Elaine wakes up the next day, feeling groggy.
She’s got three days left before she goes back to work and she hasn’t even come up with anything solid.
She wonders how she fell asleep. Her mind comes up blank and she gets up without another thought from her mind.
She has to leaf through the pages again.
Elaine didn’t feel like going through her diaries or poetries. That can wait. She wants something different.
Her doorbell rings and she heads to the front door, wondering who it could be. It was her friend, Shannon. Shannon good-naturedly greets her good morning and picks up several bags on the floor around her. Elaine gave her a look of confusion and Shannon exclaims that Elaine forgot again.
What did she forget this time?
Shannon opens one of the bags and fishes out DVDs and some wine bottles. The other bag she gestures to is food to be cooked.
Shannon laughs as she makes a beeline to the kitchen and Elaine felt a tap on her shoulder.
The first thing she saw was flowers which made her smile and she hugs Tony back. Now she does remember: it’s her birthday today.
A few hours later, the flat was brimming with activity and Elaine made pleas to help out with the dinner preparations but her friends kept shooing her out of the kitchen. Judy ushered Elaine to the storage room, where they know she’s conducting her ‘research’. Elaine knew that Tony must have mentioned it to them while they all planned this grand scheme of making dinner.
She knew it was futile to argue with them and they won’t let her give any excuses so before she settles herself back to work, she makes her way back to the kitchen to tell her friends that she loves them and to try not to burn down her flat. She winks at them and turns to leave. Elaine can hear her friends joking around that they will burn her portion of the food instead, just for fun, and since it’s her birthday.
Elaine opens the windows before settling back down to work.
She still can’t believe that she’s been friends with these people after all this time. She met them when they were in kindergarten, probably even playgroup. There were times when she thought she’d never see them again, because some of them opted to leave the country to finish off their schooling. And it was like Dan, wanting to leave the country for better education, to leaving for good and start over. Even if she thinks he didn’t really start over. He just wanted to do the same thing again, just in a different country.
Shannon was the bitch in high school. Nobody liked her and nobody wanted to associate with her because she kept bullying people. But after senior high school, she became someone else or rather she matured. She apologized to most people about the mayhem she have probably caused them. Elaine’s actually glad that it turned out this way.
Judy was something of an odd ball too but she’s lovable, no matter what. Elaine remembers the day she met her. She was lying down on her stomach on the beanbag and she kept farting. The teacher told off Judy but instead of stopping, she asked the teacher if she wanted her to get sick and that she’ll tell her parents that the teacher wanted harm to befall her. Elaine remembers that day well and she laughs at the memory. Elaine wanted to write a character out of that kid and she asked Judy for her blessings. Judy didn’t think twice about it and couldn’t wait to see what Elaine comes up with.
Elaine feels a bit strange today and she’s hoping that she doesn’t feel sick. Her muscles are aching and she just finds all the timing is just completely wrong.
She’s suffering from writer’s block and her muscles are completely out of whack.
Elaine hopes this is not chronic stress.
Everything used to be so easy.
Her stomach rumbles when the smell of cooking reached her nose. It smelled great. She starts feeling restless and thought about whether or not she should continue with the poetry. Or should she take a nap? It’s only 2pm but the sky is dark. It might rain or maybe it’s just the cold seeping in again.
Elaine is relieved that Tony didn’t take her camping. That would have been a mistake in this weather. She can’t do camping trips. There’s no story behind it but it’s her body that refuses to function normally. She can’t pee or go number two. She can’t sleep, not even a nap or two. Her five senses seem to shut down on her. That’s her biggest problem to date. And it’s one of the reasons that she doesn’t travel.
She’s falling asleep with these thoughts in her head and she can’t believe she just woke up a few hours ago.
Maybe she should write about this. Write about her chronic laziness and this bag of sleeping dust that blew up over her head.
She stands up, quickly, hoping to have shaken off the pesky feeling. Elaine paces back and forth in the room.
Maybe she should write about her dreams now, but the question is, which dream?
Elaine had this odd nightmare about being the only person in the world. It came as a surprise that she actually came to dream about it, years after she watched it on television. Watching it on TV did scare off plenty. Having it as a nightmare and feeling as if it was real was worse than she had anticipated. The silence was deafening.
She didn’t appreciate the silence until she found out about zombies.
After learning about these supernatural creatures, she believes it really took a chunk of her brains out.
Vampire dreams were sexy, that’s how she can sum it up. Zombie nightmares were never pretty. One of the zombie nightmares involved a rickshaw, a crowbar, pitchforks, and lots of fire and a lot of running around. She woke up from that nightmare feeling like she ran for eight hours non stop.
And that reminds her that she really needs to take up running. If it fails, cycling. There has to be a zombie apocalypse escape plan.
Elaine, in all seriousness, writes it down in bold letters across her notepad.
