Tuesday, December 2, 2014

At the End of the Rainbow (Part 2)

One particular night, Dorothy had an uneasy sleep. Rising from her bed, she set her feet on the shaggy, pea-colored rug and hobbled to the nearby electric range. With nothing else to do, she decided to make herself fried eggs and rice with shoyu. When she finished cooking, she found she had made enough for two hungry people. Mechanically, she divided the food into three modest portions. She set one portion on the kitchen counter, kept one for herself, and set the third in front of a plain ‘iliahi butsudan she kept on a small dresser. On the butsudan was an old photograph of a boy in his twenties leaning haughtily against a brand new 1941 Ford coupe sporting a crew-cut and wearing an aloha shirt busy with row after row of earthy dancers, arms and legs akimbo. Next to the photograph was another photograph of a group of men and women bundled in tall hats and long sleeves, some standing, some squatting, in a field full of tall stalks. Beneath the photo was a small pewter pin that read GO FOR BROKE. She knelt and stared at the little box with the picture of the handsome young man.
“Oh, Testuro, natsukashii,” she said to the box.
She never quite got the hang of cooking only for herself. After picking at her own small plate, she went to the kitchen shelves and removed a plastic bento she bought from Marukai, first filling it with a bed of rice, then gently placing the fried egg on top, tucking its crisp, brown edges neatly inside. In a separate compartment of the bento, she put some leftover vegetables she had in the icebox. Taking a handkerchief, she wrapped the bento and quietly crossed the hall, tying the bundle on her neighbor’s door.
Her neighbor was a tall haole boy in his mid-twenties—a giant to her—who had lived there for several years. She liked bumping into him by the mailboxes, or seeing him as he was on the way to work. He seemed almost arrogant, the way a hero is arrogant, and there was something that was uncannily familiar about him to her. Perhaps it was because of the way he never removed his sunglasses, or the way he wore his hair, she thought. His hairstyle resembled a coxcomb, and she felt he looked like the young Japanese celebrities she saw on posters in her neighborhood, at the bookstore, the movie store, or at Don Quijote. She didn’t think often—or much—about haoles, but she liked this one because, although she couldn’t put her finger on it, something about him was very Japanese. She didn’t know haoles could look Japanese until she met him.
Like her other routines, she had a routine with the haole boy (he had told her his name—Blaine, Ben, Bruno—but she always forgot it, since all haole names except her son’s sounded the same to her). She found that he liked Japanese food, so she would leave him breakfast or lunch whenever she had extra, which was every day she cooked. She would leave it tied to his door, and he would later tie the clean bento to her door, except he would leave it with a small, sweet treat inside. She thought that this was a young person who understood the way things ought to be done. He was nothing like her grandchildren, who, like her son Daniel, were a disappointment in many ways.
After delivering breakfast to her neighbor the haole boy and watching the morning news, Dorothy got ready to go downstairs to the lobby. This particular morning was a Thursday morning, and on Thursdays she had a regular engagement with her friend Alice, who also lived in the building. The ladies would meet each other in the lobby and chat about neighborhood gossip, building gossip, family gossip, whatever gossip they could exchange.
In addition to her weekly routines, Dorothy also had a daily routine that included a mental checklist of things she must have before leaving her room. Sun hat, sun gloves, and most importantly, her purse; since her purse carried everything she could possibly need while out for the day, she never left the house without it. Although it was big and heavy, most of the time she just carried it and paid it no mind, like carrying a meal in one’s stomach. On her way out she checked herself in the mirror to run visually through the list and, securing the strap of her white leather purse over her shoulder, took the elevator downstairs to wait for Alice. She was still early as usual, so she picked a copy of Midweek from the rack near the front door. Carefully adjusting her sun hat in the breeze rushing through the open lobby, she planted herself on the sofa and while she waited, used the black ballpoint pen she carried in her white purse to underline the parts of the newspaper she found important.
An editorial caught her interest about young people who couldn’t find jobs after college. She thought about her own grandchildren, the youngest of whom were in their thirties and had never left their parents’ home. Although they were luckier than the young people in the article since they landed state jobs out of high school, she wondered if they would ever get married and start families of their own. Whenever she asked her grandson Kaua, Daniel’s oldest, when he would get married, Kaua shrugged his shoulders stupidly. It didn’t seem to be a priority to him, but then again, Dorothy always thought he was not all there. The bell on the elevator door sounded, and Alice, a thick woman with a round face and curly silver hair that fit her head like a pointy hat, slowly stepped out in a breezy yellow shirt, white shorts, and a pair of slippers.
“Hello there, Dorothy. What you doing?”
“Oh, I was waiting for you!” Dorothy squeaked happily, her frail figure ambling across the lobby in the direction of her friend. She repeated in a voice that matched her figure, “I was waiting for you!” Alice didn’t respond, so Dorothy repeated again. “I was waiting for you…”
“I hear you first time.” She laughed—she wasn’t sure if it was at her friend or herself. “So, what you doing?”
“I just read the paper. I think there have no jobs now,” she said seriously, her eyes slowly widening like an ancient turtle. Her friend studied the ground in silence. “Things getting worst here for youngstas. When we youngstas, things pretty okay.”
“Hoo,” Alice assented mildly.
Dorothy was quiet for a moment, her gaze cast like a shadow on the ground while Alice spoke. The two would always take turns like this—while one spoke, the other averted her eyes downward.
“Yes, yes, when we youngstas,” Alice continued thoughtfully. “So, we—hachijiunana, ne? Hoo, getting old. Born 1923! I August, you Novembah.”
“Yes, we getting old now,” agreed Dorothy in her turn.
“Enjoy, forget about everything,” Alice offered sagely. Her face contorted into a wicked, playful smile. “I know I have a canna beer.”
“Eh?” said Dorothy, curling her lip. “That’s one thing I don’t like. I don’t have no beer and no liquor.”
“Eh, you missing out,” said Alice. “So, how is yestidday? How is Daniel? He still try his stuffs on you?”
“Yeeeees, yes, he try. But you know, I not going listen. Yestidday he say my too old and here too dangerous! He say what—he say he want to send me to some Anuenue!”
“Eh, anuenue? Eh, he send you ovah da rainbow. Bumbye he plan kill you,” she laughed from deep in her stomach.
“I don’t know, maybe I see his anuenue. Then he shut his mouth and I have peace for my years”
Hontonii?” asked Alice dubiously.
“I just talking. Maybe I look, maybe not. So what you do today?”
“I going eat donburi,” said Alice. “I hadda big potato, chop it up. Baloney sausage, chop it up. I gonna fry it, have that for dinner.”
The handyman lumbered through the front gate, slamming it shut.
“Gonna fry it. Gonna have that for dinner. Donburi,” repeated Alice, raising her voice for her friend.
“You know, shujinga mada ikiteita tokini, intaigo, sensoukara kaetta tokini, he do all the cooking,” Dorothy said quietly. “Wakakatta tokini, I do all the cooking. Later, he do all the cooking. He say he like to keep busy so he wouldn’t think too much.” As she spoke, it was as if another person was speaking for her, someone to whom she had told everything she had ever felt so that they would remember while she herself could forget. Dorothy went on talking, and Alice listened, losing herself in the dots speckling the lobby floor.

No comments:

Post a Comment