AN EXCERPT FROM TWO TO MANGO
“Thanks to you and your nipple, Lillian, we'll never dance in this town again.”
Mournful silence filled the Tiki Goddess Bar on the North Shore of Kauai as Kiki Godwin pinned Lillian Smith with a cold, hard stare.
As the self-appointed leader of the aging troop of dancers known as the Hula Maidens, Kiki had gathered the women for an emergency meeting after their recent disastrous appearance at the Happy Days Long Term Care Center.
A recent transplant from Iowa, rhythmically challenged Lillian squirmed on the sticky seat of the red vinyl banquette. She had the sense not to argue, but when a telltale tear slipped from behind her black rimmed, rhinestone encrusted glasses Kiki went in for the kill.
“I'm afraid you have single handedly ruined us, Lillian.” Kiki shook her head and let go a long suffering sigh. “There's nothing else I can say.”
Lil let out a wail and leapt to her feet. Her hot pink rubber flip flops slapped an even tattoo against the floor as she ran out of the bar and onto the front lanai. Unfortunately, her sobs were still audible.
Kiki kept the troupe of not-so-talented over-the-hill dancers on a tight rein. They danced for free, but it was still hard for them to get gigs. Audiences expected lovely young Polynesian dancers, not a bunch of wrinkled old haoles with underarm bat wings.
If Lillian's shocking wardrobe malfunction truly had ruined their already questionable reputation, they would no doubt be confined to dancing solely at the Tiki Goddess Bar. No more appearances at pancake breakfasts, shave ice wagon blessings or the Annual Hanalei Valley Slug Festival. No more invitations to dance at the occasional private party.
The four other Maidens attending the emergency meeting watched Lillian's hasty departure in subdued silence. The bar didn't officially open until eleven, so no one outside the group of dancers was there to witness Lillian's shame except Sophie Chin, the twenty-two-year-old bartender.
In the mid-morning light, the place looked as tired as an old drunk after a night of heavy binging. The painted plywood floor was scuffed down to bare wood. Foam padding oozed from the stained upholstered seats of chairs that once graced a nearby hotel banquet room. Small round cocktail tables were unevenly spaced along a narrow vinyl banquette beneath the open windows.
Before the lunch crowd rolled in, Sophie filled the ice bin beneath the bar and then stocked fruit juices for the tropical concoctions the place was famous for. The minute Lillian started bawling Sophie dried her hands and tossed down the dish towel.
“A little harsh, don'tcha think, Kiki?” She called across the bar.
Kiki considered Sophie for a moment. Younger by forty years, the girl still had enough gumption to stand up to her. The kid was nice enough, but she had no class. Her jet black hair was short, spiked, and sported neon green tips, but she changed the color on a whim. A row of silver rings pierced her right brow, and if that wasn't bad enough, a fairly new and colorful tattoo of an Asian mermaid was entwined around Sophie's left wrist and forearm.
Not to her taste, but Kiki still couldn't help but be a little jealous. Sophie was everything Kiki wasn't anymore: young, healthy, and one heck of a hula dancer. Born and raised on Oahu, Sophie could claim a stew pot of mixed heritage. She was what the natives called “local.” All Kiki could claim was that she was a haole, but her heart was Hawaiian.
“You think that was harsh?” Kiki tried to subdue the girl with a look. It didn't work.
“The poor woman is in tears,” Sophie pointed out.
“That poor woman is always in tears. I told Lillian how to tie her pareau so that it wouldn't slip off. Halfway through our tribute to Elvis medley at the old folks' home, I looked over, and there she was with her right nipple sticking out. The left was close to peeping out too. If I hadn't danced over and blocked her from view she wouldn't have noticed until her pareau had rolled down to her ankles.”
“Kiki? Oh, Kiki?” Suzi Matamoto, short, Japanese American and an aggressive realtor, waved her hand.
Kiki took her time, slowly cocked her left brow and tried to stare Suzi down.
Suzi cleared her throat. “I've always thought we're kind of old to be wearing sarongs anyway.”
Kiki took a deep breath and tried to calm herself. She started to count to ten but only made it to five.
