“The Lone Tango” by Ku’ualoha Kauanoe-Luda

Posted: December 31, 2014 in Vol. 6: Fall Essays 2014

On this night, even the vinyl’s static compliments the silence of my backyard. The vines slithers the black pewter fence the way a snake would around a neck, the neat grass invites a tingle to feet, and my mom’s ghost tends to her small herb garden.

My backyard always molded to whatever I was conjuring in my mind’s brewery. Nameless trees and varying bushes turned into New York high rises and taxis when my six year old brain played in its green. They became my crazed, bra throwing fans as I twiddled songs out of strings on the chestnut stage at thirteen. Now at twenty-two, they are all my mother, watching over Karen and me. The trees, the bushes, and the fence imprint her familiar, worn out face into my reality. Even when I try to expel her presence, I’m camping out in my backyard, my mom’s favorite thing to do when she was skydiving down from an expensive high.

The navy blanket covering our world holds speckles of burning stars for us to label. Stretched out under it, Karen and I sprawl our limbs out on the green sheet of grass. Thin mocha colored arms fold under a head of onyx waves. Through those crisp green eyes, she only sees black and white, so concrete in everything and so disconnected to what it all means. Maybe that’s what I like about her; her chest rises and falls like my mother’s beige curtains do when she wanted to let out dead air.

Lavender and coconut wafts off her plaid pink pajama body as she points to Orion’s belt and comments on the shallow moon ring enclosing it. Her petite hands and irrelevant yapping keeping me grounded right here with her and away from the unknown.

Oxygen must have waltzed in Karen’s lungs, ecstatic atoms filling a beautiful girl with life.

I never told her, but I love her more than the little suns snuggling us into the earth. What if the sky wasn’t spotted with stars, but rather the night sky blocked out the brilliance behind it? I thought about pointing a sturdy bow and arrow in my tan, sinewy arms. Released and bull’s-eye. Right in the heart of the bloated blanket, a rip would break the sky like a sort of heavenly earthquake. All the burning white and sunshine stars would escape their black penitentiary to find refuge on Karen’s breathtaking form. Showered in these convicts of the night, I can’t imagine anything more perfect for my sleepy eyes.

She turns her head to me and her dark eyebrows tell me she has a question on her tongue. Breaking the glance, I dart my own brown eyes back up, still seeing trimmed peaks of my mother standing by.

“Don’t do it,” Karen beckons. Shaking her head, she assumes she knew, like she so assuredly knew everything else.

Clenching my own brown-haired head to contain my brain, I can’t stop the brewing.

My mind’s personal concoction spilled over into my reality. I remember all the blaring alarms going off like a taunting police siren. Still, my feet wouldn’t race to grab a phone. I just stared at the same arched back, full of knots, covered in an oatmeal cardigan. The cerulean dress stretched and peaked out from under her wide bum and the scoffed kitten heel told me I should’ve bought her some new shoes for Christmas yesterday. I knew my mother to crash hard, often on her room’s cream carpet or on the beige living room couch. Never like this though. You trust people who tango on cliffs and after a while, you forget they might fall.

“Look, a falling star! Make a wish!” Karen exclaims.

She closes her eyes tight and the lines on her forehead dance as I fall back into Karen’s now. I laugh at her playful nature. I watch her prance into the house to gather some elixirs from their forbidden high kitchen shelves. I continue to stare up, trying to recall all the constellations she traced like a connect-the-dots to my childish astronomer, I grin to myself at how crazy she makes me. I only cared about the stars now because she did.

Upside down, I see the steps to the wood porch, a bit of the white wall, and the rim of the gutter lining the slanted maroon roof. Knowing it isn’t that big, I turn up to get a better look. I wonder if mom thought it was visually appealing upside down. I think she did, since she was a perfectionist like that. Karen does the same.

Karen’s light footfalls approach me as the quaint crunching of lawn made me want to bury myself under it.

“Ready for some of this?” Karen asks.

I was already drunk off my own mind.

As I unburied my feet from their carpet grave, I stumbled over to my mother. Shaking that gaunt, slouching shoulder and wrenching her cold body upward to glean any life slowly escaping my own body, I panicked. Feeling only static in her vinyl record heart, I burst. Facing me, her freckled expression was peaceful, while I was everything but. My chest knocked from the inside out, popping vessels and blood rushing to accompany my dread. My heart a colossal black hole. The broken orange bottle, emptied of all its luxurious magic, sealed the vacuum in me. Everything broke. My life scattered all over that cloud carpeting, black and white pictures pronouncing their own finality. Even my vision had a foggy white mark slashed through it as I looked through the shards for the phone.

I called an ambulance, then my grandparents. Such a measly little bottle, no bigger than my own hand, savagely encapsulated my whole being.

“How much do you want?” Karen asks.

Strangling the thin bottle necks of my friends Jack and Jim, Karen releases them from their dark brown flasks and the potions splash on the chilled glasses. I tank them before she nestles her head into my chest as we slump back out on the jade quilt. Karen continues to gab, a million worries in her life. Some of her troubles she unknowingly repeats, just to remind herself that they were still there and still hers. I remind her that life is a burden to bear. What was an artist if you couldn’t make whatever art lived in you? I drove this home to my mother multiple times, but she didn’t get the memo.

“You can do whatever you want, babe” I console. “This world is unlimited, you could paint the night sky on the back of your hand if you wanted to. Think about what you want for yourself.”

“Well, I don’t know what I want,” Karen admits.

I couldn’t bring myself to say it, but I finally did.

I didn’t know what to say to my grandparents. My grandmother’s bony back outfitted in the everlasting faded green sweater as she bent over in those generic gray lounge chairs. Her hands covered all the hurt, her face only made semi-coherent sounds, stunted by the rippling tears and historical sighs. I knew that if she kept it up, her tears would drain her sea blue eyes to white.

My gentle grandfather stared opaquely, standing next to a stale black vending machine matching his baseball cap. The bearer of bad news, the last one to look at his dead daughter in that sterile emergency room, he didn’t want to let his heart rage out from his lips. Frozen, he kept everything wrapped tightly in his body.

I knew that feeling. I did the same. My ordinary T-shirt and sweats were a knight’s armor protecting me from knee buckling blows happening from the inside.

My mother’s drugs bowed on the stage of our lives, satisfied with the last scene. Now my grandmother would never see the lighthouse to her ocean eyes, and my grandfather’s body would never thaw.

Karen falls asleep on my chest.

I haven’t told her yet, but I’ll be leaving this ghost house, this prickly lawn, and this indigo abyss we all shared and learned from. Hell, I want to chase that one and only thing that mattered now in this senseless world: my freedom. I imagine New York will greet me, with all their brilliant lights and endless highs, as I imagine my own tango on their skyscrapers.

Written for Dr. David N. Odhiambo’s ENG 313: Intro to Creative Writing


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