Articles, Book Reviews, Reviews, Short Stories

Review: Premium Harmony

review

premium harmony

A short story by Stephen King published in The New Yorker.

Stephen King is not the King for nothing. Although his style in this story is a bit different from his other works, it just proves he’s a versatile writer who can spin words and emotions in many different ways.

This tale also requires a concentrated effort in reading between the lines. Underneath the simple language, funny parts and seemingly disordered mess, there’s depth and meaning. I have come upon quite a number of discontented reviews on this, and, quite frankly, I almost became one myself. But I believe Mr. Stephen to be a very talented writer who will not write anything just for the sake of it. As with every story I read, I always look for what the author was trying to tell me, the reader. It’s also a challenge to try to unravel the writer’s mind. After three readings, I came to understand King’s wisdom.

The central theme is about marriage. Specifically, the marriage of two incompatible people, Ray and Mary. Or, by analogy, people who have drifted apart from each other, who have changed over the years, who have grown apart. It depicts the image of many marriages today: marriages where boredom and indifference had set in, and love, that glorious feeling they had at the beginning, has faded in a background of monotony, resentment and discord.

“When they argue, they’re like greyhounds chasing the mechanical rabbit. You go past the same scenery time after time, but you don’t see it. You see the rabbit.”

I wouldn’t change anything in this story. The story was perfect for me. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. To some, reading this may be like a road leading to nowhere. But if you walk carefully and slowly, you’ll find yourself treading toward a sure destination.

The story begins with the state of their marriage: ten years, childless, nearly bankrupt, arguing a lot. His wife was barren, overweight, constantly bickered him on his smoking and over almost anything, a bit extravagant for his own taste. He’d bought her a dog, a Jack Russell named Bizz, whose loyalties turned to her, and the three of them were on their way to Walmart to buy grass seed for their lawn, which she insisted is needed to be able to sell their house. They stopped at Quik Pik to buy a purple ball for her niece, again, at her insistence and with his compliance. There, two things happened one after the other, giving Ray the freedom he didn’t know he wanted.

The ending was expected of Ray, whose character background was well-portrayed – his unhappiness and discontent over his marriage – and who, after his initial shock and sadness, was already thinking of a life diferent from what he had for the last ten years.

“It comes to him that now he can smoke all he wants, and anywhere in the house. He can smoke right there at her dining-room table.”

He was finally free of a suffocating, dull marriage, and he was looking forward to a bright future. (I was thinking of the dog, though. The author didn’t mention if Ray took him out of the car before he drove to the hospital with the windows closed and the air-conditioning on.)

“Ray smokes all the way to the hospital with the windows shut and the air-conditioning on.”

When you think about it, even the title depicted the theme of the story. Ray said it perfectly:

“‘That off-brand. Premium Harmony, they’re called.’ They taste like homemade shit, but all right.”

Ray was settling for less in life: cheap cigarettes as well as a boring life with a fat, bickering, disagreeable wife, and an ungrateful dog who loves his wife more than him – just to survive or to exist. He was trapped and didn’t have the guts to get out of it. The solution was taken out of his hands, and in a span of one hour! Lucky fella.

 

Rating:
5/5

Stephen King is an acclaimed award-winning American best-selling author of fantasy, horror, and science fiction as well as non-fiction books. Many of his books have been adapted into films and television series.  

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Articles, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing

Eighteen Months

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Eighteen months ago, I saw you outside my favorite church’s steps. You were crying, jilted at the altar. I ran to you, put my arms around you as you wept. Warily, you lifted your face to mine. I kissed the top of your head, making you feel that I will always be here for you. You sobbed harder as I held you tight.

For the next days and months that followed, I didn’t leave your side. You were inconsolable. You barely smiled. You resigned from work. Your parents tried to get you out of your room but you wanted to stay indoors. Your delicate heart was broken into pieces.

But slowly, painstakingly, I found ways to make you feel a little better each day. I would play your favorite songs in your iPod and made you listen. I would turn on the TV to your favorite gag show to make you laugh. I would give you a funny book to read, which made you smile. We would look through my wacky photographs and you’d grin delightfully. When tears fell down from your eyes, I would kiss them away one by one. And at night, I would lull you to sleep by murmuring “I love you” to you as I nibble your ear and gather your warm body to my sweet embrace.

