Ghosts Next Door

Ghosts Next Door
by Lopaka Kapanui

Feb 11, 2024


 Rain is always the theme on a day like this one.

I'm sitting in an old dive bar on Hotel Street, watching the inclement weather soak the worn-down pavement, which is made so by years of threaded tires and the foot traffic of many a prostitute, pimp, and drug dealer. I'd be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the daytime merchants and private shop owners who also ply their trade for an honest living; they have also left their indelible marks on these weathered streets. The name Lum Yip Kee sits in an arched font over most of the buildings erected in his name. No one would ever guess in a million years that he was the king of poi after most Hawaiians in Mānoa gave up or had their lo'i kalo taken away or taken over. 

Only city buses can breathe their fumes along Hotel Street until they finally find the enlightened path to South King through Richards Street. Rain is always the theme on a day like this because if you sit where I'm sitting, you witness an overdue cleansing of a town that needs it. It's ironic how someone like myself gets to transpose such a miracle to paper but cannot transpose it into my own life. The bar is silent, save for the occasional creak in the old wooden ceilings or the rattle of pipes from the floor above. Someone's trying to shower, wash their hands, or lay a deuce. Who knows in antiquated places like this where the past still imposes itself on the present? 

The owner has left out plates of pupus with a shot glass and a bottle of Makers Mark. The glass has been empty thus far while I attempt to write something randomly meaningful. I pull up the playlist on my phone for motivational purposes, looking for some ambient music that might edge this piece along. Ah, yes, there it is. 6th Street Jazz.

Although there's silence in this bar, the one across the street, the Union Bar, at 7:30 in the morning, is crowded with people attempting to fit into its small doorway. Not everyday people, mind you, it's clergy. Catholic priests. A disconcerting sight, considering the location as a whole. Exorcists in the depths of a den of iniquity in Honolulu's oldest red light district. I wonder what the hell is going on? No pun intended. Someone must have put a dime in the old Wurlitzer jukebox across the street because Steely Dan is blaring about Rikki not losing that number. That's another location that is overdue for a cleansing. Not of its history, mind you, but of all the residual negativity that seeped into its woodwork and into the pores of every person's skin who has ever worked there.

A text pinged on my phone. I must have been staring at it for a while, trying to understand or soak in the gravity of what it meant. Before I could, the floor creaked from the entrance through the kitchen right up to where I sat. I was too engrossed by the religious chicanery across the street. Before I knew it, my sister hopped on the stool beside me and poured herself a shot of Don Papa Masskara. "What's going on over there?"

I was so startled I dropped my pen, which bounced off the rim of my shot glass and flipped over into the pile of red pork on the plate in front of me. "Geeze!" I gasped while retrieving my favorite pen and wiping the oil off of it at the same time. "Some warning next time!?"

"Stupid," she giggled. "What are they doing over there?" 

"It's a bunch of Catholic priests," I said.

"A bunch of Catholic priests walk into a bar," she deadpanned. "Literally,"

"Except it's an exorcism. What does the bartender say now?" I wanted to know.

"Be gone," she laughed while throwing back another shot of the Masskara. "I know you're in your writer's headspace, but can we listen to something else?" She already had my phone and was scrolling through my playlist. "This is more like it," she sighed.

"Have some pupus," I moved the plates toward her. "Don't do shots on an empty stomach."

"Ma ka poli iho no,"

"Hmmm, Ho'onanea," I shook with goosebumps.

"Right?" She said while letting herself off her stool and floating into the hula; she had learned this song many years ago. "You can't even tell when it's his voice or falsetto."

"He just slides in and out of it," I agreed. "Effortless."

"Come," she waved me over. "C'mon." Begrudgingly, I went and danced alongside her. "Make sure you dance the man part. OR we can switch, and I can dance the man part!"

"Haha," I said sarcastically. "Fuck you," I plopped myself down on the stool, and she came to get me. "Stop already! C'mon! Dance with me! Stop being so sensitive!"

