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Dead Stars

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DEADSTARS by Paz Marquez Benitez I 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 puttering among the rose pots. “Papa, and when will the ‘lo
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  DEADSTARS by Paz Marquez Benitez  IThrough the open window the air-steeped outdoors passed into his room, quietlyenveloping him, stealing into his very thought. Esperanza, Julia, the sorry mess he hadmade of life, the years to come even now beginning to weigh down, to crush--they lostconcreteness, diffused into formless melancholy. The tranquil murmur of conversationissued from the brick-tiled azotea where Don Julian and Carmen were puttering among therose pots.“Papa, and when will the ‘long table’ be set?”“I don’t know yet. Alfredo is not very specific, but I understand Esperanza wants it to benext month.”Carmen sighed impatiently. “Why is he not a bit more decided, I wonder. He is over thirty,is he not? And still a bachelor!Esperanza must be tired of waiting.”“She does not seem to be in much of a hurry either,” Don Julian nasally commented whilehis rose scissors busily snipped away.“How can a woman be in a hurry when the man does not hurry here?” Carmen returned, pinching off a worm with a careful, somewhat absent-minded air. “Papa, do you remember how much in love he was?”“In love? With whom?”“With Esperanza, of course. He has not had another love affair that I know of,” she saidwith the good-natured contempt of an attractive woman for a brother who is apathetic tofeminine charms. “What I mean is that at the beginning he was enthusiastic--flowers,serenades, notes, and things like that--”Alfredo remembered that period with a wonder not unmixed with shame. That was lessthan four years ago. He could not understand those months of intensity. All he knew wasthat he had been possessed of a great hunger that was not of the body nor yet of the mind, acraving that had seized him one quiet night when the moon was abroad, and, under thedappled shadow of the trees on the plaza, man wooed maid. Was he being cheated of life?Love--he seemed to have missed it. Or was the love that others told about a merefabrication of fervid 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 theeternal 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, thefeeling 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. “Hurry,hurry, or you will miss it,” someone had seemed to urge in his ears. So he had avidly seizedon the shadow of love and deluded himself for a long while in the way of humanity. In themeantime, 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 would hold, to squeeze fromthe hour all the emotion it would yield. Men commit themselves when but half meaning todo so, sacrificing possible future fullness of ecstasy to the craving for immediateexcitement. Greed--mortgaging the future for the sake of a present interesting reaction.Greed--forcing the hand of Time, or of Fate.“What do you think happened?” asked Carmen, pursuing her thought.“I suppose long-engaged people are like that: warm now, cool tomorrow. I think they areoftener cool than warm. The very fact that an engagement has been allowed to prolongitself argues a certain placidity of temperament--or of affection--on the part of either or  both.” Don Julian loved to philosophize. He was talking now with an evident relish for words, his resonant, very nasal voice toned down to monologue pitch. “That phase youwere speaking of is natural enough for a beginning. Besides that, as I see it, was Alfredo’slast race with escaping youth--”Carmen laughed aloud at the thought of her brother’s perfect physical repose--almostindolence--disturbed in the role suggested by her father’s figurative language.“A last spurt of hot blood,” finished the old man.Few certainly would credit Alfredo Salazar with hot blood. Even his friends had amusedlydiagnosed his blood as cool and thin, citing incontrovertible evidence. Tall and slender, hemoved with an indolent ease that verged on grace. Under straight, recalcitrant hair, a thinface with a satisfying breadth of forehead, slow, dreamer’s eyes; indeed his appearance betokened little of exuberant masculinity; rather a poet with wayward humor, a fastidiousartist with a keen, clear brain.He rose and quietly went out of the house. He lingered a moment on the stone steps; thenwent on down the path shaded by immature acacias, through the little tarred gate which heleft swinging back and forth, now opening, now closing on the gravel road bordered alongthe farther side by a madre de cacao hedge in tardy lavender bloom.Six weeks ago