5.4   "Willow in the Road"

There is, by virtue of the recursive structure of the universe, a near-infinite supply of parallelisms, some of which bend within the curvature of space-time and intersect upon each another: sort of like you meeting up with an alternate of yourself, a generation or two down the line.

The concept is fundamentally simply, albeit mathematically difficult to describe. (And we know how Prudence dislikes her math.) From a global scale, parallelisms can be thought of as history repeating. At a personal level they’re akin to alternative realities – manifestations, perhaps, of the many possible paths of our lives might take.

Try as she might, Prudence has never been able to articulate her theory of parallelisms very well. In her mind it’s clear as day, but when she tries to translate that clarity into words – forget it.

Nevertheless, the first thing that popped into her mind when she noticed a girl hitching for a ride on the edge of town was that she had to stop. She would quickly realize that a parallelism being woven into her life on a day when the earth was making an abundance of noise, a day in which the air was filled with shock waves, everything was out of whack. She’d driven all the way into Hilo to work the night shift not realizing – or not remembering – that Solia was already working that shift. (Good thing, it turned out, because her arm, where she’d sliced it on the hala tree, was still feeling tender and aggrieved.)

So had driven back to Puna around four, just as traffic in Kea’au began clogging up with the evening rush. A few car lengths ahead of her she saw a Hele-on bus merging where four lanes converge into two just past the stoplight near the school. In the back seat of the bus a silhouetted figure became a sort of hypnotist’s crystal for Pru as she made the stop-and-go journey into Pahoa Town. It was easy to lose herself in the slogging traffic, and the person in the back of the bus gave her something to focus on, an avatar through whom she could let her curiosity roam.

At the entrance to Pahoa town they parted, she and the bus. The bus pulled off to the stop on the side of the road to unload its cargo while Pru made a hard right into the Malama Market parking lot to run an errand.

The girl couldn’t have been much more than twenty. She had an infant strapped to her chest in a tie-dyed papoose. Slung over one shoulder was a large floppy travel bag, which seemed to weigh the girl down far more than her circumstances. She looked tired but also like she’d be willing to walk the entire distance she was traveling, no complaints, if that’s what she had to. (Prudence knew all too well that a girl that age was impressionable but resilient.)

Prudence had just pulled out of the grocery store parking lot she she saw the girl and her baby. She immediately pulled off to the side of the road. Ordinarily she didn’t pick up hitchhikers because, first of all, if they’re local and you do it once, there’s a sort of unwritten expectation the next time you see them standing on the side of the road, thumb pointing outward towards God or whatever their destination. Secondly, she really only liked to give a lift to the boys walking down Pohoiki Road with their surfboards, who seldom actually held a thumb out. It was a bias, yes she’d admit it; and she seldom found herself going down that way, so it was an occasional gift, the lift, and the only consequence that came along with it was gratitude and a little shaka love. Thirdly, most of the hardcore hitchhikers you don’t want inside your car to begin with: the smell can linger for days and, despite being on the poor end of the beggars can’t be choosers rule, they often object to sitting in the bed of the truck.

In any event, Pru stopped the truck and lowered the passenger window.

The girl walked up and leaned in.

“Aloha,” said Pru. “Where you going?”

“Kehena Beach.”

“Oh.” Kehena was down near the end of Red Road, about five miles or so out of her way. “Well, I’m only going down to Ohalani Road—.”

“Is that close?”

“Sort of.” She looked at the infant strapped at the girl's chest. “But not really.”

“That’s fine. We can hop out wherever.”

“No, no,” said Pru. “Get in. I’ll take you all the way down. It’s no big deal. Really.”

“Cool,” said the girl. She opened the door and hoisted her big sack into the middle of the seat. She climbed in after it, shut the door and then settled in along with the baby. She cupped her hands and bent her head towards Pru. “Namaste.”

Prudence grinned. “Namaste.”

“It's crazy hot,” remarked the girl.

As Prudence pulled the truck back onto the road: “Mh-hm. We’re having a terrible drought. It hasn’t rained in almost six weeks.”

The girl laid her hand gently on the baby's head. “My name is Willow, by the way.”

Thought Prudence, but she kept it to herself: Of course it is.