"Why do you do that? Always! Why do you take such joy out of destroying people? And then you make them feel guilty about it?" 

After all this time, one would have thought she'd finally grown up and got a clue, but not her.

"I could die like right now, or right after I walk out of here, or even later," she pleaded. "C'mon, we never get to do this anymore,"

"Now you know why!" I shot back.

"It's almost to the ha'ina," she gave me the puppy dog face. Without a reply, I stood up and joined her, and we danced the last two verses of the song together. When it was over, she stretched and giggled with childish delight. I always warned her boyfriends, girlfriends, and casual lovers to be careful. "The mirth doesn't last long," I'd caution them. They'd find out eventually when they realized she was more work than she was worth. Then she'd find me, like she did now, and try to take it out on me because she could never admit that she was at fault for anything. The next song came on, and we sat in complete silence. 

"..Eia, Waiulu I ke Aloha, I ka pili, hemo'ole i ke kai.." 

"Mom's favorite song," I whispered. 

"Mom used to sing it right here, in this bar," she said. "Her and aunty them; now here you are, a silent partner in this place. All smug, and writer-ree, and sitting here like you're in some mystery movie,"

"You're doing it again," I reminded her. I retrieved my phone from her and returned it to my original playlist. I didn't get a good look at her when she first popped in, but now I can see her hair is slightly disheveled. She's puffy and red around the eyes, which means she's been crying. "You alright?"

" I don't even realize I'm doing it a lot of the time," she mumbled. "It just comes out, and once I get started, it's hard to pull back. Before I know it, everything's fucked up."

"That's an apology, I'm assuming?" I reached out like I always did, moved her hair away from her face, and tucked it behind her ear. 

"I'm sorry, brother," she sighed. "It's easier to hurt somebody else before they can hurt me."

"C'mon," I motioned for her to follow me to the old piano in the corner. "Sing for me,"

She sang beautifully from her soul, from the depths of her being. Every joy and pain that ever left a mark on her heart lifted her voice from her body and filled the entire bar with a sound that hadn't been here since our mother sang Hawaiian music in this same space. Like our mother, this song was her comfort food. It's where she could go and part the seas and move mountains with everything she is, just by singing this song. People would have worshiped at her feet had she been a goddess, but she was simply my sister, beautifully broken, but still my sister.

"Eia, Waiulu ke aloha, i ka pili, hemo'ole i ke kai..."

(Bind your love tightly, never to be severed over time)

If more people saw her this way, they wouldn't be mad at her. They'd forgive her for coming through their lives like a storm and wrecking it completely. They'd cast aside those drunken benders, forgetting her ability to steal their hearts and never give it back. And the many promises my sister gave those in her circle, hoping she'd finally changed once and for all, only to realize that she'd fooled them again. They'd forgive her if they were here and now where I was, sitting at this piano, playing for her while she sang this song.

"E ke aloha, e maliu mai 'oe...eia ho'i au, e kali aku nei. O ka 'ike, kolonahe kau hana, nani ka 'i'ini pu'uwai..."

(My love, listen to me. Here I am, waiting. I know you are willing; the heart's desire is beautiful.)

The last notes bringing the song to an end hurt her as much as they hurt me. She's reached the pinnacle of all she is and all that is expressed in this simple Hawaiian song, and with it, she fades slowly into the air, along with the specs of dust floating in the single beam of sunlight shining through the window. I broke down and cried on the piano keys. 

"...Candy is dead. Her roommate found her on the bathroom floor. I thought you should know..."

That's the text from our Aunty Laura on the phone. My sister's spirit stormed in so suddenly that I didn't have time to fully absorb the fact that she was gone. Her routine drama caused me to have the usual anxiety I have when she's around. I got sucked into that same routine; alive or dead, it was the same pattern. Ultimately, I could only think of one thing to bring her to the other side.


credit: TheFrenchHouse

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