Tiles

I remember the mahjong tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack, clack
Never ending, all through the night
Always going even after first light

I remember the money chips
going click click click!
I remember that argument
over the missing money clip

I remember the buttered toast
your friend told me to make
with sprinkled sugar on top
Don’t you make a mistake.

I remember your friends
though they were no friends of yours
only there to play a game
just a bunch of well-dressed boors

I remember the tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack clack
I heard it every day,
even on a Sunday.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Writerly Reflections

In this challenge, tell us how you fell in love with books and writing.

In my childhood bedroom, a shelf hung over my bed, and on this shelf were the classic titles such as Black Beauty, Swiss Family Robinson, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, and even a collection of limericks.   My mother was a fan of Readers’ Digest books, and she may have bought every single one advertised in the mail.  My bedroom served as the storage area for all these books that she kept buying, and there was even a locked wall cabinet where she stored all of them – encyclopedias, abridged story collections and more.  Sometimes I’d sneak the key and open it, and read about supernatural hauntings from one book, and how to make fondant from another.

One day, either my mother ordered me to dust the shelf or I was  grounded for something I’d done that I have no recollection of, but something made me reach for the top of that shelf.  And at the top of it where only dust resided, one well-worn book had been tucked away, its corners bent, and without a cover to tell me what it was.  I was ten or eleven years old then, and this book would shape the way I preferred my stories and even the way I write them now.

The epilogue of this cover-less book talked about a man people had long forgotten in a country called Corteguay (fictional, of course).  His name was Diogenes Alejandro Xenos, a name which would be shortened to Dax as he gets older, and how, as the story opens and he is a child, bandits come upon their family home, kill his mother and sister, and he escapes into the jungle.  He grows up to become an outlaw, a playboy and even a powerful generalismo of his country.

I devoured that book from the first page to the last, not really understanding some parts but comprehending enough.  In an era before Facebook, YouTube and Google, I learned about sex, drugs, , death and power.  The book, if you haven’t guess it yet, was called The Adventurers and it was written by Harold Robbins.  I never knew who owned it, but after that first chapter, I did not care.  I ended up hiding the book myself, so that whoever stashed it away up there, would not find it when they came back.

Adventurers
The Adventurers by Harold Robbins from Glorious Trash

I would seek out all Robbins’ books after The Adventurers, though I had no problem doing so, for whoever had left that book on my shelf, had left a few more – The Pirate, Stiletto and A Stone for Danny Fisher. Who knows?  It could have been my mother, who didn’t think Harold Robbins was a good fit for all her Readers’ Digest Selected Book collection.

By the time I was 14, while my friends were enamored with Harlequin and Mills & Boon romances, I was into more adult fare – James A. Michener, James Clavell, and Robert Ludlum.  I also began writing – by hand on legal-sized sheets of paper that my grandfather still had long after he retired from his legal practice and then with a typewriter someone gave me (and probably regretted, since I typed till 3 am most days) for Christmas.  In high school, my stories found their audience among my classmates and one of them almost got me suspended because of its adult content.

Sometimes I yearn to find a copy of that book again – with its cover this time – though I really am in no rush.  I have the digital copy of it, and for now, should I ever lose that spark of writing, reading those first few pages should be enough to send me back in time, and back into my writing.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Golden Years

For this week’s writing challenge, we’re asking you to explore what age means to you. Is the the loss of youth, or the cultivation of wisdom? Do things get better as you grow older, or worse? There are many ways to interpret age, often depending on your relationship with the passing of time.

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Fleur by tcbflyr

Age is a double-edged sword.  Just this week, my client told me about Noah, and how he lived to be 900 years old.  She said that he also preached to the people for 150 years about how a flood was coming, even though they all laughed at him and thought him crazy.  I tolerate such talk in my sessions sometimes, because I know that in an hour or two, I’d forget about it.

