Talking Story

jetts

My cousins, sister, and  I were supposed to be doing the dishes, so of course we were fighting.

“Bruce! Don’t dump silverware in the rubbish can!” I shrieked.

“What? What did I do?” Eyes wide and fake innocent.

“You threw away the fork when you scraped the plate,” my sister Heidi said. “I saw.”

“Not!” Bruce snapped.

“Yes!” Heidi said, tipping the rubbish can forward. “You can just see the edge of it right there!”

“Where?” Bruce said.

“Right there! Under the napkin!” Heidi said.

“Busted!” Carly chortled, putting leftovers in the fridge.

“Get it out,” I said.

“No way,” Bruce whined; “It’s ugi! I’m not putting my hand in there!”

I turned from the sink where I was washing the chopping knife. “Do it!”

“Make me,” he said.

I waved the knife at him. “Eyes or alas, your choice!”

“You gonna get it now, Bruce,” Taylor said, dumping a stack of plates on the counter.

“Better choose alas, Bruce,” said Glen with a sly eye. “It’s not like you going need them.”

“Ooooooooh!” everybody inhaled.

“Good one, Glen!” said Taylor the troublemaker.

“I mean it, Bruce!” I snarled and waved the knife some more.

“That’s not how you hold a knife, Lehua.” Uncle Dave stood in the doorway, amused.

We all jumped back. Although if we were going to get caught fighting, we’d rather it was by Uncle Dave than anyone else. Anyone else usually involved more chores and sometimes lickings. With Uncle Dave the odds were better he’d just say knock it off. On a really good day, he’d just laugh and take us to the beach to cool off.

“What?” I asked, soap suds dripping off my wrist and running down my elbow.

“Nobody’s going to be afraid if you wave a knife like that at them.” We all looked at the knife in my hand, nonplussed. “Give it,” he said. “When you’re in a knife fight, you gotta hold the blade like this.” He whipped it around, sharp edge up. “Stand like this. Put your weight like this. See?”

We nodded.

It didn’t matter that Uncle Dave was almost as wide as he was tall. We watched him weave the knife through the air, shifting and swaying like a palm tree in the breeze. I kept thinking about West Side Story. I didn’t think the Jetts knew what Uncle Dave knew.

“That’s how you hold a knife,” he said and handed it back.

“Thanks, Uncle,” I said. “Now everybody back to work!” Being bossy comes naturally when you’re the oldest cousin and expected to keep everyone else in line. “Bruce, get the fork out of the rubbish can.”

“No,” he pouted.

I waved the knife at him the way Uncle Dave taught me. “Do it!”

“Okay, okay,” Bruce grumbled, “no need get huffy about it.”

“Not bad, Lehua,” Uncle Dave laughed, “not bad.”

More than 30 years later when I was writing the first draft of One Shark, No Swim it suddenly occurred to me that Zader was fascinated with knives—that’s one of the reasons he carves. When I wrote that lua training scene it was really Uncle Dave I saw in my mind dancing and fighting off imaginary dragons with a kitchen knife. A hui hou, Uncle Dave. Rest in peace.

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When you’re allergic to water,
growing up in Hawaii
isn’t always paradise.

With Niuhi sharks,
even out of the water,
you’re not safe.

Everything you thought you knew
about Zader is a  lie.