By Amira Shea

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Sweet winds come to me much as before. They bear salt for my lips, caress the nape of my neck. Icterine sun splashes malachite leaves rises to entwine falling drops, each into the other until the union bears a rainbow. Black lava and red clay bind and balance me much as before. Much, but not everything, is as it was. Now there is piss on the breeze. Ray-cut shadows harbor rot and rain wrenches rust forth without consent. The land is more coral than sand, and I, too, am not as I was before. My heart beats less, weighs more.


We stood in cool darkness outside the community center. Patches of wispy clouds drifted past a waxing moon, fading to backlit grey against dull stars. The meticulous landscaping included strategically placed plumeria trees, and their heady perfume, the signature scent of these islands, enveloped and overpowered the smoke from our cigarettes. Night-blooming jasmine growing in one of the fenced yards coyly joined the bouquet, slipstreaming intermittently. We extinguished our smokes in silence and headed slowly back to the waning graduation festivities. It had been a pleasant evening spent among the family and friends of our daughter’s boyfriend, and we were in no particular hurry. From a few steps behind, my husband asked without preface, “Do you think you’ll ever leave Hawaii?”

            Tightening the grip on my purse strap, I stopped and inhaled deeply. Wispy flora wound down my throat, looping my lungs, down to coil in the pit of my gut. “Ropes now,” they whispered, “No, never. You could never…”  I took hold of the slippery vines overrunning my psyche and tugged, hand over hand. I unwound them from my lungs, and pushed them back they way they came. Exhaling into the night, I turned to face him. “Yes, actually. I’ve been thinking about it recently. How about you?” My voice was low, hesitant.

            “Yeah, me too,” he answered. “I don’t see how we can continue to live here.” He bridged the feet between us, and we fell in step, walking silently and slower than before.

            Inside the banquet hall, the blue and white colors of Kamehameha Schools draped tables, chairs, streamers and balloons. 250 people, Kupuna to Keiki, Cousins, Aunties and Uncles laughed along with the comedian and gasped at the hypnotist. Balloon animals squeaked and bulged in one corner, a photo-booth with cheery props was put to constant use. On the back lanai, guests piled plates from a generous buffet of local foods, the graduate’s favorites: Teri Chicken, Sushi Rolls, Lomi Salmon, Ahi Poke, Beef Stew. Lei strung from money, ribbons, yarn, and flowers hung from his neck and the necks of his mother and father. They were good people. The young man treated our daughter well, and his parents welcomed her as one of their own. I’m so glad they are together, I thought first, then immediately, I’ll miss them.  This last part a strange pebble tumbling through my mind. Once unimaginable to me, the idea of leaving Hawaii was now viable, tangible, loosed from the silt of solitary musings and wonderings and presenting itself to the real world. It could no longer be ignored.

            Back at home, we settled into the remainder of that Saturday night: pajamas and movies for our youngest kids; phones and games for the older ones; my husband and me out on the back porch, smoking and throwing darts. Instead of the usual trash talk between turns, we spoke about leaving.

            His reasons were mainly financial, and the numbers didn’t lie. A family of four earning less than $93,000 per year was defined as being low-income, according to then-current (2018) U.S. Housing and Urban Development guidelines. We, however, are raising six children, and supporting a brother-in-law who suffers from a chronic failure to launch – this – in a market where home prices quadrupled in 20 years and milk sells for $10 per gallon. Hard work, sacrifice, and having extended family on the island have sustained us, but even when our combined income topped $200K, we were never more than poverty-adjacent. It was increasingly unlikely that our children would be so lucky. For the past two decades, we had been frogs in a pot, paddling to keep our heads above water as the temperature rose. I paddled the most furiously, staunchly defending the price of paradise. Gradually, though, almost imperceptibly, our skin blistered and our flesh cooked.

            “Look around,” I was fond of saying, “You won’t get this anywhere else. Sure, we could buy a compound in Nebraska for the price of a year’s groceries, but then we’d be in fucking Nebraska!” Then a small, decrepit house in a historically undesirable part of town slid across my feed one day. It was listed for $1 million dollars, and became my proverbial straw. I admitted defeat, if only to myself at the time.

