R. Zamora Linmark
R. Zamora Linmark
Perhaps. An ambiguous word that should not have survived the 16th century. But it did. So perhaps best to begin this very short and simple story with an epigraph from the 1985 Pantheon paperback edition of Marguerite Duras's The Lover, since this is the book that Javier randomly pulls out from the two shelves of books that make up his personal library, mostly Self-Help and biographies of Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, and Montgomery Clift, while he waits for the monsoon rain to subside, hopefully by midnight, when the so-called overly fashion and grooming conscious "Metrosexuals" - read: faggots with money - ramp into the Flinstones-inspired bar aptly called Government.
Perhaps unfold the story with a quote, something along the theme of waiting, like the waiting that takes place outside a closed door on page twenty-five of Duras's novel, or the Chinese man on page forty-nine who weeps from too much fear - fear of his father, fear of disinheritance, fear of love, which often accompanies fear. Or preface it with an epigraph; one that deals with memory, since The Lover is - or can be interpreted as - a pseudo-confessional text about the author-narrator-protagonist, Marguerite Duras, and her recollection of her almost-sixteenth year when she carried on an affair with a Chinese man nearly twice her age. If not that, then something to do with erasure, or the failure of forgetting. In other words, ambivalence toward resignation, or the clarity that comes with resignation, which is at the heart of our main character Javier's conflict. To move onward with - or without - Kingston, his Chinese-Filipino lover. To let go - or not - of the ten-and-a-half years spent with and for each other.
If Javier were a writer, as he sometimes fancies himself to be, possessor of that gift - or curse - that allows him to exist in two or more disparate worlds simultaneously, or, in the words of his undergraduate literature professor, "the ability to live in multiple levels of reality," he would find a thousand ways to hang on to the memories and another thousand to forget them. Writing has the power of achieving both. It is a transgressive act of remembering since it is, cannot, and will never be loyal to memory, as memory is never loyal to itself. And, as Duras points out in the story, regardless of what is preserved, something is always left out, forsaken, sacrificed. If not love, then hate. If not hate, then sadness. If not sadness, anger. If not anger, silence. All of which Javier is still having difficulty recognizing as emotions independent from each other because the break-up, which was long overdue (or so he thought), only occurred a little over a month ago.
If Javier took up writing in college instead of dentistry ("I numb gums for a living"), he would not have any trouble remembering then letting go of the fucks that followed the near-fistfights, usually caused by Kingston's wife, also a Chinese-Filipino, whom Javier dubs "the itchy cunt between our legs." He would be able to recall then dismiss the mutual apologies that followed the fights; the chain of Sorrys uttered with subtle signs of withdrawals; the annual itinerary to Europe, Continental U.S., Japan, and Hawaii; the joint bank account; the business partnership exporting hand-carved native furniture; the one-bedroom love-and-quarrel nest in Pasig that, during the day, served as their office. In a nutshell, the day-to-day expectations and uncertainties that, in the end, totaled ten-and-a -half years.
And had Javier traded the drill for a pen, Novocain for ink, he would be able to build passages from scratch just so he can lie, fake, grope his way in and out of the hurt. He would do as Duras did: Distance the past through the use of perfect past tense, eliminate the subject with third-person point-of-view. "He loved him just as much as rain," as opposed to: "I loved him just as much as rain," et cetera. Perfect past tense. "He," not "I." Until Javier is comfortable enough to relive the memory once more in the present tense and in the first-person point-of-view, as Duras eventually does on the night she and her Chinese lover soaks the bed with blood and lust, while the city of Cholon and its assortment of sounds pass them by.
Had Javier the patience for putting, in word-order, his thoughts and feelings, conflicting as they are at the moment, he would know exactly what to do with the rain that, for the past ten-and-a-half years he's come to associate with Kingston, for the mere - and laughably absurd - reason that whenever it rains, Kingston gets an instant hard-on that lasts way after the sky dries up. Javier would be able to invent a thousand metaphors to remember the rain and another thousand to destroy it. This rain draping his window and continues to silence and strand this noise-magnet city of Manila, now and for the rest of tomorrow. Perhaps.
