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The Parent Magnet

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IT IS A VERY RAINY SATURDAY MORNING.


“Blessed morning, Tita.”


“Dianne! I’m so pleased to see you again! How are you? Why are you here? How did you get here? The rain’s pretty hard this morning. The weatherman said last night at the news that the storm is to landfall today. Imagine that! Rain’s been pouring hard since Thursday—but it’s just about to landfall!” Anne gushes, wringing her hands excitedly. One glimpse of the young lady has sent her in high spirits despite the trouble that the refrigerator is empty, and she would have to go to the grocery store to buy food despite the rain because all the sari-sari store at the corner of the street can offer are canned goods and noodle packs, and she hates serving her family preservatives, much less eat it with them.


Dianne kisses Anne’s cheek. “Mom dropped me off on her way to work.” She tosses back her head and laughs.


Anne stops wringing her hands, which have now become red, and intently watches the young lady’s dark curls bounce back to frame her soft face. Then as if she and Dianne have been alone, she starts at the sight of the young man standing beside the young lady—Luke, her son.

She throws him a childish grin; he throws her a disturbed look. There is silence. As the Filipino saying goes, May dumaan na anghel—an angel passed by. Why angels bring silence, I do not know.


Dianne shifts her eyes from the mother towards the son, then back again, and breaks the awkward silence by saying, “Tita, I need a turntable to play a few plakas for a project, and Luke says that you have one.”


“Ah, yes… a turntable.” Anne nods her head, and faces Luke. “Do we have one?”

Luke answers, “Opo,”—yes.

“Where is it?”

“In the attic.”

Anne beams at Dianne. “We do have one. It’s in the attic.”

“Now, if you excuse me,” says Luke. A longer conversation with her mother is unnecessary. “I’ll just look for it, ‘cause I didn’t have time yesterday—”

“Wait,” Dianne interrupts. “I want to come with you.”


“Okay. You can take off your shoes over there,” Luke says, pointing at the final step of the staircase.

Dianne strides towards the staircase, crouches down and starts to untie her high top Converse shoes, fumbling with the laces, knowing she is being watched.


Anne sneers at her son, who keeps on piercing her with the terrorized look as if saying, “Please don’t say anything stupid. Mom.” But Anne dismisses her son’s warning and sticks out her tongue.

Luke winces and scratches his forehead. He finds it hard to deal with his mother sometimes, when she acts more immaturely than a seven-year-old.


Anne looks back at Dianne, still smiling. She can’t help it. “Look at her, son,” she says, not taking her eyes off the young woman even for a second. She then articulates the following:

“Pretty. Smart. Sensible. Kind. Respectful. Simple. What else could a young man ask for?”

Luke cringes.


Dianne flushes. She knows where the conversation is going. Without finishing unlacing her shoes, she forces them off her feet, but they get stuck halfway. Humiliating.


“When will you start courting her, Luke?”


All Luke does is cross his arms and mumble, “Mom,” through his gritted teeth. He is far beyond irritated. This, for him, is unacceptable behaviour for a woman in her fifties. It is true: People grow up to be childish once more.


Dianne finally removes her shoes successfully. Fighting the blush by thinking of flowers and smiley stickers, she straightens her back, forces a smile, faces Luke, and chirps, “Let’s go!”; and turns to the rapt woman, “Tita, we’ll be leaving you for awhile now.” She climbs up the stairs, to the attic, as if she lives there and needs no directions. She does not wait for Anne’s reply. She can’t stand another tease like that. It’s not only to save herself the embarrassment; also Luke.


Anne watches the two teenagers walk up the stairs. She smiles, then sighs. She has meant it, and would very much have appreciated a reaction. A clue. Something that would somehow assure her that they are a match—that her son should try, at the least, to win Dianne’s heart. She’s helping him already, right?


She rests her fists at either side of her hips. “You may want to stay a bit after you’ve gotten the turntable, dear! Just till the rain stops,” she hollers, praying the rain won’t stop.

