When Home Is an Island: THE SUMMER BOOK, pp. 104 – 105

Every day, Grandmother would walk around the island in order to keep track of what was coming up. If she found a piece of uprooted moss, she would poke it back where it belonged. Since she had a hard time getting on her feet again whenever she sat down, Grandmother had become very skillful with her stick. She looked like an immense sandpiper as she walked slowly along on her stiff legs, stopping often to turn her head this way and that to have a look at everything before she moved on.

Desire (Cont.): from MANILA NOIR

He thought he heard the policeman say, Ngunit — but — and then, “mga estudyante.” Epifanio did not want to listen anymore and turned away.

He found a few of the men gathered by the front door, whispering urgently to one another. Epifanio forced himself to approach.

As he took a step forward, and then another, he felt a slickness on his shoes. He looked down, and dully noted that something dark seemed to have smeared the soles of the sneakers that were practically brand new, bought from Gaisano Mall the day before he left Bacolod. He didn’t understand. His thoughts were slow. Perhaps that was Sheryn’s laugh he had heard, ringing in his head when he reached the urgently whispering men.

“Epifanio?” said Benedicto, the big man from Murcia. “Did anyone tell you what happened?”

Sheryn’s laugh was almost ear-splitting. The day was just beginning, but already he detested and feared it.

“Gonzago here thinks he heard something,” said another man, the one Epifanio knew only as Baby. Epifanio had heard some of the men gossipping about Baby. It was strange: he had angered his in-laws by slapping his wife, and they had made it impossible for him to remain in his own home, constantly abusing Baby in front of his own children.

Gonzago was old, almost forty. Everyone knew he roamed the halls in his sleep.

“If I did hear something,” Gonzago said, “it wouldn’t have helped. I might have heard this man’s soul leaving his body, yes. It sounded like water slipping down a riverbank.” Gonzago gestured, his right arm driving cleanly through the air.

Only then did Gonzago realize that the floor of the lobby was covered with the same dark substance that stained the soles of his sneakers. It was everywhere. There was even some of it smeared across one of the lobby’s light blue walls.

(To be cont.)

THE SUMMER BOOK, p. 95

This book just keeps getting better and better. Self loves it.

p. 94: “Sophia’s father had a special bathrobe that he loved.”

Some of the relatives, arriving to give “the island a good cleaning,” decide that the bathrobe has outlived its usefulness and carry it down to the water to float away.

The robe, however, returns, borne by the waves and smelling of seaweed.

p. 95: “Papa wore virtually nothing else that whole summer. Then there was the spring when they discovered a family of mice had been living in the robe.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Desire” in MANILA NOIR (Akashic Books)

The story hardly made a ripple. But it’s more important to self that it be read. So, she’s going to post it on this blog, in sections. Here’s section 1. The setting is Ermita, which is an older neighborhood of Manila.

She wrote this story in one go, to meet a deadline. She’s expert at writing things in one go. That is why flash is her little playground. This story is a bit longer than her usual.

The Assignment: to write something noir. Her stories are noir but she never had to decide they would be noir before writing. So, this story was an experiment (as the publishing here, in sections, is an experiment)

DESIRE

by Marianne Villanueva

Which parts of a bird are edible?

Epifanio did not know.

He would guess. Yes, he could do that. Not the internal organs. Not the beak. Not the feathers.

He wrote, laboriously: eyes, tail, breast.

Afterward, when they were gathered in the small lobby, they were offered warm Coke in thick glasses, no ice.

Why would anyone ask them a question about birds? They were there to study to be seamen: most of them were from Negros, like Epifanio. The rest were from Marinduque, Zambales, Cagayan de Oro, Davao. After two years on one of the inter-island ferries, and provided they received good evaluations, they might get the chance to work on one of the cruise ships that went to Hong Kong and Singapore. Epifanio clung to this hope.

He liked the young woman who had been waiting to greet them the day they arrived in Manila, but there was no sign of her the next day, or the next. By the third day, he began to notice a fat man who sat in a little room on the first floor. The room had desks and filing cabinets, like a regular office. Epifanio learned later that the man’s name was Leandro.

Epifanio pretended that the young woman had kindly shared with him a tube of toothpaste and he wanted to repay her. “Is she coming back?” he asked.

The man smirked. “She’s sick. Morning sickness. What’s your name again?” Epifanio gave his name. The man gazed down at a sheet divided into two columns.

“From Bacolod,” he said, and smirked again.

“Silay,” Epifanio said. And he thought: I have been to college. I have had two years in San Agustin. And you — ! He lowered his gaze and shrugged and gave a self-deprecating smile.

When Epifanio later replayed the conversation in his head, he hated the way Leandro seemed to know instinctively what Epifanio was after. And Leandro’s smirk would return again and again to his memory.

The rules of being a seaman: The shared toilets must be cleaned and ready for inspection at five a.m. When a passenger requests assistance, the seaman must smile and show his willingness to be of service. Even the most unreasonable guest will appreciate a smile.

Manila, this teeming city, pressed on him: dense, impenetrable. The sounds were many and various and ill-tempered. They abated only a little, towards dawn. His eyes were heavy from his dreams. Sheryn, I love you, he would dream himself saying aloud. In the dream she always laughed, as if she could hear him speaking, even across so many islands. I love you, I love you, I love you, he would say, his fists clutching the sides of the thin mattress.

 

On the sixth day, there was no one in the little office. Papers were scattered on the floor. The filing cabinet drawers hung open. The desk had been overturned. A policeman stood by a window, speaking into a cell phone.

Epifanio stared.

(To be continued)

Rowing With Granddaughter: THE SUMMER BOOK, pp. 83 – 84

Again and again, self is lulled by the lovely prose into thinking this is a book about a gentle summer idyll. Then she realizes the grandmother is not gentle and is rather blunt. Here, she shows her granddaughter about when it is okay to trespass:

Toward the end of the week, Grandmother and Sophia took the dory out for a little row. When they came to the perch shallows, they decided to go on to Squire Skerry to look for seaweed, and once in the lagoon behind Squire Skerry, it was only a stroke of the oars to Blustergull Rock.

They see a sign: PRIVATE PROPERTY — NO TRESPASSING

“We’ll go ashore,” Grandmother said. She was very angry. Sophia looked frightened. “There’s a big difference,” her grandmother explained. “No well-bred person goes ashore on someone else’s island when there’s no one home. But if they put up a sign, then you do it anyway, because it’s a slap in the face.”

This part of The Summer Book is giving self all kinds of La Belle Sauvage feelz. It’s a real adventure.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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