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Dead Stars Paz Marquez Benitez

THROUGH the open window the air-steeped outdoors passed into his room, quietly enveloping him, stealing into
his very thought. Esperanza, ulia, the sorry mess he had made o! li!e, the years to "ome even now #eginning to
weigh down, to "rush--they lost "on"reteness, di!!used into !ormless melan"holy. The tranquil murmur o!
"onversation issued !rom the #ri"$-tiled azotea where %on ulian and &armen were #usy puttering away among
the rose pots.
'(apa, and when will the )long ta#le) #e set*'
'+ don)t $now yet. ,l!redo is not very spe"i!i", #ut + understand Esperanza wants it to #e ne-t month.'
&armen sighed impatiently. '.hy is he not a #it more de"ided, + wonder. He is over thirty, is he not* ,nd still a
#a"helor/ Esperanza must #e tired waiting.'
'0he does not seem to #e in mu"h o! a hurry either,' %on ulian nasally "ommented, while his rose s"issors #usily
snipped away.
'How "an a woman #e in a hurry when the man does not hurry her*' &armen returned, pin"hing o!! a worm with
a "are!ul, somewhat a#sent air. '(apa, do you remem#er how mu"h in love he was*'
'+n love* .ith whom*'
'.ith Esperanza, o! "ourse. He has not had another love a!!air that + $now o!,' she said with good-natured
"ontempt. '.hat + mean is that at the #eginning he was enthusiasti"--!lowers, serenades, notes, and things li$e
that--'
,l!redo remem#ered that period with a wonder not unmi-ed with shame. That was less than !our years ago. He
"ould not understand those months o! a great hunger that was not o! the #ody nor yet o! the mind, a "raving that
had seized on him one quiet night when the moon was a#road and under the dappled shadow o! the trees in the
plaza, man wooed maid. .as he #eing "heated #y li!e* 1ove--he seemed to have missed it. Or was the love that
others told a#out a mere !a#ri"ation o! per!ervid imagination, an e-aggeration o! the "ommonpla"e, a glori!i"ation
o! insipid monotonies su"h as made up his love li!e* .as love a "om#ination o! "ir"umstan"es, or sheer native
"apa"ity o! soul* +n those days love was, !or him, still the eternal puzzle2 !or love, as he $new it, was a stranger to
love as he divined it might #e.
0itting quietly in his room now, he "ould almost revive the restlessness o! those days, the !eeling o! tumultuous
haste, su"h as he $new so well in his #oyhood when something #eauti!ul was going on somewhere and he was
trying to get there in time to see. 'Hurry, hurry, or you will miss it,' someone had seemed to urge in his ears. 0o
he had avidly seized on the shadow o! 1ove and deluded himsel! !or a long while in the way o! humanity !rom
time immemorial. +n the meantime, he #e"ame very mu"h engaged to Esperanza.
.hy would men so mismanage their lives* Greed, he thought, was what ruined so many. Greed--the desire to
"rowd into a moment all the en3oyment it will hold, to squeeze !rom the hour all the emotion it will yield. 4en
"ommit themselves when #ut hal!-meaning to do so, sa"ri!i"ing possi#le !uture !ullness o! e"stasy to the "raving
!or immediate e-"itement. Greed--mortgaging the !uture--!or"ing the hand o! Time, or o! 5ate.
'.hat do you thin$ happened*' as$ed &armen, pursuing her thought.
'+ supposed long-engaged people are li$e that2 warm now, "ool tomorrow. + thin$ they are o!tener "ool than
warm. The very !a"t that an engagement has #een allowed to prolong itsel! argues a "ertain pla"idity o!
temperament--or o! a!!e"tion--on the part o! either, or #oth.' %on ulian loved to philosophize. He was tal$ing
now with an evident relish in words, his resonant, very nasal voi"e toned down to monologue pit"h. 'That phase
you were spea$ing o! is natural enough !or a #eginning. 6esides, that, as + see it, was ,l!redo)s last ra"e with
es"aping youth--'
&armen laughed aloud at the thought o! her #rother)s per!e"t physi"al repose--almost indolen"e--distur#ed in the
role suggested #y her !ather)s !igurative language.
', last spurt o! hot #lood,' !inished the old man.
5ew "ertainly would "redit ,l!redo 0alazar with hot #lood. Even his !riends had amusedly diagnosed his #lood as
"ool and thin, "iting in"ontroverti#le eviden"e. Tall and slender, he moved with an indolent ease that verged on
gra"e. Under straight re"al"itrant hair, a thin !a"e with a satis!ying #readth o! !orehead, slow, dreamer)s eyes, and
astonishing !reshness o! lips--indeed ,l!redo 0alazar)s appearan"e #eto$ened little o! e-u#erant mas"ulinity2
rather a poet with wayward humor, a !astidious artist with $een, "lear #rain.
