Fiction / June 2016 (Issue 32)


A Lot Like Home

by Xylene Tandoc

 
For Seohye Lee
 
 

The New World Mandate:

To combat conflict, oppression and inequality in society

and to encourage more humane interactions amongst people,

the New World will impair one of each individual's methods of perception or expression.

All individuals are required to undergo a procedure that will disable one of the above stated.

The method of perception or expression to be impaired will be randomly chosen.

The authorities will not take into consideration the effects of impairment, especially in regards to trade or livelihood.

After all, the World is returning to square one, on equal ground.

Defiant behaviors will not be tolerated and are punishable by death under law.

 

***

You, an artist, can no longer see.

"Through the eyes, you see. Through the eyes, you are tempted.

Through the eyes, you judge. Through the eyes, you no longer will."

Blind.

 

The day you have your sense of sight taken away, you arrive to a silent home. Your new cane tapping on the wooden floor is the only sound cutting through the silence.

Tap … tap … tap …

You stand still for a moment. The room feels empty, barren, as if you were the only person left standing on earth. The scent of lavender lingers in the air, attempting to evoke memories of how your lover lit scented candles during long stormy nights. "The scent calms you," she said, "It will help you sleep at night." She sometimes forgot to blow out the candles before she went to bed. She was always in deep slumber fast, so you did it for her instead.

Tap … tap … tap …

The whitewashed walls of your space now appear as the shade of the void in your vision, so you feel your way through the apartment, clumsily bumping into the edges of furniture and finding yourself in dead ends facing walls … or perhaps a window with a view. You're not entirely sure.

Tap … tap … tap …

The tips of your fingers rush through the spines of the books on your shelves. The words and pictures contained in the thousands of pages won't make sense anymore—the pictures you took, the words your lover wrote. You can't see or read after all.

Tap … tap … tap …

You reach the windowsill and take hold of one of your framed sketches. You're not certain which drawing it is because your lover had decorated your living space with all your art. You remember how she gleamed with pride whenever she showed your masterpieces to the guests you'd invited over for dinner. You can almost hear her voice now as she offers interpretations of your work, as if she's in on a secret with the workings of your imagination. She says there are no words in any language to describe how amazing your art is. Maybe she's a bit biased because she knows part of your craft transcends from her, but her craft too is stained with metaphors of you. You can't complain. She says you see the world a different way; she wants to see the world through your eyes.

Tap… tap… tap…

You retrace your footsteps, trying to create a map of all the spaces in your apartment you once knew, forcing yourself to remember every nook and cranny. You suddenly bump into a soft surface. You carefully make your way around it and sit on a corner of the couch. The burden of creating an atlas of the places you once knew plagues your thoughts. All you have are memories of what things used to look like. It eats away at you with a profound feeling of longing. You take a deep breath trying to hold back the tears, but the heat flushes your face and your tears begin trickling down.

You are sobbing.

You can hear yourself. At least you still can, you assure yourself.

You suddenly feel a presence kneel before you, wiping your tears with the back of her warm, soft hands.

You can still feel her. At least you still can, you assure yourself.

You call out the name of your lover.

You can still talk. At least you still can, you assure yourself.

But what exactly are you assuring yourself of?

She puts her hand into yours and allows your hand to grace her face. You feel her tears. She too is crying. You're not sure if she's crying for you or if she's crying for herself.

"I …" you try to talk through your sobbing, stuttering as words fly from your mouth, "I can't see anymore."

You close your eyes, worried that she might be terrified when she looks into them—looking into an abysmal nothingness. But instead, she places her hands on the side of your face and plants soft kisses on your eyelids. It immediately makes your heart flutter. You almost break into a smile. You wrap your arms around her. You hold her tight as if she might slip away. She smells of sweat and of cherry blossoms.

She smells a lot like home, you say to yourself.

She finally sits beside you and laces her hand into yours.

You sheepishly ask, "What did they take away from you?"

You don't hear a response. You just feel her thumb rub gently against the back of your hand. You repeat your question a little bit louder thinking she hasn't heard you, making sure she hasn't lost her sense of hearing. You feel her turn your face towards hers. She kisses your mouth softly, lingering for a while before she pulls away. She puts her finger on the tip of your lips. She squeezes your hand firmly and you nod.

 

***

Your lover, a writer, can no longer speak.

"Through words, you speak. Through words, you hate.

Through words, you judge. Through words, you no longer will."

