Dreaming in Lieu

At forty-two, he met his son under the bright neon signs for the opening of the night festival. There were electric lights that illuminated the boardwalk, giving off an ambient mood which made him all the more taciturn as they walked towards the end dock. He didn’t know how to start. It always took a while to get warm around him. At the bright corner, he lighted a cigarette and exhaled a white stream of smoke into the air that perfumed the nearby surroundings. The waves were not visible but they could hear the crashes when it approached the bay.

It was a long time ago since they first came here. As if it was a race, both of them happily traced the memories while eating dirty ice cream in a bun. There was so much to say but the eyes always said more. He’s always been proud of what his son had become. The young man has got his father’s eyes and the strength of his mom’s heart.

“Why do you have to go?” The son almost cracked his voice.

“I don’t think I’ve got a say on this, son.” He swung his shoulders back to stretch them.  He felt the urge to punch the night right on its chin.

“Can I be there when you go?”

“Don’t be like that, you know I don’t have the knack for the theatrics. We’ll see each other someday.”

He always felt it helped. How the colors of the flicking lights conceal the ugliness and the scars. He always thought that they were sort of a phenomenon. It was Lou Reed who was playing on the car radio when he opened the windows and felt the wind on his face, driving just a little over the speed limit.

Under the cup of darkness, he felt estranged —  wherein the midnight blue reigned, it was a proxy for a companion that delivered.

At the local diner, he consulted a friend who worked as a part-timer.  She was old, but still got good legs.

“With enough money to spare, we can surely buy happiness. But batteries and permanency not included, honey. So don’t go expecting it would last until daybreak.”

He ordered another pour of coffee with six spoonfuls of sugar.  This he consumed bitterly still, with the poetry his son wrote on the pages of his wife’s old Cattleya notebook.

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It Must Have Been That Gary Guy Down The Hall

I wasn’t sure if I dialed the right number. But I tried and tried until I was finally able to get a hold of the local police. I frantically gave out a description of what happened that night. I told the operator that I heard some strange noises and that I was really scared. There were some low screeching noises in the walls. The sound that it was making were cold, of tormented voices which can be simply described as hoarse and scratchy all the same. “It must be Gary, I really think it’s him!” I told the woman I spoke with. I was fidgeting and twisting the spiral cord of the payphone in the hallway.

There is something about the rain that calms me. There were nights that I wished that it would not let up and it would just spray like that forever — slanting, almost sideways, so in that way I would know that the wind was carrying it, like how my memories would carry my chest adrift.

But there wasn’t a single drop for months.

At midnight I would randomly call friends to relieve me of my self-inflicted agitation. And they would say that Susan – my made-up girlfriend– did not deserve me at all.

They said that I should just simply forget her and they gave me a fine lesson on how I should start anew.

I wrote to my folks to lend me some money because I spent most of what I had on cheap evening companions and prescription drugs. Of course, I didn’t tell them that. I used the excuse that I was struggling, coping in the big city.

I always felt that I was different compared to those low-life addicts. I separated myself from their filth but I also wouldn’t call myself anywhere near special. I guess the only difference was that I knew there wasn’t an escape, nor a commiserated vindication if there was an end to any of these.

A guy who lived down the hall dropped by one night and brought some drinks to share.

He lifted his foamy beer and drank, and used a plastic fork when he pinched and chewed on the fried tofu. As if harnessing holy powers from this, he told me — in a forlorn way — about his prevocational wisdom.

“We don’t really get fixed. We just think we do and go on by, mending until we’re all done for.”

I guess he’s right. The world is not equilateral after all.

“Until we’re all done for.” I repeated the line to myself and stood up to get us fresh beers from the fridge.

“Do you like horror stories?” I asked him while balancing myself on a chair with its two back legs.

“I suppose.” he answered coolly.

And I read him something that I wrote and asked him to critique:

He was lying on his side facing her. It’s been days now since he got admitted for an illness he still wouldn’t believe he’s got. And he stared at her and wondered on, in those kind brown eyes that seemed like bathing in a midsummer night’s moonlight. He knew what she did, all of her secrets.

There was shortness in his breath. There was also shortness in the nights that ensued.

