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  • Bittersweet Refrain (a romance fiction)


    It isn't a butterfly. A moth perhaps. Some sort of dark, brownish in color with quite long antenna extending on its rear end. Its dull-colored wings are thin and slender as to the leaves of what the people call "money plant" intertwined by the end. And it seems like its looking at me as I gaze up at it on the ceiling. It was the second time I saw that same creature inside our house. First, on the wall of my bedroom and now, high above the firmament of the intersection between two rooms. Moths sleep during the day and I suppose it is for it could have long fell down the ceiling if it's already dead. People have this belief that late relatives or loved ones who passed away take the form of black or brown butterflies so when you see the it fluttering inside your house, it is the spirit of a loved one who died recently paying you a visit. And more often than not do people mistake large moths for butterflies. Who could be this one? Is it…? Oh, so much for the weird beliefs.

    Grandma Sophie died a couple of weeks ago from a heart attack. It runs in the family I guess. Still, her loss is painful for us up to now. She truly was a great person. We got along very well during her days and I sure miss her a lot. Who would take care of me now that my mother and I are the only ones left living together? My mother is always out for work. My father, on the other hand, died when I was four years old and I was the only child. Our relatives live downtown and we seem like total strangers in this oddly quiet subdivision. Another thing that is so puzzling is the key my grandma has handed down to me before she passed away. I never knew what the key is for…and I would never figure it out now. A key to some sort of treasure perhaps? Nope. My grandmother spent the whole seventy years of her life in plain living and I doubt if she ever put up a business or anything that will earn her tons of money before she died. We wouldn't be struggling for money then. I remembered my mom asking me once what the key was doing hanging in my chest through a twelve-inch chain of gold to complement it's rusted luster, intrigued by how precious it had become to me that I always wear it wherever I go. I would ask her stuff about the bronze key and she would end up even more puzzled as I have. Nobody knows what the key is for. And great are the questions handed down to me as granny left me with the heavy thing which weighs, to my estimation, almost a pound or even more for it nearly fits half of my palm.

    "Your grandmother sure is a very secretive person", my mom would often joke. But I'd rather think of her as…mysterious. Though we are so close to each other, she never spilled out any of her childhood memories or even how she met my grandfather and stuff like that, the usual things a grandmother and grandchild would converse about and reminisce. I never knew much about her. That is also the reason why I am so surprised to have discovered a bunch of photos of her with a person I never before seen hiding under her bed. I only got the opportunity to go over it now that she's gone. I remember when I first found it, accidentally, scattered on top of her desk when I was looking for her. I didn't hear her came in so when I turned, I startled to see her teary-eyed in front of me and she pleaded that I go out because she didn't want me to see her cry. I checked over the photos this time, for the second time, taking a good look at the man sitting beside her in a bench. It was somewhat a park, a place called Hunter's Grove as the signboard next to their seat implies and seeing the sea of fallen leaves peeping beneath the soles of their feet, I could tell it was way past autumn. The photo is black and white with white borders so I can't really say what the color of the man's coat is. But there's no denying the fact that the man is so handsome, hair slightly curly at the temples, mustache thinly arranged on top of his lips as his arms stretched behind her, resting his right hand on her shoulder. My grandmother, on the other hand, hair extending long behind her was wearing a dress, bear at the shoulder blades, billowing above her knees. My granny's hand was placed on her lap as the gentleman's left hand covers them. And they seem so happy back then. How I wish to have known the man. The way my granny's lips curved to expose her pearly white teeth... my grandmother had always had the best smile. And the way her eyes sparkle even though the sun sets behind the mountains leaving them a dark twilight at the park only enliven by lamps hung on the posts…she seemed like…she was so much in love with him. Weren't they? The way they appear in the picture, it looks as though it was a photo of two lovers having the best day of their lives. And there are plenty of the likes. A picture of them, together, hands entwined walking past Hillary Theatre. On the other, they were dancing, her hands clasped around the gentleman's neck as her long gown sweeps off the dance floor. And on the other their mouth shut open, side by side in a roller coaster in an amusement park called "Fun Land".

    And this gave me the urge to unfold the mysteries of her past…my grandmother's untold youth.

    The first person I would ask about my grandmother would most probably be my mother, but she is rarely home so while she's out and I'm alone in our house I planned on visiting our relatives downtown to gather up information. Good thing I still have a couple of weeks to spend before the start of classes this year.


