By CESAR JALANDONI AMIGO
The door to the master’s bedroom was wide open, and the doctor, bag in hand, paused unnoticed and leaned against the jamb, listening to Don Ramon play one of Lizst’s familiar pieces on a grand piano, which was parked in the center of the room. It had always seemed, to the doctor, such a ridiculous place to put the grand piano, but Don Ramon de Cabrera cared nothing for propriety nor the opinions of his friends.
“Tell me that I won’t last long with this damned acute diabetes,” he told the doctor once, “and I might believe it. But when I talk of music, my statements are conclusive, and my bedroom is where that piano rightly belongs because I will it so!”
The doctor merely shrugged his shoulders then. Don Ramon and he had been neighbors when they were boys and they had grown up together. As a child, Don Ramon was fiery and rebellious, fearlessly and obstinately devoted to his own ideas and beliefs. He did everything differently from other people, and no amount of persuasion, cajoling, or threat had ever swayed him from what he thought or did…
“That’s enough, Ramon,” the doctor interrupted at length, glancing at his watch. “There’s still tomorrow, you know, and genius has its limits. Besides, it’s almost dinner-time.”
“Miguel!” Don Ramon wheeled about eagerly and laughed. “You incorrigible adolescent—how long have you stood there spying on me? I had almost given up waiting for you, hoping all the time that you and your putrid hypodermic needles would never come at all!”
The doctor entered the room and perched his bag on a small table beside the piano.
“I suppose,” the doctor said, smiling, “you would consider it another exhibition of adolescence if I wished you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year. You’ve always scoffed at Christmases and you’ve never been really happy in your life.”
“Bravo!” Don Ramon answered and crossed toward the window. “And there’s a good chance that I shall have died before half of the New Year’s over. You don’t have to avoid my glances, Miguel, because I’m not at all sensitive about dying.”
Don Ramon raised the blinds and drew the dark heavy curtains wide apart. Sunshine burst into the room and fell partly on the piano. The white keys sparkled. He looked at them and then out of the window, at the lazy streets below, while the doctor snapped open his bag and pulled out the blood-pressure apparatus, sterilizer, syringe … Every day, the same routine … Not much change in your blood pressure … Sleep well last night? … But who says you mustn’t eat? … Avoid sugar though … And starchy foods …. And avoid excitement, physical or emotional …
For the last eight years, Miguel had come to this room, had opened his bag and brought forth the blood pressure apparatus, sterilizer, syringe, insulin ampules—the indispensable insulin ampules without which the patient will die, die, die, tortured and ghastly, the whole rotting frame shaking vehemently in its last attempts to live, the eyes bursting out of their sockets, the mouth taut in a futile attempt to scream … and the hands, clutching and tearing at the twisted throat, painfully thirsty for a minute drop of insulin—insulin!—like a dying man in the desert who knows an oasis in the immediate vicinity but is bound and gagged, cannot move towards it and can only see the vultures circling overhead, impatiently waiting, avidly watching…
“Your daughter’s mouth,” the doctor said, “seems to be queerly pink and swollen this morning. Have you struck her again today?”
“I couldn’t help it.”
“Of course,” replied the doctor in mock sympathy, lighting a cigarette. “Always you can’t help it.” He drew a deep lungful of air and coughed it out in a note of detest.
“Stale,” he commented, throwing the cigarette out if the window. “As stale and as deteriorated as your carcass and your mad standards of artistic perfection, which you have so brutally demanded of her to attain, and she hates you for it.”
“Oh, so you’ve noticed that, too.”
The doctor nodded thoughtfully and turned to prop up the scale of the blood pressure apparatus.
“I have never before seen a deeper and a more consuming hate for a father than that which I see it in your daughter’s eyes as she looks at you. I feel sorry for her somehow; I grieve for her in fact, as I watch her cling so desperately to her morbid hate. It is the only weapon which she possesses against you. Hate and nothing else; and for that, I grieve for her.”
“Because it isn’t enough of a weapon?”
“Because it’s madness,” the doctor said. “I tell you, Ramon, it’s madness to compel her to equal you—she just can’t! I don’t know of anyone else in this country who can. In all fairness, instead of raving over her slightest mistakes in technique and manual dexterity, instead of screaming and scowling in her face, you should see it. In all fairness, you should! Or—why don’t you scratch her eyes out and rip her face beyond recognition for a change?”
Don Ramon left the window and sat on the stool, his back against the piano, his hands toying tunelessly with the keys. He stared fixedly at the mounted sterilizer.
“If Farruca were only born a boy…” he said, answering from another stream of thought. “I could make an excellent pianist out of the child yet.”
The doctor shrugged tolerantly and moved closer towards Don Ramon.
“Well, shut your mouth and open your eyes wider,” he said. “That sudden attack which gripped you yesterday might have caused a shock to your liver.”
“Farruca makes a pathetic musician,” Don Ramos continued, as if to himself. “So do all women.”
“There ought to be a yellowish thing in your eyes if it did.” And the doctor stooped forward and forced the eyelids wide with his fingers.
“They make excellent novelist and painters. They even make good poets. But they shouldn’t try to write music. They’re not savage enough.”
