A work of fiction, standard disclaimers.
So what if you, a Western-style middle class individual, wake up one morning, and most of the Industrial Revolution and post-Industrial Revolution conveniences that you take for granted are gone …?
Leonard opened his eyes to the first light of dawn on the Kona side of Hawai‘i Island. He didn’t know what in particular had awakened him this particular morning, whether it was the coo-coo of the zebra doves, or the insistent, piercing whistle of the cardinals, or the cackling shriek of the grey francolin, or the gentle but repetitive swish-swish by the side of the bed. It didn’t matter, it was usually one of them. In the wintertime, it might have been the crashing of the surf, two miles away and 500 feet below. But it was summertime, and the surf was quiet. What did matter was that it was dawn, a Hawaiian August hot and humid dawn. Time to get up, there was work to be done.
Abruptly, the other side of the bed thrashed, and Leonard’s wife Carla shook herself awake, moaning. Nothing new here either, Leonard thought, resignedly. Arthritis is a mean adversary, and all the more so on a hot and humid August morning in the Hawaiian Islands. She started to roll over to face her husband, gasped in pain, gave up the attempt. “Dammit, it’s hot!”, she complained. “Turn up the AC, will you, Lenny?”
The girl voice at the far side of the bed began, “I’m tired, mi …”, but at Carla’s venomous look, the ten year old owner of the voice shut up and agitated the fan, nearly half her size, with greater vigor, too terrified to give any vent to her fatigue and frustration.
“And see that you don’t knock anything over with that fan!”, Carla snarled. To Leonard, she grumbled, “I’ve been up half the night, overheated and in pain, and all I get from the help is backtalk! And you, of course, slept right through it all. Lucky you.”
“Sorry”, Leonard replied.
“We’ve been over this many times already”, Lenny bristled. “We have to protect the sheets and other bedclothes, not to mention the mattress and box spring, because once they’re gone, they’re gone. Or perhaps you’re in a hurry to sleep on gritty kapa cloth, if and when we can get any.”
“And a joyous good morning to you too“, Carla responded sourly. “Help me up.”
Leonard got out of bed, walked over to her side, took her hands. She used the leverage to get to her feet, warily and unsteadily. Eventually, she was able to right herself enough to reach her walker, and with the aid of that device, was able to navigate to the master bathroom. Leonard looked at the frayed cushions and cracking armrests and handholds, and wondered how long that was going to last.
He then went to the clothes horse at the far end of the bedroom, where the gray lavalava that was his customary workday dress had sat overnight, airing. His Western-style clothing, especially his shirts, his underwear, and his socks, had all been retired long ago, their stench having rendered them unwearable even if the fabric had remained intact.
On his way to retrieve the lavalava, he passed by the girl, and told her to take a break. She immediately, almost but not quite precipitously, lowered the fan. “Thank you, sir”, she acknowledged. Her tone was neutral … a carefully-cultivated, long-practiced neutral.
The day’s outerwear in hand, Leonard proceeded to the side bathroom, where, after the necessaries, he doffed his nightshirt, ran cold water into the sink, splashed that water on his head, his face, and various pits, and, after these had air-dried, donned the lavalava. He checked himself out in the mirror, noting that the belly had shrunk but was still too disgustingly prominent, and he realized that, by the weekend, the hair and beard would need attention from the scissors. He would do that after the cold shower that he braved every Sunday. For the thousandth time, he marveled that the infrastructure supplying the running water still worked, and dreaded the day that it would fail.
To the left of the faucet, there was a small bottle. It contained avocado oil, pressed by hand from the fruit of a neighbor’s tree, and frangipani petals from one of his own. He daubed tiny amounts under his arms. The tincture’s fragrance took the edge off his own.
Thus fortified, Leonard left the bathroom prepared to face the day. As expected, Carla had not yet completed her toilet. Also as expected, William, dressed like Leonard in lavalava and naked, slightly perfumed torso, awaited him in the dining room.
“Good morning, William!”, Leonard called.
“Good morning, sir”, William responded, in the same carefully-cultivated neutral tone that the girl in the bedroom had used.
“Carla will be with us in a few minutes. I’m grateful for the service that you and your staff rendered her last night. Her life is a trial right now, I fear that it is for you as well as for her.”
“Thank you, sir”. The same neutrality.
“What do we have for breakfast?”, Leonard asked.
“Fresh papaya and fresh figs from the garden”, William stated. “They will be set out at your command.”
From the master bathroom, Carla cried out in a demanding, unforgiving tone, “I want coffee!!”
“Of course, sir”, William asserted. Our success with papaya gives us goods that we can trade with our neighbors. It is unfortunate that none of our neighbors grows coffee.”
