Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rjw1
Raymundo cooked dinuguan in a tall tin pot on the stove that sent aromas out into the fields of coffee trees that knew the feel of the thick rain of Captain Cook. Mom had scrubbed that kitchen where Raymundo cooked his pig in blood. She watched the kidneys, lungs, intestines, ears, heart, snout, and what she believed looked like hooves, roll in broth. Tiny hooves. Tiny floating things in the dark gravy of blood. Blood, she said, and got out her bucket and sponge. She cleaned the kitchen. Her hands moving forward and back on old wood walls, rust coated screens, green painted cabinets, wood floors, tin roof, bare rafters, white stove. She scrubbed until a hundred years of dirt came up with the sponge she held in her ringless fingers. The fingertip sized eggs, those almost translucent thin shelled eggs, mom scrubbed them too—deciding they were cockroach eggs—and scrubbed and scrubbed until their thin shells gave up the quiet life. They gave up their home from between the hundred year old coffee shack boards that had seen the faces of single men, silent children, old fathers, young bride-mothers, bent-back families—the coffee pickers—the people who came to the dark volcano soil to weave in and out of the thin bodied, long and delicate trees. The Portuguese, Japanese, and Filipino workers who ran their fingers against the branches of the coffee trees tossed the red cherry over, over, and over into the baskets until the sound became a unit of time, a music—a rhythm that traced its notes against the sky, against the thin twist of smoke that came from the low fires that burned unwanted brush. The sound ran itself against the moving fermentation that rose from beans separated from pulp twelve hours before. The mensural level. The pulse, pulse of music, of the coffee beans falling from the fingers of pickers into the basket joined to the sound of mosquitoes that moved near and away and near and away from the ears of pickers who wore wide brimmed hats to protect their heads from the Kona sun. The hats spoke to the corrugated tin roof of the coffee shack that watched and the black earth that carried the roots of the trees as the music of picking and dropping coffee beans climbed and fell with the smell of the spiral of dried pyrethrum powder that coiled smoke out and into the air that lifted over Mauna Loa.
Mom cried when she realized the babies in those eggs she scrubbed from the kitchen where Raymundo cooked his dinuguan didn’t belong to those winged cockroaches that crawled out of almost every space of the house. She cried when she saw the fragile half-formed geckos leak out of their shells. “I didn’t know. I didn’t know,” she said, placing the eggs on the windowsill under father sky, near mother earth, under the sun, half-expecting them to come to life again, to finish forming the geckos that she said sang at night to us while we slept. She cried and cleaned and said slowly, “we shouldn’t eat meat. We shouldn’t go near the smell of the cooking hooves in the tin pot. Tin pot. Tin pot. Maybe it’s an aluminum pot. It doesn’t matter,” she said, moving the hair away from her face. “It really doesn’t matter—tin or aluminum will kill you. It isn’t good to cook in tin, not tin. I read something. I heard something about tin. Cancer and tin,” mom said and cried a little longer for the geckos, repentance for their deaths.
Raymundo lived in the house before us. Raymundo lived in the house with us. Raymundo still lives in the house, most likely. Some part of the house always. “He lived in the house for a hundred years and grew from the walls,” I said, looking at the ceiling of the house, looking at the walls of the house, looking at the doors of the house. Mom told us his last name, and we heard it as Sucsuc. Raymundo Sucsuc, we said, jumping, jumping and singing his name as his food cooked on the white stove. The blue and yellow and orange of the propane fire circled around the tin pot, and Zain said “Sucsuc” loud enough for Raymundo to hear. Sucsuc, Sucsuc, Sucsuc, the walls took the words as their own. Lita watched us sing. She sat silent; her eyes absorbing the words, and we sang his beautiful name and ran through the coffee shack, in and out of doors.
