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THROUGH the open window the air-steeped outdoors passed into his room, quietly enveloping him, stealing into his very thought. Esperanza, Julia, the sorry mess he had made of life, the years to come even now beginning to weigh down, to crush—they lost concreteness, diffused into formless melancholy.
The tranquil murmur of conversation issued from the brick-tiled azotea where Don Julian and Carmen were busy puttering away among the rose pots.
Alfredo is not very specific, but I understand Esperanza wants it to be next month. Carmen sighed impatiently. He is over thirty, is he not? And still a bachelor!
Esperanza must be tired waiting. Alfredo remembered that period with a wonder not unmixed with shame. That was less than four years ago. He could not understand those months of a great hunger that was not of the body nor yet of the mind, a craving that had seized on him one quiet night when the moon was abroad and under the dappled shadow of the trees in the plaza, man wooed maid. Was he being cheated by life?
Love—he seemed to have missed it. Or was the love that others told about a mere fabrication of perfervid imagination, an exaggeration of the commonplace, a glorification of insipid monotonies such as made up his love life? Was love a combination of circumstances, or sheer native capacity of soul? In those days love was, for him, still the eternal puzzle; for love, as he knew it, was a stranger to love as he divined it might be.
Sitting quietly in his room now, he could almost revive the restlessness of those days, the feeling of tumultuous haste, such as he knew so well in his boyhood when something beautiful was going on somewhere and he was trying to get there in time to see.
So he had avidly seized on the shadow of Love and deluded himself for a long while in the way of humanity from time immemorial. In the meantime, he became very much engaged to Esperanza. Why would men so mismanage their lives? Greed, he thought, was what ruined so many. Greed—the desire to crowd into a moment all the enjoyment it will hold, to squeeze from the hour all the emotion it will yield. Men commit themselves when but half-meaning to do so, sacrificing possible future fullness of ecstasy to the craving for immediate excitement.
Greed—mortgaging the future—forcing the hand of Time, or of Fate. I think they are oftener cool than warm. The very fact that an engagement has been allowed to prolong itself argues a certain placidity of temperament—or of affection—on the part of either, or both.
He was talking now with an evident relish in words, his resonant, very nasal voice toned down to monologue pitch. Few certainly would credit Alfredo Salazar with hot blood. Even his friends had amusedly diagnosed his blood as cool and thin, citing incontrovertible evidence. Tall and slender, he moved with an indolent ease that verged on grace.
He rose and quietly went out of the house. He lingered a moment on the stone steps; then went down the path shaded by immature acacias, through the little tarred gate which he left swinging back and forth, now opening, now closing, on the gravel road bordered along the farther side by madre cacao hedge in tardy lavender bloom.
The gravel road narrowed as it slanted up to the house on the hill, whose wide, open porches he could glimpse through the heat-shrivelled tamarinds in the Martinez yard.
Six weeks ago that house meant nothing to him save that it was the Martinez house, rented and occupied by Judge del Valle and his family.
Six weeks ago Julia Salas meant nothing to him; he did not even know her name; but now—. This particular evening however, he had allowed himself to be persuaded. A young woman had met them at the door. He was puzzled that she should smile with evident delight every time he addressed her thus. A very dignified rather austere name, he thought. Still, the young lady should have corrected him. As it was, he was greatly embarrassed, and felt that he should explain.
Don Julian and his uncommunicative friend, the Judge, were absorbed in a game of chess. The young man had tired of playing appreciative spectator and desultory conversationalist, so he and Julia Salas had gone off to chat in the vine-covered porch. He listened, and wondered irrelevantly if Miss Salas could sing; she had such a charming speaking voice.
She was small and plump, with wide brown eyes, clearly defined eyebrows, and delicately modeled hips—a pretty woman with the complexion of a baby and the expression of a likable cow. Julia was taller, not so obviously pretty. She had the same eyebrows and lips, but she was much darker, of a smooth rich brown with underlying tones of crimson which heightened the impression she gave of abounding vitality.
On Sunday mornings after mass, father and son would go crunching up the gravel road to the house on the hill.
After a half hour or so, the chessboard would be brought out; then Alfredo and Julia Salas would go out to the porch to chat. She sat in the low hammock and he in a rocking chair and the hours—warm, quiet March hours—sped by.
He enjoyed talking with her and it was evident that she liked his company; yet what feeling there was between them was so undisturbed that it seemed a matter of course. Only when Esperanza chanced to ask him indirectly about those visits did some uneasiness creep into his thoughts of the girl next door.
Esperanza had wanted to know if he went straight home after mass. Alfredo suddenly realized that for several Sundays now he had not waited for Esperanza to come out of the church as he had been wont to do.