“Not that any of us has the tools to grind the beans,”, Leonard followed up, “or fuel to roast them, or boil water”, acknowledging that any fire started, or any firewood collected, without an almost-impossible-to-get permit, would have draconian consequences. “Nor, if I judge from this morning’s events, do we have the people.”
“Sir?” A note of concern sprung into William’s voice.
“I fear that Carla’s increasing needs, as her arthritis progresses, are putting undue stress on the staff. Little Lori’s arms were about to fall off before I was able to score her a break.”
“You are very perceptive, sir, and I thank you”, William responded. “Our workloads have indeed increased, and we are feeling it. Additional staff would be welcome, as soon as may be.”
“I hear you. I’m afraid, though, that ‘as soon as may be’ won’t be as soon as either of us would like. The market is only open on Tuesdays, and this is Thursday. I won’t be able to purchase new staff until next week.”
William suddenly looked uncomfortable.
“Speak, William”, Leonard commanded. “I know your worth. I assume you have no intention to harm Carla or myself, and so long as that is true, you have nothing to fear from me.”
William still hesitated momentarily, then blurted out, “Sir, my brother has lost his station.”
“I am sorry, William”, Leonard commiserated. The gravity of the situation was immediately apparent – and, because it could put Leonard and his household at risk, presented immediate challenges. “What happened?”
“The man my brother – Jerold – was serving, died yesterday, without heir or issue. There is no one to claim the property, and of course Jerold and his family may not. There is no will. As do all in these circumstances, they face” (William’s voice trembled, and his face turned pale) “immediate execution for trespass or vagrancy.”
“And – it must be asked – they did nothing to bring this on themselves?”
“I understand the need for the question, sir. They did not. According to the runner they sent late last night, the authorities have not yet acted. I am sure, sir, that Jerold and his family would be happy to join your household, without charge to yourself, and that, given the connections, there is precedent for this course of action.”
“How large is Jerold’s household?”, Leonard asked.
“Five persons”, came the response. “Jerold, his wife Jane, a son, two daughters, all around Lori’s age.”
“We will have a hard time housing that many new staff”, Leonard mused.
“May I suggest, sir,” William proposed earnestly, “that the property that Jerold had been serving is vacant. It could perhaps be acquired, and then later traded for property adjoining ours, improving our holdings and addressing the staff housing shortage in both the short term and the long term.”
“Hm.” Leonard fell silent a moment. Then, “The authorities won’t act for a couple of days, while they wait to hear about claimants to the property, complaints about the property, and collect all the other facts they need to make a determination. So long as Jerold and his tribe don’t do anything to bring attention to themselves, no one should see a reason to act sooner. Send, please, and tell your brother as much. I can promise nothing, but your course of action seems reasonable, and fortunately – very fortunately – looks to be within my means, and I will do what I can. As will Carla; you know that she is caring at least as much as she is cross when she’s in pain, and having more women on staff will, I hope, ease both her body and her soul.”
“Thank you, sir.” The neutrality returned, but could not quite conceal William’s relief and gratitude.
“The circumstances do allow for breakfast”, Leonard resumed, somewhat brusquely. “All food in these days is gratefully received, and we may be additionally grateful for Hawai‘i and gardens that yield bounty year round. Still, there is a wish, on occasion, for something more, ah, substantial.”
“In that we are fortunate”, William reported, neutrality fully reestablished. “The hunters on the Aiwohi’s staff had a great success, returning last night with a good-sized pig. The imu is being set up – the Aiwohi family has a standing permit – and if all goes well, there will be a lu‘au tonight. We are contributing ‘uala and potatoes to the feast. Some of our neighbors have been experimenting with kalo, even here on this dry side of the island, and there may be poi tonight.”
“Wonderful news!”, Leonard enthused. His stomach audibly grumbled; “And if my fat belly is anxious for the feast, I can but imagine what yours are doing.” William said nothing, showed nothing. “But”, continued Leonard in a more sombre tone, “this is the first lu‘au in like a month, isn’t it?”
“There are many hunters”, William responded mechanically, “and the pua‘a are retreating mauka. It is the same with the fish; there are many nets and poles in the water, and the reefs are dying as every summer is hotter than the last, and the fish are dying along with them. The effort increases, and the returns decrease.”
“Alas”, Leonard concurred. “If I could go back in time a couple of decades and wring some necks, I would. But, of course, I can’t. We do what we can and hope that it’s enough. How is the willow grove working out?”
“Poorly”, William admitted. “The trees require much water, and we don’t have enough.”
“Do what you can”, Leonard urged. “It’s our best hope for pain relief.” Then he called out. “Carla? Breakfast is on the table!”
“Is there coffee?” Carla called back.
“You know the answer to that as well as I do”, Leonard responded, in a hands-on-hips tone.
“Oh, OK, all right. I’ll be there as soon as I can stagger to the table. And make sure the AC is on!”
Leonard shrugged. William nodded and moved off to give orders to the household.