“Objects are closer than they appear.” Lee A. Jacobus tips his writer’s side-view mirror to reflect intimate and unexpected views of life in paradise. A collection of fourteen short stories set in the islands of Hawaii, Hawaiian Tales: The Girl with Heavenly Eyes looks beyond the surface lives of tourists and retirees, natives and transplants, to the joys and mysteries within. By turns tender, amusing, and pleasantly unsettling—but always intriguing—these short stories plant us firmly in a magical tropical landscape.
|Publisher:||Tell Me Press, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Lee A. Jacobus, professor emeritus of English at UConn and author/editor of some of the country's most successful college textbooks on drama and the humanities, is a regular guest on Faith Middleton’s NPR bookshow as well as other programs devoted to the celebration of the written word. With degrees from Brown and Claremont, Lee has written a range of works from scholarly monographs on Milton and Shakespeare to plays produced in New York and New Haven. Lee, a member of both the Author's Guild and the Dramatist's Guild, lives with his wife in Connecticut but found his imagination captured by Hawaii, the setting of these stories.
Read an Excerpt
THE GIRL WITH HEAVENLY EYES
By Lee A. Jacobus
Tell Me Press, LLCCopyright © 2014 Lee A. Jacobus
All rights reserved.
CONNIE NAHIYA WAS a stunning beauty who, before she married Ben Toshi, the golf pro, lived in a ramshackle house with whitewashed walls and exposed two-by-fours. The house had two bedrooms, a small kitchen, and a cool, shaded veranda with rusted metal lawn chairs that squeaked when you rocked back and forth on them. Small as it was, the kitchen had an electric range, a refrigerator with a huge coil on top, and a round table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cabinets had been fashioned out of sturdy plywood by Connie's grandfather, and while they were rough hewn and sometimes left splinters in her fingers, all the mismatched dinnerware and the pots and pans, cups and glasses, fit nicely into their dark interiors. Connie lived there with her mother, Suki, and with her great-grandmother Mama Pa'ele. Pa'ele was a nickname that stuck with her because she was so dark skinned that late at night, when the house was unlighted and she sat shriveled and unmoving on the one soft chair on the veranda, she was totally invisible.
No one knew how old Mama Pa'ele was. One story was that Mama Pa'ele had been a handmaiden to Lili'uokalani when she was made queen in 1891. At that time Mama Pa'ele was said to be as beautiful as a black sea pearl and sat on the back of a ceremonial sculpture of a dolphin in a fete honoring the elevation of the princess. If the story were true, then she would have to be well over one hundred years old.
When Connie was growing up, Mama Pa'ele would sing songs to her in the evening, and she would make a palaoa palai pancake for breakfast. Sometimes she would grind macadamia nuts into the mix and then caramelize the residue from crushed sugarcane. Mama Pa'ele had no teeth at any time that Connie could remember, and as far as she knew she had never seen a doctor, but Mama Pa'ele used to say that the joy of eating would keep her well and that as long as she possessed that joy, she would stay in the world she loved, sitting on the veranda, squeaking her lawn chair, staring into the distance where strange automobiles thundered by under the shadow of the volcano. The lawn had overgrown long since, and even from the elevation of the veranda, it was not easy to see over the scrub papaya and the scraggly monkey pod trees that now sapped much of the view she had enjoyed as a young woman.
Grandfather had cut an old monkey pod tree to the ground long before Connie was born. He had fashioned a number of tools from it as well as a set of wooden plates and bowls, spoons, and cutting boards, all of which still existed, and all of which saw good service throughout the year. For Mama Pa'ele, the monkey pod was a tree of trees.
But recently Mama Pa'ele had grown silent. She sat staring into space on her green lawn chair. Her dark hair, showing signs of gray but nonetheless preternaturally black, became a rat's nest over the years, and her granddaughter Suki had given up trying to untangle it. Every so often, at an extreme of impatience, she would threaten to cut it off, and Mama Pa'ele would react with terror and shrink back into the darkest corner she could find.
