She’d noticed that he spent more and more time reading the obituaries. Not that more people were dying, although Covid had changed the numbers in Hawai‘i a little. Certainly nothing as drastic as most other states.
“Harry, that’s like your Bible study already,” she said.
Her husband looked up from the obituary page, said seriously, “A little, yeah, I think so it is.”
“I’m kidding,” she said.
“I’m not,” said Harry. “This is getting, I don’t know what it’s getting. But I’m not kidding. Alma, it’s almost like praying.”
She looked at him. “Praying? How?”
Harry glanced up at the ceiling, then back at her. “It’s like I’m praying I don’t see any of my friends’ names, and it’s like I’m praying they all stay alive.”
Alma considered this. “Those two, they not the same thing?”
He shook his head. “No, it’s not. If I see one friend’s name, then it’s too late for him. Like Louise from church last July. When I saw her name I thought, ‘Damn, I forgot to pray for her.’ But the guys on my list, I pray for them while I’m reading this page. Praying each one stays alive. The list keeps getting longer the more people I remember. It’s like, I don’t know, like if I don’t pray for them, they gonna die.”
“That’s crazy, you!” She leaned forward. “But just in case, you praying for me, right?” She laughed.
He chuckled. “Of course, of course. You number one on the list, Alma, the kids, the grandkids, the neighbors – you know, the good ones, like the Randalls and the Kawasakis, but not the Kaneshiros with the all-night parties. The guys I used to work with, too. It’s real important now, with the pandemic. Louise, she suffered so much with the Covid. One month in the hospital. All the pain, canna breathe. For real, I feel like I gotta keep everyone alive. Like it’s my job. Anybody I can remember.”
“Whoa, Honey, how much people on your list now?”
“I don’t know. Prob’ly fifty at least.”
“Jesus Harry,” said Alma. “No wonder you taking so much time staring at that page.”
He shook his head, nodded. “Yeah, yeah. But it’s not so much reading it. It’s praying over it. You know, like some kind of Buddhist meditation. Maybe like the mantra things.” His gaze went past her, off to somewhere odd.
Harry’s expression made Alma uneasy. She got up and walked around the table to her husband’s side. Laying her hand on his shoulder, she said, “Honey, you know it’s not you, right. Harry, if someone going die, they going die. Covid, no Covid, cancer, car accident. Anything. When your time comes, that’s it. And you, Honey, you worrying yourself about it so much, I think you making yourself sick.”
She patted him on the shoulder, then rubbed his back. “Enough, Harry, the kids are coming over. You need to get the hibachi going.”
Harry looked up, saw her face upside down. He shivered. Closed his eyes. Opened them. “Yeah, you right. The boys love those steaks. I gotta go bathroom first.”
He stood up and walked down the hallway to the master bedroom, then into the master bath. Sitting down on the toilet, he realized he’d been praying all the time getting there. That was happening more and more. It was like a mantra. He ran the names, over and over, always wanting to make sure that he didn’t forget anyone. The list was growing longer and longer. As he sat there, he kept running through the names in his mind. “Am I forgetting anyone?”
Alma called out, “Harry, what you doing in there. Hurry up and go get the fire started.”
There was no answer. “Harry! Come on!”
Still nothing. Alma went down the hallway, into the bedroom. “Harry?”
She stopped at the bathroom door. Her breath caught. Harry sat slumped on the ground beside the toilet.
The paramedic emerged from the hallway. “I’m so sorry, Missus Kamei, we were unable to revive him.”
Alma sat on a couch in the living room. It was a bad dream. Harry couldn’t be dead. She asked the paramedic to repeat what he’d said. Hearing it again, she felt like she was underwater, couldn’t reach the surface to breathe.
David, her son, sat beside her, his arm around her. “Mom, it’s okay.”
Katie, her daughter-in-law, sat opposite, the two boys seated on either side of her. Katie said, “Mom, David’s right, you’ll be okay. Everything will be okay.”
Alma stared at her. It was almost as if she didn’t recognize Katie, or even her two grandsons.
“Everything will be okay.”
After all the commotion had subsided, after everyone had tried to eat something but failed, David asked, “Mom, do you want me to stay here with you tonight?”
She turned to him. “What? No, David, no. I’ll be fine.”
At the front door, David again asked her if he should stay. She assured him she’d be okay.
David said, “I’ll come by at nine-o-clock. We’ll go to Hosoi so we can figure out the funeral arrangements with them.”
Alma nodded, laid her hands on the boys’ heads as they hugged her waist, then was kissed on the cheek by Katie.
Closing the front door, she finally let go, began to cry. In bed she cried until the color of the sky began to change.
She stopped crying. Wait. That couldn’t be right. The clock read 3:00. It was much too early for sunrise.
Then she heard the sound of sirens.
Sitting up on the side of the bed, she peered out the window. It was a fire. The Kawasaki’s house was engulfed in flames. Alma put on a bathrobe and slippers, went downstairs and out into the yard. The neighbors were gathering.
