Myrna

Image courtesy of tse2.mm.bing.net

“Turn on the record player.”

Myrna was telling Rey what to do while he sat on her bed at the bottom bunk, rummaging through a white valise in which Myrna kept photographs and jewelry. The photos were of past families that had employed her, and the jewels were presents from those families for services rendered. Among a pair of glass earrings, a porcelain locket, and gold plated trinkets was a jade bracelet wrapped in silk that Rey’s mother had given the other day upon her return from Hong Kong. His mother always gifted a little something to the help from her business travels – Statue of Liberty key chains from the United States, wallets from Japan woven out of rice paper – although this time she presented Myrna something exceptionally nice: a semi-precious stone with a 24-karat gold lock. This raised envious eyebrows among the three other maids, whose bracelets were carved from bone. Still, they understood; Myrna was leaving. Rey rewrapped the bracelet, tucked it back into the space where he had found it, and shut the valise.

“I don’t want. I want to swim some more.”

Image courtesy of a.1stdibscdn.com

As Rey lay his head on her pillow, Myrna looked up from the ironing board and out the window of the room she shared with the laundry woman, whose chores she had taken on that afternoon since the laundry woman was on her day-off. Swimming was out of the question. Shrubs and flowers that lined a wall directly across the pool were dry. Some hibiscuses and begonias were cowering beneath those on tall stems as if for shade and protection, while those exposed to the sun were at a threat of wilting. The glare of day reflected on the water, creating a blanket of haze. As for the ground itself, it was impossible to step on barefoot. Earlier that day, Rey had to hop because he complained he felt as though he were walking on a grill. If she sent the boy out there again, even for a moment, the sun would scald him. He had been outdoors, in the pool, for the past week. Toast brown, Rey was peeling dry skin off his face and throwing flakes to the floor. Even the flies couldn’t tolerate the hotness. They were crowding at the base of the window, scrambling to rip through the screen and enter the room.

“No. Your mommy will get mad. Five days you have been swimming. Look at yourself. You are like burnt rice.”

His mother wouldn’t be angry; of this, Rey was certain. Her main concern was his safety, and this she had felt secured of so long as Myrna would be there to watch over him. Now, however, she was seeing things as Rey did. Rey found no logic to his mother’s former sense of assurance. Myrna couldn’t swim, not even doggy paddle, and by the time she could find someone to rescue him, he’d be at the bottom of the pool, long gone. Whom could she call on anyway? None of the maids knew how to swim. Neither did the old gardener. No matter. To satisfy his mother, Rey had learned in the past year that Myrna wasn’t entirely helpless as a lifeguard. On a summer day such as this, he pretended to be drowning, splashing and dipping his head underwater then rising to the surface to gasp for air. Myrna picked up a net pole. Strategically positioned by the pool, the net was one the gardener used every morning to collect fallen leaves adrift on the water. She extended it to Rey, and with a laugh, Rey tugged. Myrna held back. He tugged again so that for an instant they were playing tug-of-war.

“I cannot swim!”

Image courtesy of ih0.redbubble.net

Myrna screamed as she fell in, convinced she was about to breath her last, until she was on her feet with the water level at her shoulders. She discovered that Rey was doggy paddling and that his own toes touched the pool floor. They also both realized that she could simply wade to his aid. Myrna got out. Droplets dripped from the hem of her apron and her hair, the wetness of which gave it the luster of black marble. She had been incensed at Rey for this prank, but today she grinned at the memory of it; in appeasing his mother, Rey had proven a point. What a joy to know that Rey was at last able to think for and look after himself, a far cry from seven years ago when his mother had hired her as his yaya. She also thought it all very sad, sad that he could do without a lifeguard.

“Burnt rice. Yuck!”

Lying on her bed, Rey was growing restless. He swung his legs up so that he could run his toes across the metal meshes to the top bunk. He often did that, swing his legs up when restless, but he had not been able to reach the top bunk until now.

“Do as I say.”

She folded towels and arranged them in a pile by the record player, on a table beside the ironing board.

“I want to swim.”

He bent his lower back forward even further and thrust his legs up even higher for his feet to reach the upper edge of the top bunk.

“Then you swim, but I am not watching you because I have all these to iron.”

Taken aback by Myrna’s exasperation, Rey flung his feet to the floor and approached the record player. He shuffled through record singles in a plastic dish rack. Though many of them were warped, he found one in good condition; it was of Myrna’s favorite song. He blew dust off its surface before setting it on the player platter. The first time he had heard Myrna sing the song was when he had lost a pair of his upper front teeth in a fight. Since they were his permanents, the dentist needed to reinsert them. As the pierce of a syringe needle numbed his gums with anesthesia, he shut his eyes, allowing Myrna’s voice to sooth him, and from then on, she would sing the song to him whenever his mother would leave for her travels. He’d run into her room, where he’d sit on her bed, and he’d watch her file her nails or comb her hair. Myrna took pride in her hair. It was long and silky, and she pampered it as she did her jewelry. She had dainty hands, too, hands that when she used to slip socks onto his feet or button his shirt, her touch had been tender. Sometimes, Rey would eat a meal with her. Sometimes, they would do nothing more than gaze out the window. That song would be the only communication between them. And so, it had become Rey’s favorite, too:

Image courtesy of thumbs.dreamstime.com

The time is near to say our last goodbye. Forever you will be deep inside my heart. In time the hours will pass, dear, and you won’t remember how I love you so. To leave you now is hard but must be done.

Upon the start of the record, Myrna pulled a blouse from the laundry basket and proceeded to press the collar. Rey stood in front of the window, face to face with her. She noticed that he was as tall as she. No doubt, in a few months, he’d be even taller.

The time is near to say our last goodbye.

“But you’re supposed to watch.”

For Myrna to repeat her final word of “no” was unnecessary. It was still sweltering outside, and flies that clustered together on the screen had increased. She could sense the sun’s fire, no matter that Rey blocked her view. Ignoring him, she sang to the record and started on a sleeve.

Forever you will be deep inside my heart.

“I know. You can watch me while ironing, okay? Right here. No need to be out there with me. Okay?”

Myrna was losing her temper, only when she saw Rey’s eyes beneath bangs beg her approval and the eagerness in his clenched teeth, a heavy weight befell her. Although she might still have been at the age where she could bear children of her own, she had dedicated her life early on to raising those of others, and in all the years since, she experienced no other kind of love; certainly, none like this. The others had had siblings with whom to laugh and play, whereas with Rey, Myrna had been his one and only. He would never again plead with her as he was pleading with her now. She nodded her consent. As he ran out the room, Myrna retrieved the valise from underneath her bed, took out the jade bracelet, and slipped it onto her wrist. She would treasure the bracelet for a long time after, even when she’d be working for another family, tending to another child. In two weeks, she was going back to the province for a rest before commencing on a new job of raising another little boy. He was five, Rey’s age when she had started with him. How long would she be with this one? As long as she would have been with Rey? Less?

In time the hours will pass, dear, and you won’t remember how I love you so.

Image courtesy of biotechpros.com

Rey stepped into the sun. As he took off his shirt, Myrna noticed that he had lost much of his baby fat. As always, she waited for him to turn to her, to check that she was watching. He usually yelled, “Myrna, look. I’m jumping in now.” She set down the iron in anticipation of that moment and tapped the window for the flies to disperse so that he could see her face more clearly. But Rey didn’t turn around and merely flung aside his towel, raised his arms, and dove into the pool.

To leave you now is hard but must be done… must be done… must be done… must be done…

Eyes on him, Myrna heard nothing – not the water splashes, not the buzzing of flies that gathered back on the screen, not the song. The sun’s torridity no longer bothered her. It never had. She was aware solely of the speed Rey had developed in his swimming. The pool wasn’t that long, but he seemed ever smaller upon each stroke, almost disappearing the farther he went. Soon enough he was headed back towards her. Maybe, upon reaching the pool wall, he’d stop and smile. But he never did do so. Instead, he performed an underwater somersault and swam away once again.

must be done… must be done… must be done…

The iron elicited a steaming hiss. At once, Myrna remembered her chores. She buttoned the blouse, impeccably pressed as though brand new, on a hanger which she then placed on a clothes rack. She pulled out a pair of trousers from the laundry basket, set it on the ironing board, and was about to press a leg when she noticed the last line to the song was constantly repeating. Turning off the record player, she examined the record. A scratch as fine as a strand of white hair marred the black smoothness of its surface. With a little bit of regret, the record in hand, she uttered:

“It could not have lasted forever.”

So Myrna returned the record to its space in the dusty dish rack, among all the other broken records of the past.

Image courtesy of tse4.mm.bing.net

What Happens at Dawn

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

In the after rain mist, moonlight shone through the window and cast her in a silver sheen. For three decades, Timothy had yearned for this moment. He had kept Sharon’s phone number and address from when they had parted tucked underneath a box of cufflinks. What’s the point? he would think just when he was that close to picking up the phone or writing a letter. Time wore on, and Timothy kept her contact merely as a souvenir.

Then came Facebook. Although they weren’t connected as friends (the wife had a habit of monitoring his account), in the ten years since he had messaged Sharon, they communicated by e-mail in ways that at first were platonic, mostly birthday well-wishes. Timothy could never forget Sharon’s birthday; they were born two days apart in the same year. Facebook informed him that she was single and worked as real estate broker in Los Angeles. Images of a woman dressed in either a summer frock or leotards, trim from a lifestyle of cycling in the company of her twin son and daughter both in their mid-teens, populated her wall. Sharon’s hair was still dark, but grown to the length of her shoulders. She wore bangs, too. Timothy had remembered Sharon with a pixie cut. She used to be proud of how the cut accentuated a graceful neck.

The photo postings gave Timothy vivid scenes with which to imagine this night. Now that it was happening, Sharon was even more beautiful in person. Age had replaced the softness of her features with a linear sharpness, and crow’s feet formed when she smiled. Timothy didn’t care just as Sharon didn’t care about the change in him. His girth had ballooned on account of an addiction to Coca Cola, his white hair was thinning, and bags under his eyes were as pronounced as a coin split in half imbedded in his flesh.

“Your mom’s liver pâté,” Sharon said.

“Huh?”

“Your mom’s liver pâté.”

In a bathrobe, her legs curled up in a chair in front of the window, Sharon smiled as if she had just declared her love. Everything she had been saying the whole night seemed to connote love. So soft was her voice.

“In case you’re wondering, the magic ingredients are cognac and tabasco sauce,” Timothy said.

The sheets were still warm from the heat of her body. He sat up and rested his back on the headboard.

“What about the jelly layering on top?”

“I don’t know. Dried up duck lard. Or whatever it is pâté is made of.”

“You know your mom’s liver pâté was one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten.”

He saw Sharon as she had been when she had taken that first bite – the meticulousness with which she chewed, the delight in her eyes. They had been at his place, seated in the back porch. The sun brightened an adobe floor. She wore a pink blouse with a lace collar and cotton ball sleeves. Girl or woman, he didn’t know what to peg her. Her carriage – the straight back and high head – endowed her with an elegance beyond her years, yet how demure she was. By the way she marveled at the explosion of leaves on the garden trees and the blue flowers that blossomed in shrubs lining the porch, Timothy would have thought she had never ventured beyond the gates of her home other than to go to school. She had been with Timothy on that afternoon because their fathers golfed together.

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

“You impressed my mother,” he said.

“She was always nice to me. And your father, too. I’m still so sorry about your mom.”

“You were one of the first to send your condolences.”

The digital clock on the night table indicated the passing of another minute. Timothy never realized until then how cruel a digital clock could be. Bold numbers on a lit screen shouted the time.

“She remembered you in the end,” he said.

“Oh?”

“She was lying there, about to go. Linda and my dad were out of the hospital. It was just my mom and me, and out of the blue, she said, ‘Tell Sharon hello.’ That was it.”

“That’s a lot.”

“She wished… as did my dad… the same thing I wish. I wish I had married you.”

Timothy had been wanting to tell Sharon this. He almost did in a moment of grief over his mother a few years ago, and then decided no, not by e-mail. This was something for which he needed to witness the look in Sharon’s eyes, to feel her nearness.

Sharon turned to the window. Rain drops on the pane brightened by the dawn glow resembled fragments of broken glass.

“I wish I had married you, too,” she said.

‘“What could have been.”

“No, Tim.”

“Don’t you wonder?”

“Not anymore. Wondering is pointless.”

Sharon was right. No sense in discussing what had been the inevitable. Timothy had gotten into a reputable college, whereas she was ivy league bound. Thus, they separated, their promise of fidelity despite being apart coming to naught.

“Sometimes I wonder what’s real,” Timothy said. “Like now. Now you’re here, but once the sun rises…”

“Well, last night really happened. My feet still hurt. Dancing in heels… You’re lucky you don’t have to endure a woman’s torture.”

“Our song.”

Their song: “Do You Want to Hurt Me?” by Culture Club. He liked Madonna. She liked Cyndi Lauper. With Culture Club, they were unanimous. They had danced to the song for the first time on their senior prom. How pretty Sharon had been in a slip gown the hue of cream and a pink carnation he had pinned onto her bodice. They wouldn’t dance to the song until 30 years later, in a high school reunion where she was still the prettiest girl, her dress the red of dynamite and roses.

Timothy had declined attendances to past reunions, only this one was an exception. Sharon had e-mailed him that she’d be going, and now that he lived in the East Coast, he felt that it would be good to go back to the city where they had built their early memories; it had been too long. Even so, until last night, Timothy had had his doubts. Sharon could back out without informing him. Or she might show up after all, and he might never want to return home.

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

Home… what was home? A bombed business venture Linda was griping over and three kids, two boys in high school and a girl who came back every summer and Christmas during college breaks.

Amazing, he thought as Sharon massaged her feet. Hours earlier, she had been an irresistible, dangerous flower that upon her entrance had brought the hotel ballroom to a hush. Timothy at 15 would never have foreseen Sharon to grow into such a stunner. She had not stood out for him those first days in social studies class their sophomore year. Though Sharon was cute, she was to him just another of the uppity girls who barely talked. Matters changed on the day the class discussed childhood ailments. Sharon said she hadn’t gotten the mumps yet, which elicited a gasp from Timothy, who had read that failure to have the mumps by adolescence could cause sterility. He whispered this to the guy seated behind him, then waved his hand in the air to share the information with the class. “Don’t,” the guy said, pushing down Timothy’s hand. “You’ll embarrass that girl.” At last, Timothy noticed Sharon, really noticed – the shy bow of the head; the eyes that brimmed with curiosity; the hands, delicate with slim fingers – and he thought how sad if she couldn’t have a family of her own. And he wondered what kind of a woman she’d be in her twenties. Amazing that the two of them would now be in the same hotel room in their middle age, a history of a broken romance uniting them.

“You look great,” Timothy said.

Sharon smiled a soft smile and slipped off her bathrobe. Stealthy as a panther, she crawled on the bed, her back to the window. “You’re as handsome as ever.”

“Only you would see that.”

She looked at him questioningly.

He could read her thoughts. Didn’t his wife see that he was handsome? But none of Linda right now, not until sunrise. Night was meant for dreams.

Her head on a hand propped up by her elbow, Sharon lay on her side. Timothy ran a hand over her body, from the shoulders to the waist, from the hips to the ankles, memorizing the curves, the softness of skin. She had a faint scar from a cesarean operation, noticeable only when one got that close. The doctor who delivered his second born hadn’t done a good job on Linda. Hers was jagged, a pink zipper. He would kiss the scar to show Linda that he still found her beautiful. When was the last time he had kissed her there?

Rain drops on a window, the moon aglow in a velvet sky… Timothy could not have hoped for a more romantic setting. He had cajoled Sharon into their spending the night in her room rather than his because he didn’t want his personals to distract him. They would have reminded him of Linda, starting with his suitcase… she had bought it… just as she had chosen the frame to his reading glasses, which were positioned on a book she had recommended, some self-help guide about inspiration and faith in oneself. Both items were on the night table next to his phone that could ring at any minute with her on the other end. Suppose it was ringing right now? What excuse would he have for not having picked up?

“I see those Elvis Presley cheekbones,” Sharon said.

“I see Ann-Margret,” Timothy said.

“They had an affair, didn’t they?”

“On the set of ‘Viva Las Vegas.’ Those sexy hips of hers. That body. I don’t blame him.”

“I read she was the love of his life.”

“Funny how that works out. The love of your life is not the one you marry.”

“Ann-Margret.” Sharon blushed. “I’m flattered.”

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

How girlish Sharon was. Her stomach was firm and her neck was as delicate as a bird’s, as if she were in perennial youth. The California culture of outdoor activities, veganism, and trail mixers suited her. Timothy was hooked on sugar and fried foods, as was Linda, and being with her was all about indulgence. Brown rice disgusted him, and chicken breast made Linda scoff. Timothy found all this amusing at the moment. Girth notwithstanding, he was in bed with a woman who boasted a physique that could ignite any man’s desire. She was crazy about him, too, she the most feminine creature he had ever touched.

As Timothy fondled Sharon’s toes, he noticed the dim outline of a suitcase on a stand at the foot of the bed. Gray with grooves lining its edges, it resembled a steel block. A black travel bag sat on the suitcase. A pen, a notepad, and other office paraphernalia no doubt occupied its outer pockets. Such industrial designed baggage conjured the vision of a man in suit and tie, his face in shadows under the brim of a fedora hat, lost among a throng of businessmen dressed in the same code of anonymity. Sharon used to have a penchant for frills and ribbons. Their sophomore year, she would walk the corridors in ballet shoes with lace bows and a pink Hello Kitty binder in her arm.

“What are you thinking?” asked Sharon.

“Of you,” Timothy said. “At work… what do you wear to work?”

“A woman’s business suit.”

“Padded shoulders. What was that look called again?”

“The power suit. No. That was the ‘80s. Women today dress strong, but in a different way.”

Her clients were Hollywood big wigs, rock stars, and celebrated athletes – this movie producer, the manager of that famous singer, so and so and his supermodel girlfriend.

“You must be exceptional at what you do,” Timothy said.

“Good enough.”

“You’re being modest.”

“I’m good enough.”

She did it all by herself, he thought.

At once, he had an image of her behind a huge desk in an office with black leather chairs and a floor to ceiling window that provided a view of the Los Angeles skyline, buttons to press and automated drawers. He saw her alone, her own boss at work as much as she was at home, and he wondered if trust and competition could possibly coexist between her and the other real estate agents, what with salaries dependent on sales commissions.

Trust had cost Timothy his business. He had set up a marketing firm with his closest friend, who had double-crossed him by luring their clients to a firm of his own he had been operating on the sly. A year had passed. Thanks to his father’s financial assistance, he managed to retain their house and keep the kids in school, although Linda wouldn’t stop referencing the debacle: “You’re not good with money… I’ll set our budget… We can’t afford this anymore…” Now he was back to a desk job in a bank where his superiors never delivered on promises of a promotion.