Dianne and Luke heard, but they let silence answer. Anne resigns back to the kitchen, totally delighted of the thought of giving the two some time alone together, too thrilled to even remember that she is on her way to the grocery store to buy food—healthy, natural food. She sits on a chair, mesmerized by the dream of having a daughter-in-law like Dianne.



In the attic it is cold, the air so muggy you can smell the rain outside. The light bulb won’t turn on and only one small window exists in the room—letting in cloud-filtered sunlight—so it is dim even when the door is left open.


“So, how’s college so far?” Luke asks, starting the turntable quest at once.


“Pretty fine. Makes me busy. I don’t even have time to go online.” Dianne stays by the attic’s door, figuring out how she can help. There are heaps and heaps of boxes in the attic, and they all look the same and are of the same size; faded-brown boxes, two feet tall, two feet long, two feet wide. “Not that I like social media now. How’s Ateneo?”


“Cool.”


“Heard you got in the basketball team.”


“Yeah.”


“Congrats.”


“Thanks.”

Rain sprays noisily on the roof, but only for a few seconds; it then diminishes back to a soft drizzle, then back to its deafening roars, then becomes silent again, then rattles, then eases off. In the background you can hear the wind drumming roofs around the neighborhood—those made of Hardyflex, most of which weren’t properly secured by nails. This is the cacophonous symphony a typical Philippine rainstorm in late August conducts.


“I’m sorry about mom.” Luke says, kicking a box that does not contain the turntable. He wonders how long it will take to find what they are looking for. He doesn’t mind the time, though. He would very much like to chat with Dianne, to catch up with her. They haven’t seen each other for a while even though they live in the same city. The last time they talked was at their high school commencement ceremony.


“Don’t worry about it.” Dianne gives out a light-hearted laugh, which ends in a tiresome sigh. “I’m kind of used to it,” she whispers, at once regretting what she has said, hoping the rain muffled her words.


But Luke catches it and his voice cracks when he attempts to speak. “What—do you mean?” He feels a lump in his throat, making him stutter. “Do—does Mom always say those—kinds of things?”


“Oh, no, no, no…” Dianne laughs once more. “It’s just… there’s this…” she trails off, wondering if she should continue.


“There’s what?” Luke asks.


Dianne shakes her head. She takes a step and stands beside the kneeling boy. She watches him fling a box away. “Need help?”


“No, thanks.”


Dianne pays no attention to Luke’s answer. She bends over, reaches for a box, and opens it. She doesn’t find the turntable, but she does find some infant paraphernalia and accoutrements: bottles, pacifiers, toys, clothes, even cloth diapers. “Are these yours? Or Mark’s? Or Matthew’s?” she chuckles.

“Hey!” Luke chortles, taking the box away from Dianne. “I would really appreciate it if you just sit in a corner and let me take care of the looking.”

“Oh, sorry for the trouble.”

“Like I said on the phone, don’t mention it.” He makes sure that Dianne sees him smile.


Dianne bites her lower lip. She huddles in a corner, in front of a huge, cracked, frameless mirror. That way she can see Luke’s face. Leaning back, she closes her eyes, raises her arms and lays her hands on the wooden wall, feeling the strength of the wind outside. Softly she speaks, “Lovely.”

Luke smirks while watching Dianne in the mirror. “There’s what, by the way?”

“There’s what, what?”

“You said, ‘There’s this…’, and trailed off.”


Dianne laughs. “It’s embarrassing.”


“You’ve just seen my baby stuff, didn’t you?”


“That’s different.”


“Embarrassing is embarrassing.”


“What’s embarrassing about that?”


“Trust me, it is.”


Dianne laughs again. Luke can’t get tired of her laugh. It’s melodious, like a classical tune played by a young Mozart.

“One of the reasons we have friends, right? To tell each other embarrassing things about ourselves.” Luke grins.

“Okay,” Dianne drawls. She likes the idea that they are friends.


Luke remembers that he’s supposed to look for something. He opens a box, checks it, closes it, and reaches for another one, stealing glances at Dianne every few seconds. “Now, there’s what?”

“There’s this guy...” Dianne bows her head and stares on the floor. She shifts into an Indian seat, puts a finger on her chin and tilts her head. Why is she telling Luke about this?

