Always Leave the Exact Amount on the Dresser

“Two tickets please.” The lady behind the window tore two and handed him his change.  The movie wasn’t good, but he loved it all the same. The woman he was with disagreed. She thought that the dialogues were lousy and it bored her to death. He liked how opinionated she was. He gave his rebuttal and she cooly answered them. They had a good, intelligent back-and-forth.  But the truth is, she had seen it over a dozen times already for the past weeks. She had practice. The men who afforded her took her to the cinemas and always preferred they had debates like this at the end of it. Some men are strange, she thought. She always took the opposing view, no matter what side that was.

“The critics hated it.” The woman argued. But he cared less about what the critics wrote. He decided that he was too old for that. In fact, he doesn’t read any of their columns anyway lest it deliberately permits random people to just interfere with the story being told.

It was as good as it could get. Their conversations had flat-lined naturally when they found themselves necking all of a sudden while waiting for a cab. It did not seem to appall her, dating an old foreign guy such as himself.

“But how do you know when someone is being true to you?” He asked.

“Well, that’s easy.”

“Yeah?”

“I guess.”

“Please do tell.”

She sat back as if it drew her more power when explaining.

“At nights, you could always tell.  At nights, the whispers are the most honest thing there is.”

And one thing led to another. Before he knew it, he was being led to this shabby hotel down some dark alley where she was a preferred guest. After all, this wasn’t a real date. It was rather a business transaction.  But he had hoped that it could at least mean something to the woman while it lasted. As they approached their place of accommodation, he noticed that there wasn’t a working sign.  The hotel had none if you want to know the truth.  All it had on was the address number by the glass door which said ‘9316’ with the neons from a nearby KTV gracing light on its facade. He thought that she had probably chosen this place specifically to bury their whispers.

There were some light rains and it was cold. It was dark all around with only a few cars jolting by at the corner street.  He found some shade and waited outside while the woman took care of the room.  He stared blankly up into the dark sky and searched for the invisible source of this unending downpour and wondered like a child. The wind carried the slanted rain. There were soft glimmers each time they passed through the street lights. He thought it was a nice gesture, the slow rain paying their respects like that.

After a while, they went inside and got into a small elevator which barely fitted them. Their shoulders almost touched, he felt nervous once again. Under the bright light, he could almost see her underneath all of that makeup. He thought her dark skin was beautiful, apart from the fact that she looked tired and older. When they reached their room, the woman asked him to place the exact amount on the dresser, or else she would keep whatever he’d left there. She undid her coat while she went into the bathroom to freshen up. He took off his shoes and sat at the corner of the bed where the window was near.

He was shivering when he touched her. He rarely gets the chance.

While on her knees, she looked up to him and then smiled.

But he couldn’t tell if she was sincere or not.

She was preoccupied. She was not whispering, of course.

But he was convinced that she was, that she cared for him.

For as long as the money is good on the dresser,

For as long as she is down there.

It was a good view from the top.

Something inside him stirred, something primal.

This was one of the rare occasions wherein he felt good about himself.

No insecurities.

Right here, he was king.

He felt proud, dignified.

In this third-world country, he was living the great American dream.

He was old and wrinkly. He has halitosis.

But he has a good credit score.

And around these parts, that is all that matters.

High-Roller Suite

I tried to find my sleep but couldn’t.

So I popped some pills and waited for it to slither into my veins.

The rays of the sun were rosy, it shone upon us as it descended into the marsh of the thick plum clouds.

I was looking for the cowboy riding into the sunset.

There was no cowboy.

Only the sun and its entourage of plum clouds.

I remember how warm it felt when the rays touched my face.

Many of us turned to look.

Then the pilot swerved for a better view.

We peered through those tiny holes, sharing the small windows of the passenger seats.

Everybody was still.

Some of us bashfully held our phones and took at least thirty-three pictures each.

The sun hasn’t changed at all; she was as beautiful as ever, I thought.

We couldn’t get enough of her.

I guess I could never get over her.

Sanshiro and Mineko.

The two stray sheep by the stream.

I reached up for the attendant button and beeped to order a beer.  After the fiasco the night before, I still wanted one. I left the hotel room with my puke still warm on the floor and nabbed all the shower gels on the way out.

Some low life I was.  I was up there with the greats.

I put on my earphones instead and ran lines with Bill Murray on my phone.

Why can’t these days be just like in the movies?

No, it won’t work. For we’d all be the protagonists. Everyone would want to be the good guy –

The center of the fucking universe.

I looked around and saw only strange faces.

Tourists were visiting a third-world country for the first time.

The honeymooners.

The retirees.

The mothers.

The fathers.

With their oblivious children.

The left.

The right.

And all the politicians who’d love them all when the time comes.

The manicured men with their man-buns.

All the protagonists.

I looked around me and belched alcohol fumes with my cigarette smoke.

I couldn’t believe I just lighted a cigarette inflight. I wanted to put it out but it was too late.

And as soon as the trail of smoke reached full vertical, I then heard the smoke alarm went off. One of the flight attendants came up to me and asked me politely to put out my Marlboro lights but I wasn’t able to respond right away — I was in shock of my stupidity and I was also distracted on how she had still managed to put a straight face on.

I did what I was told. It was just an accident, I explained. My heart was pounding. The flight attendant pretended to believe me. It was nice of her to do so even though she obviously didn’t.  They informed me that they will hand me over to the authorities as soon as we would land.

I ran. They chased me. I made the evening news.

There was a hotel across the airport. I was flushed, my face was pale and at the same time pink when I saw my reflection in the lobby. I told the receptionist to quit the pleasantries and give me a room right away. This caused a bone on her right temple to twitch a little bit. This has also caused all the cheap rooms to be occupied all of a sudden.

I was offered the only room available that night which was the presidential suite.

The presidential suite.

I guess for the first time I was a high-roller.

A fugitive with the knack for self-indulgence under pressure.

There was no way I could afford it.

I asked the receptionist to just charge it but my card flopped.

I spent the whole night at the bar instead.

I was supposed to be the protagonist of this story.

The center of the whole fucking universe.

Nice Guys Finish Last

I waved down a taxi and got in. We made an abrupt U-turn and almost hit the curb but we just drove on as if it didn’t happen. I told the driver the destination. I was surprised that he didn’t ask for extra as most drivers do. I thought I was lucky.

The backseat smelt of LPG. I can barely breathe. It’s the same kind of gas you’d find in a typical household kitchen, except we weren’t frying bacon and eggs that morning — it made my head hurt.

I was running late. I was attending a friend’s wedding. It seemed obvious enough to the driver since I was wearing my oversized white barong with a boutonniere flower pinned on.

He asked me if I was one of the groom’s men. I said no. Then he asked me if I was already married. I told him that I was somewhere in between. He asked me what that means. I told him I’d tell him when I found out for myself. He stopped asking.

“You seem like a nice guy,” The driver started. “But you know what they say about nice guys.”  He needed not to finish the line. I don’t know about me being a nice guy, but I know I’ve always finished last.  I had no response. We beat a red light.

The sky was overcast and a little later there were some light rains that sprayed.

I wasn’t able to make it to the exchange of vows, I wasn’t able to make it to the church at all. But I was just in time for the opening of the bar. I liked my scotch dry. I liked it with water too.  I ordered a round, and another, and another — it was like a well in a desolate desert more than a wedding reception.

There was a lady sitting next to me, I thought I knew her, but she reassured me that it wasn’t the case. We started talking, first about Bernie Sanders, and a lot of random things that I have already forgotten about.

She was alright. We slow danced to Death in Vegas’ Girls while expertly holding our cocktails. I thought it was perfect when they decided to tone down the lights. The indigo matched the mood.

“Do you believe in marriages?”  She pulled her head back and waited for my answer as if it was a test of character.

“You’re the second stranger who asked me about marriage today. Well, I think of it as a retirement package.”

“Wait, what? Like living off on a pension and taking vacation trips on cruise ships?”

“Yes, all of that. But don’t forget about prostate cancer too.”

There was some laughter.

“But seriously, I think it’s a lot of work. And you reap the rewards long after —

I think I believe in the integrity of its commitment.”  I retracted for a simpler answer.

“What do you do anyway?”  She asked.

“I’m a writer.”

“They say writers are difficult to live with.”

“Oh yeah?”

“I guess, maybe you’re overly committed to what you do.”

“No. I think it’s because we’re poor.”

I went home alone as usual. I went out for a nightcap at a local nightclub. As I sat at the bar I thought about Santiago in Hemingway’s book. I thought about his fish and the lions walking on the beaches of Africa in his dreams. I thought about the great Joe DiMaggio and the great games he played. On how good he must have felt winning. And the prisms, in the day, and the reflection of the countless stars on the surface of the sea at night. I thought about a lot of things in between those thoughts. And when I snapped back, I wasn’t anymore in the mood for watching the girls on stage. But there I was, still inside the bar, still draining the well.

I checked my wallet and there was almost nothing there.

But I drank like how rich men do. I felt like Bukowski. I felt like an entire world inside of me existed.

I drank like a millionaire.

The Color of The Ink Wasn’t Blue

In between semesters I worked in a furniture shop as a clerk. It was a rickety old place on Hickory Street between a hardware store and an abandoned building that used to be a prime commercial spot before the fifties. I worked there from day until nightfall. Even on weekends, when I was asked by the Chinese couple who owned the place to help out with the workload, I would show up. On weekdays, I would sort out boxes of supplies and carry them to the stock room at the back, and I would bring some out to replenish the display windows. I talked to customers, suppliers, and I was responsible for liaising shipments whenever the delivery trucks came in three times a week.

I lived with my older sister and her five-year-old daughter, Sabrina. It was just a small two-story apartment good enough for temporary living and it was near the market place and a chapel a few blocks away. There were two rooms, a bath, and a small living space, which was used for nothing really, with just a couch and a low wooden table placed at the center.  “Please don’t encourage her, Fred.” Was her reaction when I came home one day with a bar of strawberry chocolate wrapped in a tin foil and a fancy ribbon.

My sister was around six when the war ended. People refer to it as a world war, but for the likes of her, it was just simply war. She does not understand the distinction. There wasn’t any coherence to any of it as far as she’s concerned. She detested it. If there was one good thing she learned about human conflict, it would be that all interactions, forging relationships, or any sort of dealings, were always either based on mutualism, grab of power, or survival.

I was married once, many years ago. I was still very young at the time, I was nineteen. It was a decision made by our parents for us. It was customary then. Soon before long, we fell apart like how metal and wood on white glue would break loose.

There was a single-stemmed sunflower cutting in a ceramic vase between us. My ex-wife moved it aside since it was blocking her view of me when we talked. There were only a few words needed to be shared for goodbyes, but I felt she had hesitations about it. She was looking down most of the time. We parted ways on a Sunday of July. It was 1969. It was raining hard when I left our place by the river. I didn’t hear her cry – I wasn’t looking – when the door was latched behind me on the way out. The rain must have concealed it for us. I was at the doorway for a good period of time, waiting for the rain to let up, but it didn’t. I thought I heard a whimper after a while, but I dismissed that thought. It was better that way, I suppose. Oblivion is necessary sometimes. It was a good friend to me that day.

I played duckpin bowling at the arcade to pass the time. I drank beers with a third of my work money and I wasn’t concerned even if I went over it.

There were a few friends there good for conversations but it was the armadillo whom I felt the closest.  I merely used the time to get attuned to the universe. The neon lights attracted me most, and I could sit there at the corner in silence — looking at it through an open window, at its glaring, at its changing colors, with its electric lights and fluttering pulses that almost felt it had a life of its own.

After a degree in writing, I soon set out and pursued what everybody was after. I wore a suit and a pair of leather shoes, and a tie to go along with it. It felt like my marriage. I quit in my fourth month.

Down at the arcade, I downed glasses of hard drinks and confided everything with the armadillo. But it wasn’t the time for heartbreaks and soul searching. It was a quaint time to be daring. Hustlers used the armadillo as a duckpin ball to get the better of unsuspecting amateurs, who were willing to bet off their allowance money, their gold watches, and sometimes even their girlfriends. And the money was good. Soon, we agreed to be partners. With my skills with people and negotiation, I soon became his handler.

Before long, my sister grew quite concerned about the direction I was threading. And with respect to her wishes, I quit my racket and went back working for the Chinese couple full time. In return, I was allowed to read my books during my shift — It was my only concession. I found out that they couldn’t find anyone else who could manage their little store as thoroughly as I did. It was alright, I decided, besides, I grew fond of them, but I didn’t let them see that.

It was a quiet but unfulfilling life. It was what it was, and that’s what made everyone happy. There was a long period of peace, but really, it was just an empty silence that prevailed. Even Sabrina got the best of it. She looked up to me as her own father. I would take her to ice cream shops on weekends, and to the night carnivals whenever they were in town. I bought her pinwheels and pink cotton candies and she would scream in excitement every time as if it was the first time she had seen one.

At the bar, the armadillo was the wisest person next to the barman. “You’re so good with kids, why don’t you start your own family?” I didn’t know how to respond to the question I just shed a shrug. I thought about finally pursuing writing, I told him. I think that’s where my heart really belongs to. But all I could write about was women.

“What’s wrong with that?” The armadillo asked.

“All they do is suck your soul. I don’t think I want that. It’s the only thing I’ve got left.”

“Stop overdramatizing it. You’re no Fitzgerald.”

As the sun was setting, the static clouds were of different shades of dark blue until it was gone completely for the day. And the neon sign was switched on and I got the first glimpse of its life that night. I felt a glow warm up from inside of me once again as if resurrected. Like how it was the first time. The lights gave off an electric twitch every now and then. I thought it saved me. I thought that the universe was directly speaking to me. I thought about a dedication, an inscription. I wrote down the first line that dawned on me. It was on a table napkin amidst the hustlers and their victims and the background noise. The words that formed was for the drunks and the poets, for my older sister, and all the hearts that were breaking at that very moment.

A Warm Bowl of Ramen

“What is that exactly?” He pointed to the sky but I couldn’t make out what he was referring to. I asked him what he meant, there must be over a thousand stars up there. The cigarette smoke was clouding up my glasses. We were both standing outside a ramen place after we had a few drinks from a watering hole we found across.

It has been a cold February and we were having a great time.

“It could just be a satellite or probably just a glare you caught.” I finally responded.

Truth is, Ronnie has been developing a severe case of an optic nerve disorder or probably glaucoma. He wouldn’t tell me exactly. I think it’s progressive. I think it’s getting worse.

We ran a little magazine back then. Ronnie had all the connections in town and we used his place when we worked. He convinced me to run it. I was moved by his persistence and dedication. We asked independent writers with the right material to contribute but most of the stories were written by us. It wasn’t in any way prolific, we make just about enough, but in most days less, still, we felt we had our audience going and that was all that mattered.

It was a dying form – writing – and it was going away with his eyes, he told me. And that the ramen was delicious, it makes his soul happy. “If we keep it real like this godsend dish, we will never go out of business. That’s what I believe.” But we both knew we were going out of business. He was slurping a mouthful of wheat noodles and washing it down every time with an ice-cold beer.  I don’t exactly understand where he wanted us to go, but that’s how he saw things from where he sat.

Ronnie was a good writer. Problem was, he was all passion but rarely obeys form. He was all over the place. But then, maybe it was wrong of me to judge that. During our time together, I was helping him finish the stuff that he wrote but he always felt that it wasn’t good enough, or I was editing too much, that it wasn’t raw enough to publish.

On his best days, he would ask me to do what I do. He would apologize, but of course, I understood. I was in charge of copyediting and proofreading, basically making sure that he would finish his work. But I couldn’t not tolerate him. Of course, there was the women, and the self-inflicting defacing moments of isolation, and drugs, and the drinking. It was good for a period of time, however, real-life catches on and we missed deadlines and there were just too much unfulfilled commitments both to our writers and readers.

For what it’s worth it was a good run, we both agreed. It was those who did not try who really failed, as the wise would say. We both got married and had kids. I teach basic writing and he just enjoys early retirement and the riches his parents left to him. I heard he goes to the doctor every now and then, but it wasn’t for his eyes apparently. We see each other twice a year during the anniversaries of the magazine when it started and ended.

I took the time finishing my broth. It was warm and cozy on the inside that it deserved to linger in those moments. I took my time in a lot of things, it seems. This was probably just an excuse. I have always been a slow reader and it has been the same with everything else—I still hadn’t gotten over it. I lighted a cigarette and he asked me for one. And I looked into those eyes and I saw there was passion still. The same kind. They may be tired, damaged, a little frustrated perhaps, but the soul hasn’t departed yet.

I lifted my bowl and slurped to my heart’s content. And he was right. The ramen made our souls happy that night.

A Life with Joan Didion

She wanted to be exactly like Joan Didion. She basically patterned her life on her. She would even mimic JD’s writing style, except that she wasn’t as good. She would try, and a lot of her readers like what she writes, but for her, it wasn’t good enough. She would go at lengths, she would even refer to her boyfriend as ‘John’, and named her cat after Quintana — Didion’s late husband and daughter. She would dress up like her, and would always wear dark sunglasses, and would always prefer drinking straight from a large bottle of Coke first thing in the morning. Her favorite imitation of her, was a picture taken dressed up like the renowned writer — In a long-sleeved dress, with a cigarette pointing to the ground, leaning against a Corvette Stingray. She was particularly keen about matching every detail, except for the car, which was tough to find, so she settled with an old white Toyota Crown.

Her boyfriend didn’t mind. He even finds it amusing sometimes. He would even help her, giving her all the time she needed in writing, encouraging her to the aspiration. What he did mind, however, was when it got eerily weird when she wanted to talk about his apparent death, and as to the manner of which it would occur.

One time, after writing for nearly seven hours — locked up in her room — she woke him up at around three.  She asked him to comment about what she had written about, with an intense glare of excitement in her eyes. At first, he didn’t see anything wrong with it, in fact, he likes how driven she could get, but then, there was something in her look that night that wasn’t there before.

He sat up, opened the bedside lamp, and put on his glasses. She was holding what appeared to be a printed manuscript against her chest.  “Do you want me to heat your dinner, honey?” Asked John.

“No, just need to hear what you think, that’s all.” John read it, while she sat anxiously at the edge of the bed, waiting.

“I like it.”

“You do? That’s great!” She looked genuinely relieved. “What else, John?”

“Uhm, I think it’s perfect. I would read this over and over and never get tired.”

“And? How about the technical composition, the arrangements?”

“I think it’s great, honey. I really think it’s good.”

She smiled dimly and fell silent for a while and said:

“The real John would have been a good critique. Obviously, you’re not him. You could have at least pretended to be smart by going against it. How typical.”

“Because I’m not John, honey.”  Stunned, he almost yelled at her.

