Excerpts From Selected Short Stories

Photo of self's backyard through the French windows in her office (courtesy of Stella Kalaw)

Photo of self’s backyard through the French windows in her office (courtesy of Stella Kalaw)

“Wavering” was published in LITnIMAGE (Issue 17, Summer 2012)

You used to pride yourself on your constancy.  I lay next to you, listening to the hum of crickets and the sighing of the wind weaving through the walnut tree.  Just before dawn, when the night became enormous and silent, I would fall into exhausted sleep.

You, alerted by the stillness, would stir and mumble, What, what, what.

Nothing, I’d say.  I’d wait until your breath slowed once again.

Six months and 9 days ago, I heard the roar of the sirens.

* * *

“Jesters” was published by Used Furniture Review, January 6, 2012

There is so much weight here:  the house, the barn, the chestnut horses in the field, the Chinese elms, the white porch, the brick path, the flowering oregano bushes, the Steinway grand, the porcelain vases, the shelves and shelves of books:  Culture & Anarchy, Multilingual Lexicon of Linguistics and Philology, Cassell’s Italian Dictionary, The World and the Text.  You run your hands over the dusty spines.  You finger the books.  You feel yourself melting, slowly.

Make it a game.  Can you?  A for Articulation.  What they are always telling you at meetings.  Something to do with “requirements.”  These are somewhat rigid.  Why can’t you follow?

B for Because.  Because you feel different.  No, are.  You are different.  Because there are built-in redundancies.

C is for crumbling.  They all say it means nothing.  C for courage, they say.

* * *

“The Hand” won first place in the 2007 Juked Fiction Contest, judged by Frederick Barthelme

    She had been married quite a long time, almost 18 years, to a man who, in the last year or two, had begun to spend most of his time watching TV. When they were first married, when they were both in graduate school, they had started out with a small black-and-white. Eventually, after perhaps the 6th year of their marriage, her husband had agreed to buy a small colored TV. Finally, just two years ago, they had gotten another TV so that she could watch her favorite shows without having to wait for her husband to finish watching a football game.

In the last couple of years, time seemed to be moving very fast, seemed almost to be accelerating, and the more she tried to hold on to it, the less of it there was to hold. This was a frightening feeling, a feeling she tried over and over to analyze. On this particular Monday evening, a light rain was falling. She could hear the gentle sound of the drops against the trees outside her window.

This morning the rain made her happy, since it reminded her of her childhood in the Philippines, when the yellowish glow from the low-watt bulbs made the rooms look unearthly, and everything in them blurred, as though she were looking at her surroundings from underwater. She remembered sitting at the round table in the kitchen, which was her favorite room in the house, where she sat surrounded by the bustling maids, the sound of people entering and leaving.

All day the question had been inside her, waiting.

Her husband was sitting on the couch. She could just make out part of his nose in profile. He’d come home only an hour earlier, his hair slick with the rain. He had his face turned toward the TV, which this evening was showing an episode of 24.

When was it that she had noticed the hand? The hand that was just a hand, nothing else, reaching out to tap him on his shoulder.

Read the rest of it here.

* * *

“The Lost Language” was first published in Isotope, Spring/Summer 2009.  It is the title story of a collection published in the Philippines by Anvil Press, in 2009:

Filipinos once had an ancient written language.  If I were to show you what the marks look like on a piece of paper, they would look like a series of waves, more like Egyptian hieroglyphics, like the eye of the Pharaoh I saw in my old high school history books.

The language was written on tree bark.  Epics were probably written in this language, but I don’t know what they are.  My ancestors are shadowy people.  Shadows.

When I was a little girl, perhaps eight years old, my mother gave me a book of Philippine legends.  The legends were mostly about beautiful maidens and enchanted animals.  But the story I liked best was about Hari sa Bukid, which means The King in the Mountain.

* * *

“Bad Thing”, was first published in Into the Fire: Asian American Prose (Greenfield Review Press, 1996)

      It was October. Dela was driving along when suddenly she felt sick, as though she anticipated hitting a car or a road barrier. She could see the collision in her mind, almost hear the thud of something hitting her bumper.

Her son turned six that year. She realized that, for weeks, she had been expecting something to happen. Driving him to school, a feeling would come over her and she would slow down and look furtively right and left, right and left. When they arrived at the school without mishap, she would be surprised and thankful, though she didn’t know who she should be thankful to, she wasn’t the praying sort. Dela would ease her unsteady legs out of the car, call to her son with some measure of confidence, and push herself through the rest of her day. Like that.

