Wednesday 16 May 2012

'Lifesaver' by Carol Harada

August, drowning in sweat. I offered her the Life Saver. She was old. This was in the cement block house built by my father’s father. My grandmother had a jungle garden out back. In the early mornings we’d go with her out into the wild plants, the fertile green and steamy wet muck. Grandma carried her longest, oldest cooking chopsticks and clicked them in anticipation. With a practiced eye she’d spy the monstrous African snails and pluck them like a deceptively still heron. We girls followed with the old milk carton partially filled with Clorox.  Once plucked, the invading snails suffered a horrible bleachy death.
            But what I really want you to know is that I offered her the Life Saver. My Obaban, my great grandmother, in her thin gray housedress and her great grandmother bun. I once drew a pen and ink drawing of Obaban from a photo. My hand still remembers the stray curl of her hair. Black dots reaching out into the expanse of white paper.
            When she was young, Obaban was a fierce beauty. Her husband went ahead back to Japan; she had to wait out her advanced pregnancy in Hawaii before she could sail home too. He died among rice paddies and roaring cicadas. Luckily she and baby Grandma soon found a good man with a dry goods store. And life in Lahaina went on, rolling like the waves beyond the sea wall visible from the store’s doorway.
            I offered her the Life Saver. I was seven and carried my prized packets of Life Savers, rolls of peppermint or mixed fruit ‘O’s , 4917 miles in our Samsonite luggage. In the cool Grandpa-built house I offered Obaban a tangerine Life Saver. She was old with soft crepe skin and spoke only Japanese. We didn’t understand her life.  Reading on the day bed, her legs stretched out before her, and the magnifying glass another ‘O’ on a handle before her face. The jalousie windows tilted just so. The geckos with their sticky pad feet clinging to the side of the house. The three inch Madagascar cockroaches flying thick on day trips to Iao Valley.
            I offered her a Life Saver. She took it and popped it in her mouth. We were playing hanafuda, the Japanese cards with suits of lilies, maples, iris, cherries. Sitting on the cool tatami mat, drinking tea and eating rice crackers and candy.
            It was only a moment, but it sticks in my mind. I offered her a Life Saver. She took it and popped it in her mouth. It was tangerine, I think. I asked her how it was. Did she like it? Grandma translated for me. Obaban stuck out her quavery tongue, an empty swath of pink. No orange of any kind remained. She had swallowed it whole. She was a good girl, taking her pill. She thought it was medicine. And as we laughed, generations of giggles all together, maybe it was.

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