Monday, March 29, 2010

DWP - lost in the jungle

Leigh slithers down the fireman's pole wearing a pair of white lace thong panties, skimpy see-through brassieres and large angel wings. Her audience, mostly well-dressed men, and the occasional older women, for a moment stare in awe of her body's agility. She sees Dorian, the club's manager, sitting at his usual table with a new customer. She smiles at them; she knows it would be more money for her. She tries to think what she would do to this man when the sight of Henry tending the bar catches her.

Ah, dear old Henry. She tries to remember how tender he used to touch her, like she was a delicate crystal. Henry wanted her to quit her job and marry him. He said he'd give her everything she wanted. She wanted to believe him, but she was not a fool.

She is "damaged goods". No man in his right mind would marry someone like her. She who had been with hundreds, perhaps thousands of men. All for money. Only money can make her happy, that's what she has conditioned herself to believe. And Dorian brings her the men who would give her money, spend their money on her - jewellery, cars, vacations to places like Bali, Fiji, the Azores, the Riviera. What more can a woman as beautiful as her want?

As she moves her hips and surveys the hungry looks in the eyes of her audience, she suddenly remembers the day she told Henry that she was pregnant. He looked happy, but she was in a panic. She cannot be pregnant. Her body is her fortune. The money would stop. Dorian told her so. When she went to that secret clinic out of town, she knew she didn't only lose the child, but also her soul. Life is a great big jungle and she is so lost in it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

PROMPT - a secret revealed

From Judy Reeves' "A Writer's Book of Days" - "Write about a time you found out about something you weren't supposed to know."

A Secret Revealed

Aunt Leena tosses her tenth bottle of beer on the floor. She giggles and slaps her hand on the table then staggers to the kitchen and comes back with another opened beer bottle in her hand.

"Don't you think you had enough?" Lulu asks, concern etched in her face, but she says this with a smile.

"You don't know me," she jabs a thumb at her chest. She motions the hand holding the beer bottle towards me. "Ask your friend here," she says grinning at me, "C'mon, tell Lulu how many bottles I can down normally in one afternoon."

I chuckle as I remember the many Sunday afternoons Aunt Leena spent at our house just drinking beer. On the fifth bottle, she would become invariably obnoxious, or dramatic, or sentimental, depending on what was going on in her life. Aunt Leena is a lesbian, had been in and out of many failed relationships with women. When she had had more than seven bottles, one can bet, if you know someone she knows who has a secret, she would be sharing that secret with you.

I haven't seen Aunt Leena in a long time. She has been here in Singapore for almost five years. My friend Lulu and I are touring Southeast Asia, doing some shopping for our little boutique back home, and since we are in the area, I deem it would be a good idea to call on her.

I wink at Lulu who mouths her concern for Aunt Leena. I shake my head, meaning not to worry. First of all we are in Aunt Leena's own apartment so in all likelihood she would just fall asleep anytime.

Presently, Aunt Leena gets up and retrieves a photo album from a small bookcase. She flops down beside Lulu on the sofa, opens the album and identifies the people on the photographs. Some of the photographs are old and some of which I had seen before as a young girl because we had copies of them at home. She turns the page and fingers the edge of the sepia photograph. She is quiet and for a while Lulu and I surmise she is about to fall asleep. But she isn't.

"Here," she mumbles, "this is my yayah." Suddenly, she is crying. Lulu looks confused.

"It's the alcohol," I say.

"No," Aunt Leena says. "I just feel sorry for my yayah."

I stand up and look at the picture. It shows three toddlers on a bench, one not quite two years old, the second about four, the third is aged about six or seven. Behind the bench stand two young girls, Yayah about 14 or 15 at the time, and one of their older cousins. Yayah was my late mother. Aunt Leena was born when the war broke out in the Philippines. Their family was very poor and all children stopped going to school to find work in neighboring farms. Yayah was left at home to take care of the household and the new baby. That was how she was called Yayah, which means "Nanny".

"Well," I say, suddenly feeling nostalgic for my mother who had passed away some twelve or so years ago. "She's in a better place now. Let go then."

Aunt Leena continues to cry. "Yayah! My poor yayah!"

I grab the photo album to put it away. Lulu tells Aunt Leena that she has better sleep off the alcohol. I look at the photograph. We had one like that at home. My mother always hid it in her cabinet, along with a few other old photographs. Once I remember seeing it and asking her who those children are. Mother explained that the baby was Aunt Leena, the bigger child Aunt Merce and the taller child a cousin.

"You were a pretty baby, Aunt Leena," I tell her. "But what happened to you?" I say this laughing to lighten the situation for she is still bawling herself. Lulu makes a small laugh and tells me I am bad.

