Notes on Fighting a Good Fight

I drew the shower curtain and found her there, curled up in the dry tub.  It was days now since the time she last spoke to me.  I could imagine her resentment against me and I couldn’t blame her of course, how could I?  In the soft beams of the afternoon sun I bathed in its modesty, lending me the time for myself outside to catch some air.  Time is a friend that catches on.  And when it does, it leaves you behind uncompromisingly.  Its passing does not protrude to hurt.  Its manifestations need not to be heralded.  It makes its own course through the passages of being and existence.  We took the train and exchanged the snuck whiskey during.  I held her close enough to remember or not to forget, and snatched some shallow sleep in between stops.  It took several hours to complete the draft.  And I had her read it out loud so we can both comment on it.  She suggested not changing anything.  It’s always best unadulterated she would say.

In the evenings we would walk up the streets to talk about it – what’s philosophical and objective – on how she would always support me, love me, until we reach the fork of our ways.  I knew It could be that, even in the stillness of her voice I heard her say those silent encrypted protests for the unbecoming.  Let’s be like Ed and Anne for good – to be in a place where the roads never end, licenses never expire, and the rides go round and round about.

News came one day.  A friend committed suicide.  Connie took muriatic acid, it was immediate.  No other details shared apart from that.  We haven’t heard from her for a while, we just didn’t realize.

A country musician from Illinois was playing on stage by the time we got there, making use of his larynx as his main instrument in his repertoire.  People who knew Connie were felt compelled to keep her alive until the bar closed at four.  The musician paid tribute to Layne Staley, Lou Reed, and Sinatra too.  It was fitting: a life is a life nonetheless.  It was years after when I saw some of them.  The rest I wrote letters and postcards were mailed back especially around the holidays.

Over rounds of drinks we were reconciled, at least for a while, in this tragedy we were bound into.  Subtlety always resided with sobriety, while indiscretion and truth were found on the side of the night, always.  Back at the apartment I phoned a relative just to be sure.  A doctor-on-call was scarce.  Discretion was the key, Intervention was next I suppose.

It’s never going to be perfect, she said.  It’s going to be ugly, and mad, and hysterical.  Her arm was filled while the spirit high.  But flowers wither, rivers eventually run dry.  The colors fade, if not, most eyes will turn the other way.   And if not for these fleeting moments of transcendence, life will never be appreciated on the pedestal of grandeur. That glory, courage, and wisdom, these fragments we hold onto – not reluctance but a mere recognition, a fight if you will – of a life not ending but transgressing.

Photo by: Biankitty
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Walls

The white walls were all there were.  I was sitting in front of it. At the bedroom table I was surrounded by all of them. White walls on all sides. Plain as it could get, except for the outdated calendar hanged limply on the southwest side that was about to give out in the faintest blow of the wind. The room was still. Even with open windows there were no breeze entering at all. No rustling coming from the neighboring trees, neither whistling nor visits from the birds that usually perched on the window sill. The smoke of the cigarette followed the pathless hike, ceiling-bound as it curled in front of my face.  Everything around me was silent as if we were all waiting together for something important to happen.   Thin sheets of clouds were covering most parts of the sky like an oversized gray patch so dull it resembled a clearing of a lahar aftermath.  I decided to rescue an empty coffee container made of glass, to use it as a spare mug should I have visitors coming over.  But I was not expecting anyone that night, or any time soon I figured.  Still I washed the damn thing anyway and placed it on the drying rack next to a microwavable dish plate.

It was not always like this in fact.  Especially on weekends when the halls outside my room were packed by children running up and down playing and yelling until twilight when their parents call them in for supper. Or at Christmas when my mom and sisters come over to have lunch with me before heading back for Nochebuena, or last summer when I dated someone from work who also lived nearby the sea.  In this vacuum of time I remained, in this void I lingered, over expanding in the thoughts of my consciousness boundless. I thought I belonged there, it was like homecoming.  I began to snap my fingers to break the chain.  I could no longer stand the silence.  I walked towards my reflection and saw the lines on my forehead.  Deeper than the last time I remembered them to be, even the placements had changed, it was uncanny.  I didn’t realize that my wrinkles were well-travelled.  And when did they decide to move was unknown to me.  When one was asleep perhaps?  It should be that, lest I would have noticed it moved.