“When the pediatrician’s office called to schedule her annual physical, I was caught off guard. My eyes misted and my tongue grew thick.”

Squaring up to the regulation distance line duct-taped to the concrete slab, I fanned and flared the plastic flights on my custom titanium darts, squeezing the fins between four fingers and twisting slightly to ensure a firm attachment to the shaft. I cocked my right arm and closed my left eye, zeroing in on the bullseye, and let fly. Thup. Thup. Thwack. My shots echoed through the pitch black of our grassy common area, bouncing off the surrounding aged, wooden dwellings. The stale musk of crushed jacaranda blossoms drifted over from the road. I collected my darts under the glare of our focused trouble light, recorded my points on the chalk scoreboard and retreated to the patio table. Lighting another cigarette, I agreed things were getting too damned expensive.      

            “There’s more to it though,” I began, “everything is changing.” I rattled off a list of the ways and was surprised to realize it had been 10 or 15 years since some occurred. A favorite after-hours haunt, the kind that only really got going at 3am was one. Its viscera of shabby barstools, well-worn go-go cages, clouded drinkware, and chipped shelving were unceremoniously dragged onto the sidewalk for bidding vultures. Now million-dollar glass-and-steel condos stand on its grave.

            The sea has reclaimed so much sand from Waikiki beach that most of the current grains are imported from other beaches or from miles offshore. Astroturf-like sod sits demurely a block from the strip, where an armada of flagship stores – Valentino, Hermes, and Tiffany’s among them – are tastefully broken up by Cheesecake Factory and Cheeseburger in Paradise franchises. One block over you can rent a Maserati, if you’re not in the market to purchase one, and escape the hustle and bustle.

            Farmland has yielded to sprawling suburbs, replete with gated communities. The roads and related infrastructure, dormant for decades, now scrambles rabidly to catch up. 24/7 construction guarantees Oahu an annual spot in the nationwide ranking of worst traffic. We left our house in the country to rent closer to work because the 16-mile commute had ballooned to two-hours, one way. 597 square miles has never seemed tighter or more congested.

            Our family was changing too. Our eldest daughter had left home two years earlier, and was doing well in the military, attending the same training and working the same mission as my husband and me had before her. When the pediatrician’s office called to schedule her annual physical, I was caught off guard. My eyes misted and my tongue grew thick. Swallowing hard, I managed to eek out, “Umm, she’s in the Air Force now, she’s an adult…so yeah, she, uh, won’t be coming in this year.”

            “Oh, ok, I see. I’ll take her off the reminder list then,” the receptionist replied crisply, in a hurry to escape the awkward space I’d created. Just like that, I thought, there’s one less thing to remember. One less.  Our next in line graduated this year, and along with her boyfriend, started college in the fall. One day, I realized that since she’s living on campus, I wouldn’t need to pick up her favorite fruit roll-ups. This led to another round of tears and drew a few uncomfortable stares in the produce section. Another thing less. We are far from empty nesters; however, this new, leaner lineup of A Tribe Called Shea is taking some getting used to.

            But children leave home, landscapes change, and places go out of business in most places. The rich eat the poor and crap jacked-up commercial consumerism most days. If it bothers you enough, you leave; if it doesn’t, you stay. I knew these factors played a part, but taken alone didn’t account for the paradigm shift I was experiencing.


The truth was, my existence in the only place I had ever called home now felt like a divorce. Not the white-hot flash paper, scandal-ridden, tearing asunder of poorly planned and hastily built homes. The kind I had in my early 20’s. No, this was slower, gentler, and profoundly more painful. This was looking up from coffee on an otherwise unremarkable morning, to realize that you felt no longer bound to the table beneath you, the person across from you, the life surrounding you. This was not anger, nor betrayal nor the desire to meet new people or do new things. Not a midlife chasing of young flesh and elective surgery and fast cars. This wanting to leave Hawaii was simply the expiration of a forgotten lease, signed decades prior, and covering a specific time of life. It felt as simple and as cruel as turning in the keys and driving away with only the clothes on your back. Somewhere along the way – I may never be able to pinpoint where, exactly – I went from being from here to just here.

