Monday, November 01, 2004

chapter 1, part 2

The old woman who had wanted to speak to her dead husband whispered to her daughter, "Is she all right? Baka may nangyari na sa kaniya?"

Her daughter was a middle-aged stout lady who was named after the first mother to give birth in that town in this northern province. She shook her head. Something was happening, she whispered to her mother, but everything was under control.

She scratched her nose absently as she said this, wondering how long this farce would last. She’d heard of the powers of this wandering woman, of course, but she didn’t believe the tales.

Miriel could hear the whispering women, but the voices seemed to come from far away. Her hand trembled slightly as she waited for the spirit to appear, but she steadied it. It was important not to show the tiniest hint of fear. They were like cold-blooded creatures that way, reacting to the emotions of the living. She was in control. The perfect vessel.

Already she could see the wispy gray smoke forming in the far corner of the room. The candles were burning brightly all around her. She welcomed the familiar scent. Smiled knowingly at the signs.

The old woman’s two sons and youngest daughter were also waiting in the living room, eager for some hint that their father had returned. That they might hear. That they might know and be forgiven the sins of the past.

Miriel found herself wondering once again why the living clung to the past like a child being weaned from its bottle. Most of the time, she felt curiously detached from the ritual, though oddly tonight she felt the hint of something different in the air. Not fear. Like a familiar face that turned out to belong to someone else -- not that of a stranger, but of someone you knew but did not expect that moment.

Part of her was tired, she supposed. Tired of making the dead speak, of reassuring the living that they were the ones who haunted the past.

Miriel still remembered the first time she realized she could see what other people could not admit to themselves.

She was three or four when she first stumbled upon the past, seeing the procession of spirits and selves going on their merry way, as though nothing had changed in a hundred years.

The old house was a faded reflection of the glory it once was when the young Spanish boxer Julian Alcaraz y Samonte had arrived from the cobblestone streets of Benavides and built this monument on Calle Samar for his dear Esperanza. He had been wounded in some war, and was doomed to limp for the rest of his days.

Esperanza was the first stranger Miriel met in the old house, surprising the young girl while she was walking up the winding stairs.

Miriel recalled how beautiful the pale Esperanza was, how delicately shaped her lips were and how her eyes sparkled when she smiled, her flowing black tresses seemingly reaching down across several steps as she floated slightly in mid-air, her dainty feet and perfectly formed toes not daring to make contact with the wooden floor.

She confessed to Miriel that she loved looking at the books in the library, even though she could not read. So when she learned, the little girl would read aloud to the lovely Esperanza while everyone slept, and the young woman would recount tales of her handsome boxer. Sometimes Miriel could not understand the stories, the sighs and kisses and soft caresses that sometimes accompanied the conjuring of the past. Nor could she understand how the spirit of the fiery Spaniard could lose its way and never find his beloved Esperanza.

Miriel could feel the spirit’s approach, the slight chill that made the hair on her nape stand up, the soft sound of the ghost husband sniffing her as he recognized why she was here and prepared to enter her.

She could not describe the sensation, of dead spirit forcing its way into living flesh. At the very moment of entry, Miriel would see through her eyes and his, hear his thoughts and know his dreams. Recall memories that weren’t hers. See the world as it is and as it was. And even after the ghosts had left, a part of them remained.

The old woman and her children gasped as Miriel began to shake violently, the voice of the dead man trying to force its way through her vocal chords and out her open mouth. Yet all they could hear were the unintelligible moans, and the youngest daughter shrieked as a cold wind suddenly blew and knocked over a chair in its wake.

"Ama namin, sumasalangit ka. Sambahin ang ngalan mo…" the old woman called out, as she made the sign of the cross and got down on her knees.

Her two sons tried to hold on to the young woman who was shaking so violently in epileptic frenzy, but she was so strong that they could barely restrain her. Inside her head, Miriel was watching the scene as if it were a movie unfolding, saw the woman and her children through the eyes of the dead man.

She wondered how long she could keep on doing this. How long her flesh could be the playground of the dead.



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2:41 AM  

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