The cream firmed up. I stirred and stirred before it lost warmth.  I leaned over stretching my head to see the other side of the wooden fence below for an acquaintance resting my arms on the balcony.  Then I heard a heavy knocking on the door which caught me off-guard.  At first I thought somebody saw me peering at the neighbor’s and ran up to my room to tell me off.  But that was too fast of a reaction it was impossible.  I didn’t know who it was behind it, as I said I wasn’t expecting anyone anytime soon.  As I turned to approach the door, I thought it could be the caretaker, or someone from the other units probably borrowing some tools like a Phillips screwdriver or an electrical tape.  People always forget to buy electrical tapes ending up asking the neighbor for some.  And as I came closer, I remembered all of a sudden that I was still in my sleep clothes and thought of putting on something more decent.  So I did that, throwing in over a sweatshirt although it’s thirty three degrees that afternoon.

When finally I turned the knob to open, there stood in uniform a guard from downstairs panting, catching his breath while wiping his massive neck with a face towel.  He has a wide body, probably too big for his shirt and hat, who also was taller than I was.  I gave him a moment before he was able to say that there was a phone call for me at the reception.

“I don’t understand, did the caller leave a name?”

“I’m sorry, I neglected to ask” he responded, finally regaining himself.

“That’s fine, does it sound urgent?”

“It was a woman’s voice, I can’t really tell”

From the living area I heard the first arrival of the birds perching on the tufts of the sofa.  The leaves rustled for the first time that day.

I invited him in to drink a good glass of cold water and joined my perched friends on the balcony.

Photo by: LJ Jumig

Thanatophobia (the artist)

The doctors swarmed around the registry, rabidly flipping over charts, murmuring as if a baffling discovery has come to their attention. Behind the glass window on a closer look, the whites of their coats varied in shade. The older doctors wore their tarred uniforms, while the incoming residents were clad in immaculate white.  From the center, the seniors were the nucleus of the group, while the younger ones broken off into smaller clusters sharing leftovers of the discussion. One would think it was odd seeing a group of brilliant minds baffled by the simplicity of the news.  It was a sudden, terrible loss of an innocent life. A body lay on its side on a cold steel table. Limbs lay on the same parallel direction, while the blackness of the eyes was full and open, and the lips were closed tight like a perfectly drawn straight line. An expression of peace was painted on the windows of its soul but there was no life remained at all. The woman’s face was burrowed into the chest of her husband; desperately in search for something that would console her. As he held her tight with one arm resigned, the husband watched the emptiness of the vessel which was the remainder of what was once considered to be their unending source of joy.  The other patients wailed and mourned around them.

Through the swinging doors entered the medical assistants tasked to take the body to the observation deck.  One of the new doctors walked up and explained to the couple all of the medical efforts that had been exerted, plus the basis of each conclusive result.  This went on item by item as if it was from a recipe book read out loud. It was a small town they found themselves in, in a much smaller clinic. It was humid and cramped. Between these, with uneasiness, the resident doctor would turn to the registry where his peers were, drawing confidence and approval.  But there was an utter omission of the official prognosis and the cause of death for it was apparent. Then he continued as he segues to declare that while their responsibilities as medical practitioners for the case of the deceased have officially ended, the devotion of their friends in the other room as artists has not. The time of death has been determined, and the team – should they prefer to meet- was preparing for the next phase.

Still in trance, the couple had grasped nothing of what the resident has attempted to explain.  He repeated himself until confirming that the couple was able to digest at least the necessary information.   After some time they were led into a room where they met with the officiating attendant and his supervisor for the post mortem matters that needed to be discussed.  Papers were signed, in the couple’s own time of course, and servicing fees were also covered.

“It’s going to be a difficult task reconstructing the features to its original state, some photos will help. But nothing time and persistence wouldn’t fix.

We usually deal with subjects who were either shot clean or those we have found on the road so we could say we’re pretty good at what we do.“

The taxidermist shared arrogantly.