            “I feel like I don’t belong here anymore,” I started when it was my turn to speak, “I can’t explain it. We go the same places, we do the same things, and it’s like we’re just going through the motions. January: we go to the park for Martin Luther King day, March: spring break, June: the start of hurricane season and summer vacation, October: pumpkin patch – if it’s not too crowded – and then comes the whirlwind of ThanksgivingChristmasHonoluluCitylightsNewYearsEve and boom! The sound of illegal aerials dies down, the smoke clears and January 1st marks the reboot of our own personal Groundhog Day.” I offer this cobbled together explanation slowly, quietly. I’m afraid to hear my thoughts out loud, breathe life into them with my speech.

            “I mean, it’s been 20 years,” I continued. “This is all our kids know and I feel like we’ve failed them in a way. I never imagined raising root-bound children. There’s a whole big world out there, and they’ve grown up on a rock. Beautiful and lovely but a rock all the same. Fucking 20 years. Now the rock is expensive, and everything smells like piss to me – I mean, I smell it everywhere, and there’s nothing new or fun, at least not enough to lure us out of our rut, and it sucks. Doesn’t help that all of our friends have moved away either.”  I paused.

            My words felt like a betrayal, but I knew this place no longer cared for me. I wondered if it ever did to begin with. My love for this land was tethered in the rosy memories of youth. Maybe Hawaii had merely been a soft landing after a nomadic childhood, and I’d forgotten that the respite was supposed to be short lived.

            “It’s been 20 fucking years, and there’s nothing holding us here,” I continued, “20 years and it’s time to go.” I slumped in my seat—spent, nervous, and at once excited at the possibilities.

            My husband nodded and shrugged in agreement before leaning forward in his patio chair. Gardenia-saturated puffs swept at wayward ashes on the table. Geckos cried out for mates. Stars winked their approval as he called his phone to life. “Siri, find me jobs in London.”

Bloodline, Barbados

By Amira Shea


I skipped down the plaster steps by two’s and stood, shielding my eyes from the bright, early afternoon sun.  On such a small island, the salt smell of the sea was everywhere, filling my lungs. To my left, an old man leading a donkey cart was making his way up the slight hill. One weathered hand loosely held a thin switch, but it wasn’t needed. The animal was well-fed and sturdy, with large, clear, if somewhat miserable looking eyes. One hoof clopped in front of the other as it continued straight ahead, looking neither left nor right. It hauled a wooden pallet jerry-rigged with large bicycle wheels and laden with fresh fruit and vegetables. Banana, mango, coconut, green onion, tomato, papaya. Observing the gentle beast as it passed close enough for me to see the little flies on its coarse brown and gray pelt, I thought, no matter how well you were fed and treated, no matter how bright the sun and how salt the air, it must still suck to spend your days harnessed and dragging produce.

           My thoughts about the donkey lasted as long as it took for the man and his mobile business to get about 20 feet up the road. Turning right, I slowly started to make my own way up the hill. Fine grains of dark, clay-colored dirt immediately entered my sandals and surrounded my toes. Little pieces of white coral, more prevalent than pebbles here, joined the dirt from time to time. I would stop and shake them out absently.   

           I passed a few houses on the right. Like that of my grandparent’s, these were mostly built of concrete and cinder blocks, with plaster facades brightly painted in tropical reds, aquas, and yellows. In addition to the dwellings, each small, functioning lot held fruit trees and a few animals – goats, chickens, ducks and a dog or two. The odors of their bodies and waste mingled with the salt and the perfume of copious flowers. The resulting bouquet was unique to the island, and not unpleasant. A few of the houses were made from wood and in various states of disrepair, identifying the family as old, or poor, or both.

