This is “The Catherine Theory” — unlike “This Fleet of Shadows,” I wouldn’t hug this story. No, I won’t. I like this story. It came from my figurative loins. I have an odd relationship with this piece. Really odd. On one hand, it, along with its “partner” story “You Know I Love You” (Alice’s story), began a slew of interconnected projects. Yes, I want to be a schmaltzier Joan Silber. But. But. Hm. Buy me a beer [UGH I DRINK BEER NOW BYE MARGARITAS] and we’ll talk about it. Let’s. [Story first published in December 06, 2008 issue of Philippines Free Press. And it was instrumental in letting me meet Gregorio Brillantes, who is my new mancrush because he is so swabeh.]
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The Catherine Theory
Michelle took her overnight bag, and put what she could inside it. Always, what was necessary: the toiletries she wasn’t allowed to leave no matter how frequently she went there, some underwear advertised as decadent, a change of clothes, a packet of mints.
It was Friday night. In a couple of minutes, she would go out the door, and hail a taxi. In less than an hour, she would be at Jim’s house, where he would be waiting for her with a glass of wine, because it set the mood for what would happen the whole weekend. On Sunday morning, she’d be back in her apartment again, her overnight bag would hold what she was wearing now, the panties she had gone through, shampoo bottles that were lighter. On Sunday nights, Jim always had dinner with his girlfriend, whose name Michelle always seemed to forget.
It didn’t bother her, that he had a girlfriend, it didn’t bother her now the way it did before. Things like that happened. She supposed she loved Jim, and perhaps Jim loved her back, but that wasn’t important, hadn’t been lately. Jim would always say, usually after they made love, “You’re beautiful, Shell,” and she supposed she was. She was pretty enough, with her long dark hair, her full lips, her light skin. Her sister Alice always said she’d give anything to look like Michelle, then she could be taken seriously.
Seriousness, did she inspire this? Did it matter? Commitment, a voice in her head chided, and Michelle thought of how she’d never felt the urge to ask Jim, “Who’s more beautiful then, me or her?” She felt noble for this; it somehow made her seem admirable. She had no desire to know, beyond what she already knew: a girlfriend, Jim’s, who had him most of the week, and especially on special occasions.
At least he wasn’t married. She never dallied with married men. Her mother would never forgive her if she did, if she somehow knew.
Hello, all. This is a story I wrote more than a year ago. Was it a year ago, really? It seems like it’s from so long ago. From someone I only vaguely recognize. Is it frightening, how we grow up without us noticing? [“This Fleet of Shadows” was published in Philippines Graphic on September 29, 2008, and it is a happy dappy blessing.]
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This Fleet of Shadows
It is quiet again. Ever since you realized what exactly silence was, you know that is what weights the house in the hours before noon. The arms of clocks move slowly, dust courses through the air without displacing anything. Always that silence, as the day grows from the gauzy rays of dawn to the stark heat of midday.
Your mom is somewhere within the house, straightening pillows and blankets, watering plants, steadying vases; she is most probably humming a song you will never recognize. Your father is at work. Down the road, the old people with their rolled tobacco and nganga are talking about the snow that fell on the town of Rosario for exactly seven and a half minutes, some eleven years ago, the day you were born. Outside, the sun is relentless. Today is the hottest day of May.
I probably spent four hours trying to figure out what I should write to resurrect this blog. The choices were Edward Cullen, thoughts on the beast called Writing, why no one bothers to listen to what the fictionist wants to say, and this ridiculous fixation with Robert Pattinson (he’s in my dreams, bench-pressing a van). Most of these required me to think. I gots to save my mental bits, because the Big Kahuna in charge of the creative juices suddenly decides that a “short” story whose pages count 87 1/2 so far ain’t done yet. Gah. It’s about, what else, a girl. And another girl. And there may be some sexy times, but we’re not sure yet. Nuh-uh.
I did write a short story (really short, distressingly short) about vaginas. It is cool. Allow me to quote myself: “My cunt has a deep sense of foreboding,” Ann-Marie allowed herself to think. Boo-yah! Don’t worry, it’s not all about vaginas. There’s a Caesar salad in it as well. And a phone. And a mattress. Of course there’s a mattress.
It’s nearly 4 in the morning (I think — lost whatever tedious sense of time I possess) and you know me well enough that there’s nothing remotely smart in this blog entry. And to aid my flagging thought systems, we’ll do this mathematically. That’s the way I roll. Yeah.
1 – I’ve noticed that no one really bothers to hear what the fictionist says (mostly because this fictionist has earned a reputation that is giggly, giddy, and inane in the “I like eggs” kind of way). The poets cannot be faulted for this, fascinating conversation-hoggers they may be.
