Saturday, November 04, 2006

Writing Angelyn

Eight pages a day aren’t a shabby output, unless they’re deconstructed almost immediately. I edit out anything NR, leaving only Angelyn’s voice which murmurs at me daily from the bound diary of ten years as a housekeeper/cook/nanny. I read the diary first thing in the morning, last thing at night (except when Battlestar Galactica is on), re-programming my brain to speak in Angelyn. She’d kept the diary to learn English. Her language is a thicket forest through which I hack and slash, searching for pathways. This is the door:

Her first words were “the house is 10,000 sq. ft. total.” She didn’t need to add that it was surrounded by an extravagant garden, whose footpath to the kitchen door I had just walked. The house was cupped like a pearl on a upturned green hand. It was all white, outside and inside, neat and clean, the very fact of its costliness making color unnecessary. Though I said “yes, ma’am,” dutifully, I floated inside, imagining my children’s astonishment at their mother living in such a palace.

At first her voice was hardly the sound of a brook but it has become stronger and now sounds like tidal waves upon rocks, crashing in, drawing out.

Mrs. Cody said, as we moved out the kitchen to a back room, “we prefer hot breakfasts.” She said that only lower-income people had cold milk and cereal for breakfast. “Both father and mother have to leave early for work, that’s why.”
...
Nine months ago, I left the Philippines – I am tempted to say my country but that would not be correct; one doesn’t leave a country; one leaves a house, a neighborhood, a city; one leaves people and there’s no past tense to leaving people; each day one is away, one is leaving… I left in the middle of a life adrift.
...
These were my earnings and how I spent them: at $50 a day, I got on the average $1500 per month. A thousand was sent immediately to my family. It kept not only my children and my husband in good shape but also my mother and later, my father when he retired, as well as various aunts, nephews and nieces who seemed to be assailed by crisis once a month. That left me $500 augmented by my odd-job earnings of $100 per weekend for a total of $900 per month, depending on my health.

I run out of cigarettes. Run to the corner store. Coo at children playing on the sidewalk. At the next block, a light goes on in my head. NR doesn’t coo at children and pat their heads. NR coos at dogs and pats dogs’ heads. Children are like shrubs to NR. I’m fusing with Angelyn.

This was my schedule: 6 a.m., I made breakfast, washed and dressed the children, waited with them until the school bus showed up. I poured coffee into two mugs and took them to the master bedroom. Then I started cleaning the bedrooms and bathrooms until noon when I prepared Mrs. Cody’s lunch, poured her a glass of wine and served these in her attic office. … Laundry was next on my list until 3 p.m. when I started dinner preparations, putting out fish and meat to thaw. The children returned around this time and I had to deal with their mess – the schoolbag and shoes and sweaters and socks flung in the living room. If Mrs. Cody had to attend an event or a meeting for one child, I would have to watch the other. At 6 p.m., they had dinner. Then I gave the children each a bath, place them in sleeping clothes, combed and dried their hair and tucked them in bed… When the Codys had guests, which was often, I would have to wait until their departure, around 10 or 11, to begin cleaning. On the average, I went to sleep between midnight and one in the morning.

I’m so tired cleaning and cooking in Angelyn’s world a layer of dust overlays my apartment. The stove is cold and the carrots in the fridge are liquefying. In 72 hours I’ve eaten toasted bread, some macadamia nuts. Before that more toasted bread. I tell myself to leave the keyboard, stop staring at the monitor and go to the grocery. I’m dropping half a pound each day. Maybe I can get Zonechef to donate four weeks’ of food so I can survive this writing. Wait, Zonechef is diet food.

The first time I was to have my two days off, Mrs. Cody said “oh, Angelyn, we have to go to a dinner party. We’ll be back as soon as possible but you have to wait for us. The children cannot be left alone. Don’t worry; you’ll make it to the train.” … Okay. I read to Nadia until she fell asleep. Then I went downstairs where my overnight bag stood by the front door, as eager to scoot out of there as I was. Eight o’clock; nine. Ten o’clock. At eleven, I heard a car coming down the road and the garage doors opening. Oh, hurray, but it was so late; it was so dark outside.. I must have looked remonstrating because Mrs. Cody said to me: “It’s okay. It’s daylight savings time. So eleven o’clock is really ten o’clock. It’s not overtime. It’s still early.”

Remove all the anger, remove all outrage. At this point, Angelyn is merely accepting. Leave it all to God, bahala na.

Mrs. Cody and Anson, the landscaper from England, were in the office attic, discussing spring’s garden design. Mrs. Cody wanted her house to be selected by Architectural Digest, just like her arch enemy’s house down the street. Per her instructions, I poured two glasses of red wine, sliced some cheese, took some crackers and arranged all on a silver tray to take to the attic. But – omigod, here was Anson coming down the stairs as I was going up. He’s stark naked, his d**k swinging like a pendulum as he dashed for the bathroom. Omigod, I didn’t see this. Omigod, the British landscaper is doing Mrs. Cody. Omigod, Anson is effing Mrs. Cody and I KNOW! Omigod! I KNOW! The tray shook in my hands. She’ll blame me for knowing; she’ll terminate me; I will lose my job! Help!

Me, too: help!

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice story! great! nice work!

Honey Mae said...

i can't wait for more, or for the book. will the narrative structure be like this? its a really interesting combination of the two lives of these two women (of you and angelyn) intersecting like this.

Ninotchka Rosca said...

No. The structure will be straight narrative from Angelyn's point of view. I wrote this because when people ask me to write something or the other within 24 hours and I ask whether there was some support for the work, they always say "but writing is so easy for you."

Anonymous said...

Good morning! May I ask a favor? Can I ask your detailed biography? Your biography will be discussed in our classroom together with other Filipino author. I really want to know you better.I hope that you will grant my favor as soon as you can. This is my email-euxine666@gmail.com

Dax said...

That paper I wrote in 2001 for my undergraduate degree..I interviewed 3 Filipina domestic workers in Canada...it was like this. Nice work.