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The Obstinate Heart
by Alegria Imperial

She moans and sniffles quite often these days. She calls me on the phone at random hours, whining about innocuous details such as the daffodils which the rain had battered, they're now so bent, pushing their faces to the ground.

"I'm growing crow's legs," she said one morning as she shuffled to her kitchen. Her robe weighed on her body as if it were chain mail. It has been taking her hours to get ready for lunch and hair appointments. She used to get everywhere a quarter of an hour before anyone did.

She has turned into a stranger, altered beyond recognition. If not for her eyes that still flash from a pale violet to purple when she fumes, I would have no way of knowing who it is that answers to her name. An impending divorce has changed her. Fear, anger, resentment, memories have gouged her insides, she writhes in constant pain.

I walk into her apartment in the evenings when she needs me most and lower myself into the Chippendale rocker, sitting across from her on the couch. She props her head on Victorian needlework-encased cushions, drawing a red velvet blanket to her waist. Lamps standing on faux marble tops cast us in a changeless scene. The heart and its volatile landscapes are invisible. Tonight, as each of the other 365 nights since her marriage suddenly turned on her—a Diablo whose eyes pierced and rent her being, whose arms uncoil holding its vise-like grip her, whose fists fall like volleys on target on her cheeks—inhabits her once again as we revisit old vistas. We sneak into them at will, barred by no time or space.

She talks of landmarks that lovers make of ordinary spaces. There was a park by the beach, where she loved to swing, her husband pushing her higher so she could kick the sky. A dinner place tucked in a cove on a cliff side, where they watched the sunset and clinked glasses under starlight; her garlic bouquet that had grown crisp, bursting into tiny heads on her wedding—moments she has encrusted in her heart. Her rigid cheeks soften as she talks; her voice tinkles….

It doesn't last. She glances at the grandfather clock when it bongs the hour—the Diablo seizes her again, mocking the sweetness as she regards her memories. The hour marks the time the gear cranked and broke a year ago. From the bedroom she still hears her animal cry, slashed in the heart, lightly bruised in the arm. She had found footprints of an intruder in his distant looks, in the spaces he began to clear for himself. My friend flits away; the stranger has taken her place in the couch once again.

I often beg her to look out to the patio—she keeps the blinds drawn. Look, I would say, how spring has returned the same it has every year of the forty-six years you have lived in this hemisphere. Look how the dead winter you dread has slunk away—summer will again push the cold away. But she is obstinate to remain blind to anything beyond where her heart dwells right now.

I pull out a picture from my breast pocket. She peers at it and asks, "Who's she, your mom?" "No, me," I answer, "shortly, after I was widowed." She looks at me as I speak, studying, I suppose, how altered I am. "Incredulous!" she says.

"I know," I agree. Sorrow bloated me. Tears engorged my cheeks; memories etched runnels in them. The universe spun and pummelled me in place but I was obstinate to let go. One day, so weakened, I let loose my grip and plunged in a free fall. "Incredulous!" That's how I feel since then with each moment I wake up to.

I wasn't gifted with such grace; ten years ago in 'the midnight of my soul,' I used to trudge through the day wrapped up in my wounded universe. Reflecting on my surroundings, I did mirror a seeming vulnerability in each moment, but failed to find an unassailable pattern in changes. Desiring to heal, I struggled. I watched. I listened. I fought to keep still. And there one day, in a vastness I fell into, I found the centre where change is eternal. What else indeed would be the essence of a heartbeat if not constant formation, mutation, figuration toward perfection, toward the eternal?

A seeker of truth and peace after tangled pathways, I have also found a voice in my search. A retired journalist, I have since focused on poetry and fiction. I launched my first book in Manila before migrating to Vancouver last year and recently received two honourable mentions for poetry.

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