Pele’s Hair


I’m tired and its done with.

My car, parked on the Santa Cruz pier, is filled with my brother’s stuff. It’s night and I’ve done my best to decompress, eating a fish taco, drinking a beer, and staring out at the double masted boats floating in the placid harbor. The sun has set, it’s dark out, and its time to drive back to San Francisco on Route 17, the torturous curvy highway heading over the hills into Los Gatos and the valley.

I know what that road is about and I’m suddenly conscious of the load we are carrying – my brother’s life, his psychic distress, and the handful of volcanic rocks that 10 years ago he pilfered from Hawaii. Ever since then his luck has not been so good and at different times he faults the rocks. We all grew up with the Brady Bunch and goddamn do we ever know the power of that pumice: after taking some while on their family vacation, Greg Brady almost died in a surfing accident. The power of these things are not to be messed with. And god knows, my brother has had his share of surfing accidents: broken cars, broken relationships, lost jobs, all manner of misfortune. And at each bad turn in the road he’s vowed that he has to retrieve those rocks and return them to Hawaii.

Which is fine. I support him in that endeavor except that I now find myself in the curious position of being the ring-bearer. I am in possession of these things – their totemic power real or imagined, it does not matter. I am the one now responsible for carrying them a few steps toward Mordor. I have to carry them over the mountains, into the valley and back to San Francisco, at night, in uncertain traffic. What have I stepped into? This is not at all something I wish to be part of. And then suddenly I sense that I need to make an offering. I need to make a sacrifice. As we leave our restaurant table, I cast about looking for something, anything. I take a piece of jicama from my plate and some tortilla chips which I crush up and wrap in a napkin. But as we walk down the pier I realize that a sacrifice can’t be a paltry leftover, it means giving of something important, something that matters. But what do I have to give? I ask my friend Eva for something sharp, a penknife or safety pin. She wants to know why. Just to prick my finger, I tell her. Her face immediately registers concern, even fear. Are you crazy? she asks. I explain about the rocks, but she shakes her head in frustration – they’re rocks, she says. This is stupid, we just drive home.

I insist and walk away over to a fisherman who in the darkness is longpoling off the pier. I ask if he has a spare fishhook. He too looks at me as if I’m crazy, which at this point I guess I am. What for? he asks. Eva takes my arm and leads me away. Communism has done its work on her – prayer is a fiction. She is dyed and true a spiritual materialist who refuses to believe in superstition. But she has no idea from where I come. We stop by the car and I walk away to the railing and I lean out over the black and inky water. I think of that water, that immense body from which we all emerged. I think of it extending almost boundlessly to the west out into a deep and impenetrable darkness. I think of those specks of land in its midst, a place in which the core of the earth itself is heaving up, molten and hot and breaking forth into the air and universe. I think of Pele, of her anger and spiteful temper. I think of her boundless hurt, of her wanting to be heard. I tell her that I want to reconstitute her, but I am only a servant in this. I can only play a small part. But I can do my best. I will do what I can to return what is hers, to make her once again whole. I have her interests at heart. Trust me. Protect us and carry me home. I unfold the napkin. The contents fall and drift silently through the air and I feed the water.

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