Bend & Break
Lightning filled my stomach. It rent apart my insides, reminded me of what I’d had to ingest. There were bits of home—things that both warmed and filled me, but also hurt to remember. Like the grains of sand that moved between my toes and stuck to the tops of my feet. Or the waves slicking the surface of my skin, coating my ankles like paint I’d never get dry from my feet. There were slices of fruit and berries, the fragrant, rich taste of raw pineapple on my tongue, reminding me of the island and the life, the family that made me laugh. The memories all congregated, collided with the hours of lectures, the years of filing and fussing and freeing myself from the island girl I was, to the student I became, to the associate trying harder, working longer to prove herself. But it also freed me from the laughter that never went silent in the ocean’s current.
There was also warmth in the pit of my stomach; the memories I didn’t mind reliving. Like the sensation of my mother’s touch, the warm, sweet scent of her perfume and the faint kiss she left on my forehead every night. There was my brother too, and the baby he and Ellen brought home, that pink bundle with no worry yet—a beautiful girl with eyes bright and gray like my mother’s and the same wide nose my brother swore wasn’t all that big.
And another piece, this one nearly as precious—a laugh I heard when he didn’t know I listened. It was like a song, something sweet, something I wanted to hear always and those thick, full lips I’d always wanted to taste.
That storm coalesced, went deep inside me. It lived there—the island, my heart, and the rush of memory and regret I’d left behind me years ago.
There it stayed, like a hum, whispering low; my quiet song reminding me I could go home.
Reminding me it had not all disappeared.
Not just yet.
There were rainbows on the wind. It was what Lily Campbell’s mother always called the night sky in Kaimuki when the sunset drew waves of light in all hues across the ocean. “A riot of rainbows,” she’d say. “Too many colors to count.” It struck Lily, just then, despite the noise of the crowd and the lingering humidity which made her skin damp and her brown hair frizz, that no matter how long she lived on the mainland, the sunset at home and the ocean breeze that cooled her skin as it moved, would always hold a riot of rainbows.
She’d missed her mom since the cancer had taken her. Lily had only been sixteen then, a sophomore in high school, but her memory, the sweet things her mom spoke about their island had frozen in her mind. Lily determined nothing of her mother would leave her thoughts. Looking over that sunset and all those colors, Lily realized she’d missed the island almost as much as she missed her mom.
“What about him?” Kiki’s voice was high, loud, and pulled Lily from her thoughts, right into the hustle of the crowd as Kiki shouted over it. She moved on her tiptoes and bounced when she spoke, something that reminded Lily of some sort of dwarf dance right out of a Lord of the Rings film. Kiki’s voice boomed, contrasting her short legs and squat frame.
The bar was too crowded, the band’s speakers keyed up with too much reverb, but Kiki still tried, insisted for the third time in two hours that Lily keep their undergrad bet going. Kiki had never lost and claimed that Lily’s inability to embarrass herself bordered on the pathetic.
“No. Not him,” Lily told her dorm mate, hoping that the slow shake of her head and the bustle of particularly easy marks in the crowd would distract Kiki.
“Why not?” No such luck.
Lily pulled a long swig on her lukewarm beer, wishing the group of mainlanders would clear away from the bar. She wanted a fresh bottle but not bad enough that she’d fight a bunch of eighteen-year-olds who looked for all the world like they’d just broken from their leashes.
Kiki’s elbow slipped easily into Lily’s side, but she was able to keep from flinching. Kaimuki was her hometown. There were eyes on her, desperate gossips waiting to see what New Haven had done to her. All of them, Lily guessed, wanted to know if she’d forgotten where she’d come from. She stretched one long leg, leaning against the bar, and Lily moved a shoulder, a slow, small gesture that told Kiki to be patient.
“Invalid. I wouldn’t stand a chance,” she finally answered, holding the bottle a little in front of her mouth, guarding her words in case any of those gossips had super-sensitive hearing. “These local boys know me. They’d never believe the shit I’d have to say to win.”
“You’ve been away for four years. The mainland is a long way away.” Kiki came close, preventing herself from the exhausting need to yell. Her referring to Connecticut as the mainland seemed odd, out of place with Kiki’s Tennessee accent. “Maybe Yale has changed you.”
“No amount of courses in Modern Apocalyptic Narratives and The History of Political Theory would change me that much.”
The boy in question nodded at Lily, throwing out a “howzit, Lils?” before he charged in the center of those eighteen-year-olds still angling for drinks from the flustered bartender.
Liam, her brother, had made the day before an epic return. Barbeque, music, and too much liquor. He’d welcomed Lily and Kiki to the island with as much fanfare as he could muster and nearly half the boys in the bar tonight had made an appearance. It had felt as though he wanted to remind her that his house—the house that had been her home since their mother’s death— was still waiting for her.
Lily moved around, catching the eye of a Kai, the bartender. She’d done grade school and pee-wee volleyball with him. Now he manned Tiki Tommy’s bar. The place was small, not like those Honolulu tourist traps. Lily had outgrown it by the time she was eighteen, but the beer was cold and cheap and Tommy’s was right on the beach, the windows opened, the patio expansive enough that the ocean breeze flew around the crowd. It offered a small reprieve to the humid air and the crowded club. Lily could almost taste the salt water on her tongue between quick sips she took from the now half-empty bottle.
Besides, it was comfortable and the only real place in Kaimuki her and her friends could drink for free. Like most people in their small town, when Lily was home, she went to Tommy’s.
Kai smiled at Lily, flashing his perfect white teeth and deep-set dimples, moving up his eyebrows as if to ask a silent question.