Saturday morning I'm up early and on the internet, clutching my coffee cup and hoping to sneak in and get a good clear phone line before the rest of the town awakens. Service isn't so good here in the provinces, so I usually try to get in before six. Then there's still time to sit outside and enjoy the quiet of the morning, literary gems neatly printed out and in hand.
| But he doesn't understand the nourishment a writer
or someone who tries
to convince herself that she is a writergets from having to write something every week...
But I'm probably too early. Friday evening is posting time for my on-line writing group, and it's still only 3:00 Friday afternoon on the west coast of the U.S.where Cecilia, Veronica, Marianne, and Ben write from. Anyway, I try. And Nadine writes from Singapore, roughly the same time we're on, and Erma in Cebu and Libay in Manila might have their stuff in too.
Otherwise I'll put off the whole weekend ritual until Sunday morning.
My husband wonders why I would clamber out of bed so early on a weekend. But he doesn't understand the nourishment a writeror someone who tries to convince herself that she is a writergets from having to write something every week, having to send it out to other people, and then, bless them, receiving encouraging feedback.
But that's how it goes in this group. We are all people who wear many hats, have many obligations, must do this, do thatbut we are all, too, people who care deeply about writing. This is what forces us to keep going, to write at least something every week, to share it with kindred spirits. "I just want to say," says Veronica, "that the workshop has been wonderful for someone like me, who stays at home with 3 small children all day. Being held gently accountable for creating new workregardless of its qualityensures that I keep writing through this very challenging time in my life."
And this is Nadine's First Entry:
I start with a blank page,
write to keep back the rage
I save my life the only way I know
I put it on paper and finally let go
| They are writers who trust each other,
and trust that criticism will be telling, but gentle; these are, after all, exercises, very raw work.
When the "offerings" come in, we read them eagerly, and reactcharitably sometimes, most always positively. And then we all eagerly await the new prompt to get into it all again.
And when the feedback starts coming in, we read them, and then think"Wow, I wrote something and these people read it! And they liked it!" For some of us, this is about the only time we get this experience, and it is (as writers know) rather intoxicating.
Veronica has already had something that started in the workshop published; Cecilia has a couple of pieces in the publication process.
Cecilia Brainard started the group, many months ago now, with three writing friends: Nadine Sarreal, Erma Cuizon, and Veronica Montes. They are writers who trust each other, and trust that criticism will be telling, but gentle; these are, after all, exercises, very raw work. But sometimes the pieces are overwhelming.
I was enticed by comments and feedback posted in the PALH network, and was happy to be welcomed into the group. Later we put out a limited call for members, and in came Penelope Flores and Ben Sorianoand then Marianne Villanueva and Libay Linsangan Cantor. Everyone doesn't write all the timepeople have their moments of inspiration and sometimes some dry spells between. Veronica is probably our most faithful member. But even the rarest voice (Penelope's?) is much appreciated whenever it chimes in.
We take turns coming up with the prompts, although Cecilia has taken much of the responsibility for this. They've been wonderful. We started out with the traditional open or leading first line:
By the time I was ___ years old, . . .
It was too soon to tell . . .
Once upon a time . . .
You can't be serious! . . .
And now it has come to this. . .
At the end of every party, there's always a girl crying. . .
Before I was born, . . .
Somewhere a piano was playing . . .
Whenever I dream of . . .
| Once the ingenious Cecilia asked us to write either a story composed of one very long (but hopefully still controlled) sentence, or a story in which we used only one syllable words.
Sometimes we write from more general themes or moodsa monologue in the rain, or a dialogue about food in which people reveal their characters, or adultery. Once the ingenious Cecilia asked us to write either a story composed of one very long (but hopefully still controlled) sentence, or a story in which we used only one syllable words. Other times we have taken a more literary bent and written in reaction to a poem or prompted by a line from a famous story:
When I arrived in Kalamazoo, it was October, and the war was still on. (Bienvenido Santos, "Scent of Apples")
Was it winter and early dark that evening? (source misplaced)
Once we wrote from a poem called "Touch Me," by Stanley Kunitz
Once we were given what seemed to me to be an outrageous prompt, from Michael Onaadje's English Patient:
It was already cold in the cave. He wrapped the parachute around her for warmth. He lit one small fire and burned the acacia twigs and waved smoke into all the corners of the cave.
