Science Fiction & Fantasy

Beckett_Gamechanger728x90

Advertisement

Fiction

The Perpetual Day

The story goes that Jackson Chua, of Chua Drugstore: King of Pills, finally slept the sleep of the dead for the price of one carton of rat poison.

For days there was nothing else to say but, Well, that marriage was going nowhere, He was nearly bankrupt anyway, He couldn’t take any more of his mother’s demand for a son. Shameless lies, especially the third, because old Mrs. Chua was the type who played the bouzouki at a faux-Greek restaurant outside Binondo on Mondays and took hula-hoop lessons on Saturdays, but everyone played along anyway.

Except young Mrs. Chua. She didn’t let any of us see Jackson. At home, where the white, fluorescent lights and the laugh track from the TV noises frightened away the night, we imagined Miranda burning joss sticks and sobbing quietly at the wake in the funeral parlor, her dress whiter than cyanide salt, shamed for not having saved the marriage. We imagined her at the cathedral memorial service we hadn’t been invited to, crossing herself and swallowing hymns, her dress grayer than arsenic, and keeping herself to the confessional.

Our eyes were red-rimmed. But not for the usual reason.

Fear is stronger than death.

• • • •

Jackson was the first one to succeed, but he wasn’t the first to try. That was Bonnie Ty, who had lain herself down the rails at Recto Station one night before. She didn’t believe us when we reminded her the trains didn’t run anymore because it was too dangerous to be on one. We brought her food and left her when she started flinging the styrofoam boxes at us. Her screaming was louder than the ringing in our ears.

We returned, exhausted, to Binondo’s Kali-like arms and their arrays of abandoned scaffolding and small shops. We had done the search on foot with only the dim streetlamps on and it had been months since we had ventured into a lightless place so late in the evening. We clawed for the light switch, threw ourselves on the sofa, and turned the set on for the night.

Bonnie came back the next day and we pretended she had never left. No one wanted to talk about what it felt to be awake by yourself in the dark again.

We had always gone to Jackson’s shop for our daily medication, which shows you how well it had been doing. After Jackson was buried, Miranda sold the drugstore for a very expensive song and took her daughters, moving out of Binondo and back with her parents in Greenhills. She never visited us again.

• • • •

The Korean boy from the bakery, but we kept forgetting his name because he didn’t grow up in the local high school with us, made it on Sleep Watch before. He was supposed to be selling bean pastries with his aunt, but that summer morning he was a few hundred meters away from his father’s bakery, resting against a utility pole, hiding his cigarette and watching Bonnie Ty wash her car. Above him was a man from the power company repairing the lines, suspended in the air in a plastic crow’s nest.

This was during the early days, when people thought they were still sharp enough to operate machinery or be that high up in the sky. The poor boy broke the repairman’s fall and nearly his own neck. The power company refused to pay for damages. His father found out about the cigarette. Bonnie Ty decided she didn’t want to wash her car by herself anymore and hired an errand boy. Binondo was on Sleep Watch that night, with a camera zooming in on the shop’s bean pastries for the opening sequence.

Nothing was good on TV anymore because nothing was on but Sleep Watch. Sleep Watch International was hit and miss because there’s always something to criticize about a foreigner’s house. Sleep Watch Local was just depressing, unless it was about someone you knew who instantly turned into a minor celebrity. Nothing was good on TV anymore but we all watched anyway, cannibalizing on other people’s attempts to sleep, schadenfreuding on their failure. Otherwise we’d be like them, imagining our body growing roots down into the mattress, into the floor, into the soil, into the bedrock, which felt exactly like what we were lying on, bumpy and hard. Then we’d peel off our eye masks to another heart-stopping sunrise, grenadine red and tequila gold.

We had covered our mattresses with plastic and stored them behind our closets a long time ago. We had turned our bed frames into benches and low tables, more space for the snacks and board games that accompanied us and the people in Sleep Watch. We hoped one day somebody would suddenly find us lying face down on the sidewalk and would have the decency not to wake us up, but until then, Jackson’s pills would have to do.

