“Come on, Clementine’s a great name. Clementine Zairi-Lewitt. Rolls right off the tongue.” Mary-Ann sipped from her iced tea. “Though that doesn’t do us any good if it’s a boy…Sean? Can’t go wrong with Sean.”
“Okay, so what are your suggestions?”
“Hmm…My maternal grandmother’s name was Ibtisam, if that helps at all…”
“Mine was Carol, so you’ve got me beat in terms of cool sounding grandma names, but seriously, Salah, you can’t let me do all the thinking here.”
“Nothing’s coming to mind, I’m afraid.”
“Fine, we’ll let it sit for a while.”
Mary-Ann sat back in her chair and stared out at the ocean. The setting sun had turned the world orange and gold and pink and red. The palm leaves swayed a bit in the evening breeze. The smoke from the cooking pit drifted over to her. It smelled absolutely delicious.
Wait…shit, that’s pork!
She shot a worried look at Salah, the words half-formed in her mouth. He held up a hand.
“I’m fine. I’ll just get something on the way back to the hotel when we’re done here.”
“You don’t have to…”
“Right…right…” Shit how did you fucking not notice that? You’ve been sitting here for half a fucking hour…didn’t even ask… No wonder he was acting off. Fuck. And you didn’t even think to ask…but he hadn’t said anything at all either…augh, why didn’t he just say things? The stiff upper lip is fine most of the time but augh…okay…okay…collect yourself, Mary-Ann. You’re being paid to vacation in Hawaii. This is meant to be a happy time.
Time for a humorous outburst to lighten the mood.
“Ha! Got it! A perfect name!” Mary-Ann snapped her fingers. “Vishnu!”
On a scale of awkward pauses, this particular pause rated about an 8, which was the “that joke wasn’t funny at all” stage. Salah chuckled and shook his head.
“Something tells me that won’t go over very well.”
“It’s still a viable third option,” No what are you doing the joke wasn’t funny stop continuing it.
“That’s a very loose sense of viable.” Salah stood up. “I’ll be back in a bit.”
Mary-Ann nodded, and Salah walked back into the house. She knew that the form of “bit” he was using was a lot longer that what most people used.
Some time passed. Mary-Ann watched the gulls circle and the sun dip below the water. Despite the astounding weather, it felt like a gloomy day in March, when spring decides to show its head with freezing rain and overcast skies.
Eventually, the host approached the patio, balancing in his arms an array of bowls and plates that looked destined to fall over at any moment. He was a rather broad and strong-built man of forty or so with something of a beer gut, dark skin, dark hair, an obnoxiously loud floral-print shirt, board shorts, and sandals.
This was Lono, and he was the god around these parts.
He set out the food on the table: kalua pork, sweet potatoes, plantains, taro, breadfruit, shrimp, and eel, steam rising up in a great miasma of deliciousness. Mary-Ann’s saliva glands and guilt jostled for primary position.
Lono sat down in his chair, and took a beer from the cooler next to it.
“Thanks be to me, amen.” He cracked open his bottle and took a long drink. “Damn, that’s good stuff.” He glanced at Salah’s empty chair. “So, uh, where’d he go?”
“Inside. He’s washing up for evening prayers.” Mary-Ann took a paper plate and began filling it with some sweet potatoes and shrimp. The guilt sat right alongside the hunger in her stomach, an undigestible lump. She didn’t have to observe halal, of course, but it didn’t feel right with Salah still around, but of course he would just tell her to go ahead and eat, and then there was being a good guest and all, wouldn’t want to look ungrateful… “I don’t think he’ll be joining us.”
Lono paused in his piling of food on his plate to lift a quizzical eyebrow.
“He doesn’t eat pork,” Mary-Ann said.
“Takes all types, I ‘spose. His loss though.” Another swig of beer. “So, what’s this whole thing about? The guy on the phone a few days ago was about as clear as mud.”
“There’s not a whole lot to it, really. Just smoothing over relations between you and the Initiative.”
“And we do that by…”
“Avoiding the part where a bunch of maniacs rush in, burn this place to the ground, and waste a great deal of time, money and manpower trying to kill you. They’re about as subtle as someone who ate a lot of shitty Mexican food and shoved a lit firecracker up their ass. Just about as pleasant, too.” Admittedly, this was a bit forced on her part, but she was on the job, and getting back into the role of snark-having, gregarious Mary-Ann was a necessity for this.
Lono laughed heartily.
“Sounds like someone has their panties in a twist, and for once I’m not the one doing it!”
“You have no idea.”
“So this is going to be one of those 'you leave us alone we leave you alone' quid pro quos, right?”
“Right. It’s a really simple agreement, really. Nothing big. No smitations, no direct interventions, no going out and leaving a bunch of little demigods running around all over the place. Essentially, don’t go around being an asshole or do anything that attracts undue attention.”
