Just Out: PRAIRIE SCHOONER, Fall 2018

Cover piece is by artist Amanda Smith.

The opening piece is Demographic Futures, a short story by Phong Nguyen. Nguyen is the author of two short story collections and, most recently, the novel The Adventures of Joe Harper.

There is also fiction by Nigerian writer Jekwu Anyaegbuna and award-winning writer Cyril Dabydeen.

There is poetry by Cave Canem fellow Mary Moore Easter, Cody Smith, and Osel Jessica Plante, and essays by Sian Griffiths (about San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House!), Caroline Crew, and Evanthia Bromiley.

And so many other fine writers self doesn’t have time or space to list, but go over to Prairie Schooner and explore for yourselves.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

For Sarah Balabagan, OFW, by Marianne Villanueva

FOR SARAH BALABAGAN, OFW 

Note:  OFW stands for “Overseas Filipino Workers.” As of 2010, there were believed to be close to 2 million OFWs working in almost every country in the world, including Albania, Mongolia, Romania, and Swaziland.  

You with the round face, the dark blue headscarf, I saw you first at 3 p.m.

It was a hot afternoon in September.  I’d opened Marie Claire or Glamour, I don’t now remember which, and there you were, grave and unsmiling. (But what cause would you have to smile?  I found out all, later.)

Your father’s name was Karim, and your mother’s, Bai.  You grew up in the island of Mindanao, in the Philippines.  You were fourth in a family of fourteen children.

The man who raped you was dead (I was happy to read).  You stabbed him 34 times.

You knew that most likely you were never going to get a husband. Not after what had happened.

It was the worst thing you ever imagined.  Not just the pain, no — it was worse than that.  The telling to your mother – it nearly finished you.

He gouged the skin of your throat with his long fingernails.  You were afraid, but the fear was nothing compared to your shame.

You asked yourself, “Why?”  Your brothers too said it, but they pointed fingers at your mother (who wept, who refused to leave the house for months, who even attempted suicide) and sometimes, (though not as much) at your father.

Your brothers shouted, “Why did you let her go?  To a place like that?”

The newspapers recorded every accusation.

As if anyone could ever have foreseen such a catastrophe.

The man who sat across the table from you at the police station in Abu Dhabi, the man you knew only as “Pak,” said over and over:  “You said that such and such a thing happened on such and such a day.  Why do you make up such stories?”

You said, “I swear to God – “

“Swearing is a sin.  Whose God are you swearing at?  You will be tortured if you don’t stop these lies.”

They said you would be permitted to return home, but only after you confessed.

You held out for four months.  Then, the man named Pak came again with the form and this time, you signed it.  “Now you have nothing to worry about,” Pak said.

A week later, you were in the courtroom to hear your sentence. While you waited for the translation, you imagined yourself back home.  Your lawyer patted your hand.  The look on his face was sorrowful.

Sentenced to death, he said.  “What?” you said.  He repeated, Sentenced to death.

I read how the murdered man’s sons spoke on your behalf.  Yes, they told the court.  We believe our father capable of rape.

Because of their testimony, the sentence was reduced to 100 lashes.  After another year in prison, you returned home.  You were thin and wan – Oh, you were much changed.

They said you became a singer. Your voice, though untrained, was described as “pure,” which must have pleased your brothers no end.

You became quite well-known, and sang in shows with Heart Evangelista and Dulce Amor. You opened for Dingdong Avanzado, and were invited to record a duet with the popular Ogie Alcasid.

As for your mother, she still says, over and over, It was never my idea.

You had your first child at 18.  The father was a journalist.  He left you after two years.

In your mind, you have never left Abu Dhabi. You are still in that small barred cell, shrinking in horror from the jailers who point at your shaved head and mutter curses. You will always be there, enacting penitence for an event that never ends and a guilt that never leaves.  It is there always, in your blood, as is fear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

– End

Stonehenge/Pacifica

In 2014, self went to see Stonehenge.

She signed up for a small-group tour, the only one allowed on the site towards sunset. All the big tour buses had left. The guide, a retired military officer, led the group across a sheep meadow.

This is unquestionably the best approach. It allows the view to unfold gradually. You are reminded that this was how people, in time immemorial, must have approached the monument: in procession. Self could hardly contain her excitement at her first glimpse of the pillars of stone.

The mystery of the site has stayed with her. The fact that no human habitations were ever built around it. What was it used for?

DSCN4964

From this vantage point, we could clearly see the jagged outline of the stones, just above the rise.

Well before she saw Stonehenge, she’d written about it in a piece called Stonehenge/Pacifica, published in Wigleaf, 2012.

It was a dream I had, some restless night. One of those weeks or months or years when we were worried about money.

