Denying Shit (Chapters 1 to 6)
Like a Dog
The sound of violins fused with the basso continuo filled the house of the Solidads that Friday evening. Pachelbel’s Canon was being played not by the mother of the house; not by the children, but by a stranger bent on stabbing one family member after the next. The cassette tape rolled accordingly; the classical music overwhelmed the screams of the helpless. Doors shut, windows closed, curtains down; the phone line cut—the stranger intoxicated himself with the music whilst horizontally running the eight-inch kitchen knife on the floral designed wallpaper in the living room. Beneath the red Chicago Bulls cap was a smile. The house had two exits: (1) the front door which was guarded by the stranger; (2) the backdoor in the kitchen which was chained. Yes, he brought his own chain for this occasion. Sealing the backdoor wasoddly practical for the man with the ill intent: first, he unlocked it and when he was in, he chained it so that no one could get out. The windows had reinforced steel bars which only cats could enter and exit. The Solidads must had thought that these steel bars would save their lives—keep harmful elements out. It was ironic that the following prevented them from getting out of the house. Their safety was compromised. The eyes of the stranger moved around and played around. He knew he only needed to unlock two more doors upstairs to fulfill the course of his action. Four minutes ago, when the mother saw the stranger’s head rearing in—presenting his smile—her first action was to wake the kids up by screaming. “Junjun, Lizzie, lock the door!” Seeing that the intruder seemed to move slowly, her second action was to run upstairs, to her husband’s room. Now, hearing her shout and seeing her run upstairs was enough information for the stranger to determine where they would wait for the inevitable. And so he made his preparations. He chained the backdoor, closed the windows, let down the curtains, cut the phone line, and played Pachelbel’s Canon on the cassette in the living room. And yes, he brought his own cassette tape.She shouted for help, of course—from the window. But outside, her voice was overwhelmed by new wave music. Thirteen year-old Junjun tried to ask for help, too, from their window. No one heard them. They were trapped between the nightmare of eighteenth century baroque music and 80’s party music. Time was quite slower than the usual. Each step meant doom was closing infor the mother and her children.But for the stranger, perhaps this was just another swell Friday night.Good music, good house; good neighbors.
“We are thinking beings therefore we are condemned to suffer.” Sol said to thehostess beside him consuming her second bottle of San Miguel Pale Pilsen. The hostess seemed to be in her early twenties or perhaps younger. Perhaps her make up made her appear older than she actually was.To show her empathy, she nodded whenever Sol finished a sentence. Whether her gesture showed sincerity or otherwise, it hardly mattered to Sol. His only aim was to release the poison that was slowly killing him. That poison was profound sorrow. Spitting the poison out meant releasing it in sentences. He thought it would also be helpful to counteract this poison with a form of weak poison—alcohol. He spat out one sentence after another hoping he would reduce its dizzying effect. “If I were a cat or a dog, life could have been easier given that I don’t need to think. An animal does not concern itself with thinking—specifically of tormenting questions such as what ifs. You see, this is the gift of less complex beings, their inability to think of what ifs. We, on the other hand, are cursed with the ability to form such questions, but sadly we do not have the heart to carry the weight of these questions. We don’t have the heart.” he said and he drank. The girl finished her second bottle and then asked him if he would order more drinks. Sol nodded.
True, true happiness will follow
True, true happiness will follow
True, true happiness will follow
If you only follow me…
Sol hummed the melody of the song whilst attempting to display a smile.Everyone had someone in the beerhouse: their friends, their brothers, father and son even; Sol only had the company of a girl assigned to consume his order as quickly as she could.Drinking alone—with an average of five bottles of beer a night—in this town means that you are sad. Other than that, there is no more reason.
As soon as the hostess opened a bottle he started again.
“Why do you drink?” Sol asked. “I mean, I know this is part of your work but what I’m asking is when you go out with friends and you start drinking, what reasons do you have in mind for drinking? What is your purpose for drinking?”
