Fire Girl

She was a busy mother of seven–the youngest barely out of diapers–and attentive wife to her high school sweetheart, a delivery driver for Love’s Bakery in Honolulu. Multiple distractions kept her from registering the first tremble until the unexpected miracle grew large enough to have its heart beat heard through the cold touch of a fetal doppler. Her husband, enduring her complaints of morning sickness, regularly refreshed her supply of Saloon Pilot Crackers and 7-Up. He’d seen her through six previous pregnancies, one of them with twins, but had never seen her spew such orange colored fountains. What else was this wahine eating?! Mopping up the mess where she missed the toilet, he paused, absorbed by its curious glow.

On the day of her birth, her mother raged a fever that almost killed her. Her doctors, unable to determine the source of the infection, voiced reluctance to treat her and could only recommend comfort measures. Through her delirium, she saw her newborn girl engulfed in a firestorm, yet remaining amazingly calm and completely unscathed. Surrounding the infant were large, shadowy forms that danced crazily before collapsing, one right after the other like a stack of dominoes, succumbing swiftly to the insatiable flames. In that fevered state, she witnessed grisly images of blackening human flesh, lips, gums, and the fixed stare of eyes, licked by hungry tongues of bright orange flames.

Her parents named her Li’ili’i Pele, for “Little Pele.” Everyone else called her Lily for short. Lily lived with her family in the scorched beach town of Makaha, on the leeward side of Oahu. The family spent many weekends picnicking and swimming at the beach and practically lived there during the hot and dry summer months when the ocean was calmer and more welcoming to pint-sized swimmers. Before Lily could walk she amused her parents and siblings with her crawling expeditions to the seashore, who marveled at the faint billow of steam where her skin greeted the water.

Lily’s older brothers sometimes skipped school in the winter, taking their bikes to the beach to watch experienced surfers ride the big wave surf. The surfers preferred the mauka side where the waves broke big over the reef. When they grew bored watching, the younger boys took to swimming in the middle of the beach where the waves were less agitated. The older ones body surfed closer to the reef, waiting for an approaching comber with a breaking crest to seize with their hands and feet, their bodies submerged in the foam. When Lily entered grade school she joined them by hitching a ride on a brother’s bicycle handle bars.

During one long afternoon at the beach, Lily detected the intoxicating scent of lunch. Turning, she eyed a Haole surfer who sat cross-legged on the sand near his board, chewing on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. She looked down at her tummy, growling a reminder that she missed lunch. She turned her attention back to the surfer. He smiled at her. She smiled back. Then he waved her over. Without hesitation Lily stood, unfolding all three-and-a-half feet of herself, and skipped to the peanut-butter-sandwich-eating surfer.

“You hungry?” Asked the surfer.

Lily stared into his blue eyes, his lashes and eyebrows dusted with salt from the sea, light brown dots sprinkling his face framed by a mop of unruly blond curls. She nodded. Zipping open a pouch from his gray pack, he pulled out a Saran-wrapped sandwich and handed it to her.

“Here, have at it!”

Lily smiled and reached for the warm sandwich from his outstretched hand. He didn’t immediately release it.

“Nah-ah-ah. What d’ya say?” He asked playfully.

“Thank you,” she said in a rush, the soft bread yielding under her hungry clutch, her stomach growling again in eager anticipation. Laughing, the blond surfer watched her hop-skip back to her place in the sand.

“You’re welcome,” he murmured, contemplating her feverishly bright brown eyes.

The sun sat low in the sky when Lily and her siblings decided that it was time to head home, dusk already deepening the shadows. Few cars were parked along the narrow stretch of road paralleling the beach. Parked on one side was a dark blue Honda, a car rental sticker on its back bumper. A body lay on the ground. Lily shrieked and her siblings gaped at what they thought was a dead man. Until the dead man moaned. Ahead, two men walked hurriedly away, a rubber slipper staccato playing against the pavement. One of them carried a gray pack. Lily recognized the pale curls of the prone man. Unbalanced by a swift and sudden vertigo, Lily almost fell from her brother’s bicycle. Quick reflexes thwarted her free fall, and, as her brother attempted to right her on his handle bars, he yelped with unexpected pain. Jerking his arm away, he was startled by the seared skin, rivaling the color of a cooked lobster, and blooming with blisters. Straightening, Lily’s eyes came alive and flamed with an unsettling energy. The two men pulled away in their beat-up sedan, their hard laughter drifting from lowered windows. Lily’s siblings pumped their legs hard on their pedals in a futile effort to catch up but instantly slowed when Lily signaled them to stop. Several moments later the getaway sedan exploded, heated metal parts flew past, thick smoke blackened, billowed and rose, the ensuing flames displacing air.

That evening, KHON channel 2 covered the story of an highly unusual car fire in Makaha and the death of two men who had assaulted and robbed an out-of-town surfer. The injured surfer was taken to the Wahiawa General Hospital where he was reported to be in fair condition.

