by P.R. Mercado
Rex went to Gropax to watch this new band called Gropax. They were named after the bar. That was somehow supposed to be funny and postmodern. People liked that, and they made a huge deal about it. It was a joke in itself. You invite people to Gropax, and when they asked you what band was playing you say you just said what a band was playing, &c. It was all an elaborate ploy to make people feel stupid. That's just the kind of people Rex surrounded himself with.
Saturday night, 1AM, and the band was already playing. He tended to listen to these bands outside, because inside you were either standing like a jerk in front of everyone or you weren't able to see shit. And no one minded this. The first time Rex went under the influence of one Kylie he stood in front and he wasn't even able to listen to the band because he kept asking her, “Are you sure this is ok? The people behind me can't see.” Eventually he realized that sitting outside is perfectly fine. It also did something to the acoustics. It made it sound better, somehow. It was less harsh, more mellow. It also helped he could hardly hear it.
It also allowed him to smoke a cigar, which was pretentious in its own right. But no one bothered him because it was a pretentious place. Rex listened to the band, and it was alright. The great innovation was talking in gibberish, so you didn't understand a damn word. They sounded like babies.
Kylie was inside, so he was left alone. This was how it usually is. He was listening, when someone approaches him: Thin, clean haircut. The man said, “Aren't you Rex?”
Rex was always embarrassed whenever people approached him while smoking a cigar. He felt so pretentious. He puffs smoke, and said, “Yeah. How are you?”
“I know your work,” he says. He lights a cigarette, and places it between his lips. “I went to 294-289 two months ago, and you recited a poem about pillows.”
“Pillows,” Rex said.
Rex nodded. “Yeah. That's what it's called. Pillows.”
They both nodded, and for a while there was silence.
Then, he said, “My name's Jacob, by the way.”
They shook hands.
Rex said, “You came here for Gropax?”
“The band?” said Jacob. “No. I just come here once in a while with my girlfriend. I don't like it here.”
“I don't like it here, either,” said Rex. “I keep coming anyway.”
“We came here the first time when Lydia Gutierrez died. Do you know her?”
Rex sat up. “Holy shit. No way. Lydia's dead?”
“Yeah,” said Jacob. He tossed his cigarette on the ground and stepped on it. “Killed herself after a break up. Painted a painting before hanging herself. Real Pollock looking piece. She called it The Final Hours, or something. They exhibited it a few months later. It was featured in some magazine.”
There was no other magazine apart from “some magazine.” No one could tell which was which anymore.
The band finished, and Kylie walked to Rex from inside. “How was it?” she asked him.
“Good, good,” he told him. He puffed his cigar, before motioning to Jacob. “Kylie. This is Jacob. Did you know Lydia's dead?”
“Oh, totally,” she said. “Hung herself. Painted The Ending Hours before the deed.”
“That's it,” said Jacob. “The Ending Hours.”
“I always call it The Final Hours,” said Kylie.
“Me too,” said Jacob.
“Feels more natural, doesn't it?” Rex nodded and puffed his cigar. “I guess she didn't have time for revisions.”
They all shared a laugh that died down into a sigh.
A week or two later Rex visited the gallery that had The Last Hours on display. Kylie went with him. Rex stood in front of the painting, and he stared deep into it, as if there was supposed to be a three dimensional image that would pop up if only he crossed his eyes. He liked to get lost in paintings. He didn't really know how to enjoy them otherwise. He supposed there was no “real” way. He didn't really know.
Kylie was outside talking to people she knew. She always seemed to just know people, especially around scenes like these. Kylie was a painter herself. People were beginning to recognize her for her work. “Aren't you the one who painted so and so?” Rex thought they should begin asking for autographs pretty soon.
Kylie met up with him when she was done talking to the others. “So?” she asks. “There it is.”
“What did people think about this?”
“Pollockesque came up a lot.”
Rex continued to stare at the painting. She knew Lydia from a party in college. One of his classmates knew her, and they just happened to be talking to the same group of people. They met again a few months later at an exhibition where Lydia was one of the featured painters. She liked painting animals, and humans with animal heads. Rex remembered that she was very beautiful, with a long slender neck. She always had a boy doting on her during parties and exhibitions, standing beside her carrying her water. They always looked like idiots.
But her most intimate memory of Lydia was when they were having a party because someone launched a new book. He can't remember who exactly. He was pretty sure he never knew, and was only there because there are worse ways to spend a Friday night. Everyone had gone outside the bar, because the author was there talking about the book. Rex was grabbing himself a beer, and Lydia had just returned from the bathroom.
She saw him at the bar, approached him, and they spoke for a while. She had grace, a type of charm that you'd only see in Downton Abbey and period dramas. It was as if the only proper way to address her was to call her “madam.” Rex almost asked her out, but he no idea if she was currently attached, or if there was someone outside already holding her beer for her. And before he could seriously consider it, she was gone. Among the crowd that evening, he found himself looking for her among the random heads and torsos that populated that small lot. Her paintings were exhibited that evening. A little boy with the head of a giraffe eating a candy bar. A family eating at a dinner table with the heads of different birds of prey. An old man with the head of a dog on the toilet.
When Rex found himself with seven people, including Kylie, drinking artisan beer in some mall one evening, he asked Sam why Lydia did it. Apparently, everyone else knew about the suicide, except him. He had the habit of being dense: Lovers would tell him they've always hated chocolates during Valentine's Day, he'd forget birthdays, he'd insult people without really trying. He once wore jeans to a wedding. Sam told him that it was a boy, someone who she finally loved.
