I am an English lecturer at KCC, writer, poet, and freelance editor. When not teaching, writing, or editing, I am painting 28mm-scale wargaming miniatures.
THIS IS A YEAR OF THE DRAGON CONTEST ENTRY
Walk Among Us Once More
Year of the Dragon Contest (May entry), 839 words. Theme: Myths.
11:57p.m. December 20, 2012
On her second try, Ku‘ualoha managed to set the glass down on the actual lanai railing, rather than one of the non-existent ones. One drink had been too many; two drinks had not been enough. Leaning forward, she brought a cigarette to her lips, smoking it as if she nursed a grudge against it. Jus’ one mo’ week… so much fo’ Christmas. She held the heat inside of her and, for a second, thought she could warm herself this way, before blowing it out into the cool air.
Ku‘ualoha dropped her head; it took a moment for her to focus her faculties on the elderly woman in a white mu‘umu‘u standing at the bus stop one floor down. She leaned slightly on the walking cane in her left hand. Behind her, a white dog nosed at the overflow at base of a trash bin. “Sure ting, Tutu. Celebrate wit' me.” A crumpled cigarette pack arced through the air. “No worries. Finish ‘em off.”
Tutu easily caught the pack in her right. “Mahalo.” Hooking the cane onto her left arm, she fished out a slightly bent cigarette. With a touch of ritual, she bowed her head down into cupped hands. There was a flicker and glow. A tendril of smoke twisted and rose as the elderly woman brought her head up.
Raising her eyes, the elderly woman watched Ku‘ualoha pulling herself back after lunging for the falling glass. Tutu’s eyes tracked the glass and an escaping arc of alcohol before they smashed into edges and flowing brilliance.
“You all right?” Ku‘ualoha shivered and watched the elderly woman meet her eyes. From behind her, the dog—a blur of black—streaked past and began to lap up the spill. She shivered again and shook her head. She had never been one to see things no matter how drunk, she shouldn’t be starting now.
Tutu sniffed, “Gin... and tonic water.” The cigarette hung from a smile that never reached those eyes.
Ku‘ualoha backed away from the railing. In meeting the elderly woman’s eyes, she had not seen the weight of age, but the crush of antiquity. The back of her thighs hit the patio table’s edge. Off balance, she stumbled and fell back into a patio chair. She winced. The thin padding did not cushion her against the metal frame.
By the time Ku‘ualoha struggled back to standing, Tutu had walked away and was now waiting at the corner, looking to cross Waialae Avenue. The white dog sniffed around her heels.
Behind her, in her apartment, the wall clock chimed midnight. It was now the twenty-first. Looks like the Mayans were wrong. With the last chime Ku‘ualoha suddenly felt queasy. She could feel an odd roiling growing in her belly, just below her piko. She was going to throw up. Taking deep breaths, she looked around for something to distract her.
It was then she heard the laughter; Tutu had thrown her head back. Ku‘ualoha was about to head back inside to the bathroom when the laughter changed. The cracked notes of her cackle healed and deepened in tone to a contralto. Each note tugged at that churning below her belly. Unable to help herself, she turned her head and dropped her eyes to gaze on the elderly woman.
The bun at back of Tutu’s head had come undone. The iron-grey hair hung down to the small of her back. Then she began to change. It started at the roots, like a spreading ink stain. Her now black hair shimmered beneath the low-pressure sodium vapor lamps. And when the color reached the ends, her hair grew, down to her knees. She straightened as flesh filled her silhouette. The wrinkled and age-spotted skin of her arms and legs grew supple and became unblemished once more. This had taken no more than a few seconds and had terrified sober Ku‘ualoha.
And then the young woman stepped out of her slippers. At the moment both bare feet touched the sidewalk, Ku‘ualoha swore she felt the ground lurch. She continued to watch the now young woman, watched as her mu‘umu‘u blushed and then deepened into a rich red.
As if she felt Ku‘ualoha’s gaze on her, the young woman turned, meeting her eyes. The cigarette once more hung from her lips as she smiled. Her eyes glowed and Ku‘ualoha felt the roiling in her belly subside. Searing warmth swept through her then, leaving behind the certainty of the young woman’s identity: Ka wahine ‘ai honua, akua lehe ‘oi, Pele-ke-ahi-‘a-loa.
Her legs would no longer support her and Ku‘ualoha fell back into a patio chair. It had always been lip service. Doubt had always been part of what faith she had. She never had the conviction of belief. There was no doubt now. Believing would be easy. It was then she realized she was well and truly afraid. “‘O Pele ko‘u akua.”
Unnoticed, the white dog sniffed one last time the puddle that had been a pair of rubber slippers before trotting after its mistress.