Wednesday, December 23, 2009

i remember...#4

Christmas Past. 1973. I am 20.

Mother stares wide-eyed at the humongous Christmas basket. With her good left hand she turns the basket around, being careful not to tear the cellophane cover as she peers through it, checking the contents of the basket. My young brother, Basil, squats on the floor beside the basket. He touches the cellophane wrap but Mother slaps his arm and he promptly withdraws his hand.

"I'm just looking," he says smiling.

"Then just look."

"Open it," I tell her.

"No, the wrapping is so pretty. It's so nice to look at," she protests.

"Are you going to just stare at it until everything gets spoiled or eaten by ants?"

Mother smiles. Before she could stop me, I yank the glittery ribbon and it comes off along with the fake berry and holly trimmings and they fall on the floor.

"There," I say. "There's a box of Belgian truffles..." I hand her the box. "A can of cashew nuts." She promptly grabs it and places the can on her lap, her paralized right arm protecting it.

As I take out each item, she grabs what she likes and puts it on her lap. Those that she doesn't want to save she hands to my brother. When we finish, only four items can be eaten or used right away, the rest of the goodies ended on her lap.

"Can we have chocolate marble ice cream for tonight?" she asks.

"Ice cream, for Noche Buena?" I say. "You know I can't have anything cold in the evening. My stomach will...."

"Then don't eat it!" she cuts me off.

"Besides, we have ice cream cake in the freezer."

"But I want chocolate marble."

Since my mother had a stroke and became paralyzed a few years ago, I sometimes find myself in reversed roles with her: I the mother and she the child. But it's hard to say no with those wide eyes pleading at you, or the look of resignation that bears just a slight hint of pout.

And so I take a twenty-peso bill from my pitaka and tell Basil to go and get a large tub of chocolate marble ice cream. He goes off with my two younger sisters, Leng and Wowie, with three of the neighborhood kids, as if they were off to a big excursion.

When they come back, they have two large containers of ice cream.

"Two? Don't I get any change?" I ask holding my hand out for change.

Basil shakes his head. "The other one," he says, "is Rocky Road." I sneer at him. "But, it's your favorite!"

"I like that, too," Mother interjects.

And so the family ends up that Christmas eve having spaghetti and ice cream. I eat the spaghetti. The rest of them have spaghetti and ice cream.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

A SHORT STORY - Silent Night

The girl, about eight, stands by the window and holds her little baby brother in her arms as she hums "Silent Night". Sometimes the baby lets out a small cry, but always it is soothed by his sister's gentle swaying. She looks out the window, where she can see the far end of the street, the cars and buses tiny in her vision. She strains her eyes trying to make out if the image of a woman at the corner is of her mother, who has left earlier in the afternoon promising to come back with food for their Christmas table. But it's not her mother. For a while, it looks like her, but it isn't her. Lights can sometimes fool one's vision especially at dusk.

The girl thinks of her mother, concern obvious in her furrowed eyebrows, as she sets the baby on a tattered blanket on the wooden floor. Her mother has not been well for a few days now - she's had fever at each day's end, and coughs that sounded like ribs are about to burst out of her chest. Even then, after she has put on her only good dress, the pink one with little sequins in the bodice, she looks beautiful, especially with her hair pulled up and only little wisps of her curly hair framed her face. She has kissed both the little girl and the baby and held them in her arms for a long time, whispering soothing words.

She says she will be gone for only a few short hours. A friend from a long time ago owes her money and she will try to get it so they can buy food for Christmas and, especially, milk for the baby. She says they will go to church and attend mass and they will kiss the statue of the infant Jesus lying in the manger at the back of the church. She will be home soon, she promises. "As soon as I can."

The sky has already turned dark and the horizon's deep red slowly vanishes as the sun sets and the night settles in. Faint twinkling of stars appear above. The girl doesn't know if there will be a moon, but she hopes there will be. Her mother has said, after her father died, that he has gone to heaven and is sitting on an anvil and she can see him when she looks up at the moon.

The baby lets out a small cry. The girl puts her little finger between the baby's lips, and the baby, although too weak from hunger, sucks it eagerly. The girl prays that milk comes out so the baby won't be hungry anymore. The baby falls asleep and the girl wishes he would sleep longer this time, or at least until her mother comes back.


A woman with wan skin and pale face, sits on a chair outside the dance hall. She tries to suppress a cough as smoke from another woman's cigarette blows her way. Although looking sickly and dressed simply, she is no doubt the most beautiful among the other women. The manager, a short dark man with a goatee beard arrives shortly, accompanying another man, much taller, handsome and well dressed. But if one looks closely, his eyes are cold and expressionless. He eyes the seven women sitting along the corridor and points at the woman with the pale skin. The manager flicks his finger at her and although feeling sick, she stands and smiles at the man.

The manager asks the man and the woman with the pale skin to follow him through the long corridor and up a steep and narrow stairwell to the second floor. The manager opens a door to a small room with a wooden bed. There is a thin foam on top of the bed, a threadbare pillow and an old bedsheet. She unfolds the bedsheet and covers the thin foam. She sits on the edge of the bed. The man, without speaking, takes his wallet from the back pocket of his pants, opens it and pulls a few bills and hands it to the manager. The manager smiles and nods at the man and thanks him as he retreats from the room.

The man takes off his clothing and lies on the bed. The woman with the pale skin carefully undresses herself and lies beside the man. Upon his touch, she closes her eyes and when he goes on top of her, her tears flow. She thinks of her children, her beautiful little girl who she dreams will become a ballerina someday, and her little baby boy who she hopes will become a doctor when he grows up. She smiles at the thought and the man takes this to mean pleasure for her. So the man violates her body again and again until he himself is exhausted.

He gets up and dresses himself again. Although weak, she dresses herself, too. The man throws a few bills on her lap as he leaves the room. She pockets her money, and finishes buttoning up her blouse. On her way down the stairs, the manager hands her a few more bills. She smiles at the manager, bows her head slightly and thanks him for his kindness and generosity.

She takes a short bus ride to the nearest market. Most stalls have already closed for the night, it being Christmas Eve, but she knows one store that would still be open. The Jewish storekeeper keeps his shop open until late. She only barely notices the bright lights on Christmas trees displayed in the stalls, as her trembling knees speeds up to get to the end of the market building. She promises herself that if she feels better after Christmas, she will take her daughter here so she can see the beautiful Christmas displays.

At the grocery store owned by a kind Jewish man, she takes a small basket and goes around examining the store shelves. In her basket, she puts two small cans of Vienna sausage, a jar of marmalade, a small loaf of bread that is still warm, and a can of milk. She sees a small doll. She checks her money and, content that she can afford it, she pays for her purchase and walks briskly to the bus stop. Her arms are weak and her load proves heavy for them. She starts to cough again. A bus is coming fast and she needs to catch it so she does not have to wait long for the next one. She wants to be home immediately, to feed her children, and to rest.

Her head feels heavy and everything around her seems to swirl. The bus slows down, but the driver, seeing no one at the bus stop, drives away. The woman yells for him to stop. She runs; she has to catch this bus if she has to reach home in time to feed her children, to take her daughter to hear the midnight mass. She wants to go home to her children. She does not want to wait for the next bus which would get her home well after midnight. She needs to be home now.

She runs faster while she hangs on to her grocery bag, hugging it tightly around her chest so the cans of Vienna sausage and the milk and the marmalade and the loaf of bread and the doll don't fall off. When she reaches the curb, the heel of her left shoe breaks and she loses her balance. She fights to not fall and steps off the pavement onto the road. A car in the next lane swerves to the right to pass the slower car ahead, grazes the curb and hits the woman wearing a broken shoe and carrying a large grocery bag.

Suddenly, the woman sees blinking Christmas lights hanging on edges of the roof and gutters and walls of the market building. And as her head hits the ground, the last thing that the woman sees is the back of the bus as it speeds away, the bus that she has wanted to catch so she can go home to her children, while she still holds on to her precious groceries.


The girl sits on the floor, her little baby brother in her arms. He does not cry anymore. She has told him to stop crying for mother will soon be home. She puts a pillow on his face for just a while to quiet him. Her stomach continues to grumble from hunger, three days without food will do that to you. She stands up and looks out the window. But she only sees the darkness nearby, a flickering candle from the house in the middle of the field opposite her house, and the faint light from the street lamps at the far end of the street. A woman gets off a bus and the little girl squints her eyes to see if it is her mother. It has to be her. Finally!

She puts her baby brother on the floor, very carefully, for she does not want to wake him up. She stands by the window, props her arms on the sill, and starts to hum "Silent Night".

Thursday, December 17, 2009

i remember...#3

Christmas Past. Manila, 1975.

It is three o'clock in the morning and I am terribly late coming home. My boyfriend Jimmy and I along with our officemates have gone disco dancing. I don't know why I go when I don't dance at all but because Jimmy loves to dance, I feel obliged to go. I take a taxi to go home, but our street is too narrow for the taxi to go in so I have to walk the length of our street. Our street is near the town church and around the church, there are already people who have set up shop and getting ready to ply their wares to people attending the early morning mass. I pass by a woman busy making rice cakes. Older women, devout Catholics are slowly walking their way to the church.

I curse the fact that our house is situated at the very end of the street. The dogs wake up from the loud "clack-clack" noises my platform shoes make on the paved ground. They start to bark. I reach our compound of four houses, ours being one of the two behind. The house in front of us has a dog and this dog wakes up, too, and starts to bark which triggers other dogs to bark, too. The barking, if it lasts too long, would wake my father up, then he would find out I am just coming home.

