Work-In-Progress: “Feint” (Genre: Dystopia)

For a woman who could not write a word of dialogue when she began her Creative Writing Program (and who moreover wrote in English, which was not the native tongue in her country of origin), her stories now seem to consist of nothing but.

“Is that you, Maa?”

“Yes. Can you send Le Ponant?”

“No. Why? I’ll have to clear it.”

“How long will that take?”

“A day or two. Is it lunchtime there?”

“No.”

“Well, it is, here. I’ve got to go.”

Stay tuned, dear blog reader. Stay tuned.

 

 

MIKHAIL AND MARGARITA, p. 213 (Spoiler)

Because of the title, maybe you were expecting something written in the same antic spirit with which Mikhail Bulgakov wrote The Master and Margarita. Julie Lekstrom Himes’s novel, however, is a completely different animal. It’s straightforward realism: a searing look at how cruelly the Stalinist state treated its artists and writers (and gets really painful to read around p. 216)

Bulgakov is not the only victim of the state. No writer, it seems, escaped. The cruelest fates are reserved for Mayakovsky and Mandelstam. But there were many others.

p. 213, Margarita has disappeared, and Bulgakov goes to Lubyanka on a futile search for information.

Guard: I have no information available.

Bulgakov: Every week I hear the same thing — do you know if she is even in there?

Guard: Is she out there with you?

Bulgakov: Of course not.

Guard: Then she is here.

Meanwhile, inside Lubyanka, Margarita “was told her attitude did not help her. When she returned to her cell, a metal shutter had been screwed over the window. Where the clock had hung there were only wires.”

Since we know precisely how much sun passes through this window every day (16 minutes, Margarita could tell by the clock), the sudden withdrawal of this small comfort (the guards knew!) is particularly awful.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

“Desire” Part 7

The manager of the boardinghouse paced the lobby, throwing curses right and left. His wife, who was in charge of the kitchen, moaned Dios mio, Dios mio. One couldn’t have asked about breakfast at such a time. Epifanio wandered the streets, willing himself into exhaustion.

Eventually, he found himself on the street with the bar. He felt like sinking down on the pavement, but looked in disgust at the gobs of spit that formed a dense pattern by the gutters. When the woman finally came out, she seemed to be looking for him. Her eyes found him, and he sensed the invitation and longing. He came forward.

“What’s your name?” he asked. He spoke very softly, hoarse with fear and desire.

“Honey,” she said, smiling. “What’s yours?”

He shook his head and paused. Then he decided that she deserved to know at least this about him: “Epifanio,” he said.

She kept smiling. She leaned against him. He could feel her small breasts, pressed against his chest. He raised his right arm to circle her waist.

“You like me?” she whispered.

He nodded. From his pocket, he pulled out all the money he had. She grabbed the bills eagerly and started to count. Then she said, “You rich? Did you really mean to offer this much?”

He didn’t even know how much he had in his pocket. When did he get the money? This morning? He saw the eyes of the dead man. He staunched the memory.

“Yes, I meant to offer that much,” he asserted. He felt manly now. Strong.

Honey laughed. “You can have me the whole night,” she said.

Epifanio nodded. She drew him inside.

THE END

“Desire” Part 6

Epifanio walked quickly away, his thin shoulders hunched up and his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans.

Epifanio easily found the bar again two nights later. There was some kind of program going on: he listened to a man reciting lewd jokes into a microphone. The bar seemed full: the laughs were raucous. A young woman kept going in, out, in, out. She was not pretty. She wore a tight, silvery blouse that emphasized her breasts, her slim waist. Only after she had gone back and forth several times did it dawn on Epifanio that she was aware of him, that she was interested in him. She stood on the sidewalk, peering down the street as if looking for someone. He watched her turn, this way and that. She wore gold sandals; her toenails were painted bright red. Because she was taking her time about going back inside, Epifanio was sure: she wanted him! But he could do nothing, only stand and stare.

She came out a third time and stood on the sidewalk. Her lips seemed brighter. No one else was on the street, or in the world: there was only the girl, and Epifanio, and an aching need.

She turned in a slow semicircle. She seemed to be urging him on, trying to rouse him to some form of action.