Veronica then amazed me by coming up with the following :
It was already cold in the cave. He wrapped the parachute around her for warmth. He lit one small fire and burned the acacia twigs and waved smoke into all the corners of the cave.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"I'm not sure. I saw it in a movie." He began to cough. "Maybe it gets rid of bugs or something."
"And what is this again?" she was full of questions. She flapped her arms to let him know what she was asking about.
"It's a parachute," he said, as if this made perfect sense.
"Let me guess: you saw it in a movie."
He found her lovely. Her thick hair twirled into an enormous bun at the back of her head, her delicate wrists, the way she was underwhelmed by everything he did to impress her. He pulled a large flashlight from his backpack and flicked it on. This is when she
"Oh my God," he said, scrambling through his backpack for a bottle of water. He'd filled the bag with everything from band-aids to condoms, the latter a testimony to his confidence. Set your sights high, his mother always said. He was finally taking her advice. "Are you okay?"
"There's a rat." Her voice was measured. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand and took the water from him. "Well, half a rat." She took a sip of water and continued to stare at the partially eaten corpse. Then, remembering that she'd thrown up, she set to work piling some rocks over the mess she'd made. The smoke from the twigs masked any unpleasant odor.
He watched her, admiring her odd lack of embarrassment and wondering if he should help. Despite the decidedly unromantic turn of events, he longed to kiss her.
"Let's get something straight," she said, adjusting the parachute and, apparently, reading his mind. "I agreed to this 'date' because our mothers are friends, and they wouldn't leave me alone until I agreed to go out with Mr. Big Handsome Pinoy guy. That's it. I certainly didn't think I'd end up in a cave with a parachute, a rat, and you staring at me with puppy-dog eyes. So just cut it out. We aren't going to have sex. We're not even going to hold hands. You will have nothingand I mean NOTHINGto report back to your football player friends."
"Okay." He was unfazed. "Let's just talk."
"Frankly, I don't even want to speak to you. This type of thing might work for those Barbie-types you're so fond of squiring around school, but not for me."
"Squiring? What's 'squiring?'
She was right. This type of thing DID work for the tousled-hair blondes he always asked out. He had never dated someone of his own race, and he knew that the Filipino girls he passed in the halls at school disliked him for it. He was vaguely ashamed about the whole thing, but the truth was that he felt intimidated by Filipino girls. It was as if they knew his secrets, could tell when he lied, could sense his weaknesses. This was true of his mother and even his little sister. But he couldn't admit it out loud.
"Wait," he said. "Are you jealous?"
"Those girls you're talking about."
She sighed. "No."
"You're just as beautiful," he offered. "More, even."
"And funnier," she said, finally smiling.
Their laughter echoed off the cave walls, surrounding them like the smoke. The silence that followed was long and uneasy. Any other girl would have filled it with giggles and empty talk, but she simply stared at him until he had to look away. Then she opened her arms wide and the parachute spread like wings. He crawled over to her, laid her down gently, and wrapped the parachute around them.
| If five people write, we'll get five different tones, five different situationsand it is sometimes hard
to believe that we all started from the same point.
Maybe one of the nicest things about the group is the incredible variety of pieces produced in response to each prompt. If five people write, we'll get five different tones, five different situationsand it is sometimes hard to believe that we all started from the same point. Take, for example, the responses to "You can't be serious!"
You can't be serious!" he said, looking at her wide-eyed.
"I'm packing up, what else do I look like doing?" she was almost screaming.
It was one of those moments when she made him feel like a silly little boy. He was so used to her, she was like his mother who had died.
