WANTED: ISLAND GIRL
DARK HAIR, BROWN SKIN, PIDGIN ACCENT.
Compensation is commensurate with experience and negotiable. Role to be filled ASAP.
But Mehana wasn’t even all that brown anymore. If anything, she pulled more Japanese, the ligature of her mixed blood taming her Hawaiian roots, her time on the mainland bleaching her skin to a clabber. Such a shame she’d gone broke, a shame she’d returned home and needed the money now, when she’d only just aged past her prime and couldn’t even flaunt the beach bronze that’d once defined her youth.
An abundance of shame to sit with, these days.
These days, Mehana was also coming to terms with her inability to orgasm. Never not once had she encountered this problem in the past. So long as her massage wand was fully charged and her jalousie windows cinched shut, Mehana could guarantee her body a significant curtain call of pleasure at least once a night. What with her gymnastic fingers and the tools tucked away in her underwear drawer, reaching at least one erogenous zone was no trouble, while blended orgasms were frequent. Now she was spending over two hundred dollars, two weeks’ pay, on something called a rabbit head vibrator.
What made her no-orgasm condition a particular bummer is she had started seeing someone. An awkward, shaggy-browed hapa with an ungraspable personality. His name was Katsutoshi, but out of respect to his predominantly haole colleagues, he went by Karl. Karl with a K. Mehana found his whitened name absurd. She was also suspicious of people who worked in cybersecurity. But Karl was the first man to show her any interest in who knows how long, and Mehana was tired of subsisting on a cheap diet of tortilla chips and Pace salsa, of sulking off to bed at nine p.m. every night with a pillow wedged between her thighs, alone.
To her dismay, Mehana learned on their fourth date that Karl was a federal hire who didn’t make much more than she did as an office manager. Around the same time, she stopped having orgasms. Film and television had groomed her for this very moment – the transition to faking orgasms with a partner. But goodness, she was barely in her thirties – could it really happen this early? And would she ever recover from such a terrible ailment?
She liked to think yes. She was trying. But work at Gina’s Talent Agency was keeping her later and later, zapping her consciousness and wringing her out. Her long-dormant dream of becoming a famous screenwriter-director had accumulated a mess of cobwebs. As for Karl, she hadn’t seen him in days. Then it was the first day of spring – a new beginning! – and Mehana was rising from bed with one hand groping inside her underwear, determined to reorient the direction of the swerving tanker that had become her life.
The first day of spring, and Mehana ran into her old friend Patti Tanabe. Each of them had stopped at Ali‘i Coffee en route to their respective jobs – Mehana to Gina’s studio, Patti to the downtown branch of Get Wild Productions. The women hadn’t seen each other since those uneasy years post-college. Now they were both working in the entertainment industry, living out their aspirations but on largely different canvases. They made eye contact near the condiments counter, honi’d and embraced. Patti cinched the peach arms of her flannel cover-up around her waist, a lazy complement to her otherwise couture outfit. A cleft between her breasts was showing, and Mehana tried terribly hard not to think about that bare skin, and the skinscape she’d observed in Patti’s recent sex video.
Instead, Mehana smiled and stayed. She decided Gina could spare her for thirty minutes, at least. Friendships were invaluable, even charged ones between women who hadn’t spoken in over a decade.
Lazing around a tottering high-top, the women diced the past decade into digestible bites. Patti had married a haole, of course, and took up adult ballet lessons, which was surprising, for she’d never been all that flexible. Mehana told her about working as an office manager for Gina’s studio, glamorizing the job perks while alluding to climbing the rungs, ascending the echelons, blah blah blah. She didn’t talk about the miserable pay, or the slow accumulation of debt the way one accumulates trash magazines on a coffee table. Instead, she told Patti about Karl. It’s new, was how she described it. Patti said her husband’s name was Kevin.
They continued this shallow and circuitous chitchat until the early-morning hour burned out and Mehana could curtail her curiosity no longer: she needed to know about Get Wild Productions. How this girl she’d once shared a toothbrush with for two weeks in Galway, who used to have Bruddah Iz’s ‘Hawai‘i ’78’ programmed as her ringtone, could now stomach day after day working for a contemptible lowlife like Landon Wilder. (Though she didn’t dare ask about that video.) If she was being honest, Mehana could care less about her friend’s well-being and more about the man himself – how he took his coffee, how he could sleep at night. How could she?
‘It’s tough,’ Patti admitted with loose shoulders and a rounded, thick sigh. ‘And I don’t wanna make excuses with you. He’s a loser, no question. But I’ve started to think of the job as a way to champion Hawaiian rights.’ Mehana sipped from her lukewarm latte, sending a splash of liquid down the wrong pipe. She coughed wildly. Patti offered her a napkin.