When she had executed every possible movement, she turned and walked slowly back to the bar. She held her head high, but Epifanio could sense her disappointment. He had saved her, or himself, he didn’t know which.

***

The city had always existed in his head. It was his last remaining opportunity, the one he would run to when everything else had failed, his last card. He didn’t want to be playing that card so soon, but he found the situation with Sheryn unbearable. So, like a gambler, he had played it.

Epifanio went to see Sheryn one last time before leaving. Her eyes were puffy and red. She grazed his cheek with the tips of her fingers. “Silly,” she said softly. “Silly, silly.” Epifanio’s gaze traveled to her stomach, the roundness there. That was when she pulled away, both hands over her belly as if protecting it. “Please go.”

He left.

***

The men’s breakfast was provided by the boardinghouse. For lunch and dinner, however, they spent their own meager funds. Someone said that the food stalls near the bus terminals had the cheapest food. The pork barbecue, dripping with fat, was ten pesos a stick.

For the past week, he had subsisted on a meager breakfast of two thin sausages, an egg, and a small pyramid of rice. By noon, he was faint. By dinnertime, he was angry. But he found a way to endure the hunger; he had no choice.

(To be continued. For a short short story of approximately nine pages, dear blog readers are probably thinking, why is it taking sooooo long to get to the point? GAAH!!! Get a move on, Epifanio!)

“Desire” Part 4

Wrote this story for Jessica Hagedorn’s anthology Manila Noir. It’s a wonder what you can do if the opportunity presents itself!

I’ve been posting in sections. There was a post earlier today.


He remembered going there with her, the taste of the small, tart fruit in her mouth, and then his.

Epifanio was not physically strong. He was a rather small man, with a slim waist. His forearms were corded from years from having worked as a welder at the sugar plant in Victorias. Six months earlier he had been let go. The foreman refused to give him a reason.

To dream! Ah yes, he had dared to dream. The news spread quickly in the town. He slunk along the seafront, downing bottle after bottle of Ginebra. When he next saw Sheryn, it was on the arm of another man. There was only the smallest hint of a bulge, beneath her waist. Only someone looking for it would have noticed.

Julio was tall and fair-skinned. He spoke good English. He worked in the business office of L’Fisher Hotel, one of the best hotels in Bacolod.

Epifanio’s eyes reddened. My child! he thought. Mine! Mine! Mine!

 

Was Epifanio sorry about the fate of the smirking man? Naturally, yes. But he was also a little tense. Epifanio had disliked the man; it was this that made the guilt grow. Could his thoughts have somehow assumed a walking shape and descended from the room to the first floor, where the smirking man sat nodding off behind the desk in the small office?

Was Epifanio interested in the young woman because she reminded him of Sheryn? They had the same kind of hair: long and shiny, a treasure of fragrance. Sheryn was a little shorter.

(To be continued)

“Desire” Part 3

from a story published in Manila Noir, edited by Jessica Hagedorn (Akashic Books). Self will post the entire thing, in installments. This is the third posting:


Gonzago gestured, his right arm driving cleanly through the air.

Only then did Epifanio 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. He saw what might have been a handprint.

Spit was collecting at the back of Epifanio’s mouth. He managed to ask, “Who found him?”

*****

Sheryn said, “I’m in love with Julio. He will make a better father for my child.” Epifanio closed his eyes. When he opened them again, everyone but Gonzago had left. Gonzago was chuckling to himself. “Eh?” The police ask so many questions. But all the wrong ones.”

Epifanio turned from him and walked out the door.

“Eh?” Gonzago called after him. “No one is supposed to leave. The police are still taking statements.”

Epifanio kept going. The street began less than a yard away. There was almost no sidewalk to speak of. There were spit stains on the buckling sidewalk, and horrendous smells. Banana peels, empty soda bottles, scraps of paper all formed a clotted mess in the gutters.

God is love. God is love. God is love. Epifanio trembled: Sheryn’s pet mynah bird knew only this one sentence. Every time Epifanio called on her, the bird would direct a baleful glance at him and begin its monotonous chant.

There was a small of cherisa trees behind Sheryn’s house.

(To be cont.)