My two younger sisters, Leng and Vivian and the children from the neighbors' attend the early morning Christmas masses. Leng, who is a deep sleeper, ties a string around her wrist and drops the end outside the window; it is long enough to reach just above the ground and the other children would pull it to wake her up. They turn this going to early mass like an excursion because afterwards my sister would treat them to the rice cakes and other sweets sold around the little market by the church.

Our door does not have a lock. Its "lock" is one of the chairs that we prop so that if anyone tries to get in, the chair will make such a noise that my father, or one of us would surely wake up. There is a hole on the wall, big enough for my arm to go through, reach for the chair and slowly remove it so I can open the door without noise. But the dogs continue to bark and for some reason the chair won't budge from its position. The neighbor's dog ambles near our house and I had to hit it with my shoulder bag so it would go away. That is when I notice the string. I pull it a few times until Len wakes up.

"Alright! Alright," I hear her say. I could imagine her arm going up and down as I pull the string. She opens the window and pokes her head out. "What time is it? It's too dark yet, are you sure it's already four thirty?"

"Shhhhh! It's me, I can't open the door," I say in a hushed voice. "Let me in, quick!"

Through the smokey glass of the louvre window, I make out the image of Leng after she turns on the light. She walks halfway across the living room towards the door then turns and walks back to the wall by the foot of the stairs. There we have a cuckoo clock that often stops running in the middle of the night. Not this night though so she has to turn the hands back. As she does this, she looks at me and I make a gesture by flashing my hand twice for "ten" and one finger. She sets the clock to "eleven and a few minutes".

As she takes the chair off the door, it makes a loud scraping noise. In an instant, my father is out in the living room, seemingly annoyed at the little commotion. The first thing he does is look at the clock. He sees it is a few minutes past eleven.

"You're quite late," he tells me. "Overtime again?" He refers to the fact that ever since my office started on a joint project with Mrs. Marcos, I have always been "working overtime".

"Yeah," I say, fanning myself giving him the impression that I am tired.

"Have you eaten?"

"No," I reply. I glance at the clock and say, "But I'm not going to eat now, I'm really tired. Goodnight." I walk up the stairs with my sister, and he goes back to his bedroom.

As I change to my sleeping clothes, my sister tells me, "Next time, you should only pull the string once and quite gently. For a moment there, I thought I lost my arm!"


In the morning, as he prepares to leave for work, my father notices the cuckoo clock. He checks his watch.

"Damn thing, it must've stopped again during the night," he says to no one in particular. He then pushes the hands of the clock to the proper time. The pendulum stops. My father pulls the chain and gives the pendulum a little nudge for it to start again.

My sisters and I look at each other and make funny faces until our father has stepped out the door. When he is out of our sight, we start to giggle.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

i remember....#2

Christmas Past 3. I am 22 years old.

My two teenaged sisters, along with the neighborhood kids, arrive from church in time for our Noche Buena, literally "good night". It has been a family tradition, as is the custom in the predominantly Catholic country, for us to partake of a midnight snack to celebrate the birthday of Jesus Christ.

The table is already set, plates and cups, spoons and forks. The children are excited to have Noche Buena with us. There is a whole leg of ham that has been partly carved by my father, a large platter of spaghetti with corned beef sauce (my father's specialty) sprinkled on top with grated Kraft cheese, fried hot dogs and sausages, sliced queso de bola or cheese ball imported from the Netherlands, hot chocolate, Coke and Mirinda orange soft drinks, and the children all clap as I take out the large ice cream cake from the freezer. The children eat as if they are in a marathon, their eyes surveying each other, keeping track of how many hot dogs Joey has already eaten, or how big Edna would bite her ham. They all laugh as Alex pushes food inside his mouth with one hand while the other reaches for something else on the table. My sisters and our father fuss over the children while we sip our hot chocolate, while painfully conscious that one person is missing from the table. You see, our mother passed away eleven months ago, a few weeks after last Christmas.

My sisters and I have continued our mother's practice of giving food to the neighborhood children, especially those from the farthest end of the street, children who are less fortunate, who would otherwise not have the same food we eat. Ever since my older brother and I had a job, our Christmas table fares have gotten better, especially that a number of our clients would shower us at the office with a lot of gifts of food.

This year, we also have started a tradition with the neighbors' kids, the ones from the three other houses in our compound of four, which we call "monito, monita" or kris kringle. Earlier in the week, we put our names in a container and each had to draw a name. Then we have to buy two gifts, one for the name drawn, and one for the person who draws our name. The gift for the former should cost a little bit more. You can imagine all of the younger kids wishing for their names to be drawn by me. But it doesn't matter, as I would give everyone a small gift anyway, mostly a small envelope with five pesos or ten pesos inside it.

Christmas Past 4. I am 38 years old.

I am alone in my apartment this Christmas Eve. I have set up on my glass top dining table my new china. Two place settings. I pour hot chocolate on my cup and open the small box of sugar dusted doughnuts which I have bought earlier from an Asian doughnut shop I have accidentally found on Sherbourne. The doughnuts remind me of my mother, of a time when she and I were walking along a tree-lined street on our way home from visiting my aunt. We had stopped at a store to buy sugar dusted doughnuts and we ate them as we walked.

I place a single doughnut on her plate and I eat mine with the hot chocolate. It is cold outside, I can tell by the heavy smokes coming from the chimneys of nearby homes and stacks from the taller buildings. The edges of the glass doors to my patio are etched with thin ice that sparkle as the lights from the Christmas tree reflect on them. I wonder if my mother's soul or spirit can be present when she has never been to Canada herself. But we had always believed that spirits can fly to anywhere. My sister Lengleng who lives with her family down at Coxwell in the east end does not like this idea for she is acutely afraid of ghosts.

The telephone rings several times -- friends calling to greet Merry Christmas. My brother who lives in Chicago with his family call as well. I tell him about the doughnuts and he, too, does not like the idea that my mother's spirit would come and visit me, because it would mean that she could visit him in Chicago as well. He tells me, "Tell her I live in Florida."

"You're a nincompoop," I tell him.

Monday, December 14, 2009

i remember....#1

Christmas Past 1. I am five years old.

Mother lifts the white mosquito net, crawls in and lightly slaps my leg. "Wake up," she says, "I have a surprise for you."

Before I could say anything, she crawls back outside the mosquito net. She unhooks the ears of the mosquito net from the nails on the wall. I crawl out, sit on the floor and start to fold my sheet. I put the folded sheet on top of my pillow and wait for her to finish folding the mosquito net. She puts the sheet and the pillow on top of the folded mosquito net and puts them away on a chair in the corner of the room. She rolls the leaf mat and puts it behind that chair.

I stretch my arms up and let out a loud yawn, then press the heels of my hands on each eye to rub off sleep. When I open my eyes again, she is sitting in front of me on the floor, smiling, her hand behind her.

"Close your eyes."

I close my eyes. Then she tells me to open them again.

Before me is a toy tea set - miniature cups, saucers, tea pot, glass, plates, tiny spoons and forks, in very light pink. They are the exact replica of a depression glass tea set, in neat package of pink cardboard and see through plastic.

"I won it at the store," she says. At the variety store at the corner, there is a kind of game called "bunot" or pull where for five cents you get to open a rolled piece of paper you pull out and on it is written a prize. Mother has won the jackpot for that game: the toy tea set.

I thank her and I go to wash my mouth and face carrying the package underneath my arm. When I have finished, I hastily comb my hair so I can sit down with the family for breakfast.

I sit on my spot on the dining table. Mother turns on the kerosene stove and heats up the iron skillet, puts a little cooking oil and starts to fry eggs. Today, being Christmas, we each get a whole egg for breakfast along with two fried sausages. Instead of pandesal or little dinner rolls, we have one loaf of tasty bread, the kind with different colored circles on the plastic cover. Instead of coffee, we have hot chocolate with milk.

When we have finished Mother clears the dining table. Father then hands us our gifts. For my big brother Erick, a set of plastic tools. For my little sister Vilma, a doll. For me, a miniature living room ensuite which he has made from scraps of wood and painted moss green. He arranges them in front of me on the table: a long sofa, a coffee table, two arm chairs on the ends and two small stools. I open my toy tea set and arranged them on the little coffee table.

Christmas Past 2. I am 21 years old.

I place the large ham on a big platter in the middle of the table. My father gives each one of us a thick slice. On the table we have a whole pack of real butter, a big platter of spaghetti with corned beef sauce and grated Kraft cheese, a whole canned Kraft cheese half of which has been sliced. There is also a large loaf of fruit cake peeking from its red cellophane cover, a large platter of jumbo hot dogs, and a large platter of a dozen fried eggs.

My mother, however, opts for a cup of chocolate marble ice cream and dips bits of the tasty bread as she eats it. She takes a slice of the fruit cake, but hands it over for my father to finish when she realizes the fruit cake has been soaked in rhum. She asks for a second serving of chocolate marble ice cream.

"So many food!" she says. "We should save some for New Year." She surveys our dining table, the same one we have had since I was a little girl. It has never before held so much food at one time.

Monday, December 7, 2009

blind date


"Wow!" Leslie exclaims as she enters my office. "Your office is bigger than mine."

"Sorry," I say, "now you make me feel guilty." I gave her a Garfield like grin, while her gaze sweeps the office and her hand touches the mahogany desk and credenza

She smiles and sits on the corner of my desk. "In any case," she finally faces me. "John and I were wondering if you would like to join us for dinner tomorrow night."

"Aha, you're inviting me for dinner," I say. "You and John. How nice."

Leslie nods and gives me her own version of the Garfield grin. I prop my left elbow on my desk, and cradle my chin on the back of my hand. Leslie smiles. Before she can say anything, I say, "You're setting me up for a blind date, yet again, aren't you?"

She giggles. "Rajid is a nice guy, Victoria."