Connie had boyfriends who would ask to come to the house, but she would try to keep them away. She would meet boys at the movies or at the state park or down at the ABC, but it was rare that she would let boys bring her home. They would see Mama Pa'ele sitting, looking into a world that had disappeared, rattling an imperfect rhythm in her chair, so small as to be mistaken for the mythical Menehune, those tiny people who had disappeared from the islands a thousand years ago.
When Connie was a freshman at the community college training to be a dental hygienist, she began dating a young haole boy with luscious blond hair and radiant blue eyes. He had perfect teeth and fragrant breath. His name was Parker Straus, and his father owned a small gift shop not far from the Butterfly Inn in Kurtistown. What she liked about him was his slow, rhythmic way of walking and the sudden explosion of laughter when she told him something funny.
PARKER HAD A ten-year-old car, a Mustang, with a special shift that he tried to explain to her, but her interest in cars was limited to their ability to get her where she wanted to go. Her personal problem with the Mustang was that the backseat was hardly large enough for them both, so their romantic evenings were limited to chaste necking in the darkest section of the local Cinema 4.
Parker had taken her out one April evening when they both had a break from their academic pressures. After seeing the late showing of Jurassic Park at the student center, they drove up Route 11 above Mountain View. They stopped in an old farmers' road not far from the macadamia groves. The sky was clear. They could see the Big Dipper close to the horizon, and the moon was such a sliver that the car was almost lost to view in the darkness. They didn't say much but leaned toward each other and began kissing, his minty tongue deep in her mouth. After a few awkward moments in their respective bucket seats, Connie insisted they get out of the car and just walk a few paces in the woods. Parker saw no point in that, but he took her hand to lead her into the seclusion of an orchard and kissed her. When Connie detected his enthusiasm, she decided not to let the moment pass. He reached for her breast and she touched him inside his trousers, but somehow it was not the way she wanted their lovemaking to be. Parker was a sweet and decent boy and quite different from the boys she had dated in high school who were impatient, crude, and in some ways basically misogynistic. She felt him pulling her to the ground, but she resisted.
"No, no," she said. "Not on the ground here. Too hard, too dirty."
The backseat of the Mustang was so small his feet would be out the window. So she decided to take him home. Suki spent the weekends up in Waimea with Connie's sister, Laura, who had just had her third baby and needed help. Mama Pa'ele would have gone to sleep long ago. Connie thought of the comfort of her own large bed. She was certainly not going to behave like a middle schooler and let Parker take her on a stony bed of grass where she couldn't see his body and where their discomfort would mean they'd have no time to savor their mutual delights.
"We're not that far," she said. "No one's home, and it will be much nicer."
Parker backed down the twisty road and headed to Connie's house. He had been in only one or two of the old-fashioned Hawaiian houses that stood, like Connie's, without the conventional details of insulation, wallboard, and wall-to-wall carpeting. She warned him that it was a simple place, but she thought that in the dark, and under the circumstances, he was not likely to notice much by way of his surroundings.
Connie went into the house first and made sure her mother was gone. A weak night-light illuminated the one bathroom, but otherwise the house was silent and dark. Parker came in and walked on tiptoe into Connie's bedroom and sat on the bed. Connie went to the bathroom and came out to find him with his shirt off. "Where are you?" he said softly.
She stretched out on the bed next to him and they began kissing and fondling each other. She had loosened her blouse so as not to lose any buttons, but he still had trouble trying to undo her bra. He asked her to move so he could get better purchase, but in moving she hurt his arm and he squealed. He struggled with the catch until she pulled his hand in front and guided him to the snap between the cups. Once the bra was off, he touched her tentatively then kissed her breasts while she negotiated the zipper in his jeans. They twisted on the bed, he kicking his shoes off, she forcing his belt undone and then pulling his pants down while he shuffled his legs in an effort to free himself as if he were struggling with clothes in a swimming pool. His mouth was on her left breast and his penis in her warm hand when they heard a soft gurgle that could not have come from outside the house.
