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The goddesses : a novel

The Goddesses
by Swan Huntley
1     We came here to escape. Escape our mistakes, our boring selves. Escape the constant feeling of being half-asleep, escape our house--the tedious moan of that garage door, the roof we promised to fix every time it rained. Escape dry heat and coyotes and the roads we knew by heart--we knew where those would take us. In paradise there would be new roads and new routines. Different friends, a different house. A different life. In paradise we would be different.   Chuck had cheated on me with his assistant manager. That was the main reason we left. Her name was Shelly and Shelly was blond and Shelly was everywhere. Every blond woman in San Diego was Shelly until something confirmed it wasn't--wrong car, wrong walk, wrong face. The real Shelly--I never saw her again after the affair, but it was bound to happen at some point. She lived close by.   I probably never would have found out if Shelly hadn't called to confess. She just had to get this off her chest, she said; it was eating her alive. She swore it had only happened that one time. She'd quit the job right afterwards to make sure it would never happen again. She was so so so so sorry and she was crying very hard.   Chuck was sorry, too. He hadn't been thinking clearly. They'd been drinking; one thing had led to another. He actually said, "It's almost like someone else did this, not me. It's hard to explain." I said, "But it was you, Chuck. You did this. After eighteen years, this is what you did."   When the transfer opportunity for Costco Kona came up and Chuck was elected for it, he said, "Maybe Hawaii will remind us why we love each other."   When he said that, it was hard not to imagine Hawaii in the way it's always advertised--a fit couple at sunset under a neon-pink sky--and this was very stupid. I also wondered if it could be us. Later, after the anger passed. Later, after I forgave him. Later, after I could trust him again. If any of that was possible.   The twins were stoked. That's how they said it, one right after the other. "Stoked," Jed said. "Stoked," Cam said. They'd miss their friends, but their friends could visit. They'd miss their team, but the incoming coach that year was supposed to suck anyway. Kealakehe's water polo coach had been a big wave surfer--that was rad. And they could start surfing. And when their friends came to visit, they could take their friends surfing. It was all just going to be totally sweet. "Plus, Mom," Cam said, "you love mangoes."   There were reasons other than Shelly to leave. I did love mangoes. And I'd only been to Hawaii once, when I was ten, which barely counted anymore. I'd lived in San Diego my entire almost fifty years of life, and my days had begun to feel like the same spin in the same hamster wheel. Same postman at the same time delivering the same bills. Same grocery store, same place I always parked. Same minivan under the same tree. I'd been trying to lose the same five pounds for the last thirty years. When had I become so redundant? And joyless? Was it normal that everything I did had the same tone as flossing? I don't want to do this, but I should do this. I wasn't ready to call myself depressed--my mother had been depressed and killed herself, and I was nowhere close to that--but I strongly felt I could be happier. Still, a part of me wanted to say no, wanted to hang on, wanted to clutch my little hamster claws to the familiar wheel and stay. But I knew I couldn't do that. If I said no, it would prove I had truly lost hope that life could be better than this.   "One year," Chuck said. "If things aren't going well in a year, we can always come back."       We rented a place up on Kaloko where the land was green and lush. Two acres with a house and a guesthouse, which people called an ohana here. With the money we'd make renting the San Diego house, it was a wash. Brad, who'd also transferred from San Diego, knew someone who knew someone who knew the owner who gave us a good deal. Brad and Marcy had been ripped off at their first place in Kona, and Brad wasn't going to let that happen to any friends of his! Especially not Chargers fans! Brad hit Chuck's arm when he said that, and Chuck chortled and looked at his poor arm as if it were bruised already. Chuck never watched football. But he didn't say that to Brad. Because he was a liar.   The house was small and lovely. Very basic--the shape of a rectangle. The ohana was the shape of a square. Alone, just as buildings, they weren't very special, but the gorgeous backdrop made them special. The grass, how green it was, rolling softly up the hill. All these plants I'd never seen before. All these birds. The light. How it was thick and buttery yellow. How San Diego's light in comparison was hollow, washed-out, drained. How the humid air felt like a warm hug.   