Her sigh was a long, lonely sound. She arched her back, pushing her swollen, large-knuckled fist into her lumbar area. Her stomach was large and round. She walked with a cant, a rounded rhythm to her sway, the small flowers shifting on her calf-length, dark blue dress.
When her husband was dying of cancer, a huge goiter in his throat, he was unable to yell at her anymore. He lay silent and barely moving on the futon in the hospital in the country, where she visited him weekly, despite the tortuous road that connected Honolulu and Kane’ohe in the 1940s.
Her youngest daughter told me that her father had been a sugar-sweet talker. He was also a gambler and a drinker, and liquor turned him ugly. He pulled her mother’s long hair while she was readying herself for the night. Her mother cried out, keening, when he pulled her head back by her thick, dark rope. That long thickness, coiled safely in a low bun at her nape during the day.
She was widowed in her late thirties, pregnant with her youngest. She had seven children survive to adulthood, three sons and four daughters. Years passed. She weeded the yard of the home she was in, circulating between her offspring. She watered plants. She cooked. She cleaned. She did laundry. She ironed sheets. She paid her husband’s debts, somehow.
She told me once about laboring in the sugarcane fields on Maui, all of fifteen years old, weeping over having to work so hard. She sighed and then squatted once more to tend to the weeds.
She worked all day and watched TV every night, local professional wrestling, half-naked hard bodies oiled and sweaty under the bright lights of the Honolulu Civic Auditorium. Bodies bouncing on bodies, grappling and grasping, pushing and pulling. Yelling, grunting, crying out.
“Pull da hay-ah! Pull da hay-ah!” she cried, her hand clasped to her heart. “Aah! Aah!” She sighed, keening.
She died in her early eighties, never remarried. Her oldest daughter had her ashes mixed with those of her father’s, gone so long before.
First published in Rain Bird, 30:168-169, 2010.
Windward Arts Council Golden Plover Award, 2010.