“She never loved any of those boys? She was always with one,” Rex said.
“Love is like a bottle of poison,” Sam was beginning to say.
“No,” said Rex. “No, not now.”
Kylie said, “As far as I know, she's always been having her heart broken. The last one was when she snapped.”
Sam looked at Philip, who was this barrel chested, handsome friend they had. Everyone knew he was a fuckboy. Everyone knew that he made a sport out of fucking every beautiful girl he ever met, and he would tell everyone about it. He still called the times when he would get laid “scores.” But he was friendly and personable, and even women who hated him had to admit that God was onto something when he made Philip.
“What?” he asked Sam.
“Why do you have to be so cruel?” Sam asked.
Philip sighed and ran a hand down his handsome, chiseled face. “It's not my fault my relationships are the way they are.” He never admits to being a fuckboy. “I'm just unlucky when it comes to love.” That's how he puts it.
“How is it unlucky when you're the one who leaves her?” asked Rex.
Philip looks at him and sighs.
Kylie points at Rex.
Sam leans in. “Yeah, Philip?”
Philip turns to James, who was his best friend but was considerably stouter, and whose hobbies included role playing games, video games, board games, and masturbating. James was eating a taco and shrugged.
“I want to do something for her,” said Rex.
Kylie said, “That's nice, but she's dead.”
“I know,” said Rex. “That's why I want to do something for her.”
“You're confused,” said Sam. “If she's dead, she won't know.”
Rex contemplated this.
Philip said, “Are you going to write her a poem or something?”
“I don't know,” said Rex. “Maybe.”
“Why are you doing this?” Sam squints. “Did you like her?”
Rex contemplated this.
Philip said, “There is no other reason.”
Sam pressed her nose to her face so that it formed a snout and began to oink.
“What else? There isn't any other explanation. Diba James?”
James was still eating the same taco, and he permits himself a shrug.
“She was pretty, though,” said Kylie.
Rex found himself nodding, even though he knew he probably shouldn't have been.
When he got home, he was a bit drunk. He drove drunk even if he knew he shouldn't. Everyone did, because in Manila the traffic is so screwy you'd assume everyone was driving drunk in the first place. Nobody was driving under the assumption that they were safe. Everyone drove drunk anyway because in Manila everyone was always prepared to die. Rex wondered while thinking about this and lying on his bed if Lydia was prepared to die. He was still in the clothes that he wore while out, so that he smelled like cigarettes. He looked up at the ceiling, and focused at nothing in particular.
What does it mean when one is ready to die? Ready for what? If there is some sort of ending that comes after death, like heaven or hell, then you don't need to be prepared. Those things happen by themselves, and will happen regardless of your preparation. It's not like they ask you to bring a toothbrush and a #2 pencil or anything. And if you don't believe in heaven or hell, like Rex, what is there to be ready for? And suppose you still have unfinished business, like climbing Mt. Everest or kissing some rock star, what does it matter? You do something when unprepared while alive you experience consequences. In death, there are no consequences, no more experiences. That's kind of the point.
So Rex supposed that no one is ever ready. Lydia wasn't ready. You can't be. No one ever is. Somehow in the mix of all this he finds himself masturbating. He didn't bother to remove his pants. He just unbuttoned it, unzipped it, and he began to think about her while touching himself. In his imagination, he bent her over at the bar, during the book launch, in front of everyone, who watched while whispering to each other and holding their beers. He fucked her right there. The boy with her was holding his beer and her's, and Rex looked at him in the eyes as he penetrated her.
Rex went to Gropax to watch the last band, but they were now called Pax Gropanicana. It was the old band, but they changed the name because it was beginning to confuse people. You'd think that's what they wanted. Rex was outside, smoking his cigar. Jacob turned up again, with his girlfriend, Claire. She was a pretty girl. The discrepancy in their appearances made one wonder if Jacob is much wealthier than his appearance would imply (which is not very).
Jacob said, “How have you been since we last met? Are you doing alright?”
Rex puffed his cigar and said, “I'm alright. News of Lydia passing away really got to me since the last time.”
“Oh, Lydia,” said Claire.
“Yeah,” said Rex. “I want to do something for her, to commemorate her. I didn't know her very well, but she was kind. I wanted to let everyone know just how kind she was.”
“Claire knew Lydia well,” said Jacob. “They used to do exhibitions together.”
Claire nodded and took a drag of her cigarette before saying, “Lydia was sweet. It was too bad she cheated on her boyfriend. It destroyed her, led to her suicide.”
“Lydia cheated?” Rex said.
“Yeah,” said Jane.
“I didn't think she'd ever do something like that,” said Rex.
“Well,” said Jane. “She was always with someone else.”
Rex nodded. “I noticed that.” He consciously pins the cigar between his lips. “I actually tried to do something for her, a memorial or something. The plans didn't push through.”
“Yeah? What did you plan?”
Rex thought about it. “I never really got to it.”
Jacob asked, “What did you plan?”
Rex sighed. He shrugged. “Never got that far.”
Kylie wandered out of the bar and towards Rex. “That band is awful,” she says as she shakes her head, before sitting next to Rex.
“This is the same band, Kylie,” said Rex. “And they're playing the same song.”
“Yeah, well,” she said, lighting her own cigarette. “Things were different then.”
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