by Kirby Michael Wright

IT WAS SATURDAY MORNING at the Moloka’i Ranch. The rooster light broke in through the bedroom window at the bungalow. Chipper Gilman was snoring under the quilt. Julia Wright had already perked fresh-ground Kualapu’u coffee and was sipping the dark brew from a tin cup. She liked it black. Today was Lazy Day. Chipper would get up late the way he always did on Saturdays. They’d planned to head to town in the Ford to buy staples. The kerosene refrigerator was working fine and Julia wanted to stock up on perishables such as cheese, bacon, butter, and eggs. She got all the cream and milk they needed for free from the Cooke Dairy. After shopping, they would motor to the west where they could enjoy a day at the beach. Lazy Days invigorated Chipper for the workweek. Julia cherished every minute with him because he was relaxed and good company.

Julia put on a pair of khaki knickers and pulled a green top over her head. She looked at her reflection in the kitchen window. The clothes seemed slightly big and her face looked thin. She promised herself to eat more while laying out Chipper’s denims and white cotton shirt. She kept his hat on the wall since wearing it made him think he was driving cattle or handling sheep.

* * *

The Model T puttered down a narrow road past the Kaunakakai Courthouse, a shed-sized structure with a shingled roof that Sophie had told her doubled as a jail. Julia guessed that was where they’d sign their marriage license when the time came. The ring on her finger felt loose, as though it might slip off. The road curved right, taking them to box-shaped buildings on either side the dirt road. The buildings were painted forest green and had been built so close together they seemed connected. Most were two stories. Second floors were facades without windows. Chipper parked outside Kanemitsu’s Bakery. Julia went in while her man leaned against the doorway. Bert Kanemitsu, a chubby man with salt-and-pepper hair, stood behind a glass display case of donuts, cookies, and custard pies. The case buzzed with flies.

“’Morning, Bert,” Julia said.

“Almost noon,” he replied. “Da regulah?” “Please.”

Chipper pulled out rolling papers and a tobacco pouch.

Bert grabbed a pair of steel tongs and snatched a long john. The donut had a twist. Bert stuffed a half-dozen in a paper bag.

Chip sealed his rolled cigarette by sliding the outer paper over his tongue. He spit out a flake of loose tobacco and tucked the cigarette in his shirt pocket. He followed Julia out. The strolled the walkway devouring donuts. The Chang Tung General Store displayed hand-crank eggbeaters, machetes, alarm clocks, and orange cast-iron pots and pans that fit neatly into one another.

“I love cast-iron,” Julia said.

“Only the two of us,” Chipper said. “That set’s for a big family.” “You’re right, Chip.”

They strolled Ala Malama Avenue and finished their long johns. Chipper stuck the cigarette in his mouth. He scratched a cowboy match against a kiawe post and it flared to life. He lit the tip and took a long pull. Julia stopped to admire the lady mannequins inside Imamura’s Clothing.

One lady wore a yellow chiffon dress with an empire waist. Her friend looked sexy in a salmon-colored tea dress with a turquoise cloche hat pulled down over her ears. What caught Julia’s attention was a pair of ivory-and- black lace up boots the tea dress mannequin had on. Sue had worn a similar pair the night they met the handsome brothers. Julia thought it strange how the lives of two sisters could turn out so differently. She doubted Sue could have weathered the storm had Harold been the stable one and Fergus the playboy. Julia wondered how strong her sister’s marriage was in Oregon, seeing how her Englishman had been spoiled by his father’s money.

Chipper puffed and blew smoke. “You want those boots?” “No. Can you see me in one of those dresses?”

“Maybe if we lived in Honolulu.”

Chipper paused outside Kikugawa Liquors and peered through the plate glass window. He exhaled a stream of smoke that bounced off the glass and stung Julia’s eyes.

She rubbed an eye. “Jesus,” she said. “Sorry.”

Bottles of rye, Scotch, and bourbon were on display. A black-and-red toy train on a track looped around the booze. Chip sucked hard on his cigarette. “Could stand some Wild Turkey,” he said.

Julia winced. “Too expensive.”

Chip exhaled. “Wild Turkey helps me get some shut-eye.” “You’re asleep the second your head hits the pillow.”

Chipper flicked his cigarette. It bounced off the walkway and sprayed embers.

Julia killed the smoldering butt by grinding it out with the heel of her boot. She kicked the butt into the street.

“Wouldn’t mind some shots now,” Chip continued. “Come with me to the Midnight Inn. Whadya say?”

“No.” Julia crossed Ala Malama. Chipper followed. She grabbed a shopping cart and pushed it through a bustling store owned by Uta Misaki. Uta was a seamstress who’d opened her doors back in mid-January to help the Misakis survive. Uta and three generations lived on Mango Lane in a two-bedroom cottage behind the store. Uta’s cashiers were Filipinas in their teens. Uta believed these girls were trustworthy and the most affordable labor on the island.

