School for Hawaiian Girls
By Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen
Published by 1st Books 
March 2002; 0-759-62733-9; 276 pages

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School for Hawaiin Girls by  Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen Sheriff Pua began visiting every day, reporting about the investigation. They had found a bloody shirt and arrested a mill worker. The next day he told us that they had arrested the wrong person. "But don’t worry, Julia," he told Mama. "We’re gonna find the one who took Lydia from you."

I sat with him and Mama at the kitchen table. When he said Lydie’s name, I remembered the slash across her neck.

"He’s gonna hang for what he did to Lydia," Sheriff Pua said.

This time, I saw Lydie’s eyes staring at the hidden moon. The third time he said her name, I remembered the sound the flies made hovering over her body while we waited for the coroner’s jury.

The next day Sheriff Pua reported that the rumors of a confession by the suspect were just that. "Don’t pay attention to rumors. You should only believe official reports from my office about Lydia’s case."

This time when he spoke Lydie’s name, a strange thing happened. The spoon beside his tea cup seemed to melt into the tablecloth. His tea cup seemed to dissolve in his mouth when he took a sip.

Sheriff Pua stood up from the table. "If it’s the last thing I do, Julia, I’m gonna avenge Lydia’s death."

 

And now the kitchen began melting. The cupboards, sink and table spilled their forms over the floor. Then Sheriff Pua himself began fading into the thick gray mix.

I looked at Mama. Her eyes were darting from Sheriff Pua, to the table, to the floor. She saw the same things I saw. Our world was melting away.

The next day Sheriff Pua knocked on the front door, but I stayed in the bedroom, and Mama wouldn’t answer the door either. By that evening, I could make out red and green again. By the end of the week the knife’s edge was clear and sharp against the table cloth. The white pillow cases fluttered against the blue sky.

I knew we should’ve followed the investigation and Sheriff Pua’s reports. I should’ve been praying for Lydie’s soul. All girls should be remembered. So I told myself that just for that day I would not say Lydie’s name. But the next day, I told myself the same thing. And again the next day. I knew Mama told herself the same thing, because she didn’t say Lydie’s name either. None of us did.

A month later the plantation burned the sugarcane field. I watched the cane blaze, wither and evaporate. I watched the cranes rattle into the fields, then scoop up the remaining cane stalks. They hauled them down to Kohala Mill in trucks, leaving the field empty and clean.

At first, it felt like a new start. But the promise of fire and the new planting season fell apart at the end of the year. I walked into Olson’s Store and saw sacks of sugar stacked in a pyramid, the bags printed with the Kohala Mill label. I knew I was looking at sugar from the cane field fed by Lydie’s blood. The next day in the school dining hall, I watched girls spoon Lydie into their tea. In the school kitchen, I folded my sister into the cake batter.

There. That was the story my granddaughter Moani wanted to hear. A story about murder and death. And it seemed to keep getting worse. After Lydie died, there was only Sam and I. When we die there’ll only be Moani and Puanani, and how can Puanani count - becoming retarded and all of that? That left Moani, already 37, no man in sight. No hope of children or grandchildren. It was her own fault, working all the time and acting like she knew everything. Who wants to marry a girl like that?

When Moani dies, we’re finished. It’s the end of our line. The end of our race. All those babies Mama labored to deliver amounted to nothing. Two generations later, we’re about to dissolve into the Pacific Ocean. Forget everything you’ve heard about happy-go-lucky Hawaiians living in an island paradise. It’s an island, and we’re Hawaiian. But that’s about it.

Copyright 2002 Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen
Reprinted with permission. (back to top)

Synopsis

In 1922, 16-year-old Lydia Kaluhi was brutally murdered in a sugarcane field on the island of Hawai’i. She attended a girls’ school run by missionaries, who would eventually collude to hide the identity of the murderer. One of the last persons to see Lydia alive was her brother Sam, who ignored signs that she was in danger that afternoon.

With a search party, late that night Lydia’s family discovered her mutilated body. In the following days, news of the sheriff’s investigation only served to magnify the family’s grief. Relief came when they stopped following the investigation, and stopped speaking of the murder, and of Lydia. But their momentary comfort carried a long-lasting and unintended cost, as Lydia herself began fading from her family’s memory.

Two generations after the murder, Lydia’s great-niece Moani planned to buy the now abandoned girls’ school and turn it into a hotel. Moani’s investigation about the property led her to questions about Lydia and the murder. When Lydia’s surviving brother Sam, now the family patriarch, learned of Moani’s investigation, he ordered her to stop. But the strong-willed Moani continued, and discovered that before Lydia died she bore an illegitimate child. Unable to come to terms with his own past, when Sam found out that Moani had defied him and was now searching for Lydia’s descendants, he set out to destroy her.

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Author

Georgia Ka'apuni McMillen was born in 1957 and  is a Honolulu native who graduated from the Kamehameha Schools and University of Hawaii. She lived in New York City for many years, where she graduated from New York Law School and practiced law. Her short stories have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Journal of Hawai’i Literature and the Arts. She lives with her family on the island of Maui where she practices law and is writing a second novel.

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