Read an Excerpt
By JILL SMOLINSKI
ST. MARTIN'S PRESS AFTER FIVE YEARS together, I was still in love with my husband. That would probably have been a good thing, except I was serving him divorce papers. It was July Fourth.
Copyright © 2002 Jill Smolinski.
All rights reserved.
In case anyone is missing the symbolism, that's Independence Dayas in, Okay honey, I set you free. You can go off and do all those things that you want to do. Those things like watching TV, surfing, andoh, I don't knowscratching your balls, which is what you were doing when we were together, only with two hazel eyes (mine) boring into you, wrecking all your fun.
Maybe if my eyes were blue it would have made a difference. Maybe then you would have felt like it wasn't me, but the sky watching you with such disappointment. Just the blue sky sighing and shifting back and forth on her legs, complaining about how she expected you home two hours ago.
But no, hazel eyes have all that green and brown in themearthy colors that say, "Get back here, you cheating bastard, and while you're at it, pick up some milk because we're out."
On that particular Fourth of July, the first holiday since Kam and I splitor more accurately, Kam splithe and I had agreed to share our son Dante for the day. I'd take him to the parade. Kam would get him for fireworks. Great effort would be put forth so I wouldn't have to stop by his house and see Her.
The Dante exchange, we'd decided, would take place at precisely2 P.M. at the northeast corner of Peach and Flower, in front of the Kona Kofferie (now actually a Starbucks, but as if by a communal but unspoken agreement, every person on The Big Island refused to acknowledge the change). It was there that Kam would wait, alone, watching floats and bands go by. I would bring the boy.
What Kamnamed for Kamohoali'i, the shark goddid not know was that I had a plan.
Central to my plan was Regattaleggy, slim, with a penchant for red lip color. These facts are irrelevant to my point, except that it made her look really good in Ray-Bans. Regatta was my closest friend and hair stylist; there were no secrets between us.
Here was how it was to come down: I would attend the parade with my son. I would, however, stand across the street from the agreed-upon meeting spot, allowing me to see, but not be seen. At a quarter to two, Regatta would happen to "bump into" Kam. She would chat, perhaps flirt a bit. They knew each other, after all. Then she would say, "I have something for you from Keeley," and, bang, hit him with an envelope containing papers from me suing him for divorce.
I'd get to see the shock on his faceespecially if I brought binoculars. Dante, with the innocence and self-absorption of a four-year-old, would be clueless to the events transpiring around him. And in the end, I'd have a great story to hold up like a trophy to all those people who'd been saying, Gee, you must be so humiliated.
The plan was nothing short of brilliant, except for one fatal shortcoming: me, Keeley Baker-Kekuhi, big wussy.
Oh, I'd arrived at the appointed spot. I'd even managed to conceal myself and Dante quite effectively behind a billboard-size woman standing in a red, white, and blue muumuu. The parade was almost over by the time I saw Kam arrive, which was not coincidentally the moment my original plan crumbled to dust on the ground.
At the risk of sounding shallow, I do have to mention that Kam is exceedingly good looking. After weeks of avoiding himno small task when you have a child togetherI'd managed to forget that little fact. He stoodwhat, forty feet from me?hands in his shorts pockets, shirtless, a flat, brown belly you could bounce a quarter off, his hair concealed in a bandana.
But, as usual, his smile was my undoing. His mother used to say he had an angel's face and the devil's grin. I'd first met Kam while collecting lava samples. It's what I dostudy volcanoes. He was leading a tour group and seemed to come from out of nowhere while I was working. I remember how those lips of his turned up mischievously as he said, "What's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?" and my knees nearly buckled beneath me.
Now I was watching him smile at Regatta, who had just walked up, as planned.
I saw them chat, as planned.
And flashing through my mind was, This is a mistake, he still wants me, he's just confused, he's said so and I could rip off those flip-flops and suck on his toes and keep working my way on upand other assorted, nasty thoughts that were not part of the plan and clearly had no business being on the mind of someone about to initiate legal proceedings toward divorce.
Regatta needed to be stopped. Dignity, I'm relieved to say, prevented me from bolting across the street. That and a giant fruit basket float cruising down Flower Avenue.
I peered out from behind the lady in the muumuu long enough to holler, "Regatta!" but you can't imagine how distracting the noise of dancing bananas can be. She couldn't even hear her cell phone when I dialed it.