Several years later, the family moved to Kalihi. Publicly it was said that a work promotion necessitated the move. Privately it was speculated that it distanced suspicions that linked the family to arson-related events. The boys, now young adults, have moved on, leaving their four sisters and their parents to occupy the modest, three-bedroom house in the valley. The hills and lush vegetation of the valley brought a disorienting departure from the stark scape of the leeward coast. Lily’s oldest sister and the twins enrolled at Farrington High School and Lily was enrolled at Dole Intermediate as a seventh grader. The oldest sister made the cheer squad and it wasn’t long before she brought home a new boyfriend. He was Rico, a handsome dark-haired senior and basketball point guard, who also drove his own car. The twins considered this a double bonus and promptly flooded him with requests to drive them to the beach or to the Ala Moana Center after school to hang out. Accommodating in the beginning, he very quickly lost capacity for fulfilling these mundane requests, brushing them away like pesky fruit flies. He preferred spending time at their home, especially during times that coincided with Lily’s return home from school.

“Too bad you’re still in intermediate, Lily,” he said, tossing long bangs away from his eyes. “Or I’d give you a ride home.” His mouth moved over the words but his eyes moved over her budding contours. Throwing him a weary look, she was surprised by the charged connection of his probing eyes and hot sensual energy that made her nostrils quiver and filled her head with thoughts that simultaneously fascinated and sickened her. Bemused, Lily’s sister turned to Rico and said sharply, “Better cool it, Romeo. You really don’t want to be playing with Fire.”

Lily was shooed from her shared bedroom, the explanation being that Rico was there to “tutor” her eldest sister. Three pairs of eyes rolled on one side of the closed door, a wolfish smile spread broadly on the opposite side. The sisters commented on his perfect teeth.

On teacher collaboration days, Lily left school early. Today, the house stood empty. Throwing open the screen door, she unlocked the solid wood door and peeled off her sandals before entering. Books dropped to a small desk and cold air rushed from an open refrigerator where Lily grabbed a 7-Up. She read a handwritten note her mom left. “At Kimo’s with the baby. See you later tonight.” Taking a long sip from the can, she heard a car pull up into the driveway.

“What you doing here, Rico? There’s no tutoring on Wednesdays.”

“Yeah, I know,” Rico grinned, flashing his perfect teeth, a hand brushing back the hair from his eyes. “I brought a present. Can I bring it inside?”

Warily Lily replied, “How about I bring it in for you.”

Slowly, Rico shook his head. “Uh,uh. No, Lily. Doesn’t work that way. There’s a special place in the bedroom I want to put it.”

Her eyes rolled. What kind of present was he leaving that needed a special placement? A piece of jewelry? A bracelet? A ring?! Her sister was crazy over Rico and she’d be royally pissed if she found out that Lily spoiled his surprise. Relenting, she swung the door open. “Okay…but be quick about it.”

Smoothly he said, “Oh, don’t worry. I can be quick when I have to.”

Lily’s eyes trailed his steps as he trotted over to the bedroom.

A writing assignment was due in two days and she’d been putting it off long enough. Picking up her English textbook she flipped through its pages when, randomly it opened to “Fire and Ice,” a poem by Robert Frost. She read, “Some say the world will end in fire, some say in ice. From what I’ve tasted of desire, I hold with those who favor fire…”

“What’s that you reading?” Rico was standing close. “Is that poetry?”

The book slammed shut like an exclamation point. “Yes, its poetry. I’ve got a paper to write. You going home now?”

“Lily, beautiful and bodacious Lily,” he crooned, his tone mildly mocking. Laughing softly, he reached for her hair with his hand, caressing it gently. “I know you want me. I can take another student. Your sister…she learns fast. There isn’t like, anything more I can teach her.”

Lily straightened and took purposeful strides to the front door. Holding it open, she steadied her eyes on him and said evenly, “You better leave now, Rico.”

The disbelief that flashed behind Rico’s eyes now turned hard and flat. He is at the door before she could react and, grabbing her wrist, forced it off the door handle. Kicking the door shut, he grabbed Lily, clapping her bewildered cry back in her mouth and dragged her towards the open bedroom. Shoving her onto the bed, he took a deliberate moment to lock the door.

He was on top of her. Her nose was assaulted with a dizzying diversity of scents. Of Old Spice. Sweat. Something canine. The Spearmint flavor of his plunging tongue. The heat of his breath, the words slipping intimately into her ear, “I didn’t say the present was for your sister.” Anger rattled its cage from somewhere deep inside Lily. The room began to shimmer like a mirage then shifted sideways.

On the drive home Rico felt nauseous and shivered uncontrollably. Grabbing a bottle of Tylenol from the kitchen, he swallowed a mouthful of pills before taking his temperature. It is 103 degrees. The Tylenol didn’t stay down. Collapsing onto his bed he felt a pain so exquisite, so intense, that he surrendered his mind completely to it. Awareness clouded. Confusion made him believe he’d gained a foothold onto the next world. Darkness swarmed around him. In his next breath, hazy smoke escaped his nostrils.

KHON channel 2 provided live coverage of the strange report of charred remains found in the Da Silva home in Kalihi. The body was burned beyond recognition and a positive identification was pending confirmation from dental records; a difficult task as Rico had no fillings and no alignment issues. He had perfect teeth.

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