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.

 

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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.

Cats Smoked the Souls of the Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.