I’ve realized (and it took the making of a CW thesis for me to do so), that I hate talking about what I am as a writer, that I’d rather just let the banging-away-at-the-keyboard do the talking. Lots of them other dudes seem to not have any trouble with the whole Poetics/Process/Fucking Genius-ness Speeches, with or without alcohol, preferably the former.
Well. Maybe it comes with age. Haha. Er. Yeah. Maybe it comes with one’s ease with the craft and the art, that elocution becomes as effortless. Maybe it comes with age–you know how family elders rap your heads with a fan/cane to make you listen to how the good ol’ days were, and how today’s just full of fascinating shit? Maybe it comes with genre? That is: maybe, in contrast with popular belief, poets are not the brooding dark forces that throw themselves off cliffs with a bottle of alcohol; they’re the rowdy ones, the sing-an-Irish-song types—and the “other” dude, the one no one really talks about because he writes—gasp!—prose, is in the corner, looking very bored with the whole thing, and half-eavesdropping in witness of yet another human ritual—the “Mas mataas ang ihi ko sa’yo” kind.
Or, maybe, as some of you may have begun to think, maybe I’m an arrogant, conceited ass, who thinks no one deserves my opinions, yeh poor, pathetic fools. (Cue evil laugh). Poets annoy me with their Greater-than-Thou gesticulations. Nonfictionists bore me. Playwrights have me scrambling for my Happy Place in face of their relentless volume. Wala ka sa Lolo ko. Blah blah.
Maybe I just can’t talk. People look at me when I talk. Jeesh.
2 – Someday I will have the guts to stop disclaiming. The way I say, “Yeah, I’ve read the Twilight Saga, but for purely recreational purposes only.” And then launching into a feeble discussion about the dilemmas of entertainment vs high-brow Ooh-I’m-a-writer writing. And then saying, “It was a terribly written book, but it was very affective.” And then launching into a feeble discussion about literary merit vs affect. Blah blah and more blah.
3 – Speaking of goats, it’s summer. Which means it’s the season for fiestas. Which means we need to have a lot of food. Which brings us back to the goats. I have fond memories of a goat tied to a mango yet-to-be-tree. And boats. Boats. I read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. It was fun. I never thought I’d enjoy tigers so much. Although when he was talking about God and all that jazz, I had to put the book down and look for something subversive like, er, Memnoch the Devil. And you need towels in boats because you tend to get wet when you’re in a boat, and so, well, that brings us to Alicia Erian’s Towelhead. It was nice, as well. And maybe, with a little research, I can find a connection between goats and boats and Martin Scorcese and Julia Cameron, because I read her memoir, Floor Sample. She’s the one who came up with the hokey, but strangely effective, Artist’s Way. Ya know. Daily Morning Pages, Artist’s Date, and what have you. She’s also coo-coo crazy. And a sober alcoholic. Book gave me the impression that Alcoholics Anonymous peeps compose those Greek choruses that warble Awoo in the wings. Yeah. I’m not very sympathetic, I’ve discovered.
4 – Here’s something from the introduction of My Mistress’ Sparrow is Dead: Great Love Stories from Chekhov to Munro, edited by Jeffrey Eugenides. Just the introduction, because that’s all I read, which means, [a shout-out to people who earn money], I want a copy! Please? I’ll name a character after you, and I can guarantee it won’t kill any puppies! There’s a copy in A Different Bookstore in Serendra. Kthxbai! :D
When it comes to love, there are a million theories to explain it. But when it comes to love stories, things are simpler. A love story can never be about full possession. The happy marriage, the requited love, the desire that never dims – these are lucky eventualities but they aren’t love stories. Love stories depend on disappointment, on unequal births and feuding families, on matrimonial boredom and at least one cold heart. Love stories, nearly without exception, give love a bad name.
We value love not because it’s stronger than death but because it’s weaker. Say what you want about love: death will finish it. You will not go on loving in the grave, not in any physical way that will at all resemble love as we know it on earth. The perishable nature of love is what gives love its profound importance in our lives. If it were endless, if it were on tap, love wouldn’t hit us the way it does. And we certainly wouldn’t write about it.
5 – If you have nothing to do this Saturday — that is, if you’re not graduating or some other inane thing (hehe) — come to Conspiracy. We’re having an exhibit of all the people we sketched. A senior artist had to resort to emotional blackmail to make me frame one of my sketches, but it’s just an itty-bitty thing, nothing too distracting. Forge on ahead to look at pretty pictures. :) Oh, and, I may not be there myself, since I have to do Dutiful Daughter schtick and be at my mother’s bedside. We’re getting rid of her (thank you, Big Kahuna) non-cancerous lumps. So, love to everyone.
