FILIPINO women are constantly pictured as conservative and secretive. But Norma Miraflor shows how they can be passionate in enriching and fulfilling their ideals in A Dream of Peace and Other Stories (Anvil Publishing, 1998). Miraflor’s book brings together 12 of her stories, written during the ‘60’s up to the ‘90’s, exhibiting the rich colors of a woman’s lifestyle, behavior, and beliefs in that period. Miraflor, a former editor of the Varsitarian and MPH Magazines in Singapore, was a Palanca winner for the Maikling Kwento category in 1972, and for the Short Story category in 1978 and 1979.

Strength in solitude

Aloneness does not necessarily mean that one is lonesome. Rather, the condition leads one towards the path of self-discovery, even for women well past their prime. They can find further fulfillment in their ability to live as individuals, after half of their lives are lived in a marriage, as in the first story “The Music Box.” An elderly Constancia Palacio is landlady of a lodging house near a university in Manila. Mrs. Palacio has taken control of her life ever since her husband died of a heart attack in a motel with his lover. No longer confined to her husband’s preferences, Mrs. Palacio takes singing lessons, writes regularly to friends, and prepares the week’s menu. She wears bright-colored dresses, stiletto heels and fancy accessories that her husband would not have approved of.

One of her young boarders, Maya Francia, is afraid of Mrs. Palacio. For Maya, Mrs. Palacio embodies life’s failure. Maya resolves that her life will not turn up the same way. Yet, Mrs. Palacio realizes she still finds the world beautiful because she has found herself, and she wishes the same for her young and willful boarders.

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Likewise, Carlota is the strong and willful character in “A Dream of Peace.” After a life of wealth and success, her husband Javier Arias is seeking peace. However, he makes it clear that should Carlota accompany him on his quest, she will have no role in it. But being the loyal wife that she is, Carlota dutifully remains by Javier’s side. They sell all of their property to sail the seas and travel the world. As they stay in one place, Javier wanders out to meet people, while Carlota happily remains in their house, painting.

What Carlota does not anticipate is Javier finding—and impregnating—a young woman in his “quest for tranquility.” Nevertheless, Carlota feels no anger. She has gotten used to her own peace, and she is ready to live the rest of her life alone with her newfound strength.

Love’s search

Love is undeniably an impregnable factor in lasting relationships. More than the obligatory sense of duty, it is love that makes a woman hold family dear. “Hello Felisa” is about the young Nenita who lives with her strict grandmother Felisa. Nenita likes to be left alone to read and think while Felisa constantly pushes her to attend to the responsibilities that would help her grow up, like helping in the kitchen, and tending the garden. Though Nenita despises her grandmother, they are thrown at one another when Nenita’s mother decides to leave and her father is lost at sea. Despite some disagreements and quarrels, they stay together because of the unspoken connection between them—Nenita is the daughter of Felisa’s beloved son.

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People tend, when love is wanting in one relationship, to seek for it in another. But how does a woman feel when she is the one forsaken for that search? Deeply moving, “The Other Woman” tells of a doctor’s wife who is forcibly wrapped up in her own world because of her reticent husband. The house is “his”; the kitchen is the only part of the house he grants for her possession. This and a Garden Club comprise her little world. Then, she befriends a young man who makes her see how she has separated herself from others. Although he is married, they become lovers. As their affair goes on she longs for him more and more, until one day she finds out that he has left—not for his wife, but for another woman.

A season of change

“A Fretful Season” tells how denial becomes a shield for harsh realities. Two cousins, Morena and Gabriela are separated at 12 years old when Morena’s father brings his family to England, along with their other cousin, Carmencita. Suddenly, Gabriela finds it difficult adjusting to her new life without her best friend.

Everything changes when Gabriela goes to England to visit Morena, who is now stricken with multiple sclerosis. Morena now seems changed. She spends all her days inside her house, filled with treasures from around the world, and shows off her foreigner friends to Gabriela.

Gabriela dislikes what her cousin has become—a Filipino who is too eager to leave the country for greener pastures with no intention of returning. Gabriela also learns new things about her cousin—how she treats Carmencita like an unfeeling servant, how she repeatedly describes her marriage to her husband as a special marriage, despite having lost his love, and how she keeps up appearances to show herself as deserving of the stylish life she leads. As Gabriela says, “pretended nonchalance and pretended irritation” becomes Morena’s way of dealing with the actuality of her situation.

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Miraflor successfully presents the Filipina in her stories, showing off her various identities and behavior. The author also places her characters in situations that trigger different and unexpected responses, bringing out the complex emotions that come hand-in-hand with being a daughter, wife, sister and a lover. In her adept pen, we easily understand the soul of the Filipino women—her reasons, her actions, and the spirit of her age.

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