I was so happy when one day, you stepped out of your room to finally go back to work. Your family and friends were crying and smiling at the same time. I tagged along with you on your first day and saw how you loved being back in your office, mingling with old friends and meeting new ones. You plunged yourself into your job as a way to forget your heartbreak.

I would wait for you at home everyday, eager to know how the day went by. And you would always tell me how fulfilled you were at how you did your job, even some of your blunders and frustrations with your co-workers.

Until one day you spoke to me . . . about him.

My heart felt a stab of pain at your first mention of his name. But I didn’t let you notice it.

Day after day, I watched you drift away from me. You didn’t call on me as often as before. When I called you, you do not hear me, or is it that you weren’t listening anymore?

You would now laugh at the most mundane things, waiting not for my prompt. A smile was always pasted on your lips, your eyes twinkling, thinking of happy thoughts that I fear do not include me. Whereas before, you hungrily grope for my presence at night on the bed, now you turn away from me and wouldn’t let me touch you.

One day, I surprised you at work. But I was the one surprised when I saw you kissing him.

I wanted to get angry at you, but I couldn’t. I love you too much.

Without a word, I walked away, not waiting to hear your explanation. I was hoping you’d seek me out, but you didn’t. I waited, and waited. But you didn’t come.

Hard as it was, I had to accept that the day I was afraid of has finally arrived: You fell out of love from me, and fell in love with someone else.

***

TODAY is your wedding day. You are the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen. I am so envious of your groom and I wanted to hate him.

But seeing him looking at you with great affection made me realize that he will do everything to make you happy. And that was enough for me to accept defeat.

Now I know what made me stay. I stayed because I wanted to make sure that you would move on, that you’d go on living.

As I walk out of the church and out of your life, I felt for the last time the indescribable pain and agony I suffered when my car crashed on our wedding day. . . eighteen months ago.

And then the light claimed me, and afterwards. . . OBLIVION.

Events, Short Stories, Uncategorized, Writing Contests

Black Love

First Place Black Love
This is my winning entry for Bookbed Fictory, Bookbed.org’s very first fic fest. Black Love, with 6,634 words, won first place.

Prompt: Your (significant other) is rumored to be an engkanto.

***

The brilliant red, odd-looking shape was what my eyes caught first. With each movement, it stretched out gracefully, much like a yawning mouth. And then, just as slowly, I watched it deflate like a balloon, going back to its original form.

I frowned, searching my mind for what it reminded me of. But however hard I tried, it eluded me. I shook my head. My brain was not the same as before. Fog, debilitating, had crept in.

The legs came into view next. I cocked my head to one side, squinting my eyes. The grotesque, gangly, stick-like figure was hypnotizing as it was confounding. They were disjointed yet connected at the same time.

I counted. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Divided into seven segments. Joined together precariously like pieces of tacky clay. Each leg was covered in patches of uneven, thin hair; some long, some short. Curved, combed bristles adorned each leg’s bottom. Belatedly, I realized they were miniature feet.

Do you know how I came to that conclusion?

Because they were dragging themselves on the surface of my right hand. They treaded firmly, step by step, awakening my nerve endings, filling me with a mix of weird sensations. At first, it felt like a light caress, feather-like. I closed my eyes, letting the feeling overwhelm me. Gradually, it became somewhat ticklish, like tiptoeing to the beat of an unheard music. I stifled a smile. And then, all at once, it pricked my skin with the intensity of a long, sharp needle.

I snapped my eyes open. The hair on my arms raised alarmingly at the sight of hind legs kicking, flailing in the air. The rest of it was missing. It was embedding itself into my flesh. Paralyzed, I watched with a mixture of horror and awe as it burrowed deeper, deeper, until I could no longer see any part of it.

It was, fully, completely, inside me. I felt it crawling, biting, nibbling on my flesh, devouringme from inside.

