The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 8, No. 3

House of Thieves

by Kaui Hart Hemmings

House of Thieves

We are floating on our surfboards in a loose circle beyond the break so we can talk about the emergency: Wendy’s brother is back. “What does he want?” Nicole asks. She’s holding the nose of Wendy’s board to keep from drifting away.
          “I don’t know,” Wendy says. “Maybe he wants to come home.”
          Belle is tucking her breasts back into her bathing suit top. They are getting really sloppy. I look down at my chest. I have nothing to fix and arrange. I’m twelve.
           “Did he look good?” Belle says.
           “I guess,” Wendy says. “I didn’t see him up close.”
           Wendy is sad, though I could be wrong. I’m a writer and a diarist and also an actress at the Diamond Head Theatre so sometimes I see things that aren’t really there. We are moving farther away from shore, past the rocky fingers of reef. The water here is a blackish blue. I’m thinking about Wendy’s brother, but also about sharks. Echo Point is known for having them. We’re all gripping our surfboards between our thighs. The sun stings our backs; eight legs dangle in the water. To any sharks below us, we must look like sea turtles. When I tell this to the others, they lie on their stomachs. Sometimes my prose is very effective.
           “He was swimming at our beach,” Wendy says. “He must have used the access by the lighthouse.”
           “Whack-job,” Nicole says.
           Wendy shrugs her burning shoulders. “It’s his beach, too, I guess.”
           “Why don’t we like him?” Belle asks.
           “I like him,” Wendy says. “He just makes me angry sometimes.”
           “I like him,” I say, even though I feel guilty about it. I know that her brother has done more than steal a car. Belle and Nicole think Perry’s just a runaway thief who has abandoned Wendy and scarred her emotionally. My dad scarred my mother emotionally. He has a license plate that says SUE EM. My mom divorced him then sued him, but now they’re back together again. They dance on our balcony to “Shake Your Groove Thing,” their second wedding song.
           “He’s a thief, that’s why we don’t like him,” Nicole says. “He’s come to take our money, I bet, but we’ll kick his ass. We’ll egg him.”
           I imagine how we’ll do it, like the Sharks and the Jets. I choreograph fight sequences: Pas de bourrée, kick kick, neck hold. Pirouette, layout, punch punch, jazz hands. If we get caught for fighting or vandalism I will simply say that we’re just kids growing up on an island, doing bad things in pretty places. I test this line on my friends because it sounds stylish and dramatic and just right.
           “Niner,” Nicole says, which is this week’s term for loser.
           Sometimes my verse doesn’t work so well, but Nicole’s a skank and I take this into consideration. She’s always reaching behind her legs to pull the flesh of her inner thighs apart and saying, “If I looked like this I’d be perfect.” Tomorrow, at Secrets, or Old Man’s, or No Place, I will drop in on all her waves. I’ll do a cutback. I’ll pump my board and ride out a wave to shore like a boy. This is how I win arguments with Nicole, my third-best friend.
           We paddle in closer to shore. There are no waves. We’re lifted and dropped by swells that don’t break or take us anywhere. “Let’s go,” Belle says. “This sucks.”
           “You go,” Nicole says. “You suck.”
           Belle and Nicole are sisters. They don’t like each other much, in a sisterly way. On dry land they wear their dad’s scrubs––just the pants part. They pair them with bandeau bikini tops and claim that the other has copied.
           “Race you,” Nicole says. She splashes water on all of us and it’s freezing since we’ve been cooking in the sun. Then she paddles in so fast her arms blur like insect wings. Nicole gets babysat by this white pill her parents force her to take, and it makes her either freak out, or focus intensely on inanimate objects, or it makes her get angry and cranky and two-year-old–like. I’ve caught her sucking her thumb.
           Wendy doesn’t want to go, I can tell. Seeing her brother again has upset her. It’s truly a disaster. He’s really sweet and really real and handsome, but he moved out of the house five years ago when he was sixteen because he accidentally touched her inappropriately or something. I know this because I accidentally caught a glimpse of the December 12 entry in her old diary. The glimpse said something about them playing Escape from Sing Sing. She was eight years old. He’d give her five seconds to escape from his room before he tackled and pummeled her. One time he tackled her and they starting kissing and their mom found them kissing and touching inappropriately. She called a professional who was like a referee but with a pen and weird glasses. The family hugged and cried. Wendy is a good writer. Due to the suspense she created I couldn’t help but read more. The entries stopped on February 18 with this very emotional paragraph: “When he said he was sorry I thought he meant for the charley horse, but maybe it’s cause of the before part. Now he’s going to the North Shore. He stole Dad’s car, but Dad’s not telling. I’m worried for Perry.”
           Because he banished himself, I find myself truly believing that Perry’s a good person, noble even, like the Christ figures in the plays I’ve been in. I got to play a Christ figure once. I played Annie in Annie. In addition to being noble, Perry is a very good long-term connection for us because we’re planning to live in Haleiwa one day on the North Shore. It’s where all the real surfers live—Mark Occhilupo, a.k.a Occy, a.k.a the best surfer ever, Shaun Tomson, Curren, Hans, the Ho brothers, and the lost-at-sea legend, Eddie Aikau. I know their stats and bios, their likes and dislikes, their favorite bands, their sponsors, if they have a cat or a dog or a wife. Perry is just like these guys. He used to be the best of the amateurs. We watch his old contest videos, which proves Wendy has forgiven him for whatever happened. When he surfs he looks like he’s doing something illegal. I bet one day he’ll have his own line of shoes.
           Wendy stays by my side as we paddle in, though she can go much faster. She’s the strongest girl I know. I feel so lucky that we like to surf even when no one’s looking. I feel lucky that we aren’t girls who sunbathe, although I know that Belle and Wendy have given blow jobs. Nicole told me what a blow job was and I can’t see why a guy gets pleasure from someone blowing on his dick. My friends are in seventh and eighth grade and they have knowledge I don’t have yet. I can’t wait till November when I’ll be a teenager. I can date guys like Perry and it won’t be considered harmful to my childhood. Except now he’s twenty-one—I think that’s still in the danger zone. I want to be older. I hate my grade. Kids my age listen to Tiffany and Debbie Gibson and know nothing about Oingo Boingo or life.

