By Art Villasanta
Saints long dead
ON WHAT SHOULD have been another pointless day, he found himself consumed by an intense surge of joy that bent the noonday light into a magical sphere enclosing them as they walked.
Inside this sphere that shut out the world, he heard nothing save the wondrous echo of her voice as it sang in his mind. They talked the mundane chatter of careless college students: the exam they hated; the Carpenters and Smokey Robinson; their graduation just months away.
Even the impending sadness of parting from her--perhaps forever, if he let it--seemed a pointless fear at this singular moment as she walked with him, seemingly his shadow.
He knew he could now tell her. He could, if he could keep his madly pounding heart from battering his brain senseless, making him an idiot powerless to speak those beloved words he had always wanted to say to her this past year.
He knew this was the last chance. He knew . . . he knew Fate would abandon him completely unless he bravely seized this singular moment.
The realization frightened him no end and, on this bright and magical day, made him more aware of the unworthy monster he knew he was.
She was the brightest girl in class and, to his spellbound eyes, the loveliest. He drowned happily in joy again and again as he stared at her so close beside him.
She turned that lovely face to him, saying words that shattered in the air before reaching his ears. He smiled modestly and saw nothing else on what should have been another pointless day save her delicate face whose cheeks were a bloom of pink; her lips an inviting crimson line.
Inside the university museum, their talk turned to the dank and musty surroundings. He stayed close beside her, wanting to hold her hand but afraid she would take offense and run away.
She paused before the cabinets housing stamps from centuries past, and asked him in a tone both surprised and hurt, why he disapproved of the way she dressed.
The shock of this unexpected remark struck a deathblow to his already senseless brain. He stood mute and bewildered, groping for words that would not forever destroy this singular moment.
She saw his confusion, turned her back to him and walked ahead towards the statues of saints centuries old, half hidden in the shadows. He followed like a wounded dog, commanding his numbed brain to compose a reply that would not add to his humiliation.
She turned that lovely face to him and asked if he would make the honors list this year.
No, he replied, but he knew she would. Congratulations, he said.
She smiled modestly and suggested that perhaps their adviser could help his grades further along. She would talk to her if he wanted her to; she was her favorite.
"You shouldn't do these things for me," he pleaded. "I don't have the right to ask anything of you . . .
"You look marvelous in a mini, except that . . . other boys keep ogling you . . . and that hurts," he stuttered.
She gazed at him, surprised by his chaotic replies. But she at last knew he did feel strongly for her. And that this confusion was another of his muted ways of conveying the similar emotion she had long felt for him but which she had kept in check.
She drew closer to him and let her right hand touch his glistening forehead. She ran her warm fingers slowly along the side of his face and over his scarred cheek.
He flinched, ashamed, and fought off the consuming urge to lift her hand away from his face.
"I understand," she gently told him. "And I don't care."
He embraced her tightly, suppressing his tears.
She parted her lips and they kissed passionately in the faint light--amid statues of saints long dead staring grimly at them.
A million miles away
SHE WAS GORGEOUS. I walked up to her the day after I first saw her at the utilities office and introduced myself.
“Hi,” she replied in turn. “I’m Millie. So, you’ve got business with my boss?”
I’m trying to sell him advertising, I told her.
“You’d be better off selling pencils at the street corner,” she said with a laugh. “We don’t have money for advertising.”
I gotta try. Nothing ventured. Nothing gained, I replied.
“Deep but corny. You must be, what, a writer or something?” she shot back. “Because you sure don’t look like a salesman.”
If you’re not that busy, we could have lunch.
“Not today. I’ve got to get my ass back home. But I’ll take a rain check on that.” She was smiling at me as she left.
You’re on, I said.
I kept my eyes on her as she rounded the corner to her office. I was getting the hang of American assertiveness.
We dated a week later. We often phoned each other and met on weekends.
Millie and I were walking along a deserted ribbon of beach late on a Saturday afternoon. We stopped by a sandbar whose waters were a breathtaking riot of magnificent blues and bewitching turquoise.
I took off my shoes and socks and rolled up my slacks. I’m going for a walk on the sandbar, I told her.
Millie sat cozily on a strip of grass, her dress edging upward as she adjusted herself. She smiled and placed my shoes by her side.
The water was wonderfully warm as I strode forward. I was facing west, towards the Philippines a thousand miles from here, trying to imagine what was happening in my home beneath the sunset.
