Friday, September 21, 2007

fiction: ever, after

Ever, After
By Dean Francis Alfar

Once upon a time, there was a young girl whose mother had died. This, her father told her, was when the girl was small enough to rest in his arms.

I did not expect you to find me, but I suppose someone in your new station has certain privileges. I do not mean to sound adversarial, but you belong to a chapter in my life I thought long closed. Yes, it’s true that I still live, but far away – or so I thought. I hope you do not take my candid response to mean that I wish the past revoked. I do not. I made my choice, and yes, yes I left him and you. The reasons are small but manifold, and yes, if it gives you comfort, I do sometimes think of what might have been if I had stayed. But I didn’t.

1. My Second Husband. It was like I was half-blind until I met him. Then my eyes betrayed me, then my heart, then my lips. Reason was the last bastion of resistance as I asked myself what other people would say, what they would think, how they would judge. Then I decided that in the end, judgments are worth less than the energy spent to make them, and I went with him. Of course I am happier. And yes, sometimes I imagine regret. But it is such as small thing.

2. You. Are you surprised? Are you rolling your eyes in disbelief? Are you asking, as I suppose you should, if I loved you why did I leave you as well? Why didn’t I take you with me? The answer is this: in the new space I chose to occupy, there was only room for one. And yes, I chose myself. Was it not a selfish thing? Yes and no. And no, I do not care to know what you think. Because it will not change a thing.

3. My Garden. It is beautiful and demands only what I can give. My ornamental trees grow because they have to, because it is in their nature. I only help it along; devotion is my only magic. There is only so much a person can give, after all.

Her father loved her as best he could, but soon married a widow. Before long, he passed away.

First, a caveat: you know, of course, that I am dead. I do not know how much the love of those gone matters to the living, but if it is a comfort to you, here is my list. My honest list, my beloved daughter.

1. Your mother. It sounds trite and tired but it’s absolutely true. She was the first my heart knew, and the night she left was the time I think I began to die. If I could change things, I would change almost every day we spent together. I’d alter our conversations, or at least my part in them. I don’t recall every word but I know the sense of what I’d try for. And I’d ask her point blank to stay.

2. You, of course. I remember when you were born, how I felt my heart expand to accommodate the love that came over me like a towering wave. I didn’t think I could love you, given that all that I was I had already surrendered to your mother. But when I saw you, I realized that what I previously believed was utterly false. It grew stronger as you grew older; you look so much like her. I’m sorry that the truth places you at number two, but you asked and I am compelled to speak. But you must know that beyond this absurd list, I treasure you. No, I cannot “the most” or “the best”, but it’s true nonetheless.

3. Your Step-Mother. I know how you two do not get along, but I suppose you’d have to be a man to understand why I remarried. Or you have to be placed in a situation where the rest of your life looks like a dismal road. There is comfort in having a companion, someone of my age to talk to, someone to sleep with at night.

The stepmother was cruel to the young girl and made her life miserable. She kept her in the house, away from society.

I can guess what you think I’ll answer. It’s too easy. We have become predictable, you and I, caught up in your tragic expectations, your self-made drama. You never liked me, and I could never love you. What are you to me, after all? It is blood that sings true. Even if you gave me more than three numbers to fill, you will never find your name there.

1. Myself. If someone tells you that they love themselves least, you are speaking to a liar. You may accuse me of many things, as you have, but I have always spoken the truth. If I coerce myself to love you, as you no doubt have dreamed, ask yourself this: is love forced still love?

2. My Daughters. After all, part of me lives within them, and I am responsible for both. What mother leaves her children? You know the answer, of course. It is to her that all the bitterness of your youth, everything, should be directed to. Not to me, not to mine.

3. Your Father. I found him broken and entered the marriage knowing I could never replace your mother. But I did love him, in my way. Do you think it foolish, to give with little expectation? Perhaps. But it was enough. Unlike you, some of us have to work for what comfort we get to keep.

The young girl longed to attend a ball but was prevented from going by her stepmother. But her godmother gave her what she needed to go.

This request, I must confess, I find rather odd. What sort of woman asks people questions like these? It is a good thing I am not the sort to take offense. I loved you from the moment I was asked to love and protect you. If I could be your mother, I would. But I am not, I cannot, no matter how much I wish. There is, sadly, a limit to what wishes can bring.

1. You. My darling child, my little girl, my young lass, my princess. I know we have talked my absence through your early years, but as I said then, it was only because I had other godchildren to look after and you had your parents. When your mother left, I was the last to know, and, as I told you, I made haste to see you. But this body is old and all the will in the world cannot change geography. I’m just thankful I made it in time to make a difference. That means everything to me.

2. My other godchildren. They are all special to me as you are special to me. Even as I write this, I am on my way to another sad child, a boy this time, or more properly, someone who wishes to be a boy. Circumstances like these are why I cannot stay in one place for long. Too many children need love, and I find them, give them all my heart can give, and then move on. I miss you, like I miss the others, but I need to move on. It is not abandonment when part of my heart stays - I know you’ll understand in time.

3. Wishes. I know, what an odd thing to list. But wishes are expressed hopes released into the air. They make my world spin. They keep me alive.

At the ball, she met a prince. They fell in love and lived happily ever after.

Why even ask me? This is silly, and little bit of, well, an entrapment. Have I not proven myself by looking for you? By marrying you? If I begin with you, you wouldn’t believe me, even if it’s true. If I place you anywhere else on my list, you will be hurt. I know you will. So better disbelief than pain.

1. You. I liked the girl who ran away; I love the woman who chose to stay.

2. Me. This is somewhat important to me, that you let me love myself – not that your love is inadequate. But while I can choose to love you all the time, there are times you are not in my mind at all – when I read, when I work, and sometimes, even when I dream. You don’t mind, do you?

3. My Work. You know how it is. My father once told me that love for country would come in time; at that time, I didn’t believe him. But he is getting old and soon it will be my turn. It’s sad but true. But I am learning to love the land, my people, and I know you’ll understand when the time comes, when, my love, things must change. But that is yet tomorrow and what we have is today. It isn’t exactly forever, but as close as I can make it.

"Ever, After" first appeared in Philippines Free Press, August 2007
Copyright 2007 by Dean Francis Alfar
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.



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