A drizzle started outside. The drops against the window were soundless, yet in his mind Timothy could hear the pitter patters as murmurs infiltrating a dream, summoning him to awake.

“Your kids look so like you,” he said, focusing on that face. “It’s as if a husband wasn’t involved.”

“Jack’s actually a great father. Mike was a fantastic step-father. Still is. He remains a part of my kids’ lives. I’m on decent terms with them, Jack and Mike. I’m grateful for that. I’ve been lucky.”

Image courtesy of pngimg.com

Jack and Mike. Of course, Sharon must have mentioned their names; Timothy just didn’t think they had been worth remembering. What standard, all-American names Jack and Mike were. Both evoked hot dogs and baseball and a two-car garage to a two-story house, the entire package of wholesome, masculine stability that women married for.

“Your kids,” said Sharon. “I can’t tell. A little bit of both you and Linda, I guess.”

“Tough to tell because they’re all thin and in shape.”

Timothy laughed. The disparity in weight between his kids and both Linda and him was a gag. Sandra, the eldest, was on her third year at Vassar, working towards a degree in anthropology while earning an income as an aerobics instructor. Timothy, Jr. was gangly and constantly on the go, hurrying through breakfast, rushing out the door, running to catch up with his friends. Greggy was only 15 and already he had a voice that awed, one that filled the driveway with melody as he’d shoot a basketball. Fitness aside, eating was a merry family affair. Pork chops, meatloaf, chocolate cake… they splurged on it all.

Sharon wouldn’t survive a meal with his kids. She’d go hungry. At the reunion, she didn’t drink wine because apparently wine contained meat products, and she spent more time separating the cheese from the salad than filling her fork. Linda was an excellent cook. Her fettuccine alfredo was the best, the sauce creamy as vanilla ice cream and the bacon baked to a crisp. And she inherited the recipe to his mom’s liver pâté. Sharon today would most likely refuse even one finger scoop.

“From what I see on Facebook, your kids seem strong willed,” Sharon said. “I can tell by the way they look at the camera, so sure and confident.”

“Maybe it’s an age thing, this sureness that you can do anything,” said Timothy. “You were that way, and also so meek.” He had difficulty dissociating her from the color pink.

“I was in love. For you, I went to college to discover how I could be the best of myself.”

“You were also an A student. You could not have passed on Cornell University, and your parents realized that, too.”

“You wanted me to go.”

“You were meant to go. You earned your way there.”

“You were always my best cheerleader, Tim.”

“This place is for those who settle down. I only got into Pepperdine because of your help with nearly all my homework.”

“You sound 18 again, underestimating yourself.”

How did a man respond to that? “Uhuh.”

“Tennis,” Linda said.

“Tennis?”

“You were great in tennis. You used to compete. You had the strongest legs ever, calf muscles to die for.”

“Now we’re really going back in time.”

“Well… do you still play?”

Timothy paused for an instant. “Not since I broke an ankle.”

“I forgot about that.”

Image courtesy of tse1.mm.bing.net

He had forgotten, too. The mere mention of it brought back the refulgence of bright bulbs and white walls. Timothy was a week to graduating from Pepperdine when a fall in a tennis court brought him to an emergency room. Half the glass paneling to the ceiling lights was missing, and the brilliance of his surroundings made him dizzy, aggravating the pain in his right ankle. Then in walked a woman in an orderly uniform, that weird color of not quite green and not quite blue, and Timothy thought: She looks like something out of an aquarium. He saw the face, and he saw that it was young and pretty – full cheeks and eyes the brown of nature. They talked of mundane stuff, where they had gone to high school and where they had grown up. She was a small town girl in training to be a nurse practitioner. He was a city boy deliberating on what car his parents should gift him for graduation. Timothy saw her again days after for physical therapy and then on many occasions outside of the hospital.

A pregnancy, a return to his folks for the security of home, a shot gun marriage, and a stillborn… he could have left Linda, begged Sharon for a reconciliation, but no, not with Linda in that condition, her head prostrate and their child cradled in her arms, in a hospital bed as tears fell on the lifeless body. A second pregnancy brought them the premature birth of Sandra. Every day for the months that Sandra was in an incubator, Linda clutched Timothy by the arm as they watched their daughter’s chest heave upon each breath. What a sight Sandra was, fragile as a puppy in a bubble of a box, bundled up in an oversized diaper. Linda laid her head on his shoulder. “We’ve grown stronger together in these four years,” she whispered into his ear. “Imagine how much more in the next four. I need you.”

But did he need her? Did he need anybody?

“You should pick up tennis again,” Sharon said.

“Yeah,” said Timothy. “You’re right. I really don’t know why I dropped it.”

The drizzle outside stopped. Stars strewed the sky as diamonds sparkling beneath still waters.

“I think it’s going to be a sunny morning,” Sharon said.

A faint light shone behind her head, a halo.

“I think you’re right.”

Timothy shut his eyes. This was the vision of Sharon he would carry with him till his last breath.

“What did you think would happen with our meeting up again,” Sharon asked, “after a lifetime apart?”

“I don’t know.”

Image courtesy of 3.bp.blogspot.com

The digital clock timed off another minute. The gray suitcase and black bag on top focused in form upon the lifting dawn.

“Maybe exactly this,” Timothy said.

“What is this?”

“You tell me.”

Sharon placed her head on a pillow and caressed his cheek. “The sun hasn’t risen yet,” she said.

The American Woman

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

Her name was Pauline, but she went by Paule. She would frequently mention to Louie that if ever they had a daughter, they must give the child a male sounding eponym such as Toni or Billie, a name in which the spelling alone identified the gender of its bearer. A feminine twist to anything masculine pleased Paule… she wore men’s button-down shirts with the hem knotted at the midriff and tied her pony tail in men’s handkerchiefs… which was why in college she had added the “e” to her self-designated nickname; from a practical perspective, the “e” had saved confusion among professors whose relationship with her had been limited to essay assignments and exams.

Paule Mercado had attended Smith College. A higher education in America was a natural course for a girl who had been enrolled at international schools in three different countries, the last having been high school in the Philippines. Her major: Women and Gender Studies. A law degree from Columbia University added to her resumé, followed by a stint as a paralegal, during which she met Louie

“She was alone at the luggage claim and so was I,” Louie said to his brother, more as a verbalization of his memory than as an account. “I helped grab her luggage from the conveyor belt. She had two suitcases, and they were heavy. What a long flight that was.”

“For you it was long,” said Ron. “You were flying from Los Angeles to Manila with a stop-over in Tokyo. She boarded the plane in Tokyo.”

Louie stared at Ron, taken off guard. He didn’t recall ever providing Ron this detail. Even more odd was Ron’s pristine appearance. Hair slick, black suit tailor sleek, and a tan as if he had just come from the beach, Ron was dressed more for a dinner function than a funeral. Louie himself normally equaled his brother in sartorial sharpness… both boasted a trim waist and broad shoulders that any article of clothing complimented… only on this day wet spots darkened his arm pits, and he was mindless that his coat, which he had intended to toss behind him on the sofa, had landed on the floor.

Air-conditioner notwithstanding, the study room was stuffy. Three generations of Tolentinos covered the walls, from grandfather Teodoro Tolentino in a handshake with General Douglas MacArthur to his progenies and grandchildren at various stages in life. Turbaned warriors astride horses that decorated a Persian carpet rendered the floor a chaotic battleground. Mementos cluttered table tops:  a silver dagger gifted from the Sultan of Brunei, honorary plaques, pocket-size ivory perfume bottles from China…

Although Louie and Ron never knew their grandfather, images of a bulldog scowl behind a whiff of cigar smoke rooted the man’s presence on this block in an old district of Manila. A mere handful of neighboring mansions from the pre-war days, when the Philippines was still an American colony, remained standing. Like eye sockets in decomposing skulls, their glassless windows opened into dark spaces. On the street, ignition pipes to vehicles that jammed bumper to bumper coughed black smoke, weeds sprouted through pavement cracks, and trash overflowed from a garbage barrel in front of a McDonald’s.

Image courtesy of i.pinimg.com

As the other families established a new neighborhood across the city, in a section that in the years after the war became the commercial center with hotels and banks lining thoroughfares, Louie’s and Ron’s father maintained Grandpa Tolentino’s vision of a family estate that would endure for generations. Modeled after an Italian villa, the house surrounded a courtyard. An inner gallery on the second level overlooked a Tuscan fountain amid bougainvillea plants in perennial bloom, and down a grassy slope from the outer facade, a stone wall as thick as a fortress rampart severed the outside world.

Paule had instantly fallen under its spell. She had given up a career in New York for this. Despite marriage, she had busied herself as a freelance writer, penning magazine and newspaper articles on the latest happenings in the Philippines that ranged from architecture to politics. She was in the works on producing a talk show so that, through TV, she could gain an even wider audience.

Success hadn’t hindered Paule’s desire for a family. Quite the contrary – success bolstered it. Both Louie and she were ready; they had been married for two years.

“She was alone at the luggage claim and so was I,” Louie repeated.

“You sound like you had been cursed to a life of solitude until she came along.” Ron said.

“I was.”

“No, you were not.”

“If I wasn’t, then now I certainly am.”

“Oh, please, Louie. Don’t be so dramatic.”

Louie could have grabbed his younger brother by the collar from across the coffee table and slugged him. Such daftness was crude. Could Ron actually be trivializing Paule’s death? The coroner attributed it to an allergic reaction to peanuts, an accident. Louie and she had been dining at an Indian restaurant they frequented, the proprietor of which was a family friend. The kitchen staff could not have been so clumsy as to overlook such a grave dietary restriction; of this, Louie was certain.

Gago ka,” he said to Ron in Tagalog, which he only spoke when vexed, though Ron hardly took him seriously on such moments, particularly on an insult of being stupid, for stupid, he was not.

“You will never be alone,” said Ron.

“You will never understand.

“I do. I understand very well. It’s you who doesn’t.”

“What don’t I understand? Go ahead. Tell me.”

“You didn’t love her.”

“What?”

“You didn’t, Louie.”

Image courtesy of pixdaus.com

Ron spoke with a tone part all-knowing, part plea. And his eyes, earnest as those of a puppy, gave him a hungry look. He had had that expression his entire life. No, Louie couldn’t punch him. He had never punched anybody.

“On what basis do you insult me with that claim,” he said, “insult the memory of my wife? She has been buried a few hours, and the last mourner has just left this house. How dare you.”

“And now we’re sharing a bottle of red wine, just the two us, just like old times.”

“Your car was at the restaurant parking lot.”

“Sometimes I like to drop by to say hello to the chef.”

“You doused our food with peanut oil.

“Did I?”

“I can report you to the police.”

Ron bowed his head as though he were a kid scolded for his mischief. “You think they’d do anything?”

“I could pay them to lock you up.”

“I could pay them even more to set me free.”

And therein was a bickering between the brothers that persisted since childhood: the older threatening to incriminate, the younger challenging the threat, and neither acting beyond words. They were never this way with their sisters and third brother, who five years Ron’s junior and married with his own kids, had always been an outsider, no matter that he lived on the estate. Noel didn’t share their memories of their mother. By the time he was a toddler, she was out of the house, shacking up with another man. As for sisters Diana and Claudia – the former being the eldest and the latter born between Louie and Ron – they were more attached to their father to heed their mother’s attention. Or ire. Their mother had been a drunk who would lash out at Ron, a belt or a stiletto her weapon of choice, while Louie would sacrifice himself as his brother’s shield.

Louie nearly laughed for mentioning jail. He felt as a fool did after cracking a bad joke. Ron had no sense of severity. He had been a weird child. An affinity for his sister’s Barbies, fruit scented stickers, and tutus aside, he stuffed anything in his mouth from his buggers to bits of Styrofoam that packaged Louie’s model war planes and match box cars. So that he’d stop, Louie would warn that he’d tell on him to their mother. The more he warned, the more daring Ron became in his attempts to digest the inedible. Ron went so far as to nibble on soil and smother soot on walls. That Louie kept mum regardless turned into a matter of the boy crying wolf. Such a provocateur was Ron. And what would provoke their mother to fits of violence could be as minor an act as refusing to sit when told to do so.

“Do as she wants,” Louie would urge.

Yet Ron would remain recalcitrant, his eyes wide, neck stiff, and mouth agape in mimicking an exclamation point. The kid might as well have been watching a TV melodrama. He seemed to glee at the sight of a beautiful woman gone hysterical, for their mother was beautiful, astonishingly so. Even Louie, upon her every snap, felt a tremor at the dichotomy between a visage alabaster lustrous, one with coral pink lips and eyes the brown of russet stone, and the ugliness fulminating beneath.

Image courtesy of tumblr.com

Ron was five when their mother first took a shoe to him and Louie was nine. Louie didn’t ask Ron what he had done; it had never crossed his mind to. They were in the playroom. Prints of Disney characters hung on the walls. Their mother had just given birth to Noel, and his crying permeated the house non-stop. Through the door, Louie overheard an exchange of words between their mother and father, while around him, Peter Pan, Pinocchio, and Sleeping Beauty were depicted in dire situations with Captain Hook, Stromboli, and Maleficent respectively: a sword fight, incarceration, and eternal sleep upon the prick of a finger on a spindle needle. Being scenes from a fairy tale, they attested that wickedness existed exclusively in the realm of make believe, and always as something vanquishable

The image of their father as the door opened would be the predominant image that would stick with Louie over the decades, overshadowing even that of the man tied to tubes in a cancer ward three years ago. Their father had replicated Ron’s exclamation point stance, only with more austerity. He possessed a voice the rumble of a bull dozer and a build sturdy as a stone pillar.

Upon entering the playroom, their mother appeared to be dipped in champagne, a sheen to her golden gown the effervescence of the liquor she often imbibed. From down the hall, Noel’s wailing trailed their mother, strident and deafening. Ron was on his stomach, on the floor, perusing an alphabet book. Sudden as lightning, their mother with shoe in hand struck his behind… once… twice… thrice…and then Louie, who had been sitting beside Ron, positioned himself on top of his brother so that his own backside received the blows. Protecting his younger brother was a natural impulse, one instilled in Louie by the Tolentino creed of family sacredness with which the ancestral images imbued the house.

Amid Louie’s tears, Ron kissed the welts on his brother. He would always nurse his brother this way, and long after their mother left, through high school and during Louie’s college breaks, the two would continue to sleep in one room; sometimes, just as on nights that thunder had frightened Ron as a child, in one bed.

Image courtesy of askideas.com

Before the night she died, Paule had returned in the early afternoon from Hong Kong. She would frequently fly there due to its proximity to Manila, and shopping was such that Hong Kong had been ideal for updating her wardrobe. With a public persona in mind, she was especially particular about her clothing on this last voyage, inspired by the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Charlize Theron, movie stars celebrated for their elegance yet who knew how to feminize a tuxedo. Theirs was an image utterly Western in its aesthetics. “Female debonair,” Paule called such a look. Every detail to her, from the length of a black skirt to the red stitches on a white corporate shirt, was crucial.

To Ron, Louie said of his wife, “She’s a modern fixture amid these antiques.”

“She’s beautiful,” Ron said, “no doubt about that.”

The brothers were in the study, the sole room in the house where they could be alone. Diana and Claudia lived with their husbands in the commercial center, while Noel and his wife occupied a wing at the opposite end of the house, one decked with photos of his own brood. Paule herself didn’t care much for the study; it was too steeped in the past. “So many strangers on the walls,” she had told Louie on their wedding night. “Makes me feel that I’m intruding.”

In the courtyard below, Paule was instructing the gardener on where to position a collection of orchid tree limbs. Louie had ordered half a dozen while she was in Hong Kong, and their delivery on the afternoon of her return was his welcome back present.

The white orchids on tree limbs the black-brown of ancient sequoia mirrored the sight of Paule. She was cool and collected in a dress sun bright in contrast to the gardener, who with hands parched and brow sweaty, was the hue of coconut husk.

“She’s demolishing the playroom,” Ron said, a wine glass in hand as he stood beside his brother at the window.

“You exaggerate,” said Louie. “She’s redecorating.”

“Redecorating is my job.”

“That’s what you do for other people, for other homes. This is our home, Paule’s home.”

“Green and yellow. What kind of colors are those?”

“They evoke a garden, grass and leaves growing, a burst of life.”

Image courtesy of godfatherstyle.com

“Why not pink since it’s a girl she wants?”

“We want neutral colors.”

“You were never so unconventional.”

“It could be a boy.”

“My bear, she got rid of it.”

“Bear?”

“The stuffed bear.” Ron didn’t sound upset as much as he did wary. He watched Paule in the courtyard below, never veering his eyes away as if her pruning a plant was an act of defiance. “It sat in the corner of the playroom.”

“I told her she could,” Louie said.

“That was one beautiful memory of my childhood. One.”

“I’ll get you another bear” – a sardonic chuckle – “a pink bear.”

Ron had given the bear a name – Friendly. As children, Louie and Ron would talk to Friendly, imagine him responding to their every remark and question, and everything they imagined him say was an assurance of everlasting devotion: “We’ll play again… I like you, too… We’ll have more fun…”

“That bear,” Ron said, “he filled the entire store window a giant piece of happiness with arms and legs to sleep on and a cushion belly to lie on. Mommy put a price on him the store couldn’t refuse, and he wasn’t for sale.”

“One happy, beautiful memory,” said Louie.

“We loved Friendly. We would sleep on him. He had the softest fur. She bought him because of you, really. You pointed him out.”

“Because you wanted him.” Louie shut his eyes in conjuring another memory. “Toy cars on an icing race track.”

“She baked,” Ron said. “I forgot about that. Another happy memory for you. Your 11th birthday, the last she ever celebrated with us.”

“Paule bakes, too. That will make for plenty of happy memories for me and our children.”

“She’s not even pregnant,” Ron said.

“I have plans – a daughter and a son or two daughters and two sons,” Louie said. “A son to perpetuate our name. A son.”

Image courtesy of cliparts.co

“Noel already has three boys.”

“But I’m the eldest among us Tolentino males.”

“She’ll leave the kids with the yayas.

Louie shook his head and tightened his lips. At last, an emphatic no. “All mothers already do that, and you underestimate Paule. She likes kids and held summer jobs as an au pair. So… no… she won’t be the typical Filipino mother who will have the yayas raise her babies.”

“Au pair… summer jobs…” Ron could barely conceal his drunken disdain. “How so not us. Now I understand why you married her. You want a high class maid, and one who talks politics no less. She’s over your head. The things that come out of her mouth, we don’t think about those things.” His disdain turned to laughter. “The look on her face at your engagement party, when she was about to take a bite of chocolate cake and I joked that it had cashew nuts.” Ron simulated her expression of horror.