She collected the printed papers and went back to the study. The next morning when John woke up, she was lying next to him, still asleep. During breakfast, he asked her about the night before but she didn’t have a memory of it at all. He asked her about what she wrote, which she was able to recall, but the episode in the bedroom apparently didn’t happen as far as she was concerned.

In the weeks that followed, she’s been gradually moving out of their place, discreetly, until she was able to empty the apartment of all of her belongings. Of course, John noticed this but opted not to say anything.  She took some of John’s stuff — probably by accident — in exchange, she left Quintana. Besides, one couldn’t hang around with the dead that was just absurd.

At the bar, everyone is calling him by his real name, of course. Nobody knew that the name ‘John’ was just a pet name she once gave him. He spent most of the time in the university where he teaches in the mornings until late afternoons and took his night classes at the bar. The apartment was just a place where he sleeps. “It’s Quintana’s home now, I’m just a boarder.” He told the old man and the armadillo.

Weeks turned to months, thirty-two to be exact. He saw her doing an interview in some late-night show. She’s been doing great. Published four novels, and a book of essays, and a weekly feature column. Of course, she had to use her real name now. She goes by Mia S. Torres. But hearing this sounded distant to him. She will always be Joan to him. It was rather strange. But all in all, he was genuinely happy for her.

He heard so much about her. Especially from common friends. They say, that she was seen sometimes just driving around in a vintage car, a Corvette, sometimes in their hometown. That she’s been around artists, and other writers, and celebrities of her kind in loud music bars, smoking and drinking behind a cordoned-off area. His friends say that she is a lot nicer, despite of everything, and that she appears to be grounded still, a better person.  Of course, he knew, that this is just a dense assessment of her character confined in the limited quarters of their brief encounters on some random street somewhere.

But he knew that she has become all of the things she once wanted, and more. Again, he felt genuinely happy for her.

While he lived his life as is, just the same, he always remained consistent. He always preferred to be still and constant. To be reliable. To his students and on keeping the barkeep employed — Despite all that had happened.

After sometime Quintana, the cat died. “She just got old, I’m sorry.” He phoned to tell her about it.

“Was she in pain?”

“I think she passed on quietly. The vet was really delicate about it.”

“Thank you for letting me know. I appreciate it a lot.”

“That’s not a problem at all. I’m happy to have called you.”

“Thanks again, Elliot.”

“No, I mean, you’re welcome…

But please, call me John.”

Ugly Men

They were in a shopping center along Taft Avenue. The old man and the armadillo were both standing in front of a mannequin. Just staring at it.

“I don’t think it’s going to budge, Fred.” Said the armadillo.

“Just wait. We’ve been here this long, why back down now?”

They had lunch at the food court. It wasn’t that good, but they had plenty of choices, plus, there was a lot of greasy food too.

A couple walked past them. The guy, whom they assumed the boyfriend, was carrying the bag of the woman he was with.

“I feel sorry for the guy.” Fred almost twisting his head following the couple.

“I don’t know about you, Fred, but I think she’s just gorgeous.”

“I didn’t mean that.”

“What then?”

“I mean him carrying that woman’s bag.”

“Why? Is it how he’s carrying it?”

“Especially that. The lady must not have insisted on it. But the way he wears that bag slung across his chest like that, just gets me.”

“Oh, I see.” The armadillo was admiring its newly polished shell.

“What’s the title of that movie with those giant, worm-like monsters in a small desert town? I just remembered something.” Asked Fred.

“What? Earthworm Jim?”

“No, the one with Kevin Bacon in it.”

“You mean Tremors?”

“Yeah, that one.”

“What about it?”

“Well, I had a young lady once. Pretty as hell. Like one of those beautiful college girls we go see sometimes.” Fred paused and picked up the plastic saucer and drank what’s left of the gravy. “Anyways, I just thought about that other thing she told me. Other than what she said about men carrying shoulder bags.”

“Why? Did she despise it too?”

“Quite naturally.”

“Have you ever heard about chivalry, Fred?” Refuted the armadillo.

“It’s not about that. But yeah, that too… Anyway, that’s not the point.”

“Then what is?”

“Tremors, buddy. Tremors.”

“I’m not sure I follow you.”

“She prefers ugly men with little wieners, seriously, over those who are good looking but packing big guns.”

“For real? We’re ugly, we like to travel light. Well, that’s our department.”

“Yes. I really thought I finally found the perfect girl.”

“Have you ever.”

“Yes. I thought so too.” A busboy came over and cleaned the adjacent table beside them. They caught a whiff of detergent.

“I’m not sure how, but ever since she saw that movie she got nightmares non-stop.”

“So what happened?”

“You know, things.”

“Why don’t you get back with her? Obviously, you’re still hungover.”

“I’m in my late sixties. She’s probably dying or dead by now.”

“Probably.” The armadillo plainly responded. “Was she the reason why you were staring at that mannequin earlier?”

Fred did not respond.

“But one thing I don’t understand…” The armadillo straightened up from its curved stance. “Why that mannequin? We could have picked up a live one. I know just a place.”

“Well, it had no face.”

“You’re getting weird again, Fred.”

“No, it’s not like that, A.”

“Get to the point.”

“I’m getting there. Jeez.” Fred took a sip of tap water, then continued. “I’m an old bastard. And nowadays, I forget things, you know?”

“Right. Go on…”

“I mean, I still remember the details, but I couldn’t seem to remember her face, anymore.”

“I’m sorry to hear that, Fred.” The armadillo replied genuinely.

“That’s okay, I guess.”

“Oh. Like that Joey Albert song! Only in reverse.”

“Ha! Like that one exactly!” Both of them laughed.

Then silence fell between them. It was a thin one, but it was sincere.

“Something like that, huh?” The armadillo looked to the direction of the crowd.

“Yeah. Something like that.”

Fred’s tone was a little somber. He then checked his hands and licked the gravy off his fingers. They’re now both looking at the direction of the crowd, where a street dance contest was about to begin.

Nine Lives

Carnival

She wanted the big panda. There was that game of popping balloons in one of the booths. He got her the prize at his nineteenth try. It wasn’t much, but he was proud of it. He wasn’t quite the catch she wanted. He was too tall for her and a bit hairy for her taste. He is a giant. But her mom approves of him and he is persistent. He was the convenient choice. It’s been a while since the last time she won anything. She decided to snuggle with her prize that night. She decided to be happy with her stuffed animal.

Roman Empire

She got down on her knees on the second date. It was Marcus Aurelius’ fault. He was to blame. She fell in love with a philosopher. She loved it when he read to her. A few days after, she could still taste him in her lips. He tasted like rusty metal, his breath smelled like rotten, wet cardboard. His junk smelled like dried piss and it ripped her apart, almost like paper.

It was a completely different sensation. To be conquered that way. At will. She blamed it all on Caligula. To her savage lover.

Dressing Room

“Well, what do you think?” She was trying on a dress at the local department store.

“They all look the same to me, Stella.”

“Do I look better with this one or the green one?”

“I think you look lovely in both, honey.”

“Could you please try a little harder?”

“I am. I am. Jeez, what do you want from me?”

“Just pick one that is better, John.”

“Okay.” He scratched his head in annoyance. “Well, I think you looked better with the green one.”

“You think so?”

“Yeah, honest. What do you think?”

“I’m not sure. Probably I’ll just buy both.”

“Oh.”

After a few more tries, they finally checked out and paid for three dresses.

White. Green. Black.

Rapid Boil

She handed me the photograph. It was a happy picture of her. She then excitedly went over the details on how to get there, on how easy it was going to be. It was a picture of her somewhere in sunny Japan. She was smiling. She seemed contented. She said we ought to visit there sometime next year, just us. I said, “Yes, of course.” But I knew trips like that never happen. Two years after she moved to southern California where she had a family of her own. I heard she had a child and has two jobs, sometimes three when she can afford to work nights.

I mean, it must have hurt. Difficult. I think about her every night, only when I could afford to. Mostly when I am preparing dinner. During when I am cooking eggs to a rapid boil.

Nine Lives

Soon after getting married, we found ourselves in our own little bubble. In the afternoons we would lay, and we’d stay in bed entwined until dusk, until dawn. We clung onto eternity. We were ageless, a little too hopeful, naive. But eventually, life catches on. The days are getting shorter. In the evenings we would fight. About money mostly. We had our biases, our own individuality, bursting our own little bubble. We were both stingy and splurging. We were both caring and spiteful. Living with each other was a riot. We were spent.

But I guess that’s alright. The world is not equilateral as the wise would say. Loving is, after all, like living with a cat. What you get in return is just an occasional purr and a whole lot of indifference.

But still, you cling for more, faithful, undeterred of its cunning.

Fog Machines to Infanta

When Fred got home, he found Maria sprawled on her belly in their bedroom. He tiptoed across the linoleum floor approaching her. Maria sensed this, clamped up as if on a defensive, turning to the other way to face the wall.

“Please go away.” Maria appealed softly to her beloved. Her body was completely tense and cold. She could smell his familiar scent when Fred tried to move in closer. She felt the bed bounce.

Maria has mustered enough courage and told Fred the news at the dinner table. It was a hard confession but it was the truth. She couldn’t bear his child. If only it had been possible, maybe things would have turned out differently. “The doctors did all that they could,” she explained. “It was already the third opinion.” She’s thirty-six.

Fred helped out with the dishes. They both had a cigarette and a drink in silence, after which, she went into the bathroom but did not come back for a good period of time.

The next day she spent the entire morning in the sun as she did the entire summer by the pool. Betsy and Jackie told her that she could still be happy regardless. Maria’s heart scowled at them.  She wanted to scream. She wanted to disintegrate.

She was driving just after sundown. It was already dark but the tufts of her scarf stood out in the glare of the dashboard. The Coke next to her was bland with the melting ice in it. She knew the time, but the destination was unclear to her. Regardless, the steering wheel had been kind enough to indulge her indecisions. There was the moon in the open sky. If she and Fred were to triangulate, they’d be able to find themselves on the moon, she figured. He was probably staring at it too, this she had hoped. Just imagine, forgetting grief. She told herself. But it is just an idea to help cope with a weeping heart. It wasn’t a cure or the antidote that Maria was looking for at the moment. It was an illusion for a fanatic, nothing more. A fog machine. Solid carbon dioxide.

Maria stopped by a store to rent a movie. She wanted to be River Phoenix and Keanu when they rode that canary-yellow Norton bike. She wanted to let her hair loose and just drive that motorcycle far away, getting lost. But she was tired and it was getting late. And it just won’t feel the same.

In the dead of the night, instead, she threaded what could have been a scenic road to Infanta in the morning. She drove on until the humming of the car engine had finally caught up with her and pounced her heavy heart.

It was a beautiful night under the stars. And what soon remained, finally, was the fading screech of the tires on the pavement and the deafening punctuation she had decided to write down, when she took a quick turn, ramming a steel barrier.

She had sent what remained of her sorrow into the deep enclosures of the quiet.

And as this moment stretches on infinitely in her head, during the fall, Maria played a memory again and again, until she could no longer:

When Fred and Maria walked up the hillside to the direction of the wind. When the tamarind trees were dark in the sun and there were tall grasses swaying around the pathway where they trekked. When Maria went along with it, even though she knew that her place had always been near the water. When her skin longed for the chlorine of her backyard pool.  When there were about six or seven patches of grey clouds above them. When they touched lips for the first time.

Sweet Spaghetti

She ordered a spaghetti meal and a coke. Tony liked his brewed coffee lukewarm so he let it sit for a while as they talked. They were in a fast food joint in QC, in one of its old parts. It was two after midnight. You’d know if it’s time to go when the whole place starts to smell like hospitals, of antiseptic, when it’s too clean. There was only them and a few service crew left closing up. The streets were dark and almost empty. It felt like the night alleys are lurking. It felt that it had plenty of room for dark secrets and piss. There were night owls sitting on the gutters, overly embellished prostitutes stood under the yellow lights, and there was a parked police mobile at the dark corner. Tony was just getting started. There were small teabags hanging under his eyes. He wore them proudly. He liked to sleep in the mornings and live his life at night.  Joy doesn’t have much knack for it. But she’s the spontaneous kind. She was like a kite that goes along with the direction of the wind, never minding.

Joy was going to stay in a hotel suite. Just a short drive from where she lived. There was a scheduled water interruption and she asked Tony to take her. The water levels in the reserve were too low and it’s going to hit their neighborhood twice that week. Tony spelled out the irony. It was both severely dreadful and funny Joy told him. Tony agreed.

It was as if they were both waiting for the dawn. Tony poured some whiskey he had from his jacket pocket into their drinks. She finished her sweet spaghetti and drank, while Tony leaned against the window with his coffee.

“I apologize for earlier.”

“It’s fine.” Joy answered cooly. “I just hope you don’t go around kissing girls you just met.”

“I don’t,” Tony responded. “They don’t like me that much.”

“Did you mean it?”

“Do you mean if it’s real?”

Joy did not answer.

They drove to her subdivision to pick up her things. And while he waited for her, Tony watched the full moon that was accompanying him from the sky. There was cool air that blew from the direction of the hills. There were cloud patches translucent in metallic blue. Time seemed to have stood still and was waiting for him to say something, anything. There were stars, lots of them, and the city lights below him.

When Joy re-emerged, the sound of the heavy gate woke the dogs from the houses nearby. There was a lot of barking and howling.  She had changed her clothes and her knees were visible with the hems of her skirt just above them.

“Ready?” She was the spring that never happened, thought Tony.

“There is no such thing. You just kind of do.” Joy answered.

“I guess it’s that simple huh?” Tony retorted.

“Like jumping off a plane.”

Both of them laughed.

Joy took Tony’s hand and said, “You know, to be frank, I like you, Tony D. And I think I want to keep you. But only for these sorts of conversations, you see?”

“I understand. Like how we prefer the night.”

“That’s just you, Tony.”

“Is there anything else?”

“Yes. And I like to fight sometimes too. Is that weird?”

“No. I don’t think that’s weird at all.”

Tony woke in her hotel bed the morning after. He suddenly missed home. But he decided to lie down for a while. Tony rested his eyes and turned to his side. His breath was on her temple and on her hair. He missed the sharp and muffled hisses of the cold air the night before when they drove. He thought about the amber lights when they passed through the highway.

Tony woke Joy up. They got some air and went for a walk. It was still early. They smoked while they held hands. Tony did. Joy was sucking on flavored vapor. Tony remembered what Collin Farrell had said in True Detective about e-cigarettes. It really looked like that she was sucking a robot’s dick. Tony laughed. She also laughed with him. They were holding hands still.

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.

 

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.

The Staring Contest

Behind the window, he was staring at the tall building standing in the hot sun across the street. The more he stared at it the more it looked bleak and ordinary that he almost forgot that it was where he actually lived. There was nothing special about its dimensions and the way it was built. One could never strike an interesting conversation about it, and there was no passion that can be felt on its architecture.

The only thing amusing about the scenery was the maintenance guy Mang Nato, who was watering dust off the pavement.  He was particularly drawn on the way the spraying water gleamed in the light of the sun — it had a familiar hue about it.

When his table was ready, he asked the waitress if he can be moved a little closer to the shade where it was cooler. There he found himself sitting more comfortably, back-reading a Sunday editorial while drinking a tall perspiring glass of coke. He couldn’t help but feel a gap between him and what he read. As if an audience following a televised political soap, he felt affected but only at a certain distance of affinity.  Apparently, there had been some unlawful arrests related to it just over recently, and there were farmers killed, and young women mutilated it seemed so unreal. He was overlooking a sloping backstreet where customers were allowed to smoke even if there was an ordinance against it. People just didn’t care anymore nowadays he realized.

It was still midweek but already the wind tasted like ash in his mouth and felt that he was in dire need to wash it all down for as long as it didn’t hurt his head the next morning. Six words down, four across. He stared at the crossword puzzle and just found sad and empty boxes waiting to be reunited with their words.

When he ordered, he told a lie to the waitress that he just got a promotion and tried to flirt a little.

He felt self-conscious about his belly and tried to hide it the entire time he was talking to her, and kept on repositioning how he sat, but eventually just gave up when he sensed that all she ever wanted was to take his order and move on to the other tables.

On the window reflection, he studied what could have been smile lines on his temples even though he didn’t smile that often. From ash, the wind tasted sour – the impending flavor of self-loathing.

The image he saw was not his. He’s been wearing someone else’s skin, he argued to himself.

He realized that he has been feeling this slow drag, especially in the mornings when he is reminded that summer had helped suck out the color of the leaves to dry.

He wanted to go back but he couldn’t, wouldn’t. He wouldn’t walk back to his apartment at this hour. It was hotter and humid compared to most summers. He wouldn’t go back at this hour not until the landlady had the screen doors installed finally, which she agreed to do when he signed the lease.

There was a certain storm that stirred in his chest, but he still managed to smile back at the waitress when his order was served.

The sun caught up to where he sat, and the heat was lashing out so hard on the skin.

He looked directly in the sun until he winced at its hurtful glare.

Tall Glass

While we were at it, I threw in all sorts of questions on how it was like to be up there. He gave a picturesque narrative of the life in the camp during the summer with those kids from the private schools and how exciting the first year was. My brother tried very hard to be as detailed and brief as he could possibly be on the phone, but there wasn’t enough time so we bade goodbye and agreed to keep in touch before the new school year started.  I was pressing the receiver hard on my ear, it left a slight redness afterwards.

As natural things could get, we weren’t able to contact each other over a good period of time when we were supposed to. He was living in the city while I remained recluse back home.  I wasn’t able to keep track and assumed he was preoccupied himself that it didn’t feel it mattered then.

And as the gap widened while the silence grew, it haunted me all the more. Every time I was finished with the day’s chores, I would always try to imagine how it was to be up there with him. I would begin waking up in his room, in the all-boys dormitory making the bed before heading out, always making sure I was on time for each class. I thought about the faces of his classmates and the professors, what sort of people were there in the university, even the pretty girls he would have chosen to pursue.

The more I delved about leaving, the more it felt real to me. The more that I did it, the more it felt that I needed to move away from this zany town of ours.

There was no way around it I concluded.  It felt exclusive, more than the sensation I felt the first time I tasted caviar.

She insisted to take me all the way as far as she could make it. And as all things must end, the day was also coming to a close. She rested her head on my arm while we stood on a crowded bus on the way to the terminal. I looked at her, and she did the same to me — she had her hair just above her eyes and she was simply wonderful.

But I couldn’t help feeling that even after all that magic — enough to favor prejudice — still, it arrived quite dry on the surface.

I always faulted myself for that.

Up in the clouds, it made me forget all there is about on earth and it allowed me to bask in the soak of twilight. The sky was overcast but the runway was filled with outlining lights when the plane was about to land. It resembled a mid-summer night sky in a tropical coast island somewhere far away. I was drawn to it like a moth to a fire.