She moves on to her trail of thoughts and her sight catches the calendar. She looks at the date and she knows that she’s only got 10 more days to come up with something and a month to write the goddamn book.
Why does it have to be so hard? Can’t she just channel some classic author? Or rewrite a classic, just like what they are doing nowadays?
Elaine is suddenly feeling a nervous wave overcoming her.
Maybe that’s what she should do!
She looks at the direction of the stacked books in the corner. She’s got some classics in there for sure. She goes to it and the first book is Bram Stroker’s Vampire. She gave it a thought and put it aside. She knows the consequences of re-writing that book. It will be re-written like soft core porn for sure.
Phantom of the Opera. No. She’s fond of this but she can’t pull it off. The thought of the phantom haunting her by re-writing it as crap does not feel good. It’s like having a good looking and singing Freddy Krueger.
There have been too many versions and hers would be at the bottom ladder of crappy re-written Peter Pan fan fiction.
A light bulb seems to have lit up on top of Elaine’s head when the thought of fan fiction comes to mind. She rejoices and jumps for joy and then stops just as soon as she felt that relief coming in, there seemed to be a crack somewhere where it drained out again.
She can’t do fan fiction.
Lam is going to kill her.
He’s going to demand his money back.
He’s going to have lawyers up her ass all year.
She’s spent half of it already.
She can feel a ton of bricks falling over her head right now.
She is doomed and she’s not afraid of admitting it anymore.
A knock on the door saved her from the thoughts of jumping out of the fenced window. Tony peeks in and asks her how she’s doing with work.
Elaine slumps on the floor, lies flat and rolls away to the corner of the room. Tony laughs at what he’s seeing and asks her what’s wrong.
Elaine tells him about the writer’s block. This would be the perfect time to tell him. It’s her birthday and he can’t get mad at her on her birthday! But then, it’s not like it’s her fault but she’s afraid of admitting it because Tony suspected all along.
Tony sighs and sits beside at the corner where wall stopped her from rolling. Tony informs her that she could’ve used him to brainstorm or someone else.
Tony asks her if she was kidding about the writer’s block and Elaine answered with a muffled something. She buried her face on the cushion that was on the floor.
Tony checks the calendar and tells her what she knew all along, that’s she’s got a month and ten days to come up with a plot and write it all down and send it over to Lam. Elaine, still not moving her face away from the cushion, replies a muffled ‘I know, I know’ reply, feeling even worse than before.
Tony asks Elaine about the other story she was writing earlier about and she finally takes her face off from the cushion to let him know that she stopped writing it because she doesn’t know how to proceed with it. He asks her if he can read it and she tells him that she’s thrown it away which is a lie. She starts laughing and Tony can tell whether or not she is telling the truth. The laughter gives her away all the time.
He asks her for it again and she gestures at the laptop on the floor. He opens it and blinked back to life. He checks the desktop for the word file and clicks on ‘Mal de Ojo’.
He scans the file, which is pretty short. Elaine lies back down on the floor with her hands on her face. Tony starts reading what she started on:
Mal de Ojo
What could be worse than death?
I can tell you a few things but then you’d have to be in my shoes.
But first, I’ve got to tell you how it all started.
It started with a dream.
I woke up, feeling like I didn’t sleep a wink. It’s that same dream. Two weeks now. I’ve had this dream throughout my childhood. My parents thought I was losing my mind. But they didn’t take me to no therapist.
If you’re Asian, and you’re a Filipino, they’ll quickly assumed you’d have ‘usog’. Or what my Great Grandma would call it, ‘mal de ojo’ or in plain English, ‘evil eye hex’.
But how would you feel if you were a 7-year old girl, dreaming of falling…just falling.
I had a happy childhood. I didn’t grow up in the usual urban jungle. In the city where I grew up, there weren’t many buildings. If you could see that place, it looked like a small suburb outside. But further in the gate, you go through a tunnel of trees and you’d feel like you’ve been transported to some far distant land. We had mango trees, fruit trees that shouldn’t even grow there, farm animals, lush vegetation and I can go on and on to tell you how beautiful it was.
We had 20 dogs and one cat. And my grandfather always make sure I have 19 of the dogs with me and the cat, Mimi when I go to a makshift swing set that my uncle set up for me.
I remember the times I would wake up early in the morning, just to look at the dew on the flowers in the garden and I would touch every Makahiya plant that I come across coz I love how it folds when you touch it.
And then it was time to leave.
I mentioned that I was sick most of the time, because of ‘usog’. This time around, it was different.
I wasn’t getting any better and being bed-ridden wasn’t exactly something I look forward to.
It all happened so quickly. The next thing I knew, the family and I moved to Hong Kong.
When I recovered, I ask my mother how long I was sick. I know she didn’t want to talk about it but she knew how hard-headed I was.
She told me I was sick for almost two years. The doctors didn’t know what my condition was. And the final thing that she told me has never escaped my mind.
“Your great grandmother saved you.”