“Haven’t thought of that.” she said, now starting to think. “I drink when I’m happy. I drink when I’m sad. I drink for my job. I drink when there’s an occasion or when there isn’t.”
“So Alejandro Roces is precisely correct.”
Sol let out a chuckle. It annoyed the hostess for a second and then she resumed on downing her booze. He watched the bottle sweat whilst the girl watched him, perhaps waiting for his next sentence. The hostess had stepped into the zone of his sorrow the moment sheentertained his query.
“You want to know the reason I drink?” Sol asked. The hostess nodded. This time, her empathy seemed genuine. “It’s because alcohol makes it possible for me to bear my what ifs. And most of the times it amplifies my intent to forget. So alcohol does two things for me. One, to endure difficult questions; two, to help me forget, even for a few hours. And yes, I’m aware this explanation comes as a cliché.” again, the sad chuckle. But she wasn’t annoyed this time. She was silent for a moment and then she threw an obvious question: What do you want to forget? Instead of answering her, he just watched the bottle sweat.
“Finish your beer.” Sol said. He took out a five-hundred peso bill from his wallet and placed it on an empty plastic plate with crumbs of nuts, rock salt, and monosodium glutamate.
“What do I want to forget? Hah!” no doubt, he was highly intoxicated but he walked straight.Pity—that was what the hostess felt for him as he left.
Outside, there was a drizzle. He let the tiny droplets kiss his thinning hair. A stray dog—with thinning fur—passed him slowly. It seemed that the animal had no place to go. But it is worth noting that it did not mind its situation. Between him and the stray dog, he was more pathetic. The aim of the dog was to find some shelter to sleep; Sol had a place to sleep but his problem was how to get some sleep. Although the phrase licking one’s wound describes a dog, this animal is incapable of self-pity. This incapability is—again—a gift. It may be sad to hear that our capacity to think, our capability to understand abstractions; our acknowledgement of metaphysical dread—all of which are not gifts, rather they are our hemlock.
He let the tiny droplets kiss his thinning hair.In a way, he embodied the night drizzle. Forty days ago, it rained hard whilst he wailed at home. No one heard him.New wavemusic overwhelmed his loud cries.
But who can really absolve us from our faults—God? A person who can clear his conscience by merely praying to some deity to wash his sins away is a wretched one.Repenting is not a bad thing. It only gets bad when one uses the very idea of repenting to evade his accountability. We often hear people say that only God can judge them—that we have no right whatsoever to tell what they did wrong. Only God can judge them—as if they have immunity to scrutiny. If it only takes repentance to be absolved then I can clearly say that we are fucked.
This is the part where Ra’s Ethics Professor stops reading his essay about the idea of being absolved. Red and warped—his face cannot deny that he is very much offended by his student’s ideas, or probably by his choice of words—i.e. the word fuck. Evidently, he stops after he reads the word.But what is it with the word fuck that makes one feel upset or hurt or offended?
fuck (n.) slang [and/or vulgar] for sexual intercourse.
(v.) to engage in sexual intercourse.
Filipino translation- kantot
Of course, there are other ways to express fuck: e.g. screw, have coitus, piledrive, bang, drill, copulate, hump, diddle, shag, bayo, kana, tira, hindot; iyot. But Ra expressed the word differently in his essay. Unlike man or woman or cat, fuck is an equivocal term. Its meaning can change according to how one uses it. Ra used fuck in a different manner. When he gave the remark “[W]e are fucked.”, he meant that we are doomed—that we are in deep trouble. Of course, he could have said “We are screwed.” and still, he would express himself just the same, but he preferred to use a profane word to strongly communicate his feeling. Is it necessary that we use profane words to send a message accordingly? If necessary, yes. Else, statements carrying euphemism and polite sentence constructions may not be taken seriously. Is it alright that we offend others for our words; for our ideas? If necessary, yes. “He who dares not offend, cannot be truthful.” as Thomas Paine puts it. Ra firmly sticks to this principle. To begin with, the aim of his essay is to express his ideas—regardless if it is offensive or not—and not to impress his Ethics Professor.