“If I were her, I’d hate you, too.”

“But you don’t hate me. How do you explain that, with all your study of law and logic, with all the cases you’ve won? You will never hate me.”

Paule in the courtyard was smelling an orchid. Her lips were moving. She could have been singing or she could have been whispering to the orchid to bloom.

“Baking isn’t the only thing they have in common,” Ron continued. “Mommy had a thing for orchids. She would pat orchids as though they were puppies. Then again, she might have kicked a puppy. Good thing we never had pets.”

“That’s where the similarities end,” Louie said. “Paule would never kick a puppy. She would never hurt anything or anyone.”

“How do you know?”

That night would have marked the beginning of a real life for Louie. That night Louie would have proven Ron wrong. A family of Louie’s own would have been a reality after that night. That was his plan. Somehow, Ron knew this, just as he seemed to know Louie’s every thought and emotion before Louie himself became conscious of them, like a spirit that inhabited Louie’s body.

Image courtesy of stio.com

You didn’t love her… Perhaps Ron was right. What did Louie know of love? Paule had an online membership to The New York Times, watched indie and foreign films on Netflix, and was unrestrained in her criticism of high rises supplanting Manila parks as much as she was of the church’s stance against birth control. Louie neither possessed an opinion on the Afghanistan War nor heeded much notice to the ever increasing abundance of shanties along the Metro Manila Skyway. As for films, he regarded them as most Filipinos did – mindless distractions – and so he was satisfied with the Hollywood block busters that screened simultaneously in mall cinema complexes throughout the metropolis.

The common ground between Paule and him centered on her career; Louie delighted in her ambition. A self-reliance he had sensed in her at the airport luggage claim was the characteristic that had initially attracted him. The upright posture, the straightforward gaze, the gray bag and matching gray shoes… all gave her a determined air. Then there was the reason for her return to Manila: “Moving to study in the States was an adventure, then working in New York. Now it would be an adventure to come back to the Philippines to use all I’ve learned. And I miss my family.”

Paule’s suitcases were charcoal-shaded Samsonite. They were of sturdy plastic and modeled after an industrial box. The instant Louie grabbed hold of one, he pictured daylight permeating the rooms and halls of the Tolentino estate, rescuing from the shadows family photos that covered the study walls. The photo that shone the most brilliant was of Louie, Ron, and their sisters when Noel was just born along with their smiling parents. Their father was standing behind a chair where their mother was seated. She had an arm raised across her bosom so that she could hold his hand that was resting on her shoulder. With the other, she cradled Noel. Promise enlivened that photograph, the promise of familial loyalty and harmony, the promise of love.

In contemplating the meaning of love, Louie was certain of what love was not. Love was not the infliction of physical pain. Love was not abandonment. Love was not betrayal.

So here he was with Ron, drinking from a single bottle of red wine as if sealing a blood pact, in a room private to them, in a house brimming with a history nobody else would ever share.

Image courtesy of tse1.mm.bing.net

“She would have been a good mother to my children,” Louie said. “You never know.”

“Exactly,” said Ron. “You never know.”

“No… No… I do know… She would have been a great mother. She came back to Manila to be close to her family. She loved family. She would have been a kind and caring mother. And I… I would have been a good father. My kids and my wife…. my own family… they would have meant everything to me.”

“Yes, they would have.” Ron’s face beamed as though Louie had reached a realization that had eluded him for too long. “That’s why I had to do it.”

Coconut Pies

Image courtesy of tse2.mm.bing.net

The year that Celeste Solinas’s father fought the mayor of Calinte was the year that Celeste devised a plan of becoming a star like Imelda Marcos. She would leave this hilltop province to sign a record contract in Manila. She would sing on a noontime TV variety show following morning mass each Sunday. Radio dramas would reenact the story of her life, and other girls in other small towns would think up plans of their own to be just like her. On a frying pan she gazed at the face that would be loved by all – sepia cheeks and brow, eyes bronze black as her hair – a face that would be immortalized on rattan fans and lunch pails.

It was an April Sunday. Celeste was in the kitchen, helping her mother bake coconut pies. Flies gathered on the window screen above the sink. A saccharine fragrance pervaded the air, and the sun lit as tarnished gold cupboards of chipped white paint. The deaf boy Paquito walked in with two coconuts in his hands, two more balanced on top of those, and a fifth on which he rested his chin. Celeste’s father followed close behind. He had requested that Paquito give him coconuts from trees that flourished like weeds in Mayor Hernando Olizar’s garden. Mayor Olizar owned a bungalow on the only paved street in Calinte. Paquito was its caretaker. Since the mayor and his family spent most time in Manila, Paquito obliged Papa Solinas as he did anybody who asked him a favor. In the past few months since his arrival in Calinte, he had carved a bamboo pipe for Father Amores; he had crawled into a roadside ditch to retrieve a necklace of faux pearls for Doña Louisa, the postmaster’s wife; and as a mere act of magnanimity, he had given the madwoman Pelaez a basketful of pandesal, salted bread he had baked himself.

Paquito’s old dog went with him everywhere he went. Layas, Paquito had named him, which was the Taglog word for “run away,” for Layas was a dog that took the liberty to wander away from Paquito and to roam Calinte on its streets of cracked gravel, from one wood and stone ramshackle house to another, greeting the town’s denizens with his nose pressed against their hands. His coat a fading copper, Layas was barking and wagging his tail as Paquito and Papa Solinas entered. When Celeste put down the frying pan to look at Paquito, she noticed how true the saying was that masters resembled their pets: Paquito, though only sixteen, had white whiskers and no eyebrows, an Adam’s apple and arms tree branch slender. She thought it odd that he should be wearing dress shoes to pick coconuts. His thumbs were also deformed. The left was on the verge of splitting in half like Siamese twins.  The right was blunt and hard as the stem of a ginger root. A second thumb protruded from its base.

Papa Solinas pointed to the kitchen sink. Paquito quickly walked to it in his eagerness to release the load. Papa Solinas handed him a machete hanging from the wall. Paquito poked the tip of his finger against the blade to determine its sharpness, then sliced each coconut with one forceful whack.  Celeste watched him and she sensed that he knew she was watching, for when he was done, he turned to her and smiled with bravado. It was an impressive feat indeed. Not a single drop of coconut juice had spilled.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

“Neldy, I had another dream last night,” Papa Solinas said.

“Oh, my,” said Mama Solinas, more exasperated than surprised.

Celeste’s father had been having recurring dreams for the past month. “Visions,” he called them, and in these visions a red-faced man was sitting on a throne beneath a tolling church bell. Around him the land was arid, gladiolas were wilting, and the round sweet lansones fruit dangling from dead trees were sapped of their juice. “What could my vision mean?”

“Dreams are just that – dreams.” Mama Solinas rested an arm on her belly and fanned herself with a paper plate.

Celeste proceeded to knead dough. Baking coconut pies was a Sunday ritual. Normally Celeste’s older sister, Wanda, assisted in the baking, only today she was in the market in Santa Cruz, a neighboring province downhill where Papa Solinas worked as a butcher; she was helping a brother, Nestor, operate the meat stall.

Papa Solinas dug into his pocket for coins to give Paquito. Paquito waved his hands and shook his head in refusal. Papa Solinas smiled in urging him to accept. His smile resembled a smirk because of a scar on the left corner of his mouth he had obtained from shaving with a hunting knife, and his short height and close-cropped hair gave him a boyish air, more boyish than that of the deaf boy Paquito, who muttered as articulately as he could that he had always wanted to visit the Solinas house, so to do Papa Solinas a favor was an honor, especially since the coconut trees in the mayor’s bungalow were bearing such rich fruit and nobody was there to enjoy it. Of course, he had always wanted to meet the Solinas children. Why, he asked, was Celeste always at home and never out in the square with the other boys and girls?

“I don’t know,” Papa Solinas said, for Paquito knew how to read lips. “Maybe you should ask her yourself.”

Celeste gazed at Paquito’s thumbs and then at his pure black eyes. “I’m busy baking pies,” she said.

Paquito bowed and headed out the door. Layas ran to overtake him, his tongue lolling.

“He has funny thumbs,” Celeste said to her father.

He replied, “They’re not pretty thumbs, but they bring good luck. That extra thumb means he’ll never lose his grip on anything. He’s blessed.”

Blessed, Celeste thought, and wondered about this stranger, where he had come from, what family he had, how he felt as everyone’s friend yet having no one truly know him. She wondered what sounds a deaf boy heard in his head.

Mama Solinas began to shred coconut meat on the chopping board. On a wall above her, a calendar picture of a blue-eyed baby Jesus looked upon her with a beatific grin.

“Come now, Neldy,” said Papas Solinas. “Do you think my dream is for nothing? You know what I think? I think God is telling me that it’s about time Mayor Olizar delivers his promise to us of a new belfry.”

Image courtesy of images.fineartsamerica.com

“Why you? You are not Moses.”

“No, I am not, but I a man who believes in something.”

A new belfry. Mayor Hernando Olizar had been the mayor of Calinte for half of Celeste’s fourteen years, and for the past two summers, he had been pledging Calinteños that their church, a stone structure that had been standing in the town square since the days of the Conquistadors, shall have a bell tower to beautify their town. Lightning had struck the current one. It was now a heap of crumbled rock. The bell sat silent at its base, waiting to rise again and to ring throughout Calinte, downhill along the bamboo and tree-lined path that led to the rest of the world.

Celeste fit the dough into three pans then sprinkled brown sugar into a bowl of melted butter and corn starch. “Maybe you should be mayor yourself,” she teased her father. “Don’t forget that he also promised an irrigation system.”

“Mayor Solinas, that doesn’t sound nice,” said Celeste’s mother. “And we are happy in this home of ours.”

Home was two stories of moss-coated stone and weathered shutters. Among the furniture in the living room were a vinyl sofa patched in masking tape and a black and white TV the size of a Tide box. A Singer sewing machine and a makeshift altar with an image of the Virgin Mary flanked the sofa. Behind that was the dining table, the kitchen and the bathroom, and on the second floor were three bedrooms.

“Ha!” Papa Solinas himself scoffed at the idea of mayor. He was no politician. He seldom read the newspapers nor did he ever discuss national events with his family. When President Ferdinand Marcos had declared martial law a decade earlier, he didn’t know a midnight curfew had been implemented across the nation until, one night, Mama Solinas said that they could no longer wait for the rest of Calinte to sleep before they could walk under the stars. Whenever he overheard homecoming overseas workers mention Clark and Subic naval bases, he didn’t think of the military alliance between the Philippines and the United States but of Campbell mushroom soup. And yet… “I may not be mayor, but do not doubt the voice of a little man such as myself, Neldy.”

“All I know is that I am too fat to be the wife of a mayor and my flat feet won’t fit into high heels,” said Mama Solinas. She took two shreds of coconuts and placed them by her ears as if they were dangling diamonds. “What dreams.”

“Visions,” Papa Solinas said.

“Visions… Visions…” huffed Mama Solinas.

“What’s a vision anyway?” asked Celeste.

Her father slid his finger across the length of the machete. “Visions are what Magellan had when he discovered the Philippines, what our President Marcos has. They’re things we see in our mind of the great things we can do.”

Celeste glanced once more at her crooked reflection on a frying pan. “Visions,” she uttered.

Image courtesy of tse2.mm.bing.net

Mayor Olizar and his wife, Countess Peggy, returned to Calinte with their daughter, Cynthia, after an Easter respite in Manila. A silver Mercedes was parked in the driveway of the Olizar bungalow. Celeste ventured to their walled-off home, hiding underneath the leaves of a mango tree outside the gate to glimpse a fairy tale of an existence.

The Olizars lived in a part of Calinte that belonged only to them. Eucalyptus sweetened the air. Macopa trees bore their pink fruit all year round. Other homes existed nowhere near.  They did at one point. Through the passing seasons, storms had washed them away. The Olizar bungalow somehow managed to remain rooted to its spot. From sunrise to dusk, the varying hues of the heat glazed its limestone wall: morning blue, pale noon yellow, faded pink. On its front door hung a carving of a woman that once graced the prow of a Spanish armada. She appeared to be pointing to the North Star, keeping the bungalow afloat through floods and mud slides.

In the front lawn, young Miss Cynthia Olizar was lounging on a wicker chair. Her lips were bright red. Her bobbed hair was cut asymmetrically. She was wearing a skirt with the hem inches above the knees. Celeste had never seen hair styled in such a fashion and thighs daringly exposed. What surprised her most of all was that Mayor Olizar seemed blasé to his daughter’s attire. He was sprawled lazily on the grass, drinking coconut juice from the husk.

Paquito walked out the front door, followed by the countess and Layas wagging his tail. Paquito was dressed in his trademark leather shoes, white trousers, and white shirt. A red tomato motif necktie added a splash of color. With a tray of Coca Cola, he stepped down the porch steps. Behind him, Countess Peggy’s clogs tapped on the ground with her every step. The countess wore gold trinkets wound around her neck and dangling earrings large as bottle caps. Her henna-dyed hair was a lustrous auburn. She was called countess because rumor had it that the mayor had bought a castle in a land where snow falls and that the purchase came with a title.

Image courtesy of specialneedsinmusic.com

Miss Cynthia took a cigarette from her purse. She lit the cigarette and tilted her head back to blow smoke into the air, smearing the cigarette butt red with lipstick. Miss Cynthia’s lips seemed to have a life of their own. Whenever she spoke, they took on the shape of every vowel she uttered, and whenever she was spoken to, she twitched her lips or oohed and aahed, depending on her reaction to whatever was being said.

Layas barked. Miss Cynthia cocked her head towards the gate. Her and Celeste’s eyes met. Celeste’s instinct was to run, but then Miss Cynthia leaned back on the chair once more. Paquito approached the gate. He guided Celeste to a spot behind the mango tree, out of everyone’s sight, and offered her a glass of Coke. After drinking, she puckered her lips then looked at the glass in imagining her own lip print red on the rim.

“Thank you,” she said.

Paquito took the glass and left.

“Thank you,” she said out loud, forgetting that he was deaf.

When the weekend passed, Celeste saw Paquito sauntering down the street towards her house. At the front door, he slipped a lipstick into her hand.

A present from Manila, he said.

She stared at him in wondering how he knew Miss Cynthia Olizar’s lips had fascinated her so.

Paquito, uttering something unintelligible, pointed to her eyes and then at his lips.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

Paquito repeated his gesture, speaking more slowly with elongated syllables, as if his mouth were filled with marbles. His message: he had noticed Celeste the whole time staring at Miss Cynthia’s lips.

Celeste placed her hand on her mouth. “Was I so obvious?”

No, Paquito said. Taking a deep breath, he shifted his eyes as a cat would, formed his hands into paws, and proceeded to say something long-winded.

“Slowly. Slowly,” said Celeste.

Paquito reiterated his sentence.

“Did I hear you right? Am I really like a cat?”

Yes, she was as stealthy as a cat.

Image courtesy of img0.etsystatic.com

Celeste rushed up to the bedroom she shared with her sister Wanda, shut the door, and rolled on the lipstick. She gazed at herself in a bureau mirror, clipped her hair up on one side so that it resembled Miss Cynthia’s bob, and copied Miss Cynthia’s facial expressions and poses. She continued this fantasy every chance she had the room to herself, leaving her lip print on paper napkins, pens, and Styrofoam cups. She’d powder her face so that she’d be as white as the First Lady Imelda and her entourage of high society ladies. She’d walk on the balls of her feet as if she were wearing high heels.

Every time Paquito delivered coconuts to Papa Solinas, he offered Celeste a present – a diadem of baby’s breath flower; a plastic pendant bearing the image of the Virgin Mary; a vine of lansones plucked from the trees in Kandulo, the creek beside Calinte where Celeste could hear her voice soar over the still water to the sky. There Celeste loved to sing the music of Air Supply, Irene Cara, and Olivia Newton-John. Papa Solinas once said that his daughter’s voice evoked the image of a waterfall quietly merging with a river – forceful and yet controlled and placid. The notes she touched, her ascension and descension on the musical scale, regulated the river’s flow. The river could rush downstream in synchronization to the upbeat tempo of a disco melody. It could remain stagnant to the forlorn strain of a ballad. It could drift towards heaven as the hypnotic refrain to a sad song went on and on.

Calinte mythology had it that treasure looted by friars a hundred years before hid buried in Kandulo. Whether or not the treasure existed, Celeste felt Kandulo to be a magical place. Every note she touched was as vibrant as the ting of a gold coin. In her heart Celeste knew that someday she’d be great. For weeks she had been singing Barbra Streisand’s “Woman in Love.” It was an accomplishment for her to hold the last note of the song as Streisand did, and with such ease as though the song came from the core of her being.

Celeste believed in greatness the way she believed in God and goodness.

One day Mama Solinas caught Celeste with her lips red, Paquito’s flower diadem on her head, and a bed sheet wrapped around her. Celeste had pinched her nose with a clothespin and had powdered her neck.

A daisy, she thought of herself.

Mama Solinas climbed the stairs without a sound and opened the door. Upon seeing Celeste twirling in front of the mirror, she stopped in her track. Celeste expected a tearful lecture on how she was too young to be tempting boys, but her mother simply looked at her, laughed, and said, “You look like a clown. Take that stuff off and help me with the laundry.” And she shut the door.

Celeste looked at herself in the mirror and then quickly looked away. Clown… Clown…  Voices from outside floated over her. A bicycle squeaked by. A man hollered for sale a dessert concoction of soybean and brown sugar syrup.  She buried her face in her hands to wipe off the powder.

The only sound that filled the room was of Celeste’s palms rubbing against her cheeks, a sound as cruel as the grating of sand paper

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

Papa Solinas was a man of his word. The urgency that Calinteños shared for a new bell tower fueled his spirit to fight Mayor Olizar. He decided to open the Solinas home every Sunday as a meeting ground for this purpose.

On the first Sunday of August, the Solinas women awoke upon the first crow of a rooster to bake coconut pies. Mama Solinas added a special sweetening ingredient, Seven-Up, which she poured into a bowl of whipped cream that Wanda had made. Later in the morning, the Solinas family attended mass. Rubble from the razed belfry glinted in the sun like excavated jewels. The crucifix affixed on the spire was a black X against blinding clouds. In the side aisle, the Virgin Mary stood on a pedestal, swathed in white satin and a blue sash. With open arms, she seemed to be goading the worshippers to march forward on their mission.

