Save the Jokes for Last

He sat with his peer at the nearby café after the day’s tiring work. The afternoon sun was beginning to set, but the day was considerably longer because of the summer solstice.

They had fried fish for lunch and planning to have pares for supper. It didn’t matter where they went for as long as they had fresh packs of cigarettes with them all day.

While passing the time, the younger one picked up the broadsheet from the vacated table next to them. The news was considerably current, even though the paper was dated some two days ago.

It read that the Department of Health had recently declared that the vaccine scare was over. It’s just that most people chose not to believe it, that was the predicament.

“Have you read this yet?”

“Why? Did somebody win the Lotto finally?”

“No, it’s about that Dengvaxia thing.”

“Yeah, I’m relieved that’s over.”

“People are still worried about it though.”

“Sadly. But hey, you can’t blame them right? With all of those fake news circling around.”

The evening sun relieved the day. The moon also did not disappoint, it was even brighter compared to the nights before with its copper-like glow. We decided to skip dinner, and transgressed to drinking whiskey with water, and full cups of Irish coffee instead. The café was starting to pick up, with customers filling up the tables.

He told me that his wife was leaving him. “Of course, she’ll take the house and the kids, even the goddamn dog.”

Then something welled up inside of me. I can’t help but feel that we’re all the same. We’re all just a pile of beat-up empty cans crashing down the hill.

“It’s just sad that the weight of the truth is nowadays measured by the amount of noise one makes.”

Still thinking about the news article, I shared my thoughts outloud.

“Do you think it’s all gone?” The elder colleague followed up.

I lifted my cup off the saucer and pretended I needed a sip. There was a moment of silence between us.

“Well, nothing is ever really gone, I guess. God, I hope it’s not. I think she’s just tired, needs resting, do you understand?”

“I guess so.” The old man’s voice was tired.

“Hey, at least you can use that as material for your second novel.”

“Ain’t that dandy?” Then he handed me his share of the check before finally making his point.

“I don’t believe it matters anymore.”

Months later a state of calamity was issued brought about by the suspension of the vaccine.

Nowadays, I spare myself from reading the comic strip section and jump straight into the by-line columns, to get my weekly dose of laughs.

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.

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.

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

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

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