“Can you talk about the house again? Just enough to get me to sleep.”

She indulged him and told him about their dream house as he would have wanted it. How they’d wander in and about the halls and the walkways together to the garden in that perfect warm morning sun.

It was just a matter of time she reassured him.

Then one of the evening shift nurses came in and administered a dose of penicillin through a syringe and gave him something for the pain.

Then he asked to be moved to face the windows. But there was a bricked wall that blocked the view.

After reading him the first lines, Gary gave a huge laugh and told me that I should seriously consider switching genres.

Flushed and rather ashamed, I told him that I was going for something more.

Sometimes, the easiest decisions are the hardest ones to make. I wanted to stop using, but the thought of strangling him seemed more plausible.

I knew exactly what he came for.

Then I switched my gaze towards the lock of my door and thought about the shortness in his breath.

Eczema (wildflowers)

 

Wrinkles

I told everybody that I was leaving. My closest friends had asked me where, of course, but I felt it didn’t matter if I shared exactly where. I wasn’t even sure myself. All I knew was that it had to be done sooner than later. No use if I tried to go against the inevitable. The dried leaves in the public pool that night seemed like old people trying to swim. Their wrinkles were cloaked by the soak, I thought the contrast was beautiful. I took a dip under the crescent moon — the tidal wave in the sky. I felt weightless and buoyant, and I could stay like that for the rest of my days, I told her from afar. Then I caught her doing a backstroke. Her plumped breasts made it so easy to stay. When she remerges, she waved at me like a child.

 

After-taste

There was an enormous moon that shined that night. Its glow was on the unsteady surface of the public pool which sprayed chlorine water in the gush of the wind.  Under one of the beach umbrellas, she spotted a satellite that orbited across the sky, until it disappeared completely behind a thick grey cloud. The chlorine had an after-taste when it landed on her lips. It made quite an impression.

 

Detergent

The bathrobe had too much detergent on it that it stung the nostrils. They used too much — as always.  One of the maids said that it had to be like that to make sure that they were clean. “I’d say, kill them all, sir, and dump the bodies in Manila Bay to fatten the fishes.”  Then she left me the bucket of ice she fetched from the bar.

 

Wildflower

Even after watching a Clint Eastwood movie I couldn’t get myself to bed. I had an early flight and I was restless. It was around midnight by the time I got out of the hotel. When I was about to cross the street there was a man waving at me as if I was a relative that he was meeting at the airport.

“Bikini Bar, sir? Young girls, pretty girls, sir?”  I didn’t look at him and continued walking.

“Just come and see first, sir.  Two, five. Very cheap, sir.”  There were wildflowers sprouting in the gloom.

Still, I didn’t respond and went about my way. But he reeked of persistence. And as the sleepless often are, my mind was as playful and as curious. We did that night by the pool when she skinny-dipped.

There was a burning rash on the skin, but I couldn’t stop scratching.

 

The Devil Likes Oranges

A long May summer sky has become a companion that overstayed its welcome. It made matters worse when it brought along drought that led to many indecisions to do anything productive. I guess I was waging war against climate change by drinking at the bar every night. It was definitely never a good idea but I did it anyway. I guess I was afraid it was making me rather quite compelled to do absolutely nothing and at the same time feel accomplished under the false pretenses that I was a philosopher when I had a little too much to drink.

Everything is peachy on the right side of alcohol, they say.

I drove up to the mountainside where it was cooler. There I was to be greeted by my friends. And by friends, I mean is those made up. I think.

At the rest stop, there was a bench waiting for me. It was sitting under the sun next to an enormous fig tree along with the others that lined up quite evenly.

There I talked to the devil. He wasn’t as bad as everybody thought. He’s just misunderstood like most people I know. He was going to stick around until the end of summer, he declared. After that it would be cool again, this he promised.

We ended up talking about a lot of things. I even invited him over to my place for more drinks but he said that he doesn’t want to impose and give my parents a heart attack.

I asked him if he regretted anything that he did. It took me a while to find the right words and the right timing to ask him.

At first, he hesitated. But after a slug of whiskey, he answered anyway.

