"The Trees and Their Boy" is a short story I wrote as part of a series of fiction all taking place in Hawaii, my home. This story was published in The Oakland Review, and received first prize for prose. It also took third place for fiction at the prestigious Adamson Awards, hosted by the Carnegie Mellon English Department. The story, which contains elements of magical realism, follows a young woman, Ku'uipo, as she prepares for the birth of her son. She visits a kapuna who instructs her to plant a tree which will instill in her son its properties. If she plants a tree known for its strength her son will grow up to be strong, a tree known for its height her son will be tall, etc. Ku'uipo tries to outsmart the kapuna and plants three trees instead of just one. The story reveals how Ku'uipo's decisions affect her son as he grows up. This is an excerpt from that story.

The Trees and Their Boy

By the time Ku'uipo Marquez was twenty-five she had already had three miscarriages. When she found out she was pregnant a fourth time, she was worried she would lose the baby. Her doctors worried too. They told her that she had to be put on bed rest immediately, if she wanted to keep the baby. Ku'uipo was afraid, but she also knew that she had something to do before she would be trapped in a bed for nine months.

So without telling her husband Manuel, Ku'uipo went to see the kapuna, whom she believed could help her save the child. The kapuna lived in an ordinary looking plantation house in one of the older neighborhoods in Kaneohe. The house was only four rooms: a small living room that lead off to a smaller bedroom, an even smaller kitchen, and a bathroom that would have been more suited on an airplane. Ku'uipo sat on the old brown leather couch in the living room, which was patched with duct tape so old it had begun to match the leather. As she waited for the kapuna to finish making her tea, it began to rain. The rain pinged musically on the rusty tin roof of the home, and it reminded Ku'uipo of her grandmother's house. Delighted, she turned around and knelt on the old brown couch to look out the glass jalousies behind her like a child. She could see the rain bounce off the waxy leaves of the pink and red torch ginger just outside the window. It was then that the kapuna returned from the kitchen.

The kapuna was an older women with a long tangle of white hair that flowed down to her waist. She had a permanent tan from all of the years she had spent working in the sun in her garden, and her feet and hands were gnarled like ginger roots. She wore a short thin cotton mu'umu'u and her bare feet gently swept against the homemade wooden floor as she walked. She smiled at Ku'uipo with small even white teeth, and handed her the cup of tea. Ku'uipo drank delicately, and held the cup tight, as if for warmth.

The kapuna had come from a family of kapunas, back when mana was still done openly in the days of old Hawai'i. Back then people knew which neighborhoods to stay away from at night, and when to shut their blinds and turn their attention to other things. Back then people spoke in hurried whispers about wars between kapuna families, of gifts of chicken bones and bloodied feathers that spoke when you held it, of fireballs that seemed to follow people at night as if to spy, before falling with a loud explosion into the welcoming sea. Back then, who did not believe in the ancient power, when all you had to do was open your window on the right night and see the evidence for yourself? But that was in the old days. Now the kapuna spent most of her time tending her orchids outside, cooking for her grandchildren, and blessing homes to cast out unwanted spirits.

Still, it was not unusual to ease the fears of young women, or to help with the bearing of children. The kapuna liked Ku'uipo, who reminded her of her own daughter. She wanted to help.

"If you want to keep this child," the kapuna said, "you must plant a tree in your yard as soon as you can. The tree will grow with the child and watch over him and keep him safe. They will be closer than brothers; they will share the same thoughts, the same pain, the same spirit. You understand, yes? The tree will perform this function regardless of what kind you choose, but choose wisely, because your son will inherit the qualities of the tree, as the tree will inherit the qualities of your son."

Ku'uipo sipped her tea thoughtfully, and the kapuna thought that this meant that she had heard and understood. Ku'uipo looked down at her belly, still flat, and thought incredulously, "A son!"

Ku'uipo left the kapuna's tin-roofed house with a new smile. It was broad and showed her top and bottom teeth and stretched her cheeks until they hurt. Her baby would live and she and Manuel would finally have a son! At the thought of Manuel Ku'uipo's smile fell a little. Manuel, who was still at work at King Intermediate where he was an 8th grade science teacher, did not believe in mana. He would not understand why Ku'uipo felt the need to talk to the kapuna when he was spending a fortune to get the best doctors at Kapiolani to speak with her. He would think she was foolish, and he would be worried that she would believe the kapuna's words wholeheartedly, when she should be no more than cautiously optimistic. Manuel was a good earthly man, but that was the kind of man he was. The miscarriages had changed him, and now his smile always came with an ounce of pain around the eyes. No, Ku'uipo thought, Manuel would not understand. She would tell him later, after their son was born and safe, and they would laugh about it together. Later, when Manuel's smile no longer held that ounce of pain.

Ku'uipo drove to the tree nursery on her way back home, to pick out the qualities of her son.

The man working at the nursery was very helpful, and explained to her all the different qualities of the trees to her. There was the mango tree, which provided sweet and delicious fruit. It would grow tall and strong, with thick branches for climbing and deep roots and plenty of shade. But it was a "rubbish tree" the man warned, and you would have to rake up the leaves regularly. There was the lehua ohia tree. It was short with dark gnarled branches but beautiful red feathery blossoms. It was a hardy tree, a pioneer, the first to grow on rocky volcanic ground. Bamboo was a good choice, if you wanted a fast growing tree. It was strong too, in its own way. It was so flexible it would never snap in the wind.

Ku'uipo couldn't decide so she bought all three. She took them home, and planted them in a circle in the furthermost corner of her backyard. The trees were really no more than sticks at this point, the size of golf clubs. But still Ku'uipo struggled. Though she came from generations of proud warriors, courageous explorers, and hard-working plantation workers, Ku'uipo was afraid—afraid of looking foolish, afraid for her unborn son, but most of all afraid of failure. Still, she put her faith in these trees that were now no more than sticks, that they would be the answers to her prayers. Ku'uipo threw her full weight on the blade of the shovel, making large holes in the backyard. A mynah bird watched with a sharp eye from the chain link fence, and complained loudly and indignantly at her workmanship. She ignored him, and wiped the sweat from her hands on her blouse. She placed each tree delicately in the wide holes, watching the roots fall into place. Then she patted the dirt in the hole by hand, covering the roots with nutrients and holding them in place with hope.

She looked at the three young trees she had planted to save her son. They stood out among the hibiscus bushes and crab grass. When Manuel got home he looked out the back window and saw the three small silhouettes, like three women huddled and conspiring secrets in the furthermost corner of his yard. He did not understand, but he did not ask any questions either. Something in his wife's face begged him not to.

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