Thursday, November 14, 2013

Fiction: TYPHOON (1912) Novel Excerpt by Cecilia Manguerra Brainard

My heart and mind are focused on the victims of the super typhoon, Haiyan, that recently devastated the Philippines.

I'm sharing with you an excerpt from my novel, Magdalena, entitled Typhoon (1912). This is a work of fiction.

I'm also sharing my article that appeared in, Childhood in the Path of Typhoons.

Please include the victims of Haiyan in your prayers.



TYPHOON (1912)
It was still dark when the sound of shattering glass cut through his deep sleep. Nestor held his breath at the sharp, splintering crash, and he turned his head toward the bedroom door and listened through the rain and wind for more noise. There were footsteps then the muffled voices of people. He wondered about the commotion and speculated these had something to do with last night’s events.
Last night, the storm had not raged as violently as it now did. The wind had not howled as loudly through the pines and coconut trees. It had been different last night. Things had been all right yesterday, unlike this cold, dark, early morning. He could sense the change, smell the moisture in the air, feel the prickling tension as people padded back and forth and the house strained against the wind and lashing rain that fell in hard rapping sounds on the rooftiles. 

He and and his brother had misbehaved; there was no doubt about that. Their father Jose had spanked them; their mother April had screamed at them; and worse, Yaya Taying cried and refused to talk to them, would not hold them in her arms, would not kiss them.
He felt like crying but did not want people angry again. Crying was something Junior often did; but it was not his way; and so he tugged at the end of his blanket and began to suck on it. He waited, hoping his yaya would open the bedroom door and sail in to pick him up from his crib, rescue him from this newness that confronted him. He wanted her to press him against her as she usually did, and to kiss him and promise things would be as they had always been. But the only sound that greeted him was a tree branch scraping the side of the house menacingly. The creaking of the house grew louder as if the house would fall apart, like the houses of blocks that he and Junior often built. He lay still for a long time, breathing in the unfamiliar wetness that clung to the insides of his nostrils and made him chilly.
Finally, he sat up because his diapers were wet and terribly uncomfortable. He peered through his crib’s bars at the bed of Junior, who was sleeping soundly. Junior had had a fit last night and had fallen asleep late, thoroughly exhausted. Everyone had been so upset; last night, things had been terrible.
Nestor scrambled up and out the crib. Barefoot and cold, he ran out the room and down the hall and stairs. He paused by the music room. Morning light had filtered in and he could see that a window was boarded up. Rags were scattered on the floor to soak up the water that had gushed in through the window.
He glanced at the piano stool and shivered. Last night his parents had an important visitor over for dinner. To keep him and Junior out of the grownups’ way, Yaya Taying had entertained him and Junior in the music room.
During suppertime, Nestor became fussy, and he went to Taying and asked to “titi.” Taying sat on the piano stool and picked him up. She lifted her blouse to give him her breast and Nestor began suckling. Junior, who had been playing with model soldiers, saw them. He dropped his toys, joined them and said he also wanted to “titi.” Taying shook her head. “You’re too big, no.”
Junior took a deep breath until his face turned red, and then he screamed.
“Ssshhh, don’t cry! Your parents will get angry. We have an important visitor,” Taying begged.
Junior howled louder, as if in agony.
Giving in, Taying gestured for Junior to come near her and she allowed the older boy to take her other breast into his mouth. For a few seconds the two boys suckled contentedly until it entered Junior’s mind to pull away from Taying’s nipple. Very quickly, he pointed the yaya’s nipple toward Nestor, then he squeezed so that milk squirted all over the younger brother’s face. The feel of warm milk spraying his face surprised Nestor, and he pulled away from Taying’s breast. His eyes lit up when he realized what his brother was doing. Imitating his older brother, he squeezed his yaya’s nipple. The two boys played with her breasts, as if they were playing with water pistols.
Taying was distraught but did not know what to do. She considered spanking the boys, but their cries would only get her in trouble. The best she could do was beg them to please stop, that what they were doing wasn’t nice.
Disregarding her weak pleas, the boys kept up the game, that is until the visitor, who was the Chairman of the Board of Ubec’s Electric Company, wandered into the music room from the living room, paused in front of the three and bellowed: “What have you here, Jose? Two calves?”
Jose Hernandez, who had been smoking his pipe in the living room, got up to investigate. Even though Taying had pulled her blouse down, he got enough of the picture to understand what had gone on. He gave the two boys two hard swats on their bottoms and exiled them to the kitchen.
April soon appeared in the kitchen, whitefaced, livid. She had tried hard to impress their visitor; she had used her Wedgewood China, her sterling service; she had culled up all her Manila sophistication, and here her two boys and their yaya made them appear like provincial hicks, something she had wanted desperately to avoid.
She took it out on Taying. “What do you think you were doing, right in front of our visitor? Don’t you know better than to nurse those two boys in public, like lowclass people, that’s what it looks like, just like those ignorant women breast-feeding their babies in buses? And besides, these boys are too old to be breast-feeding; don’t you know any better than to wean them once and for all? I didn’t hire you just to sit around doing nothing. You’re supposed to take care of those children!”
“I have been trying, señora, but the boys cry.”
“Well, do something about it or else you’ll have to leave!” April shouted.
That was what had happened last night, and this cold, early morning, he hurried to the dirty kitchen to look for Yaya Taying. He wanted to erase last night, to make everything all right once again.