“Actually, Suzi, I've always thought you were a little old to wear your hair down past your hips. I'm the costume designer,” she reminded them all. “If I say pareau then that's what we wear. If I say paper bags, we wear paper bags. Got it? And stop using the word sarong. It's pah-ray-oo.”
By now they should have it in their hard little heads; she was in charge of costuming. Kiki stared down each of the women gathered around the rickety cocktail tables and caught the dangerous glimmer of insurrection in their eyes.
“That may be.” More headstrong than the others, Suzi went on undeterred. “Lillian doesn't have anything to hold her par-eh-ooo up with.”
“No chi chis.” Flora Carillo shook her head and sighed. The hefty Hawaiian who owned the local trinket shop in the Hanalei Village was seated at the far end of the banquette. “She get nut'ting up top.”
Another pitiful wail floated in from the lanai.
“Next time I'm in town I'll buy her some double sided tape out of the treasury,” Kiki said.
Before the agenda got away from her, Kiki turned to Little Estelle Huntington. The ninety-two-year-old was perched on her electric Gad About scooter gumming the celery stick garnish from her cocktail. Though she didn't dance anymore, Little Estelle never missed a chance to accompany her daughter, Big Estelle, to all Hula Maiden meetings and performances.
“Little Estelle, go out and tell Lillian to cut the waterworks get back in here,” Kiki said. “The sound of sniveling floating on the trade winds is driving me crazy.”
Little Estelle polished off the dregs of a Shark's Tooth Frenzy, the closest thing to a Bloody Mary on the four page Goddess drink menu, then revved the battery powered engine and did a one-eighty on the scooter. She used the empty tables as a slalom course, weaving her way out to the lanai.
Kiki noticed Sophie was no longer lining up hurricane glasses but headed around the open end of the bar. Kiki liked Sophie as well as she liked anyone and was usually careful not to piss her off—especially since Sophie had voluntarily coached the Maidens through a particularly complicated new hula for the Annual Hanalei Slug Festival.
Truth be told, they could use Sophie as a full time choreographer, but they were all too stubborn and outspoken. They never had any luck keeping hula teachers longer than a month. Kiki knew it was best to stay on Sophie's good side and ask for help only when it was vital.
Legend had it Sophie had once danced at the Merrie Monarch Festival, the Olympics of hula held on the Big Island of Hawaii every spring. Even so, Kiki didn't appreciate the young woman running interference for the other Maidens. She'd hate for there to be rebellion in the ranks, but she doubted the others could get it together enough for them to put Sophie in charge.
As if anyone else would ever even attempt to corral such a mixed bag of nuts.
Sophie handed Suzi a Goddess coaster for her mimosa then picked up Flora's empty rocks glass. Kiki was almost convinced the kid was going to stay out of it until Sophie paused, fingered the front of her neon spiked hair and planted a hand on her hip.
“Kiki, I don't think you need to worry about Lil's accidental striptease at Happy Days. The doctors and nurses are used to exposed body parts. Besides, it's not as if the patients are going to remember anyway.”
Suzi looked up from texting long enough to clarify. “They call them guests, not patients.”
“Guests?” Big Estelle looked at Suzi. “Why? Because they at their last big luau?”
“Lined up for that all-expense paid vacation to heaven,” Flora added.
“Guests,” Suzi said, “as in hotel guests. Or residents.”
“Hotel? You can check in, but you can't check out,” Kiki mumbled.
“Unless you're my mother,” Big Estelle sighed. Little Estelle had managed to escape the California retirement home her son left her in, charged a ticket to Kauai and moved in with her seventy-two-year-old daughter. Big Estelle's handicap modified van was scooter accessible. She wasn't allowed to drive off without her mother and the Gad About locked and loaded.
Sophie might be right, but Kiki still wasn't convinced they wouldn't all be ostracized for indecent exposure. Showing some chi chis in public was one thing, but not when the chi chis in question were over sixty years old.
“We can't afford any more gossip,” she said.
“Too late for that,” Suzi mumbled.
Just then, Trish Oakely came strolling in with her camera slung over one shoulder and a backpack full of photography equipment dangling off the other. As the official photographer for the Tiki Goddess luau and catered events, Trish was an unofficial Maiden. Work demanded she miss too many practices for Kiki to allow her name on the active roster anymore.