Mute.

 

Each day that passes seems like it takes a decade. Time itself seems to invite you to dwell longer in your loss. The unsettling feeling of never seeing the spectrum of colours again continues to unnerve you. What colour was your mother's sweater when she last visited you? What shade of blue was the sky when you flew back to your hometown to see your father? What hue of red were your nephew's cheeks the first time you heard him chuckle as you tickled him? What tint of glimmer was in your best friend's eyes when she told you about her engagement over lunch last week? You badly wanted to know. You needed to see.

The mornings feel like a long gone treasure you never had the chance to fully appreciate. It now sits at the bottom of an ocean that no amount of deep sea diving could ever reclaim. You no longer see the sunlight peeping through the shades of your bedroom window. You can only feel its radiance racing from your feet to your bare calves as you lie awake waiting for your day to finally begin. You can no longer watch your lover cover up her naked body with your own clothes after a night of love making. She wore your shirt as she made you a cup of warm tea. She wore it as she studied your drawings for the 721st time by the windowsill while sipping her cup ever so casually. She wore it even as she went to work one Friday morning. You asked her why. She said, "Because it smells like you," in a monotone that always kept you guessing if she was serious or sarcastic. But now you don't hear her speak anymore. You no longer hear her whisper poetic nothings as you slowly gain consciousness in your waking hours.

She used to sound a lot like home, you say to yourself.

You recall the day before your sense of sight was taken away from you: your lover wasn't beside you when you awoke. Unable to say goodbye to you the next morning, she left a note by the bedside table:

I'll always wake to you wading in the heart of the sun,

draping every inch and space of your skin

as if it knows my drought finally ends

and you, my love, begin.

She postscripts it with a poorly drawn emoji—two dots that are too small to become eyes and a mouth too difficult to decipher if it's smiling or indifferent. What she lacks in visuals, she makes up for words. But you can't read anymore. You can't read her words anymore.

The innocuous details in your day suddenly bother you. They daunt you as you work an eight-hour shift at a job you have absolutely no passion for. They fired you from your last job. "Your abilities are not up to par with what our company currently demands," they stated in a letter—a probable euphemism for "We don't need the services of a visually impaired illustrator."

Visually Impaired Illustrator.

Even that sounds preposterous to you.

You sound preposterous to yourself.

In spite of this impairment, you continue to draw … in secrecy, of course. Art is the only thing that keeps you from drowning in your botched attempts to reclaim sight within your thoughts. At night, you slide out from the covers, careful not to wake your lover. You feel the warmth leave your body as you tiptoe your way across the room. You pull up a chair. It squeaks as it slides on the floor. You cringe. You pause before smoothing down a clean sheet of paper on your desk. Well … you're not entirely sure it's clean, but you settle for it. Your right hand inches its way to the drawer where you usually keep your pencils. You touch each of the tips to make sure you get the sharpened one. Your other hand turns on the lamp like an instant impulse, but you immediately flick the switch off because it doesn't matter anymore. It doesn't matter if there's no light.

A week into your sneaking around act, your lover finally discovers your secret. She'd actually known about it a few days earlier. She just didn't want you to know. She's secretive and sometimes distant, but you know she loves you even when she succumbs to her nature. It's one in the morning and you are now in the middle of one of your "secret sessions." You have in your mind's eye a sketch of your lover's hands.

You recall your third date at the park with her. It was the beginning of autumn. Her hands were fiddling with the hem of her maroon cardigan as you walked alongside her.

"We don't have this back home," she said. She had only moved to the city three months earlier. She was engrossed with the foliage as she rambled on about how there were only two seasons back home. You saw her eyes scintillate as she gazed upon the hues of browns, oranges and yellows surrounding her for the first time. Your heart was racing. In your mind, you were counting to three until you finally got the courage to lace your hand with hers.

Soft. Tapered. Warm.

She stopped talking for a second. She smiled at you and you smiled back at her. She rubbed her thumb on the back of your hand. You felt blood rush to your cheeks. A few years later, you decided to move in together. It was the same thing all over again, only now you were fixated by her hands when your mind drifted away to watch her work—the way her hand glided as she wrote, the way her fingers flew on the keyboard of her laptop, the way she rested her chin on top of her hand whenever she ruminated deeply on things. It drove you crazy how she could turn any conversation into something philosophical whenever she felt melancholic. She talked a lot with her hands. You've always thought her hands were beautiful.

