Saturday, 31 December 2011
Wednesday, 14 December 2011
Monday, 12 December 2011
Friday, 25 November 2011
“I’ve heard great things about you,” an older woman said, extending her right hand.
“Ms... Ms. Marshy,” I said, startled. “How do you do?” and we shook hands, I felt a firm grip for a woman of her age. I looked at Janice who smiled proudly at me.
Carolena Marshy was a legend. She had been the curator of the textile wing at the museum ever since it was opened and Janice was her protégé. I was told that she once gathered 25 fabric restorers, including Janice, to work day and night so De Young could present its vintage French lace and damask collection. The team pulled it off in just two weeks. The mere thought of seeing and basking in the luxurious views of endless rows of antique lace and burnt velvets made my heart flutter. Ms. Marshy was responsible to begin the heydays for fabric restorers. In a recent interview at a local paper, she said that nobody was taking the job seriously anymore and she felt concerned that it was going to be a lost art.
“He’s been working here for just four months and he’s done wonders in restoring the old Uzbekistan Saye Goshas,” Janice said.
“Yes. I saw his work last month when I visited the museum,” Ms. Marshy said, nodding her acknowledgement.
“Oh, God. I don’t know if I can accept that praise,” I said, ironically looking over at Kimberly and Miller, my two seniors who dumped everything on me. They were in it for the galas, free-flow booze, and mingling with the socialites, they said. I was tempted to tell them they should’ve become poets instead, because they would’ve gotten away with less work and more booze, but I just shut my mouth.
“And modest too,” Janice added. Ms. Marshy smiled. I cringed, worried they would sniff a layer of fakeness.
“Ah, Tulle bi Telli. You’re in for a treat!” Ms. Marshy exclaimed as she saw what I was about to work on: a half-century-old Egyptian tulle shawl with bits of silvery and golden metal pounded and woven into it in geometric shapes as well as figures of the sun, the palm trees, and the huts, making the wearer look as if she or he was draped in liquid silver or gold. These days, two yards of this thing could fetch up to two thousand dollars.
“Yes. This one is in pretty bad shape,” I said, pointing at the holes on the ecru colored fabric and some pieces of metals that were missing. “But still, she’s really pretty.” I must have said that sheepishly because Janice and Ms. Marshy chuckled. I could feel the warmth of her eyes behind those thick lenses. The wrinkles around her lips deepened as she smiled.
“He’s restored three so far,” Janice said.
“That’s seventeen more to go,” I sighed. “And we’re only given ten days.”
“Oh, I’m sure you can do it,” Ms. Marshy said. “Well, off you go, then. You need to get this thing finished before next week so we could preview it, yes?” There was benevolence in her firm, commanding voice.
I nodded. I saw Janice and Ms. Marshy walked around the room but didn’t bother to say hi to Kimberly and Miller who suddenly found something to work on to look busy. I smiled deeply at this, suddenly feeling that I had the best job and the boss in the world, even though I was sure I’d go blind in ten years. And this I confided in Ms. Marshy on the opening night twelve days later when De Young showcased its Egyptian Textile collection, including the twenty gleaming Tulle bi Telli. Ms. Marshy had the ecru with the heavy silvery metals draped around her as a shawl. And later, as we took our champagnes to a corner and let the guests mingle, I told her about how my fascination with fabrics actually began when a thirteen year-old Craig O’Reilly defied his father and bought his first Barbie doll with the money he had made from making pencil cases and tote bags from denim pants that no longer fit him.
Friday, 18 November 2011
My attempt to pull a Jennifer Egan's Visit from the Goon Squad. In the book, she plays with time to confuse the reader as to when and where the reader is. She does it so well, however.
For Rosemary Graham's class, we were to write two episodes, one for each character, and to reveal the connection(s), beginning with the older character.
Lilian sits at the dinner table. Across her is her husband, Duncan. Their two sons, Craig and Ben, are sitting on each side of the rectangle table. It’s a special night and they’re feasting, celebrating Lilian’s fortieth birthday and her and Duncan’s fourteenth anniversary.
She has cooked her famous Beggar Chicken, whole chicken stuffed with herbs and spices and wrapped inside thick layers of dough that preserves and simmers the aroma of the herbs and spices and forces them to blend and mix with the juices of the chicken. After an hour of roasting, when the loaf is sliced open, it reveals the naked skin of the chicken, glowing with a mouthwatering golden hue that first catches the eyes, then lets the nose agree, and finally makes the stomach demand.
The side dish is slices of Silk tofu with mushroom and thick vegetable broth. Lilian knows it’s Craig’s favorite dish. That’s why she made it. Craig first discovered it while they were at Uncle Tang’s. It was served under a different name, something that promises and celebrates good life with words as poetic as the ones written on the tiny paper inside the Fortune Cookie.
“Honey, this food is just… delicious,” Duncan says as he closes his eyes when the first forkful of chicken and herb and spices and warm white rice melts on his tongue. “Really. I’m at loss for words.”
“Don’t make that a habit. Or you lose in court and we go broke and can’t afford dinner,” Lilian answers with a grin. Duncan laughs so hard that his body shakes.
“I promise I won’t,” he says, and gazes lovingly into her eyes. “So, Craig, how’s school?” Duncan asks.
“Oh, not much. I’m… I’m joining the Sewing Circle,” Craig answers hesitantly. Lilian realizes that he hasn’t touched his tofu. He is just making circles around the broth, tracing the edges of the tofu with his chopsticks.
“Sewing?” Duncan asks, raising his left eyebrow. His smile faded. “For what?”
“Oh, I… I don’t know. Maybe I can patch the elbows of your jackets like the ones in the fancy catalogues, or make my own jacket, or make pencil cases and sell them at school,” Craig says. Lilian smiles softly at her elder son, ready to do business at such a young age, just like his mother.
“Why would you want to do that?” Duncan asks, interrogating Craig, like when he barrages questions into whoever is giving testimonies against his client in court.
“Oh, I don’t know. To make some money, I guess.”
“For what?” Duncan repeats. “So you can buy that Barbie doll? We’ve been through this and the answer is no. Not even with your own money!”
Suddenly, Lilian feels her face tensed and she looks at Craig. His head is bent down. He’s staring at the dish under his nose, still stirring it with detached intensity. She switches her gaze to Duncan. Her husband is still looking at their elder son. She can see rows of emotions flashing in Duncan’s eyes but she exhales her relief softly when she realizes no hatred is emanating from them. Just concern, confusion, and perhaps fear.
Craig sits there in silence.
“Stop playing with your food. Show your mother some respect and eat it. And Craig,” Duncan pauses, “Look at me.”
Lilian sees Craig lift his head and meet the gaze of his father.
“I never, ever want Roger to paint your nails again, do you hear?”
“But Dad, it’s clear polish!”
“Never again, Young Man, understood? It makes you look like a sissy,” Duncan hisses.
Craig nods, but stays silent. In fact, Craig stays silent the entire night, even as Ben exclaims that he was asked to join the Debate Club and Duncan slaps the table with a roaring and approving laughter, high-fiving his younger son who says he said yes. Craig stays silent even after he has finished his meal, even after he has finished helping Lilian wash the dishes. The silence follows him to his room and fades with him as he closes the door behind him.
That night, even through the thick wooden door and layers of blanket and pillow over Craig’s face, Lilian can hear his hiccupping sobs. And with great burden, she retreats her hand, cancelling the thought of knocking on the wood and taking her son in her arms and comforting him. And softly, she moves away from the door, letting Craig be with himself, as he has always been whenever he cries.
Second part will be published next week (it's written and scheduled!)
Thursday, 17 November 2011
Friday, 11 November 2011
I watched Amma from the door of the chamber that had been left ajar. She was being helped to lie on her bed after the maids had finished putting on her royal blue crown and scarab necklace. The bed was a gift from a Hittite King whose name I could never remember nor pronounce. It was made of fine fragrant wood, strong and sturdy and never gave signs of tear even after years of being jumped on by her seven daughters, including me. Then from the corner of her eye, she spotted me.
“Ankhsenpaaten,” she said, calling my name. A smile crescented on her full lips. She stretched her arms, calling me inside the room. I pushed the heavy wooden door and strode in. I was no longer a child, for I had been made a woman, a queen, ever since the ruling Pharaoh, my cousin, made me his Great Royal Wife. But then and there, as I half-hopped inside the room, I felt like a little girl. Amma patted the cushion next to her bed, signaling me to sit. I obliged.
“I never really like my new name, Amma,” I said, looking down at my fingers that interlaced on my lap. I felt her steady gaze on me, like Aten shining all over Kemet, our land.
“That is why, when we are alone, I always call you by your old name, not Ankhsenamun. You have always been a gift of Aten, not of Amun. Nevertheless, times have changed. The people have been trying to return to the olden ways, the ways of yesteryears. And your husband has been nothing but very supportive of destroying what Akhenaten, your father, our one true king, had established during his reign,” Amma said.
“I miss Abba,” I replied as I lift my head to meet Amma’s gaze. She smiled, her lips curving like the shape of the scimitar.
“I miss him too. But now I’m taking solace in the thought that we will soon be together again,” She replied.
A soft knock was heard from the door and we saw a hunched figure. It was Ife, our loyal maid. She was wrapped in white garment, her hair covered with white shawl. “It is time, N’abat Imet,” she addressed Amma in her usual greeting: Lady of Grace. Amma and I looked out the window and saw the sun setting.
“It is time,” Amma said, taking my hands and giving them a faint squeeze. I felt the squeeze right to my heart that pumped tears down my eyes. “Binti,” she called me. Daughter. “Mer itin, mer itin,” she repeated. You are beloved to me, you are beloved to me. And we choked in our tears.
“By Aten, we must not cry. Our eye paint is starting to run,” she said and laughed as she looked at my face. I laughed as I looked at her and Amma took a soft papyrus and with her frail, trembling fingers, dabbed at the runny blackness from under my eyes. I gently took the papyrus from her fingers and dabbed at her under eyes, erasing the traces of the manifestation of her sadness. “I’m sure that barbaric whore is laughing at my demise right now,” Amma chuckled, reminiscing of how she had banished Kiya, Abba’s other wife and Amma’s rival back to Mitanni where she came from. “I’m sure that she sent dark barbaric magic that brought me this disease.”
“Let’s not talk about her, Amma,” I sighed.
“My Queen,” Ife said, rushing us. Amma nodded. I leaned over and kissed her forehead. Then, unknown to me, she lifted her arms and placed them around me, drawing me closer to her, and we embraced. I felt our blood bonded, our hearts pulsing of anticipation and anxiety of the unknown future and fate that lied before us. Even when being faced by something so inevitable and so absolute, I knew that we both knew not of the certainty in it. I knew we both knew not if it was Aten, Amun, or Anubis who was guarding it. I knew that we both did not want to let go of our embrace. But I also knew that we had to. And so I let her go.
“Through whatever adversity, whatever clouded judgment the men of the house of Amarna have, remember that they always turn to us for advice, for support, for truly it has always been the matriarchs of this house that rule Kemet,” was the last thing she said to me.
At daybreak when I came to her chamber to mourn, she had disappeared. Nobody knew where her corpse was taken and laid by the few who were loyal to her. My husband became very busy giving orders to destroy all marks of my parents, even when I was sitting beside him, grieving like a cow mad from the rays of the desert sun. He could order the people of Kemet to destroy every statue, every cartouche, every hieroglyphic remnant of Akhenaten and Nefertiti and erase them from history, but he would never burn the temple that I had set up in my heart for Amma and Abba.
Also note that although I'm trying to find the exact words for "mother", "father", "daughter", and "I love you" in ancient Egyptian, I think I may have failed.
The photo shows Ankhsenamun (right) and her husband Tutankhamun.
Friday, 4 November 2011
For this piece, we were to choose a historical figure (non-psychotic, so I couldn't use Elizabeth Bathory and Vlad the Impaler), research the figure to get as much detail as possible about his/her life, characteristics, etc, then to write a scene using the historical figure and the information we had acquired.
I decided to tie in my historical figure with my piece so far for Ms. Graham's class.
There is power.
Do you sense it?
There is power within every inch of this bronze skin. There is power on every end of these long fingers. There is power within the beckoning of your brown eyes. There is power.
Do you feel it?
There is power within every arch of your eyebrows. There is power within every strand of your eyelashes. There is power within every hair on your arms, or on the back of your neck.
You must use that power, exercise it beyond the ability of ordinary woman. You must harvest it, harness it, pull it close to your heart, claim it as your own, and share it among your people.
This power will be multiplied as paint and stones and textiles decorated and draped over your exterior.
Wadj. Green. Painted over your upper eyelids to represent the fertility that your reign will bring. Not just the fertility of the soil and land, but of women and men, to deliver boys and girls that will glorify the nation by being farmers, fishermen, warriors. Aten has spoken.
Shesep. White. Painted under your brow bone to show your omnipotence, over your people, and our enemies. Aten has spoken.
Kem. Black. Painted to frame your eyes to signify death. The death of your husband, your king, the king of your people. Aten has spoken.
Nebu. Gold. Dusted over your face and body, to ensure your people and warn your enemies that this woman is indestructible. Aten has spoken.
Hedj. White. The garment draped over your body to represent purity. For you shall rule with a pure heart of a mother, a daughter, and a queen. Aten has spoken.
Desher. Red. The color of life and victory. Intertwined with Mef’at, Turquoise, symbol of power of protection. Desher and Mef’at and nebu coiled around your neck. For you embody the three aspects. Aten has spoken.
Khepresh Irtiu. The blue cap crown. Placed over your head as a symbol of the righteousness of your title, the queen of Egypt by your own right, the successor of your husband, your king, the king of your people. Adorned by the serpent, Amduat, who swallows the sun and gives rise to night. The serpent ensures your people and warns your enemies that this woman rules night as well as day. Aten has spoken.
And finally, Kheper. The Scarab. On your chest. Your talisman. Your amulet. The symbol of resurrection of your husband, your king, the king of your people, within you, from you.
Now, open your eyes.
“Jesus Christ, Roger!” I screamed as I opened my eyes and took a look at the face in the mirror. I then looked at Roger who was standing beside my dressing table, grinning widely like a sexually-charged Cheshire Cat.
“Like it? I got the costume from a friend who worked at San Francisco Opera. None of that cheap, Halloween-store stuff. Nope. This is the haute-couture of stage costuming.” he said. “Don’t spill wine all over it.”
I didn’t know how to react. Late in August when I went to Roger’s office, he had put up pictures of Nefertiti, the Egyptian queen, on his door. The image of that woman, with her long neck, defined jaws and cheekbones, conjured a sense of otherworldly regality, and I told Roger that I wanted to be her for Halloween.
Then on Samhain eve, there he was on my door, begging me to come to a Halloween party at Limelight, the local gay bar we used to go to, thinking that it might cheer me up, telling me that he needed to get laid. I told him that I’d been cheered up from my recent trip to see my mother and brother. But Roger opened his bag and got out a flowing white toga and a blue tall cap adorned with golden snake ringlet. Then he proceeded to color my face as he told me the story of the great woman whose skin I would be wearing that night. I had become the Lady of Two Lands.
“Now, remember what Salt & Peppa said, ‘Carry yourself like a queen and you will attract a king,’” he winked.
“But I thought my king had died and Nefertiti had been banished,” I said in confusion.
“Well, there’s bound to be some half-naked hunk dressing up as an undead pharaoh,” he suggested. I wasn’t sure of the prospect or whether I would want to look for someone.
“What are you dressing up as anyway?” I asked. Roger took out a false beard and a papier-mache mask from his bag and held them up. I frowned.
“What? Craig, all the younger queens are probably going to dress up as Gaga or Minaj while the older hags will strut around as Barbra or Cher, or worse, Liza. No one will think of showing up as this guy.”
“I thought you said you wanted to get laid. How are you going to get a guy when you dress up as… him?” I asked as Roger proceeded nonchalantly to put on the mask and the beard and a cowboy hat.
“Darling, it’s either him or Gertrude Stein. I would have so much fun being original even if I didn’t get off, anyway. And besides, I’m trying to attract a more intelligent crowd,” he said. But I had a feeling he would get lucky that night. If Roger could find someone to hook up with at the funeral of his own grandmother, he could sure get someone at that cruisy, meat-market club. Even in that Walt Whitman get-up.
Just a little correction that I got from the class: it's actually not a cowboy hat that Walt Whitman wore. Probably a better term would be floppy hat.
By the way, Happy Samhain!
And yes, this guy here on the left is Walt Whitman.
And I believe part of this writing, at least the first italicized part, is inspired by Annie Lennox's "Why" music video. And no, I don't know if the coloring ritual of ancient Egypt is the way I described. I just took the elements of the colors of Nefertiti's make-up and jewelry and apparel.
Thursday, 3 November 2011
Do you want to know how this feels? Do you want to know? I've had gangrene taken out of me, I've had my skin slit opened so the pen could be installed to support my fractured bone, I've had my skin tattooed and the needled bored into my bones, I've had teeth taken out of my jaws, none of those is as painful as how this feels.
Do you want to know how this feels? Do you want to know? I've had suffered broken hearts, I've been cheated on, lied on, bullied, locked up, none of those is as painful as how this feels.
Do you know why? Because this feeling is intangible. Because the intangibility of this feeling seeps deep into my heart and rots it from inside, until it's left frozen, withered, barren, devoid of emotions, but not of pain.
But I don't know why, I don't know why this is happening to me. I don't know why I'm inflicting this upon myself and set myself up time and again. I don't know why I open my ears and my eyes to believe in what they're saying (perhaps because deep within me, I know it's true? Perhaps I'm in denial?).
Do you know why?
Friday, 28 October 2011
Thursday, 20 October 2011
The tides kept coming in, endlessly, like when Kath was a child, spinning in her full-circle ruched skirt. The pink ruffles flew around her, engulfing her as she spun and spun, faster and faster, then slower and slower, until she came to a complete stop and laughed as she tumbled down in her mother’s arms. It was a day in the field. Elaine was out there collecting flowers to take home to add in her catalogue of plants.
Her mother was long gone now and these weren’t those tides that took Kath to her happy place. These weren’t those tides.
The tides started in the morning. The first wave only brushed her toes and ankles. That was when Glyn woke up abruptly and complained why Kath hadn’t woken him up. The second one came when he refused to stay longer, just four minutes, for a boiled egg. It would only take her four minutes to gather her nerve to ask him the question and get his answer or tell him the statement and get his reply. The third wave came when they were at the door and, even after stalling him a bit, she still couldn’t conjure up her courage to say what she felt was needed to be said. She stopped short, suddenly wary of her insignificance but didn’t know how to assess nor confirm it, how to analyze it the way Glyn did. So she let him drive away.
The fourth wave came when she was washing the dishes. She dropped Glyn’s coffee mug and it fell into pieces. A ceramic shard cut her finger as she was picking up the debris. No, this can’t be happening to me. I can’t even do things right. Then she walked to a teak table, to a telephone that was on it, picked up the receiver and dialed a number. There was a pulsing tone on the other end.
Julia? Hi, this is Kath! Splendid! Listen, are you available to go to the pictures tonight? They’re showing something and the paper gives it rave reviews and… Oh? Oh, I’m sorry. I hope he gets better. Oh is that him crying? Alright, no, that’s fine, really. You take care and say hi to little Chris. Yes, ciao, darling!
And that was the fifth wave.
Kath put the receiver down. She had nothing to do. For the first time in her life, she really had nothing to do and no desire to fix the situation.
She went to the back porch and looked at the garden. The flowers, the plants, the landscape, they were all Elaine’s ideas. How Elaine had enthusiastically offered her help in designing Glyn and Kath’s square garden, and now, on the first autumn day, the bougainvillea was swathed in tiny pink blossoms, the red roses were swaying, dancing under the whispers and the blows of the cool wind, and the cherry tree Kath had planted earlier that year had grown. Elaine went berserk when she found out about the cherry tree. “It is out of place! It completely doesn’t match! The shades won’t give the roses enough sun they need when it grows tall!” she said, but Kath was determined and it was one of those rare moments when Elaine surrendered.
Kath sat there for hours. Looking at the garden. At the flowers. At the squirrels darting to and fro, collecting provisions for the upcoming winter. At the pigeons resting before flying to some place warmer. Then she went inside to the telephone. She knew she had to do it. If she couldn’t do it face to face, then she would do it using the phone. She would. She had to. So she dialed.
No answer, and the pulsing, promising tone gave way to busy. She dialed again, still the same. And again, and again, until…
Hello. Yes, this is Kath Peters, is Glyn there? No? Alright. No, that should be quite alright. In fact, no, could you just tell him that I called and if he could call back? Thank you. No, that’s it. Goodbye.
When she hung up, she felt the sixth wave coming in, this time sweeping up to her knees. Through the windows, she could see the short cherry tree. The tip of some leaves had started turning bright auburn, agreeing with the season. She dialed another number.
Hello, Sonia? Hi, this is Kath. Is Elaine there? Oh, when do you suppose she’ll return? Oh, alright. No. Sorry? Oh, no, just tell her I rang and if she could call back. Thank you. How are you? Oh, busy? I say. The garden is just lovely! Funny you should mention it. I was just looking at it and I thought I would give Elaine a call to say how it has turned out even lovelier than in summer. No, I can’t tell, but they look healthy. No, no hole in the leaves or anything, I suppose. Oh? Which one are those? Oh, the little colorful ones? That should be nice, I’ll look it up. Sorry? Oh, no, not at all. Well, thank you, Sonia. No, just tell her that. Yes. Alright. Goodbye.
The seventh wave reached up to her hips as Kath replaced the receiver.
She hung her head down and pressed her palms on the teak table. Then Kath turned her head towards another room, and walked to that room, toward a landing cupboard in the corner, the one stacked high with papers and what Glyn called low-use materials. She opened the cupboard, took a chair and placed it in front of the cupboard, and climbed on it, reached to the back of the top shelf. Her palm was slit repeatedly by the thin edge of the papers until she felt a folder. She pinched it between her index finger and her thumb and drew it out from its papery siblings.
Kath knew exactly what was inside the folder and so she didn’t open it. Instead, she took a pencil and with a few strokes, wrote a message in thin, capital letters on the front of the folder. Then she replaced it inside the shelf, safely hidden behind the papers, climbed down from the chair, and closed the cupboard. By this time, the eighth wave was already scooping in, covering her up to her stomach.
I can’t call Mary. I don’t need her affirmation. I know how she feels. Just like how Polly feels. But I need to know from Glyn. I need to know from Elaine.
Kath returned to the kitchen and saw the glass bowl stacked with fruit. Apples.
She recalled her conversation with Oliver that day as Polly was picking up windfall apples in Elaine’s garden. My heart is not broken. The thing is to move away. Before they change their minds. The ninth wave went up to her chest.
When Kath was a child, her mother told her a story of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. How Snow White ran away from her evil stepmother. How she ended up in the cabin that housed seven little people. How her evil stepmother, always hot on her trail, gave her a poisoned apple and eventually put her to sleep. How she was awakened by a prince, a passing prince who snobbishly and presumptuously roused her with true love’s kiss. Snow White had never known the prince and the prince had never known her. He was only attracted by her beauty. The prince had never known her, and therefore had never loved her. He was only attracted by her beauty. But Snow White loved him till the happy end.
That story did more to Kath than just refusing Jenny as her father’s new wife. Yet the deepest effect of that tale had been obscure to her, until this moment, when the tenth wave swallowed her up to her chin.
Kath stared at the red apples, stacked and piled one on top of the other. If only I could sleep.
She hadn’t eaten ever since breakfast but she didn’t feel hungry. She felt the emptiness inside her stomach, but not hunger, no, she felt barren. Snow White had the seven dwarves. Kath pressed her right palm on her stomach.
The autumn sun had set two hours ago and Kath was back in the bedroom. She was holding thin lozenges, as red as the apples, but smaller. She had given enough time for the two people to whom she had given everything, but the phone never rang back and Kath knew she had finally received their affirmation. Then, with a rare determination, she swallowed the apple-red tablets, one by one by one, and by the time Glyn came home twenty five minutes after that, Kath had long been swept into the sea.
Wednesday, 19 October 2011
I was still on the phone with Mama during my on-line search for an airplane ticket back to New York. I was able to keep her on the phone until I had entered my debit card number on the airline website and secured my round- trip tickets: the earliest flight to JFK on Friday and the last one back to SFO on Monday. Then I told her the exact dates I was going to come and there was an even bigger smile in her voice.
The week went by faster than I had expected and then Friday came. Through the bus ride and the BART, I was smiling to myself, feeling the familiar ache returning to my cheeks, replacing another ache that had been haunting my heart and mangling my mind. Then as the BART reached its final destination, I hauled my backpack and my sleepy body off my seat and hopped off the car onto the platform.
The first real pangs of yearning to go home began when, in the waiting area of the gate, in one of my rare moments of warm-heartedness towards children, I giggled silently to myself when I heard a mother attempting to tell a joke to her son and proceeded to tickling him when he didn’t laugh. He finally relented. My wandering thoughts were suddenly plucked and plunged into a cabinet full of memories, and I landed in a folder of that day in the car.
It was snowing outside. In the backseat, I saw Mama and a boy, he couldn’t be more than four years old. I didn’t know who the boy was at first, but then I noticed a scar on his right leg. I knew that scar. I still had it, though it had faded. I still remembered how I got it: a little prancing along the edge of a gutter and a little slip followed by a loud wailing and Mama came rushing out to rush me inside the house and put iodine and bandaged the wound.
“Mama, I’m bored!” the young boy said in that irritating whiny tone that all children make.
“Daddy will be out soon, sweetie,” she replied with a smile, then looked out of the window. I followed her gaze and saw a church. I remembered that church. It was where Dad and Mama got married, where Ben and I were baptized, and where Ben and I went for our confirmation. It was one of those Wednesdays when Dad gave his legal service for free at the church.
“I wish he’d come out sooner,” the boy replied, still whining. Yet Mama looked back at him with an even wider smile that slanted her eyes into short back lines.
“Would you like to play a game?” she asked.
“Would I?” the boy said. They giggled at his enthusiasm. Mama took a worn gray blanket from the back compartment.
“I’ll be the mother hen, and you’ll be the chick,” she spread the blanket on the boy, covering him from head to toe. “This is you inside the egg, what do you feel?”
“What do you hear?”
“What do you see?”
“Nothing! It’s dark!” the boy replied.
“Would you like to see the light, then?” she asked.
“Yes, please!” the boy said.
“Alright, but you will need to let go off the warmth for a bit. Follow my voice and come out of the egg,” Mama replied. I could see the boy’s body wiggling underneath the blanket, and slowly his head came out, then his arms, then his body.
“Mama, it’s cold!” he protested.
“Then come here, come here under my wings!” she said, and the boy scrambled into her arms. “Oh, no! Look! There’s a nasty hawk up there!” Mama warned. The boy let out a muffled scream and ducked his head under her armpit. I giggled. “But you don’t have to worry, for you are safe with me,” she said.
“I know, Mama. I will never, ever leave you,” said the boy as he kissed her cheek.
The boarding announcement whisked me back to the waiting area of SFO. I got up and defeated the deadening burden of my backpack. Then I realized that in that car, in that moment, that young boy hadn’t had the slightest idea that he would’ve ended up thousands of miles away from the safety of her mother, ducking for cover every time hawks attacked him, over and over again.
Then, with a determined stride, I braced myself for the joys of budget flying: a six-hour flight in a cramped seat, hopefully next to someone not too obnoxious.
Sunday, 16 October 2011
Friday, 14 October 2011
Thursday, 6 October 2011
I wiped the steam off the bathroom mirror. The fog from it was the only thing that stood between me and my reflection. I felt the coldness of the steam changed to water as it clung to my palm and the underside of my fingers. I always tried to avoid looking directly at my face, afraid of seeing the familiar flaws, afraid of discovering new ones, afraid of the idea that I’d run out of clever lines to deceive myself into believing what I want to believe during the internal pep-talks.
So it was only natural that I let my gaze fall a few inches below my chin, and there it was, a cinnabar red pendant, square, with a hole on each side that was fastened to a strand of hemp string that met at the back of my neck. I touched it and felt its texture. In the mirror I saw my finger tracing the pendant, agreeing to every curve, every crevice. It was of a pig.
“You were born in the year of the boar,” my mother said two decades ago as she tied the pendant and the string around my neck. We were sitting in her room, and it was just the two of us with me in her lap. My father was out in the park with my brother Ben and our dog, Rosie. I looked in the big mirror in front of us, at my mother and the similar red pendant around her neck, and then at mine.
“What does it mean, Mama? Will I end up on the dinner table at Uncle Tang’s?” I asked with genuine fear, remembering the big feast at the restaurant we had with the Chinese community from church every Christmas. The suckling pig would be the main dish that everyone was waiting for. Uncle Tang’s was famous for it.
My mother smiled, her narrow eyes became even smaller and looked like two strokes of paintbrush dipped in charcoal black. She gently brushed my straight black hair with her palm. “No. That means you’re honest, patient, and tolerant,” she said. I smiled widely, and she, understanding my vanity, said, “But be careful, for Boars can be caught up in the past and lost in your dreams.” I stared at the eyes of my mother’s reflection, without the slightest understanding why being lost in dreams or in the past could be a bad thing, but the tone she used was so ominous that my grin disappeared instantly. The tone haunted me even after she kissed my head and took my hand downstairs. The tone haunted me even as we were preparing dinner for my father and Ben. The tone haunted me for years to come.
Still, I swore to guard the pendant with all my might, and this I did even after the strings gave way to age; this I did even after a white boy from school grabbed my necklace and tore it away from me as he screamed, “Fag!” and I received detention for punching him in the face and breaking his nose. My mother simply replaced the string with another, sturdier string. The pendant survived the swimming competitions, the college, the job hunts, the multiple boyfriends, the moving-outs, and even dying relatives. I wore it when we buried my father, the Caucasian American my mother married a few years after she arrived in California. No one would have thought that a budding young lawyer would fall in love with a young Asian immigrant who spoke little English and made a living by washing his clothes in a drycleaner near his apartment. I wore it when we attended Ben’s graduation day as he received his bachelor’s degree in biomechanical engineering from MIT, when I met one of his professors who became my first boyfriend who had the privilege of being the first man to break my heart.
Then I remembered that as the months became years, my relationship with Mama became distant. Her early bout with arthritis stopped me from climbing in her lap and sitting there, even way before I became too old and too heavy. Every year she became smaller, diminishing as I became taller. Then I moved out from city to city, promising to write to her as often as possible, but the Internet took over my generation and left hers behind. I always found excuses to not send her a mail, a birthday card, a Christmas greeting while she was never late in sending me checks. I always found excuses to not give her a call on Mother’s day or even to return her call when I found her number flashing on my cell phone screen and left registered as a missed call on my birthday.
How many Christmases have it been? I asked myself. I was still stroking the red pendant. I thought I had lost it several move-outs ago. Perhaps that was one of the reasons of my hesitating to visit Mama. Perhaps I was afraid that she would think I’d stopped loving her. Perhaps. I had found the pig pendant hidden in a paper bag a few months ago when I was rummaging through the boxes. I had been too preoccupied with my new job and new apartment that I only acknowledged it with a half-assed, “There you are!” and put it around my neck with no thought other than catching the bus and arriving on time for my first day on the job.
Is it fair to love someone but pretend you don’t? I thought. Then I cringed at it, realizing that I knew the answer very well.
I dared myself to look at my face. I was so caught up in the past that I loathed every sign of time passing. I was so lost in my dreams that I would forgive no one, not even myself, for not achieving them. My gaze traveled from my chin, to my lips, to my cheeks, to my nose, to my eyes, to my forehead, and to my hair and remembered my father’s sister, my aunt, telling me, “You are the split image of your beautiful mother.”
Then on impulse, on momentum, I threw myself out of the bathroom, grabbed my bag and cellphone to punch in the number that I had memorized by brain as well as by heart. I heard the pulse, the tone, then a familiar voice at the end of the line, and I said, “Ben? Hi, it’s me, Craig. Is Mama there?”
I had intended to create this from the perspective of Craig's mother, as she goes into his room (he's moved out from the house, obviously) to search for something (a sewing equipment, perhaps?) and then calling Craig where Craig will answer the phone, which is a strange thing to do. Then I thought against it because I had introduced another point of view (Tux's), and that will complicate things further.
This isn't really so much a Lively piece, because it came out more Faulknerian. It sounds almost identical to The Magpies.
Moral of the story that everyone agreed in class: Call your mom!
Friday, 30 September 2011
“Hello? Anyone there?” I tried to shout, but my own voice sounded so strange and foreign that it startled me. “Hello?”
“Marigold Tuxedo Wigglebottom,” a booming voice said. “Welcome.”
“Oh, hello, but what do you mean?” I asked. I walked to the source of the voice, my paws almost gliding on the soft, cool surface. It was so bright yet I didn’t feel the need to slant my eyes.
“That is your name, is it not? Marigold Tuxedo Wigglebottom,” the voice repeated. “Or ‘Tux’ for short.”
“Yes. But where is this? Who are you?” I asked again.
“I am the one that breathes life into all living things,” it finally answered.
Then it was all clear to me. “I’m dead, aren’t I?” I asked, half rhetorically. “How did it happen?”
Images came flooding in. Every time Craig came home crying and hugging me all night, murmuring his usual strange gibberish, we would most likely move out soon after. And this time had been no different. I was sitting in front of our new apartment building, waiting for Craig to come home. My Elizabethan collar had been taken off and I felt energetic and ready to conquer all. Then I suddenly saw a squirrel darting pass me, and so without hesitation, I ran after it, across the small lawn, and into the busy street. “It was quick and painless,” the voice said.
“What about Craig? Will he be okay?”
The voice replied, “I know your bond with him was very strong, but Craig is no longer of your concern.”
“What should I do?” I asked. Then a door opened, leading to a field, green and grassy, with a big, tall tree in the center of it. I saw all sorts of animals there: cats, dogs, birds, squirrels, some are running around and playing, some are resting under the shades of the tree. I felt funny because I wasn’t afraid of the big dogs nor had the urge to chase the squirrels. “What is that?”
“This is the waiting place for companion animals,” answered the voice.
“Should I go in?” I asked. I lifted my chin and let the gentle breeze caress my fur. I smelt catnip!
“You have two options,” the voice said. “You could go in and wait for Craig, or, like some other companion animals, you could request to return.”
I saw a dog stopped playing and started running to a different direction. Then I saw a human appeared. The dog ran to the human and toppled the man over, giving him ample licks and slobbers. The man laughed and hugged the dog. Then they walked together and disappeared.
“How long do I have to wait?”
“I can’t tell you that either.”
“How can I go back to the land of the living? Can I return as a cat?”
“Your old body has been destroyed beyond repair. You had only used thirteen months and sixteen days of the age initially given to you, so yes, you can return as a cat, but a different fur color, different body shape and size,” the voice replied. “And you have to decide now.”
I sat there for a while, at the entrance of the field. Another gentle breeze caressed my face, leaving the sweet scent of catnip. Craig… or Catnip? I asked myself.
Catnip or Craig? “What if he doesn’t recognize me? Will he remember me?”
“Time is running out.”
Craig or Catnip? “Will I remember him? What if he doesn’t want me back?”
“I can’t answer your questions. You have to decide.”
I closed my eyes for a while, before finally saying, “Craig.”
“Very well,” the voice boomed. With that, the door was shut and the floor under me swung open and I floated down, way, way down into the dark. Then I felt myself going through another exit, into a cold and dark surrounding. I couldn’t see anything and was terrified, but a strangely familiar caress rubbed my face and body, urging me to come closer to the warmth, and I let my ancient instincts lead me to my new mother’s teat and drink her milk until sleep embraced me.
I had been thinking of writing something from Roger's POV, but it's probably going to be a dead giveaway for another plot I've been thinking about. In addition, many of my classmates really want Tux to go back, so this is it. Then again, I don't think this is one of my best writings, so it might not end up in the story after all.
Thursday, 29 September 2011
To me, finishing this novel is like losing a chatty good friend: it’s relieving once you get to the end, but you’ll still miss your good friend. There is a noticeable transition of the tone and style of writing as we get to the end of Go Down, Moses.
What starts as a harsh, raw, cowboy adventure-like story, changes to deep and spiritual (in both the stereotypical African-American world as evident in Pantaloon in Black and the stereotypical Native American world in The Old People), and finally concludes in a mature, poignant, polished, sweet, and dare I say, feminine fashion.
Delta Autumn serves as the much-needed closure of the relationship among McCaslin (represented by Isaac), Edmonds (represented by Carothers), and Beauchamp (represented by the unnamed woman who bears the child of Roth Edmonds) as well as a warning (that seems to go unheeded) of overhunting and deforestation. Go Down, Moses explores the demise of Samuel Worsham Beauchamp and captures the sadness, almost like a curse, of the Beauchamps. It begins in a funny, rather comical way with Tennie Beauchamp and “Tomey’s Turl” (Was), then it becomes grim, though still somewhat sweet, with Lucas and Mollie Beauchamp (The Fire and the Hearth), finally it ends with Samuel’s death (Go Down, Moses). This sadness even transpires to Rider and Mannie (Pantaloon in Black), two people unrelated to the Beauchamps except for the fact that they live in Lucas’s cabin.
Nevertheless, no matter how much the tones change, there is always the familiarity in the sentences (the last sentence of the first chapter and the last sentence of the last chapter sound suspiciously the same). Indeed, it is the last two chapters that will make me forever miss Go Down, Moses. Then again, I can always reread it to remember the passion – and confusion – of William Faulkner.
I had to say that it was quite a challenge to read Faulkner because the campus book store was out of it so I had to purchase the Kindle version of it, and I couldn't make notes or read it on the bus or on the train (I don't have Kindle, so I download it to my laptop).
Thursday, 22 September 2011
I remember the first time I saw it. Roger had brought the thing to our junior high prom night. We were dateless, naturally, but Roger insisted that it wasn’t against our own accord. We were too exclusive, that’s how he put it. As for me, I was having a problem that millions of other teenagers faced: my looks. A beauty magazine that I read years later diagnosed my symptoms as a light case of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. “Here, hold this,” Roger said in the boy’s bathroom. “What’s that?” I asked, staring daftly at a transparent tube filled with some sort of sparkly, gold substance. “This is called glitter and that’s the universal short-cut to utter fabulousness,” he snapped his fingers. “Here, let me put some on you,” and so he did. Despite my frantic protest and giggling, he skillfully applied the sparkly thing on my cheekbones and under my eyes. When I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, I almost cried. I’d never felt prettier. I turned back to look at him with a stupid grin and he said, “Wait till the spotlight hits us, then things are going to get seriously sparkly,” and I laughed, despite the tears that were welling up my eyes and choking my throat.
That was almost fifteen years ago and I still kept the gold MAC glitter, though it was almost empty now. From time to time, whenever my inferiority complex caved in, I’d open that tiny bottle of wonders and carefully applied the content onto my face, imitating Roger’s skilled fingers that night eons ago, then I’d feel as pretty as any Disney princess. For several years, Tux had been that glitter and I would turn to her during my times of sadness and self-loathing that mostly spawned from my failures and rejections by men. But then I lost her. So there I was, gently applying the last precious gold powder onto my puffy and swollen under eyes, and like another powder, white, duller, and deadly, it began to work its charm. Then as I looked at myself in the mirror, I saw the edges of my lips starting to lift themselves up.
It's amazing that I can actually learn something from a writer like Faulkner (he's a great writer, I have to give him that, but he also can be too experimental for my taste).
Friday, 16 September 2011
This is another story from yesterday's assignment in Ms. Graham's class. We were to write a piece about a character coming home to the place he/she has shared with a recently deceased person. We were required to explore the connection of the characters with the objects and the space and the relationship of the two characters.
I couldn’t tell how many times the song had been playing. I had put it on auto repeat and I’d lost count ever since the first cycle was done. Whenever I felt I’d cried my last tears or used my energy to excrete them, the song started again and my tears and strength to cry would replenish. I was sitting at the edge of my bed, pressing down my soles and toes against the old carpet that came with the apartment, staring at the little cushion in front of me.
She was just there, I thought. I took my right hand from on top of my left kneecap and let the palm absentmindedly sweep over the blanket, then the sheets. She was just here. I placed my right hand on my left chest, as if doing so would numb down the pain that was pulsing inches beneath the surface.
“You’re not thinking of moving out again, are you?” Roger had asked when I was on the phone with him a few hours ago right after the accident. I was hysterical, so he took my ominous silence as a reply to his question. “Honey, don’t. You always do this every time something bad happens,” he responded.
“I can’t, Rodge. I’ll see her everywhere. I’ll see her lounging on that chair in the balcony or on my computer, I’ll think of trying not to kick her in bed while we’re sleeping and then I’ll realize that she’s no longer there,” I said in a burst of strength that allowed me to finish the sentence without a gulp of air, “And I’ll see that damned street every time I come home.”
Roger quickly snapped, “You’ll see her everywhere, and every time. You can move to West Virginia and still see the same road. You can move to Alaska and still see the same road. You can move to Nigeria and still see the same road. Everything everywhere will remind you of her, and there’s nothing wrong with it, but you’ll have to learn to live with it, to face it and to not run away again.”
The ceremony was swift. Tux’s broken body was wrapped in her blanket in a cardboard box and they were rolled into the incinerator. In a few minutes, all that was left of her was the ashes and the pink collar with the jingly bell. I had been holding the collar and the bell in my left hand ever since the veterinarian handed it to me while ensuring me that Tux’s death had been quick. How would you know? You weren’t there. I glared at him and he avoided my eyes. Then Roger came with a little box, “A jewelry box, with the Goddess Bast carving on it,” he said and gave it to the vet who then placed Tux’s cremated remains inside. I didn’t utter a word on the ride home, not even when Roger cursed the driver who did the hit-and-run. And when we arrived, I didn’t even say goodbye to him. I just carried the wooden box and the collar, up the stairs to my room, locked the door behind me and turned off my phone.
I had been sitting here for such a long time, in the same position, in the same hunched posture, staring at the blue pillow in the middle of the room that was traced with strands of white and black fur. Finally, after not being able to bear the sight of it any longer, I closed my eyes and let my body fall back against the mattress, with my head landing on my right hand and I heard the collar bell jingling on my left. Then I began to wail as Bernadette Peters started singing that Sondheim piece yet again.
I felt bad about killing Tux, but somebody had to die. At least for the assignment. However, there is a chance that I might not include this in my final paper for the class.