Instinctively, I raised my left arm over my right hand, wanting to prevent the creature from further ingraining itself inside me.

To my horror, I saw my left hand.

Or rather, the lack of it.

In place of my left hand, an open, hideous wound met my sight. Freshly-dried blood and bright yellow green pus covered the cropped, swollen limb and tissues where my hand previously was. Gangrene was already evident, the horrid, stomach-turning stench almost making me puke.

Elsewhere, the noises of the insects scouring the night were getting louder, more terrifying than any night before. The rustle of the tree branches echoed endlessly, singing an eerie, haunting tune.

My nose captured a familiar, lingering scent. The citrusy vanilla scent of a yet unnamed, undiscovered wild orchid scattered around our village, perched in tree limbs a few feet above the ground. It pervaded my nostrils. For a moment, my muddled mind wondered why I was smelling it inside my bedroom.

Flashes of memory persisted, bringing sparks of light to an otherwise dark room that was my mind. A humongous fallen tree trunk carved, transformed into a bathtub. Pile upon pile of wild orchid flowers thrown into warm bathwater. My naked body descending on the aromatic, erotic purple pool. My hand groping underwater for another kind of flower, a thousand times more intoxicating and infinitely more satisfying.

Where I lost myself completely for two days and two nights. Where my raging libido was satisfied over and over and over again. Where I buried my body into and planted my precious seed.

giant-black-widow-spider-bite

Suddenly, I remembered what the odd-looking shape reminded me of.

It was the shape of a woman’s body. An hourglass. The identifying mark of a poisonous black widow spider.

Regrets, alas, did always come too late. I should have listened to my mentor. The old folks were right.

My wife is a black engkantada.

For full story, please click HERE.

Short Stories, Uncategorized

Coffee, Tea, or Me?

This is not a spin-off from the best-selling book. Rather, it’s my own original version using the phrase, Coffee, Tea or Me? as prompt for this surprisingly different story.

 

b99d896a142e6f01e2e9bbd742652b86I enter her room after a brief knock. It is pitch dark inside, with only the light of the full moon coming from the open window illuminating my wife’s profile.

As always, she is sitting on the bed, in shadows, waiting for me. . .  every night, for the past year.

“What is it. . . this time?” she whispers, weakly.

“Coffee. Brewed and black.”

She nods. “The green tea last night was delicious.”

“I can make you one again, if you want.”

“No, coffee’s just fine. May I have some?”

I approach her, the tray containing the coffee mug in my hands.

She turns her face away, as if stung.

“Don’t come near me! Can you. . . can you just leave it. . . on the bedside table?”

“Love, you’re too weak. You can’t even lift your hand.”

“I. . . I don’t want you to see me like this.”

“You’re still beautiful, love. You’re always beautiful to me.”

“You’re just saying that because I’m dying.”

“DON’T SAY THAT!” My words come out harshly than I intended them to, and she cringes at my tone.

Immediately, I apologize profusely, not wanting to add to her pain.

“I’m sorry I yelled at you. I’m sorry, love,” as I come near her, my arm outstretched, wanting to hold her.

Oh, what I would give to gather her in my arms again, to feel once again her warmth, to smell her sweet breath, to hear her beating heart against mine. . . things I haven’t been able to do in the past year.

But she turns farther away from me.

“Please, love, just leave me. I have accepted my fate. You should, too.”

“No! I won’t, and I can’t accept it. You shouldn’t too. If you’d only agree to the cure, you’d live.”

“I can’t do that.” She shakes her head slowly.

“Why? For heaven’s sake, WHY? Don’t you love me? Don’t you want us to be together?”

“Of course I do! I love you, Ricky! God knows how much I love you! You’re the only man I have ever loved!”

“Then, please. . . please. . . live! For me. For us! Because if you die, I’ll kill myself, Myles.”

“Ricky!”

“I’ll kill myself,” I repeat with conviction, as I realized this was what I wanted–and planned–to do ever since she refused the cure. “I really will kill myself.”

“Don’t! Don’t waste your life because of me.”

“But you are my life, Myles. Without you, I am not alive.”