It felt like it was calling me, I wanted to hold it in my hands so bad I wanted nothing more.

I guess you’ll never know how disdainful the fire is until it burned you.

This could happen to you too, I told myself.

I waited for the green leaves to turn.

I hope I could help it.  But she didn’t want to bring it up.

I was sorry for the weight, I told her on the phone.

“I was staying in the Honeymoon lodge this past few nights.” She retorted.

I was pressing the receiver hard on my ear, it left a slight redness afterwards.

It Was Like Catching Flu

It’s late in the night when we took a cab ride around the outskirts of town. We picked up some supplies on the way at the local 24-hour convenience store near the bay and paid extra on top of the fare. He was sorry about waking me up, but he didn’t know who else to call at the time, he explained. Of course, I didn’t mind one bit.

We watched the smoke lingered in the air under a street lamp. It was like a scene from Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  This made him forget for a little while, which relieved me in a way, for I was putting on a terrible performance consoling him.

We didn’t talk about it much really. I didn’t know how. The ebbing of the tides in the moonlight did all of that for us.

I guess that was all he ever needed, what both of us did.

“I don’t think we could ever prepare for these sort of things.” He started.

“You’d know if it’s good when it’s scarce.

All the good ones are.”

I didn’t say anything.

We waited until dawn before heading back. He wanted to catch both the last light of the night and the first of the coming day.

At the end of it, he knew that profanity is the cheapest means of revenge.

“Think about something else. “ I urged him finally.

“Like what?”

“The good days.” I knew I was doing worse I wanted to puke.

“I want to see that try bring down all the xenophobic ideas in the world.”

Then the warm rays glimpsed upon us suddenly with the breeze blowing from the direction of the sun.

And it went on in my head. I could still trace him.  My son’s scent on the pillows.

I think it’s painfully blissful, sometimes I couldn’t stand it.

It was like catching flu in the rain.

The Lack of Inhibition to the Less Critical Heart (or the overabundance thereof)

The Termite

It was as clear as a summer night’s sky that later he exhumed the details of the incident. But at that moment, all doors were shut tight and nobody seemed to know what answers he wanted to hear. He looked at the tenants scornfully, at their undiscriminating speculations, he could not stand it.

He was just making matters worse, they said to him. There was nothing else he could do and thought better of it. They could be right, of course. But he could not ignore the stench of apathy in his nostrils.

In the end, he decided to retreat to knit a constructive point of view. It sounded old-fashioned, it made him shudder. But it has always been an effective antidote to the poisoned heart.

He used charcoal briquettes to take out the smell, along the wooden panels and throughout the gaps.

But it was the sight of chloroform that interested him.

 

The Hermit

Once there lived a hermit living an ordinary solitary kind of life. All he ever needed was the sands beneath him, and the salts of the ocean to preserve. He stayed in the shallow reefs near the shoreline, along the coast where he had access to food and a few leisure. He rarely travels to the land, and only went when he had to. It was just a little corner of the world what he had, it was not much but it was his corner, nevertheless. He had it all.

Sure, he got a few friends at work, but he doubted if anyone would ever stick his head out for him when the time came. Not that it was necessary really, but sometimes, it was just comforting to think that one’s well-being is of some value to others.

He continues to scuttle through the sands of the beach.

 

The Old Dog

I read about the incident in a newspaper while waiting for my clothes to finish at a local laundromat. I barely knew Lisa, but it saddened me, nonetheless.

She must have been dead for three days by the time her body was discovered in her apartment. She just got old- basically, it was what the news read.

It was a pivotal experience, she was the closest friend I ever had.

And now that she is gone, the more I am tucked away from ever existing.

Lisa was 77, twelve in dog years. Her famous person left for Siargao to catch some waves.

She looked good in her two-piece bikini on her Instagram post.

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In The Dabbles of Crossing Over

Together with his parents, they were guests at the New Year’s Eve party hosted by his uncle Ramon and his wife Aunt Cecil. Like the rest, he said buenas to the older relatives and placed the back of their hands on his forehead. And after being thrown around like a Ping-Pong ball, he was seated — almost listlessly — near the family punch bowl, away from the smoke of cigarettes wandering about the room like aimless spirits with unfinished business. This was the year FVR has solved the power crisis, the end of his boyhood.

The Christmas tree was still up — the same as in the other households — and there were even unclaimed presents underneath it. The air still stirred in that festive atmosphere that triggered an automatic switch inside his chest. He felt the urge of lighting up a roman candle or perhaps a cone-fountain and thought about inviting a girl he knew across the street.

Kids chased each other around with sparkles in their hands, while the fireworks as if splashing in the night sky, rippled fighting for space and attention.

While everyone was preoccupied with merrymaking, he snatched a whole swig of punch and cruised mischievously among family friends and his unsuspecting relatives. He sidled and scuttled until he was able to completely break free to join the others his age.

He saw his cousins Nathaniel and Trixie went up the stairs first. Then it was Carol, the two Maries, Christine, and then finally Dex who snuck the glasses up to the room. Discipline and tact were highly regarded in the family. But tonight, kids were permitted to stay up as late as they would like. The husbands, joined by their wives were drinking Pale Pilsen beers, until their livers gave out, even dogs could bark all night, but they chose to be holed up in their hiding places instead.

After a while, he followed the rest into Dex’s room. And there he found the host of this secret party sitting on the bedroom rug passing around vodka in dining glasses.

He took his place on the bed, sitting next to the two Maries — the youngest of the cousins– who were giggling in excitement. Carol was perched by the windows wearing her first fourteen-holed Dr. Martens sharing pop magazine stories with Trixie and Christine, while Nathaniel busied with the Nintendo tapes in front of the television.

He chattered with Dex whom he felt closest with. Everyone seemed to be having a good time when suddenly they heard Dex’s dad, their uncle Ramon, calling them out on the door. The uncle was particularly strict, the paternal kind, but also believed that profanity has no place in parenting. All the paraphernalia were pushed under the bed, the two Maries, Trixie, and Christine hid under the bed covers, while he took the closet with Carol.

In the dark, while listening to the only sound that reigned which was their almost syncopated breathing, he accidentally dabbled into the cosmos of this unfamiliar paradoxical curiously. Of course, this could only be an infatuation, a mere glitch in his system. Captured during an unguarded moment, he could not make out the shape of this predicament.

He tried hard not to manifest the distraught. It was a complete abomination, he would be excommunicated for sure. And even through college, this haunted him. He saw fragments of Carol in the girls he dated, it goes without saying that this did not satisfy him. But the momentary remedy offered a relief so as to just get by. He felt bad of course. It was not in his nature nor was his intention to use people. But he could not bring himself to resist whenever he saw a piece of her.

But one thing he could never elude was the probability of meeting her again. Sure, he was able to dodge a few family gatherings, but the New Year’s would be a tough one to get rid of.

Under the hibiscus tree, he marveled over at the last setting day of the year. The skies reminded him of the four-season punch that was slowly draining. And yet again he found another piece of her in the wide canvas over him.

This time though, he has not found any traces of guilt in his chest. At the end of each year, the skies will bleed like no other, but it will be able to endure anyhow, this he finally knew.

Photo by Biankitty

A Canned Penance

I moved my gaze away from the glow of the tail lights and set my eyes at the intermittent passing of advertising billboards across the road. I got stood up, waited for nearly three hours standing in front of a bingo joint along Visayas avenue until I decided to push through with the trip anyway.

Life must be a peach for those endorsing celebrities, I mused to myself. Before long, I fell back into a deep sleep once more.

The road ahead was winding, and the bus was heading farther into the provinces that the radio frequencies were hardly keeping up. And soon, the ads had longer intervals between them, until there was not even one that can be spotted waving by.

As the way got darker, we sped our way through some uphill turns on the mountainside as if we were on a race or something. It was quiet, and the songs on the radio were almost inaudible at this point. After a few more hours the night got too deep that it made the aisle of the bus even darker. Standing over the passengers, the conductor gently tapped my shoulder to wake me and did the same to the couple sitting across in front of me.

I got off at the nearest rest stop by the lamp post. My welcome was not exactly warm, but I would not have it any other way. I was greeted by the cold air traveling from the mountain tops that swept down into the valley. There was quite a chill, but the skies were so clear, I swear I must have seen every single star out there. I couldn’t see much of the mountain range at that time but in the morning, the view would be spectacular, I had imagined.

From a local bakery, I bought a bag of hot bread and smoked two sticks of lights in a row. Looking around, a nostalgic feeling gradually warmed up inside, even if it was my first time arriving there. This kind of feeling had never failed to get me each time. A kind of renewal that was like a childhood trick that never gets old.

This allowed me to reconcile a few misconnections.

In another lifetime, many years ago, I remember one evening when my dad got home so drunk, I almost did not recognize him. He was sitting at the kitchen table, sobbing, apologizing for everything he did wrong. “I was just trying to get away for a while, that was all I ever tried to do.”

Like an answer out of a can, he managed to sum it all up in just a single line.

There is always this infallible force that reminds me of home. But all we ever wanted was to get away. Just like what he has said.

“Please tell me we’re okay?’ He pleaded.

I nodded and asked him what the matter was and handed him a bowl of hot chicken noodle soup.

His body was shaking, and he pleaded some more.

The Hostess on Romulo Street

The lady at the front desk was dressed in a traditional kimono with western jewelry jingling on her wrist.  Its intricately carved stone was of bright ruby that glistened when she handed over my key.  “You’re all set sir, room is at 801 and breakfast is served at six.”  It was too bad I told her.  I usually have trouble sleeping in strange places I rather want to start my day ahead.  She recommended trying out the bar instead.

A bleeping sound was made when I tapped the card on the door panel.  As I entered, I was greeted by a citrus scent that suggested that the room was clean, and it was.  Everything was spotless, this I attributed to the reputation the place has.  I started placing my bag on the luggage rack, retired my shoes under it, and sat on the corner of the bed in front of the television.

By the awnings, I watched the blanket of the night that slithered below.  The moonlight shone over the rain-soaked pavement—it coated the foams of the clouds white, sailing across overhead.

As a matter of habit, I first unpacked the clothes I was going to wear, hanged them all in the closet and lined up the toiletries neatly on the lavatory before changing to head out.

It was getting late, and the hallways waned in the darkness as I waited long enough for the elevator before realizing that it was not working.  I decided to use the fire exit since the bar was just four floors down.   At the end of the hall the exit sign glowed as if an enticing invitation was calling upon me.  In the dark, I trailed the narrow glimmer of green neon light until I reached and pushed the heavy door.

Two flights down I heard a murmuring from below.  I stopped, startled of this irregularity.  Guests were not supposed to loiter around these parts and I suppose the management does not allow employees as well.  But the voices grew louder as I approached and caught a smell of stale cigarettes in the air.

As I climbed down the stairs, placing most of my weight on my heels, I came about a huddle of men on the landing.  Some of them were on their knees, one was sitting on the railings, and a few were standing with their hands either propped on their thighs or on the wall.  A flashlight was directed to the ground where playing cards were laid down with the pot money in the middle.

With their loud response, I do not know how many of them shrieked in surprise.

Standing so close to them this time, I reckoned that they were a good ten at least — some bore old tired faces, some were foreigners whose skins were as pink as salmons adjusting to the heat, and women smoking with only burnt tips visible.

“The bartender does not know what he is doing” A man complained to me and reached up and offered his drink.  “Right here we like it clean.”

“Thanks comrade” And downed the drink in a gulp.

There was a voice that loomed from the lower landing.  It was the receptionist, but she is out of her uniform now.  “You’re 801, right?”

At first, I could not make out who she was, but I remembered when I heard the jingling of her bracelet.

“I guess I am” I tried responding coolly.

“What are you doing here 801? Are you lost?”

“Your elevators do not work.  The lights led me to the stairs.”

“Is it now?”

“Are you not going to fix it?”

“Everything gets broken around here anyway, why bother? Besides somebody from maintenance will find out sooner eventually, stay for a while, and care to play will you now?”

I declined politely.  I would rather take my chances at the bar I told her.  It is one of the few places I know is fair.

She asked if she could tag along. I did not know why she did that, but it was probably because she suspected me of ratting them out.  It took a bit of an effort, but I convinced her that I was not.

“But it was not about that at all” she assured me.

“I thought you would rather go to a better place to drink. I owe you that”

We walked two blocks to this place she knew.   She had one round and another.  She was a terrific hostess until around two when she left me in peace.

But peace is a just another word thrown around so carelessly these days.  What we have is silence in the shade of a world set ablaze.

The Invisible Man

Jupiter was no bigger than a five-centavo coin when it shined that night. Thrilled, he placed it inside the hole he made with his fingers and peeped through it into the sky with one eye. He took a photograph of the sighting but his phone camera failed to deliver justice and so he decided to just discard it.

Overhead, its glow was diluted by the increased display lightings of the bookstore. As he stood outside, he then watched the storekeepers and the customers raced — like lab mice — the mazes of the bookcases inside. Uninvited, he crushed his half-done cigarette and went in and did the same. He started with the selected features and trod along the modern classics section until he slowed down when he reached the aisle between the Russian giants and H.G. Wells. He decided to procrastinate venturing and opted for the latter instead this time. Besides, he figured that reading Tolstoy or Dostoevsky would not sit very well with commuting on public transportation and discerned that he doesn’t want another unfinished book.

He had plenty of time, he tried to convince himself. But by the year he reached thirty-four true friends had enormously reduced to mostly dead writers and fictional protagonists. It was as if living people were only worth trying out if their thoughts and general interests were first proofread and edited like any publication houses would do.

This he thought about and the million things that could potentially take place in his short lifespan. But who would dare care? After a while, people would eventually move on with their lives. He confronted himself with the thoughts of unreciprocated love affairs and unfulfilled passions. What if they discovered that the only thing, he could ever love unconditionally was the rain? The time of the monsoon was coming, and it would be cooler soon. The thought began to console him. It was not necessarily of importance but for him, they were like the soundtrack of a very good film and the foams in his drink.

They say that life flashes on by without you realizing it. And oftentimes we miss it, especially when it counted the most. But in his case, there were no flashes, no theatrics — Just a series of random movements and intermittent pauses.

On the escalator going down, he bumped into an old colleague from the University. They exchanged numbers after going over a crash course of where their lives had led them since they last saw each other.

During the dialogue, all he was thinking about was the Irish coffee he was dying to have.

He never thought that the idea would ever touch his ugly mouth, but it did, he blurted it out, he felt ashamed.

At that moment everything else sounded broken to him.

It was a beautiful reclusion of the heart.

Paperback Series

It was nearly the end of the hour, most of the customers have already left the counters and those who remained were the regulars playing a few more rounds of pool before calling it quits. On a napkin, she drew a Martian cat holding a flag and a pint, folded it in half and inserted it in my phone casing.

I was feeling light, tired. She said it might have been the lateness of the night; we were not the same as we used to be. We were different then, but in a way, have not changed much.  Probably we were both.

It was my turn to buy the next round. I was running thin on beer money, but the night was still asking.

It was a mistake, but who’s counting nowadays? The world is full of it. Everyone has drums and boxes filled with it.

“Where were we?”

“Back to where we used to be, in a place we ought to be” She insisted.

“But you’re moving back to California.”

“A tourniquet.”

“The moon was fuller the last time we were here. Your hair longer and I didn’t have this limp.”

“You were dashing” She chuckled.

I returned some myself. “Eight years of alcohol does a lot to you.”

The container trucks lined up overhead, stuck on a flyover across our window.  The stream of orange highway lamps traced the roads with broken lines and asphalt.  She wrapped her head as it rested on her upper arm and continued,

“Will you cook me breakfast?”

“If you still like over easy with burnt hems.”

“I always thought it was perfect.”

“Yeah?”

“Yep.”

Sometimes I go to this place in my head where I recounted this sequence over and over. There were nights when I’d just look up in the sky and hope for a chance.  I still keep it with me, her dog-eared paperback copy of The Trial, protesting, one unused bookmark at a time.

Photo by Biankitty

City Tour

H narrowed his eyes, squinting at the three-hundred-year-old enamel chalices, spoons, and ladles sitting inside the glass case.  As he read the inscriptions, the professor was observing him quite amused with his growing interest for the Spanish colonial artifacts.  “Now that we’re done with the kitchenware, when can we see the replicas of the Manila Galleons?”  H half-jokingly mused but the host paid little attention to him and continued on with his private tour.  Their heels clacked raucously against the linoleum tiles until they were seated inside a study, where the curator usually entertains visits from historians, politicians, grantors, and special acquaintances in the scientific socio-sphere.

The professor scheduled the tour on an early morning of midweek, which meant the city tours were on low key which worked perfectly both for them and the host.  Education was essential to move forward, but the past was an integral part.  “You see“, placing the boater hat on his right knee, “The tales of history are always best told in such fashion.  True appreciation depicts demeanor, so bring some of that home with you.”

But H was daydreaming.  The lucid mind receded.  It was a terrible habit.

After a few, he asked earnestly “But how do we know we’re making the right kind of history?”

This came out of nowhere but the professor welcomed it anyway.

“Well, that’s tough.” He repositioned and crossed legs.

“But I guess all good ones are.”

The old man commended H for his potential, for his innate artistic brilliance.  He felt responsible for him — he was but a ship that was imperative to build.

That night at the ball they were in their double-breasted amerikanas, surrounded with great pieces in the Amorsolo gallery.  “It feels quite absurd wearing uncomfortable outfits in such scorching climate” H complained.

But like his fathers before him, who shared the same streams of aspirations but unable to shine on fully, he was willing to submit, basking in its symphonic reception.  The corners of his lips widened as the smiles beamed.  By and by the crowd has been able to separate the two, until arthritis got the better of the old man.

The General Council on Cultural Development had taken interest in the works of the young aspirant.  They consist mostly of middle-aged men, of scholars and intricate critics who busied themselves buzzing on and about, clinking champagne glasses and exchanging small talks here and there to no end.

A woman in her fifties approached H who was now standing by the tribal shaft ornaments.  The powder on her face traced the wrinkles on her temples, while the yellows of her teeth emphasized by the redness of her lips.  The laces of her evening gown appeared uncomfortably itchy to him.

He felt like a young buck drinking water from a murky shallow swamp.

It made him feel worse he wanted to change right away into his regular clothes and lay down by the awning thatched windows of home.  In his mind, he would sail the leagues of his imagination where he’d set out on a trip on-board the Manila Galleon bearing great treasures of gold, ancient jewelry, and rare

spices of the east.  Then at nightfall when the skies are clear enough, he’d be under the stars, gazing in his hammock suspended as it sways to the gentle motions the ship.  And as it bobs on the cradles of the ocean, he’d wonder on further to even greater depths to where the giant squids are lurking, rare sea creatures reign on the decks of sunken armadas.  He’d be there where the midnight blue outlines the darkened earth of the mountainsides, while the waters like dark ink with splinters of glass mirror the cloudless sky.