Luke smirks at Dianne again.

“A childhood friend. Also a church mate from Bicol.”

Luke listens attentively as he rummages through each box. “What about the guy?”

“His parents really liked me. And whenever there’s a reunion, they would tease us, you know, since we’ve grown up together.”

Pictures. Books. Christmas decors. Recording tapes.

“…as if we’re a Taylor Swift song. Oh, my, my, my, my…”

Luke is so engrossed in Dianne’s story that he doesn’t notice what is in front of him after opening another box: gramophone records. When he realizes that he has his eyes fixed on Madonna, his heart pounds in his chest. He peeks at Dianne’s reflection; she is staring out the window. Luke deftly raises the stack and peeks underneath. A familiar aquamarine box—the turntable. He closes the box containing the old records and the phonograph, and sets it aside. It’s just too soon. Dianne and he are talking and she’s telling him something, something he thinks he should know—something that will pull them closer to each other, tie their fates, then eventually open a door that leads to something special—mindful he’s been waiting for this opportunity.

Luke takes another box and pretends to continue to look for what has already been found. “Then what?”

“He hates the tease.”

“Must like you back.”

“No!” Dianne screams, promptly covering her mouth.

Luke faces her and they lock eyes for a second.

Diane is the first one to avert her eyes. “He doesn’t like me. I know. I just know. He doesn’t.” She slips her hands inside her jacket’s front pocket.

“But how about you?”

Dianne doesn’t answer.

“Name.”

“I’d rather not say.”

In the mirror, Luke simpers and raises a brow at Dianne, and resumes his work.

“Why should you know?” she chuckles.

Luke shrugs.

“Jared.”

“Jared?”

“Jared Morales.”

“Ah, Jared.”

“You know him?”

“Nope.”

Dianne suddenly wonders where they are on the friends scale. They seem to talk so smoothly to each other. She then ponders: How much did they talk back in high school? How many times did they eat together? How many times were they partners for a project? Seatmates? And all those little things that add up to something—

“You like him.”

“Maybe—well, yes. I liked him.”

“So what’s up with his parents?”

“They detest his girlfriend.”

“And they love you.”

“But he doesn’t.”

Luke pauses before saying, “So, that’s what you mean by you’re ‘used to it’.”

“Yeah… it’s happened quite a lot of times before.”

“Quite a lot? You mean—”

“Seven, eight times.”

“His parents must really love you.”

Dianne laughs. “No, I mean every once in a while, some parent would match me with their son.”

“Oh…”

“Would you believe that once a father made me pick one from his three sons?”

Luke tries to absorb it.

“It’s ridiculous… ‘Cause no matter how much I fulfil their dream of being the ‘ideal daughter-in-law’, it’s—it’s—gah—parents fall in love with me, not their sons.” Dianne ruffles her hair in restrained frustration. “It’s like I’m a parent magnet.” She brings her knees together, embraces them, and buries her face in her arms.


Luke knows it’s time to stop his silly act. He wipes his dusty hands on his jeans, and sits beside Dianne. He lays a hand on her back in an attempt to comfort her.

“It’s awkward, Luke. Very, very awkward.” Dianne brings her head up. She looks at Luke, who is giving her all his attention. “It’s embarrassing. I mean, how would you feel if you were in my place? When the parents of that someone start to tease you to that someone, because they like you so much, but it’s just too obvious (because you see it in his eyes—that—that he hates you, even disgusted with you—so disgusted) you’re a hundred percent sure (a hundred percent, Luke) that that someone just doesn’t, doesn’t, doesn’t—“ Dianne catches her breathe. “—like you back.” After a swift moment, she silently gasps to herself. It came out before she could stop it.

Luke immediately withdraws his hand from her back, then smiles as he turns away, showing the dimple on the left side of his chin. Dianne loves that smile. So much. Loved it since the first time she saw it, on the first day of her fourth year in high school, almost a year and a half ago—and she’s never admitted it to herself till now.

She was having lunch alone, because no one would go near the new girl with a heavy accent. But there was an exception: Luke. He brought his food to her table, sat across her, and asked her what her name was and where she was from.