He rose and quietly went out o! the house. He lingered a moment on the stone steps2 then went down the path
shaded #y immature a"a"ias, through the little tarred gate whi"h he le!t swinging #a"$ and !orth, now opening,
now "losing, on the gravel road #ordered along the !arther side #y madre "a"ao hedge in tardy lavender #loom.
The gravel road narrowed as it slanted up to the house on the hill, whose wide, open por"hes he "ould glimpse
through the heat-shrivelled tamarinds in the 4artinez yard.
0i- wee$s ago that house meant nothing to him save that it was the 4artinez house, rented and o""upied #y udge
del 7alle and his !amily. 0i- wee$s ago ulia 0alas meant nothing to him2 he did not even $now her name2 #ut
now--
One evening he had gone 'neigh#oring' with %on ulian2 a rare enough o""urren"e, sin"e he made it a point to
avoid all appearan"e o! "urrying !avor with the udge. This parti"ular evening however, he had allowed himsel! to
#e persuaded. ', little mental rela-ation now and then is #ene!i"ial,' the old man had said. '6esides, a 3udge)s
good will, you $now2' the rest o! the thought--'is worth a rising young lawyer)s trou#le'--%on ulian "onveyed
through a shrug and a smile that derided his own worldly wisdom.
, young woman had met them at the door. +t was evident !rom the e-"itement o! the udge)s "hildren that she was
a re"ent and very wel"ome arrival. +n the "hara"teristi" 5ilipino way !ormal introdu"tions had #een omitted--the
3udge limiting himsel! to a "asual "Ah, ya se conocen?"--with the "onsequen"e that ,l!redo "alled her 4iss del
7alle throughout the evening.
He was puzzled that she should smile with evident delight every time he addressed her thus. 1ater %on ulian
in!ormed him that she was not the udge)s sister, as he had supposed, #ut his sister-in-law, and that her name was
ulia 0alas. , very digni!ied rather austere name, he thought. 0till, the young lady should have "orre"ted him. ,s
it was, he was greatly em#arrassed, and !elt that he should e-plain.
To his apology, she replied, 'That is nothing, Ea"h time + was a#out to "orre"t you, #ut + remem#ered a similar
e-perien"e + had on"e #e!ore.'
'Oh,' he drawled out, vastly relieved.
', man named 4analang--+ $ept "alling him 4analo. ,!ter the tenth time or so, the young man rose !rom his seat
and said suddenly, )(ardon me, #ut my name is 4analang, 4analang.) 8ou $now, + never !orgave him/'
He laughed with her.
'The #est thing to do under the "ir"umstan"es, + have !ound out,' she pursued, 'is to pretend not to hear, and to let
the other person !ind out his mista$e without help.'
',s you did this time. 0till, you loo$ed amused every time +--'
'+ was thin$ing o! 4r. 4analang.'
%on ulian and his un"ommuni"ative !riend, the udge, were a#sor#ed in a game o! "hess. The young man had
tired o! playing appre"iative spe"tator and desultory "onversationalist, so he and ulia 0alas had gone o!! to "hat
in the vine-"overed por"h. The lone piano in the neigh#orhood alternately tin$led and #anged away as the player)s
moods altered. He listened, and wondered irrelevantly i! 4iss 0alas "ould sing2 she had su"h a "harming spea$ing
voi"e.
He was mildly surprised to note !rom her appearan"e that she was unmista$a#ly a sister o! the udge)s wi!e,
although %o9a ,dela was o! a di!!erent type altogether. 0he was small and plump, with wide #rown eyes, "learly
de!ined eye#rows, and deli"ately modeled hips--a pretty woman with the "omple-ion o! a #a#y and the e-pression
o! a li$a#le "ow. ulia was taller, not so o#viously pretty. 0he had the same eye#rows and lips, #ut she was mu"h
dar$er, o! a smooth ri"h #rown with underlying tones o! "rimson whi"h heightened the impression she gave o!
a#ounding vitality.
On 0unday mornings a!ter mass, !ather and son would go "run"hing up the gravel road to the house on the hill.
The udge)s wi!e invaria#ly o!!ered them #eer, whi"h %on ulian en3oyed and ,l!redo did not. ,!ter a hal! hour or
so, the "hess#oard would #e #rought out2 then ,l!redo and ulia 0alas would go out to the por"h to "hat. 0he sat
in the low hammo"$ and he in a ro"$ing "hair and the hours--warm, quiet 4ar"h hours--sped #y. He en3oyed
tal$ing with her and it was evident that she li$ed his "ompany2 yet what !eeling there was #etween them was so
undistur#ed that it seemed a matter o! "ourse. Only when Esperanza "han"ed to as$ him indire"tly a#out those
visits did some uneasiness "reep into his thoughts o! the girl ne-t door.
