3.6   The Four Corners

“It was a potion,” said Auntie Lulu plainly.

Prudence was sliding a box full of books toward the tailgate of her truck. She stopped when Lulu said this. “A what?”

“Cousin Violiet slipped you something to help with the anxiety of having all those people at your place.”

Prudence had finally gotten around to bringing Manu’s books to the high school library. She had meant to do it before the luau, but with all the commotion that surrouned the event she couldn’t find the time. Now with the party over, it was time to start dealing with Manu’s absence. “She drugged me?”

“Absolutely not.” Lulu’s voice was authoritative and broad. “It was a defensive measure.”

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After unpacking Manu’s old books and helping the school librarian catalogue them, Lulu and Prudence went down to the Four Corners General Store to meet Violet for lunch.

Four Corners General Store was one of the few structures spared by the Kapoho lava flow of 1960. A traditional Hawaiian bungalow with sagging front porch and a rusted corrugated roof, it had weathered more than lava in its time. It sat in the shadow of Green Lake Mountain at the intersection of Pahoa-Kapoho Road and the northernmost tip of Red Road, where the former faded along cinder and stone toward Lighthouse Point and the latter disappeared into the forest along Old Government Beach Road.

There were a few simple tables out on the lanai and half a dozen more inside. Just inside the door was a counter for ordering coffee and malasadas. To the right of that a small refrigerated container within whose slightly rusted edges and behind whose scratchy glass doors were displayed freshly made poke and salads in glass containers. At the end of the counter was a circular container made of heavy black wire. It was stacked full of green coconuts, ready at the waiting to be chopped by a machete to reveal their white fibrous core and liquid gift of water inside.

Damian, a quiet young man who worked in the store, was an exotic looking kid – part Native American, part Chinese and part industrious Mormon, all of which had converged upon midwestern America in a series of generational folds and migrations. Like proteins of the land, they wrapped and unfurled themselves one upon the other to form something altogether new and different, yet strugglingly familiar.

He worked a variety of roles: busboy, handyman, delivery driver and hauler of trash. Chief among his roles, though, was that of coconut carver. When somebody came in for a coconut water, he’d carefully pull one of the mighy seeds out of the stack, tapping it to assess its readiness, then hold it aloft in his left hand. With a few deft but mighty swings of his short bladed machete, he’d hack off a layer along the bottom then take a thick wedge off around the top. That top of the nut he’d shave with a few more slices until a hole appeared revealing a sweet cavern of water. Into that hole went a straw and upon the carved flat edge of its bottom the coconut could sit upright upon a table.

Source: www.thehealthydish.com

Damian brought a coconut over to where Prudence and the two aunties were seated.  “Here you go, Pru.”

She had heard that packaged coconut water was a new phenomon on the mainland, and felt compelled to announce it. Her mother informed her of such. In one of her random emails, perennially detached yet striving for some connection to her daughter, she sent a link to an article about a boom in coconut water imports and remarked: “Coconut water. Who knew of such a thing. Do you have it over there in Puna?” 

At first Pru thought it was a quaint and delicious idea – coco water in a can – but then the more she pondered the idea, to be somewhere back on the mainland, perhaps somewhere frigid and cold or even beachside or lost in the suburbs, sipping away at such a potent reminder of a place she’d loved and left behind – assuming of course that she had departed dear Puna – the less appealing the idea of bottled coconut water was. No doubt it would evoke a pleasant memory, but beyond that it would create a longing for something which no longer was, a longing she wasn’t sure she would be able to bear. No, the only proper way to drink coconut water was to drink it directly from the coconut, in the place where the coconout grew. Anything else was an aberration of nature.

After this quaint digression, the principal topic of lunch turned to, not surprisingly, the potion that Violet had slipped to Prudence before Manu’s luau.

Lulu repeated that it had been a preventative measure, a safeguard to keep Prudence from worrying about things that didn’t merit worry and to allow her to simply enjoy the festivities without adorning herself with the burden of being hostess to a thousand people.

 “Precisely,” exclaimed Violet.

The slender old woman offered Prudence her assurance that “there was nothing mind-altering in the least about that concoction. The only effect it has is to eliminate unwanted, I should say, unnecessary stressors. Think of it like Valium. Except one hundred percent natural and organic.”

Prudence shook her head disapprovingly: “I had such an incredible time. The sense of peace was—.”

“Overwhelming?” suggested Violet.

“No, on the contrary. It was all-consuming and lovely.”

Violet clasped her hands. “Then it worked precisely as I desired.”

“But I don’t want what I felt to have been induced.”

“It wasn’t! That’s the mastery of this concoction.” She laid her palm on top of Prudence’s hand. To Prudence it felt like a skeleton’s, only with warmth and a bit of flesh, maybe a fine layer of fat, and there vibrated in Violet’s fingertips a tingling sort of energy. “All it did was subtract the negative feelings that came with the anxiety over having to look after so many people. Everything you felt during the luau was entirely you. Minus any potential bad energy.”

“You thought I was anxious?”

“Not during the luau, no not at all. But in the days preceding—.” She pulled her hand away. “Oh my, my dear. Yes.” She looked at Lulu, who was seated to her left.

Lulu nodded assuredly. “Mh-hm.”

“Well, then,” Prudence retreated a bit. “I guess—thanks. But what about Lau Lau?”

“Uncle Billy’s Lau Lau?” queried Lulu.

Prudence took a sip from her coconut. “Mh.”

“What about him?” asked Violet.

Prudence hesitated for a second, worried she’d brought up something she shouldn’t have, something that possibly wasn’t true. Then she remembered that Violet had been up on the lanai with her and Lau Lau on the morning after the end of the luau. Violet had even given Lau Lau a hug. She could bear witness. Prove. Declare true the facts that were rapidly receding from Prudence’s memory. “Well…you know.”

“Know what?” asked Violet.

At this point Prudence herself was no longer sure that anything had happened. There was a physical sensation that lingered inside of her, as well a glorious memory of being wrapped in Lau Lau’s arms as the sun rose over the lower Puna jungle. But did they really have sex? Did she sleep with him and wake to the smell of charcoal and smoking ti leaves after he left or was it the illusory fallout of a night of heightened experience, the fabrication of a mind that had been too overjoyed?

“Prudence?” prodded Lulu.

“N-nothing. I’m only wondering if it’s possible that something I thought happened really didn’t. Because of the potion.”

Lulu looked over at Violet, who was steadfast, cloaked. Then, sensing she was under the bright lights of interrogation, Violet said gingerly to Prudence: “Highly improbable.”

Prudence leaned forward and took a cooling sip of coconut water, casting a wary and suspicious eye on Cousin Violet.

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