She was leaving. Well, why shouldn't Ana go? Manong had just hit her with a blow in the face during a quarrel after he came in from his drinking spree, then went out again to drink some more with the guys, expecting his wife to forgive him before midnight. That was how things went in that small town, the guys getting the last word, always winning the day. It was a town where men went underground to extract ores as a lifetime occupation, where the job was tough and tempe rs were touchy in the hot and dusty tunnels. They went up back to the world and quarreled with their wives.
The quarrel was about Ana's occupation. She wanted to go into a small business using her savings instead of stay at home, he wouldn't hear of it, asking who would be home to cook his food, wash his clothes, wait for him at sundown.
For his part, he never liked the way Manong treated his wife. But what he thought didn't matter. He was 20 and was paid for odd jobs outside the tunnels but he was still taken as a boy.
When he tried to stand between Ana and Manong's heavy hand, the man shouted, "Why do you take her side?" That was exactly what Manong asked him in a big quarrel with Nanay, when the woman asked why he was always drinking. Why did it always seem to him to be seeing things from the women's point of view?
Now he watched his sister-in-law fold her dresses and put them away inside a wornout luggage. No, he couldn't see it in his mind, the house without Ana. He had long wanted to talk to Manong but how would you talk to God? But Nanay herself had said that it was because the men had no chance of taking a break in the tunnels for a chat or two with the other workers, it wasn't normal occupation.
Now, he was watching Ana go. "It's late, you can't leave," he objected.
"The best time to run away, when it's dark. Your brother will kill me if he saw me leave." After she closed her luggage, she carried it to the door. He wanted to carry it for her but that meant he was letting her go.
"Don't go, ate. Manong didn't mean to hurt you."
"Cardo, I'm thinking of the other times, not just now. And not even just now while the blow hurts. I don't have to wait for another one coming." She laughed softly, patting him slightly in the cheek. "And you, they call you bayote because you're not cruel. You should leave this place one day soon." Then she went down the stairs.
He watched her walk fast, away. His brother would take time drinking. When he came back home, she'd be on a bus out of here catching it in the next town. He walked down the stairs quietly, slowly, then sat on the last rung, exposing himself to the damp evening air.
"You can't be serious," he said, looking at her wide-eyed. She shrugged. "Okay, if you say so." Marta traced the red line that was I-95 on the map in front of her. "The engine is smoking." He'd left her at the pumps to buy some candy and pay for the gas. Well, maybe he'd been talking to the clerk too long. She was kind of cute. And then Marta had come running in, face flushed, eyes wild. She'd grown bored waiting for him and since he'd left the keys in the ignition, she'd taken the car around the block to hunt for real food. "Shit, girl," Bern said.
"If you could be happy with candy bars until dinner, you know?" She dug her thumb nail into I-95, tracing it from Florida to Massachusetts. "So I left the car about a mile from here. Hitched back with someone." The groove was deepening on the page. Bern thought the atlas cost maybe ten bucks and he'd have to pay for it, too, if the store clerk noticed Marta's work.
The prompt "whenever I dream of . . ." was equally productive:
Whenever Carla had a flying dream, she woke up frightened, her teeth gritted together, her skin cool with a thin sheen of sweat. For as long as she could remember, she had had this recurring dream. If she tried hard to pinpoint when it all began, she came up her father's death. She was nine; and many things ended with her father's death; and likewise many things beganlike this terrible flying dream.
