Paradise: The Short Story of James Whitman

February 18, 2013
My short story, Paradise, revolves around the life of James Whitman. Don’t worry, he is a fictional character. Ever since James was a child, he dreamt of living in paradise. He has a strained relationship with his father who rarely plays a role in James’ life. After a long journey of events, James is granted his wish of living in paradise and is enrolled in The Island School, Kauai’s premiere boarding school. But this dream come true is paired with a string of nightmares that James is forced to face. This short story takes place in the 1980s.

Do you remember when you were little and people would ask you where you wanted to live? And you’d first say, with you’re parents because that’s all you knew. But then you went to kindergarten, and your teacher talked about space, so Mars sounded like a better idea. And then you entered grade school and your new best friend went to Connecticut to visit her cousins. So you decided to live there with her because you two were inseparable. All the sudden you were thirteen and felt very independent and would live anywhere your parents weren’t willing to travel to. But then you could drive a car and you had a girlfriend. And since you two were “in love”, you were going to live where ever she was going to live. Soon you were out of high school, trying to find the perfect major. And the absolute last thing you needed was a girlfriend to distract you from your next essay and all you wanted was to strap on a backpack and travel. Of course now you have children, and your children have children. So you hear of all the places they want to live. All the pleads to visit Mars. All the promises about how “this really is what love feels like”. And you’re just happy that they’re happy.

I’m not sure why I added that bit above. I mean, it probably doesn’t apply to most of you. It certainly doesn’t apply much to me. I grew up all my life knowing where I was destined to live. My parents party going friends were always rather fond of me. One of them would always bend down to look me in the eye, smile, and ask exactly where I wanted to live. I think I actually ended up boring them, for my answer always stayed the same. Paradise. Of course they would laugh, humored by my reply. But I seldom understood why at the time.

Honesty was a fine trait of mine, and something I was very used to either not admitting or sharing with the whole room. Never with my father of course. My mother would claim that Father had no tolerance for the truth. My mother would spend many nights crying over the lies he had spoken. Not that he spoke with either of us often. The mansion was perfectly large enough for us to have all our own courters. I hardly ever saw my father for the first eleven years of my life (after then, his appearances in our household grew even fewer). And my mother was content on gossiping her misery away. It was a hardly a childhood that one would care to remember. But for some reason, I clung to my younger years of privilege. They still haunt my mind constantly.

Don’t feel bad. That isn’t why I have written this story. There were parts of my childhood that were enjoyable. Christmas was always my favorite holiday. My father used to send the help home for the holidays, but somehow the house never seemed empty or quiet. My mother used to display a tree in every room of our 10,000 square foot house. She would demolish our stage kitchen (the one that none of our chefs cooked in), filling it with every signature holiday dish you could imagine. It seemed like she used every cook book that ever existed in our family lineage. Of course it was only the three of us, so we would have local food drives pick up the left overs. My father never even entered his study once. Night and day, there was always a Christmas song (I would plead it be Christmas Island) playing that could be heard from either end of the mansion. But as soon as I went back to school, the help reappeared, the trees were used as fire wood, the stage kitchen went back to being just another empty room, and my father never came out of his study. The house was silent, with the exception of an occasional plate shattering.

My favorite song when I was a child (by far) was Christmas Island. It combined my two favorite things into one mysteriously beautiful lullaby. I dreamt of having Santa sail to my island paradise with my presents in a canoe. I dreamt of hanging my stockings on a great big coconut tree. Unfortunately, as the song goes, my Christmas dreams would never come true, for I didn’t live on Christmas Island.

I think it was the year of 1987. It must have been because I was only twelve. That was the year my father started traveling. I had hardly any idea why at the time. It was only until I was about twenty that I inherited the news and memories sort of clicked and things started to make sense. Incidentally, my father’s side of the family was largely descended from the Hawaiian Islands. Kamehameha I was (of the slightest bit) a relative of mine. My father had been left a large portion of Kauai just before he had married my mother. The profits from our acres of farmland had bought my extravagant childhood. In 1987, our land on Kauai became more valuable. Tourism spiked and resorts yearned to start building. Now, as much as a business man my father was, I found that he cared much about the Islanders. I’m not sure why. I always knew him as more of a city person. I mean, we lived in Detroit for Christ’s sake. But something pushed him to abandon his family and see what he was selling to the evolution of Kauai.