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘I don’t think I understand.’
‘It’s a bit of a circuitous route, I know. But did you ever think about the kānaka ‘ōiwi wāhine he’s employing for his projects? We’ve already moved past the foolishness of demeaning sex workers. Why can’t we make this shift for our own cultural heritage?’
Mehana, always bristling at conflict, practiced a thoughtful nod. She did not want to be another woman in competition with her own kind.
‘I know folks are all up in arms over this white dude making bank on Hawaiian stereotypes and our bodies and all that, but honestly? I’m doing fairly well for myself, too. He’s not like other bosses, you know? He shares his profits. And he’s nice, even to the janitors.’
‘I’m happy for you.’
But they couldn’t just sit there all day, nodding politely at each other. There was work to be done, orgasms to fashion, bosses to please. There was mail to sort and contracts to file, and there was certainly no time to waste diddling on a cell phone, though on their way out of Ali‘i,Patti was doing just that, tapping away on an unseen keyboard while Mehana waited in the doorway awkwardly, absorbing the whiplash of cars speeding across South Beretania, glancing at her watch. The air was stale and stagnant, infected with bursts of sour gasoline and bus exhaust. They were both running very late.
After some time passed, Patti pocketed her cell phone just as Mehana’s hummed in her purse. The women hugged and honi’d. Made half-hearted promises about future pau hana drinks, beach days and double dates with their partners. Mehana hoped Patti spoke sincerely, for she was terribly lonely. She liked to think friendships, like any other ambition prone to spoiling, could be salvaged with time, effort, and attention from both parties. She was exceedingly optimistic, even without her orgasms.
As the women prepared to part ways, Patti extended one hand to her friend’s shoulder. ‘I sent you an email, but don’t feel any pressure to go through with it. It’s just that I know Gina’s pay is shit – I worked there for two months.’
Of course she had. No matter how many rungs Mehana climbed, echelons she ascended, Patti would always supersede her. It was the central nature of their friendship.
Patti turned away, clacking her heels in departure, and immediately Mehana fished her phone from her purse to check the email. It was a list of jobs available at Get Wild Productions. She read through the ads, and then she walked the four blocks to her office, absently gnawing the insides of her cheeks until she drew blood.
It’s true that Get Wild Productions and especially Landon Wilder were two of the most corrupt entities on island. It’s also true that Gina’s Talent Agency could only afford to pay Mehana minimum wage despite her three years of loyalty. She tried not to fault Gina – the economy tanked, Hawai‘i’s cost of living reached its apex – but when her boss strolled into the office well after ten wearing stiletto Louboutin’s and driving a company- leased Lexus GX, Mehana’s resolve to think the best of her went as tepid as tap water.
Still, she stayed. Five going on six years of menial secretary labor, and Mehana never bothered to look for work elsewhere. Her Japanese parents couldn’t fathom why she’d chosen to settle in this work. How much in loans had the government saddled her with just to afford her fancy East Coast college, where she studied, of all things, English and film? And now, six years postgrad and still working for the same talentless talent agency.
Now, traipsing through Fort Street Mall in Payless heels that sawed into the sides of her feet, Mehana imagined herself cast in roles daring, eager, and othered. She strolled past a hovel of particularly disheveled unhoused women, fingering cigarette rods and tweezing their hair, and pictured her own punchy spirit lounging in their shoes. Passing an Asian woman in beige slacks, walking at a fast clip and speaking frantically into her phone, Mehana imagined her own hands wrapped around that phone while she issued sharp commands to her lowly assistant: Buy stocks! Cancel my appointments! She could just as easily slip into the body of the Longs cashier, or of the Ali‘i Coffee barista who’d frothed her milk that morning. For so long her racial ambiguity had been a burden – this imprecise melding of Hawaiian, Japanese, an amalgam of white. But hapa girls were becoming less and less common, particularly in the talent industry, and Gina Figueroa, a hapa blend herself, was committed to championing girls of ambiguity, just as her career had been championed so many decades ago. It was only right to afford the same heartfelt charity to her longtime secretary, no?
Gina hadn’t received many applicants after the ad for office manager first published. Mehana didn’t interview. So long as she knew how to make coffee and agreed to the agency dress code (slacks every day and a modest amount of cleavage), Mehana had the job. She accepted the position enthusiastically, and between filing client offers and faxing contracts, she passed the time dreaming of writing screenplays, directing big-budget films in locales as foreign as Athens or as drab and lackluster as Fort Wayne, Indiana. Didn’t matter where, really. So long as she could travel, explore, flee from the rock on which she’d floated, detached and unmoored, for the duration of her short life. Gina’s Talent Agency was as good a place as any to begin.