    I went to see grandma Norah, sixty-five, the only sister granny have and who is still alive. I spotted the old woman on the porch, seated though steadily on a rocking chair, knitting, from my point of view – a couple of meters still away from her – a pair of blue mittens for the coming cold season. I hurried my steps to get to her side, ascended the three-step-ladder entrance to the terrace where she is and bent down to kiss her on the cheek.

    "What a short notice… what can I do for you…my dear," she whispered, delighted to see me.

    "Hello grandma Norah… I just dropped by to see you and…. I wish to ask about…regarding some matters which I…I find of the utmost import" I stammered and I gazed at the woman, her watery eyes narrowed as she stared back at me, her curly salt-and-pepper hair blown by the wind.

    "Tell me, honey, w-what is it t-that…bothers you…child", she smiled.

    "It's Grandma Sophie…"

    "What about her...?"

    "No, I mean…these photographs..." I showed her the images and watched her as she looks at the photographs, searching for every detail, wondering what it is I am anxious to know.

    "These are great photos, where did you get this?"

    "It's Grandma Sophie's"

    "Really? But I haven't seen these before"

    "Exactly my point."

    "Y-Yes, t-these…are indeed, photographs of her youth…but," she stood before she looked at me and descended the wooden stairway. I followed her from the veranda across the open garden.

    "She never looked as gay and…lovely as before…"

    "How about the guy, do you know him?"

    She turned to me and a soft grin beamed on her face. I led her to the part of the garden where the red roses are just about to bloom. The hum of the birds resounding in midst sky, clear sky of the morning.

    "How come we know so little about her… how about you grandma Norah, how much do you know about your sister?" I inquired as I watched her take her feeble steps toward the flowers, catching their petals falling on her hand as she touches them one by one. The hem of her dress racing with her pace, and she began:

    "I remember, when we were still young… w-we used to play together…when I get wounded, she would nurse me and…she's great at it", she uttered feebly. She turned her direction to the bright sky as memory flashed back and time turned backwards.

    "It was her eighteenth birthday…when she met him. Kyle Andrews. Oh, such a perfect, perfect man. So astute…s-so gentleman…I got a crush..on him even…but no, oh no, he h-has only heart for one..woman…my sister. She, in turn, was very, very beautiful. Y-you wouldn't notice her loveliness at that instant but when you know her…oh, such a perfect…perfect person", she grinned and overwhelming feelings enveloped her as she narrates the story of their days.

    "What about him, Kyle A-a... What is it?"

    "Andrews. He was very rich and popular. Many girls come running after him… but he loves…my sister most", she spoke.

    "How come she didn't let anybody or even me know about him?about her life before? About—

    "She hated the pain of his loss…."

    "He died?"

    "And she suffered so many years…t-that's why she became frail and sickly.. b-but you helped her…you helped her at least b-bring back…the light in her…" she hardly breathed the words.

    "I have always wanted to help her"

    "I know, I know… that's why you are great…dear…" she reached my hand and caressed it before she held it so tight and I felt the warmth of her aged hands.

    I stared in her eyes. I wanted to know the answers, the reasons…I know it's something sad, and dark and hard…but I want to know it all. Then, I asked her:

    "What happened?"

    "Josephine and Kyle had a fight right before Kyle flew to one of his business trips around the world. My sister knows too well, even before…Kyle is someone you should not trust. She suspected a third party…but that was only a mere suspicion…and my sister just loves him so much… And besides what I already told you I know of nothing else more…She always doesn't want to talk about it…so secretive and…aloof "

    I pulled out the key hanging from my neck and showed it to her.

    "Grandma, this key…do you know anything about this key that she left me before she died?" I uttered, hoping for some clear answers to the puzzle that grandma left unsolved.

    "I'm sorry dear…but I know nothing about it…"

    I ate lunch with her and it was almost six in the afternoon when I returned home.


    "Why, you're early this day mom." I met her at the doorstep. She is dressed in black, in her nighties, and she is somewhat preoccupied with something.

    "Well, I finished all my paper works early and I didn't have to bring them home so, lucky me" she grinned and I noticed a rectangular thing she was weighing on her side. It was covered with white cloth and I could easily tell it was a frame of some sort.

    "Where have you been, honey?" I heard her spoke again.

