Household Melodies

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A dragging sound of slippers, slow and heavy. It was my father’s footsteps, for he had never walked as if he were in a rush, even though he always was. Perhaps his weight dragged him slowly; perhaps it was the whole world on his shoulders. Though he never seemed to notice, I took a chunk from that world and carried it on my own.

It took a long time for me to realize that the burden was a shapeshifter; most days it clung to my ankles, chained like an apathetic god nearing his execution as I took my steps. At times it was a crow perched on my shoulders, repeatedly pecking my body in search of sustenance, and rarely was it a fly, just close enough to touch me, yet buzzing so loudly that it drowned out the noise of the ocean waves or of the chirping birds. 

Everything my father did was a beautiful statue, time slowly covered with vines and mold. His efforts were the apologies and vows of a corrupt politician with a confident smile and a cowed heart. His impatience was the harsh sound of my name. Although I would later know, by the tone of someone unfamiliar with violence, how my name was capable of sounding gentle. His eagerness to leave was so intense that even his arrivals were hurried goodbyes.

I am not certain he prayed, and even if he did, whether to a god, the universe or nature would remain a puzzle to me. On nights when I had to pause my typing, reading or even my thoughts to listen to their muted arguments through the walls, I would never hear my father’s voice—not a scream, not even a mere agitated whisper. Yet, my mother’s cries would reach me as faintly as the distant call of a bird in a forest a hundred miles away, and it was enough for his silence to echo just as loudly and distinctly as her screams did.

On the contrary, my mother’s footsteps were light and quick, as though walking in a room full of sleeping people. What she lacked in shallow noise she made up for with excruciating melodies. I coould hear her silent whimper under the soft cotton blankets—the dreadful sound of someone continuously drawing breaths without ever seeming to release them.

Her doubt about my love was clear in the apologies she made for sleeping in my room after a particularly exhausting night, as if she had inconvenienced me and in the certainty of her tone that I would leave them one day, though unknown to her, I had always carried them with me, like a scar from an operation—a testament to my courage, not hidden but proudly displayed as a reminder.

When the cats and dogs were quiet, they had been fed, and when they meowed and barked, they were hungry and alive. They were the sound of my mother’s compassion because I was busy, because my father could only come up with an annoyed remark, because my siblings woke up late, because my mother knew hunger and felt it; she remembered it not in the wailing of the animals or their gloomy expressions but always in the rising and setting of the sun, whenever there was food on our table, she would say, they deserved as much as we did.

I had taken care of the worth I had always felt coherent in me, furnished it like the first-ever piece of a sculptor, until it grew like the massive structures in an ancient city. It was so that I would always know the line that separated vulnerability from kindness, a struggle my mother faced all because she thought she lacked worth, or so it seemed to me. It is the clash of beer bottles at home—the other bottles belonging to her former abusers, her inconsistent laughter, her justifications of her siblings’ actions, and the phone call she did not expect to stop receiving from her parents when, for the first time, she asked for a hiatus.

004 Household2
Illustration by Jimbo Albano

In the unconscious venting of others, it dawned on me just how differently I heard the world. With their anticipating gazes, I searched for familiarity in my mind—an experience I could turn into one mighty phrase that would meet their quest for explanations. Instead of uncovering an answer, I came across my upbringing, which I had long buried, but it took the form of the earth’s vibrations – a hymn, a melody that reached me still. It manifested in the footstep containing the weight of the world and the swiftness of its turning, in the car engine coming to life, signifying the potential of my father’s final, unmovable farewell, in the closing of doors that produced hushed quarrels and sighs, and in the thousand other things just waiting to be stumbled upon.


Eden Tabayan
Eden Tabayan
Eden Tabayan is a Cavite-based aspiring nurse and is a member of the indigenous clan, the Ifugaos. Since fifth grade, she has been writing about people.


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