International Writers Magazine - Our 16th Year: Hawaii Stories from our archives
Old Black Magic
James C. Clar
their very nature, islands are places of magic, of mystery. Washed
constantly by the sea and scoured by the wind they cant help
but manifest a certain primal power. And thats true whether
youre talking about a small islet in the Caribbean, a remote
coral atoll in the vast expanse of the South Pacific or, as in this
case, the bustling madhouse that is modern Oahu, the "gathering
Hawaii, the most
remote island chain in the world, is a land of sometimes violent contrast.
Lush tropical beauty exists virtually side-by-side with sere, almost
lunar, landscapes. On Oahu in particular, breathtaking natural splendor
competes with the ultra-tacky at nearly every turn. Although they may
not be able to articulate it precisely, nearly everyone who visits that
spellbinding place senses at some level that they are in a land that
is both ancient and, simultaneously, as young and chaotic as the first
day of creation.
"For Gods sake, Karen," Tom Kincaid implored his wife.
"The least you can do is try to have a good time. Were in
Hawaii, after all!"
In their early thirties, the couple was sitting in a small restaurant
hidden in the basement of the old Ohana East Hotel in Waikiki. The place
was right out of the fifties or sixties; low-ceilinged and
dimly lit with red faux-leather booths against one wall. Opposite that,
a long bar with mirrored shelves reflected the light from small neon
signs advertising a variety of local microbrews. It was one of the few
such quaint establishments left on the island that hadnt succumbed
either to the current economic woe or been gobbled up by a Mainland
Tom and Karen had come to Hawaii in a last ditch effort to "save"
their marriage but it just wasnt working.
Karen looked up and a wan smile lit her aristocratic features. Tom caught
a fleeting glimpse of the young woman with whom he had fallen in love
over a decade ago now. As committed as he was to making things work,
he was beginning to realize that there wasnt much of that "old
black magic called love" left between the two of them. Karen, or
so it seemed to Tom, had reached that conclusion months ago. She was
already in the process of letting go; of distancing herself from their
relationship, their life together.
"Im sorry," she said distractedly. "Im just
tired. Weve done a lot in the last week. Maybe Ive had too
Karen was tired; tired of putting up a front, of putting up with Toms
frequent, if minor, infidelities, of his teary-eyed remorse after the
fact and his empty promises that "itll never happen again."
The funny thing was, she did appreciate how hard he was working lately
to make things right but it was a matter of "too little, too late."
He had filled their days with activities parasailing, a trip
to the Big Island to see the volcano, dinner cruises, midnight swims
and moonlit walks on the beach in the hopes that something, anything,
would bring them back together. But the wound in their marriage was
too deep. The romance, the magic of the islands, seemed only to reinforce
the hollowness of their lives. Although she didnt know how she
knew, Karen knew with a clarity that was perhaps enhanced by the salty
air and soughing of the palms that if she didnt make a change
now she might be condemning herself to a life of quiet, nondescript
"Hey, check it out," Tom whispered. Karen looked up to see
a blind man being led into the restaurant by a pretty young Hawaiian
woman. The woman kissed the man on the forehead. She turned to leave
and her former charge used the bar to orient himself as he made his
way down the length of the room.
"Aloha, Ronnie," the bartender said. "When you gonna
fix me up with that gorgeous daughter of yours?"
"Dream on, Eddie. She too busy with school. Maybe inna couple
of years. Who knows?"
Ronnie bumped gently into a piano that was tucked into a corner at the
end of the bar. He sat down and, in a moment or two, all trace of clumsiness,
gracelessness gone, he began to play.
"Jesus, Karen," Tom quipped. "Stevie Wonder. Go figure."
Used to her husbands chronic insensitivity, Karen ignored him
as she sipped her wine. Ronnie worked his way through a number of jazzy
standards: "The Shadow of Your Smile," "The Nearness
of You," These Foolish Things" and "Smoke Gets in Your
Eyes." An ardent jazz fan, Karen was shocked by just how good Ronnie
was; certainly not Oscar Peterson good, but far better than merely competent.