Then tonight, I learned that someone I knew from high school, and who I probably rubbed elbows with during the last ‘reunion’ party I attended two years ago, passed away suddenly last month.  They held her memorial in a city just an hour away from me, but since I’ve been away from FB and haven’t really been in touch with high school friends, I never knew about it.  And while I may not have been close to her at all, the knowledge of her loss jarred me with its raw power.

It was like a poison, seeping through my bones, seeking permanent residence after waiting for a way in for so long.   And that’s when the reality hit me – even though my father died last year and I should have been thinking such thoughts then, but didn’t.

We’re all going to die.  The only question is when.

I may not live to be 900 years old like Noah, and regardless of my general optimism about such things, neither would I probably live as long as I’d really want to – which would be till my 4-year old is grown up and I know that he will be alright.  Once upon a time, I thought I was invincible, and that I had nothing to lose, and that I could do anything I wanted.  But things changed the moment my son was diagnosed with autism, even if it was downgraded to a mild case, or at best “autistic-like”.

Suddenly that idea that we all know about – that we are mortal  – became more real than anything else in the world.  Suddenly it had power – so much power that it has made everything I do tainted with that dreaded thought that I could die any time – even in my sleep.

And what would happen to my little prince then?  Who would take care of him?  Most of all, would he even remember me?  Would he even know that once upon a time he loved me or that I loved him with every fiber of my being?

Then I ask myself why I had a child so late in life – because having a child at 40 is late in life, no matter how much I sugar coat it and say it’s not. I ask myself why I didn’t think far ahead enough  – that when he’d turn 20, I’ll be in my 60’s.  But I just never did think about it then.  I was probably too immature to think things through the way I think and worry about them now, simply because age, when paired with mortality, is no longer just a number.

It’s a state of mind.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Threes

In this week’s writing challenge, you’ll write a post using three photographs for inspiration.

kalibo1
Photo by Velvet Madrid

It was her regular haunt, a place where she could sit beneath the hanging flowers and listen to the tiny frogs splashing in the water in the nearby pond.  No one knew of this place – at least not her friends.  This was her secret place, a haven where she could enjoy her cappuccino, power up her macbook and just write.

Write till her cappuccino grew cold and she’d need another cup along with something else to fight off the caffeine shakes if she waited too long.  Maybe a muffin, if she wasn’t feeling like having an omelet or fried eggs and ham, for the latter usually left her stomach feeling weird.

The cats would watch her as they lounged on the steps, doing what cats did best beneath the shade of the hanging flowers.  They did nothing else, the languid heat seeming to melt them onto the cement steps where they’d stay for most of the morning.  By the time the sun would steal into their shady spot, it was time for them – and her – to go.  Back to the hustle and bustle of her real world, where most days except for the days she found herself here, she could barely hear her thoughts.

But this was a treat – yes, it was.  And as she sipped her cappuccino, smelling the sweet scent of hanging flowers all around her, she smiled.  She still had some time.  Yes, a little bit of time to herself.

And she would make every second count, she thought, just as the tiny frog that had been hiding beneath the shade of the lily pad emerged, and hopped into the water for a swim.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Object

The clock is loud, its tick-tock echoing somewhere in the room.  When I find it, it’s inside the entertainment cabinet, its battery slowly running out for the digital readout for the fourth city – now unnamed for its label peeled off a long time ago – is blinking, like a light about to go out.

Hoping that the battery compartment hasn’t rusted, for it’s probably been at least four years since I’ve replaced it, I flip up the lid and sigh, relieved, that the compartment is fine.  When I change the battery – it takes only one – the tick tock becomes louder, and I remember one night long ago when I had a lover over and he complained that he could not sleep because of the damn clock that kept on going and going and going.

It’s my father’s clock, I told him.  He got it as a business gift or something a long, long time ago.  I was probably only a teen.

Well, it’s too noisy, he grumbled.  I can’t believe how you can sleep through that.

Well, I can, I said.

Well, I can’t, he said.

Well, you can go then, I said.

Well, I will, then, he said.