• • • •

The first three weeks of the pandemic had been the worst. A week into it and the World Health Organization had declared it global and we felt better about having company but not nearly enough. When the sleeping tablets didn’t work, we looked for painkillers, antidepressants, vitamins, ginseng, insulin shots, beta blockers, and diuretics, because the WHO didn’t skimp on the list of sleep deprivation effects. Jackson made a small fortune.

Epifanio Ang held the nebulous record of being the closest to ever getting something resembling sleep and he did this by killing a cat and stuffing bits of it into steamed buns for dinner. He had always wanted to be on Sleep Watch and his stunt nearly got him there, if his son Leonardo hadn’t stopped him after the first bite. The cat-killing cost him another piece of his sanity because he started having waking-dream hallucinations of the cat’s ghost. But not his dignity, because anyone could have easily done the same thing for the two minutes of light dozing he claimed, even though all of us believed he had just shut his eyes and pretended so he wouldn’t lose face in front of Leonardo.

Then Jackson Chua broke the record.

• • • •

A woman from the outside bought the drugstore from Miranda, which was bad enough. Her name was T.C., which was worse. We didn’t know what it stood for. The identification she gave Miranda was printed with the same initials and showed a woman who had changed the name her own parents had blessed her with, possibly for colorful reasons. Ingrate. Harlot. Goose. T.C. Drugstore: Queen of Pills was not going to fly.

She wasn’t planning to keep the drugstore. The shock reverberated among us like a pigeon smacking into one of the bells of our Basilica de San Lorenzo Ruiz, which brooded along with us. We called her bluff, but it wasn’t one. She didn’t even hold a closing-down sale for the drugstore. She bought paint and new locks from Derek Tan’s hardware store and hired a cheap contractor from outside to renovate the place.

We phoned Miranda.

“The Chua family’s legacy,” someone said.

“A historical institution,” someone said.

“Jackson’s memory,” we all said.

Miranda must have cared very little for Jackson’s memory because she said she couldn’t do anything about it anymore.

• • • •

T.C. was going to open a jazz club. It was going to be called The Jazz Club because there weren’t any in Binondo. She said it would give us something to look forward to every night. She started posting ads for musicians in the jazz band.

In the movie version, the Korean boy from the bakery would join forces with her, another outsider, and dazzle the rest of us with his guitar skills and we’d finally remember his name.

But of course he didn’t—he played the cello, not the guitar. More importantly, he didn’t even know such a thing was going on. Since the incident with the repairman, his father had him take breaks from work in his room in the small apartment above the bakery. The moaning from his cello reminded us of Jackson Chua and his carton of rat poison and we told ourselves we would never allow ourselves to be next.

We sent Leonardo Ang as an emissary. He told T.C. we were interested in buying the leftover stock from the drugstore off her.

“She said Jackson didn’t leave any stock behind,” said Leonardo. “She said there’s nothing to sell.”

“Bet she’s keeping it all for herself,” said Derek Tan.

“In the basement,” Alan Lim added. “It’s the only place big enough to fit everything Jackson had.”

We tore her ads from our fences because bill posting was not allowed. Rafael See, who used to hold group sessions with Bonnie getting as drunk as possible to try to black out, said T.C. stood for The Cunt and burned all her advertisements.

• • • •

A week into being deprived of Jackson’s pills and we knew the ringing in our ears had leaped an octave higher in pitch. Alan Lim thought his legs were about to give way because his joints were so sore that he started looking for an electric wheelchair.

“She probably has Derek’s biggest deadbolt installed in the basement,” he said, waving a catalog that showed a wheelchair slim enough to fit him through the narrow corridors of his eatery’s kitchen.