Visitors came knocking on the open door of the Solinas home after mass. Since Mayor Olizar had continuously been delaying a belfry construction on account of a shortage in government funding, Papa Solinas proposed a plan: “All of you working men and women, donate a small percentage of your monthly salary to Father Amores, who will oversee the project. Those working in cigarette plants and soft drink factories could request donations or loans from your own businesses. Do not worry about amount. However little we collect would show the mayor how serious we are. Maybe then he’ll aggressively seek his own backers or donate from his own pocket. After a belfry, an irrigation system. We see how rich Mayor Olizar is – fancy cars, grand homes.”

“Listen to Judicio Solinas.”

“A small donation is not a big sacrifice.”

“God is with us.”

God was with Celeste, too, because among the chants of support for her father, a plan struck her with the clarity of the sun bursting through gray clouds: she would sing, not just sing to make a pretty sound as she did with the church choir or in Kandulo, but to move people to act upon what they thought was right. Clown… Clown… No! The time had come for Celeste not only to be heard but also to be seen. This for a cause that united Calinte.

Image courtesty of 1.bp.blogspot.com

The following Sunday, Celeste could hardly concentrate on kitchen work. Pies were still baking when the townsfolk arrived. The Solinas house smoked with coconut and melted sugar cane. Children pranced through the front door, following their parents who were carrying trays of fried meat and garlic rice. Calinte’s elderlies hobbled on either a bamboo walking stick or the arm of a niece. The train of families was endless for a good hour, which surprised Celeste. She had never noticed so many people before, some of who were coming for the first time. She had hoped the crowd would be small. It would’ve been easier to summon everyone’s attention. Now she didn’t know what to do, whether to make an announcement as she had intended or to sing softly to some children in a corner until the rest of the crowd heard.

When the pies were baked and slices passed out, Celeste took a seat by the TV and waited till they downed their food with beer to clap her hands, the only thing she could do since she was too nervous to speak. Her brother, Nestor, stopped in his tracks, as if whatever she was demanding attention for would be brief and trite. Wanda, pie in hand and red apron giving her a rose petal sheen, glanced at her. This was the first time Celeste alone had ever been face to face with an audience. She didn’t see people anymore. She saw eyes.

“Let’s sing,” she said. “Sing along,” she urged and began “Dahil Sa’Yo”:

My life’s been full of pain and suffering, a loving heart without a heaven. Granting me happiness, you freed me from sorrow. Only you, my love, are my hope.

The people before her filled the sofa and the dining table chairs, sat on the staircase, stood in the kitchen. On their faces Celeste noticed no awe, no expression of loss or nostalgia, just half-smiles that said, “So this is how she sounds” – whatever sound that was. A man popping open a bottle of Pepsi proceeded to sing along with her. Papa Solinas la-la-laed the song for everyone else to join in.

Because of you, I want to live. Because of you, until I die. You must know, I’ve got no other love. Ask my heart, it’s you and only you.

 Because of you, I attained happiness. All my love I offer to you. If it is true that you shall enslave me, then everything in my life’s because of you.

Father Amores, his face so wrinkled that it resembled a prune, sang in unison. Wanda proceeded to wipe the kitchen counter and Mama Solinas to collect plates. Celeste looked at the rest of her audience, whose eyes were slumberous from one beer too many. She realized right then that her music was meant to divert these people from the toil of their everyday lives, from the mission of a new belfry, not to confront them with it. Today’s gathering was a party. This was evident alone in the way they sang – rough, loud, and haphazardly.

Still, Celeste wanted them to think and to feel. The lyrics were too searing to take for granted. She couldn’t help associating it with Calinte, and she honestly believed, as people drunkenly slurred their words and stumbled with full mouths over the lyrics, that she’d fight for Calinte, suffer for and give her life to it. Would these people be willing to do the same? Nobody could forget that the First Lady Imelda, on President Marcos’s first run for presidency sixteen years earlier, had promised through her own rendition of “Dahil Sa’Yo” to slave for the country. That moment was a part of every Filipino’s schooling.

Image courtesy of weebly.com

To escape the zoo the meetings had become, Celeste on one Sunday stayed away. The oven was so steaming from the coconut pies that her home itself seemed a furnace about to explode. Even her mother early that morning had expressed her doubts over the meetings.

“We’re wasting money,” Mama Solinas said as she stood before shelves of coconut pies in the open refrigerator. “All this is supposed to be for the family.”

“Come now, Neldy,” said Papa Solinas. “We are all family, this whole town.”

“How many more crazy Sundays like this? Hardly any talk is about the belfry or even the irrigation system. They just want to eat and drink, these people. Our family, you say? Nobody cares, Judicio. That belfry, it’s just a building.”

Papa Solinas spoke with the somberness of a sage. “People do care. They’ve been giving money to Father Amores. And you’re wrong, that what is happening here is just about a building. This is about our church. This is about a promise.”

Mama Solinas said nothing more, for in his eyes the Solinas family saw that the fight for a new bell tower was perhaps the most important thing that Papa Solinas would ever do.

It was high noon. The sun was so turbulent that waves of heat undulated in the sky. Celeste happened upon the mayor’s bungalow. In the front lawn, Paquito was lounging in the wicker chair where Miss Cynthia, months earlier, had been showing off her glamour for lipstick and cigarettes. His feet were resting on a table. A straw hat was tilted over his forehead, covering an eye. Celeste would have kept on walking if Paquito hadn’t seen her. He waved at her to come closer and opened the gate.

“They may not want strangers inside,” Celeste said and pointed to the house.

Paquito shook his head. The Olizars were in Manila.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

After little coaxing, Celeste entered, though Paquito didn’t take her into the house. He took her to a ladder at the back where Layas lay asleep. Together they climbed to the roof.

It was a new sensation for Celeste to walk on corrugated clay. She felt her steps lighter, airy, so different from walking on solid ground. She knew now what birds saw when they looked down on houses, flew higher than a tree, touched the sky. She had never ventured on a rooftop before. Neither did she know of anyone who ever did.

“I had to get away,” Celeste said.

Paquito led her to the center of the roof.

When they sat down, she with knees pressed against her chest, she asked, “You’ve heard about the gatherings at my house, of course? Talk of a new belfry and all?”

Paquito nodded, motioned with his fingers to simulate yakking beaks. The Sunday meetings at the Solinas home were the talk of Calinte.

“What do you think about them?”

Paquito gave her a thumbs-up.

Flies and mosquitoes whizzed around them. Paquito clapped his hands to kill a slew of mosquitoes while Celeste slapped them against her shin. Soon the two were slapping and clapping like monkeys, which made them laugh. Their laughter turned into gay screams at being on the roof of the grandest house in Calinte, at being on top of the world. Paquito got to screaming so loud that Celeste urged him to be quiet. He smiled, his tawny cheeks flushed. He looked different to Celeste that day. She had been trying to figure out why ever since they had climbed the ladder. Now that he was smiling, his face only a hand’s length away, she knew: Paquito had grown a mustache.

“You look like an old man with that. Then again, you’ve always looked old, and you’re only two years older than me. Have you ever looked your age?”

Paquito shook his head. He said that when he was just a baby, people already called him grandpa.

“Grandpa? You’re too young to be old.”

Paquito took a box of Marlboro cigarettes from his shirt pocket then tapped the box on his palm for a cigarette to slip out. He squinted his eyes the way Marlboro cowboys did in magazine ads.

“You’re too macho.” Celeste giggled.

Lighting a cigarette, he took a deep puff and exhaled through his nose. Celeste was stunned that he didn’t cough or lose his composure and pleaded him to do it again. Paquito stood, offered his hand to Celeste so that she could stand with him. He raised one arm over his head, wrapped the other around his waste, then tapped his feet. Cigarette fumes clouded his head.

“You want to dance?” Celeste asked. “Oh, I don’t know. I’ve never danced with a boy before.”

Paquito kept tapping his feet.

Celeste hummed a tune. “You’re off tempo, off tempo,” she said. “That’s not right.”

Image courtesy of clipartbest.com

When at last Celeste took hold of Paquito’s hands, she quivered from the touch of his deformed thumbs, especially the one that stuck out like a limp sausage. He pressed his thumbs against his palms so that she need only touch his four extended fingers.

Celeste hesitated and then, “That’s not how you hold a girl’s hand. Put your thumbs out and wrap them around my hands like you do with your other fingers.”

Paquito looked dismayed.

“You want to learn to dance or not?”

So he held her hands while she his – the first hands of a boy she had ever held. She hummed a tune. He followed her steps, held her hand over her head as she twirled in a circle, her skirt billowing. Never mind that they tripped on each other’s feet, stepped on each other’s toes.

“You’re doing good. Just like that.”

Paquito cocked his head in the sun’s glare.

“It’s too bad you can’t hear,” Celeste told him. “There’s music everywhere. The flow of water, the chirping of birds – that’s all music. There’s music in the air… the fluty sound of the breeze… and you can’t hear it.”

Paquito pointed at both their eyes. He said that what he lacked with his ears, he compensated for with his eyes. He had eyes on every part of his body – on the back of his head, on his palms, on his stomach – and with his eyes he saw into things, he saw through them and around them, he saw people’s souls, he saw everything. And what he was seeing now in front of him was a very beautiful girl.

Celeste looked at him for a long time then touched his chest that heaved as if it were too small to contain his heart. She could feel the warmth of his flesh through his shirt, the firm outline of muscles. Suddenly.

Flinging an arm out, Paquito pointed at the sky and at the rooftops strewn around as steppingstones to mountain ranges in the horizon. If he could, he said, he’d give Celeste the world. She was too special to hide the rest of her life in a town perched so high up a hill that nobody ever ventured to it.

“What would I do with the world?” she asked.

With a voice like that, she could do anything she wanted, be anybody she wanted.

“How do you know when you’ve never heard me?”

She was wrong. Paquito had heard her voice. He felt it in church. Her singing was like God talking to him

Image courtesy of idisciple.blob.core.windows.net

Paquito accompanied the mayor upon the latter’s return from Manila to pay Papa Solinas a visit. They drove up in a Cadillac. A curious crowd gathered at the Solinas doorstep. Since Paquito’s appearance frazzled Celeste, she wanted to leave, but the mayor’s presence intimidated her so that she was rooted to her spot. A giant of a man, Mayor Hernando Olizar nearly reached the ceiling. He was fat with big eyes, big lips, and a big nose, big fingers with manicured nails. The face of his gold watch reflected on every flat surface in the living room. Each time before he spoke, he wet his lips, as if about to devour a hearty meal.

“My honorable sir,” he said to Papa Solinas, “we have never met before, but it seems you know me quite well.” His laughter was Santa Claus jovial.

Papa Solinas stood up from the sofa to shake his hand. Even with his back erect and head high, he only came up to the mayor’s shoulders.

“I’ve been curious for the longest time about you, as all of Calinte knows you except me.  At last, I have the pleasure of your company.”

“The pleasure’s mine, sir,” said Papa Solinas.

At the front door, Paquito handed a basket of canned fruits, biscuits, bread, and wine to Celeste as a present from the mayor to the Solinas family.

Mama Solina, curlers in hair, rushed sideways down the stairs. Her hips were too large for her to walk down with body facing forward. Seeing Mayor Olizar, she screamed from embarrassment.

“The mayor has come for a visit,” Papa Solinas said.

She patted her hair and straightened her skirt.  “Excuse how I look.”

Mayor Olizar chuckled good-naturedly. “I see my wife in curlers all the time. I won’t be staying long. I simply wanted to meet your rebel rouser of a husband.” Again, a laugh. “I salute you, sir.” He saluted. “You have a brave husband, Mrs. Solinas.”

“Yes, that he is,” Mama Solinas said, first with trepidation due to the mayor’s surprise visit and then with certitude. “Yes. Yes. I have a brave husband.”

Papa Solinas waved away the compliment. “You are very kind, mayor. It is Calinteños who are brave. I am just speaking for them.”

“Speaking for them is no small task,” Mayor Olizar said. “Because of you, I hear them. A new belfry, that we will all have, and let us not forget the irrigation system.”

Papa Solinas was about to ask the question that for two years had been dangling unanswered – when? – until Mama Solinas caught Paquito clasping Celeste’s hand as he was offering a bag of Hershey’s kisses.

“Celeste, no,” said Mama Solinas.

Eyes doleful as if they both had been caught on a rooftop rendezvous, the two remained holding hands.

“Well,” Mayor Olizar said, “it’s nice to know my caretaker has a friend in your daughter. That’s a show of peace before us. By Christmas, we will have a new belfry.”

Image courtesy of portaldoagronegocio.com

That was all it took to incite Mayor Hernando Olizar to fulfill his promise, a little butcher of a rebel rouser named Judicio Solinas. The entire month of October was filled with noise from an excavator, a jackhammer, and builders working from early morning to late afternoon. It was noise that Calinteños welcomed because it was the sound of progress, so much progress that a new belfry would be standing by November. Father Amores held a mass to thank Papa Solinas and the mayor, who decreed that those who donated towards the construction of the belfry should have their money back.

“I’m not sure about this,” Papa Solinas said to Celeste as the congregation trickled out. “Visions… heh… I should have listened to your mother. The rotted lansones in my dreams… the fat man with the red face… I see him now. He has the face of Olizar. And I thought it was Santa Claus.” A despondent chuckle.

Celeste said, “We are all getting what we want, Papa. You could not have done anything more. You did everything right.”

Papa Solinas looked down at her, gratitude in his eyes for such a daughter.

Yet Celeste felt as troubled as her father. The belfry was of brick… the red was garish against the gray church… and soon after its completion, tractors rolled through Calinte to Kandulo with the formidability of advancing tanks.

The townsfolk gathered in the square and in front of their homes. They cheered and clapped and wept. They raised their arms to heaven, joyous that their prayer was answered not only for a bell tower but also an irrigation system.

When the first trees in Kandulo toppled to the ground, Celeste was standing on the bank, on the spot where she used to listen to her voice float over the ripples of the creek. Though the mayor had told the people to stay away from Kandulo, Celeste had snuck there, crouching beneath bushes and sprinting in tree shades on her way to the bank. Fallen leaves rustled to her every footfall like rice paper being crumpled. Across the creek, a tractor mounted a tree, sending it to the ground with a thud as explosive as a bomb blast on a silent night. A series of thuds followed, each one more terrifying than the last. She couldn’t explain what she felt. It wasn’t fear. It was greater than fear. It was a gnawing presentiment of an end soon approaching. Maybe Paquito would understand.  Maybe he’d feel what she felt and know why.

She returned with him on the first day of November, All Saints Day, a day commemorating the dead.

The sun was a white hole in the cloudless sky. Since All Saints Day was a holiday, none of Mayor Olizar’s workers were in Kandulo. Celeste brought Paquito and Layas to the spot where she had seen the trees being torn down. They rode a boat across the creek to the site of excavated hills and tree houses that the workers had built to rest in. The houses were made of thatched roofs and logs. Woven straw mats lay on their floors to serve as beds.

“Do you feel the same tingle up your spine?” asked Celeste.

Paquito shrugged his shoulders.

“Something’s going to happen. Something awful, I know.”

He laughed. He said that nothing could spoil their happiness.

“I mean it. I do. Something really bad. I know it. I know.”

He laughed harder.

Image courtesy of rpn.univ-lorraine.fr

“Stop laughing at me. Stop.”

He didn’t.

Celeste slapped him on the head. Why couldn’t he understand her? “Will you stop?”

He couldn’t read her lips. His eyes were shut.

“You sound like a crazy person,” she yelled. “You hear me? You’re crazy. You idiot.  You’re a stupid, dumb idiot. Idiot.”

The word “idiot” echoed around, sweeping over the creek, rushing through the bushes, rolling up the mountain walls and down again back to where they were standing.

“Idiot… Idiot… Idiot,” Celeste screamed even when Paquito had already stopped and was looking at her with hurt eyes.

Quick as a squirrel, Paquito climbed a tree on which perched a house no larger than a dog’s shed. She turned her back to him and stared at the still water of the creek. And that was when it happened. The floor to the house gave way. Piles of wood fell and Paquito along with them. Celeste didn’t see the fall. She heard only his horrific scream. His motionless body lay on the ground amid broken branches, a pool of blood, and lansones from fallen trees.

Too shocked to scream, Celeste ran to his side. She didn’t know whether to hold him up or to leave him alone and to run for help. Layas was frantically walking the length of Paquito’s body, whimpering and howling, his tail in between his legs. Celeste held Paquito’s head. A gash was at the back. She whispered his name. Blood smeared on her hands and reddened her skirt. She looked up. Tree houses were black against the dizzying white sky. Once more gazing at his face, she held his hand with the extra sausage-like thumb, that thumb which once frightened her so, and intertwining her fingers with his, she moaned, “Oh, Paquito. You weren’t supposed to lose your grip on anything. Forgive me. Please forgive me.”

Whatever Celeste did afterwards was a daze to her. She regained enough sense to run back to Calinte and to tell Father Amores of the accident. Questions by people of what they were doing there ensued, as well as reprimands from Mama Solinas that they never should have gone there in the first place, that Celeste was never to see Paquito. She must be a disgraced girl, some of the townspeople speculated. Why were they out there alone? What would Olizar do when he found out they had broken his law?

Celeste was too numb to care for any of the talk. Her one concern was that she knew not how to grieve. She shed no tears either of mourning or of guilt while waiting at home for a verdict on Paquito’s life. She was clueless on what prayers to recite and if to wear black should she lose him. She wondered what would be inscribed on his tombstone, he who possessed no last name and claimed no birth date. All these came to her as flashes of realization rather than as grave matters to contemplate.

Dusk.

Calinte buzzed with news that Paquito would live. He was recuperating in the rectory, under the father’s care. Only then did the weight of the situation fall on Celeste. For an instant, the prospect of Mayor Olizar’s return tinged her with fear. Yet she trusted in God and in Father Amores to vouch for her and Paquito should the mayor be enraged, for she carried no shield other than faith.

The next day and for the week after, Celeste visited Paquito, bringing him rice porridge she had cooked, bottles of guava juice, and berry twigs picked from the mayor’s garden to color the gray room of the rectory. Paquito’s head was wrapped in gauze. Bruises spotted his arms and legs. A sprained ankle caused him to walk with the aid of a bamboo cane. Yet how white and clean his shirt and trousers were, without a crease. When he had regained consciousness the night of the accident, said Father Amores, the first thing he had asked for was a set of freshly laundered and pressed clothes. So before Celeste Paquito stood each day, an image of purity amid four stone walls, one with a window no larger than that of a prison cell, and Layas asleep underneath the cot. He’d always ask Celeste if he were presentable enough for Mayor Olizar to lay eyes upon. He’d attempt walking without a cane, his back stiff in his desperation to conceal his limp. The mayor will be unhappy, he’d groan, very unhappy.