During her years in the Philippines, the dream went this way: Carla is in their huge house in Ubec. The people with herher sisters, brother, mother, the maids, are running about frightened because there is a bad person or spirit that is trying to get into the house. Everyone scurries about locking doors and windows, but this bad entity, or Evil Thing as Carla named it, manages to enter the house. Carla runs to an upstairs bedroom, the one with the balcony, and she locks the door, shoves heavy wooden furniture against it. But she hears the Evil Thing approaching and soon it is scratching at the door. Carla knows it will get into the room, and she races to the balcony, climbs on to the railing and stares down at the long drop to the ground. In her dream, the distance is exaggerated, and it is as if she is looking down a long and dark tunnel that goes on and on. She is terrified to jump, and yet the Evil Thing has just entered the room and is rushing to the balcony. Carla has no choice but to leap. She falls safely to the ground, and quickly runs to the fruit trees in the yard, climbs up a tall Star apple tree to hide behind its thick foliage. The Evil Thing follows her to the yard as well. Carla runs to the 10-foot-high wrought iron gate which is locked. She manages to climb it, and she jumps down the streetside. She starts running down the dirt road with the Evil Thing right at her heels. Carla feels frightened, desperate, but just before the Evil Thing catches herCarla flies. She lifts up above the dirt road, away from his clutches, and she soars above her house, above her town, far away from this frightening being.
In succeeding dreams, Carla discovers she can control her flying by the way she breathes; and she learns to breathe in sharply so she can takeoff, and she exhales to descend; and she learns to spread her arms wide to maneuver her way in the clouds. Sometimes, she sits down on the clouds to rest. Treetops, mountains become her world in this dream; and its a world she does not mind, although the first part of the dream, the Evil Thing part upsets her greatly.
When she lived in the Philippines, the dream came at an average of once a month, sometimes more, sometimes less; and she never figured out what brought on the dream.
When she migrated to the United States as a graduate student, the dream stopped. Curiously she did not even notice this phenomenon; she was too busy with university life as well as to the new life in America. Simple things like taking a bus, or using the washing machine had to be learned. Carla found being a stranger in this new land enervating. She liked being a student in the large university where no one knew her; this was markedly different from the convent school she attended in the Philippines where the nuns were constantly needling her. She was always so-and-so's daughter or granddaughter, and people always had expectations from her. In America, no one really expected anything from her, no one even knew her, she was nobody; and thus starting from zero, she began to recreate herself.
Whenever my brother dreamed of anyone he hadn't seen for some time, that dream definitely had meaningscary, bad, evil meaning. Most of the time it meant that person was going to die, or had died, and he'd hear about it the next day or the day after that. The first time this happened was when he was about fifteen and he had a dream of our grandmother. She didn't live with usin fact she lived way out in the provinces, in Mindoro for God's sake, and we almost never saw her. But then the day after Josh dreamed about her, our dad was summoned to get down there right away as she was very sick. He went, of course, but she was already dead when he got there.
Good Josh had mentioned to us, the morning after his dream (and before the phone call from Tita Liz), that he had had a very vivid dream of Lolaif he had waited and told us only later, after she died, we probably wouldn't have believed him. But looking back on it from afterwards, my mom said she was probably letting us know, and asking for help, somewhat in advance of the phone call. PLDT's never been too effective, said Mom, and personal appearance is always better.
So was it her ghost, I wanted to know? No, said Josh, because she wasn't dead yet. Maybe it was her ghost to be, or her future or somethingbut anyway, she wasn't dead in the dream, she was just there. She was feeding Josh at what looked like a fiesta table, encouraging him to eat all kinds of things. "That's bad," said Mom " it means she's inviting you to join her." But you could tell she didn't really put any stock in old folk beliefs like that. She didn't even worry when Josh got sick that weekend. And he got better, of course.
It happened again a few years later when he dreamed about one of his friends who had moved away. The guy was in "the Yuu Ess of A" said Josh, with this really phony exaggerated accent, "where all the guys drive fast cars and fool around with girls." Well, that was pretty much what happened to him: Josh dreamed they were at a dance together, not exactly fooling around with girls but there were girls there, of courseand in fact the guy died in a car accident on his way home from some kind of party. And a girl died with him, so there you are.
My mom and I began to get a bit scared by this timeit was all a little too weird. Josh said hell no, it didn't scare himhe kind of liked to know this stuff before other people did. But I think really it scared him too. Sometimes I'd see him early in the morning on his way to the bathroom, or sometimes he'd come directly to me, and say, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, "Hey kidI dreamed about Tita Lily last nightso watch out."
And I would practically hold my breath until the news came. It always did.