Aunt Leena grabs the album. "Yes, I was about four in this picture."

"No, this is you," I correct her and point to the youngest toddler on the bench.

"That's not me," she defiantly says. "They had you believe that this is me and this is Merce and this is someone else. But look closely."

I know I had stumbled upon what is like a gold mine. For years, after looking at those old pictures, I had suspected that the eight-year old child looked more like Aunt Merce. But then Aunt Leena, my mother and their other siblings all had the distinctive look of their parents, wide brown eyes, thick brows and lashes, wavy black hair, full lips, rounded nose, high cheekbones, and freckles. Whenever I would tell my mother about who should be those children in the pictures were, I always got scolded. What the hell do I know? I wasn't there? It's her picture, it's her siblings and relatives. She ought to know who those people are in the picture! After that, it would be a long time before we got to see the picture again.

"Sooooo," I tell Aunt Leena, "I have always told Mother that she got the picture wrong. That this is you, and this is Aunt Merce."

"Yes," Aunt Leena answers.

"So who is this baby? Whose baby is she? And why did you, guys, insist on getting yourselves mixed up about that?"

"That's my yayah's baby."

I feel my ears turning red. This is certainly unexpected. I have always thought the baby could've been someone else's. But I quickly do the math. My mother would have been 14 in the picture. No more than 15.

"Excuse me?" I say. I see Lulu's mouth gape, her eyes widen.

"That's your half-sister," says Aunt Leena.

"You are definitely very drunk. Mother could not have been more than 15 here."

In my mind, I know I am not stupid. Biology was my favourite subject in high school. I was tops in my class. I knew enough about sex and biology and that a girl, once menstruating, and has had coitus, with a man, of course, would be capable of getting pregnant.

"That's right. I'm very drunk and yayah was 15 in that picture."

I look at her in shock. Then I remember that I had an older sister who died of diptheria before her first birthday.

"Is that Herminia?" I ask.

"No," comes the reply.

"Tell me about it then." I lay back on the lounge chair and put my feet on the coffee table, interlock my fingers and rest my hands on my stomach.

"Are you sure you're ready to hear this, Virginia?" Lulu asks.

Aunt Leena continues to stare at the photograph.

Our father died before I was born. There was the war. Our mother needed to have a man in the house, for safety, you know. So she married again. My older brother and sisters did not approve of it but they couldn't do anything. The man had his own farm and he was able to feed all of us.

Yayah was a very pretty girl, I'm sure you know that. She was left at home to care for me and to do the house chores while everyone else worked the field. One day our stepfather came home at lunch and raped yayah. He threatened her but eventually she had to tell our mother what happened. But no one could do anything. If our mother would ask her husband to leave, we would have no food. Because of that, my mother's health started to fail. My older brother and three sisters left home. Yayah and I were sent to Manila. After yayah gave birth, we came back and our mother owned the child. But of course, everyone in the village knew what happened because our stepfather told everyone. Out stepfather was shot by the Japanese shortly before the liberation. Being married to my mother, his farm and the house went to our mother. She had always said she had paid a high price for those properties. She felt guilty about yayah. When the opportunity for yayah to marry your father came, they grabbed at that chance. That was why yayah was like a meek lamb with your father. She was damaged goods but your father still took her for a wife.

"Where is that baby now?" I ask her. I am torn between hating that child and wanting to see her at the same time. To think that somewhere I have an older sister rouse such interest in me. I know that our family had a big secret about my father. But now, this. This is totally unexpected. This one was a closely guarded secret. But I remember hearing hushed conversations from the older folks that had double meaning. This is one of those stories.

"She died when she was about two or three," Aunt Leena says softly. Her lids are getting heavier and I am afraid she would fall asleep and I would never know the end of the story. "Diptheria."

"So, just to make sure, this baby and Herminia are two different babies."


"Will you look at that!" is all I could say.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

PROMPT - my ideal place

A quaint three-bedroom house situated in Summerside, PEI, facing the Northumberland Strait. The house is of white bricks with blue-green ceramic roof tiles. The floor to ceiling bay windows cover the length of the living room overlooking the sea and the kitchen has the same type of bay window. There is a veranda on the one side of the house, large enough to entertain during the summer.

I can just sit in the living forever and stare at the sea, sometimes blue, sometimes gray, depending on the weather, and watch as the tide comes and goes. To the north, there is a smaller room with French doors where I keep my books and a small desk where I do my writing. The sea is my muse, as well as the beautiful garden in the front yard.