    "I've been to grandma Norah's house."

    "Something important? Problem?"

    "Nah, just paying her a visit" I replied. "What's that mom?" when my attention was finally caught by the object she is carrying on her side.

    "Oh, nothing. Just trashing an old crap. A painting by some unknown artist. Mom's favorite" she said.

    "If it's granny 's favorite…then why are you trashing it?"

    "Well, we don't have any room for some old junk. And besides, it will help us move on."

    "But it's no junk, mom! It's grandma's treasure. It's the only keepsake she left us and it's antique. It might not have any value because as you said an unknown artist painted it, it is still grandma's. And I don't want that "moving on" you're talking about if it means taking away grandma out of the picture." I stated bitterly.

    "Oh well, you can have it if you like. I don't want to argue. I'm tired." She uttered, irritated and she pushed the painting to me and I caught its weight on my body before I saw her stomped up the stairs.

    I brought the painting, almost dragging it, inside my room. I looked for a hook on the wall where I could hang it. Then I saw a perfect place. I retrieved the picture of my mom and I from the wall and replaced it with the painting. It is a painting of a Mountain. The painting was in a front view angle. I could just see myself in the picture now. The top of the mountain was all-covered up by sparkling white snow. Tall and green pine trees surrounded the mountain, and there were houses that seemed like tiny little spots of colors at the foot of the mount. Birds fly in the clear sky as tranquil wind seemingly blows off a cool breeze. Grasses and bright flowers were blossoming on the ground amidst the blanket of white glittering snow. And the sign says Hunter's Grove. The colors of the painting are so detailed that it almost seemed like real.

    "This is a work of art" and I gazed at the beauty of the masterpiece hung before me, mesmerized and awed.

    I touched the painting, caressed it, and wonder why even if I saw the painting so many times before, it seems familiar only now.

    "Wait a minute… Hunter's Grove. Hunter's Grove…Haven't I heard of that name before? That's it", I thought and I grabbed the photos I hid in my pocket, the ones I showed grandma Norah a while ago. I pulled out the one shot in a park and a shudder of surprise struck me. The structure of the park…and the place drawn in the painting… They're the same! Same structures, same ground, same trees, same place, all the same!

    Hunter's Grove. It must have homed the answers to my questions, the key to all perplexities.

    "Jeanette, dinner is ready!" I heard mom cried from down the hallway so I hurried down the stairs to the dining room where the delightful sight of chicken salad and fettuccine alberto, and the aromatic scent of grilled pork awaits me. I mixed up a bunch of smoothies for us, mom's favorite, before I seated myself next to her in our dining table. I swallowed my serving of chicken salad as mom busily munched on her grilled pork. A couple of minutes of stillness then I broke the silence.

    "I've been downtown to Grandma Norah"

    "Yeah, I heard you mentioned that earlier"

    "You know why?"

    "Why?" and she eyed me narrowly, bewildered.

    "I asked her about the photographs of granny I saw"

    "Oh, the one you showed me the day after the burial…So, what's her reaction?"

    "Same as yours."

    "I didn't know mom was quite a catch back then. I told you it's not so much of a fuzz" and she flinched and swallowed a spoonful of rice and began chewing.

    "What about the painting… Do you have any idea where she bought it? And I even wonder why it's kind of thicker than the usual…" I asked.

    "I don't know. She already has it even before I was born"

    "Hmm… Now you're talking"

    "Hey, what are you a little Nancy Drew? What's with these interrogation stuff?" she chuckled.

    "I just want to know the person I thought I knew and yet a real stranger to me all along. I can't believe I know so little about Grandma Sophie", I drank my smoothie, quivered with the crystals of ice that hugged my teeth and the sweet-and-sour taste of the fruit, then I continued.

    "Tell me, how much do you know her?"

    I saw her stopped from her eating, placed the silverware on her plate, fingers intertwined before she faced me and started:

    "Well, I've known her as the best mother in the world there is. She told me that my father died in a civil war so she was forced to raise me all by herself and with the help of aunt Norah…"

    "So, that's the reason that woman never married," I interrupted.

    "I don't think so" she giggled.

    "Go ahead," and I lolled at my seat to listen to her with ease.

    "And I never knew him…Dad. She said she was just three months pregnant when she left."

    "W-wait a minute… you never met him?"

    "Nope. Ever."