The next day, Ra is summoned to the faculty office by his teacher. It is no surprise for him—and this is not the first time he is called because of his writings. During his fourth year in high school, his late father had to face his Edukasyon at Pagpapahalaga Teacher, History Teacher, and Physics Teacher because of the same problem—using inappropriate words in his essays. How exactly in Physics did he express such language is another story. Grades were not his problem. Although he received no honors, he did quite well in school. Attitude problem—he has an attitude problem. This was what his teachers told his father. But Ra was (and still is) mild mannered. He never had any typical trouble such as fist fights. It was only in his essays that he showed (and continues to show) his fangs. During high school, they tried to cut, or at least, dull his fangs but they failed. Now, another person who takes offense in his ideas is attempting to do the same. But this is not high school and his father has already left him. For good.Therefore, his teacher cannot expect any guardian to explain why Ra writes the way he writes. Or thinks the way he thinks.
For Ra, being offended is no different than a toddler crying because he does not like what his mother cooked for him.Being offended is nonsensical; it’s nothing but whining to paraphrase the words of Stephen Fry.
After a big meal, he ponytails his long, curly hair and headsto the faculty office. “He who dares not offend, cannot be truthful.” he tells himself.Voltaire dared to offend. Denis Diderot dared to offend. Jean Paul Sartre dared to offend. He clearly understands why they did.Balls to handle shit. He thought. Most people don’t have the balls to handle shit. The door creaks and he is in.
He was registered and baptized as Maximus Solidad. The first name was his late grandfather’s idea.Maximus (Latin translation- “greatest” or “largest”)—the brave gladiator who fought not just for survival, but for honor and freedom.Now, we have Maximus Solidad—a sorry container of tears and alcohol. But who could blame him? Who in their right mind could tell him to pull himself together; to tell that life goes on? Sol is a thinking being therefore he is condemned to suffer.
“Like a dog.” he said as he watched the stray dog pass him by. He was referring to the predicament of Franz Kafka’s character in his book The Trial—Joseph K.—who uttered the same phrase after one of his executioners twisted the knife, plunged in his heart, the second time.Like a dog. Was he like a dog? The drizzle transpired into rain—now, the heavy droplets were pounding his thinning hair. He walked aimlessly in the half deserted streets. Sol—why did they have to call him Sol? Max sounded better, but they had to choose Sol.
Solitude, Solitary.Sole, Solo. Max really is better. And now, he was living his nickname. Tired from all the aimless walking, he decided to take shelter in a roofed parking space of a bank. If Sol were a dog, we could have heard him produce canine whimpers. He watched the sky sweat.
Farewell my laughing water.
He said as if he was Hiawatha himself.
It was almost one when Sol noticed a familiar face across the street. Without makeup and without the glittering and revealing top, the hostess looked not more than eighteen. She recognized him right away and waved. Robotically, he waved as well. She immediately crossed the street. Her umbrella was red—he noticed.
“You’re soaking wet.” she stated the obvious and then offered to share her umbrella. He did not decline although one may argue that he wasn’t happy about the girl lending a hand. “I’d offer you my jacket but, see, it won’t fit you.”she smiled. He did not say anything. They started walking.
“You live near here?”
“No—so where do you live?”
“Nowhere. I have no place to stay.”
“Why is that?” she asked sternly inspecting Sol’s face.
“I’m like a dog.” he stopped walking and she did, too. Someone or something twisted a knife in his heart twice. He sobbed and then he whimpered and then his whimpering transpired into a wail. Not exactly strong but it was a long and heavy wail.
From a distance, one could see that she hugged him.
gravity (n.) the force of attraction between all masses in the universe; especially the attraction of the earth’s mass for bodies near its surface.
mass (n.) the property of a body that causes it to have weight in a gravitational field.