Prudence drove through town, past the post office and the Natural Food store and the Cash & Carry and the bank. Past the block long stretch of ramshackle shops and restaurants in the heart of the village, including Ning’s, where the Rinpoche sat sipping his iced green tea and watching the traffic go by, patiently waiting for Pualani to come get him. He didn't notice Prudence and Willow driving past, nor Fishbone and Peter Pualoa coming out of Luquin's, because he was off in his own version of never-never land, some artificial landscape of geothermal leases and commission checks being direct-deposited into a bank account in Texas.

“Is this your first time on the Big Island?” Prudence asked her passenger.

“No, I've been here once before. My parents brought me when I was 16. Obviously I don’t remember it very well: I flew into Kona by mistake.”

“Oh my.”

“Yeah. Stupid, I know. Luckily somebody gave me a ride to one of the hotels, where I picked up the bus.”

 “Are you staying down in Kehena?”

“I don’t know yet. I’m here visiting a friend. I’m not sure where he lives, exactly. I’ll see if he’s down at the beach and we can take it from there.”

Prudence glanced over at Willow. They had left town and turned right onto the two-lane highway now, heading south along a stretch that is mostly straight and uneventful. They drove past the steam vents, which line the upper sides of the highway close to town. The girl looked out the window: “Oh, pretty… Is that from the volcano?”


It seemed odd, Prudence thought, if not irresponsible, to not have a place to stay already lined up, especially if you were traveling with an infant. Then again, she had to remind herself, this was Puna, and the girl sitting beside her was probably not so different than the 20 year old that she herself once was.  “So you’re just going to meet up and…?”

“I hope so. To be honest, I don’t know if he’s going to be there. He's mentioned what a magical spot it is, how beautiful. I think he likes to hang out there.”

“And what if he’s not?”

Willow shrugged. “It’s walking distance to a spiritual retreat, isn’t it?”

“Mh-hm. Kukio Kai.”

“I’ll go there if I have to. I hear it’s affordable.”

Pru nodded her head. “It is.”

The baby started whimpering. Willow gently rocked it and said, “Shhh-h-h-h.”

Pru knew it was none of her business but she had to ask: “Don’t you have your friend’s phone number?”

“No…His old one is disconnected. I’m guessing he got a new one when he moved here.”

“What about email?”

Willow shook her head. “We emailed once or twice but I didn’t tell him I was coming and I didn’t bug him for his phone number.”

Prudence remarked that it seemed improbable that in this day and age it was possible for somebody to appear on your doorstep without warning.

“Well, it’s complicated,” the girl said. “Not for me. For him it is. Truth is, he may not want to see me.”

“Why not?”

Willow nonchalantly rolled her left shoulder up toward her ear. She tilted her head down to almost meet it. In so doing, she was able to peer into her baby’s eyes, the same hazel blue creations that were slowly taking in the gestures and sounds of the yet-stranger a few feet away from him, this Prudence Overmeyer, temporary caretaker, whose gentle profile and blowing hair filled the window of his sight as she conveyed the three of them down a long road to somewhere.

“Koo-tchoo-koo…,” Willow cooed. Then she turned to Prudence. “Like I said, it’s complicated. Except for me.”

“Is it complicated by—?” she looked at the baby.

The girl nodded yes. “Noby. His name is Noby.”

“Interesting name.”

“I know. I’m going to have to get him a name tag or something.”

“Is it a family name?”

“No. I’ve always liked the name Toby but I’m in love with Noam Chomsky’s writing. So I blended the two of them together.”

They were quiet for a minute or two. Prudence drove while Willow looked out the window.

“Is your friend Noby’s—?”

“Yes.” (No need to wait for the full question.) “We’re different people. He’s older than me. He wants different things. I think on a lot of levels we’re just not compatible.”

Prudence chuckled. “His name isn’t Kyle Weatherly, is it?”

“No.” Willow smiled. “That’s funny, though. I have a brother named Kyle. He’s six years old. Nope. Noby’s daddy is a sweet, goofy guy named Matthew Lawless.”

Kehena parking lot, Red Road. Source: Google maps

Willow walked a rutted path through the coconuts and scrub trees along the cliff overlooking Kehena. She descended down the hillside path, her body progressively slipping below the horizon.