Image courtesy of golfhaus.de

Celeste was unfailing in her response. “Forget the mayor. Think of yourself.”

Paquito would heed to her words for a mere moment so that she had to repeat them ceaselessly in the course of an afternoon.

“Stand and walk because of your own strength, not for the mayor. And if you must slouch and look small, do so because you need rest, not because of him. You are not a dog, Paquito. You are not Layas.”

Although Mama Solinas was against these visits, she knew now that nothing could withhold her daughter from doing as she pleased.

“All the more everyone will think something’s up if I obviously avoid him,” Celeste had said to her mother. “I have nothing to hide.” This she’d prove by smiling at all she would pass on her way to the rectory.

One day Celeste told Paquito, “Why don’t you move to Manila with me someday?”

She was admiring a surplice stashed in a chest. It smelled of pinewood and vanilla incense. The vestment, intricate in its herringbone design, got her talking about the city, the places there she’d sing at, the dresses she’d sew for herself. For the first time she saw no reason why Paquito could not be a part of these grand plans.

Paquito smiled so tremendous a smile that the only feature of his face noticeable beneath his gauzed head was his even teeth. He was sitting on a stool below the window. A breeze ruffled his shirt.

Me back in Manila, he said incredulously. You dream too much.

“These aren’t impossible dreams. What have you got to lose? You’ve got nothing here.  Olizar is an evil man. Look at what he has done to Kandulo. That doesn’t seem to be an irrigation project to me. It’s about time you made something of yourself on your own. You’ve got nothing to be scared of.”

Paquito’s smile disappeared, and along with it the soothing coolness of the November air. She was confronted by that woebegone look he had given her when she had called him those cruel things.

“I’m sorry,” she said. She was sorry for this moment and for everything she had said to bring him here to a convalescent’s bed, sorry for his unknown roots. “All that I say is coming out wrong.”

That wasn’t true, he said. She was saying all the right things.

Celeste didn’t understand until in his eyes she saw a doomed hopelessness she had seen in the eyes of Papa Solinas on the Sunday they had first glimpsed the new belfry. Paquito could never leave the mayor. To do so would be to express ingratitude for his giving Paquito an identity, he a foundling left on the driveway of the Olizars’ Manila mansion. The mayor had brought him to Calinte because the mayor trusted him, as one would trust a son, to watch over the bungalow.

“Paquito, really. Do you believe the mayor feels this strongly about you? That he sees you as one of his own? Where is he now? How come he is not here?”

Paquito freed himself from Celeste’s hands and looked out the window to avoid reading her lips for what more she had to say.

“You’re deaf and you’re allowing yourself to be blind.”

When at last Paquito faced her once more, a crushing silence befell them both. The four walls were drab without his laughter contained within them. His loss for words deafened her to the voices outside and to the whistling of birds, to all sounds of communication by man and animal alike.

Image courtesy of tse3.mm.bing.net

On Celeste’s final visit, Mayor Hernando Olizar was in the rectory room, flanked by Paquito and Father Amores, both head and shoulders shorter than he.

“So this is the little devil,” Mayor Olizar said of Celeste, humored rather than incensed.

“Good afternoon, mayor,” she said.

He gave her a crooked smile.

“The young do foolish things,” said Father Amores, as if reminding the mayor of a fact of life, then glanced at Celeste with nervous concern. “Their age endows them with a daringness that is sometimes reckless. Celeste didn’t mean to act against you, sir. She is a normal teenager in that she hasn’t yet the wisdom to know that the young, with all their beliefs of invincibility, have their limits.”

Mayor Olizar raised a hand in disagreement. “You underestimate this Solinas girl, father.  She has a mind of her own. However, I’m sure she is wiser now. And so you must be, too, Paquito.”

Paquito nodded.

“You have never disobeyed me before. Now that you have, you almost got yourself killed.”

Another nod.

“Very good. The father says your ankle will heal fast enough and you’ll be tending to your duties at the bungalow in no time at all, and only to those duties. Remember that.”

Yes, sir.

Celeste stepped aside as the mayor passed her. He bowed his head to exit through the threshold. His hands were large enough to crush Celeste’s skull in one squeeze the way she would an egg. Her anger at him gave way to defeat. Calinteños were whispering that Mayor Olizar was truly digging into Kandulo for the mythical gold, that for this purpose he had misappropriated the government funding. Surely, the First Lady Imelda must know about this. Surely, she would not condone the devastation of Kandulo.

Image courtesy of cloudfront.net

“My best wishes to your father,” he said.

“Thank you,” she said. Those were all the words she could muster.

Paquito followed the mayor out without a word to Celeste, without a glance.

After that day, Celeste was more lost than on the day of the accident. No insurmountable force such as death was holding her apart from Paquito. It was another human being, though what inhumane acts he was capable of. Celeste didn’t know whether to knock on the bungalow gate once Mayor Olizar left for Manila or to wait for Paquito to come to her. She wondered if the mayor would have come between her and Paquito had the accident not occurred. She needed to believe that with one more day, one more song, one more dance, he’d listen to her as in those days now quickly fading.

The town gossiped that the mayor had breached their relationship by forcing Paquito out of the rectory at gunpoint. To their talk, Celeste retaliated with closed lips and a stoic face, and she preoccupied herself with household chores. The one time she allowed herself to express her sorrow was when she sang the “Ave Maria” during Christmas mass. She sang loudly and clearly, unaware of the gushes of wind that swayed the church bell and of the worshipers below, her eyes on cracks patterned like lightning streaks on the vaulted ceiling.

The sole person she envisioned listening to her was Paquito. Her voice resonated across the nave to the altar, up the bell tower, out to the sky over Calinte and beyond, as if such force would bless him with hearing. The rest of the choir was stunned mute. The church faintly echoed with the sniffles of worshipers mourning their losses. And in the music of the knells and the silence and the heart-wrenching sobs, Celeste heard a voice beckoning her from far away to leave Calinte – the voice of the boy she loved, maybe, or maybe the voice of God. Or maybe it wasn’t a voice distant at all but one that came from within herself.

Once mass ended, a weeping howl resounded throughout Calinte from the direction of Mayor Olizar’s bungalow. Celeste walked to the mayor’s gate, oblivious to the whispers and murmurs of the tailing crowd. On the roof, Layas was lying on his flank at Paquito’s feet. His four legs were convulsing. His translucent eyes were staring ahead at nothing. Paquito bent to pat him on his side. Layas stopped convulsing then shut his eyes once and for all.

Celeste was about to enter until Paquito stood once more. He looked at her without seeming to recognize who she was. Nor did she recognize him. His stance proud and face a blank, he was no less rooted to his spot than the armada sculpture affixed to the bungalow’s facade.

Image courtesy of farm3.static.flickr.com

Liquid Halos

Image courtesy of farm7.staticflickr.com

She hated June, the month that marks the beginning of the monsoon storms, because thunder and lightning terrified her.

“It’s like an earthquake but upside down, with heaven rumbling and splitting open,” Marissa once said.

I was seven. She was ten.

“I guess,” I said.

I had awoken to pee. Midnight had struck to a thunderclap, and the light was on. It emanated from a ceiling lamp bubble round, brightening an azure carpet and casting amid the drone of the air conditioner, in the stillness of the room, a memorial somberness to posters of Charlie Chaplin and Bruce Lee that hung above my bed. To my left, Marissa lay with the back of her head to me, deaf to my whining. There wasn’t space for two, and though I motioned with a push of my hands to budge her, I didn’t dare do so. That would have been akin to starting a fight with an older sibling, which our parents had reprimanded me was a no no.

“Be quiet,” Marissa said at last then turned to me. She had not been asleep at all. “What’s your problem?”

“You. Why are you here?”

“Too much noise outside, and it’s too dark.”

“I’m closing the light,” I said.

My sister sat up. “You mean turning off the light. You open and close a door, the refrigerator, an object. You turn on and off anything with a switch. Daddy keeps telling you that. And no, you are not.”

I stood to use the bathroom.

She laughed. “You always wear big shirts.”

“What?”

“You and your big shirts.”

“They’re comfortable.”

“You just want to pretend you’re wearing a dress.”

“No.”

“Yes,” she said. “And what’s with the colors?”

I was wearing a red Thai dye with the hem down to my thighs. Among my other pajamas were Thai dyes purple, orange, and green – a psychedelic array of what resembled thorn crowns flattened between a pair of glass panes then painted in joy. I didn’t have blue. Blue was a color our father forced on me. If I could have had my choice, my carpet would have been pink, and if Marissa could have had hers, her carpet would have been azure, pink being a color our mother forced on her.

Marissa wasn’t laughing anymore, though she did have a smirk.

What a weirdo, I thought.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

Even during the day, Marissa spent more time in my room than in her own. She had an affinity for guy stuff. The Bruce Lee poster had been her choice – a print of the actor’s mug in black against a yellow backdrop, a don’t-mess-with-me austerity to the eyes. The poster was among my possessions because I had done my sister a favor by telling our father I wanted it. We were at a book store and there Bruce Lee was. Had she asked the poster for herself, our mother would not have consented; it wasn’t fit décor for a girl. Our mother, however, did allow Marissa one indulgence, that she could have a helmet cut similar to Lee’s, and this so that she wouldn’t be stifled by the heat. I got one, too. Regardless, we didn’t look alike. While my face was rice cake rotund on account of my weight, Marissa’s was narrow. The cut on me resembled a coconut husk. On her, she really did channel the martial artist.

Marissa grabbed me by the wrist. “Angelo, you are not turning off the light.”

“I need to pee.”

“You probably sit like a girl.”

“What are you talking about?”

She let go of me. “I don’t care. It’s Daddy who does.”

“Well, you stand.”

“I did once. Sitting is easier. But I’m a real girl.”

Marissa and I each had our own bathroom, and mine was bluer than my bedroom. The moment I stepped in, I felt as though I was standing at the bottom of an aquarium. I raised my shirt the way I had seen our mother raise her skirt, oh so gingerly with fingertips on the hem.

My sister was right. I sat. As I unloaded, I wondered how many hours more till sunrise, of squeezing into a bed made for one, dreaded what more of my habits Marissa would claim to be aware of. Though the sing-song cadence of her voice echoed in my ears, she was difficult to visualize. As with an infant, her features were non-descript. The most one could say about Marissa was that her eyes, nose, and mouth were well proportioned. (The same could not be said about me. My ears protrude as trumpet funnels.) Had it not been for the earrings – silver loops the size of a miniature clock wheel – Marissa could have passed as a boy. What a feat of evolution it was when years later, while earning an art history degree in New York, she would appear on the cover of a magazine, her hair permed and blow dried and sprayed into a voluminous do the fad of the 1980s, and in the decade after, what photographers found gorgeous in her would adapt a nobility when she lost her follicles, her eyes serene with courage that each day could be her last.

The shower faucet leaked. A puddle formed around the drain. Every tap of a drop sounded as the tick-tock of a clock. Amid the hue of ocean blue, a pair of towels hung in front of me, each adorned with a rooster as vibrant as tropical fruits.

Why my fondness of colors? I didn’t have an answer because I never thought about it. Maybe I favored neon as an antidote to Marissa’s penchant for starkness, which is what had attracted her to the Bruce Lee poster. Charlie Chaplin was my choice. The guy made us laugh along with TV features of The Three Stooges. Juxtaposed with Lee, he was a treat of gummy balls. The smudge of a mustache that followed the upward curl of his lips, the church dome hat, the floppy shoes and pants so large that they seemed about to slip down at any moment… to my young mind, the Tramp was cultivating the message that no matter how crestfallen we are, a smile is never too far.

Image courtesy of librarypoint.org

Charlie Chaplin was supposed to hang above Marissa’s bed. Marissa had said no. She didn’t want anything on her walls. She preferred 3,000- piece jigsaw puzzles. The puzzle images ranged from the Tower of London to a 17th century world map, from the Manhattan skyline to cherry blossom reflections on a lake. They strewed her room like painted carvings on floor tiles, providing visuals to lands and epochs that tickled her curiosity, she who was so restless that our parents allowed her swimming lessons along with ballet, high energy activities. She would eventually insist on college in the U.S., the opportunity to be her own person since a global education was the reason our parents had enrolled us since kindergarten at the International School Manila.

I reclaimed my side of the bed.

“I like blue,” she said.

I shut my eyes. The effulgence of the ceiling lamp created an incandescent spot on a black screen. “You’re scared of the dark.” I said, “and of being alone.”

“Yes, and I like blue. That’s why I want the lights on. Always. Mommy never stops about pink – pink curtains, pink rug, pink bed cover. I like sleeping to blue just as you like to wear big shirts so that you could pretend you’re wearing a dress”

“Shut up already.”

She did, though not for long. “It’s like an earthquake, but upside down, with heaven rumbling and splitting open.”

“What do you mean?”

I opened my eyes. I was the one who was supposed to be spooked over the clashing in the ether, God’s ire. During Holy Week, Marissa and I had watched a silent film on TV that depicted the Great Flood. The image of Noah with arms raised, his hair and robe awhirl in a cyclone, his foothold on the ark deck so precarious that a gale could have tossed him into the infinite horizon, haunted me for days. The drumfires from above and rain that struck our roof with the rattle of brimstones was what I imagined Noah must have heard. That my sister would find solace in her little brother’s bed made me wonder why her fear. I would have expected Marissa to excite over the world awash in a torrent. She belonged in water. In our backyard pool, whether exercising her freestyle or her backstroke, she swam with the grace of a ballerina, Tchaikovsky’s swan in flight across blue ripples, the splashes gentle, almost silent. Our father liked to tease her that she was Olive Oyle… so thin was she and gangly her limbs… but in water, she truly was a sight to behold.

“When there’s a typhoon, that’s what it’s like.” Marissa turned her back to me once more. “Just think, when you fall into the earth or are carried away, far away up there, you’re never coming back. Hurricanes and tornadoes can do that, you know.”

“That happens outside. Inside, we’re safe.”

“Outside. Inside. Doesn’t matter. A house can be lifted away.”

“I guess.”

Another thunder, God cracking His knuckles.

“Ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba, ba… “ Marissa broke out in song. The Partridge Family, of course. She had a crush on David Cassidy, he a hippy youth with long tresses and a cheerleader smile. Apparently, I wasn’t enough of a comfort. She needed some guy who fit the bill of a girl more than she. “I think I love you. I think I love you. So what am I afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for.”

“I’m closing the light,” I said.

Image courtesy of cache.osta.ee

Of all the memories we shared, this is the first that often comes to me on moments I happen to stare into space, be it on the subway or at the office, a corner room cluttered with binders and stationery and where I generate fundraising letters for a K-8 school in San Francisco. For the entire duration I’ve been at this job, the wall pad before me has been bare save for plastic knob tacks and phone numbers. A calendar of Oscar winning films is at present the one item that gives credence to an existence apart from what I’m paid to do.

For this month of September, a watercolor poster of “Casablanca” has Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman cheek to cheek. His brow is wrinkled. An expression of surrender softens his eyes. His face is long and mopey. She radiates trust and confidence in lips parted as if to whisper eternal devotion. Blonde waves highlight a complexion that exudes an after rain freshness. “It doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world,” so goes Rick’s famous goodbye to Ilsa. As the moral artillery in her husband Victor’s fight against the Nazis, she must sacrifice the happiness she could have experienced with another man. Such is love.

Beneath the calendar, sunshine through my window frames in a glow credit card forms piled on my desk. The pavement outside is sand dune pristine, pedestrians on them scarce as are the cars that drive by, and a garage door to a house across the street glimmers with the promise of light on a projection screen. This calmness that is Pacific Heights creates the ideal neighborhood for kids: tomorrow poses no threat, while each day relegated to yesterday is one banana more that a child has consumed with one’s morning cereal, sweet and nourishing, a memory to relish.

My supervisor is out. I’ve got no pressing project. That it’s already autumn has a dual effect on me. I mourn summer, and I am also amused that in the Philippines, in another time, September was a reason for bliss; September was Marissa’s favorite month. Until it arrived, we had to endure gusty weeks. Most kids dread September, the start of the school year. Not Marissa. She equated her first step into a new classroom to the awakening of cicadas that in the monsoon had been dormant.

That’s one thing I miss – the chorus of cicadas, their chirps escalating to a crescendo as to harken the late hours, twilight’s chromium luster. Nevertheless, I choose to be here in the U.S., and the Dover School can offer its own treasures, bromidic as they may be. Take now. A teacher is reprimanding two girls in front of my open door for pushing in line. Past a file cabinet beside which a pizza box balances atop a recycle bin, the girls stand sleek in leotards and ponytails. They are far from adolescents yet already in possession of an adolescent spunkiness; neither wants to admit to having initiated the shoving. Mr. O’Farrell glances at me. A patient figure in a lumberjack shirt and a beard the density of a bird’s nest, he strains from rolling his eyes across his forehead. Down the corridor, fifth graders in a music class sing “This Land Is Your Land” to the jaunty accompaniment of a piano.

Such a familiar moment, this co-mingling of melody and infantile discordance, no matter the difference in people and place and the distance of everything.

Image courtesy of media.gettyimages.com

“Little kisses,” Marissa said during a weekend swim.

She stopped in the middle of the pool and raised her face to the sky. Earlier, she had exasperated us with her continuous record playing of the Partridge Family. The record was new and so was the player, a red and white portable box with a headshell fashioned after a doll’s hairbrush. “Marissa, why don’t you turn that off for a while,” our father had said in a manner both gentle and emphatic. Such is our father’s tenor that even when he whispers, he’s got volume.

My sister obeyed. As a reward, our father permitted her a swim. The June when she had snuck into my bed had passed. July brought us on our annual trip to the U.S., where through August, we boarded planes to visit relatives in four different states. Classes were to commence on Tuesday. September was here. The grass in the resurgence of the sun had an emerald shimmer, and if it did rain, then it was sporadic, a caress compared to the punch of a typhoon.

Marissa had been in the pool for half an hour when a cloud rolled forth, immersing in shadow the surrounding trees, the leaves grown to such opulence that they appeared to be a bundle of green birds. Pinprick indentations mapped the pool. Rings formed around them, liquid halos, then disappeared as quickly as the next drop.

“Little kisses,” she yelled.

Since I didn’t know what she meant, I put on my trunks to find out. I was with our mother, who urged Marissa from the back lanai to get out before the drizzle strengthened. Downpour aside, our mother wasn’t keen on Marissa’s spending much time outdoors. A tan to her is synonymous with the province, with farmers and rice planters – laborers. We are city folks. All my life, other people have fixed our beds, washed our dishes, and taken out our trash. Our mother allowed me to dive in only because I had the power to cajole Marissa into the house.

“Five minutes,” our mother said to me, “then you tell your ate enough,” Ate being the respectful epithet for big sister.