On good days, especially during the summer, I tackle the long walk through the garden, down the steep rise to the shore, where I can sit on the sand and watch and listen to the waves that kiss and wash up the sands off my feet.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

DWP - up for auction (prompt)

The screams and shrieks penetrate through the heavy drape concealing the backstage where Jandrick, examining himself through the large mirror, waits for his name to be called.

When he hears his name, he steps onto the stage, his body glistening in the bright kleigh light, and adjusts the long heavy chain made of 18-karat gold on his neck, the large pendant encrusted with hundreds of tiny diamonds reaching just above his pubis, sparkling as he moves about.

The auctioneer calls, "With a reserved bid of $500,000, Jandrick will satisfy all your sexual desires, in all positions you can ever think possible, and while he's a very versatile lover, he is also a trained classical pianist, an accomplished chef, and a certified car mechanic."

"The jewelry, of course," he pauses briefly, adjusts his tie, and solemnly clears his throat as the women start to salivate gawking at Jandrick's mid-section, "is extra."

Friday, March 19, 2010

DWP - the ghosts of St. George's Cathedral

We have come for you, Gracie.

We have come for you.


Gracie! Come with us!


The voices still ring in her ears from her dream last night. She feels a tinge of cold air blowing from behind and for a moment she shivers. The damp April air envelopes the whole church and she starts to feel pain in her joints. That and the three flights of stairs would do that to one’s sixty something body. But she wanted to come here, this place where she had spent most of her youth as an orphan. This church was her sanctuary from the cruelty of the outside world. This was where she found solace when the beating and the abuse at her uncle's home and the labourious work at the factory had become too much for her.

Gracie looks down at the rows of empty pews, the five tiered candleholders before the icons on either side of the church near the transepts, the large cross suspended from the ceiling that, in the darkness of mornings like this, gives the perception it floats. Has it been almost fifty years? The stained glass windows depicting various stations of the cross or scenes from the Bible are still the same. Behind her in the balcony, the old ivory organ, no longer in use, seems to emit small voices. She turns around and for a moment it seems she is looking at all of them, the other children, dressed in their blue gowns with large white doily collars, holding their hymn books. At the opposite end of the balcony, she pictures Delores Cashman sitting on the floor. Delores. Pretty, vibrant Delores. How awful that she died that long ago summer inside this very church, in this balcony. She was only twelve years old.

"Gracie, help me," Delores mouths as she lifts her head, her beautiful face drenched in tears. Delores stretches her arms towards Gracie, her hands soaked in blood, and more blood oozing out of her abdomen.

Gracie shakes her head and blinks her eyes. She has come to visit St. George's Cathedral and the ghosts have also come.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

DWP - "The blind (wo)man said to me..."

The blind woman says to me as I stare at her in awe, "Yes, look at me, look at my eyes. Disgusting, aren't they?"

"No," I whisper. She is perfect: the perfectly oval face, framed by the perfectly white curly hair, the perfect nose, the perfectly full red lips. Even her eyes are in complete symmetry to the shape of her face, only they're totally white. She is like an unfinished drawing and the artist forgot to draw the iris. She looks like a white statue. But she isn't. She can talk and she can move. "No," I repeat, a little louder this time.

She turns her face towards the window and for a moment I imagine she was looking at the bright full moon that has risen above the shadows of the distant valley. She smiles.

"Twenty-four hours in this house," she continues, "twenty-four hours will do this to you. There is stil time for you to escape this curse."

"But I come to help. To help you and the others."

"No, you cannot help us anymore."

Tears roll down her cheeks.

"Can you see the door?" she asks.

I turn towards the doorway, it is open, and the wonderful scents of kalachuchi and ylang-ylang waft inside.

"Yes," I reply.

"Then leave. Now. For if you don't, that door will close and you shall never leave. Your eyes will become white. And you shall never see again."

She cups her ivory face in her pale hands and her shoulders tremble.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

DWP - misplaced focus

Gregory eyes the redhead in the second row, trying to remember where he had seen her before. When his eyes catch hers, she makes a rather inconspicuous wave and pouts her shiny pink lips, suppressing a smile. Definitely not last night, he assures himself. But where?

For a moment he shifts his eyes towards the crowd, a sea of people with perflexed looks in their faces. He imagines question marks above their heads just like in some Sunday cartoons. Then he hears a buzzing sound, a collective hushed wonderment or puzzlement that spewed out of the people's mouth.

He looks again at the redhead who this time smiles sweetly at him. He smiles back. And that is when he hears Priscilla’s cries. He turns to look at her, leering at him through her white veil. The priest asks him, “Gregory, are you with us?”

