Sweet Leilani

by Angela Nishimoto

Using the de-thorner to flake off the extraneous, plucking damaged, unsightly petals one by one. Thorns, leaves, stems, petals scattered around my feet. At this time and place, roses needed to be in bud to sell. If they were bloomed out, they were trashed; like other produce, they had a short shelf life.

The girl had a scent like tart rose candy. Fine, straight hair bleached white, pellucid green eyes, she was fragile-boned, a little bird. The silvery lavender and sooty black of her eye makeup lent her ghostly contrasts. When Lester dragged himself in on Saturday morning, his breath smelling of old meat, he said she spooked him.

She told me that she’d just moved in with her boyfriend because her parents threw her out. They were divorcing. “They hate me,” she said, her eyes large, her skin with the fine luminosity of nineteen years.

“They don’t hate you,” I said. “They’re your parents.”

“They do.” Her face shut down. “They can’t stand me. It’s always been this way.”

Shop gossip told me that the girl’s boyfriend was bisexual. He had a boy-toy living with them. She did all the housework and cooking, the boy-toy standing by to sniff and criticize. The chicken stew had too much chicken, not enough carrots. And she’d left the skin on! Gross. And why did the place always look and stink like a dump?

At the shop, The Boss Lady didn’t like the way she cleaned roses, scrubbed buckets, sloppily mopped the floor, left debris in the deep sinks. So The Boss Lady finally, “Got sick of looking at her pasty face,” and fired her.

On delivery, Lester saw her one night further downtown, “All these guys hustling her,” on the straight side of Hotel Street. Talk was her boyfriend had demanded it because they needed the money.

Two weeks later, I was at the front counter sliding rose heads on a lei needle when the girl came in. I said, “Hi.” She looked at me with those big green eyes full of tears.

Everyone else had fled. “How are you?” I asked, stupid.

Tears spilled. “He made me come to pick up my last paycheck.” She bit her lip and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her fern green sweater.

“Hold on a minute, I’ll get it.” I went to the back, where The Boss Lady thinned her lips and handed it to me.

“Take care,” I said. She left without another word.

Later that night, Lester gave me a ride to my car in his Trans Am. He pointed out a high-rise building, its lights festive, like a party. “I own a condo there.”

“Wow.” He was twenty-two. “Did your parents buy it for you?”

“Nah. I bought it myself.” He smiled, his teeth white in the dark. “It’s all paid for, I own it outright.”

That Sunday morning, it was slow. A nice-looking, fiftyish woman came in.

“You,” Lester said. “What are you doing here?”

“I just wanted to see you.” She blinked at him.

He took her elbow and walked her out into the parking lot. The others watched, as if the picture window was a TV. I tried not to. After about twenty minutes, she left.

When I finished mopping the store after closing, I saw the girl walking past on her way downtown, her hair bright in the moonlight, her slight form as crushable as a flower trodden underfoot.

 

Angela Nishimoto holds an M.S. degree in botanical science from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. She was raised on the windward side of Oahu, teaches on the leeward side, and lives in Honolulu with her husband. She has published extensively, but not exclusively, in Hawaii. Her work is included in Hawaii Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Kaimana, Bamboo Ridge, Ms. Aligned, Writing Raw, and elsewhere.

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