John saw the black dog staring at him before it turned tail and ran. It was a mutt whose dark coat hid it well in the darkness, away from the receding light of the street lamp. He was staring at the waiting shed in front of their house.
John could never understand why he had said yes when he wanted to say no to his aunt Mabel. She was inviting him home to the province where he had grown up for a while until he had to leave for college in Manila. He was an orphan and his mother’s sister had taken him in after his parents died in a tragic car accident when he was ten.
His siblings were also adopted into what was already a large family composed of Boy, his aunt’s alcoholic husband, their three rambunctious children Jose, Mimi, and Lucy. His older brother Gil was the same age as Jose so they got along well, causing trouble in school with their pranks and general delinquency. Mimi was a year older than Gretchen, his older sister, and these two were inseparable in their relentless pursuit of the perfect makeup and the most dangerous-looking boys. Finally, Lucy was younger than him by two years and he served as her immediate brother-figure. Often he would wait for her to finish school so they could walk home together.
It had been decades since he had last stepped foot inside his aunt’s spacious house. The passage of time had failed to dim the affection he felt seeing and touching everything that had been a precious memory of his childhood. The family photographs side by side. The trophies both academic and athletic residing in a locked glass case. The rickety stairs leading to the second floor where all the children’s bedrooms were located. All these and more harkened to a simpler time when John needed the comfort of a family.
Now he was forty-three and his wife Linda wanted to annul their marriage. Their daughter Joan was eighteen and she was studying at a helluva expensive school that he could barely afford. While he didn’t want to return here, he was glad to get away from the confusion, fear, and doubt in Manila. He relished the familiarity of this place, these people who had lost hair, gained a paunch, bore scars and marks during the intervening years. These were his kin, his blood. He was among them and while they looked quite different from his memories, they also seemed unchanged. He was still welcome here. Even when he had left hurriedly without looking back.
Mabel was decrepit, sitting on a dilapidated wheelchair, shining with dust and white hairs like the ancient crone she was. Uncle Boy had managed to kill himself with the drink two summers ago and his absence was palpable, like a ghost lingering at the dinner table. His own brother didn’t come to Gil’s funeral because he was too guilty to come. Besides his heart wasn’t in any condition to travel or grieve. Gretchen was on her second honeymoon with a rich American husband she had met while traveling to New York for work. I could never remember the name of her first spouse, the man who left her for a younger woman. Too young in fact to even look sixteen. Mimi resembled Mabel the most, their appearance, dress, and manner almost twin-like. It was uncanny. She had never married. Her daughter Wendy was now fourteen and looked every inch the vamp with her all-black attire and even dark lipstick. Lucy had yet to arrive from Iloilo. Her husband was a farmer at a hacienda. She rarely wrote to her parents. Nor was she on Facebook or other social media platforms. She had never taken to technology because she loved nature too much. It was one reason why we were always at the pond near their house, catching fi