“Wait, what was the next to last one?”
“Oh! No, this cannot be!” He flung out his arm as if he were delivering a stage oration. “You seek to take from me one of the few pleasures I have left in my life! Now I shall never again know the joy of a woman in my arms, the excitement of the courting, the sheer uninhibited wonder of a really good fuck out under the stars! It is not right that a man live alone, my dear. At some point or another, he needs to get some tail.”
Mary-Ann finished chewing her mouthful of breadfruit, trying her best to appear composed: She had very nearly spat it across the patio from laughter.
“So long as it’s consensual, legal, and doesn’t involve superpowered kids, we’re not going to stop you. But tell you what: Call me back about ten years ago and we’ll go a round.”
“Oho? Was I that obvious?”
“I’m just savvy. This would be the part where I’d say something like ‘no one makes oogly eyes at me but my husband’, but between you and me he’s absolutely horrible at it. Wouldn’t have it any other way, of course.”
God help me I am actually having this conversation.
Lono shrugged and drained the rest of his beer.
“Ah, you don’t need my help anyway. Did you choose a name yet?”
“No, not yet.”
“Could always go for Lonnie,” he smirked.
“Eh, I think we’ll pass on that one. Thanks for the suggestion, though.”
Dinner and conversation went on. It was a surreal experience, to say the least: if Mary-Ann had not known Lono’s true nature, she would have thought him just a cheery neighbor man who spent a lot of his time in the garden enjoying dirty jokes and ukulele music. Essentially that was what he was, but on a larger scale. That was most likely why he had remained so stable for so long: being a patron of sex, food and music was excellent for sustainability.
It was nice to meet something that didn’t want to kill everyone, for once.
The sun had set now, the sky slowly fading from orange to deep twilight blue. The eating had slowed to a lull, as had the conversation. A lone lamp had been turned on.
“I’ll go get Salah and we can get this thing finished.” She stood up and walked around to the eastern side of the house.
I’ll treat him to dinner to make up for this. A really good dinner. There’s got to be a place nearby…or maybe ice cream…
She paused a moment: Salah was still kneeling prostrate on his mat. This was cause for concern: he had left almost an hour ago, and he never stretched out prayers that long…
Mary-Ann sat down in the grass where she was and waited. Maybe five minutes later, Salah rose, rolled up his mat, and walked over to her.
“You don’t have to apologize for anything.” He sat down next to her.
“Yeah, well, I feel bad about it anyway. That’s good old Catholic guilt for you.”
“You worry too much.”
“And you try too hard to make sure I don’t worry at all. I get it, you don’t want to cause any trouble for anyone, but sometimes it’s just too much, okay? It’s not like you’re barging into places and screaming 'CATER TO MY WHIMS.' You’ve got the self-control of a crazy aesetic out in the desert, you’ll deal with the Wolves when there’s no one else around to do it, you take care of stuff around the house before I even get a chance to see it, you don’t even take your food back when someone messes up your order…And I love you for all of that, but I’m your wife for heaven’s sake: I signed up to deal with you for the rest of my life because out of all the people in the world with issues I want to deal with yours. And when you don’t let me help, well…that makes me feel shitty because you do so much for me, and I feel like I should have done something so you don’t have to put up with the crap in the first place and…man, I am just babbling.”
And that was that. The weight was off her chest, now only to see where it would fall. Salah didn’t respond for a moment, and then began to laugh.
“You do cut right to the chase, there. I needed that."
“It’s what I’m here for."
"How go the negotiations?"
That was good, getting back to business as if nothing had happened.
“He’s very agreeable to the idea. Just need you to witness it and we’re set. Scribes will probably write him down as the saint of sweet potatoes or something like that.”
“They probably will.”
The was a quiet pause, filled with insect buzzings.
"Now, our plane doesn’t leave until tomorrow evening, and after that we’ll be hopping around doing odd jobs all the way home. Now, I don’t know about you, but I want to find a nice spot on the beach tomorrow and just veg out for as much of the day as I can.”
“We might be able to piece together an actual honeymoon over the next few years at this rate. A day here, a day there, they build up.”
Mary-Ann stood up and brushed off her shorts.
“Right then. Let’s get this done, and after that I say we go out for ice cream. I’m buying.”
“I, Lono, swear upon my honor and by my power, to uphold this oath with the Horizon Initiative: that I shall raise no hand to harm, nor take any unfair advantage of, mankind. As symbol of this oath, I present to the Horizon Initiative this sweet potato, blessed by my power. May this friendship last until the end of time.”
“As representative of the Horizon Initiative, I swear upon the honor of the organization and by the power of the All-Mighty, that so long as this oath is kept, no hand shall be raised against you by the Initiative, and should another party aim to harm you, the Initiative will come to your aid.”
“Damn, that’s a lot of shit just to say 'keep doing what you’re doing.' Don’t be afraid to stop back, now.”