Still Standing

It amazed him how long, after a tree died, was even completely rotted through like this one appeared to be, it could continue to stand. Why didn’t it just topple over? Didn’t it know it was dead?

Slumped on the steps of the Methodist Church of O‘ahu, he knew he had to get over to the tuxedo rental place before 5:30 if he wanted his deposit back. But he didn’t have the energy to stand up, let alone drive down to Kaka‘ako to return the damn thing.

He stared across Lualuna Street at the towering dead tree that stood high above the jagged-topped stonewall surrounding Lualuna Academy. One of the oldest private schools in Hawai‘i, some of its trees had to be quite old as well. Maybe 150 years or more. From where he sat, all the other Lualuna trees he could see looked vibrantly alive and well cared for.

His head felt heavy and his shoulders sagged, his whole body seeming to be fighting both gravity and anatomy to puddle on the concrete steps.

Even the pastor had given up hope.

How, he wondered, could a school as wealthy as Lualuna allow a dead tree like that to stand? Why didn’t they just cut it down? It was an eyesore. Maybe even a safety hazard. So grotesque did the tree appear that it drew all of his attention. This looming, gigantic, dead tree needed to come down, right now, and he would be the one to do the job.

Now he felt the energy surge through his body. He looked at the ring he held in his left hand, put it in his pocket, and stood up. With determined steps he headed for his car, popped the trunk, and took out the jack and the tire iron.

Returning to Lualuna Street, he crossed over without checking traffic. A huge black Chevy pick-up truck screeched to a halt. A muscular Chinese-Hawaiian man stuck his head out the window and cursed at him, but he couldn’t hear the words that meant nothing to him anyway as he stomped across to the other side.

He tried one steel-grated gate and then another. The school seemed locked up tight. But he was determined to get this done. At least one thing today had to happen, and happen right, since nothing else had gone right at all.

After tossing the jack and tire iron over the stone wall, he jumped up and grabbed the top.            The Night-Blooming Cereus that cascaded down all along the walled school cut into him with its needle-like spikes. Numb to almost everything after the day he’d been through, he boosted himself up on top of the wall, bleeding but not beaten. The jagged stones atop the wall, along with the Cereus, made for a nearly impenetrable barricade. He thought of what a great metaphor this wall represented when you knew that the school had been built to educate the Hawai‘i elite, those outsiders who would illegally wrest the Hawaiian kingdom from the established monarchy in 1898.

He jumped the eight feet to the ground with ease, then examined the status of his white tuxedo. It was filthy now, stained and torn. Even if he did manage, he wondered, to make it back to the tuxedo rental place on time, would they give him his deposit back? More likely they’d charge his card for a replacement. Geez, he thought, because of that store, whole generations would now learn to spell the word incorrectly as “wearhouse” rather than warehouse. How thoughtless of them to do that. Yeah. Thoughtlessness. The theme of the day.

Picking up the jack and tire iron, he walked to the base of the tree feeling a lot like Paul Bunyan. He had to laugh, thinking about how he had no Babe now. Forget about it. If he could dig out enough of the trunk to get the jack under it, then he could jack up that side and hopefully topple the dead tree. He gauged the distance it would fall, and at what point he should begin to gouge at the wood in order for the tree to land between the two white stucco buildings on either side of it.

Ah, he thought, to better guarantee the tree falling the right way, he would gouge out the opposite side so that the tree would be inclined to fall in that direction when he jacked up this side. He went around to the other side, ready to gouge away, but he stopped when he saw a small plaque. It read, “This tree was planted to honor the unsung Union soldiers from Hawai‘i who died in the war between the States.”

He abandoned his plan immediately. Although the school might stand for elitism in the eyes of most, there was no doubt that it must have its good points, too. This was one of them, obviously, and just as obviously there was a reason for this dead tree to be left alone. How thoughtful of them to do this. But really, shouldn’t they plant another tree? To replace this one. That would be the right thing to do.

Trudging back to the wall, he took a deep breath and heaved jack and tire iron back over the top. He made his way up and over, then, looking both ways, loped across Lualuna Street. As he walked slowly toward the parking lot, he heard someone call his name.

Turning toward the voice, he saw it was Angela, his bride-to-be, dressed beautifully for their wedding. He dropped the jack and tire iron, then waved. She’d come after all. He stood there dumbfounded. He wanted to call out to her, ask her what had happened to make her so late, but words failed him.

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