Introduction: This narrative takes off from an old Filipino prose form known as the “Dagli,” which means abrupt. I have discovered that its native compactness takes on surprising results when alloyed with nigh-absurdist strokes akin to those executed by Barthelme or Lundkvist.
“Very Last Day as Fiction Apprentice” is charged by an unspoken energy that informs all pedagogical relationships. While the age disparity between mentor and student usually brings with it respect and deference, but it also drags along with it the shadows of resentment and unrequited desire. In my view, fear of death is the primary darkness. While the interlocutors engage in a genteel combat of talent and insight, they also wrestle with the mighty undercurrent of time — more accurately perhaps, their constant awareness of its singular threat.
Very Last Day as Fiction Apprentice
by Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo
The door opens. Chimes. A young man comes in.
JOSE: It’s 12:45. What happened? You are 45 minutes late.
SARMI: (Glances at watch) Sir, I’m only 30 minutes late.
J: Why is it cruel to be late for an appointment with an old man?
S: (Looks down at his knuckles) I’m sorry, sir.
J: Not one version of the fairy tale ever granted Snow White the mirror.
S: Sounds like we won’t be having the Proust today.
J: Never again. Drop the pretense that you’ve been coming over with your mountain sandals and that conceited stubble only to hear my Proust.
S: Is this a bad time, sir?
J: It’s bad timing, you impossible little man! Can’t you tell the difference?
S: Wait. There. I think I have it! The mirror doubled the Queen’s evil, stacking the odds against the protagonist, intensifying — though more in terms of motif than drama — the tension, that is tightening the screw against the capacity of the thread. In the hands of the protagonist, the mirror would’ve doubled that unspeakable beauty, would’ve swallowed up the Queen before the narrative progressed, and I suppose that would be like tossing that exquisite screw down a well.
J: An exquisite mirror as well, for it would have apprised the youth of the day and the hour.
S: (Meets the stare of the teacher) Sorry, sir, but no, it would’ve done no such thing. Not at the moment.
J: The deep well was, by the way, a fine touch.
S: The generation before mine had this expression, “Last Word Freak,” but who’s stopping us from making it a term of endearment?
JOSE: “Overstayed your welcome,” is another.
SARMI: (Bows, quite snappily, from the waist) Permit me, instead, to outlive it.
The young man comes out. The door closes. Chimes.