The young jewelry maker lived in the room across the hall from Raymundo. Four bedrooms under the low corrugated roof of the home in Captain Cook—four rooms, one Raymundo, one Elizabeth, three children, one woman who crocheted, moving her twining fingers, had moved out—I had watched her twist and turn the ebony wood crochet hook over and over forming flowered hats—and one jewelry maker had moved in. Mom said the man who was nineteen and made jewelry didn’t read. I watched the man. At times, he shifted in his green shorts. I saw the man. He was Jewish from some rich family in New York and couldn’t read, mom said. New York was where mom had moved after she lived in Israel and Greece. Mom was raped in Greece when she was nineteen. She told us before. She told us again. Be careful. Mom won a Best Legs contest when she was nineteen and still smoked cigarettes in an apartment she lived in below the acropolis in Greece. We knew this. She had moved with an actor named Sevrin to New York, had fallen in love with a married dentist—I will tell you more about love and this story later, later when you are older, it’s a little too much about sex—lived in the village and met an artist called de kooning. I will tell you later, love, later. I will tell you about the boy named Anthony and more about sex later, love. Sex isn’t shameful. My mother never spoke of sex, but I will tell you. England doesn’t speak of sex.
“How? Why can’t he read?” I asked. Why can’t the man who is nineteen, who makes jewelry, who lives in the house read. I touched the things on mom’s brown dresser, looking at my lips move to ask her—she was caught in the edge of the frame behind me—in the oval mirror that sat on top of the dresser. I touched my hair. I moved it from my face. I turned to the side and back to look at my own reflection.
“Vanity,” mom said, holding my eyes in the mirror, “beauty is as beauty does. Beauty is a dime a dozen.”
“But the man?” I asked, continuing my fingers’ journey over each item on her brown dresser.
“He doesn’t read, but he creates jewelry. He doesn’t need to read. Doesn’t need money. His family has money for him. It isn’t good for him though. Might be a bit daft to think this way, but some do. He should need something. We should all need something—not good for anyone to stand around with their thumb up their ass.”
The man who couldn’t read who was nineteen and made jewelry placed a wood bench on the lanai of the tin roofed house. He worked there afternoons. I came home from Konaweana elementary school with the low sounds of gears of the yellow school bus shifting up the hill. I came home through the smells of Raymundo’s cooking and watched the jewelry maker. I watched wordless, irregularly with my eyes, looking at him, looking at the rain that fell heavy over the trees, so heavy it took all the sound from the house. He sat wordless, forming silver rings with a torch, with a leather mallet, with a c-block, with a firebrick. “Why can’t you read?” I asked, as the rain let me have my voice. I looked at his face as he worked. I wanted the rings he twisted from silver.
“Do you read?” he said, not looking at me, keeping his face to the ring, ring, silver twisting thing, as the leaving sound of the rain moved out over the field. The rings formed from his fingers.
“Why can’t you read?” I touched the leather mallets. I lifted it to my face. I breathed in the odor.
“Do you read?”
“I am small.” I placed the mallet near the firebrick. “I am not big.” I touched a ring that sat against the black velvet of the case that held all of his rings.
Mom read. Mom read books and picked out names from the pages of the books she read. “I should have given you the middle name Sophia. I should have given you the middle name Lydia. I should have given you my mother’s name—maybe Constance. Maybe her middle name. I should have given you Sarah. I should have given you Sabastian. I should have given you other names to add to your names. Your names mean something. Names mean something. Maybe Lydia Martha,” she said as she finished books, as she thought about family.
“What do names mean?” I asked.
Zain said, “Raymundo. You know names. Raymundo,” and smiled as the word left his mouth. Smiled and pushed away the hair from his face. Smiled and watched the door to Raymundo’s room. Lita watched mom and didn’t smile.
“Zain came from the Bible,” mom said. “I opened the Bible. His grandmom, Mim, said he needed a strong name. The Bible is good for some things, guidance at times. I opened the pages at random. The name was there, in the Bible. It sounded strong. It is a sword, I believe. Something along those lines. It is also the seventh letter of the Hebrew and Aramaic alphabet. Many believe seven to be lucky.” Zain watched mom. He didn’t question. He knew the story. “Ruffin didn’t care what I called the baby. A good guy, but not a namer of babies. Zain was a good name.” Mom looked at Zain as she spoke.
“Zooba,” Lita said, pointing to Zain, calling him the name mom used at times.
“Where’s my name?”
“Before you were born, I walked up a small hill near the white house in Big Sur where you were born. I walked up the hill and sat alone. I wanted to see the stars, maybe to feel them. Sometimes I thought I could. I believed they were closer than any person. Damon had given me clap.”
