Friday, August 29, 2008

Scarlet Moon

He was just a shadow in the dark but the familiar sound of his voice gave him away. Mark was holding something in his left hand, the other hand hidden behind his back. The pounding on my chest grew stronger the closer he got to me.

"So you came, my dear best friend... So you came... What a surprise... Good evening Jim... Take this, my present to you". His laughter reverberated with pure evil, and as I stood there stunned, he tossed to me the thing he was holding, it was round and black, and oozing slime.

As I caught the thing in my hands, the dim light under the scarlet moon allowing me to barely recognize it, I was mortified to be holding the severed head of Trixie.

Mark advanced, the hidden hand now exposed, he held it over his head and the butcher's knife glimmered in the dark, lusting for my blood. I reached for the magnum tucked in my waist. The last thing I remember was pulling the trigger then hearing an audible snap as the butcher's knife tore through my collarbone. Then I passed out.

We slept in the same room, dodged bullets and endured all kinds of humiliation from the drill sergeant at boot camp. My destiny was to become a cop and I resigned myself to fate with neither regret nor reservation. But Mark thought he was meant for bigger things. The top graduate of Batch '74, he went straight to law school while serving the command, and in five years he blossomed into a hotshot lawyer. The whole time, I was barely making ends meet catching criminals. Finally, I decided to take his lead, and followed my best friend to the legal profession but by then it was already twelve years after he had topped the bar examination. My mid-life decision to change careers was fueled not only by economic necessity but even more so by a nagging envy, which I wouldn't admit. I was nearing fifty when I finally passed the bar, at my fifth try. And then came the fateful night, the frantic call from Marian, the screaming in the background followed by a dead silence, the bloodbath, the night that I almost died.

The first thing I asked for as soon as I regained consciousness, three weeks after the incident was the forensic investigation report. I couldn't stand the post-mortem on Marianne and Little Mark, my godson, whose bodies were discovered in the bathroom. The report included the dog without a head, Trixie, a mild-mannered Rottweiler, the puppy I gave the boy on his eighth birthday and has since grown to become his playmate and friend. There was a graphic description of two dying men at the porch of the Balderrama Mansion, one had a slug inches from his heart, the other had a butcher's knife still stuck at the base of his neck, spewing blood. Yet miraculously, both men survived. Immediately after my release from hospital, I surrendered my badge and left the police force, which felt like losing your true love, but I have a new life now and I shall dedicate this second life to the defense of my best friend, not as a lawman but as a full-pledged lawyer. Nothing else matters.

With a plot full of twist made for the movies, the Balderrama massacre fueled a national hysteria. The family of Marianne was deluged with offers from big law firms hungry for the publicity to gain if they could send the accused to prison, some are simply looking for revenge, his own colleagues who couldn't get over the humiliation Mark inflicted in past courtroom encounters. On the other hand, I painstakingly went bank to my law books, searched the depths of my learning and memory and labored for long hours trying to muster every ounce of useful knowledge from my training in criminal law and police investigation. When a tabloid flashed my mug shot on the side bar of the running story of the massacre with the intriguing caption describing me as a former police major with limited litigation experience having only recently passed the bar, and hinting that the reporter knew of my four previous failures in the bar examination, I wanted to quit. I went from one sleazy bar to the next and stayed drunk for weeks until I was convinced it's still worth a try.

Sparks don't fly when lawyers make their arguments in court. It may seem that way in the movies but in real life, the courtroom is not a theatrical stage of intellectuals who speak in metaphors and pull rabbits out of a hat to win cases. I believe that litigation is hard work and he who put in the grater effort should enjoy a better chance at success; my blue collar approach to what people used to call a white collar job. My faith in my theory never wavered from the day I accepted the case, which no lawyer would dare touch, until the closing arguments.

"Your Honor, my client is insane and he is entitled to the exempting circumstance of insanity".

"We object to that, your Honor. There was no evidence of insanity before, during and after the commission of the act. If anything, the accused is not only mentally sound, but he is actually very intelligent, brilliant if I must say so, being a high-profiled lawyer and a bar topnotcher".


"Your Honor, what motive can you have to commit something like this?

"Objection your Honor, motive is immaterial when the identity of the accused and his participation in the criminal act are clearly established. And we have sufficiently established that, your Honor".


