Manuel E. Arguilla (1911–1944), Filipino fictionist, won 1st prize in the 1940 Commonwealth Literary Contest with his "How My Brother Leon Brought Home a Wife and Other Short Stories."
One story written by him, entitled “Midsummer,” which was first published in the Prairie Schooner (United States), always lightens my mood every time I hear someone allude to it.
Image by Oregon State University Archives via Flickr: Prairie Schooner crossing the mountains.
In case you wonder why, let me share with you its summary.
A man, peering up from his cart, sees that the road ahead of him looks like a snake: it seems “to writhe under the lash of the noonday heat.” After a while, the reader’s ears are made to hear the grating cartwheels and the bull’s “almost soundless shuffle”; thus, the silence of the place is emphasized. Then the man notices a woman standing at the side of the road, before she turns and disappears into a gorge.
At the exact spot where the woman earlier stands looking at the man “with frank curiosity,” the man stops, unhitches the animal, walks it down to the gorge and on to a well where the lady has just filled her jar with water.
She now gracefully stands up with the jar on her head, but staggers a bit. This causes water to come down her breast and bosom, to which her wet bodice clings. She holds the jar with one hand, uses the other to shake the cloth off her flesh, walks, pauses by the man without looking at him, and walks back up the narrow path leading to the main road.
When she disappears, the young man makes two observations: white and smooth underpart of the woman’s arm and thick black hair (not the underpart’s but the head’s). He makes his animal drink from a bucket, goes back to his cart to get a jute sack (which contains his meal) and hay for the bull, feeds the animal, and eats his meal near the well. He is half through with his lunch when the girl (who has changed her dress) returns.
With a down-from-under stare, he notices her hips tapering down to “rounded thighs and supple legs showing against her skirt and moving straight and free.” He eats hurriedly when she comes near, and is almost choked by the food. Brown unembarrassed eyes meet him when he finally invites her to join lunch—which she politely refuses.
His intoning a song on “salt” melts the ice between them. When she returns his smile, she absent-mindedly tugs the rope, and the bucket splashes water on his food—causing him to jump. She is distressed; he tries to pacify her. She offers to draw him water, but he takes the bucket, lowers it to the well with his back turned to her; she, thus, notes his back’s rippling muscles. He starts filling her jar with water, though she, at first, says he must not. She does not heed his suggestion that she moves to the shade; she remains near him.
When he drinks, she holds the bucket for him; he becomes “self-conscious” when his throat makes sounds. She consoles him by saying that her father makes the same sounds when he drinks.
The sun is now almost everywhere; it is then that she invites him to her home. When he says he might only be “troubling” her, she replies no, he must come—she has already told her mother about him (a revelation!). She now carries “the jar on her head without holding it” (another revelation!).
With her ahead of him (the animal between them), our young man feels “strong”; he feels that he can “follow the slender, lithe figure ahead of him to the ends of the world.”
Published in: Cooking