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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.