Well, of course we grew up, and Josh himself is now in the Yuu Ess of A, but he isn't driving fast cars and fooling around with girls. He's working at Chase Manhattan Bank in New York and taking the train home to his wife and son in New Jersey everyday and "working hard and living clean", as he says. "It's a good enough life", he says, "at least until I get to be bank president."
And last night we got kind of a weird phone call from him, just as we were sitting down to dinner in Quezon City. We knew that meant he was just waking up in New Jersey, and we thought maybe that was why he sounded kind of out of focus and confused. Mom asked about his wife and his son and his job, and it seemed everything was fine. "Well, you know", said Mom later, "you don't want to ask your kid what he's calling for, as if you're not glad to hear from him anyway. But we really did wonder."
And so far I'm the only one who knows. That's because when I got on the line he said "Hey kid, umm, ahh"and then, in a completely different voice, a sort of voice I'd never heard from him before, he said "Lisa, I dreamed about you last night."
"Oh", was all I could say. "Well," he said, "maybe I shouldn't have told you, but I wanted to make sure you were okayand I wanted to tell you to be careful for awhile."
And that's where we left it, and now I'm in bed, looking at the ceiling and wondering what's going to happen to me. I'm scared and not scaredafter all, why shouldn't he dream about me? He's my brother. I'm probably in all his childhood memories, and they're supposed to come out in dreams.
I didn't tell mom.
But I think I'll stay home tomorrow.
| We effectually mirror back to each other what we absorbed from each other's writingand that act alone helps us value our own work through the mind of other writers.
Feedback allows us to read each other's work actively, combing through the text for strengths. We effectually mirror back to each other what we absorbed from each other's writingand that act alone helps us value our own work through the mind of other writers. One week, Nadine wrote a composite email with her comments:
What a saucy narrator! Her language, thoughts, and actions were consistently in character. The twist at the ending (the possible pregnancy) was ironic, sobering. The only suggestion I can make to improve is to make sure to mention that she *did* put on the tank top before visiting her teacher. She alluded to it...and then we had to assume that she actually wore it.
The story started out with strong sensory detail, immediately grounding me in the domestic situation of the 2 brothers. I liked the sequence of door being closed, a sort of aural "image." Imbedding the dialogue in the text (between joejoe and his peers) was effective in giving emotional distance from the pain and shame, and yet brought it into clearer focus precisely because of the distance. And the paragraph that starts "He waited for the first door to slam...boy had his answer." How sad, how gently stated, and yet how strong.
When I read your pieces, I feel myself poised for surprise flight, never knowing where the story will take me. Sometimes you have made me laugh, sometimes cry, sometimes laughcry. In this piece, I was taken with the sensuality of the young girls, their buttery soft skin, their selfknowledge. You depicted clearly how they are on the cusp of womanhood, aware to a small degree of their desireability. The details you use to show how "in" they are were fantastic in their timelessness.
But the ending, oh the ending....I couldn't breathe. What will happen? Is he going to kill her? Rape her? Maim her? What? Okay, okay, you don't have to tell me, but you really put me on edge. (Joyce Carol Oates does this too in a lot of her fiction.)
Even though this piece on the Carnival Queen must have been painful to write, it must also have provided you a way of bonding closely with a good memory of your mother's beauty and strength. I couldn't find any thing to "correct," as you requested. I would suggest, however, that you continue to add memoir pieces like this about your mother to your portfolioobviously you have a very strong bond with her. I haven't read it but Linda Panlilio's biography of her mother won the National Book Award for one category in 2001, right?
For Erma and Penelope:
I empathize with your time restrictions and Pen, with your difficulty getting into the website. Hope to read something from you soon.
