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Hello. Following are 500-word stories (six in total). They might be related, they might be not. It's up to you, really. Words don't come easy these days, most of them are in my trusty notebooks though. Do you ever wish there's a way for all our thoughts to automatically be encoded (in complete sentences!)? No indecipherable handwriting, no memory-wringing, no regret for an idea that flew away. I sometimes do. But I love the act of writing with pen and paper. Majority of these stories were drafted on paper. They came alive there. Hi. And thanks for visiting.
He's dead. Sam's first thought in the morning is always this. He's dead. And there's nothing she can do to reverse it. All the small untruths and selfishness added up to this—it's her fault. She makes herself feel guilty because she thinks this will make her useful. In the kitchen the fridge is endlessly buzzing in staccatos. He's. Dead. He's. Dead. He's. Dead. Mornings are mocking her. Everyday. We hurt people even without meaning to. This sadness shall go away someday. For now she settles in, burrows deeper to make a Sam-shaped dent. It's okay.
He died on a Sunday. The next Sunday after that is his birthday. She wonders: Do we stop celebrating someone's birthday if they're dead? Two days after they buried him she finally summons the strength to go into his room. It faintly smells of satsuma oil—his favorite oil scent from Body Shop. She locates the oil burner on his nightstand. The tea light is barely used. She smells his pillow and immediately bursts into tears. She curls up and hugs his blanket and cries and cries and cries. He would have been 80 this Sunday. Outside the wind's howling.
Sam goes through her father's journal and finds this question: What kinds of questions do people ask fortune tellers? This makes her wonder if her dad ever went to a fortune teller. Did he ask when exactly he would die? Because that's one of the things people ask fortune tellers, right? Sam calls a friend and announces that losing a parent is one of the hardest things to accept. "We are small children all our lives, always looking for guidance." Her friend listens, careful of what to say and what not to say. "Why did we not see this coming?"
An unwieldy question, for sure. How can one see death coming, exactly? Even if she knows there was nothing she could've done, she still beats herself up. A small gesture, a quick visit, a random phone call—anything. There must've been something that would've added a few more days. And then what? A few more days and he still dies. Sam's always afraid of being found out: The truth is she didn't love him enough, didn't call him enough, didn't think of him enough. In the cemetery she visits him, covers her face in disgust. Why wasn't there enough time?
In the mirror today she says his name out loud 10, 20, 30 times. Maybe if she says it too many times it will sound unfamiliar, like someone she never knew. There's hope, it will be okay—all the cliches. She plays his last voice mail: "Sam, anak, call me. I miss you, I want to hear your voice." Maybe someday she can forgive herself for not calling back? Her phone case's color has faded around the part where her hands usually clutch it. She's been holding on to it, hoping he would call. For anyone to call. She'll answer.
In Baguio there's a trinket shop they often went to in college. Today is the second year since they stopped talking. She's almost sure he's also forgotten the reason they drifted apart. Sure, there's plenty of reasons. She can enumerate 10 right now off of her head. But they managed to transcend college, their 20s, and early 30s even with these so-called reasons. Maybe they ran out of tolerance. In that trinket shop they once found matching silver rings engraved with hearts. 10 pesos apiece. Today she decides to throw hers. Giving up is also bravery.
That night she dreamed of him. In the dream they were walking on a knoll. On the other side, at eye level, is a waterfall, behind it a red sunset. "Home," they said in unison. They often did this before—say something at the same time. Once they were choosing between Bon Chon and KFC. "KFC," they said in unison then. In the dream, Baguio is behind the waterfall. They'd have to cross a bridge to reach it. She woke up before they got to. Somehow that gave her hope. But hope is fleeting. Hope is a 2-hour visitor.
The next day she goes to Camp John Hay. She goes straight to the flowers and buys a pot of poinsettia. This is one of her fondest memories of them together: One foggy day at CJH, taking photographs of flowers. Seeking shelter in one of the cottages when it starts raining. Him walking away, heavy fog obscuring his legs so it looks like he's walking on clouds. His head is slightly turned sideways, like he's about to say something. They head back when it gets too cold. This is how she'll say goodbye to this friendship. Relive that day. Smile.
At a Starbucks she watches the barista bungle her espresso shots. She's tempted to correct the barista: Extraction – 20–30 seconds, then it goes bad after 10 seconds so you'd have to mix it with something within that time frame. She doesn't have patience nor the energy. And she remembers him—how he'd tell her to let it go. Everyone's day is good until you make it bad. It's Schroedinger's cat. She forgets the exact explanation, except for the detail that they laughed so hard after his punch line. He has a good laugh. Loud but not annoying. Music. Balm.