Esperanza had wanted to $now i! he went straight home a!ter mass. ,l!redo suddenly realized that !or several
0undays now he had not waited !or Esperanza to "ome out o! the "hur"h as he had #een wont to do. He had #een
eager to go 'neigh#oring.'
He answered that he went home to wor$. ,nd, #e"ause he was not ha#itually untruth!ul, added, '0ometimes + go
with (apa to udge del 7alle)s.'
0he dropped the topi". Esperanza was not prone to indulge in unprovo$ed 3ealousies. 0he was a #eliever in the
regenerative virtue o! institutions, in their power to regulate !eeling as well as "ondu"t. +! a man were married,
why, o! "ourse, he loved his wi!e2 i! he were engaged, he "ould not possi#ly love another woman.
That hal!-lie told him what he had not admitted openly to himsel!, that he was giving ulia 0alas something whi"h
he was not !ree to give. He realized that2 yet something that would not #e denied #e"$oned imperiously, and he
!ollowed on.
+t was so easy to !orget up there, away !rom the prying eyes o! the world, so easy and so poignantly sweet. The
#eloved woman, he standing "lose to her, the shadows around, en!olding.
'Up here + !ind--something--'
He and ulia 0alas stood loo$ing out into the she quiet night. 0ensing unwanted intensity, laughed, woman-li$e,
as$ing, ',musement*'
':o2 youth--its spirit--'
',re you so old*'
',nd heart)s desire.'
.as he #e"oming a poet, or is there a poet lur$ing in the heart o! every man*
'%own there,' he had "ontinued, his voi"e somewhat indistin"t, 'the road is too #road, too trodden #y !eet, too
#arren o! mystery.'
'%own there' #eyond the an"ient tamarinds lay the road, upturned to the stars. +n the dar$ness the !ire!lies
glimmered, while an errant #reeze strayed in !rom somewhere, #ringing elusive, !araway sounds as o! voi"es in a
dream.
'4ystery--' she answered lightly, 'that is so #rie!--'
':ot in some,' qui"$ly. ':ot in you.'
'8ou have $nown me a !ew wee$s2 so the mystery.'
'+ "ould study you all my li!e and still not !ind it.'
'0o long*'
'+ should li$e to.'
Those si- wee$s were now so swi!t--seeming in the memory, yet had they #een so deep in the living, so "harged
with "ompelling power and sweetness. 6e"ause neither the past nor the !uture had relevan"e or meaning, he lived
only the present, day #y day, lived it intensely, with su"h a will!ul shutting out o! !a"t as astounded him in his
"almer moments.
ust #e!ore Holy .ee$, %on ulian invited the 3udge and his !amily to spend 0unday a!ternoon at Tanda where he
had a "o"onut plantation and a house on the #ea"h. &armen also "ame with her !our energeti" "hildren. 0he and
%o9a ,dela spent most o! the time indoors dire"ting the preparation o! the merienda and dis"ussing the li$ea#le
a#surdities o! their hus#ands--how &armen)s 7i"ente was so a#sor#ed in his !arms that he would not even ta$e
time o!! to a""ompany her on this visit to her !ather2 how %o9a ,dela)s %ionisio was the most a#sentminded o!
men, sometimes going out without his "ollar, or with unmat"hed so"$s.
,!ter the merienda, %on ulian sauntered o!! with the 3udge to show him what a thriving young "o"onut loo$ed
li$e--'plenty o! leaves, "lose set, ri"h green'--while the "hildren, "onvoyed #y ulia 0alas, !ound unending
entertainment in the rippling sand le!t #y the e##ing tide. They were !ar down, wal$ing at the edge o! the water,
indistin"tly outlined against the gray o! the out-"urving #ea"h.
,l!redo le!t his per"h on the #am#oo ladder o! the house and !ollowed. Here were her !ootsteps, narrow, ar"hed.
He laughed at himsel! !or his #la"$ "anvas !ootwear whi"h he removed !orthwith and tossed high up on dry sand.
.hen he "ame up, she !lushed, then smiled with !ran$ pleasure.
'+ hope you are en3oying this,' he said with a questioning in!le"tion.
'7ery mu"h. +t loo$s li$e home to me, e-"ept that we do not have su"h a lovely #ea"h.'
There was a #reeze !rom the water. +t #lew the hair away !rom her !orehead, and whipped the tu"$ed-up s$irt
around her straight, slender !igure. +n the pi"ture was something o! eager !reedom as o! wings poised in !light.