Priscilla gathers the enormous skirt of her wedding gown, throws her bouquet of white calla lilies at him, and runs towards the church door. “Son of a bitch, you bastard!” she screams as she runs. “You had to bring her here.”

He felt something heavy and angry hitting his head. Marco, Priscilla’s brother. Suddenly he is looking at the murals in the ceiling, a collage of angels and humans in pastel colors. People are now screaming.

Then it dawns on him: the one night stand in Barcelona. But as he realizes this, Marco’s large and heavy foot comes crashing on his head.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

DWP - a travel story


Belgium looked beautiful in the summer: herds of Holstein cows grazed in the green rolling hills of Ghent; tall evergreen trees trimmed the lush garden parks of the Grand Ducal; magnificent array of summer flowers carpeted the square of downtown Brussels; colourful gondolas plied the scenic canals of Brugges; the ruined castles in Namur majestically defied the passing of time; stately yachts dotted the marina in Antwerpen.

“I want to stay here,” I told Horace. We had stopped in Antwerpen on our way back to Brussels from visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam. We sat on the patio of a small brasserie in the town square, watching Antwerp pass us by. Horace slowly brought his mug of Stella Artois to his lips as he looked and smiled at me.

“Are you sure?” he asked in French.

“I belong here,” I said, as I slouched in my chair, my arms outstretched towards the sky. “It’s so inspiring here.”

I pulled out a folded piece of pink paper from my purse and waved it at him. I wrote a poem for him the previous night and read it to him that morning on the drive to Amsterdam. He carefully took the paper from me, gently unfolded it and silently read the poem. He smiled as he read.

“Your poem is beautiful,” he said. “I will frame it and keep it forever.” He slowly refolded the paper and carefully placed it inside his left shirt pocket. He tapped the pocket twice and his hand remained on his chest. “Next to my heart.”

He took my hand and lightly kissed the back. He looked at me for a long time. I loved Horace’s eyes. They turned a deep blue when he was relaxed and happy, purplish grey when he was angry or sad. That afternoon I thought his eyes reflected the color of the cornflowers in Van Gogh’s painting.

He slowly stood up but motioned me to remain seated.

“I will just be a few minutes. Stay here.”

He walked across the square and his lithe body disappeared through the crowd. I leaned back and sipped my wine as I watched the sun coming down the waters of the Escaut Canal, pale purple and gray feather-like clouds blending in the hazy blue sky. The boats had arrived and the mariners filled the patio chairs and tables of the numerous brasseries ready for their early evening aperitifs. Pigeons and tourists mingled in the middle of the square.

Horace and I had been lovers in Toronto for four years. He was married but not in love. I was single and had just avoided an impending marriage. A one night stand evolved into a full-blown relationship. When he went back to Brussels, I thought the relationship had ended. Three months later, he sent me a plane ticket to Brussels. Darinka, his wife, and her boyfriend wanted to marry. Horace never told me that his wife had already filed a divorce two years earlier. I would only find out when I arrived. Europe - only a fool would pass up the chance. After all, the invitation came from the man I was in love with. I told my boss I’d be gone for a month. I stayed for eleven.

Horace took me around Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. After six weeks I became bored. Alone, I bummed around France and Austria. After two weeks, he followed and took me back to Belgium. We stayed in Brussels where he worked during the week and spent the weekends in Luxembourg. I found work in Luxembourg as a receptionist at an antique shop. The American tourists loved to go there, “where the Oriental saleslady spoke American English”. The shop owner loved the sales but became nervous because I had a tourist visa only. He let me go after a week.

I met a Filipino singer whose girlfriend, Inge, owned a cafe. They let me work as a waitress and the patrons became intrigued with the exotic Asian who spoke broken German and broken French. Inge thought I attracted too much attention; she didn’t want to be in trouble with the authorities for hiring a tourist. Again, I lasted only a week. Horace didn’t really want me to work but I insisted because I was used to earning and spending my own money.

I settled down when Horace’s friend, Olga Mayer, hired me as her assistant. Olga translated English books into French and German and local books into English. The pay was meager but in Belgium, office work required one to speak French and Flemish. My French was bad and my Flemish non-existent. The work with Olga was easy; she only wanted me to proofread and did the odd typing.

Horace returned after fifteen minutes. He sat down, held my hand and whispered, “Je t’aime.” I kissed him lightly on the lips. He kissed me back. Then he slipped a small blue velvet box in my hand. I opened the box and gaped at the ring inside — a small diamond protruding from a circle of matte gold. I had admired it when we passed one of the shop windows a few moments ago.

“Stay here with me, please,” he said. “Marry me.”

Mais ce n’est pas possible,” I said as he slipped the ring on my finger. “Tu as marriĆ© encore! You are still married!”