He pinched his nose as he walked out of the gallery. Both teacher and pupil started the road again.

“There are always dark days ahead.  In my case, my arthritis.”

“I was just here for the relics.”  H grinned.

“So did you sign the job offer?”  The professor sat at the park bench and fed the koi fishes in the pond.

“Well, I placed an X mark on it”

Photo by: Biankitty

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 was 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 Noche Buena, 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 a 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-traveled.  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

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 explicit permission.

A few days had passed, it was the weekend, the brothers decided to get some air on 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 back seat 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 has latched his gaze onto the 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

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 coy 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 around 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 sit 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.

Internship Paper

I was at the receiving area waiting under a bamboo ornament, for the Colonel — who I was interning for at the time — was concluding unofficial business matters in the other room with a tarot card reader who was also his lover. I kept on looking at my wristwatch hoping it would wind up faster. Earlier that day, he said he had received a phone call from the lady and demanded it imperative that he must come by her place at once. But he couldn’t really say why and therefore I couldn’t, in turn, determine which role portrayal she was on that afternoon. The Colonel was not always this superstitious; matter of fact, he was quite critical and sensible. His decisions have always been based on his years of extensive military service and never believed in anything supernatural. Word was, a few years back, he saw an apparition in the mountains and for days he had fallen ill and had serious episodes of convulsions which ensued from this chain of events, him being rather delirious and “undetermined”. According to the rumors, once, he snuck out of the camp, climbed over the steel fences and was found by roving soldiers talking to barks of trees and wandering about in the shadows. All of these, of course, in respect to his rank, were not stated on the official routine reports.

Flipping through a magazine and chain-smoking, across where I seated were four comfortable looking armchairs each decorated by carefully embroidered apple green throw pillows, of which the designs represented the celebrated animal zodiac of the year. I preferred to stay near the front door where I amused myself with daydreaming and brewing empty, sobering thoughts. The place was always lit red whether it was day or night, and the embellishments on its interiors were limited to beaded curtains, fortune plants, oriental figurines, and wind chimes, which I suppose for the purposes of being economical more than being spiritual. The lady across me was fourth in line and she appeared to be accustomed to the culture of the queue. She was right about mid-forties, had a good posture, and still had good set of teeth. She was with her daughter who appeared to be oblivious on where she was and was absorbed watching videos on her mom’s phone.

I was about to doze off when a fast pacing movement caught my attention and saw the Colonel and the fortune teller crossing the street getting into a white taxi. And it flashed to me the instructions I had received from one of the high-ranking officers to not lose sight of him. Hurrying, I looked over the counter (to make sure), peered through the slightly opened reading room, and figured that they had used the back door.

I saw the Colonel look back from his side of the backseat as if motioning with his expressions that the future has been foretold and everything was out of his hands. I witnessed the slopes of his discontent vanish in the light of the sun that glared on the glass window. In his eyes, I saw the greenest meadowlands on a perfect summer day. I turned the other way, and with earphones on, I walked up those festive streets warm on the eve of Chinese New Year. I turned around and the vehicles behind me were reduced to blurry hazes and bylines. I couldn’t tell where they turned, but in the absence of, something from within welled up, as if a part of me was working again.

Then I remembered the moment I first met the Colonel. It was my internship interview when he started talking about cigars eagerly, about the types of wood, and how the Ilocanos traditionally made theirs. I knew nothing about these of course, but I caught myself nodding between these expanding points. And I thought to myself that I knew him, that he must have had a familiar soul.

Nowadays I still wonder about the Lady and the Colonel. On how she undresses and tucks herself beneath the warm sheets underneath the pale moon. And how the Colonel would watch her and think to himself how beautiful she is especially when she cries. Not that her grief amused him, but it was more about the honesty that shaped her. It was like an encapsulating shell that preserves every piece of humanity that was left there for us to feed on. That fate and luck must have decided to reconcile this time around, amidst chaos and the inevitable misalignments of our limited capacity.

Photo By: Bianca Osorio

Crash

Manuscript

It was cold and windy when he stepped out of the publishing house. While its appearance was uninviting, its cragginess still appealed to him, nevertheless. Although its elevators no longer worked after the last world war, the staircases were wide and generous, while windows were tall, quite suitable for thinking and writing.

He thought it was indescribable what he felt holding the manuscript finished in his hands. Links of sleepless food stalls wailed, and prolific choreographed routines of evening companions for hire flooded the atmosphere. Artists of all sorts stood around at the corners performing, while middle-aged men who’d rather refer to themselves as aficionados lounged in wicker chairs on narrow alleys.
It was four days before his birthday, exactly two weeks after the car accident. And although the doctors told him he was lucky, the experience still attracted him. It gave him something to look forward to, a journey to profoundly aspire for.

 

Accident

He was driving west in the rain when the car swerved off the freeway until it tumbled off the cliff and dived. It was a hard rain, he couldn’t see. Half conscious, he thought it was beautiful, how the dark, electric blue flashes in the patches of the clouds would entertain him while he waited for the sirens to come.

 

Haircut

When he got discharged, the first thing he thought about was getting a haircut. Nothing grand, just good old-fashioned clean haircut. Grooming was after all his pilgrimage back to civilization. It was how humanity saw it, he wanted to compromise.

 

Train

As he strolled there was a hint of rain in the air. A few swelling beads of raindrops crackled onto his leather coat just about when he reached the turnstile to catch the late-night train.
In this pluvial darkness he pulled up his collar close, and the lapels which overlapped across his chest warmed him. A few celebratory drags then he flicked the cigarette half-done to the puddle, staying with it as he watched it hiss before entering the station.

Just the same, even after all, he still thought it was a good time for a drive, but he could not. Instead, he imagined steering the wheel in the darkness through the same night until he catches the first light of the next day. As he stood on the platform, he thought about how the rain will wash away the world clean as it always did. There were a few lines that he wanted to write her, regrets even. But he couldn’t. His hands are failing him.

Photo by: Bianca Osorio

Fender Bender

A friend once told me “do not try to fend off the good” apparently this has always been my problem according to her.  Given that it is non-clinical, and it has encroached upon the merits that it is all based on pure alcohol-induced speculation, I guess, I should believe her prognosis.

“Everyone is a character, in a plot of this book told by a satyr or a romantic.  You could either live lavishly like the Divers or die tragically valiant like El Sordo defending the Spanish hilltops.”

But I was not anywhere near any of it.  I could no longer see fit to entwine myself to the life of a poet.  Sure, I still believed in desserts and an occasional ticket pass to the pictures, but I seemed to have lost something between the sweet taste and the closing credits.

From a table napkin dispenser, she withdrew a couple of sheets that she used as a substitute for parchment paper.  She could have written an entire volume on them had it not been for the limiting light from the blue screen monitor overhead.  I can’t remember what exactly she wrote there, knowing her, she could have probably written something about the cooling waves under the moon in those sultry nights or something about a duck.  She wrote happily, and lived, and coyed with the boys her age, she did it all.  She was a God.

Until one day she ran away with an older boy whom she met in a smoky room.  I can still remember that night quite well; they were smoking by a dying fluorescent lamp under a frameless Joan Jett poster taped on a wall.  I never had the chance to talk to her about that in fact, and I reckoned that we must like we used to in the past.  There was an occasion when I saw her in the middle of a crowd somewhere in Cubao, I knew it was her; she had a Mao cap on, carrying a canvas tote.

I guess for now I will just have to see her in our conversations, in her stories, or perhaps this time, among the pages of my fictions, until then.

Buck Fever

We were set to meet the week after Earl was found on the bathroom floor in her parents’ house. Everyone had to lay low for a while, but clearly, it was also a way of saying that the club was about to end. The climate was inclement distinctively that night. The smell of sanitized concrete was clean and calming which paced my driving slow. The man in a green suit with pointy front teeth directed me to where I could park, hand-gesturing to a space behind the steel fences by the back door, where I found a graveyard of cigarette stubs and puddles of dark water left by the rain.

I cranked the hand break and checked the parking job from the rearview and waited for the engine to die down before pressing the dial.  The phone rang a few times over until finally a coarse voice answered lazily hinting a dozy reluctance.

It wasn’t her, so I hung up.  I went inside and nursed my impatience coupled with anxiety, while I sank in my usual spot at the corner where it was dark and cool and relatively isolated.

I repeatedly went over the unfavorable odds and faulted myself for it.

So, I drank and shook a pinball machine instead.

A little over a year ago, Earl and I stayed in a summertime retreat house near the eastern coastline that a relative of his handsomely sponsored. It was a favor that I had to go through which he insisted since I had nothing specially to do that vacation period anyway. Besides, I have already given tita my confirmation, which would be considered a huge let down if I had changed my mind the last minute. We were made to do preplanned activities which were part of the program, which also ensued, consequently, the day to day itinerary adversely tight for anything else.

On the fourth night, I thought of getting up before the sun did.  Sleep was a novelty that was not there since the time we arrived. The moon was too bright it seemed prying, stars too many that I felt naked under them.

It felt like I was making up for lost time. I had a mini viewing deck in my room, sat there with my early cigarette. Looking through the binoculars following a tree line over the ridge, I saw a beautiful white domestic canary gliding over the sloping into the narrow passages until it disappeared, completely.  The entire landscape was starting to warm up until it was finally soft and rosy all around, while the ocean whimpered across the shore on the opposite side of the lodge.

And it seemed tranquil enough to begin, for anyone who wanted to start all over – like a moth to a lamp I was drawn to it.

It was after breakfast when I saw her waded in the shallows.  The water was clear and blue, and sometimes green in the day. The skiff shifted, it was about the perfect time to daydream, and what better way to do it than sailing away from the coast. When the waters were right about her hip, she went in and plunged.  She paddled on patiently, her arms made consistent circular motions toward the direction of the horizon.  She tasted the salt upon turning her head for air and permitted the sea to wrap itself around her young body, to flow through her hair and touch her eyes.

I have never seen anyone so beautiful. She was the countless sand in that ocean, slipping away through my fingers.

Consumed, she took a rest on the raft, and lay there as if entwined with the planks; she felt the weight sinking beneath her and the water trickling down the surface of her now warm skin.  Her complete state heeded to the call of gravity, and the sun was almost midway up when she stared at it through the gap between her thighs.

She also saw the passing of the skiff, the sails were unfamiliar, but the face she knew.  Even so, she paid no mind to it, then she turned to her side and thought about the other boy instead.

Photo by: LJ Jumig

The Visit (homage)

It echoed to her, ringing into her ears.  Circling, hovering in the air suspended.  A thought that lingered, a shadow cast, a return mail, or perhaps in this case of her’s, a puzzle piece that she’d rather not complete. On the side table sat a half-filled glass of water and a mat of aspirins accented by the crumpling of drugstore receipts.  She got up but not quite making it and leaned against the two giant pillows propped on the wall. The day was not over yet, the soft glow of twilight brimmed across the wide horizon making the sky flushed up in that gentle orangery burst.

Her body was warm, a leg was bent, and both arms sagged across the bed. The wrinkles of the undone fitted sheets gave out, it was almost dark, and she was turning into a bat.  A familiar musk of which only a man could produce made her senses and her entire anatomy felt defensive.  She dabbed on her side hesitantly, lips were half open, curious words stifled by this uninvited ambiguity. She can hear innocence and lightness in the breathing that accompanied her. It was dry and rhythmic, almost melodious in tone.  It got louder as she leaned forward, causing her head braced.

She then dragged her fingertips quietly forward until finally, they had contacted a crooked body.

“It is not a dream” She thought. “But I do not know this man”.  She pricked herself again and again – for sometimes she would wake in a dream and would wander off in another.

“I slept the day away. But why aren’t you scared silly? Alas! At the very least weirded out by all this, stupid…” She gasped and slowly moved back to her side and tapped her left sole first onto the floor to get into her bedroom slippers.

Half an hour past she walked toward the table that stood by the open window, dragging a trail of blanket behind her, covering herself to the chest.  She waited there staring at the burrowed face on her bed, behind the mosquito net beneath the moonglow that showered through the faint curtains. This woke the crooked body and arose almost in stealth, propped on its arms on the sides.

This time she can see him, but not entirely.  Half of his chest and most of his being were concealed, unshared. But there was nothing to show, it spoke finally. “It is I, Juliana” his tone low and suited the sultry tropical weather.  He was just a faceless man, not of the flesh but made of stencils, and paints, and narratives – a figment of her imagination, an absolute manifestation of her mind.

Surely, she was not running a high fever to cast this delirious persona she checked.

The dream if it were, was surprisingly placid, she rationalized.

Behind the scaffolding, a grimy mirror on the mahogany closet held her reflection.  And she traced the light of the night outlined her shape, the slope of her forehead, the swell on her chest, and the rugged top knot of a painter’s panache she was sporting.

She was humbled by what she knew – She saw the sketching of the skies, the molding from clay, a creation of someone else’s dream.

She reopened a note she retrieved from the drawer and read:

“Let us linger in time before things disintegrate completely before us like paper in the rain.  Perhaps it will help you remember.   With complete vigor and youthful view round the backseats, as we drove up north, and decided on how you and I should face each other, now, then, in front of, or miles apart, we will always be the same people who we chose to be.  Like our favorite characters in those films.  So, I’ll see you there, amour.” 


The Visit

Photo By: Bianca Osorio

404

The wind was all about him. Kerosene lamps lit the huts, while generators for the volunteer canopies.  He got down on one knee and felt the lifeless ground beneath his palm.  The earth was frozen, gray, and forlorn, as if barren.  It labored the imminent misery that it will carry for the remainder of its time while the quiet and the unbidden tears, all the faithful disobedience – to not go this time – will be forcibly tucked to oblivion. No, not this time, or perhaps he was wrong. There were no second chances there he thought, only a time for reclusion, to mourn, and to dream infinitely in solitude. In the soft cradles of midnight blue overhead, and the casting light in the drowsy river, gentle and sparkling, overflowing champagne in November. Square miles of farm grass yielded their blades – in pine or in the shade of moss – glowing in that blue and deep night. It called for him, and it did not hold back. It was restless like how the sea waves submit in the time of the monsoon. And the black hole, and the super-clusters and the entire universe held in reverse in the eyes of those who lay half-awake in their sleeping bags by the fire.  While the scudding clouds pushed by resentment, and indifference, and incoherence. Dancing the waltz or celebrating a solemn procession during Lent. However so, these days were his, for the first time he knew for sure.  When he felt the pounding life force on his chest when his veins were streamed with perpetual devotion to just breathe, and lead, to command, and write, and work with his bare hands, with ink, and thoughts, and sheer brute, and absolute resolve.

Lest the world will crumble away easily.

Slow walking, he made a promise to himself.  To never return, for it could no longer, ever, reclaim the innocence it once had.  The cold north breeze crept beneath at the beginning from the foot of the brown hills, now patient and almost still. It won’t be hurried; a mother nursing what soon will be morning dews. As if it was a craft, or poetry, a prayer for the divine.

She walked behind him, sidled and handed him the canteen. He drank from it and he felt the warm liquid gushing through his insides.

He had to get some air he said.  As he looked down to his feet, he thanked her for the thought. Half of her face was shrouded by an emerald light from the east, and you can see hair tufts on her nape. She crouched on a slight slanting, overlooking the patches of shrubs across the plain distance.

From afar, the moon gleamed over the tent canvas and the red nylon textiles were tender, subdued. On the mountainside, a significant clearing has been made to open up pathways for the recovery plan. One can barely make out the remains of the clipped bird.

He felt this overbearing weight in his lungs. Perhaps it was the residues of the stench, of dead rats mixed with the smell of cold rusts.  He was flying back to Manila before sunrise.

“You did really well.  You should take that with you, always”.  She consoles.

“But the weird thing is, and you must forgive me for saying… I think I have only known you now after all these years. I can’t really put a finger on it, but it was as if you were someone else.”

“The meeting of parallels” He retorted.

“Tell me more about it, when we’re done here.”

“That’s for sure.”

The long ride back was fast and smooth as soon as they reached the national highway. She drove him to the free airfield in a service truck, also to fetch the succeeding waves of rescuers flying in. The thick blowing winds muffled their ears and preferred not to talk much all throughout the drive. And when they reached the guard post, she waved her identification card at the officer to open the barrier gate, pulling over to the nearest parking space by the tarmac.

He tucked her hair behind her ears and kissed her on the forehead. They both felt warm as they wrapped arms around each other wordlessly and smiled before turning around.  He saw her leaning against the grill, looking sunward until he can no longer see her.

Back at the apartment, he sat at the corner by the telephone rack. And he looked around the room filled with words and labels from household appliance brands he rarely uses, stacks of western shoe-boxes, construction company calendars, double-ply toilet paper, a notepad and a courtesy pen from a hotel.

Behind the glass window, he stared at the conniving sky and wished for it to fall.

Bastet

Gregor and Emma are examining book spines of classic Filipiṅana collections hoping they will stumble across something interesting although they already knew that this is highly unlikely.  If only great authors from the past could just magically write something new to send across to the present time, or maybe publishing houses would brilliantly come up with ideas like releasing special commemorative book editions or better yet, finding lost unpublished manuscripts from some hidden vault or a locked study.  Emma is on her knees, as if praying in front of a shrine – her collar bones perspire – while Gregor is skimming the pages of a Nick Joaquin shorts.  The old bookstore is so cramped, that religion and adult romance sections were placed next to each other.

Either it is a force of habit to induce intelligent conversations or just part of this unnecessary need for a routine that they occasionally come over to the same bookstore to have a proper venue to kick off their colorful speculations and exchanges that they agreed to term “The Crayola Sessions”.  Today is about the eventful ending of life as we all know it. The end of the world.

Gregor is wearing a samurai blue coat, with a white shirt beneath it. The necktie knot is loose, and he wears sports sneakers for comfort, while Emma is wearing a gray cardigan over a sleeveless casual shirt and a pair of denim shorts.

A whiff of old papers and the cold rain from the open windows marinate in the air, there is nothing like it.  Emma hailed the passing attendant of the store and ordered coffee and a pack of Marlboro reds, handing over the payment and a few change as tip. There are just about three round tables in the bookstore to occupy guests. They sat by the Capiz sliding windows.

“Say, do you think some divine being will truly show itself when the time comes? I really hope they’re cats. I think they must be, right? They are the sanest, most beautiful answer to save us from this godforsaken place. Ancient Egyptians believed it. I think it’s real.  You should see that episode about it.” Emma continued.

“You’re annoying.  But should it be true, at least it should be something original”

“I mean,” closing the book in his hands, placing the index finger between the pages “I hope it’s not going to be some cheesy judgment day where the sky opens up and angels appearing with trumpets start playing heavenly tunes, like what you see from those mediocre films.”