“Bicol.”

“Cool.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. How do you find Manila so far?”

“Smoggy.”

They laughed.

“I like Bicol delicacies,” Luke said.

“Like what?”

“Uh… Bicol Express?”

Dianne laughed.

Luke smirked. “Can you cook?”

“Yeah.”

“Bicol Express?”

“My specialty.”

“Well, I hope I can taste your Bicol express.”

“Sometime soon.”

Dianne feels the blush run up her cheeks, to her nose, to the back of her neck. She quickly faces the window, pretending the view of the rain amused her.

She has given herself away—not only to Luke, but to herself as well.

“It’s stupid ‘cause guys just don’t like me,” she mutters. She tries to laugh, but she doesn’t because she can’t.

“That’s not true.” Luke bites his tongue, shrinking inside. It might have come out wrong. “Back in fourth year, you make guys blush whenever you talked to them,” he adds.

“No, I didn’t.”

“Yes, you did. You know, the first day you appeared the guys in our class wouldn’t settle down. They spun a bottle, and the one to whom it pointed had to approach you first, know your name and where you came from. They did it because despite your beauty you looked very unfriendly—almost scary.” Luke chortles. “It pointed at me.”

Silence. Both are in deep thoughts and decide not to voice them out.

Luke turns stern. “Those boys who ignore you, they’re stupid.”


Dianne sighs. “Found the turntable yet?”


“I think so.” He stands up, opens up the box he has set aside, and takes out the phonograph, vinyl records spilling out as he did so—The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Elvis Presley.

“Luke, I’m very sorry.”


“For what?”

“For opening up to you.”

“I’m glad you did.”

“I’m pretty stupid, huh.”

“Nah. But those boys are.”

Luke hands Dianne the aquamarine box and holds her arm to help her up.

“Thanks.”

“I told you not to mention—”

“—for this conversation.”

They stand, face to face. Luke briefly smiles then takes Dianne’s face in his hands. He kisses her. Just like he’s always wanted to. He likes her, he can’t deny it; and neither can he hide it anymore. Why, just seeing her pretty smile or hearing her pretty laugh is enough to make his day.

Does she remember? He asked her to the prom, but she declined. Not that she didn’t want to go with him, she said: She just liked to keep to herself, distancing herself from everybody else, avoiding activities as much as possible. How could he approach her then? How could he know more about her? He didn’t know, so he couldn’t. They were casual friends, nothing more. But now he’s kissing her, and she’s not pushing him away as he’s always expected.

All of a sudden, fear strikes Luke. What is he doing? He withdraws, and once their lips parted, he dashes out of the room, down the stairs, and into the kitchen, where his mother has been daydreaming. He paces back and forth, one hand in hair.


His mother follows him about. “I’m about to go to the grocery store. Ask Dianne to stay for lunch—what happened?” She watches her son. “Why is your face as red as a tomato? You did something embarrassing?” Abruptly, she asks, “Does Dianne like fish?”


“I’ll do it.” Luke snatches the car keys from his mother’s hands and races outside, ignoring his mother’s calls. He charges in the rain, and locks himself in the car. Dripping wet, he stares at the water rushing down the windshield. He doesn’t even know what he has proposed to do, or what he is supposed to do. All he can think of is Dianne. What was he thinking? Why did he do what he did? They were talking about Jared. It was Jared she liked back. Not those other stupid boys; most certainly not him. She was only talking of Jared.

She will never ever forgive me.

Anne appears on the window of the car. Luke can’t see her face; she’s just a blurry peach, black and white, with a fuzzy yellow arc above her. She says something he can’t understand. She knocks furiously, but he ignores. He bangs his head on the stirring wheel. Him and his stupid guts. He’s made a fool out of himself.


She’s mad at me. She’s mad. She’s mad. She’s mad. She’s mad…


But Dianne isn’t mad at all. She still stands there in the attic, alone amidst boxes, turntable in hand. Breathing in the sweet scent of muggy air, she slowly slides back to the floor, gently placing the turntable beside her. She’s shocked, but pleased. Peculiarly pleased.




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