We drove around the island and were in awe. The sky, the sun, the ocean. It was incredible how the landscape changed so quickly--from dewy rain forest up on our mountain to sun-bleached fields of lava down by the water. The lava fields were vast and magical and strange. "This is like Mars," Cam said from the backseat. It was like another planet, but it was also this one in the most basic way. Oh, earth is formed by lava, and here it is. The two-lane highway that cut through the fields seemed equally uncomplicated. Oh, and then we built a road.   We stopped to write our name in the lava with white chunks of coral by the side of the road because we saw other people doing that. murphy. Jed held out his long arm to take a picture of us in front of it. The three of them in matching Hawaiian shirts and me in a tank top. Chuck had woken up early to buy these shirts at Walmart. He'd gotten me a small--as a compliment?--and of course it didn't fit. "I can go back to the store!" he'd said. I told him it was fine. "I don't need a matching shirt, Chuck. Just keep driving."   We drove and drove. The Big Island was somehow much bigger than I'd imagined. Bigger than all the other islands put together, according to Chuck, who also told us that the clouds in the distance weren't clouds but volcanic fog, which people here called vog. The volcano had been erupting since 1981. The flow was on its way to Pahoa now. Soon it would wipe out that town.   We stopped at a beach. Chuck and the boys jumped in the water. I watched them dive into the curling waves. My boys, their strong, beautiful bodies. Chuck, he needed to work out. I found broken shells in the sand and put a few in my pocket. I overheard a woman say to her friend, "Fuck it, let's move here," and I smiled to myself.   We were pink faced and giddy in the car. "Those waves were gnarly," Cam said. "We should get a surfboard," Jed said. Chuck looked more refreshed than I'd seen him in a long time. "You're right," he said, happily tapping the wheel, "we should do that."   Our first dinner at the new house was a Costco pizza, Hawaiian-style. We ate at the new table off our old IKEA plates. Chuck was excited to start work. Jed was excited to kill it at tryouts. Cam was excited they finally didn't have to share a room anymore. "Only took seventeen years," he said. Before they went to bed, Cam peered out from the doorway of his new room and said, "I'll miss you, brother."   Jed said, "Me, too." And then in unison, they shouted the same strange term: "Ass clown!"   Chuck had been sleeping on the couch since the night Shelly had called to confess, so it was unclear where he would sleep in this new house. The ohana was empty. Maybe he'd sleep in the ohana. I kept waiting for him to leave. Dinner was done, the dishes were done, the boys were in bed. But he still hadn't left, and his suitcase was still by the door. I could tell he wanted to say something and he wasn't saying it. The way he kept putting his hands in his pockets, the way he was repeating himself: "Can you believe we're here?" "I can't believe we're here." Chuck was a bad communicator. He hated conflict. He'd always been that way. I peeled an orange slowly. Somewhere during the peeling, I realized I was giving him time, I was waiting for him to speak, and this was very generous of me. Too generous. I peeled faster while he pretended to care about the texture of the wall--he was sliding his palm up and down the wall now, saying, "I never thought we would live in Hawaii." I couldn't be patient anymore. With half the orange still unpeeled, I said, "I'm going to bed, Chuck, good night," and walked past him.   "Wait. I--" and when I turned, he whispered, "Where do you want me to sleep tonight?" The worry in his eyes. He scratched his neck just for something to do. I felt bad for him. He looked so pathetic. Oh, sweet Chuck, you are such an idiot.   In a tone I hoped was emotionless, I whispered back, "Where do you want to sleep tonight?"   Slowly, while contorting his face to show me that yes, he understood it was a lot to ask, he pointed to the bedroom.   A long pause and then I nodded since we were speaking without words now. Chuck looked so relieved. He went to get his suitcase.   The truth was I had wanted him to ask; I'd been waiting. Also I knew our sleeping apart really bothered the boys. They'd started sneaking out at night to light illegal fireworks from Mexico the same week Shelly had called to confess, which I didn't think was a coincidence. Plus this was about trying now. Hawaii meant we had agreed to try.   That night, we slept on the farthest sides of the same bed. It was closer than we'd been in months. Excerpted from The Goddesses by Swan Huntley All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.
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The goddesses : a novel