“We’ll get married as soon as the divorce is final. I won’t need the money that Darinka will pay me for the divorce. You can have it and use it to go to school and learn French or Flemish if you want to work.” He paused waiting for me to say something. I continued to sip my wine. He tapped his left shirt pocket again and said, “Or you can just stay home and write more poems for me. You can do whatever you want.”

I let out a nervous laugh. I examined the wine in my glass. “This wine is no good,” I said, avoiding the proposal. “Look, it has sediments!” I complained. Without looking away from me, he took the glass and poured the wine on the ground, scaring two pigeons away.

“I love you,” he said.

“I love you, too,” I said as I stretched my arm and admired the beautiful ring on my finger. I smiled at him. After a few seconds, I said, “But, I’ve overstayed. One day the police will come and arrest me and deport me.” I took my empty glass and sipped air.

“I won’t let that happen. Please stay longer.” His deep set eyes stared intently into mine. I could only smile. “Je t’aime,” he said.

It seemed to me we made love incessantly that night, or maybe we just talked but I could swear we never slept. At two in the morning we decided to go to the rooftop where we watched the stars, told stories from our youth that we otherwise would not have remembered. We sat, held hands, kissed and as dawn kissed the darkness of the evening sky, we decided to go back inside the house. We had been asleep for only a few hours when the telephone rang.

Nicole, his daughter, was calling from the hospital. Darinka had an accident. She and her boyfriend Ivan were driving home from a party when their car hit a truck head on. Ivan, who was driving, died instantly. Darinka was alive but the car’s windshield smashed into her face, pieces of broken glass lodged in her face and eyes. She would not see again.

Horace placed the receiver back in its cradle with surprising calm: the square jaws tightened, the mouth taut; the purplish blue eyes red-rimmed from not having enough sleep. He didn’t look at me.

“I need to go to hospital,” I remembered him saying. My immediate mental reaction was to tell him he needed the article “the” before the word hospital. Instead, I nodded in agreement.

When he had gone, I remembered something that he had told me last night. He and Darinka had known one another since they were little children in Prague. As teenagers, they became dance partners, winning competitions, first local then national. They spent their growing days practising routines and competing. They were at a dance competition in Brussels, ready to take on Europe, when the Soviets invaded Prague. They couldn’t return home. With no one but each other, they married. She worked to send him to engineering school. When he graduated, he worked and sent her to medical school. They had been together for most of their lives. We had known each other only three years.

I got out of bed and washed my face. When I looked in the bathroom mirror, the image of the diamond ring in my hand sparkled even in dullness of the bathroom light. I rubbed it, like willing a genie to come out so I could make a wish but what would I wish for? I went back to bed and drifted in and out of sleep.

Horace came back in the early evening. As soon as he saw me, he embraced me and clung to me, unspeaking, for a long time. When he let go, he had tears in his eyes.
“What happened?” I asked.

“She’s blind. Forty-five years old and she’s blind.” He sat down on a nearby chair, buried his face on his hands, his elbows resting on his knees. “She wants me to take her back. She won’t finish the divorce,” he said in French. He said he did not know what to do. His children, Nicole, Stephane and David, begged him to take her back. He said he so desperately wanted to marry me. He said he loved me he didn’t want me to go. He said he did not know what to do.

The next few days, Horace walked around like a zombie. Work, hospital, home. He would call me, to tell me he loved me. Sometimes he won’t even say anything. He would let the phone ring then hung up as soon as I answered. I knew he had a difficult decision to make.

“The police stopped me today at the grocer,” I told him one night. He momentarily looked up from the papers he had been working on, one bushy eyebrow raised, his eyes had taken on a passionflower blue, the redness from fatigue during the last few weeks had ebbed.

“Why you didn’t call me at office?” he asked. “What happened?”

“They asked me for my carte d’identite,” I lied. I stood in front of him with my head bowed, shuffling my feet like a child who was being reprimanded for something done wrong. “I think I must go,” I said when I lifted my head up. “I can’t stay here when Darinka comes home.” He looked away and shook his head.

“Non! Non, I made arrangements for apartment. We can stay there,” he said. “For police, I call Laurent, he knows people. Don’t worry, mon petit lapin.” He hugged me. We clung to each other and for a long time wouldn’t let go.

I bought a ticket to return to Toronto. I called him from the airport. I told him the police arrested me and I was being deported. My flight would leave in two hours.

As I handed my boarding pass to the airline clerk, I heard him call me. I looked back and I saw him going up the escalator, pushing people out of his way, walking up two steps at a time. Laurent was running behind him. I continued to walk towards the gate. He followed, leaving Laurent behind to explain to the airline clerk and the security guard.