She is beautiful.

You now make line after line, stroke after stroke, not knowing if they're accurate enough, but the contours of a pencil within your hand make you feel exhilarated. It makes you feel like you can see again. Your thoughts are so completely consumed with your drawing that you don't notice your lover pulling up a chair to watch you. She gazes at your hand intently. It's only when she puts her hand on yours that you recognise that she's beside you. You jump from your seat, startled with the sudden company. You ask her what she's doing. Her free hand slowly writes with her finger on your back,

"I want to know what you feel."

You let out a small giggle, shaking your head.

"How is this going to help?" you say, not intending to sound standoffish.

"I have my eyes closed," she writes.

She now inches closer to you and taps your back, urging you to continue your drawing. She rests her chin on your shoulder without removing her hand from yours. You let out a sigh of resignation and continue to sketch away. The warmth of her hand hovers over yours as it moves atop the sheet of paper.

Soft. Tapered. Warm.

With her eyes shut tight, the world wishes you could see the smile on her face.

 

***

The nights fall darker after the mandate. The rest of the World for certain has not had life any easier. The New World Chancellor assures the public that it's only the beginning, and that people will soon thrive on the great consequences of the mandate.

Upon arriving home from work, it surprises you that you feast on a well-cooked meal. Your lover rarely cooked before the mandate. You always did. She always forgot how to cook rice properly even if it was simple and easy. It perplexed you how she could be so stubborn. But this time around, she hasn't forgotten. She cooked the rice perfectly. She even extended her repertoire by asking her dad to send his recipes to her. Over dinner, she squeezes your arm twice. It is a tacit gesture developed between the two of you. She's asking how your day went. You don't really speak that much, so you want to ask her back, but she would never finish her meal if you did.

You help her wash the dishes while listening to that new album she's been raving about for days. You know she's been raving about it because she uses her finger to write the lyrics of the songs on your forearm whenever you listen to the evening news before going to bed. She'll tell you they're another form of poetry—that's why you need to pay attention. You can't focus on the news. Who's leading the polls in the campaign for the New World Chancellor? You have no idea. She's making you intent on decoding the lyrics instead. She throws in random "I love yous" to check if you're paying attention. You kiss her every time she does. Unfailingly.

You remember the first night you moved in together. You were both exhausted from hoisting boxes up to your apartment. The bedroom window had a decent view of the neighbourhood. Adjacent to it was your work desk where you would create art. You hadn't assembled the bed frame yet so both of you settled for the mattress on the floor. Even though you were exhausted, your excitement at having a new space for just the two of you kept you up. You couldn't sleep. Your imagination ran wild as you painted a picture of all the things you could do with the space. At two in the morning, she noticed your restlessness as she went to grab a glass of water in the kitchen. She emerged back in the bedroom with a small journal and a torch.

"Would you like me to read poetry to you?" she asked a bit eagerly while crossing her legs like a child beside you.

You gazed up at her and nodded. Love, they say, can be shown in an infinite number of tacit ways. That sleepless night, you clearly remember how she read to you a poem called "The Quiet World," which she claimed was one of her favourites. Now, you claim it to be one of your favourites too. She sounded exhausted but sultry, lulling you into your dreams, into gallant presentations of colour in your imagination. She whispered the verses close to your ear as if she wanted only you to hear her words.

She sounded a lot like home, you say to yourself.

But your lover has now run out of words. She can't read poetry to you anymore, but you do try to tell her you love her thirty-two and a third times before she falls asleep.

 

***

You knew your lover loved words. Her longing for words parallels your longing for sight. Sometimes, the sound of your keys jangling in the front door is enough to get her running to give you a tight hug. Other times, you call out her name and she doesn't come to you. You understand why she's missing in your one-bedroom apartment. She doesn't want to be found. She longs for words.

You recall that when she could still speak how she repeated her favourite word to you over and over again thinking you might have forgotten it. You've kept score. She asked you fifty-three times if you remembered it. You knew it by heart just as she knew it like the back of your hand, but you still let her say it. You loved seeing the way she lit up as she said the word.

But, "Love," that's what she called you other than your name.

That's the word you miss the most coming out from her lips—a word called out to you when she was the person on the other line, whispered softly to your ear on a night that ignited passion, a white flag waved on days you left each other wounded by words. But your name, she claimed, though foreign to her, was like velvet slipping from her tongue when she said it out loud. Your name is as complex as hers yet she adored saying your name.

