PLURAL Issue 01 - February 2014

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PLURAL is an online prose journal that caters to fiction, nonfiction, and criticism geared towards prose. Cover artwork by Kevin Roque | Layout by July Amarillo


Carlo Flordeliza Erika Carreon Neobie Gonzalez Lystra Aranal Erich Velasco July Amarillo Plural | 3

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CONTENTS FICTION What Christian Did Glenn Diaz Driving Lessons Wina Puangco Naengkanto Christoffer Mitch C. Cerda There is a door down the basement Joshua Lim So The Patient Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon JunglEnglish Jenette Vizcocho A Rubbed Out Sky Chris Mariano

9 21 31 41 44 59 73

CREATIVE NONFICTION The Perfect Crime Francis Alcantara Tita, I’m Home Melissa R. Sipin Projectile Stephanie Shi

81 85 95

CRITICISM Philosophy, Science Fiction, and the Limits of Speculation Dr. Noelle Leslie dela Cruz


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Kevin Roque is an artist and illustrator in Manila. Since finishing studies, he’s been drawing for publications. Driven by emotions to influence his creative output, he draws highly intricate black and white drawings in mix of styles. His works are mainly in traditional mediums such as pen and ink. Likes surreal, lowbrow art and oddball creatures.

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The Part Where We Make A Grand Pronouncement Which is to say, this issue. A tall order, considering how it is swimming with and against the tide of other grand pronouncements. Though, to say that something is “swimming against a tide” is already, in itself, another declaration that attempts to point at the importance of this venture. Which is why the statement is qualified with a “with”. Does this connote a half-step, a disclaimer? Is this inaugural venture dipping its toes gingerly into the water? It is meant, simply, to underscore how there is no real way to tell where the tide is turning, if there is a tide to follow at all. There is only the proclamation. “We are swimming, here, this is our direction.” Wherever that may be, we’d like to think it is Forward. To use another trite statement, we want to make a splash. Diving into the ocean. Or plunking ice cubes into your drink. We would like to be your poison, now. Would you like us super-dry? Warm? Wet? Fruity? Is it still the liquor metaphor we are extending? Metaphor, yes, you’ll find some of those here, too.

It is also equally acceptable not to refer to them as such, if that is your cup of tea. However you feel about figures of speech, we’d like to think that the prose selections you will find here will get you there. By “there” we mean that satisfaction that comes from/with a great discomfort, whether you are looking for a climax in terms of plot or some other bodily experience. It can be both, though you might find that plot would seem quite circumstantial to the overall appreciation of any of these texts. Hopefully that did not deflate you or your expectations, because the prose you will encounter in these (digital) pages certainly didn’t deflate ours. Though that is a little misleading, as we did not expect anything beyond what we had set out to find: a contemporary (Contemporary: Now. Also, temporary) sensibility (Sensibility: making sense, in your head and bones). Meaning, prose that plays Operation with itself. Painful, serious play. Painful. Serious. Play. Really, is there any other way to go?

Erika M. Carreon

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What Christian Did

Police are blaming the dense fog on the intersection of Ayala and Buendia Avenues early Sunday morning for the death of a 21-year-old fast food crew member who was hit by a bus as he was crossing the street. Philip Manabat, a resident of Project 6, Quezon City and originally from Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte, was seen walking from the Makati Post Office to the direction of EDSA before bystanders heard a loud screech from a Newman Goldliner bus (TXJ-710) bound for Leveriza.

I had been surveying the robberies and homicides and countryside massacres with only a cursory glance but I still recognized my name in an instant. I fold the too-big broadsheet in half and flatten it on the table to read the story again. I had always felt a kind of affinity with the 16 other Philip Manabats in the city—I checked—but this particularly unlucky namesake, I truly sympathize with him, prey to this murderous freak weather phenomenon that had landed him on the leftmost column of page 6, right next to a boxed weather report. A fatal lightning strike in Nueva Ecija, sure. A two-minute hailstorm in Bulacan, why not? But a fog? In summertime Manila? I look outside and try to look for a malevolent sign, anything at all, but the clouds are in their usual splendor, incorrigibly declaring this day business as usual. A squadron of birds serenely swoops by toward the direction of Monumento as if to drive home the point. From my balcony, 24 floors up, I can see the triangular brick roof of the train station to where I will walk to start my morning commute to work. Now pale, you can tell it used to be red, and rain and sun had drained it of any color. Conversely, my tiny terrace is visible from that station. It’s easy to spot. Just look for the lone pink high-rise in the sea of earth-toned structures and confusion of black cables. Then, from the huge portico on the ground floor, count 24 windows and turn your eyes to the rightmost balcony. Right there. Those are the mauve satin curtains I bought on a trip to India. That’s the wrought iron chair on which I fell asleep once, drunk, Plural | 9

and realized upon waking up that that the nice guy from the bar last night had ran off with my wallet. That’s the steel balustrade, now devoid of sheen, witness to many nights when the city’s assembly of yellow flickering lights leave me in awe. A cup of coffee awaits on the side table, where it sits in the middle of crumpled receipts, crushed beer cans, and an overflowing ash tray which I think used to be ice cream canisters. In front of the full-length mirror in the bedroom, I tilt my head once, twice. There are days when you look in the mirror and say to yourself, a bit shamelessly, “Not bad. Not bad at all.” Today isn’t one of those days. With a sigh, I grab my satchel and laptop bag, then join, with a wincing upward look to the clouds, the morning fray outside. “Galit?” I ask Jen, the boardroom secretary who is stoically typing on her desktop. “I don’t know,” she says. She stops typing and looks at me. Her gaunt face is fully made up. “Please take your seat. I’ll call you when they’re ready. Thank you.” A Nazi, indeed. Her reputation precedes her. Except for the glum clacking of her keyboard, the waiting room is a quiet, perfumed oasis from the polyphony of morning chaos outside. As a remembrance of my journey, my long-sleeved polo smells ever so faintly of vehicle exhaust. My ears still ring with the blare of jeepney horns. Like a mausoleum, here it is bare except for some joyless plants, half-hearted attempts at life. Behind the big wooden door, I can imagine, grave-looking men and women in Armani suits are converged around a table, arguing about something earthshakingly important, like the price of our banner paracetamol or the unveiling of a revolutionary dengue vaccine. Framed portraits of former CEOs look sheepishly from their gilded rectangles. Muted laughter erupts from the room, and Jen and I look at each other askance—a split-second solidarity, gone as quickly as it arrived. The door opens and the dutiful assistant is up from her chair in a flash. “Four cappuccinos, two macchiatos, and a vanilla latte, please,” said Carolina, the red-haired Australian expat who is Consulting Director for Asia Pacific. She looks at me and smiles. “OK, Ma’am!” Jen calls out, as the boardroom door closes with a thud. She scribbles something on a pad then summons someone via intercom. A man soon shuffles inside and Jen hands her the piece of paper. “Don’t screw it up this time.” “But your handwriting—” “Go.” Jen glares at him. “Jesus Christ,” she mumbles under her breath then, seeing

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me, narrows her eyes, “Didn’t I ask you to sit down?” I am on my way to the L-shaped couch when the door to the boardroom creaks open. Carolina emerges and hands Jen a post-it, which she wordlessly hands to me.

21F pantry. 11:30. – Carolina

The digital clock on Jen’s table says it is not even 9 AM. My moment of reckoning has been postponed. Good ol’ HR had been lead committee as usual during our annual Children are Our Future Day last week. Up to a certain point, our talent show had been passably successful. Happy even. I saw one of the big bosses crack a tiny smile. We had hauled the kids from our learning center in Calauan town in Laguna, an hour or two away from Manila. It was built a few months ago as part of a relocation site for families who lived near the esteros and tributaries that had risen during Ondoy. I’ve been there myself. It’s an amazing place, clean and expansive. The air is fresh, and Mount Makiling looms in the horizon. Cows from who-knows-where graze on pockets of grassland. You hardly mind that you still don’t have electricity or running water after being there for a couple of years. The morning of the talent show, 62 tiny figures darted in between pin-striped suits and blazers at the lobby of Tower One, where our corporate office was located. Amusingly, one of the guards refused entry to one of the kids’ props—a life-sized makeshift cardboard house for a dramatic tableau—thinking it was garbage, which it was, a remark that elicited shrieks from the girls and inarticulate chanting from the boys. In the elevator, the kids went by batches of 15, pressing all the buttons within

reach and contorting their gaunt faces in front of the globular security cameras. It was a beautiful day. The idea behind doing a talent show instead of the usual feeding program was to engage the community more than the usual dole-outs. In the end, the goal is no different from the other outreach activities: to give these people a nice treat, to let them experience something different. This was how I had ended my pitch for the project to the big bosses; it was approved on the spot. The last group to perform, made up of kids no different from the other scrawny eight- and nine-year-olds, turned their otherwise uneventful singkil into one for the books, when the tip of one bamboo pole hit the ridiculously expensive ceiling-mounted projector in McDowell Hall. It was hit on the lens, and the painful sound of breaking glass rang in the air right after the final note of the prerecorded kumintang. As early as at that point I was already thinking of excuses; how it was, for instance, one of those things nobody could’ve possibly foreseen. Accidents happen, I resolved to say. For a few moments, nobody made a sound in the hall. This silence was followed by earsplitting feedback from one of the kid-emcees’ wireless microphones. My orange-clad colleagues, too stunned to move or say anything, looked around. The participants, then assembled in their respective color-coded groups, ran to their parents, who were all sitting on the steel benches arranged around the stage, awaiting what would happen next. Carolina curiously surveyed the maelstrom from the judges’ table. She was seated between the head of the Christian relief group that provides us with volunteer-teachers and a columnist for a national daily. Carolina gave both ladies a reassuring smile and whispered something to their ears.

