Friday, March 9, 2012

St. Louis Heights

The smell was tropical. Not like sun tan lotion or mango or papaya smoothies, but decomposition. The feeling was like taphonomy - from the  Greek  taphos, meaning tomb.  It was like breathing inside the tomb of humidity. He was 4 years old, so he could not imagine something smelling like life and death simultaneously.

The house was located in the St. Louis Heights section of Honolulu - 96822.  This was before ZIP codes existed and stamps cost 3 cents. Architecturally, it was a bungalow, porch in front, over a one car garage,  on the left - a 38 degree stairway, with one turn, no backyard and a very narrow side yard. Located on extremely steep, hillside terrain; a car had actually run off  the twisty road above  and crashed into their house.  A real estate agent might point out the ocean views and beautiful sunsets.

The side yard was about 5 feet wide x  40 feet deep, with koa, hilo and rice grasses; punctuated with the abstracted lines of staghorn ferns. The earth was  dark reddish brown, a silty clay content, very granular and  hard packed. He felt the cool, damp moisture that seeped up from the ground, that made dark spots on his jeans and T-shirt.

There were no dump trucks, action figures or even plastic shovels, to create pretend battle scenarios. He lay on his stomach surveying this fecund red  planet. From this position, it was like taking a cinematographic low angle shot, he slowly panned his location. Exactly on cue, stage right and advancing crazily with a tipsy spidery gait was arachnid with a long  reddish body with pincers in front and a thin segmented upturned tail tipped with a venomous stinger. Not realizing the consequences of his actions, he reached out with his right hand to corral the scorpion.
Scorpions have three sets of eyes and as the boy reached out, it seemed to do a reverse flip, landing the stinger on the back of his dark skinned hand.

The boy shrieked in surprise and pain. He tried to raise himself off the cold hard dirt, but tumbled crazily into a small tangled pile. He looked up at the blue sky and smelled the reddish clay soil.

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