herself.
That evening she picked at her penne pasta and sipped her second glass of chianti. Mason’s phone chimed. “It’s Arlene,” he whispered. She watched his face for clues. “Yes, wonderful. Thank you,” he said into the phone, then turned to her. “They accepted our offer.”
A year and a half later Mason retired. They donated or sold most of their belongings. The sentimental items, photos, and children’s school reports were boxed up and shipped across the Pacific. It was time to leave their California home. She walked around the rooms, recalling the memories over the last twenty-six years of their marriage—love was predominant. Would she love the Hawaii home too?
Mason moved first while she wrapped up the final details of renting the San Diego home. She cut her hours at work but wasn’t ready to quit entirely. That seemed too final—too decisive. She wasn’t ready to decide anything, not while she was unsure of her path. No—she would wait until she received a sign, some guidance that showed her the path she was supposed to be on. She stayed with friends and family during this time.
Samantha missed Mason’s touch, his wry smile, his scent. She should have brought a t-shirt of his to sleep in. “Hi Honey,” she said quietly into the cell phone so not to wake her mother. It was late in California, after midnight—three hours later than Hawaii. Sleep wouldn’t come.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Fine,” she lied. She could imagine his face now. He would know she wasn’t telling the truth.
“Quit the job. Come home to me.”
Her heart skipped. It could be that easy. But then the guilt creeped in. “I have to do it the right way, tie up all the loose ends. Say my goodbyes to my family and friends too.”
“That’s your fear talking. You’ll know when you’re ready.” Restful silence filled the space. “It will be okay,” he added.” The words soothed her. She would continue to fly over to Hawaii for a few days at a time then back to California for work . . . until she was ready.
Mason changed the subject and filled her in on the restoration process of the plantation home. She heard delight in his voice.
Each visit feels like she’s playing house—not really living in Hawaii and no home back in California. She goes through the motions interviewing for jobs on the island, but nothing comes of it. In the evenings, she gazes across the street toward the cemetery wondering if she’ll ever get used to rain. She hasn’t walked among the gravestones since that first visit when there was a “For Sale” sign in front of their home.
She watches an old man approach the cemetery. He hunches over a seated walker and urges his withered body up a sweeping driveway to his spot where he rests.
“Who is that?” she asks Mason.
“I don’t know but he’s there every evening. Let’s introduce ourselves.”
The man watches them as they cross the street. They smile and walk tall. He responds with a toothless grin. He repositions his good hip on the walker’s seat—one leg stretched out, the other angled unnaturally.
“Aloha, I’ve seen you sitting here. I’m Mason and this is my wife, Samantha.” Mason shakes his hand. Samantha also extends her hand.
“Nahoa Kane,” he says grasping her smooth hand with crooked fingers.
“Pleasure to meet you, Nahoa,” Mason says.
Nahoa squints at Mason, the sun casting him in shadow. “You bought a home with good bones. The old owners were our friends.”
“Have you lived in Laupahoehoe long?” Mason asks.
“All my life.”
“Were you old enough to remember the tsunami of ‘46?” Samantha blurts out. She twists her wedding band and wonders if this is something not to be discussed around these parts.
He gives her a pointed stare. “Old enough? I was there.” His gaze faces the ocean but remains far away. Mynah birds gather on the tall grasses to his right as if they want to hear Nahoa’s tale too. “I was twelve. My two older brothers, my nine-year-old sister, and I went to school down at the point. My father worked hard to feed four children. He dropped us off early that April Fool’s Day. As we drove down the hill, I wondered why the water looked strange—so many rocks. Our school, the teacher’s cottages, some homes, and a pavilion were on the point.” He motions with his chin to the north shore.
His voice is soft and hoarse as he continues, “A lot of the kids went down to the shore. Ku’uaki, my sister, ran back up to the school. She wanted me to go to the water with her. She said eels were flopping around by the rocks. I told her I wasn’t going. I didn’t tell her I was scared. She went back to the shore with the others and I watched from the school. The tide came back in. It didn’t stop. The water kept coming, threatening to overflow everything. It happened so fast. I couldn’t see my brothers or sister. Everything was loud. It was like the rocks were growling. I heard screams and I ran—right up the hill. I wanted to shut my ears off. I looked back only once. There was a loud crash and I turned to see the pavilion get swallowed up. I ran until my lungs cramped and my eyes burned from sweat.” Nahoa looks at the wide eyes of his new neighbors. “They never found my brothers, but Ku’uaki’s body was found wedged between rocks. And in an instant, I became an only child.”
Samantha places her hand on Nahoa’s rounded shoulder. “I’m so sorry.” He nods.
“You stayed in Laupahoehoe all this time?” Mason asks.
“Married my high school sweetheart, Miliani, and raised three boys. Married for forty years.” He points to his left, then turns his attention back to the water.
“Miliani Kane, Beloved Wife and Mother,” Samantha reads the name inscribed on the gravestone closest to the driveway. She steps over to the next gravestone. “Ku’uaki Kane 1937-1946”. Her eyes blur with tears as she gazes at the cobalt waters with her new neighbor.
The trips back and forth from California to Hawaii are draining. She doesn’t feel at home anywhere. In Laupahoehoe, one Sunday, they visit a small farmer’s market.
“Come, I want you to meet someone,” Mason says and grabs her hand. She pays for a papaya and follows him to a booth with handmade pottery. “Scott, this is my wife, Samantha,” Mason introduces her to the artist. “He lives up the hill from us,” Mason explains to her.