Far better, she figured, than Get Wild Productions. While Mehana held no disdain for legitimate adult talent agencies, she couldn’t accommodate Landon Wilder into her otherwise boundless tolerance for things taboo. A direct descendent of William Wilder, one of the many white men complicit in detaining Queen Lili‘uokalani before bankrolling the resulting territory, Landon was a true, unapologetic fuck. Blue eyes, blond hair, broad shoulders, and skin browned by immense beachfront leisure and the occasional spray tan. She knew where he worked (the penthouse suite of Executive Center, overlooking the unhoused and hungry, and the lolling currents of the Pacific Ocean), knew his beverage of choice at Ali‘i Coffee (quad-shot cappuccino with extra foam). She’d hated him for years and followed him around like a tracking hound, desperate to understand him, eager to slit his throat or suck him off. She couldn’t make sense of it, this marriage of lust and loathing, though maybe this was the way things had always been, and only now was Mehana old enough to see the bleakness for herself.
Approaching the arm of Fort Street Mall, Mehana stared down the tumultuous face of her morning decision: to return to her little desk at her little job or to flee. To where, she couldn’t say. But the dilemma met her there at the edge of Fort Street, morning after morning, year after year. She couldn’t escape it, this drive to be absolutely anywhere else. She checked her phone.
WANTED: ISLAND GIRL
DARK HAIR, BROWN SKIN, PIDGIN ACCENT.
Compensation is commensurate with experience and negotiable. Role to be filled ASAP.
But her pidgin was terrible.
In the email, Patti had highlighted a call for a talent publicity assistant, subordinate to Get Wild Productions’ senior acquisitions agent. A salaried job, with full benefits and opportunities for career advancement. She skipped it and returned to the listing for an Island Girl then sent those cheap heels clacking down Fort Street in the direction from which she came.
The artificial chime of a bell, and a woman who was more attractive than Landon Wilder greeted her in the lobby of Get Wild Productions. Sharp nose, red hair, accentuated coal eyebrows. She asked Mehana how she might be of assistance.
‘My friend, Patti Tanabe . . .’ Mehana pulled out her phone and attempted to scroll through her emails. ‘I’m here for the Island Girl audition?’
‘Oh. You’re early!’
The woman waved her off. ‘It’s nice to see an actress so punctual. Here.’ A shuffling of papers, then the woman presented Mehana with a pile of forms pinned to a matte black clipboard. ‘Skip the social security part, we don’t need that. But do make sure you give us your current address. We’ll send some complimentary stickers.’
Mehana thanked her then sat in a too-soft armchair to review the forms. She surveyed the office. Glass walls, olive marbled tiles, silver ceiling of punctured tin. Across the room, frosted glass doors flanking the cryptic studio entrance. Both exceedingly extravagant and disappointing. She had pictured neons, fluorescents, furniture carved in daring and organic shapes found only in the forest’s wet heart. Instead, there were coffee tables bracketed by hard edges, and a receptionist’s desk that looked more or less like her own.
In between scribbling and surveying, Mehana checked her watch and phone repeatedly. In the years of working at Gina’s, she had taken only two sick days and a two-week vacation when her parents invited her on their annual trip to Shinjuku. Otherwise, her attendance record was untarnished. She couldn’t imagine Gina or any of her blond minions opening the doors without Mehana stationed properly in reception. Yet Gina had neither called nor emailed. She glanced again at her watch. 9:22 a.m.
She returned what she hoped was completed paperwork to the receptionist. ‘Sorry, I think I got my times mixed up. When exactly is the audition scheduled for?’
‘Ten thirty, dear. You have so much time! Can I get you something to drink? Coffee, water, tea? We’ve got green, black, and herbal.’
‘I’m fine, thank you.’ Though she was thirsty, parched. She clenched her thighs together, ran her fingers over the charcoal stitching of her slacks. Her face burned at the ugly paisley top she’d fished from the bottom of her dresser that morning because she’d run out of quarters for laundry. She didn’t own an iron; she’d smoothed the wrinkles with her palms as best she could. She imagined the women behind those frosted glass doors scanning her from top to bottom, snickering at her flyaways, her homely slacks coated in white lint, this awful top.
Then, a gust of artificial air ballooned her blouse. Startled, she looked up, and there was Landon Wilder – sandy blond curls, a significant tan, dimples punctuating his clownish grin – offering forth his Omega-watch-strapped wrist and inviting her to shake his hand.
It was his left hand. A gleaming gold band nearly half an inch thick strangled his wedding finger. She reached out and shook it. So a stupid woman had made him her husband.
‘So good to meet you,’ he said.