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Minutes later, everyone seemed to have miraculously forgotten what just happened. Onstage, everyone was gamely posing for pictures with a giant inflatable globe, the symbol for this worldwide company effort. Apparently, a utility person had been vacuuming the broken shards of the projector lens when Carolina went onstage and asked everyone to settle down. She got the score sheets and told people to start computing. While waiting, she invited the kids to do a little recap of their performances while waving hundred-peso bills in the air, a reward for the desired cooperation. Looking at the grainy photo that appeared on the columnist’s lifestyle spot the next day, you would never have guessed, from the wide smiles of kids and adults alike, of Filipinos and foreigners alike, that anything had been amiss. Meanwhile, the singkil group had won. The accident notwithstanding, they had distinguished themselves at the event, bringing something different into a morning filled with near-obscene gyrations to the latest dance craze, tearful skits about overcoming poverty, and off-key Air Supply ballads. I have long quit smoking, but I have kept a secret stash under a pile of manila folders at the bottommost drawer of the filing cabinet near my desk precisely for a moment like this. Unable to do anything remotely productive, I retrieve the frayed sticks and head to the fire escape on the 23rd. As expected, I find a few figures leaning on the steel rails. Here, the glitter of Makati’s skyline is nowhere to be found; instead, the smokers get a view of the soiled backside of old buildings, the rusty, cobwebbed machinery of generators, spindly trees inured to the smoke, the noise. Cigarette in mouth, I only need to extend my hand before a lighter appears from a stranger’s jeans pocket. I nod my thanks, belatedly noticing that the red skeleton of the fire escape had been creaking uneasily since I stepped on it. The first puff is a tender warmth in my throat, my chest, then, letting it out, in the air in front of my face. With its orange walls and white tables, the office pantry mirrors the company palette. On a regular day like this, it is filled with people chatting over hot meals. Caucasians and Filipinos, Koreans, a lot of Indians. Baby back ribs, kare-kare, bibimbap, chapati and mutton curry. An explosion of aroma welcomes me to the spacious room. I smile at Ate Stella, who is in charge of the kitchen. She looks at her list and tells me to sit down and my food will be ready in a few. Meals here are planned for senior and middle managers.

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I find Carolina in a corner table. Her black coat is draped over her chair. She is wearing a dark green sleeveless turtleneck that contrasts with her red hair, tied in a loose ponytail. “I hope you don’t mind that I’ve started,” she said, putting down her spoon. “It gets soggy really quick.” The peanut sauce dribbles down the side of her fresh lumpia. “It’s OK,” I tell her. “What are you having today?” As if on cue, Ate Stella arrives with my plate of beef teriyaki. She puts the big bowl of ceramic beside the requisite plate of extra rice and glass of ice-cold Coke. “Nice,” she says, smiling. “Why don’t we finish our meals first then talk about it later?” “OK,” I said. “So,” she says, “how are you doing today, Philip?” After 20 minutes or so, we stare at empty plates, soiled bowls. Carolina asks if I will join her for a smoke. Outside the building, there is the usual laziness of afternoons, people walking slowly and the air heavy with digestion. From slightly nippy this morning, the weather has decided to reveal its true tropical colors, and it feels like it’s 40 degrees outside. From time to time, a warm gust of wind blows from the north; absent this, the air is heavy, unmoving. She hands me her pack of cigarettes. “Oh, I’ve quit,” I tell her, returning the thin white box. “Don’t I see you on 23rd? Anyway.” She gives me a look, perhaps catching a faint nicotine scent from my fingers, a flicker of ash on my shoulder. “Suit yourself.” We walk over to the gated entrance of a nearby park and stay beside a metal trash bin rimmed with a circular ash tray. “I’ll only be here for a couple of years,” she looks at me, her eyes half-closed, lazy. “I hate it here.” A group of office workers scooping frozen yogurt from small cups passes by and looks at Carolina’s red mane, which looks bright, aflame under the 1 o’clock sun. “In the city, I mean,” she adds. “I might head to the beach. Again.” I have heard of Carolina. She had gone MIA for five years, and speculations abound on what really happened during the “lost years.” Some say that she lived with a Filipino lover somewhere in the slums of Manila; others, that she had been hypnotized by a millenarian cult in the Sierra Madre mountains during a swimming trip to Baler; others still, that her divorce in Australia caught up with her here and she finally snapped, after which she was committed at an upscale

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psychiatric facility in Tagaytay. Nevertheless, the regional office at Sydney still hired her for a consulting job in Manila because they said she did great work. “I’ve lost my tan,” she says now, inspecting her arms. “Damn it.” She taps her cigarette over the trash bin, looking beyond at the manicured lawn and the towering trees in the middle of all the grays and lifeless chromes of the complex. “Anyway, this thing with the projector. Would you agree with me that it’s such a silly thing?” I clear my throat. “I think we need to take responsibility for our actions, and I’m fully responsible for the talent—” “I mean, it’s silly that they’re giving you such a hard time over this. It’s a projector, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like you leaked a formula to a competitor.” I exhale. “I think they’re using it to attack CSR.” “That’s one more thing. Do you know what the most profitable industry in the world is?” She takes a long drag from her cigarette. “Not banking or investments. Not petroleum. Not even tourism. You know what? Pharmaceuticals. Health care. Can you imagine that? A single drug sells billions of dollars in a year. A single drug. And they’re making such a huge deal out of what? $4,000? I can’t believe it. These grumpy old men at your country’s board need to take a Vicodin.” I snigger at the display of unabashed candidness, so rare in the corporate world. “I shouldn’t have said that,” she says, letting out a yawn. “Where’s my brand loyalty?” She takes a final puff on her cigarette before extinguishing its flames against the ash tray. She lights another one. “Can I?” she asks, and, when I nod, starts to blow a string of perfect smoke rings. “That’s amazing,” I gush, unable to stop myself.

“Why, thank you,” she says. “It took me years of practice. Years.” After lunch, while waiting for Jen to amiably order me to the boardroom, I find a follow-up story on my ill-fated namesake. Police are now considering the possibility of suicide in the case of the fast food crew member who was run over by a bus yesterday in Makati. The development came after it was discovered that Philip Manabat, 21, had figured in a viral video last week that his family said may have finally driven him to the edge.

Last week, a viral video spread on YouTube of a fast food mascot flipping tables in a fit of rage at a children’s party. At the start of the two-minute clip, the red-and-yellow bee could be seen overturning one table after another, knocking over styro packs and spilling fried chicken and blood-red spaghetti on the floor. At the 58-second mark, just when the five- and six-year-olds in the sidelines had started screaming in horror, the beaming face of the mascot turned to the camera. Its gloved hand smacked the unseen person recording the video, which sent the device crashing to the floor. Still recording, the camera lay on its side just as the mascot’s face peeked from one side. All the viewers—1.32 million after just a week—then saw a white oversized boot rocket toward the camera lens at full speed. The strange twist of events had somehow rescued his story from the metro section and delivered it right into the home page of a major news website. The banner headline alternated with news of rising prices of banana because of a super-typhoon; the canceled concert of an American pop singer whose songs, a priests’ group said, had satanic lyrics; and another call center moving to India,

the fifth one since authorities discovered a multi-million-peso inside job a year ago. My thoughts are interrupted when my phone rings. “They’re ready,” Jen’s monotonous voice says. “I have a question,” I say and put the phone down just as I hear “What.” I take the first decisive steps to the boardroom on the 20th and try to shrug off the pesky nervousness. Shoulder erect, head held high, and strides forcefully long and confident, I hope the casual gait is all that matters.

“Christian?” Carolina asks. “Is that the name of the kid?” “Yes.” “What a lovely name,” she says, looking around the table. “Anyway,” says the same old man, giving Carolina a confused look. “Let me be candid with you, Mr. Manabat. It’s getting harder and harder to justify our CSR program. You see, it’s not generating the same level of buzz as we had expected. So this is actually a good chance to revisit that aspect of our business.” “With the kind of economy that we have, the level of competition, and this stupid “3 years, 10 months,” I tell the grim new legislation on affordable medicine,” faces around the modular conference table says a woman who reminds me of our inside the boardroom. Someone—with a deep, college librarian, “we are taking a very, very guttural voice—had asked how long I had close look at our balance sheet.” been with the company. “It was an accident,” I say, then, louder “Philip,” Carolina then asks, sweetly, to put forth my sincerity, “you know, it’s really “do you know how much that projector costs?” difficult to measure the benefits of CSR. As “Yes, Ma’am Carolina. P159,000.” you know, it won’t appear on any chart or “Just call me Carolina,” she says, ledger. It is not a figure you see in the analysis smiling. of bottom lines or profit margins. If our goal is for these learning centers and medical The scene is vaguely reminiscent of my missions to generate a return, we might as well final interview in the company. It had been my drop the whole thing.” first attempt at a “regular” job after working in The board regards this with an a call center for three years and taking a break ambiguous grunt, and I exhale. for several months. The feeling then, as it is “Well,” Carolina says, looking around now, is not unlike the final moments before the table, “that was productive.” She checks a nurse gets your blood, when she is opening her watch and smiles at me. “Anybody up for her kit and taking a new injection fresh from merienda?” its plastic wrapper. “You’re in charge of the whole thing, My leather shoes can only manMr. Manabat,” says an old man. “From what age baby steps on the cramped stairway to we hear you’re quite invested on the CSR the train platform that night. Around me, side of things, aren’t you? Your colleagues said bodies; nothing but jostling, murmuring you’ve even become close with some of the bodies. I try to relax by taking deep breaths, kids. That’s great. Don’t get me wrong. That’s but what smells like ten hours of manual sungreat.” kissed labor swirls in the air. From time to “I take full responsibility for what time, the odor becomes too cloying and I have Christian did.” I tell the panel. to look up, lest I suffocate.

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In the platform, the crowds funnel to spots marked where the train doors will be. Trains arrive like clockwork, but each one is fuller than the last. Faces and torsos are contortedly pressed against the glass doors. “Let people get off first!” a voice would scold over the PA system, whenever waves of passengers would crash into half-opened doors before anyone inside the trains could alight. The disgorged people gasp for air, like newborns. From where I stand, I can see a familiar billboard on a far-off medium-rise. On it, a meadow is set against a clear, blue sky, and a woman in office attire lies on the grass, legs crossed in abandon; below, in a laidback cursive: “We make things better.” This ad was laid out by a graphic artist I hired last month. The copy was written by a marketing staff whose resume I screened. The final design was approved by a manager whose climb through the ranks I had excitedly overseen through the years. An empty train soon slides to the station, and I scamper to get inside. Somebody settles behind me on the train, and a head of sweat-smelling hair positions itself just below my chin. An arm brushes my right cheek en route to an overhead handlebar, and a heavy backpack is placed on the tip of my left shoe. The train traverses a beautiful part of the city; without the wall of bodies, the ride may have been a scenic tour. Instead I see darkness when I look down and a fluorescent blinding when I look up. Elsewhere, a forest of heads, constantly turning in search of a bearable view. It was also rush hour in the trains when I saw that billboard for the first time. I still remember the distinct pride that I felt upon seeing it. It was a testimony, I thought, to my value to this organization. Sure, it’s the research people and med reps who earn big bucks for us. It’s the marketing guys who maintain goodwill and draw business. But everybody starts with a firm handshake and a job offer. Everybody starts, everybody grows with HR.