"Rajid?"

"Oh, he's Indian, but he grew up in Britain. Only his name is Indian but he's more British." Leslie plays with the half dozen thin gold bangles on her arm. "Oh, Victoria, give him a try. He's such a nice guy."

"Hmmmm. I don't know, Les. I think you and John should stop worrying about me."

"Victoria, you shouldn't have to sit alone in your apartment all the time. By God, you have got to meet people. You have got to have a boyfriend."

"I don't need a boyfriend. Boyfriend is not everything in life, you know.Sorry, I can't date Rajid." I grab my day planner and open it.

"Oh, puh-lease!" She stands up and walks over to where I sit. She puts her arms around my shoulders. "I promise you will like him. But if you don't, then I'll stop bugging you!"

I laugh. "You already set me up, didn't you?"

"Yes!" comes the quick reply. I roll my eyes and shake my head. “Please! Please! I promise you he’s a nice fellow.”

"Okay, but I will drive to this dinner so I can go home by myself."

“Sure,” Leslie says.

“I’ll leave at anytime I wish!”

“Okay, fine.” Leslie pats my cheeks and gives me a kiss in the air. “You’re such a darling.”

She runs back to her office across the corridor from mine. From my phone unit, I see her make a call.


The next day, I am busy sending telex bids to Dallas, Texas when I hear Leslie's high pitched British voice at the reception. Matthew, the office accountant, comes in to my office, smiling.

"You're on a date tonight, I gather," Matthew says.

"And how do you know about this?" I ask as I try to tear the yellow ticker tape off the telex machine.

"He's in Leslie's office with John. They arrived a few minutes ago." Matthew takes the ticker tape from me and slowly rolls it around his hand. He continues, "Rajid is a nice man."

"You, too, Matthew?" I say as I give him a smile. "You're passing by Mr. Duncan's office, please be kind enough to drop the Dallas folder. Thank you." I wave him to leave.

I am about to make a phone call to the gym when Leslie comes knocking at my door.

"Hello, hello! Can we interrupt?"

I place the phone back on its cradle. "Sure, come in."

John appears at the door, looking dapper as always. An Indian man comes right behind him. Rajid.

Rajid is well dressed. He has a thick beard. He wears a white turban. He is a Sikh.

I remember a news story from a long time ago, when Indira Ghandi was gunned down by a group of Sikh militants. Mrs. Ghandi was doing her gardening chores when she was murdered. I shudder upon remembering this.

Then I also remember a conversation with the Filipino technician the night before when he came over to fix our fax machine. "The Sikhs don't wash their hair that is why they wear turbans."

I look at Rajid. He looks clean alright despite his thick beard and surprisingly I can only smell John's shaving lotion. Rajid does not have the strange odours. He waves his hand at me, but apart from a "hello" and "nice to meet you", he does not say a word. He stares at me with a smile on his lips.

And there we are, Leslie, John, Rajid and me, with some frozen smiles on our faces, in the middle of an awkward silence. Presently, Leslie and John excuse themselves. Rajid is left standing alone in front of my desk facing me.

"Checking me out, ha?" I say to Rajid.

"Oh! No, no," he says, "John and I were in the neighborhood and he decided for us to come here."

I smile but I have nothing else to say to him.

"Well," I finally say, "I guess I'll see you tonight."

He breaks into a big smile, and says, "Oh, you're not disappointed in me? You will come to dinner?"

"Of course, I will," I say as I stand up and thrust my hand towards him. He reaches for my hand and we shake hands.

"I pick you up at seven?"

"No, it’s okay. Thank you. But I think I'll drive down to the restaurant."

He smiles and leaves.


At four o'clock, Mr. Duncan, our boss, comes back from his lunch meeting. He goes straight to my office. "You're having a blind date tonight, I hear." He pauses, then, "What's the matter with you now? You're face is all red!"

I am about to say something, but I bend down and bury my head inside my trash can underneath my desk. I push a ball pen down my throat and the cabbage rolls I had for lunch came right out.

"I think I ate something bad at lunch!"

"Well you better go home and rest." Mr. Duncan says. "Hope you feel better soon so you can go on your blind date. Have Vijayan drive you home. You can use him tonight if you want to."


At seven o'clock, Leslie arrives at my apartment. "Are you better?" She takes a sweeping look at me in my terry robe, dishevelled hair, smudged eye make up. "You're not ready?" I raise the cold compress to my head.

"As you can see, Leslie, I'm not exactly in good condition here." I slump on the sofa. "I'm sorry, I can't go tonight."

Oh was all I hear Leslie say. She slowly walks towards the door, seemingly annoyed.

"Enjoy you guys!" I say when I know she's already outside.


I look out the window as Leslie drives away in her convertible. John sits on the passenger seat beside her and Rajid at the back. I take the phone and dial Sophie's number, a friend who works at the Sultan's office as Catering Director.

"Sophie?"

"I thought you had a dinner date?" she asks.

"No, I decided not to go." I make myself a gin and tonic.

"But why, because you said he's Indian?"

"No, I wouldn't have minded it, really. He's a really nice looking dude."

"He smells?" Sophie laughs. I laugh, too.

"No!,” I say as I have a sip of my gin and tonic. “I wouldn't have minded it, really. He's a very nice looking dude."

“Nice?” I hear Sophie say.

“Yeah, nice. As in panty-slip-down nice looking.” We both laugh.

"Does he have a smell?"

"Nope."

"But you don’t want to date a man who wears a turban and has a beard? I know you don’t like hairy guys."

"That would’ve been fine, too. I could’ve put that aside, really."

"Oh." I hear Sophie cluck her tongue.

"But you know what killed the deal?"

"What?” Sophie asks and I can imagine her wide-eyed anticipation. When I didn’t answer right away, she yelps, “What! Tell me please."

"He shook my hand, Sophie."

"Oh, no!" I can almost feel and see Sophie's mouth gaping.

"Yup, my friend. If there's one thing I cannot stand, it's a limp handshake."

Friday, December 4, 2009

je me souviens...


Antwerpen, 1984. Ifor and I sat in one of the small brasseries along the Escaut Canal, watching the setting sun and taking in the magnificent hues of the sky, pale purple and gray brushed like feathers against the hazy blue sky. Ifor sipped on his Stella Artois while I nursed a glass of martini. The boats had arrived and people occupied the patio chairs and tables and settled in with their aperitifs. I noticed how people stared and when caught, smiled then looked away.

"They seldom see an Asian in this part of the world," Ifor said.

"I'm not Asian," I protested. "I'm from the Philippines and that makes me a Filipino."

"But Philippines is in Asia."

"But THE Philippines," I corrected him. "Don't forget the THE."

"Anyway," he continued, "If you haven't noticed you're the only colored person in the whole plaza."

I looked around and he was right. Not one colored person, local or tourist. "Why is that?"

"Should I be ashamed?"

"Why should you be?"

"I don't know. The way you pointed it out to me seemed like I should be conscious of the fact."

"Didn't mean it that way. In any case, you're the most beautiful woman in here, too."

I laughed, the kind of laugh that made people's heads turn.

Ifor finished off his beer and signaled the waiter for another one. "And now they're all looking at you, too."

The waiter brought his beer and said something to him in Flemish, then in French. Ifor smiled and said something back to the waiter and the waiter nodded and smiled. He disappeared for a few seconds and then came back with a glass full of crushed ice and a bottle of Perrier.

"Hey, what was that all about?" I asked. "Did you pimp me to the waiter? He doesn't look bad. How much is my cut?"

"He asked if you are someone famous." The corners of his mouth crooked just a little bit for a grin that he tried to suppress. "I said you are an opera singer from Manila, and you are here in Belgium for a big performance in Bruxelles."

"You said that?!?" I said it a little bit too loud and all heads turned to look at me again. I covered my mouth when I realized this. He laughed and I giggled.

"Well, I better get on with my show then," I started to stand up.

"Oh no," Ifor said, eyes conveying both amusement and surprise.

Around the world, I searched for you... His face turned serious, one eyebrow raised, while he continued to sip his beer.

I travelled on when hope was gone to keep a rendezvous.... "I'm not sure if my lyrics are right," I said and paused for a minute.

"Your audience is waiting, mademoiselle," he tapped the back of my hand. I grabbed his hand and brought it to my cheeks. He tried to pull it back but I didn't let go.

I knew somewhere, sometime, somehow, you look at me and I could see the smile you're smiling now... He decided to play along with me.

Not letting go of his hand, I danced around our small table and stood next to him.

It might have been in Amsterdam...Somehow the light of the setting sun beamed on my face, as if I was on a stage and the kleigh lights on me. I wanted to stop, but the martini did something to me and I had lost all inhibitions.

...or in New York...in gay Paris...or even London town...

People started to mill around the perimeter of the bistro and gawked at us, or me, if you would. Some people took pictures and the flashing of camera bulbs momentarily blinded my eyes.

No more will I go all around the world, for I have found my world in you....

By the time I reached the final note of the song, I was already sitting on Ifor's lap, his arms around my waist and mine around his neck and then we burst out laughing. We laughed so hard we almost fell off his chair. People clapped and whistled. A woman stood near us and smiled at a man who was holding a Nikon and took a picture of us.

The waiter came back and placed a carafe of white wine on the table, courtesy of, he said as he pointed to, the group of German tourists from the bistro next door. Ifor gave them a small nod and lifted his Stella Artois, smiling.

"That wasn't bad," he said.

"My singing?" I asked.

"No, the free wine."

And we laughed so hard we almost cried.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

PROMPT - my name is...


Chico. I remember my mother calling me Chico. But that was a long time ago. In another land. In another life. Now everyone calls me Ricky. That's the name Richard has chosen to call me.