They once sat on the grass in front of the Oblation, facing Gen. Pack Road where the Victory Liner buses pass through. He dared her to wave at the passengers of the next bus that would pass. "If someone waves back, I'll treat you for dinner." "Okay." She forgets now what happened that day. Her memory stops at the dare and the overall feeling: Giddiness. Vaguely, she recalls a few passengers waving back. They were taken aback at first, doubtful if it's them they were waving at, but when they realized yes, they enthusiastically waved back. She'll try again today.
Today they break up for good. He's bringing her to the airport. There's promise of no-traffic Sunday. He's excited knowing this, until he remembers what this day is about. They've been married 12 years. Married young. No kids. She flies to the states today. A study grant or something. He wasn't interested on the day she told him about it so he's not really sure. Something about school. He's excited for a lot of things, barely feeling guilt. They both deserve to be happy. They both wanted this. They decided this. He keeps checking the time.
A few days before they talked about the weight of their sins. That first time he cut her heart, how much love was lost or is it...how much love was gained? Years of trying, and they end up like this. Was it a waste? He asks. She answers with a shrug, which he knows by now to be a yes. This stings him a bit, but he gets over it in seconds. There. How can you say you love someone when you can forget the pain they inflicted in such a short time? Is that even the right question?
In the car they're quiet, afraid to start a conversation that they'll either hate or enjoy. There's no in-between. He navigates EDSA like he's studying for an exam. Focused, alone, decisive. She listens to music on her phone, headphones full blast. They're both avoiding the first move, when in the past they fought for the chance to be the first. First to make a move, first to express love, first to buy the better gift. She has Waze on, her eyes fixed on the ETA, the clock counting down. Hurry up. Slow down. She can't decide how to feel.
You can see a speeding car in front of you, you know it's going to ram you, you'd think you'll know what to do, but you really don't. Four independent clauses—how would she edit this? Would she, really? Would she have the strength to let it go? Or would she succumb to her compulsive need to correct people? He mocks her in his head. Her. This woman beside him. His wife of 12 years. Soon-to-be-ex-wife. He smirks. How can you love someone and hate them at the same time? Yes, maybe it was a waste.
At the airport he hugs her goodbye at the security check. He won't stay long. It's like 1 kg of steel against 1 kg of cotton. She's the cotton. Freedom is the steel. His heart's heavy, but he's not sad. She holds back tears. That's it? He unloads her baggage, sees her off, and that's it? No words? No kiss? All movies do is lie. Romance is a fantasy, this is real life. On their wedding day many moons ago, they vowed that only death can part them. That was the happiest they ever were—until this day. Good. Bye.
They're a family of five. Parents, three girls. They live on a planet named Maraud. The year is 2095. All flowers are green, while leaves are of wildly different colors. The girls are of the same age but they each have certain memories that the others don't. They only know that they were "sourced" from 2020. Their parents—their dads—are proud of this. Not a lot of parents are allowed to source from so far back. Here, the right connections still matter. Why 2020? They themselves come from 2050. This family's still feeling each other out.
This is the future and the past all at once. The three girls spent their "birthday"—their first day on the planet—dazed. "Newborns" come into the world at age 15. Memory-erasing machines are far from sophisticated. There's an ongoing petition at the Senate regarding its abolition. Why erase memories? Say the old souls. Why not? Say the young ones. Newborns are rarely afforded the courtesy of adjusting to their new world. New life. There is so much yet to be known here, but the authorities pretend they're good as is, resulting in families spending too long to gel.
One of the girls—Sylvia—keeps hearing a whistling tune. A few days later she remembers it as from the song 5 Years' Time from 2007. Her head hurts from the random memories, big and small, and the pompous claim that their memories will now start from scratch. She asks her sisters if they're willing to go under the memory-eraser again. "Will it be safe?" Natalie asks. Laura cries softly, "My head hurts." "So does mine, all I want to do is shut down," says Sylvia. They look for their parents. "On vacation," a sign on their door says.
At dinner they plan their escape. There are whispers of a shuttle operator who can ferry them back to their "home year." Rumors are that when one returns home, they will not remember their time on Maraud. Another rumor is that one can decide on this—such that others can choose to retain their memory of year-hopping, and correspond from their home year to those on Maraud. This is to remind Marauders—the newborns especially—that life is better in the past. "They say his name's Philip," Sylvia tells her sisters—their eyes wide with hope. Heads hurting less.
"When you're just passing by, it's much easier to be yourself, to not invest too much feelings. This is if you're sure you'd only be at a place for a set amount of time." Philip is from 1955. His house is guarded by a lion. The sisters listen to him like he's a priest. Hands folded—like they've committed a grave sin, ready to confess and supplicate. "Anything, we'll give you anything you ask of us. Just help us," Sylvia cries. "Everyone says that," Philip waves her off. "All I ask is you write to me when you're back home."