And more recently, Veronica responded to a piece by Ben:
Nice to hear from you again. This was so well done. For me, the strength is in the dialogue (a result of your acting classes?)you've created a wonderful voice for the crazy guy. He's the ruler of the bus stop, for God's sake! And you plunge into the not-quite-real when it turns out that everyone at the stop truly IS ruled by the guy. The only thing I wasn't prepared for was the violence of the narrator's reactionhis "none of your fucking business." He seemed to be humoring the crazy guy in the beginning, and his turn from gentle to angry was a bit too sudden for me. Otherwise, I thought this was the beginning of something be-yoo-tiful.
One of the fairly recent "assignments" was to write something on rain. This is from Cecilia:
SEEING DR. MORSHED
If there's one thing I hate, it's rain. And if there's one thing I hate even more than rain, it's dentists. And here I am this rainy morning at the dentist's officeMorshed and Morshed, father and son, twin torturors.
I'm waiting for the younger Morshed, who's my dentist. In front of me is a tray filled with shiny metal tools, and to keep from hyperventilating, I look out the window at the rain that lashes down the window. It's gray out there, and in the distance, I see huge eucalyptus trees straining against the wind. Even though I hate getting wet, I wish I were out there instead of sitting here in the chair.
Every time I hear some movement down the hallway, I jump, expecting Dr. Morshed to enter the room. It's the younger Morshed I see, although it would have made more sense to see the senior Morshed. Maybe he'd have more sympathy. The younger Morshed is a fresh graduate from USC's dental school, and he always looks spick-and-span in his starched white coat. He always has a wide smile somewhat plasteredand his teeth are incredibly white and perfectly even. They look more like freshly-painted picket fence than human teeth.
The first time I saw him, he talked to me about a new procedure to whiten teeth. He showed me a sheet of paper showing teeth of various gradations of white. I strained to see the difference, and not seeing any, I finally put on my eyeglasses.
"This," he said, somewhat like Mr. Rogers, "is whiter than this!"
"Oh, yes, of course," I said, removing my eyeglasses in a dismissive way.
"This is yellower " His sentence hung incomplete in the room for a beat until he continued, "And this simple procedure will whiten your teeth several shades."
He was talking to me, who had been a child before fluoride was discovered, me whose back teeth are riddled with silver fillings. Swallowing my pride, I said, "Dr. Morshed, right now I'm not too worried if my teeth aren't as white as Teeth A. I'm just trying to keep them in. You know, trying to keep the gums healthy and all that."
'Well then, we will not discuss that again," he said, flashing me his picket-fence smile.
And true to his word, he didn't. However I'm in his office today to discuss an implanta new procedure where a piece of Titanium will be imbedded in my jawbone, and which will eventually grow in with the bone. After four months, Dr. Morshed will attach a crown to this implant. That is what we will talk about.
Like I said, I hate rain, but I hate dentists even more.
She wondered about the science of it, for surely science was involved: how was it that the rare combination of rainfall and warmth sharpened her memory so? She watched as rain broke against the picture window in heavy sheets, wrapped herself in a chenille throw beside the fire, took a deep breath and she was back. Fifteen again, with the musky, drug-store cologne scent of Eric Abelera draped over her like a net. His black Sir Jacket, water dripping from his hair onto her face, her neck, her arms as they encircled his neck. A decade or so laterno, moreshe would pass young boys in the mall and worry that she was desperate, even perverted. But then she realized it wasn't their bodies that sent a charge through her own; it was the cloud of familiar cologne they left in their wake as they passed her. And it made her smile to know that so much in life could turn, but that Filipino boys might always smell that same way.
The rains are really pouring now, harder than I thought it initially would
harder than I wished it would. No, not today, I thought, any June day but today, please, God, please. But the heavens sometimes do not listen to me, so I have no recourse but to brave the rains with you, honey. So here we go.