Three years ago, I was five and I had not seen a foreigner before. We lived in an island where the shores are covered with very fine and very white sands. Strangers, people from other islands, the main island and even from the capital far away to the north, would come to our island. Some took pictures, others just lie down on the white sand and rubbed lotion on their bodies. Most of the time, they buy the fish that my father and his friends caught from the sea.

My mother said Richard was not only a "stranger", he was also a "foreigner". Strangers were people we did not know, but foreigners were people we did not know who came from other lands. Not just from the capital city up north, but from another country.

I could not take off my eyes from Richard the first time I saw him. He was a foreigner. He was from America. He had gold hair, blond they called the color. His eyes were blue, unlike ours. And his skin was very white. I had not seen such white person before and Richard looked like the gods in the comics drawings. And he spoke a different language.

"What is your name?" he asked me.

"Chico," I replied. "My real name is Ricardo, but my Inang calls me Chico."

Richard, he said, is the American name of my name.

"Chico, how would you like to go to school in America?" Richard asked.

"Are there a lot of books in the school in America?"

"Of course! Not just books, but also radio, colored TV." I didn't understand what a TV was.

"I don't have a son, Chico. How would you like to be my son?"

"Okay," I said.

Richard gave my father two hundred dollars so I could be his son. My father took the money, but Richard didn't take me with him that day. When he came back the next day, my father denied that he took the money. He said Richard only promised to give money but that he never gave it.

So, for two hundred dollars, he could take me as his son. Richard pulled his wallet, took out some money and handed it to my father. My father took them and put it in his pants pocket. Richard gave him some big white papers and told him to sign them. My father shook his head, and told Richard if Richard is adopting me, he would have to pay more.

"How much more?" Richard asked.

My father looked at my mother who sat on the floor at the far end of the house cleaning the bottoms of a pan with soot-blackened bottom. She did not look at my father although I knew she could hear him.

"One thousand dollars!" my father said.

"Okay, so I gave you two hundred the other day, two hundred today, here's another two hundred." Richard pushed more bills into my father's hand. "That's all, and if you still didn't sign these papers, I will call the military and tell them that you thieved the money from me."

My father looked at the white papers. He handed it back to Richard saying, "I cannot read and I cannot write."

Richard smiled. "It simply says that you have permitted me to take Chico to America so he could study there." Then Richard took out a fountain pen and drew something on my father's right thumb. "Here," he said, "press your thumb on this line here."


In America, Richard tells me my name is now Richard Jr., my nickname is Ricky and that he is now my father. He brings me to school every day. He buys me nice clothes and shoes. He takes me with him everywhere he goes, sometimes we drive, sometimes we ride our bikes. Richard always tells me that he is taking good care of me. But I do not believe him. Because at night, whenever he comes to my room and slips under the sheets with me, he hurts me.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

VIGNETTE - Jan

Jan Mintoff looks like the young Alexander Godunov in the movie Money Pit. Blond hair that rest on his shoulders, the smiling eyes, the chiseled chin and the agility of his body as he moves from his desk to the door of the office to meet me.

"I'm looking for Peter Harrington, is he here?" I ask.

His mouth breaks into a big smile, perfectly crowned teeth flashing.

"No, Peter's out, but he told me you were coming," he says.

And he's a smooth talker, too. God knows Peter Harrington does not even know who I am let alone I'm coming to see him. Jan looks out at the parking lot and points at the red Miata. "Nice wheels you have there."

"Company car." He raises his eyebrows and his eyes bulge. Perhaps because I say "company car" so non-chalantly.

"You must be important!"

I turn to the woman at the desk nearest me. "Are you Mr. Harrington's assistant?"

"Yes, what can I do for you?"

"I would like to see one of your two-bedroom units. My secretary was trying to call this morning to make an appointment..."

The woman starts to stand up but Jan Mintoff comes between us and declares, "I'll attend to this. Don't worry." Turning to me, he says, "I'll show you the best unit in the building."

Hatat house is one of the newest residences in downtown Muscat, an L-shaped, five-story condominium building that the Minister of Petroleum has recommended to the office for my accommodation. In the Minister's words, "total luxury living", with an outdoor regulation clay tennis court, a squash court and an Olympic sized swimming pool. The price has been settled, all I need to do is choose which unit I want to occupy, hence my visit.

Jan Mintoff, though, is obviously in love with the red Miata he saw me drive coming in. "Who are you? You seem very important!"

"I'm not important," I say not hiding my ennui. "My boss only happens to have the right connections."

He consults the folder in his hands. Again the eyes bulge at seeing that our company's patron is the Minister of Petroleum. There are only two other big shots in the Omani government below His Excellency the Sultan: his top adviser and the Petroleum Minister. The Miata indicates my status as only the oil companies can afford to provide their employees with a Miata or other "high end" car.

Presently, we arrive at the 'show' unit - a well appointed two-bedroom apartment with two and a half baths, a large living room, an even larger dining room and a kitchen half the size of the large living room.

"Can we have coffee later on?" he asks as we walk around the apartment.

The afternoon sun shines through the glass doors of the back terrace. Jan Mintoff stands by the glass doors, his back towards the sun. I stand in the middle of the room and when I turn to look at him to ask a question, all I can make out is his silhoutte. Something caught me off guard as I look at him.

He stands with his legs apart and his trousers are thin enough for the light to shine through and I can make out the shape of his legs. Above the knee, mid-thigh, I make out his penis dangling from his boxers. I suddenly burst out laughing. No, I giggle first and that's when I have lost control and I burst out laughing. I hear him say, "What?"

I cover my face with both my hands and look away. I see the half-opened door of the dishwashing machine and I walk over to close it. He is instantly behind me.

"So, can we go for coffee later on?"

"My Miata can't go for coffee with you, young man." I am still laughing and losing composure fast. "And I have a boyfriend who works at the Hotel Intercontinental so I will have to ask permission from him if I can drive my Miata so it can have coffee with you."

"That's mean," he says quietly. "I wasn't interested in your car."

He's a good actor, too.

"I'm sorry," I tell him. "I didn't mean it that way. But thank you for the coffee. Now, can I see the actual unit that had been reserved for me?"

He smiles and we walk out of the show unit.

"What do you do at Atlantic Oil?" His eyes are again smiling. He holds my elbow as we enter the elevator.

"Executive Assistant. A glorified secretary, if you will."

"Wow! I know the British girl who works there. What's her name?" He squints his eyes and flicks his fingers, willing the name to come to his mouth. "Leila?"

"Leslie," I say.

"Leslie!"

And then it dawns on me. Leslie has been telling me about this guy she's dating, one of the rugby players for the city, who has got a really long penis. Not good in bed and not a very bright guy, but his "dick" is good enough for her.

"So what sport do you play, Jan?" I ask.

"How do you know I play sport?"

"Oh," I say, "You look athletic." I can bullshit, too, when I want. "What is it, soccer? Rugby?"

"Rugby." He pulls me towards him, and cups my face with his hands, the fingers sifting my hair. "Coffee, tea or me?"

I burst out laughing. "No, thank you," I manage to say after I slip away from him.

"Don't think so, buddy." I head for the door. "But tell Harrington to have this unit ready by the weekend." All business-like.

"Where can I call you?" He stands against the sunlight again. "Please let me call you." He knows the novelty has worn off.

"At my office. You have the number." I point at the folder in his hand with the car key.

He watches as I drive away in my red Miata.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

VIGNETTE - Cristina (a character development)

Setting: Cristina is in her apartment in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. The year is 1988. Her hair dyed blonde, she easily passes for a Caucasian - she has fair skin, the long upturned eyes have lashes so thick men used to fall for her dreamy eyes and her luscious mouth. She looks like the young Brigitte Bardot but with finer features. Born in Manila, Cristina was 16 when she was crowned Miss Philippines and went on to become a finalist in the Miss Universe pageant. But that was a long time ago. Now she has gained a lot of weight ever since she lived in Europe. Her favourite snack is Belgian chocolate. Tonight, she is depressed, having been dumped by her boyfriend. This is her seventh rejection in five months.

Monologue:
"Damn! Damn! Damn! He can go to hell. He can go to hell for all I care. What is the matter with these men? Damn all men! They're all liars! I hate them. I hate them!" is the thought that goes through her mind, while everything within reach and sight are being tossed against the wall or on the floor or out the opened window.

She opens the cupboard and reaches for a box of Leonida's, switches on the small TV set and lets all of her 165 pounds slump down on the papasan chair.

"They told me I'm beautiful and that I was special. If I was so goddamned special, why the fuck has everyone gone?" Her eyes start to well up and tears roll down her cheek as she unwraps the gold paper off a Gianduja.

"How come I am alone...they just wanted my body. Before sex I am the most beautiful woman in the world. After sex, they say, 'oh, Cristina, yer so fat, aren't you ashamed of yourself? You gotta lose some weight, y'know! Yer breasts are flapping all over you look like yer's going to fly!' Then I'm sure they all laughed, when I can't see or hear them. Even that stupid, ugly Ramon. He thinks he is so good looking, he thinks he's so great. He's a piece of shit! All Filipino men are. Oh, I hate Filipino men, they rough you up in bed, borrow money and never pay you back. They're never thoughtful enough to bring flowers. They want a free fuck and they won't even bring you, not even a wilted flower. They'll say 'I'll take you to dinner' and when you go, they'll either let you pay for yourself or pretend they forgot their wallet. Shit! They're all a piece of crap, those men!"

She stands up from the papasan and slowly walks to the bathroom door mirror. She stares at herself, from head to toe. She smiles at her reflection but winces as the sweeping stare reaches her bosom.