T.C. wanted musical instruments. We told Michael Sytengco that hiking up prices wouldn’t work: He would have to chase T.C. out of his music store. Tell her you’re closed, tell her everything’s been bought, tell her you’ve run out of stock. Tell her the instruments she wants are locked in the basement for some mysterious reason. Sorry. Wishing you well. Love, Binondo.

Michael Sytengco had been bullied by Rafael See in high school and had never outgrown his paleness and his droopy eyes or his fear of doing a bad job of the operetta he had always wanted to write. The best he could do without falling apart when T.C. said she wanted a piano, a trumpet, a drum set, and a double bass was to give her the worst ones he had.

“And she couldn’t tell how bad they were?” Leonardo asked.

“She almost stopped with the drum set. She looked at me for a few seconds,” Michael faltered at the memory, “but she took it anyway.”

We bought our medication in bulk from outside. There was never enough for our children, their children, our parents, their parents, somebody. All this work because T.C. bought the drugstore, because Jackson offed himself, because his marriage had turned sour, because business wasn’t doing well, because he couldn’t deal with his mother.

We felt better, but not nearly enough.

• • • •

“I never asked for sons from Jackson and Miranda,” said old Mrs. Chua one day on Sleep Watch International with a simultaneous feed on Sleep Watch Local. “His drugstore was doing well. He had a beautiful marriage.” We turned off our televisions for a while after that interview.

Like with anything new, The Jazz Club had gotten into Bonnie Ty. Bonnie used to play the piano when she was a little girl with a weekly new pair of sandals that slipped off the pedals and spared us from hearing the wrong notes sustaining any longer down the street. She was now the pianist for The Jazz Club.

It was midday, lunchtime, with the kind of weather someone planning a garden wedding would want. A block away from Alan Lim’s eatery, each beat T.C. played on the drums was clear and enunciated and her rolls gracefully covered Bonnie’s clumsy transitions. It didn’t sound like Michael Sytengco’s worst drum set. The floor vibrated gently.

“I can’t sleep,” complained Epifanio Ang. He took off his hearing aids, which Leonardo tried to get him to put back on again but Epifanio waved him away and took a deep breath. It felt as if he was close enough to saying something about what Jackson did with the same problem and we felt a tremor in our bones. Someone started talking violently of the degenerating quality of the bean pastries at the bakery.

“I can’t sleep,” repeated Epifanio as though we were deaf and he tapped his feet against the floor. “That lady is playing too loudly. The cat is in her basement and it can’t sleep either from all that noise.”

He shot up from his seat like a jack-in-the-box and nearly knocked over the eatery stool. He forgot to put back his hearing aids. He went to Jackson’s old drugstore and rang the bell. The drumming cut off immediately but Bonnie Ty went on for a few more bars. Some loud words. Some loud words repeated. We wondered if Epifanio would remember to ask her about the basement. Epifanio slamming the door.

“She will not stop the noise,” he announced when he returned. “And she says there is no cat. But she will put an extra pillow in the bass drum and see if it helps.”

The drumming returned, muted but still valiantly trying to cover Bonnie’s wrong chords. We wished Bonnie had never returned from Recto Station. We sat watching the clock tick in front of us over our cooling casserole while Bonnie sped up and lagged and slipped off and crashed like a musical accident. They were trying to play something Nina Simone sang once, about dragonflies out in the sun and so on. Something that described the wedding weather we were in perfectly.

“Doesn’t that song need a brass section?” someone remembered.

• • • •

The first time we realized we couldn’t sleep, we thought it was just us. So we went to work, went to school, left work early, didn’t do homework because we were too tired. After the second night, we thought it was the summer weather getting too hot and we turned the air-conditioners all the way up and threw off our blankets. On the third night, we started taking pills and phoning each other at five in the morning and watching the sunrise together. After the fourth, we started changing diets and exercising and generating our own white noise in our bedrooms by setting our radio between stations and quitting smoking.

Eventually we just turned the lights on. We might as well not be reminded of what we couldn’t have.