The girl had gra"e, distin"tion. Her !a"e was not nota#ly pretty2 yet she had a tantalizing "harm, all the more
"ompelling #e"ause it was an inner quality, an a"hievement o! the spirit. The lure was there, o! naturalness, o! an
alert vitality o! mind and #ody, o! a thought!ul, sunny temper, and o! a piquant perverseness whi"h is sau"e to
"harm.
'The a!ternoon has seemed very short, hasn)t it*' Then, 'This, + thin$, is the last time--we "an visit.'
'The last* .hy*'
'Oh, you will #e too #usy perhaps.'
He noted an evasive quality in the answer.
'%o + seem espe"ially industrious to you*'
'+! you are, you never loo$ it.'
':ot perspiring or #reathless, as a #usy man ought to #e.'
'6ut--'
',lways unhurried, too unhurried, and "alm.' 0he smiled to hersel!.
'+ wish that were true,' he said a!ter a meditative pause.
0he waited.
', man is happier i! he is, as you say, "alm and pla"id.'
'1i$e a "ara#ao in a mud pool,' she retorted perversely
'.ho* +*'
'Oh, no/'
'8ou said + am "alm and pla"id.'
'That is what + thin$.'
'+ used to thin$ so too. 0hows how little we $now ourselves.'
+t was strange to him that he "ould #e wooing thus; with tone and loo$ and "overt phrase.
'+ should li$e to see your home town.'
'There is nothing to see--little "roo$ed streets, bunut roo!s with !erns growing on them, and sometimes squashes.'
That was the #a"$ground. +t made her seem less deta"hed, less unrelated, yet withal more distant, as i! that
#a"$ground "laimed her and e-"luded him.
':othing* There is you.'
'Oh, me* 6ut + am here.'
'+ will not go, o! "ourse, until you are there.'
'.ill you "ome* 8ou will !ind it dull. There isn)t even one ,meri"an there/'
'.ell--,meri"ans are rather essential to my entertainment.'
0he laughed.
'.e live on &alle 1uz, a little street with trees.'
'&ould + !ind that*'
'+! you don)t as$ !or 4iss del 7alle,' she smiled teasingly.
'+)ll inquire a#out--'
'.hat*'
'The house o! the prettiest girl in the town.'
'There is where you will lose your way.' Then she turned serious. ':ow, that is not quite sin"ere.'
'+t is,' he averred slowly, #ut emphati"ally.
'+ thought you, at least, would not say su"h things.'
'(retty--pretty--a !oolish word/ 6ut there is none other more handy + did not mean that quite--'
',re you withdrawing the "ompliment*'
'Re-en!or"ing it, may#e. 0omething is pretty when it pleases the eye--it is more than that when--'
'+! it saddens*' she interrupted hastily.
'E-a"tly.'
'+t must #e ugly.'
',lways*'
Toward the west, the sunlight lay on the dimming waters in a #road, glinting streamer o! "rimsoned gold.
':o, o! "ourse you are right.'
'.hy did you say this is the last time*' he as$ed quietly as they turned #a"$.
'+ am going home.'
The end o! an impossi#le dream/
'.hen*' a!ter a long silen"e.
'Tomorrow. + re"eived a letter !rom 5ather and 4other yesterday. They want me to spend Holy .ee$ at home.'
0he seemed to #e waiting !or him to spea$. 'That is why + said this is the last time.'
'&an)t + "ome to say good-#ye*'
'Oh, you don)t need to/'
':o, #ut + want to.'
'There is no time.'
The golden streamer was withdrawing, shortening, until it loo$ed no more than a pool !ar away at the rim o! the
world. 0tillness, a vi#rant quiet that a!!e"ts the senses as does solemn harmony2 a pea"e that is not "ontentment
#ut a "essation o! tumult when all violen"e o! !eeling tones down to the wist!ul serenity o! regret. 0he turned and
loo$ed into his !a"e, in her dar$ eyes a ghost o! sunset sadness.
'Home seems so !ar !rom here. This is almost li$e another li!e.'
'+ $now. This is Elsewhere, and yet strange enough, + "annot get rid o! the old things.'
'Old things*'
'Oh, old things, mista$es, en"um#ran"es, old #aggage.' He said it lightly, unwilling to mar the hour. He wal$ed
"lose, his hand sometimes tou"hing hers !or one whirling se"ond.
%on ulian)s nasal summons "ame to them on the wind.
,l!redo gripped the so!t hand so near his own. ,t his tou"h, the girl turned her !a"e away, #ut he heard her voi"e
say very low, 'Good-#ye.'
