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Fiction Contest: Duct-Taped in Hilo

Presenting the grand prize- winning story from the 22nd Annual Honolulu Magazine Starbucks Coffee Hawaii Fiction Contest.


(page 1 of 3)

Illustration: Scott Thigpen

Friday night, the Golden Madonna appeared in Hilo. Saturday morning, Papa Joe, backing out of his driveway, checking his cracked rearview mirror, saw golden arms outstretched. “Holy moley,” he whispered. Felt a thud. And hit the brakes.

Tiny red birds fluttered from Papa Joe’s avocado tree to his mountain apple tree and back again. What was he supposed to do? He reached for the glove compartment, shook his head, then squeezed out of the tiny pickup and limped to the tailgate. “Where the heck,” he said, grabbing the Madonna under her arms and dragging her clear of the muffler, “did you come from?”

Golden eyes stared at the blue sky.

Gently, Papa Joe balanced the Madonna’s golden feet on the asphalt. Who would do such a thing? Leave a statue in the middle of the street? Didn’t people in this town ever forget? He touched the crack at the base of the Madonna’s neck. Gently, he brushed bits of asphalt off her lips. His fingertips came away sticky golden.

On a mist-slippery road between Volcano and Mountain View, Theresa Domingo pressed on the gas pedal of her ’84 Stanza and yelled into her cell phone, “I love you!” She was headed down the mountain, after a 24-hour shift at the Aloha Aina Mana Bed and Breakfast, to work the breakfast rush at Blaine’s. “I love you,” she shouted. Then her Stanza flew into the air, hung there for a moment, crashed through a wall of bamboo and slammed into a telephone pole.

“Holy mother of god,” a tourist from Virginia said, crossing himself, running, wiping the morning rain from his face. The Stanza had landed on its back. “No one survived this one.” Bracing his feet against the rusted metal, he peeled back what was left of the drivers-side window. A woman’s hand drooped out, her bloody fingers still clutching a cell phone.

“Theresa? You there?” a man’s voice asked. “Theresa?”

The tourist pried the phone out of her fingers and yelled into it, “Send an ambulance. Please. I’m …” He did not know where he was. “On the volcano road,” he said. “The phone belongs to a woman. Send an ambulance.” He felt Theresa’s bloody wrist. Felt a faint pulse. “Hold on, dear,” he managed to say. He did not know where to start. He wiped the blood from her arm, uncovering a homemade tattoo, the outline of a cross inked above Kona Girl.

Theresa’s lips moved. The cell phone kept talking. “Kona double espresso,” a man’s voice said.

The tourist was crying, inhaling cold mountain air mixed with the smell of gasoline and ginger perfume. He did not know what to do. “Don’t talk, dear. Save your strength,” he said, touching Theresa’s lips gently with his fingertips. “Be quiet now. It’ll be OK, honey.” His fingertips came away covered with blood.

Papa Joe watched the woman’s bright red fingernails pin his $5 bill to the counter. He didn’t like to spend more than 50 cents on coffee, but today he needed Manni’s help. “Double ex-large Kona,” he said.

“Venti,” the girl smiled.

“Howzit,” Papa Joe answered. The woman laughed, and Papa Joe remembered a young woman like her, a wild haole girl with red hair and dangling earrings. This woman behind the counter could be her daughter. When she turned to get his coffee, her huge round pregnant stomach brushed against a tray of glasses. “Hard work being one mother,” Papa Joe said.

The woman rubbed her belly and smiled, “Isn’t he beautiful?” She pushed the $5 bill and a hefty mug of coffee across the counter. “Manni said he’d be out in a minute.”

No ring on her finger. Women didn’t need husbands these days, not even for having babies. Pretty soon they’d only need to take a pill. Papa Joe wondered why he could think of such crazy things, but when it came to a statue appearing in the middle of the road, his mind refused to work. He left the money on the counter and sat next to the window, in a soft leather chair. When he lifted the mug to his lips, he smelled ginger perfume. The woman had left her scent on the cup handle. He sniffed it again, then set the cup down on the table. He was too old to be smelling yellow ginger. He had lived alone for 25 years, and smelling such things only made him feel more alone.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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