that house meant nothing to him save that it was the Martinez house, rentedand occupied by Judge Del Valle and his family. Six weeks ago Julia Salas meant nothingto him; he did not even know her name.One evening he had gone “neighboring” with Don Julian: a rare enough occurrence, sincehe made it a point to avoid all appearance of currying favor with the Judge. This particular   evening, however, he had allowed himself to be persuaded. “A little mental relaxation nowand then is beneficial,” the old man had said. “Besides, a judge’s good will, you know”; therest of the thought--” is worth a rising young lawyer’s trouble--” Don Julian conveyedthrough a shrug and a smile that derided his own worldly wisdom.A young woman had met them at the door. It was evident from the excitement of theJudge’s children that she was a recent and very welcome arrival. In the characteristicFilipino way formal introductions had been omitted--the Judge limiting himself to a casual,Ah,ya se conocen? --with the consequence that Alfredo called her Miss Del Vallethroughout the evening.He was puzzled that she should smile with evident delight every time he addressed her thus. Later Don Julian informed him that she was not the Judge’s sister, as he hadsupposed, but his sister-in-law, and that her name was Julia Salas. A very dignified, rather austere name, he thought. Still the young Lady should have corrected him. As it was hewas greatly embarrassed and felt that he should explain.To his apology, she replied, “That is nothing,. Each time I was about to correct you, but Iremembered a similar experience I had once before.”“Oh,” he drawled out, vastly relieved.“A man named Manalang--I kept calling him Manalo. After the tenth time or so, the youngman rose from his seat and said suddenly, Pardon me, but my name is Manalang.Manalang.’ You know, I never forgave him.”He laughed with her.“The best thing to do under the circumstances, I have found out,” she pursued, “is to pretend not to hear and to let the other person find out his mistakes without help.”“As you did this time. Still, you looked amused every time I--”“I was thinking of Mr. Manalang.”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. The lone piano in theneighborhood alternately tinkled and banged away as the player’s mood altered. Helistened and wondered irrelevantly if Miss Salas could sing; she had such a charmingspeaking voice.He was mildly surprised to note now that from her appearance she was unmistakably asister of the Judge’s wife, although Dona Adela was of a different type altogether. She wassmall and plump, with wide brown eyes, clearly defined eyebrows, and delicately modeledlips--a pretty women with the complexion of a baby and the expression of likable cow.  Julia was taller, not so obviously pretty. She had the same eyebrows and lips, but she wasmuch darker, of a smooth rich brown with underlying tones of crimson which heightenedthe impression she gave of abundant vitality.On Sunday morning after mass, father and son would go crunching up the gravel road tothe house on the hill. The Judge’s wife invariably offered them beer, which Don Julianenjoyed and Alfredo did not. 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 enjoyedtalking 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 Esperanzachanced to ask him indirectly about those visits did some uneasiness creep into his thoughtsof the girl next door.Esperanza had wanted to know if he went straight home after mass. Alfredo realized thatfor several Sundays now he had not waited for Esperanza to come out of the church as hehad been want to do. He had been eager to go “neighboring.”He answered that he went home to work. And, because he was not habitually untruthful,added, “Sometimes I go with Papa to Judge Del Valle’s.”She dropped the topic. Esperanza was not prone to indulge in unprovoked jealousies. Shewas a believer in the regenerative virtues of institutions, in their power to regulate feelingas well as conduct. If a man were married, why, of course he loved his wife; if he wereengaged, he could not possibly love another woman.The half-lie told him what he had not admitted openly to himself; that he was giving JuliaSalas something which he was not free to give. He realized that; yet something that wouldnot 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.“Up here I find--something--”He and Julia Salas stood looking out into the quiet night. Sen-sing unwonted intensity, shelaughed, womanlike, asking, “Amusement?”“No; youth--its spirit--”“Are you so old?”“And heart’s desire.”Was he becoming a poet, or is there a poet lurking in the heart of every man?
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