She looks at me with haunted eyes, and slowly, one by one, the tears fall down her cheeks.

Seeing the walls she had built up are now crashing down, I plead with her, eagerly, urgently.

“Love. . . you can’t survive with just a few drops of animal blood laced in the drinks I prepare every night. You need human blood, or you’ll die. Please, take my blood. . . and live. I don’t care if I become a turned, blood-thirsty vampire like you.”

I grasp her hand. . . her cold, white hand, and put it on my chest.

“All I care for is being with you. . . for all eternity. Don’t you want that?”

“Oh, Richard, I do. I do!”

“Then. . . what are you waiting for? Coffee, tea. . . or me?”

She smiles tremulously and I see joy flash in her eyes.

Then she opens her mouth wide, and I catch a glimpse of her fangs. . .

 . . . before she bites me.

***THE END***

Short Stories

Something Like You

Stylish-with-romantic-couple-kiss-on-grass-love-wallpaper

Wish for someone to sweep you off your feet…and you might just get it.

The month of March ushers in the start of spring in America and elsewhere. Here in the Philippines, it heralds the beginning of summer. But whatever season it is named, March will always be extra special to me.

The third day, specifically. The day when heaven sent an angel destined to hold my hand and my heart forever. The day you were born.

Soft sunlight streaming through the dark green leaves of the tree above us touch her hair and I am instantly jealous. I lay my hand over her light brown crown, its ray instead hitting me with the morning warmth.

Before I met you, I was just. . . living. Taking everyday as it came. Relationships went and passed me by, leaving me discontented and disillusioned. I found myself unconsciously, whimsically saying a silent prayer to an unseen God wishing for someone that will sweep me off my feet and make me forget everything except her.

Be careful what you wish for, they say—you might just get it. Well, I got my wish. But I’m not regretting it one single bit.

All around us, birds chirp in harmony, singing their own version of praise, welcoming the coming of a new day and glorifying the magnificence of creation, whatever label of season it is named in various parts of the world. The mild, fragrant scent of flowers chant with them invisibly, harmoniously.

She sleeps so peacefully on a bed of lush grass, oblivious to the busy workings of nature around her: the blooming flowers, the hovering bees and butterflies, the gentle sound of the waterfall’s soft cascading waters of the man-made lagoon.

I still remember the first time I laid eyes on you. You were trying to recover from a blunder in delivering your lines, but then you turned your head and saw me looking at you intently. Wanting to hide your embarrassment, you flashed your dazzling smile at me. And I was smitten.

Even at rest, her face looks radiant, pinkish skin flushed with love’s glow. Her eyes are closed, showing off the allure of her long, thick eyelashes. Her straight, perfect nose quietly hums her sweet breath. And her lips. . . those intoxicating pair of pillowy lips,

which tastes like sweet specialty red wine, infused with flavours of cotton candy and apples.

How could I forget the first time I tasted your lips? It was your 21st birthday, a sunny day in March. I couldn’t help myself as I pressed my lips to yours, a fleeting moment of heaven that left me with shaky knees. It was the first of many kisses that differed in intensity, length, and scope . . . but all equally unforgettable.

Without thinking, my thumb carefully trace her lips’ contours, reveling in the feel of every soft crevice. She stirs. I hold my breath. I would have wanted to stay like this forever, watching her sleep. But a part of me is also eager to see her open her big, brown eyes and be drowned in their bewitching depths.

The first time I looked deep into your eyes, I was captivated. Mesmerized. Your eyes haunted me from then on. I see it everywhere, day and night, even with my eyes closed, and I impatiently waited for the next time I will behold them once again. They are like glimmering, glowing lamps of light, illuminating my life, bringing brightness and colour to my once monochromatic world.

She smiles before opening her eyes. “That was . . .”

“Arousing?” I amusedly ask.

Her eyes fly open, twinkling with laughter. “I was going to say rousing.”

“Good morning, beautiful,” as I hold her hand wearing her wedding ring, kissing it gently, my eyes never leaving hers.

“I love you,” she murmurs.

“I love you more,” I reply, cupping her face as my mouth meet hers for a long, sensual kiss.