I knew I was losing it. But I would rather die than accept my fate. I ripped my clothes, off exposing the ten-inch scar dealt by the butcher knife that ruptured my collarbone. The women covered their eyes and the men cursed. I had thrown the gauntlet at the judge to cite me for contempt but he was too shock to react. I was a man possessed, shouting and cursing while security men struggled to drag me out of the courtroom.

Look here, all you motherfuckers. Mr. Balderrama did this to me. If he had struck sideways, he would have cut my head off and I won't be here speaking to you now. But guess what? I don't hold grudges and I could live with what he did but what I couldn't take is to allow you and your fucking laws to condemn to death this innocent man. The accused is crazy goddammit but you can't see that because you are all crazy blood-thirsty motherfuckers yourselves. Goddamn crazy motherfuckers.

few months later, the entire nation was in a state of shock. Even the President, stunned, could only quip "no comment" when pressed in an ambush interview. She just couldn't say it was a travesty without incurring the wrath of the justices. It's even worse to call it "the triumph of justice" although that would make for a dramatic soundbite except that it would alienate the voters and seal his coffin in the next elections. Sometimes, it sucks to be a President.

I was literally dragged into a press conference the minute the verdict was announced. There I was chided, ridiculed, and then lionized by a press gone wild over the balding David, as one newspaper put it, who slew not one but a whole battalion of Goliaths in what was dubbed as the trial of the century. The David monicker sits well with me, but I hated the balding part. Can't they learn to give the compliment minus the insult? I was asked the usual questions and I gave the usual answers: how I feel, my message to the family of Marian, my opinion on capital punishment, I was bored from it all. My cellphone rang in the middle of the press conference. The secretary of one of the high-profile law firms was on the line requesting if I can meet her bosses asap, they would be pleased to know if I would consider joining the firm. We'll see.That was all I could say. Then someone from the press asked who would I choose to play myself if this case is made into a movie? The King, no less. But he's dead, they protested. Well, don't they say Long live, the King? The women thought I was cute, and how come you didn't marry, asked one of the women on the front row. It's none of your business, I answered smiling. Then a gay movie reporter apparently eavesdropping during my phone call earlier would like to know if I don't feel embarrassed being seen in public using the cheapest Nokia. I wanted to throw my 5210 at his face but decided against it so I walked out.

Tonight, all the television channels devoted entire newscasts to the verdict. It's amazing how easily these crusading journalists can turn full circle when not so long ago they have all but tried, convicted and crucified my client. Now they all concur that he was just a victim of circumstances and I am the savior. The news ended with snapshots from the reading of the decision, as the closing credits rolled down there was Marian's family grieving, screaming out loud, cursing but unable to comprehend this most hideous of pain, this crushing setback, this madness, this day in hell; and I know that from this moment until the day they die, they will hate me more than they had ever hated Mark, and they will condemn my soul to hell no matter if the whole world loves me now.

I turned off the teevee set and went downstairs to find the gate open. I instinctively reached for my waist, where my gun used to be, and realized just how much I missed my gun and my life as an officer. I looked around but found nothing unusual. Who would dare break into the house of a former police officer? And what's there to rob anyway? The night is cold and the moon is full, so full that it looks so near and almost scarlet in its fullness. I locked the gate, returned upstairs and walked into my bedroom. When I turned on the light, Mark stood in the corner, smiling a wide smile, and with fire in his eyes. He was holding a butcher's knife.

Friday, August 22, 2008

The Guest in the Glass House

My special thanks to Jill for letting me tell her story...

It felt like being in a fish bowl. The sound-proof music booth enclosed by glass panels was no bigger than 3 X 3 meters, and with all that equipment eating up precious space, Jill was almost suffocating. The cubicle and in fact practically the entire building itself were newly-painted, she could tell by the way it smells, and the booth was smartly designed to sit the disc jockey in front of the glass panel facing the hallway, for easy viewing by passing visitors the same way the enterprising petshop-owner would put the prized arowana in full view of customers. The comparison with an aquarium fish made Jill smile to herself.

Needless to say, Jill looks the part of one who should deserve by all means to be placed at the centerstage of people's attention, and that fact is not lost on the ambitious working student, proud as she was that unlike most disc jockeys who are, as some insensitive people would bluntly suggest, 'better heard than seen', she had been abundantly fortunate to have that drop dead gorgeous looks to go with the spellbinding voice, the living proof to dispel the so-called 'better-heard-than-seen myth'. But tonight, her first time alone on the graveyard shift, she sat with her back to the control panel, avoiding to face directly the glass wall fronting the hallway or to even glance sideways into that direction.