“You forgot your ring,” he said when he caught up with me. I deliberately left the ring, I didn’t think it was right for me to take it. “I want you to take a part of me with you. I understand your decision. I wish...” At least that’s what he meant to tell me, he spoke in very rapid French. He slipped the ring in my finger. “Je t’aime,” he said.

Je t’aime aussi,” I replied as I stood up on my toes to kiss him.

From 30,000 feet, eyes blurry from tears, I take in the view of the verdant landscape below. Belgium looked beautiful in the summer.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

DWP- certified

The guests keep pouring in and the house, an exquisite Tudor-style semi-detached on McLean’s Avenue, bursts with loud conversations and merry laughter above the undiscernible classical music playing from the stereo in the living room. Friends and relatives not seen for years, friends and relatives not seen in months, as well as friends and relatives who live around the neighborhood, have all come for the Stuart's annual Christmas soiree.

In the kitchen, two women busily work on the President's Choice canapƩs, one arranging them in baking trays and putting them in the two large ovens, and the other two arranging the cooked ones in large silver trays. I survey the trays and decide which one I should take to the guests assembled in the garden.

A guest saunters inside the kitchen, holding a large bottle of cheap red wine, his big frame almost as wide as the width of the door. In his booming voice he asks for a corkscrew. I fish out mine from the back pocket of my black trousers and ask him to hand me the bottle. Instead he grabs the corkscrew from my hand and attempts to open the bottle. He fiddles with the corkscrew but is unable to figure out how to use it. He turns to the women and asks for the “normal” corkscrew, to which the women reply with a blank look and a slight shake of their heads.

Presently, Mrs. Stuart's head appears at the kitchen doorway. "We need more wine at the back, please." Then seeing the errant guest, she chuckles and grabs him by the arm. "Harry, you aren't supposed to be in there. Leave the women alone!" Harry heads towards Mrs. Stuart still holding the bottle of wine and my corkscrew. I grab my corkscrew from his hand. He looks at me from head to toe, cocks his head and knits his brows.

"Do you know how to open a wine bottle?" he asks.

"Yes," I say.

"In that case, here, open this bloody thing." He unexpectely thrusts the wine bottle at me and I almost drop it.

"Where'd you get your Filipina?" I hear him ask Mrs. Stuart who replied "She's not my Filipina, she's a student from the Hospitality at George Brown."

I am about to open the large bottle of the cheap wine when Mrs. Stuart re-appears and in a panicked smile tells me "Don't open that cheap thing, put it away please!"

I take a bottle Chateauneuf de Pape from a cooler underneath the large work table, peel off the foil seal of the bottle and inserted the corkscrew on the now exposed cork.

My friend and school buddy, June, a young Chinese girl, enters the kitchen, face flushed, her bangs matted with sweat. "More of those thingies with the liver pate, please." She bends down and wipes her face with the hem of her white apron. "I can't believe this, there are probably 200 people in this small house. It's a good thing their garden is covered." She jams more canapes on her tray amidst the protest of the two women. "Well, everyone's asking for food. My feet are so painful I don't want to keep coming back here." She surveys the two bottles of Chateauneuf de Pape that I have already opened. "I'll have to take one of that, too." Without waiting for my assent, she grabs one bottle and scurries out with her tray and the wine bottle.

This went on for three hours when it seems that everyone has settled down and the guests are full from the various canapes and hors d'ouvres June and I have served with the wine. Mrs. Stuart comes by the kitchen with June behind her. She hands $200 to June and $250 for me for our work. $50 an hour, with extra for me for a special skill. Half of her wine stash are still intact. She tells June and me that she had bought one case less this year compared to previous years and there are still a lot leftover.

Harry appears at the kitchen door. "Hey, girls!" his booming voice fills the kitchen. He points at June. "Where's my beer?"

June looks at me then at Mrs. Stuart. She mumbles in a low voice, "I've already given him three beers."

"Three?" I say. "He's stolen a whole bottle of the reds." I turn to Mrs. Stuart. "He can't have anymore. I saw him park his car so he's driving. We can't give him anymore drink."

Confused, Mrs. Stuart turns to Harry. "Harry, dear, would you like some coffee before you have anymore beer?"

"Nah, I'm a-hokay," he staggers towards us. "C'mon, I'll be fine. I can even drive to my house in Newmarket and back." He rests his back on the large fridge and for a moment, I am afraid he is going to crash on the floor.

"Sir," I say. "We cannot serve you anymore alcohol unless you surrender your car keys to Mrs. Stuart."

