This excerpt comes from the first third of the book, early in James and Libby’s travels in Kauai, and just after the birth of their first child.
James and Libby in Kauai
As the baby suckled, Libby gazed upward into the dark. Flakes of light shone through the high thatch. Libby began to nod in the droning warmth. She had no idea that she’d been sleeping until she opened her eyes and found Jim beside her, staring up into the peaked roof. “Who was that woman in the little hut,” she whispered. “The one with the crippled legs?”
“Oliver’s wife,” he said. “I knew her before, when she wasn’t crippled.” He turned to look at her, his eyes gleaming from tiny sparkles of light coming from the thatch. “We used to fish with others, using big, circular nets.” He touched her cheek. “You won’t believe this, Libby, but the people could train the bigger sharks to let people ride them.”
Instantly Libby was alert. “I know it sounds dangerous,” he continued, “but if young men fed the sharks first, the sharks would let the men mount them. The sharks and their riders chased little fish into our big nets.” Jim’s voice was clear, yet far away, as if his memory hovered a long way off.
Libby studied his profile with its small nose, high forehead and scrub of beard. He was staring into the tall roof, as if he’d forgotten she was there. “One day,” he said finally, “Oliver and other villagers were fishing. They invited me to help lift and spread their circular net, and pull it through the water.” He paused as Libby studied his profile with its soft beard.
He was staring into the thatch with its pattern of palm fronds. “While we fished, we moved in a circle and chanted and shook the net. We were singing, ‘Come into our net, oh big fish, little fish, come into our net.’ Oliver’s wife was with us, walking and chanting.”
Ideas like little fish flickered through Libby’s thoughts. “Throw your baby into the water, and it will become our shark brother,” the native bearer had joked. Sharks and fishes, and the warmth of Jim’s body beside her—she closed her eyes as he was saying, “The shark riders came very close to us and suddenly a huge shark lunged. There was screaming and frenzied splashing.” Libby opened her eyes in horror.
“Somehow they made the shark let go, and carried her out, her legs dangling, covered with blood. She would have bled to death, except an old man poured some powder over the wounds to stop the bleeding. He bound the legs with tapa cloth.” Jim’s eyes were focused on the past. “After that, her legs were crumpled. She could not move them, and she had lost the power of speech.” Jim rested his hand on Libby’s thigh. His eyes, above soft mouth and bristle of beard, caught gleams of light. When he sensed she was watching him, his features sharpened, and his gaze slid away.
“You knew her before,” Libby stated softly, adjusting the baby between them.
Jim drew his hand across his mouth and nodded. “Yes. She was young and guileless. There was a bond between us.” He gave a soft laugh. “We were both under the protection of stronger, more knowing people.” There were strange depths to his eyes.
“Deborah and Oliver?” Libby breathed.
“Yes. She and I stood under their outstretched arms like little shoots protected from the sun.” There was a wistful look on his face.
Libby took his hand and touched his knuckles to her lips. “Her wounds must have struck you very hard,” she said.
He nodded and sat up. “In a week, we all will attend her brother and cousin’s graduation at Makana Mountain. They are now hula masters.”
“She will go?” Libby could not imagine the crumpled body sustaining a journey on horseback.
“She will ride in a traveling hut, with walkers on each side of the horse to balance it.” Jim was sitting on the edge of the bed. Now he turned and smiled. “You will like her traveling hut, like a doll’s house made of palm, with one room for her.” It was as if he gently put aside the things of the past and assumed the attitude of a kind but older brother. Libby felt an unexpected sadness, as if she’d glimpsed a part of him that she could never have guessed before, a part that was innocent and full of sudden exhilaration and sharp pain. A part that might not come again.