“She’s not coming here,” I hear an old woman’s voice say through Gary’s phone.
He pulls the phone away from his ear and winces. It’s not just how loud the voice is that makes him wince. It’s the sentiment behind the words as well.
“Halani,” Gary pleads. “She’s better now. We don’t want to hurt you, we just want help.”
Her voice is quieter now and I can’t eavesdrop on the whole conversation anymore; only Gary’s part. I can tell by the look on Gary’s face that our aunt is saying more of the same. She doesn’t want me in her house.
Gary drove away from Manu’s house and took me to get shaved ice. I had an unbelievable craving and it gave us something to do to take our minds off of what happened with Manu.
I decide to get out of the car. Sitting right by Gary while he pleads with our aunt to let me come to her house is getting to me.
I step outside with my cherry shaved ice with a snowcap of condensed milk poured generously over the top. I take a big bite of the cold, sweet snow. I close my eyes and let it roll down the back of my throat. I feel the cold float down my throat and start to descend towards my neck and chest. I feel amazing. Energized in a way I’m not sure I’ve ever felt before.
At first I thought I just felt normal again. Like my old self again. But it’s more than that. I feel like super woman. Like I want to surf, climb a mountain, run a marathon, all at the same time. And I actually feel like I could. I’m so lost in my thoughts about how I’ll use my newfound energy that I don’t hear Gary get out of the car and come up behind me.
“Josie,” Gary says with something in his voice I didn’t catch.
I’m too lost in the joy of this shaved ice.
“Yeah,” I say as I turn to face him.
I see what I missed in his voice in the look in his eyes.
“Josie,” he says very seriously. “Halani will see us, but only for a bit. We have to be very careful. She’s nervous and, angry, I guess. I don’t understand it all, but I think we need to see her.”
I agree with Gary that we need to see her but I’m scared. I can still feel the hate she threw at me in her house just a few hours ago. I’ve never felt that from someone who is supposed to be my family, and it was exactly the opposite of how she made me feel when I first walked in her house.
“I’m scared, Gary,” I say as I push the plastic spoon into my treat that isn’t as appealing as it was seconds ago. “She was so mean to me.”
Gary puts his hands on the sides of my arms and looks down into my eyes.
“I understand, Josie,” he says softly. “I think that’s over. I don’t think that was really her. I’m not sure how to explain it but I think that thing, that spirit, or whatever, that was riding on your back brought that out. It wasn’t you that she did that to.”
Even though I have no real understanding of the spirit that was on me, or in me, or the spirit world in general, what he’s saying makes sense. That my great aunt was reacting to that “Lapu” she and Manu called it. Not me, her great niece.
“Just stay a bit behind me when we go in,” Gary says. “Let me lead the conversation. If things start to get weird again, we will leave immediately. I promise.”
“OK,” I agree as I nod my head. “Also, Gary?” I ask.
“Yeah?” He says, stopping mid-walk to the rental car to see what I need.
“You want my shave ice?” I ask.
“No thanks, little girl,” he says with a nervous laugh.
We pull up to the familiar house with the art studio out front. A feeling of dread comes over me, starting at the top of my head and floating down through my body ’til it reaches the tip of my toes. I realize I’m breathing fast and stop myself by taking a few deep cleansing breaths.
“You ready?” Gary asks, a hint of concern in his voice.
“I guess,” I say absently. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“You got it,” he replies. “Let’s go,” he says as he opens his side of the car.
I step out and follow closely behind him as we approach the front door. Gary lightly knocks.
“Halani,” he says. “It’s Gary and Josie. Can we come in?”
I hear nothing but silence on the other side of the door. No shuffling, no mumbling. Just silence. Gary looks over at me confused.
“I just talked to her,” he says. “She said she’d be here.”
Suddenly the door creaks open and Halani stands in open space.
“I’m here,” she says softly.
I’m left to wonder how she got to the door without us hearing and briefly think she might’ve been standing right behind the door waiting for us. Gary’s saying something to her, but she’s staring at me.
“How are you, Josie?” She asks, interrupting Gary’s attempt at small talk.
“She’s much better, Halani,” Gary says, standing between she and I. “We saw a man and he helped her, like I told you on the phone. He said he ate the Lapu and she’s all better.”
Halani winces at the word “ate.”
“Who’d you see, Josie?” Halani asks me.
She won’t look at Gary. She just keeps staring at me.
“His name was Manu, Halani,” Gary says, tilting his head towards her in an attempt to take her attention off of me.
“Ehhhh Manu,” Halani says with disgust. “He’s an old drunk.”
Gary starts to respond when I decide to speak.
“He may be, Halani,” I say. “But he helped me. I’m better now, can’t you tell?”
Halani stares hard into my eyes, then looks me up and down.
“I suppose you are now,” she says. “For now. You can both come in.”
She opens the door wide and begins to walk back towards a large, open kitchen. Gary looks back at me and shrugs. I follow him in.
We sit down at Halani’s turquoise, wooden kitchen table. It’s very pretty but I don’t have the focus to appreciate the artistry or how it fits in with the beach decor of her home.
“So, what do you want to know?” Halani says pointedly to Gary. “It seems you were able to solve the problem, so what do you need from me?”
Gary is visibly shocked by her attitude but proceeds with understanding and kindness.
“Halani,” Gary says. “We are deeply sorry for any trouble we’ve caused you. That was never our intention. We were only here to visit our Ohana and enjoy the island. We never meant to bring anything bad into your home.”
“Surely you knew something was wrong with her?” She asks, looking from Gary to me.
“Yes,” Gary says. “But we had no idea what was really going on. Josie got sick a couple of weeks ago and passed out but we didn’t know she was carrying something with her. We don’t know anything about this or why this is happening.”