She had tears in her eyes by the time he finished with "My Funny
Good music usually lifted Karens spirits. Tonight, however, it
only made her feel even more lost, more adrift on a wind-whipped sea
of emotion. She noticed Tom, seemingly oblivious, keeping time to the
music by quietly snapping his fingers. Not for the first time she concluded
that their hearts had been forged by the gravity of different planets
and nurtured under the light of disparate stars.
Ten minutes or so later, Ronnie took a break. He was replaced by the
restaurants sound system and the crystal tones of Ella Fitzgerald
doing a live version of "Witchcraft." It was at that point
that Karen and Tom both noticed a well-dressed and impeccably groomed
Asian man seated at the bar across from them. He appeared to be in his
early to mid-fifties and quite fit. Tom, who prided himself on looking
sharp and staying in shape couldnt help being a trifle envious.
"Hes got to be a Japanese businessman on a layover for a
night or two," Tom surmised nodding his head discretely in the
direction of the mysterious stranger. "Hes in Waikiki because
thats where the action is. He probably asked the concierge at
his hotel where he could get a decent American meal; figured
hed pass the time having a few drinks and eyeing the pretty young
"Im disappointed," Karen replied. "You used to
have more imagination than that."
Unconsciously she had begun collaborating in a game the two of them
had been playing since before they were even married. Theyd create
"back stories" or fantasies about interesting characters theyd
encounter in public places like restaurants, bars, shopping malls and
airports. It was a harmless pastime that seemed to draw them together
by creating a plethora of unique even if entirely fictitious
experiences and memories.
"Hes clearly a drug lord from the Golden Triangle here in
the islands to consummate a major deal," she countered.
With that, Karen began vamping it up for the older man who, quite openly
now, was staring at her. Surreptitiously she slid her leg out from under
the table and dangled her sandaled foot over the edge of her booth.
"Maybe," she continued, beginning to enjoy herself in spite,
or perhaps because, of Toms apparent discomfort, "hes
a white-slaver from Thailand. Hes here looking for new women for
his stable. He might even be searching for that special someone, procuring
a companion for a wealthy and especially discriminating
"Sure, Karen, I bet thats it," Tom laughed half-heartedly,
inwardly becoming angry at his wifes open flirtatiousness. "Right
now hes plotting to kill me so he can have you all to himself."
Ronnie began playing again and Tom and Karen lapsed into silence. It
wasnt a comfortable silence bred of contentment but rather something
that spoke wordlessly from the vacuity of their relationship. Before
long, Karen could endure it no longer. She wasnt angry; she just
wanted to be alone. She stood.
"I need some air. I have my keycard. Ill see you back at
Before Tom could protest, Karen turned and walked away. He watched her
ascend the steps of the restaurant that led to the street. Before she
disappeared she was bathed in the soft light from an enormous saltwater
aquarium that stood just inside the door. He was tempted to follow her
out, to plead with her to give things another chance. In the end, he
surrendered to futility. "A mans got to know his limitations"
he thought silently quoting Clint Eastwood. He ordered another drink.
The sun had set
and the trades had picked up by the time Karen emerged on Kaiulani Avenue.
The temperature was a balmy 75 degrees but she was chilled given the
fact that, earlier in the day, it had been in the mid-80s and
quite humid. She crossed Kuhio and continued up Kanekopolei until she
reached Ala Wai Boulevard. Turning left, she found herself walking along
the canal. The lights from the residences on the hill to the north were
reflected in its inky waters. All the while she sensed something moving
stealthily beneath the surface of the channel that, over a century before,
had drained the taro patches and swamps of Waikiki paving the way for
the resort that took their place for better or worse today.
She walked for a good forty or forty-five minutes, all the way down
to McCully and then back toward her hotel along Kalakaua Avenue. She
distracted herself by window shopping at the likes of Tiffany, Coach,
Burberry and Louis Vuitton. When she reached Seaside she had almost
convinced herself to stop somewhere for another drink. Maybe by then
Tom would already be in bed asleep. Shed do just about anything
to avoid another scene, to forestall going back to the prison they had
unwittingly created for one another.