"C'mon, Harry," Mrs. Stuart says, she offers her hand at him, palm up. "Car keys, please."

"Noooo! I would fucking certainly not give my car keys to anyone. I can drive and I'll be fine."

Harry's booming voice travels to the living room which renders the other guests quiet. I can see all eyes looking towards the kitchen. Mr. Stuart, an equally tall and large man, enters the kitchen. "What's this all about?" His question is more directed towards Harry than anyone else.

Mrs. Stuart tries to explain the situation. Harry steps forward and tries to take a half-empty bottle of ice wine sitting on the counter behind June. She looks terrified. Mr. Stuart pulls Harry back and the whole kitchen seems to shake.

"Sir, if you will not surrender your car keys to your hosts, I'd be obliged to call the police and they will impound your car." I try to say this with a note of authority but I know my voice is also shaking.

"Who are you to order me to give my fucking keys!" Harry says, slurring from too much booze.

I pull out the card from my back pocket and flash it at him like it was a police badge. "Sir, I am Smart-Serve certified and believe me, I won't hesitate to do what I just told you."

Inside I am cowering with fear, staring wide-eyed at this large human being, intoxicated and snarly, especially as he raised his hand as if to strike me. Mrs. Stuart covers her mouth with her hands while Mr. Stuart wedges himself between me and Harry. When Harry's hand go down, it goes inside his pocket and produced a key chain with the car keys in it and hands it to Mr. Stuart.

"I don't like you," he tells me. "Smart-ass smart-serve." As he is led out of the kitchen, he says, "I hate your Filipina."

June and I get ready to leave. I tell Mrs. Stuart not to forget about the newspaper article I had her read before the party started. It is about a drunk driving accident lawsuit, which ended up in court, the judgement against a bar owner and a party host sharing blame for the drunken guest's mishap.

Friday, March 5, 2010

PROMPT - quiet sounds

The elusive sleep finally comes at three in the morning. I have drank three cups of hot cocoa, spaced between eleven and one. I have changed the sheets, the whole set, including the mattress pad - thank God for those post Boxing Day sales. I would have changed the curtains but they match the newly changed sheets plus the step ladder is stored in the building's basement storage. I have read the weekend Globe and Mail including comics, have done the Sudoku and the New York Times crossword, even finished the ones from two days ago's edition. When I start to yawn five times I know I was on the verge of that elusive sleep.

And so I lay down on my bed and start to relax my body. I summon tranquil thoughts...I am on a hammock suspended between two coconut trees, overlooking the turqouise sea; I even see two sailboats beyond; the breeze gently nudge the leaves; and there I am by the beach with white beaches stretched on either sides.

Then I hear two small thuds, then a creaking sound, faint at first, then gradually becoming louder and faster. The bitch upstairs is fucking with one of her boyfriends.

I close my eyes again, recalling my tranquil thoughts. I pick up a large shell from the white sand and place it against my ear. But instead of the gentle humming of the ocean, I hear the loud cries of a woman: Aaaahhh! Haaaaah! Oh, yes! Yes! Give it all to me, baby. C'mon, harder. Yesssss! Aaaaahhhh!

I open my eyes and the first thing I see is the clock: 3:15. In the morning. The creaking, the loud banging, the even louder voice go on for almost like forever. I hear it intermittently: her description of his "lovely cock". Lovely cock?!; her adoration of his "super soft balls slapping" her skin; her earnest begging to make her come. Amusing for the first five minutes. But it went on and on and on and on. Whenever there is a lull and I have resigned myself that the "show" was "over", it starts all over again.

I get up and drag myself to the kitchen. I open the fridge intending to make more hot cocoa. Instead, my eyes catch the bottle of Barolo I had opened with company last weekend. Fine. I would drink myself to sleep, I would worry about the hangover when I get there. I have two sips when I turn around and stare at the sofa in the living room. There is my santuary.

I leave the bottle of Barolo on the counter. I do not want my sleepiness to leave with the mere act of putting back a bottle of wine in the fridge. I take a deep breath as I walked towards the sofa. I sit, I lay down, I close my eyes. And then there I am, walking on a field of yellow and white tulips, with a windmill in the distance, the breeze quietly blowing the leaves, the sun shining brightly, and the sky a pleasant hue of blue. I dream I am in Ghent, in Belgique, near the border of Pays-Bas. A place from so many years ago that I would love to visit again. Who was it then? Ihor. I wonder if he is thinking of me at the moment while I am dreaming of him. In Ghent, yellow and white tulips surrounding me.