“What’s the clap?”
“A VD—venereal disease. You get it from sex. Maybe bad sex,” she laughed. “Maybe not. Damon went down to visit the woman who gave it to him. I had to get away from him for a while—from all of them, all the people around. There were a bunch of hippies in Big Sur at that time. So I walked up this hill near the house. The stars pulsed; moved—really pulsed something lovely. I could almost hear them. I believed they sang. They were brighter than I had seen previously. The last time I had connected completely with nature was when an old Indian woman had given me peyote. Then, when I took the peyote, I moved a wind chime with my mind—with my mind, I changed its direction…over and over.” Mom touched her forehead as she spoke. She twirled her finger in the air—the wind chime. “The night before you were born, I had a dream. If you were a boy, I was to call you Stormy. I told Damon. He threw three coins on the I Ching. It came up on rain. He said we should call you Raindrop. When I was giving birth, before you came out fully, only the top of your head—curls, everywhere. A woman in the room said, ‘it’s a girl’ before you were born, just from seeing the top of your head. Damon delivered you. A neighbor took Zain for a ride in a sports car so he wouldn’t see you born.”
“Where’d Lita get her name?” I knew the story. I asked anyway. I wanted the story again. I remembered again that I wanted a sister.
“Damon read Aeneid before Lita was born. He wanted a son named Virgil. I wanted a daughter named Lita. I was afraid of Damon having a son—I will tell you more on this later, later when you are older. I had so much hate for Damon then. I worry. When Lita was born, we named her Virgalita. It was both names together. It is beautiful.” Daman made coleslaw with raisins. Damon ate red spuds. Damon built the house in Humboldt. Damon hunted deer and the children ran after the blood trail. Damon liked mayonnaise mixed with catsup. Damon Floyd Wright was from Texas. Hazel Alma Wright was his mother. Her father, Will Porter, lost his arm in a cotton gin. The gin ate Will’s right hand all the way up, caught in the saws. Waist deep in, he reversed his body out slow. Refused the doctor, walked home to wife Alma. Half a nose, right hand mangled, three long gashes from the saws down his chest, around the ribcage, a circling monster—could see his heart beating. They amputated the arm on his front porch, sewed on his nose, but left the gash near his heart alone. The heart beat.
The jewelry maker couldn’t read. Mom read books and gave us names. Mom said she would teach him and began going into his room in the afternoons. I traced my fingers against mom’s brush and looked into her hand mirror; the mirror made from yellowed elephant’s tusk, as mom taught the jewelry maker how to read. Mom kept the mirror because the elephant died giving up its tusk. Someone killed the elephant. Elephants have long memories. Someone gave mom the mirror. The elephants hadn’t forgotten. I ran my fingers against the memories of the elephant and looked in the mirror. Zain moved towards the door of the room of the jewelry maker. He sat still near the door. He breathed quietly. He placed his hand against the door. He pressed his face to the crack of space that came out from under the door. I moved forward, crouching, crawling to the space, to the line of dark that came out from under the space of the door. I breathed in the smell of the jewelry maker’s room. I breathed in the dark from the line of the space that came from under the door, smelling mom, smelling bed sheets, smelling incense, smelling the heat from a torch that softened and softened the silver until it twisted and bent from the space under the door. I leaned in and listened to the pull of the saw that cut and cut until the silver formed from the jewelry maker’s hands. I listened to the sound of voices as they touched, moved, and crawled across the bedroom ceiling of the jewelry maker who could not read.
“Get Lita,” Zain said. “Make her cry for mom. Call for mom, Lita, call for her,” he whispered.
I held Lita’s hand. She wore her flowered corduroy pants and her yellow cotton shirt. She smelled of mom. I leaned in and placed my nose against her hair, saying, “Where’s mom?” “Don’t you want mom?” I said this again and again. I remembered the smell of mom. I remembered the day I held Lita in her yellow night gown when she was two days old.
“Tell her mom has a lollipop for her. Tell her.”
“Lolly? Don’t you want a lolly?”