"Observing the gentle beast as it passed close enough for me to see the little flies on its coarse brown and gray pelt, I thought, no matter how well you were fed and treated, no matter how bright the sun and how salty the air, it must still suck to spend your days harnessed and dragging produce."

My destination was the corner store set at the top of the hill. One side of the store abutted the road I was on, and the other fronted the perpendicular main road through the parish. At one point, it used to be someone’s home, but the downstairs was now given over to various sundries, canned goods, ice-cream, bags of chips, and a rather anemic magazine rack. Faded Coke-a-Cola signs, the kind you seem to only see in the Caribbean, hung outside over peeling paint. The white swirls were greying and the red fields were practically pink. The signs themselves almost melted into the yellowing cream of the wooden exterior. I stepped through the dark green screen door onto cracked and worn speckled linoleum. A lone, long fluorescent bulb illuminated the space. The shopkeeper was nowhere in sight, but guaranteed he was watching.

           Despite the age of the place, everything – even the floor – was meticulously clean. Not that any of that mattered to me. I was happy to be there, to be anywhere really, on my own. I would have been equally happy to walk up the road and visit a large hole in the ground, as long as I was allowed to go it alone. Even back home, in Hawaii, there were few places my mother would let me walk or ride my bike to unaccompanied. Recently, some of my friends had started to take the bus by themselves, or in groups, all the way to the large downtown mall. Though I’d guessed the futility of floating such an idea to my mother, I tried nonetheless. It was shot down in a stinging rebuke. I tuned out shortly after hearing no, but I was sure there was mention of “prostitutes, drug addicts, and homeless riders, caked in urine and just waiting for gullible 13 year-olds to board city buses.”

           Whether it was because my mom was more comfortable on this island where she was raised, or because it was actually a very small place where crime was all but non-existent, I couldn’t be sure. All I knew was that during this last week I’d had more freedom than ever before. 

            I had only intended to buy a soda or a push-pop, but I was in no hurry to end my solo outing. I meandered through the one aisle and finally stopped in front of the magazines. The skateboarding and hair-metal fads of the late 1980’s had made it all the way even to this small corner of the Caribbean, and I selected a surprisingly current edition. On the cover were four men, each in denim and each sporting impossibly blond, long, and teased tresses. Maybe that’s what gave me away.

            I soon felt eyes on me. Different from those of the yet-to-materialize shop-keep, these were the eyes of someone my age. Pretending not to notice, I kept flipping through the magazine without paying any attention to the content.

            “You’re American, aren’t you?”

             I turned to face the boy. He was skinny, like me, with knobby knees and elbows and feet that he had yet to grow into. His white tank top and yellow running shorts were worn, but not dirty or holey. They were well-favored after school clothes, as were his rubber flip-flops. The same dust that clung to my toes rested comfortably on his ankles and shins. We both wore the ashiness of young black children who had not yet fully incorporated lotion into their daily routines.

              “Yes,” I said, with an accent that confirmed his suspicions.

              “I thought so. Why did you come to Barbados?”

              “My mother is Bajan. We are visiting my grandparents.”

              I was flipping the pages of the magazine as I spoke, round chin slightly raised, trying to affect a breezy, carefree manner. Standing with my left foot leaning perpendicular up against the side of the other, left knee bent, I tried to envision myself as one of the laughing, skinny young women in the Virginia Slims commercials: I’d come a long way, baby! They were always hanging out by the pool or a municipal fountain and having a great time with their friends and cigarettes. They laughed open-mouthed, and as a group. Even though I hated their preppy clothes and the bright colors, I had to admit, those girls seemed to have it going on. I put my foot down to wiggle my toes some more, stubborn sandy dirt still clinging to them. The boy scratched the dry peppercorns on his scalp and smiled crookedly.

              “So if your mom is Bajan, that means you’re Bajan too!”

              “Yeah, I guess…”

              I was still trying to play it cool and nonchalant. If I’d been chewing bubble gum, I would have smacked it, but I wasn’t and instead just licked my dry lips instead. I wasn’t attracted to the boy in particular, nor was I nervous about talking to the opposite sex in general, however, I could count the number of times I’d had a one-on-one conversation with a boy on one hand and have four fingers left over.