Kiki greeted Trish with the price of being tardy—a cool nod. The others greeted her with alohas and exchanged air kisses and hugs all down the line. Big Estelle slid over to make room for Trish on the banquette.
“You'll never guess what I just heard.” Trish slipped her camera strap over her head and carefully set the Nikon on the seat beside her. “Mitchell Chambers died last night.”
Kiki had opened her mouth to take up where she left off before Trish's big news broadcast. When the announcement registered, Kiki snapped her mouth shut and choked down a sob that bubbled up from deep inside. The wave of emotion surprised her as much as Trish's shocking news.
Hula was the only thing that ever moved Kiki to tears. Hula was life. She wasn't afraid to die, but the thought of never dancing hula again was the most terrifying thing she could imagine. Pulling herself together, Kiki grabbed her clip board and pen.
“When's the funeral?”
“I'm not sure. Mitchell just died last night. They found him dead in the taro patch behind that new Thai restaurant in Hanalei.”
“Yeah, I hear the food's terrible.” Flora was digging around in a huge lauhala straw bag. She pulled out a Gatorade bottle and took a swig and then drew out a ball of yarn. She was constantly knitting toilet paper covers to sell at island craft fairs, or “crap fairs” as far as Kiki was concerned.
Flora was also famous for refilling her plastic Gatorade bottles with emergency alcohol so she didn't have to pay for extra drinks at the bar.
“What happened?” Kiki asked.
“You know his heart was really bad. Mitchell wasn't ever in the greatest shape. Probably a heart attack.” Trish shook her head.
“That's an understatement,” Suzi said. “Probably a heart explosion. He must've weighed four hundred pounds.”
Flora's knitting needles stilled. “Mitchell was my cousin's sister's uncle's nephew.”
“Great!” Kiki shot a fist into the air and then scribbled a note on her clipboard. “Call and tell them we'll be more than happy to dance at the funeral.”
Lillian was trying to sidle back into her place without attracting attention. As Little Estelle rolled in from the lanai, her scooter careened off of one of the carved tiki barstools.
Little Estelle squinted at the carved face on the stool.
“Excuse me, buddy,” she said before she parked next to her daughter's table. She signaled Sophie to bring her another Shark's Tooth Frenzy.
“You really should slow down, Mother,” Big Estelle warned.
“I was only in first gear.”
Big Estelle sighed.
Lillian was delightfully cowed, but her eyes were red and puffy. She wore a perplexed look behind her bejeweled glasses as she patted her cotton candy hairdo into place and then raised her hand.
“What Lillian?” Kiki figured it was best to let her have her say so that they could move on. “What's the matter now?”
Lillian whispered, “I was just wondering…do people actually dance hula at funerals?”
Kiki could almost forgive her. The woman still had Iowa corn silk between her teeth, which also accounted for the pink tint of her hair.
“Yes, Lillian. People dance at funerals. Do you think I would have volunteered us if it wasn't done?”
“Right. Sorry. Now Flora, will you please call the family and tell them we'll be there?”
“Mitchell was a kumu. He had his own halau…”
“I know he had his own hula students. I also realize he wasn't just any kumu, he was renowned. One of the best teachers in Hawaii. But that doesn't mean we can't dance at the memorial as a sign of respect. Time is of the essence, though. I want us on that program before it fills up. Plenty of hula halau will come from all over the islands and probably even the mainland to pay tribute.”
“Do you really think they'll want us?” Suzi asked.
Kiki thought about it for a moment.
“Flora, tell them Kimo will donate three trays of his famous miso mahi mahi for the memorial luau.” Kiki wasn't above bribes. Her husband Kimo wasn't only head chef of the Tiki Goddess, but half Hawaiian, or hapa haole, depending on who you were talking to. He was as well known for his spectacular pupu platters, entrees, and island style cuisine as Louie Marshall, owner of the Tiki Goddess, was for his legendary cocktails.
“Why wouldn't they want you all to dance?” Little Estelle piped up from the Gad About. “Once word gets out that Lillian was flashing her boobs at the Happy Days Care Center, they'll all be lining up for the show.”
©2013 All Rights Reserved. Jill Marie Landis