This, the second disappointment: what a shrill and squeamish voice! After watching his broadcast interviews and listening to his ads on the radio, Mehana couldn’t disentangle the posturing actor from this tenor-toned man standing before her in a terrible plum necktie. She felt the enormity of a hard lump ascending the rungs of her throat. How she wished for a drink – really any drink! – to dissolve this swelling node and right her. But it was far too late to make such a request to the receptionist, and even if it weren’t, how might she maneuver around this massive, smiling man looming over her?
She swallowed repeatedly. Landon thanked her for showing up early, for actresses are rarely so punctual. ‘We won’t get started with the audition until the other girls show up, but I wondered if you might like a tour of the studio while you wait.’
As he spoke, Mehana took note of his teeth – tinged with biofilm yellow and accented by a noticeable gap between his upper front teeth. Mehana shared a similar gap, and had read somewhere about the condition, called midline diastema, and how it often reflected poor early behaviors such as extended pacifier use, thumb sucking, and the vaguely erotic ‘tongue thrusting.’ Afterward, she’d stood in front of a mirror, pushing her tongue back and forth against the bulwark of her front teeth, thinking, Thrust, thrust. Still, she was unaroused.
‘Yes,’ she said now, tonguing her own queer gap. ‘That would be great.’
Mehana had learned of the Island Girls after watching a clip of her old friend Patti spreading her asshole for a grievously sunburnt man to enter it. Was the sunburn part of the shtick? she wondered while the video continued to play. And did Patti choose to go full Brazilian, rather than sporting the elegant bush she’d honed all through high school and college? Mehana had always admired that bush, took comfort in its audacity and how closely it resembled the unkempt fur she’d let flourish between her legs.
Along with Patti’s waxed vagina, there were her toned, tapered thighs, and her chest taped down by a clattering of halved coconuts, gutted of their meat and held together with green twine. Her traditional light-auburn locks were dyed an intrusive brown, almost black, and someone must have teased her hair to get it looking so twizzled and frizzed. Draped over her shoulders was a plumeria lei – clearly plastic, as none of the petals even whispered at wilting. At one point in the video, the white man yanked her by that lei, snapped her head back then sucked on the knobby protrusion of her collarbone, mashing a handful of flowers in his fist.
Rather than calling Patti immediately, Mehana scoured the internet for days, trying to understand what her old friend had done and why. Eventually she stumbled upon an online forum into which past and present employees of Get Wild Productions pitched their darkest revelations. A behind-the-scenes look into the infamous Get Wild Productions, into Landon Wilder. Mehana had already researched Get Wild extensively. She knew it’d begun as a kernel of an idea: Hawai‘i was a paradise few mainlanders could afford; why not create a virtual, erotic replica featuring the island’s most elegant, ethnic beauties? Porn, but make it tropical (with a subscription fee). She knew when it finally launched, sales exceeded expectations. Against her good sense, she pictured sweaty white men from the Midwest clicking their computer mice to the fantasy of fucking a local girl in positions of their choosing. In her mind she watched them writhe and absorbed their moans, while all the users glimpsed of the male actor was the shaft of his penis.
It was only through the forum that Mehana learned of the ‘confidential’ stipulation: that every office employee who self-identified as female – whether it be kanaka maoli Patti as marketing executive or that redheaded receptionist – was contracted to participate in an Island Girl film at least once. Some women waited until the last day of their employment tenure; others got it out of the way during orientation. Regardless, all the women carried with them the same burdensome prerequisite during their time at Get Wild Productions, though Mehana didn’t know of this contractual obligation when she first saw her friend on film. She just assumed Patti enjoyed playing culturally insensitive dress-up while getting her ass fucked. Seeing her old friend splayed out naked on-screen opened a wide crevice inside her. She’d considered the reflection of her own body and all the places where it’d failed her – jellied inner thighs, bulbous neck, the arena of fat around her waist she’d never managed to tone, no matter how many ‘100 Days, 100 Sit-ups’ campaigns she engaged in. It was a terrible exercise, to pare herself open in such a vulnerable way. Terrible until you flipped it on its side, and then it became thrilling.
Mehana had slammed her computer lid shut. She took several deep breaths and tried not to take the affront to heart. This fetishization of local women was nothing new. Landon Wilder was simply the first man in her vicinity to profit from it, a pinch of which also transferred to her old friend Patti. And shouldn’t she be happy for Patti? Was this not some sort of reckoning, a taking back of what is ours? She tried to be happy for Patti, but she couldn’t get that stupid screenshot of the coconut bra and plastic lei out of her head.
And it wasn’t just the props. It was the distillation of everything she’d learned about her Hawaiian self into her friend’s naked body. It was watching that naked body pared open for men whose skin gleamed, who probably were making four times as much as her.
It was despising Landon Wilder and wishing to see him suffer.
Or else it was loneliness. For she was so lonely, it spread to her chest and her head and her na‘au, as warm and beaten as a bruised plum, or the gleaming wet of coconut meat.
