Playing Before Royalty
New fiction from one of Hawaii's most respected authors.
By Ian MacMillan
(page 2 of 3)
He had begged off every performance Becky had been involved in, using one excuse or another, and was surprised at the beauty and purity of the sound those bamboo instruments produced, and that the little girls looked so professional, Becky beautiful with her hair done up to show that hint of hapa features that came from their mother. The girls stood up there in their identical muumuu, expertly shaking the instruments according to what note came next. “Aloha Oe,” and “Sweet Lei Mokihana.” That high chief sat in the front row in his colorful clothes, with the other dignitaries, and Jeff wandered around during the performance, stopping once to cop a long cigarette butt with lipstick on it out of a public tray away from the edge of the crowd. Although he couldn’t afford cigarettes, he always carried a lighter.
When it was over, she was still excited, jumping up and down and saying, “That was so fun, that was so fun.”
“Hey, you guys were good,” he said.
On the ride back, she sat next to him with a gift bag and her backpack in her lap, her mood changed, and when they were bumping past a huge construction site for a shopping mall of some sort on Kapahulu Avenue, she looked up at him and said, “She’s not coming back, is she?”
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I don’t want to go to a foster home.”
“No, I won’t let that happen.”
“No, she wouldn’t,” he said, patting her on the shoulder. “Really. She’s got a problem, that’s all.”
“It’s a disease, that’s what they say.”
“Yeah, it’s a disease,” he said. “And you’re not going to a foster home.”
They got off the bus in the middle of Kailua town and walked back toward the complex. From a hundred yards he saw their van, and a police car next to it. “OK,” he said. “Don’t worry. We’ll just see.” But before they got to their apartment, the police car had pulled away. A couple of his friends walked along on the other side of Kailua Road in their direction, toward town, and he stopped, trying to figure out how to avoid talking with them. One of the worst things about being evicted, he had thought from the beginning, was embarrassment.
“Eh, Jeff!” one of them called. “Come beach, ah?”
“Cannot,” he called. “Busy ’asswhy.”
They went to the apartment door, and he readied himself for whatever lies she had prepared. Holding the gift bag, Becky took off her backpack on the way in.
“How’d it go?” his mother asked her. She was sitting on their old couch.
“Oh, it was so fun,” Becky said, and went on to explain all that had happened.
His mother fussed with Becky’s hair, saying, “You mean legislators were there?” her hands shaking a little, and he studied the profile, the slightly graying hair, and thought, she did it. She got high as a kite.
“Can I go Jamba Juice?” Becky asked her.
“Oh, sure,” his mother said, too loud, and rummaged in her purse for money, a five, that she gave Becky. “Stay on this side of the street and come right back, ’kay?”
After Becky left, she said, “We have to leave tonight.”
“That’s what the cop was for?”
“Uh-huh.” She seemed agitated now, almost angry, and he thought, on the edge of losing it. “That son of a bitch, your dad,” she said.
“Did I what?”
He sighed, shook his head, and then she did begin crying.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I know it’s tough.”
“I did not,” she said. “It’s that son of a bitch. He bought us off is what he did. Said he couldn’t do anything about this because he couldn’t do anything about himself. He gave me two thousand dollars and said that was all he could do. All hundreds. Like, guess what?”
“And you spent some of that, right?” he asked. “Because you look like—”
She slid her fingers into her hair and groaned, and then reached into her purse and pulled out the wad of bills and threw it at him, the bills bouncing off his chest and fluttering to the gritty floor. “Count it,” she said. “My god, you think I’d—”
He stooped down and gathered the bills. He did not count them. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Getting on your case like that is a bad habit.” He handed her the money.