Halani looks at Gary perplexed.
“Gary, don’t you remember?” Halani asks with exasperation in her voice.
“Remember what?” He responds. He looks at me with confusion.
“Remember how your mother and father died?” She responds in a half shout. “Remember how your sister died?”
She begins shaking her head and crying.
“Why are you doing this, Gary?” She cries. “Making me remember these terrible things?
Gary’s speechless and his mouth is hanging open.
“You better close your mouth before it becomes a fly trap,” I say to Gary, using one of his famous lines.
He looks at me shocked. I instantly wish I wouldn’t have said it.
“Halani,” I say gently.
I need to try to redirect where this conversation is going.
“My grandma, your sister, died of cancer,” I say. “Grandpa died of old age, and my mom died in a car accident. How does that have anything to do with this ‘Lapu’ that was bothering me?”
Gary nods his head in agreement and turns back to Halani.
“Ku’uipo,” she says to me. “Your grandma died of a rare stomach cancer and no one knows why your grandpa died for sure. It certainly wasn’t old age – he was only 55. And I know the body of your Makuakane was pulled from the wreckage of a car, but I don’t know that it was an ‘accident.”
Now I am shocked into silence, like Gary was moments before. My attempt to redirect the conversation obviously didn’t work. And any of the lightness and buoyancy I felt before we arrived, is now draining from my body.
“What?” Gary says accusingly. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying this problem with Lapu has been inherited,” Halani says, raising her voice. “Your kaikamahine inherited it. You’ll both see the same fate your family met.”
I decide I don’t like the way Halani is talking to Gary. He’s been so nice to her and she’s been so cruel to us.
“I’m your kaikamahine too,” I say to her. “Don’t you want to help me?”
Halani looks at me with what appears to be genuine love and concern.
“You are my kaikamahine,” she says, choking up. “You are both my ohana. My sister was my entire life. You can’t imagine the hell she saw on earth, or the hell I saw by her side. She left here for the mainland to save me and the rest of her family from the misfortune that befell her. She found an ‘eater’ and left her home to protect all of us.”
“An eater?” Gary asks. “Who?”
Halani levels her gaze at Gary.
“Your father,” she says.
“My dad?” He asks doubtfully. “My dad was an eater? Like Manu?”
Halani lets out a big sigh.
“Not like Manu is today,” she says. “But yes, he had the same abilities as Manu.”
We sit in silence for a minute. I stare at my hands as my fingers fumble over each other back and forth in a rhythmic anxiety ritual. I can feel emotional pain rolling off of Gary. He’s very upset and sad, but I have no idea what to say to make it better.
Halani interrupts the silence.
“I’m sorry to tell you this so abruptly,” she says softly. “I’ve lived with this for almost my whole life. And I’ve been very angry. I lost my sister to this curse. I can’t bear to watch someone else I care about go through this again.”
“Gary,” she says. “Didn’t you know your makuahine had abilities to communicate with spirits?”
“Yes, of course,” he says softly. “I grew up knowing she helped sick people, that she spoke to their loved ones, and helped people pass over. She was special. People loved her and thought I was special because I was her son.”
“You are special, Gary,” Halani says, placing her hand on top of his. “You are touched by this curse in a way that hasn’t hurt you, but instead makes you a magnet for good. Your makuahine was a good person and wanted to make the world a better place, but she paid the ultimate price.”
“What about my mom?” I ask Halani. “Did she have these abilities too?”
“I don’t know, keiki,” Halani says, shaking her head. “I didn’t know your mama very well. Only when she was a young girl. Your tutu kept you all away and made it clear she didn’t want us near. She told me she thought she could protect all of you, but not the rest of her Ohana here at home. But I think this curse affected your entire family.”
“Gary?” I say. “Could my mom communicate with spirits like tutu?”
“I don’t know,” Gary says shaking his head. “I don’t think so but I’m not sure. If she did, it was a secret. A secret she never told.”
I sit with the weight of that. If this is true, if she had a secret ability, I wonder how hard it was not to share it. She and Gary were best friends. If he didn’t know for sure, would anyone have known?
“What about your father, keiki?” Halani asks me.
“My father?” I say, shrugging my shoulders. “I’ve never known him.”
Halani furrows her brow and looks at Gary.
“Gary,” she says. “Why doesn’t this keiki know her makukane?”
Gary sighs heavily. “That’s the way Alisa wanted it, Halani,” Gary says a bit stearnly. “She didn’t want Josie to be exposed to all that.”
“Exposed?” Halani says, exasperated again. “A child needs to know their father. That’s not Alisa’s choice. Josie is an adult, surely this choice is hers now?”
I look at Gary and understand he’s avoiding looking at me. I can feel Gary is a tangled mess of emotions. I don’t like seeing him this way. I miss my happy uncle telling me stupid dad jokes.
“Gary,” I say. “I don’t want to pressure you right now. I know you’re stressed, but do you know who my dad is?”
“Yes, Josie,” he says. “But Alisa made me promise I wouldn’t ever let you walk down that path.”
He looks at me. His eyes are pleading with me to let this go. To not put him in the position of betraying his long-dead, beloved sister.
“She made me promise, Josie,” he says as his eyes fill with tears.
I can’t push him any further. Gary is my surrogate parent and my best friend. Seeing him like this is painful for me. I reach out and place my hand on his forearm and squeeze.
“Gary,” I say. “It’s ok. No more for today, ok? No more, ok?” I say as I turn to Halani.
Halani shakes her head affirmatively and Gary does too.
“No more today,” I say out loud to myself now. “No more today.”