“Okay mister, supposing you are given a chance to participate to come up with a grand design on how things should end, how will you write it? What will be your ingenious version then? “

Emma scowling with a heft of sarcasm, crossing her legs together and leaning back against the My Home magazine back issues.

“I don’t know, probably angels and evil minions in Uber sedans, or perhaps a Ferris Wheel ride to enter heaven, only those permitted will be given a free pass.”

Emma gave out a genuine laugh.

When the attendant came back with their coffee the breeze picked up stronger.  There is no rain, but the air is definitely damp. “Stay in for as long as you want, we’re supposed to close in about an hour, but you are welcome here anytime.”

“Thank you for the hospitality sir, but we have to be somewhere as well,”  Gregor replied.

“Do we really have to go to that party? I mean, we’re already settled in here. “

“But you promised me, Emma, don’t be such a prick.”

“No, I did not! I said I will consider it.”

There was silence between them.

Gregor patiently studied the ceiling fan and making sipping noises from the cup that eventually graduated to slurping.

“But okay, to merit your infallible persistence, I will go.  But only until midnight and you need to promise me that.  Emma asserted.

“Okay, I promise then.”

“Just need to go back to my place and change.”

The attendant stepped back and nodded to the patrons before turning away.

“There’s no time, besides I have come prepared.  I asked my sister to lend you her dress.  You’re a size 6, right?”

Emma’s eyes rolled back, confused whether she would be impressed or annoyed.

When they arrived, the hall was already teaming up with people and loud danceable music.  Looking around, people of different age brackets are there. They are drinking and dancing, but they don’t look like they are enjoying at all. They are like hermits in uncomfortable shells. It felt odd to Emma.

When Gregor came back from the refreshments table his face was beaming with excitement.  He handed over a glass of punch to Emma.

“What’s this party about again?”  Emma asked in a loud voice next to his ear.

“It’s a masquerade party!”  Gregor shouted.

“A what party?!”

“A masquerade party!” Gregor repeated, and Emma finally caught up.

“I don’t think I follow you, I mean people are not wearing any masks here!”

Emma keeping up with the noise.

“Well, I don’t blame you!  It’s a different kind of masquerade.  People here are wearing a different kind of masks.  That includes you, Emma.”

“Uh, I don’t understand” Emma now more perplexed.

“People came here wearing clothes of other people.  Preferably people who are linked to them.  And they pretend as if they are them as well”.  Gregor explains.

Emma stepped back and surveyed the friend from head to toe.

“But you’re wearing your own clothes!”

Photo by: LJ Jumig

Film Debut

Power lines and phone cables decorated the streets, outlining the power grid, exposing how hideous the entire city planning was done. It was as if a severe case of varicose veins has decided to show up on someone’s leg. Overpopulation or just good old apathy to decongest caught in a time warp — this underdeveloped third world country is stuck in the past; its economy relies heavily on taxes, and the promiscuity of the moviegoers, who also prefer reading current events on sleazy tabloids with monochrome centerfolds. The strands of this electrical network which hang suspended across the intersecting roads of Manila resemble the humorless tangles of squid ink pasta.

A young man is casting overly animated shadows as he walks out through the sitios. Careful not to disturb the unsuspecting underage delinquents sniffing solvents in plastic bags, he deliberately stays on the other side of the street. And as he makes his turn to the back alley, a thick invisible body of stench welcomed him. Cat or human piss (or probably mixed) and what seemed to be a byproduct of decomposing manure occupied his nostrils.

His backpack is fully packed that it suggested to anyone seeing him that he is going somewhere real far.  A second bag was slung over across his chest, on his right shoulder, as he also wears a trucker hat that conceals his face. As he trod along, he felt this unadulterated fixation to get away. He fidgeted an unlit cigarette on his thigh as he waited for the next bus trip in the terminal. Flies swarm around the flickering fluorescent light above the ticket booth, as the stout cashier behind the window is watching the late night news, just waiting for the night shift guy to take over. An image of a young Jesus with wilted sampaguitas strung around its neck is standing next to a jade frog with a coin in its mouth.

The looming darkness is like the devouring of the world by a giant fish god and Adam is beneath the ceiling of its mouth.  Adam stared blankly into the night sky and thought about Jonah from the bible. He imagined what it felt like to stay inside the belly of an enormous fish.  If had it been true, Jonah must have felt really bored from all the waiting to be digested that he must have counted the number of rib bones it had to kill time.  His theology teacher Mrs. Paraiso insisted that it was probably a whale that saved him.  It would have been such an exciting book if it was a Megalodon or the Lockness creature instead. This he playfully mused until a long-legged prostitute walked on by and signaled to him to employ her.

He could have said yes to her, not because he wanted her but because he was dying of boredom. Instead, he lit the cigarette and welcomed the quiet. He closed his eyes and can almost hear the thick whooshing sound of the sea hurling itself onto the shore. He imagined in awe the continents and the golden beaches they visited. He saw the sun basking Africa and wondered if there were lions walking on the shore.  And between the crashing of the waves and hauling of the winds, was this lingering beat within him that stretches on so.

All of a sudden the night was so tranquil that it appeared that the world is on Valium.

He decluttered his mind and found no trouble reacquainting with loneliness. He is used to the transient nature of human beings. People leave all the time. And even if they did not, he always felt alone.  But the reason for his ongoing departure has got nothing to do with clinical depression or some weird existential crisis even. For him, the night is a friend that dismisses away scars, who truly never minds, and he appreciates that. And it dawned on him as if it was a feeling of joy almost forgotten that finally, he has escaped his life. “Freedom” he gasped with relief.

This decision just came to him like some divine apparition. He just woke up one night from a dream and decided that he wasn’t going anywhere unless he was to do things his way finally.  When he reached the port a dark-skinned man was standing on the gangplank counting the passengers coming in. His face was so oily you can sauté something on it. Adam approached the man and asked to be admitted and paid for the fare. Now that they are standing face to face, he thought he resembled Seal for some reason.  A porter sidled through the passing crowd and asked Adam if he needed help with his bags.  He refused and told him that he can manage his carry on, and this has caused the porter’s reaction to distort a little as he departed to chase another passenger.  Even if he wanted to, he needed to limit his spending after all.  He went on board and climbed the stairwell to the second level and found himself a bunk bed by the railing so he can smoke whenever he decides to. He then placed his bags against the steel bar, strapped it securely and placed the pillow to cover them.

His parents always knew what’s best for him. Took care of everything he ever needed growing up. The dad is one of the most decorated generals in the armed forces while the mom owns a chain of uprising salons in the metro. Through the years, he lived under the strict patriarchal regime of his father. He always did keep outstanding grades, to avoid the litany on how his father worked his way up doing manual labor for just about anything to finish school.  Adam did as they told him.  But he didn’t feel close to them at all.  He felt that he was just a responsibility to them. Or perhaps just another life project that needed to be fulfilled.

For the most part of living together, they let him watch too much television in exchange for the assimilation.  Adam has fallen in love with films.

Adam’s discovery of his fascination with cinema happened when he first saw Jaws airing on channel 5. It was the feature blockbuster Sunday movie.  The voice from the television box said that it was the best way to cap the weekend. Good thing it was scheduled after the evening mass, giving him just enough time for the family dinner, to brush his teeth, and change into his night clothes.  Locally aired programming normally takes longer than it should be because of interrupting advertisements for product promotions. His dad said it is the only way that broadcasting networks could make real money. Adam hated these.

Somehow, watching that great white unleashed its merciless tendencies helped him dispense his own inhibitions and all the frustrations holed up inside him.  For him, the shark was not the monster, it was something else.

Rows of uneven waves calmly rally across the surface of the sea with faint midnight moon-gleam wrapping over them. White foams are trailing behind the ferry, and the refracted light heralded the arrival of the new set of migrating waves. He looked around from the deck view and noticed that the night was blue and dark and it was also patient.

Right across the island, Sammy de la Pena is standing at the harbor waiting for the arrival of the eleven o’clock ferry.  He has a receding hairline and claims that his relationship with his hair was just a summertime fling.  He wears thick-lensed glasses with heavy black folding frames to make people take him seriously on the right occasion. His revolting checkered cardigan made him visible to Adam from a mile away.  His assistant named Pierre is waiting in a boxed-type sedan and was told to keep the motor running. Pierre has five kids and a nagging wife. He sidelines as a security detail for Sam, sometimes a temp lover to earn more money.

Sam met Adam as he walked down the ramp and reached for his bag. This time Adam allowed to be helped. He finally cracked a smile as the excitement was brimming out of him.  He took the back seat of the car and quick introductions were made by Sam and they drove to the nearest coastal pub where they serve fresh crabs and delicious buttered shrimps.  At the bar, Sam ordered two beers and a platter of sizzling minced pig ears and a glass of ice.  The barkeep nodded and placed a ceramic ashtray between them. Beads of sweat were noticeably gathering on Adam’s forehead as he scraped the paper napkin onto his face.

“So, can I see it then?”  Sam asked.

Adam reached down under the table where his bags are and pulls out a clamped manuscript. His face was flushed. “Here, but it’s not finished yet” He modestly injected.

“What’s it about?”

“It’s a story about the struggles in a war period”

“Is there a love scene in it?”

“The protagonist has a romantic interest, yes, if that’s what you mean.”

“There should be at least a couple of those in it, that’s what sells. Anyway, I’ll have Pierre take a look at it. He knows what to do. I mean he knows my taste.” He grinned audaciously at the subject of reference.

Pierre looked away, his jaw closed tight and his hand pressing onto his leather clutch bag sitting next to his leg.

Photo by LJ Jumig

 

The Crude Process of Manufacturing Sunlight

The newspaper was already wilted however a bit damped when he picked it up from the bricked doorway, as moisture and its current state were gracious enough to provide a little dose of personality, if not, originality for once.  He turned to the better side of the house, where a huge window and its shutters are always left open.  He carefully laid the paper flat on the marble top table by the industrial fan, where his old collection of fiction also stands.  An ornamental indoor plant on the window shaft was portraying a role of a desperate 8 to 5 employee, ready to jump, who has nothing else left to live with.  Until now, for some bizarre reason, or just a mere lack of concern, he still does not know what that plant is called, in the same order wherein he subconsciously decided a long time ago to not bother to know about anything trivial anymore.

So the information about how this plant has never bloomed for over a year now will not be of useful information to him anyhow as well.

In the sun the fine prints of the paper were like an impressive army of elite black ants in formation without his reading glasses.  And when he looks around the study and his living room, the place appears to be translucent, like an over magnified cooked onion.

For him, a true meaning of an idea or a tangible mass, its actual physical tendencies, everything about it is always going to be arguable, therefore.  Either we accept that or we turn to the crude process of manufacturing sunlight.

Through the passages of fiction, he took the time and lived there for the time being.  He has lived many lives in varying folds, characters and colors. He had discovered infinity and had access rights to polygamy.   His leftover meal has gone cold on the white ceramic plate, and he has skipped to dessert apparently. Wooden shutters slapped against the facade of the bungalow, on its broad porch as he was also tuning in.  He tapped his shoes along with it, to its rhythmic syncopated beating that for him was real jazz.

Neighbors can’t get a good read on him.  For them, he was odd and overly peculiar.  His wife left him be for most of the time, and would rather talk only over supper and breakfast.

But kids are genuinely fond of him. In fact, they treat him as equals.  He was in every truth of the term, “one of them”.  He wasn’t the mentor type or someone who would dispense life altering profound advices.  He just taught them how to put just enough grease on their hair, how to fix things like simple water pipes or how to build wooden pushcarts and change deflated tires.

He wasn’t an important man in the community, nor decided to be one.  In fact, whether or not he believed it to be, he was just a romantic with the obvious knack for indifference.  He currently lives in the past and through the pages of his magazines, newspaper, and paperbacks.

Just another ghost like us.

Over the Blue-Tiled Roofs

I went out onto the main street where I breezed the sidewalk on the opposite side of where the sun shone. Rose gold rays warmly set in through the apartment windows and the narrow concrete walkways were relatively empty and yet to be bustled. Sure, a few cars jostled across here and there, but the town was sleepy considering, while breakfast cafés were putting up menu signs for the day and folding gazebos were set up at the marketplace beneath the shade of the trees along the hedges. The unloading vegetable jeepneys and meat canter trucks pulled over and went, as people shook hands and chattered before bidding goodbyes.

Summer has just begun, and another school year has ended.  Kids help out with the chores at the nearby fruit stands and novelty thrift shops. I know most of the owners by name, and some are considered dear friends.  As I watched them go about their day, I settled in under a cool shade, reading an overdue paperback from a local library.  I figured I had at least an hour before the scheduled rendezvous, so I took my time leisurely, drinking a cup of creamed coffee.

A flower girl held a basket full of mixed banaba and yellow gumamelas as offerings to the virgin of the grotto. She held the hand of an elderly, whose I would assume was of her grandmother’s, while lanky male tourists wearing board shorts and loose shirts walked past by me, peering through the food stalls at the corner street. They appear to have been around for at least a week by the looks and tone of their tan.

Over the blue-tiled roofs, the sun is now higher into the horizon, outlining the sky. The wind then picks up, as I walked up the slanting road, until leveling off onto the commercial part of the district. Standing on a tall escalator, pairs of lower limbs in jeans and skirts tripled before me through the reflection on the glass balustrade panels. I elbowed the rail as I ascended to the upper landing where I was bound.

When I approached the reception, I was told to sit down on the couch, under where a huge abstract painting hangs. The lady behind the desk was nice enough and made me feel I was being expected. Her warm accommodation was very much complimented by her soft voice. Somehow, I just couldn’t remember her face anymore, as if what was left is just a memory of an embroidered crest on her office jacket and the apple cut hair that she was sporting.

I stared at the enormous painting to kill time, examining it the best I could and thought about what it meant. I never quite understand what abstracts were all about, or how one should feel about them particularly.

When the time has come, I was led to a room at the end of the hall.  The decorative paneling was made of oak and the lighting was elegantly positioned and unnecessarily excessive.  I was behind the receptionist when the door was opened, and a man was waiting for me inside, leafing through some paperwork as he went to me and reached out his hand. He always had a good grip.

University certificates were delicately framed, not a hint of dust on them.  There was a fabric ward divider that stood at one side for changing and paper brochures neatly spread out atop the receiving table, with a picture of a happy looking couple on them.

“Let’s get on with it shall we?” I suggested.

“Lots of good things to see today”

 

Telegram

An afternoon coffee was served at exactly 04:30, precisely how it was done ever since the pension house opened. But today they were serving 2 for 1 to compensate for the low foot traffic.  She was alone by the sea breeze and mused about the other dreamers who sat there at the same table over the years and wallowed about the tides that had brought to them.  On the prints of each page, she graciously borrowed a steady meaning and sipped the reflection of the setting sun from a coffee cup.

When other couples have regular date nights, this was hers.  For her, she was married to the sea.  They never did celebrate anniversaries, nor have consistent birthday dinners, but never once did she skip their summers together.  Here, they exchanged glances for the longest time while tasting its kiss through the salt in the wind.  She lingered in its arms, longer than most men she slept with, and they made love so endlessly in the enveloping formation of curls and foams.

She will not grow weary of her.

And she wondered how she got there, and she thought about her mom.  Her parents raised her well, gave her good education, and taught her that grace and humility far exceed any talent in the world. And for her, their most precious gift was her well-traveled feet that led her shadows home.

One of the guests walked through the beaded blinds decorated with seashells and surveyed the sunburned faces in the room.  Her face was veiled by the shade of the baseball cap brim and her temples were draped by her long dark hair.  She was carrying a messenger bag and a gray hoodie hanged limp on its sling.

The guest walked past her while calling out her name.  Her complexion was mid-toned.

They caught each other’s eyes and locked for a while.

From afar, the lines of their lips broke apart in turns. The words fell out so silently and there were no movements apart from that.

Life was not perfect, so she realized, but so is the cratered moon.

She was introduced to contempt for the first time.

sea

Ginger Ale Rain 

He had his legs crossed while resting his jaw on his palm, listening to the amplified pulse of the rain on the thin iron sheets of the roof above him. There he sat with a cat in front of a barbershop sign – which was hand painted on a window glass- while they both waited out the pluvial weather.

This companion snuggled against his feet, supposing for warmth. Playfully making its acquaintance, it had little trouble conveying its mind to him, unaware of the passing automobiles a few paces away.

He envied its relentlessness to dismiss hesitation, above all its innocence.  Little by little, a sudden urge dawned onto him to make a sketch of the feline, or maybe taking him home should he be stray.

He admired the distinct patterns of its fur – elaborate and it appeared warm – they were the color of ginger however sometimes it changes into amber when the sun is setting low.

While his was a little ashen above the ears, he thought of having a trim but hesitated.  His hair resembled the patches on a gloomy monsoon sky such as what can be seen on that day.

With complete abandon, he sets aside the idea.

Some twenty minutes had passed, the rain let up, and he started moving again.  Soon, the soles of his boots found its way crunching against the gravel walkway of the crematorium of the community parish.

These days she would have probably liked to wander about the provinces on shuttles somewhere.  He can imagine her peering at the world outside the window.  The thatches of the hut houses would be brown and crisp, scattered at the footsteps of the isosceles mountain backdrop.  The clouds scudding across the powder blue skies, as high as they could while the sunbeams appear to be just fair, intermittently peeping through the etched leaves and tree branches warming up the scenery.

There will be no more motion sickness, lack of sleep and heartburns.

He wanted to tell her how wonderful the children have grown and how the other day they asked about what bellybuttons are for.

On his way home, standing on the train being a little taller than an average person, he looked around the crowns of the passengers and it reminded him of a landscape of hay swallowed in the somber nighttime during summer.

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Retired Suitcases

The kitchen door swung open and the prism made it home through.  As his wrinkled eyes welcomed the dawn, old cigars from the drawer case were lined up on the table top as if a celebration called for it, as if yesterday has left behind its shape.  During those days newspapers were treated like they were still part of breakfast, of over-easy-peppered sunny side ups and black coffee while smoked salmon and VCRs kept the night intact.

Retired suitcases filled the closet and the clock was silent and still. The mailbox was hollow, and the words were deep-seeded somewhere far away.

But the stream was endless, and the pictures were always as clear as day. The possibilities never eluded him, as if miracles do happen all the time.  He would always go back holding onto a piece of paper, to a promise across a long stretch of an attempt to dream only to find the morning at the end of it.  A slow erratic pace, but a rediscovery is always almost a certainty.

And when sleep is out of reach, the dents and the dimples on the other side of the bed keep him company. He tells himself, that nights do end and some things last.  After all, the universe allows a little indifference in its lifetime.

