I always close my eyes at landings, and now I wait for the first big bump of our single engine plane to melt into a roll before I allow myself a ground level look at Kiriwina Island. Palm trees fringe the strip of wartime airfield my father helped build out of crushed coral almost fifty years ago. I don’t know what I expect to find, but missing are the nearly naked island girls decked in flowers, the frenzied drummers, and the muscled young men juggling torches pictured in the humidity-curled brochure I left back at our Port Moresby hotel.
When the pilot cuts the engine, the quiet wakes my seven-year-old boy, who blinks up a wordless, brown-eyed, “Where are we?”
We’ve stopped next to a jeep painted school-bus yellow, and I have a vision of the morning pick-up in front of our house on Carl’s first day of kindergarten: the bus doors fold open, Carl steps up with a brave shrug of his Snoopy backpack, then remembers to look back at my wife Christine and me. She and I stand shoulder-to-shoulder on our front stoop, waving. Carl nods. Then the daydream burns away in the same over-exposed lighting I use in my slasher films to presage a fresh evisceration. These days Christine and I rarely touch.
After my son and I have disembarked, our pilot guarantees he’ll be back in a week, and we watch the plane peel down the runway, lift, and veer over the trees into the cloudless sky. Carl’s arm feels as light as a bird’s wing as I guide him toward the jeep.
Our driver, a young Islander with appendages like pipe cleaners, tosses our bags into the back of the vehicle before greeting us.
“Welcome back, Walchuk clan,” he says, his accent hinting at Australian. “Pah-pui.”
“Pah-pui,” I reply, bowing.
“I’m Pah-pui Frederico,” he clarifies. He sticks a finger into Carl’s ribs, and my boy doubles over with a giggle-snort, then peers up at me to see if it’s okay. I wink, but lift a brow at Pah-pui.
“We’ve never been here before. Why ‘back’?”
“Your blood’s been here, right?” The band of the headphones he’s pushed off his ears has settled in his modest afro.
He motions me onto the back benchseat and hoists Carl beside me. “Not a lot of Walchuks in the Kiriwina phone book.” He catches my eye in the rearview mirror. “Your father?” he reminds me patiently.
“Oh! Yes.” The jeep growls to a start, and we jolt toward the verdure. “My father built this strip during the war. He loved this place.” I’m shouting over the engine. “He thought it was the most blessed spot on earth. He said he found our family’s luck on this island. But you’re not old enough to remember my father.”
Pah-pui doesn’t answer. He’s tugged on his headphones, and he might be nodding to what I said or to his music or because of the rutted road. Before long we’ve lurched into the humid shadows of a rainforest. There’s a deep odor of rot, but I’m suddenly hungry. Carl must be hungry, too. There are crackers and water bottles in our bags. If our lodge is a long way off, we should eat. I measure Pah-pui’s head bobs, preparing to tap his shoulder—I don’t want to startle him if he’s lost in his music. Each time he rocks forward I see what’s printed on the back of his T-shirt: “Boston Red Sox, 1986 World Champions.”
“Pew!” Carl pinches his nose.
The road splits a swamp. Shards of sunlight mottle vast, oozing stretches. I remember that I’m here to plan a movie—I frame shots, contemplate angles, imagine the splashing of mud-caked Islanders and retreating Western adventurers, superimpose gigantic digitalized monsters: dinosaurs and, of course, the ape. The Son of Kong! My instincts were right—Kiriwina Island appears to be the perfect site for my re-envisioning of that undervalued sequel.
My gaze stalls again on Pah-pui’s T-shirt. It’s wrong. Boston didn’t win the World Series in 1986. The Mets did—there was that big error, the grounder through what’s-his-name’s legs, and New York wound up winning in seven games.
The jeep brakes, and I throw my forearm across Carl’s chest; I plant my other hand on Pah-pui’s back and the declaration of an impossible Boston victory. He turns. Tattoos I hadn’t seen in the sunlit airfield wriggle down his neck.
“You’re here to make a movie, right?”
“What? Yes, well, to scout a location.”
“We studied your movies. In Port Moresby. I was in business college for hotel management. They only had one elective—American Film Studies. Our professor showed us all of your films. It was like a Raymond Walchuk festival. We all became connoisseurs of the slasher genre a la Walchuk. But you must have something special in mind for us Kiriwinans. I’ve been wondering about it since we got your reservation at the lodge. Something big time. A big monster, right? You’re smart—we’ll work cheap. No union problems here. But we’ve got other issues.”