• • • •

Derek Tan appeared in front of the door of old Mrs. Chua’s apartment one night. He said it was okay if she believed what she wanted to believe about Jackson’s death, he wasn’t there to argue about that, but he wanted to ask if Jackson had left her any pills, any kind at all. The stuff from outside wasn’t good enough. He wanted Jackson’s pills. Did the rat poison come with complimentary pills?

Old Mrs. Chua said she never took any pills. They ruined her concentration when she was hooping, as if it wasn’t bad enough she couldn’t get any sleep.

Two days later, old Mrs. Chua moved out of Binondo, bouzouki and hoop, to live with her daughter’s family. The apartment was put on the market and many of us pretended to be interested in it so we could open a cupboard and try to find an aluminum sheet of Jackson’s pills.

• • • •

The first suicide had happened in Panama. Most of us had been lining up in Jackson’s drugstore with a list of what we needed when it came up on Sleep Watch International. Jackson had been busy with the cashier and didn’t even seem to have heard about the man who had jumped off the twelfth storey of a building.

After Jackson’s death, the memory of that day frightened us, the rest who had heard and watched and thought.

• • • •

Rafael See smashed one of T.C.’s windows. He was trying to break into The Jazz Club and make for the basement. It was in the middle of the night and T.C., who lived in the apartment above The Jazz Club, ran down and found Rafael nursing a his bleeding hand outside the door. He was as plastered as a wine keg.

She got him a pad of clean gauze. She wasn’t Pollyanna enough to invite him in, but she sat on the curb, applying pressure on his bandage while he hummed that earwormy Nina Simone song of hers until Angela See came for him. Before they left, she told T.C., as a manner of thanking her, that her brother used to play the trumpet.

T.C. sent the Sees a bill for the window. Rafael put up a huge song and dance about her taking advantage of drunks but paid it anyway. We asked him what they talked about that night on the curb.

“Nothing,” he answered. “She said people can start feeling sleepy after losing blood and asked me if it was working.”

We had started avoiding Bonnie to make a point about her involvement with The Jazz Club, but Bonnie Ty wasn’t the type who noticed avoidance and sat on our tables anyway in Alan’s eatery during teatime.

“She cooks really well, especially eggplants,” said Bonnie. “She still owns a bed.”

“What about the basement?” Leonardo asked.

“There’s a very pretty staircase leading down to it. She painted it yellow and blue. Very Mediterranean.”

“Have you asked about the medicine?” someone else asked.

“I told her all of you think she’s keeping it for herself.”

“What did you go and do that for?”

“She said it doesn’t bother her what you think but she doesn’t want to provoke you either by starting an argument.”

“She’s dangling a carrot in front of us. Where the hell are we supposed to get our stuff?” declared Derek Tan, who had bought a month’s supply of muscle relaxants for the twitches in his arm that afternoon outside Binondo. “She keeps this up and we’ll all end up like Jackson.”

Bonnie was improving. Her piano still sounded like a colicky baby, but it was growing up. One afternoon, she and T.C. finished the song without making a single mistake. It happened to be luck—the colic returned the next time—but T.C.’s last shimmer on the cymbals in congratulations to Bonnie was so magnificent that Michael Sytengco forgot himself and applauded.

• • • •

It was Leonardo Ang who had discovered Jackson. He had gone to the drugstore in the evening for some beta blockers for his father but no one was around. He called Jackson’s cellphone and he heard it ring from the basement. It didn’t stop. He went down the dusty staircase and found Jackson hunched over the granite-white, plastic folding table, his eyes closed and his head cradled in his arms, the way they used to pass the time in high school when the weather was balmy and the ceiling fan was lazy and the teacher wasn’t worth listening to.

• • • •

Alan Lim announced that he had always been in love with Miranda (nee) Go.

It wasn’t that he was leaving his wife and kids for her that floored us but that he had to announce it. He called every one of us on the phone and made sure we all understood that Miranda Go had been God’s gift to Binondo and he was going to bring her back.

