From time to time, self will post her short stories on this blog. Of course, self would much prefer that people buy the collection (Mayor of the Roses, Miami University Press), but she would more than anything like to be read. Hence, the new plan. Hope it works!
BTW, you can order Mayor of the Roses directly from the Publisher, Miami University Press, here. Or from Amazon. Or from Small Press Distribution. There is a hardcover version, which self thinks is really really beautiful, but it costs $24.95. If you’re the type of reader who thinks all books should be printed on acid-free archival stock, then order this one! Self promises, you won’t be disappointed! Heck, she’ll even sign your book for you, if you mail it to her!
Self thinks of this story as elegy, pure elegy (And no literary journal ever picked it up! it was rejected countless times. So, take heart, oh unpublished writer of short fiction. Self’s advice to you: Start a blog):
Towards the end, he couldn’t wear any clothes. They had to cover him with banana leaves.
It was in July he died — I couldn’t believe it. A voice on the phone told me.
“Rufino died na.” It was my mother speaking. Naturally, she had to be the one to break the news.
I was staying in a friend’s house in the Santa Cruz Mountains. In the mornings, fog blanketed the hills. We heard them mournful mooing of invisible cows. One or another of us would look east, toward where we heard Neil Young had his ranch, wondering whether we’d catch a glimpse of his pink Cadillac that day.
At night we made a fire and played Scrabble. We drank hot chocolate and felt like teenagers having a slumber party. Our husbands were both out of town on business. Though with my husband, I could never really be sure. Sometimes one friend or another would say, “I saw your husband at such-and-such a place,” and it would always be somewhere else from where he told me he would be.
We used to joke about it. Once, my friend was in a grocery, and she heard the cashier say, “Call R____. This lady needs help with her groceries.” And since R____ is my husband’s name, we both fell over laughing at the memory, at the thought that my husband might actually show up, in a Safeway uniform, to bag my friend’s groceries. But there was a thread of sadness in my life, too, at the moment.
Our children were away together at a summer camp in Clear Lake, up north. We were at an easy time in our lives.
Once I saw a coyote crossing the path in front of me. It was my first coyote. Such a skinny little thing, almost nothing but a bag of bones. With long, pointed ears. It looked at me and then lost interest. It loped along into the tall grass. I wanted to call it back, to give it a name.
* * *
When my mother told me about Rufino, I put my head down on the table where the telephone rested. The wood felt cool against my forehead.
“Ay, it was his time na,” my mother kept saying.
The last time I saw him, he was a face at a window. I was standing by our swimming pool, gazing down at the water which was then filled with brown leaves from a heavy rainfall, ended just moments earlier. I don’t know why I was standing there by myself that afternoon. Something glinted in the water, made me look up. The window looked out over our backyard. There, in a tiny room off our kitchen, I saw him. The window had grills. He looked like a prisoner, with his sad face.
He wasn’t wearing any clothes and when he saw me looking at him he hunched over instinctively. I saw his skinny back, the ribs protruding through the skin, which was paler than I remembered.
The face I saw was the same one from the time I’d left home, twenty years ago. I stood, transfixed. His gaze was piercing.
I was no longer a young girl. There was gray in my hair. Rufino and I looked at each other. We didn’t speak. Finally he put one hand up to his face, as if ashamed. I looked away, wanting to grant him his privacy, remembering how proud he used to be.
He was the family driver for almost 20 years. He came to us when I was five. I don’t remember how it happened: he’d heard my parents were looking for a driver. Perhaps he walked up the driveway of the house in Carolina Street, the house I think we lived in, though now my mother tells me we never lived there. She told me this only a few months ago, while chattering away about something. Oh? I said. So we never lived in Malate, in that small street behind the Baclaran Church? No, never, she said.
And that is why I have to call this fiction. Because I am not sure anymore what to call the images that spring up in my mind. Whether it is of my husband, or of my memories of my childhood home — nothing is fixed, everything changes.
The image I have of the house is of a tall iron gate, rusting, and a large sampaguita tree, fragrant with white flowers. I may have been playing outside with my sister and the yaya when he walked up the driveway. Whoever saw him first would have had to stop and stare. He was unbelievably handsome: as handsome as those early Don Johnson photos, the kind of handsome that I could see would drive the 14-year-old Melanie Griffiths wild.
My mother always responded to people with looks. I didn’t realize this until much, much later, when she told me she thought I should have my nose fixed. She hired Rufino on the spot, even before he’d offered his references.
Self will continue in a bit. But she’s suddenly reminded, by the passage above, that there is also a scene in Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch (which she still hasn’t returned to the library, though she’s stopped reading it) that has a man covering his mouth. And it is this:
Fraser was laughing again. But his laughter had changed. It was rueful now, almost embarrassed. He lifted a hand, to cover his mouth.
And after a moment, Duncan began to laugh, too. He couldn’t help it. He didn’t know what he was laughing at, even — whether it was Fraser, or himself, or Viv, or Mr. Mundy, or all of them. But for almost a minute he and Fraser stood there, on either side of the window-sill, their hands across their mouths, their eyes filling with tears, their faces flushing, as they tried, hopelessly, to stifle their laughter and snorts.
About the above Sarah Waters passage, self thinks, for the first time: This should be a movie! Starring James McAvoy and someone else. Maybe Ewan MacGregor?
Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.