His shirt’s still got me flummoxed, but I’m dazzled by Pah-pui’s barrage of information and insights. If I’m already on a pedestal, I need to keep my balance. “Issues?”
His dark irises are pupil-less. “Problems in the magic department,” he says. He looks down at his waist and pats his Walkman. “Did you bring batteries with you? Double A?”
My arm is still across Carl’s chest, and I drop it. I’ve been juggling too many thoughts. Then an “aha” moment: championship shirts are made up for both teams. How else would they be ready the instant the game ends? Every triumph spawns an “anti-verse” of defeated winners, and their shirts clothe the people of third world countries. I’m a guest in loser paradise.
“Daddy—” All along Carl’s been pointing at something in the swamp a stone’s throw to our left.
“Right you are, little man” Pah-pui says. “Tour stop number one. That’s a Japanese Zero. Been here since the first Mr. Walchuk’s war.” The cockpit of the sunken plane leers at us from the muck like a crocodile. “Maybe your monster’s Japanese, like Godzilla—you could use this shot.”
“Kong,” I say, acknowledging my plan. “The Son of Kong, actually.”
Pah-pui blinks toward the downed aircraft. “Good! About time. Kong’s the Eighth Wonder of the World, so, what’s his son—the ninth?”
“Something like that. I packed batteries. I’ll give them to you when we get to the lodge. How long?”
“Twenty minutes. Where’s the missus?”
Christine? Of course she’d been included in the reservation. She’d backed out at the last minute in favor of a conference in Cleveland where she could pitch her new gaming magazine—MindGames. I’d hoped to make this trip a second honeymoon—on a beach, like our first, though that had been at a lake shore. Christine distrusted the ocean. There’s a note from her in my pocket. “Ray and Carl,” it reads, “Value the experience! You’re sure to have a lovely time—Christine/Mom.” It’s barely decipherable—she must have written it quickly. Only through context could I tell she meant “lovely time” and not “lonely time.”
We rumble on through the stinking swamp. Every Thanksgiving dinner Dad would remind Mom and me of his love for this idyllic place. It’s true he hadn’t had to spend the war scorching the caves of remote atolls with a flamethrower or shivering in winter-locked Hurtgen Forest. But in paradise do fighter planes rain from the sky? What rainbow’s end did the pilot of that Zero find?
“Cleveland,” I say. “The missus is in Cleveland.”
“Cleveland. That’s where they’re building the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!” His eyes on the road, Pah-pui flips a thumbs-up.
“Really?” I had no idea.
My son is standing in the doorway of our cabin, advertised as a “rustic bungalow” by the proprietors of the Kiriwina Lodge. There are half a dozen identical structures, one of which serves as an office, at the edge of the village. Our bungalow has a thatched roof, a dirt floor, bamboo walls, two cots, a chemical toilet, and a wash basin beneath a small mirror. It’s impossible to move without brushing against mosquito netting.
“At present, you’re our only guests,” Pah-pui, who represents the Lodge’s entire staff, had said as he handed me a fresh copy of the Lodge brochure, along with a typed insert he proudly informed me he wrote himself—Your Stay on the Island of Love.
Maybe twenty huts, similar in design to our cabin but half its size, stretch along a loamy path leading to the beach. According to the photocopied insert, much of Island life involves the cultivation, accumulation, and consumption of yams, and a bin displaying a family’s yam supply stands like a new Mercedes before each residence. An indigo sea glimmers to the horizon under a milky sky. A dozen black canoes mark the yellow beach.
“I think I see kids,” Carl says. “They’re in the houses.” I’ve quit surveying the deserted village and lie on my cot reading Your Stay on the Island of Love. Probably everyone is off farming yams, whatever that entails. The paragraph I’m on notes the research of Giorgiano Frederico, “a famous Italian anthropologist who visited the island twenty years ago and became intimate with the Islanders and their customs.” Intimate enough, apparently, to have left his surname for Pah-pui. The brochure also mentions that eating is a private act on the island. My son and I consume our mashed yams, fried mud crabs, and bottles of Coke while secluded in our bungalow. From Pah-pui’s insert I also learn that “traditional island canoe carvings—elaborate designs worked into the prows of the boats—take years to complete and depict family and community history, tribal customs, and the secrets of Kiriwinan magic.”
