PELE IN THERAPY by Darien Gee - Excerpt from DON'T LOOK BACK
Don't Look Back
Darien Gee is the nationally bestselling author of Friendship Bread, as well as several other novels written under the name Mia King. Her books have been selections of the Doubleday, Literary Guild, and Book of the Month Club book clubs. Her second novel, Sweet Life, was nominated for a Ka Palapala Po‘okela award for excellence in Hawai‘i books. She is also the author of Writing the Hawai‘i Memoir. She lives with her family in upcountry Waimea on the island of Hawai‘i.
More myths, please!Read excerpts from other tales in the Don't Look Back anthology:
Timothy Dyke's NO LOOK BACK
J. Freen's IF YOU GOOGLEEARTH 1188 BISHOP STREET
Gary Pak's LANGUAGE OF THE GECKOS
Christine Thomas' PLACES OF ENTRY
A.A. Attanasio's SEX, LOVE AND THE MIGHTY FINE STRUCTURE CONSTANT
The perpetuity of myth and legend is, and has always been, paralleled by a lively tradition of distilling, retelling, and recasting the epics and grand tales in completely new, often abbreviated, contemporary forms. These recast stories are themselves brand-new and sometimes spontaneous productions. With themes and dynamics drawn from the classics, the characters are often contemporary and may barely reflect the original heroes and gods, the settings are intentionally familiar, and the issues and actions are intentionally current. The myths, in their “classical” forms, connect the common roots of human society from times ancient to today, while the recastings make the longevity of those attitudes, principles, and ethics immediately relevant.
The contemporary tales in this collection are presented as chants of celebration, arias of advice, and revelatory refrains, composed in resonance with the tempos and scales of stories long known and legends long told.
— Dr. M. Puakea Nogelmeier, foreword to Don’t Look Back
PELE IN THERAPYDarien Gee
INSPIRED BY THE LEGEND OF PELE’S EXILE
There are variations to the story of how Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of volcanoes, came to Hawai‘i, but a common one holds that she was exiled from Tahiti by her parents, who were concerned about Pele’s ongoing battles with her older sister, the water goddess Namaka o Kaha‘i, whose husband Pele had seduced. Contemporary folklore talks of Pele’s ability to change her form, and sightings of Pele as a beautiful young woman, an old hag, or a white dog abound, usually before a lava flow and as a test of people’s goodness and values.
“Pele in Therapy” is a loose translation of Pele’s exile to Hawai‘i and her own awakening that occurs as a result. I entwined several Pele myths, both classical and contemporary, to create a modern view of the goddess. While I am loath to say that any deity would be in need of therapy, it is not inconceivable that the opportunity to “vent” might be welcome, especially when you consider that this particular goddess reigns over an active volcano.
* * *When I open the door, there’s a striking young woman on my doorstep, her dark hair pulled away from her face. She’s wearing a sundress, but you can see the outline of her body through the thin fabric. Her figure is so perfect that I can’t stop staring. I have a weakness for dessert, for chocolate in particular, and I know I’ve let my body go. Normally I wouldn’t care, but being in Hawai‘i has made me envy youths with their flat stomachs and perfect breasts. And their butts—they have no cellulite. I can’t even remember life before cellulite.
The woman is muttering under her breath, twisting a loose strand of hair around a slender finger. I want to say she’s in her twenties but I can’t quite place her age.
“Can I help you?” I ask.
“I don’t have an appointment.” Her face is dark.
“That’s fine. I happen to have an opening…”
“I’m having a bad day,” she continues, forlorn. “I saw your sign outside. Find your inner goddess or something?”
“You mean ‘Discover the Goddess Within’?”
“Close enough.” She steps into the condo before I have a chance to invite her in.
I offer her water or tea but she shakes her head. We settle in the living room, which is more spacious and comfortable with the small changes I’ve made. The woman’s forehead is puckered in a frown.
“My love life,” she says. “It’s on the rocks.”
“I see.” I nod and clear my throat. “I should mention that there’s a ten percent discount if you pay for your session in cash…”
She ignores me. “I think he’s in love with someone else.” She lets out a heavy sigh and the whole room seems to sigh with her. “He saw me in a moment when I didn’t look like this…” She gestures to her body, her perfectly made-up self. “…And he fled.”
