Thursday, June 08, 2006

fiction: six from downtown (excerpt)

"Six From Downtown'
by Dean Francis Alfar

The Housing Projects

I WAKE UP from a troubling dream and realize my wife has left again without telling me. She’s dealing with the anxiety of our inability to have a child in her own way – there, I’ve said it, it’s out in the open. Seven years of trying nearly everything wears anyone down. I check near the window and see she’ll be back before the sun rises. She’s never completely gone.

Unable to return to sleep, I decide to go out for a drink and a massage, leaving at just past midnight. I lock up, walk a bit in the gentle drizzle, and wait for a cab.

Once in a while, I do this: find a friendly bar, have a couple of beers and just vegetate. It’s important that I’m alone. I do not want or need conversation and I certainly don’t want to think. On occasion someone comes over to talk. I don’t respond. I am not in the mood for someone else’s story, whether it is as banal as a prostitute with a heart of gold, as artless as a philandering man, or as half-flattering as some guy who thinks I’m cruising the bar for some action. I wear a mask of stupidity, of being unable to comprehend complicated sentences, and radiate a zone of general antipathy in the blue cloud of my cigarette smoke.

After I pay for my drinks, I take another cab. The dark streets offer no traffic, glistening with the dull sheen left behind by the superficial rain. At the Korean bathhouse I frequent, I check in, strip and take a bath while sitting on a small wooden stool. Then I immerse myself in the hot waters of the main pool, oblivious to the amiable argy-bargy of the other men around me, Filipinos and foreigners, simultaneously exposed and cloaked by steaming water. I soak until I feel the alcohol in my system flushing out via sweat. Then I go for my massage, hoping that the lady I like is present. She is, and soon her iron fingers wedge themselves into the knots of my aching back, shaking my body’s dalliance with sadness with redemptive pain.

Afterwards, I go up to the bar in my robe and have a glass of Shiraz, mellow and with a hint of tartness, and look beyond the glass walls and out into the street below. I think of nothing, not work or children. For a while I pretend to be consumed by nothing, no cares, no worries. Just for a while.

Before 5AM, I ride a third cab home to the condo. I check to see if my wife is back but she isn’t. The lower half of her body is still standing where she left it, next to the window, wearing only the floral patterned panties I don’t like very much. I look out the window of our 33rd floor unit and see the grey skies slowly changing hues.

I know she’ll fly back. She’s on her way home.

I realize that I am desperately hungry, that everything in my system since midnight has been smoke and alcohol. I make scrambled eggs the way I like them (heat the pan with a little oil, dump the eggs, whisk briskly to separate the mass, then on to a plate – the entire process takes only a few seconds) plus a couple of links of sticky longganisa.

My wife arrives in a rustle of wings. I look up from my early breakfast and she is there, framed by the bedroom doorway, flushed and glowing with perspiration.

“You’ve been out,” she says, kicking out the kinks in her legs which had gone asleep while she was away.

I nod. “A couple of beers and a massage.”

“Good, good,” she says, moving to the kitchen counter for a glass.

“Hungry?” I ask, pointing to my half-eaten meal.

“No, thanks,” she says, filling her glass with water from the dispenser. “I just ate.”

Later in bed, after she showers, I lean over and kiss her.

“You want to try again?” I ask, tracing the contours of her face with my fingers.

In the light of dawn, she turns away to hide her tears.

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The rest of the story appears in the June 10, 2006 issue of Philippines Free Press.


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