Butterflies
 
I.
As Remedios sat alone in her living room,
she wondered why no butterflies had come to
visit her house like they usually did every year
on the twenty-third of the month. This twentythird,
however, was different. There were no
butterflies. Her fingers trembled as she clutched
her bottle of Coke, beads of sweat forming on
the can, the insides beginning to warm. She had
been sitting there all day waiting, waiting for a
sign. Her white duster looked like a crumpled
piece of paper from her restless tugging. Her
wire-like hair was lifeless with the sleep of the
morning. She was sleepless. She looked out the
window, distantly watching the raindrops form
like tears on the glass. It had rained earlier that
afternoon, and the gloom of the clouds outside
reminded her of the day she had lost her most
beloved daughter exactly fifteen years ago.
It was the mountains that took Felia away
from her mother. They had taken a trip to
Greece together the summer she graduated
from college, and had fallen in love with the
mountains at Karpenisi the moment she laid
her eyes on them. They were covered with thick
sheets of snow that fell from the sky like pieces
of grated coconut. Her heart began to beat with
the wildness of a million African drums as they
neared the top of the mountains, their feet
numb under layers and layers of socks. Upon
reaching the top, Felia looked up to the sky
and felt as though she could disappear into the
clouds. At that very moment, happiness was a
little child making angels with her in the snow,
the fluttering in her stomach, like playful arms
making wings! Remedios looked at her daughter
wishing to remember her this way, to freeze Felia
like that in the frame of her mind forever—a
memory in this unforgotten space.
Until suddenly, the air began to thin, and in
an instant time had stopped for the mother and
daughter. Remedios remembered that one final
breath, the sound of her scream stabbing the air
like a knife, her hands catching the angel that
had just fallen in the snow.
Now, there are only candles to be lit.
II.
The ringing of the phone woke Remedios up
from a night of troubled sleep. She looked for it
with her eyes still closed, immediately grabbing
the receiver with such urgency, that the phone
fell nearly to the floor. The voice on the other
side was that of her secretary’s, reminding her
to wake up because her accountant had just arrived
and was ready to start on the day’s auditing.
She merely groaned in acknowledgement
and placed the receiver down. Upon looking at
the television set, she realized that it was still
on and CNN was already showing replays of the
previous night’s episodes. At this, she groaned
once more. Wrapping her blanket around her
frail body, she got out of bed slouching, her
back looking like an arch, bent as though the
heaviness of the earth had decided to put its
weight upon her each and every night, never
leaving. Her thin calves ached from rheumatism
as she dragged her feet to the bathroom door,
the sound of her tattered abaca slippers rubbing
against the floor, like two ends of sandpaper being
rubbed together.
The stench of mixed urine danced in the
bathroom’s dead air. The toilet’s flush was the
first part of the house to die, leaving behind
only this unbearable stink as its memory. The
floor tiles were caked with dirt that gave in to
no amount of scrubbing. The water from the
shower only came in pinpricks on Remedios’s
body causing her to leave the bathroom with
a map of soapsuds on her back, and traces of
shampoo still in her hair.
It was only once she was in front of the mirror
that the reality of time had settled in for
Remedios—she was no longer the beauty all
the boys of San Juan admired in their youth.
Instead, she stared back at an old, unrecognizable
woman, who looked at her with eyes
that possessed a sad glow, always watery, as
though she would cry, if that meant not ruining
the excessive amounts of makeup she put
on each morning. Her face had become sullen,
maintained only by the religious nightly ritual
of applying expensive creams. Her cheeks were
almost nonexistent, leaving a sharp bone curve
at the edges of her face. Her ears drooped with
the weight of sagging skin, pulled constantly by
the assortment of heavy gold earrings she never
failed to wear each time she went out. Her teeth
were about to fall, but she insisted on postponing
her trips to the dentist. She sighed as she
carefully tied her hair up in a bun, looking away
from the mirror as she turned off the lights.
She did not want to think of the happiness
that once lived in that house. Though she tried
to relive them in her mind, her ears seemed to
only hear the voice of her daughter, Felia and
the constant waves of the tears that fall at night.
She heard only the sorrows of her heart, a grieving
as deep as ocean beds, as she tried to fill the
hole that gaped inside her, not knowing where
it was, exactly, only that it was there. Most of
the time, she was convinced, she had become,
in herself, a hole.
Christmas was an unspoken sadness. No
trees were put up. No presents bought for anybody.
No more food set on the table. No more
laughter. No more movement. Only silence
Only the numbing stillness—the memory of
slow breathing and the cold sound of waves.
She ran passed the empty picture frames that hung on the wall
outside her room, into the old kitchen that had rusted
pots and pans hanging from the racks and refrigerators
stuffed with m o n t h - o l d meat products that
remained s e a l e d , the sile n t dining room,
t h e seemi n g l y dead living space. And finally,
the squeak of the rust on the metal gate.
Remedios went to work.
III.
The office was a brick house across the street from where
she lived. She had spent the past twenty-seven years running a family business
