To prepare for my thesis writing and revisions, I started reading short stories by Filipino authors again. As it was my latest acquisition, The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra was on top of my pile, so I started with it.
I stopped reading Jessica Zafra's essays in the early 2000s, when I had regular access to it at the newspaper I worked for. Either I outgrew her bitchy persona or I embraced my cheerful, positive, emotional (and perhaps escapist) side -- maybe both -- but I simply lost interest, after a couple of years of following her column as religiously as I could, given that our newspaper man didn't carry the newspaper it was in.
But I stayed a fan of her fiction writing, even if there was only one collection and even if I don't always share her worldview. Her stories are good reads -- well-formed, compelling, cerebral, strange and yet familiar, and they somehow reflect my own journey as a child of the 80s and 90s -- but sometimes they leave me tired and not liking the world. This is not a bad thing, of course; it's just a matter of preference.
Every time I read her stories, two things happen: First, I suddenly have the urge to respond with a more encouraging fiction of my own. Second, I am reminded to revisit Luis Katigbak's Happy Endings.
Anyway, I was happy to hear she had a follow up to Manananggal Terrorizes Manila and Other Stories.
I enjoyed The Stories So Far. I especially enjoyed the stories about Jude, the smart girl with a troubled childhood. I felt like I grew up with her. However, my favorite story is "914, 915, 916," which is about the residents of a strange apartment building who share the same space but not the same time.
Stories usually earn my loyalty with lines I fall in love with. I do not particularly love Jessica Zafra's writing voice, but I admire how crisp her sentences sound when I read them out loud in my head.
Here's a part that I particularly like. It's from the story "Heavy Metal," where Jude, who we first meet in another story when she was in the third grade, is now in university and dating a bad boy straight out of the 1990s. She realizes that she doesn't know him very well after all, and he brings her to his place for the first time. I liked it because of how the sex (Jude's first time) was introduced in the cataloguing.
He takes my hand, turns it over, and kisses the palm. "You like me, don't you."
"No, I can't stand you, that's why I'm here." My mother will kill me. She's probably calling the police as we speak.
"You're a very strange girl," he smiles, which is totally unfair because there is no sarcasm to counter a smile like that.
The stairs creak. There are no curtains on the windows. There's a wooden crucifix and a poster of The Clash. The sheets on the unmade bed are striped blue and white. The springs squeak. The ceiling is eggshell white, with cobwebs. The ceiling fan is whirring. The wrapper won't rip, he has to tear it open with his teeth. Without meaning to, I start giggling. I wait for the fadeout.