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Seconds before the train arrives at my stop, two nuns announce that they are getting off. They part the obstinate crowd and I follow the path cleared by their powder blue habits. A mass of bodies quickly take the space we vacate inside. The nuns are soon lost in the sea of people who make a beeline to the turnstiles. I step out of the train station and begin the five-minute walk to my building. The city is breathing its last for the day, quietly surrendering to a secret, less visible kind of bustle. The guard at my condo gives me the familiar salute. By the time I reach my unit, it is well after 9 o’clock, more than half a day since I stepped out. There’s the awful creaking sound as I open the door. The click of the doorknob, the flick of the light switch. I sit on the computer chair and remove my shoes. Right shoe first. Sock. Then the left. Sock. I kick them underneath my bed, a few feet away, to which I collapse, all of a sudden so tired. I was able to pay the down payment for this 25-square-meter studio around three years ago, thanks to some savings from my time as a call center agent. I had always been thankful for this refuge, although sometimes, like tonight, the silence becomes unbearable, the walls too dense, never-ending. The price of peace, I suppose, of being safe from the crime and flood and the sundry evils of the city. The evil fog. I turn on the television to break the quiet and head to the balcony, parting the curtains and sliding the glass doors on the way. Muted to a faint murmur, Manila seems innocent enough, kind enough, until the blare of an ambulance, such as this one that plies a nearby side street, reminds one that people actually are dying, that loss is an everyday occasion. I can faintly hear a reporter saying something about suicide and cyber-bullying, no doubt in reference to my namesake. What if it really had been an accident? What if the fog indeed made things difficult to see and, when the bus emerged from the haze, it was too late? I get a beer from the fridge to take me through the night. What Christian did, which the panel didn’t know, was search for me in the crowd then look at me in the eye right before the mishap, before the bamboo pole, which moments ago he had held so adeptly, smashed into the projector’s face. After what happened, I escorted him to the supply room that had doubled as our backstage. I told him not to worry. “It was an accident,” I said, “right?” When Christian didn’t answer, I asked him again, to which he finally, with some effort, nodded. “Why did you do it?” I asked. “Tell me the truth.” “I already—” he said, stammering. “It was an accident, Sir Philip.” We were sitting on knee-high reams of A4 paper while my colleagues took care of the commotion outside.

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“Too bad ‘Nay Agnes can’t come today.” I told him. Christian nodded, indifferently. “She can’t miss work.” “Jessie?” “He said he has a quiz.” Christian’s father, who had been a councilman in their barangay, died a couple of weeks ago. It was a shooting incident that involved hazy characters in their neighborhood. The company helped out in the funeral expenses, and I took Christian out to lunch at the mall the morning after the burial. We then went shopping for clothes and ordered fried chicken for take-out, which we ate at my unit. “I knew that projector would pose some problems,” I said. He nodded. “Leah couldn’t stand because the ceiling’s too low.” “Well,” I said, chuckling, “we didn’t expect anyone to be standing on bamboo poles.” “It was your idea.” I looked at him. “I can get fired for what you did.” “I guess so,” he said. Someone opened the door, took a peek inside, and quickly closed it. Some of the kids’ clothes lay discarded on the carpeted floor, obscene and limp with age but clean, like rags that had been thoroughly washed. Christian’s own oversized shirt and discolored pants were in one messy heap in one corner. “Why didn’t you wear your new clothes?” I asked. “They were too small,” he said, standing up to gather his old ones. “It’s OK,” I told him. He didn’t say anything, and for a few minutes it was quiet, the kind of ringing silence in the aftermath of numbing tragedy.

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Glenn Diaz ď Ľ Glenn Diaz is finishing his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. He is the 2013 recipient of the M Literary Residency at Sangam House, outside Bangalore in India, where he will work on his first book.


Driving Lessons She takes her ring off when she walks in, folds her hand into a fist—his eyes are trained on the white ceiling, unblinking. She wishes they would let him sleep, or let him pretend to, but his mother insists: he can see everything, even if. She hopes his dreams are black like coffee or the end of a movie. She has nightmares about being awake inside that gray body and staring up at the ceiling tiles, listening to the sipping sound of the machine that regulates the drip attached to the back of his hand. The bed is stone-slab white under him. Plastic veins snake in and out of his bruised skin. The thin hospital gown he is wearing stops above his knees, mid-thigh. There is no hair on the insides of his legs, only an elastic tube that opens up into a sack of yellow piss. When she pushes the heavy door open, it creaks a little—the only interruption to the hum of the air-conditioning and the rhythms of drip-and-beep. In one hand, she is carrying a green eco bag from the local supermarket. Another bag—black, leather—is slung over her shoulder. She walks slowly. Her heels clack on the floor. She’s worried something might spill. Before stopping to say hello or how’ve you been or it’s raining today, she goes into the bathroom and begins to undress: she steps out of her black heels, lets down her hair, removes her blazer, takes off her glasses, pulls her blouse over her head, unzips her skirt, leaves her ring on the edge of the sink. It starts to rain. He’s waiting for her outside, inside the car parked on the pavement. She pulls a checkered polo tighter around herself as she steps out into the drizzle. She’s wearing her favourite shirt underneath. It’s Sunday night. It’s a Smashing Pumpkins shirt. Billy Corgan is smirking at the rain. The doors unlock. Inside, he’s smiling. Hey. She grins. Hey. Shall we? She washes her face, dries it on a cool, sanitized towel before unzipping the leather bag and pulling out a different set of clothes. She sets the alarm on her phone for an hour from now, takes a deep breath and goes back in time—she pulls on a pair of jeans ripped at the knees (inhaling so that they fit over the scarred skin across her belly), slips on a black band shirt (the front man headless now, from too much washing); she clasps a blue-and-white seashell choker onto her neck, Plural | 21

sticks out her tongue and struggles to fasten a silver stud in place. She tries to get used to having it there again, runs her tongue along the roof of her mouth. Leaning over the marble counter, she puts on plum lipstick, checks for anything that might be stuck in her teeth—just in case, even if. Oh, fuck. He points a finger at her, grinning from ear to ear. Ha! No cursing! Bam, drink twice! Ughhh. She takes two shots. He laughs, reshuffles the deck of cards. She lies belly-down on the rug. His apartment smells like stale pizza. Next round. She can feel her heart thumping. She needs to pee. Why are we playing this again? ‘Cause it’s my motherfuckin’ birthday! He looks good in this light. She thinks he should smile more often. Shouldn’t you be the one getting wasted? He’s trying not to watch her. He fills a shot glass. Well, it’s always more fun to see you suffer. She inches closer, puts her head on his lap. He thinks this should be considered cheating. He’s glad it isn’t. Remind me about the rules again. He sets the rearranged deck down. It’s simple. I draw a card for me, a card for you. Shots on numbers 4 and 7, plus the Jack. No cursing. No going to the bathroom. If you get an Ace, that’s the bathroom pass. Get a King, I drink twice. Queen, you can skip twice. Violate any of the rules and you drink again. And if I just take a piss right here? Do I get to watch? You wish. He rolls his eyes, still smiling. She sits up, adjusts her pants, suddenly self-conscious. Hey. What. You said M-F. Fine. He fills the glass to the brim. Bottoms up. She locks the door. She carries the supermarket bag into the room. She stands by the bed and takes a long look at him. He’s gotten thinner, but also softer in certain areas. Here, here, here. She touches his wrist, the crook of his arm, the underside of his chin. She plants a kiss on his forehead. He’s almost bald. She puts the grocery bag down. You did not age well, my friend. She sits down on the fold-up chair and slips her hand into his. I’m so bored. They’re lying on the floor; it’s littered with cards. I’m hungry. Let’s eat. Pizza? Again? Fine, you choose. She sits up, hovers over him. China town? Eh. She shakes him. China town!

22 | Issue One

He pretends to be asleep. She pokes him in the belly. You drive. Do you want to die? I’m lazy. She stands up, sits on his bed. Come on, let’s do something different. I was going to bring tequila—she begins. But I didn’t think it would be appropriate. She shifts in the metal fold-up chair beside the bed. I do, however have this: she picks up the bottle of wine sitting by the chair’s leg. She’s taken the two glasses from the bathroom and set them on the meal table. Grocery brand. Three hundred fucking bucks, can you believe that? She fills both glasses a quarter, sets the bottle down. The drip machine slurps. The stoplight turns red. He hits the brakes. She lurches forward, lets out a laugh. He makes a clicking sound with his tongue. She crosses her arms over her chest. He can smell the tequila in her sweat. They’ve been driving for hours. I thought you knew where this place was? She is buzz-pink. In the driver’s seat beside her, he sits with his hands on the steering wheel and a scowl pulled tight over his face, his skin wrinkled and stretched in all the wrong places. Left or right? She starts singing the chorus of a Lenny Kravitz single. He hates that song. It’s raining. The lights start to blur. She burps, excuses herself, laughs. He takes a deep breath. This is an adventure! Turn right? He turns the wipers on. Right. He turns left. She leans over, squints at something beyond the intersection, beyond the lights, beyond the rain. It’s there! That’s the church! It’s behind the church. He glances at her. She’s smiling. Her left cheek dimples. Are you sure it’s this one? She grins at him. Positive. She crosses and re-crosses her legs. Hi. She can hear her phone vibrating through the open bathroom door. Her back tenses. Was she supposed to pick the kids up today? Was she supposed to watch the painters? Was the school bus working even if it was Saturday? Wasn’t make up class still part of what she paid for at the start of the quarter? Why were classes always being cancelled, anyway? She puts a hand on the heart monitor. It beeps. She crosses her arms around her chest. Inside-Out-Boy, she thinks: swung too high, pushed too hard. The phone is still vibrating. Why do painters need someone to watch

Plural | 23

them, anyway? She imagines them taking her jewelry box and leaving white paint prints all over the dresser. Take it all, assholes. I told you to turn right. She thinks it’s his fault—he was the one driving. If I could drive, we wouldn’t be in the predicament. You’re welcome to try. They loop around the curb, again. In the distance is another church. She realizes, both slowly and suddenly that after a couple of shots, all churches look the same. After a couple of swigs from the bottle between her knees, all the tiny roads look the same. She’s happy she doesn’t drive. Mind if I have a cigarette? He doesn’t smoke. She knows he doesn’t smoke. She is already rolling the window down. I hope you get cancer. She lights up. He smells gas from the lighter. She looks at her reflection in the side mirror, blows smoke out of her mouth and smiles a little. I hope you die alone. He turns the radio on. She laughs. Joke. Sure. The radio sings. Livewire right up off the street, you and I should meet. He wants to go home and sleep. She’s singing along, punctuating the lines with puffs of smoke. She wants to eat dumplings and maybe call her boyfriend: have some phone sex. It’s been so long. I miss him. He turns left, again. I think he’s cheating on me. He lets his breath out slowly. Well. She cocks her head to the side. Do you think I should break up with him? She’s asked him this before. Do whatever you want. She takes a drag. I think I should. But those eyes. That body. She throws her cigarette out the window. Hey. Yeah? Thanks for being such a good friend. He is stoplight-red. If my mom smells the cigarettes, she’ll kill me. Green light. Happy Birthday, she says and clinks one glass against the other. She takes a long swig and feels the warmth trickle down her throat, creep into her cheeks. Who knew we’d get this old huh? She pulls her chair closer to the bed. I was going to get you a present but what do I get a 40-year-old man? I was walking through the department store with cufflinks and

24 | Issue One

a cigar in one hand, caramel popcorn in the other. I felt like an idiot— like maybe I should’ve gotten you a plaque, or like maybe I should have a secretary. I thought of a tie too, because that’s what I got— Don’t go there. She rearranges herself in her seat. She lets go of his hand. I had the best chicken sandwich for lunch. They’re parked at an intersection, again. He isn’t sure if the church off to the side is new or right or the same one they passed an hour ago. The digital clock on the dashboard says it’s fifteen minutes past two. He can feel the backs of his eyes throbbing. Are you okay? Fine. He licks his lips. She wonders what it would be like to— He’s frowning, again. She’s always been curious about that. I’m so tired. Come on. We’re almost there. The car moves forward, rain slipping off the body. She’s halfway through the bottle. She wonders if her husband ever thinks of cheating on her. There was one time she found lipstick on his collar. Just once, after he’d gone to visit his mom. She’d never seen his mom wear lipstick, but that was beside the point. She takes another swig, sings happy birthday. A kiss isn’t considered cheating, anyway. She would cheat on her too, given the chance—if she were him. There are probably laws against this. She imagines security walking in, pulling her out of the room in handcuffs. She still can’t place the face: who was it on the shirt? Bach? Axl? Vedder? She sees her family coming to pick her up: the 9-year-old asking what she did wrong, the 12-year-old wondering about the man on the bed, the 40-year-old wondering why she isn’t wearing her wedding ring—and had she gotten applicators for the paint? They were painting the lanai orange. Carrots. I forgot the carrots. And corn and Oyster Sauce. And celery for tomorrow night’s barbecue. They’ve found the place and it’s closed. La Mien Dumpling House, behind the right church, across the right road. The street smells like broth and chicken cubes. We should’ve turned around. Don’t say that. You said you knew where we were going. She turns to face him. His eyes are trained on the blinking hazard lights: the two arrows going on and off behind plexiglass. I thought I knew. It’s fine. I saw the Smashing Pumpkins last month. We went to Hong

Plural | 25

Kong to catch them and it was great. I wish you’d been there. He— the guy I went with—didn’t know a lot of the words, though—but that’s okay, ‘cause he isn’t a fan. Not everyone can be a fan, right? You would’ve loved it. And I had fun, anyway. But we had fun, right? He doesn’t say anything. He looks at her. It was okay. He wonders what it would be like. It was fun! An adventure! We got lost in the city of lights! I’m almost out of gas. I’ll pay for your gas. No, thank you. She looks at the body on the bed. Is anyone home? The lights on the drip machine blink. Hazard, arrows behind glass. What is your problem? Why aren’t you out with him tonight? She sits up. Because it’s your birthday? He pushes a button. The arrows stop blinking. Hey, lighten up. How about let’s get some Drive Thru? Birthday burger! It’s not my birthday anymore. His hands are tight around the steering wheel. Come on. I’m tired. She offers him the bottle of tequila she’s holding under the seat. He takes a swig, makes a face. She rolls the window down. He pulls the window up. Stop that. Red light. No more smoking. His eyelids threaten to close. I want to go home. Me too. Run it. She’s leaning forward with her head on the bed, now. Careful not to disturb any of the wires, she rests a hand on his knee. Remember the song playing that night? And we don’t know, just where our bones will rest. It was such a good song. His mouth is slack. She wants to kiss him. Who does that? She buries her face as far into the blanket as she can without displacing anything. You know I’m sorry, right? The song is still stuck in her head—To dust I guess. Come on, it’s four in the morning. Well, that’s the fucking point of a traffic light. Those are the rules. It’s red, you stop. It’s green, you go. It’s yellow you either hurry the hell up or stay where you are. It doesn’t change just because it’s dark outside.

26 | Issue One

Of course, you do the latter. What? Stay where you are. You’re drunk. Stupid rules, stupid games. You don’t need an excuse to drink. Let’s play a card game. Yeah, right. You can run the light if you wanna go home. You can drink if you wanna get drunk. Do I need an excuse not to run the light? Does he ever get back over the swing? Do people still know it was him? Cool tattoos—oh no, that’s my skin. She closes her eyes. Her son watches these cartoons about shapes that share their toys and cry little sugar cubes and say sorry when they’re wrong. Gosh, I.O.B. You know what? It’s no wonder he cheats on you. You must drive him nuts. If I were your boyfriend I wouldn’t let you do things like this. Does he even know where you are? She lights a cigarette. Good thing I’m not your girlfriend, then. The inside of the car fills with smoke. Boy, I dodged a bullet. She turns to face him. You know, this is why I didn’t that time in your apartment. The vein in his jaw is throbbing. You would have too many rules for things. The alarm in the bathroom is ringing. Just a few more minutes. You can’t hang out with him, you can’t do this with him. And then you’ll get pissed off and I’ll have to hear all about it. All I could think when you were breathing down my neck is that if I, by some sick twist of fate get knocked up, I’m probably going to have to live with you for the rest of my life. He steps on the gas. The light turns green on the wrong side. Carrots, corn, Oyster Sauce, celery, maybe some lipstick. She can’t stand how he looks up at the ceiling like that. Maybe she should close his eyes? Didn’t they only do that to people who died? Are you still there? She hates it when people cry in front of her. She is in the Emergency Room and his mother is crying, pounding her fists against the bed. Pull yourself together. She thinks she’s going to be sick. Her arm’s broken in a couple of places. She wipes snot from her nose. His mother is asking doctors about her son, where was her son? The doctors tell her to please take a seat. She sits down and holds a hand to her mouth, bites her nails. May I have some water, Doctor? Her voice is small. She hates herself for it. Someone tries the door. She leaps out of her chair, spills wine on her front. Goddamn.

Plural | 27

Woops, she says to the body lying on the bed. The monitor beeps—he’s out of fluid. She hits the nurse’s call button, unlocks the door before slipping into the bathroom. She wipes her face on the sleeve of her shirt. Cobain? Axl— wait, Corgan? Was it Corgan? No. No, she would’ve remembered if it was Corgan. In the bathroom, she pours the rest of the wine down the sink, caps the bottle. She takes her shirt off, undoes the clasp on her jeans. She removes her tongue ring, tries to get used to its absence. She runs her tongue along the roof of her mouth, feels only flesh. Her grown-up clothes are folded by the counter—nice suit, I.O.B. Oh no, that’s just my skin. Carrots, celery—what else? She can hear the nurse in the other room: undoing the dextrose, rearranging the wires, scribbling. All done. She has a pretty voice. I’ll be back with your mom around 7, for the cake and candles and singing. It’ll be lively, just like you like it. We’re the best of friends, aren’t we? She feels like she’s eavesdropping. She leans against the bathroom counter in the fluorescent light, half-undressed—in-between selves.

28 | Issue One


Wina Puangco ď Ľ Wina Puangco was born in 1990. She writes stories and is partial to small, serif fonts. You can find her at or at the EM Zine website (


Naengkanto Alas-singko na ng hapon nang makarating si Marcelo sa paaralan ng kaniyang anak na si Dan. Galing siyang palengke kung saan mayroon silang tindahan ng tela at damit. Bago umalis sa palengke’y pinadalhan na niya ng text ang kaniyang anak, tinatanong niya kung nasaan na ito. Nang hindi ito sumagot, tinawagan na niya si Dan ngunit hindi nakaaabot ang kaniyang mga tawag. Kung patay ba o nalobat na, hindi niya alam. Sumakit ang kaniyang tiyan, tila namimilipit ang kaniyang bituka dahil sa kaba at pag-aalala. Kaya nagpasya siyang pumunta na sa paaralan ni Dan, umaasang maaabutan niya ang kaniyang anak doon. Malapit lamang ang paaralan sa bahay nila. Isa iyong pribadong paaralan na pinatatakbo ng mga madre. Doon nag-aral si Ellen, asawa ni Marcelo, noong elementarya at high school. Tuwing umaga, inihahatid ni Marcelo si Dan sakay ng kanilang scooter. Pagkahatid sa kaniyang anak, tutuloy na si Marcelo sa palengke. Pagkasarado ng tindahan sa palengke, sinusundo ni Marcelo si Dan sa paaralan. Dati’y nilalakad ni Dan ang pag-uwi pagkaawas sa paaralan. Ngunit sinimulan ni Marcelo ang pagsundo sa kaniyang anak noong isang gabi’y inabot na ng alas-syete’y hindi pa rin umuuwi si Dan. Sinakmal na siya ng pamimilipit ng bituka at nagsimulang maglakad papunta sa paaralan. Ngunit habang nasa daan ay nakasalubong niya ang kaniyang anak. “Napasarap lang po sa paglalaro,” sagot ni Dan kay Marcelo kung bakit hindi ito agad umuwi. Hanggang doon na lamang sana ang gabing iyon ngunit bago makabalik sa bahay nila, nabanaagan ni Marcelo sa malayo ang isang taong sumusunod sa kanila. Hindi niya masigurado dahil madilim noon. Nabahala rito si Marcelo at mula noo’y binigyan ni Marcelo si Dan ng selfon at palaging pinadadalhan ng text—kung nasaan na si Dan, na susunduin na niya si Dan sa paaralan, na hintayin siya ni Dan. Minsa’y hindi siya sinusunod ng kaniyang anak at ikinagagalit niya ito. Minsa’y naabutan niya ang kaniyang anak na naglalakad pauwi. Titigil siya at paaangkasin ang kaniyang anak sa kaniyang scooter. Sa bahay na lamang niya pagagalitan ang kaniyang anak. Hindi siya sigurado kung nakikinig pa nga ba ang kaniyang anak sa kaniya. Pagdating ni Marcelo sa paaralan, trapik na ang daan sa tapat ng tarangkahan ng paaralan dahil sa dami ng kotseng sumusundo sa Plural | 31