Misaki’s was a canned goods paradise. A shopper could find almost anything in a can, including lamb tongues, silkworm pupae, and fish assholes in cheese sauce. There were lots of bottled goods too. The store had a butcher shop stink that mixed with the odors of insecticide, sour milk, and Mochi Crunch. Along the store’s eastern wall, shoppers could find dairy, produce, and packaged meats. Most of the meat came from Moloka’i Ranch and the milk products carried the Cooke Dairy label. Julia envied Sophie and George for having a monopoly on so many goods. She filled her cart with eggs, bacon, cheese, and cans of deviled ham. Chipper was hunting for something in the rear of the store, where they kept ammunition and fishing gear. She tossed in carrots bound by string and found bottles of powdered curry, Worcester sauce, Kikkoman soy sauce, and ketchup. Next came a ten-pound burlap bag of rice. Last but not least was a quart jar of Halawa Valley poi. She knew the poi was fresh because it was purple and smelled freshly beaten after she spun open the lid. Julia steered her cart to the front of the store. Chipper flirted with Crystal at the register. He tossed a pack of rolling papers and a pouch of Bull Durham tobacco onto the counter.

“Said you were givin’ up smokin’,” Julia told him.

He wrinkled his brow. “When?” “New Year’s Eve.”

He lifted the bag of rice out of her cart and rested it on his shoulder. “Quit nagging,” he said.

Crystal tallied the total. “Eight dollah pifty,” she said.

Julia pried open the clasp on her black coin purse. She pulled out a wad of folded bills and tossed Crystal the wad.

Crystal counted the bills. “Twenny cent mo’, missus.”

“Fo’ the luva Pete,” Julia said. She dug around in her purse and clanged loose change over the counter.

Chipper winked at the girl. “Nearly broke da bank.”

The girl giggled. She placed their groceries in small wooden crates.

* * *

Chipper killed the Ford’s engine at Papohaku Beach. The shore was deserted. Julia slipped into her two-piece while Chip pulled on his canvas trunks. She’d prepared a picnic basket at the crack of dawn. They’d have kalua pork, rice, and kim chee on tin pie plates. Sophie had given her bottles of beer.

Julia looked across the Channel of Bones. She made out Oahu’s south shore and the pali rising above it. The cliffs looked black from a distance. She wondered how her boys were in Kaimuki. Julia told herself she’d visit on Thanksgiving.

Chipper took Julia’s hand and they waded out. The water was cold for October. Limu drifted by. Owama schooled in the shallows and some jumped out of the water as they approached. Chipper dove in. She followed. They dog-paddled out past the breakers. There wasn’t a person in sight. To Julia, it seemed as though the ranch didn’t exist and they were the only ones on a deserted island. This was the paradise she’d imagined as a girl, one that belonged to her and the love of her life. The deeper water felt warm to Julia and it was calm.

Chip practiced his crawl stroke, something Duke had taught him before he left to fight. He showed Julia how to turn her head for air while rotating her arms and using a flutter kick. The crawl seemed unnatural and awkward to Julia. She had trouble keeping her head underwater during her strokes. She quit swimming, stuck out her head like a turtle, and gasped.

“I nearly drowned!”

“Lesson’s over,” Chipper said, floating on his back. He sucked in seawater and spurted a blast over his head. “There she blows!”

Julia quit her dramatics. She knew she was complaining for attention and that he wasn’t buying any of it. She enjoyed it when Chip acted goofy. It reminded her of the Makai Boys, when Waikiki was his oyster and the responsibilities that came with being an adult were a million miles away. Remembering him as a young surfer and waterman helped her revisit her younger days, the time of playing with her brothers and sisters in Palolo Valley. They’d laid claim to the fern and guava grottos of empty lots, challenging kids from neighboring families for the rights to build forts from busted pallets, sheets of cardboard, and termite-infested planks.

Tommy had been the head of the Wright clan, a fearless leader who kept his younger brothers in line. They’d lost their father and Tommy became the authority figure they all secretly craved. He’d taught Sharkie and Jackie the basics of football and baseball. He’d gone down to Waikiki to show his sisters how to dive and tread water. He’d protected them from bullies and was always ready to fight at the drop of a hat. Locals always showed respect for the Wrights whenever Tommy was around. He was short in stature but stocky. If someone tried to beef Sharkey or Jackie, he held up his fists and swung for the moon. Tommy’s short fuse made him dangerous. Most challengers backed off when he clenched his fists.

Catarina appreciated the protective nature of her oldest son. The fight had gone out of her after her husband was arrested, tried, and sent to jail. Benjamin’s journey to Honolulu Prison cast a pall over her and the children. Relatives such as the Colburns and Carlos Long looked down on the Wrights for Benjamin’s crime, and she couldn’t free herself from the quicksand of shame.

Julia floated on her back beside Chipper. The sky was filled with fat white clouds. A plover flew over her. Chip whistled to the tune of “The Army Goes Rolling Along.”

“Hungry, Corporal Gilman?” Julia asked.

“And how. Thirsty too. Did you bring provisions, Private Wright?” “I’m always prepared, corporal.”

Chipper swam over to Julia. She lowered her legs and treaded water. He wrapped his arms around her. She liked the way he pulled her close, as if protecting her from something dangerous lurking in the sea. The trades toyed with her hair. She brushed the bangs out of her eyes. He pressed his lips to hers. They kissed. It’s these little things in life, Julia thought, that’s what counts.

She was sure her love for this man would last until the day she died.

About the Author:

Kirby Michael Wright won the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction.