Friday, August 1, 2014

billy and the purple cow

billy doesn't smile. he doesn't talk to anyone. it's not that he can't talk, he just stopped talking ever since his mommy died. when he is at school, he goes about the activities quietly. his classmates have learned to accept that although he plays with them, he just wouldn't talk.

one day, the teacher mrs. bell and her assistant take the children to the toy museum. the children take in the exhibits with excitement and each child wishes he or she would have such and such toys. at the very moment billy sees the purple cow, he smiles and points it to the boy next to him. the boy laughs because who wants to play with a purple cow? the other children laugh, too. billy shrugs his shoulders and stays where the purple cow is displayed. 

"hello, billy." billy hears someone say. he peers closely at the purple toy cow and sees that it is smiling at him. he rubs his eyes in disbelief and when the purple cow tells him "boo-yah!" and laughs, billy starts to laugh, too. when he passes the gift shop, he hears a "psssst!" and he sees the purple cow standing on top of a heap of toys with a 'clearance' sign. "buy me!" it says. but billy only has four quarters in his pocket. the manager sees billy and asks billy what he wants to buy. billy looks at the cow then shows his four quarters to the manager. the manager smiles, goes around the counter to the cash register and rings in a sale of $1.00. billy puts the four quarters on the counter and takes the purple cow with him.

"what do you want to do?" asks the purple cow. "i want to see my mommy," replies billy.

outside, there is a sudden downpour and mrs. bell and the children have to stay in the bus shelter and wait for the rain to stop. it does not take long and the sun peeks through the grey clouds. billy turns around and sees the most beautiful rainbow he has ever seen. he looks at the purple cow in his hand, it is smiling at him. billy smiles, too, and he turns to mrs. bell and points at the rainbow. "look, mrs. bell," billy says to everyone's surprise, "there's a rainbow!" mrs. bell and everybody was happy that billy is talking. billy looks again at the purple cow in his hand, and he hears it say, "your mommy is in heaven, billy, and she's smiling at you through the rainbow." billy smiles and waves at the rainbow! all the children start to wave at the rainbow, too!
- © vikki summerfield 2014

Saturday, November 2, 2013

chaos in my mind

"Sometimes I think I hear voices. Sometimes faint. Sometimes loud."

My family doctor eyes me coldly before she asks "Is everything okay at home?"

I answer "Yes."

"How about at work?"

I answer "Yes."

"Do you have financial problems? Is money short, things like that?"

"Don't we all?" is my reply.  Doc looks at me as if to say, just answer, so I say, "Only when I have no money." Doc rolls her eyes.

"Are you with someone? Are you concerned that you are getting old?" I take a deep breath and gave a sigh. "Yes but no, and no but yes."

Doc shares her head, purses her lips and wrinkles her nose. I don't think she's catching on to my humour.

"I'm seriously thinking that you are suffering from depression," she declares after a while.

"But, Doc, what about the voices?"

"What about the voices? What do the voices tell you?" she says this with an obvious annoyance in the tone of her voice.

 "Well, sometimes it's telling me about Virginia Woolf."

Doc looks at me like I have three eyes and five noses.

"You don't know Virginia Woolf?"

"Of course I know Virginia Woolf, I read her in college. Is there a history of mental health issues in the family?"

"Hmmmm...." I scratch my chin and think. "None that I know of, but who knows? Although a long time ago," I continue, "we had a neighbour who was hauled off in a straight jacket." Doc shakes her head again.

"Were you related to that neighbour?"

"Hell, no, 'twas just a neighbor. Never even knew the name, I was still little then. Although it could be a relative. You know, my tribe's elders were all very secretive or they were in denial about most things, especially anything about mental health or illness. They didn't like being ostracized." I shrug my shoulders as I say this.  Doctor stares at me like I should be put in a straight jacket myself. She types something on her computer, prints it and hands me the paper - it is a prescription for Larozapam or some damn drug that probably would make me fall asleep and forget about being alive.

"That should help you calm down and get to sleep better." She stands up, hinting the consultation is finished.

"Buff! and here I thought I just have ear infection or some damn thing."

I leave the clinic and thank the nice perky receptionist on the way out.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

analyze this

The last three mornings, I woke up at exactly 6:27 on the clock, from the same dream.

I am walking on flood water, my feet are tired, which means I have been walking for quite a while. Strange thing about the flood water, it is clear; clear like tap water. I hear the jingling of coins and I look around and there are dimes and nickels everywhere.

In the first dream, I hear a voice and I turn my head. I see Benjamin standing against a wall. He's wearing a faded army green golf shirt. I do not see his face, yet I know it is him. I wake up.

The second time the dream repeats, I see Benjamin again. This time he turns around and looks at me. I call his name. I wake up.

This morning, as I go through the dream sequence, I resolve to not wake up so I know what happens. Benjamin's face is serious. He is not his usual self. Benjamin always smiles. Facing him, I touch his arm, the lean yet strong arms that once held me when we were young. He smiles at me, briefly. Why the sad face? I ask. He turns his head and just like that his image fades away from me.

I did not want to open my eyes; I willed myself to go back to sleep. I could see the clear water, it is cold. I could hear the jingling of the coins. I could see a shadow, Benjamin's I reckoned, walking away. I heard a loud ringing. It was my phone. I looked at the digital clock on the table by the foot of the bed. 6:27, the red letters almost fading in the bright morning sunshine.

In the shower, it came to me. A realization. A recollection. It was the same dream I had dreamed when I was still a young girl, barely ten years old. I stood in the middle of the bathtub, water running down my skin like tiny rivers. I closed my eyes, forcing myself to look back at that dream. Was there more that I forgot?

I finished my shower. As I stepped out of the bathtub, I jammed my knee on the edge and I almost lost my balance. I grabbed hold of the towel rack. For a split second, the whole bathroom spinned and I thought I was going to have vertigo yet again. Then it dawned on me: I saw Ben in my dreams eight years before I met him. Why would I have to remember this after fifty years?

My best friend in high school, Carmencita, and I did an experiment for a year. We recorded the times we thought of each other when we were not in school. We kept a log in our notebooks and would compare them the next day. She used her wrist watch, but because I didn't have one, I depended on the radio or the little cuckoo clock on our kitchen wall. Our logs showed that we thought of each other at almost the same time, sometimes a minute or two off. We also logged what we were thinking at the time and ninety percent of the time, we thought of the same things.

Could it be that I have been thinking of Benjamin a lot lately? I couldn't understand why. I didn't want to attribute it to my age. Or maybe he's thinking about me.

I am wary of going to bed, I don't want to dream the dream if it's a harbinger of things to come.
 

Sunday, June 17, 2012

a family portrait

Cristina barely smiled when I walked in. She pretended to re-arrange the stack of glass coasters on the coffee table. I walked towards her. She straightened up and looked at me like I was a complete surprise which of course I wasn’t: they were expecting me. I extended my hand to shake hers, “How are you, Cristina ?” I said.

She limply took my hand, like I was some kind of a leper or something.

“Fine.” Despite the 35 degrees heat, I felt her coldness.

“Okay,” I said, pretending to ignore her icy reception. I looked around the small living room, examined the furniture and the frames hanging on the walls.

"Who should I shoot first?" I laughed to emphasize I was joking.

Benjamin looked at Cristina as he took her hand and made a shooting gesture towards his chest; his lips in a playful smile.

“We can start with Cristina or me first or both?” he said, more like a question rather than a statement.

“Good. Both of you stand right there,” I said even though I felt a small fang of jealousy gnawing inside. I tell myself I musn’t feel jealous. For God’s sakes, they’re married! I was just the ex-girlfriend, I reminded myself.

I asked permission to move the coffee table to one side. Benjamin quickly did it for me. I got them to stand together with the sunlight coming from the window to their right. It gave a soft shadow on half of their faces: Benjamin enthusiastically smiling, Cristina stretching her lips feigning a smile.

I took a few tentative shots and checked them on the monitor and showed them to Benjamin, who gushed at every shot, but Cristina showed no interest at all. I set up my tripod on the opposite end of the room and gave instructions to the two of them: smile, look at him, look at her, your arms around her shoulder. At some point I took Benjamin’s hands to put on Cristina's shoulder just enough to make his fingers visible in the photograph.

After several minutes, Benjamin left the room to get the grandkids. I sat beside Cristina on the couch.

“Cristina , I’m not your enemy nor am I here to take Benjamin away from you.”

"I know," she said.

"Couldn’t we forget about the past? Or, try forgetting it for a while? I’m really here as a friend. I really want to be your friend, too, not just his."

She looked away, I thought I saw a tinge of guilt but when she spoke, in her halting English and Tagalog, I saw the hurt in her face.

"No, you’re not the enemy," she said quietly. "I am." She pointed towards her chest, her heart.

"I don't understand." I felt quite puzzled.

"He might have married me, but I know he never stopped loving you. You’re always there between us." She turned to look outside. "I feel it, I know it." Outside the roofs of houses nearby seemed to spew steam. Manila was searing in 35 degrees heat.

"Ben and I are just friends, that’s how I feel about him. Honest."

"But that is not how he feels about you. He thinks of you every time. He tells me in more than words. He reminds me by his actions. I know when you’re near, even when he doesn’t know you’re in town. You are like an impending storm in the horizon. You send the breeze of your presence just before you show up. You have this effect on him that I never understood. That I could never equal, that I could never match."

I deliberately did not say anything, trying to digest what I just heard.

"And yet," she continued after a brief moment, "I want him to be happy and if that’s what makes him happy, that is enough for me."

"You are lucky," I said. "You have him. You bore his children. You make his breakfast every morning. You lay beside him in bed every night. For more than half of your life. I never had that. All I have is memories of us when we were young. And there’s not a lot of those memories."

"That maybe so. How would you feel when, in a moment’s passion, your lover calls another woman’s name?"

I pulled my upper body away from her, my one eyebrow arched upwards, and examined her face. “You’re kidding me, aren’t you?”

"All of our thirty five years together, Cynthia."

I sat beside her with my mouth open. I did not know what to say.

Just then a little boy more or less three years old, came rushing in and ran straight to Cristina's arms. She took him and hugged him and kissed him then hugged him again. The boy stared at me and smiled. I saw Benjamin’s smiling eyes in him. I got up and checked my camera. Cristina now smiled as I took three shots. Benjamin came in and sat beside her and the boy slipped from her to Benjamin’s lap.

“Smile!” I said, peering into the eyeview finder of my Nikon. Benjamin and the little one both smiled. But I was surprised when Cristina stole a kiss on Benjamin’s forehead as I pressed my shutter.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

A Secret (revised)

I didn't know she was home. The apartment was quiet. Her bags weren't in the usual place beside the sofa, and I thought I was alone. I sat on the sofa and settled my feet on the ottoman, shoving a fresh issue of Architectural Digest to one side. There was an eerie quality to the quietness, but I supposed it's the gray of the skies reflecting through the windows.

I shut my eyes and for the first time in so many days, I felt I could fall asleep. I was on the verge of this sleep when I thought I heard faint sobbing. I opened my eyes and got up. The sobbing came from Jeanna's work room. I walked slowly towards it and the sobbing gradually became more audible. It was Jeanna.

The door was ajar and I pushed it open. I saw her kneeling down on the floor, in front of the lowest drawer of the tallboy, the drawer that was always locked and only she had the key. Her head almost touched the floor, her back to me, her shoulders moving as she sobbed. I heard her speak, as if in prayer. Then I heard the words "I love you! I will never stop loving you." I noticed she was hugging something.

"Jeanna?" I reached down and touched her shoulder. "What's wrong, darling?"

She jumped in surprise. She turned her face towards me, eyes red, face wet with tears. Then I saw what she was holding: an old frame. It dropped from her hands in her panic. The glass broke into small pieces. I reached for the light switch and flipped it on.

The photograph was old. In the photograph, a good looking man with dark blonde hair and crooked teeth, was smiling. This was the secret hiding inside that locked drawer. I looked at Jeanna. She had wiped her tears and her eyes blazed.

"What are you doing here? Do you not know how to knock?" There was no mistaking the coldness in her voice. She was a different person than the Jeanna I knew as my wife.

"Well," I started. "I heard a noise, sobbing really. I didn't know you were home." I could feel her intent gaze as I spoke, my eyes focused on the photograph on the floor, at the smiling man. "Who is that?"

She darted towards me. I heard broken glass cutting into flesh, her feet. There was blood on the floor. Her eyes still blazing, she started to pound my chest with her fists. "You have no right!" she yelled. "Why can't you leave me alone? You have no right to see me like this! You're not supposed to see me like this!"

She pounded and pounded and I let her. Only then did I understand: all these years, there's a man in a locked drawer in my house who actually had her affection, her heart. All these fifteen years. She had it well hidden in that locked drawer. I respected her privacy and even when she had left the drawer keys dangling from the lock that one afternoon in May, I fought the temptation to open it and find out her secret. Yes, I had often seen her, on her knees, staring inside that drawer. To me it looked like she was saying some kind of devotion to a hidden diety. But she said she loved me, so many times, and I believed her, even when sometimes I knew the words were empty.

She stopped pounding and fell on the floor. The pieces of broken glass unkindly cut at her knees, her legs and her hands. She wailed as she looked at her hands, blood running like crimson rivers down her arms.

"Who is this person, Jeanna?" She reached for the photograph, palm right smack on the man's face, now all bloodied. "Goddamnit, I demand to know who this is!"

"No one," she yelled. "No one!"

"But you're crying because of him. Why?" I thought of the "boyfriend from another lifetime who had died"; at least that's what she had always told me. What was his name? Erick? Jandrick?

She held the blood-stained photograph to her chest. On the floor, broken pieces of glass scattered like diamonds and rubies.

"I loved him so much. He was the only one. HE IS THE ONLY ONE," she muttered. "And now he's gone. He died last night."

It doesn't make sense.

"I thought you said Jandrick died a long time ago."

"No. He's been alive all this time."

And I thought I was competing with the memory of a long ago dead boyfriend.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked. That was when I felt the stab in my heart. It had been there for a long time and I only noticed the pain now. Maybe it was I who had died a long time ago and I just didn't know it. It was then I realized our marriage was a farce; or maybe there was even no marriage at all.

I left the room. I pulled out an overnight bag from the hall closet and went inside the bedroom. I threw in some clothes. I refused to stay in this house of pretend love and dead emotions.

As I opened the door, I heard her say, "Where are you going?"

I looked at her and said, "When I come back in two days, I want you out of here. Bring the photograph with you."

I started to leave. "And oh, yes, you should call your lawyer."

I walked out and didn't look back.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

it's just another new year's eve

The text message came at almost seven this morning. "Happy new year," it said.

I knew who sent it. My mind went back to that last morning that Benjamin and I went jogging by the seaside, the sunrise shining on Manila Bay whose waters sparkle under the blue sky.


We were sitting at one of the restaurant tables one morning after our jog. He was well aware that it was my last day and we sat and chat a lot longer that day.

"What if it had been us?" he said, lips smiling, but his eyes almost seemed sad.

"You would have left me after a few years," I replied.

He turned, the disappointment evident in his face. "Why do you say that?"

"Because I could never have children. And you men want to have children." I stretched a leg to another chair nearby, avoiding his gaze.

"You know I am not like that."

Did I hurt his feelings? I thought not. He was simply declaring.

"I know you're not. But your life wouldn't be complete without children," I said, briefly glancing at him.

"When you love someone," I heard him say, then he corrected himself, "When I loved you, it was unconditional."

I straightened up, leaned across the table from him and looked at him square in the eye. "Do you still love me?"

He made a brief chuckle and joked about the seriousness of my face. I eased back into my chair. We laughed together while he fiddled with his Blackberry, put on a song that was part of a file I gave him the day before, then placed the Blackberry between us on the table, Eydie Gorme blaring, competing with the sounds of the waves and the drone of the people around, along with helicopter sound above and the traffic behind us.

"I'm constantly thinking about you." He mumbled something else.

Our eyes locked for a moment before we burst into another giggling fit.

"I heard that. Rockin' solid, man! I heard that!" I said in between giggling and breathing.

His face suddenly became serious.

"Is that true, what you just said?" I asked, my voice uncharacteristically softer and lower.

He looked at me and smiled, a sad smile, I reckoned.

"What does your wife say about that?" I asked.

He stretched his legs as he relaxed, took the Blackberry and put on a Lani Hall song. I Don't Want You To Go blared between us.

Friday, November 18, 2011

disappointment

Why is it that you do not make my heart beat faster now that we're together?

I swear we are two different people from last spring - when I was so excited to hear your voice, when I missed you when you didn't call or text me, when just the mere ringing of the phone filled me with anticipation and imagining it was you calling.

You touch me and I shiver - from disgust. I force myself to reach out and touch you, caress you, but inside my senses are revolting.

You're not who I have built up to be in my mind. You do not sound like him. You do not smell like him. You do not speak like him. You do not feel like him. Him. The you who I thought I love.

When I take my clothes off, I feel shame. My body looks good, my skin feels smooth, but I feel shame when you touch me. When you kiss me, I want to vomit. When I down the cocktail, it is to cleanse my mouth and to blur my senses so I could have physical contact with you.

So when you have said that it would make things difficult for both of us, inside I rejoice. When I withdraw my hands from your neck, I rejoice. When I grab my clothes and cover my body, I rejoice. You are still holding my arm as I walk away to put my clothes on. You think you may have offended me, but fireworks go inside my head. I feel the elation that the protesters showed on TV upon learning that Ghadaffi has died. That is how bad it is being with you. That is my measuring stick being there alone with you.

I laugh so loud after I get out of the room and close the door. Good thing the pool is only a few feet away. I am still laughing when I dive into the water, and water enters my mouth and nose, my head aches but I am happy. Ghadaffi's dead, and I don't love you.

I feel so happy that after two laps, I jump and pump my fist up in the air!

"Yes! Yesssss!!"

I think that you know how I feel. But you don't want to admit it to yourself or to me. I love you in my own distorted way, only I want that thirty thousand miles between us. I love the idea of loving you, the you I knew forty years ago. You are no longer that you. And it is that you that I hold dear and won't forget. I'm sorry that I came for you but instead found somebody new.

Thank you for setting me free. Please don't call me anymore.