6 – Why the fuck am I so giddy?
You do realize something’s gotta give. (And whenever I hear those last three words, the image of Diane Keaton dancing around naked in her living room while Jack Nicholson looks on just flashes and flashes and flashes. Flash. Whatever.)
I am waiting for a headache to pass. I am waiting for the ihawan in Gonzales St. to open so I can pig out, because I haven’t pigged out in so long. I am waiting for people to stop thinking of ways to eat my hypothetical pet pig of the future, Commodore Hump. I am waiting for tonight, like J.Lo, who, she’s quick to remind you, has not forgotten that she’s from the block.
I am waiting for a mentor/childhood hero to get his Sanuks in the English Dept., as he bears the magic signature. Someday I will have a magic signature. Someday people will line up in the rain and circle around blocks just to be in the ten-foot radius of my magic signature, which, typically, will have a smiley face as a punctuation mark.
I am waiting for short stories with titles like “Lie” and “Silverfish” and “Hysteria” and “A Few Things You Should Know” to get jiggy with the inner workings of our wonky universe and write themselves. Here’s the thing: I love what I do, and there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.
Most of all, I am waiting for poems like this to stop sneaking in on me and have me blubber and slobber all around the room, in search for my green flats and that donut I just know is somewhere:
The Primer by Christina Davis
She said, I love you.
He said, Nothing.
(As if there were just one
of each word and the one
who used it, used it up).
In the history of language
the first obscenity was silence.
And then Barthes comes along, even though I’d taken the pains to shipping him off to cat-infested Kael Co’s house: ‘”Am I in love? — Yes, since I’m waiting.” The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits.’ You think you know so much, Roland my boy, don’t you? Well, fuck you, man, fuck you. You and the baby penguins and one-week-old puppies and the platypus and baby pandas. Fuck it.
I am waiting for the blog entry that won’t take me too long to write, because I don’t need to think of codes or hide behind quotable quotes; I don’t have to go through my repository of Shit, Booger Complex snippets from literature because I do not have the capacity to express myself with my own goddamned words.
Sucks when the New Year rolls in and you become absolutely sure of one thing, and that one thing you’re absolutely sure of cannot — for the fucking life of it, at the least for the goddamned conventions of politeness (i.e. white lies) — goddamn give you a simple Yes or No. By all means, it’s moving back to the rainbows and cavorting bunnies mode, but dude, come on. You think I feel vindicated because it’s shining-shimmering-splendid now because I goddamned cried like it was a The Buzz interview? Gaaahd.
Yeah, it’s all coming up roses. (If you think about it in the technical level, it is.) But I’m not making sense. So, yeah. Shutting up now.
A Love Letter to Memory, Sweetness, and Collateral Damage.
There are things I have committed to memory, although that is rarely the original intent: that is, leaning forward to press my face against a white mum I will then discover to be scentless, I do not do so because I would want to spend my idle moments recalling how the crispness of the mum’s non-fragrance leapt into my nose and scurried into my brain, where it now nestles with a song from ’98 and the color of my grandfather’s favorite tie (maroon). To use a favorite word of P.’s, it’s all incidental. (Do I believe in incidence? Or do I revert to it when I do not want to spend time elaborating on what I believe in, and do?)
For example, I have committed the lay of our house to memory, down to every little adjustment of the dining room chairs, every tiny journey of one shirt from one stack to another, of the cheese grater, of the astringent, of the unused socks, of the more expensive paint brushes, of our photos from childhood, of shredded paper, of receipts, of a book (from Hundertwasser to Silber, from Schulz to Deveraux, from Glück to Barthes), of the bedsheets with the Winnie the Pooh stencils. I have committed the dips of the bed to memory, which part of the pillows have been stained by a head fresh from the shower, which blanket is coarse but thick or silky but flimsy against December chill. How the 4 AM sun peeks through the heavy curtains to spill on the ugly floor tiles, the carpet tiles that still make me bitter, the sheets, the wood doors of the cabinets. The space between the bathroom walls, that I can navigate it without bathing everything with light.
I have committed the scent of the air of the house after a night out, after a weekend away. The scent of Gard to memory, along with High Endurance, and Olay, and Suave hand cream. The scent of a kiss. The scent of pork chops marinated in beer. The scent of wood shavings. The scent of his newly laundered clothes, and then my newly laundered clothes. The scent of flesh falling off from bones. The scent of ammonia. The scent of thinner and expensive tubes of paints and cheaper tubes of paint. The scent of new books. The scent of old books made new by recent acquisition. The scent of Kalinga coffee at noon. The scent of a cigarette lit. The scent of a cigarette refusing to be stubbed. The scent of used cotton in the ashtray burning from sparks. The scent of Victoria’s Secret Believe and Pear Glacé. The scent of the inside of his car, the scent of the seatbelt of the passenger seat. The scent of a the back of the neck in the mornings, the scent of that peculiar dip in a chest come evenings.