His head barely touched the top of the rough-hewn table. He looked up and around the room. Two maids scampered here and there, shutting all the windows and doors from the heavy rain. The cook was bent over the hearth, digging out yesterday’s burning embers from under the ashes, then blowing back life to them. Very carefully, she piled crumpled paper and firewood on top of the glowing embers. He continued scanning the room until at last he spotted Taying. She was there; she had not left after all. She was standing in front of an ironing board, pressing an enormous, billowy white sheet. He chortled.
Upon hearing him, everyone paused and the cook said: “Why are you walking around barefoot? You’ll get worms.” She whisked him up and carried him to where his Yaya Taying was.
Yaya Taying did not smile as he expected her to; she simply placed the iron down and lifted him.
“You’re awake,” she said, holding him up to scrutinize him. “And wet. Come, let’s change you.” Unceremoniously, she plopped him down on the bench and proceeded to change his diaper.
He tugged at her skirt, wanting for her to lift her blouse and offer him her breast. Instead, she shook her head. “I’ll fix you milk.”
She went to the cupboard and took out a can of Carnation evaporated milk. She opened this, poured half the can into an enamel cup, then added water. She stirred in sugar, and offered him the cup. He sipped the milk, felt the thick liquid coat his throat, and he swallowed hard its strong flavor.
“It’s good for you. It will make you grow big and strong, just like a Carnation Baby.” She pointed at a calendar on the wall with the picture of a fat smiling baby. Sighing in resignation, he drank the rest of the milk. Maybe it would wash away last night. 
The memory of last night continued to hover around, even when Taying placed him on the bench near the rough-hewn table and he watched her chop and mince vegetables on a block of wood. “When the fire is lit, Lena will fix you and Junior your oatmeal. This is for lunch. You’ll also have liver. I’ll chop it up, add ketchup if necessary. It’s big-boy food,” she said.
She did not sound happy, and so he sat quietly, somberly.
Taying was a woman in her mid-twenties. She was small in build, with a round face and two deep dimples on her cheeks. Her long hair was anchored at her nape with a tortoise-shell comb. She had a quiet, pleasant demeanor, and even when Junior hit her during his tantrums, she would calmly say, “No, Junior, don’t hurt people.”
She was the mother of Carding, who was two years older than Junior. She had been hired as Junior’s wet-nurse shortly after April gave birth to Junior, and she had breastfed Carding and Junior simultaneously. When Nestor was born, Taying weaned Carding, so she could continue breast-feeding her employer’s two children — Junior and Nestor. For all practical purposes, she served as the boys’ mother. In many ways, she was closer to them than to her own son, Carding, who had been dispatched to her hometown of Lozada to be raised by her mother after he was weaned and it became impossible for Taying to take care of three boys. 
Nestor sat observing the woman who was closest to him, while outside the rain slanted down, and the tall trees strained against the winds. He had the sensation that the world had changed, and the sun would never shine again. It would rain forever. He hated rain then, hated all that water that washed out of the sky, hated how it seeped into the house no matter how carefully they bolted all windows and doors, hated the smell of mushrooms that wafted from damp corners of the house.
Junior was in a terrible mood when he woke up. He flung the bowl of oatmeal that the cook gave them. When Taying told him he would have to stay in the kitchen until he ate, Junior threw himself backwards from the bench and fell head first on the concrete floor. Junior’s crying was interrupted by Jose’s appearance in the kitchen. Without saying anything, he picked up Junior from the floor and spanked him. Junior’s loud crying dissolved into soft sobbing, which persisted even when Taying fed the two boys one spoonful at a time.
The storm worsened as the day went on, and it grew darker indoors so that the servants lit some candles. They were jittery, anxious. They talked about roads flooding and bridges being washed away. And there was a man, they said, whose head was cut off by a corrugated metal sheet zipping through the air.
The sense of doom rooted in the child-Nestor, and he became quiet, as if withdrawing to another world, as if dislocated from people’s hysteria, and the lightning flashing in the sky and torrents of rain falling on the roof.
It became worse at nighttime. Nestor had been dreading it most of all, even before Taying changed them into their pajamas. He had clung to the hope that this night would be like any other night, that Taying would lay down with both boys on Junior’s bed. She would bare her breast to Nestor and she would pat both their backs until the boys fell asleep. But now, she simply tucked them in, checked the windows and left. Nestor could not hold himself back and started sobbing. Junior, who had been crying all day and who was exhausted, rooted around in his bed, then fell asleep. For a long time Nestor lay still, looking at the wild shadows on the walls and ceiling. It was cold; it was frightening; and he was all alone. He felt the darkness, felt as if he were sinking into a deep, deep pit. Then, when it seemed almost unbearable, the door opened slightly so that candlelight sprayed into the room. He heard footsteps, then arms lifted him out of the crib. It was Taying. He began to sob uncontrollably. She set the candle down and sat on the rocking chair with him in her arms. “Sshhh,” she said, lifting her blouse to offer him her breast. “Stop your crying, I’m here.” Her right hand stroked his hair.
He nuzzled his head against her breast and surrendered to the sensation of warm milk filling his mouth. With his thumb and forefinger, he played with the silky hair of her armpits. The feeling of lightness, of traveling upward from the dark pit spread over him. Most important, he felt the dreaded memory of last night dissolving in his Yaya Taying’s warm, smoky scent. Everything was all right once again.
~end of novel excerpt~

tags: Philippines, Philippine, Filipino, fiction, literature, fiction, novel, book, author, writer, typhoon

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