Updated: Dec 9, 2022
By Mariah Rigg
It is the last warm Wednesday in October and I am watching C swim through Mead’s Quarry, the leaves above him brushed in gold. Around the corner, children I cannot see toe the lake’s edge. Their feet splash ripples that grow across the glassy water. I am doing work, or pretending to, the book in my lap ignored for the school of guppies that swim before me. When a big fish comes, they jump all at once to evade its mouth. Just four months ago, in June, before C and I left Knoxville for a summer in Hawai`i, a boy stood behind me and cast a fishing pole. I worried his hook would catch my ear. That his line would strangle me. But soon he tired of the rhythm of casting, and abandoned his post. He took rocks from the shore. He stood before me. When he threw the stones in the water, I was soaked. Years before I met C, when I still lived on O`ahu with my family, my mother and I would wake early to snorkel. We’d drive the nine minutes it took to Black Point. We’d swim out the pipe to the surf break, turn left and freestyle up Kāhala’s coast. One day, my mother brought a bucket of wine bottles she’d saved from recycling. To make beach glass, we threw the bottles against lava rock casement walls, built so the properties of the rich would not erode. The bottles broke best when they turned in the air, when we had a firm grip on their necks as we threw them. But our hands were wet. The glass was slippery. My mother whipped a blue bottle, and it broke. The shards did not fall to the water, but spun back at me. They sliced the skin of my thigh and the blood flowed in a river the width of my pinky. I held my shirt to my leg so I would not stain the leather seats of my mother’s car on the ride home. When C jumps from the rock across the lake from me, he flips in the air. He hits the water—his bang an echo that screams across the quarry. It shakes the sugar maple’s leaves. It sends the small fish jumping. I drink whiskey to calm my shaking hands from the sound. To my left, the sun sets, and above me, planes fly from an airport nearby, lower than I’ve ever seen a plane fly before. In the years since my mother threw that bottle, my cut has healed to a scar that only I can see. A cut that I sometimes trace when I am worried I am forgetting—her, Hawai`i. This past summer C and I lived with her in the house I grew up in, a house I had not set foot in for over two years. At first it had been claustrophobic—the expectations she had for me—but soon I learned to fit into the life I’d lived before. A month into our stay, my mother came home with a cone shell she’d found at Black Point while swimming without me. It smelled of drying-out algae. It was chipped and mossy. I peeked inside to find a black brittle star, its feathery tips exposed. When my mother and I drove the shell back to the ocean, we did not take it to Black Point, but Wailupe. We walked the rocky shore, crossed cement canals where streams used to flow. I tripped on one of the canal’s walls, and my knee landed on a brick. It cut through my flesh to the white fat below. My mother did not stop. She had not seen me fall. So I followed her to the end of the beach, where the rock turned to brown sand, marred by the runoff from Kāhala Golf Course. She handed the shell to me. Wading into the ocean, salt stinging my knee, I dropped the drowning star back into its world. When C returns to me, I am ready with his towel. He sits beside me, hand caressing my knee, his forefinger running over the scab left by the brick all those months ago. He turns to kiss me, beard full of quarry. I can taste the sediment through the burning whiskey still caught in my throat.
Originally from Honolulu, Hawai`i, Mariah Rigg is a Samoan-Haole settler and writer. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Oxford American, The Cincinnati Review, Joyland, Catapult, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA from the University of Oregon and is currently a fiction editor at TriQuarterly and the nonfiction editor at Grist, A Journal of the Arts. Next summer, her first creative nonfiction chapbook, All Hat, No Cattle, will be published as part of the Inch series at Bull City Press.
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