It's often these in my dreams: A large house with too many doors; locking up for the night; worrying someone will intrude; finding bed space scarce for my housemates; yellow light; switches; waking up and discovering I left one door unlocked; exiting that door and finding a field—usually behind the house; walking, walking, until I find a narrow stream that leads down (it's a hillside by now); then fine white sand. I look up and see my house. "That's done now," in my head. Then I follow where the grass and sand lead me. Then reality.
In another dream my younger brother is eating dinner in the backyard. It's raining. He has a makeshift roof covering his table, the exact size, so it's only covering the table and food on it. Water pouring on all sides, barely avoiding the food. My brother is sat at the far end, grinning, pointing at the candle sticks. He's soaking wet. He calls out. I think of joining him but remember my favorite narra chair, sitting under the rain. I check for rot and find it in one of the legs. Tsk. Does narra rot? Is this really a dream?
Alice in Wonderland. This is my favorite story from my childhood. "Fantastical" is my favorite word in recent memory. It used to be "profound" then it became "vacuum" then it became " sylvan." I'm not sure what my point is. I'm supposed to tell you a story, but it feels like "Eat Me" a lot these days. Down the rabbit hole, etc., etc. Always be looking at a pocket watch and not be late. In conversations I find myself becoming that which I dislike most: Someone who rambles, veers off topic, apologizes for nothing. Cheshire cat grin. Smoke. Words. Giant cards.
So yes. I string words together. That's my job. Sometimes I'm good at it, sometimes not so much. I write love letters for a living. Also those letters you see in movies the lead character sees in a room that someone left to say goodbye, and then they cry? I write those in real life. Saying goodbye is easier than saying hello. You must know this by now, yes? A woman once asked me to write both, an initial greeting and a goodbye. She was playing it safe. Nowadays people ask for goodbye letters more often. We're nearly coming apart.
The Internet isn't really for bringing people together, it's for ripping them apart. Pshaw. You know this by now, too. Many believe print will resurrect in the near future and the Internet will be near-obsolete (then it will resurface in x number of years). The skies are purple during September. Come October they turn salmon. This isn't a dream world. We made this. We are all Alice. "Drink me" and we shrink. Others become giants. The Queen of Hearts screams "Off with their heads!" but she doesn't mean it. She just wants you to listen. Perhaps a hug, too.
It's Christmas morning. The street is deserted. What used to be small children caroling are paper scraps from last night's half-hearted firework party. At the end of San Jose Street the sun is peeking out. Hesitant. In years past Christmas morning was alive here. Everything and nothing happened. People got tired, gave up, just went to bed. A community of depressives with bottomless hot chocolate perpetually nursing their cold hands. Here, warm hands are news. If one turns into a Sad, their hand automatically turns into a Bad. Cold, clammy, always yearning for warmth. Happy Christmas.
It's not that bad. Those who can still celebrate, do. Response is a currency, and the Normal ones like it when they make someone smile, it's like a reward in itself. A nonselfish good deed (Hi, Phoebe, from Friends). When someone finds the strength to smile, their hands heal instantly. This warmth encourages them to keep whatever light is inside On. When they feel warmth again they almost always do not want it to go again. Some do go back to Sad, however. "It's a comfortable bed." Who wants to leave that, right? But this street holds on to hope.
Christmas morning is their #1 Picker-Upper. This is the time of yead when they have the most number of Sads turn Okay then Normal. Others transcend Normal and reach Happy. Others reach Content. The street leader, a Normal, compares notes with other street leaders. So far, so good. If only they can pinpoint what it is that's making people Sad and Want to Stay Inside All the Time. They watch Inside Out for inspiration, and learn all the time that people can have more than one emotion and that's okay. Sad's okay. It's the hands they need to fix.
Hands are important. But are they really that important? The Cold Hand phenomenon is only getting in the way of Normal life in terms of...when people sleep they have to wear gloves because the coldness can jolt them awake. It's colder than ice. The hot chocolate mugs they use for warmth? Those are beyond boiling point. Why hot chocolates? That just happened. This has been going on for years. Street leaders consult with city leaders and region leaders and so on and so forth, until someone finally suggests that maybe, just maybe, they're looking at it the wrong way.
Well what's the right way, the president asks—himself a Sad. We only become Sad when we care too much, right? Why not make everyone Sad? Where are you going with this, a region leader asks. That's not the right way. The leaders argue as they regularly do on Mondays. A futile attempt at helping those in need. Those in need? Are not really in need. Are not even asking for help. Sadness has made them appreciate Happiness. They have loads of it in secret, in bulk, for sharing with the worthy. It's cliche. It's the truth. They're living. Here.
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