Whenever I am away and a sharp longing for Mother stabs at me, I will buy a stick of cigarette, light it in the dark, and watch the embers chew it up. Pa used to sigh her name, “Anita, hay Anita,”
and crack in loving jest that her mouth’s a tunnel for steam locomotives, to which she would laugh a response in hot clouds, in the ghosts of stillborn thoughts she incinerated in her lungs.
Sometimes I wish she would tell me what they whisper to her, instead of engraving them as unreadable creases in the corners of her eyes. Sometimes, the smell would jostle me between
wakefulness and sleep, her stun-gun chuckle rumbling in my head. My senses clung onto her and I hear scrawls of chalk against wall planks for her abakada graffiti branded in my
five-year-old’s head (or were those forks on plates when we only have shadows to eat?); I re-feel the friction of linoleum on my skin as I grunt, crawling out of a forced afternoon siesta (or were those creeping
days of numbness that I mistake for catnaps?); I relive teary tug-of-wars at school gates, where I refuse to let go of your long, leathery fingers. All that and a handful more— my adult mind a child again, roiling in Past Tense
until, after I burn, in her nicotine hold, I will be home.
Note: I never thought this would ever see print. I remember keying these words onto my phone’s Notepad app late last year. I was away from home for some event I can no longer recall, caught a waft of a lit Philip Morris, and remembered Ma. It was my way of wrestling homesickness then, musings that I think would be best kept in my journal. The Sunday Times magazine Literary Editor Alvin I. Dacanay has my utter gratitude for believing that this is worthy to be shown to the world. I know you won’t be reading this, but thank you so much, Sir.
Revisionist fiction or retellings still fill bookshelves to the brim these days—old fables pop up with shocking twists, we see fairytales shed their Disney-fied formula to give newer nods to their darker roots, and we even come to know stories of antiquity thrown in with “cyber” sensibilities. With the unremitting creativity of writers today, the possibilities are endless. Readers may clamor for something “original”, of course, but I find that there is charm in revisiting familiar narratives refashioned for the modern eyes.
Personally, I enjoy reading reimaginings of classic myths. I was rapt, for instance, while leafing through the story of the tragic Greek hero Achilles and his bosom companion Patroclus in Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles. I devoured Circe, a feminist take on a classic character from Homer’s The Odyssey by the same author, with equal fascination. There is also Margaret Atwood’s The Penelopiad, spun from the decades-long wait of Penelope for her husband Odysseus from the Trojan War. None of these felt old to me. In fact, they gave substantial and refreshing heft to the original materials. Since then, I’ve been on the prowl for modern narrations of old legends.
That’s why when I heard about Pat Barker’s The Silence of the Girls—events of The Iliad, but told from the perspective of a significant female character—I just know I have to grab a copy.
Half-baked characters from my half-written stories have this habit of lingering precariously on the peripheries of my undemanding days. Not always, of course, but they are frequent visitors at hours they think they are most welcome. With their sinews and bones molded from printer ink and several unfinished drafts several folders deep in the corner of my laptop, they would say hello when a certain scene in my day would trigger their presence.
For instance, when a shaft of sunlight poured from the blinds straight through my clear mug of coffee one morning, it reminded me of the color I gave the eyes of a Little Prince-sque kid in a fairy tale I abandoned. I took a sip of the beverage and he was there, slumped on the chair beside me.
“Have you ever thought of coming back?” he asked, cradling his face in his cupped hand. “You know… of opening my story again and giving it a happy-ever-after?”
akin to the shade that has incarnadined the bruises
of a lone oceanid choking at the rocks of Manila Bay—
she of soiled fingers combing through seaweed-tresses
matted with oil, excrement, with a balm of something
foreign, like a smear of leftover hope
or was it vermillion, the splash that punctuated
a cough of a barrel in an alley lit only
by the unblind eye of a gas lamp? Bespattered
little Totoy’s frail pallor until he is no longer
as white as the stones he did not know he carried
tantamount even to the carmine dark that dripped
from our fountain pens one November in the South,
ebbing, flooding headlines and *58 shallow
graves (32 of whom are of our brothers), drenching
the faded mourning clothes we still wear a decade later
a hue to drown out lazuli Rosco in our flag
to be one solid blood, crib of great men in the Song—
its notes we can still exhale audibly with our fallible
mouths; for as long as we are breathing
there are grieving and living for the aggrieved to be done
Title: Bone Gap Author: Laura Ruby Genre: Magical realism, contemporary, young adult My Rating: ★★★★ Get the book!
“The face that the world sees is never the sum of who we are.” I was thumbing the blurb’s print on the roughish dust jacket of Bone Gap when my fingertips stopped at this line, the last one dangling at the end. It struck a chord with me. Lately I was contemplating about appearances, about the metaphorical masks we put on when we bottle up feelings or when we don’t want the society to judge us for who we really are. With its ambiguous synopsis, would the book be able to quench my curiosity?