“Nice to meet you finally,” Scott says.
She smiles and admires his skillful art. “Beautiful,” she remarks over a patina mug.
“Adjusting to island life well?” Scott asks.
She looks briefly at her muddy shoes.
“I would never go back to California,” Mason chimes in. “Samantha is struggling a little though.”
Scott looks directly at Samantha, “A bit of advice—it helped me when I first moved here from Arizona. If you want to fit in and feel like you belong here, stop comparing this life to where you lived before.”
Samantha nods, then reaches in her handbag to pay for the mug but Scott shakes his head. “No, consider it a ‘Welcome to the Neighborhood’ gift. Enjoy.”
The next morning, she drinks her coffee from her new mug. “I’m in paradise but utterly miserable,” she tells the gecko on the porch. She named him Ralph.
Startled, she places her hand on her chest calming her racing heart. “Mason, I didn’t hear you behind me.”
“Talk to me.” His voice soothes. He pulls up a chair beside her.
She takes a deep breath. “I don’t know . . . I feel like I’m neither here nor there. It’s like I’m holding on to a rope in California and a rope in Hawaii. I’m dangling over the Pacific Ocean.” She looks into his russet eyes. He nods in understanding.
“Your energy is divided. You need to let go of California and put your energy here.” He takes her hand and kisses her palm.
“But I’m waiting to find a job here first before letting go of my old job.” Her voice comes out more of a whine.
“Many people talk about moving to an island, giving up the nine to five and craziness of the city, but few actually follow through with it. It takes bravery. It takes faith. Sam, you need to cut that rope to California and swing across.” He wipes the wetness on her cheek. “Let’s take a walk to the general store.”
They walk among the homes and past the majestic Monkey Pod and dripping Banyan trees, down winding roads with the ocean to their left and snow-capped Mauna Kea to their right. She breathes in the clean air allowing it to cleanse her of the heavy residue of her clouded mind.
In the restored general store, Mason is greeted warmly by the owner. Samantha is, once again, surprised by Mason’s assimilation to his new life. Why is she so resistant? They shop for a few staples and ingredients for chili for dinner. As they leave the shop they are met by a heavy downpour.
Mason, already used to the transient nature of rain on the island, sits down on a bench under the covered lanai to wait out the weather. She sits next to him. Tomorrow, she is due to fly back to California and be away from her husband for another few weeks.
She sighs and looks over at him. His face is serene with the barest hint of a smile. He stares out at the scene in front of them. She follows his gaze. A little blue home sits across the street from the store. Trade winds blow through the trees. Palm fronds sweep the grey sky. The rain tap-taps then runs off the corrugated roof onto the tall green grasses. It’s like she suddenly noticed the loveliness of the island. She shakes her head in disbelief. “It’s beautiful,” she whispers.
“Yes.” He holds her hand as they watch the rain move south, leaving sunshine in its place.
She is packed, ready for Mason to drive her to the airport again. Nahoa is sitting on his walker by the cemetery. “Wait,” she tells Mason. “One more thing I need to do.” She walks across the street.
“Hi Nahoa. I’m leaving for the mainland again. Hope to catch up with you when I get back,” she says.
“Safe travels while you’re off-island,” he replies.
She crouches before Ku’uaki’s grave and places her hand on the stone. Samantha closes her eyes and says a little prayer. Once again, the world falls away and she feels like she’s in the sacred bubble. A peace pours over her like warm water, then a tickle starts in her belly. She finally feels ready—her decision has been made. She will give notice to the California company upon her return. “Thank you,” she says to Ku’uaki.
“Ku’uaki spread much joy during her nine years on Earth,” Nahoa says.
“I’m sure she did. It’s a beautiful name. What does it mean, if I may ask?”
Her employer was not pleased with her and, even though it left a sadness in her heart, the reflection in the mirror confirmed she had made the right decision. Instead of indecision and unease staring back at her, she sees the kind eyes of a woman ready to start anew.
She is welcomed at the airport by Mason. He kisses her and places a lei around her neck. Her phone chimes. “A Hawaii area code,” she mouths to her husband. “Yes, I can start Monday. Thank you.” She ends the call and turns to Mason. “I got the job.” She smiles with gratitude.
He steps sure-footed over the hardened rippling lava, like poured cake-batter, of their new land. Pele’s flames have ignited Mason’s soul. She watches him come to life on the island. His life energy, once drained from years in a cubicle in California, has been restored. A coqui frog chirps in time with their steps.
The moist breeze lingers on her skin and hair. Her hair is large and wild and longs to be free too, but she pulls it back to tame it. Mason has settled into his new life. The flip flops on his feet, or as the locals call them, slippas, feel confining for him. He slips them off every chance he gets to connect with the earth. She rubs a water bottle on her face to cool herself. He drinks from a tiny stream while they hike along the coast. She breathes with the tide of the cyan ocean. It gently reminds her of the reason she moved here—to find her spirit.
A mango falls from a tall tree and cracks on the ground in front of them. Mason picks it up and bites into the juicy flesh. He throws his head back and laughs for no reason other than the joy of living. She is enthralled by his magic. He pulls her close and kisses her until she’s breathless. He tastes of sweet mango and freedom. A lock of her hair escapes the confines of the rubber band. Samantha’s hand unconsciously reaches up to tuck it under control. Her hand wavers for a moment then drops to her side again, allowing her hair to dance with him.
Copyright 2017. All Rights Reserved. Heather S. Friedman Rivera RN, JD, PhD