In the main office, there were posters everywhere. Lining the walls and filling space between the clerestory windows and even papering the floor as artwork meant to be trampled. The posters depicted Island Girls in a variety of outfits (coconut bra and lei; aloha shirt unbuttoned to a cavern of cleavage; mu‘umu‘u severed above the knees; pareo wrapped discomfitingly around the breasts) and poses (chest out; ass protruding; arms grazing the bellies of other women; toned stomachs pinched up toward the sky), and each one was framed in a matte- black mounting that depressed Mehana, reminding her of funerals and decay.
(What else it reminded her of: an interview with Landon Wilder that aired on PBS Hawaii about a month before that Mehana couldn’t unremember. It made her thoughts feel hard and fudgy, and as a remedy, she’d made a habit of viewing the broadcast every evening with her fingers roving around inside her underwear, letting his voice barrel through her ligaments and joints, lulling her into an attempt toward pleasure and then to sleep.
His teeth weren’t as bad in the interview. She barely noticed the midline diastema.
Landon Wilder and the interviewer leaned on opposite ends of a vinyl-topped cocktail table carved like a lima bean. They sipped from copper-ringed coffee mugs; an elaborate birds-of-paradise floral arrangement split the table in an even half. The old white interviewer nodded his head solemnly as Landon Wilder spoke of bolstering the local economy while ensuring each Island Girl is treated like a Hawaiian princess.
‘And how much do you pay these girls?’ asked the interviewer.
‘I’m not at liberty to disclose that information. Just know our Island Girls are compensated fairly and generously. They are the heart of our enterprise, and without them, Get Wild Productions would not be sustainable and therefore would not be able to give back to the local community as we have done since our inception.’
‘Do you see your work as diminishing or debasing to Hawaiian culture?’
‘Well, Craig, I’d love to turn that question back onto you. You’re Irish, no? Do you find St. Patrick’s Day celebrations diminishing or debasing? The local ones, now, like at Murphy’s, where they raise much-needed funds for Kapi‘olani Children’s Hospital. Does this bastardizing of a cultural holiday offend you personally?’
‘I don’t believe so, no.’
‘And why do you think that is?’
‘Well, I’d say knowing we’re all coming together to raise money for the keiki makes me feel the celebration has a higher purpose than just dressing up as leprechauns and drunks.’
‘That’s exactly it, then, isn’t it? We, too, at Get Wild Productions are working toward a higher purpose – that purpose being to revive the local economy. Did you know, every other fiscal year, we donate fifteen percent of our profits to island-based organizations? Call up the Hawaii Foodbank, the Nature Conservancy, Hawaii Land Trust, even the Audubon Society, and ask how they’ve benefited as mission partners of Get Wild Productions. Each and every one of our local partners has nothing but good things to say about us.’
‘And remind me, how much of those profits goes to the talent?’
‘Again, I’m not at liberty to say.’
Now in the main office, Landon Wilder walked with confidence and speed, and Mehana struggled to maintain pace.
‘Our Island Girls get final say on all marketing materials that feature their talent, including video advertisements,’ he explained as they moved through a labyrinth of cubicles and freestanding desks. ‘We’ve also established a specific algorithm to gift our talent a portion of the profits we make for every video view over a thirty-day period. We call it a bang bonus, get it?’
‘Ha-ha.’ Mehana wrapped the purse strap around her chest. She imagined chucking a wad of spittle in his face.
They passed through the marketing department quickly, too quick to look for Patti, though Mehana assumed she was there, adrift in a current of cubicles, polishing contracts or filing her nails. Honestly she didn’t really know what Patti’s job entailed. For all she knew, Patti was holed up in the dressing room, adjusting the twine straps of her coconut bra so as not to leave an imprint on her skin.
But this wasn’t about Patti, was it?
Except the moment they pushed through the heavy security door and emerged into the Get Wild Productions film studio, Mehana fingered her purse strap then asked Landon if he knew a Patti Tanabe. And Landon Wilder looked down on her like she’d just asked to see his cock.
‘Patti, sure. Marketing, right? Patti’s great.’
‘She sent me the audition listing. We went to high school together, but we sorta lost touch after that. She stayed here to get her MBA at UH, and I went to the East Coast. I think we were always a bit jealous of each other . . .’
Her voice trailed off. Landon Wilder was smiling in a way that sent chicken skin currenting over her arms and legs.
‘You’re quirky. I enjoy that in my Girls.’
‘Thank you.’ It sounded like fuck you in her mouth.
The studio lights pulsed around them, suffusing the room in so much heat, Mehana felt sweat building up between her thighs. The studio resembled a newsroom, what with its teleprompters and high beams, a professional green screen draped over the back wall. Yet there was also the considerately determined furnishings: contemporary sectional, stern oak end tables, a king mattress draped in an oleander Hawaiian quilt.
