As a ghost, you should be nimble. You should mosey, kick up your heels, do the boot-scootin’ boogie.
Instead you can only float—you’re a sickly grey balloon, attached to my rapidly burning wrist. So nice of you to join me on Hapuna Beach, Dad. Alo-fuckin-ha.
Is this better than yesterday’s paranormal form, when you wrapped yourself around me like greasy waxed paper, rustling every time I moved in my airplane seat, rasping out No one goes to Hawaii alone?
No, it is not in any way better. Today I’m expected to lie here on my towel and enjoy myself, with you as a ghost balloon, bobbing around, emitting your old-dog sigh that makes me want to scream. How am I supposed to catch the perfect wave, never mind some lovin’?
I keep looking to see if anyone can see you, but no one’s paying us any attention. What if they did? These soft-bellied, lobster-complexioned, hibiscus-butted, once-a-year boogie boarders might just watch—and cheer— as I cut your string. Then again, they might put me under citizen’s arrest. Sue me for ruining their precious vacations.
Maybe I’ll do it another way: ignore the surfer-boy lifeguards, warning everyone to be cautious in the water. Spinal injuries are Hapuna’s specialty, so surely the waves can set you free. This morning, we’ve been informed over loudspeakers, someone was taken to hospital. Nobody wants a souvenir like that, right?
Yeah, that is a bit cruel of me.
And to top it off, amid all of this, the two beautiful women beside us are plotting their perfect imaginary futures as millionaires. It’s not as if I have an actual love life, so this is what it’s come to—eavesdropping on ladies in bikinis.
Oh, you don’t want to listen, Dad? What can you do? You’re stuck. Suck it up.
“Yes,” the one in navy says. “I would be a total raving biatch.” The one in turquoise shrieks, agreeing.
The lists begin. “Ten children,” says Navy. “And afterwards, a boob job, because my tits would be stretched out beyond recognition.”
Turquoise hoots and says “Totally!”
“A cool nanny. An ice cream shop. Three personal assistants.”
Okay, so maybe I’ve chosen the wrong women to crush on. Time to face the waves.
Except, no. The blonde-haired calves of the lifeguards are flashing past me and into the water, where it looks like a dead man’s washed up. In an instant, a spinal board’s beneath him, straps around torso and thighs. Another guy emerges from the sea, pink and coughing, trying to yell as he struggles toward our little patch of beach.
No. Toward the girls. He’s theirs. And so’s the guy strapped down.
Hapuna Beach casualty # 2.
Turquoise is up and running towards the spine-boarded guy, slipping, screaming “Ethan! Ethan!” over and over, then tripping after the lifeguards as they carry him away from the chomping sea.
I feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut.
Why the hell should I care? I have no stake in these lives. But I’ve heard their future plans—the wealth, the wanton use of money for ice cream, nannies, boob jobs. No longer will one of them live out a potential future that I can scoff at. I have to revise my vision to include a wheelchair, mushy vegetables, pool exercises, diapers.
I have to feel sorry for them.
I know that life. You made us all experts.
Oh right, Dad. I should thank you. It’s excellent resume material. I don’t know what I was thinking.
Since Hapuna was an epic fail, I’m driving us south.
After a late lunch in Kona, this slow, winding road toward the famous black sand beaches is doing a number on my gut. The surf’s quieter, but the wind’s gone fierce. Dirty sea turtles slump on the sand as if stranded. The seaside plants are the colour of lettuce; the ocean choppy, too blue.
Don’t you find it funny, me using the insurance money for Hawaii—the worst place on earth, according to you? A hotbed of self-indulgence. Rich Americans in muumuus, drunk by noon.
What, no retort? You haven’t seen even one muumuu, have you?
Oh right; even dead, you have selective hearing. Or maybe you don’t think it’s so bad anymore. Maybe you’re ready for retirement now. Maybe you secretly wanted to travel, to see the world beyond your chair.
It’s common for quadriplegics to have shorter life spans—their systems are so compromised that death can come quickly, but when you got a bad cold, we didn’t worry. Then, it worked into pneumonia, and in three weeks you were gone. Twelve long years after the accident that claimed your spine from C1-C2 and right on down, when you drove that snowmobile into a tree.
We never asked this out loud, but we thought it, every day: Why did you live?
All we saw was the suffering: our own suffering, caused by you. I guess all you saw were three young boys with legs that could kick and run, arms that could carry wood and laundry, spines that bent and straightened like picture wire. Day in, day out, we thumped and wrestled above you, or peeled an orange in front of you, or, finally, when we got old enough to know we could, walked away from your yelling altogether.
Yeah, maybe we did all flee when you kicked the can. Mom likes it up north, although people are still talking up a shit storm about how we abandoned her. We might’ve stayed if you hadn’t made us sell every bit of fun on wheels or runners after your accident. Very smart of you to keep us from playing hockey or baseball. Baseball! What harm could come from that? But we hated that beige house in the middle of nowhere that held us all captive, like you.
I guess that’s a bit extreme. We could sit on the toilet ourselves, pull on our own goddamned pants, take our cocks into our hands or help other hands do that. But you made sure we felt as guilty as hell about it.
It, being life. Normality. Mobility.
I thought I’d left all that behind. And yet, here you are, stuck to me like the helium balloons we were never allowed to have as kids. Just my fuckin’ luck.
Maybe if I take you to the island’s highest point, the altitude will do something. Or maybe, like a bad smell, you’ll just blow away.