But when were we ever not worried?

First there was the mortgage, and then the two.

And then your mother got sick, and your father died.

And my mother I think developed Alzheimer’s, but we never mentioned it.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Dystopia In Progress

Self is going to try, while she’s at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, pulling all her science fiction together into one collection.

What to call it?

She’s toying with the idea of making this the first story:

THE FREEZE (published in Bluestem)

Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine
Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine
Redwood, Oak, Laurel, Manzanita, Pine

Thanksgiving was just a week ago. I served brined turkey with oatmeal rolls and my special fig-and-rice stuffing.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

More From Self’s “Residents of the Deep”

Self’s story is set in some unknown century. The explorer who is the MC is something like Captain Cook (Oceania! What a fantastic exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts!):

  • From the lack of authentic records, ascending into remote antiquity, the origin of most very ancient cities is involved in obscurity. Who would have supposed that a very old civilization existed on the ocean floor, one that had escaped the notice of man for centuries, equaling — nay, in some cases exceeding — the grandeur of ancient Rome.

In self’s story, the Residents of the Deep accomplish all their daily tasks in one-quarter time. That is, they appear human, but their behavior is just a little “off.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Work-in-Progress: “Residents of the Deep”

DSCN0073

Map of Oceania

Self began this story on her very first visit to the Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Annaghmakerrig and has added to it, bit by bit, over the years. She was in Unit # 4 and there was an old maritime book in one of the cupboards.

She doesn’t worry about finishing this story. It will always be “in progress” — it will always exist in middle time, like her visits to this part of Ireland and beautiful Annaghmakerrig.

Here are the opening sentences:

There is something singularly impressive and affecting to the imagination when, in a perfectly calm tropical sea, under a vertical sun, one is able to look down through a depth of thousands of fathoms of clear water and see on the ocean bottom glimpses of the City and all its strange and wonderful objects. The discovery of a populous City existing under fathoms of ocean is an occurrence with no precedent in the annals of exploration, one that overshadows even the discovery of the Americas by Columbus.

Self’s stories are always birthed this way: with the opening sentences. No matter how many drafts her stories go through, the opening sentences never change. If the sentence is strong, it is like a fine, big engine that can power her through — even 20 or 25 pages later — all the way to the end. See the interview she gave to Bellingham Review, the Contributor Spotlight that accompanied their publication of self’s story, Ice. (The first four or five paragraphs of Ice were unchanged from first draft)

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Story-in-Progress: Problems With Sleep

I have problems with sleep. It gets much worse during Dead Week. I keep myself going with Red Bull and Adderall; I live off fear.

The truth is, a B at Stanford is like an F everywhere else. We’re the half-percent smartest people in the world. And we’re undergraduates, which means we’re, most of us, rich.

Work-in-Progress: Inspired by a Solo Trip to Dharamsala, India, January 2012

The music comes on and she recognizes Edith Piaf. Of all things to play! Is it because she is sitting by herself in this restaurant and someone feels compelled to provide her with some distraction, some light background tune, or because they do not want her to be lonely (she is, though: loneliness is always seeping out of her skin), or perhaps they worry she is getting bored, sitting by herself at a small table, eating a vegetable chapati and sipping sweetened Masala tea at 9 in the morning when it is 32 degrees Fahrenheit outside?

DSCN3457

En route to Dharamsala, self stopped by a small temple. She dredged up the courage to ring the bell, too (though she couldn’t ask anyone to take her picture while doing it)

Wavering (a 9/11 Story About Surviving and Feeling Lost)

Elephant-gets-lost-762424

Image from BBC ONE : EARTH

The nights seemed to go on forever. The swell of my stomach seemed to grow larger beneath my hot fingers. I thought of our baby’s eyes, open in the dark. I dreamt of pyramids, desert storms, bridges over raging torrents, stars dropping into firmaments, the earth tilting, the baby elephant separated from the herd and wandering alone in a trackless desert.

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 an 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 sirens. The day had hardly begun. We’d heard sirens before: the city was just across the sound, the twin buildings edging that narrow tongue of water. The sirens’ wail always seemed more acute as summer wore on. I would imagine hydrants spraying water into the blistering heat, pavements curling and buckling, scarcely able to bear the weight of millions of feet.

I thought: this is how it will always be. 4 a.m., your breath in my ear.

After that day I seemed capable of going without sleep, weeks at a time. The sky was murky; with each breath I inhaled dust from the towers. Her dust, I thought. In me. Her dust.

Papers still occasionally made it across the sound. A page from a desk calendar, once. “Mailed to Ron,” one said, dated August 16, 2011.