++
,15RE%O 0alazar turned to the right where, !arther on, the road #roadened and entered the heart o! the town--
heart o! &hinese stores sheltered under low-hung roo!s, o! indolent drug stores and tailor shops, o! dingy shoe-
repairing esta#lishments, and a "luttered goldsmith)s "u##yhole where a "onsumptive #ent over a magni!ying lens2
heart o! old #ri"$-roo!ed houses with quaint hand-and-#all $no"$ers on the door2 heart o! grass-grown plaza
repose!ul with trees, o! an"ient "hur"h and convento, now "ir"led #y swallows gliding in !light as smooth and so!t
as the a!ternoon itsel!. +nto the qui"$ly deepening twilight, the voi"e o! the #iggest o! the "hur"h #ells $ept ringing
its insistent summons. 5lo"$ing "ame the devout with their long wa- "andles, young women in vivid apparel <!or
this was Holy Thursday and the 1ord was still alive=, older women in so#er #la"$ s$irts. &ame too the young men
in droves, el#owing ea"h other under the talisay tree near the "hur"h door. The gaily de"$ed ri"e-paper lanterns
were again on display while !rom the windows o! the older houses hung "olored glass glo#es, heirlooms !rom a
day when grasspith wi"$s !loating in "o"onut oil were the "hie! lighting devi"e.
0oon a dou#le row o! lights emerged !rom the "hur"h and un"oiled down the length o! the street li$e a huge
3ewelled #and studded with glittering "lusters where the saints) plat!orms were. ,#ove the measured musi" rose
the untutored voi"es o! the "hoir, steeped in in"ense and the a"rid !umes o! #urning wa-.
The sight o! Esperanza and her mother sedately pa"ing #ehind Our 1ady o! 0orrows suddenly destroyed the
illusion o! "ontinuity and #ro$e up those lines o! light into "omponent individuals. Esperanza sti!!ened sel!-
"ons"iously, tried to loo$ unaware, and "ould not.
The line moved on.
0uddenly, ,l!redo)s slow #lood #egan to #eat violently, irregularly. , girl was "oming down the line--a girl that
was stri$ing, and vividly alive, the woman that "ould "ause violent "ommotion in his heart, yet had no pla"e in the
"ompleted ordering o! his li!e.
Her glan"e o! a#stra"ted devotion !ell on him and "ame to a #rie! stop.
The line $ept moving on, wending its "ir"uitous route away !rom the "hur"h and then #a"$ again, where,
a""ording to the old prover#, all pro"essions end.
,t last Our 1ady o! 0orrows entered the "hur"h, and with her the priest and the "hoir, whose voi"es now e"hoed
!rom the ar"hed "eiling. The #ells rang the "lose o! the pro"ession.
, round orange moon, 'huge as a winnowing #as$et,' rose lazily into a "lear s$y, whitening the iron roo!s and
dimming the lanterns at the windows. ,long the still densely shadowed streets the young women with their rear
guard o! males loitered and, may#e, too$ the longest way home.
Toward the end o! the row o! &hinese stores, he "aught up with ulia 0alas. The "rowd had dispersed into the side
streets, leaving &alle Real to those who lived !arther out. +t was past eight, and Esperanza would #e e-pe"ting him
in a little while; yet the thought did not hurry him as he said 'Good evening' and !ell into step with the girl.
'+ had #een thin$ing all this time that you had gone,' he said in a voi"e that was #oth e-"ited and trou#led.
':o, my sister as$ed me to stay until they are ready to go.'
'Oh, is the udge going*'
'8es.'
The provin"ial do"$et had #een "leared, and udge del 7alle had #een assigned elsewhere. ,s lawyer--and as
lover--,l!redo had !ound that out long #e!ore.
'4r. 0alazar,' she #ro$e into his silen"e, '+ wish to "ongratulate you.'
Her tone told him that she had learned, at last. That was inevita#le.
'5or what*'
'5or your approa"hing wedding.'
0ome e-planation was due her, surely. 8et what "ould he say that would not o!!end*
'+ should have o!!ered "ongratulations long #e!ore, #ut you $now mere visitors are slow a#out getting the news,'
she "ontinued.
He listened not so mu"h to what she said as to the nuan"es in her voi"e. He heard nothing to enlighten him, e-"ept
that she had reverted to the !ormal tones o! early a"quaintan"e. :o revelation there2 simply the old voi"e--"ool,
almost deta"hed !rom personality, !le-i#le and vi#rant, suggesting potentialities o! song.
',re weddings interesting to you*' he !inally #rought out quietly
'.hen they are o! !riends, yes.'
'.ould you "ome i! + as$ed you*'
'.hen is it going to #e*'
'4ay,' he replied #rie!ly, a!ter a long pause.
'4ay is the month o! happiness they say,' she said, with what seemed to him a shade o! irony.
