[Congratulations to Brian Doyle for his runner-up written entry in our 2011 Creative Competition. Check back daily for the next several days as we post other recognized entries.]
Kono, despite being unmarried, had no children, a source of quiet dismay to him, and something of a stain on his reputation in the community, in which generally those who were married were striving socially and economically and had no time or inclination for children, and those who were not married took solace and found fulfillment in having gobs and tribes of them. There were exceptions, like the Hualapai family, with many children, and the seven Taamami brothers, none of whom had children or appeared to desire same, but still Kono felt holes in his heart where children would be, and even past the age of thirty he continued to ponder the matter.
One day at a yard sale he found just the triangular chest of drawers he needed and he bought it for ten dollars. The chest was long and lean and fit beautifully into the corner of his cottage near the crown-flower trees. This corner had always been a problem, because the man who built the cottage was a shaman who refused to cut down any tree or bush whatsoever, because of primogeniture, of course, as he said, and so built the cottage around the creatures who already lived on the property, because they were in residence there before Kono was, and in matters like this one, respect is paramount, as the shaman said, almost politely. This is why the cottage had that narrow corner between the two momentous crown-flower trees who liked to tap on the windows, and the east wall curved around a patch of taro shaped roughly like a former queen of the islands named Kapiolani, a wonderful and imposing woman much esteemed and remembered by all for her courage and kindness. Many people had carved trees and gardens and boats and hedges in her likeness, a custom regrettably diminished in our day.
Kono, despite being past the age of thirty, was a strong man, and he carried the chest of drawers into the cottage himself, and installed it properly in the corner, and went over it carefully with gentle oils to pay respect to the wood, and he sanded the places that were rough with careless handling, and eased the workings of the drawers so that they would slide in and out without moaning, and tightened the circular handles so that they were fitted flush with their bases, and then he welcomed the chest to his home, and hoped it would be comfortable and peaceful there among the other working parts in the house, and said to it that he would now respectfully use the drawers for clothing and letters, if that was agreeable to the chest, but when he opened the top drawer, out came the spirit of a boy, about age five, with long black hair.
The boy perched on the top of the chest of drawers and said that his name was Lula and that he would have been Kono’s oldest son if matters had conspired in different directions, which they had not, such being the way of things, but that Kono had been blessed with a special blessing, and the spirits of the other children he might have had were now resident in the chest, each in his or her own drawer, and so Kono, near tears, opened each of the drawers carefully, and discovered three girls and two boys, all told, approximately ages nine, seven, five, three, and one. The baby, a girl, had not yet been named, said Lula gently, and he and the other children would very much like Kono to name her, so they could care for her better. It’s a lot easier to hold someone if you have a handle, said Lula cheerfully.
Kono, despite being an organized and meticulous man, was open to dreams and wonders, and he went walking on the beach with the spirits of his children, the four older ones holding hands and running in the surf and himself cradling the baby. The baby was mute and smelled like mist and cinnamon. One of the girls fell down and cried and Kono knelt, juggling the baby, and dried her face with his shirt and held her until she stopped crying and ran off to join the others, her feet kicking up feathers of surf. He knelt with the baby and she held his pinky fingers and kicked at the wavelets and made sounds like the sea. Once her wet hands slipped from his fingers and she fell face-first but she rose laughing, and Kono saw that she was related to the ocean, so he named her Kai, which is the sea. When the other children wandered back along the beach he told them her name and they were delighted and all the way back to the cottage they flitted around Kono and Kai, saying her new name with great glee and merriment. So that is the beginning of the story of Kai, the girl who was related to the ocean, and there are many more stories of her adventures, which began in the chest of drawers that Kono bought for ten dollars.