I like to think it was the one-thousand-peso bedhead look and the Armani cologne given to me by my sister Faye, who's been serving an American cultural attaché officer and his wife based in Hong Kong for seven years, that inspired him to follow me to the Men's room on the fourth floor of Megamall, so-called because it's the largest tomb-shaped mall south of Bangkok. I like to think it was my above-average wholesome looks and Jean Genet-borrowed glances in the mirrored walls that guided him right up to the urinal beside mine, where he flashed a semi-erect penis that would grow past seven inches in my mouth minutes later, inside his second-hand Toyota going fifty out of the mall's parking lot and onto EDSA, the highway that connects north and south of Metro Manila, and famous for staging snap revolutions and coup d'etats. I like to think it was my glycerin-esque saliva savoring his sex that, like a Mapplethorpe lily, curved to the right. I like to think it was my Linda Lovelace throat that nearly caused the vehicle to sideswipe a bus crammed with so many passengers they were practically spilling out of it. I like to think it was my willingness to serve rather than be serviced ("I don't care if I come or not!" is my motto) that immediately put a smile to his night. I like to think he was doing me the honor when he invited me, the first stranger, according to him, into his Quezon City townhouse. I like to think he was telling me the truth when he repeated, "It's hard to believe, I know, but you're the first trick I'm letting into my pad." I like to think "trick" has a positive connotation, though I much prefer the comfort of the illusive word "stranger." I like to think I scored perfect tens in the categories of degree of difficulty, artistic impressions, and originality because when he ejaculated he shot for the moon then whimpered like a baby for a kiss. I like to think my kiss is worth a thousand jewels because, right before he excused himself to the bathroom, he asked for an encore ("Don't worry I'll drive you home.") I like to think that as he rinsed his belly he was wondering who this stranger was he'd allowed in the privacy of his bachelor's pad, this no-name guy who, at that very moment, was snooping at his things, memorizing titles of books on the shelves. Learning To Love God. Disappointment With God. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. God Are You There, Do You Care, Do You Know About Me. The Lion, The Witch, & The Wardrobe. The Trouble With Jesus. Dealing with Brokenness. I like to think that he is now repaired or has found a way to negotiate Christianity, oral sex, and wizardry into his life. I like to think that, as he gave himself one last look in the medicine cabinet mirror, he was telling himself that I was a one-of-a-kind twenty-year-old advocacy of behind-the-wheel pleasure whose impeccable English had an accent that teeters between a Merchant Ivory-produced film and MTV. I like to think that he was thinking all these while I was telling myself: Oh, shit, he's the third this week, seventh since September rolled in, and that was what, only five weeks ago, what's wrong with me, why am I attracting guys like him, is this an epidemic, am I its bull's-eye? I like to think I was the poster boy just for the month, that he was just another coincidence, a seven-plus-inch déjà vu, a statistic to my rapidly-growing inventory of trysts with pent-up, hyper-sexual, guilt-ridden, straight or bi-identified, married-to-God, discreet-to-secrete-guys who have yet to reconcile Jesus with jism. I like to think that when he said, "Let me take you home," and I told him, "You don't have to…really…just take me back to Megamall…got tons of cabs there," he was only delivering his Good Samaritan scripted line. And when I asked him, "How many blow-jobs do you need to get through the day?" and he answered, "Depends. Four on a stress-free day, six if it's hectic," prompting me to say, "Then today must be a bad day because you're requesting for an encore," which prompted him to say, "Not really, I just love what you can do with your mouth" - that he was only affirming what I already know: I am the Megamall King of Fellatio, my mouth made of glory, my tongue, a muscle of miracles. And when I asked him, "What's the most blow-job you've had in a day?" and he answered, "Six," prompting me to ask, "What number am I?" to which he responded, "Six but seven with the encore" - his "encore" overlapping with my "Jesus" - I like to think that I was about to break his world record as much as he was going to break mine. I as his seventh, and he as my thirteenth-going-on-fourteenth trick.