I have committed the squeal of the garage gates opening to memory. The slap of his palms against the steering wheel as he parks the car. The recoil of the seatbelt. The bang of the car door that shouldn’t be banged shut. The creak of the front door. The creak of a hinge in the folding table. The creak of the cabinet doors, second and third from the right. Doors. The resting of the futon on the floor. The unfolding of a blanket. That pause before water hisses from the shower. The coffee percolating. The bubbling of water and rice grains. The pots and the pans, the dishes to be washed, the dishes just washed. The alarm clock’s shrieks, the other alarm clock’s shrieks. The signal of a message, to him, to me. I have committed phone calls to memory. Not the content of them, no, of course not — but how they begin, and certain ritualistic highlights. Hello, I will say, and my voice has sweetened on its own accord. And I will hello into silence, the ever-present momentary void that can only be sealed by a more insistent Hello from me, and the intake of his breath that shall follow that Hello, and a sigh. I will always say more than him. I no longer mind this, well, not as often as before. This is the way we are: I spill my words and stories indiscriminately, and I imagine him nodding from wherever he holds his phone to his ear, and his eyes could dart to the sheen and shine and things around him, and then he returns to me, and then he will say, “Ah,” and I hear the gentle exhalation of his breath, and I hold my own, before I plunge in and move on.
I have committed tastes to memory. I will not elaborate.
I have committed the rasp of bare walls to memory, and of unvarnished wooden chairs. I have committed the early morning cold of the floor to memory. The warmth of paper newly inked by my own writing, the clean, mechanical dots and lines forming symbols forming verses forming blocks of words forming story forming creative portfolio for senior thesis. The scratch of coffee grounds one a canvas, under two coats of paint. The down that covers the stems of tomato plants. The heat rising from a pan just placed on the burner. The planes of another’s body, along with mine: my hipbones, his calves, the near-indiscernible rise of a new tattoo, the silver earring that loops through the lobe of his left ear, the veins that river my wrists, the hair that spatter his forearms, “a kiss on the back of the knee” (Sexton), an arm around my back, a palm on my shoulder, fingers on my arm, my cheek on his skin where shoulder meets chest, my hand on the soft rise of his chest, my fingers grazing his collarbone, the gravitation of our legs under the blanket. A nudge awake in the morning, just in time for class. A shaking to draw you out of a dream. Of course, a kiss. The reverberation of his smug laughter in the darkness. A playful, annoyed swat at the most accessible body part. A kiss: hello, goodbye, just because, what are you doing?, you look so silly but I love you anyway, you make me so bad I want to throttle you but here’s to show I love you anyway.
I have committed his name to memory, that when I am not with him, I find myself calling everyone with familiarity and expectation, with more than a little greed, and laughter, and breathlessness. A girl who makes me chuckle in fond exasperation shall be admonished with the first syllable of his name. A phone call to an aunt in need of my services (that is, to rummage in her closet in search for a specific beige blouse with the most specific alignment of ruffles) would begin, brittle, with that first syllable. Looking up from my notebook fifteen minutes I bent over it, his name would slide from my mouth like silken sand in loose fists. And. And when he calls, I will say his name once, twice, then once more, relishing the rightness of uttering a name to the one who bears it, and I will say it again, and again, before I slip into the other names I have bestowed upon him.
And so. From The Brooklyn Follies, by Paul Auster:
“I want to talk about happiness and well being, about those rare, unexpected moments when the voice in your head goes silent and you feel at one with the world. I want to talk about the early June weather, about harmony and blissful repose, about robins and yellow finches and blue-birds darting past the green leaves of trees. I want to talk about the benefits of sleep, about the pleasures of food and alcohol, about what happens to your mind when you step into the light of the two o’clock sun and feel the warm embrace of air around your body. (…) I want to remember the cerulean dusks, the languorous, rosy dawns, the bears yelping in the woods at night. I want to remember it all. If all is too much to ask, then some of it. No, more than some of it. Almost all. Almost all, with blanks reserved for the missing parts.”
And then another. From The Passion by Jeanette Winterson:
“I say I’m in love with her. What does that mean?
“It means I review my future and my past in the light of this feeling. It is as though I wrote in a foreign language that I am suddenly able to read. Wordlessly, she explains me to myself. Like genius, she is ignorant of what she does.”