Of course I lashed out a bit. When the elite boys academy that I was enrolled in had had enough of me, they called my father. I was sent to live at a boarding school with him on Kauai. It’s actually funny how little they, my parents, knew me. Kauai was the biggest reward they could have given me. When my mom broke the news to me she was lounging. Elegantly sprawled out like she did after talking a walk through the garden. Her blond curls caressing her face; Her string of pearls uncomfortably sliding up against her neck as she lay back.

“My darling James. Come sit by me.” She lifted her hand to call me over, but it seemed too heavy and she allowed it to float back down to lay with her.

“Yes, Margaret.” My mother absolutely adored it when I called her by her first name. My peers thought it was rather odd, but this idea was soon overridden when I introduced them to our indoor pool or the spectacular game room. I never really minded buying my friends; There were much too many other things to think about.

“Well, I’ve been informed that you’re getting into fights at the academy. We called Father and he has agreed that you should live over on the island for a while...” Her voice trailed off. Island. Paradise. Dream. The three words that kept me sane while my mother finished. My eyes teared a bit with happiness. My body shook with excitement. My mind seemed to overflow with thoughts.

Think of all the beauty in the world, all the beauty around you. And then some. That’s how magnificent the island was. It was like god had made one place on earth that was completely and utterly perfect. For a moment, time stopped, and I could just inhale and relax. My body went limp, and I swear that I almost fell over. But the flight attendant caught me and lay the complimentary lei around my neck. I thanked her and sort of stumbled my way to the car, which had already been waiting for me. There was a gentle ocean breeze that guided me and smelled sweet with salt. The world seemed like a much brighter place and the people seemed to smile wider.

The Garden Island. It is a very fitting nickname for Kauai. Rather, Kauai is her nickname, and the Garden Island is her more formal name. I decided that she is a she because such beauty could only be compared to a women. If she were a women, she would have blonde hair, golden blonde to represent her pure beaches. If she were a women, she would have blur eyes, deep blue to represent her aqua coasts. If she were a women, she would have tan skin, genuine tan to represent the warmth in her air. If she were a women, she would wear a green dress, brilliant green to represent her flourishing forests.

My mother was to fly out. I wanted our first Christmas not spent in the mansion to be here. I knew she would love it on the island. She could shed her beyond warm fur coats and slip into a slimming bathing suit. And I gathered that she would love to brag about how she had spent her Christmas in the tropics to her friends back in Detroit. I wasn’t sure where my father was at the time, but he didn’t make it to Kauai. Neither did my mother. Her plane never did land properly, and my father got the news before I had. His plane left without him. I had recreated my favorite song for them in one image. The canoe that I made for my father was floating on the white sand with mother’s presents stacked in it. Their stockings hung beside mine on the coconut tree I often read under. When I saw one of the Island School’s faculty members walking toward me, I knew what had happened. It was a feeling more than anything. I was much too far beyond logic. The last thing I remember was the sea water lapping against the shore.

My father’s mental health declined after that. He was always sort of old to be my father anyway. When I was twenty-two, Father forgot that I was his son. I visited him frequently while attending Pomona College in California. The people that I talked to always said Alzheimer's was the worst disease. And it was, don’t get me wrong, there were days when all I did was break down and cry. But there was also a sense of honesty in my father, while he was ill, that I had never gotten to experience. There was this moment that I will remember forever. We were sitting in his room. It’s actually very nice (I payed to have it replicate his study in the mansion). I was writing a short story about a childhood very much like my own and he asked me something.

He says to me, assuming we’re good friends, “James, when you were little, where did you want to live?” And my reaction was more of a reflex than anything, I hadn’t truly acknowledged my father was asking me a question.

“Paradise.” I smiled because the word rolled off my tongue nicely. And I watched him nod out of the corner of my eye. For the first time, I really heard my father speak. For the first time, I really knew what he meant behind his answer.

“Me too.” And he went back to humming. It was a catchy tune. One that I knew and loved. The song was Christmas Island.

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