* * *

“Black Dog” was first published in Fourteen Hills.  It is included in my short story collection, Mayor of the Roses: Stories (Miami University Press, 2005)

      When I think of my childhood, I imagine a series of long afternoons spent in leafy gardens and sunny rooms.  The air was golden, mottled with dust.  Time stretched out:  most of the time I read in my room, which had a balcony facing a creek; two beds: one for me and one for my older sister; and old chests filled with letters and greeting cards.

Our house always seemed to have a lot of people coming and going.

School was death.

* * *

“Siko” was first published in The Forbidden Stitch (Calyx Books), and later included in my first collection Ginseng and Other Tales from Manila (Calyx Books, 1991)

      The village of Bagong Silang is an untidy assortment of half a dozen palm-thatched houses, about a hundred kilometers north of Manila. It falls under the jurisdiction of the municipality of San Pablo, a town of a few hundred people, a day’s walk away. The people of Bagong Silang have lived for generations along a narrow strip of mud road that borders the rice paddies. They are, as a rule, thrifty and industrious folk. When not toiling in the rice fields, they tend vegetable gardens. They own a few pigs, a few chickens– nothing much else of value.

Aling Saturnina used to live in the last house on the left, the one behind the santol tree. But last year, she and her married daughter were taken to San Pablo in a military jeep, and since then no one has seen or heard from them. The villagers don’t like to talk about the events that led to Aling Saturnina’s disappearance. When asked, they cross themselves and their eyes slide sideways and perhaps one or two will invoke the name of the town’s patron saint, as though the saying of it had the power to protect them from all harm. If the questioner becomes too persistent–as lately some of these newspapermen from San Pablo have been–they escape to the rice fields, and wait there till nightfall before returning to their homes. They are simple folk and don’t bother with things they cannot understand.

* * *

“Sutil” was first published in The Threepenny Review in Fall 1995. I later included it in my 2nd collection, Mayor of the Roses : Stories:

    I was last home for my father’s funeral. I say “home” even though I am an American citizen now, sworn in with a twenty-piece Navy band in the grand ballroom of the Marriott Hotel on 4th and Mission in San Francisco. Yet “home” for me was always that other place, that city James Hamilton-Patterson describes as “a parody of the grimmer parts of Milwaukee.”

* * *

“Don Alfredo and Jose Rizal” was first published in Story Philippines, vol. 1 and later appeared in Sou’wester (with a new translation of El Ultimo Adios by Edwin Lozada), Spring 2007.

      The man in the black frock coat sits hunched over a wooden table, presses pen to paper. It is quiet in his dank little cell in the bowels of the old fort. I can hear the scratches his pen makes on the coarse paper. The sweat trickles down the back of his neck.

The man’s eyes, like mine, like all of ours, have an Asian cast. But his clothes are European. A tailor in Madrid made his coat, when he was a young student there. That was long long ago– before Bonifacio, before the Cry of Balintawak, before the ripping of the cedulas. And his wife has brought it to him with tears, so that he can face the firing squad with dignity.

* * *

“Silence” appeared in Threepenny Review, Issue 72, Winter 1998 and was later shortlisted for the O. Henry Literature Prize

    Before Tina got married, her mother took her out to lunch with a friend she knew only as Tita Fely. Tita Fely had a loud voice. She had hair cut short like a man’s. She was married to a handsome tennis instructor and had a beautiful house in Monterey and was raising four sons. Tita Fely looked at her and said, “Don’t let your husband push you around. Don’t be too good.”

* * *

“Extinction” first appeared in ZYZZYVA and an excerpt was later aired on KQED’s “Pacific Time,” hosted by Nguyen Qui Duc — Feb. 23, 2006

      The coastlines were bare, and the soil on which the people had built their homes was slowly washing out to sea. Thus there was great fear and trepidation in the coastline villages and the people there generally exhibited the clinical symptoms of depression

I made my home in a valley roughly 8 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, in the province of S_____. Oval in shape, this valley was surrounded by a low rim of hills with fairly steep escarpments. Interspersed among the ravines grew loose thickets of bamboo. One side of the valley opened out to a narrow beach. In the mornings I walked down to the sand and observed the almost imperceptible movement of the waves.

* * *

“Isa” was published in Rogue Magazine (Philippines, April 2009) and in Field of Mirrors: An Anthology of Philippine American Writings, edited by Edwin A. Lozada (Philippine American Writers and Artists, Inc., 2008)

    Daughter, our islands are disappearing. Once there were two: two proud pieces of rock riding high above the waves. Our islands have always existed: they were the two arms of Laon, who slumbered in the caldera beneath us. Around us were rings of hard and soft corals, and in the cave-like spaces of these corals lived an abundance of animals: snakes and eels and starfish and seahorses and clams.

Read the rest of this story on the Rogue website, here.

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