"I'm going to lose weight, one day, I'm sure I will. Then I'll be pretty again; then they'll all come after me again...I should've married when John asked me. Then I wouldn't have to worry about gaining weight. He'll send me to the slimming salon, just like when we were in Manila. Oh, I miss John, he's the only one who really cared and loved me. He's the only one who really wanted me. Someday, I'll be pretty again, they'll see. I'd be slim again. I have to stop eating these chocolates. I have to stop eating! If only I would stop eating. If only I'm beautiful enough. If only I'm slim just like Miss Universe. Damn that fucking Philippe Lowe! I had the best answer and the best body and he chooses Miss Argentina just because I had space in between my thighs. He should see my thighs now!...I really look repulsive. God, why can I not stop eating!"

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

VIGNETTES - 3 POINTS OF VIEW


Setting: A convenience store

Time: Late evening

The Store Clerk:

Kelvin sips the last of his coffee and places the empty cup underneath the counter, next to the alarm button. He wonders, as he does every time he works the night shift at The Arrow Convenience Store, if this is the night he might be using it. Steve, his friend and storeowner's son, has used it once when a group of young women tried to hold up the store. Funny thing is, through those chicks, Steve has met his girlfriend Sheila during the investigation. Sheila is the sister of one of the suspects.

He shakes his head and smiles at the thought of Steve. He glances over to the back and sees an Oriental woman standing by the Nestle ice cream freezer. She has been there for a good ten minutes and seems unable to decide which Drumstick to get. He has seen her holding first the plain Drumstick, then the one with fudge in the centre. He flips the pages of the day old “Sun” newspaper in front of him on the counter. When he glances at the woman again, the woman smiles at him.

Her pale yellow outfit makes him think she must be a nurse. His mother is friendly with some of the nurses at the hospital on Coxwell Avenue and he has seen them wear the same kind of uniform. Kelvin looks around and notes there is no one else in the store. He thinks the woman is a thief, and if his thinking is right, he tells himself he could easily handle her especially if she is alone. Of course there exists the possibility she has companions outside the store waiting for a signal from her.

At this instant, the door opens and a dark-skinned man enters. He wears a baseball cap under the hood of his red jacket, and Kelvin could not see his eyes. Kelvin suddenly remembers that Steve keeps a gun in a box underneath the till. Three weeks ago, he has seen Steve loading it, placing it in the box and covering it with candies. Kelvin reaches underneath the counter for the box.

He nods at the man. He casually turns the newspaper page with his left hand while he sinks his right into the candies. He feels the cold metal of the gun and feels a sudden rush of blood in his head as his heart beats fast. As the man approaches the counter, Kelvin grips the gun and puts his finger on the trigger.

The man glances at the door and slightly pulls down his baseball cap. ‘This is it,’ Kelvin thinks. He himself briefly glances at the door. Two teenagers, heads vowed down while walking, pause briefly outside the door but continue walking.
“A pack of Players,” the man says when he is a few steps away. Kelvin reaches for the cigarette from the shelf just behind him, places it on the counter and punches a button on the cash register. The numbers “5.75" appear on the digital display. The man places a bag of chips on the counter.

“5.75,” he tells the man.

“Open the cash,” the man says, as he points a gun at Kelvin.

‘Fuck,’ Kelvin thought. ‘I’m really fucked.’

He stares at him, having already positioned his knee on the alarm button underneath, presses it as he punches a key on the till. A faint ringing sound emanates from the machine and a sudden darkness envelopes the store. Kelvin lifts the gun from the candy box and points it at the man. The man fires his gun. So does Kelvin.

The Shopper:

Carmelita has resolved not to eat ice cream of any kind for at least a week. But it has been eleven days since she has had any ice cream or any sweet snacks.

“I’ve been real good,” she thinks, “and now I deserve to have a treat.”

She has lost six pounds. At Dr. Willy’s shower that afternoon, it has taken her a lot of restraint in refusing the slice of chocolate mousse cake. Enough is enough. If she just limits herself to a drumstick or a chocolate bar a day or every other day, she should be okay.

So what would it be tonight: a Drumstick or Cadbury nuts? There were three different kinds of Drumstick and the one with the fudge in the centre looks the most sumptuous.

She hears the store clerk, a young Korean man, clears his throat. She looks back at him and smile. “Goodness! He might think I’m shoplifting.” She looks at her watch and figures she has been in the store for more than ten minutes. No wonder. Finally, she takes one Drumstick and starts to walk towards the counter when she sees a tall man in red jacket entering the store. His baseball cap is pulled down so low it’s hard to make out his face. Instinct tells her to stay where she is and she pretends to look through the glass of the now shut freezer door.

The man casually picks up a big bag of Lay’s potato chips and slowly walks up to the counter. She hears him mumble something and she sees the store clerk reaches behind him for a pack of cigarette. She hides behind the shelf of cleaners and detergents to get a better look at the two men. Then she sees it: a gun in the tall man’s hand, the barrel pointing at the store clerk. The store clerk slightly shakes his head and pushes a button on the cash register. At the same time that she hears the ring from the cash register, the lights go off and the whole store is engulfed in darkness.

It happens so fast and all at the same time - the darkness, the two sparks and the two shots. Carmelita crouches on the floor and tries desperately to find her cellphone inside her oversized purse.

“Oh, my God,” she cries, “Jesus, Mary, Joseph. Please don’t let me die. I promise I won’t eat anymore ice cream for the rest of my life.”

The Thief:

Jamaal leaves his car deliberately. The street is deserted and only the convenience store seems to have any activity. He lights a cigarette and exhales the smoke. He stands on the pavement for a few seconds before crossing the street and heads towards the store. He feels his waist inside his red leather jacket and caresses the butt of his gun, cold and smooth.

The glass and steel door of the store opens heavily and Jamaal glances at the hinges as he steps on the blue soiled mat with the word ‘Welcome’ printed on it. He hears a faint ringing.

The young man at the counter gives him a cursory glance, nods and smiles at him before slowly sitting down. Jamaal wonders if there is an alarm switch that the young man has already triggered to alert anyone or even the police. But the young man continues to read the newspaper in front of him.

Jamaal picks up a large bag of potato chips as he ambles toward the store clerk.

“A pack of Players,” he mumbles. He hears a soft cough at the back and notices a small woman leaning down the freezer with the “Nestle” drumstick picture in the front. He looks at the security mirror above the man’s head. Seeing no one lese in the store, he reaches inside his jacket, pulls out his gun and points it at the clerk as the clerk tells him “5.75".

“Open the cash,” Jamaal says in a low voice. The store clerk shows no emotion. Jamaal sees him press a button on the register and as Jamaal hears the faint ringing of the cash register, the lights go off. He hears a soft shriek from the woman by the freezer. He pulls the trigger of his gun. In that brief instant, he sees a gun pointed at him, the spark from it seems brighter as he hears the bang from the gun that was not his own. He feels a dull pain in his chest.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

PROMPT - describe a house


A concrete fence, at least 10 feet tall, surrounds the house. At the top, pieces of broken glass have been planted on concrete to deter thieves, perhaps, and for good measure barbed wires have also been installed at a forty-five degree angle. Ivy leaves have crept up both from inside and the outside of the fence, masking the broken glass.

You can see through the tall, heavy iron grill gates. Whenever the black Mercedes leaves or arrives, two women, the housemaids, wearing their soft pink gingham uniforms, come out to open them. The odd times, the houseboy or the gardener opens the gates.

Inside, the big house sits in the middle of the grounds. Tall, lush fruit trees surround and obscure the house from outside view, most notably an ancient mango tree that bears fruit all year round. The branches that grow outside of the fence are devoid of fruits as the townspeople passing by would have picked them. Inside, however, clusters of large carabao mangoes await to be picked. One rule the owners have: one can pick the fruits growing beyond the fence, but one cannot reach over to pick the fruits inside.

The roof is of red Spanish tiles, the color having faded long ago. Three large windows span the width of the house, and their height almost reaches the ceiling. The top parts have wooden spindles about a foot long. The sliding closures of the main window frame are made of slats of wood and flattened sea shells. The bottom part, below the sill, have intricately carved wooden spindles. These, too, have their own sliding closures. Sometimes you see a small child sitting on the floor looking through whenever one of the closures is open.

A large bush of bougainvillas, lush with red and pink flowers obscure the view of the entrance to the house. But on part of the wrap around porch, there is a pair of white wicker chairs with cushions in colourful flower prints, and a small white wicker table with a glass top. A woman's reading glasses lie on top of a book on the table.

The paved walkway from the gate to the entrance of the house is lined with low flowering plants, in shades complementing the flowers of the bougainvillas.

You hear the dogs barking, German shepherds, three of them. They roam the grounds at night, keeping guard, just in case some foolish thief would actually scale the protective fencing.

Who lives in this house?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

PROMPT - a locked gate

The sound the heels of my shoes made with every step echoed back as I walked the long stretch of quiet corridors leading to the psychiatric ward in the hospital’s basement. The fluorescent lights hanging high above the ceiling emitted a monotone of buzzing that complemented the antiseptic smell and the muted green color of the walls. The shiny concrete floor gave me the eerie feeling of being in a Star Wars spaceship or something.

I reached the ward’s double gated entrance with two large locks almost the size of a small pot. I noted the large bolts above and below the gates. An armed security guard sat on an upholstered chair between the gates, his waist heavy with the chain of large keys. He stood up when he saw me.

“You’re visiting someone or are you a doctor?” he said. I detected a Visayan accent, more likely central Visayas.

“Visiting,” I replied. “Jason Lee Monaghan.”

