The photo that enabled me to write “Mercy.” #autofiction <3

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It’s been years since I’ve been back home in Los Angeles. My father snores in the other room, like a mountain infested with chirping birds and shrouded by smoke. I can hear him breathe in and out, loud, like he’s struggling to breathe. I walk to the closet of my old room. It’s dark. I open the dusty, large chest I keep all my childhood mementoes and photographs in. I rummage through the pile, throwing the ones I don’t want over my shoulder. I find it: the picture of my mother and father, laughing, smiling, and I’m in the middle. They’re on a white couch. She’s dressed in a pink summer frock. My father’s in a suit and wears dark-rimmed sunglasses. His hair is so suave. He reminds me of my husband. Just the way their whole body smiles and moves when they laugh. I wear a white, baptismal dress. I’m one or two. The year my mother left. I switch the light on and stare at the photo longer: they’re happy.

I know what would happen if I walk to my father’s door, knock, and show him this picture. Ask him: What happened? He’d shrug and snap at me for waking him up. He’d close his eyes and stay silent. Tight-lipped. Struggle to breathe. Tell me there are things we can’t talk about in Filipino families. He’ll close up, kick me out of his room, and shut the door. If he couldn’t sleep, I would hear the karaoke machine turn on, the beat of a ballad playing, his voice streaming out of the doorframe’s slits. The house would be this mixture of silence and love songs till the sun rose, and even then, as I would cook his favorite breakfast, as the smell and smoke of frying Spam-and-eggs would crowd the hallways and rooms, he’d stay angry, moody, silent. It’s his way of moving on.

Excerpt of “Mercy,” published in Guernica’s September 2014 Issue.

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