Well, good-bye then, I said.

And so he left at around 3 am.  I remember, because that’s what my father’s clock said.

It’s a small thing, about 6 inches wide by 3 or so inches high.  It has a square face that tells the current time, while on either side of it are digital times for Paris, San Francisco, New York, and if I remember correctly, for the one whose sticker came off, Tokyo. It was a gift to my father by some one who worked for Evergreen Line, a “unified common trade name for the four shipping companies of the Evergreen Group,” or so says their current website.

I remember seeing it on my father’s desk when his company was still very successful, when he owned not just a gentleman’s club, but also a gas station, and during Christmas morning, we’d get into his Mercedes and his driver would take us through the city where people waited for him at certain places to give them their Christmas presents – money and a sack of rice.  And I’d like to believe because I must have heard it somewhere as a child, that he also once owned an island that disappeared when the tide came up – hey, the Philippines has over 7,100 islands.  The story could very well be true for I have memories of him taking us along with all his business friends and I was so excited that when I slipped off the inner tube, I thought I could just go down onto the bottom of the ocean, and walk to the shore.  And I’d like to believe that for one minute, when he was truly powerful, when people really did look up to him because he was, at one time, rich, that he really did own that island, that he really did business with the Japanese – and that one of them bothered to give him a little token of their gratitude.

And that now, I have that token.

It’s the only thing I have left of my father, really.  He died last year, poor and surrounded only by very distant relatives, with none of his children close by –  and I was so lost in writing and fangirl politics to really allow myself to grieve the loss of the man I really loved, no matter how flawed he was.

I still haven’t done all the grieving.  I haven’t even started.

Next week, he turns would have turned 70-something, I don’t even remember his age because in my mind, he’s never aged.  In my mind he’s always smiling, always telling me to not worry about the small things, to always do good any way I could because there was always someone worse off than I was.  And that though he may not have anything to leave me in money or property any longer, now that the days of wealth for him were long over, he did his best to give me an education, whether I took advantage of that gift or not.

Most of all, his greatest lesson for me was to listen; he said that it was the hardest thing to learn in the world.  And he’s right, it still is, especially for me.

And so I like the tick-tock that I hear through the house.  I may have kept it hidden for over four years, but this morning, I pulled it out of its hiding place, relieved to hear it still ticking, replaced its battery so I can keep on hearing it.

So I can keep on listening.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence

I wish I could make things better, and make your pain go away
I wish I could tell the people who never stop to think before they speak
that they hurt more than they claim to help
With words about things that they don’t even know the details of
With callous opinions of the same things that they have no clue of

I wish we didn’t feel like we have to have to have to belong somewhere
because we already are part of something much bigger
than this collective we’ve found ourselves in
But maybe it’s human nature to want to belong
Maybe it’s in our bones to want to sing the same song

But even I’m not too daft to see how everything has changed
I’m not so naive not to recognize that things will never be the same again
that the time has come for us to move along
The rift has widened, just like you said
It’s time to move on.  This place is dead.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Weekly Writing Challenge: Through the Door

The door to your house/flat/apartment/abode has come unstuck in time. The next time you walk through it, you find yourself in the same place, but a different time entirely. Where are you, and what happens next?

Weekly Writing Challenge

flipflops

A few precious hours to myself and I found myself rushing home.  It wasn’t because I had a lot of things to do for indeed, I did.  The house, to put it mildly, was a mess, a cluttered mess of children’s toys, books, laundry that was begging to be folded, and boxes that needed to be relegated into the garage.

Before I had my baby, I always thought that I’d be that perfectly coiffed mother one saw at the park – you know the one – the one who always had the perfectly clean child in tow, immaculately pressed clothes and when you came to her house for a play date, had an equally immaculate house.