He smiled at the name. “Ah, si Sir.” Ah, it’s Sir, giving me the impression he knew Jason. Still he checked a large blue register and finding the name, lifted the white intercom and spoke to someone. After a few “yes” and “okay”, he replaced the receiver and folded back his logbook. “Ah, ma’am,” he said to me, “you’re expected inside. His doctor is there, too.”

He unlocked the first gate to let me in. He opened a red register and made me sign my name while he locked the gate back. He unlocked the second gate and almost immediately, a large man, wearing an orderly uniform materialized and escorted me to a receiving room. He asked to see my purse, literally turning it inside out, inspecting the contents, making sure there were no pointed or sharp objects inside. He took my ballpen and my compact mirror along with the small bottle of perfume and placed them on a small plastic tray. Then he asked me to take my belt off.

“Why?” I was more concerned about how I looked when Jason saw me.

“Ma’am, this is a psychiatric ward,” he said. “Sometimes a patient can grab you, not that they are violent or anything, but you never know. They can use the belt to try and kill themselves or you.”

I took off my belt and handed it to him. He rolled it and placed it on the same plastic tray.

We walked down another long corridor. Then through another iron grill gate, we entered the inner sanctum that was the psychiatric ward. A few patients, men and women, stood leaning against the walls. Some greeted me with a smile, but one man approached me, grabbed my arm and shook my hand. “Hello, don’t forget to vote for me, Sebastian Hoy, for governor!”

The orderly promptly pulled him away. The man meekly stood aside and muttered, “I’m going to be governor!” which elicited a “No, congressman” “no, Senator” from two other patients.

We went through a swinging door marked “Alcoholics Anonymous” then stopped at a half opened door. The orderly knocked while looking sideways keeping watch on the other patients loitering in the hallway. I heard Jason’s voice saying “Come in.”

He lay on his side wearing his favorite blue pyjamas, as he talked to a young nurse. He sat up. The nurse adjusted the bed for him.

“Your wife?” she asked.

“No,” I said simultaneously with his “Yes”.

Monday, November 16, 2009

PROMPT - an omen

The dream came to me when I was six.

I was crossing the large sewage pipe over the Tripa de Gallina river, to cross over to Nichols Airbase or the airport, I should think. But even though the pipe was fairly wide, the cylindrical shape made it difficult to just walk casually over it. I walked rather slowly for I was afraid I'd fall off. I was even more afraid to look down and see the depth of this place I was trying to cross.

Mist was coming from below and with it a heavy smell of sulphur. As things are wont to happen in dreams, the scenery suddenly changed. The pipe became just a very narrow piece of earth and on both sides the fog became denser. I thought I saw some green color which I supposed were foliage or maybe even moss. The air felt cold. I ran and with each step the ground disintegrated beneath my feet. But I reached the other side. My feet hurt and when I looked down I saw that my feet were bare and I was walking on pieces of broken glass, much like the Smokey Mountain that has not even created yet when the dream first occurred.

The dream came back when I was twelve. This time it was longer. After walking through the landscape of broken glass, I arrived at a clearing. At the far end stood a single house. Even though it was daylight, I could see the flickering light inside through an open window. I start to walk towards the house. Suddenly I found myself walking through a maze, lots of turns here and there. Then the maze became a maze of houses on stilts, typical of the poor people houses in the Philippines of old. The houses, some made of wood, some made of cogon grass. The houses were built very close to each other and arranged like a maze. I walked in between the houses and each time there would be one or two people going the opposite direction, I had to stop to let them through. One thing I noticed, the people were faceless.


At seventeen I dreamed the dream again, starting from the narrow pipe bridge to the pieces of broken glass, the clearing, the single house, then the maze of houses and the faceless people. It is longer yet again. When after some time I got through the maze, I saw the house, with its windows wide open, the breeze gently blowing the white curtains. The odd thing was that the curtains were swaying out instead of in. There was an old man, American from his speech, who asked for directions to somewhere I couldn't understand. I said I didn't know so he decided to walk with me towards the house. Even though the house was only yards away, it seemed that we were walking for a long time. The American was asking me questions, and it occurred to me that he, like the other people in the dream, was faceless. I shivered from the cold even though the sun was shining brightly and the wind has calmed down. I saw that there was no cloud in the sky that was very blue. When I looked back at the faceless American, he was gone and I was standing right at the steps going up the house, the curtains still swaying out even when there was no breeze.

When I was twenty-one, the dream came back in its entirety. So I told myself I would go inside that house before this dream ended again. I went up and I saw that the house was empty except for a big box right in the middle. I went inside, curious to find out what was in that big box. The box reminded me of an old baul (army chest) we had at home when we were young children, only this was a lot larger. Suddenly the box opened and I saw my mother sitting inside the box. She was smiling.

"What took you so long?" she asked. It was bright outside but inside the house it was cold. "Who was that man?"

"Ma, how come the people had no faces? I talked to them and they talked to me, but they have no faces, and somehow, their voices seemed familiar."

She smiled again and said, "That's because you have yet to meet those people."

"Ma, what are you doing inside the box?

"Oh, I'm just resting."

A few months afterwards, my mother died.

The dream never came back in my sleep again but it was forever etched in my memory. I could never will it back but I understand that the story has ended. The old American man appeared again in another dream that was a precursor to a major event in my life. And, as I grew older, I realized that some of those faceless people were the people I had already met and became my friends.

Friday, November 13, 2009

PROMPT - star

The sandstorm has stopped and Jon and I sit inside the Miata, he with his SONY Walkman and I with my fear. He fiddles with the earphones and flips the AHA cassette tape that he’s been listening to. I grip the steering wheel of the car and I imagine desert snakes and crab spiders burrowing through the muffler of the half-submerged car and coming out of the air vents. A scene from the movie "Worms" flashes through my mind in which millions of worms squirm through all the nooks and crannies of a car. The thought makes me shudder and the hairs on the back of my neck rise.

I look at Jon, still fiddling with his Walkman, putting on another cassette tape, making sure the one he has replaced, the AHA tape, is in the correct container, replacing it in the hidden compartment between our seats. Jon is a neat-freak or, in his own words, he likes to be organized, because time only passes once, and no one gets a chance at recovering it. Jon works as a trainer at a big hotel in downtown Muscat.


We have been driving back from Nizwa, a town in the western interior of Oman, to Muscat, the capital city where we live and work. The two-day celebration of the Sultan’s birthday gave us a chance to drive around the nearby towns, taking in each town’s soukh or local markets. The storm hit when it was almost sundown, just when we had left the town proper and in the middle of a small highway flanked on both sides by date plantations. The red sky became dark and it was difficult to see ahead so we decided to pull over and let the storm pass. That was three hours ago and now it’s almost eight in the evening and the sun’s already setting, the sky taking on a charcoal gray hue from the subsiding sandstorm and the road has disappeared. There are no other vehicles on sight, not even a donkey nor a camel.

Jon leans over to turn on the windshield wiper, purposefully letting his hand brush against my breasts, his face touching my right shoulder. He tries to kiss my neck but I lean back against the car window, away from him. The windshield wipers make a low scratching noise as it travels across the dusty windshield, forming half arcs of now clear Omani skies. A new moon, almost a sliver, floats on the horizon. Faint twinkles of stars dot the sky.

"How deep are we actually buried in?" I ask him.

He shrugs his shoulders, looks around although it is already too dark to see anything.

"I don’t know. Maybe tire deep or less." He switches on the radio. Omani music fills the car.

"And how is this car going to move if it's submerged in sand?" I grip the car key between thumb and forefinger to start the car.

"You can't drive yet," he says, taking my hand away from the key in the ignition. "The car won’t go anyway."

"And how do you suppose we’ll go back?" I ask, my voice becoming high pitched as my panic starts to show. I'm supposed to check in with my boss once back in the city, the same way I had to inform them I'm driving around the interior for the weekend, of course, to the consternation of Mr. Cunningham, especially that I wouldn't tell him who was coming with me. By now, they would know that I didn't drive around in my SAAB because the car is parked right in front of the entrance of the Hatat House, my apartment building.

"The wind will start blowing again and then the sand will be blown and we'll be on our way." Jon says casually.

"How do you know this? Have you been caught in a sandstorm before?"

"No," he says nonchalantly. Then smiling, he says, "I'm just pulling your leg." He puts one arm around my shoulders and pulls me towards him. With the other hand he holds my face and kisses me in the mouth, the warm tongue searching mine. Thoughts of desert snakes and spider crabs crowd my mind again and I pull away.

"What’s wrong?"

"Snakes," I say, "they might wiggle through the muffler and get inside the car."

"No, they won’t," he says as he starts to kiss me again.

"We’re half-buried in sand in the middle of nowhere and all you could think of is just kiss?" I fold my arms across my chest. He sits straight.

"I wasn’t thinking of just kiss," he says, pretending to look hurt.

"Oh."

"I also want to have sex right here." He grabs me towards him, but I push him away.

"Are you serious? What if a policeman comes by? You want me to land in jail?"

"Do you see anything anywhere?" His arm flails. "It's dark all over. The only light we can see are the stars." His nostrils flare, something he does when he gets excited or anxious. One hand gropes inside my blouse. I give it a slap.

"Kill joy," he tells me, and sits back and looks away. He grabs his Walkman and carefully untangle the earphone cords.

Two Filipino expatriates in the middle of a date plantation somewhere in the interior of the Sultanate of Oman, that’s what we are, Jon and I. In the Philippines, we would never have met, our paths would never have crossed. Children of well-off families go a different route than those from the lower middle class. If ever, I would've been the secretary who types and answers phones, and he would be the boss who orders people around. It's like, he's up there in the big mansion and I'm down here in the servants' quarters, and never the twain shall meet. But in the land of the lonely that is the Middle East, all of us expatriate workers are equal.