I wish I could hold you as they teach you how to add one and one today, reassure you that honey, it's okay to learn new things from new people around you, even if those are things that we have already taught you. How I wish I could nuzzle your nose in that playful way you like as they encourage you to write perfectly neat letters and let your alphabets touch the red lines on your paper, like the way you practice writing letters of your name using Mommy Janette's light Parker Pen. You like that pen so much, yes you do, that you brought it with you today in order to use it in class. But as Mommy Janette said, honey, little babies like you need to learn how to write with pencils first, as that is what they say is needed. We all have to listen to what they say we should do sometimes, honey. That is true. But oh, how I wish I could be there for you when you take your first recess break with the other kids in the play yard, wipe the crumbs of your favorite home-baked brownies off as they fill corners of your mouth, and dab your shirt with mini-paper towels as I know your favorite cranberry juice will trickle down your sweet little lips as you drink from your Blues Clues plastic mug later today. But more importantly, how I wish I could be with you to wait for you to run to me, as I know you will, when they ask you about your daddy and you say you have none, and you say but I have two mommies, and that the other kids will not understand that, as I know no kid ever will, unless they are as bright and sensitive as you, my honey. How I wish I could be there when you run to me, with tears running down your cheeks, as you explain to me that they called me ugly names, that they called Mommy Janette ugly names, that they are mean to you because of that. Oh honey, how I wish I could be there for you today to tell you that they do not understand that sometimes, it's better to have a second mommy instead of a daddy, that sometimes, just sometimes, this kind of thing works for people, for us, and that we are happy with what we have, with who we are, and that we are thankful for who we have because we are lucky to have people who love us and don't hurt us, and who will protect us and love us no matter what. But sometimes, honey, sometimes the world is not like that, the world is not as kind as that.
And so here we are, today, so early in the morning, me holding up our black umbrella to shield you from the mid-June gush as the rainy season descends upon school tykes like you. And I am so sad, but I do not show you, that with the rain, down pours my tears, too, as I hand you over to the teacher and turn around and force myself not to cry, as I know all I could ever do in such an important day like today is to shield you from the rain, so that you will not get cold and sick, and that you will be strong, stronger even, in facing the real world out there, where families like ours are sometimes not welcome. But you will learn that on your own, the hard way sometimes, like later during recess, I'm sure. So I head now to the church to pray that God send you extra guardian angels today on your first day in school, amidst this violent mid-June gush, and that God should give me and Mommy Janette extra strength to be more patient of others' shortcomings, in order that the ones they would hurt would be me and Mommy Janette, me and Mommy Janette only, and not you, my honey, not you, God, not you, please.
It was a Sunday morning.
A light rain was falling. She could hear the gentle sound of the drops against the trees outside her window.
Sometimes the rain made her happy, since it reminded her of days back home when the yellow glow from the low-watt bulbs made the rooms look unearthly, almost as if lit by candles. But now it made her sad.
All day the question had been inside her, waiting.
Her husband was sitting in his favorite chair, with his back to her. His hair was neatly combed; there was a faint sheen, as of pomade, on the sides of his head, above his ears. His head was bent; he was reading the newspaper.
When was it that she had noticed the hand? The hand that was just a hand, nothing else, reaching out to tap him on his shoulder.
She'd seen it for the first time the day before. She'd given herself a shake, rubbed her eyes, looked again. Yes, there was most unmistakably a hand, reaching out just above her husband's right shoulder. The index finger was extended, pointing downwards. She anticipated the moment of physical contact and held her breath. But the handa woman's hand, she realized suddenlyremained suspended, frozen, as it were, just above and behind her husband.
She tried to circle around it, to observe it more closely. When she got to within a foot, she stopped, fearing she would alarm her husband, who was absorbed, as usual, in some reading matter.
The hand had a faint tracery of blue veins spreading, fan-like, from a narrow wrist. It was impossibly white. The pearl-colored nails were oval in shape. She mused about who the hand's owner might be: perhaps a young woman, someone 10 or even 15 years younger than herself. What was it being communicated to her husband? Why was she here? Teresa didn't know. The need to know, however, was like an ache. So palpable, she could almost feel it behind her teeth when she went to bed at night.
Later that afternoon, she had the accident. A slow right turn from the El Camino, and she felt the thud on her rear bumper. Everything in the car went flying: CDs, books, her handbag. Her head hit somethinghard. She lay on her side for what seemed like long moments, looking upwards at her feet. A trickle of something wet ran down the right side of her face. From far, far away, she heard indistinct voices.