with her husband and two other daughters, a family she only saw five days a week, at work,
and even then they remained behind closed doors, attending to their own businesses, their
own sense of cramped emptiness.
It was only a matter of moving a little closer
Remedios spent the day buried in the piles of paperwork that had grown on her
desk after weeks of neglect. She ticked each sheet almost
mechanically, with the flick of her wrist. One could hear its bones
cracking with each movement, as a violent looking
check mark tore over the pages. Her fingers punched
in numbers with such purpose as she calculated the company’s
expenses. The numbers grew larger each passing year, but she did this
with an exactness, that often times her accountant, a stubby,
middle-aged lady, with short hair, just sat in one corner, nodding her head in scared
affirmation, afraid to contradict a woman who seemingly possessed such a fierce passion for money.
Each of the four phone lines in her office rang in unison, that often times, Remedios’s
secretary found her in a state of bewilderment, holding two telephones at a time to both her
ears—shouting at both, in utter confusion, and then, at her secretary, once she had noticed
him at her door. When asked what she wanted, she would simply reply that there was someone
on line two who wished to speak to her, a sister who lived in the province, after which he
walked away hurriedly as he felt his knees about to crumble to the ground from fright.
It was her sister, Nita, calling her to report the latest gossip heard in the barrio. Another elderly
had died, were they going to give a hefty donation? Would she answer for the rest of her
eight siblings like she always did? Remedios reluctantly
answered that she would, thinking at
the back of her mind, when all this was going
to stop—when will her siblings going to take
charge of their own lives? When will anybody
going to take charge of their own lives?
Oh, and another thing, her sister inquired, a
worried tone in her voice, when was she sending
money for her ailing brother Anton’s medicines?
His condition was getting worse every day.
Defeated, Remedios answered that she
would send the money that afternoon.
With a sigh, she thought,
When?
IV.
Remedios was born from a rich family. Her
father had inherited the old wealth given to him
by his mother, Lola Apyang, who had forced
him to study engineering at Mapua, a fact that
would later be the bane of Remedios’s life. Her
father, convinced that it was the only way to
ensure his daughter’s financial security and future,
forced her to marry a man who came from
the same university and practiced the same
profession. Although throngs of men had come
begging Carding for his daughter’s hand in marriage,
he had only smiled upon Mariano, her
now taciturn husband, who had a different way
of feeling—non-feeling. Growing up, Remedios was always expected
to take care of everyone while her father was
away on business trips. Her mother Francia,
treated her as though she had grown apart from
her eight other siblings. She used heavy hands
and words, her favorite disciplinary acts, which
had left scars on Remedios’ very being, when
she had failed to clean a group of dust clouds
in a corner of the house, or when the laundry
came out in all the colors of the rainbow.
There were no hugs. There were no good
night kisses. No warmth in her mother’s eyes.
And until today, Remedios carried the coldness
within her as she wondered when she
would be free.
V.
It was only a matter of moving closer.
The new brick house was an attempt to
forget. It stood three storeys high, slightly tilting
to the left. The insides of the house looked
bare, the walls were made of concrete, painted
a spotless white. The floor was covered tiles of
brown marble that made the echo of footsteps
be heard every time someone walked downstairs.
The cabinets were made of wood, some
empty and others filled with china pieces that
no one dared to touch.
Mariano and his two daughters, Lita and
Evelyn lived in it, with fake smiles plastered on
their faces each time they passed each other on
any floor or in the morning going off to work.
The struggle was heard in each of their voices as
they ate their words trying to make small talk as
they took turns microwaving their own packets
of instant pasta or leftovers.
Their existence were defined by these
spaces—the opening and closing of doors, the
whirring of the microwave, and footsteps on the
marble floor.
Little did they know that it was only a matter
of moving closer, of filling the gaps between
words and bodies. It was only a matter of keeping
their doors open, of shutting off the microwave,
and painting the walls a different color.
But most of all, it was a matter of bringing
Remedios home.
VI.
Dusk came, and the butterflies still had not
come. The rain had started once more, pouring
over the village as though the clouds had turned
into bucket, the water settling into groups of puddles
on the ground.
Inside, Remedios felt small. She pursed her
lips as she cried, her shoulders shaking with every
outburst of sobs. She pressed Felia’s picture
to her breast with the force of a mad woman, that
the frame had made the impression of itself on
her skin. Water had started to drip from an opening
on the roof, and she listened. Every moment
seemed insignificant to her, mere water droplets
hitting the floor—a hole on the roof.
She closed her eyes and imagined—a spectrum
of colors created by fleeting butterflies as
she swayed back and forth, back and forth. Her
cries swelled with sorrow, until she could do
nothing more but breathe. Breathing—the memory
of her daughter’s voice becoming one with
the clouds. Slower, slower, slower, until Remedios
lay still, breathless.
The butterflies would come soon.
F
 
Letters
 
 
By ZENDY VICTORIA SUE G. VALENCIA
Year 47 |  Issue 3 |  2011
Year 47 |  Issue 4 |  2012