“Sorry we wasted your time,” responded by the woman.  “Can we please use your phone?”

Red Moon Parting

As scheduled, they met at the family residence after dusk and sat together at the dining table under the low ceiling light hanging over them.  The tiny crystal pendants around its main light, of which the glass shade refracted prisms on each dangling embellishment themed the room with mixed hues.   Luis sat at the head of the table, while the younger brother sat by the corner, the two of them slightly facing each other while the lawyers seated side by side across.  There were piles of documents atop the leather case between them, and cigarette stubs nearly overflowed in a porcelain ashtray by the cups of consumed coffee.

“Have you thought about your options, Luis?” the lead counselor began.  Jojo turned to his elder for an answer.  “I guess we have.”  Luis’ voice has fallen tired when he responded.

“Or could we have more time to go over it?  I mean we don’t have to decide right away, do we attorney?”  Jojo injected worriedly.

“Inasmuch as we want to get the arrangements done for at this point, we want you to know that we completely understand how hard these things could get.  Please take all the time you need, but let us know as soon as you have arrived at a decision.  It would be best if we get something by the end of the week, but we’ll hold it off as much as we can.”

And the rest of the exchanges were all ceremonials to make sure that everything down to the last detail was in order.  After half an hour, they all stood up and shook hands except for Luis who remained silent in his seat.  The younger brother showed the lawyers to the door and excused the indifference of the brother and blamed it all to exhaustion and explained further that he was not quite himself lately.  He went back to the dining area after getting a pitcher of cold water from the fridge, and Luis, mechanically reached for the glasses from the rack in front of him and handed one to the brother.

Frustrated, he bolts right up on his feet and walked around and turned his back to Jojo.

“I can’t believe mother would do such a thing” and mellowed down after a pause,

“I guess it can’t be helped.”

After supper, in front of the wooden dresser, he peeled off a strip of white tape from the dispenser and wrote her name on it. He then plastered it across the surface of the mirror where his reflection was, on eye level, to ensure that he won’t forget to think about her every time he stood there.  Sometimes, the air in the bedroom would feel like a visit from the past.  The room still smelled of dried flowers from the house altar which their mother used to keep. It has been decided that they would always keep her room locked from the housekeepers or anyone for that matter without an explicit permission.

A few days had passed, it was the weekend, the brothers decided to get some air in the coast.  Luis drove while Jojo was looking up to the direction of the foliage ahead with the wind on his face. The sun was always gentle after the rain he mused, and reached behind him to the backseat to open the rest of the windows to let the cold breeze in.  The waves were full upon their arrival to the shore. For countless years they have carved in the skirts of the land mass deep into the ocean floor.  The crashes were hollow as it trembled heavily as both brothers felt minute in their presence.

“I remember how our parents have thrown their worries out here.  Do you recall?”  The stares of Luis fixed onto the horizon as if he have latched his gaze onto ends of the ocean.

“I just remember how different things were, kuya.  Those were just the happiest times.” Jojo replied as he stepped a few paces forward into the beach and felt the salt water drown his feet, and continued as if mimicking,

“I guess it can’t be helped.”

Just as they stood a mushroom smoke steadied its girth from the horizon up to the ends of the sky.  The wild forest fire has been on for three days showing no signs of stopping.

The moon that night glared wildly red in the sky while its reflection quivered on the surface of the garden pond beneath the motionless virgin of the grotto.  Its light sliced through the gaps of the wooden jalousie into the rooms of the house.  The shadows crept in the corners, through the halls, and under the shed, while silhouettes shifted, and parted with each passing vehicle on the nearby street.

Photo by Biankitty

Darkroom

We listened to the protracted speech on the radio. One of the professors from the faculty said that maybe things would be easier now that the government is really serious about cleaning after the mess. I didn’t say anything about the remark for my disagreement may be viewed as cynicism I feared.  In the first light we reached the circle where the police and the protesters met. At noon, the red flags were etched high against the blue sky and when the meeting ended, the colors were swallowed by the enclosed cup of darkness. Nothing stood out, but the cries and the chanting went on until it rained hard and everyone decided to go home– it was like a terrible joke.

