In the spirit of the Marites series which seem to have piqued the interest of many, let me share with you excerpts of a draft novel within a novel I am trying to finish. This is the first time I am making this public. If you ask me in my face if this is based on a true story, I will give you a blank look followed by a wink.
Betong wondered if there were any salvageable dignity, if not nobility, in unbridled fornication. That is what the righteous, his three grown-up sons among them, firmly believe he wallows in without pause or contrition, outside the home.
With caution, Betong pulled the third tray of his red Chinese document cabinet and picked up a workhorse Parker “51,” from his modest but precious collection of fountain pens laid in a neat array on a red, felt bed.
From another tray, he took out a gummed pad of tan-colored Strathmore paper that he bought in a small, quaint art store on Clements Street in San Francisco almost a decade past. He ran his left palm on its first page, like he was caressing the curved back of a nubile body, filled with anticipation and desire. Then he visualized his wrinkled right hand against the sky, forming loops he learned in his calligraphy classes and summoned words that have been precipitating in his head for months and which he now wanted to spew out with urgency and force of pyroclastic semen.
He started to write a narrative for himself.
Betong was known to have a calculative, sequential mind and his impulse, indeed, was to take account of things, facts of life, on a ledger. This served him well as a business newspaper editor. He would pick up bits of information from the stock market, loose talks in cafes, the influx of hot money, the way the Chinoys spent for new cars, and the excruciatingly slow cadence of government agencies, then predict economic turns with precision. But how can those help in laying down his amorous affairs? Will that be deemed as accounting – with columns of debits and credits? Now he pondered whether he was capable of a novel written Roman á clef. After all, he excused, documentation or journalism nowadays is lathered with anonymous allusions. Unverifiable, they remain fiction. Fake news.
Just a week before, his wife Adrienne rushed him to the Metropolitan Heart Center, after he dropped his demitasse of espresso, clutched his chest, and complained of an unbearable pain that turned out to be just trapped belly gas. At the emergency room cubicle, he let out one big belch followed by a long loud fart that sounded like a struggling, chugging old jalopy, infusing the enclosure with such a foul smell that it sent the pretty attending nurse to cup her hand over her mouth. First, to cover her nose to protect her pink lungs from the assault and second, to suppress her snickering. Never was he so embarrassed in his whole life. And never was he so suddenly, despite the comedic outcome, drenched with dread that death was tiptoeing just around the corner.
Betong made an excuse to drop by the Black Mama, an informal reference to the luxurious-looking hospital prayer room wedged between the private suites and the elevators. The Black Mama gained notoriety just for being ebony. But the hospital’s chairman of the board wouldn’t have it any other way; he was picking the tab after all in building it. An Ilocano, he fancied himself as an art cognoscenti and was acknowledged as such in the culturati scene, at least by the perfumed matrons who trooped to art auctions and tried to outdo each other by amassing “named” artists.
The chapel floor was covered with black granite from Brazil that had fine, delicate brown, approximating gold, veins. The walls and its concave ceiling were painted charcoal black in linen finish. The small Stations of the Cross, apparently done by Ang Kiukok, were all in black and white, each made vivid by soft individual pin lights - narrating a story that builds up to Redemption. Were they talking to him? Betong wondered.
The room was dim, cold and quiet. Betong felt like he was in a womb, he wanted to curl up. At 65, he felt vulnerable but protected. As he squinted his moist eyes, he saw nothing but black except for the white calla lily and huge deep red Ecuadorian roses at the altar. Another light was silhouetting the cross sculpted from fossilized black lava from Santorini, Greece. Betong imagined a tunnel, with Jesus waiting for him at the lighted end, with his arms akimbo and his right hand holding a rolled-up newspaper ready to swat at this miserable mortal’s nape. His stomach was turning. He wondered whether the belching and the farting were caused by a cauldron of Hell in his innards.
So here now was the man at home, reflecting on his mortality, hunched on the escritorio made from molave that he inherited from his father. He folded his MacBook Pro, laid it aside and stared at it for what seems to be an eternity, then he snapped out of it, stretched his neck, looked outside at his pocket garden now bursting with May flowers. He believed he was about to write either a literary masterpiece, a last will, a true confession or a combination of all the above. He thought of the treaties and the edicts that were sealed with pens, and he equated his impending obra as historical. Thus, he thought, he should use indelible ink on special paper, for these would imbue his piece with permanence, elegance and class.
But what class is there in a narrative of sexual trysts, of stolen hours and betrayals of trust? In his moments of guilt feelings, these were how wretched he looked at these affairs. But at the same time, or other times more accurately, he looked at the dozens of varied coital memories with deep poignancy. He preferred to see them as acts of love not lust. As mutual pacts, not as conquests. As an expression of the universe and not as perverse pursuits of one amoral married man. Now a shriveling, perhaps dying, man.