For it is not sentimental he would always think? Just sheer contemplations of the complicated human heart.  It beats to resonate across the end corners and the clutters, cruising the seas and highway intersections to the point of absolution or tragedy.  The years that went by were reduced to mere flashes and pixelated photographs. They are no longer numbers but the very accumulation of delightful shared experiences.

How can one be grateful without despair? Suffering concludes pretenses, and it clears the way for contentment. For sure he recognizes what was once there.  The shadows of the past let him remember that he can never make an accord with time. He steals, therefore, a thief between the paradoxes.

But what does it mean really?  Whose answer may trigger either sober inspirations or bitter ending catastrophes. Pardon the blunt demeanor, but the ink is blotted, and the pen is starting to skip.

I wish to taste all the good from a honeycomb. To weather the skies.

Retired.

Under the Kindness of the Dark

The pictures rolled past by me suddenly like some distant, familiar memory that kept on coming back only they were not mine to take.  An inkling of white foam now forms at the corner of my lip as I drowsed.  I must have dreamt some good dreams then.

Under the blanket of the deep black night, it arrived at me that my body felt quite differently.  As if lifted and cured of its illnesses, it hardly felt any pain, relieved of its mortal weight and protracted weariness after not sleeping for years.

The wipers thud swinging back and forth like clockwork while the rain pelted the pane relentless like splatted kamikaze pilots.  The howls of the wind seep through my ears, taking me while I sank in the backseat of the car with my knees held a little too close to my chest.  My half-opened eyes leveled with the chrome window sill as they pried into the gush of the rain.

A million and one headlights drew towards us on the highways.  Lights brighten up wide upon each approach as if a production line of salutation and courtesy.

She sang along soundlessly with the song that came out of the FM radio.  She had her face on, of faint rose petal red, evenly toned on her cheekbones and a bit heavier on her lips.  Her black laced eyes were crawling over their lids like beautiful insects in the night.

Behind the glass, the world was colorful and opaque, and imageless.

Studded with red hexagon lights, golden circles and pulsars of bright greens, they lined up neatly at the same time blurted in random.  There was poetry in chaos after all.

Residues of droplets obscured the view on all sides.  It was of another universe.

The seats smelt of cheap pine car freshener, lazily covering the stench of uncleaned upholstery.

She leaned against my left shoulder and pressed her face against it, as if lifeless.

She must have had preferred the smell of cigarette smoke on my sleeves, it felt safe.

And at that moment, I could almost tell her everything and more.

Then it would not matter how terribly things went.

She cradled a thermos for coffee, for the light of the sun and the little things left forgotten.

So, we may never have to close these wandering eyes anymore.

Not anymore.

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Erratum

She slid inside a half dark room, where grimy portraits of her dead and almost dead relatives hung.  Her family has a strong affinity with spirituality that she always thought was over the top eerie. As she sidled through the narrow gap in stealth like a sly cat, a familiar whiff of old books climbed into her nostrils letting the sensation immediately calm her down.

Hunched over the gentle stream of city lights was the moon that appeared to be like a half-inserted coin in the sky.  Long strands of thin after-rain clouds rippled across, while an airplane cuts through the waves skillfully like a zipper opening. She lay on her side against the linoleum floor under the heft of indifference. For a moment she has chosen to be holed up inside her delicate shell, cut off from lucid reality that requires any human interaction.

Friends gathered outside waiting to greet her merrily. The relatives appalled her, let alone the godparents who endlessly find pleasure in dispensing unsolicited life advice and religious blessings.

As if co-existing universes delineated by a partition, the study was concealed in the veil of melancholic conniving shadows, with only just a couple of dim lamps lit the corners. While everyone in the other room was bursting with sheer joy and intoxicated laughter, showering in the glint of tinsels, embellishing pearl necklaces, and strung up smiles.

Surprisingly in her world, the poignant stillness of the quiet night was immensely deafening. It was the anthem she was looking for, all along.  Her gaze was tentative, hopping from one constellation to another, across the glittered night canvas, as she is now beginning to feel saintly and light.

She drowsed a little but began contemplating within a fleeting thought. But it had become trite, so as her body wearing down. She reached for her glass and took a sip.

The drink was bland, almost tasteless.  “Of course, this was from the other side after all” she concluded.

Staggering, she stood up and rested her forehead against the pane. She relished how sublime the evening was as she also counted how many satellites crossed over her. And just across the willow trees, boats bounced in rhythmic motion above the waters, occasionally slapping against the dock. And in the faraway distance to the west, she tried to make out the outlines of the highways and train lines. She did all these, taking her time filling in the void.

Then suddenly, like how bad news always comes unannounced, the heavy timber door swung open bringing in from behind an intruder in its shapeless form.

The body was made of noise filled with obnoxious chuckles and music under the clad of cigar smoke and flattery.

A silhouetted figure of a man beckoned her to join them, gently closing the varnished wooden door behind him as he steps into her world.

Quiet resumes its reign.

She unwraps a gum from her jacket and placed it inside her mouth. A fruity flavor exploded, and a protracted stretch of infinity cascaded between them.

“I think I’m going to stay here for a while” She discerned finally.

Photo by: LJ Jumig

The Wanton Club

They ended up sitting around at the corner table under the collage of 11×14 black and white photographs taken in random, but the pictures were more ornamental than art.  The corrosive sea salt carried from the ocean nearby, turned the wooden panels on the walls bleak yet somehow complimented the rustic ambiance the place was going for.  And from time to time, a cool heavy wind wafted outside, chasing away the sultry remainders of the afternoon sun.  There was an idle sort of atmosphere in the motorways, making its way through the open windows of the establishment.  On the background was the occasional thin clanking sound of coins dropping from the insides of a pay telephone and there were thick drizzles throbbing against the rubber canopy roof spread out over the restaurant door, suggesting that the hard rain will arrive anytime soon.

The place was in a residential area, standing between the surrounding towering trees that grow around the vicinity. Invariably there were just quite a few customers who went there.  The tall windows were locked shut but usually left open when the rain is out, to entice people to swing by for a meal or a nightcap.  The wooden ceiling fan slowly spun above the patrons, suspended in the center of the room. The four friends ordered wanton soup as always.

As they waited, they can’t help but pay an occasional glance at the direction of the runny window pane.

The pluvial night sky was a usual sight, especially during this season. No reported storm was coming in though.  None of them spoke after the ceremonial chatter and catching up, the four of them fell silent, lost in their own thoughts but it was not the kind that was thick and indifferent. It was a natural thing for longtime friends, especially since they have discoursed about everything going on with their lives to the point that there was nothing to talk about anymore at the moment.  It was not a pact or something they have imposed as a rule between them. It’s just that they can’t seem to keep any secrets from each other.

There were even fewer guests that night.  There was an overweight guy mulling over a saucy steak with a beer mug at the bar area and a couple tourists with their nine-year-old daughter quietly having dinner.   The guy at the bar was used to be a professional swimmer. He was supposed to compete in a regional tournament, but during an uneventful twist of fate some years ago, on the eve of the qualifiers after practice, he was caught in a car accident causing a severe and permanent injury on his right shoulder.  This has prevented him to compete ever since.  He works as a lifeguard at the nearby beach and occasionally coaches aspiring children.

The couple was relatively young, still in their twenties. They met during a party on an island in the south.   Life was tough, and so good money was hard to earn.  Consequentially the husband worked longer hours and even did double shifts if it need be, that it has gotten to a point that the two hardly spoke to each other.  This trip was supposed to be their chance to fix whatever was left broken.

I rolled up my sleeves and peered through a nearly empty beer glass tilting it a bit sideways.  The beads were all over its cold sweaty surface as I gently wiped them off using my fingertips.  And through the glass, I see the reflection of my friends blended in the low stream of light dawning softly onto its body causing the images to distort.  The only thing that remained unchanged was the hot soup filled with sodium, which we were about to devour.

TWC

Crimson Spectacle, Over Blue

You once told me that you wanted to run with me, across the tree-shaded slopes, to the hilltops just to have a taste of what you would always refer to as a real lover’s breath. I remember you doing an animated reenactment of what was going to be like when you pouted your lips kissing the clouds in the sun. You readied your pack and slung it over your shoulders, convinced even without a map or a plan, as you stood by the open door warming your palms with your own breath.

And the new day was breaking, your face was shrouded with the dark remnants of the night.

“Let us forget all about last night” you said.  You looked so beautiful like the dawn.  I knew I’d follow you.

The last nail was hammered down shut, we hear.  Nameless boxes will be buried in the backyard for now.  Salt will preserve, eventually.

For today will be like a tourniquet, it will be just like before you promised “no added preservatives”.

The funny thing about faith is that you lose yourself sometimes in the process or most if you are that lucky.

A solace, I would say.

I finally got you talking about it, for me, that is always a good thing.  To talk.

More when there is not much else to converse about.

And in that amazing display of human feat, we almost believed that it can still be overturned.

Despite of apathy and miseducation.

And you whispered like it was an open prayer, that you hoped for your camera could capture cancer, truth, and suffering.  All the time.

I leaned closer, sitting next to you on the steps of your front door, and looked at the universe which was inside of you.  And it was vast, expanding.

The space between us allowed me to heave a deep sigh.  And I was grateful for the chance, to leap without accord.

But I guess we are knit together by frequency and attuned with pure will.  So, we went uphill, marched to muster courage for acceptance and discernment.   We stayed up for hours where the sky hangs and the clouds glide.

Tonight, the city waits, and we will swift through beneath its feet and overhead, like a breeze that will fender off the dust that blanket the roof decks and the muddled streets.

It is time to wipe my glasses clean and replace the blunt pencil with ink.

Baler

 

Across the Waves and the Undertones

Between the blotted spaces through a nearly empty room, by the inviting light of a warm fire, you lay across your moonlight pale body in the oceans of the four-poster bed.

You had your stare aimlessly fixed at the disdainful fire that calms you, thinking to yourself that we all deserved a dose of compassion, even for a woman like you.

You cried that line a few times over and you always were hard on yourself, I wished I could carry you just to make you see.

Then turned your head and asked me what to do, you wanted to buy an idea so much.

We watched the movies again, all the good ones, and the bad. So, we can remember why we loved them the first time.

I didn’t know why, but I think that was far better than waiting for dawn to arrive.

You hated waiting too, so we stuck with those instead.

And we used to believe in shadow plays and mystery novels. As much as we hated audio books and those battery-operated cigarettes.

Your breath was soft and quiet in your sleep, and your breasts were like a bobbing wooden canoe over a sleepy river.

I know your mind is not made up yet, so maybe if you’d please, maybe we can fly off and see the greens beneath our feet instead? To set off over the infinite marsh of white clouds and colored pencil horizons.

Because we do not want to be lined up like canned goods and fruit juices in tetra packs on grocery aisles, hoping to be picked up before our expiration dates. You would always say.

I looked outside and asked for the night to whistle a merry tune, but the stars were mute. They were for the wandering eyes, and so I guessed I did not need them.  But why was I gazing at the brightest one that night?

We decided to drive off, rolling the windows down and in between towns I was putting together a traveling song, writing on the dashboard.  I was bouncing the tip of the pen against the chin, fidgeting it playfully between the fingers. Your head was in the open road.

I remember the night when we first landed on the moon at the backseat of the car.  You slurred, with eyes nearly closed, then the faint beam from a passing car revealed your pale skin.  We were rearranging the universe.

Life passed us by when we were too busy doing make-believe. And we could not catch up with reality eventually.

But in the flashing lights of that night, I would gladly stay, for it will always be my favorite time.

Something lifted you all of a sudden, I can see it in the flutters of your dress, in all the literature, and the open-ended inscriptions you wrote me.

And so, I made a phone call and left you a message. I know it was all too late, but I hope I did not make you wait for too long this time.

undertones

Crossings and Intersections

I was waiting by the tracks on a platform sitting on an empty steel bench where a beam from the weekend ether is cascaded down through an opening of the plastic transparent sunroof. The rustic smell from the old neighboring provinces flooded the air. There were not many people there yet, it was still early and so the sight is pretty much the usual vacated scene at this time of the day.

I had my left arm folded resting atop a luggage bag beside me, while the knuckles were pressed against the temple of my head. I just finished drinking coffee from a local inn, and I did not mind waiting. In fact, I was lingering at the moment while it was still mine to savor.

Not borrowers, but I guess we are the temporary owners of these fragments we call moments. Or at least we attempt to steal these from the overly stretched time we have left.

A dog-eared paperback book was occupying the other hand, laying it flat open across my right arm. I was caught between the lines that stuck with me for quite some time. Somehow, I couldn’t get past the words. I was rereading the same chapter over and over, and it was an indication that I was not getting anywhere obviously, and should give it a rest for the meantime.

Or was I becoming too engrossed?

Quite not sure.

Faceless people began to appear. I heard them coming from the steps but not rushing. From the sound of their voices, I was assuming that they were college students talking about school stuff and a professor that I thought they hated.

I turned to their direction to see, a mere mechanical reaction I guess, or maybe I was looking for a momentary amusement. I was in a way channel surfing for real-life episodes, not really knowing what I wanted my eyes to sit on.

An old lady carrying an eco-bag and a folding umbrella was also there, walking after the students. She had a sullen and weary look in her eyes, the kind that had seen many cold Decembers I suppose.

I watched her pacing herself to reach the bench where I was. She placed her things down carefully and made sure that these were secured and will not fall over. She then slowly chose a spot, sitting next to me.

I was trying not to be obvious. I was looking straight down on to the book I was holding, and just observing her through my peripheral. I didn’t want to offend her, but I couldn’t stop noticing as well since we were the only ones there.

She looked at the direction from where the train was going to appear, but she only found the image of me sitting there across her.

“Hijo, what time is the next train?” the old lady asked, her gaze shifted towards me.

“Um, I guess in a few minutes, they operate less on weekends” Stammering, I responded.

“And why do you suppose they’d do that? People still have to be somewhere even on weekends, right?” then a faint chuckle followed.

Clearly, time complimented her with wisdom.

“I guess, you’re right” taken by surprise on her response, I returned with a polite nod and a smile.

“If I may ask, are you in a hurry, Ma’am?”

She reached for her bag and went through what was inside and held out a standard-sized marble that kids play with especially during far back in the day.

“I plan to visit my son and surprise him with this. He is much older than you are, probably a decade older.

I found this thing from a box filled with worn-out clothes and old books, and I thought this will make him remember.”

“Remember what?” I quickly followed.

“Well, when he was still a little boy, he never left this behind, everywhere he went he carried this in his pocket, believing it held some sort of magic. I guess he got that idea from reading too much Mark Twain novels.”

“To tell you honestly, this is not the actual marble that he believed had magical powers. Many years ago, I accidentally dropped the real one when I was checking his trousers for anything before washing them. I lost the damn thing when it went straight through a hole.”

“That must have felt very frustrating” I sincerely injected.

“Then what happened next?”

“I went to the house of my son’s best friend, whose mom I was very close with, and explained what happened with the marble.

As a mother, she understood why it was so important for me to find another similar.

We snuck inside her son’s room and went through a drawer where he kept his collection of marbles. But we were dumbfounded when we discovered that there was a lot to choose from.”

I gave out a huge laugh after hearing this and felt very much intrigued on how the story was turning out.

“How were you able to find an exact match?” Curiously asking.

“Well, we didn’t.”

“I don’t understand, what did you do after?” Now really intrigued.

“I got back to our house with three marbles I thought similar with the real one. It was getting late, so I just bought us dinner on the way home from a cheap Chinese restaurant near our place.

And when I arrived, he was sleeping, apparently tired from looking for his treasure.

I woke him up and took the time explaining to him what happened.

“And then? Did he get mad about it?”

“Yes, he hated me for it. And it took a few days to get him talking to me again.”

“But it surprised me when he finally did, he told me, that he had a dream about his magic marble”.

I leaned closer to hear her clearly. Her tone and the volume of her voice dropped a couple of notches it was almost a whimper.

“He said that in his dream, I came out of an Ice cave and gave him a marble.

And according to the dream, I placed the marble inside his invisible pocket, and told him that it will never, ever be lost again.”

“That turned out well?” with a gesture of relief I gave a deep exhale.

“Well it sort of did, but years went by, and he seemed to have also forgotten where that secret pocket was. That’s why I am visiting him to show him this old marble. It’s been years since the last time we saw each other. Call me overly dramatic, but I am running out of time.” Holding the round toy up next to her hopeful smile.

All of a sudden, the train loomed out of the huge body of a hazy fog across the green field, approaching the station.

We hurriedly bid our short but sincere farewells, never knowing if we will cross paths ever again for another storytelling.

Apparently, that was the last time I saw the old lady.

She got on the train as I stayed behind watching her go.

The heavy weight on my chest was starting to fade as the rubber soles of my shoes seemed to have grown wings on them suddenly.

Flying off to somewhere instead.

Intersections

Loose Catching Ropes

The gleam from the golden drink shined upon the philandering cigarette over the ashtray, and my resolve was as flimsy as always.

I was entering a room in my mind that I knew nothing about, I reckoned that doom was upon me, anyhow it went.

But the Infallible human capacity to thrive on arose amidst the chaos. An old book helped me remember.

And while waiting for that warm Incandescent feeling to dawn upon the surface of my skin, I settled with instant coffee in my hands for the meantime. I was relieved by its faint vapor that soothed the narrow passages of my buttoned nose. A glimpse of what is forthcoming.

The summer haze was fast approaching. And one couldn’t wait.

For the unpainted board panels and that pair of burnished boat shoes beneath my grainy soles.

The taste of sea on my skin.

On hers.

The hand-weaved daisy chains, crowning the heads of our children.

Endless summer laughs gift-wrapped for the mornings to come.

To be sentimental. For it is always good to remember. The blueprints from which we base our endeavors on to.

To fall in love again.

To love head over heels or make love with a foe for just a night.

To be lost in that watercolor substance.

Deferring permanency, realizing that life is about forging relevance and leaving behind lasting marks.

To indulge.

On chocolate bars and short novels.

Sushi.

And leftover proses.

Typewritten.

Raw and unedited.

Collapsed and Cascaded. For fiction is the unwithering rose petals during summer.

A beautiful and strange incoherence.

A brand-new day, or just a change of paradigm. It does not matter.

A chance to recover,

A chance to catch up on sleep. To dream.

A chance to forgive, if not forget. To tidy up one’s room and finish up laundry finally.

To learn how to learn. To listen not to respond, but to truly understand.

To pray, for faith.

To be carefree, eating ice cream in the rain under a shared umbrella.

Learning how to dance.

Reading outdated editorials.

To be an astronaut.

To become.

You. Me. Us.

Catching

Somewhere along the Lines

The early morning light was in her eyes, waking her gently, like many times before. The day was warming up her toes, so she readjusted by pulling the blanket to her side. Every contour and delineating landscape of her body was as true as the lie she told herself upon seeing an old lover.  And the bending of the light from the window glass glared over her, so brightly and sincere, to remind her that she is alive for another day.