mga kaaawas na mga estudyante. Puno naman ng mga mag-aaral ang mga bangketa. Naglalaro, naghihintay, nagkukuwentuhan o naglalakad na pauwi o sa kung saang lakwatsa kasama ng kani-kanilang mga kabarkada. Mas magiging kampante sana si Marcelo kung mayroon man lang na kaibigan o kabarkada ang kaniyang anak. Walang ipinakikilala o ikinukuwentong kaibigan si Dan sa kaniya. Tuwing sinusundo mula sa paaralan, naroon lamang madalas si Dan sa may tarangkahan, mag-isa at tahimik na naghihintay sa kaniya. Ipinarada niya ang kaniyang scooter sa tabi ng bangketa, may kalayuan mula sa tarangkahan dahil sa dami na ng mga nakaparada. At nang dumating siya sa tarangkahan, wala pa rin doon si Dan. “Magandang hapon po,” bati sa kaniya ng guwardiya nang nasa tapat na siya ng tarangkahan. “Nariyan ba si Dan, Mang Ando?” “Ang akala ko po’y umuwi na siya. Nakita ko ata siyang lumabas. Kani-kanina lang.” “Ganoon baga?” sabi ni Marcelo. Nagtaka siya dahil hindi naman niya nakita ang kaniyang anak sa daan papunta sa paaralan. “Hanapin ko lang siya sa loob, hano? Sisiguraduhin ko lang.” “Sige po. Pasok kayo.” Nakita ni Marcelo na naglalaro ng sipa sa ilalim ng puno ng kamatsile ang dalawang kaklase ni Dan. Nilapitan niya ang dalawa at tinanong kung nakita ba ang kaniyang anak, kung nakita ba nila si Dan. “Pagkaawas, hindi ko na po nakita,” sagot ng isa. “Ang alam ko po, nakaalis na,” sagot naman ng isa. Nagpasalamat si Marcelo sa dalawang kaklase ni Dan at naglakad papunta sa gusali para sa elemantarya. Una niyang pinuntahan ang silid ng seksiyon ni Dan. Wala nang tao sa silid. Umuupo si Dan sa may-harap at malapit sa bintana. Si Dan ang pumili ng upuang iyong malapit sa bintana. Kapag nasa bahay, mahilig tumabi sa bintana si Dan. Padungawdungaw. Nagsimula ito mula nang umalis si Ellen, asawa ni Marcelo, papuntang Singapore. Isang buwang dumudungaw si Dan sa bintana, tila hinihintay ang pagbabalik ng kaniyang ina. Ang mga unang buwan na iyon ang naging pinakamahirap para kay Marcelo dahil hindi

32 | Issue One


niya alam kung paano haharapin o tutugunan ang pangungulila ni Dan para kay Ellen gayong ganoon rin ang nararamdaman niya. Tinangka na lamang niyang aliwin si Dan at gayundin ang kaniyang sarili. Madalas silang lumabas noon para manood ng sine o mamasyal sa tabi ng lawa. O nag-uuwi siya ng pelikula at panonoorin nila iyon nang magkasama. Pero hindi nawala ang kinagawian na ni Dan na pagdungaw sa bintana. Dumungaw siya sa bintana. Tanaw niya ang taniman ng paaralan kung saan nagtatanim ang mga mag-aaral para sa kanilang Home Economics. Nakatanim malapit sa pader ang isang puno ng narra. Nang patalikod na siya sa bintana, may nakita siyang tao sa ilalim ng puno. Isang batang lalaki. Inakala niyang si Dan. Ngunit nang tingnan niya ulit ang puno’y wala nang tao roon. Lumabas siya ng silid at pumunta sa may puno ng narra. Namimilipit ang kaniyang bituka habang iniikot niya ang puno. Ngunit walang tao roon. Bumalik na lamang siya sa gusali ng elementarya at ipinagpatuloy ang paghahanap kay Dan. Isa-isa niyang sinilip ang mga silid. Nagbabakasakaling naroon ang kaniyang anak. Ngunit wala nang mga bata sa mga silid, lahat sila’y nasa larangan na ng futbol o basketbol, naglalaro na. Rinig niya ang alingawngaw ng mga hiyawan at tawanan ng mga bata habang sinisilip niya ang mga silid. Malamlam na ang liwanag ng takipsilim na pumapasok sa mga silid. Nakita siya agad ni Mrs. Coronel, adviser ng seksiyon ni Dan, nang mapasilip siya sa faculty room. Lumabas si Mrs. Coronel para kausapin siya. “Napadaan kayo, Mr. Santiago,” bati sa kaniya ng guro. “Magandang hapon po. Sinusundo ko lang po si Dan. Nakita n’yo ba?” “Naku, noong awasan pa. Nagmamadali nga siya, e. Naiwan pa niya ang kaniyang pencil case. Hengka lang, kukunin

ko.” Inabot sa kaniya ni Mrs. Coronel ang pencil case. May disenyo ito ng Power Rangers. Padala ng kaniyang asawa. “Alam n’yo, palaging walang gana si Dan tuwing klase. Palagi siyang mababa sa mga quiz at exam. Palagi ko rin siyang nahuhuling nadungaw sa bintana tuwing may lecture ako. Ilang beses ko na siyang pinagsasabihan. Pero hindi pa rin siya nakikinig. Nag-aalala lang po ako sa kaniya.” “Hayaan n’yo po, kakausapin ko siya,” sabi niya habang kinipkip ang pencil case sa ilalim ng kaniyang kaliwang braso. Bago umalis si Ellen, mataas ang gradong nakukuha ni Dan. Tinuturuan pa nga ni Ellen si Dan sa mga assignment nito. Tinatangka ni Marcelo na tulungan si Dan sa mga assignment nito ngayon pero iniisip ni Marcelo na mas matalino lang talaga si Ellen kaysa sa kaniya. “Salamat ho,” paalam ni Marcelo kay Mrs. Coronel at nagsimula siyang maglakad patungo sa tarangkahan. “Nakita n’yo na po ba si Dan?” tanong sa kaniya ni Mang Ando nang papalabas na siya ng tarangkahan. “Hindi ho, e,” sagot ni Marcelo. “Mukhang nakalabas na nga ho.” “Ganoon ho ba? Pasensiya na ho. Sa susunod, babantayan ko ho nang mas mabuti si Dan.” “Salamat ho,” sagot ni Marcelo at lumabas na ng tarangkahan. Nang nasa tabi na siya ng kaniyang scooter, tiningnan muna niya ang kaniyang selfon. Walang text o miskol na nakatala. Tinangka ulit niyang tawagan ang kaniyang anak sa selfon. Ngunit hindi rin ulit niya maabot ito. Yamot na yamot na siya. Sa kaniyang anak at sa kaniyang sarili. Bakit hindi pa rin tumatawag o nagtetext si Dan? Bakit hindi pa rin niya nakikita ang kaniyang anak? Gusto na niyang itapon ang kaniyang selfon sa kalsada ngunit ibinulasa na lamang niya ito. Sumakay na uli ng scooter si Marcelo at umuwi.

Plural | 33

Nayayamot siya sa kaniyang sarili dahil ipinangako niya kay Ellen bago ito umalis na aalagaan niya si Dan. Matagal na pinag-isipan ni Ellen ang pasiyang umalis papuntang Singapore dahil ayaw niyang iwan si Dan. Ayaw rin ni Marcelo na umalis si Ellen. Ngunit mababa lamang ang sahod sa pampamahalaang ospital na pinangtatrabahuhan noon ni Ellen at nagsara ang pabrikang pinagtatrabahuhan ni Marcelo. Noong linggo bago umalis si Ellen, gabi-gabi itong umiiyak sa loob ng banyo, tuwing bago tatabihan si Dan sa pagtulog. At sa linggong iyon bago umalis si Ellen, gabi-gabi ring ipinapangako ni Marcelo kay Ellen na aalagaan niya si Dan habang wala ito. Pagbali ng pangako o pagsisinungaling ang pinakakinamumuhian ni Marcelo na gawin. Tila namimilipit ang kaniyang bituka kung may naipangako siyang hindi niya kayang tuparin o kung magsinungaling. Hindi niya alam kung bakit. Ganoon na siya mula noong bata siya. Kaya basang-basa siya ng kaniyang mga magulang o mga kapatid kung may bumabagabag sa kaniya dahil napapangiwi siya palagi kung may dinaramdam siya. Nang umalis si Ellen, gabi-gabi, bago matulog, tinatanong ni Dan kung kailan uuwi ang kaniyang ina. “Hindi ngayong gabi” o kaya’y “Matagal pa, alam mo na naman iyon” ang laging sagot ni Marcelo. Hindi siya nagsisinungaling o naglilihim ngunit pakiramdam niya’y may ginagawa siyang mali. Kaya’t noong mga panahong iyon, hindi siya halos makakain dahil sa tila pamimilipit ng bituka. Hanggang hindi na nagtatanong si Dan tungkol sa paguwi ng kaniyang ina. Tumigil ang mga tanong ni Dan kasama ng tila pamimilipit ng bituka ni Marcelo ngunit hindi ang nakasanayan ni Dan na pagdungaw sa bintana o ang pakiramdam ni Marcelo na may ginagawa siyang mali. Alas-sais na nang makabalik ng bahay si Marcelo. Nagbakasakali siyang nakauwi na si Dan habang wala siya. Ngunit wala pa rin ang kaniyang anak. Hindi rin niya nasalubong sa daan si Dan. Hinintay niya sa sala ang kaniyang anak. Ipinatong niya sa coffee table ang pencil case ng kaniyang anak at ang susi ng scooter. Umupo siya sa sopa at

