Monday, September 25, 2006


Jellyfish and lanzones. That would be her answer on the first day back to work, when the inevitable question would be asked: what did you do during the break?

She remembers the lanzones, not the fruits, crated and pinched and weighed at street corners back in the city, but the trees their car passed going up the mountain: light-barked, straight, their lines just deviating for branches that still hold a few unpicked green globes.

In truth, the trees had to be pointed out to her. At first, she noticed only the baskets and the men waiting at curves up the road, and of course the trucks. Driving up the slopes of Montpeller until they come to Guadalupe, they pass lanzones compradors, whose hard eyes she imagines quickly dismiss them: family, visiting, sedan, no room to take away a basket.

Because of the buyers, she sees the lanzones trees, growing in clusters near the road, as cow-like, udderless but nevertheless waiting for people to milk them: pack the globes in bamboo baskets for the city, land of fruit hawkers.

She tastes a phantom archness, as if one of the pearly-white slivers finds its way in her mouth. Journeys are always bogged down by predispositions. Travel light is good advice. And like good advice, nearly useless.

For one, it does not help decide if they will push on for Lepanto, boundary between the eastern and western side at this tip of the south. The rain makes up their minds for them. It is astonishing that a drizzle one ignores because the canopies are so thick can finish a road in ruinous increments: an ominous crack opening in mud and stone, like rumors about to swallow whole sleepy villages.

After supper, their host misses the old gecko that has failed to show up on the whitewashed walls tonight. She wonders whether this is an oblique apology for the swarm of moths attracted to the walls, often caroming at their heads, or if her host is expressing genuine sentiment.

The large-headed, brown-speckled old-timer outlived the old mistress. An unmarried daughter now lives alone in this house, with two other women. The younger women teach in the day; the older one tends the store. They raise chicken, pigs. Eat lanzones that has ripened in trees planted by her late father.

This female trinity would make a fine statement except that she has trouble shaking off a picture of the household, with only a lizard for company, alone in the night. In the mountains, it is hard to shake off the night. The night is a presence with a solidity, a liquidity, even a smell.

She remembers that when they bathed at a nearby spring earlier that evening, the dark was the water stinging, the moistness reeking, the heaving of an animal watching beyond the reach of the hovering fireflies.

Enjoying the solitary wash, she guesses that bathing at night is not a local habit. She is told that a man in the next sitio was slain not too long ago. A group of strangers walk at night, listen beneath open windows. After the murder, people are careful to bar their doors early, extinguish the light.

Used to the half-shadows that lull her to sleep in the city, she does not know what to do with the night streaming in through the windows. A neighbor’s dog barks suddenly in the inky liquid she swims in her sleep. She wakes to her older son telling her about a lizard with a huge head dropping from the ceiling and swallowing one of the enormous moths drawn to the laptop screen, glowing in the dark.

Death, she decides, is the animal waiting just beyond the night. In the morning, they have last night’s food and a story of a knifing in Lepanto. At dawn, while people were going home from a dance, a man stabs a neighbor.

The victim lived. Not all of the jellyfish washed ashore on the coast from Alegria to Ginatilan do. On the drive to Samboan, she sees dozens of lavender plastic bags discarded near the shore. They turn out to be jellyfish, the fat, lovely, duplicitous animals perishing where the receding tides leave them on a languid, sun-drenched Sunday, memories away from the night. or 091733226131

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