“No, I don’t see any yellowish tinge here,” the doctor observed, peering keenly into the patients eyes. “So far, so good.”
“Or perhaps, they’re much too savage,” Don Ramon added, upon second thought. “In which case, the more reasons why they make poor musicians.”
The doctor grinned sheepishly and moved the blood-pressure apparatus to where it suited him. “Although why, in the name of common sense, you expect to make a genius of your daughter, knowing fully well her shortcomings as a woman, is beyond me,” the doctor said. “It is not foolish; it is brutally unreasonable.”
“Damn, a doctor with his head smugly hammered on! Must there always be a reason for everything?” Don Ramon felt his blood beat hotly in his face.
“Please remember what I told you about the danger of exciting yourself, if you intend to live longer.”
“Women to me…,” Don Ramon struggled to explain, “… are nothing but necessities…”
“… Like insulin,” the doctor prompted, “without which you will die, tortured and ghastly.”
“Necessities to stimulate me in the creation of my art and, much more, in its perfection. But with Farruca, it is different. I want to perfect her, not just because she’s my daughter and I love her and am fond of her, but because I have never considered her being a woman as any gap at all between herself and the art of savages. Oh, you don’t believe me, I know; but I do love her. I do! Except when she plays the piano and repeats those horrible mistakes I have continually warned her about. It revolts me to watch her struggle and border on near-perfection, only to weaken and fall short, that the desire to perfect her simply clogs my reason and I suddenly find myself loathing her.” He began rubbing his face in utter confusion. “It shouldn’t be so, I know.”
The doctor gently brought down his hand and silently buckled the airbag of the blood-pressure apparatus around his arm. Squeezing the pump, he carefully watched the mercury rise up the scale.
A maid came in bearing a tray of food. She carefully and timidly set it down beside Don Ramon’s elbow. “Señor,” she began, “your dinner—“
“Take it away!” The master’s voice was low and menacing.
“But, Ramon, por Dios! You’ve got to take something at least.”
“I’m not hungry!”
The maid hastily picked up the tray and started to move out. “Farruca says that dinner will be ready downstairs as soon as the doctor is—,” the words tumbled one after another and she was gone.
The doctor kept his eyes on the ascending mercury. “Eighty-five,” he read slowly, “Eighty-six, eighty-seven … Eighty-seven. Tsk, tsk. Quite a considerable change. Must be due to that attack yesterday.” He unwounded the airbag, released his patient, and started packing up the apparatus.
“Don’t trouble telling me this is bad,” Don Ramon said, “because I know it is.”
The doctor worked silently, efficiently. “Someday,” he said when he was through, “when I deem it profitable to write your biography, I shall devote one chapter wholly on … The Genius, As Seen By His Kitchen Maid. I believe it would sell—but God! This weather is killing me. No trees at all to screen the house.”
“It’s a matter of getting used to it,” Don Ramon said drily, staring distantly out of the window. “Besides, there’ll be rain from the mountains before long. Look—.”
The doctor looked to the west. Dark clouds were racing fast towards the city. “Yes, it’s about time the rainy season sets in. I think I’m very glad.”
Outside it had started to drizzle. Heavy clouds had hidden the sun, and the dining room darkened. Soundlessly, the drops fell and met the smell of the earth as it rose up…
Farruca and the doctor remained seated after dinner. The girl looking absently at her hands which she had spread out in front of her, the doctor glancing aslant now and then at her swollen lips, debating whether to treat it or keep on pretending to have not seen it.
“Thinking of anything special?” he finally asked when the maid who waited upon them had cleared the table. “Is it a big secret?”
The girl drew in a deep breath and smiled fondly at him. She seldom told people much of what she thought, and when she ever did, it was with an effort painful to watch. However, with the doctor—perhaps because he was to her the nearest thing to an uncle, and she had always considered him as one—she affected no front and could afford to say anything without fear of being too self-revealing.
“Oddly enough, I was thinking of my mother and what she might have given me for Christmas, if she were alive. I don’t remember her at all, as people say she died the day I was born, and there isn’t any pictures left of her in the house, so I’ve been trying to imagine how she looked.”
“Your father had all her pictures burned after the funeral,” the doctor said. “There was a life-sized portrait of her, which used to hang on the sala of the old house. That, too, was thrown into the fire.”
“Is it true what people say, that she—looked like the Virgin Mary? Did she really?”
“Come think of it, why yes, she did!” he agreed heartily. “It never occurred to me before but, yes, she did look like her!”
Farruca laughed happily for the first time. “She must have been really beautiful,” she said. “What was it like when she died, Tito? I hear my father locked himself up in his room for three days, refusing to see people.”
The doctor nodded reminiscently. “I couldn’t even see him.”
“He must have been so in love with her,” she said wistfully. “Although I can hardly conceive of him as being in any way capable of loving anyone or anything but his music and his money.”
The doctor waited until she looked up and said: “He loves you, too, my dear, much more than you can possibly dare to imagine.”
She laughed as if what he had just said was a bad joke, and she searched his face for the slightest trace of amusement, but when she did not find any, she laughed just the same, and the doctor moved uneasily in his seat because he sensed that there was something morbid and calloused and disturbing in her laughter now, which only a terrible hate could bring about.