Instead, I’d turned into the complete opposite.  I barely cook, even though I’m a decent one when pressed, and I don’t really excel in housework.  Let’s chalk it up to being forced to clean up after twenty cats and dogs when I was a child because my mother thought she was Tippy Hendren and had to take in all the abandoned animals in the neighborhood – even a stray turtle.  But at least I didn’t have to clean up after the turtle so I have nothing against him.  But then anyone can argue that I’m just using that as an excuse.

Heck, I don’t even know where the ironing board is.  It’s somewhere in the laundry room.  And the iron?  Well, it’s somewhere in there, too.  Just don’t ask me to iron anything because I’ll just toss it into the washer, then into the dryer and wait till it dings and I’ll rush out there and drape it onto its hanger while it’s still warm.

Yes, that’s the “perfect” homemaker I’ve become.  Not so perfect.

So with my grand plans of picking up all the little boy’s toys and putting them in their respective bins I’d label with the appropriate categories like ‘trucks’ or ‘trains’ or blocks’, I arrived home, pushed the key into the lock and opened the door.

For a moment, I stood there dumbstruck.  We’ve been robbed, I thought to myself as I tentatively took one step back, before realizing that my little dog, Truffles, hadn’t come to greet me at the door.

Oh no, I thought, they took her, too, just like they took all the toys (not that I was complaining – it did clean up the place) and even the sofa that dominated the far wall of our small living room, and the big flat screen TV that emerged from the wall in front of the sofa, and my books!  Where were all my books?

I ran through the living room and into the bedroom and stopped.

I turned to face the living room again and realized that not only had my sofa disappeared, but there was another one in its place, a much different one and definitely not of my taste at all.  And where the TV used to emerge from the wall?  Instead of a wall that was my entertainment center, there was a cabinet that spanned the entire wall and as I opened the wide doors, a Murphy bed threatened to descend upon me creakily and trying not to scream, I pushed it back up into its alcove and shut the doors.

I walked to the bedroom and found that it wasn’t the bedroom anymore.  It was a hallway that led to the bathroom and where my bed used to be was just a wall that marked a clear  boundary of the house.  After all, where my bed was had been an add-on, I thought.

Outside the birds continued to sing their songs and for a moment I remarked at how loud their voices were – did birds have ‘voices’? – and I walked to the bay window to look outside, a part of me no longer expecting to see the gazebo my brother in law had built in one end of the yard for in its place were trees bearing fruit.  One was a peach tree and the other, an orange tree.

“Who are you?”

I turned to look at a young blonde girl peering at me strangely.  She was dressed in frilly white dress with blue polka dots, a large white collar accenting her neckline, a blue ribbon  tied in a neat bow between the plackets.

I wanted to tell her that I lived here, that this was my house, but something told me that it was no longer mine.  This time, I was just a stranger inside her house, her home.

“What year is it?” I asked instead.

She looked at me as if I were joking, her brow furrowing suspiciously.  “Everyone knows it’s 1927,” she replied as her gaze went from the top of my head down to my feet, my nails adorned with bright lavender nail polish. “You’re dressed like a man,” she said.

I looked down at myself.  I was wearing a black shirt over blue jeans.

I chuckled, surrendering myself to the insanity that I had just descended into.  “Yes, it looks like I am, doesn’t it?  I just found it more comfortable,”  I knelt on one knee.  “What’s your name?”

The child frowned, as if debating whether to tell this oddly dressed stranger standing in her own house her name though in the end, she relented.  “It’s Mildred.  What’s yours?”

“It’s V-,” I stopped myself, wondering who would ever name their child ‘Velvet’ in 1927.  Probably no one in their right mind, unless they saw National Velvet, which wouldn’t come out till 1944.  “It’s Elizabeth.”

Thank God for Liz Taylor and her violet eyes, I thought, and for a mom who loved both the movie and the actress.  Now if only she hadn’t convinced me for years that I’d been named after the horse, then life would be perfect.

“Would you like to look at the house?” She asked.  “Papa did say that someone was going to look over our old house in the front and this house because we are moving up to Sacramento in a few months,” she said as she squinted.  “Do you know where Sacramento is?”