There was a hint of resignation and a silent flavor of discontent across the room when we got back. The senior photographer has decided to proceed directly to the darkroom leaving everybody behind to ready the films to be developed and motioned at me that I should follow to calibrate the story. It wasn’t a question if I was eager to comply, so I excused myself out and went after him.

The pictures started to take shape in the water like images appearing from a tender, abandoned memory. They were vivid, and bold, and yet seemed peaceful. I envied the craftsmanship and his eye.  I asked him what it was he was hoping to get out from all of these, and he responded gently with a satisfied expression while clipping the papers to the lines “stories, just stories.”

In the courtyard through the crooked shadows of the trees I strode along to decompress before getting back to writing until the bell from the parish had rung. I was about half done with my second draft, just a few minor edits based on the featured photo we selected that night. I thought I should be able to finish before midnight, and maybe, there’d be enough time to swing by for some Chinese.

There was a girl in the main hall of the center building holding a lit candle walking with another woman, probably a year or two older. Their dresses were modest, they had grace, and their movements were subtle as if gliding on the waxed floors. They appeared to be heading to the direction of the church, yet it’s quite late but who am I to know.  She resembled someone taken from the photograph or it could just be dark that I might have imagined it– I guess I was just exhausted, I wasn’t sure.  There were a lot of things that I do not know I realized, and thought that life has a way of putting you in a very humbling place. This was my version of that, I figured I should capture it, record it, and digest as much as I could.  When they passed by me, courteous nods were exchanged. Their veils obscured the details of their faces but the sincerity brimmed through nonetheless. “There is still beauty in the dark, ‘di ba Ser?” A voice from the security guard loomed from behind. Apparently everyone from that place was infected by a rare philosophical disease. I turned to the source of this unsolicited commentary, and moved on to the main gate and lighted a cigarette.

And I wondered on, thinking about what we talked about in the darkroom. Two blocks away from the building there was an annoying honking in a traffic jam. There were kids loitering at the public sidewalks, and helicopters hovering too. I retrieved my week’s pay from my shirt pocket, unfolded the cheque and scooted to where it is brighter.

I heard my stomach give out a hallowed snarl and there was a sour taste that lingered in my mouth.

The Inconsolable Distance of an Early Life

It was career week and most of the huge companies around town came over to talk about industry choices we had while scouting potential seniors running for honors with exceptional qualifier scores. Everybody wanted to be someone and seemed so sure to know what career option to choose. At first I didn’t understand what it was I was feeling at the time, but it made me feel bad about the indecisions and on the lack of preference over and under.

Over coffee that afternoon I was on my usual quiet state walking past the walls of intramuros. The smell of moisten grass complimented the descending sun in the west. The styro cup I was holding had bite marks on it, not realizing I was gnawing on its defenseless brim.

I confided my dilemma to her and she was not in a hurry to dispense any answers. She just sat there by the wide windows of the convenience store we found ourselves at, listening intently as if I was a puzzle to solve. I was waiting for some quirky punchlines to shrug off my bickering, but instead she just pursed her lips and pointed her index finger on my forehead and said that she was not worried about me, that I should see what she was seeing. I decided from then on that I love convenience stores, and wanted to kiss her in the mouth occasionally.

From then on we were buddies for life. There was nothing in the world that could separate us. I told her about this place where I used to go to that she should try out, and there, in the weeks that followed, we spent our nights and the little money we had on second-hand records and inexpensive chocolate bars while listening to unearthed B-sides with cigarettes. While it lasted it seemed endless. I liked the classics while she burrowed herself to punk rock. She always had good taste in music I respected her, while she thought I was over sentimental and coyed that I was too sad I should seek professional help. One time we crashed a party pretending we were distant cousins just to see how the other kids in the subdivisions did it. Then we drove around town in her brother’s stolen car talking about how terrible it was, but deep down we thought how nice it really was and confessed eventually that we envied them. We laughed about it and pretended more. But could only go on so far that we knew we’d run out of roads.