34 | Issue One


kinuha ang kaniyang selfon, nagtext at pagkatapos ay tumawag sa selfon ni Dan. Tinawagan na rin niya ang lahat ng kakilala’t kamag-anak niya, nagbabakasakaling pumunta sa kanila si Dan. Ngunit hindi pumunta si Dan sa mga tinawagan ni Marcelo at hindi nila alam kung nasaan ang kaniyang anak. Dumudungaw siya paminsan-minsan sa bintana, sa pagitan ng pagtawag sa mga kakilala’t kamag-anak. Bawat kaluskos o yabag o ingay ay dinudungaw niya. Ngunit walang Dan siyang nakikita. Naubos na ang lahat ng kakilala’t kamag-anak na matatawagan. Nagpatuloy lamang siya sa paghihintay kay Dan. Puno ang kabinet ng mga laruan at kagamitang nabili niya o padala ni Ellen nitong nakalipas na taon. Mga pigurin, shot glass, picture frame na may larawan nilang pamilya. Bilang ni Marcelo ang lahat ng nasa kabinet na iyon. Kabisado ang bawat isa. Mayroon doong dalawampu’t limang pigurin ng angel na paboritong kolektahin ni Ellen. Pito dito’y binili mula nang umalis si Ellen patungong Singapore. Mayroon ding labing-isang laruang robot na paboritong laruin ni Dan, nakalagay doon sa kabinet para masubaybayan ni Marcelo ang oras ng paglalaro ni Dan. Mayroon din iyong sampung larawan nilang magpamilya na naka-frame. Mga litrato na kinuha sa iba’t ibang okasyon—ang unang kaarawan ni Dan, si Ellen noong nasa kolehiyo pa lamang ito, si Marcelo na buhat-buhat sa kaniyang braso ang sanggol na si Dan noong binyag nito, si Dan noong graduation mula sa kinder. Hinihintay ni Marcelong madagdagan ang mga litrato na iyon kapag nakapagbakasyon na si Ellen sa Pilipinas. Mayroon din iyong anim na shot glass na iniipon ni Marcelo. Hindi alam kung bakit tuwang-tuwa siya sa maliit na baso na iyon. Iyon ang binibili niya sa mga lugar na pinuputahan nilang pamilya noong nasa Pilipinas pa si Ellen. At nangako si Ellen na bibilhan at pasasalubungan niya si Marcelo ng mga shot glass sa pag-uwi nito. Alam ni Marcelo ang lahat ng bagay na naroroon. Bawat isa. Dahil tuwing Sabado ng umaga’y pinupunasan niya ang mga iyon. Tinatanggalan niya ng alikabok. Inilalagay sa tamang lugar. At habang naghihintay at nakatitig sa mga gamit na ito, sumilid sa kaniyang isipan ang kung ano-anong mga ideya. Hindi kaya hinablot si Dan ng isang masamang-loob? Isang kidnaper kaya? Dahil lang nars sa ibang bansa si Ellen? Ngunit hindi naman talaga sila mayaman at wala silang maipambabayad sa isang ransom. Sindikato kaya iyong nanghahablot ng mga bata para ibenta o gawing pulubi sa Maynila? Napuno ng kung ano-anong mga pangyayari at dahilan ang kaniyang isipan. At binalot ng takot ang kaniyang puso at lalong namilipit ang kaniyang bituka. Hindi na siya mapakali. Kinuha niya ang susi ng kaniyang scooter mula sa ibabaw ng mesita at lumabas ng bahay.

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Pagbukas niya ng tarangkahan, nabanaagan niya ang isang batang nakatayo sa likod ng isang poste. Tila kamukha ni Dan. Nilapitan ni Marcelo ang poste ngunit nawala na ang bata. Isinigaw niya ang pangalan ni Dan ngunit walang sumagot. Inisip niya kung nababaliw na ba siya. Napahaplos siya sa kaniyang noo bago siya bumalik sa kaniyang bahay at kinuha ang kaniyang scooter. Bukas na ang mga ilaw sa poste nang tahakin ni Marcelo ang daan sakay ng kaniyang scooter. Kung saan siya patungo, hindi na niya alam. Gusto lamang niyang matagpuan ang kaniyang anak. Tinahak niya’t siniyasat ang bawat lansangan, kalye, kanto, at eskinita na madadaanan niya. At sa bawat pagliko sa isang kanto at pagpasok sa isang kalye, inaasahan niyang matatagpuan ang kaniyang anak; nakatayo sa ilalim ng ilaw-poste o sinisipa-sipa ang isang bato o naglalakad na pauwi. Ngunit hindi niya nadatnan si Dan. Ibang taong naglalakad at mga kotseng napadadaan lamang ang nakasasalubong niya. Mag-aalas-syete na nang pumunta sa pulisya si Marcelo. Wala na siyang iba pang maisip na puntahan. Nilapitan niya ang desk ng isang pulis. Napansin niya sa loob ang isang lalaking nasa loob ng selda. Unang naisip ni Marcelo ang naglipanang mga drug pusher sa bayan nila. Inisip niya kung may kinalaman kaya ang mga drug pusher sa kaniyang nawawalang anak? Nagbabasa ng diyaryo ang pulis na nasa likod ng desk. “Nawawala po ang anak ko,” unang sinabi ni Marcelo sa pulis. “Nawawala ‘ka n’yo? Teka,” sabi ng pulis. Kinuha ng pulis ang blotter at binuksan ito. “Kelan pa siya nawala?” tanong ng pulis habang naghanda siyang magsulat sa blotter. “Dapat nakauwi na ho siya kanina,” sabi ni Marcelo, “pagkaawas galing sa paaralan.” “Hindi mo siya sinundo?” tanong ng pulis habang nagsusulat. “Kapag nakauwi po ako’t wala siya sa bahay, nadaan akong paaralan. Pero kanina, wala po siya sa paaralan nag sunduin ko na siya.” “Wala sa mga kakilala n’yo?” “Wala rin po.” “Meron kayong litrato niya?” Kinuha ni Marcelo ang isang litrato mula sa kaniyang pitaka. Sa litrato, magkakasama silang tatlo nina Ellen at Dan tulad ng mga litrato sa kabinet nila sa sala. Kinuha ang litratong iyon halos dalawang taon na ang nakararaan. Magkakatabi sila sa Mines View Park nang magbakasyon sila sa Baguio kasama ng mga magulang at kapatid ni Ellen. “Ilang taon na’ng anak n’yo?” tanong ng pulis. “Magsasampu na.” “Alalang-alala siguro ang asawa n’yo, ano?” “Hindi pa po niya alam. Nasa Singapore siya.”

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“Ganoon ba?” Ibinalik ng pulis ang litrato. “Bigyan n’yo po ako ng mas bagong litrato ng anak n’yo. Mukhang luma na iyan.” Hinalungkat ni Marcelo ang kaniyang pitaka ngunit wala siyang makitang bagong litrato ni Dan. “Hayaan n’yo. Balik na lang kayo pag nakakita kayo ng bago,” sabi ng pulis. “Sa ngayon, wala pa po kaming magagawa hangga’t hindi siya nawawala nang 24 na oras. Ang puwede lang naming gawin ay balitaan kayo kung may dumaan o kung may magbalita sa amin na may nakita silang nawawalang bata. Pahingi na lamang po ng inyong number para masabihan namin kayo.” Inabutan ng pulis si Marcelo ng papel at bolpen. Isinulat doon ni Marcelo ang numero ng kaniyang selfon. “Salamat ho,” sabi ni Marcelo habang ibinalik ang papel at bolpen. “Babalik na lang ulit ako bukas.” Paglabas ng presinto, napakapit si Marcelo sa kaniyang tiyan. Matigas na ito. Hindi na niya halos ramdam ang kaniyang tila namimilipit na bituka. Ngunit alam niyang namimilipit pa rin ito. Huminga siya nang malalim upang bahagyang lumuwag ang kaniyang tiyan. Pinag-isipan ni Marcelo, habang nakasakay sa scooter, kung tatawagan ba niya si Ellen at ibalita ang nangyari kay Dan. Sigurado siyang magagalit si Ellen at mag-aalala. Halos anim na buwang hindi nagtrabaho si Ellen para lamang alagaan si Dan. Ngunit kahit na ano man ang maisip niyang magiging reaksiyon ni Ellen, hindi niya kayang magsinungaling sa kaniyang asawa. Pagkauwing-pagkauwi, tatawagan niya si Ellen. Iniisip na niya kung ano ang kaniyang sasabihin kay Ellen nang makita niya si Dan. Natanaw niyang may naglalakad sa madilim na dulo ng kalye. Namukhaan lamang niya ang kaniyang anak nang maliwanagan si Dan ng ilaw-poste. Binilisan niya ang takbo ng scooter at agad na tumabi kay Dan. Pagbabasa scooter ay hindi na napigilan ni Marcelo ang kaniyang sarili sa pagtatanong. “Saan ka nagpunta? Anong nangyari? Tinawagan kita. Anong nangyari sa cellphone mo?

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Bakit ngayon ka lang umuwi?” Tinanong niya ang mga tanong na ito habang nakakapit ang kaniyang mga kamay sa mga balikat ni Dan. “Pumunta lang po ako kina Teddy,” sagot ni Dan. “Sino si Teddy?” tanong ni Marcelo. Wala nang iba pang paliwanag na ibinigay si Dan. Tinanaw niya ang direksiyong pinanggalingan ni Dan, inisip kung saan nanggaling ang kaniyang anak, saan ba ang bahay nitong Teddy na iyon. Sa mga bahagi ng kalye na hindi lubusang naiilawan ng ilaw poste, may nabanaagan siyang anino ng dalawang tao. Sa liwanag ng headlight ng isang dumaang kotse, nakita ni Marcelo ang hitsura ng dalawang tao: si Marcelo at si Dan. Kamukha niya at ng kaniyang anak ang mga taong iyon. At paglagpas ng kotse’y nawala na ang dalawang iyong tila kambal niya at ng kaniyang anak. Isang kilabot ang gumapang sa kaniyang likod. Sumakay si Marcelo sa scooter at pinaangkas niya sa kaniyang likod si Dan. “Kumapit ka nang mabuti,” sabi ni Marcelo kay Dan. At nang mahigpit na ang pagkakayapos ni Dan sa kaniya, umusad na sila pauwi. Tinitingnan-tingnan niya ang salamin ng scooter para malaman kung may sumusunod sa kanila. Mahigpit ang kapit ni Dan sa kaniyang tiyan ngunit hindi mawala-wala ang pakiramdam ni Marcelo na tila namimilipit ang kaniyang bituka. Na may mali sa nangyayari. Na may nawawala pa rin mula sa kaniya. Alam ni Marcelo na iyon ang daan pauwi sa bahay nila. Pero sa kadiliman ng gabi, tila iisa lamang ang hitsura ng bawat kanto, ng bawat kalye.