He answered that he went home to work. She dropped the topic. Esperanza was not prone to indulge in unprovoked jealousies. She was a believer in the regenerative virtue of institutions, in their power to regulate feeling as well as conduct. If a man were married, why, of course, he loved his wife; if he were engaged, he could not possibly love another woman.
That half-lie told him what he had not admitted openly to himself, that he was giving Julia Salas something which he was not free to give. He realized that; yet something that would not be denied beckoned imperiously, and he followed on. It was so easy to forget up there, away from the prying eyes of the world, so easy and so poignantly sweet. The beloved woman, he standing close to her, the shadows around, enfolding. He and Julia Salas stood looking out into the she quiet night.
In the darkness the fireflies glimmered, while an errant breeze strayed in from somewhere, bringing elusive, faraway sounds as of voices in a dream. Those six weeks were now so swift—seeming in the memory, yet had they been so deep in the living, so charged with compelling power and sweetness. Because neither the past nor the future had relevance or meaning, he lived only the present, day by day, lived it intensely, with such a willful shutting out of fact as astounded him in his calmer moments.
Just before Holy Week, Don Julian invited the judge and his family to spend Sunday afternoon at Tanda where he had a coconut plantation and a house on the beach. Carmen also came with her four energetic children. They were far down, walking at the edge of the water, indistinctly outlined against the gray of the out-curving beach.
Alfredo left his perch on the bamboo ladder of the house and followed. Here were her footsteps, narrow, arched.
He laughed at himself for his black canvas footwear which he removed forthwith and tossed high up on dry sand. It looks like home to me, except that we do not have such a lovely beach. There was a breeze from the water. It blew the hair away from her forehead, and whipped the tucked-up skirt around her straight, slender figure. In the picture was something of eager freedom as of wings poised in flight.
The girl had grace, distinction. Her face was not notably pretty; yet she had a tantalizing charm, all the more compelling because it was an inner quality, an achievement of the spirit. The lure was there, of naturalness, of an alert vitality of mind and body, of a thoughtful, sunny temper, and of a piquant perverseness which is sauce to charm. That was the background. It made her seem less detached, less unrelated, yet withal more distant, as if that background claimed her and excluded him.
Toward the west, the sunlight lay on the dimming waters in a broad, glinting streamer of crimsoned gold. I received a letter from Father and Mother yesterday. They want me to spend Holy Week at home. She seemed to be waiting for him to speak. The golden streamer was withdrawing, shortening, until it looked no more than a pool far away at the rim of the world. Stillness, a vibrant quiet that affects the senses as does solemn harmony; a peace that is not contentment but a cessation of tumult when all violence of feeling tones down to the wistful serenity of regret.
She turned and looked into his face, in her dark eyes a ghost of sunset sadness. This is Elsewhere, and yet strange enough, I cannot get rid of the old things. He walked close, his hand sometimes touching hers for one whirling second. Alfredo gripped the soft hand so near his own. Into the quickly deepening twilight, the voice of the biggest of the church bells kept ringing its insistent summons.
Flocking came the devout with their long wax candles, young women in vivid apparel for this was Holy Thursday and the Lord was still alive , older women in sober black skirts.
Came too the young men in droves, elbowing each other under the talisay tree near the church door. The gaily decked rice-paper lanterns were again on display while from the windows of the older houses hung colored glass globes, heirlooms from a day when grasspith wicks floating in coconut oil were the chief lighting device. Above the measured music rose the untutored voices of the choir, steeped in incense and the acrid fumes of burning wax.
The sight of Esperanza and her mother sedately pacing behind Our Lady of Sorrows suddenly destroyed the illusion of continuity and broke up those lines of light into component individuals. Esperanza stiffened self-consciously, tried to look unaware, and could not.
I admit I wasn't engrossed that much the first time I read this 'cause I was utterly feeling sleepy when I started reading the story. BUT it actually has a great lesson for everyone about love and loyalty. After reading this, I realized that sometimes, we let ourselves attract to the people or things we shouldn't attract with. We walk into the light and let the blinding illumination penetrate our minds and create illusions that we indulge with no doubt. In which in this case, we let the light b.
DEAD STARS by Paz Marquez Benitez
During her career as a writer, Paz Marquez-Benitez developed fictional short stories criticizing American Imperialism. Paz is most known by her fictional short story Dead Stars in which the two main characters are displayed as allegories to American imperialism in order to portray the slow decay of Philippine heritage. Even though she had only two published works her writings would be regarded as the first steps of Philippine literature moving into the mainstream. Paz Marquez-Benitez remains as a prominent influence on Philippine literature through not only her writing but her impact as a educator and editor. Aged six, Paz would begin her educational career and after three years at the age of nine would be enrolled into high school.