Alma scanned the crowd for Taro and Sunny Kawasaki. She saw the Sally Randall, went over to her.
“Sally,” she said, “where are Sunny and Taro? Have you seen them? Are they all right?”
Sally Randall shook her head. “I don’t know, Alma, I haven’t seen them.”
The fire department worked in full force for several hours. Everyone in the crowd stayed on until sunrise. Finally, they watched as the remains of Mr. and Mrs. Kawasaki were brought out of the smoldering ruins.
Alma went home. David would be coming in two hours.
She made coffee, sat and sipped slowly. The phone rang.
“Mom, it’s Jeff.” Her other son lived in Manhattan. She realized she’d not called him about Harry.
“Mom, Carlene just went into the hospital.” Carleen was Jeff’s wife.
“They think it’s Covid mom. She can’t breathe.”
Alma sat stunned. “I,” she began, ”Jeff, I’m so sorry to hear about this. Jeff, did David call you?”
“Call me? Not recently, no. Why?”
Alma told Jeff about Harry’s passing. “I’m so sorry I didn’t call you yesterday. I, I think it was maybe shock. Sorry, so sorry, Jeff. And I’m so sorry to hear about Carlene. Do you think, if she’s okay, you all can come home for the funeral?”
“I don’t know, mom. I’m vaccinated, but the girls are too young yet. I don’t think they should fly.”
“Right, right,” said Alma. “Of course.”
“And for sure we should quarantine anyway. Oh man, everything sucks with this pandemic.”
“Yes, yes, it’s terrible.”
“And I can’t even get in to see Carlene. Even though I’m vaccinated. No one’s allowed in the hospital.”
When Alma hung up, it was nearly 9:00. She thought about going to the mortuary dressed just as she was, her bathrobe and her nightgown, her fuzzy slippers.
She looked down at the slippers. They were muddy. Reconsidering, she went upstairs and changed into a blouse and slacks.
It was 9:00. She went out and sat on the front porch, waiting. The paper sat on the lowest step. She picked it up, opened it. The new Covid case numbers, especially for Maui and O‘ahu were hitting records every day now.
She checked her wristwatch. It was unusual for David to be late. He was the punctual son.
Idly turning the pages, she glanced at various stories, photos. She came to the obituaries. For a second she told herself not to look at the list. That was what her husband did. It wasn’t her habit.
Almost against her will, she began reading down the list. She froze on a name. Steven Rodrigues. It couldn’t be. She read the details. Retired insurance salesman with Island Life and Casualty. One of Harry’s former partners at the insurance company.
But really, he’d died three days ago, so it couldn’t even be possible? Unless . . .
David pulled up in the driveway. “Sorry, I’m late, Mom, there was some kind of crazy accident on the freeway.”
“Oh, no problem, David, I’m just glad you’re okay.”
“Me okay? Mom, are you okay?”
“Sure, sure,” Alma said. “But –
They passed the smoldering house. “Wow!” David said, interrupting her. “What happened to the Kawasaki’s house?”
Alma told him about the fire, the bodies.
“Oh my, God, mom, that’s awful. What a horrible way to die.”
“Yes, yes. David, did Jeffrey call you?”
“Yeah, Carlene, that’s bad. Looks like, what with the girls not being vaccinated and all, they won’t be able to come for the funeral either.”
“David, do you remember Steven Rodrigues?”
“At the insurance company? Sure. Did you know he passed away?”
Alma turned in the seat to look at her son. “You knew?”
“Yeah, it was on the news. They found him at Ala Moana. He was swimming laps. They figured it was a heart attack. Couple days ago.”
“I didn’t know,” said Alma. “I don’t think your dad knew.”
At Hosoi they were met by Mrs. Kaulukuki. She went through the options, and the choices were made. It was all very businesslike. Alma was glad her son was there. David did most of the talking.
She turned down an invitation to lunch at Happy Days, and David dropped her off at home.
Alma picked up the newspaper on the way into the house, sat down at the dining room table, opened to the obituaries. Steven Rodrigues.
Out loud she said, “Harry, you didn’t forget him, did you?” She couldn’t believe she was even saying this.
It made her laugh, then feel sick. How ridiculous. That Steven Rodrigues would be dead because Harry had forgotten to pray for him. How stupid.
And the Kawasakis? Harry had mentioned them specifically. He said he’d prayed for them. He hadn’t forgotten them, and look. It didn’t prevent the fire from happening.
Tears came to her eyes. She shook her head slowly from side to side, taking a deep breath. “You are one lolo* old lady who was married to one lolo old man,” she said aloud.
The phone rang. It was Jeff. He was sobbing. Carlene hadn’t gotten to the hospital in time. She’d died.
After they finished talking, Alma hung up, went straight to the desk in the den, took out paper, and began to write down a list of names. She didn’t want to depend on her aging memory to keep track of them. She wanted each name to be there, concrete, right there smack in front of her.
By the time she completed the list, she had six pages. Going back to the first page, and with her eyes open so she could read each name, slowly, carefully, she began to pray.