Manaoio means "faith" in Hawaiian. And that's what Verona struggles with in this story....
"Verona! Verona come here! It's mommy! She's throwing up again! And it's more bloodier than it was at two!"
But it's only 2:30! Verona thought with absolute dread. She rushed into the bathroom, where her mom was hunched over the toilet, making sounds that would give a four year old nightmares, and beside her, kneeling, was Verona's younger brother, Jake, who was crying and saying,
"It's going to be okay, mommy. You're okay." Verona shot to the glass cabinet that hung on the wall over the yellow-brown sink and grabbed three large pill bottles that were filled with her mother's medicine. Manaolana--AKA Hope--their Mastiff, cantered into the bathroom. She began to whine and snort with concern at the sight of Mally, the kid's mother. Verona hopped over Manaolana and ran to the kitchen. She grabbed a glass from the bottom cabinet and filled it with filtered water from the sink. She then ran down their short hallway into the bathroom, and began opening the three pill bottles.
"Jake, move aside," Verona commanded him. She gently pushed Manaolana to the side and knelt next to her mom. She held out the medication. "Mother, take these." When her mom had stopped throwing up for a few seconds, Verona handed her the three very large pills and the glass of water. When her mom had finally choked down the medication she said, "Jake, take Manaolana outside and chain her, okay?" Just then, there was a flash of light from the window, and a second later a loud rumble shook the whole house.
"But it's-" he began, still crying.
"I know, but she's a smart dog. She'll know to hide underneath the porch, okay Jake?"
"Okay." he replied, sniffling and wiping his nose with his arm, "Come on, Hope. Out girl." He gently ushered her out the bathroom, all the while she was still whining and growling with anxiety.
Verona sighed. Mom is only growing worse, how much longer does she have? "Mom?" Verona questioned, "Are you okay?" She only groaned in response, the pain in her voice thick. Verona said in a gentle voice, "Hey, Mom? Look, loo-, look at me. That's it, hey, I'm here, okay? I'm here." She ever so gently pulled her mom back, until she was leaning against Verona's chest and quietly whispered, "I'm here. Verona's here." Just then, she heard the front door open and close with a loud creak, and bare feet speed walking down the hall. "Jake?"
"Yes?" he said as he entered the doorway.
"Go to bed, little one."
"But what about mamma?" Jake questioned.
Verona replied, "She'll be okay." Jake turned to leave but stopped, looking back at her with worried, wet eyes.
"Promise?" he asked with worry edging his voice. Another deafening clap of thunder rolled overhead. A pause.
"I Promise," she replied.
The early sunlight poured into the small bathroom window and spilled on the gray tiles of the floor. Verona woke to a small voice saying, "Verona? Are you awake?"
"Mhmm." she grunted tiredly, her dark brown eyes still closed and head drooping on her mother's shoulder.
"Should I start delivering the newspapers?" Jake wondered.
"Yes." she replied without opening her eyes.
"Can you help me?" he asked.
Verona lifted her head so it could rest against the wall behind her and opened her eyes to look at Jake who was standing in the bathroom doorway, still in his clothes from the night before.
"No, I'm sorry. I need to move mommy back into our bedroom, okay?"
"Okay." Jake said. And with that, he silently exited the bathroom and made his way down the hallway, his head low and shoulders slumped.
The sadness in his tone and eyes made Verona's heart sink. When she recovered, she looked down and saw that her mom was fast asleep, still laying on her chest. Verona carefully moved her arms underneath her mom's legs and upper back, and with a small grunt, hoisted her mom up and quietly walked to the bedroom that she, her mom, Jake, and Manaolana shared. She walked to the bunk beds that rested against the far wall underneath a small window, and set her mom gently on the bottom bunk.
"There," she said quietly to herself. She pulled a thin, torn, light blue blanket with faded yellow stars and moons over her mom. Verona pulled back her long, black hair into a sloppy bun and sighed. God, she silently pleaded in her mind, why? Why do you want this for her? The pain, the suffering; it's excruciating not only for her, but for me and Jake. And even Manaolana knows that something's wrong with her. I beg of you Lord, heal her, please.
"Please," Verona whispered under her breath. Outside, she heard Manaolana's plead for her breakfast. She left the room, with a final glance over her shoulder at her mom. "I'm coming, love!" she called when she was entered the kitchen. She then remembered the pill bottles and empty glass she had left in the bathroom. She dismissed the thought and decided to grab them later. She went to the screen door to find Manaolana in front of it, pacing back and forth and softly growling with hunger. "Patience! Geez girl!" she said in a playful voice. Verona bent down to grab the large, and almost empty bag of Pedigree dog food on the right side of the door and walked outside on the porch to greet her Mastiff.
