No Worries

           We waded in the glassy waters, eyeing the surface for glimpses of blue sheen bobbing in the waves. The wood handles of our hand nets gripped firmly, arms cocked.
           “Plenty man o’ wars this year,” I yelled out to no one in particular. I heard dad grunt in agreement from the shore.
           “Puni, there’s one,” he barked from his beach chair, neck craning.
           “Wha, you blind? There! To your left!” Puni lumbered through the water, scooping the air with his arms as if that would make him move faster. When he got close enough, he netted his prey.
           “Big one, ma!” he said, smiling. We walked in to shore together making our way to a pile of rocks about twenty feet in. There we dropped the man o’ war among the dozens of others caught that week. A venomous graveyard of iridescent blue and purple. The ants were eating well.
           “You know, you kids are lucky. When me and your uncle Nathan were your age, nobody was out there catching man o’ war for us. We’d just have to take our chances and hope we didn’t get stung.”
           “Yep. And we’d get stung all the time. Hurt like hell, too. So be grateful because you got it better than we did.”
           “Puni, right there. Stay one other one.” Dad pointed out to some indeterminate spot near where Nathan’s daughters were playing. “Hurry, before somebody get stung.”
           Puni looked up at me with a sort of resentful why me? look. I nodded and walked out with him.
           “Why doesn’t Grandpa help catch if it’s such a big deal?”
           “Grandpa’s old and sick. He paid his dues. This is his time to relax.”
           “But you just said he never wen’ catch man o’ wars when you were kids.”
           “But that doesn’t mean he never wen’ look out for us. He worked hard, Puni. Always made sure we had food and a roof over our heads.
           “There, Puni, right in front of you.” Puni darted out and caught this one, too.
           “What you think he’s doing now? He’s looking out for you and your cousins.”
           “All he’s doing is being bossy.”
           I give him a gentle whack on the back of his head. “Hush. That’s your grandpa. And it’s not easy being the boss.”
           Soon I swapped roles with Puni and let him enjoy the surf alongside his uncle and cousins, dad remaining watchful while I hunted. Then after awhile, I relieved dad so he could go nap. It took some convincing, but even he knew he was doing far more than he should. I could almost hear the creaks and groans of his body as he waddled up back toward the house. Gone was the man who would spend every ounce of daylight surfing, diving for tako, teaching the kids how to fish or pick opihi. His body had turned against him, taking his breath, his strength, forcing him to the sidelines to take on the role of lookout, a role he still took on as passionately as fishing or diving. Nobody got stung that day.
           Later, as Nathan and I herded the kids back towards the house, we saw dad prepping the grill. “Dad, I thought you were going to take a nap?”
           “Nah, someone gotta cook, and you kids were too busy playing.”
           “Dad, let me get the grill,” begged Nathan. “I’ll cook, you go rest." Dad tried to shoo him away with his tongs.
           “You better back off and leave your father be,” cautioned mom. “You know how he gets with the grill. Always gotta be in charge.” She had just come out with a pan filled with marinating chicken.
           “Shush, you. All of you. I’m not dead yet, okay? Nathan, take the pan from your mother, put ‘em right there on the table.” The aluminum pan buckled from the weight of its contents, but Nathan managed to bring it down safely. Mom still prepared food like we had an army, even though the ranks had thinned. Candace was in Vegas and couldn’t fly out to join us. Jojo had to work but he was set to come up the following morning with his girlfriend and her two boys. This was my first summer back at the beach house in five years, and not much had changed, really. It was nothing like the glory years when we were young, and all the aunties and uncles and cousins were around, but the spirit was there still, though maybe a little more tired and beat down. Not dead yet.
           Dad started dropping pieces of chicken on the grill, colored deep red from the char siu marinade. The sizzling was like an old song. We all stood around by dad, not saying anything, just watching, listening, sipping our beers. A shared moment of nostalgia mixed with fear, and more than a little guilt as I asked myself why I’d been away from all this for so long. The past, present and future sort of converged there, floating up between us, trying to hide itself amidst the smoke from the grill.
           After dinner, dad chased after the kids to clean up their beach toys that they’d left strewn about the property. Puni again griped about dad being bossy, and I gave him another whack, a little harder than the last one. “You listen to your grandpa, and no backtalk.” Meanwhile, mom buzzed about, washing dishes, folding freshly laundered towels, and still somehow managing to bring everybody new beers when they were running low. Dad had already scrubbed the grill and snuck out to refill the propane tank in anticipation of more grilling. Nathan and I tried to rein in mom and dad, get them to just stop moving for at least a few minutes, let us take care of things for a change, but they were always two steps ahead of us, as slippery and stubborn as children. I don’t know how they did it. All these years and I still don’t.
           When the kids were bathed and everybody had finally gone to bed, I went outside for a cigarette. I slumped down in a worn and faded wooden chair that had been there at least as long as we had been coming to this beach house, watching the stars and the wisps of smoke spiraling in the moonlight. No screaming kids, no adults chattering. Just trade winds and the hypnotizing lull of the waves coming in. I’d almost drifted off when I heard the screen door slide open and closed, followed by whispers and feet shuffling. I thought it was Puni or one of the other kids sneaking out so I got up, ready to shout them back in, but it was mom and dad. They were doing their best to be quiet, creeping their way across the yard towards the shore. They couldn’t see me. Still, the high school girl in me held my cigarette low.
           They dropped their towels on the sand, removed their slippers, and headed for the water. Dad dove right in, mom a little slower, but not far behind. They were splashing around, laughing and swimming. Like children. Like lovers. This was their time, their moment. Nobody to tend to, nobody to bother them. No worries. Their last hurrah for the day. They’d earned it.

Talk story

  1. richardmelendez says:

    beautiful, thank you!!!

  2. richardmelendez says:

    my apologies for the formatting. the indents apparently didn't take.

  3. appleblossum says:

    I really enjoyed reading this, especially the way you wrote about Grandpa…

    "I could almost hear the creaks and groans of his body as he waddled up back toward the house. Gone was the man who would spend every ounce of daylight surfing, diving for tako, teaching the kids how to fish or pick opihi."

    very nice.

  4. richardmelendez says:

    Thank you, appleblossum! 🙂

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