When we aren’t surfing or hitchhiking or sliding down Maunawili moss slides into pits of mud so we look like the boys in that movie, Lord of the Flies, we hold car washes to raise money for summer concerts and for Budweiser. If any customer asks, the money is for children with some sort of disease. We have the wash at Wendy’s because she has a circular driveway right off the avenue. Her house looks like something exotic and Greek and breakable. It slopes towards the ocean. It flickers at night. It has an alarm that sounds like the sirens in last month’s production, The Sound of Music. I played one of the von Trapp children. All the other child actors were Hawaiian and Filipino. I had artistic problems with that, but our director said, “You try finding actors in Hawaii who aren’t Hawaiian or Filipino.” On stage, next to my brothers and sisters, I looked like dandruff.
           No one’s coming to our car wash. Nicole stands on the side of the street trying to lure them in. She’s wearing boxers, a men’s V-neck Hanes with holes in both of the armpits. She takes off her shirt, showing off her black bathing suit with buttons down the sides. She rolls the waist of her boxers down—it’s how we all wear our boxers and trunks.
           “What if Perry comes to the wash?” Nicole asks.
           “Someone will come,” Belle says, “if you keep standing there looking like a Waikiki hooker. You’re going to get us all raped.”
           “You do look like an asshole,” Wendy says.
           Nicole smiles; she takes to teasing well. She believes it’s something the less fortunate do for survival. Her goal is to be a surfer-slash-model, which totally hurts our cause.
           I remember the customer who asked us if we gave body washes. He was old, maybe thirty. It was weird because all of us got really shy. We’re usually loud and wise, but when he asked us if we would wash his body, we just giggled and said no. We never giggle. Nicole still hasn’t learned that we can’t act how we’re used to acting because those actions make perverts horny and that’s why we wear baggy clothes.
           I’m sitting on the low rock wall, letting the water from the hose run over my legs. Wendy is helping a worm right itself. I like her so much during the day. At night, I miss her. I realize she has older girl things to attend to, like drinking without making a scene and blowing on dicks, but I’m always left with evil Nicole. Sometimes Nicole and I drink and play Jem and the Holograms, but whenever I talk about it the next day, she just stares at me in a disgusted way.
           “Nicole, ’member my killer solo last night?” I ask her this for everyone to hear.
           “I remember that you suck,” she says. Her voice echoes off the cliffs so I hear “you suck” three times.
           “Do you really want Perry to come home?” I ask Wendy. I want to tell her that I know her secret and she shouldn’t be ashamed. It was like playing dress-up or physical therapist. We’ve all done it. We’ve French-kissed our stuffed animals and even each other sometimes. It’s pretend. It’s practice.
           “Of course I want him home,” she says. “We’re best friends.”
           This hurts my feelings. “If you’re best friends then why doesn’t he ever come to see you? Why’d he abandon you?”
           “He hates our parents. It has nothing to do with me.”
           Nicole comes in from the street, takes the hose from me, and holds it above her head, lets the water run down her brown, burnt hair and small body. There are bumps on her skin from the cold. She puts her mouth to the stream of water and drinks. I wish I looked like her. She reaches around and grabs the insides of her thighs and looks down at the triangle of space between them. “If I looked like this, I’d rule,” she says, then turns to me. “So, Kora, what are you going to do?”
           Steel Pulse is playing at the Shell tonight and everyone’s on my case for not chipping in. Wendy’s having the car wash at her house and her neighbor is buying the beer; Belle and Nicole stole their mother’s canned goods and returned them to the grocery store for cash.
           “Better ask your parents to give us a ride,” Belle says. “Kora Kora.”
           No way. Around my parents, I belt out show tunes and perform plays that I’ve written or updated or regionalized. If they knew that I drank beer, even though I fake my drunkenness most of the time, they’d think I’d been putting on an act, impersonating an innocent girl.
           I try to get us off the topic, and then on the avenue I see a car slowing down, blinker blinking. The plants surrounding the driveway are quivering wildly, warning me. It’s called foreshadowing, when things quiver, like my “Maybe” solo in Annie, my lonesome trembling voice foreshadowing that maybe my parents would pick me up, but maybe not. I should have known he’d come.

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