Fact of the matter is, gravity and mass are partners. We can say that they fill each other with purpose. Gravity’s purpose is to pull matter together however large or small. Meanwhile, mass gives meaning to weight for it serves as the cause of something to have weight. For a body to have weight, it must be filled with what theoretical physicist, Dr. Paul Davies (1981) defines as “the quantity of matter” which is “mass”. The quantity of matter (mass) determines the weight of a body, just like yours and mine. Now, mass’ best friend, gravity, pulls bodies according to their mass. Of course, the larger the mass, the stronger the gravitational pull. This explains why Jupiter’s gravitational pull (given that it has an approximate mass of 318 earths—imagine that!) is so strong it will make me and you overweight if we lived in Jupiter. So the relationship of gravity and mass is simple: one fills stuff with matter to generate weight; the other pulls stuff according to their weight.
So basically, this is how I understand most of the things I’ve read about gravity: all bodies pull other bodies using the force of gravity. But if gravity’s job is to pull bodies, why aren’t we completely pulled by the sun? The answer is equilibrium (a neat term for balance) through centrifugal force (the outward force on a body moving in a curved path around another body.) The planets (of course, earth is included!) rotate to counteract gravitational pull, achieving equilibrium.Achieving stability. To imagine this, I did an experiment at home using a top. Was I satisfied with the experiment? Yes!
Reflection: gravity is the most powerful thing in the universe because it governs everything. It pulls everything. Gravity is the reason we can play basketball and hopscotch. We rely on gravity. Even Juan Tamad, who waits for the guava to fall into his mouth, relies on gravity. Gravity is like God to me. You cannot see it. You cannot smell it. But there really is gravity and no one can break its laws. Maybe gravity is the real god. You see, gravity is a perfect force to describe a god. Gods having human form and traits are pretty weak compared to gravity as a god.
There were no profane words in Ra’s essay in Physics during his senior year in high school. Still, his teacher, Ms. Royo, found his reflection—on the nature of gravity—as offensive. Actually, the term she used was blasphemy. That was how Ra learned about the word’s meaning. Sometimes, words do not need to be profane in order to offend. Sometimes, all it takes is an idea totally in contrast to another person’s idea. Sometimes, all it takes is a person who cannot entertain other ideas. The claim of Ms. Royo was Randhell Tomas used inappropriate words for his informative essay in Physics. She told his father that his son had committed blasphemy for thinking that gravity is like god.
“This school does not tolerate such ideas.” she said. “Nothing can be stronger than God! God can even stop gravity if He wills it. And any person of faith knows that.”
“I understand, Ma’am. What should my son do?” said Ra’s father.
“Let’s see. Since your son performs well in most subjects and he’s not much of a trouble like his other classmates—I’ll tell you that—I will give him two options. First, he will revise his paper. I won’t go far as changing most of its content because it’s actually well researched. He only needs to change the last part. The reflection. Specifically, he needs to change the portion where he stated that gravity is the most powerful force in the universe and the statement where he said that maybe God is gravity. It makes me cringe just by repeating that. It will also help if he asks the Lord for forgiveness. I believe he called God’s human form as weak. God choosing to have a human form is not a trait of weakness but an act of Divine Humility and nobility. By being human, He made Himself vulnerable to the pain we humans feel. Remember that.”
“What’s the second option?” intruded Ra.
“All the activities on page 175 to 192—on Monday.A written report on light, reflection, and colors—Wednesday.Another essay—a topic on Newton’s Inverse Square Law—Friday!” Ms. Royo said angrily and boastfully. “Choose wisely.” and so Ra chose the second option. All the mentioned activities were passed on time.
Unlike the laws of physics, the weight of words are either pulled or flung according to one’s approval. If the weight of what you are saying is unacceptable, say to your teacher or to your friends, then your words will be flung; your ideas will be out of orbit—and if you’re lucky, you might find yourself out of your friends’ or teacher’s orbit as well. Words—how strange they are. One minute you’re in a stable situation, the next you lose equilibrium and you end up being sucked by a black hole—say, a faculty office.
“Let me clarify this, Mr. Tomas. What do you mean by ‘we are fucked’?”
