The Night of Puanani, short story by Kirby Wright

I told my big brother Ben I saw him in Kaunakakai with Puanani. He pretended it wasn't him but later admitted he didn't go hunting. He said her grandmother’s number was scrawled on the Ancient Hawaiian Moon Calendar and he phoned Puanani when our grandmother was taking a nap. Instead of going hunting, he'd stashed Gramma's rifle behind a kiawe tree and hitchhiked west. It had been Ben's third trip. He said he'd bought Puanani a dress and a necklace at Brucey's Boutique. He'd financed these gifts with his booty from pirating wishing wells back home in Honolulu. He admitted he was getting "short on bread."
"Just borrow kala from Gramma," I suggested.
"She's a manju," he replied.
"And okole kala," I added.
"There's a party tomorrow night at the Duvas."
"Puanani's going. She's leaving at ten and sneaking over here."
"Gramma's going to catch you."
"Better hope she doesn't," Ben said. "Puanani's bringing you a date."
"Is she foxy?"
Ben chuckled. "Beggars can't be choosers."

* * *

Ben and I had spent every summer on Moloka’i since I was four. Our grandmother had told Ben he couldn’t see Puanani because she didn’t want him “mixin’ with any kanaka girls.” She’d told him he’d get one hapai and that would be the end of his life.
On the Night of Puanani, Gramma sat at her table in the big room while Ben and I were camped on the pune'e wearing white T-shirts and Levi’s. Gramma’s hair was cut short. She had on her red house muumuu and smoked like a chimney watching KGMB Channel 9 News. She studied the geckos on her picture window during a commercial for Lex Brodie Tires. Then came a rerun of Hawaii 5-0. "You keeds are damn quiet tonight," Gramma said.
"We are?" I asked.
Ben ran a pocket comb through his blond hair. He yawned a fake yawn, stood up, and stretched. "Time to hit the bunk,” he said. “Goodnight, Gramma.”
"Aren't you brushin' yo' teeth?"
"Already did."
Gramma flicked ashes into a can with a plum pudding label. "Goodnight, Juicy."
Ben eased down the steps to the lanai and switched on the floodlight.
I looked through the picture window in the big room—the moon balanced on the mountain top and lit up the front lawn and pastures. I got worried Gramma might see Puanani and mistake her for Billy Duva, the man who’d tried to rape her when he was a teenager.
"Going to bed, Gramma?" I asked.
"Aftah 5-0."
"This one's real boring."
"It's about this haole who steals an ulu maika from a kahuna and then gets turned into a gecko."
"Ridiculous," Gramma said.
"And the gecko chirps at McGarrett trying to tell him he used to be a human and begs him to find the kahuna to break the spell."
"You shua? You not foolin' yo' pua Gramma?"
"Oh, no. It's the worst Hawaii 5-0 ever made. I'm surprised they even show it."
Gramma squashed her cigarette in the can and grabbed her pack of Chesterfields. "Christ," she said, "I'm gettin' some shut-eye. Goodnight, Peanut."
"Goodnight, Gramma." I turned off the TV and watched her trail off into her bedroom. I joined Ben on the lanai. All six storm windows were open and, across the channel, the coastline of Maui twinkled with lights.
"Safe and sound?" Ben asked.
"All tucked in," I replied.
Ben pulled a pack of wintergreen Lifesavers from his pocket and popped one. "Fresh breath," he said extending the pack.
I took one and put it on my tongue. It was so minty is tasted bitter.
Ben snuck into the kitchen and smuggled out three bottles of Miller High Life from the fridge. He figured Gramma wouldn't notice since they were on the bottom shelf. He placed the bottles on the display table between a poi pounder and a conch shell.
"One beer short," I said.
"Only three left, doofus."
"Opening them with your teeth?"
"Shit," Ben said and snuck back. He fumbled in the gadget drawer and returned with a can opener. He leaned the can opener up against the poi pounder. "We need tunes," Ben decided.
I tiptoed into the big room and swiped Gramma's transistor radio. I spun the dial to KKUA on the lanai. The signal was strong and I turned it up for Sly Stone's "Everyday People."
Ben switched off the floodlight and began unscrewing the bulb from its socket. "Hot," he said. He tossed the hot bulb on his bed and stuck in a black light he'd bought at Take's Variety Store. He flipped the switch—the black light turned the walls and rafters purple. The glass balls and the eyes in the deer heads glowed. "Righteous," Ben said pulling off his T-shirt. His arms were muscular and his chest was filling out. Ben had our Irish mother’s fair complexion and high cheekbones. I took after our hapa haole father. Ben reached under his bed, pulled out a can of Right Guard, and sprayed his pits. He offered me the can but I shook my head.

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Lana Hechtman