Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Yellow Skirt (Part 3)

The great day arrived and the house was full as it had never been before. Flowers collected from public parks and gardens had been strung together and festooned on every corner and ledge, bordered every window, and adorned every ear. Food had been prepared by every family in attendance, ready to be eaten. The ceremony would be short so the party could last all day and into the night. At the beach, the men were setting up slides for the children, the backs of their trucks open to make for easier cooler access, each truck operating like a mobile beach bar. Some of Harriet’s classmates were in charge of designing signs to inform guests where to go when they reached the park. The words HARRIET & PAPU were written in magenta bubble letters on heavy poster board. Underneath the script a chubby heart pierced by Eros’ dart pointed to parking. Back at the Ena house, Papu sat with a gang of his friends from school off to one side, the gang laughing and slapping each other on the backs. One of his older friends got him a cigar. He smoked and posed for pictures in his baggy black suit and reflective sunglasses that glinted in the sun like a pair of plastic rainbows. Some of Mama’s close friends were busy wrangling guests into their seats so the ceremony could begin. The officiant, a short, broad-shouldered man with a crew cut and a red aloha shirt, had arrived and was moving into his position on the lawn, ready to conduct the ceremony.
Inside the house, Mama knocked on Harriet’s door. “Honey, you okay? You need help?”
“No,” was all Harriet would say.
“You nervous? We can talk, you can tell me what you tinking.”
“I getting ready. Give me five minutes.”
Harriet had agonized over the gown for months, and even now she was afraid to appear before Mama. Her insides churned; she held her belly with both hands as she felt a rumbling deep within her, like the friction between the plates on a fault line. Nerves, she thought. It was a big event and anyone would feel as she felt, even have an adverse physical reaction such as nausea. She caressed her image in the mirror up and down, almost as if she were tickling it with a sacred feather. She found it strange how easy the white gown was to possess, and how different she felt when she had worn it. Looking at herself now, she was touched from somewhere deep within her core with something like righteous pride. She thought perhaps she saw herself the way Mama had envisioned she could be months ago. She didn’t want to talk to Mama about it anymore; she was no longer angry and hoped that after the ceremony they might quietly share an embrace of forgiveness and that would be the end of it.
The music began, the cue indicating that the ceremony was starting. Papu strutted into position with the officiant and the crowd sat, their boisterous chatter subsiding like high, roaring waves that gradually hush at the moon’s command. The remaining whispers sought the bride, who hadn’t been seen all day. Her absence even captured the solipsistic attention of her young friends, who were left to wonder if she had second thoughts about Papu and the keiki.
Finally, Harriet emerged. It seemed that the entire crowd turned in unison to see her standing on the step, preparing to descend. She wore no make-up, but instead of looking like the child she was, she appeared to have no age at all. Her face bore a soft expression and from a distance even Papu noticed a change in her countenance. On her shoulders rested her brown, sunbleached hair, partially eclipsed by the light garlands she wore. Beneath all was the skirt, which shone with its full yellow brilliance. She had adjusted the fabric to fit over the subtle bulge of her belly and breasts.
The crowd had various reactions. Only several of Mama’s friends knew of the dispute, and were surprised to see Harriet in the yellow skirt. They thought, What a good daughter to wear her mother’s skirt; her obedience makes her beautiful. A number of others thought Harriet and Mama modest, down-to-earth people. That skirt, they thought, may not look like much but she wears it well and anyway it’s a nice color that brings out her eyes and compliments her young figure. To the greatest part of the crowd, the skirt went unnoticed. If they had thought anything at all it might have been, Brides need to wear something and that is something to wear. Mainly, they were there because it was a good reason to have a party, although they found the exchange of vows exciting, too.
When Mama saw Harriet wearing the yellow skirt her limbs fell slack and her chest floated up like a plastic bag caught by a sudden draft. Unsure if she was overjoyed or outraged, a friend kneaded Mama’s doughy bicep as a gesture of she-didn’t-know-what. Mama stared incredulously, rubbing her eyes and squinting as if hit by the flash of the sun reflected in a mirror. She was mostly relieved. After the pain of motherhood, half a lifetime of condemnation to menial wage-work, and battling her daughter during the peak of the madness of adolescence, she dimly perceived that Harriet, in making one wise decision, might survive this trial to face the next one. Of course she would still marry Papu—that was something that couldn’t be changed. But, she would remain free of the feeling of indebtedness to him for giving her that which she couldn’t give herself, and that would foster the self-reliance necessary for survival. On an island, she thought, one has to be like that. Mama, too, held the superstition that the skirt had preserved her daughter once and it could do it again. While comforting, that superstition simultaneously inspired Mama’s fear. What if the skirt’s power had diminished over the years? Worse yet, what if it never had any power at all? The reality was that even the doctors were concerned for Harriet’s and her child’s life, just as they had been fifteen years ago when Mama and young Harriet had almost died. A squeeze on the arm brought her out of her dream. She glanced reassuringly at her well-intentioned friend. “Harriet so beautiful, like one princess,” her friend whispered. Mama nodded. “Ya. I’m so proud she mine.”
As Harriet descended the steps, she found the garment uncomfortable. It fit her strangely, as if it were made for what her body would be like in the future, at some distant time. Her forehead dampened as she became aware of each step she made, how the present step resulted from the previous one, and so on. As the music played and she marched, she misplaced her balance on the ball of her foot and stumbled. No one saw her trip, but her next step was noticeably out of pace with the music. With effort she adjusted her stride so that it was back on course, leading to the altar. When she arrived to face Papu, she peeked over her shoulder, having momentarily forgotten how she got to where she was.
“Braddahs and sistahs. Friends,” began the officiant. “We come togedda today to ack as witnesses for da Holy Union of Papu and Harriet, as they pledge deyah lives to each odda in marriage.” The officiant broadly swept the air in slow, even circles, as if he were performing an old dance. The crowd was impressed.
“Marriage,” he continued, “has its origins in da firse human couple, brought togedda by da True God. Da Book of Genesis tell for us how Eve was made from Adam’s rib. It is because of this that a man and his wife will be like one flesh.” The mention of Adam’s rib gave Harriet an uncomfortable feeling in her chest, like she could feel God’s Divine Pinch at her bones. As the pinch moved down her spine, through her center to her navel, the officiant related several examples of Christian families and the qualities men and women need to demonstrate in order to please the Creator and have happy marriages, too. He carefully told of Paul’s exhortation to wifely submission, and also Christ’s reworking of Mosaic Law that all but condemned divorce.
“The Christian Ohana is the only true ohana—it is God’s Ohana. We are part of it, and we are responsible to raise our own small ohana to be one part of this, too.” He paused dramatically and focused all his oratory powers on the young couple.” Harriet, Papu, you stand here before each odda and God to make a promise, that you will do this for each other, your ohana you will begin togedda, and God.” For the duration of his delivery, his broad smile never waned. At each pause, he fixed his attention on a different member of the crowd and flashed his teeth like a special badge of authority.
The pinch at Harriet’s navel grew more intense and she found it increasingly difficult to concentrate; the officiant’s words simply became to her a garbled mess of blabber. She tried to concentrate on her reflection in Papu’s sunglasses, and when she couldn’t she closed her eyes, forcing herself to follow the rhythm of her own breath. Slowly, she wilted like a tree whose young trunk can’t support its heavy fruit. When she opened her eyes she was looking at the wet spot on the front of her Mama’s yellow skirt and the puddle at her toes.
“Harriet?” Mama spluttered, lifting herself to her feet. Harriet didn’t hear her name. She could only study the alien substance, curling her lip in confusion and disgust.

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