Five elderly women stood up from their folding chairs, left their low salt lunches and walked slowly to the front of the nursing home’s multi purpose room for the entertainment portion of a Sunday afternoon. The eldest took center position in an evenly spaced row of women in flowered dresses. At first they were still, yet trembling, eyes open, concentration inward. Then, the music started, a man wailing from a scratchy recording filled the room with song, and the women began to move.
Auhea wale ana `oe Pua carnation ka`u aloha.
Ten stiff shoulders, rose and fell, shifting positions, moving together in a single body. Five profiles turned in unison, left, and then right, looking backward, side-to-side then forward again. Arms swung, high, then low. Frail hands gripped invisible paddles, fore, aft, counter-balancing long-stiff hips through the afternoon air. They paddled in place and together—a memory regatta, a voyage re-enacted—ancient music resounding through the dining hall.
Ke aloha kai hiki mai Hö`eha i ka pu`uwai.
Come to me, my love. My heart aches for you. You dwell in my thoughts. Come to me and let us be together.
The eldest moved as if in a trance. She never looked outward and she never stepped forward. She danced in place in the center of the others, swaying hipbones under a flowering muumuu, fluttering her hands through the air, smiling to be smiling, barefoot lifting and falling in time. Her knees slightly bent made a jagged sway, the line of her body, a right angle from hip to shoulder, as with every plunge of her invisible paddles into the invisible sea. She tilted off center and out of line from her aged sisters. All five danced, but, all eyes were her, the one in the middle, the eldest, the wisest, and the most determined, the one who made the waters real.
A flower, a promise, an exotic place ever out of reach, the girl watching wanted to go there too, to the sea. I wanted to hop a boat and circumnavigate the globe, head off in one direction and arrive back from the other, sail through time and save a boutonnière from my parent’s hasty wedding, red like my mother’s cinnamon colored hair. I watched old women dance and in my mind soared over flat fields of wheat and sunflowers, left the Kansas town where I’d grown up, the people of the wind, ditched a life of hiding, impermanence, and disconnection, and journeyed into some exotic place of endless possibility.
Excerpt from OKLAHOMA BY THE SEA, a work in progress. Copyright CJ Rice 2013