Smiling after, I ask, “Do you want to have breakfast now?”

“Can we stay here a little bit? It’s so relaxing here. I can’t believe I dozed off after our morning walk.”

“I knew you’d love it here. That’s why I bought this property before our wedding. This is our home, our nest.”

“And it’s perfect. The flowers, the grass, the trees, the birds. . .” her voice trails off, for no additional words are necessary to describe the breathtaking beauty that is right before our eyes.

Like the petals of a flower, our love slowly, gradually blossomed to its fullness, yet not without the proverbial birthing pains associated with that inexplicable, incomprehensible, wonderful feeling of the dizzying, swirling, turbulent ride called falling in love. It bloomed when we stripped off all our fears and apprehensions of what was and what could, and allowed our true feelings to emerge from within ourselves for it to flourish.

You told me you’re moody and imperfect. I told you so am I, I can take it. Sometimes amusedly, sometimes not. Other times I feel frustrated to see you crawl inside your own world, shutting me out. But the prize I get every time I draw you out constantly challenged and revitalized me. We fought; we kissed and made up. We talked, we laughed, we cried, we dreamed. And we survived.

You told me to wait till you’re ready. I did. There were times I grew anxious and impatient. A few times I was threatened by other men who want to enter into your life too. Although it hurt like hell and I was green with jealousy, I held on.

And one day, you surprised me when you said you’re ready. As simple as that. You were ready to commit yourself to me and make you mine.

Our love grew as the days and months passed by, nurtured by trust, cultivated by hope, and watered by a generous sprinkling of our common faith. A love that we persistently fought for against all odds. And we emerged triumphant.

The wedding last year was nothing short of magical. Everything was perfect. So perfect and so spiritually solemn that we both cried as we sealed our union with a kiss.

And now it’s March again. You just turned 24 last week. I look forward to discovering, exploring, and loving every bit and piece of you: your mind, your heart, your body. . . even if it takes a lifetime. Because as long as we’re together, I am not daunted by the uncertainty of the future, or even the forecast of storms or strong winds, or the heat of the sun.

Nothing else matters. . . except US.

“Love?” she speaks in a more hushed tone. “Help me up, please?”

I stand and help her up.

She grimaces. I shoot her a worrying look as I ask, “Are you okay?”

“I. . . I think so. My back hurts. . . a little.”

“From the way you look, it’s not just a little pain. Is that normal?” I frown.

She forces a smile. “I’m sure it’s nothing, love. Let’s eat, I’m famished.”

“Okay, if you say so.”

 But I can’t shake off the uneasy feeling I have. All of a sudden, she gasps out loud.

“Love. . .!”

“What? Why? What’s the matter?” I feel panic crawling into my voice as I saw her horrified face.

“I. . . I’m afraid. . .this time. . .”

“What is it? Please, tell me, love! You’re scaring me!” The panic in me escapes out of my mouth.

“I. . . I think. . . my waters just broke.”

“WHAT? What waters? THAT waters? Oh my God, what do we do? What shall I do? Don’t walk! Don’t speak! Don’t freakin’ move! Stay there. I’ll go get help! Or do we go together? Crap! I can’t think clearly!”

I blabber and mutter and turn around, not knowing what to do. Well, I do, really. I’ve attended lots of birthing classes with her. But it’s kinda different when you’re faced with the real thing!

She grasps my arm, and I can tell she’s in pain by how tightly she held on to me. But still, she smiles tightly and speak, haltingly, in between breaths.

“Love, first. . . you should calm down. Breathe in. . . breathe out.”

“Okay. . . okay.” I follow her example.

“Then, slowly. . . carry me in your arms. . . and let’s go to the hospital,” she breathes, in between gasps.

“Right. Right. So here we go,” as I swoop her up, pregnant belly and all, into my arms.

Snuggling her face on my neck, she whispers to my ear, “Carefully, now. Our daughter will be here shortly.”

Life truly begins in spring. . . or summer? Whatever season it’s called in any part of the world, the month of March just got more extra meaningful to me. And to us.

*THE END*