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Christoffer Mitch C. Cerda  Tubong San Pablo City, Laguna. Guro sa Kagawaran ng Filipino ng Ateneo de Manila University. Nagtapos ng BFA Creative Writing at MA Panitikang Filipino sa parehong pamantasan. Inilathala ng NCCA at AILAP ang chapbook ng kaniyang mga maikling kuwento, ang “Paglalayag Habang Naggagala ang Hilaga at Iba Pang Kuwento” bilang bahagi ng UBOD New Author Series II noong 2010. Unti-unti siyang natututong magluto.


There is a door down the basement

The rasping sounds pull her out of her sleep. She elbows her husband. There it is again, she says. It is several hours past midnight, and he hasn’t slept a wink. He had wasted hours staring at their blue curtains, ornately printed with metallic impressions of foliage. Damask curtains, she would say if she heard him thinking. I’m going down there, she says almost to herself. And do what? he asks. She turns to him violently. Have you been awake all this time? Did you check the time when it started? She’s anxious now, and her thoughts are careening in every which way. Do you want some warm milk? he asks by habit. She leans against the kitchen sink, hugging herself while staring at the pot of evaporated milk he’s heating on the stove. Does it still hurt? he asks. It’s driving me crazy, that noise, and she starts crying. He reaches out to brush her hair back. You know how it is in the movies, when they hear something odd and they try to find out what it is. They’d take a look inside a closet, or under the bed, or behind the door, and we say to them: Why do that, stupid? She cracks a smile, and lifts the mug of warmed milk to her lips. He chooses not to talk about it, knowing she can’t bear the weight just yet: a week ago, she lost another baby. He can tell when the thought barges into her head, and just as she takes her third sip her face sinks. She turns and narrows her gaze on the stairwell leading down to the basement. The couple had bought the house in Malate about five years into their marriage. When the real estate broker showed them around, the wife mentioned how it reminded her much of her grandmother’s home. She could smell it, the aged hardwood the house was built of. There’s also a basement, the broker had told them, unusual but very Americanstyle. There’s no pattern to it, is there? Two, three times a week? she says. The rasping is not at all aggressive; it sounds more like a bed in constant rearrangement. At times they think it’s a couch, or a

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dining table, or a wooden cabinet; always something heavy, so that the legs would grind against what sounded like marble floors. And I can’t remember when this all began. I think I was in the toilet, brushing my teeth. He is silent and somber, even as she starts laughing. I should be taking those painting sessions already, but with all the racket, hay! She flings her hands in the air. All right, all right, he says, his voice hard and brittle. Her breathing softens. They open the door and turn on the light. The noise grows heavier. Is it there? she asks. On any other day the basement is an empty room, raw in its cement finishing. As he descends, there he sees the white door at the other end. It doesn’t look freshly painted or decrepit. It’s peculiar only in its ordinariness, given the situation. They sit on the dusty floor, and stare at the door, and listen to the dull screeches of what they now think is a bookshelf. I got those tickets, he says. We leave by May. The weather will be nice in May, she says, standing up and approaching the door. She’s much paler, he observes, and he thinks she’d say, I’ve always been like this. And he wishes she’d say something mundane and off topic like that now. Are you going to open it? he asks. Maybe we’ll see them this time. You’ll be disappointed. She turns the knob and gently pushes the door open. Well? Nothing, she answers, but it feels closer, like I could stub my toe if I take another step. So don’t. But you hear it so clearly you can almost see it. A bed this time, but bigger, heavier; the antique type, with those twisting posts and linen hanging from above, like my grandmother’s in Davao. I wonder why they can’t ever find the right place for it. He calls her out and she turns. Do you really want to go in? She nods. Like the movies then? I knew you’d say that. You won’t be much help rearranging furniture. She smiles. He stands, dusting himself off, avoiding her eyes. Maybe I’ll join you later, he says. I would like that. She faces the door and steps into the thick of the dark. He comes down the stairs, clean-shaven and fresh out of a bath. He settles down in his chair before getting dressed for work, as is his daily ritual. It is quiet in the morning, he thinks. He lifts his head up, taking in the sweet, warm scent of milk from the kitchen.

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Joshua Lim So ď Ľ Joshua Lim So has been shortlisted for the 23rd BBC International Playwriting Competition, cited in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror 20th Annual Collection, and has received the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for his full-length and one-act plays in English and Filipino. He has translated and adapted plays for local and international theater companies, and his stories have appeared in several publications, including A Different Voice (PEN 50th Anniversary Fiction Anthology) and Best of Philippine Speculative Fiction. He graduated from De La Salle University, and is teaching playwriting at Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay Temple. He is currently the artistic director of Destiyero Theater Commune, an independent theater company based in Manila, and chef/owner and occasional busboy of Exile on Main St.


The Patient

Date: August 21, 2011 Patient: Ma. Lourdes Gomez-Cui For: Colorectal Cancer Attending Physician: Dr. Heinrich Ong

This pain in the ass told Dr. Ong she was good to interview. At least that’s what he told me, and he was probably telling the truth, because you know how patients suck up to their doctors like that. And the second I got to her room she was all pissy and trying to show how inconvenienced she was by me, like it was my fault she got anal prolapse. That’s the thing about this job: they look at you like some random, low-level employee, just one of the barely skilled administration people the hospital just happens to need to get all that soul-siphoning paperwork going while everyone else is out there being heroes, Saving Lives. But the truth is, I can string an English sentence together and most of them can’t. (Seriously! Even some doctors! You can apparently pass med school illiterate!) It was actually okay if Patient was a bitch, if she had given me something to work with during the interview, but that wasn’t the case. I’d ask her something reasonably juicy, like, say, “What was going through your mind when Dr. Ong told you you needed surgery,” and she’d be like, “Well, he said I needed it.” And then she’d leave it at that, staring at me in that impatient, exasperated way big-name actors stare reporters down in press junkets. I was told beforehand that her husband was a famous painter, but I’d never heard of him, so I figured he was one of those farmer-in-the-rice-fields or farm-lass-with-basket-of-mangoes

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kind of painters who don’t really matter anymore, and therefore does not make her any more important or glamorous than the other patients I interview. Worse, she told me that a lot of my questions were too personal to answer. But it’s not like I was asking how her catheter affected her sex life, or how the consistency of her shit had changed in the course of her arduous journey. Other patients have readily told me the poor habits that led to their illnesses, or described the fear they felt getting wheeled into the OR. But this one, this Ma. Lourdes Gomez-Cui, was as cooperative as a tumor. How I’ll to get that 450-word count I still don’t know. Dr. Ong did give me a lot of information on how he did the surgery, down to the last bloody stitch. But, it’s in five handwritten pages, because he wasn’t comfortable around a tape recorder. Didn’t like how he sounded on tape, he said, which is pretty fucking stupid since it wasn’t like he, or anyone else but me, would have to listen to it. So now I have to go through five pages of medical jargon written in classic doctor’s chicken scratch and figure out how to tell a story worth the X,000 pesos the hospital pays the Inquirer for advertorial space each week. Best job in the world.

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Date: August 23, 2011 Patient: Miguelito Razon For: Laparoscopic Gastric Banding (Obesity) Attending Physician: Dr. Baby Castro

Sometimes, the most poignant conversations happen in the control room for a magnificent medical machine, while watching a 335-pound man have his stomach literally squeezed to a fraction of its size. It’s a little terrifying how Doc Baby can be so chatty while joysticking her way through someone’s insides, but I’m thankful she can nevertheless. She’s always been so nice to me, one of the few doctors here who manage not to sound parental or condescending, but it’s the first time we’ve had a really real conversation going. It started when I gave her a copy of the feature I wrote on her for All Woman magazine months ago. It’s not like I invested any ounce of my soul into writing this thing; it was just another PR job the department asked of me, but she loved it. She loved it so much, she had it framed and hung at the reception nook of her clinic. It didn’t matter if it didn’t have a byline; if I happened to be at her clinic while one of her patients was there, she’d always point out to them that I’d written it, and that I was so incredibly talented, that it didn’t sound like fluff, etcetera etcetera. And it really wasn’t fluff, because Doc Baby really was good at what she did, and she did seem like a good person to me, because she spoke about her work with the kind of wonder and excitability that couldn’t be anything but absolutely, staggeringly true. She spoke about helping the morbidly obese live far healthier, functional lives, and while some would see this as frivolous amidst, say, third world poverty and strife or the mortifying rate at which the polar ice caps are melting, it definitely didn’t seem that way when you were with her. It was easy to write about her. It was also easy to take her advice very seriously.

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“Do you even get paid well here?” she asked, her eyes fixed on a small black panel with a mass of dot matrix numbers clambering upwards like ants. “I hope it falls under your rate.” I didn’t even have a rate. I had no idea how much writers were supposed to charge, let alone how much they deserved to be paid. I’d just been taking whatever job skittered my way since graduating, deathly afraid each time that it was my only chance at having any semblance of a salary in my entire life. “You should try getting published. Work on a book,” she went on. A set of digits blinked on the screen, and this prompted her to flip a couple of switches and jot something down on a notepad. Patient didn’t seem fazed in any way by her actions, but in truth, some foreign object had just been commanded to move around deep inside of him, to hold onto his insides in very severely specific ways and degrees in pursuit of something good. “My sister’s husband is in publishing. He focuses more on interior design books but I’m sure he knows who to ask.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this from people. And I have very much gone out of my way to do something over the past few years. I do have a book. It is done, complete. Four years of fiction collected, each piece having braved and survived the scrutiny of the people who mattered in these things, most of which even anointed as proof that, somehow, I was the Future, that my words and how I arranged them would actually matter in this country’s grand and esteemed literary tradition, if you believed in that sort of horseshit. I was introduced to people with a flurry of superlatives—brilliant,