Lita stood silent. She watched us. Lita crouched down low, breathing hard against the wood of the door, but she wouldn’t cry for mom. We moved our faces to the space under the door. Mom’s face, her hair, her arms. Mom’s eyes. Mom spread against the mattress on the floor. Mom’s eyes looking up to the tin roof, as sounds chased the voices across the indents of the corrugated tin roof.
Raymundo’s door was closed. Raymundo had five kittens. We moved away from the door of the jewelry maker. We walked slowly towards Raymundo’s door. Zain moved his ear to the old wood of the door.
“Kittens,” he said. “I hear the kittens. Come. Be quiet. Don’t make any noise.” He walked slowly towards our room. The room we shared. The room that shared a wall with Raymundo’s room. Zain closed our door. “Quiet,” he said again, and looked at Lita, who stood still, lifting her big, big, big eyes to the ceiling to find mom’s voice. “Go get a knife from the kitchen. Hold it down so it doesn’t cut you. Point it to the floor like mom taught you. Walk slow.”
I brought the knife from the kitchen that held the smells of the pig kidneys, lungs, intestines, ears, heart, snout, and what mom believed looked like hooves. I held the knife pointed down towards the long boards of the floor. I said Raymundo, Raymundo, Raymundo, Raymundo in a voice only the spaces in the floor could hear. Zain took the knife. The wood wall, the farthest corner of the wood wall that saw our room and Raymundo Sucsuc’s room, was covered with pieces cut from a cardboard box and held with grey tape. The cardboard covered a hole that had eaten away the hundred year old boards of the wall that saw our room and Raymundo’s room. Zain took the knife.
“Quiet. Quiet,” he said to the knife, and maybe to himself, as he sawed away the cardboard from the hole that ate the wall. “Come. Come. Call the kittens.” He waved me forward. I crouched low as he spoke. I watched the black come out from the small hole he had cut in the cardboard wall. I leaned in and breathed the smell of Raymundo, who was hundreds of years old, who had grown from the walls of the house, who had wrapped his fingers in the music of coffee beans. I whispered to the kittens.
“Kitties. Kitties. Come to us.” I kissed them through the walls. Their small velvet paws and claws reached out and touched my fingers, playing and hitting. The fingers that I wiggled through the hole touched the ears, the faces, the legs of the kittens. I pulled them through the hole. I held them to my face and breathed in the smell of Raymundo’s room. I passed one, two, three to Zain.
“Put the cardboard back,” he said. I leaned it up against the wall. The wall dipped a little low but held. The wall with the hole held Raymundo on the other side.
I took the kitten. I pressed it against my shoulder. Zain lifted Lita onto the bed. We held the kittens in our arms. Closer, tight, closer. I breathed and lifted my fingers to touch the pointed teeth, and we began to jump on the bed and sing Raymundo Sucsuc, laughing and singing.
“No! No! Damn keeds! My cat. My cat! Damn keeds. Muning, muning…bata, bata. Nakababagod mga bata.” The words came from Raymundo. Came from the hole in the wall. Came from the tin roof. Came from the floorboards.
“Raymundo, Raymundo, Raymundo Sucsuc,” Zain said the name like music, laughing.
We heard mom’s voice. We heard it. I looked to the roof and chased the sound of her voice that ran across the ceiling calling our names.
Rain Wright writes creative nonfiction, fiction, and poetry. While she loves all three genres equally, she believes that she has a passionate love affair with creative nonfiction (which she can’t keep secret anymore). Rain was raised on Hawai‘i Island in a redwood house in Hōnaunau between Filipino Clubhouse Road and Telephone Exchange Road in a multi-artistic family. Rain finds many of her stories by mapping her memories along Māmalahoa Highway to the markers that people use to give directions on Hawai‘i Island. She received her BA and her MA in English with a focus in creative writing from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. Rain is currently a second year Ph.D. student at University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, which she loves. She finds great joy and fulfillment being in the classroom as a student and as an instructor. Rain has been published in Hawai‘i Review, Mud Season Review, Connotations Press: An Online Artifact—and has upcoming publications. She won the 2014 University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Biography Prize for her work “A Way With Water.” In 2015, she won second place in the Ian MacMillan Writing Awards for a creative nonfiction piece titled “Shrines.” This piece originally appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.