Her heels adhered to the vinyl floors. Landon Wilder was looking at her funny.
‘Look, I don’t normally do this without a full audition, but I’ve got a pretty good gut sense, and right now it’s telling me to take a chance on you. Hell, you’re friends with Patti, you’re already part of the Get Wild ‘ohana!’
A hand descended on her shoulder. Fingers grazed her collarbone like the blades of a paper fan.
‘The role’s yours if you want it. Though we’ll need to do something about that skin . . .’
What they did was they sprayed her with a shade of dihydroxyacetone perfectly calibrated to her body chemistry. They toweled her off and exfoliated dead skin from her pelvis and from the soles of her feet. They didn’t dare wax her now, in case she suffered from sensitive skin prone to irritation, so instead a grandmotherly aesthetician tweezed hair after hair from the trenches of her pubic line.
‘Tweezing ain’t ideal. Sorry, honey,’ the aesthetician offered.
Mehana dug tiny parentheses into the soft pads of her palms and tried to smile.
After, the aesthetician left her alone in a tiled room where she was meant to sample several Island Girl costumes and choose one to her liking. The fact that she was afforded a choice at all seemed insane to her. She rifled through a purse that no longer felt like hers and opened her phone to four emails and two voicemails from Gina. Depressingly, none were all that urgent. Only in the second voicemail did Gina mention Mehana’s absence, while the emails were all forwarded signed contracts for Mehana to file accordingly. She scanned the names now: Heather Wilkinson, Gracie Thomas, Genevieve Hunt, Caroline Jones. White woman names. She made sure to archive one of the emails so that her inbox only contained three (lest her mother’s superstition about the number four prove true). She tossed her phone to the bottom of her purse, where it sunk like a cinder brick.
She tried on the costumes. A full-length mirror lined the makai wall, and Mehana stripped her paisley blouse and slacks under the popcorn ceiling, unhooked her black bralette lined by delicate lace. She examined her body in just its black underwear and heels. She kicked the heels off. She had a trim waist, but poor eating habits had ringed her belly in that circle of fat. Her forearms were lithe but her biceps droopy; her thighs quivery and immense. She didn’t like her posture, the way her shoulders caved in and inflated the already paunchy tissue of her arms. She tried standing straighter, her neck erect, her chin protruding like a nēnē goose. She imagined this stance before a green screen. There, better.
Get Wild Productions had branded each costume with a nametag. She tried the first her hands had located, clenching the rounded tip of the hanger and folding open the tag: Island Girl, Hula Edition. Draped over the hanger was a pleated grass skirt stitched together by waxy artificial fringe and a coconut bra resembling what Patti had sported in her audition tape years prior. Mehana snorted. What did she expect? Kukui-stained pā‘ū, vibrant crimson kūpe‘e to hook round her ankles and wrists, lei ‘ā‘ī to drape her shoulders, lei po‘o to crown her head? Please. Mehana tugged the grass skirt up her thighs, then teased the elastic band to accommodate her rounds of fat. She folded the coconut bra over her chest and cinched it tight by double-knotting the green twine just below her breasts then bringing the hollowed coconut shells forward. At least her breasts remembered how to be twentysomething.
The getup reminded her of a role-play costume Karl had bought her last month in an innocuous attempt to enhance their sex life. The tag: Enjoy that first day of school feeling with our Sexy Prep School Girl! It was about two sizes too small, and the plaid trim on the blouse sleeves tickled her arms like mad. Still, she rallied. Pinned two plaid bows into her tresses and wore the glasses and the button-down skirt, even though she couldn’t get all the buttons clasped, and the bridge of the glasses kept slipping down her nose. She knew Karl came from the exultant quiver of his lower lip, just as she knew she did not from simply being too close to her own body. Karl, inherently awkward, didn’t know how to talk about the costume afterward without his neck bursting into hives. It was the most daring feat in the history of their sex life, and they never did it again.
A knock on the door sideswept her thoughts. Mehana turned the brass knob to find Patti waiting there with her arms crossed. Her lips were a flat red line; her eyes swam glassy and dead.
‘Rhona said I’d find you here.’ She scanned Mehana from toes to tops, then snorted. ‘Nice outfit. Looks familiar.’
‘I’m choosing a different one,’ Mehana said hurriedly. But Patti waved her off while inserting a new, charged air into the room. ‘Don’t worry about it, only teasing. You look good. But jeez, what did she do to your skin?’
Mehana lifted a forearm perforce. ‘That bad?’
‘You look like . . . a pumpkin.’
