“Cities are not all identical, you have to find the one that fits” — A New Short Story from Ioanna…
FICTION: The Winner by Ioanna Mavrou
Uncle Carl calls and I don’t know what to say about why I haven’t been to see him in almost a month even though I’m not busy. He’s got all the time in the world to notice as he sits in the hospital garden with the arts and crafts crowd all day, waiting for his head to heal. I tell him I’ll go by and see him soon, I lie that I’ve been working like crazy.
He says, food here sucks, bring me some chicken katsu from Zippy’s.
Everyone else is in the 21st century with their twitters and their blogs and I deliver newspapers for a living. I have to be at the printers in Kapolei every morning at five-thirty, so I set my alarm to the Pixies’ “Bone Machine,” the only song that gets me up without making me grumpy.
Honolulu is the kind of city that when you feel down you also feel like an asshole. As if you owe it to the city to be happy. Like, what the fuck is wrong with you if you can’t be content among fucking palm trees and sunsets and beaches? Do you know that you can’t take a bad picture in Hawaii? I dare you to take any crappy old camera, point at anything and see where that gets you. Paradise will seep in like a tropical version of sepia and color everything. So don’t even try it.
I have been ticked off for months, even before Uncle Carl fought with his girlfriend — who is definitely not my auntie — and then had a stroke at my cousin’s potluck. I couldn’t even tell you the source of my discontent. I have been miserable at Ala Moana, I have been moaning at Sandy’s, I even made my friends abandon me at Haleiwa last week and had to catch the bus all the way back to town depressing the hell out of anyone stupid enough to talk to me.
Don’t get me wrong. Honolulu is a great city if you know where to go, full of adventure and backroom poker games. I once got high at a party in Kaneohe with an assistant DA but that’s all I’m saying on the matter. I hate the people who bitch and moan that Honolulu is boring as hell and that it’s not a real city and then they go spend every single vacation in Vegas. You talk to them about London, or Paris, or New York and they look at you with their mouths hanging open. I told this guy once about a Monet at the Honolulu Academy of Arts and he looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues. I don’t have any patience for people, which is why I prefer to throw newspapers on lanais at the crack of dawn rather than work in an office.
My mom complains about how I can do more.
We sent you to school on the mainland, she says, we’re still paying your student loans, why don’t you do something?
I tell her, the economy is bad, there are no jobs, nobody is hiring right now. I make enough to get by.
But she doesn’t listen.
Why you came back for, she says. You should have stayed in New York. You better than this.
I get up at five and turn the coffee maker on and eat an old manapua from the fridge and enjoy the quiet. I loved the action in New York, but I like how in five minutes when I walk outside in my slippers and shorts there will only be a few sleepy souls in the streets and I’ll drive with my windows down and the air on my face that smells of flowers. Cities are not all identical, you have to find the one that fits. You can’t just look at skyscrapers and think it’s all the same.
When I get in the car the first song that comes on is The Ramones’ cover of “I Don’t Want to Grow Up,” and there’s a contest open for callers to name the original artist. I make a pact with myself as I dial the number that if I get through and win it’ll be a sign.
It’s Tom Waits, I tell the radio guy who answers the phone. I win the contest, a CD or something else I don’t need, and I abandon my paper route midway and hop on the highway.
Zippy’s is still closed, I tell Uncle Carl who is already up and sitting with a cup of coffee in his room. But I got you the paper.
Who is this guy? my uncle says, and points at a picture of the President.
Hey, which is your favorite Tom Waits song? I ask to change the subject.
I don’t know, “Big in Japan.” Uncle Carl shrugs. “Swordfishtrombone”? There are so many. How’s school, he says, when did you get back? Are you pau already?
The last few years are all jumbled up in his mind.
Seriously, who is this guy? He’s staring at the front page again.
It’s the President, I tell him. He’s local. And now he is running the country.
Quit kidding. Uncle Carl laughs. There’s no way.
And that’s part of what’s been bothering me all along. If he can be a winner, so can any of us. But you can’t win if you stay. You can’t rule the world from a crappy apartment in Makiki. And your mom won’t leave you alone because “You too went Punahou for school.” So your life has to be more than this.
Will you stay for Tai Chi? Uncle Carl says. And then you can tell me more jokes, just like old times.
He gets up and puts the newspaper under the pitcher of water on the bedside table. A ring forms, creating ink waves.
Then we walk outside and it’s another perfect Honolulu morning.
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Ioanna Mavrou grew up in Nicosia, Cyprus, and Honolulu, where she went to college. Her short stories have appeared in The Rumpus, The Letters Page, The Drum, and elsewhere. She runs a tiny publishing house called Book Ex Machina and is the editor of Matchbook Stories, a literary magazine in matchbook form.