She navigated her way toward the black sand beach, baby still strapped to her chest. With one hand she held her slippers, with the other she grabbed onto roots and slender tree trunks to guide herself down the steep path. Once at the bottom, she stood atop a boulder overlooking the sand and scanned the crowd of mostly naked, mostly gangly white people – pale odd creatures set against the jet blackness of the lava sand – to see if she could catch sight of Matthew Lawless.

Up at the truck, Prudence sat patiently waiting for Willow to return. She had told the girl she didn’t want to abandon her at the beach; if Matthew wasn’t there, she’d be happy to drive her to Kukio Kai, especially since it was on her way home. She tapped a text message on her mobile phone then held the device out the window and moved it around in the air trying to catch a signal to send it.

Willow climbed down from the boulder and eased herself onto the sand. It felt like cool, dried grains of quinoa between her toes. The beach was not very large and it dropped off abruptly to meet the water. Tall sharp waves broke hard against the shore. A few daring or foolhardy souls ventured in and out of the water, stumbling over a bed of polished rocks as they fought the washing machine-like confluence of water and land.

She walked among the crowds, greeting people with aloha and looking around for Noby’s father. In one patch of sand a bearded guy did downward facing dog by the water’s edge, the hairy crack of his ass as clear as day for everyone on the beach to see.

Kehena beach. Source: http://www.hawaii-guide.com/big_island_of_hawaii

Fifteen or twenty minutes pass.

“No, he isn’t there,” Willow said as she climbed into the truck.

“That’s too bad.”

“But it is a lovely spot. I can see why he likes it.”


“Thank you for waiting. I really appreciate it. I mean, I don’t mind walking but I’m no fool: I’ll take a ride if one is offered. It’s seriously very cool of you.”

“Happy to,” Pru replied, hoping that driving her around would offset the fact that she hadn’t been honest with the girl.

Blame it on the Red Road. It was here along this jungly stretch of Kehena coastline that she’d had the first sign of trouble with Kyle Weatherly 20 years ago. Being a naïve child of Rhode Island academics, she endured that first episode of Kyle’s moodiness and condescension – he was tired of driving around the island toward no end and was acting out, frustrated – and she let it pass. Several times in fact, until one day, as they sat in their old jalopy, parked not far from here, Kyle’s irritability got the best of him and he announced, “We’re out of here.” And then she moved with him to Mexico.

Prudence hoped that Willow wasn’t chasing after a man to escape herself, which is what Prudence had done with Kyle. He was everything she was not, and represented everything that her family was not, and stood for things that her parents didn’t stand for, and offered her a view of reality that was roundly contrary to the square box in which she lived on the corner of Langham Road and Hope Street, back in Providence. He had a vision for her future which, she realized later, revolved around him and not around her. Essentially she had given herself over to him under the mistaken belief that, with him, she was nurturing and improving herself.

“If that makes any sense,” Pru said.

Willow nodded. “It does. I’m not looking for anything from Matthew, though. I’m certainly not looking to validate my existence through him. I may have this token of him here in my life—.”

“That’s a bit more than a token.”

“Yeah, right, isn’t it?” She grinned. “No… I really don’t want anything from him. I came to Puna because I wanted to say hello, that’s all. I want him to see the baby and know that everything’s cool. And I want to be sure he’s okay.”

Prudence took a long breath. If Willow were the sole evidence then it was true: each generation gets smarter earlier, grows up faster, is more self-aware at an earlier age. “I imagine he’s doing fine.”

“I kind of hoped you’d say that.”

They looked at each other.

“I’ve only had one email from Matthew, and in it he said he’d discovered this amazing beach called Kehena, and that he went there with his friend once and it was sublime. He calls his friend Puna Pru and she lives across the road from him in a small white house on a hill. That’s you, isn’t it, Prudence?”

Pru nodded. “Yes. That would be me.”

“I don’t need you to intervene or anything. You seriously don’t have to get involved. But will you do me one favor, please?”

“Of course.”

“Tell him I’m here and if he wants to see me and Noby, I’d love to see him, too.”

Pru looked at her phone and then showed it to Willow. “I kind of already have.”

Red Road. Source: Google maps

Next Episode 5.5 »


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