 

Lynchings: AS LIE IS TO GRIN, p. 30

DSCN0035

Currently Reading

Very stream-of-consciousness, this novel is. Self likes it. It’s something like Francoise Sagan meets disaffected young black man in the University of Vermont.

It’s been a long time since she’s read about lynchings in a work of fiction. She certainly wasn’t prepared for the subject to be in the middle of a paragraph about the narrator trying to hook up with Delilah. But there it is. The young man’s personal pain conflates with his memory of a particular story in Jean Toomer’s Cane (A reader somewhere detests Marsalis and calls this entire book a pack of lies. Of course it is. It’s fiction)

  • There were little things that I did not know about her, which made me realize that I had not taken a serious interest in Delilah. I tried to remember more of what she had told me about herself, but was distracted by the thought of a story Jean Toomer had written in Cane, called Blood Burning Moon, about a black man (Tom) who killed a white man (Bob) over his continued dalliance with a young black woman (Louisa) whom Tom hoped to marry. It ended with Tom’s hanging by lynch mob. What gave the story life were the horrible questions that went unasked by the narrator. Why had Louisa chosen to continue seeing Bob, why wasn’t Tom given a fair trial, what did Tom truly desire?

After a while, the narrator’s silent ruminations make Delilah uncomfortable and she asks him to leave. “Why?” the narrator asks.

  • Delilah: You are acting weird.

Then Delilah goes to sleep.

Wow! What. A. Scene.

It’s like this fan fiction story self read, where Gendry sleeps with Sansa. After, she turns him out of her bed and he wanders into a very cold dawn.

Here, the narrator ends up welcoming the dawn “in the little amphitheater between Mills and Austin Halls, twenty yards from the footpath, and stared out at the Green Mountains of Vermont.” (Young men always seem to welcome the dawn after being turned out-of-doors by their paramours or ex-paramours, self notices. Welcoming the dawn = angst/unhappiness/disappointment/frustration)

Later, Marsalis delves further into the life of Jean Toomer and finds that he “looked white.” Is this an echo of the narrator, who is attending the University of Vermont while black? Self guesses there aren’t too many blacks in the University of Vermont. At least, that is the impression she gets (so far) from As Lie Is to Grin.

BTW, is it significant that son has kept his cell turned off for days? It doesn’t even finish one ring before it turns to voice mail. That means the cell is turned off. Right? She hasn’t heard son’s voice since Mother’s Day, and he placed that call in the evening. Self thinks a Mother’s Day call that doesn’t happen until the evening is not really a Mother’s Day call. Right? But it’s better than no call at all. Maybe.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

 

The Third Character in THE SUMMER BOOK

The third character on the island, who mostly doesn’t make an appearance, not for many pages, is the little girl’s father. He represents a powerful mystery. Why doesn’t he accompany the little girl on her island explorations? Where is his wife?

This mysterious man gradually assumes shape and definition, first from the mention of his worn bathrobe. His relatives try to throw it away but it comes floating back to the island, smelling strongly of seaweed, and then he wears it everyday the rest of that summer.

There’s another section, when he leaves the island to get supplies, and there’s a storm. He is delayed, and the grandmother has to talk the little girl into believing that he’s in no danger, while her eyes constantly scan the horizon. The moment the grandmother catches sight of a rim of white surf on the horizon (which is the father in his boat, powering through the storm, and drenched through), there is such a powerful relief in the grandmother, and in self.

It was blowing hard, and the sun was setting. She was far-sighted and saw the boat half an hour before it reached the island — a moustache of white foam that would appear at irregular intervals and sometimes vanish entirely.

A few sections later, a mysterious boat pulls up and beaches on the island. The father “puts on his pants” and runs to the shore to greet the visitors. He never comes back that night. The girl hears music coming from the boat and wants to go check it out, but her grandmother says they have to wait for the father to come and get them. They wait and wait, but of course he never does come, and the little girl is furious.

Who is this man? This mysterious figure who is always stuck in the house (unless he is putting on his pants to run towards visiting boats) and does not roam the island as his daughter and mother do?

p. 134:

The guest room was cool and quiet, and Papa sat working at his desk on the other side of the wall.

“I like it when he’s working,” Sophia said. “I always know he’s there.”

Self is enjoying this book so much; she regrets that she’s gotten close to the end.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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.)

“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)

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