"Good morning, sweetheart." Manaolana answered her with a series of excited barks, headbutts, growls, and licks while Verona unchained her. "Yes, I know, I know lovely, here you go." Verona picked up the large metal bowl that had "Manaolana" scribbled on it with black sharpie and used the plastic scoop in the bag to put the rest of the food in her bowl. "Need to get more food." Verona mumbled to herself crumpling up the empty bag and throwing it over the railing into the rusty, dented tin trash can.
She looked down to see Manaolana sloppily devouring her food. She chuckled. What a character! She then walked back inside to the bathroom. She picked up the empty glass and pill bottles. She set the glass on the sink and opened the glass cabinet. She placed the bottles inside and then closed the door. She looked at herself in the dirty mirror and sighed.
Would things EVER get better, she thought sorrowfully. Verona heard a scratch at the door. With one last look at herself, she exited the bathroom, glass in hand. She set the cup in the sink and opened the door for the dog. Manaolana trotted to the small, three chaired bamboo table that sat beneath a window by the door. Verona went to the sink and rinsed the cup. She dried it and put it away. Manaolana reared up on the table, grabbed the black retractable dog leash and collar, and looked at Verona with pleading eyes. "I know girl, time for your walk." She slipped the faded red collar over Manaolana's head and hooked up her leash. But before she left, she walked with Manaolana back to her bedroom and checked on her mom. Verona always had that twinge of fear when she left the house. But she figured that her mom was fast asleep, and with a quick, silent prayer of protection, she left the house and walked down her driveway onto the road.
"Manaolana! Manaolana, come back girl!" Verona was sprinting after her Mastiff, who had smelled something and decided that she had to check it out, with or without Verona. "Hope, come here! Heal, girl!" Manaolana didn't stop. "Sorry! Excuse me, sorry!" she yelled as she ran into to other people on the street on her wild goose chase.
"Come back, girl!" There was a series of loud barks and Verona knew immediately that her dog was chasing another, but for what, she had not the slightest clue. Verona rounded a corner, still calling to her dog, when Manaolana leaped over a wooden fence onto private property. Oh no... "Manaolana!" Verona yelled, "Come back!" The only response was loud barking, that every second, grew fainter and fainter. She groaned in frustration and fear. What is wrong with her?! She let out a loud breath. Verona stood in place for a long time before she sadly decided that she would have to return home without her beloved Mastiff. She reluctantly turned to head home with one last look at the fence, and started walking down the road towards home.
"Verona? Where's Manaolana?" called a voice from behind her.
Are you kidding me? She thought. She turned around to face Jake who was pulling up to her on his bike. "Umm..."
"What? What's wrong?" Jake asked as he came to a full stop. He had concern edging his voice.
She took a deep breath, "Hope ran away while we were on our walk." Jake stared in disbelief.
"What?" his voice trembled. "No. You're lying. You're not serious. She's here somewhere..." He hopped off his bike and began calling her name.
Verona's vision blurred with tears. "Jake," she said quietly. He continued calling out. "Jake!" she finally blurted. He spun around from where he stood by the fence Hope hopped over earlier. Her voice cracked as she said solemnly, "She's not coming back." Jake stared at her for a few seconds before lowering his head towards the ground. He started crying. "Yes, I know, I know. I'm sorry, Jake. I'm so, so sorry." She went over and hugged him. "I'm sorry." Verona started crying harder. She then reassured Jake that she promised she would find her, and headed home, the bike she pushed, with Jake walking beside her.
"I love you, Jake," Verona called after her brother, who just left to deliver newspapers. It had been two weeks since her dog ran away. She started back up the driveway towards the house. When she got to the porch, she glanced down at the empty dog food bowl with Manaolana's name on it.
Lord, she prayed, first mom, and now this? Are you even listening to me? With a sad sigh, she walked through the screen door into the small one story house. She went to the bedroom to check on her mom, who was laying on the bottom bunk, with her eyes closed, quietly listening to Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's album, "Facing Future" which had some of her favorite songs on it. Verona lightly knocked on the door. "Mom?" her mother paused her MP3 player and tiredly opened her eyes. Verona noticed the gray crescent moons that underlined them.
"Yes, sweetheart?" she answered in a soft voice.
"You doin' ok by yourself?" Mally looked sadly at the large, empty dog bed by her head on the floor. Verona felt the loss of their beloved dog well inside of her. "I'm really sorry, mom." Verona said, choking through the tears running down her face.
"I know, darling. I know." her mom replied. She sat up in the bed and opened her arms. Verona sat down on the bed and embraced her mother. She cried into her shoulder.