She always persisted to take the wheel, going round places getting nowhere in particular, persisted that we go to the sea and drink by the fire. The nights were colder then but we always knew we had something to warm us with.

Sometimes if we’re low on gas, we’d just walk down the creek if there was enough moonlight and sat on the low walls of the golf course. We were juveniles, and those blue summer nights were ours. Had we held them close enough it would burst and we’d explode along with it. We would hold no form, morph into invisible energy roaming in the air, carefree. We would be in different places at once, many drifting parts of us, multiplied experiencing simultaneous life episodes. We wouldn’t have to worry about being overwhelmed; we’d be shapeless.

I looked across the purple dusk in that sullen, dry tropical afternoon, listening intently to the singing of the wind. And even though I have tried so much to reconcile, mustering with all might in this exponential attempt to remember even the slightest of, I could not have achieved it. For I am the chapters read from a torn paperback, dog-eared, spine ripped and worn down. I will always remember her drinking from a paper cup, placing it under her lips, on queue after a drag from a cigarette in the streams of smoke. Her skin was the railways on her cheek for tears, deepened and mapped with heartaches. I told her to listen, to just listen, for there was nothing left to do but to just wait for the playing of a well-chosen soundtrack that could rescue.

The Steep Climb over the Ridges

She got out of the shower and stood by the doorway soaked. It was hard not to watch her body glisten in the light. She asked me about the fight, on why I over-reacted like that. Obviously she was upset about the whole thing and I did not want to make matters worse so I turned the other way. I told her that I didn’t mean to scare her and all, but it’s something that I did not have control over like how I was when I am around her sometimes. Like the polar caps in the heat of the sun, I guess we just simply melt away.

Lightheaded, I asked her if she can go to the front desk to get some fresh bandages and anesthetics. Miles Davis’ Blue in Green was on the static radio. I looked outside and noticed that the moon was a bit distant than the usual. It was turning out to be a really slow night.

When I was about to reach a complete state of deep slumber, I felt a sudden jolt which pulled me right off from respite. And in her softer version of a whisper she said that we had no time and we ought to be going soon before the sun rises. “Movement is life, and there is no telling what the road holds for us today.”

She was always the wiser one.

I looked around trying to get some grip of what’s going on. My head still felt woozy from the sedatives and vodka I took. On the newsstands some guy from the government was causing trouble in the south. I then skimmed the column and memorized the name on the byline and thought that the writer was one tough guy to be able to say things like that. And I wished wordlessly, that someday I could be as brave.

We sat down along the roadside by the line of shrubs under the canopy of the trees. The heat was gentle and the dews were still present on the soft landings of the open leaves. We waited for the first bus trip while drinking cool stale water from our canteens and watching the day unfold. The wound from my head was starting to dry off, a bit painful still, but it was better. Across the benches there was a sidewalk vendor selling herb oils and healing mantles, who signaled to me for a remedy, but I rather self-heal.

We bought a local wine to get us through the cold by the time we reach the highlands. This helpful advice was taken from an old commuter, whose business was to bring farm and household supplies to the villagers up north. He was a light hearted fellow with a pair of shiny, rosy cheekbones. We thanked him for the tip and offered if we could buy him a bottle as well but he respectfully declined and said that he does not drink while working. Instead, he offered his home to us in a couple of days during the cropping of the harvest. And then he added that we could also help out should we want to earn a few pesos or just for the experience. We said we would definitely consider that and thanked him once again for his generosity.

The day was ultimately different compared from the last few days. As if there was something grounded governing those mountains. I never felt so still in my life. And in those moments I genuinely heard the voice of silence speaking to me, as the waves of the wind carried its message across, it was like an endless cradle of fleeting conversation with nature itself, it was inexplicably serene.

Then I surveyed the scenery around us, from the line of trees with their broken shadows cast on the road to the uneven terrains of the hillside, heaving deep breaths as I began to wonder if the thought of staying has ever occurred to her. And in the midst of this wandering contemplation I suddenly arrived at the conclusion which I have always known, that she was a runaway, and like the great mustangs in the west, she is always meant to run.

And so I hid these and leaned against her shoulder thankful still.