"An accident," she thought. "Something has happened."
She tried to say something. "Please help me." And, a little later, "Am I dying?" But there was no one to speak to. Her gaze was entirely directed now on a square of cracked window through which she sawsmelled-hot asphalt and, occasionally, a glimpse of running feet in heavy soled boots.
| Some of us seem
to be developing characteristic stylesbut then, just when everyone knows what to expect, out comes something new.
It's evening now. Jess' father is standing at the window of Jess' bedroom. His hat is in his hand. Jess is in bed, withering. The rain is drumming like a thousand snares upon the roof and against the window.
Comin' down in sheets, ain't it? You know, reminds me of the time we spent in Yosemite. You wouldn't remember, you were just a small boy. Could hardly walk even. But it was raining just like this. At the cabin one early summer morning, your mother was about to start breakfast, and I think she was looking for the matches to restart the fire. Well, we turned around just for a second to rummage through the box of kindling. We'd fought earlier and were hardly in the mood to be cooperative, but hunger can turn enemies to friends if it meant food was on the way, and well, the next thing we knew we were searching high and low in that damn cabin for the match book. When we finally found it, we turned our attention to you only to find that the door to the cabin was wide open and you were no where to be found. In an instant I knew what you were up to. It was the god damned blue bird that was whistling high up in the pines the day before, and you so badly wanted to see it again. All night you asked if we would take you to see the blue bird that next morning, and when you awoke and saw that the storm had come in, the first thing you asked about was if the blue bird was going to get wet. So, i tore outta the cabin with hardly a sock on, and the rain was comin' down in sheets and was cold. And down the trail from where we were was a young meadow that overnight had reverted to the swollen stream it'd once been a century before, and I followed your tiny steps steep in the mud leading to the stream, and even from far off i could hear the roar of the swift water slapping over the aged rocks, and from time to time I could hear the sudden crack of saplings snapping in half by the current's force, old trees, too, dragged down stream by the rushing waters. And I hollered your name until i was hoarse and coughing up the phlegm, and I wondered how you coulda moved so fast when you could hardly take a step. And as I approached the stream, I spotted your red sneakers through the curtain of rain, and I saw that you were awed by the rising waters, standing there quiet, frozen at the current's muddy edge. And all you could say, when i finally got to you, was if the water was too fast for the fish to swim in... I knew then as I lifted you away from the crumbling bank and brought you back to the cabin that at some point i was gonna lose you. To what I didn't quite know. But it wasn't going to be the normal way, but something to do with fate, with nature. it just seemed that nature was going to take it's course with you, and that I would have to learn to accept the destiny my only child had. But I would never have guessed this, Jess, never in a million years. And right nowwell, back on that trail as i searched for you, there was a moment when i wondered what i'd do if i found that you'd fallen in and was going down the current. I wondered as I sloshed after you if I were man enough to follow you in and try to rescue you from drowning...When i finally found you i cried. I held you so tight you started to cry, too. Sure, it was partly because I was afraid for your safety and was glad to know you were okay. But there was something else, too. Jess, I also cried because I knew right then that i would never have followed you into those waters to try to save you. It was something i knew i couldn't do. So, you want me to tell you why i never hug you anymore? Why i'm so distant? Because i don't know what you have, and whatever it is i don't want to catch it. I don't want to follow you into that river and even though it kills me inside to say this, it's the damned truth and i'm damned sorry for it.
So many fine voices! Some of us seem to be developing characteristic stylesbut then, just when everyone knows what to expect, out comes something new. Saturday morningsor Sundays when everyone is lateI laugh, cry, think, wonder. And then I wait eagerly, for feedback, and then a new prompt.
And on Fridays, I write.
We feel that this group has already reached an optimum size, but would like to encourage others to start their own groupsfor the nourishment of young and old writers alike.
© Susan Evangelista
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And on Fridays, We Write
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