"I never meant for it to happen." Verona sobbed.
"It's okay, I know. It's not your fault, love." A single tear ran down her pale face. Her mother took a deep breath. "God," her mother began to pray out loud, "please watch over our little Hope. Please let Manaolana be okay."
It was pitch black and pouring rain when Verona heard the howl. She bolted upright in bed, waking her little brother.
"Verona," Jake asked, still lying down and half-asleep, "what's wrong?"
"Did you hear that?' she asked. Another howl split the night.
"Yeah," he said, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. Another howl. Verona and Jake looked at each other.
"Manaolana!" they exclaimed in unison. Verona climbed down the side of the bed excitedly.
Jake followed shouting, "Momma! Mommy, wake up, Hope is here!" he started to shake her. Verona dashed out of the room and to the front door. And there, outside on the porch, sopping wet, was their beloved Mastiff, Manaolana.
"Manaolana!" She threw open the door. Verona fell to her knees, crying, and hugged her dog close to her. "My baby girl! My baby girl is home!" But instead of licking her to death, Manaolana stood for a second to let Verona squeeze her. But then she ripped from her and ran to the bedroom. "Manaolana, where are you going, girl?" Verona called after her as she followed. When she entered the room, Jake was kneeling over Mally, shaking her.
He was crying and screaming, "Mommy?! Mommy get up, please!"
"Jake?" Verona asked, worried. Manaolana was reared up on the bed, whining and barking. Verona walked over to the bedside. "What's going on..." That's when she saw her. Her mom was lying on the bed, dead.
Verona took a deep breath. Her hands covered her mouth as tears spilled over her eyes. Everything around her faded out of focus and went silent, as all of her senses were concentrated on her mom.
"No," she was saying quietly. "No, no, no, no..." Verona bolted out of the room. She ran out of the house, down the driveway, and into the cold, rainy night. She ran and ran, as if she could run away from it all. As if she could run from the poverty, the pain, the dead body lying on the bed, the body of her dead mother. The one who had raised her and her younger brother after their dad had abandoned them. The one who did more than anyone else for her family. And the one who prayed the hardest when she didn't believe, who asked God to watch over her children, when in reality, she was the one that was in need of being looked after. She ran down to the deserted beach. She collapsed on the white sand in front of the rolling high tide.
"God," she cried at the top of her lungs, "Why?! Why did you take her?! You should have healed her, Lord! I prayed, and prayed, and prayed; I begged you, God! Why would you take her?! She meant the world to me! And now, my world is gone! And it's all because of you!" The white, foamy water rolled up on the beach around her knees and hands. Verona looked up at the starry night sky, and she screamed. She screamed in anger, pain, frustration, loss, and uncertainty. She screamed for every night that she would wake up to her mom throwing up. She screamed for her father abandoning her and her family. She screamed for the path that her mother said that God had put her on, and how it would be filled with blessings, when, to Verona, it felt like hell. When she stopped, she looked at her reflection in the puddle in front of her. She sobbed. She sobbed until she wasn't spilling tears. But she still cried. She sobbed until it was low tide, but she didn't stop. She sobbed until it stopped raining, but even then, she didn't stop. She sobbed, and cried, and screamed. She was crying when the first ray of the east sun rose, and hit the sand she was kneeling on. Verona looked up. She squinted her eyes against the pink, purple, and red beams reflecting off of the ocean from the sun. She stopped crying and watched as the sun rose over the ocean. It was then that she realized that she was really tired. With one final tear of mourning, Verona laid on the sand in the warm sun, and fell asleep.
"Verona? Please wake up." Verona opened her eyes and saw Jake kneeling next to her, Manaolana pacing behind him.
What?... A large wet nose was shoved in her face. "Manaolana, get off, girl." Verona commanded. She pushed her away since the dog didn't listen. She sat up and looked around. Why am I on the beach? Remembrance hit her like a bullet train. "Jake," Verona said, "what are you doing out here?"
"Well," he began, "after momma..." he paused, a far away look in his eyes.
"I know," Verona said gently.
Jake snapped out of his daze and continued "You ran out of the house and I didn't want to lose you, too. So I took Hope with me, and she led me to you." Jake's eyes were big and filled with worry. His lightly tanned face was red from crying. "And I found you," he finished. Verona looked at her younger brother. And for whatever reason, she started crying. She hugged Jake and even squeezed Manaolana in with them, too. She knew that God had not left her, and that life was in his hands, not hers. God was always with her, always by her side, but life would never be perfect. Maybe her mom was gone, but the rest of her family--and faith--wasn't.