Her stories pour forth

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By Bernadette G. Irinco

Readers of Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s fiction can re-acquaint themselves to her writings as her new short story collection, Sky Blue After the Rain (University of the Philippines Press, 2005) brings together various stories and tales about the ordinary and magical, including some of her classics.

The volume begins with stories from the Patriciang Payatot series, “Magic Glasses” and “Patriciang Payatot.” Patricia, a bright but frail child, is the protagonist in Catch a Falling Star (1999), who enters each phase of life with the common story of a growing girl: unpopularity, longing to fit in, and falling in love for the first time. Hidalgo admits that she is fascinated by her heroine, inspired by her own childhood memories, who grows a little older in each story of Catch A Falling Star.

“Pink Parasol” is the only new story in this volume and an addition to the Patriciang Payatot series. The story is about the birthday celebration of Cookie Vergara, who is the object of Patricia’s envy for having many sisters and brothers. But after what she witnesses during the party, when the wife of Cookie’s brother snatches the pink parasol that Cookie’s brother gave her, she realizes that there is nothing to be jealous about.

Hidalgo then moves to the lives of Filipinos abroad and their alienation in foreign lands in stories like “Kababayan” and “The Tree of Perfect Plum,” describing the difficulties that they must endure in order to survive.

In “Kababayan,” Medy Deveza becomes a tour guide for Americans who want to have a taste of genuine Filipino culture. In the “Tree of Perfect Plum,” Fe is a domestic helper who works in Seoul due to financial difficulties. Although her beloved Paulo does not approve of this, she stands by her decision.

The author also includes tales that suggest something far from reality yet contains realistic lessons about life, such as “The Tale of the Spinster and Peter Pan,” where a writer of paperback romances who leads a monotonous life develops a liking for a band that performs every Thursday night at her favorite bar. She grows fond of the lead singer whom she associates with Peter Pan because “he looked like he could take off and fly.” She also harbors secret fantasies about the “Peter Pan” singer until he talks to her after performing one night, revealing the falsity of first impressions.

With these stories, Hidalgo paints women’s lives of different ages, using Patriciang Payatot as an image of the woman as child, and then a middle-aged independent spinster who does not allow herself to be defined by the social norms in “Tale of the Spinster and Peter Pan.”

Some of her narratives also delve into the mysterious. In the story, “The Ghost of La Casa de Grande,” the protagonist sees a young female ghost in their old house, who turns out to be her grandmother when she was still young.

Hidalgo’s fiction is simple and easy to read. She uses simple language and ordinary events as materials, yet she weaves the story in such a way that the characters feel and think the way readers would.

Her narratives do not fail to give concrete lessons as well. Her stories give fresh perspectives and leave a feeling of tranquility after undergoing the rains of emotions experienced by her characters.

Montage Vol. 9 • February 2006