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.

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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 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.

City Tour

H narrowed his eyes, squinting at the three-hundred-year-old enamel chalices, spoon, 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

Notes on Fighting a Good Fight

I drew the shower curtain and found her there, curled up in the dry tub.  It was days now since the time she last spoke to me.  I could imagine her resentment against me and I couldn’t blame her of course, how could I?  In the soft beams of the afternoon sun, I bathed in its modesty, lending me the time for myself outside to catch some air.  Time is a friend that catches on.  And when it does, it leaves you behind uncompromisingly.  Its passing does not protrude to hurt.  Its manifestations need not be heralded.  It makes its own course through the passages of being and existence.

We took the train and exchanged the snuck whiskey during.  I held her close enough to remember or not to forget and snatched some shallow sleep in between stops.  It took several hours to complete the draft.  And I had her read it out loud, so we can both comment on it.  She suggested not changing anything.  It’s always best unadulterated she would say.

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

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

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

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

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

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