She hadn’t heard thunder in almost two years. There is no thunder, almost never any thunder, in Hawaii, although there are blizzards on the Big Island where people go to ski. She has a picture of Mauna Kea, palm trees in the foreground, snow at the peak. There was a mango tree behind their rented house. The pelting rain would knock the fruit loose. If she made a run for it she’d have a good chance at beating out the birds and mongoose to the fruit. She stood at the backdoor and calculated whether it was worth it. The birds were sheltering in the plumeria closest to the house, and in the eaves. She didn’t see any mongoose. Mongooses? Mongeese? Her husband was always asking her. She didn’t know. She wished they had a pineapple tree, although she knew pineapples didn’t grow on trees. They were worth getting soaked for.
She watched the neighbor kids abandon their trampoline and go inside. She pulled the shade and made sure the door was locked, a habit. It wouldn’t be long before she’d end up back on the mainland again, she knew. Her husband complained about island traffic and the homeless people, the corruption, the elevated rail system without any stations, going nowhere. Mostly he complained about money, how expensive everything was. He wasn’t impressed by the bananas, the mangoes and papayas she gathered and served with plates of teriyaki chicken. She was getting a jump-start on her disappointment, hoarding her days at the beach. Soon enough he’d tell her she was a champ when she accepted the inevitable, what he would call inevitable, and they’d start making plans to leave. In the meantime, she spent her weekends moving clockwise around the island from beach to beach. She wanted to experience them all before she left.
An ear-splitting alarm went off on his phone: flood warning. “Look.” He showed her. “We could be washed away. Hawaii is so dangerous. I have my family to protect.”
She kept her own phone muted, instead using a disability feature that flashed a bright light at the top of the phone. Between the near-deafness in her right ear and the tinnitus left in its place, she couldn’t hear the ringer on her own phone, especially with the heavy rain and wind, although she had never thought to set it to ear-splitting, like he did. The longer she’d had trouble hearing, the quieter she’d become, and the quieter she preferred things. It helped her, but it drove her husband crazy.
When his phone would go off, like a fire alarm in a crowded building, she got rattled. Her heart raced. And there were so many alerts, for earthquakes in Chile that could trigger tsunamis on Oahu, hurricanes, shark attacks. He said he didn’t want to be eaten, so he stayed away from the water, and his fear was contagious: their daughter no longer wanted to swim anyplace but the neighborhood pool. Despite his fears about flooding, his concerns about protecting his family, he never suggested they seek higher ground.
The power went out, and with it, the Internet. Their 13-year-old daughter, Lauren, emerged from her room almost immediately, and slumped on the couch, ignoring her mother while she pulled candles out of cabinets and lit them. When her husband wasn’t looking, she turned off his phone. The storm would come or it wouldn’t. The house would flood, or not.
When she first lived in the islands, when she was only a little older than Lauren was now, she had looked through the phone book, because back then, before the Internet, that was where all the important information was, in the blue pages. Near the listing for the phone company (only one on Oahu at the time) and for the police was a diagram: “What To Do in Case of Disaster.” The diagram was simple, a map showing all surface roads leading to H-1 and H-2, the east-west and north-south highways that divided the island, and ended at the airport. The emergency plan was a logistically impossible island-wide evacuation.
As much to distract her husband as Lauren, she suggested a board game.
“OK,” said Lauren, who was generally agreeable when not in the grip of Snapchat and Roblox. “Just not Sorry. I’m sick of Sorry.”
Lauren pulled herself off the couch and moved across the room like mercury, parts of her racing ahead and others slowly catching up. She opened the door to the coat closet, empty of coats, and stood on tiptoe to look at the stack of games in their cardboard boxes, while her mother watched, always surprised at the girl’s movement, both blob-like and graceful.
“You going to help me with these or not?” her husband asked. She joined him, circling the house, turning the cranks on the jalousie windows, before the rain found its way in, before everything got wrecked.
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