'They say,' slowly, indi!!erently. '.ould you "ome*'
'.hy not*'
':o reason. + am 3ust as$ing. Then you will*'
'+! you will as$ me,' she said with disdain.
'Then + as$ you.'
'Then + will #e there.'
The gravel road lay #e!ore them2 at the road)s end the lighted windows o! the house on the hill. There swept over
the spirit o! ,l!redo 0alazar a longing so $een that it was pain, a wish that, that house were his, that all the
#ewilderments o! the present were not, and that this woman #y his side were his long wedded wi!e, returning with
him to the pea"e o! home.
'ulita,' he said in his slow, thought!ul manner, 'did you ever have to "hoose #etween something you wanted to
do and something you had to do*'
':o/'
'+ thought may#e you had had that e-perien"e2 then you "ould understand a man who was in su"h a situation.'
'8ou are !ortunate,' he pursued when she did not answer.
'+s--is this man sure o! what he should do*'
'+ don)t $now, ulita. (erhaps not. 6ut there is a point where a thing es"apes us and rushes downward o! its own
weight, dragging us along. Then it is !oolish to as$ whether one will or will not, #e"ause it no longer depends on
him.'
'6ut then why--why--' her mu!!led voi"e "ame. 'Oh, what do + $now* That is his pro#lem a!ter all.'
'%oesn)t it--interest you*'
'.hy must it* +--+ have to say good-#ye, 4r. 0alazar2 we are at the house.'
.ithout li!ting her eyes she qui"$ly turned and wal$ed away.
Had the !inal word #een said* He wondered. +t had. 8et a !ee#le !lutter o! hope trem#led in his mind though set
against that hope were three years o! engagement, a very near wedding, per!e"t understanding #etween the
parents, his own "ons"ien"e, and Esperanza hersel!--Esperanza waiting, Esperanza no longer young, Esperanza
the e!!i"ient, the literal-minded, the intensely a"quisitive.
He loo$ed attentively at her where she sat on the so!a, appraisingly, and with a $ind o! aversion whi"h he tried to
"ontrol.
0he was one o! those !ortunate women who have the gi!t o! uni!ormly a""epta#le appearan"e. 0he never surprised
one with une-pe"ted homeliness nor with startling reserves o! #eauty. ,t home, in "hur"h, on the street, she was
always hersel!, a woman past !irst #loom, light and "lear o! "omple-ion, spare o! arms and o! #reast, with a slight
"onve-ity to thin throat2 a woman dressed with sel!-"ons"ious "are, even elegan"e2 a woman distin"tly not
average.
0he was pursuing an indignant relation a#out something or other, something a#out &ali-ta, their note-"arrier,
,l!redo per"eived, so he merely hal!-listened, understanding imper!e"tly. ,t a pause he drawled out to !ill in the
gap; '.ell, what o! it*' The remar$ sounded ruder than he had intended.
'0he is not married to him,' Esperanza insisted in her thin, nervously pit"hed voi"e. '6esides, she should have
thought o! us. :anay pra"ti"ally #rought her up. .e never thought she would turn out #ad.'
.hat had &ali-ta done* Homely, middle-aged &ali-ta*
'8ou are very positive a#out her #adness,' he "ommented dryly. Esperanza was always positive.
'6ut do you approve*'
'O! what*'
'.hat she did.'
':o,' indi!!erently.
'.ell*'
He was suddenly impelled #y a desire to distur# the unve-ed orthodo-y o! her mind. ',ll + say is that it is not
ne"essarily wi"$ed.'
'.hy shouldn)t it #e* 8ou tal$ed li$e an--immoral man. + did not $now that your ideas were li$e that.'
'4y ideas*' he retorted, goaded #y a deep, a""umulated e-asperation. 'The only test + wish to apply to "ondu"t is
the test o! !airness. ,m + in3uring any#ody* :o* Then + am 3usti!ied in my "ons"ien"e. + am right. 1iving with a
man to whom she is not married--is that it* +t may #e wrong, and again it may not.'
'0he has in3ured us. 0he was ungrate!ul.' Her voi"e was tight with resentment.
'The trou#le with you, Esperanza, is that you are--' he stopped, appalled #y the passion in his voi"e.
'.hy do you get angry* + do not understand you at all/ + thin$ + $now why you have #een indi!!erent to me lately.
+ am not #lind, or dea!2 + see and hear what perhaps some are trying to $eep !rom me.' The #lood surged into his
very eyes and his hearing sharpened to points o! a"ute pain. .hat would she say ne-t*
'.hy don)t you spea$ out !ran$ly #e!ore it is too late* 8ou need not thin$ o! me and o! what people will say.'
Her voi"e trem#led.
