Sacrament, Living on Stilts, & Oh my god… by Melissa Llanes Brownlee
In her three microfiction pieces “Sacrament,” “Living on Stilts,” and “Oh my god your voice sounds so haole,” native Hawai’ian writer Melissa Llanes Brownlee invites the reader into “moments of my life that have, could have, may have been.” We witness her characters as they taste the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We learn why Hawai’ian houses hover above the earth on stilts, then we gleefully eavesdrop on the private jokes and accusations shared between cousins. Each microstory, written in a mix of Hawai’ian Pidgin Creole and English, is intimate, charming, and feels so welcoming that we do not hesitate when Brownlee warns us in her author’s note that we have just been dropped “into the middle of the Pacific Ocean with only my words to guide you.” We are happy to follow, as we are entranced by the interplay of both languages, touched by each story, and grateful for our guide. —CRAFT
Pua shifts in the pew as the water and bread are passed out by the chosen boys, her mu’umu’u scratchy and stiff against her skin. She wonders if it will be white or wheat bread. Her mother pinches her on the back of her arm so no one can see as the bishop drones on about stuff she should be paying attention to but doesn’t want to, a whispered warning, hot in her ears no shame me nails digging, pulling tears from her eyes no make me take you to da car. She sits still, her mother’s fingers releasing with a last no make me do dat again, girl, her mother’s eyes fire, a smile wide across her face as she checks to make sure no one heard her. Pua knows no one cares. She’s sure all the other kids’ arms are scratched black and blue too, their brown skin hiding all sins. The bread and water come to her row, her brother so proud in his aloha shirt and slacks, holding the tray and walking down the row. She hopes he drops it before he gets to her so he’s the one who gets it and not her. He stops in front of their mother, her smile reaching her eyes. Carefully she lifts the piece of wheat bread and places it in her wide mouth, her lips close as she chews and swallows. Her fingers curve around one of the tiny little cups filled with water, her nails flashing red, lifting it slowly to her lips, sipping it, savoring the moment, before placing the empty cup back. Her brother moves to her, his smile matching their mother’s and Pua prays as she chooses her piece of brown bread, her mother’s eyes hard on her.
Living on Stilts
Our houses stay on stilts but we no live near the ocean. Our daddies they wen tell us the lava rock no like foundations, so it stay better to build with the land. Wen Pele stay angry we barely feel it, her ami barely circling to our little volcano. She like Kilauea better anyway, probably get one boyfriend over there. Our mommies laugh wen we tell them. Mommies know the truth. Pele going go where she like and it’s never about the boyfriends, that’s just daddies being stupid. Our houses stay on stilts and one day Pele going knock em all down.
Oh my god your voice sounds so haole
my cousin yells over the phone line as I call them up to see if they want to go drinking at our favorite bar when I come home to visit how else am I supposed to sound I live on the mainland I grumble at them you think anyone going understand me if I stay talking like dis they laugh yeah yeah you still sound haole I breathe and ask again you like go Teru’s for sing karaoke they giggle and I know they just can’t stop thinking about me living so far away and speaking as if I were better than everyone else I bet you stay white as one ghost up dea they just won’t lay off well stay hard for tan when it stay snowing and I no like turn into one orange if I go in one tanning bed I’m tired you like cruise or what they finish their fit sure sure cuz no worries we going cruise I worry I’m making a mistake jus make sure you leave your haole high maka maka shit up dea, or else the threat ringing in my ear as I hang up
MELISSA LLANES BROWNLEE (she/her) is a native Hawai’ian writer living in Japan. She has work published and forthcoming in The Rumpus, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, Gigantic Sequins, Cream City Review, The Cincinnati Review’s miCRo series, Indiana Review, swamp pink, and Moon City Review. Her work has also been honored by inclusion in The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, and the Wigleaf Top 50. Read Hard Skin: Stories from Juventud Press and Kahi and Lua: Tales of the First and the Second from Alien Buddha. Melissa tweets @lumchanmfa.
Featured image by Annie Spratt, courtesy of Unsplash.