You knew your lover loved words. You must admit: she was brilliant with them.

 

***

The day you are fired from your dream job as an illustrator for a magazine, you keep sulking by the kitchen counter until midnight. Your lover sits beside you and writes with her finger on your back, "Poetry?"

"Not now," you say, waving her off as you take a sip from your fourth brimming cup of tea.

She disregards this and moves closer to you. She begins writing on your back again.

"The sun may go down on you," she scrawls. You let out a deep, resigning sigh yet you decide to play along with her.

"The sun may go down on you," you repeat it out loud.

"But …"

"But …"

"I too …"

"I too …"

She stops for a while and squeezes your arm. You know she's giggling to herself.

She continues to scribble, "Will go down on you."

You knew your lover loved words. You can still feel it even if she can no longer speak. One afternoon, it takes you almost an hour looking for her in your one-bedroom apartment. You call out her name a hundred and twelve times. Never does she respond. But you finally find her sitting on the sill of your bedroom window, the one adjacent to your work desk. You had missed her the first five times you'd entered the bedroom. But her scent lingering in the air helped you locate her. She smells of sweat and of cherry blossoms.

She smells a lot like home, you say to yourself.

You sit beside her in silence. You feel the dread eating her inside even when no words are exchanged between the two of you. You know this feeling all too well. You long to see the world again. You long to see her face again.

You slip your hand into hers.

Cold. Tapered. Wet with tears.

You finally ask her, "What word do you miss saying the most?"

It takes her a while before she slowly scribbles on your palm.

She didn't write her favourite word.

She wrote your name.

 

***

You were not lovers, not yet, you recall. You knew her name. She knew yours. You spent the whole of a Saturday afternoon and most of the evening with this person who told you that she was born in the fall but had yet to experience fall, that she used to name her pets after her favourite characters from television shows, and that your art has the same effect on her that cherry blossoms have on her—at least that's what you remember from the multitude of things she has said to you.

"I'm sorry but I have work tomorrow," you cutting the conversation short as you realised how late it was. It was almost midnight with the seconds still ticking away. Time flew by so fast yet it also felt like had been standing still. "I have to head home," you continued.

"Where is home?" she asked in a monotone that always kept you guessing if she was serious or sarcastic. She had that smirk on her face that let you surmise she was thinking of propounding on her philosophies of home. You shake your head and smile. She playfully nudges your elbow.

"Will you let me walk home with you then?" she asked.

At that moment, you felt as if she could be someone you could call home. You were not lovers, not yet, but you wanted to be.

You are now lovers, have been for years in fact. She has now experienced five autumns, and she alludes to autumn much in her poetry. She alludes to you in her poetry. She still smells of sweat and of cherry blossoms. You compare her to spring. You compare her to a lot of things, actually, but mostly you compare her to rain.

On one rainy August night, you don't stay up to draw. The rain pounds heavily outside. It intensifies as the minutes tick by. You are mesmerised with the sound of how it falls on the roofs and into the pavements, of how it sounds distant yet close by. You slide beside your lover under the covers. The scent of lavender has dwindled in the air. You assume she's fast asleep. She might be dreaming now, and you're hoping she's dreaming of you. As delicately as you can, you begin doodling random things with your finger on her back—a pair of eyes, a dog, a teapot, flowers, the shape of a house. Your fingers imitate the trickling of rain on her back, and you startle her awake. She turns to her side to face you and frantically writes question marks on your forearm. You laugh.

"I just wanted to know what you feel," you speak up.

She covers your mouth with her hand signaling you not to speak.

You smile and let out a sigh.

"What do I feel?" she writes on your forearm.

"You feel a lot like …" you say in a whisper as your thumb slowly scrawls the word "home" on her palm.

Your lover, she can't read poetry to you anymore, but every now and then, you feel her words still living through metaphors—you feel her heartbeat resonating with the pattering of rain.

 

 Xylene Tandoc is a young emerging poet and writer. Although Fanfiction's legitimacy is debated upon in the literary scene, she writes it extensively. Aside from dystopian literature, her personal works (yet to be published) focus on the relationships and identity of young queer women. She hopes that her fiction writing could be a means for LGBT activism. Tandoc often restlessly roves around East Asia in her burgundy combat boots seeking stories to tell for her great perhaps. Baguio City, Philippines is currently the place which she calls home. Contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it  

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