    "Don't you think that the man in the picture with granny would most likely be…"

    "My father? Oh no, no. I know that guy, silly."

    "You know him!" I stared at her, wide-eyed, astonished.

    "Of course I do, he's aunt Norah's husband or should I say…man," she replied.

    "What?" I exclaimed. I can't believe this, now there's even more pieces of the puzzle missing than I thought.

    I never finished my meal for I was, in the moment, in a far more important discovery.

    "And I thought she's an old maid," I murmured.

    "No. She's unmarried, yes, but never an old maid."

    "But I never heard her even get involved with anybody…"

    "Neither do I. I only found out about it when mom died, aunt Norah arrived home from Alaska for her sister's wake and she took him with her at the mourning, riding on his wheeled chair. He's pathetic, I tell you, he can't even move a muscle."

    "Oh yeah I remember! That's him? I mean.. I never had an inkling it could be him. Well, I only vaguely remember the man since grandma kept anyone from talking to him. And they never stayed long for me to actually get the chance to ask who he is or how he knows grandma."

    And then I thought... She's hiding him. For I could have seen him when I visited her in her house.

    "I tell you, she's not really the type of woman who makes friends or gets along with anyone" and mom began transferring the dirty dishes to the sink. I helped her and she started washing them.

    "What does grandma Norah's husband doing with granny in the picture?" I thought, as clouds of mysteries grew to envelop my mind.


    "Hi grandma Norah!" I greeted when the door of the old lady's house opened after ringing her twice. She sure is shocked to see me.
    "Boy, nothing quite like a surprise visit", I wondered and I hid a mischievous grin beneath my innocent facade. I continued my pace toward the living room and saw the man she can no longer hide from me now that I caught him before me, on his wheelchair. The man is so slender, balding with almost little white hair remaining on his top to shed off with the time remaining in him. He is wearing a thick turtleneck sweater, checkered blue. A blanket of black wool on his lap covers the lower appendages. His cheeks slackened, eyes dark and deep, face livid, mouth trembling as though his features betrayed the fact of his existence.

    "Kyle Andrews," I saw him moved yet only slightly, as he fears the pain it would cause him, his eyes in deep amusement turned to his unexpected guest.

    "W-who…a-are..y..you…?" he uttered. I approached him, ignoring the old woman's refusal behind me.

    " I'm Jeanette Simmons. I believe you know my grandmother…Josephine Gardner?" I started.

    "Excuse me!" Grandma Norah stormed from behind and hurried to his side.

    "T-this is ridiculous… He doesn't know what you're talking about" she retorted. All of a sudden her voice seemed firm and strong.

    "Let him answer," I stated sharply.

    Then the old man, seemed like on his eighties already, and with so much effort, raised his right hand to prevent the upcoming of a possible commotion.

    "I t-think…it's about time…that everyone knows the truth," he said and the two of us froze and awaited his words.


    "I love you so much, Kyle… I don't want to lose you," she whispered to his ear and his arms tightened around her as they gently sway in the romantic melody of waltz. They swept the dance floor the whole night and young love filled the Grand Ball.

    "You won't, as long as you continue loving me…" he breathed on her ear and she leaned her head on his shoulder as the music went on.

    The evening dance that almost seemed endless turned into a stop. Josephine searched for Kyle but he was nowhere to find.

    "Now can we go?" she heard a girl spoke in the hallway so she hid herself beside the nearby glass cabinet of keepsakes where in the dusk she could not be seen.

    "Alright, alright. But this would be the last time. I don't want Sophie to see us…And you won't spoil our wedding next week."

    Josephine was startled to see who the silhouettes are concealing themselves from the glance that knows too well.

    "Kyle…N-norah…" teardrops fell down from her eyes down to her cheeks and she sank down, deeper, lost beyond the darkness…


    "What are you doing here?" Josephine clamored as a familiar face stood by her front door.

    "Sophie, what is the matter, honey? Why aren't you dressed yet? It's our wedding today, remember?" his voice broke and tears ran down on his face.

    "I am not marrying anyone. Not that I know of as dishonest," she replied bitterly and she gazed at him as tears blurred her sight.

    "Don't lie to me Kyle, I saw you… you and Norah, in the hallway, the night of the ball… Stop pretending like you don't even know what all of this is about! How could you do this to me, Kyle… How could you hurt me? You know that I had loved you… and given you my all…" her words trailed off and she shut the door closed.