“Sir, I mean we are doomed. We are in serious trouble.”
“Then why didn’t you use those phrases? Why use that word?” his Ethics Professor’s face is red and warped. There are several teachers in the faculty office minding their own gravitational pull.
“Why use that word?”
“To express the intensity of our troubled state, Sir.”
“By using the word ‘fuck’? Anak, what is wrong with you?” Ra feels a little annoyed that his teacher calls him anak. In his thoughts, there is only one person who has the right to call him that—his late father.
“Our subject is called Ethics for a reason.”
“If you may, Sir, I’ll revise my paper.”
“That won’t be necessary. Even if you revise your paper, it won’t change what you think.”
“But, Sir, I thought we’re talking about me using an inappropriate word?”
“Is it only that word which caused you to be called here? Only that word.So do you hold that your ideas are appropriate? ‘A person is wretched if he can clear away his conscience through praying.’ Do you think this is appropriate?”
“With all due respect, Sir, but did you read the whole essay?”
“I did.” his Ethics Professor says unflinching. Ra lets his lie slide. If he really did read the whole essay then he would not just harangue him for the word fuck, but also for horseshit, batshit, bitch, and motherfucker. He would also mention blasphemous excerpts from his essay. If he really did read the whole essay, his face would be more than red and warped, it would be dark and crumpled.He is tired and he just wants to go home. It is already five-thirty in the afternoon. “And all I can say is you really need to work on your concept about virtue; about forgiveness; about being absolved. Read Aquinas, read Augustine; read Aristotle.Next time, use the appropriate sources for this kind of topic.”
“Do you have a problem at home?”
“Then why is that you seem angry and confused most of the time?” But he is not the one with the red and warped face. From a single word—the equivocal fuck—other unrelated matters are pulled in the black hole. He says that he is neither angry nor confused, that he is merely proving his point and his error is that he used an inappropriate word, but his teacher is already talking of a different topic—his character. Since this conversation is not governed by the natural laws, there is a way to escape the black hole. If the problem of being sucked started with a word, he must solve it with a word.
“Sorry.” Ra says along with a face which shows the very idea of repentance. And enters centrifugal force! And enters equilibrium! His Ethics Professor lightens up and three-minutes later, after the preaching and the beautiful nonsense and the Bronze Age moral references,he is off.
He lies heavy in his bed, sighing in relief. He closes his eyes and gravity lulls him to sleep.
“What do you want to forget?” she asked whilst speeding up her up-and-down rhythm; whilst approaching climax. Sol did not say anything. He focused on holding her waist for equilibrium. She was on top of him the whole time. He had no strength to switch places with her. He had been down for a long time, he was still down, and perhaps he had no plan to move up.
“What-do-you-want-to-forget?!” she screamed the question. She was almost at the peak. “What?!” she screamed. Her body froze and then rattled. She fell down on his chest breathing deeply. After a minute, she held his penis with her nimble left hand and started working it until he reached climax. She returned to his chest and asked again: What do you want to forget? He exhaled and then answered.
It was a small apartment, but big enough for a couple. Other than the rust-stained lawanet ceiling in the kitchen, the place looked decent enough to live in. The hostess told Sol she had a boyfriend who lived with her—a security guard in a pop-rice factory.
“Seven.” she said. “He goes home around seven.”
“Okay.” he said.
“You still have five hours of sleep.”
“Make that four hours. I need to get to my apartment early—to prepare for my lesson. My class starts at seven.”
She could see the combination of gray and black stubbles on his chin. She smiled at him as if she was glad to hear that the whining drunkard who went every night to drink at the place she was working; the man who declared that he was like a dog; the man she slept with was not a complete failure—in fact, he was an educator.A drunkard and at the same time an educator.
“My boyfriend’s razor is in the bathroom. Get some sleep first. I’ll help you tidy yourself up later.” the girl had a sweet smile. She was lovely. One can argue that she did not deserve to work as a hostess. But then again, this kind of argument is faulty. Is there a standard in beauty which can tell if a person should not work in a bar asahostess?From what extent can we judge if a girl’s appearance deserves to be seen in a beerhouse or not?
