Monday, May 30, 2016
1:43 AM |
Everything Taken Together Has the Weight of Heaven
Grab the June 6 issue of Philippines Graphic
Magazine! It has my story "Everything Taken Together Has the Weight of Heaven" in it. Here's an excerpt...
I have often imagined meeting Alicia again, the woman Angelico swore would love him for the rest of his life. As if that meant anything. It has been years—all that past coalescing in my head into a kind of gelatinous thought, something thick and forbidding—and I can’t exactly remember the circumstances of the last time I’d seen her or talked to her. When I force myself to have a bit of recollection, my mind plays tricks on me, shifting details around like sand. I allow it.
Sometimes I recall a scene at a restaurant, the one down the block from where the university’s main portals stand, after a particularly uneventful school day, the lights dim to approximate intimacy, the food forgotten. Sometimes I recall the interiors of a car, littered with student papers and misplaced ballpens, something speeding along a highway at nighttime, the destination a blur. Often I recall Angelico’s apartment—spare in its decoration but stacked with ubiquitous shelves heavy with books—and Alicia sitting still in my favorite spot of Angelico’s small sofa, looking at me with so much desperation and so much want, I remember how impossible it was to say no to her.
Alicia and her dark, abundant hair.
Alicia and her dark, luminous eyes.
Alicia and her lips, and the way she makes such a subtle ceremony in biting them.
It is easy to believe that there is a grammar known only to her, with which she deploys the power of body language to get what she wants. She makes small gestures fraught with meaning, and you find yourself drawn to her.
Alicia and her brilliant eyes that see through you.
I cringe at the sudden fix of memory. For a moment, I forget where I am exactly, were it not for the book my hands are gripping, its title burning against my skin; and were it not for the sight of so many other books around me. When I take a deep breath, I find myself drowning in the smell of breaking down lignin, old glue and old pulp and a dash of vanilla in the mix. One can only wish for a better death
, I think. I am in a secondhand bookstore, and outside, along Access Road, a hint of a cold spell delaying what passes for the ravages of summer in Baguio.
“That book is good.” Someone is talking to me, in a voice that is meant to sound helpful.
I look up—and the girl in the pixie cut, behind the cashier, smiles. She looks at me with some bemusement, perhaps sensing that I was a perfect stranger in the city, my face registering the bewilderment of visitors. She is standing up, carrying a hefty number of books, and on her black sweatshirt, peeking at the top of the volumes in her arms, is a glimpse of a screaming Kurt Cobain printed in a silvery sheen.
“Excuse me?” I say.
“That book you have in your hand. I read that in college,” she says.
“This one?” I hastily return the book to the cluttered pile in the Sale—50% Off bin near the cashier.
“Yes, that one,” the girl with the pixie cut says. “Everything Taken Together Has the Weight of Heaven and Other Stories
. A mouthful, no? But a good one, and a sentimental read, too—but I liked it. Too bad the author didn’t write more after that collection got published.”
I hear myself laugh. “Maybe the author found he had nothing more to say,” I tell her.
“Well, that’s too bad if that’s true,” she says. “Are you planning to buy it? It’s on sale. That copy has been with us for four years now.”
“Is that so,” I smile. “But I have a copy back home.”
She looks at me, and gives me a small nod.
“The thing is, I wrote it,” I finally tell her.
“You are Adrian Gomez?” The girl stands back. She gently puts down the books she is carrying on the counter, then leans forward, and looks at me with an intense sort of amusement. I feel like a specimen, and she the microscope. I wither in her gaze, and I can do nothing more except playfully shrug away the confession I’ve made.
“I am Adrian Gomez.”
I smile as sheepishly as I can, more for her benefit.
“I have a mind to get hold of that copy myself right now and have you sign it,” she smiles back.
“I’ll buy it for you.”
“It’s not everyday somebody tells me they liked my writing.”
She laughs, and tells me her name is Padma.
“But what have you done lately?” Padma asks, while I scribble some dedication on the bare page that says, ‘To A., with love and affection.’
I cross that and write the girl’s name instead. I scribble some empty phrase about the magic of reading. And I find that there is a flourish to the way I am signing my name—ghosts of what I once was, perhaps. So I give a short and muted laugh to keep the phantom at bay.
“I don’t really write fiction anymore. I write textbooks. It pays better. Science stuff. Physics, for the most part, for high school kids. Gravity, stars, black holes.”
“You’re kidding me,” she says.
“I have a whole book series on scientists, chapbooks really. Galileo, Edison, Rizal, Einstein, Curie…”
It is the truth. But I look at her—and I see that she is someone, like so many others, who needs comfortable lies. I look around the bookstore, and I can see that she believes in all these, this temple of literature, this worship of writers, this malignancy of beautiful words.
“What have I done lately…” I start slowly. Then I go for the enigmatic, brandishing my answer with a little smile: “I have done nothing, except live.”
She considers that. “I don’t know what that means,” she shakes her head, smiling. “But thank you.” She looks sincere.
I hand her the book with the exact amount it required, and she receives it in a gesture equal to supplication—and my heart breaks all over again.
“I don’t know what I mean, either,” I tell her.
But I do know what I meant.
In my scattered, unreliable memories, that kind of gesture—and the look of want, combined with desperation, that accompanies it—has been a constant in my occasional conjuring up of my memories of Alicia. That is the only abiding truth about her I have gained from those years I have chosen to forget. For the most part, anyway
. In my truest moments, I have surrendered to the realization that nobody really forgets anything. There is only the sheen of denial, smooth as the lies we tell ourselves in order to survive.
That is what I mean when I say I lived
Labels: fiction, life, love, magazines, philippine literature, writing
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