She tried to keep herself busy by admiring the brand new equipment, the expensive furniture, and the state of the art surveillance system installed in the newly constructed medium-rise building housing Manila's number one radio station here on the seventh floor. Indeed she assured herself, this job is worth the trouble of spending sleepless nights in what amounts to a glass house. She felt sorry for the previous apprentice, the guy who quit without lasting a week on the night shift. But she would rather not speculate on the reason why he decided to go although she heard rumors that one day he would claim he was hearing voices and people thought he was losing his mind, validating the general perception that the guy, with filthy long hair, tattos and an awful lot of body piercing, in short, the classic 'better-heard-than-seen' stereotype, was heavily on dope. But then again, this is not the time to think about it, whatever the reason was.

"Time check, it's 11:15, Good evening this is deejay Jill on board. We're gonna be rocking 'til midnight. Coming right up, the music of The Cure, and this one goes to Debbie, who's listening right now. Hi Debbie, Henry called to dedicate this song to you." Switching on, she started tapping at the arm chair, humming along to "Friday, I'm in Love". Then she pressed the automatic play mode, to set up the next sequence of songs to follow unless she needs to change it to accommodate some late-night caller's request.

She sensed something outside and hesitated for a few moments whether or not to take a look. It was the lady guard, doing the rounds, she gave Jill the thumbs up then switched off the last remaining light in the hallway. "Oh great", she muttered to herself. Now, save for the light inside her cubicle, the whole place is completely wrapped in a blanket of darkness. Jill imagined herself inside the cockpit of a spaceship caught suspended in the middle of a blackhole. And she also imagined, despite efforts to suppress it, that if there are eyes lurking in the dark, then all of them must be totally fixated on her this very moment, watching her every move. She had never felt so vulnerable. The darkness is a beast trying to break in and who knows if the glass can stand it. She felt her hands beginning to shake, but failing to convince herself that it's because of the cold, Jill went back to tapping and humming. She realized Rick Astley had replaced Robert Smith.

The phone rang and Jill almost jumped off her seat. But she was relieved to hear a familiar voice on the other end of the line.

"What are you talking about, Henry didn't call you up..."
"What makes you so sure he didn't, Deborah?"
"Well, because he's with me right now!"
"What? You bitch, do your parents know about this?" She was giggling, teasing her friend, her imagination instantly filled with malice. Afterall, what would the likes of Debbie and Henry be doing if they are together at this hour?
"Keep your mouth shut about this or I'll kill you. Good night Jill, and take care", then she hung up.

Jill was putting back the receiver when the light inside the booth suddenly went out. But in the corner of her eyes, and during the fleeting moments before darkness swept in, she had accidentally caught a glimpse of the image just outside the front glass panel. It was the boy again, his face almost pressed against the glass. That was the last thing she would ever see before everything else disappeared in the dark. But this time the image lingered and wouldn't leave the imagination unlike in the past when she could simply dismiss it as just another illusion. This time she was dead-sure that this is for real. The boy with bloodshot eyes and a mask of blood from a broken cranium had returned to pay her a visit, sending a chill through her spine and to every inch of her being. She dashed for the door only to realize she was locked up. The door knob would not even turn. Jill screamed but no one would hear from the sound-proof cubicle. Yet she could hear voices. The boy was not alone. There were many others.

Jill was in a state of shock and she was hysterical when the guards found her. She needed to be restrained and then sedated before they can bring her to the hospital. It took a long time before she could tell anyone her story. Today, the building where it all happened still stands along the northbound lane of Highway 54 in Guadalupe Makati but that building which stood proud and sparkling new not so long ago is now abandoned and the sign 'condemned' hangs on the lobby.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

"Nag-iisa Na Lang Si Ninoy"

Lovingly dedicated to "Ninoy"... Journalist, statesman, freedom-fighter, dreamer, and a hero whose assassination 25 years ago on August 21, 1983 lit the flame of what came to be known as the People Power Revolution... "The Filipino is worth dying for, he once proclaimed... and which later he unselfishly proved"...

