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.

 

 

 

 

Travels with Charley: Deer Isle, Maine

Steinbeck has very interesting things to say about Deer Isle.

Digression: Self always wanted to visit Maine, because there is a teacher there — in Bates College — who has taught her story “Lenox Hill, December 1991” in self’s collection Mayor of the Roses, for decades.

pp. 41 – 42:

  • Maine speech is very like that in West Country England, the double vowels pronounced as they are in Anglo-Saxon, but the resemblance is doubly strong in Deer Isle. And the coastal people below the Bristol Channel are secret people, and perhaps magic people. There’s aught behind their eyes, hidden away so deep that perhaps even they do not know they have it. To put it plainly, this Isle is like Avalon; it must disappear when you are not there.

It sounds a little like California’s northern coast. Self always begins writing fables when she’s in Mendocino. Must be the craggy cliffs, the deep forests, the crashing ocean. During her latest trip to Mendocino, early this year, this sentence occurred to her as she was driving through redwoods: They chased daylight into a gloomy forest.

DSCN0040

Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, April 2018

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

 

Story-in-Progress: “Feint” (Dystopia)

I was not born with this sense of foreboding, just as my parents weren’t born with a sense of despair.

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.

 

 

“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 5

A disagreeable man has just been murdered.

Epifanio, the main character, finds himself thinking of a lost sweetheart named Sheryn.

Had to edit out some sections to avoid trigger warnings. Whew! It is hard work typing everything.


She also had a more winning manner, a more inviting style.

She had not exactly been a closed door. That, at least, was the implication of the smirk that had accompanied the dead man’s comment about “morning sickness.”

But — was he really dead? What if he had merely been wounded, and the ambulance had rescued him in time? What if, even now, he was lying some hospital, with a drip affixed to one arm?

Was he the father of the young woman’s baby? Epifanio was surprised at the despair that accompanied this thought.

To hold a woman, any woman — to know the warmth of a woman’s embrace.

Epifanio’s parents had loved each other with a purity and single-mindedness that he had tried to emulate. But the ferocity of Sheryn’s desire had unmanned him. They had been classmates in high school but Epifanio never dreamed of courting her. Then, one day in October, right in the middle of the Masskara Festival, she came up to him in the plaza. Her tone was teasing. “Do you want me? O, tilawi!” Try me.

Their first time together: she had grabbed him and drawn him close. She had called up his courage. She had luxuriated in his desire.

After, when Epifanio and Sheryn encountered each other on the street, they feigned aloofness. Her family was not rich, but they were better off than Epifanio’s; his father eked out a hard living as a fisherman. Epifanio had done many things: he had been a tricycle driver. A waiter. A traffic enforcer. Sheryn had graduated from college, whereas Epifanio had dropped out after two years. She worked as a bank teller, and wore nice clothes to work. Still, Sheryn wanted him! When they caught each other’s eyes, they smiled surreptitiously, like conspirators.

Then, disaster: I am carrying your child, she whispered. The future shrank to the width of one hand. Her desire withered. There was a new, hard determination in her face. He talked of marriage; she said, Wait.

***

Sheryn’s voice was strong near the bar. A sign said, Deep and Deeper. Epifanio had passed it before, had noticed the women going in and out. They wore tight clothes, they walked languorously, aware that men were watching.

Epifanio lurked, throwing quick glances at the door. A tall man with a smooth-shaven head and tattoos running down both forearms stood just inside, where he might easily have been mistaken for a shadow. He uttered a warning and made a derisive gesture with his hand.

(To be continued)

 

 

“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.)

 

« 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