              My life up until this point involved frequent moves and a permanent sense of otherness. My family was, in fact, preparing to leave Hawaii for a three-year assignment in Japan. They weren’t sure when they’d be able to make it back to the Caribbean, so had decided to pay a parting visit to my mother’s parents. The boy’s simple assertion I was Bajan too, was the first time I could remember being claimed by any group. I was Bajan too! Joy crept over me like the afternoon sun forming a long rectangle on that cracked linoleum.

Amria Shea is a graduate of The Mountainview Low-Residency MFA in Fiction and Nonfiction. She lives in Oahu, Hawaii, where she operates Paradise Writinga community-based, full-service writing company that utilizes updated technology to assist clients from across the globe.

Student Picks: Jonhston, Cataluna, Jansson

Laura Brashear-- People go missing every day and under different circumstances. When it makes the news, the audience takes pause and moves on. In his novel, Descent, Tim Johnston commands attention and opens the darkest fears in humanity’s hearts and minds. 

Eighteen-year-old Caitlyn is a star athlete about to embark on a new journey in life. Before starting college, her family takes a trip to the Colorado Rocky Mountains. During a morning run, she is abducted. The only witness is her younger brother, Sean, left only half conscious by the abductor’s vehicular assault. 

Johnston employs gorgeous prose to build empathy for his characters. He chronicles the three years following Caitlyn’s abduction. He captures the heartbreaking cycles of hope, desperation, and devastation, allowing the reader to fully experience the loss of Caitlyn and the breakdown of her family. 

“And in the far distance above the highest pines stood the snowy crags of the Rockies, fantastic in scale and burning in the lights of their own immensity.” Descent draws the reader into the dangerous beauty of the Rocky Mountains, maintains interest through the journey of the characters, and provides an ending that makes the journey worthwhile. 


Amira Shea--  In stressful times, I like to return to certain books for comfort, and Three Years on Doreen’s Sofa is a perfect example of literature as hot tea or a warm sweater. There is a familiarity to the setting, the cadence, and the subject; Lee Cataluna is an award-winning novelist, playwright, and journalist from Hawai’i. Her work is centered on the islands and presents characters that are relatable on both the macro and micro levels. You don’t have to live in Hawaii to understand Doreen, the take-no-shit mother trying to provide for her family, or Bobby, her half-brother/cousin, recently released from prison, whom she reluctantly allows to crash on the couch in question.

Cataluna uses Hawaiian Pidgin English throughout, which, similar to Junot Diaz’s use of Spanish in his work, gives the characters a palpable authenticity. From the opening sentence, “Fricken Doreen didn’t even stop the truck,” I knew this person. It’s told entirely from Bobby’s viewpoint, giving us an inside look at all of the factors that go into making poor life choices. Without delving into sentimentality or providing a tidy, happy ending, Cataluna still manages to provide a story that can make a tough day feel a little better. 

Garrett Zecker-- I recently read two titles by Swedish illustrator and writer Tove Jansson (whose Moomintroll has worldwide appeal). Thomas Teal's translation of Jansson's beautiful, utilitarian writing in Fair Play and Summer Book presents a captivating insight into human relationships.

Both books are written in brief, episodic vignettes. Fair Play covers the cathartic, rewarding, loving contentment that comes between two women sharing an apartment in later life. They bond over independent art projects, share their frustrations, and indulge one another with late-night VHS marathons - a definitive portrait of that one perfect relationship we all strive for, free from jealousy and longing - a love story of friendship. Summer Book is a bright novel of awakening. An energetic six-year-old girl and her wise grandmother summer on an island. We are witness to an awakening of place as much as the awakening of self and body. The Cat is a sublime commentary on the complexity of love and expectations in an allegorical tale of domestic husbandry. 

Jansson's sisterhood, independence, wild abandon, discovery, and true intimacy tempted me to finish them in one sitting. Her prose is a joy to read, simply because it's easy to see oneself in the mirror of her breathing stories.