Lawrence Ypil

Drain of Thought

And because our toilet in the house has conked out, given up, has insisted that “flushing” isn’t about the water going down the drain but going up to meet you with your quickly growing, yellow reflection, I’m tempted to think this is some sign or symbol or foreboding omen of things to come.

I guess you can say that it’s because I read a lot of stories. When you’re a lover of literature, you almost can’t help but look for signs. As when the suspicious-looking man with the odd hat turns out to be the detonator of a bomb, or a long-lost father. Or when flowers on the wallpaper eventually become the central metaphor for the main character’s dilemma. In stories, birds aren’t just birds, and a tree branch falling is the end of an affair.

One of Anton Chekhov’s most well-known (and most handed over) piece of writerly advice says that a gun placed at the start of a tale must necessarily come off at the end. And Edgar Allan Poe insists that a good short story must have a single effect. So when something goes wrong with your toilet, you don’t only ask, “what’s stuck?” you begin wondering, “what does this mean?” It’s no surprise that avid readers lead such terrible lives.

Especially when the only time we really look at the mundane for such stark significance is when someone we know has just died. “What did she dream of the week before she passed away?” we like to ask. “Did you see the look on his face last night? That look of complete and utter peace.” Moths aren’t just insects; they become harbingers of morbid remembrance. Slips of the tongue become visions of prophecy.

Or when we’re in love. And every move, gesture becomes an assurance of surrender. And text messages become divine revelation. Punctuation marks are virtual speeches. Otherwise, we let the day slide by, mostly to our benefit. For who can actually survive an hour where every move, color, shift of eye becomes a language to be decoded. Every hand held becomes climax, or denouement, or epiphany.

For as much as we would like our lives to be the stuff of novels, our days (gladly) aren’t (and shouldn’t be) the perfect models for stories. Sometimes, road accidents are just caused by bad driving, and the funeral car at the corner really just means that our neighbor has smoked too much. Unlike the best short stories where every action “contributes to the main narrative thread,” the everyday is thankfully filled with heartbreaks and missed steps that “just happen.” Most of the time, there is hardly “a plan,” or “a symbol,” or god forbid, “a theme.” The everyday’s wayward plot is exactly its beautiful shape, and its true celebration is its randomness.

What to make of the old clunking drainage of a house? Sometimes a broken branch means nothing. Sometimes an afternoon dream of a bird swooping down to peck the neck of a passing cat means everything. O gods, help us tell the difference!

Sometimes, we just need to find some other place to relieve ourselves. ∎

Photo from SunStar Cebu, where this piece was originally published on November 10, 2007.