“Hold it a second—” I’ve just started a new section, The Erotic Sex Games of Island Children. The first sentences describe with clinical frankness the sexual foreplay enjoyed by “children younger than eight,” and it’s as if I hear Pah-pui whispering this information behind his hand. Western visitors, it seems, “often find such pre-mating rituals among children disturbing and refer ironically to Kiriwina as ‘The Island of Love.’” I don’t remember Dad ever calling it that.
“Someone’s coming, Daddy. A kid.”
As if I’d been caught ogling pornography, I slip Pah-pui’s insert under my pillow and join Carl at the bungalow entrance. I place one hand on my boy’s shoulder and shield my eyes from the afternoon sun with the other.
Not until he’s upon us do we see that our visitor isn’t a child—it’s a legless man. He’s been using his arms as fulcrums to swing his trunk forward with the mechanized rhythm of a giant toy. He’s old—his hair sprouts with a silvery sheen from a red, white, and blue scarf; his shoulders shrug permanently above his ears. Tattoos fade into his chest’s parchment flesh. The blunt end of his torso is swathed in a white cloth and rests on a strip of automobile tire held in place by hemp suspenders. His eyes shine like black nail-heads hammered into his mahogany face. Planting himself before us, he sticks out a hand as broad and flat as a catcher’s mitt.
Carl and our visitor are exactly the same height. My son reaches for the huge, callused palm, but recoils when the amputee bursts into keening chatter. His rant stops the instant Pah-pui, toting plastic buckets of gray water, emerges from behind our bungalow. The younger Islander lowers his pails and stands behind our guest.
“Grandpa says, ‘Welcome back, Mr. Frederico.’”
“I thought you were Mr. Frederico.”
“Didn’t you read about The Island of Love?”
“Most—not all of it yet.” I’m not comfortable telling him where I’d left off.
“Mmm. Well, Grandpa here is my wife’s grandfather, and Giorgiano Frederico, the anthropologist I wrote about—is her father. Me, I married into the name—surnames are complicated here. Bottom line is, the long-departed Giorgiano Frederico is Grandpa’s son-in-law.”
“And he thinks I’m Frederico?”
Pah-pui laughs. The old man, locked upright on his knotted arms, blocks our view of the village and sea. “He thinks you’re every white man. We don’t get many visitors—whatever the essence of a white man is, that’s you—pearls on the same necklace—past, present, and future.”
“But right now I’m Frederico?”
“Yes, sir. And you’re also interchangeable with your father and the handful of soldiers who were here during the war. Their names are remembered like charms: Johnson. Warren. Barnes. Walchuk.” Pah-pui reflects. “Like charms, but not magical. If Grandpa thinks you’re Frederico, maybe he’ll tell you about the real magic. I cribbed most of what I wrote from Frederico’s books—it seemed to me he knew a lot more than he revealed. Grandpa won’t tell us a damned thing.”
“About the magic?”
“None of the old ones will share it. The spells are part of the island tradition. For centuries one generation has “sold” them to the next. But they won’t take anything from us—not shells, not yams, or electric razors or Walkmen. We’re not deserving, somehow. Too modern— don’t trust anyone under forty, you know what I mean? They’re committing cultural suicide.”
“And this is your magic issue.”
“Yessir—he only gave my wife—his own granddaughter—half the beauty spell.” Pah-pui shakes his head. “Even half, she’s gor-geous! You’ll meet her tonight at our welcoming celebration—it’ll be like the pictures on the brochure.” He sees I’m staring at the old man.
“Sharks,” he stage-whispers. “That’s the story, an oldie but a goody. I wasn’t around yet, that’s for sure. Hey—when I was in that film class, Grandpa’s ‘condition’ gave me an idea for a screenplay. My final project—I got a B+. I’ll let you have it for free, because you’re making Son of Kong here, right? You’re Island family. I call my movie Stumpy. It’s about a half-man who’s a crazy murderer. My best effect is to let the camera linger on a sleeping victim’s face while the audience listens to the grunt and drag as Stumpy gets closer and closer. I figured out how to shoot it cheap, too: when we show Stumpy, we’d get a regular actor and bury him up to the waist. Then we just keep changing the set and the lights and props all around him.”
“Sounds promising,” I lie.
“Maybe in Hollywood there are enough real half-people we wouldn’t have to bury anybody. Veterans from your Vietnam War.” Pah-pui’s serious. “Original, right?”