Patti straddled the crooked arm of the suede loveseat. She sat there so crudely, Mehana couldn’t get out of her head the image of Landon Wilder slotted under her; his thighs fanned out, his cock meaty and erect.
‘I’ll be honest, I’m surprised you showed. You seemed to hold very strong opinions about Landon just a few hours ago.’
Mehana felt her left breast sag under the coconut shell.
‘I don’t feel differently,’ she said. ‘Just need the money, you know that.’
Patti nodded thoughtfully. ‘I respect that. Just some quick advice, then, before you head in. Landon fucks the new girls at least once, preferably on camera. He fucks them in the ass as part of the audition, and then he makes you sign a contract. He’ll convince you to stay on with Get Wild as an actress, even if you don’t want to. He’s charming like that.’ She paused to examine her cuticles. ‘I know you think you’re better than me; you have since high school. Thing is, though, you became an Island Girl the moment you strung up that coconut bra. Might as well enjoy the sex. Landon’s got himself a diamond of a dick.’
She closed the door, and Mehana pressed her ear to the ker-clack, ker-clack of Patti’s stiletto heels prancing back to marketing. She stared at the suede loveseat, where Patti’s ass had left a deep burgundy pattern like when a vacuum redirects the fibers of a carpet. It was an artful stain, one Mehana hoped to re-create. She positioned her pelvis in a reenactment of Patti’s posture. She straddled the armrests until the friction of her underwear against her clit pullulated a precise pleasure from between her legs, a fist reaching through ocean muck to pull back a pearl. She proceeded in this manner until a knock kicked her out of her own head, out of her body, and Rhona the receptionist peered in and issued a countdown: five minutes till call time.
She adjusted her coconut bra for the last time then left the room.
Mehana had been thinking for some time that if Karl asked her to marry him, she would say yes. She thought about quitting Gina’s without giving proper notice, and she considered the audacity of shutting off all the reception room lights then taking a few hundred contracts with her. She wouldn’t start her own talent agency; no, Mehana was nowhere near that assured in her own competence. She just liked the idea of leaving Gina head- scratchingly puzzled in the dark.
She liked the idea of resuming a friendship with Patti, however strained and in sore need of maintenance. Despite what Patti had said, Mehana had never thought herself better than her, though clearly Patti had woven through a series of escalating poor choices that’d ultimately wedged her somewhere between Landon Wilder’s cock and heart, rendering her indispensable to his enterprise. She didn’t want to learn Landon and Patti were in love. Didn’t want to think about his balls bashing into anyone’s fleshy ass but hers.
She thought about the rabbit head vibrator, this new and invaluable purchase, bringing her one day to orgasm.
She thought especially of this elusive orgasm as she reclined on the staged bed, the mattress surprisingly and unpleasantly firm under her pelvis, her lower belly bared raw and tentacled by stretchmarks. She would do anything to airbrush them from the film, and to maintain the illusion that Patti had so carefully constructed of skin pulled healthy and taut, as if this was how a woman’s tissue was meant to feel. She sighed. Her poor parents, though thank god they’d gone primitive and hocked their technology the day Trump was inaugurated. Still, word got around. Folks talked. But she couldn’t think about that now. She drew a long breath and reminded her head and her cunt: they were about to fuck Landon Wilder. For how much money, Mehana hadn’t asked. Why the fuck hadn’t she asked? She spread her legs and waited for further instruction.
‘We don’t like giving our Island Girls a script,’ Landon had explained before the aesthetician had taken her away. ‘Our viewers appreciate that sort of authentic, amateur vibe that comes with not quite knowing what comes next in the role play. That way, none of our Girls ever have to fake their surprise.’
He’d asked if she was open to this risk of the unexpected, and of course she’d said yes. For the past five years, she’d stretched out her arms to welcome the risk of the unexpected, only to be beaten back by gales both traditional and sad. Now, here she was, an Island Girl in training. It was the most unexpected thing that had happened to her, and still she could see this fate tunneling toward her from a mile away.
Lying belly-up, Mehana grew increasingly insensate, so much so she nearly missed the rapacious blaring of an alarm. Sheaves of sound cloistered the studio, metrical at first, before mutating into something dark and discordant. A door opened, swung shut. The overhead lights burst like the birth of small galaxies. A woman tugged on Mehana’s arm with an alarming insouciance, brought her up and standing so fast she felt her brain scramble and the blood in her body plunge skyward.
Above the studio doors, a red strobe light whirled patterns across the ceiling.
A fire drill, then. But was there time to change into a proper outfit?
Then bodies were brushing up against her, bodies both wraithlike and gamine, dressed in far more layers than Mehana was and speaking in frenetic tones.
‘But it’s just a drill,’ said Mehana.