It is the kind of rain that will not give up until half of the city's rat population has drowned or migrated up north to seek refuge in the air-conditioned mausoleum of former deposed president Ferdinand Marcos, where his wax-suspect remains lie in a glass sarcophagus. Danilo is at the computer, living his other life in the zip code of in-between states or what his mentor calls "Still Life with White Noise." Senseless snow or not, he tunes in, listens to what's buried beneath the static, and types, pausing only to remind himself not to Page Up and fuss over grammar and logic until he's established some kind of notion, an almost-clarity. Anyway, it's a first draft, he tells himself, and first drafts are - what? - butcher scraps, muse stand-ins, illuminated madness, pure gold.
Right now, what matters most are that it's raining, the story is unraveling with Glenn Gould in the background, humming to the 1981 rendition of Bach's Goldberg Variations, and the muse is fueling Danilo's imagination for the fifth consecutive rainy day. Out the window, Danilo gazes at the darkness that holds the rain of his evening garden. Nice word - "gaze," he thinks. Subtle. Light. A Monet canvas. Then he shifts his attention back to the screen, where Javier, his protagonist, is stranded by both the rain (he wants to go clubbing but it's also pouring on his side of the universe) and the memories co-produced with Kingston Lau, his Chinese-Filipino lover whom he has just broken up with after ten and a half semi-solid years.
After three pages of New Roman Times, size 12, he arrives finally - a shaky word "finally" - at the period of all periods (for now). He scrolls to the first page and does what he loves least: Come up with a title - that necessary skin tag that sometimes consumes more time than the actual writing itself. But, like it or not, a title can make or break an audience. After all, it's the one with the largest font. "A title should come to the storyteller like a poem does to a poet - unannounced and, like a haiku, economical," his mentor said. "Otherwise, you're better off calling the story 'Untitled.'" Which is what Danilo ends up doing. The alternative is "Perhaps," after the story's opening word. But who wants to read a story with a one-word title that connotes the indecisiveness of the 16th century?
Craving for a drink, he goes to the kitchen still smelling of the dead rat that his maid, Melanie, discovered under the kitchen sink two-and-a-half months ago. He empties the rest of Shiraz into a coffee mug then returns to his desk with a half-filled box of Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts that his mother included in a care package stuffed with Immodium ("Don't leave America without it!"), anti-fungal ointment (in case the fungus on his left inner thigh reappears), a one-year supply of Extra-Strength Tylenol PM and Ativan (for migraine due to Third World sales transaction, customer service, gridlock traffic, unruly commuters, et cetera), and a bottle of Astroglide lubricant (purchased at 80& Straight, the one beside Sizzler's Steak House in Waikiki, and right below the apartment building where the elevator man was crushed to death a couple months ago because he forgot to put the 'Men at Work' sign.)
Between sips of Shiraz (the one that keeps winning awards, according to the gold medal sticker on the bottle), he skims over the untitled story, asking himself why he has written another anti-relationship vignette when he and Rex, his current boyfriend of ten months, are happily together. It's his fifth fiction piece this week, sixth if he counts the soft-porn heartbreaking tale that went straight to the paper shredder about two steroid-pumped lovers - both married and with children and therefore bi-identified - who meet up at a sex club in Pasay City right across Manila Bay called "The Bungalow" (also the story's title) twice a week, every Tuesday and Thursday night, when the theme is "Undress 2 Impress." There, inside a room large enough to hold only a cot, they take turns bottoming for each other or for a third party, usually a steroid user with a body like theirs.
Danilo picks up the folder stacked in the MAYBE pile and pores through the fresh-off-the-printer vignettes, flash fiction with recurring themes of love, loss, sex, race, religion, class, and peppered with Manila's oversexed, repressed, romantic, and sexy men who, when they aren't grappling with religion and bisexuality, genuflecting in bathhouses and movie houses, or giving blows inside speeding Toyotas, are busily helping resolve the country's beyond-reparable economy and rat-level poverty by servicing the unemployed, blue collar workers, and teenage fathers for a hundred peso.