That’s why he had been Jackson’s best customer.

We calmed him down. Miranda was no longer the pony-tailed girl with the heartbreaking smile Jackson Chua had first brought to Binondo to meet his parents. Miranda was a widow whose husband had left her for something both of them had wanted.

We stopped him, if only for the sake of his family, but we couldn’t stop Danielle refusing to sleep in the same bed as him. Sleep in the metaphorical sense, which was the only kind of sleep anyone was getting, but even that had gotten old and exhausting in recent memory.

“Wonder how she sleeps,” said Rafael out loud, hooking his thumb out towards The Jazz Club, which he was strolling past, “metaphorically. She has a bed, doesn’t she? Big enough for two?”

Leonardo was with him and pretended not to have heard because he was discreet the way T.C. wasn’t. She stuck her head out of the open window, the one Rafael had paid for, and said, “It’s big enough for anything. Hi, Rafael.” She asked him how his hand was doing and would he be interested in playing the trumpet with them. Rafael blustered and blushed and hid behind Leonardo.

Michael Sytengco was composing his operetta. When twilight fell and we renewed our nightly battle with the dark, the notes from his piano rippled against the fine grain of the timber of our homes, as clear as the stars we no longer wished to see.

• • • •

Leonardo’s heart had spilled over, not because of the usual reason, but because he thought Jackson had beaten the night at its own game and so could the rest of us. He left him in the basement, deliberately quiet on the stairs, and went to the apartment above. Daisy had opened the door, her face and her limp pigtails sticky with tomato paste. She was sulking because her mother said it was Faye’s turn to mix the spaghetti sauce.

Miranda was in the kitchen and Leonardo tried not to let the glowing ball of laughter in him overcome his words about the peace on Jackson’s face.

• • • •

It was appalling, how good Rafael was on the trumpet. Even Michael Sytengco had to admit it. The notes were whiskey cascading over Bonnie’s sharp rocks.

“So much for leopards and their spots,” said Leonardo.

“A leopard’s spots change when it matures from a kitten to an adult,” said Angela See, who had been class valedictorian.

“My father isn’t feeling well,” said Leonardo.

It was the kind of thing no one gave an answer to because it would be too depressing but the tune coming from a few blocks away was so jaunty that Angela made an effort to make sure Leonardo didn’t think she was being flippant. “No one is.”

“He’s nearly ninety. He can’t hear a thing without his hearing aids.”

The quiet ache of a minor seventh from the trumpet and T.C. followed Rafael’s phrasing with a spontaneous, graceful rubato, slowing down time, speeding it up, stealing it for him.

“He watches Sleep Watch all the time. He’s still obsessed about making it on that pointless program as if it’s the only thing worth doing.”

Angela didn’t like where this was going. “I don’t suppose he plays the double bass, does he?”

• • • •

The footage from Sleep Watch International had gone like this. Shots of Jackson’s storefront, an aluminum roll-up gate, from different angles. Miranda in a paisley blouse and homely white shorts, glaring at the cameras, her nose red, cheeks creased, the flesh between her eyes wet. She hiccupped when she breathed. Her arms were stiffly crossed like dried, wooden stakes. Then she went in and locked the door. The reporter started to speak and they replayed their shots of the roll-up gate and Miranda, because that was all she ever let them see.

Old Mrs. Chua had gilded someone’s palm and they got a coroner quickly, who declared Jackson dead by poisoning and no other questions asked. By the time Sleep Watch Local had gotten wind of what had happened and sent a crew, his body was already in the funeral parlor and his death certificate was being filed. Miranda would not let anyone in the reposing room. The funeral was a week later and by then Sleep Watch had lost interest.

Leonardo had been the only one outside of family Miranda had let in to see Jackson’s body in state. The rest of us cowered in our living rooms, letting the glowing clips of Jackson’s storefront and Miranda’s eyes reflect on our faces, knowing then thinking then hoping we would not be next.