No one corrected her, so when she first smelled the smoke, Mehana figured it was some microwaved-lunch disaster that’d occurred simultaneously with the fire drill. Building maintenance scheduled routine drills all the time. There was one season at Gina’s when fire drills took place three times a week, at precisely the same hour. She learned to avoid reheating her coffee for a good ten minutes before two, when the alarm would undoubtedly resound through the building’s twelve floors and send its occupants fleeing. What a curious role play, she’d think, scurrying down the stairwell in a false display of dramaturgy.
Now, dressed in the actual costume of role play, Mehana found herself desensitized to the scurry and the taking shelter, to the echoing clatter of several thousand heels clacking down forty flights of stairs. The smoke built, seeping through cracks in the doors and tumbling down the stairs. She brought her hands to her bare body. Her clutch of belly bounced beneath the coconut shells. She tried very hard to pay no mind to the classily clad women passing judgment on her outfit, her turgid, untoned tissue. The smoke wove through the byways of her nasal cavity. By the tenth floor, descending hurriedly onto the ninth story landing, Mehana realized she might die there, among all those high heels, painstakingly naked in her culture’s most devastating clichés. She would die as one of Landon Wilder’s Island Girls. She would die sans orgasm, sans friends. Really she couldn’t think of a more fitting end to a brief and adequate life than to die of smoke inhalation in the Executive Center stairwell.
Mehana emerged on the ground floor. She was still wearing the coconut bra and waxy plastic grass skirt and her feet were bare. She was alive. Cars scraped by along Bishop Street, their drivers hooting at her, jeering. She brought her arms to her chest. A hand flattened over her shoulder. It was Patti, offering her a flannel cover-up.
She hurried with the flannel, bringing her arms through the sleeves, drawing the collar flaps tight around her neck. Patti flashed her a featureless grin, leaving her hand to rest on Mehana’s shoulder.
‘To be honest, you pull off that look much better than I do.’
‘Please. I can already feel this stupid tan running.’
Patti glanced up at the twinkling glass tower, peering around for smoke. Mehana followed suit.
‘Think we’ll finally watch it all burn down?’ Mehana asked.
Patti shook her head sadly. ‘Nah, these white dudes will outlive us all. Might as well wring out some pleasure for ourselves while we still can, right?’
Pleasure piled like a stack of stones in her chest, then, leaning into the delicious pressure of Patti’s palm. So she was forgiven, at least temporarily. Patti still grinning noncommittally, fire truck sirens trumpeting in the distance. Mehana adjusted her drooping coconut bra from inside the tent of flannel. Landon Wilder was nowhere to be seen.
‘We should have dinner,’ Mehana proposed. ‘Tonight?’
‘Can’t. I think I have a date with Karl. I should probably check. What is today?’
Patti peered at her phone. ‘Wednesday.’
‘Wednesday,’ Mehana said, testing the syllables on her tongue. ‘Yes, I think we’ve planned to date tonight. Tomorrow?’
‘Kevin and I are seeing Les Misérables. Diamond Head Theatre’s putting it on.’
‘Sometime soon, then?’
Patti’s smile flattened like an upturned blade. ‘Yes, absolutely.’
She squeezed Mehana’s shoulder, and then she was gone.
Mehana stood still on the shit-splotched sidewalk, waiting for someone to shove her off her axis, or maybe to reassure her everything will be fine. She will orgasm one day, and she won’t lose her job. Gina will understand; likely she will promote her. Karl will fulfill her complicated needs. She and Patti will reconnect over an extravagant meal, someplace sun-kissed and inauthentically red-bricked, like Livestock Tavern or Fête, where she can return the flannel Patti had so kindly loaned her. Over a tray of chilled oysters, the women will forgive each other slowly, and Mehana will think with enormous confidence, I am growing.
Eventually, building management waves everyone inside.
Patti’s flannel is taken from her, the crimps in her grass skirt smoothed by a handheld iron, her hair brushed back by boar bristles. What a strange new way to live that she has mined. Cameras whirl around her, striking high beams blink on and off and on again, and then Landon Wilder is stepping into a puddle of light, his naked body whitewashed and glossy under the fluorescents. Mehana lies supine on the mattress, sneaking glimpses of his bullet chest and stiff, knuckled belly, and legs hilariously skinny as chopsticks. She tries exceedingly hard not to laugh. Something new sounds out from between her thighs; it resembles the sound of her own unmaking. This whole Island Girls thing is tricky business indeed, though Mehana thinks she is getting the hang of it.
God, her poor ancestors. This grass skirt and fake coconut bra. How would they feel?
But no time to think of that now. Now, legs splayed out like the tallowy ends of a candle, Mehana holds tight to the feeling that anything is possible. It is possible to be many things, all the time, all at once.
Photograph © kittyb0mb