“Freaks,” I say.
“1932, Todd Browning used real circus freaks, including a half-man. No studios would work with him after that.” Pah-pui stands motionless for a few seconds while the wind drops out of his sails, then picks up his buckets. Dirty water slops on his Keds. “But nobody’s done anything exactly like your Stumpy,” I offer too late.
“You and the boy should take naps. Keep out of the heat of the day—save yourself for the big party.” Pah-pui lifts his eyes from his wet shoes. “There’s a lot to learn,” he says, then barks, “Come on!” at Grandpa, adding a few curt syllables in a language I don’t understand.
There’s so much my father never told me about this island. Full of Thanksgiving turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and three for four beers, he’d wax eloquent about lovely sunsets and tropical breezes and his amazing luck as if he were composing lyrics to a Broadway melody. But of magic or fighter planes or half-men or the “erotic love games” of children he revealed nothing. Either he’d been oblivious, or over time had willed himself into oblivion. Unless Dad deemed me unworthy of his secret knowledge. Or might he have been trying to protect me?
With the door of our cabin shut, it’s surprisingly dark and cool. Carl’s sleeping. Something is trapped in the mosquito netting above my head and flutters invisibly, and I think I’m awake until dream images intrude: Stumpy. I can hear the wheeze and shift of Pah-pui’s creation. Are there any half-men available in Hollywood? The Stumpy I envision wears a ship-captain’s hat. I’d give him companions: a gentle Saint Bernard dog that licks his ill-featured face and lives with him among rusted implements in a toolshed. Children join him, a sickly band of orphans, maybe. In that dark corner of the toolshed, what is that? Two orphans—doing what? Kissing? What?
I wake, damp, with an urge to swat cobwebs from my face, half-sure I’m in a forgotten room of a House of Horrors at a third rate amusement park. Why trust Pah-pui? He could be the P.T. Barnum of Kiriwina Island, and this could be my sucker’s minute. What has Pah-pui delivered besides a sideshow featuring a rusting fighter plane and a half-man, a dicey twist of juvenile eroticism, and a hint of unattainable magic? He’d probably stop at nothing to keep my interest piqued: a major film production here would mean a lot of yams.
Carl isn’t in his cot, nor is he behind the toilet’s privacy curtain, and for a moment I wonder if I’ve dreamed him up. I hadn’t given him specific instructions not to leave the bungalow. We’ve never tried to restrict his curiosity, and he really can’t wander too far—we’re on an island, after all. Before we left on this trip, I showed him our destination on a map of the world. “It’s just a hand away from home,” he said, measuring the distance between my thumb on Papua New Guinea and the pinky I stretched almost to the western coast of the U.S. He may not be old enough to feel the island’s remoteness. This dark room, in which I’m fumbling to button my tropically flowered shirt, could be anywhere.
When I open the door, the pink and orange sky over the ocean horizon forces the shadows from my thoughts. An amber sun dapples a gentle sea, and the dwellings that face it glow like warm toast. A sharp sunray glints from something down at the beach—no—it’s a small fire in front of the black canoes. I don’t see Carl yet, but I don’t call out—if there isn’t a taboo against shouting at sunset, there should be.
Pah-pui materializes at my side as if I’ve rubbed a genie’s lamp. The long sleeved T-shirt he’s changed into commemorates the same apocryphal Boston triumph.
“The boy’s eaten—I’ll bring you something now, for the bungalow,” he says, reminding me that eating is a private act. “The big show will start in a few hours, after dark.”
“No food, thanks. Where’s Carl?”
Pah-pui nods to the beat of whatever is playing on his Walkman. “He’s been all over—he met my wife. Been down to the beach to see Grandpa. Might be with my children now. Twins—I’ve got twin girls. They’re looking for him. Children are always looking for other children.” Children. My stomach clenches as I remember why Westerners call Kiriwina “The Island of Love.” Then again, Pah-pui wrote the insert—maybe he made up that nickname and the disturbing idea of “child’s love play.” But if he had made everything up—where’s the comfort in that?
“The beach? Carl’s never had swimming lessons.”
Pah-pui pulls off his headphones. A tiny clamor sizzles from the earpieces.
“He’ll learn someday.”
“I mean he shouldn’t go in the water unsupervised.”
A chuckle. “Nobody’s going in the water. No telling what’s in the water!”