Our mother was dressed for the humidity – spaghetti straps, a sash that accentuated a tiny waist, and baubles to compliment a neck fair and smooth as those of an actress in old movies. She watched us from the back lanai, in a chair with a cushion that bore a daisy motif. She adores flowers, our mother does. Rattan baskets and porcelain from Japan and China decked our home. Lobster claw plants, lilies, and tree branches filled them all. One arrangement had a marble-sized fruit we call kalamansi, our native lime, ready for the picking.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

The lanai threshold was circular. Screen doors opened into the garden, to the pool yards away. Our mother sat at the center of the entrance, an empress austerity to her with back straight and head high.

My sister was right about another thing. Rain on the face is similar to a kiss multiplied by ten, a hundred, a thousand. I knew about kisses from our mother. As for Marissa, where she got the analogy beat me. I’ve never seen our mother kiss her. Our father did hug her plenty. Whatever lip pecks were involved was largely on her part. I opened my mouth to feel the patter on my tongue.

“Rain has taste,” I said. “It’s not bitter likes tears. It’s sweet.”

“It’s tasteless,” said Marissa.

“It feels sweet.”

“Sweet is a taste, not a feeling.”

“Then what it is I feel?”

Marissa gave me a sideward glance. “You’re feeling good.”

Marissa’s bathing suit was a one-piece patterned with Lifesaver stripes. She resembled a cluster of candies in a slot machine afloat on water. And she was caramel brown. None of us have ever had that hue. My yellow trunks emphasized my paleness. Plus, my tummy looked balloon inflated. No wonder our mother had a habit of pinching my cheeks and teasing me that I was delicious enough to eat. I was a dish of almond jelly and egg custard in boy form.

“I’m supposed to tell you to go in,” I said.

“I know,” Marissa said.

“Why don’t you listen to her?”

“I will.”

“When?”

“When I feel like it.”

A spurt of sun broke through the grayness. A rainbow arched over our house, a two-level abode that boasted a stucco facade and a navy-tile roof, ionic columns to a balcony balustrade and air-conditioners that protruded from windows. In the lanai, our mother sat cross-legged, hands on her lap, as to strike a pose. Our eyes met. She nodded in that commanding way of hers… I was designated to do a job and do it I must… but I shared Marissa’s sentiment. The moment was too lovely to let slip away.

Neither did our father share our mother’s anxiousness. In khakis and a golf shirt, black hair pomaded and combed high leading man style, he appeared in the lanai, a red toolbox in one hand and a drill in the other. He set them on a glass table behind our mother before he disappeared again, only to reappear with a painting, an oil that depicted a man and a woman astride a carabao – our indigenous buffalo – he in a straw hat, she in a head scarf and a white top flimsy as onion thin paper. Both were in a landscape of oscillating stalks and orange-rimmed clouds. Our father thrilled in weekends where he could engage in domestic chores. If he weren’t polishing one of the wall-length screens our mother had purchased in Hong Kong – antique gems on which were imbedded soap stone carvings of peonies, bamboo, and members of the imperial court – then he’d be hanging art.

What a mystery rain is. What a mystery Marissa is. 40 years later, I still can’t figure her out. She had been tiger tough on the exterior yet kitten scared inside three months earlier, hiding underneath my sheets upon the first typhoon of the season. On this afternoon, she outstretched her arms and neck as if she were offering herself to God’s tears.

“Maybe snow is as sweet as rain,” I said.

“Sugar balls,” she said.

“Next time we go to the States, we should go where there’s snow.”

“Yes.”

Image courtesy of farm8.static.flickr.com

By virtue of our education at the International School Manila, America intrigued us. The academic calendar at ISM coincides with that of the States, while summer for local schools fall in the months of March to May, when temperatures soar to the 90s. The heat scalds to such a degree that we would sweat the second we’d step out of a cold shower. To parallel an American education, our parents gave us an American summer: McDonald’s French fries, Hershey’s chocolate, and the very American invention of the mall.

Although we had been traveling to the U.S. ever since I was born, the trip from which we had just returned was the first to awaken in me the possibility of claiming as my own this other country. An aunt and uncle live in Cleveland, in a white house with a trio of dormer windows that rise from a black roof, on a street populated by houses of the same design. Back then, they drove a station wagon, and with our cousins, they would take Marissa and me to May Company, a department store that was a smorgasbord of Hallmark greeting cards, Betsy Clark stationery, lego, and all sorts of products dazzling to the eye – from shampoo bottles the multitude of colors in a Crayola box to plastic chairs as sumptuous as cherries and grapes, from glow-in-the-dark surfer shorts to bubble gum in wrapping the shades of Jupiter. As a souvenir, our parents bought her the record player and the Partridge Family album; I got a Superman watch and a pencil case to match.

“Okay.” Our mother stood from her chair in the lanai. She waved her arm in a come in gesture to Marissa and me. “That’s enough.”

The drizzle remained constant. It neither hardened into a barrage nor lessened into taps. A ray of light continued to pierce through a murky cloud. The world had stopped on its axis.

This time Marissa complied. Because she did, so did I.

“Why can’t you listen to me?” our mother asked.

“I’m here,” said my sister.

“Did you have to make me wait and repeat myself?”

“I’m here.”

Marissa was catching up in height to our mother, who stood at five feet but appeared taller on account of heels and her carriage. In a few years, my sister would surpass our mother in physical stature, reaching a full height of 5’6”, and the two would share an affinity for make-up and fashion, a commonality that would cause our mother to boast of her daughter’s New York move, “That city is good for her. When she walks down the streets, men strain their necks to look at her and can’t turn away. Also, she’s at Barnard College.” I might have already noticed on that afternoon the beauty Marissa would someday burgeon into. She held up her chin with the pride our mother did hers, and in her profile a delicacy marked the curvature of her lips and shoulders. Just as our mother refused to buckle, so did Marissa.

“You should have been here way before now,” our mother said, “dried up, showered, and fresh. Look at you. You’re wetting the floor.”

“You’re so bossy, Mommy.”

Our father, nail in hand against the wall where he was to hang the painting, turned to my sister. His eyes were incensed with the fury of a volcano about to erupt. “Maria Clarissa, do not answer back at your mother.”

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

“You said I could swim.”

“That doesn’t matter.” His voice reverberated in the lanai a blast of harshly articulated words. “When your mother tells you to do something, you do it.”

Marissa was mute. To our mother, she always had a response, whereas our father had never given her a cause for one. This was the only time I ever witnessed her chest cave in.

“A typhoon can slam any minute. Never mind that it’s September. It’s not safe out there,” he said and then, “Angelo, hand me the drill.”

The drill was on the glass table in front of the wall where stood our father. He extended his arm towards me. I suppose he had intended to ask our mother for the thing, but since I was present, he resorted to me. Sopping wet as my sister, I created a trail of water footprints on the floor from the threshold to the table. The drill was a gray instrument that replicated a gun. It had a massive grip, a trigger, and a drill bit that extended from a barrel. I imagined the device in operation, the screeching noise and the drill bit in furious rotation, digging mercilessly into a surface, debris spewing all over.

“Angelo,” our father said, rage still in his eyes.

No sooner had I picked up the drill when it slipped. A bang resounded. A bullet hole crack formed on the spot where it landed.

Our father did not budge. His arm remained extended towards me.

“You’re supposed to pick it up with a firm hold, not a limp wrist,” said our father.

Betsy Clark, the Partridge Family, and a Wonder Woman watch… that was the Superhero I was crazy about, Wonder Woman. There was something else about America that made me wish I were back there at that instant, something more.

“This is how you do it,” our father said. He grabbed the drill as if to crush it; so red were his fingers from the pressure. “Now you.”

In May Company’s jewelry department, as our mother gazed at herself in a counter mirror to consider for purchase a gold necklace, two men stood beside her. They were spruced up in denims, suede vests, and cowboy hats. They each had a Marlboro man mustache and that hyper male squint. The pair could have been twins. Then again, not quite. The aura about them transcended the familial. They were too close, in a shared personal space. One man placed a ring on his finger then raised his hand to admire it, after which he took it off and put it on his companion. I had never seen such intimacy between two men.

I think I love you. I think I love you. So what am I afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for.

‘“Grip harder… Again… Grip the way a man does… Again…”

“My wrist isn’t limp.”

“Again.”

“That’s enough, Elpidio,” our mother said.

The kitchen door swung open. The door was located in the dining area that led to the lanai. Our wash lady came from the maids’ quarter downstairs, holding up on a hanger a dress with seashell patterns.

Our mother continued on with my sister. “You are wearing that tonight.”

Image courtesy of fotodicasbrasil.com.br

A photo of me in the Superman watch and Marissa in the dress is on Facebook. She stands toes pointed inward at the foot of the stairs that lead to the second floor bedrooms. I am to her left. I have placed my hand on the handrail with the top of my wrist turned to the camera to show off the red and blue caped figure. The steps are varnished narra. The baluster is brass and metal coiled to form an ascending line of arabesque patterns. Such dexterity merits the proper attire. Our mother had a seamstress sew Marissa’s frock, while my outfit, a rust polyester leisure suit with bellbottoms, was tailor made.

The photo makes me chuckle. Kids walk to and fro in the corridor outside my office. The girls are dressed as if they are off to a pilates class. The boys are in basketball shorts. At any given school in the Philippines, athletic gear is exclusive to physical ed. Leave it to Facebook to punctuate the disparity between the students at the Dover School and me. My chuckle far exceeds this, however.

For our father, one shot is never enough. He takes at least three. That afternoon 40 years ago, he had one of the maids take several pictures of the four of us.

“Excited?” he asked as he put an arm around my shoulders.

“For what?” I replied.

Our father has always been a dapper figure in slacks without a crinkle and button down shirts that accentuated arms muscular from a youth of bricklaying – a package that exuded a confidence in him for having risen in social rank from laborer to owner of a construction company. As a victory laurel, he had won the admiration of a Manila socialite. I saw at that moment the impact our mother must have had on our father when he had first opened the door for her as she stepped out of a car and onto the lot where he was overseeing the building of a bank for her own father, a financier, one of the Philippines’ most notable. Holding Marissa to her bosom, our mother was prettied up in pearls and a blouse that rippled to her every movement – a raise of the arm as she instructed the maid on the camera button to click, a sway of the hips – and as she tilted her head to a quarter angle, I noticed that Marissa herself was in awe. She gazed up at our mother, straightened her stance, and positioned her toes forward. In an instant, the seashell dress that had been an awkward fit, one cut in the pattern of a nurse’s uniform, was awkward no more.

“For dinner. You kids said you wanted to go out tonight, so we’re taking you out. You wanted Italian food, so we’re having Italian.”

Whether or not the rain persisted, I don’t remember. It doesn’t matter. Our father had promised us a treat, and he has never rescinded on a promise. The events of the afternoon were behind us. Not only had I picked up the drill with a firm hold, but I had also hammered a nail into the wall, and this on my own initiative rather than on our father’s prodding. I pounded the peg with such force so that, upon the slamming of steel against steel, I was the loudest person in the lanai.

Image courtesy of fc07.deviantart.net

These photos had been set aside, buried for nearly four decades in magnetic pages stacked in a bureau and melted from the tropical heat, forgotten. The memories might have faded for good if not for digital restoration. They now jump out from the computer screen in front of me as if I am spying through a window.

I ponder how Marissa would have adapted to the internet era. She might have been keen on streaming the pop songs we grew up to, but she would not have been a Facebook fan. Remembrances of her gauche girlhood made her blush, what more that they are currently accessible at the click of a button. I complement my own boyhood pictures with selfies that show off a six-pack gained from my latest workout regimen. More importantly, Facebook connects me to our parents, who delight in showing the world that one has managed to retain an unblemished complexion and the other plays nine holes every weekend, grayness on her part and a gut on his notwithstanding.

What truly perks up our parents is the chance to post the trove of family pictures, their way of immortalizing our yesterday. They sold the house years ago. With Marissa gone and myself settled in San Francisco, they had no reason to hold on to such an enormous dwelling. Our parents today live in a condo at Fort Bonifacio, a military base turned into commercial real estate to accommodate Manila’s population influx.

Besides, I am now the lone child who visits. When I was in college at Berkeley and Marissa managed an art gallery in SoHo, the house anchored us both to our existence across the Pacific, luring us back every vacation, our rooms unchanged – mine still blue, hers still pink – save for the installment of a central air conditioning system and her floor free of jigsaw puzzles. Or perhaps our parents’ release of the house had been imminent ever since Marissa graduated high school from ISM.

“You can leave the family?” I asked in consternation to her declaration that she was off to the U.S.

“Yes,” she said.

Our parents acquiesced. Their daughter deserved the riches of the seven continents… and much more. As a woman, Marissa would be a certified scuba diver. A dear thing she would leave me with is an album of photos she had taken of her sea excursions. Star shimmering corals, rocks as porous as the moon, midnight streaks on fish sun yellow… the deep was a galaxy she would claim her own, while above, the tug boat that had brought her far away from Palawan Island or the Malibu shore waited adrift, undulating on soft current, as if it were an airship parked on a cloud.

Shortly after her 30th birthday, Marissa got married. His name is Bill. Rather than constricting her independence, Bill fostered it, teaching her to windsurf and goading her to join him on a 21-kilometer run at Angkor Wat, the cone towers gilded in the first blush of a new morn. Bill is an engineer and handsome in an all-American way – eyes the blue of Lake Placid and a jaw Mount Rushmore chiseled – yet whose neck and overbite conjure the vision of a giraffe.

“He’s not one to easily blend into a crowd,” Marissa said over the phone on the day he proposed. “How can I say no?”

And stand out Bill did, all 6’3” of him, in a black tux and a silver bow tie, his arm ornament my sister in a lace gown that in the sunshine permeating the church scintillated on her like diamonds on white petals. The open portals, bronze statues of saints encased in each, and the brightness of day through stained glass windows that could have been crafted from sapphires and rubies created a feel of space. Surrounding arches diminished Bill and Marissa to the size of a man and a woman on a wedding cake. They took their vows before an altar as majestic as a piece of the Parthenon, and in the midst of light particles that danced to the vaulted ceiling, they seemed ready to take flight.

But Marissa would have to fly alone. A year later, surrounded by bare walls, wisps of heaven outside a window would waft into her room. She had done what could be done. Treatments both medical and holistic could no longer combat the inevitable.

“If only it had been detected earlier,” our mother would bemoan.

“Stop, Mommy” Marissa said. “This is the way it is.”

Image courtesy of scienceclarified.com

My sister did have one regret, that she would not be able to visit Manila just once more. Instead, we gathered at her bedside as the TV featured footage of the latest happening in the Philippines: the eruption of Mount Pinatubo. A tsunami of volcano ash surged over stalks and palm trees. Nearby villagers coated in dust meandered on dirt roads as if the petrified corpses in Vesuvius had themselves been resurrected. The death toll of 722, a statistic that included casualties brought on by subsequent diseases and typhoons, flashed onscreen.

“The things I used to be scared of, so silly,” Marissa said. “There are worse things that happen. Even then, once it’s over, it is over.”

The month was June, on a blistering day in New York. No personal mementos occupied the night table. Marissa didn’t want any past present, only the future, which for her was represented by a medallion that bore a relief of the Pieta, and orchids, flowers she favored on account of their simplicity. She always had a sharp bone structure, but instead of rendering her face sallow, the weight and hair loss accented the sculptural quality of her features. And how soft her hands were as she rested them on her lap, two doves in repose.

“Are you sure you want to watch this?” Bill asked. He sat beside her, on the edge of the bed, almost ready to climb in.

“It’s nearly done. After this, ‘The Simpsons’ is on. We can all laugh.”

“Laugh?”

“Yes, Bill. Laugh.”

Marissa grinned at him the way she had at me the June she had first snuck into my bed. “I hate that shirt,” she said.

“That’s why I’m wearing it.” Bill had on a tee with an image of Bruce Springsteen’s jean-clad derriere against a background of red and white stripes. A red kerchief hung out of a right hip pocket, and a coffee stain blotted the center. “If you want to laugh, check out Bruce’s butt.”

“You’re such a hick.”

“So I am, but… honey… a natural disaster?”

“Oh, that shirt is so ugly.”

Our mother paced about as she talked of placing a vase here and hanging a watercolor there. “A picture of a teapot would be calming. Of roses, too.” She had been speaking of livening up the room for the two weeks since Marissa had been there. Our mother’s suit was tangerine. Two-toned pumps matched a purse. Buoyed by Marissa’s daily compliments over a purchase, she spent hours on Madison Avenue when out of the hospital. Her daughter would be in heels soon enough, it seemed.

“She’s a minimalist,” our father said to honor my sister’s wish of a stark room. He stood with arms folded, his big boss stance. Our father’s shirt was pink linen with a Mandarin collar. The shirt had been my choice, while my own shirt was blue, also my choice. I was glad to keep our mother company at Barneys, and I had come to appreciate blue as much as our father did pink. The color complimented his whitening hair.

Me, I was a mute figure in a chair. I sided with Bill. Marissa’s insistence on news of a cataclysm on the par of Armageddon was weird. But who were we to change the channel? We were her visitors.

Image courtesy of images2.aystatic.com

The Dover School is fundraising for an innovation lab, a physical space where students with tools that range from a pencil to a hammer can design and execute projects that encourage trial and error and learning through failure: a velocipede, a telescope, a thermometer… As Marissa’s jigsaw puzzles did for her, the pertinacity to complete a whole can inspire these kids to dream, not only for themselves, but also for others. Marissa herself once envisioned that our father would erect a building higher than the clouds, a monument of a home.

“Maybe typhoons won’t be scary up there,” she said on that rainy night our father treated us to Italian food. “We’d be above the mess down here. When the sky clears, we’d have a view of everything. Every mountain. Every valley. Every rooftop. Everything.”

I was gorging on my pizza. A lit candle on our table flickered shadows on Marissa’s lasagna, and in the soft light, with her before a reef tinted wall, silver threads to the seashells on her dress sparkled as if she were a creature of the deep.

“Everything,” I repeated.

The word would resound in my head in the midst of what our father dubbed her “minimalist” surrounding. For all we accumulate since birth, we leave with nothing, not even laughter. No wonder hospitals are frightful. Rooms possess the desolation of a jail cell.

Screw “The Simpsons.”

“No,” I wanted to block the TV and declare as if I were some soap character that had popped out of the screen. “Things don’t end just like that. The rest of us go on living. Small as we are, our loss is as big as today’s headlines. Tomorrow needs to hurry, so I can get on with this business of starting again. I’ve still got my dreams.”

Instead, I sat through the shenanigans of America’s most beloved family as the flames of a setting sun made way for stars and my stomach growled for a roast chicken.