”He doesn’t love me, he loves his music. And he loved my mother for her money. He married into her family because doing so spared him the necessity of having to play for a living in concert halls for a multitude of what he regards as high-browed, dissipated idiots paying their way in and waiting to be impressed!”
“Yes, I know!” She tossed her head defiantly and laughed. “It never occurred to you that I knew, but I do; and I more than hate him for it. I despise him!” And she laughed some more at the doctor’s look of shock and blank surprise at the terrible hate which he saw in her bluntness.
The rain fell harder and pounded on the roof. They could hear the water gurgling down the drain outside, by the window near where they were. The doctor stood up and pulled down the glass panes. The gurgling stifled.
“I’m sorry, Tito Miguel. Are you angry with me?”
“Did I disillusion you?”
He remained silent.
“Please do not be angry with me, Tito. You are the only one I have left in the world.”
“Forget it,” he said. “Now go up and ask your father if he is ready for the injection.”
But she did not move. Instead, she looked up at him and said, “He wouldn’t allow me to have a Christmas tree in the house. He said that Christmas trees were among civilization’s sentimental—and therefore stupid—devices in its attempt to defy destiny, or something like that. Just what did he mean, Tito?” She waited for him to speak but his lips were clamped tight, his eyes narrowed in deep thought. Seeing that there was no indication of any desire on his part to speak more, she arose and went up.
Her father’s door was shut. She stood in front of the knob, poised her first momentarily and rapped against the panel.
The rain drowned her knock.
She tried again, louder. There was no answer. She turned the knob and walked in, just in time to see the windows, wind-driven, fly wildly on their hinges. She saw them crash against the wall.
And then she saw her father.
He lay huddled on the floor. A violent paroxysm had seized his whole body. His shoulders, against the leg of the table, shook furiously and the table along with them, upsetting the mounted sterilizer and a glass of water. His feet jerked outward, became rigidly still, and jerked again. His hands choked at his throat, nails ripping deep into the flesh. His mouth was avid and open, shrieking soundlessly; and his eyes sought her in an agony of helplessness, while the water from the upset glass flowed sluggishly on the tabletop, lingered for a while at the edge, then tripped coldly down his pain-twisted, horror-distorted face.
She rushed wildly out of the room in an impulse to scream for help. At the top of the stairs she suddenly stopped and composed herself. Mustering every effort to pull her wits together, she turned back to the room and, compelling herself, stood on the threshold, and watched the twisted figure that was once her father, die in pain. For a moment, his eyes sought hers; then they rolled and the whiteness was all she could see. His body had become limp and motionless, quivering slightly now and then.
Softly, she shut the door and walked to the end of the hall, into her room. She sat on the edge of her bed, trying hard not to think. Fear had gone out of her but her hands trembled with anticipation. She strode to the mirror and brushed her hair elaborately. By the time she finished, her fingers had ceased shaking, although her face was white and bloodless. She looked at her face for a while in the mirror and felt that she could gaze forever at herself. She examined her every features as if she were seeing herself for the first time, idly running her fingers over her chin and cheeks. After a while, she left the room and walked down the hall without glancing at her father’s door when she passed.
Back at the dining table, the doctor, who had been watching her as she came down, asked anxiously, “Is he ready for the injection?”
She felt too exhausted to speak, and said nothing; but she looked at him distantly and full, as if she were a stranger in the house.
Thunder rolled, then cracked, like a bomb detonating. The glass panes rattled and the house seemed to rock.
“Why don’t you answer me?” exclaimed the doctor. “Is he ready or are you sick yourself, Farruca? What is the matter with you? Farruca!”
Intuitively, he dashed frantically across the room and raced up the stairs, three steps at a time.
“Telephone the hospital for an ambulance!” he called hoarsely. “Oh, Santa Maria, it cannot be! Please let him live! Padre Nuestro!”
The wind whistled and sent the rain crashing relentlessly on to the roofs and the streets.
Alone by herself, Farruca leaned her tired head on the closed window, her nose pressed flat against the glass, and she watched the big drops sputter on the pavement outside. From far away, the landscape had grown nebulous. The puddles overflowed as thunder boomed mercilessly and more and more rain fell—to her, without form.
And without meaning.
Cesar Jalandoni Amigo grew up in Dumaguete, where he graduated with a degree in political science from Silliman University in 1948. Together with Aida Rivera-Ford, he served as the first editor of the Sands & Coral. He is a much-awarded screenwriter, famously for Buhay Alamang (1952), Hanggang sa Dulo ng Daigdig (1958), The Moises Padilla Story (1961), and Igorota (1968). He also directed Sa Atin ang Daigdig (1963), 7 Gabi sa Hong Kong (1966), The Hunted (1970), and Babae ... Sa Likod ng Salamin (1976). He received the 1974 Outstanding Sillimanian Award for Screenwriting and TV/Film Production.
[…] Baby | Justine Megan YuThe General | Nicolas LacsonMultiverse | Francesca FloresRain Without Meaning | Cesar Jalandoni […]