She now has my full attention. Men!, I want to spit out, but instead I nod sympathetically. “I understand.” I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to always look so beautiful. People start to expect it, and the minute you have a bad hair day, their illusions are shattered. I pick up my notebook in an attempt to look like I’m doing something. I write the day’s date, the time, and realize I don’t even know her name.
“I’m Katherine,” I say. “And you are…?”
“I am sick and tired of everyone assuming that I don’t want love!” The look on her face is explosive. She stands up, begins pacing, her red dress swirling around her. “I don’t have time to be frivolous like everyone else. I have my own life, my own responsibilities. I do more than all of them!”
“Them? Who’s them?”
“My sisters. Their responsibilities are nothing like mine. I have to do so much more.” She tosses her head in defiance.
I nod in what I hope is a reassuring manner. “How many sisters do you have?” I ask. It’s important to get the family history; it’s elemental to who we are. At the end of the day, that’s where most of our issues lie.
“Seven. Seven sisters and seven brothers.”
I can already see where this is going. The young woman in front of me is fiercely competitive and independent. Definitely not a firstborn or the oldest girl—this one’s always had to fight for her place.
I write down “Big Family” on my notepad. Then I ask, “Are you originally from Hawai‘i?”
She flops back down on the couch. “No. I came here some years ago. I didn’t plan on being here exactly.” She looks away and I can tell she doesn’t want to talk about it yet.
“A lot of people seem to have that experience,” I say. Myself included.
“I’m not everyone else!” she retorts.
“No, of course not,” I reassure her hastily. I add “Middle Child” to my notes followed by a question mark. “Why don’t you tell me more about what’s happening in your love life? You said it’s on the rocks?”
“I’ve never been great with relationships,” she admits. She tucks her legs underneath her. “It’s one reason my older sister and I don’t get along. She was very angry at me for seducing her husband.” She rolls her eyes derisively.
I try to hide my shock but she notices my discomfort immediately.
“What?” She arches a perfectly plucked eyebrow. “It’s not as if we can control whom we love. Or desire.” Here she gives a slight smile but it completely rubs me the wrong way. It reminds me of David. He said the same thing to me that night when he told me about Janine, his secretary.
It takes all my willpower to remember that I am here to help, not judge her. She’s my client—there’s no room for my personal opinion even if I find myself siding somewhat with her sister. “So, have you ever been married?”
She nods indifferently. “It didn’t work out.”
I write “Commitment Issues” and tap my pen, thinking. “Did you try marriage counseling?”
At this she bursts out laughing and her face lights up. Even I can’t help but chuckle. David wasn’t interested in having couples therapy with his therapist wife. The question even sounds asinine coming from my mouth.
“Have you ever been to the volcano?” she asks me suddenly. “Kīlauea?”
I nod. “Once. But it was pouring rain and foggy. I didn’t see a thing.”
She nods, not surprised.
I shrug. “I’m more of a beach person anyway.”
At this her eyes harden. “Beach?” she spits out. “Kīlauea is alive. Flowing! The most active volcano in the world!”
“Well, it’s not like I didn’t try to see it. My husband and I…” I stumble here, unsure if I should say ex-husband, since our divorce is far from final but our marriage is clearly over. “We were hoping to see the lava flow. Maybe catch a glimpse of Pele in the lava.” The concierge at the hotel had told us that people sometimes saw the image of Pele, the Hawaiian goddess of the volcano.
Now her eyes seem to flash. “That’s ridiculous!”
“Why would the goddess reveal herself to anyone?” she snorts. “She would have nothing to gain from that!”
“More tourists, maybe?” I venture.
The woman shakes her head in disgust. “Just because a child sees an animal in the clouds does not mean that animal is actually there,” she says. “People see what they want to see.”
I can see her point. “A goddess would probably have more important things to do with her time,” I concede.
At this the woman grins. “Exactly.” She reaches up behind her head and pulls out the bone clip holding her hair in place. Long, gorgeous locks tumble down her back, dark as lava rock. “I mean, if she needed to vent, for any reason, that would be different. But to pose for a photo-op? I don’t think so.”
* * *Darien Gee's story "Pele in Therapy" appears in its entirety, along with 16 other tales, in the anthology Don't Look Back: Hawaiian Myths Made New, edited by Christine Thomas.
All stories in this anthology reprinted by permission with copyrights retained by individual authors. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the publisher, except for brief passages quoted in reviews.