A light wind blows and the sea of sand rustles around us. We sit and watch the sand and the stars, it seems for forever, but the clock on the dash tells me it has only been five minutes.

"Okay," I say.

"Okay what?" he asks seemingly annoyed.

"Okay, let's have sex right here."

We look at each other for a long time, then we break into a loud laughter. I laugh so hard I slap my hand on the steering wheel horn and it gets jammed. He tries to push buttons and knobs on the dash as I panic, the noise filling my ears. I scream and I hear Jon yelling at me to shut up.

I am still screaming when the horn stops.

I folded my arms across my chest and turned away.

"Damn car," I say.

"Hey, don't swear at my car."

"Damn car. How can we have sex in such a small car, half-submerged in sands and with such cramped space inside? I will never buy such a stupid car. Stupid Miata. I will never buy it even if they put it on sale for the price of the hatched back. We should’ve taken my car instead."

Jon sits quietly.

"Damn car." I say. "Damn sandstorm. Damn."

Suddenly he grabs me and says something in my ear. I try to push him away.

"Come here," he says and he grabs me again.

"You and your damn sex and your damn teeny-weeny car."

"I have something for you."

"What, you have a hard on?"

"Aside from that, look!"

He points towards the sky that has now been transformed into a blanket of dark velvet blue glittering with millions of stars.

"Aha," I say as I held on to his arm. "The stars of Oman. It's beautiful, ain’t it, the view?"

"See that big one, straight from here? The one beside those two clusters? See?"

"That one beside the Big Dipper and the Small Dipper?" I say in a mocking tone.

"Shush, just look, will you?"

"I'm looking! I'm looking. So?"

"That's yours. From me, for you."

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

SHORT STORY - The Pink Panther

"Do you know where we are right now?" Sue Clarinton asks, her cheeks flushed from Salalah’s 45 degree heat, her plump right hand adjusting her Ray-Ban sunglasses while her left fans herself furiously with a leaf fan; the gold bangles she has bought earlier at the soukh in downtown Salalah make jingling sounds as she moves the fan. She wears a bright pink track suit and a large bright pink voile scarf wrapped around her head and her neck.

"Nope!" Beads of sweat form on my forehead and I reach to turn on the AC of the SAAB full blast. The engine roars as the car accelerates up the hill, my feet pumping on the gas pedal, unsure where we are going. Black goats and white sheeps dot the barren hillsides, feeding on dried bushes.

"This is not right!" Liz Phelan says from the back seat. She wipes her sweaty face with her palm. I tell her to use the box of Kleenex behind her. "We’re lost. Why those bloody bastards went ahead and not even wait for us is beyond me." She kicks the floor of the car. "It's just rocky hills, dried bushes and stupid goats and sheeps all around. I'm sure this is hell, what with this heat!"

Sue Clarinton is the General Manager of the Austin Eye Clinic and Liz Phelan is her Office Administrator. They have come with a team of eye doctors from Texas and have arrived two days ago in Muscat, the capital of Oman. The owner of the company I work for, Atlantic World Oil, has sponsored the team as a contribution to a project planned by Shiek Al Bin Khalfan, the Minister of Petroleum and patron of Atlantic World Oil. After visiting possible sites for a clinic in downtown Salalah and inspecting a few hospitals, Shiek Al Bin Khalfan tells us we will have a picnic atop the hills.

We have started earlier with our convoy of four cars: Shiek Al Bin Khalfan in a brand new Range Rover with Dr. Steve, Dr. Shawn, Dr. Billy and one bodyguard, Suleiman, who is also our guide. Seven more bodyguards are packed in like sardines in an older Range Rover. My boss, Mr. Cunningham and Mr. Al-Sajeed, the minister's assistant, drive in a rented Mercedes Benz while Sue and Liz ride with me in my rented SAAB. For thirty minutes, we follow the three cars, with Shiek Al Bin Khalfan at the head, as they zig-zag their way through traffic and highways up to the small town leading to the "hills" for the picnic. At a turn off, a small "tornado" forms, a mini-funnel like wind that gathers dirt and messes up the sands and effectively blocks our view of the three cars ahead of us. When the wind settles, we find ourselves on a rough path leading up the hills that suddenly appears in front of us.

Liz pushes her blond hair with the palm of her hand. "We have picnic at top of hills, beautiful view. You enjoy it, I know," she says, mimicking Shiek Bin Khalfan’s accent. "That fuckin’ asshole." She grabs the hem of her long skirt and dabs the sweat off her face and neck. "And you haven’t been there at all, have you, Victoria?"

"Are you kidding me?" I say, shrugging my shoulders and glancing at her through the rear-view mirror. "This is the first time I’ve come to Salalah. I don’t even know why I had to come!"

"Obviously they needed someone to drive Sue and me around," Liz says, the fabric of her skirt muffles her voice. "Those morons clearly don’t want women in their stupid cars. I want to kill that stupid minister."

"I don’t really care wherever we are right now, I just need to pee real bad," Sue declares. "I don’t know how much longer I can take it, Victoria, but my bladder is about to burst with this rough road we’re in."

A skinny dog darts from a thick bush and crosses the path in front of us.

"Shit!" Sue and Liz say in unison as I step on the brakes. Sue drops her leaf fan and her hands clasp her bulky gut, in an attempt not to urinate on the passenger seat.

"Fucking shitty dog, crossing the road like some idiot….hmp… hmp… dog." I say. I look sideways at Sue. "Did you go or what?"

She looks at me and seeing my dog-like grin, she yells, "Shut up, Victoria!"

I continue to drive, my own bladder building up its own pressure. The SAAB's AC couldn't keep up with the heat of three women, two of them on the verge of menopause.

"Shit, I got to go, too, damnit!" Liz says from the back seat. "Victoria, do you think we can stop somewhere and we can go behind a thick bush or something? There wouldn't be anybody around here, would you say?"

I pull over and roll down my window, the heat slapping my face. I stick my head out, careful not to release the break that my right foot is straining now to press. The sky is a clear blue and the sun hangs directly above us like it would not set for another ten or twelve hours. I hear the hodgepodge of crickets and goats and sheep’s sounds, and the distant whirl of the hot air being blown from the direction of the Yemeni desert. My left foot loses the clutch pedal and the car shakes before the engine stops dead. Seeing that we are parked on the very edge of the road with a deep ravine at their side, Sue and Liz holler "Watch out!"

I sit back and re-start the car. I look forward, backward (through the rear-view mirror), sideways.

"What?" both women ask.

"I don't know," I say. "It's 2:30, maybe the animal keepers are having their naps."

"Victoria," Sue says, "We never saw any houses or igloos around here. I'm sure the animal keepers are down in the village."

I giggle at the mention of "igloo" and drive the car a few feet before I say, "They have small caves around these hills, that's where they stay." Two pairs of eyes roll up in exasperation.

The car's engine strains as it follows the upward path. We drive for another ten minutes and we reach the top of the hill where we have a view of the valley below, dried brown bushes and bare trees among the maze of small dirt roads, going down to the village, where the color turns green with the date palms and olive orchards. On the horizon, the blueness of the sky meets the deep blue of the Arabian Ocean. A light wind blows and it suddenly feels pleasant. We got off the car and surveyed the place. A few feet away, we found a large bush.

"Perfect!" Liz exclaims. "I think we can do our bathroom duties here. We can see when people are coming."

"Oh no," Sue says, adjusting her large pink scarf. "We came from that side," she points west, "so if they come, they would be around there, not here," she points east.

"Which means?" Liz asks.

"Which means, we can pee and nobody will see us." Sue looks at me for approval.

"Up to you guys, I myself don't mind. We used to do this in the Philippines all the time."

"No," they both shake their heads. Liz says, "I haven't done anything like this at all in my entire life."

"The hell. Let's go." Sue proceeds to lower her pink track pants.

Liz follows. "Well, there's always a first time!"

I join the two women. We look around first just to make sure nobody can see us.

It seems endless, this bladder, I comment when it seems we could not stop peeing. A bee buzzes by.

"Damn you," Liz says.

Sue jokes, "What if it mistakes our assholes for its nest?"

We all laugh, the flow of our pee becoming choppy.

Another bee flies by.

"Another one!" For a moment, Liz makes an attempt to stand up, but crouches back again. "My pee won't stop, I'm not finished yet!"

Suddenly, from the distance, dusts rise and I spot sparkling reflections of the sun against glass. Then the image of a car appears. It’s Minister Al Bin Khalfan’s Range Rover, with the second Range Rover and the Mercedes in its dusty wake.

"Holy camoley," I say. Since I have finished, I pull up my drawers and, still in crouching position, move towards the other side of the bush, out of the cars' view.

Liz follows me. "Fuck, Sue, we are on the wrong side of the fucking bush!"

"Well, who's to know." Then Sue shouts,"Holy shit!" Her scarf gets caught in a small dried branch while pulling her pants up. She almost falls, her fat bum facing the path where the cars are now coming closer at full speed.

"Come on, Sue, quick!" Liz yells. "They're coming! They'll see you!"

"What the hell do you think I’m trying to do! Ballroom dancing?"

Sue swears and utters all obscenities while she tries to compose herself and pull up her blazing pink pants as well, as Liz and I fall on the ground, clutching our stomachs, laughing hard.

When the three cars reach us, the Minister comes out first, grinning. His bodyguards quickly unload mats and blankets, large containers of food and styrofoam boxes of beer, wine and juice buried in crushed ice.

"How you know this is where we go?" he asks in his heavily accented English. His tall imposing figure towers above me. He wears a long beige cardigan over his clothing and as he places his hand on his hip, I see a gun tucked together with his kanjah.

"I just followed the road," I reply, staring at the gun which is at my eye level.