I’m squinting at a circle of men gathered at the fire down by the canoes. “Was Grandpa really attached by a shark?”
Pah-pui shrugs. “I wasn’t there. You have a better story?”
“And the island elders really won’t pass on the traditional magic spells?”
“Won’t sell us the magic,” he corrects. “No exchange is satisfactory. They say they’d rather starve.” He nods toward our cabin. “I’ve got to clean your toilet. You’re sure you don’t want to eat?”
“Thanks, no. I’ll look for Carl.”
“He’s somewhere. We party tonight!” As Pah-pui scoops his earphones back over his afro and lugs a Lysol-steeped pail into my bungalow, I wonder what kind of party has no food or drink. With a pang, I think of Christine in her Cleveland hotel room. I have no idea what time it is there, but I picture her dressing for a dinner with like-minded entrepreneurs. Her black dress freshly ironed, she leans toward her mirror, humming as she inserts first one sparkling earring, then another. Her thoughts are ten thousand miles away from her husband and the son he’s misplaced.
Pah-pui pokes his head out my door. “Hey,” he calls, lifting his voice over his private music, “since Son of Kong’s been done before, how is ours going to be different?”
Ours. “I don’t know,” I answer. “Better effects?”
“We could market a doll,” he says. “A baby ape doll. Call him Kiko.”
I make my way toward the beach fire and the handful of elders settled around it. The canoes behind them, out-riggers, are much larger than they’d seemed from the bungalow doorway. There’s no sign of Carl yet—I’m not really worried—but what would a midnight search in the forest be like? A hand touches my shoulder, and I jump.
When I spin and look down, I meet the blue eyes and smile of a compact Island woman under a giant, black cauliflower of hair. She’s flanked by two little girls, dark-eyed, miniature versions of herself. The trio wears matching T-shirts, and their plastic grass skirts resemble the basket greenery surrounding chocolate Easter bunnies. The shirts celebrate a 1989 Stanley Cup I doubt Montreal won. I don’t follow hockey.
“I lov-ed, just lov-ed Slitter, Mr. Walchuk,” the young woman gushes. “The way the murdering man with the big scar sighs, ‘Wee, wee, wee, all the way home!’ every time after he kills someone, it gives me chills!” She hugs herself, and the little girls follow suit, rocking on their bare feet. I’m speechless. The young woman cocks her head. “Didn’t he tell you we met in film class? Pah-pui?”
Ah, Pah-pui’s wife, the anthropologist’s daughter, grandchild of the shark-abridged Grandpa. “Hello,” I say.
“Pah-pui’s not from the island, did you know that? He’s a Port Moresby boy. A magazine once listed Port Moresby as the third least livable city in the world.” She smiles and her teeth are white and perfect. “That’s really bad!” She has only a wedge of chin on her round face and very little neck. She leans toward me as if sharing a secret, and her earlobes twinkle with studs like those I’d imagined on Christine.
“Oops,” she laughs, and before I can reach out to her she catches her balance with a wooden crutch she’d been hiding behind her back. The leg slipping through her Easter-grass skirt is in a cast to mid-thigh; it’s marked with illegible writing and a few stick figures. She tries to shimmy, and her girls swish their skirts ferociously. There’s a lovely coconut scent. “Beauty spells,” I’d read in Your Stay on the Island of Love, “are chanted into coconut oil, then rubbed into the skin or decorative items.” Hadn’t Pah-pui anointed his wife “gor-geous,” even with only half a spell? Her European eyes are so…unexpected.
“I didn’t finish my degree,” she confesses. “The kids came along, you know?”
“There he is!” one of the little girl squeals.
“Catch him!” her twin shouts, and the children fly past me, the soles of their feet pale flashes over the golden sand. And Carl, who’d been strolling toward us from the beach, cuts behind the nearest dwelling, the girls at his heels.
“The Island of Love,” Pah-pui’s wife sighs, and I sift her tone for irony. Seconds later, the children emerge, a little girl clinging to each of my son’s arms. When the T-shirt of one twin rides up, she tugs it down to cover her middle. My son doesn’t try to break away, and I can’t tell if he thinks he’s lost or won.
