The Exact Shape of Hawaii!


A young man knocks on her door one evening after she has fallen into a deep nap and says he is her long-lost son.

My son is missing, she says. Has been for fifteen years.

Look at this birthmark, he says and shows her the birthmark.

She gasps when she sees it—the same as her long-lost son’s—in the exact shape of Hawaii!

She welcomes him home and educates him on the life he’s missed the last fifteen years: his brother’s marriage (wonderful rose-gold candlesticks), the death of Grinch (good old pup), the death of his own father (choked on toothpick), etc.

Wow, he says to it all. He seems surprised so much can happen.

Wait until your brother sees you, she says. This is a miracle!


She hardly sleeps that night. She thinks of when her youngest son first went missing. At the time, she had the thought that it was the wrong son who went missing. Her not-yet-dead husband would scold her when she said it out loud while lying in bed waiting for sleep to snip the dead bloom of day away. She didn’t feel guilt then, in the scolding moment, but had felt it ever since. This is a chance to start fresh, she thinks. She goes and listens in on her youngest son while he sleeps in his old room: noiseless, neutral, almost not even there.

The next morning the young man’s older brother comes to meet him. So you’re him? the older brother says.

I missed you, brother, says the young man.

But the older brother is suspicious. He asks to see the birthmark and nods when he sees it. He hugs his long-lost brother as if he’s hugging the shape made of something smoldering. Nothing is going to pull us apart again, the mother says, wrapping her arms around her boys.


Later, when it’s dark and everyone in the world that he knows is sleeping, the older brother begins to think . . . For fifteen years he has known only one kind of life. He thinks he hears a clock ticking in the house somewhere, but they do not own any ticking clocks. He sits up in bed. His wife sleeps like a dead Pope. He walks through his house in the dark. When he thinks of his brother he thinks of him with quotation marks around him. His “brother” . . . Where has he been these fifteen years?

What has he seen? What has he been doing with his life all this time? He wanders to the big globe in his big office and spins it to the Pacific Ocean, pinning his finger under a familiar cluster. He looks at it. Then he hears a creaking noise in the night . . .

Somewhere out in all the dark of the world is your life waiting for you to fall asleep so it can do its work.  

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