"What took you so long?" Liz asks, her arms akimbo, not exactly hiding her displeasure.

But the Minister ignores her. "What you doing in the bush?" he asks again.

"There's no toilet around, here, Your Excellency," I say. "We had an emergency!"

I glance at Sue and Liz, their faces red from heat and embarrassment, darting angry glances at the Minister.

The Minister grins, a gold molar glinting in the bright afternoon sun, and turns to Sue, "Oh, is good we saw you. I thought there is pink panther in bushes." He smirks. "I ask Suleiman to shoot!"

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A STORY - PART 1 - Aunt Minnie

The frantic knock startles me as I read my book. I close the book and look up at Aunt Minnie. She does not stir from her rocking chair that faces the window. She stares outside, unblinking in the brightness of the afternoon sun. This April day has started chilly and she would not venture into her garden; her arthritis is on the attack. All afternoon though, since my arrival, all that she has said is that the one beautiful butterfly in the garden seems to be an omen.
“Shall I open the door?” I ask.
Aunt Minnie does not move, except for a slight shrug of her shoulder. She rocks the chair slowly.
I open the door. Father Bert stands outside waiting.
“Father,” I say.
He nods at me. He takes off his hat and steps inside, wiping his shoes on the black rubber mat before entering the sitting room.
“Minerva,” he calls softly. Aunt Minnie only stares outside.
“Auntie,” I said, “Father Bert is here.” She stops rocking, leans slightly towards the window and cranes her neck as she stares at the solitary butterfly in the front garden.
“Minerva,” Father Bert calls again.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Father,” she finally says. “You know it’s useless.”
“You don’t answer my calls,” he says.
The phone has never rang this afternoon. I look at the phone and follow the trail of its cord to the wall: it is unplugged.
“I know why you’re here, Father, and the answer is still ‘no’.” She leans back on her rocking chair. When Father Bert places his hand on her left shoulder, she brushes it off with one hand.
“His lawyers didn’t get a stay on the execution,” Father Bert says. Aunt Minnie stops moving but still does not look at the priest. He continues, “President Estrada is busy in his impeachment trial.” He pauses and waits for a reaction from her. Nothing.
“They had been trying to call you from Manila. The execution proceeds in two hours,” he continues.
“Good,” Aunt Minnie finally says. “Call me when he’s dead so I can open the bottle.” She points to the liquor cabinet by the kitchen door.
“Minerva, a good Christian...”
“Don’t tell me this, Father,” she says, her voice rising. “I was not the one who killed my father. It was that bastard!”
“You came from the same womb, the same seed,” Father Bert replies.
“Yes, but I never killed anyone. I’m so ashamed he’s my brother.” I note the slight quiver in her voice. “I hate him for killing Papa.”
“Domingo did it for...” Father Bert tries to say, but Aunt Minnie’s words cut him off once again.
“I hate him. They should have killed him a long time ago. They shouldn’t have waited this long. I hate him.”
Her words sound more deliberate. And cold. She continues to stare outside. Father Bert stands beside her, holding his hat. He stares outside, too, as if contemplating the butterfly that now flutters around the crocuses just outside the screen door to the garden. Momentarily, it clings itself to the screen.
Father Bert turns around and walks over to the other side of the living room and picks up the phone. Realizing the line is dead, he bends down, reaches for the cord and looks at me. I look at him and shrug my shoulder while I slowly shake my head. He looks at Aunt Minnie before plugging in the cord into the wall socket. The phone rings instantly. A long and two short rings indicate the call is long distance, from overseas. Father Bert picks up the receiver.
“Hello,” he says softly. “Yes, she’s here.” He turns to Aunt Minnie and clears his throat before speaking. “Minerva, he wants to speak to you.”
Aunt Minnie stops. Silence envelopes the bright sitting room. My eyes shift from Father Bert to Aunt Minnie.
“Please, Minerva. He’s dying and all he wants is your forgiveness.”
Nothing. I hear a shrill sound coming from the phone Father Bert is holding and he listens. Then he speaks again.
“Minerva, even if you don’t forgive him, just speak to him. It’s his last request.”
I walk closer to Aunt Minnie, but she stops rocking, leans forward and stands up. When she faces us, I see the fierceness in her face, the hooded lids almost masking her eyes, the eyebrows knitted, the lines emphasizing her age. I remember her to be a very beautiful woman. Today, there is just hatred in her beautiful face.
She walks over to where Father Bert stands and grabs the phone from him. They both stare at each other and I wonder who will blink first. Finally, she places the receiver to her ear. The tautness of her face eases as she opens her mouth, still staring at the priest.
“I...” she starts to say, “...hate...you.” She slams the phone down.

When the phone rings again, I recognize the number from the call display as my parents’. I lift the receiver.
“Hi, Dad,” I say. Mom and Aunt Minnie have never talked to each other ever since I could remember. Dad has always been their bridge and I have since shared that duty with Dad. But the two women just wouldn’t talk. I never know why and I never understand.
“Come home quickly, Alessia,” Dad says. “We’re taking Mom to the hospital.” I hear voices in the background and sirens.
“Dad, what’s wrong?” I ask. I feel Father Bert and Aunt Minnie’s eyes on me.
“Just come home. If we’re not here, wait here and I’ll call you,” he continues.
“But, what’s wrong with Mom?” I shriek and start to cry.
“Honey, drive safely, okay?” Dad says and he hangs up.
I put the receiver down and look at Aunt Minnie. “I have to go,” I say, picking up my book and car keys. I wave at Father Bert. Aunt Minnie stands up from her chair and rushes to the door.
"What's wrong with Marina?" she asks. I don’t look at her. I get in my car and I drive away.

Monday, November 9, 2009

PROMPT - a secret

I didn't know she was home. The apartment was quiet. Her bags weren't in the usual place beside the sofa. So I thought I was alone. I sat on the sofa and settled my feet on the ottoman; there's a fresh issue of Architectural Digest on top and I shoved it to one side. There was an eerie quality to the quietness, but I supposed it's the gray of the skies reflecting through the windows.

I shut my eyes and for the first time in so many days, I felt I could fall asleep. I was on the verge of this sleep when I thought I heard faint sobbing. I opened my eyes and got up. The sobbing came from Jeanna's work room. I walked slowly towards it and the sobbing gradually became more audible. It was Jeanna.

I pushed open the door and I saw her kneeling down on the floor, in front of the lowest drawer of the tallboy, the drawer that was always locked and only she had the key. Her head almost touched the floor, her back to me, her shoulders moving as she sobbed. I heard her speak, as if in prayer. Then I heard the words "I love you!" I noticed she was hugging something.

"Jeanna? What's wrong, darling?" I reached down and touched her shoulder.

She jumped in surprise. She turned her face towards me, eyes red, face wet with tears. Then I saw what she was holding. An old frame. It dropped from her hands in her panic. The glass broke into small pieces. I reached for the light switch and flipped it on.

The man in the photograph was smiling. The photograph was old. This was the secret hiding inside that locked drawer. I looked at Jeanna's face. She had wiped the tears and I saw that her eyes blazed.

"What are you doing here at his hour? Do you not know how to knock?" There was no mistaking the coldness in her voice. She was a different person than the Jeanna I knew as my wife.

"Well," I started. "I heard a noise, sobbing really. I didn't know you were home." I could feel her intent gaze as I spoke, my eyes focused on the photograph on the floor, at the smiling man. "Who is that?"

She darted towards me. I heard broken glass cutting into flesh, her feet. There was blood on the floor. Her eyes still blazing, she started to pound my chest with her fists. "You have no right!" she yelled. "Why can't you leave me alone? You have no right to see me like this! You're not supposed to see me like this!"

She pounded and pounded and I stood there. Now I understand. All these years, there's a man in a locked drawer in my house who actually had her affection, her heart. All these fifteen years. She had it well hidden in that locked drawer. I respected her privacy and even when she had left the drawer keys dangling from the lock that one afternoon in May, I fought the temptation to open it and find out her secret. Yes, I had often seen her, on her knees, staring inside that drawer. To me it looked like she was saying some kind of devotion to a hidden diety. But she said she loved me, so many times, and I believed her, even when sometimes I knew the words were empty.

She stopped pounding and fell on the floor. The pieces of broken glass unkindly cut at her knees, her legs and her hands. She wailed as she looked at her hands, blood running like little rivers down her arms.

"Who is this person, Jeanna?" She reached for the photograph, palm right smack on the man's face, now all bloodied. "Goddamnit, I demand to know who this is!"

"No one," she said. "No one!"

"But you're crying because of him. Why?" I thought of the "boyfriend from another lifetime who had died"; at least that's what she had always told me. What was his name? Erick? Jandrick?

She held the blood-stained photograph to her chest. On the floor, broken pieces of glass scattered like diamonds and rubies.

"I loved him so much. He was the only one. HE IS THE ONLY ONE," she muttered. "And now he's gone. He died last night."

It doesn't make sense.

"I thought you said Jandrick died a long time ago."

"No, I lied. He's been alive all this time."

And I thought I was competing with the memory of a long ago dead boyfriend.

"Why didn't you tell me?" I asked. That was when I felt the stab in my heart. It had been there for a long time and I only noticed the pain now. Maybe I had died, too, a long time ago and I just didn't know it. It was then I realized my marriage was a farce; or maybe there was even no marriage at all.

I left the room. I pulled out an overnight bag from the hall closet and went inside the bedroom. I threw in some clothes. I refused to stay in this house of pretend love and dead emotions.

As I opened the door, I heard her say, "Where are you going?"

I looked at her and said, "When I come back in two days, I want you out of here. Bring the photograph with you."

I started to leave. "And oh, yes, you should call your lawyer."

I walked out and didn't look back.