“We make bad decisions all the time. This happens to everybody. And if you’re in it for the long haul, believe me on this, I really think that you’d see through the end of it. But this is not the only consolation, you see. You’d find out eventually and I hope that it will appease you to know, that there are the little things worth staying for.”

The devil was consoling me. It couldn’t be more ironic than that.

“I know what you’re trying to tell me. I know I should be glad, grateful even, but truthfully, I’m not.” I shared ruefully.

“There’s a festival coming up.” He pointed to the summit. “Right there between the two peaks. I think you should definitely come. It’s for St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost things.

“Sure, I’ll check my calendar” I gave a friendly scoff.

“And also, if you can be so kind as to loan me a book. I couldn’t find the time to buy one. And even if I did, I don’t think they’d ever let me in.”

He confessed that he was a slow reader. I told him that I never find the guts to smoke in front of my mom, in return.

“You’ve always been a slow reader, so what? You literally made world domination popular.”

I was peeling an orange and handed him over a slice. He told me it was the most refreshing thing he had in a long while. We sat there exchanging thoughts until twilight.

Uncut Strings (and that problem with catching sleep)

While one might assume it as given, I, on the other hand never thought it mattered then as it does now. I never knew that it was coming for us — I honestly didn’t. We stayed up late at the balcony, since both of us were smoking, while we finished off what’s left of the night. The kids were already sleeping inside and she said it’s going to be her last beer but I don’t think she’d be able to catch the last train. It was beginning to be a slow night, and the kids would definitely look for her by the time they woke, so I convinced her to spend the night for old times’ sake. There was a yellow moon that accompanied us. It was full and the breeze was cold, it wrapped us in such a way an old lover would.

I am not what you would say a happy man. But by the time I got married, things started to fall in place as it should be. There I found order and a pattern that made sense. And when it happened, I couldn’t bring myself to pick up after the pieces.

That night, I climbed up the bed and climbed up her. I was home again. A week later she wrote me a letter and told me she was all better now with the apricot trees in her view in the mornings except that sometimes she’s woken up by the drip from the tap late at night. But with all things considered, it was certainly a jubilant dream like in the song, she said.

We didn’t exchange numbers and soon the mailing addresses kept on changing and we stuck to just writing emails instead. We figured it was way faster although it felt strange not seeing her handwriting but I got used to it eventually.

“Where are you going?” It took several exchanges before she finally hinted about it. “There’s a vineyard I want to see in the south-west of France while it’s still spring.”

I sent her a map of the region where she was headed to from a reliable travel guide. “I looked it up and marked the places that should help you. I hope it checks out.”

I opened a can of beer and sat by the nightstand. I was listening to the music that played on TV. There were lanky Koreans dancing to some upbeat music, and they seemed to be really happy about their little routine. I wished I could play music. I always wanted a beautiful butterscotch gold Telecaster. I wished I could be Tom Waits that night. I wished I could write music like he did, sitting in a lonely bar somewhere.

Up until now I still do not know why I still keep in touch after all that had happened. I can still feel that the string that connects us will never be cut. The thread was too straight and that was the same problem that everyone else saw.

Not some two years ago I was visiting a friend for drinks on a weekend night. And on the way over to his place, I saw her in the passenger seat bobbing her head over and under behind the dashboard of David’s car. I didn’t know what to make out of it, and I couldn’t erase that image in my head.

It was said that Hemingway rewrote the ending of A Farewell to Arms over forty-seven times. I could only hope to do the same just this one time.

But since that’s not going to happen I guess, I would settle for some sleep at night, just enough to function in the morning. Except that sometimes I’m woken up by the drip from the tap. Then I’d remember her, and I would lay wide awake and dream about that jubilation dream of hers or alter it the way I would rather be, but then I’d snap out of it.

She called upon me from the bedroom and her voice streamed through the narrow hallway. The light from the lamp was dimmed and there was a gentle rustle from the trees outside the open window. Although it was cold, there was a faint light from the night sky that glistened on the bed sheets that silhouetted the leaves and the crooked branches. It didn’t do anything but it helped make the room appear warm. Her breath smelt of spring from the vineyards she visited and mine was a stench of burnt wood — of strong hard liquor, old American. She told me that I was in her dream, only I was not.

Only I was not.