Instead of a drink, she found herself strolling amid the madhouse of
the International Marketplace, testament to the tawdry with its stalls
of cheap souvenirs, cut-rate jewelry and Taiwanese vendors demanding
"How much you wanna spend?" Having reached the point
of sensory overload, Karen had tuned it all out. She was preoccupied
by the incessant twittering of the birds that had perched for the night
in the gigantic Banyan tree that overarched the entire outdoor complex.
It seemed to her that they, too, were trying to make sense of their
lives and doing a much better job of it than she.
Wandering, almost somnambulating, Karen unaccountably found herself
seated at a kiosk advertising Fortune Telling & Palm-Reading by
Aunty Ala - $20.00. A heavy-set Hawaiian woman of indeterminate
age sat across from her. When the woman reached out and grabbed her
hands, Karen felt what could only be described as an electric shock.
The warm glow of Aunty Alas bronzed skin contrasted sharply
with Karens light tan.
"Youre looking for something but you havent found it
yet," the Hawaiian prophetess stated.
Great, thought Karen. How perceptive. Who isnt? Next thing, shell
be telling me Im going to meet someone tall, dark and handsome.
"Youve been looking in the wrong places, or maybe you have
to wait until it
whatever it is
finds you. But it will.
Its very close. I can feel it. I know you dont believe me,
but you should. This is a special place. Theres still power left
here in what we call the aina and the kai
and the water to you."
"Im sorry," Karen apologized with a nervous giggle,
"I want to believe, I really do. I dont mean to be rude;
its just that I have a lot on my mind right now."
"Yes, yes you do. But things will be clarified very soon. Just
remember what Aunty Ala told you. When your chance comes, take
In a daze, Karen stood up. She reached into her purse to pay for the
or for whatever it was she had just experienced. Aunty
Ala waved her off. "This ones on me."
Bemused, but at the same time feeling much better than she had in months,
Karen waited at the signal light. She watched the traffic stream down
Kalakaua Avenue and listened to the Doppler strain of an emergency vehicle
fade somewhere off in the distance. When the light changed she crossed
the street and, in a moment or two entered the ornate lobby of her hotel.
She could just hear the rhythmic cadence of the waves as they washed
ashore blending imperceptibly with the sounds of a small combo playing
contemporary Hawaiian music out on the beachfront verandah. At that
moment she almost believed that there might just be a little magic in
the soft Hawaiian night after all.
When she got off the elevator, the heat and humidity of the day which
had been trapped in the hallway hit her like a wave. If Tom had in fact
returned to the room before her, Karen hoped that he had the presence
of mind to open the sliding door of their lanai. Its funny, she
thought, how we still worry over the little things even when our lives
are falling apart.
Karen opened the door to her room as quietly as she could. She felt
a cooling breeze and realized that Tom must in fact have returned first.
At least he opened the lanai to air out the room. Again, she prayed
that her husband was in bed and already asleep.
When she flipped on the small light on the table near the door, she
was startled to see the mysterious Asian man from dinner sitting calmly
with his legs crossed in one of the rooms comfy rattan chairs.
Without so much as a thought about her husbands whereabouts, Karen
reached down and slipped off her sandals. As she stood up once again,
the man rose from his chair and approached her. An enigmatic smile played
across the handsome features of his face. Karen reached behind her and,
almost as though she were conscious of opening a portal to some alternate
reality, engaged the deadbolt on the door.
© James C. Clar March 2009
James C. Clar teaches and writes in the wilds of western New York. His
work has been published in print as well as on the Internet. Most recently
his short fiction has found a home on Antipodean Sci-Fi, Apollo's Lyre,
Flashshot, The Taj Mahal Review, The Shine Journal, Static Movement, Residential
Aliens, Powder Burn Flash, Bewildering Stories, 365 Tomorrows and The
Magazine of Crime & Suspense. His short story "Starbuck"
was voted "Story of the Year" for 2008 by the editors of Long
James C. Clar
Apana sat at a window table in the Honolulu Coffee Company café.
The window was open, the trades were blowing ...
James C Clar
Dayton Apana got up early and went for his usual run from his condo on Ala Wai Boulevard down to where Kapahulu intersected Paki Avenue.
Life Stories in Dreamscapes
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