• • • •

It was in the morning, as the sky only began to unfold itself to the light, when Leonardo rang up Sleep Watch. Epifanio had disappeared.

Leonardo had been watching one of their programs about a Swedish couple trying to go through one night with the lights turned off. He had gone to the bathroom when he noticed the door to his father’s room open. The TV set was turned off. Epifanio had left his hearing aids on the armchair.

The crew from Sleep Watch Local came, with a whiff of instant coffee and the thought that this was a matter for the police, but there was nothing to film except Epifanio Ang’s empty room and Leonardo saying his father has spent the evening before as usual drinking ginger tea and talking about the cat.

The rest of us searched the town for Epifanio and turned up with nothing.

“He’s in her basement,” insisted Derek Tan. “The cat’s there.”

“There’s no cat,” said Michael Sytengco, who had taken up a new habit of speaking audibly now.

“Why is she keeping that basement locked anyway?” said Alan, who was now living with his parents after Danielle threw him out of the apartment. He told her it wasn’t him, it was the music that had stirred up those confusing emotions about Miranda. Danielle wouldn’t have any of it. “Who is she to keep an old man and a cat apart?”

“Epifanio killed the cat,” said Angela irritably, “because he couldn’t sleep. It’s the same reason why he’s gone.”

“Because the band’s playing too loudly,” someone said.

“Because there’s medicine there she’s not giving us.”

“Because we’re next.”

Leonardo didn’t say anything and gave none of us catharsis. Everyone went home with a headache on top of the usual migraine. Michael Sytengco didn’t work on his operetta and the motor in Alan Lim’s wheelchair broke down. The segment on Epifanio didn’t air on Sleep Watch but we watched the channel the entire night anyway, feeding on other sleepless people in complicit silence.

• • • •

Leonardo brushed his teeth and gargled. It was seven o’clock in the evening. He hesitated at the sight of the striped pajamas. The last time he had put them on had nearly been a year.

Each button felt like a rung on a ladder leading to a cold abyss no one else knew about. If he dropped into the darkness, no one would notice. He would keep falling, the gravitational force pushing down his stomach until he went mad.

He turned the light off, the switch creaking its surprise. He almost cried out from the crushing embrace of the dark.

He had put the mattress on the floor in the middle of the room. Groping, he slipped under the starchy, newly-laundered covers and over the indentation he had left on the mattress before. He was suddenly claustrophobic and half-expected the walls of the bedroom to fall on top of him. He was sleepy—everyone was sleepy—but that meant nothing.

When he strapped the eye-mask on, he burst into a sweat. He lay there, frozen like a mummy, his arms forming a bridge over his stomach. He felt the pajamas sticking on his skin. He turned to lie on his side and thought how the movement meant he couldn’t sleep. He gave a groan to fill his head with the sound, hoping it would chase out the thought. It was getting hotter and hotter under the covers and he could feel his pores oozing out sweat. The darkness was smothering him.

Jackson’s face had been relaxed, oblivious to the poison that had killed him. His limbs had been loose. Leonardo tried to imitate him. He slackened his arms and legs and imagined his face was melting off. He imagined he was dead, dressed in his best suit in a casket his head on a white, satin pillow and his fingers crossed together, everything under the glass, words of kindness pinned to the white, satin underbelly of the casket lid, everything was white and satin and so many flowers and so many faces.

It took a while for Leonardo to realize he was crying. The eye-mask was wet. His chest felt it was close to collapsing onto itself and he was about to fall off the bed. He pulled the mask off and sat up, trying to control his heavy breathing.

He didn’t turn the light on. If he did, everything in its stark, normal whiteness would make him feel foolish for crying. The stark, normal whiteness had been there for so long it had already transformed the night into a perpetual day.

The apartment was on the sixth floor. His father’s bedroom faced the main road and his own faced a smaller one. It would make less of a scene. He turned the air-conditioner off. The curtains felt almost like an accomplice, the way they slipped readily from his fingers.