They stopped and heard their breathing close to each other's ears. For a long moment, they were statues. Not a sound. She squeezed her hand and he moaned very softly and drew in a breath, and they heard the gurgle again. Connie sat up, now completely naked. Mama Pa'ele had to be asleep in her room. But Connie hadn't checked to see. Now that her eyes were adjusted to the dark, she rose quickly and opened Mama Pa'ele's door and stared inside. Her mother's bed was, as she expected, quite empty. But so was Mama Pa'ele's.
Back in her room, Parker's pasty body was almost aglow in the dark. Somewhat less visible, she looked around the room and was shocked to see very dimly that Mama Pa'ele was curled like a house pet in her old brown camp chair deep in the corner of the room. Mama Pa'ele's eyes glistened slightly in the reflection of the nightlight as it shone on Connie's bedroom door and into the room. Mama Pa'ele had been watching them all the time.
"Put on your clothes," she told Parker. But when he rose to meet her, his erection was so profound that in the dark she let him enter her moistened vagina and she clutched at him as she caught her breath. They made love intensely standing up, hardly able to control their anxiety, and when they finished they fell slowly to the bed, separating after moments of sweaty groping.
Finally Parker reached around in the dark for his clothes and took them out into the kitchen. Connie went into the bathroom and washed herself and tried to think of something to say to Mama Pa'ele. What had she seen? Did she understand any of it? And how much noise had she made while Parker had held her bottom firmly to his body and brought her to the pitch she had longed for?
When she came back into her room, she looked for Mama Pa'ele, but the camp chair was empty. Connie thought that it may have been a hallucination on her part, an impossible mistake, but Mama Pa'ele was definitely not in her room either. Parker spoke softly in the kitchen. While he spoke, Connie heard the rusty squeak of the lawn chair on the veranda. "What in God's name was that?" he asked.
"What did you see?"
"This tiny dark thing, a dwarf or a gnome. It skittered through the kitchen and out there," he said, pointing to the veranda. "What was it?"
"Mama Pa'ele," she said. "My great-grandmother."
"Lord, it was really a person?"
"Yes, of course."
"Did she see us?"
"She was right there in the corner near my closet. She was wide awake looking at us."
"How come you didn't know she was there?"
THE NEXT MORNING Connie waited for Mama Pa'ele to get up, but she slept late. Connie went down the road to get the newspaper and breakfast makings. Suki had run out of eggs and muffins. Left on her own, Mama Pa'ele would have had peanut butter and berry jam on white bread, but when Connie was home in the morning she scrambled eggs and toasted English muffins. Mama Pa'ele's days of making pancakes were long past, but her appetite never dimmed. Connie brewed some kona coffee in the percolator and sat down with the paper to read the want ads. She was interested in keeping track of job offerings in the dental line, just in case she might get a useful lead that would help after graduation.
Mama Pa'ele got up around eleven and scurried into the bathroom, then back to her room, and she appeared at the table looking hopeful. Connie greeted her and looked at her closely. There was no telling what she saw or what she thought, so she did not quiz her or ask her whether she noticed Connie had brought a friend home. "You sleep okay?" she asked. Mama Pa'ele nodded once. "I'm making eggs."
Connie broke the eggs into the buttered fry pan and swirled them around with her fork. She toasted the muffins in the oven and put coffee in front of Mama Pa'ele. It might be possible that Mama Pa'ele had been asleep, even if her eyes were open. Perhaps she could not see in the dark. It was very unlikely that she heard anything. Usually Connie touched her arm before she began talking so as to get her attention. Because Mama Pa'ele rarely spoke, it almost went unnoticed that she mostly communicated in gesture and nod.
Connie took care of Mama Pa'ele as she usually did on Sunday. They ate their three meals together, and Mama Pa'ele sat on the veranda listening to an old Emerson radio playing Hawaiian surfing music while Connie studied for the following day's courses. She saw Parker after school on Monday and listened to him tell her how weird it was to think someone was in the room with them. Connie told him that Mama Pa'ele had little or nothing to say at the best of times, and that she had indicated nothing that would suggest she had seen much of what went on. Basically the only thing that worried Parker was that it might have been a little kinky.