I shut my eyes, slowly inhaling the bracing, unsullied air. It was marvelous swallowing air you couldn’t see.
I’d be an overnight billionaire if I could export this island’s pristine air to the Philippines, I thought jokingly.
I awoke with a start as Millie took my left hand. She looked up at me. We embraced.
She snuggled closer, her lipstick smearing my shirt.
“I love you,” she whispered softly.
I held her closer but kept staring towards the west.
My fiancé was a million miles away.
Waiting for Audrey
AUDREY TOOK A long sip of the Australian pinot noir chardonnay, firmly holding the champagne flute by the stem. She closed her eyes as she savored the sparkling wine. She opened her eyes and stared at him.
“Well?” he asked impatiently.
“Il a le goût . . . sour grapes . . . and sweat!”
She let out a shriek, covered her lips with her right hand in feigned modesty and burst out laughing. He laughed along with her.
“My God, you know I’ve never had a nose for wine,” she said playfully as she placed her hand on his. “You’re the oenophile.”
“Sshhh,” he said. “The sommelier might overhear you and evict you for being a rowdy and drunk ingénue.”
He cupped his right hand over her left, enclosing her hand between both of his. He ran his fingers over the very same softness that thrilled him in his youth.
“Beautiful young hands. Unchanged,” he said.
She smiled modestly and held his hand.
“The same soft hand I used to kiss,” she said.
He leant over the table and they kissed in full view of the other diners.
“We should go,” he told her.
“Yes . . . but can we first take a walk? The hotel has a lovely garden.”
They sat at one of the quaint kamagong chairs at the far corner of the faintly lit garden adorned, oddly enough, with antique statues of unsmiling saints made of scarred wood and pitted stone.
As he embraced her, he became aware of white hibiscus flowers glinting in the darkness and the sweet, strong fragrance of unseen sampaguitas. They kissed gently and she nestled against him.
“We should get a room,” he said. “We’re no longer teenagers.”
“I’m not going to bed with you,” she said.
“Then why are we here?” he asked in astonishment.
“I’ve missed you so,” Audrey told him. “Please, please don’t be angry. I know you understand me.”
He sighed and tightened his embrace. She responded by pressing her body closer to him.
“Tell me you love me,” she said.
“If we were in bed together, you’d be saying you love me until you were blue in the face,” she said in reproach.
“Do you love me?”
“Yes,” she answered emphatically. “I love you the way I loved you before.”
Audrey reached out to kiss him. As their lips met, he slid his hand onto her breast. She let his hand linger and moaned as he lightly squeezed. Half hidden in the darkness, they lay in each other’s arms.
Richie stared at his great love cradled in his arms again while bitter memories re-surfaced in geysers of searing pain. He didn’t want to return to the love they had decades ago. That was what tore them apart.
He smiled as he thought of their many marvelous moments of happiness—once when only their pure love mattered.
But his immaturity set in and he let Millie enter his life. Millie became pregnant and Audrey was furious.
“Why couldn’t you wait!” she yelled at him.
“I’d have been yours if you’d waited! You know that! I promised you that!”
She never spoke to him again. Friends had kept him informed about Audrey. He knew she had quickly become a star at the bank she worked for. He also knew she had gotten married.
That was the last he had heard of her until she called a few months ago. Delirious with happiness, he talked to her for over an hour, staying rooted at a small sliver of heaven at the garden along Ayala while the rest of the world walked past him.
They became online friends and he saw pictures of the still lovely woman he adored. She had also changed. Her face was pinched; her eyes lonelier, but she still had that powerful self-confidence he found so fascinating. Then he saw a picture of her husband. Richie cursed and wished he were dead.
He had never made love to Audrey. She wanted him to wait until they married.
This was the old fashioned in Audrey. Her relentless refusal both amused and angered him, but Richie agreed to wait because he was too madly in love with her. Anything for Audrey.
Now, Audrey wanted them to return to the self-sacrificing love that had kept them together in those younger, wonderful years. They would resurrect a spiritual romance that should have died decades ago, a love that had endured because it was never truly physical.
Richie was astonished at the irony of his surreal plight. He would have Audrey but he would never truly have her. But perhaps Fate would this time be a friend.
He would wait for her.
She looked up at him and smiled.
“I love you.”
She took his hand from her breast and kissed it. She parted her lips and they kissed passionately in the faint light--amid statues of saints long dead staring grimly at them.