Loud sounds of thunder startle me. Just when the image of Ihor appears in the distance. I turn around and see that the sky has turned gray, dark clouds form in the horizon, lightning slashing and the clouds slap and make deafening sounds. Above me, a steady sound of something heavy banging on the floor wakes me. The couple upstairs have moved to the room above my living room and there they continue their love making.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

PROMPT - "white" Part 1

"This is the house, sir," the tricycle driver says as he slows down in front of a high iron grill gate secured by a thick chain and a large Yale lock.

"Wow!" I say, unbelieving at the sight of the large old Spanish house beyond the fence. I get off the tricycle and sling my heavy backpack over my shoulder. I walk the width of the iron gate a few times, surveying what I could see on the other side.

"Sir," the driver calls at me. "Sir, don't forget your payment!"

I pull a ten-dollar bill from the back pocket of my pants, walk over to the driver and gave him the money. He pulls the bill from my hand rather abruptly and starts to tell me he has got no change. I tell him to keep it.

"Sir," he hesitatingly mutters. "Sir, do you need me to pick you up later? How long are you going to visit there? Are you staying overnight there?"

I look back at him. "Why?" and I see the startled look in his eyes, his face staring straight at the road.

"Are you going to be okay, sir? Well, you don't look like you're scared, that's probably because you're American, sir. You don't believe in this mysterious stuff." He motions his hand towards the house, but still not looking at it.

"What do you mean?" I ask.

"That you're not scared to go to that house, sir. It's bad luck to go there. I can't even look, sir. The people there, they have a curse. I have to go now, sir. Do you want me to come back later on and pick you up? I can come back at five o'clock if you want."

"Come back at seven," I tell him.

He hesitates, thinks hard and long before saying "Okay, sir. Seven sharp." And he pedals away.

It is at this point when a middle-aged lady emerges from among the thick hibiscus and bougainvilla plants and stands on the other side of the iron gate. I feel kind of spooked as I look at her face. She looks alright except that her eyes seem to bulge from the thick lenses of her eyeglasses. She almost looks like a cartoon. Even her friendly smile is negated by the enlarged eyes.

"Good evening," she says, in her soft, almost inaudible voice. "May I help you?"

"Yes," I say, clearing my throat. "I'm Bill Brennan. I was trying to call but the phone's been busy the whole time." She looks at me through those magnified eyes and I have to pause or I would stutter. She cocks her head, waiting for me to continue.

"Er...ah...Sister Mary del Rosario at the Parish told me I could come by here and look at the 'clock'." I stress the word 'clock'.

She nods, looks beyond me onto the dusty road, to the left and to the right, as if she is expecting to see someone else.

"How did you get here?" she asks.

"Tricycle," I reply.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

DWP - continuation #3

Somewhere in Austria.

The host threw his head back and his sinister laugh bounced off the walls of wherever it was we were. It pierced through my head and my whole being and everyone shivered and cried. Except for me.

He looked at me and the corners of his mouth curved into a strange smile. Then he paced the length of room as his menacing eyes surveyed us.

"As I call your name, you come forward," he declared. He started to call a name. The soul that came forward hesitated. I craned my neck so I could see his face but everyone seemed faceless.

"Come!" the host said.

The soul stepped towards the host and to our shock he disappeared in the dark ground between us and the host and all we could hear was his soul-wrenching scream. I waited to hear my name, or Daniel's.

That is when I heard it: my name. I quickly stepped forward. I had accepted my soul's fate: hell. Did I deserve this just for letting Daniel drown, or was it the other sins I had committed in my life? I stepped into the dark ground.

"You!" the host thrust his arm forward, his palm facing me.

I paused for a miniscule of a second and as he waved his hand, a jolt of lightning hit me. I fell on the ground, unable to move.

"You aren't destined for the darkness." He contemplated for a long time, paced back and forth and glanced at me once or twice.

He called another name and the soul quickly disappeared.

"There's another place for you," he said. He stood over me now. At the wave of his hand, a lightning bolt struck me again and I found myself floating in the darkness. I floated for a long time, until pain consumed me and my tired mind drifted into unconsciousness.

When I came to, I stood naked. A large uniformed woman stood in front of me. She slapped me once, then again and again. The last hit was so hard I fell on the ground, my face hitting the dirt. I looked around and saw that there were other women, equally naked, their heads shaven. Instinctively, I raised my arm to touch my head. And that is when I saw the mark on my arm. The distraction gave the uniformed woman's foot the opportunity to land on my face with such a force that I fell again on the ground. Through the blur, my eyes were transfixed on the mark on my arm. It was a set of numbers.

DWP - car shopping: two haikus

what would it be now?
fire engine red, or dark blue?
banana yellow!

prime plus six percent
with free gas and a car wash
take it or leave it.