Nobody laughed. Rooted to Marissa’s side by the window, Bill flashed some teeth. That was all. I was with our parents on the other side, the door behind us. They were seated now. Our chairs were foam padded and covered in cream upholstery, fluffy to the touch and celestial to behold so that along with the numbness of the moment, we could have been floating in air. Bill turned off the TV. The room fell silent. All those around me looked old, weary, their faces furrowed and eyes damp, as if everyone had forgotten what is to be.

Image courtesy of blog.jonolan.net

Except Marissa.

“Sweet September drizzle,” I whispered.

Marissa laid her head back.

“Lifesavers… Leaf wings… God’s kisses…”

So soft was her pillow that she seemed to sink into a cloud.

“I think I love you. I think I love you. So what am I afraid of? I’m afraid that I’m not sure of a love there is no cure for.”

Marissa shut her eyes.

Won’t you eat a chicken with me? I thought. What happens now?

If I could share with my sister the answer that life has provided over the years, here’s what I’d tell her:

Bill has remarried. Katrina is from Texas, born and raised, and of Mexican descent. The pairing of a Southern drawl with a swarthy face and eyes the black of melanite can be jarring, though only for the first few minutes that you meet her. She has a smile so infectious that you succumb to her warmth, and the way she says hello, you’d think you were the only human she cared to be with. They have a son, a lanky teen who wears his hair anime style, long so as to cover his ears and jaggedly cut. Lance is on his first year at New York University. He wants to be a scriptwriter, which is what Farley is.

Farley… such a dorky name, as is the man who owns it. He’s got a duck walk and a unibrow, black-rimmed glasses on a conical nose. He’s also able to unbolt the screws to a hubcap with one yank of a wrench, his forearms Popeye pumped; he makes the best paellas with jumbo shrimps and the spiciest chorizos; and his imagination has got Daddy and Mommy hooked on Netflix.

“Clever,” Daddy said of one film about an old farmer in the Idaho outback who with his dog, an Irish setter named Auburn, reunites a boy and his family and uncovers a drug ring. Mommy said it made her cry. “You must be proud of him,” she commented to me. “I am,” I said.

None of the films Farley writes would ever screen in the Philippines. He does indie work, not Hollywood big budgets, which are the only features that sell internationally. I love this auteur element about Farley… it shows an uncompromising disposition to be true to himself… and whatever it is he loves about me has kept us together for eight years. Today is our anniversary.

I can go on, but these are the important stuff. Goodbye for now.

The corridor outside my office is quiet. The students have been dismissed. The garage to the house across the street has dimmed, though it isn’t entirely blank. It never is. History makes us see things that aren’t there, our thoughts projected through a camera ensconced in our memories. I wonder what family today occupies our house from long ago, if at the moment a brother and his sister are bobbing in the pool, rain kisses on their cheeks amid liquid halos.

Image courtesy of images.pond5.com

Rock Hudson: Love, Betrayal, and the Fall of an Idol

Image courtesy of history.com

His real name was Roy Harold Scherer, Jr. Hollywood needed something more glamorous on theater marquees, so it took two of the world’s natural wonders – the Rock of Gibraltar and the Hudson River – and baptized the 6’4″ truck driver from Winnetka, Illinois (population of 12,105 in 1950) with a moniker crafted from the first words of each. A star was born. The first matinee idol of his kind, Rock Hudson ushered in the era of the earthy he-man.

Indeed, the hunk was all about the American outdoors. In “Giant” (1956), Hudson is the quintessential cowboy, a strapping figure that races on horseback across the Texas planes amid a panorama of mountains and a vast sky. As Jane Wyman’s love interest in “All That Heaven Allows” (1955), he’s a gardener in jeans and a lumberjack top, with trees building high and a storm of leaves his habitat. Even in his pairing with Doris Day in some of the best romantic comedies ever made – “Pillow Talk” (1959), “Lover Come Back” (1961), and “Send Me No Flowers” (1964) – Hudson is every lady’s stud and every dude’s pal. Yes, guys liked him, too.

Image courtesy of cosqui.com

Rock Hudson was easily a film maker’s jackpot. His appeal extended to regions beyond the United States coastline. My mother herself was a fan. A comely 17-year-old in the mid-1950s, she was featured in a Philippine newspaper supplement in which she listed among her favorite things red roses and Rock Hudson flicks. 30 years later, my sister, as well, regarded him as exceptional among the leading men of his era. A wholesome, masculine image could explain the actor’s multi-generational popularity, particularly among females. James Dean was too tortured. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/rebel-without-a-cause-rage-against-the-dying-of-the-light/)  Marlon Brando was too mercurial. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/on-the-waterfront-sin-and-salvation/) Montgomery Clift was too withdrawn. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/a-place-in-the-sun-a-love-worth-dying-for/ )

Personally, I find the vulnerability integral to method acting sexy. The way Dean, Brando, and Clift manifested their soft spots beneath the armor of the classic white tee instructed me as an adolescent that manhood is not about bravado. Manhood is a complex state of being where, under attack, a guy defends his convictions of love and respect towards his fellow humans, unashamed to fall should a punch on the nose impair his footing. The honor is in the fight.

While for a boy, this makes for metamorphic cinema, a girl is reared to view manhood from a different perspective. Let’s begin with the Walt Disney fairy tales. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1920s-1950s/snow-white-and-the-seven-dwarfs-someday-my-prince-will-come/) Every princess needs a prince, for only he has the power to rescue her from life’s perils and only in matrimony will she be assured happiness. Hence, girls grow into women with the notion that marriage is an immutable future. Fairy tales continue to exist for them, although in a different mode: Hollywood.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

This is why Rock Hudson was perfect. He was the alpha male that embodied princely characteristics. No matter the bind he was in, no crack ever appeared on his veneer. Even with hair unkempt, he was immaculately groomed, and that face – the strong chin and eminent nose, the dusky eyes and broad forehead – evoked the artistry of Mount Rushmore.

The irony and the misfortune is that Rock Hudson himself needed saving. He was homosexual. As Hollywood’s premier box office draw, a revelation of his true nature would have lost studios millions of audiences and billions of dollars. Women would have been distraught. Men would have gloated. Everybody would have been disgusted. The attitude in pre-Stonewall America was that being gay was a psychological disorder, a condition that tweaked the brain to blindside a man to a sense of morals. And so the fate of those whose sexual disposition I share – a societal deprivation to love that drove them to dark alleys and public restrooms in search of human warmth.

Image courtesy of wordpress.com

According to author Armistead Maupin, best friend to Hudson back in the day, the actor sought refuge in San Francisco. What an earthquake of desire Hudson must have triggered upon treading the city’s seven hills, followed by a blaze of broken hearts in his wake. Who could say no to one of filmdom’s most spectacular images?

Regardless, carnal release is momentary and skin deep, though we try to convince ourselves otherwise. With a hunger in the soul, we continue on our foray to cavernous venues like animals in a burrow scrounging for nourishment. Unfortunately, the subterfuge did not certify discretion for Hudson. Confidential magazine got wind of his secret and threatened to expose him. To protect Hollywood’s cash box, agent Henry Wilson sacrificed Tab Hunter, another closeted swooner, to the gossip mill instead, then married off Hudson to his secretary, Phyllis Gates, whom Wilson’s biographer revealed years later to be a lesbian.

Image courtesy of twimg.com

How crippling it must have been, this masquerade, this lying to the world. A draconian attitude towards homosexuality conditioned Rock Hudson to believe that he was an aberration of a human being. So ingrained was his self-loathing that when he became the most famous face of AIDS in the 1980s, he denied being gay.

My early adulthood coincided with the actor’s return as front page news. I was a freshman in college, a boy from the Philippines new to America, where its liberal atmosphere emboldened me to confront my own homosexuality. Since I was focused on the issue of being in the closet, I was ignorant of the Reagan administration’s refusal to tackle the AIDS epidemic. Politics had no role in my current crush (a German-Puerto Rican skateboarder named Ralph who had a deep voice, a square jaw, and a rounded derriere that a pair of Levi’s 501’s accentuated). Instead, the tabloid headlines of Rock Hudson imperiling “Dynasty” star Linda Evans due to a kiss when he guest-appeared on the TV series seized my attention, as did the jokes that sprouted from Hudson’s ongoing drama to survive. The man was entertainment. His suffering bore no link to me.

I was wrong. I recently watched on youtube an account of Hudson’s last months. While in Paris to receive treatment, he was staying at the Ritz-Carlton, gaunt and bed-ridden. Nobody wanted to hug him. Nobody wanted to touch him. To those who came into contact with him, if only by their mere presence of standing a few feet away, he was the loneliest person they had ever seen. What a colossal fall for a man formerly glorified as a specimen of masculine superiority. Such an elevated status is a set-up for rejection. We are all mortal. We all grow old. We all succumb to ailments. The more idealized we are, the harsher the world can be as our humanness betrays itself through every personal setback.

Image courtesy of cdn.trendhunterstatic.com

Farrah Fawcett comes to mind. (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/farrah-fawcett-the-kiss-of-providence/) In her middle age, psychotic episodes such as vandalism of a lover’s property and incoherency on “The David Letterman Show” turned her into a stooge. Then news broke out that she was dying. Luckily for Fawcett, the virus that claimed her life did not denigrate her as a reprobate. We kept vigil. We hoped and we prayed. So did she. Ultimately, the bravery with which Farrah Fawcett faced cancer earned her something denied Rock Hudson – our respect.

As much as we’d like to believe in progress, times have not entirely changed. Despite the internet exposure to customs and lifestyles different from our own, allowing for an increased acceptance of openly gay actors such as Matt Bomer and Wentworth Miller, a code of silence continues to muzzle big budget performers whose careers are cemented in a macho image. Number one would be Tom Cruise. (http://www.rafsy.com/actors-models-directors/tom-cruise-the-art-of-survival/) Speculation has hounded him for decades so that every one of my friends is convinced that he’s gay. “He should just admit it,” a co-worker at San Francisco AIDS Foundation said, “Nowadays it doesn’t matter.”

Oh, but it does. Bare in mind that Cruise’s films do not screen in politically correct San Francisco alone, but also in the Deep South and the Midwest, in Russia and China… in places across the globe where homosexuality remains a perversion, and in some countries, a crime. Should it make headlines that Cruise prefers brawn to breasts, then ticket sales will plummet, movie studios will lose money, and Cruise will be jobless. No homophobe wants to see one derided as a pansy kissing a beautiful woman and touting a gun as he embarks on hair-raising exploits to save the world. Viewers would consider Tom Cruise both a fraud and an affront to manhood. Never mind that acting is all about… well… acting. When it comes to cinema icons, the line between fact and fiction is non-existent.

Image courtesy of femmesfatales.typepad.com

And so the tragedy that is Rock Hudson. He died at 59. For all his capacity to make men laugh and women fall in love, the press summed up his legacy in a single acronym: AIDS. That was enough for a once adoring public to turn its back on him.

“Moonlight”: The Birth of a New Dawn

Image courtesy of highlandernews.org

On my 25th high school reunion with the International School Manila (ISM), I ran into a guy who used to bully me. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/big-the-best-that-we-can-be/) The moment was not only nerve wrecking but also unexpected. Robert had left after middle school and was at the reunion by invitation from an alumnus with whom he had kept in touch over the decades. Until then, I would occasionally wonder what ever had happened to Robert. He had been orangutan portly with dark hair and beady eyes, and I envisioned him in adulthood as an obese lout, surviving on a diet of beer and McDonald’s, his home in America a cigarette cesspool of a trailer car.

A man the complete opposite stood before me. Robert was Mr. Clean incarnate – bald, brawny, and sporting a collarless white tee. He approached me at the poolside buffet to compliment me on my own musculature and then, “I don’t recognize you. I recognize almost everybody here but you.” I responded that I remembered him very well, referencing his heavy weight when we had been kids as proof, though I dared not mention the homophobic epithets he would hurl at me. As the sensation of worms churning in my insides debilitated me as if I were once again 11 years old, Robert expressed pride in the trajectory his life had taken since leaving ISM. Karate put him in shape, and a job first as a policeman followed by one as a juvenile correctional officer enabled him to release his aggression on the right side of the law. “So you beat up guys,” I said. “I’ve been known to do that,” he said with a laugh.

Image courtesy of dnaindia.com

Some past traumas stay with us through adulthood, and bullying is one of them. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/carrie-it-gets-better/) The trick is how to put it behind us. The It Gets Better Project was founded in 2011 in response to the reports in recent years of verbal and physical assaults directed at gay, lesbian, and transgender youths. Its website (www.itgetsbetter.org) offers video clips of former victims who have prospered as adults; in effect, relaying the message that the torment endured in childhood and adolescence should not cause one to languish but to strengthen, for the future is about rebirth. Finally, we are taking an aggressive stand against an issue too long ignored. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2015, the number of suicides among youths between the ages of ten and 24 amounts to 4,400 a year, with bullying a primary impetus. (http://www.heyugly.org/aboutStatistics.php) Due to the disturbing statistic, cinema itself is bringing attention to this social ill.

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

One such film is “Moonlight” (2016). A coming-of-age, coming out tale, it follows a boy’s life as he braves face beatings in school and name callings at home. We are introduced to Chiron when he is just about ten years old, nicknamed Little for his timid personality. Little (Alex Hibbert) is fleeing from a pack of neighborhood no-gooders when he gets cornered in an abandoned motel. There he meets Juan (Mahershala Ali), who comes to his rescue and ultimately becomes the boy’s surrogate father. The bullying worsens in Chiron’s teens, though sexual identity is of no provocation. Lanky in oversized clothes and with head bowed as if in constant remorse, a young Chiron (Ashton Sanders) is prime target, a cat in a lion’s den. High school sucks, and home is no haven when mom is a junky who digs into her son’s pockets for cash to fund her next rush.

As an adult, Chiron (Trevante Rhodes) travels far for a fresh start. He drops the name Chiron for Black and, with a new identity, develops his physique into a steamroller of muscles, brandishing jewelry and gold teeth. No one dares mess with a hulky Black. However, the stony exterior belies the tumult within. Too much has happened to Chiron for him to simply let go, until he reconnects with childhood buddy, Kevin (André Holland), and onward he treads on a path to love and forgiveness.

Sexual awakening is petrifying to the young. It spurs a sensation never before felt, a mystery we boys seek the answers to in men’s magazines found hidden in our fathers’ closets. For those of us who experience lust for one of our own gender, there is no answer, and thus we fumble through the maze to a destination of discovery. So it is for Chiron. Evenings for him have a sensuous aura. The tide is high. The moon is a crystal ball of electricity. One night he has a wet dream. A 16-year-old Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is smiling a smile part mischievous, part inviting. He is fornicating with a girl in some outdoor space at the end of a labyrinthine passageway: a terrace, maybe, or an alley. Chiron watches from a doorway, drowning in a cauldron of terror and desire. The smile is directed at him.

Image courtesy of wordpress.com

We all experience a Kevin of sorts. Mine was in the body of Guy, another boy who picked on me in the sixth grade. While I detested Robert, my feelings for Guy were contradictory. He had dark hair cut in the signature 1970s fashion of feather bangs, freckles, and that slightly bow-legged jock strut. Robert, he, and I were in the same gym class. One day in the locker room, Robert, seated on a bench, pulled a prank on Guy by attempting to yank his briefs from his ankle so that he was hopping on one foot, laughing like a goofball as his penis flopped. The vision of Guy naked was one I would have for the rest of my prepubescence on many nights that I lay in bed. He may have been a jackass, but I didn’t hate him.

Guy also didn’t proceed onto high school at ISM. Nobody I know of had maintained contact with him either. What man he became is hard to tell, for even bullies can undergo changes that vitalize in them a latent kindness. Here’s a case study courtesy of my brother-in-law. The quarterback to his Long Island high school would threaten to beat up other boys if they refused to do his homework. According to Steve, “He had to repeat a grade twice. That’s how dumb he was.” The footballer was aged 16 in a class of 14-year-olds. Fast forward 45 years later. He is now a science teacher in that same Long Island high school. Student comments Steve has googled are awash with commendations on his friendly disposition. “He’s such a nice guy,” they chime.

At the 25th class reunion, Robert took the initiative to reintroduce himself to everyone, exerting the extra measure to compliment married men for having beautiful wives. Two years later, I learned on Facebook that Robert died of a heart attack. I wouldn’t call his passing retribution. I’d call it irony. He seemed to be making amends for past reprehensible behaviors. Then fate dealt a blow. I was rather surprised at my sadness when reading the news, for I carried no grudge towards Robert, never had. Neither did I care for an apology during our brief interaction as grown men. A state of dither aside, I had allowed bygones to be bygones a long time before. Cutting loose enabled me to thrive through the decades so that I embraced my sexual identity in college and, shortly thereafter, came out in San Francisco.

Image courtesy of giphy.com

This spirit of strength in letting go suffuses “Moonlight” like a haunting melody. In certain African mythology, the moon is the goddess of creation, a symbol of motherhood and fertility. Its light promises the birth of a new dawn, and as the sun rises, we see more clearly where tomorrow is meant to take us.

“Ice Castles”: Through the Eyes of Love

Image courtesy of wordpress.com

“Ice Castles” (1978) promises a story that will get you sobbing into a Kleenex. Let’s start with the Martin Hamlisch/Melissa Manchester theme song. Soft focus silhouettes naked trees. A figure skater performs loops and axels in a snowy wonderland. Hair Goldilocks blonde, she is covered from head to feet in white winter apparel. Music starts with the tap of a piano, a soothing tune that evokes a ballerina in a jewelry box, and then a lover’s plea:

Please don’t let this feeling end. It’s everything I am, everything I want to be. I can see what’s mine now, finding out what’s true since I found you, looking through the eyes of love.

Eyes are primary in “Ice Castles,” literally and allegorically. Lexie Winston (Lynn-Holly Johnson) is an ascending star, Olympic material. During an ice skating stunt, she suffers a fall, banging her head against tables and chairs chained together at the edge of the rink. The accident claims Lexie’s sight, which drives the girl to hole up in her home, dreams of gold thwarted, until boyfriend Nick Peterson (Robby Benson) demands she stop with self-pity and prove herself a champion. With Lexie’s will invigorated, Nick becomes her eyes.

“Ice Castles” doesn’t offer much surprises. The movie is set up so that from the moment tragedy strikes, we know our heroine will rise above it, doubly so upon the guidance of a handsome beau who serves as her motivational pillar. Yet as we all know, cinema speaks to us because it lends verisimilitude to our personal trials, a looking glass to the human ability to soar as a sparrow from the abyss of despair, and “Ice Castles” is no exception.

Now I can take the time. I can see my life as it comes up shining now. Reaching out to touch you, I can feel so much since I found you, looking through the eyes of love.