My brother cries from other room. “Please look after your brother while I hang the clothes”
I turn, not missing a beat, to get my brother. My mother never talked about it again until the day she died.
Tony looks up from the screen and told Elaine that the story wasn’t so bad and asked her why she didn’t continue writing it. She confessed that she didn’t know what else to write. She had no idea where to go. She had a bunch of stories with beginnings but she just doesn’t know which direction it should go to. One of the reasons she couldn’t finish it was because it was beginning to sound very lame and not very scary anymore. She doesn’t think anyone would read it. She hates the fact that she went all out on the debut. She shouldn’t have done that; there should be a rule book about it.
Judy and Shannon come in the room, looking excited before they saw Elaine and Tony on the floor. They both ask what’s happening, Judy to Tony and Shannon to Elaine. Elaine answers by gesturing to Tony and Tony sighs and looks back at the laptop screen. Judy and Shannon both go to Elaine to comfort her, telling her that it’d be okay and that she can let it out with them. Judy suspected it was the plot but Shannon took a bit of time to get to any sort of conclusion.
Shannon’s a bit slow but she excels in other things. Her parents are from Australia and they keep wombats as pets. It’s a rather random and rare pet but they take care and keep wombats as if they’re domesticated pets. You wouldn’t think it was possible or it’s something that Shannon’s good at doing. If you were a complete stranger from Shannon, you’d think that the person telling you about it is taking you for a ride coz that’s how exactly how Elaine felt and so did Tony when Elaine introduced her to her dearest friend.
Judy has a twin named Hilda. They, unidentified twins, Hilda being younger for about two minutes, do not live with Judy and their mother. They’re completely different and you wouldn’t even think that they’re related unless you look really closely. In fact, they only see each other during Christmas. It’s not that they are not fond of each other. They are close as twins can be. If they don’t see each other, they write, text, calls and chat with each other at every opportunity. They have an odd fascination with boats and ships. Their parents are both lawyers and the whole line from far back are all in the same profession. Their father would have suspected that they are not his children because of this rather odd obsession. But the fact is that they are his splitting image and it helps that their father is rather good-looking.
Tony looks on at them, trying to comfort his love but he feels that he has to be stricter this time. He could not believe that she did not tell him that she was having difficulties. Brainstorming was his specialty. He found it rather odd that she didn’t tell him about this and at the same time he felt half bad and half annoyed at it. He couldn’t believe she took so long to tell him about her problem. He wondered if he was too strict or maybe she wanted to do something else. It didn’t matter. He just wanted to help Elaine.
Tony informs their friends about her predicament and how she could not finish the horror story she’s already started to write.
Judy reminds Elaine about the time she wrote a spooky story about being out on camp and that it was such a hit.
Elaine reminds Judy that this happened in high school. When you are young, you tend to get excited quite easily. Shannon agrees and she reminisce complete crazy moments they got up to.
Elaine stops this trip down the memory lane. She doesn’t feel up to it right now and there’s a headache building in the right side of her temple. She asks for food and her friends sit up as quickly as they sat down with her, letting her know to wait just five minutes so they can set up lunch. Elaine still doesn’t know what they’re cooking for lunch or for dinner. But she’s rather pleased with them and she lets them do whatever they want since all they want is to please her on her birthday.
Lunch was amazing and she doesn’t know how else to explain it because it was all great and it was delicious.
Tony was relieved to see that Elaine’s looking less stressed and she looks like that she’s not thinking about the problem at hand. He knows it’s quite serious but he won’t spoil her day. He knows that she needs a break. Maybe that’s all she really needs.
The door bell rings again at around 4pm and more of Elaine’s friends arrive. Don and Lenny arrive with bags and bags of alcohol. Elaine does not know how they’re going to drink all that alcohol but she not worried about herself.
She looks at Tony and knows he’s going to get drunk tonight. She smiles at this thought and she is relieved that she doesn’t need to go to work the next day.
Dinner went as well as expected. Elaine was also correct about Tony getting drunk. The men drank and downed the alcohol as if it was water. When she finally managed to tuck Tony in bed, her phone suddenly rings. She looks at the clock and it was past two o’clock. She already knew who was on the other side of the line. It was her midnight caller, Otis.
Otis greets her a belated happy birthday. She thanked him and enquired about his whereabouts. She hasn’t seen him in weeks and wondered if he flew somewhere or is required to work somewhere else. And for some reason, he always calls past midnight. She and Tony dubbed him the midnight caller as a joke but it stuck with him. Otis apologizes for disappearing yet again but it was an urgent business trip and promises to see her and Tony soon. He also mentions that he’s got her a present and got something for Tony that he’s always wanted. Elaine doesn’t know what she’s going to get but it got her quite excited. Otis always comes back with presents that so amazingly unusual if you can describe it like that. One day, she and Tony concluded that maybe Otis is some sort of secret agent. This made them laugh out loud but possibility is not slim. You never really know.