"Nag-iisa Na Lang Si Ninoy"

Mas malungkot pa 'ko
Kay Ninoy ngayon
Itong limandaang lukot
Na may mukha niyang malungkot
At mukhang kawawa
Ang nag-iisang laman
Nitong aking pitakang
Kay nipis-nipis na.

Bakit kaya?
Siguro'y kanyang nabatid
Na si Tita Cory ay may sakit
Samantalang ako nama'y naghihinagpis
Wala pa ring pambayad ng renta
At matrikula

Sana itong si Ninoy
Hindi nag-iisa

'Pag bayad ko ng tanghalian mamaya
Itong si Ninoy
Ay mapapalitan
Ng mukha ni Roxas
Na di magtatagal
Ay magiging si Osmena
Na di magtatagal
Ay magiging si Quezon
Na di magtatagal
Ay magiging si Mabini at Bonifacio
Na di magtatagal
Ay magiging si Aguinaldo
Hanggang sa maging si Rizal
Na siyang sumulat
Ng 'Mi Ultimo Adios"

Hindi na lang muna kaya
Ako manananghalian...

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Birthday Gift

He woke up with a clear head. For a change. Then he and Annie had a quiet breakfast together. Black coffee and what's left of yesterday's bread for him while she had her fill of milk and her favorite chocolate-flavor cereals.

A minute later, they were in the bathroom.

"Where are we going father?" Annie asked gasping for breath as Tom poured water on the child's head to rinse away the suds while making sure to protect her eyes. Then he gently wiped and wrapped her in a towel.

"We're going to church, it's your birthday today. Remember what I told you last night?" Tom caught the sparkle in her eyes upon hearing this.

Then she carried her lovingly to the bedroom and pulled a familiar baby blue dress from the drawer, the same one worn by Annie to church last year, when Ellen was still here with them, which seemed now like an eternity away when it was in fact only a year ago. Tom was amazed at how fast she had grown.

"The dress barely fits her now", he whispered to himself.

Everything that was happening came and went like a blur which puzzled Tom, knowing that he is supposed to be sober today, for Annie's sake. One minute, the priest spoke about deliverance from worldly temptations, and then almost incoherently, about some obscure passage from the bible the next. He just couldn't grasp a thing. The sound system in church crackled to the choir's chorus, giving him a headache. Annie herself was becoming restless, the way it had always been with kids to whom religion is just something their parents tell them to learn to live with, when they would rather be playing all day instead.

As people lined up to receive the host, Tom swiftly scooped the child into his arms, and almost scampering away, they left. They left in a hurry. They left like someone's chasing them. They left without looking back. They went away, away from the faithful throng, away from the house of God, away from the echoes of song and prayer and into the crowded streets.

Tom didn't know where he was going to and he didn't care. He just kept walking. When his feet could no longer carry them, he slumped on a bench in the park, in front of an outdoor diner's counter. He realized he'd been walking around for hours, which explains his weariness, his hunger, his irrresistible thirst.

"I'm hungry, 'Pa..." the girl whispered to his ear which prompted Tom instinctively to reach for his wallet. There'll be enough to buy a fancy lunch and a birthday gift, he was glad to find out. For the second time today, they shared a meal, a better one compared to what they had earlier. She had pasta, toasted bread, fruit juice and a big scoop of rocky road with the cherry on top. Tom ordered lambchops and beans but he craved for something else, a craving he tried desperately to ignore, aware that this craving was the curse that ultimately shattered his mariage, and unless he can hold himself together, he would surely destroy himself with this craving, if in case it has not done it yet.

"No, not today, not this time, not now. Keep your head together Tom," he repeatedly reminded himself. "Save what little you have for the gift, for Annie's sake, do it, Tom..."

"Why don't you join the other kids out there", Tom said pointing at the playground teeming with children, "It's your day, sweetheart, have fun! I'll be right here watching over you".

"Okay, Dad..." She walked away - reluctantly at first, but pretty soon, Annie had joined the kids at play, running around screaming and frolicking in the grass, having a great time, not caring a bit as the hours passed, completely absorbed in the sheer enjoyment of their innocent, happy little lives.

Tom knew the moment the bottle touched his lips that there will be no turning back. One shot was followed by another and then another and yet another. The curse of the bottle had beaten him yet again. Tom sipped the last drop and spent the last cent of his money.