Image courtesy of wordpress.com

Tragedy recognizes no boundaries, an unwelcome presence lurking in the shadows eager to violate our well-being at any moment, anywhere. We could never have expected the turn of events on April 15, 2013. What started as a jubilant marathon in downtown Boston ended in chaos. A pair of terrorists detonated two homemade bombs concealed in a backpack. Building fronts blasted. Rivulets of blood flowed on streets and pavements. The attack killed three people and injured more than 260.

In the years since, the media have followed the recovery process of some of the victims, their resilience an example to all. Dancer Adrianne Haslet-Davis, her left leg now a prosthetic, has returned to the stage, and severe burns on James Costello did not prevent the man from finding love with nurse Krista D’Agostino. (http://people.com/celebrity/boston-marathon-bombings-one-year-later-5-inspiring-stories-about-survivors/) Newlyweds Patrick Downes and Jessica Kensky endured a combination of 40 operations on their limbs and ruptured ears, with Downes losing one leg and Kensky losing both, yet married they remain and indefatigable in their rehabilitation, which for Kensky included writing a children’s book, “Rescue and Jessica: A True Friendship,” based upon her relationship with her rescue dog. (http://people.com/human-interest/boston-marathon-bombing-survivors-patrick-downes-jessica-kensky-hbo-doc/)

Image courtesy of chud.com

Image courtesy of chud.com

Then we have the most famous endurance story of all, that of Christopher Reeve. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/superman-a-lasting-legacy/ ) In 1995, following an equestrian accident in which he was thrown off a horse, Reeve was hospitalized in a week-long state of delirium, only to regain his mental stability a quadriplegic. He wanted to commit euthanasia. His wife, Dana, didn’t deny his wish, but in her promise that she would never desert him if he were to give life a second chance, he turned his handicap into incentive for a new beginning. Reeve founded the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation and spoke at the Democratic National Convention, appeared on Larry King and gave speeches across the country, all on a mission to promote awareness of and fund research for physical disabilities. On the creative side, he remained as dogged as ever, producing and starring in a 1998 remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) as well as authoring his autobiography, “Still Me,” and making a guest appearance on “Sesame Street.”

Nobody wants to go through what Lexie in “Ice Castles” does, and while we commiserate with her, we are tears and smiles when the end credits roll. “Ice Castles” is just a movie. Back to reality, we read the papers, walk the dog, and empty the trash, mindless of how crucial our physical faculties are in accomplishing the most routine task. To appreciate, we need to lose, as Boston marathoner Jessica Kensky did on that fateful April day in 2013; hence, the change in the way she reflects on the past: “I’ll think back to Christmas and say, ‘Oh, yeah. I had legs then, that Christmas’ or ‘Oh, I had a right leg at that birthday party.’”

Image courtesy of fandango.com

Lest we think we are safe in our bubble, darkness of another sort threatens to fall upon us. Heed the words of Great Britain’s heir to the throne (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MY2m6JKQKeY):

“A recent report suggests that attacks are increasing on Yazidis, Jews, Ahmadis, Baha’is and many other minority faiths. And in some countries, even more insidious forms of extremism have recently surfaced which aim to eliminate all types of religious diversity. We’re also struggling to capture the ripple effects of such persecution.”

Prince Charles’s 2016 Christmas speech summates a year that witnessed the rise to power of Donald Trump, Rodrigo Duterte, and Maha Vajiralongkorn. Trump took oath on January 20, 2017 as the 45th president of the United States of America. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/race-triumph-of-the-will/ ) This despite campaign speeches that roused antipathy among his supporters towards marginalized groups, primarily immigrants and people of color, and that inflamed Islamophobe by categorizing all Muslims as potential terrorists. It should be no surprise that the first head of state he personally called to invite to his inauguration ceremony was Duterte, himself notorious as the Donald Trump of the Philippines because of his denigrating remarks about women and persons with disabilities. Add Vajiralongkorn to the bag of questionable rulers. The Thai king has raised eyebrows on account of his womanizing and addiction to gambling, but none more so than when he appointed his pet poodle, Fufu, as air chief marshal of the Royal Thai Air Force in 2007.

Image courtesy of diyblogger.net

With such amorality exhibited among the three, we can indeed only struggle to capture the ripple effects of religious persecution, which include the elimination of LGBT rights, an escalation in hate crimes, and the ferment of white supremacy groups. The F.B.I. has confirmed that by orders of Vladimir Putin, Russia – a nation that condemns gays and lesbians – hacked the American presidential election in favor of Donald Trump. The day after his win, swastikas were spray painted on walls and automobiles in cities from coast to coast. The bigoted ideology that these men uphold as leaders of two of the most powerful countries on the planet sets a dangerous example to humanity.

The world seems to be reverting to the 1950s, a decade Senator Joseph McCarthy mired in xenophobia with his Communist witch hunt, branding treacherous anyone who lived by convictions disconnected from Anglo-Christian values. Many are once again blind to the colors that illuminate our neighborhoods and deaf to the diversified voices that harmonize around us. With homogeneity enforced upon us, we are crippled from being true to who we are. Fear not. The 1960s came to the rescue. As Hillary Clinton pronounced in her last campaign speech, “Love trumps hate.” The cloudy days that loom nearby could only mean another Civil Rights Movement awaits in the horizon.

Like a figure skater, history goes in circles, and whenever champions fall, they get back on their feet.

Image courtesy of m.rgbimg.com

“An Affair to Remember”: The Nearest Thing to Heaven

“Winter must be cold for those with no warm memories. We’ve already missed the spring.”

Image courtesy of pinimg.com

Love hurts and love delights, but never in equal measure. Because all things come to an end, the best we can do is to assure that as we look back on a voyage, we do so with contentment. Relationships, be they romantic or platonic, have their share of rough seas. Some sink, and some are smooth sailing until a divergent path causes both parties to drift their separate ways. Some reach one destination, and some lose their course only to emerge further on intact from a gale.

We always hope that the people we welcome into our lives are for keeps. They raise us to our feet when have fallen, shine a light on us when we are lost, and hold sacred our secrets. Their goodness affords us a glimpse of paradise. I am grateful that I have never been betrayed… every friend and love interest have been trustworthy… though I no longer remain in contact with many of those to whom I was closest. Such is life. Nothing is permanent. Paradise – that’s a fixed state that exists in the hereafter. Or in romance movies. Through Facebook, we do try our best to hold on, which is utter folly, for Facebook hardly counts in sustaining a relationship. The photos on a person’s account wall don’t include us; messaging is a cop out for a heart-to-heart conversation; and clicking the Like option to a posting barely expresses the extent to which we care. Instead of regaining for us an intimacy lost, images of our once dearest pals getting married, starting families, and growing old reveal how they have thrived without us.

As a freshman at Tufts University, I was a kid fresh off the plane from the Philippines, socially gauche and intimidated by the Greek system, which was a major component to assimilating into campus life. My roommates, one from Puerto Rico and the other from a Massachusetts town called Franklin, rushed at the same fraternity and formed a bond as brothers. Even so, Jorge and David F accepted me as a buddy. With Jorge, the connection was cultural. We Filipinos are Latin in our propensity for dance music and melodrama. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/the-law-of-desire-lunacy-and-obsession/)  He and I were more Barry White than Bruce Springsteen, “Love’s Theme” our favorite White composition, and we regaled over balladeers to Tagalog and Spanish songs affecting heartache with voices that cracked, as if they were breaking down in tears. Jorge had hawk eyes and Ernest Borgnine brows, thick and bushy. His favorite past time: weekend fiestas with other Latinos at Tufts. David F, an all-American athlete handsome in the mode of a news anchor (think Tom Brokaw), possessed an openness to diverse cultures no matter that he had never boarded an airplane until November of our freshman year to spend Thanksgiving in New York. He was the first person I came out to, and after our graduation up until the second millennium, we kept each other abreast with our jobs and personal happenings.

Image courtesy of wikimedia.org

The candidness in my friendship with David F bolstered my confidence as a gay man so that when I moved to San Francisco in 1990, I found my niche in the LGBT community. Eric, a flirt of the highest order, constantly wore tight shorts to show off muscular legs. Tony was his foil, a gregarious presence with an enormous smile and a baritone voice. They were both Filipino. Sean was Vietnamese and himself into weight training. On the subdued side, he was soft spoken and wore metal-rimmed glasses that gave him a studious air. David V was half Filipino, half Mexican, with full features and thick, high hair that never fell into disarray. Together we dined, worked out, and went clubbing. We exchanged opinions of what it was to be men of color in a subculture that promoted as the epitome of male desirability the Caucasian Adonis. At last, I found friends I could relate to, who empathized with my insecurities, struggle with self-image, and quest for love.

Each of these guys, from David F to David V, has blessed me with memories to cherish. “An Affair to Remember” (1957) occurs in several forms like the movie itself, which has undergone quite a few versions, the most popular being that with Cary Grant and Deborah Kerr. Nickie Ferrante (Grant) and Terry McKay (Kerr) meet on a cruise. The opening credits reveal the time of year. The trees in Central Park are bare of leaves. The ground is white. The silhouette of the Empire State building towers in the background behind a gauze of mist and snowflakes. Yet how warm it is on the cruise… companionship is the antidote for frostbites… and how can we ask for better company than two of the most beautiful movie stars of the day, entangled in an affair beset with conflicts. Nickie is fiancé to an American heiress (Neva Patterson). Terry is girlfriend to a rich man (Richard Denning) who provides her with financial support.

Image courtesy of media.mnn.com

The two are so sophisticated that it’s incredulous he’s actually hard on cash, laboring as a billboard painter upon terminating his engagement on account of Terry, while she, single again for the sake of Nickie, earns a paycheck as a nightclub chanteusse. He’s also got a grandma (Cathleen Nesbitt) who lives in the South of France, in a house perched on a hill. Baroque furniture decorates the interior, while a miniature Eden beautifies the premise. Grandmother Janou is hardly lacking in funds. Still, an obstacle other than another man and another woman needs to prevent our lovers from living happily ever after as the ship docks in New York.

So Nickie and Terry agree to meet at the top of the Empire State Building in six months, the projected time Nickie gives himself to be an economically stable man, which indeed he becomes as his canvasses sell like lemonade on a blistering summer day. “I was looking up,” Terry later says of the afternoon when she was rushing through the Manhattan traffic to keep their rendezvous. “It was the nearest thing to heaven,” she says of the iconic edifice. Nevertheless, averting our eyes to the sky instead of focusing them on a busy street is a reckless move.

Image courtesy of webdesignhot.com

What a voyage for Nickie and Terry. As Terry says on the final night of the cruise, “We’ve already missed the spring.” Since they are of a certain age, they see this as their last chance at true love, and therefore, the decision to go full steam ahead, whether or not they reach a shared destination, lose their course, or sink. Whatever the result, they would live adored in each other’s memories. As for me, my own aforestated friendships didn’t come to a stormy halt. Since some of us moved to other cities, geography caused us to drift apart. The one relationship charged with tension would be that with Doug. (http://www.rafsy.com/films-1960s-1990s/edward-scissorhands-a-volatile-friendship/)

Doug and I last saw each other in September of 2016, when he visited me from Los Angeles and stayed at my place. We’ve been friends since 1991. That would be close to 26 years. He’s Mid-Western American. I’m Filipino. Despite the cultural difference, we are similar in our global education (he had spent a college year in Scotland while I in France) and affinity for nice clothes (Ralph Lauren pants for less than a hundred bucks at I. Magnin’s closing sale). Above all, we come from a common family background, one that emphasizes traveling as a means of intellectual enhancement and personal growth. Paired with a physical attraction, we had plenty to talk about, which has not been the case in recent years. Much has gone on with us that we have not confided in each other. Doug has compared our rift to a sibling leaving for boarding school; the kinship remains, but the distance has caused a change in the relationship. His two-week visit was curtailed to two days, during which a yelling match erupted over my persistence for an Uber that never showed up and his mess of food crumbs in my kitchen.

“Turn the boat around,” Terry McKay implores in “An Affair to Remember.” It is now summer in New York. Autumn will f0llow soon enough, winter in its stead, and then Terry will be another year older. Hers is an impossible request, for in life, the past can only be relived in remembrances and, when that fails, in art. But we do have second chances, even when we’ve missed the spring. For as long as we are alive, nothing is ever finished.

Friends and lovers have a way of coming back; herein is our piece of heaven on earth.

Image courtesy of widescreenmuseum.com

“Brief Encounter”: No Ordinary Love

Image courtesy of emptyeasel.com

“This can’t last. This misery can’t last… Nothing lasts really, neither happiness nor despair. Not even life lasts very long. There’ll come a time in the future when I shan’t mind about this anymore.”

Here’s the thing about passion. No matter how happily married we may be, devoted to our spouses in the comfort of a cozy home, our needs and future secured, a gorgeous stranger appears like an angel descended to earth and removes a piece of grit from our eye as we are about to board a train. It’s a scene we only know as true in novels and films. Alas, because it has become our reality, we refuse to let the moment pass, regardless the stakes. Nothing in life is entirely an accident. For such magic to spark what would have been a typical day must be a message from the forces of destiny. So begins the romance between our hapless couple, Laura Jesson (Celia Johnson) and Dr. Alec Harvey (Trevor Howard), in “Brief Encounter” (1945).

Image courtesy of i0.wp.com

When at attempt at art produces an outcome that is either fabulous or feeble, we know it. The work moves us or it doesn’t. We applaud or we wince. While individual expression is paramount to an artist, certain rules are unbreakable. For one, shun clichés. Every narrative since the inception of storytelling has generally followed a prescribed path: 1) the introduction of a set of characters and the problem that besets them; 2) the catalyst that incites the characters to action; 3) the conflict that causes them to change; and 4) the resolution wherein they face their problem with a new gained wisdom that leads to the conclusion. Clichés are booby traps at every turn, particularly with a love story. Cast a beautiful woman and a handsome man as the lead characters. Make one or both of them married. Have them at first resist temptation and then succumb to it. Let guilt weigh on them. The conclusion is up for grabs, but no matter what, lamentations of heartache are compulsory. What a tremendous undertaking indeed to create a romance more on the level of Gustave Flaubert (http://www.rafsy.com/art-of-storytelling/in-defense-of-flaubert-and-austen/) than Nicholas Sparks (http://www.rafsy.com/films-2000s-present/the-notebook-do-not-forget-do-not-forget/).

Somehow, “Brief Encounter” accomplishes in avoiding paperback melodrama while remaining true to the arc of a traditional narrative. The situation that involves our lovers is really so very “ordinary,” which is a word Laura Jesson as narrator repeats to underscore the surprise of how dramatic her story itself turns out:

“I’m an ordinary woman. I didn’t think such violent things could happen to ordinary people. It all started on an ordinary day, in the most ordinary place in the world, the refreshment room at Milford Junction… I looked up and saw a man come in from the platform. He had on an ordinary mac. His hat was turned down, and I didn’t even see his face. He got his tea at the counter and turned. Then I did see his face. It was rather a nice face.”

Image courtesy of leninimports.com

Laura and Alec are British, proper and eloquent in the way folks who spend much time with books are. No tumultuous condition such as war poisons their passion with urgency and death. No locale fabled for romance serves as the backdrop. The setting is 1938. The relationship that burgeons between Laura and Alec happens in the most mundane fashion, a lunch followed by a movie. They are each spouse to another, and because they rendezvous in a town that like any other town is prone to gossip, they limit their kisses to the shadows in the underground tunnel at Milford Junction and a deserted boathouse – places to which few people would venture – as if they were felons. Theirs is a dilemma that bedevils all those in the throes of a forbidden love, depicted through an intensity of emotions that overpowers banality. And this is why “Brief Encounter” is a classic.

I myself am no stranger to a forbidden love. In the decade I was born, men of my tribe were jailed, lost jobs and families, and institutionalized on account of their affection for other men. Stonewall paved the way towards their decriminalization, and in the close to 50 years since, we gays and lesbians in America have united to establish a political force that has earned us employment rights, military acceptance, and marriage equality. Nevertheless, we continue to face incrimination in countries slow to recognize civil rights. Russia imposes fines on gay activist groups, the members of which the government deems as “foreign agents,” and in Uganda, homosexuals are sentenced to life imprisonment. China bans depictions of LGBT people on the television, and Iran enforces corporal punishment.

Truly, we are all ordinary men and women guilty of no harm to society. Our only fault according to those who condemn is our natural propensity for those we love. Even in America, for all the progress we have achieved, a return to the status quo is imminent. President-elect Donald Trump has been appointing anti-LGBT politicians to his cabinet, starting with his vice presidential running mate, Mike Pence, a fundamentalist Christian who as governor of Indiana sought to legalize conversion therapy, a procedure that allegedly transforms homosexuals into heterosexuals through psychoanalysis.

Image courtesy of theviewspaper.net

A former colleague at San Francisco AIDS Foundation recently exchanged marital vows with his partner. “I am proud of my husband,” he has posted on Facebook. However, with the tension that has permeated the air in the aftermath of the November 8 elections, he is afraid to hold his husband’s hand in public. We have reverted to 1938. Hate crimes have spiked up, reportedly committed in the name of Donald Trump. A group that calls itself “Americans for a Better Way” sent copies of a letter that demeans Muslims as “a vile and filthy people” to at least five mosques in California, propagating genocide. At Fort Hancock High School in El Paso, Texas, white students during a volleyball game paraded Trump placards as they chanted “build the wall” at their Hispanic classmates. (http://edition.cnn.com/2016/11/10/us/post-election-hate-crimes-and-fears-trnd/) “Gay families = burn in hell. Trump 2016” read a sign placed on a car in North Carolina. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-elections/donald-trump-president-supporters-attack-muslims-hijab-hispanics-lgbt-hate-crime-wave-us-election-a7410166.html) The bigotry in Europe that culminated in the Holocaust is jeopardizing the stability of a nation universally respected as a stalwart of democracy.

Image courtesy of wordpress.com

In “Brief Encounter,” provincialism as much as propriety constrict Laura Jesson and Dr. Alec Harvey. In contrast to the goings-on in high offices and the price denizens of a land pay as a consequence, theirs is a trivial affair, a paltry cause to a domestic disruption that has no ramifications on the safety of neighbors. But the affair does raise an awareness of our own prerogative to love… to love our partners, our culture, our community, ourselves… and once this is questioned, then so too is our standing as citizens of the world. The mooring of an ordinary existence threatens to break. We feel a passion we never have before, an ardency to retain what is rightfully ours.

History repeats itself as stories repeat themselves, for an event does not last unless it is recorded and retold. Neither is everything with us cliché. Despite the collectiveness of an experience, no two people live and remember it the same way.