The sheets smelled dank. Heat seemed to cement our skin to bed. The garden smells were rank. My belly hurt, but just on one side. Child that was growing there, head curled under an arm. Child with eyes wide open in the dark, wondering what world is this?

I tried to push my thoughts one way. You know you don’t want it, you said one night, tears in your voice. This kind of world, you know you don’t want it.

I thought of the strawberries in the garden, the beagle’s toenails scrabbling against the hardwood floor, your skin.

You were the only one who was late to work that day. Ed, Simon, Niles, Will, David, Harriet, Holly, Sam, Steve, Lexy—even the young receptionist who two days before had announced she was pregnant with her first child—all were at their desks at 9 a.m. sharp.

She must have taken extra time with her make-up, because you had the reservation at the hotel for afterwards. You were always late. How many times did she look impatiently at her watch?

We’d had another argument. You grabbed your briefcase and almost ran to the car. I saved your life. Me and my big mouth. Me and my quarrelsome ways. You can’t bear to admit it, but it is so.

I knew when your thoughts started changing, I knew exactly when. July you became something dark and deep. My suspicions grew, fed by the silence of the hot nights.

In the train, on the way to work, you stayed angry with me. You thought: Why this? Why now? You checked messages on your phone. There were two from me, five from her. Where are you, she typed.

She was already at her desk. Afterwards, I could imagine your anguish, standing at the foot of Tower One. You imagined her, up there. Perhaps she looked down at you, like Rapunzel. Oh if only she could lower her hair! The sky that moments before had been cirrus blue was suddenly clouded, and each breath was like a stab.

You tell yourself she would never have jumped. But she took Steve’s hand and together they flew out the window. Steve was the Deputy Head of Investment Banking. He would have comforted her. He would have told her, You can do it. He must have been the one who took her hand.

You found out over six months later. There was only a shred of one of her fingers. A fireman had picked it up. After a year, there was something else. A ring. Plain gold. Of course, they gave it to Michael.

Did Michael know? I keep asking myself. Did he know?

Then, not even 10 years later, that fireman who rescued you, who gave you closure, was dead, too. Lung cancer. So many rescuers developed that, after.

Who knew wavering would be such a virtue?

You never forgave.

There are times you still say, “I want to die.”

There are those who say you will come back to me. There are those who tell me I must stay strong.

Ten years later, who would have thought? Together, we share bitterness.

————————————————————————————————————–

Cost of Paper, vol. 5 (published by 1888 Center, Orange, CA)

DSCN0097

Sadly, both the AWP2019 panel proposals self was included in were rejected. One was a mixed-genre panel, the brainchild of Philadelphia poet Anne-Adele Wight. The other was a Quarterly West panel on experimental fiction.

Nevertheless, self still has much to celebrate. Such as, her story This Is End being in The Cost of Paper, vol. 5 (It’s the last story in the anthology). The anthology’s editor was Julianne Berokoff.

Self just had another story picked up for the Winter 2018 issue of Prairie Schooner, due out this December. And the two stories couldn’t be more different: the one in The Cost of Paper is space fantasy, the Prairie Schooner story is straight-up realism.

This Is End is the third story in a cycle about a boy named Dragon, a missing girl named Her, a teacher named Fire Lizard, a bully named Big, the bully’s friend Drinker, and a new student named Knot.

Dragon saw Big knock Her out cold (in the middle of a class, why). Her never came back to class, but sometimes Dragon thinks he sees her waving to him from a window of an abandoned space station called the Kobayashi Maru. Ever since then, he’s been itching for revenge.

Big doesn’t show up to class one day, Knot asks Dragon:

“Is it true? Tumor he had?”

We spot-check each other for tumors. We’re so afraid of it.

“Ecchymosis?” Knot persists.

Here’s a link to 1888 Center’s Bookstore.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

« Older entries

Asian Cultural Experience

Preserving the history and legacy of Salinas Chinatown

Rantings Of A Third Kind

The Blog about everything and nothing and it's all done in the best possible taste!

Sauce Box

Never get lost in the Sauce

GK Dutta

Be One... Make One...

Cee's Photography

Learning and teaching the art of composition.

Fashion Not Fear

Fueling fearlessness through style and inspiration.

Wanderlust and Wonderment

My writing and photo journey of inspiration and discovery

transcribingmemory

Decades of her words.

John Oliver Mason

Observations about my life and the world around me.

Insanity at its best!

Yousuf Bawany's Blog

litadoolan

Any old world uncovered by new writing

unbolt me

the literary asylum

the contemporary small press

A site for small presses, writers, poets & readers

The 100 Greatest Books Challenge

A journey from one end of the bookshelf to the other

Random Storyteller

“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”― Madeleine L'Engle

Kanlaon

Just another Wordpress.com weblog