A lavender sky rises from the horizon, and the ocean is slate gray. I join Grandpa and his cronies at the small fire burning within a circle of stones. Some sit cross-legged in the sand. I and others perch on ancient plastic milk crates and bow toward the flame. Legless Grandpa, his huge hands flat on the sand, tips back onto a canoe. He wags his head and warbles something the others agree to with vigorous nods. When he pauses, all of the withered, tattooed men regard me with glittering eyes. I wonder who they think I am.
“Help!” Up the beach Carl has been frolicking with Pah-pui’s daughters, and now he’s flat on his back, and one of the girls sits astride him; her sister tugs at his shorts. It’s hard to tell whether his grunts for help are sincere. It sounds like he’s laughing. The girl on his chest bends and kisses him on his forehead, then begins bucking.
“Hey,” I call, “you okay, son?”
My boy shakes off the kissing, rubbing girl, springs to his feet, and, his shorts sagging, runs bow-legged across the beach to the sea. Without hesitation he wades in up to his knees, stops and turns. “It’s warm!” he shouts. The girls splash in after him. He lifts his arms in surrender. In the waning light his flesh is blue. The girls hold Carl tight, and he stares toward our fire. I can feel him trying to pick me out of the group. Pah-pui’s wife has hobbled to the water’s edge, careful to keep her cast dry. Her gaze shifts between the fire and the children.
My attention is splintered. Behind me, up in the village, I hear laughter, the banging of drums, a few chords strummed from guitars or ukuleles. Tiki torches punch through the dimness. There are stars over the forest. Our beach fire illuminates the elaborately carved prow of the canoe Grandpa leans on. The meaning of the symbols cut into the ancient wood is a mystery, but I think of Gothic cathedrals. There’s a lifetime of work, a culture of belief and devotion preserved in the details: magic, frozen in time. It begins to seem possible that these old men think I’m their anthropologist, and, since everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, they must hope I understand their sorrow and their stubborn reluctance to pass on their knowledge. They wouldn’t guess that my thoughts have wandered to my film, and to Pah-pui’s wife. Could I “discover” her for the role of the junior Kong’s golden girl? Her half-magic just might resonate with a Western audience. And what about a bit part for Grandpa?
“A Riot of Blood—wasn’t that your first?” It’s Pah-pui. When he squats beside me, dark veils seem to drop over the elders’ faces. “Back in film class in Port Moresby we discussed your choice of the word ‘riot.’ Violence with comic overtones—or comedy with violent undertones? Can you have it both ways? ‘Walchuk’s a genius,’ our teacher said.”
And Pah-pui is a master of flattery. I really don’t know a damned thing about this island, and I blame my father, whose image winks at me from the fire. Dad’s aglow with the memory of his good fortune on Kiriwina. “Your legacy,” he called it. A log crumbles with a small burst of flame, and now in the embers I see a figure I know is a young Grandpa: hovering, pictured from beneath the water’s surface, his legs pedaling to keep him afloat; and then a shadow passes, and his feet are gone; a second shadow erases him to mid-thigh…
Darkness has fallen fast. I blink toward the silhouettes of children playing in the surf. So little time has passed that I can’t believe the scene could have undergone such a change. The three small figures are no longer linked. One little girl is still knee-deep; she stands between her twin lunging through the luminous foam toward her mother and something a hundred yards out to sea, riding the surface—it’s my son’s head.
“Carl!” I shout, and wave, hoping he’ll wave back, that his feet touch bottom. Swells break over him in a lazy rhythm. I’m standing, but I can’t feel my legs.
The activity beside me has begun so efficiently that only after the old men have slid a canoe into the water and begun paddling do I see them. Four paddlers, and, like a centaur in the prow with a canoe for his lower half, Grandpa. He grips the carvings to hold himself in place. Voiceless, I hold my breath, as if this will encourage Carl to hold his.
The canoe cuts through the iron surface toward my son, and Grandpa, impossibly cantilevered, reaches down with his giant’s hand and deus ex machina-cally plucks the boy from the sea. Magic. Or my father’s luck?
I’ve staggered to the water, and foam churns over my ankles as Grandpa, from the prow of his canoe, delivers my glistening, dripping, coughing son. Carl clutches me with an almost painful embrace. And of course this is real, the weight of this body in my arms, not some climactic scene choreographed by Pah-pui. He’s nowhere to be seen. Who would believe this had all been staged to burden me with a debt redeemable only by giving The Son of Kong to Kiriwina Island? But that’s the only narrative I can offer anyone, myself, Christine, when all of everything is in danger of slipping away.