Oh, Sac, of course I know it, I wanted to tell her.  Instead I shook my head.  “Why are you moving up to Sacramento?”

The little girl shrugged and she began walking towards the kitchen as I followed her.  “I don’t know.  Papa just says he’ll have better luck up there, but I love it here.  I lived in the front house and I watched Papa build this one.”

As she showed me her little house, I felt a shiver run up and down my spine.  I watched her blonde curls bounce up and down as she bounded from one part of her little house to the other, proudly showing me her toys and that of her sister’s, who at that same moment was at the pier waiting for the ships come in.

She told me that her father was going to build a shower in the back of the house so his daughters wouldn’t trample sand all over the living room just to get to the bathroom after their daily treks to the shore.

I’ve heard this before, I thought to myself as the hairs at the back of my neck began to stand on end.  Mildred turned to look at me and smiled as she showed me how to work the Murphy bed in the living room, laughing when I told her that it had almost fallen over me.

Yes, the Murphy bed, I thought.  I remember now.  You told me this last year, dearest Mildred, when you and your husband came knocking at the front gate asking me if I’d be kind enough to show you your old house, the house you’d always loved.

You were in your eighties then, little Mildred, and I remember how entranced  I was then listening to your eighty-year old self, just as I am right now as I listen to you as a child, talking about the house you grew up in, and how you remembered watching your father build this house from inside your play pen, the memories being among your first and most precious.

And yes, you told me about the shower, too, and how you and your sister loved to watch the ships come in at the pier.  And how you trampled throughout the house tracking sand all over the place, but so glad that your father built that shower in the back of the house where it was refreshing to wash yourselves during a hot summer day.

But I’m not going to tell you, Mildred, why your father needed to uproot you from  here to move you to Sacramento.  You were sad when you told me about it, just as you’re sad now telling me and not knowing why.

But you loved this house, just as you love it now.

And as I looked at the house, as it had been built by Mildred’s father as she watched him from inside her playpen as a baby, I could see the love in the clean and tidy corners, the hard wood floors shiny and polished, the windows spotless and still smelling of vinegar.  I could feel it in Mildred’s voice now as I did when I met her then, more than sixty years later, when she found herself allowed back into the house she loved most of all, and how year after year, she always drove by to see if it was still standing, hoping that the tenants would let her come in to see it, just one last time, though none of them ever did.

That was before my in-laws gifted us the property as a wedding present, and just about the time when Mildred had almost given up, but having driven by the house one last time, took a chance and stopped to knock at the gate to see if its new owners would not think her too crazy and let her in.

As I thanked Mildred for her hospitality, apologizing for entering her little house unannounced, I said good-bye and began to walk towards the door.

“Will I see you again, Elizabeth?”  Mildred asked as I opened the door, stopping to look back at her as she stood in the middle of her living room, a picture just begging to be painted in my mind’s eye.

“I’m sure we will, Mildred,” I said, smiling.  “It was wonderful meeting you and I love this house, I really do.  And I’m sure its new owners will love it as much as you do.”

I know I do, I wanted to add but knew that I wouldn’t need to – not if I was going to meet her again, though she wouldn’t know it yet.

And as I walked out of the house and into the daylight, the sun blinding me so that I brought my hand up to shield my eyes, a hum filled the air.  The birdsong in the fruit trees grew deafening before it went away as quickly as it had come.

I turned to look at the backyard.  The fruit trees were gone, as was the birdsong, and in its place stood my brother-in-law’s gazebo where instead of using it as a nice retreat on a hot day, had become just a vestibule of unused things, sullied, dusty and muddy where the sprinklers splashed on it every other day.

A squirrel chattered angrily at another for taking over his abode, a towering pine tree in my neighbor’s yard and I turned to look at the front door of my house again, its door closed as I had just shut it behind me.

I walked up to it again and inserted my key into the lock.  I held my breath and for the second time that morning, pushed open the door.