Where are these stories coming from? And why are they rolling in like dominos now that he is at peace with the world, himself, and the on-going war in Iraq? Are he and Rex headed for the inevitable break-up sooner than he thinks? Questions he already has answers to: Don't Know, Will Never Know, Don't care, Shouldn't Care. For the creative process is too mysterious, unfixed, complex, anti-uniformity, constantly mutating to spell out prophecies or point its genesis to a specific source - inspirational, influential, factual, experiential. Fiction, as Danilo has come to recognize and accept, is not a grocery list; it is not an annotation where the writer explains the sources for his text or defends his imagination.
As for he and Rex heading for Splitsville anytime soon, right now: Highly unlikely. Unlike the couple in "Untitled," he and Rex, who is also an American scholar like himself, are as okay as that cool pre-rain evening when their paths crossed on the Manila Bayfront lawn of the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard, where they and other ex-pats and Filipino dignitaries were helping celebrate the annual 4th of July celebration with hot dogs, bite-size burgers, pizzas, and fireworks.
When their one-night stand began to lengthen to sleepovers, they no longer could deny the fact that their compatibility would outlast their moans. So they agreed to commit only with the stipulation that there would be none. And since a great chunk of their relationship is based on intellectual, rather than, semen exchange - Danilo is a Literature professor at University of Hawaii at Manoa while Rex is working on his doctorate dissertation at the U.C. Santa Cruz, Department of History of Consciousness - they would keep theirs simple and open, for previous experiences taught them that monogamy in a gay relationship is as near-extinct - if not mundane - as Ching Ching, Ling Ling, and the last dozen panda bears on earth.
Now and then, they have their casual argument, usually over pedagogical matters (e.g Should Huck Finn be taught to Black kids in urban ghettos?) and current events plaguing the Philippines (e.g. Should President Gloria "caught cheating on red tape" Arroyo resign? Rex: Yes; Danilo: Assassinate the bitch). Only once did they bicker over a trick - a sexually-repressed Chinese-Filipino professor of De La Salle University whom Rex had met in Gay Dot Com - but the fight was not because Rex had slept with him but because the professor, who turned out to be on psyche meds, had gotten obsessed with Rex; apparently Rex reminded him of his Scottish ex.
What Danilo has written this past week - and Danilo knows this - are merely wanna-be and could-be versions of himself, of Rex, and of their lives before, during, and after their initial week together. He simply made a mental list of memories then broke them apart, tinkered with them, falsified the evidence; exorcised anxieties (how to learn to sleep solo again after a ten-and-half year relationship); and stretched out his fantasies (suck-fest in a movie house, blowing the family driver and paying him for it, playing guinea pig to a young father of two after treating him to a cheeseburger Happy Meal). He manipulated his and Rex's age, turned the Rex-inspired character in "The Importance of Er," for example, into a fifty-something architect, when, in reality, Rex is an unassuming thirty-six year old, deep-blue-eyed scholar who is in the Philippines to research on the phenomenon of the endless-yet-gone-nowhere People Power peaceful revolutions. He also gave himself and Rex, who is Irish American and a non-practicing Catholic, constant ethnic and religion makeovers. In "Untitled," which he later changes to "What Passes For Rain," he imagined himself as a woman married to a bisexual Chinese-Filipino carrying on a relationship with another man. In "The Record Breaker," "Rex" is a repress Born-Again seeking blow-jobs in the movie houses of Megamall. Where class is concerned, he placed himself in the double role as exploiter of, and financial provider, for blue-collar workers. In short, from the drop of truth serum, he magnified, exaggerated, dramatized, enhanced, and cancelled his and Rex's academic-driven lives, exchanging their world for other worlds. Like the garden outside his window covered with rain. Imagined and not.