To endure, not for herself, but for those who cannot.

What power she had in her grasp. And it couldn’t be any simpler than this – No coffee, nor morning kisses, just a glass of cold water, and that morning message from her phone to get her by.

She recreated the world before her, as she saw in her dreams, asleep and awake.  Her hands were oftentimes beautifully stained by oil-paint and charcoal.  Her heart was a mass made of Bukowski, Whitman, Plath, Hemingway, and Neruda. Their words poured out of her mouth, and her delicate lips were chopped by heartaches and their promiscuity with literature.

Their muddled love affair with relevance.

She was a passerby, like the changing seasons, like summer and winter.  Traveled a lot through the seas and the skies, in heartbreaks and through each sad song and nighttime prayers.   She reminded herself again and again, that it is not for her, but for those who are barren and blind, for the lost who could not find north, for the unsung catalysts of our time, whose footprints were swept off in the sand.

Her fingertips rallied across to choose the best parchment paper, not in contention against the hands of time, but to withstand for as long as.

Oh, she was on her way, taking on the distance between her mind and her heart. Shaking hands with new found friends and tasting the lips of other men.  No penance here, nor guilty trips, she was as bold and unrelenting, and yet remains gentle just the same.  A rose with its thorns, the dark that makes the moon brighter in the night.

As her hero stole the show, the crimson curtains fell feebly over his head. The act was nearly approaching its end, the audience was on the edge of their seats, hoping to be swooned.

He took out his gun, the pistol given to him by his father before him. With an engraved dedication on its ivory grip beautifully written in script, he held it tighter as he crowed,

“These Hands were clean empty, and yet we were robbed of our names still!  A claim undeniably ours, oh it must be I say!  One insignificant sacrifice is all it takes, and we are there, oh how close we are to the end, just a little while now, and this right here, everything, will be back to its rightful place!” He sneered in the pouring rain.

With great numbers, in the utmost imposing intentions, the strings were hit hard by the bows.  As minor notes instilled chill and power, reinforced by the crashing thunders from the cymbals and the percussions, the organ, all the trumpets, horns, and the saxophones had shaken the halls and reached all corridors.

It was the world ending after all.

The master perspired, his sweat flew off like raging bullets on every turn of the head and in every swing of his arms.  He moved and instructed, measure after measure, note after note as if it was the last performance.

Beats, a long profound silence as she wondered about. She slid back, widening the gaps between her fingertips and the keyboard.  Her chest was pounding, and her throat was a bit dry.

She turned to her side looking out of the window — she could hear the chirping from the trees.  The light of the morning sun was still in her eyes, the wind touching her face, and the rivers of happiness flowed in her hair.

The world was so clear.

along the lines

Buoyancy in the Stillness of Everything

“Forget about the charm, just seize the quaintness of an aging photograph. “– Everything was so still, life in suspended animation.

I held it with me with a date written on the back to remind me of a distant time.

As I looked forward to the next morning sun on my face, I packed a few clean shirts and a container with just enough water in my bag.

The universe mocked, as the sky scowled a crooked thunderbolt ripped the horizon in half. “Tonight, the sky is a misunderstood friend.”

Of a prayer to disintegrate into a thousand-word declamation blemishing on paper, I heard a feeble shush from the faint rain. So, in the tides of the sheets, I went back, to wrap this inability to hold a vessel.

With all the leaps and the summersaults, all the remnants of the night, and the unheralded voyages to the slumber permissive night, my indecision was there to await me in the morning. But I guess the days will decide for themselves, however it is.

For people do not change much. We always think that we do, but truly we don’t.  We are merely the different versions of ourselves, like a book, today is a chapter, tomorrow is another.

I have seen this before, I knew this from somewhere very familiar. On a cold windy evening, I once placed my head against the table next to a drink.  In shame, my body curled voluntarily. But in a dream, she chose to forget about my crimes. “No need for tears tonight.” She assured the frail.

And that made me feel better for a while — a momentary relief. I could almost taste again the salt of the ocean. I knew I heard it, and I was glad and yet reluctant to indulge as if I was held back by something.

I called upon the falling stars twice, along with the long howling of a mutt outside the window. I guess she was cold too, the moon revealed finally.

The satellites and the fireworks began to dabble, bleeding into the skies playful, while the girl on TV in her black-laced dress was smiling upon the blinding flash of silver nitrate.

Just for one more incendiary sight.

They made love by the frenzied colors of lights made of transparent glasses and endless promises. The romantics feast on the unspoken sonnets and unpublished narratives. How it was different from the nights before was never made known to me, nor it was spelled significant.

I clung onto this ideology as if it was an imperative biological necessity.

I was up before dawn. The pavement held glittery fragments of the stars.

The rain must have shattered them on their way through.

Casting Shadows in the Moonlight

Some years ago, I have found myself alone in a crowd, armed only with my nine-voltage-battery-powered-flashlight and a cape.  I was a 7-year-old boy and I was plodding the pedestrian streets barefoot in my pajamas and my favorite space odyssey shirt.  I looked up to the skies and saw angels gracefully gliding in circles above me.  I was pretty sure that one of them was watching over me.

I went back on the very spot where I once stood as a kid and realized that I am much like them now. Instead of my PJs and my favorite shirt, I wear adult clothing and shoes.  And the angels were replaced by skyscrapers and aeroplanes.

And I wonder.

So I went strutting, down the under passages of the thought that this is not one of those I invent in my head and was actually happening.

In the simplest truth to illustrate, you are writing a picturesque tale of your own grand adventures.  In a way, it is like going through the photographs kept in a shoebox, of once was, and of shared anecdotes.

The great human need for symbiosis, this undeniable fact of longing consumes all of one’s biological and intangible beings. That the brimming of its manifestations must be tempered, when we bump into each other just to feel, especially when pain attempts to hold claim to our significance.  And yes we aspire and act upon these indispensable necessities, but the very education which we feed on is also in question.

I got up and went to open the windows and yet the winters of these past nights had made the texts frozen.   The ceiling was outlined with traces of smoke; I must have stayed here for too long.  More than I should.

The retreat to the long and crude process of manufacturing sunlight is the only recourse. As the circumstance instills its resolve, I begin with my door and latched onto isolation. However it is, time is neither infinite nor bordered.

A concept of science, men of higher intellect attempt to encapsulate.  But it is like a force beyond us, an intangible matter, or like a memory, you caught only in a dream.  Papers with coffee stain and crossed out words, he resumes every after erasure.

I turned to see what’s calling me from a great distance.  I saw a man in a dark suit, or was it a shadow? Just a silhouette of a figure cast by moonlight, or a traced memory from a distant past?  All made up by my own mediocre pursuit of some pseudo contemporary ambition.

Well, what is real from one’s won comprehension is enough guarantee of tonight’s passage to live through the swallow of the forthcoming darkness and the unknown.

Maybe that is it. Happiness is piecing together little fragments of wonderful moments, hopeful dreams, and acceptable flaws.  I fear that when all the hypotheticals and the assumptions fail to deliver, one might be reliant on what was made convenient.

Contained, and self-absorbed, I refuse to settle.    And so I went upstream and consulted a higher entity in humility to the point of surrender.   And maybe, just maybe, that upon conferring, I may soon rediscover the eloquence back to my Saturdays.

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Omelet Tidings

The two waited on the bleachers with their eyes wandering through the damp. They were exchanging a half-done flask as they were also whistling cigarette smoke across the soccer field.  They have found themselves in a vacuum within this seemingly infinite void before the dawn.

She reveals her face to the voyaging clouds across the sparkling seas of the night, giving up a smile as she pulls back the hood of her jacket. The paradox of the universe unfolds. She gently kisses the stale tasting lips of nicotine, freeing its very soul one drag at a time.  It had no complaints, nor did the silence of the surroundings, as it implied in affirmation. Neither even the imposing claws of the tree branches nor the entire army of crickets under that sweet vanilla moon had any quarrels with her at that moment.

Her make up smears, she hasn’t painted her nails for a while, but she doesn’t really mind at all.

Deep breaths, as she administers imagination, what needs to be done?  She had begun in the shallow waters of her mind.

And little by little, she submerges down into the depths of her profound contemplations. And in every burning sip from the bitter openings of the flask, it was as if a passionate lover making love to her, she finally reconsiders.

She was taken gradually, within the raptures of the abyss and the parallel dimensions of her make-believe world. What is this unalienable truth that haunts her now? She then wishes for an antidote, like morphine, dismissing the pain in ten folds.

Then she ponders on the reassuring respite of bacon and omelet. How this dynamic duo may soon have to save her and the world when they both cry out for help. Be great presidents someday perhaps, or a pop song playing in loop, or be an empathizing friend for just a little while.

She then retracted these notions out of her head almost immediately. She must be drowsed, she thought.  Over romanticism might have murdered her skeptical heart she feared.

But these apprehensions were real. Confronted by their undeniable strength, she was tied to the mast.  As she turns to him reluctantly, almost uttering the words, falling like the rain in September.

She gave the boy a smile instead.

Omelet Tidings

Photo by T. Angara-Aragon

Departures

On that damp and cold night, she kissed the glass pane and left a flyer in a public phone booth on some dark alley. ”Life also exists in the deepest parts of the ocean.” She said.  And for her, we were chasing modern-day heroes, a commodity hard to come by nowadays.

Her fragile heart was shattered into frosted pieces. But that only made it countless, she refuted. Before I could even open my mouth to respond, she undressed herself clean to finally make love.

“When we bleed, a part of humanity also reeks.” She sang.

An old man now and her clasps were replaced by arthritis. More and more it often visited me like a loyal friend.  I couldn’t even change guitar strings right anymore.

I like spending most of what’s left of my shorter days on a wooden boat.

Over the course of this journey, I am grateful to have made those acquaintances. Different kinds of Tuna, Mackerel and other sorts of fish you’d normally find around the region. And despite the ever-changing weathers, I never really gave up on her.  Something about the sea that calms me down and makes me feel connected.  I feel like I’m a part of her now, a part of this grand design.

I spend my early mornings in the calmness of the lake, swinging the fishing rod away and just wait for the longest time which I do not mind.  Right here I have a steady control.  I like listening to the swishing sound of the leaves. They feel no fear when the winds arrive to invite them for a spin.  Watching the whiskered terns plunge from the skies and up again, I allow myself exposed out in the open.

Lately, I have also grown fond of my garden. Growing tomatoes, green beans, lettuces, and bell peppers has been a delight.  Waking up to their colors, and witnessing life unfold as if they were my children.  I have made a promise to take good care of them and I intend to keep that.  My life was far from perfect, but she was always good to me, it’s the least thing I could do.

I can still remember that day when we slept together under the flight patterns.  Beneath the familiar rumbling sound of the turbine engines, propellers, and the crosswinds. Our eyes fluttered in the ordinariness of that day.  My head rested on her thigh, while jet lines intersected through the sallow skies.

The runaways by the runway, seventeen, we will always be.

The other kids raced, passing on twigs until they reached the end of the line. They ran so fast that their shoes barely touched the ground.

In those fleeting moments behind the steel fences, we watched in awe those who took off and flew.  And they were so graceful, we were so proud of them.  We wanted to encapsulate that world in a fishbowl and keep it forever.  Constant that memory was, but we knew that even the earth had to move sometime.

“Save me a seat, will you? I’ll be a little late tomorrow.”  A kid exclaimed to his friend under that afternoon sky.

“Make sure to bring hot chocolate in a thermos like always.”  The friend required of him.

He’s all grown up now, and he went into the sunset like how cowboys do in those films.

He always rooted for the arrivals and the departures, always the romantic one, while the other counted the hours down for the friend’s safe return.

In those carbonated days of summer, life was easy to comprehend.  How I wish we can go back, I always wonder.

Somewhere in a dream, I heard you say, “Fill the gas tank only a quarter full, spend the rest on flowers.”

Flabbergasted, I smacked your head real hard and sneered.

Like sand castles, you insisted that we can always rebuild that day.  The hues were lined low, and the sun was almost dimmed.  The commander crowed across the field, ordering to sling our rifles and move out.

And everyone did.  But I had a change of heart.

I wrote war stories instead.

Yours and hers.

Had I known, I would have done otherwise.

The needle was loose, so the constellations were made compass.  Come back and fish with me.  Let’s spend an afternoon once more.

Photo by Denvie Balidoy

Photo by Denvie Balidoy

Before the Interlude

The plot thickens, and what was once blur and smeared was replaced by the rainfall of bed pillow feathers around me during the flight down. My head was tilting upward, while the rest of the body was falling on its back in slow motion into the fitted sheets surface of the bed.

Ten thousand words and the fingertips were swollen. The protagonist was sitting in the rotating swivel chair. Stares were fixed at the plywood ceiling, the blades of the fan cut through the rush of the air, while his mind went across, over and beyond, his chest was inside a tortoiseshell, waiting for the predator to walk on by.

All the anecdotes were meant to cloak the meaning, and so they decided to defer, just to watch the sunset instead. The lines that may have seemed senseless at first, proves to be as unblemished as the summer blue skies– their rhymes the gentlest of whispers. They are finally here.

A long and steady minor chord whistled out the trumpet’s lips, followed by the subtlest melodies which glided through the breeze. They were as light as the dandelions sailing the horizons, and he tried to catch each playing note when she also agreed to close their eyes together, “do you remember?” He asked.

“When you poured in my drink and I was grateful, then I said thanks, so you poured in some more.”

“I remember.” She promised.

And then they danced and danced some more. Afterward, their backs rested against the wooden bench by the sea to watch the descent of a God.

In respect, they wore sunglasses throughout the funeral of the day, and it was perfect. Nothing could ever beat that feeling, they thought.

Halfway through the fall when I remembered the time I went to see a fortune teller to get a glimpse of the future through a crystal ball. A failed attempt, as my stars ridiculed me when I saw only death. I think somehow I understand why, and so I decided to stay awake for as long as I could, to never close these wandering eyes.

And everything around me started to move, took pace and eventually carried on. I envy the bees that swoon over and courted each daffodil and sunflower. The stillness of the earth was so reassuring, I feared the sudden jolt of the quake.

We defied sleep when it was time to, just because we did not want to miss out. Coffee was an ally, poetry was the defense.

We were stubborn as we were also discerned, fools as we were also blissful.

And as this fragile body reached its destination, when all limbs landed perfectly still against the cushions, I couldn’t help but feel, that I am falling still.

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If Dogs Knew Poetry

“Make sure that you don’t burn the house down”.  That was his only instruction.  He never minded anything else other than that, not even the broken dishes, all the books that were made scattered all over the living room, nor his ruined fancy floor rug, for his instruction was simple, and direct.

He slings on his leather bag over his shoulder, crams the front door keys and the cigarette lighter in his left-hand pocket and takes one last look in the mirror to check on his neatly combed hair and his color matched buttoned shirt and jeans.

The housekeeper wags his tail, pants a little, but breathing quite calmly.  This is not the first time his master is going to leave him of the keep while he is away.  The entrusted one runs and jumps on the couch to watch his old friend get in the car to start the ignition.

He barks a couple of times behind the dusty window pane.  It hasn’t been cleaned since the last time she was around.  A thought circled inside the mutt’s head.

But it was not his job to clean the house, for him, he was given something more profound to do, nobler, a far more dignified duty.

He does his rounds, walked down the halls, past the family photos that lined evenly sitting atop the old narra drawer. Some of them were colored, but most were taken in black and white.  He will see them all again maybe at the end of the year, but today and the rest of the coming days, the halls will be quiet.

The patrol keeps on, the gaze was fierce, but his movements were silent. His pads matched perfectly with the wooden floors.

Across the side table and the leather chair of his master, strolled down the pathway between the living room and the dining area, surveying consistently, turning his head from side to side.

He reaches the kitchen, snout laying low, his forensic tool.  He circled around the tiled plain, in the corners and finally rested at the backdoor. He was looking at the green yard through the spaces.  He knew something was going down. He just didn’t know when, but he intends to be there when it does.

He may be over-anticipating, but it is always good to manage your expectations, his master would say.

For him, he was knighted with this solemn duty and the instruction was simple.

Don’t burn the house down.

And as he rested his muzzle next to his paws, his brisket laid flat against the floor.

He closed his eyes for a while and thought of the older times.

When his fuzzy golden fur was sandy on most days, and his cold nose was warmed by the early morning sun.

On how the wind from the waves of the beach sailed the rivers of his hair and cradled him to sleep.

He will never learn how to read and much about literature.

But that was the poetry he knew.

He relished those collarless days.

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Over the Plains and the Slopes 

And in an afterthought, she finally sees, with all the affection given, and all the poetry recited that only in that moment of trial it will all be weighed.

Besides, the eternal beauty of the skies is always hidden beneath the clouds.

And she is but a tree, waiting for her sunlight, waiting patiently, standing very still with only her branches moving from side to side.

Back and forth, back and forth until her lover decides to finally come home in the morning.

But in some days, the sun could not offer some more, its rays could not pass through the thick monochrome skies.

And for every reader, it is like the pages of a book, a story with a familiar beginning and a hopeful end. After the story has been told, after all the pages have been leafed through, the book is meant to be placed back in the shelf.

As the writer takes a sip on his ginger-beer drink and lights up a cigarette, he takes one last deep breath before he hears the typewriter bell.

No songs will be written after him, no poems recited for him, just a paper to finish, a story to tell.

“Let me bask under your sunlight.” He pleaded.

“And if ever the sun doesn’t shine anymore, I will wait until nightfall and go bathe in your moonlight instead.

Should the moon refuse to give its light, I’d bribe the stars to be more forgiving, so they can relearn to lend some of theirs onto me.”

I looked down on my feet and saw my shoes cracked open.  My worn-down pair reminded me of the days on the road. My breath was constricted because of the altitude, my mind troubled by the sharp turns taken on the mountain cliff side, however, dazzled by how each shoulder blade rested against each other for support, like the trees we passed by.

With clogged misty lenses, my eyes can hardly see.  I have tried to wipe them clean, but the moisture only smeared the glass. The fog was more pronounced out here, boastful or was it just overly playful and friendly?  As they touched palms with the bright conservative greens of the rice terraces, bed-swallowed across the slopes and the plains, my sight was struggling to keep up with their magnificence.

I attempted not to say anything, more not to widen the gaps between my lips.  Words were restricted for I knew they would fall short.  I tried to lie to myself and pretended for a while. But the sun was too discerning to cast away the shadows of my predicament.  The path was cleared out for me, now unhidden from my sight.

I felt compromised. The heart beating faster than it should be and my eyelids couldn’t hold still when they shielded my pupils from the stares of her sunrays.  The unfolding circumstances forced to be witnessed. It deserved nothing less.