When Annie returned, she found Tom lying on the gutter, face down and slumped on his own vomit. She sat near him, and failing to revive her father the girl wept. What he said the night before was true. It was a birthday she will never forget for the rest of her life.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Fight

It was a night when an entire nation only has one thing in mind and speaks the language of pure excitement.

The rich and the poor, young and old, men, women and children - families enjoying quality time at home, the troops and rebel fighters camping out in the most far-flung barrios in Mindanao, the sick people in hospitals, the rich and powerful, practically everyone from people in high places to the most impoverished citizen - everywhere and anywhere you are for as long as the television or radio can reach you, and wherever you go - there was simply no escaping the anticipation of something truly special that within minutes is bound to unfold on this magical night.

That same fever-pitch excitement is a bomb waiting to explode in the Magpoc household. Dinner was served early and craning her neck to keep an eye on their black and white Admiral, Nena Magpoc was simultaneously washing the dishes now while she watched from the kitchen, water almost overflowing from the sink clogged by morsels of food the kids left on their plates the effect of excitement overwhelming the appetite.

But the forty-something housewife and mother of three couldn't care less, afterall this is the 70's and it would still be years from now before water crisis, rice crisis, power crisis or for that matter, any word associated with crisis rises to prominence in the national consciousness. The real impending crisis and one that this family cannot afford to even imagine is their team making an unforgivable slip against their mortal enemies on the hard court.

"It's starting, it's starting!" The boy Jun exclaimed as the panel rattled off statistics, trivia and some juicy tabloid gossips on the lives and loves of the jersey-clad millionaire players while they pranced around the court during the customary round-robin. Mang Teddy, the man of the house downed his fourth bottle of see hoc tong and reached for another bottle from the ref. Eyes still glued on the Admiral, he cut himself in the thumb as the can opener slipped off the tin cap and tore at his flesh. "Darn, this thing won't work!"he cursed, angrily throwing the can opener out of the window then licking his blood. The girls both barely in their teens huddled on the long couch, giggling everytime mug shots of the mop-haired scoring machine wearing jersey number 6 are flashed on teevee.

Everytime the two most beloved teams in the land clash for the title, the nation is split evenly in two. You can put them in a giant scale and you'll get a perfect balance. That's just how it is. The nation has been polarized by team loyalties. In politics, you can switch alliances as often as you change clothes and people will not begrudge you for doing that but in basketball, you are a fan of one and only one team until the day you die. Some nights you watch a game, but some other nights, you watch a fight.

Tonight is one of those nights, a championship night, a night of the great fight.

Mang Teddy has nurtured his family to be the loyal fan club of his beloved team. He must have figured "If I were to suffer serious anxiety attacks game after game, I might as well have company in misery, and who else could perfectly fit the role than the wife and kids?"

"What the hell in the world are you up to now, Teodoro? Throwing away the can opener like that, you're throwing away good money!"

"Throwing away good money? That damn thing is totally useless. You're the one throwing away good money buying such useless stuff!"

"Well, that's the only thing I can afford with the budget you gave me!"

"Shut up, Nena, don't insult me in front of the kids, chrissake!"

Then Mang Teddy quickly changed mood. "So what do you want for snack, kids?" he asked magnanimously, his way of atonement for guilt.

"Fish crackers" was the hometown crowd's overwhelming choice, the half a sack pack that sells for five pesos, which an entire family of five can take a whole week to finish.

"Give me the money now, Tatay so I can get to the store while it's still on commercial break", Jun the designated runner retorted impatiently. He's only 8 and already, he knows the game inside out like a real junkie. He reached for the huge one peso coins from his father's hand then darted out like rocket shot from a cannon. He took the backdoor leading to the balcony, ran downstairs at blinding speed, and upon reaching the gate, rode his imaginary motorbike at full speed to the sari-sari store, the frantic voices of the game announcers in his wake, the screaming from every house in the neighborhood at the jump ball accelerating the boy's magical ride.

As expected, the nearest store was jampacked with neighbors watching the game there. Jun had to squeeze his way between rows of sweaty, pot-bellied men and call out the China man three times in increasing volumes to make sure he gets noticed. Then, half a sack of fish crackers riding on his back, he transformed into the superhero The Flash, making his way home in split seconds.

The boy couldn't believe his eyes.