The situation was getting desperate. The fruit was turning the corner, as fruit sometimes does. A marching band moved in. I tried to flag Regatta down.
No luck; she'd moved on to flirting, the optional part of the plan. Apparently, she couldn't twirl hair and have a clue what was going on around her at the same time. I resorted to beeping her. Success! She glanced up at me quizzically before reaching into her purse for her phone.
Mine rang. I answered it by saying, "I'm having second thoughts." At that precise moment, the lady blocking me sat down, and the marching band parted like the Red Sea. Dante and I found ourselves staring straight at Regatta and Kam. It was so intimate we might as well have been at a cocktail party eating tiny weenies.
"What do you want me to do?" she asked. "K-a-m is right h-e-r-e."
"Reggie, he can see me. And he can spell."
"How about pig latin?"
"Never mind that. Look, just abort."
"Keeley," she said. "This is your moment. For once in your life, seize the opportunity."
I could hear Kam in the background saying, "Is that Keeley on the phone? Let me talk to her."
She did one of those exaggerated shrugs at me as she handed the phone over.
"Keel, you're looking good," he said. "I like the red hair."
"Mahalo," I said, but my tone was begrudging, or at least that's what I was aiming for.
"Is that a halter top? You don't have a bra on, do you."
"Oh, for crying out loudit's hot, I'm wearing summer garb."
"I can see your nipples."
"You can not. Give the phone back to Regatta." I could see his head bobbing, squinting to get a better picture of me and my breasts.
"Those are definitely nipples. A see-through halter. How come you never wore shit like that when we were together?"
"You are not seeing my ..." But then I stopped. "It's paisley, okay? The top is paisley, and there happen to be two squiggles right where my ... my ipples-nay are."
"I get it. Like nipple covers," he said. "That's even better." He waved, I suppose a friendly hi to my nipples. Dante waved back.
"Give the phone to Regatta."
He handed the phone back to her but wouldn't stop grinning at me. Regatta had to snap her fingers in front of his eyes to get his attention. A Brownie troop passed by, grass skirts over their uniforms, carting a boom box blasting "Rollin' with My Homies."
"Keeley," Regatta said. "Shall we?"
"Yeswait, nooh, I don't know."
"He is so very charming," she said dryly, her arm across her chest.
"Do you think this is too mean?"
"It's meaningful, babe. If it's what you want, it's what he deserves."
I could hear his voice through the phone. "What do I deserve?"
* * *
HERE'S A STORY. Once there was a little Midwestern girl who married a Hawaiian guy because she thought they were destined to be together. But then he started fucking somebody else.
To think when I first arrived on the islands fifteen years ago, I didn't know anything about how to tell a tale. Now I was sounding like one of the elders. There are no great legends where I come from in Detroit, even though the area was ripe for themlike how the great gods stamped their feet to make the land so very flat. How they danced from town to town, building the suburbs and luring the white people out to them by playing Pat Boone songs on their flutes. How they left us then becauseface itit's cold there and not a whole lot is going on.
My sister Sandra's theory was that it wasn't the place of our birth that robbed us of our stories. It was the times. Our whole generation was so stoned on Cocoa Puffs and Saturday morning cartoons, that we didn't have the energy left to tune in to the history of our lives. Plus, I'd have to add, other peoples' lives were so much more riveting. As long as they weren't real or anything.
Sandra and I talked nearly every day while my marriage was busy falling apart. Well, actually, not talked. E-mailed. Come to think of it, I don't think I'd actually seen Sandra since she left for Ecuador back in '82.
ME: This being separated sucks. I'm so horny. And broke.
This note, typed on a Friday night from my work computer, was sent highlighted in red for "urgent." Not that it needed to be. Sandraor as I had come to know her, Wanderlust@flipnet.commust have been continuously on-line, because I'd never waited more than a few minutes for a response.
WANDERLUST: Hang in there. Buy a vibrator. Clip coupons. Collect Green Stamps. Do you remember Green Stamps?
ME: Do I! Remember how we saved forever so we could get a sewing machine?
WANDERLUST: A sewing machine?
ME: Yeah, remember? Can't you just see all the items hanging on the wall at the Green Stamp store? Can't you picture how jealous our brothers were when we got to pick a prize and they didn't?