    "Sophie! Sophie! Please let me explain!" he cried, but not for long, the door would open for him no more.

    A couple of weeks passed, Sophie received a package. She picked it up right at the doorstep and opened it. A bunch of crumpled papers protected what is lying inside the box, a key and a letter. She read what the letter says:

    "Dear Sophie,

    I'm sorry for what I've done. Remember the day you and I had this small fight? I was so lonely and upset then… Norah was there to comfort me and while we're away… something happened between us. When we reconciled, I knew I loved you even more but… Norah is having our baby and she wouldn't stop bugging me, threatening me that she would kill herself. She never let go of me, she wants me to father her child. I'm confused Sophie, you know that you're the only woman that I loved. I'm very sorry for what I've done to you. I know that what I've done is unforgivable still, I hope that someday you'll find forgiveness in your heart. Please keep the key… I know it is hard for you now to keep my memory but I want you still to have it. You have refused to take it before when we had an argument but keep it. I know someday everything's gonna be okay and we will be together again. And I hope you'll wait 'till that time comes. I love you.



    Tears rushed down her face. She felt all her strength and defenses crumbled as she held the letter so tight, placed it close to her heart.

    "I love you Kyle, you know that. But Norah needs you now more than ever… as much as I need you…" and she gripped the key with her trembling hands as agony and solitude calls.


    "B-but why? Why didn't you do anything? Why didn't you beg, why did you leave her?" I exclaimed at the man who was now crying in front of me.

    "This is all my fault…" the old woman wept and immediately went to her room.

    "Norah and I went to Alaska to live there. And I can't even believed myself that Sophie ever found the forgiveness in her heart that she even wished for our safe departure. She had always have the soft heart, the understanding, the love… Maybe because she also cares for her sister as much as she cares for me. But Norah's child died in delivery and Norah was in a critical condition too so I can't leave her alone in the hospital. Just like what Sophie said… Norah needs me, so I never left her to come back to Sophie. I never even heard of her pregnancy to our child, only now that she's… gone" he sobbed when he finished his feeble talk.

    I left them. I walked my way home. All I want is to get away… away from that house. I never knew where my feet are going until I stopped and came up with my senses. Hunter's Grove. It seemed like only yesterday when Kyle and Sophie have been in this place… It's so much different now. Only few trees are left standing. The old, wooden benches are no longer there but benches made of bricks, statues of marbles and a fountain at the center of the park. Many people are strolling, roaming around and I don't seem to… fit in. I guess things do change. Everything changes as time goes by. People come, people go. That's the cycle called life.

    Back in my room, I lied down on the bed, facing the immense artwork before me. I approached the painting. Touched it. Caressed it.

    "Grandma… how can they do this to you… how can you have suffered such a bitter past… and yet you are like this mountain in winter on the painting… strong, cold, immobile, brave and unfaltering. Snowcaps conceal the true glamour of its beauty…" As I moved my fingers around it, I felt something odd. A little mounted surface, a tiny bulk, an unbelievable bulge at the lower right of the painting. I poked it. It seemed to… wear off. Determined, intrigued, I worked my hands on the little bulged surface, scratching it off, then I startled to my surprise. A keyhole. That's what the key is for! I slowly inserted the key hanging from my neck to the little opening, gave it a little twist and turn then finally… it opened. I peeked inside the little hole and pictured a tiny red velvet box plus a folded piece of paper. I reached my thumb and forefinger inside to get it. I unfolded the paper. A letter. I began to read.


    I can't think of no other finer way to show you how much you mean to me but by this. I know you are familiar with this painting. Why, this is the picture we painted together in our favorite meeting place, remember? And remember when I borrowed it from you and took it home? The reason is… I made it more special by inserting my special gift for you inside. And you are so smart to have figured this out. I'm proud of you.

    I love you so much, honey. And I can't think of no other woman more worthy to be my wife but you. Will you marry me?


    I opened the red velvet box. A gold ring with a huge diamond sparkling on top of it met my inquisitive eyes and I felt the drop of warm tears on my fingers as I linger on the precious item I hold with my hand.

    Loss is bitter, truly, when you know there should have been a chance. When time is your enemy and a friend is also a foe. Nothing quite like a bittersweet refrain to a once magical tale.

    - END -