There is a postcard my grandfather sent. “Lovely Hawaiian Hula Maiden” the description says, in bold print, on the back and below, a little smaller, “sways to an island melody.” The postcard is dated July 25, 1967, when you had just turned fifteen and is addressed to you, his namesake. On the front, the Hawaiian hula maiden beams eternally at me. She has been waving her right hand in time to some island melody, elusive to me, for fifty years. All that time elusive to me, too. She wears a grass green skirt that looks to be made of banana leaves, a red floral-patterned sleeveless top and yellow flowers in her jet-black hair. She smiles so hard her eyes have narrowed to dark chinks through which I can still glimpse the sparkle of her almond eyes. And those lips, those ruby lips. And teeth like polished ivory. Her feet are buried deep in golden sand and the sky above her head is pure azure. She looks as happy as a sun-kissed heap of clean white ruffled sheets could make you feel at midday.
It is the kind of image, it then occurs to me, you might have sent to your own teenage son for some male bonding over that which is easily agreed on, while there is so much else that isn’t and is messy and keeps strutting stumbling stuttering in the no-mans land between you and him.
Even though addressed to you, the postcard opens with a threefold greeting:
Dear A., H. and P.,
I made it back here safely. There was just too little time. Thank you for the happy hours in your company.
Best wishes and Aloha,
A strange choice of an image to send your former wife, her second husband and your teenage son.
And all of a sudden, I think of George Clooney and this film he shot on some Hawaiian island. I remember him overpowered, breath- and shoeless, hobbling down sunlit lanes, trying to reconcile his daughters to the thought that people are in equal measures full of milk and piss. When I was seventeen, you stroked my arm, then suggested hair removal. The Descendants, I believe the film was called.
She was colour-photographed by R. Wenkam, I am informed to my surprise. Her easy poise, her mellow contours, the softness of her skin. The way you hear the soft swish of those banana leaves and feel your own toes warm and worming through the sand. The bright delight of those technicolor shades, akin to the good-life-promise of fabric softener. Retouched, I believe, is what they call it.
She looks so happy in this dream-like vision of herself that I wonder what you felt when you first saw her. Did you glue your gaze to her the way I did, and did she bedazzle you like she did me? On that beach with her, just now, I was. And were you happy then? But this is, for once, an easy one. You never were when I knew the adult you, and teenagers by definition don’t tend to either. There is too much of the world that will not feed the hellhound of the heart.