Almost Famous

I never did well in a crowd. But I tried to stand there in a half circle with the boys watching the girls in their miniskirts in some friend’s party. I was particularly drawn on how detailed they were with their descriptions of a woman’s anatomy, about their psychology, on the time they spent to study that universe. I was so intrigued, it was like a complex algebra problem to me. I could never get it even if I tried harder.

I could very well be mistaken as a wallpaper. I was awkward and mean and dull. I guess looking back we all were at some point but I never got past that. I lacked personality and patience for any human interaction. I was a cockroach that everyone despised.

Luckily Bianca was fool-proof.

Bianca lit up when I showed her the book. It was another eight-hundred peso purchase on my second Bukowski that month but it was never a question to spend on well-written treasures she said. I wasn’t interested in his books about poetry, but I find his short stories particularly moving.

It was a long summer. But we got through it just fine even though the heat of the sun was of no help when you’re trying to put things together.

You use the material that you have, Didion said.

So I put my dark glasses on, drink coke straight from the one-liter bottle while placing the words on the electronic paper.

Font 11, Calibri (Body).

The phone rang.

B: “Hello?”

D: “Hi”

B: “How was the writing?”

D: “What was that?”

B: “I miss hearing your voice, how was the writing?”

D: “I’m sorry the reception is terrible, it’s quite slow, but I got past the hard part

— first two paragraphs — I think I’m making progress.”

B: “That’s good to hear!”

D: “How’s Kafka?”

B: “He misses his Dad”

D: “Tell him I’ll be home soon enough”

D: “Hello?”

B: “I can’t hear you, can you move to a better spot?”

D: “Tell that to the president.”

B: “Let’s talk later, maybe the service will be better then.”

D: “Okay.”

B: “See you soon, I love you.”

A few days ago I saw the president on TV.

I also saw a cockroach that landed on his shoulder and squirmed a little in my seat.

I also laughed a little, cried a little, but paying close attention I realized that the cockroach was me.

It was a long time ago, but it was still me.

I guess I am what you call a celebrity.

Cats Smoked the Souls of the Dead

At the funeral of a friend, he saw her helping out, handling over cold tetra packs of juices and repacked green peas and peanuts to the guests. His relationship with her was as dead as the one lying in the pine casket by the electric candles. He thought about saying hi but hesitated and felt it was completely inappropriate to do such a thing. It wasn’t the place or the time to rekindle with old romantic acquaintances, even though what he only wanted was to ask her one question after all.

It was a cool and damp night. She was wearing a comfortable-looking knitted cardigan over a strapped blue top and a pair of her usual outfit, a square pants and worn down sneakers. It was close to midnight but it was still quite a work finding his way through being noticeably visible. When he was young, he was made to believe that funerals are big farewell parties every time a relative died. “And that cats feed on the crematorium smoke, that’s why they have many lives” His uncles would tease the kids. But it wasn’t the case when his dad went when he was only eleven.

He thought about what happened between them. There was that problem she one day declared to him, turning the other way as she sat in the passenger seat. It was all a blur to him, but he can remember very well the humming of the car engine while she was at it. He wasn’t worried, she still had the seatbelt on.

What could have been said more often was reduced to mere incidentals, and what should have been felt as something natural eventually became a matter of opinion. A cause, and a consequential effect to put it simply. In the movie Interstate 60, James Marsden was told that all relationships were a reaction of the previous ones we had. It wasn’t the point of the scene, but that was the message that stuck. That night she just left in his sleep without saying goodbye. He always thought she’d come back for her stuff in his place, but still hasn’t.

“I almost couldn’t believe my eyes, I thought I was seeing the wrong ghost.” There was a soft chuckle when she said this after many of the guests left. “I was surprised to see you here.”

The night was filled with stars, there were only a few thin sheets of clouds scudding across. The wind was cool, it was such a good night for a long drive to the coast, what he truly wanted to say. “It was such a beautiful service.” He said after a while.

“I’m just glad it was over, peaceful. You know?” She replied without looking.

A week after he was at the door in front of the house, feeding a stray cat with milk and a corn-flavored cereal. Then it hit him, cats didn’t feed on the souls of the dead. They rip them apart until they were completely gone.