Issue 92 - Spencer Kealamakia

CATTLE
by Spencer Kealmakia

   It was my grandfather’s moist palm on my forehead that I felt when I woke in the dark. And, he was saying something, his breath on me, the scent of rot and saliva.
   “Was nothing, boy. No worries.”
   His calloused palm scraped my forehead as he ran his arthritic fingers through my hair. He grunted and moaned as he lowered himself to lay beside me on the quilt, squirmed as he took off his boots. In the air was the scent of liquor and sweat.
   “No worries. No worries.”
   He asked me what I’d seen in my sleep.
   “I was dreaming about the cow I saw today,” I said. “Down in the boneyard. The mom cow and the baby.”
   “Which one?”
   “The one with the baby, where the baby is coming out.”
   I heard him scratch his unshaven face.
   He turned away. Breathed deeply and began to cough. He cleared his throat and wet his lips. Then, just the sound of the house, the wind brushing against the walls, stirring the grass in the yard, a nighttime sigh that rattled and soaked the window, rattled the door—I imagined what the boneyard looked like, out there in this dark. The bending blades of grass rippling under wind and rain that was now pouring into the hollow and filling it with the stuff that would make the animal bodies disappear with time.
   In Waimea the rain is a mist that slants with the wind, and comes in sharp and stinging. That morning, when me and Mom arrived at my grandfather’s property, he told us that the weather was turning, pointed to the clouds coming from the east, and I could already feel bits of wet against my face making my nose itch. He had been sitting on the porch repairing a tarp when we greeted him, and when he stood to go inside, we followed.
   January of 1959, I’d met my grandfather for the first time. I was thirteen. We’d made this trip so many times that year, me and Mom every other Saturday. The two-hour bus ride took us north, from Hilo, through every Hamakua sugar town—the Pacific to the east and sugar cane fields to the west. Passed over Honoka’a town as the road curved inland, taking us up into the Honoka’ia Forest, and when we came out the land and the sky opened up big and wide. Views of grassland and cattle replaced the stretch of cane and ocean. Men on horseback wearing flat-crowned hats with wide brims, in the old vaquero style, came alongside the bus, clicking their tongues and pulling on the reins of their horses, whose hooves clacked high, hollow sounds on the road as they trotted to and from town.
   My grandfather lived a few miles south of Waimea town, out toward Mauna Kea, on the Pu’u Kapu Plain, on three hundred acres of land he’d gotten in a Department of Hawaiian Homelands lottery, back when it was run by the Federal Government: a ninety-nine-year lease with a 50 percent blood minimum requirement. He’d built a stilted, plantation-style house that sat on a hill near the center of the property. Red dirt in wind, rust-scarred roof, made the once white house tawny. Inside, quilts and blankets lay folded in the corner and a large chest containing clothes and keepsakes was set in another. The dining table was pushed against the wall, beneath the sill of the large picture window that looked out toward the western paddocks. Dusty brown, inside, and scents of lacquer, leather, and manure, the wood mustier when the rainy season came, mustiest that trip in December 1959, the last time I saw my grandfather alive. Me and Mom climbing the steps to the porch, following him through the doorway, smelling it—the lacquer first, the saddles and boots, the mildewed beams of the open ceiling—me and Mom put our bags down near the quilts. He folded the tarp he’d been repairing and placed it in the corner at the door.
   Later, when we sat down to lunch, he asked, “Is he doing good in school?” and pointed at me with his chin from the other side of the dining table.
 

...Read more in issue 92