Meredith came only on Saturdays, at night, precisely at eight thirty pm. Usually she came in through the sliding window in his bedroom that overlooked Caloocan City’s commercial center, though there were few occasions when she had appeared from the bathroom, his closet, or the broom cupboard – but never through the front door.
From early evening to just before her arrival, Floyd would be in the kitchen preparing dinner. Pasta – lasagna, fettucine a la carbonara, classic sweet tomato sauce spaghetti, or whichever new dish he was learning from the cookbook he got from his mother the day he moved out for college. That was two years ago and until the previous summer the book had been in exile beneath the coffee table where it mingled with dust, until Meredith’s visits began.
When he didn’t feel like experimenting over dinner he returned to the classics – dishes his mother used to make – Adobo, chicken curry, and Sinigang.
And sometimes, when he felt especially romantic, he would set a candle at the center of the table and turn off all the dining room and kitchenette lights. So far he’d done this five times and each time made her swoon.
On one of those occasions he purchased a 1.5 Liter Cabernet Sauvignon to match the steak he spent an entire Saturday afternoon cooking. For this he had to quickly write and sell a short story to a local magazine ito afford the wine, but the warmth that came from Meredith’s smile, when she took her first bite of the steak, how her cheeks flared from the alcohol and the ecstasy of their moment, Floyd knew it was worth every centavo.
Saturday nights became the highlight of Floyd’s week, and he did everything to make sure they were satisfying for both him and Meredith.
After he’d set everything in order – you’d think a pop star or the president was arriving into his flat – he would boil a cup of green tea and retreat into his bedroom to wait.
His apartment was a spacious studio-type at the third floor of a commercial building owned by a middle-aged divorcee who loved to parade around the halls wearing clothes so short and see-through they were barely even there. Caloocan was nowhere close to being the best city in the country, but A. Mabini was its liveliest well-to-do section and the view he had from his window was, in its own way, magic.
At night the street lamps doused the entire length of road with an eerie orange glow. Jollibee, KFC, 7-11 and the myriad of restaurants, computer shops, bars, clubs, and cafes, all open 24/7, added their own colors. Instead of stars, the city at night was lit by signboards and neon.
After a tiring day at the university, Floyd’s habit was to sit on a stool chair by the window with a mug of coffee or green tea, and watch as the number of people who wandered outside thinned.
Until the only life that remained were homeless people in little cardboard boxes on the sidewalk, and the city itself as personified by the glows.
Meredith’s nightly visits began when, in the first three days of the first semester of his second year in college, Floyd found himself at the peak of his solitude.
He had entered college as a bright-eyed and hopeful freshman. He pursued activities, went to parties, went out of his way to meet people, but after a semester he found that he could not change anything – he still had the same two friends from high school, both of whom had moved to Los Banos after graduation and barely called. He joined the university newspaper but even that helped nothing but his writing, which was going fine anyway. Every day he met people. Every day he was packed into classrooms with different faces for hours, but he wasn’t making any connections. Every day he rode a bus to the terminal at the mall in North EDSA, and from there a jeepney to the university, but still he was going nowhere, only drifting…
One rainy day in the middle of June, Floyd decided to delay going home and wander around the mall. He could not bear to even imagine being in the solitude of his apartment. Loneliness was like air – it reached the small spaces in his bookshelf, in every room, and every corner, and it trailed behind him when he passed through doors. Except it would not come out if he opened the windows and rigged the fans to blow it out.
He went to a second hand bookshop at the second floor just past the cinemas and poured all of his attention toward browsing the titles. That was where he found the copy of Bret Easton Ellis’s Less Than Zero. The shop had mostly dime thriller paperbacks and to find a good book like this, it felt to Floyd almost like it had been waiting for him to find it, stacked in a bookshelf with three hundred other books. Floyd bought it and headed to a coffee shop to read.
And there was Meredith, between pages 48 and 49, an 83x108mm polaroid of a young woman, maybe seventeen or eighteen years old, wearing a pink cotton shirt under a grey cashmere V-neck sweater, her dark auburn hair bobbed and layered, smiling weakly at the camera, showing some of her white teeth beneath red supple lips.
Floyd fell in love.
He kept the photograph taped against the wall of his bedroom. He wanted those eyes to watch lovingly over him as he worked and slept. Those eyes dazzled him to no end. They seemed to look through his soul, as if they knew every broken piece of him. And he named her Meredith because he loved how the syllables rolled smoothly from the middle to the tip of his tongue, and dropped on his lower lip like a gentle kiss.
On the first night of Meredith’s visits, Floyd was coming home from a dinner with his mother.
He maneuvered his apartment in darkness towards his bedroom, and there, at his usual spot by the window, on the wooden stool, illuminated by the orange glow from outside was the morning paper and a full mug of coffee. He walked over to it suspiciously. He wrapped a hand around the mug – it was more than warm – hot, fresh. He stood there completely incapable of understanding the situation.
He rushed back into the living room.
“Who’s in here?” He called out in a dry whisper, but no one answered. He repeated, this time louder, and in response: the sound of a light switch being flicked off, the door to the bathroom swinging open, and walking out from behind it, a beautiful young woman with flowing black hair, wearing a pale blue long-sleeved blouse and tight black pants. Her skin in perfect tan. She was wiping her hands with one of his hand towels, slowly walking over to him.
“You’re home,” she said, smiling. He noticed her eyes, a familiar black reflecting some of the orange light.
“I’ve been waiting for you,” she gestured to his bedroom, to Floyd’s spot by the window. “Oh I thought you’d never come. I was worried the coffee will grow cold.”
And she embraced him. Still petrified by confusion, he could not stop her. She laid the side of her face against his chest – he towered over her by three or four inches – and he could hear her breathing, taking in his cologne. She had her arms wrapped around him so tight that he felt – heard, even – a soft rhythm, a heart beating, but was it his or hers?
She held him so longingly that it did not feel foreign at all, as if he’d known her since the beginning of his consciousness, like those arms had been wrapped around him since they learned to move. And he gave in, without a second thought, abandoning all attempts at logically assessing the turn of events, just the two of them in the dark of his apartment. He wrapped his arms around her as well, and he heard her take a sharp breath, and when she exhaled there was the faint whisper of a moan.
Every Saturday since, Floyd would wait for her in his bedroom after he had prepared dinner. When she came they would have a lovely feast and go to bed. Throughout the night they would talk about the previous week, and Floyd would confess to her everything that ate at his conscience. She was his lover, best friend, and confidante. She soothed his nerves, made him warm when she wrapped herself around him, and like a favorite hoodie, she drowned the chills that ran beneath his skin.
Floyd dreaded the day when she would disappear. Like vapor, as abruptly as she had come. He feared one day waiting in his bedroom for no one, and every Saturday to live as if she never existed. When he would look, the restaurants and the computer shops and the clubs and the cafes would be all dark. The orange glow would feel frightening instead of magical. And on the night sky – not even the moon, or a single star. His collection of enchanted objects: diminished to zero.
As for where she really came from, and who she really was, Floyd never asked. To their relationship these things were like Mathematical axioms. They remained unquestioned. They were unnecessary yet, in an indirect way, fundamental.
Or maybe he just hadn’t the courage to ask. The whole affair with Meredith felt like a dream, and if it was a dream it was a beautiful one, one that Floyd would rather keep.
Dominic is a college student from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. While his interests tend toward the sciences and mathematics, he has a passion for literature and his writing has appeared in local newspapers and magazines such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Philippines Graphic. His blog is here.