After coitus, she looked younger. It tempted Sol to ask her age but he was afraid to hear she was just sixteen or seventeen.
“Close your eyes.” she said. And he did.
Sol dreamt of clouds crying. The streets were deserted and flooded. Everything seemed pale in hue, stripped of all the lively colors; almost black and white. How could Sol tell that the clouds were crying and notmerely producing rain?—well, he heard them whimper. The clouds whimpered like a dog. He heard a thundering voice.
This is how the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.
And then he woke up.
“Now, your face looks pleasant. Coffee?” she offered. The aroma in themug made him nod.
“How much do I owe you?” he said.
“You owe me nothing. My name’s Sonia, by the way.” she said. She handed him the mug.
“I know.” he said and then he took a sip.
“I know.” she smiled. “The others told me. And I’m aware you know my name—I mean, you’re a regular costumer. I’m just telling you now. I thought you’ve already forgotten everything.”
Ra dreams of three historical figures: (1) Aristotle, (2) Saint Augustine; (3) Saint Thomas Aquinas. He is under an apple tree snoring when the three of them wake him up. When he wakes up, he looks surprised. He does not know them although they are notunfamiliar. He looks up and sees that the apple tree bears both apples and guavas. All the apples are green which for a moment he gets a little confused identifying which is which.He returns to their faces. He inspects their expression—a collective one!—they all look offended. But why?
“Who are you guys?” he asks although he recognizes their faces now even with the anachronistic clothing. The first one to answer looks like his Ethics Teacher—ProfessorTayao. He clears his throat while cleaning the lenses of his glasses with a white handkerchief.
“Saint Thomas Aquinas.” he says. “Call me Thomas Aquinas.”
“I’m Saint Augustine!” intrudes the second one raising his—no!—her hand. She is a middle aged woman wearing Mussolini’s mustache. It suits her perfectly.She looks like Ra’s Physics Teacher—Ms. Royo. Ra cringes.
“And I’m Aristotle!”
“No, I’m not your father. I am the great Aristotle.”
“No, you’re not. You’re my father.”
“Want me to prove that you’re not my son using syllogism?”
“Tay!” he embraces him.
“Or De Interpretatione! I’ll prove that I’m not your father using De Interpretatione!” says Aristotle whilst trying to untangle his son’s arms wrapped around him.
“Why are you guys mad at me?” Ra says. His embrace gets tighter. Aristotle gasps for air.
“Because of your snore!” says Saint Augustine. “It’s blasphemous!”
“It’s offensive!” addsSaint Thomas Aquinas.
“They are right, Son.” says Aristotle. Ra looks into his father’s eyes, Fuck. His eyes reflect the word fuck.
A guava falls and then he wakes up.
It’s already 6:49. His class starts at seven. Clothes—school uniform and casual wear—are scattered on the floor. They aren’t Ra’s but his roommate’s so it is only logical for Ra not to pick them up and head straight to the bathroom to at least wash his face.
“Fuck!” he curses, cramming and looking for his argumentative essay in World Literature. The deadline of submission is today. He bolts out of the dormitory as soon as he finds it.
“Fuck!” he shouts as he checks the time on his analogue wristwatch—7:12—whilst running in the hallway of the university.He enters the room like a madman, sits on his chair lined at the last row, and then inspects his surroundings. Most of his classmates are looking at him. No, they do not look offended—they look confused as if they saw an apple tree bearing guavas. He checks if his professor in World Literature has arrived. He is not yet around. It is not like his teacher to be late. Good thing he is late!He says to himself.Panting, he ties his shoelaces. He checks the time—7:15.
Randomly, Aristotle speaks to him—using his father’s voice—in his head. “Literature is an imitation of life.” he nods in acknowledgement and sits properly.
The door opens. Everyone stands. And they greet him.
“Good morning, Sir Solidad.”