Suki had come back to work at the ABC and took over caring for Mama Pa'ele. Connie thought that if Mama Pa'ele had seen anything she would have told Suki and that Suki would surely bring it up. The best thing Connie could do was to keep quiet. She went to school all week long, staying late to study in the tiny library with other girls in her classes, and saving time for a quick dinner with Parker. On the weekend, when Suki went back to Laura's with a bundle of supplies, Connie waited until dark and brought Parker home with her. She studied the house very carefully this time and warned Parker not to make noise. Suki was definitely gone and Mama Pa'ele was in her bed in the fetal position, a tiny bundle of sleeping flesh.
Parker was more adept this time with Connie's blouse and bra. He slipped out of his clothes quickly and silently knelt on the bed, waiting with his arms out for her when she came from the bathroom. Connie slowed him down and helped him find the right way to touch her, and when they actually made love it was much better than that first night. She was glad that Parker was such a quick study. She felt very lucky to have chosen him over the other young men she could have had. His sweetness, his kindness, and even his essential shyness were not always the markers of a good lover.
When they finished, Connie rolled on top of Parker and kissed him. Then she looked around the room, checking each corner to see that it was not only dark but empty. Parker kissed her and stroked her belly and then her back and they held each other side by side as they slowly drifted to sleep.
Connie woke to feel Parker warming her thigh with his erection. It was hours later, and the bed sheets had fallen to the floor. They found themselves again breathless and caught up in their excitement. When they were finished, Connie heard the soft but distinct gurgle that told her Mama Pa'ele was in the room. She turned and saw her deep in the corner, the faint night-light reflected from her eyes. She kissed Parker while pressing her hand gently on his free ear, hoping that he may not have heard the sound. She felt his hands enjoying her body and she held him close until he fell back to sleep.
The room was empty in the morning, except for Parker, sleeping quietly beside her. Connie decided she wanted him there with her when it became light, despite the fact that he would see how simple and homespun her house was. With Parker she did not have to pretend, nor did she have to be ashamed. He was willing to take her as she was, and that was good enough for her.
She got up first and went into the shower and waited for Parker to join her. They laughed a bit but restrained themselves and concentrated on washing and shampooing each other. When they were dressed, they found Mama Pa'ele sitting in the kitchen with an impassive expression. A fresh pot of coffee was waiting for them.
Connie made them all some breakfast. Parker nodded to Mama Pa'ele and said, "Good morning." He looked at her with some curiosity at first, then saw a slow smile form on her lips. Mama Pa'ele met his eyes only for an instant, then looked down into her coffee. Parker looked over at Connie, who had seen it all.
"Are you all right, Mama Pa'ele?" she asked.
Mama Pa'ele nodded and took a piece of toast from the plate Connie offered her. When the eggs came, she hovered eagerly over her plate. Connie wanted to ask Mama Pa'ele whether she had seen them making love, but asking such a question was completely ridiculous. How could she ask her great-grandmother such a thing? It was always possible that she saw nothing. No one knew how good her eyesight was nowadays, and if it was as defective as her hearing, then perhaps there was no reason to ask any questions at all of Mama Pa'ele.
Excerpted from Hawaiian Tales by Lee A. Jacobus. Copyright © 2014 Lee A. Jacobus. Excerpted by permission of Tell Me Press, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsThe Menehune, 1,
Why Not Live at the Hokele?, 15,
Never Turn Your Back on the Sea, 37,
Is God Calling You?, 55,
Adulterers in Paradise, 77,
Having Lost, 85,
Pi'ilani, the Girl with Heavenly Eyes, 99,
Volcanic Jesus, 127,
An Angel of Supermanagement, 173,
A View of the Ocean, 193,
The Gold Man, 213,
Old Bones, 221,
What People are Saying About This
“The interplay between natives and tourists is the engine that drives many of the stories in Lee Jacobus's splendid collection, Hawaiian Tales: The Girl with Heavenly Eyes. Jacobus's insightful examination of his characters' lives and aspirations is matched by his evocative use of language and the deft architecture of his storytelling. I closed the book with a better understanding of the costs, as well as the dividends, of life in this exotic Pacific paradise.
-- Wally Lamb, author of She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True.