28 July 2013

Look at the View

Robert imagined his mother talking to him when he had been sealed up in her womb. Of course he wouldn’t have known what her blunted syllables were meant to mean, but he was sure he would have felt a current flowing between them, the contraction of a fear, the stretch of an intention. Thomas was still close to those transfusions of feeling; Robert was getting explanations instead. Thomas still knew how to understand the silent language which Robert had almost lost as the wild margins of his mind fell under the sway of the verbal empire. He was standing on a ridge, about to surge downhill, getting faster, getting taller, getting more words, getting bigger and bigger explanations, cheering all the way. Now Thomas had made him glance backwards and lower his sword for a moment while he noticed everything that he had lost as well. He had become so caught up in building sentences that he had almost forgotten the barbaric days when thinking was like a splash of colour landing on a page. Looking back, he could still see it: living in what would now feel like pauses: when you first open the curtains and see the whole landscape covered in snow and you catch your breath and pause before breathing out again. He couldn’t get the whole thing back, but maybe he wouldn’t rush down the slope quite yet, maybe he would sit down and look at the view.

From Mother’s Milk, by Edward St. Aubyn.


She thinks the dog’s name is Pogi, meaning handsome. In general, the names she has decided to call the animals are based on how they look: Budoy is Browny, Tata is Whitey, Maja is also Whitey. The cat that my cousin Frederick used to have, she must have called with a five-letter word that starts with P, but surprisingly Brutus, who’s dead now, she never called Ugly. He was simply Brutus.

Anyway, I shake my head, pick up the non-permanent Pentel marker, and write on her flimsy strip of whiteboard: “Dog’s name: Emilio.”

Ah, says Lola Auring, we can call him Emil then, or Emi.

Lita, one of her two caretakers, who is sitting with us at the round table in the veranda after merienda, folding newly dry clothes, explains that the new dog is named after the Philippine independence leader, because he was born on June 12. Lola, of course, doesn’t hear this. She went deaf five years ago, at the age of ninety-two. This was also around the time a tropical storm hit northern Philippines and she slipped on a wet floor, breaking her pelvis. Now she’s stuck in a wheelchair, and has to have a priest or clergyman called in every Sunday for service, and all she ever hears, she says, are the songs of angels, sung by tenors and sopranos. 

Has Emil been baptized, Lola asks. She’s obviously joking. What I can’t determine is whether or not the joke is slightly cruel, something about how I, already in my late twenties, have yet to give her a grandchild. Between the two of us, the matter has not been spoken of, ever, but I can’t be entirely sure that she doesn’t know, because her eyes—brown? gray? brownish gray?—never give anything away, they are sly, like a cat’s. So I nod my head and say, yes, he has been baptized, and with the same marker I write “Bassig” as Emilio’s surname. Bassig! Reading it makes Lola giggle. Her teeth show, her dimples appear. This is my mother’s mother. Because the people in the house still aren’t sure of who Emilio’s father is—it could be Budoy, but it could also be some random neighborhood dog—I am tempted to add, “No father; Tata (or Whitey), like Mama Mary = virginal conception of Emilio”; but in the end I decide not to. Anyway Lola has already sort of changed the subject, and begun to repeat the story of a certain uncle of hers who died of rabies. She’s tapping a part of her oily, age-spotted wrist to point out where exactly this uncle had been bitten, and she says, be careful, don’t get too close until after Emil has been given injections.

01 July 2013

Lotus Onion

A Facebook friend posted recently, “Is twenty-eight too early to miss twenty-three?” The status update threw me into a panic. We are the same age, but unlike my friend, I don’t miss being twenty-three—because, and this is the cause of the panic, because honestly I can’t remember what the heck I was up to five years ago. My memory is usually not terrible; it’s supposed to be very good.

Could that amount of time have passed already? Or: could it only have been five years ago? Because it feels like a lifetime. It feels like the unwritten gap between one installment of the Patrick Melrose cycle and the next. I probably won’t recognize me. Back then, to be sure, I did not go or move about with the sense of having left people behind, of thinking origins to be so permanent, which is all the sense, it seems, that I have these days, wherever I do go. Others might call it responsibility; it involves having to talk to all sorts of people, yet in the end having no one listen to you. I guess at twenty-three it didn’t matter that no one listened, but it matters now.

Anyway, no, I’m not talking about responsibility. It’s more like what Alan Hollinghurst described as the darker sense of stepping already along the outward edge of youth, of looking back at the truly young with unwelcome eagerness and regret. You look back and wonder how you had all that energy to take notes, of everything, whereas now you just get on with it, time is running on, you’re fading and peeling. How I’d gotten to the edge, I don’t know; the five years that just passed—unlike the five years that preceded them—passed, it seems, while I was unconscious, instead of being simply on hallucinogens or salts and antipsychotics, which enabled alternative (and usually untroubled) ways of being conscious. Let me tell you what I do miss: being eighteen. But there you go: once a lotus blossom, now a lotus onion. Peel away.


Here was a Lacoste-wearing young man in Greenbelt 4, between sips of The Original Ice Blended talking to his companion in loud, Atenean English about his Rolex. There was mention of its cost, which did not involve, contrary to what the companion might think, a five-digit figure—by which he meant it did not involve a mere five-digit figure. Asked where this particular watch stood among others in his personal collection, the man said he would have to have time to determine. How ironic.