WANDERLUST: Keel, we don't have any brothers.
WANDERLUST: Honey, did we wind up trading in the sewing machine for a TV?
ME: Yeah, now that you mention it ...
WANDERLUST: That wasn't us. That was a Brady Bunch episode. We only had enough stamps for the Fry Daddy.
ME: Oh, God, you're right.
WANDERLUST: I know I'm right.
ME: Does that mean we weren't part of a singing group called the Silver Platters?
WANDERLUST: 'Fraid not.
This happens to me more than I'd care to admit. It was Sandra who had to break it to me that our mother never wore an apron nor was she represented solely in shades of black and gray.
IT WAS AFTER two o'clock. I was running out of time and parade. "Hold on," I said to Regatta, who was still on the other end of the phone. I had a question that was about to bubble forth from me, and I wasn't going to trust it to just anyone. Not even her.
I turned to that lady in the muumuu. She would know. "Would you say a month is a long time or a short time?" I asked her.
Without apology, she gave me a lazy once-overstarting at my sandals, up my too-skinny legs, to the halter top, and then to my heart-shaped face, where my eyes were probably now so round and huge they were crowding my nose out of the way, so eager were they to take in the wisdom I needed. She asked, "Which do you want it to be?"
"I don't know. I don't know anything."
"Ah, manawa loihi, little child. Time is long. It flows slowly like lava from the mountain."
"If the next few months were to go too fast," I told her, "A person's divorce could be final and her life altered irrevocably before she knew it."
"A life can change in an instant."
I put the phone to my ear. "Reggie, today had seemed so right. Now I'm not sure."
"It's your choice, but don't forget what he's done. You can't act like things are the same."
"I know, I know." I stared at my feet. I desperately needed a pedicure.
"What if I could promise you a sign that it was the right thing to do?" Regatta asked.
"Forget it. I'm not into all your jungle voodoo," I said.
"I meant a real sign."
"What? A rainstorm? A volcanic eruption? I'm a woman of science, for crying out loud."
"Every morning when the sun rises, fate takes science by the hand and goes for a stroll," Regatta said in her wisest and most annoying voice.
"What does that mean?" I said. "Okay, okay, suppose Kohala erupted right now, and we were all washed away in a sea of molten lava. And suppose it was truly a sign. How could I be sure that it was my sign?"
"Oh, this is your sign. But you must act fast."
"Is this a limited-time offer? Will my destiny coupon expire?"
"Promise me," she said, and I could see her turning away from Kam and cupping her hand around the mouthpiece so he couldn't overhear. "If I can produce a sign that speaks to you and tells you there's life after Kam, promise me you'll give me the green light on the papers."
"This is stupid."
"All right, I swear. But you must swear you'll watch after Dante when the earthquake swallows me up."
"Mock me all you want," she said. "Just look to your rightat the end of the parade route."
And there it was, just as she'd said, the sign.
My jaw and cell phone dropped to the ground at the same time. I expected a choir of angels to sing, but instead, speakers suddenly blasted, "Julie, Do Ya Love Me?" There, atop a huge jukebox made from crepe paper and chicken wire, stood Bobby Sherman, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork, live and, as they say, in the flesh. Sure they were like a hundred years old, but Davy had held up pretty well. I could see his dimples from yards away. They were doing a Miss America wave under a banner that read, KDIG PRESENTS THE TEEN IDOL REUNION TOUR! My mouth went dry at the sight of my first true loveswell, two of them, anyway.
Dante had picked up my cell phone from the cement. "Mom," he said, yanking on my arm. "It's Aunt Regatta. She wants to know if it's a go."
"Ask her what Peter Tork is doing in my sign. Oh, you know what, baby, never mind." My hand reached for the phone.
I gave Regatta the go-ahead, and she gave me a thumbs-up from across the street.
"Baby," I said to Dante. "Let's take you over to your daddy."
And after all that, just as I saw Regatta pulling out the envelope, the Teen Idol Reunion Tour float passed between us, blocking my view.
Davy Jones waved in my direction andI am not lyingleaned forward and blew a kiss right to me. I gave him my most demure smile in return, coyly playing with the diamond ring I'd been wearing as a charm on my neck.
Excerpted from Flip-Flopped by JILL SMOLINSKI. Copyright © 2002 by Jill Smolinski. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.