The Jazz Club was across the other side of the road two blocks down. Practice was on and he could hear someone shouting very loudly. The voice was familiar, like the coldness of the thin, metal railing of his balcony. He leaned over. A small lizard clutched the edge with its toes, caught halfway between the careless slip of muscle and an angel’s lofty hands.

• • • •

The story goes that Epifanio Ang thought the cat was in the basement of The Jazz Club and the only way it would leave him alone was if he rescued it.

The rest of the story gets muddled. If you ask Angela See, she’ll tell you that despite what everyone is saying about the night Derek broke into The Jazz Club’s basement, Rafael never knocked Epifanio down when the old man tried to force his way into The Jazz Club. Epifanio’s boxer shorts were soiled and he looked like he hadn’t eaten since he had left home; when he appeared at The Jazz Club’s window and started rapping at the door, he’d already looked ready to faint. T.C. offered to bring him home, but he kept insisting about the cat. He didn’t have his hearing aids on and the argument escalated to the point that when Epifanio shoved T.C. out of the way, his blood pressure got the best of him and he fell down and the fact of the matter was Rafael had caught him.

Danielle still refuses to talk about Alan, so there’s no point asking her about his involvement in Derek’s breaking in. Distraction, says Bonnie. Alan was the distraction. There she was, practicing with Rafael and T.C., when Derek and Alan, who was back on his legs again because he didn’t have another wheelchair, came in with the Korean boy from the pastry shop in tow. They said he played the cello. Close enough to the double bass. Not really, but T.C. sat Roh Sang-deuk behind the double bass anyway and the boy limply plucked the bass line to the Nina Simone song they had practiced before, missing notes. It was only when Epifanio came by and started losing it that Bonnie saw Alan moving to the basement staircase and she realized Derek was gone.

That everyone except Epifanio went down and found Derek with an open bag of tools and an even more open door to the basement is the clearest it’s ever gotten to. Beyond that is the only thing that can shut Bonnie up. Alan and Derek don’t even want to think about it. It’s embarrassing to ask T.C. and Rafael’s too distraught to talk of anything else but T.C. turning him down. The rest is all rumors about Jackson’s ghost.

The bestsellers at Roh’s Bakeshop are still the original green-bean pastries. Sometimes you can catch Sang-deuk’s cello groaning away upstairs. He’s the unlikeliest candidate, but if you ask Mr. Roh what his son saw in the basement, he’ll try to tell you in his broken Tagalog the only thing Sang-deuk thought was worth noting about the basement was how dark it was before they turned the lights on. It was almost the deep, warm nothingness of sleep. Otherwise it was an ordinary basement, entirely empty except for a granite-white, plastic folding table starting to yellow on the side. The place was very clean. Almost shrine-like.

The turnout at The Jazz Club’s mini-concert is a quarter of the town, including Alan and Derek. The bluesy, heart-wrenching wails Rafael pulls from the horn bring Michael Sytengco to tears and now everyone’s uncomfortable. Leonardo has brought his father along. We should go say hi. They say Leonardo appeared at The Jazz Club, helping his father back on his feet, when everyone came up from the basement. What Leonardo was doing in his pajamas out in the street, his eyes red as blood, looking like Jackson’s ghost depending on the light, but smiling, smiling almost like an idiot, squeezing the life out of his father, we never found out. There’s a conversation starter and it’ll last us a while, maybe even a month. Moon’s full tonight. A quarter of the town is here and T.C. has just broken out the beer and who knows when the night is ending.

Crystal Koo

Crystal Koo’s fiction has been published in multiple venues including The Apex Book of World SF 4Abyss and ApexMaximum Volume: Best New Filipino Fiction, and International Speculative Fiction. She was a winner of the Carlos Palanca award and the Hong Kong Top Story award. She was born in Manila, worked as a lecturer in Hong Kong, and is currently doing a PhD in Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. You can find her at http://cgskoo.wordpress.com and @crystalkoo on Twitter.