,l!redo was su!!ering as he "ould not remem#er ever having su!!ered #e!ore. .hat people will say--what will
they not say* .hat don)t they say when long engagements are #ro$en almost on the eve o! the wedding*
'8es,' he said hesitatingly, di!!idently, as i! merely thin$ing aloud, 'one tries to #e !air--a""ording to his lights--
#ut it is hard. One would li$e to #e !air to one)s sel! !irst. 6ut that is too easy, one does not dare--'
'.hat do you mean*' she as$ed with repressed violen"e. '.hatever my short"omings, and no dou#t they are
many in your eyes, + have never gone out o! my way, o! my pla"e, to !ind a man.'
%id she mean #y this irrelevant remar$ that he it was who had sought her2 or was that a "overt atta"$ on ulia
0alas*
'Esperanza--' a desperate plea lay in his stum#ling words. '+! you--suppose +--' 8et how "ould a mere man word
su"h a plea*
'+! you mean you want to ta$e #a"$ your word, i! you are tired o!--why don)t you tell me you are tired o! me*' she
#urst out in a storm o! weeping that le!t him "ompletely shamed and unnerved.
The last word had #een said.
+++
,0 ,l!redo 0alazar leaned against the #oat rail to wat"h the evening settling over the la$e, he wondered i!
Esperanza would attri#ute any signi!i"an"e to this trip o! his. He was supposed to #e in 0ta. &ruz whither the "ase
o! the (eople o! the (hilippine +slands vs. 6elina et al had $ept him, and there he would have #een i! 6rigida
0amuy had not #een so important to the de!ense. He had to !ind that elusive old woman. That the sear"h was
leading him to that parti"ular la$e town whi"h was ulia 0alas) home should not distur# him unduly 8et he was
distur#ed to a degree utterly out o! proportion to the prosai"alness o! his errand. That inner tumult was no surprise
to him2 in the last eight years he had #e"ome used to su"h o""asional storms. He had long realized that he "ould
not !orget ulia 0alas. 0till, he had tried to #e "ontent and not to remem#er too mu"h. The "lim#er o! mountains
who has $nown the #a"$-#rea$, the lonesomeness, and the "hill, !inds a "ertain rest!ulness in level paths made
easy to his !eet. He loo$s up sometimes !rom the valley where settles the dus$ o! evening, #ut he $nows he must
not heed the radiant #e"$oning. 4ay#e, in time, he would "ease even to loo$ up.
He was not unhappy in his marriage. He !elt no re#ellion; only the "alm o! "apitulation to what he re"ognized as
irresisti#le !or"es o! "ir"umstan"e and o! "hara"ter. His li!e had simply ordered itsel!2 no more struggles, no more
stirring up o! emotions that got a man nowhere. 5rom his "apa"ity o! "omplete deta"hment he derived a strange
sola"e. The essential himsel!, the himsel! that had its #eing in the "ore o! his thought, would, he re!le"ted, always
#e !ree and alone. .hen "laims en"roa"hed too insistently, as sometimes they did, he retreated into the inner
!astness, and !rom that vantage he saw things and people around him as remote and alien, as in"idents that did not
matter. ,t su"h times did Esperanza !eel #a!!led and helpless2 he was gentle, even tender, #ut immeasura#ly !ar
away, #eyond her rea"h.
1ights were springing into li!e on the shore. That was the town, a little up-tilted town nestling in the dar$
greenness o! the groves. , snu#"rested #el!ry stood #eside the an"ient "hur"h. On the outs$irts the evening
smudges glowed red through the sinuous mists o! smo$e that rose and lost themselves in the purple shadows o!
the hills. There was a young moon whi"h grew slowly luminous as the "oral tints in the s$y yielded to the dar$er
#lues o! evening.
The vessel approa"hed the landing quietly, trailing a wa$e o! long golden ripples on the dar$ water. (e"uliar hill
in!le"tions "ame to his ears !rom the "rowd assem#led to meet the #oat--slow, singing "aden"es, "hara"teristi" o!
the 1aguna la$e-shore spee"h. 5rom where he stood he "ould not distinguish !a"es, so he had no way o! $nowing
whether the presidente was there to meet him or not. ust then a voi"e shouted.
'+s the abogado there* Abogado!"
'.hat abogado?" someone irately as$ed.
That must #e the presidente, he thought, and went down to the landing.
+t was a poli"eman, a tall po"$-mar$ed individual. The presidente had le!t with 6rigida 0amuy--Tandang
'6inday'--that noon !or 0anta &ruz. 0e9or 0alazar)s se"ond letter had arrived late, #ut the wi!e had read it and
said, 'Go and meet the abogado and invite him to our house.'