The hysteria of the household that he left a while ago has been replaced by darkness and dead silence. Every light in the house including the Admiral is switched off, the mood a funeral in the middle of a raucous new year's day celebration. Looking up in the dark, Jun saw the silhouette of his father alone in the balcony, holding his bottle and the boy knew better than approach him in the middle of the uneasy calm.

He dropped the fish cracker at the doorway and tiptoed across the pitch-black living room which has been littered by fragments of what seemed like a few broken plates. The door to the main bedroom where he sleeps on the same bed in between his father and his mother every night was locked and he could hear the familiar sobbing in the dark that he always dreads to hear. The boy slumped on the floor and began to cry himself until a shadow emerged from the girl's room and his big sister Delai took him by the hand. He will sleep with his sisters tonight, if sleep is possible amidst the tumultuous screaming from the next door neighbors who happened to be cheering for the opposing team.

It was indeed the night of the great fight.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Back to the Old House

Every now and then I still have dreams that take me back to the old house which my family rented for only a short time when I was a child. My sister thinks of that house as ugly and creepy. The only thing good I can say about it is that that house came cheap for its size like what my father said so. Two floors, three bedrooms upstairs, and plenty of space at the ground floor to accommodate a living room, a dining area, a comfort room right under the staircase, and still some excess space for another bed which I used for afternoon naps when the heat upstairs becomes unbearable.

Outside, there is a fairly large front yard where we kept a small flower garden and a chicken coop. The house faced west so that in the afternoons during the summer, the houses and structures in front cast a long shadow upon us, creating an almost surreal ambiance indoors with the contrasting appearances of light and shadow. During the rainy months and when the sky is gloomy, it also gets dark inside even during the daytime so that we have to keep the lights on, or at least the ones in the living room to make reading and certain household chores possible.

The house stood in an impoverished neighborhood. It's not as if the house were the picture of affluence in the midst of poverty for my sister will strongly disagree with that. Only it's safe to say that ours is not as miserable as the other houses on the block.The view from the bedroom window has little to offer apart from the dirty rust-covered rooftops of surrounding shanties, where a discarded rubber tire or a makeshift loft for pet pigeons was a regular sight, an ingenious way to keep the roofs of those houses in place when the wind blows. Our windows were secured by iron grills which according to the landlord were placed there at the instance of the previous tenants who had been unusually fearful of burglary.

That house was a mystery. Or maybe I was just seeing things being young and extremely imaginative during those days. I was alone in the house one afternoon, and I fell asleep on the bed downstairs. In my dream, I was being attacked by a werewolf-like creature. Thank God I was awakened in the nick of time before the nightmare killed me but I swear that in those fleeting moments between consciousness and sleep, I saw a black cat jumped off my bed and ran upstairs. I searched every place and every corner of the house but failed to find it, despite the fact that all the windows and every door were closed and there was no way to escape. From that day on, I would have terrible nightmares and everytime I would open my eyes, that black cat would be there somewhere near staring at me and always it would be a step ahead.

My nightmares stopped only when an uncle and his young wife moved in. They took the other room upstairs, and paid a share of the rent to the delight of my father. But they were an odd couple. My uncle and his wife. They would fight all the time. Loud violent fights. One time, my uncle packed his bags and left for the province leaving his wife with us for several weeks. I commiserated with her loneliness, and I knew she appreciates my being there to listen and to offer a little sympathy.

She would tell me of her frequent nightmares. Of monsters appearing in her dreams. My hair would stand just listening to her stories. To think I have never told her of my own dreams before. One particular story made my head threaten to explode out of shock and terror, which I could still feel creeping in at this moment just writing about it. She said that one afternoon, after being awakened from a terrifying dream she saw a naked man jump out of her bed and turn into a black cat!

My uncle would come back and they would reconcile. But the cycle of marital conflict between my uncle and his wife would come back over and over again until my father finally decided that we've had enough, but instead of making them leave, we were the ones who moved to another house.

I do not know and I wouldn't like to know if there are other reasons for my father to decide that it was time to leave. I wouldn't know and I wouldn't care a bit to know if there is a connection between my not having terrifying nightmares anymore, and those of the harrowing experiences of my uncle's wife. I wouldn't know and I wouldn't care to know if there is a more sinister reason why a few months after we moved out of the house, she suffered a miscarriage which left her permanently incapable of bearing a child again and why a little later, that old house mysteriously burned to the ground.

At least I knew then that thank God, we wouldn't be returning to that old house ever again.