This whole island was begat from lava, osseous black debris everywhere, as if the dinosaurs had suffered from digestive issues. But up on Mauna Kea—Tallest mountain in the world, from base to tip! Brightest stars in the USA!—the ancient lava rock is a rusty brown-purple, crumbly to the touch. No one’s supposed to touch it.
I have to touch it. It’s all there is to walk on.
Three telescopes wait outside the gift shop, but the sky’s just beginning to yield stars. Inside, a documentary drones on about the gigantic telescopes at the summit, another three thousand feet beyond the reach of my rental car. I’ve only begun to smell the plumeria soap when I hear a familiar voice.
“OMG, you have to get that,” the voice says. “It’s totally adorbs!”
It’s them. Navy woman, talking to Turquoise, who is, incredibly, smiling. I scan the crowded shop for the men and there they are, standing near the door, looking bored. The victim—Ethan, was it?—sports a neck brace, but otherwise, he appears unaffected by his close call.
Wham! Anger hits me first, churning within like magma. He’s okay. He got away, with what looks like just a little whiplash.
I’m a monster. This man’s been given his life back! And yet, I’m angry?
I am. Not at him. At you. Or maybe it’s at both of you. I can’t tell anymore.
But I know this: you’re dead. And I’m not.
You’re dead, Dad! It’s time for you to go.
In a second my anger vanishes, replaced by such a wave of lightness I feel a little dizzy. You’re dead and I’m alive and my whole life is spilling out ahead of me, a path of slow-moving lava that I’ll walk upon when it cools—the very ground being made before me!
Outside the gift shop, I look into the darkening sky. So it’s not as amazing as the brochures proclaim; it doesn’t matter. When the laser pointer caresses a constellation, I say wow, along with the rest of the crowd.
I stole a souvenir pen knife five minutes ago. I’m gonna cut you off my wrist.
Except, as soon as I begin, before I even break the skin, you turn to stone—a literal stone—around my neck. A stone ghost on a heavy chain, something that can’t be cut through.
Fuckity fuck, Dad. I can’t keep up.
Why can’t you haunt my dreams like a normal ghost?
It’s a new day. A new day of my Hawaiian vacation, despite a sweaty, sleepless night, and there is live lava to be seen. East of the turtles, it’s begun to flow right through a small town.
I smell smoke before I see lava, inching through a stand of trees, a few of them on fire. I park, then slip between two bungalows until I’m facing the scalloped edge of the slowly-advancing flow, hints of bright orange beneath a layer of black. The place feels deserted, evacuated.
When I see a golf bag leaning against a tree, I don’t hesitate. I grab a driver, and at the lava flow’s edge, with its soundtrack of burning wood in the background, extend my arm until club meets molten. It feels like I’m touching both terminals of a car battery with wet hands; like the first time I pushed my tongue into a girl’s mouth.
I am touching the centre of the earth.
Sweat coming out of everywhere it can, I pull the driver out and the lava that sticks to it burns bright orange for a minute before dimming and hardening, like an apple dipped in greying caramel. I hope it’s still hot enough to burn through your chain, but before I can lift it up to my neck, a man starts yelling.
“Hey! Get out of there!”
He looks like a cowboy vigilante, but he’s waving his arms around, bearing no visible weapons.
“Put it down,” he says. “Please. Come on, man, drop it.”
I don’t drop the heavy club, although it wants to fall, as if the jagged bit of lava on it needs to get back to where it came from. Instead I hold it out to the side, a weapon if I need it, even if it looks like the guy’s more likely to cry than hurt me.
“You’re breaking the law,” he says. “Plus, you just don’t do that to Pele. This is our sacred land. Our goddess. You want me to piss in your holy water?”
I’d seen a painting of Pele in the guidebook. A hot, red-haired beauty. At this, I let the club’s head rest on the grass. “I didn’t mean disrespect,” I say. “I just—I was doing it for my father.”
The man looks around. He can’t see you.
“He’s passed,” I say. “Ended up a quad before he went. Couldn’t lift a finger, let alone a driver.”
The man nods, looks a little sad, even.
“His one wish was to see lava, in person,” I lie. “So here I am.” I raise the club like a sceptre toward the dusky sky. “Showing him.”
“Okay, man,” the guy says. “Sorry about your Dad. But if you don’t go, the feds will bust your ass. This is private property, not to mention, you know, Pele.”
Suddenly he’s got a shotgun, and it’s making its way up to shoulder height.
“Got it.” My sweaty hands drop the club, right where I’m standing, and I back away, hands up. Once there’s some distance between him and me, I make a run for the car.
Did you hear that, Dad? Private property. Just like me.
You’re not welcome here. Please, just let me break the chain. Bury you in this creek of lava, heading to the sea. Maybe you always wanted to see the ocean but never got there. Well, here you go. Let me go and you’ll get some prime waterfront.
I’m just so exhausted. I wrap my arms around the steering wheel and rest my head on my hands, you as stone, grazing my thighs. We had a funeral, but is it more praying you want, Dad? Invocations?
Okay, then. Pele. Grant eternal rest unto this man tormenting me. Let him find peace in the afterlife. Amen.
When I open my eyes, you’re not around my neck anymore.
No. You’ve become a tattoo on my forearm: a man astride a motorbike, and behind you, your passenger, a red-haired goddess. As you try to ride away on what looks like a classic Harley, flames on tank and fender, both of you are flipping me the bird.