,l!redo 0alazar "ourteously de"lined the invitation. He would sleep on #oard sin"e the #oat would leave at !our
the ne-t morning anyway. 0o the presidente had re"eived his !irst letter* ,l!redo did not $now #e"ause that
o!!i"ial had not sent an answer. '8es,' the poli"eman replied, '#ut he "ould not write #e"ause we heard that
Tandang 6inday was in 0an ,ntonio so we went there to !ind her.'
0an ,ntonio was up in the hills/ Good man, the presidente/ He, ,l!redo, must do something !or him. +t was not
every day that one met with su"h willingness to help.
Eight o)"lo"$, lugu#riously tolled !rom the #ell tower, !ound the #oat settled into a somnolent quiet. , "ot had
#een #rought out and spread !or him, #ut it was too #are to #e inviting at that hour. +t was too early to sleep; he
would wal$ around the town. His heart #eat !aster as he pi"$ed his way to shore over the ra!ts made !ast to sundry
piles driven into the water.
How pea"e!ul the town was/ Here and there a little tienda was still open, its dim light issuing !orlornly through
the single window whi"h served as "ounter. ,n o""asional "ouple sauntered #y, the women)s chinelas ma$ing
s"raping sounds. 5rom a distan"e "ame the shrill voi"es o! "hildren playing games on the street--tubigan perhaps,
or 'haw$-and-"hi"$en.' The thought o! ulia 0alas in that quiet pla"e !illed him with a pitying sadness.
How would li!e seem now i! he had married ulia 0alas* Had he meant anything to her* That un!orgetta#le red-
and-gold a!ternoon in early ,pril haunted him with a sense o! in"ompleteness as restless as other unlaid ghosts.
0he had not married--why* 5aith!ulness, he re!le"ted, was not a "ons"ious e!!ort at regret!ul memory. +t was
something unvolitional, may#e a re"urrent awareness o! irrepla"ea#ility. +rrelevant tri!les--a "ool wind on his
!orehead, !ar-away sounds as o! voi"es in a dream--at times moved him to an oddly irresisti#le impulse to listen as
to an insistent, un!inished prayer.
, !ew inquiries led him to a "ertain little tree-"eilinged street where the young moon wove indistin"t !iligrees o!
!ight and shadow. +n the gardens the "otton tree threw its angular shadow athwart the low stone wall2 and in the
"ool, stilly midnight the "o"$)s !irst "all rose in tall, soaring 3ets o! sound. &alle 1uz.
0omehow or other, he had $nown that he would !ind her house #e"ause she would surely #e sitting at the window.
.here else, #e!ore #edtime on a moonlit night* The house was low and the light in the sala #ehind her threw her
head into unmista$a#le relie!. He sensed rather than saw her start o! vivid surprise.
'Good evening,' he said, raising his hat.
'Good evening. Oh/ ,re you in town*'
'On some little #usiness,' he answered with a !eeling o! pain!ul "onstraint.
'.on)t you "ome up*'
He "onsidered. His vague plans had not in"luded this. 6ut ulia 0alas had le!t the window, "alling to her mother
as she did so. ,!ter a while, someone "ame downstairs with a lighted "andle to open the door. ,t last--he was
sha$ing her hand.
0he had not "hanged mu"h--a little less slender, not so eagerly alive, yet something had gone. He missed it, sitting
opposite her, loo$ing thought!ully into her !ine dar$ eyes. 0he as$ed him a#out the home town, a#out this and
that, in a so#er, somewhat meditative tone. He "onversed with in"reasing ease, though with a growing wonder that
he should #e there at all. He "ould not ta$e his eyes !rom her !a"e. .hat had she lost* Or was the loss his* He !elt
an impersonal "uriosity "reeping into his gaze. The girl must have noti"ed, !or her "hee$ dar$ened in a #lush.
Gently--was it e-perimentally*--he pressed her hand at parting2 #ut his own !elt undistur#ed and emotionless. %id
she still "are* The answer to the question hardly interested him.
The young moon had set, and !rom the uninviting "ot he "ould see one hal! o! a star-studded s$y.
0o that was all over.
.hy had he o#stinately "lung to that dream*
0o all these years--sin"e when*--he had #een seeing the light o! dead stars, long e-tinguished, yet seemingly still
in their appointed pla"es in the heavens.
,n immense sadness as o! loss invaded his spirit, a vast homesi"$ness !or some immuta#le re!uge o! the heart !ar
away where !aded gardens #loom again, and where live on in un"hanging !reshness, the dear, dead loves o!
vanished youth.
This is the >?@A short story that gave #irth to modern (hilippine writing in English.
http;BBwww.sushidog."omB#pssBstoriesBstars.htm

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