Summer 1988

It was a Tuesday morning and the day was blending nothing special, just a regular workday like any other.  Nothing was different, other than the fact that I was on my way to work 45 minutes earlier than my usual schedule when I reached the station to catch the train.

I guess distance does not matter as much when you have long strides.

The carts were not as crowded as most days and the sun was still fresh. The warmth from the rays was still friendly on the skin and it felt really good.  So I got time, a commodity I have regained somehow as these moments were mine to own, and I’ve got nothing else to do but to just wait for my stop at the end of the line.

I was sitting sideward to my left with my head resting on my knuckles with these aimless stares facing the window, looking at the mushroom billboards, car-infested highways and the cotton filled blue skies while most of the passengers on board if not all were in this very same state of blank thoughts and half consumed consciousness, commuting in silence, it was 6:20 am.

It seemed like everybody agreed to disengage as if there was an implied understanding among us and the only imposing sound was from the crashing like noise that the train wheels against the steel rails were making. This reminded me of the terrible typhoon back in August. I closed my eyes and I was taken back, I open them again, and it was sunny.  It was funny to note on how everybody else was unmoved by this, it was like everybody in the room was placed under a spell or to be more analytical, was a result of the preconditioned tendencies that dates back to early childhood.

I almost forgot about humanity’s ability to adapt, on how we can learn to get used to some chaos.  It is unspoken most of the times, yes, but it is also undeniable, the truth on how we can breathe to coexist with the most unforgiving conditions.

So I shied away from all of this, and inside my compartmentalized head, I open each drawer, stretching both of my arms to reach for the higher shelves, to find these comforting thoughts from the other side of my delineation.

I gave the cover cloth a good tug dropping one of the boxes on the floor.  I untied the knot, blew the dust off the lid, and brushed away what’s left of the dirt with my backhand until the label was readable enough – “summer 1988”.

Years of accumulated dust swarm around, within the beam of light coming in from the window.

As I open the lid, a paperback photograph was sitting atop of the pile of handwritten letters, cut out newspaper articles, a transparent flashlight and a few banged-up toys, one of them was a cowboy on a horse which was very popular at the time.

There in the photo was me and my brother on our first bikes.  His was a tricycle which pedals were attached on the front wheel and was larger than the other two on the rear.  It was made of plastic and metal, its body was blue and the wheels were finished in orange.  Mine has four red wheels and it was made mostly of wood. It got no pedals and the seat came in blue with white stars scattered all over it, while the rest of its body was painted white.

We had gray caps on and we were wearing our sando-undershirts and we had the look that we could ride those things anywhere we wanted.

I had a conversation not so long ago. About how time changes us.  On how circumstances replace everything and that childhood is like a cocoon covering that we outgrow eventually in life.

But I don’t really believe that.

The longer I looked at the photo, the more it felt familiar, the more it felt it was still me, that the child in that picture is still in me somewhere, that it wasn’t really gone.

A door down the narrow hallway swung open.  My attention was then captured by the newer boxes of memories stacked neatly in this special shelf from one of its aisles. I took a closer look, not minding the short walk that I had to take; after all, I have long strides.  As soon as I got there, I opened one of the colored boxes, doing the same routine, tug, untie the knot and dust. But this time I was more careful.

I then held a black and white photograph of a kid wearing a fedora hat under an umbrella with his Tommy gun toy. He reminded me of the boys from the other photograph. And from a crumpled paper note I read the words out loud on a whisper.

“Life is the transcendence of love towards another, and it leaves a permanent mark every time.”

Funny, it sounded like a line from a bumper sticker, but I guess there’s some truth to it.

It was a Tuesday morning and the day was blending nothing special, just a regular workday like any other.

And I have brought something back and I haven’t even reached my destination yet.

fedora

Letters from a Passerby

“I am going to save the world someday!” He exclaimed to himself, giving the invisible foe a determined nod as if this was a known certainty. “Maybe not soon, but someday you’ll see.” He was threading on the railway line all the way from the previous town on the other side of the mountain, following a gravel pathway staying away from the rain-soaked grass on both sides. Every step makes a crunching sound as the soles of his boat shoes land on the uneven surface of the boulder fragments.

“But for now, I will have to find a dry place to take a rest.” As he stretches on both arms up in the air with a quick release of a yawn. He wears a collared striped shirt, buttoned all the way up, hand-me-down khaki shorts from his older brother and a fisherman’s hat to complete his wardrobe.

The boy readjusts his shoulder bag which contains clamped sheets of bond paper, a sketch pad, colored pencils bound with rubber band, a Tupperware of mixed cheap local chocolate candies, and a peanut butter sandwich.

“You’re not from around, here are you?” The mailman on a bicycle appears out of nowhere, as he then held the tip of his cap with his index finger and his thumb, pacing himself with the boy. Not a lint on his navy-blue coat uniform and he wears a white undershirt with a bowtie.

“You are a stowaway, aren’t you?”

“No sir, I am not!” Retorted the boy, almost angrily. The mailman then examined the boy with a lingering look from head to toe.

“I’m on my way home after fetching some of the dried fruits my grandmother is selling and took them to the market on the other side of the mountain.” The boy further explains.

“Good then, I trust you if you say so, besides, I always wander around these parts myself when I was a lot younger too. On the other thought, I heard you shouting something from back there. Forgive me, I’m not eavesdropping or anything like that, around here you can hear even the softest whisper, or a stumble of a small rock from a definitive distance.”

The boy was a bit embarrassed but hides this to the stranger. His face turned red though. He then pays him a soft affirmation with a short answer “it must have echoed.” And the mailman agrees.

“Um yes, I was just talking to myself out loud, it’s sort of a habit. Why? Do you think that’s weird?”

“Well, the world is filled with much weirder things.” The mailman replied.

“Weirder things?” the boy repeated. The boy stops walking for a while, turning his head following the man with his now narrowing eyes.

“Please allow me to explain. I mean for one, folks nowadays don’t’ read anymore. They spend most of the time watching TV than enjoying this, right here. They do less and complain much more each day.”

“That’s what I like about my job you know? I get to enjoy riding and passing by these parts every day, and I never get tired of it. I am the link between two distant lovers through their letters, the bearer of enveloped truth, may it be good or bad, all the correspondences that people value. I would like to think of myself as the caretaker of hope in a way.”

“You do the same things every day? I don’t know kids in my neighborhood that can stand that. We’re always up to something different each day” – the boy wondered.

“Well you’re still young of course, and you want to do many exciting things I’m sure. Your case is different. You’ll realize what I mean when the time comes.”

“But that doesn’t make my case any less exciting. I’ve been doing this for a while now, and I guess the secret is learning to enjoy the little things. And I see that now, every day I take joy in having the opportunity to fall in love over and over with every unfolding flower and appreciating their varying colors, being able to hum along with the rustling of the leaves as I cruise these parts. When it becomes lonely, the buzzing bees are my companion, they are far hardworking than I am, so I guess, they make me want to better myself.”

“And when the circumstance won’t allow me to visit the hillside or the lake, like when it rains hard like moments ago, I go to my books while sipping a good cup of hot chocolate, teach my sister’s kids a thing or two, helping them with their studies, or I go visit the city library two blocks away from where I live. “

“I still don’t get it, how is it weird?” Asks the boy, now walking after the stranger interested. The boy does not understand what the mailman was saying. After all, he’s just a kid. The words are too big for him

“How do I put this?” The mailman then maneuvers over in front of the boy and squeezed on the brakes.

“You know how everybody feels and thinks that they need to do something very significant with their lives, say something bigger than them, to be someone perhaps, or to be known, leaving behind lasting marks on the face of the earth? Say like superheroes?

“Yes.” The boy finally understands.

“Well, I think it is just plain silly that most people are convinced that by complaining while holding the remote control watching the news will do the trick for them.”

“Change and Apathy are not good bedfellows you see?”

“I get it.” Says the boy.

“By the way, what do you mean by saving the world?” returned the mailman breaking a smile on his face, “You don’t mean aliens do you? You don’t strike me as a member of a secret government organization.” He follows this with an uncontrollable laugh. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mocking you or anything, it’s just that, you reminded me of a character in a book that I once read.”

“No, it’s okay, I was rehearsing. That was a line from a school play I am in. I should be able to memorize the lines by the end of the week or else I am screwed.”

“I also wrote the play by the way.”

The mailman was impressed, nods while scratching the temple of his face.

“But now that you mentioned it, I kind of like the idea of me really saving the world one day, or at least contributing something very significant.” the boy continued.

“And how are you supposed to do that? I hope you don’t mind me asking.”

The boy gave it a quick thought and gets back to the cyclist. “No I don’t mind it at all, in fact, that’s a good point. I never thought about it until now, but I’m guessing that there are a lot of things that you could do.”

“Like how, what’s in your mind, my young friend?”

“Well for one, and I may be oversimplifying things here, but if only I could find the right story to write about to show everyone. Stories that really matter, like yours Mr. Mailman, I’m sure that many people would be very interested in your story.”

“But it needs to be well played. As you said, we all play an important role.”

“I don’t know about my story, but yeah, I second what you are trying to say” – the mailman feeling a bit embarrassed himself.

Then the sun behind the thick monochrome clouds appeared, revealing the rest of the steel railway line ahead, and the mist is slowly but definitely starting to vanish. The distance appears to be long, but he realizes that it is the pathway to his destination, nonetheless, leading him to the clearing.

The kid knew that he’ll never be the same. The words that he needs to memorize now fluttered inside him. His inked fingers can’t wait to reconcile with the pen, and he felt freed by the encounter he just had.

And he reckoned that he is on a mission after all.

letters

In The Fullness of Empty

I am a bent study lamp on the floor with legs folded and crossed in the presence of the terraces of keys before me, while my arms are behind my back serving as main poles of my aching body, leaning for support against them.

And from a lingering transcendence within my shell, I marveled staring blankly through the stained metal grills between me and the sky that blended with the bright hues and the nicest alibi I tucked behind the sunglasses.

From afar I see a color arc over the leveling concrete columns but there was no one there to wave at.  I took a long drag, it was almost a summer kiss, from the cigarette that was dying so quickly from an ashtray beside me, and as the smoke passes through my throat and down to my lungs, so as the words that fill my mind.  I then closed my eyes, surrendering to the chemical reaction funneling through the compartments of my musings, I then pulled the knob of my wristwatch to make time stand still for a while. It was only during these silent moments that I was reminded that for one to actually dream, one has to rest.

I was bribing each ticking hand to take no pace, and hope that with this morning prose it would accept my invitation to take a short nap.

As it heeds my request with enthusiasm, also comes a lesson of reality.  That it can only make it appear slower, through the glances from one’s memories, but nothing more than that. I then responded with courtesy and tact, as a grateful response I said, that I will take whatever it would lend me. Like the silence that peace gave me when I was asking for answers, or like when the pages were found empty only to mean patience until the words dawned when they are already ripe for the picking.

And so I went to the bed and laid down for a while, facing the open windows to my left.

I curled my legs up placing both of them closer to my chest while the morning warmth cloaked the rest of my body with beautiful promises of respite.

I watched the different shapes of ether line up for the parade, and the drift of specs passing through my fingers, from the feeble cloth that swayed in portrayal of the curtains. In a way it is like a musical fountain show with colored lights in slow motion, they complimented the existence of each other and the bright blue skies where they whirled.

It then took me to a not so distant memory, when we were on our way to the high terrains when the altitude starts messing with our ears as we take on each ascend. It was a reminder that we are in a different place now, as it also allowed our imposition, to relish the grandeur of life.

Then her face was magnified and made clearer by the distance. It made no sense, I couldn’t see her but I do in a way.  A warm unreciprocated embrace to my pillow until it hurt so badly, with the wind chimes played like a pop song in a loop.

I guess, missing someone is like looking at the stars.  They are all there, but they are also light years away.  You then wonder, and you check your pockets hoping that you’d have enough change to spare, for all the wishes that you would be making, whispering to the empty spaces between the earth from where you stand on, and the layers and layers of widened openness made of dust and faith above your head, wishing that it is more than just a bedtime story with a happy ending.

You would then yearn for reality and your dreams to be one and the same, as you have found a place within you, a cabin where you can rest easy with your thoughts and all your worries and high hopes, that the margin of probability is not that thin after all.  That it is okay to hope and long and ask, putting your consciousness at bay, placing your palms upward facing the sky.

While lying there, I borrowed some of the sun’s attention, and I was resting finally.  At first, I had a little trouble in convincing the words to do its part, thinking to myself that I got nothing if they won’t participate.

But the wise sun understood what I was trying to enunciate. Even without words, just sheer nothingness it heard me, the voice from my lungs that was struggling to come out. And I was put in awe when it finally did, asking myself how can that be? And the answer to that, until now I do not know.

I woke up a few hours after and my mind held nothing. It was then I knew that it is in our empty state that we can really dispense. We are the vessel, not the water that fills it. And like a fern growing out of a typewriter shell, I was enriched.

And I never felt more fluid.

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Gliding over the Tides

From the soften beach floor bed, cradled a local dog resting peacefully in the early morning sun. He had his snout facing seaward, out to catch the cool combing embrace of the morning breeze through his sandy copper fur. And even though his paws had already aged, the pads were soft still. He had lived each breaking day in this tranquil state all his life.  And for a moment there, I envied the mutt, for I have forgotten how long far ago I had slept like that.

The sun was just about at the right ascend when the wind-driven current was gesturing its invitation to come along into the sea.  The air was oozing with excitement as both locals and tourists marched unto the stretch, with their hoverboards pressed between their sides and their arms, as they have their gaze fixed outward to the vast openings of the ocean.

The agenda was to stop, to watch the crashing of the waves, and while the waters breathed briskly through each white northern collapse, against our feet, the ocean’s pulse found its way to the homey banks of the shore, where the solace of wisdom sat as it waited for their safe return.

We then lingered all our inhibitions, on this rejuvenating view before us. The mutt was right to stay, and we followed him through in silence sitting in the shaded parts of the beach.

And as the browned and baked bodies were about to go under against the unrelenting white waters of the north, they held their breaths before each plunge, they paddled out to make their acquaintance with the ocean’s entirety, as they entwined their bodies with each exhaling current until they were finally welcomed to share its world.

Graceful on their gliders, the sun-induced melanin lingered in their now crisp and darken skin. Their hair was bleached by salt, preserving their youth in a timeless compartmentalized memory they hope to keep.

As their fingers ran through the tunneling waters, they wait patiently for that perfect one — a marriage of some sort — like a romantic getaway may be, and when they finally did, they took off on that wave, over the pilgrimage of the herd, without any sails they moved beautifully through the current, drifting in clouds, they sailed in their dreams wide awake.

The waves were rushing in from the entire stretch, and in their varying motions, they charged just to disintegrate upon each collapse.  And from this unchoreographed parade, one realized the truth that was being carried in each crashing — that there are no plans beyond the uncontrollable and the unseen.

That we just paddle out to meet whatever kind of waves we are there to catch. We plunge our way through head-on, to meet with each swollen-embossed tide that we brave to shake hands with, and with humility, we try to hold a steady pace for as long as we could, while it last, until the strong waves decide to wipe us out on our sides.

And from a faraway voice that echoed as a celebration of the waves, its familiar roars of tunes made it sounded so near. A version of its hums or it must be a prayer for the celestial, we hear the words form until they are finally made and forged.

And soon, answers will be then dispensed; neither for the eyes to read nor for our ears to hear. And in its modesty and simplicity, we hope to take refuge, in its utter silence through our rib cages and arteries.

IMGP0079Lonely stride, but not.

Sunlight Supernova

It was like a black and white photograph that you see along the staircases of your home, a happy memory captured in time slicing through the open spaces of the realities and the nine-millimeter frames.  I woke up realizing that I have dreamt something beautiful this morning, something that took me to the bluest skies that one would see in a canvass of sunflowers and daffodils, tangerine fields and golden mango summer days. I wandered off, over and across the horizons with the feathered pilots in flight, doing their routine of salutations, passing through and by the cloud formations that were tasked to do a portrayal of the world they see below, a beautiful imitation, a sculpting rendition from the shape-shifters of the light. The white paint of the ceiling, the walls of the bedroom, the slow dancing of the curtains highlight the sun showers that invited themselves just to help out, lending a hand to magnify the unfolding of the hopeful summer feeling stemming from within.

Lying next to me is a warm, beautifully placed tanned body with all the white sheets and the cushions that cradled us into slumber the night before. And for someone like me, it is only fitting to throw the most fundamental questions of how and why it got there in the first place. As I found myself dumbfounded, she slowly opened her brown almond-shaped eyes, then a long lingering look directly aiming into my prying eyes. She then surveyed the rest of my face, from the forehead down to my buttoned nose, on the sides, chin and the cheeks while taking her time and breaking this gentle smile as she then rested her gaze right back to where it all started.  She then whispered something in my ear, some thoughts about cotton candies and marshmallows and vanilla ice cream and brewed coffee while tucking her face between my shoulder and my jawline, as I now feel the warmth of her breath on the left side of my neck.

As I give in, I suddenly felt the need to dispense this undeniable sensation, sneaking my right arm around my universe, wrapping my present and my tomorrows within the reach of my arms and my left and right hands’ fingertips, holding onto my supernova.

I suddenly got the feeling of when you are on the beach, raptured by this unsolicited fulfillment, sitting and listening to the crashing of the waves against your feet. The warm welcome of the inviting ocean, plunging in while rediscovering and relishing the sunlight on your imperfect skin and stained shirt, as the saltiness of the waters and the powdery promises of the sands of time are all you ever needed for the remainders of your days.

I took a few drags after lighting a cigarette and opened a book reading a couple of chapters from where I left off.  It took me a while to realize that it was the world I am living in that the words were describing. I held her hand next to my chest. We were slouching and care freed by the open windows with our sunglasses on, with crossed legs and our weekend smiles.  Coffee and Vanilla ice cream, Root beers and Jack Johnson, conversations after conversations, we talked about finding answers and an aimless attempt to look for an escape and what solitude really means, on how to outlast father time and getting the most out of each conscious moment and decisions.  And from the openings of her brilliance, she made something out of the blowing winds and the subtleness of the ether as she paints the canvass through her imagination of life brushes and watercolors.

Some would prefer to throw a peace sign and be on TV all greased and combed up, neatly dressed and all buttoned up, calling out everyone to put out a flag but for me, I prefer her way.  Just an honest display of what was and what we aspire to be at.  I guess all we ever needed was our sun, and a few bucks to get us by with our words and cigarettes.

But life most of the times is not as colorful as the stories we read from all the pages we encounter.  In a way, what we get from these dog-eared pages is just the fuel that help gets us going from one town to the next rest stop for another gas pump.  And after paying for what’s due, there’s always this invitation to make a phone call with a few spare change that we have got, to give thanks to the ones that made the journey possible and true.

sunlight supernova