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ingenious, extraordinary. And each of those twelve stories had been published at least once, mostly twice, and was not ignored. I even used to get mail from people my age who fawned over what I’d written, and who wanted to be just like me. Me! Those fucking idiots! Was I delusional to think that having this book accepted for print made sense? I had played by the rules—got read by the right people; got published in the right places; got loved—and it felt in every conceivable way like my time was nigh. I submitted the manuscript to three university presses and a major publishing house. Only one university and the publishing house bothered to reply, and both said what dumbed down to the same thing: You need to stick to a genre. It’s not sci-fi enough. It’s not realist enough. It’s not erotica enough. But I never really stuck to one in the first place. The very idea of putting forth a collection that only fell under a single, specific category never crossed my mind, let alone appeal to me. But it was supposed to occur to me, apparently. Starting another story after that felt like having to clean up my own vomit. I know the opportunities are still very much there, and that I just really need to keep at it, to just keep doing what I’ve been doing over and over until someone finally, wholeheartedly grasps it, and fully, passionately understands why there should be a clamor for it, but I was exhausted. It sounds cowardly, and it is. But that didn’t make me feel any less like a whole lot of nothing. “Yes, try getting published,” Doc Baby went on. “I don’t think I know anyone half as good as you, and at your age! You know, I tried my hand at writing, too. But I could never get past that first sentence. It never sounded right, or it sounded like something someone else had

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written before. You, you can write whatever you want and it would be so much better than the stuff most people read now. I’m very serious, you know. This is something you deserve to have.” Half of me believed in her confidence, in the idea that I actually bore this hefty amount of worth. The other half reminded me that it wasn’t like she was the sharpest critic I’d ever come across. She spent most of her days making fat people thin, not poring through manuscripts of literature’s younglings. But I was thankful. “Grab a snack first, dear. I’ll text you when Mr. Razon’s dressed up and ready.” “Oh, he’s done?” I said, realizing right after that this was the first thing I’d said since entering the room. So it wasn’t much of a conversation between us, technically, but it was still the closest thing I’d had here to human interaction that actually mattered. “It was just a tightening. These lap bands will stretch out over time just like giant strips of rubber. I think this is his third session, actually; I can double-check with Myrna. Too bad you didn’t see him when he was 512, though. He couldn’t even stand up! Seriously!” I watched as a nurse entered the other room and began peeling off and plucking out a host of white and grey objects from Patient, and imagined the slow, sticky, sucking sound this must be making, and how Patient would wake up a decidedly changed man, with only tacky spots on his body belying what it took to alter him so. And then he would go on to live an even more improved version of his life, an improvement from his already astounding previous improvement, and all he had to do was nap on a cold, hard surface every once in a while, and maybe let a girl he’s never met watch him quietly from behind a thick wall of glass.

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Date: August 30, 2011 Patient: Ma. Lourdes Gomez-Cui For: Colorectal Cancer Attending Physician: Dr. Heinrich Ong

I’m here at my desk in the Corporate Communications Department, waiting to get fired. I don’t know what’s taking so long. I guess those scenes in movies where the boss just shouts “You’re fired,” seconds after whatever horrible mishap transpired doesn’t happen as often in real life, although honestly, I’m really surprised Miss Susan didn’t make an exception in this case, because I’d just fire me, too. Ma. Lourdes Gomez-Cui, my asshole Patient du jour, is currently in the OR again for emergency surgery. Something to do with her previous prolapse surgery not healing as expected, due in great part to the fact that she’s spent the past two days incredibly stressed, pacing an entire wing of the hospital while on one hysterical phone call after another. She isn’t even supposed to get out of bed, or do anything more strenuous than surfing channels. And she says it’s all because of me, the “child” with her grown-up-person tape recorder and dearth of human decency. My piece on her came out in the Inquirer a couple of days ago. Prime real estate, too: a full spread on the front page of the Lifestyle section. Miss Susan probably struck a deal with the editor—a sweet spot in exchange for a one-on-one with Robby Molina, who broke his arm filming a dirt bike scene for Sana’y Ikaw na Lang Ang Ikang Iibigin Magpakailanman, and was now a fixture in the Physical Rehab Department. Anyway, Patient even had a really good picture of herself, hair all coiffed and shit, with one of her husband’s rice paddy paintings crisp in the background. I would’ve been thrilled if I cared about such things. Patient, as it turned out, cared about certain other things. Like the fact that I mentioned the condition that made me write the piece on her in the first place. Patient had told Miss Susan that she was completely mortified that she came out in the paper at all. She didn’t

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even know about it until a dozen or so of her kumares called her up, expressing their shock at this sudden bit of press—and one that was so revelatory to boot! And she told Miss Susan that she’d never, ever been so embarrassed. That child who wrote about me, she wrote about my condition in that area of my body. Now everyone will be thinking of that area of me, of what’s been going on there, in that place. Doesn’t she know who my husband is? Doesn’t she realize the trauma this is causing? I am traumatized. I have never been so humiliated in my life. How can I show myself in public? Everyone will be talking about that, about that disgusting thing. It was a secret. It was my private business, and that child had no right to put it out there for everyone to see. Normally, I would argue vehemently that Patient did sign a waiver stating, in so many words that, yes, I had every right to put it out there for everyone to see. The problem was, about an hour after her little tirade with Miss Susan, her wounds down there took a turn for the worse, and she started hemorrhaging all over her sheets. They’re not 100% sure yet what caused it, but Dr. Ong’s considered her sudden, aggravated state as a viable factor. She needed bed rest, and instead, she had a cow. Maybe I should quit? Maybe I should freelance, do what so many others like me would do and just scrounge up SEO content writing jobs here and there and just figure it out from one day to the next? Right now, that sounds so much better than waiting in this cluster of filing cabinets and roller chairs for any word on whether I’d killed that bitch. Unless they put me in prison or something. Okay, I know that’s not very likely, but fuck it, that waiver was still a joke.

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Date: August 30, 2011 Patient: Agripina Baluyot For: Glaucoma Attending Physician: Dr. Mark Stephen Mauhay

Still haven’t heard from Ms. Susan. I suppose it’s a good thing that Dr. Mauhay, who has no clue about what had happened, called to remind me that his patient was ready to talk, so I at least don’t have to trap myself in my head any longer than I already have. Patient had just undergone surgery for glaucoma, using a super-advanced laser treatment the hospital wanted to market to death. Patient was old, 68, and had bandages wound over her eyes. Normally, I don’t have much luck interviewing the more elderly of the infirm. They’re hard of hearing, or have shot memories, or chew their words, or shout their answers at me like I was the deaf one or, in one ridiculous case, answer everything in perfectly modulated, charmingly enthusiastic Kapampangan which, to my ears, was just thirty long minutes of mekeni mekeni mekeni. But this Patient was pretty sharp. When I asked her who accompanied her here, she gave a snort worthy of a disenchanted adolescent. “Nobody.” “Who’s picking you up?” “I’ll have the nurse take me to the taxis, and the driver’ll take me to the front door.” “It sounds like you thought this through, Ms. Baluyot.” “I’m not an idiot,” she said heartily. “I have a plan.” Turns out she’d been living alone for well over a decade. She’d never married nor had children. When she said she did embroidery and beadwork for a living, I assumed she was just another one of those little old lady seamstresses with a humble shop and long-time friends and neighbors for clientele, but apparently, she was a pretty big deal among the matrona set. Should’ve known, though, because the bills this hospital imposes are horrific. “Some of my dresses are in the Museum of the Filipino,” she said when I asked her to talk about it more, flicking the fact away like a little ball of lint. “I didn’t donate them, though; I’m not one of those. It’s just that they were worn by people who were apparently important. I knew some of them were famous for all sorts of things, but displaying their clothes? Because their bodies were in them once? I find it strange. Don’t you think it’s strange, Cecilia?”

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It’s always very strange when I hear someone call me by my name here. I scrunched my face between a yes and a no. “It’s also about how good your clothes are,” I offered. “I don’t think they’d put a t-shirt up there just because someone famous wore it. They’re kind of honoring you, too.” “Oh? You’ve seen my clothes?” Patient asked, shooting me a sly look. She seemed to be the kind of person who was always in a fighting mood, who always managed to turn every civil conversation into an argument. But I had a hunch she was just trying to liven things up for its own sake. “No,” I replied. “But, well, I wouldn’t think you’d lie to me.” It was true that I hadn’t seen any of her work, although I could already imagine the obsessive beadwork, hugging against bodices like the loveliest armor; and the full skirts of piña fiber, ivory strands woven into creamy stripes and ghostly lattices. Heavy, itchy clothes, for sure. But beautiful beyond measure. “You think I wouldn’t lie to you? Where is this coming from? Have we known each other for years?” Patient pressed cockily. I hung my head down, mocking defeat. “Do you believe you worked hard, though?” I asked after a few moments, determined to keep busy. “Of course I did. See these?” She thrust out her open palms and revealed fingers caked in calloused skin. Her flesh was quite pale, however, so they looked more like a delicate, pearlescent fungus, like something you would pay good money to dig out from the ground. “But all the fuss people make afterwards just feels very wrong. These people, honestly, I think they’re just idiots with nothing better to do. I feel dirty just talking about it. I really don’t think I deserve to be treated this way.” “Treated this way?” I echoed incredulously. “I don’t think they’re doing anything bad to you. Pretty much the

opposite. At least that’s how it looks like. You worked hard. People who work hard deserve praise. Some are lucky enough to actually get it, like you.” Patient gave out an actual snort, then tilted her face toward me in such a way that she seemed to be staring at me directly through her bindings, like her eyesight could laser a path through every beige thread. “I worked hard, dear. But everyone’s supposed to work hard for what they love. So all these awards, this recognition, it’s stupid. It’s stupid. Everyone’s an idiot for thinking that doing something you’re supposed to do deserves a prize.” “I guess you could look at it that way.” “I can.” The door suddenly cracked open, and Dr. Mauhay’s face poked through, looking fat and happy. “How are you doing, Ms. Baluyot?” he asked, slipping in. “Has Cecilia squeezed the life story out of you?” “I’m fine,” Patient replied, marinating in her own vagueness. “I’ve gone through your latest x-rays, and you’ll have all this stuff off by Wednesday at the latest. Isn’t that good news?” “Yes. So I can get back to work.” “You’re still sewing? Seriously?” I asked in surprise. “Shouldn’t you be retired?” “Oh, I asked her the same thing,” Dr. Mauhay said with a shake of his head. “She’s a stubborn one.” “I am,” Patient admitted. She said it without a trace of remorse. She appeared, all of a sudden, like a poor, pitiful Lady Justice, her blindfold looking so noble and tight. And while she may have been perfectly proud of her resolve, I just couldn’t decide if this was even a good thing. She was her own person, and that was very good, but at the same time she was glaringly alone. “I am stubborn,” Patient said again. “I sew clothes. Yes? What else can I do?”

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Date: August 31, 2011 Patient: Ma. Lourdes Gomez-Cui For: Colorectal Cancer Attending Physician: Dr. Heinrich Ong

The last time I was on TV, it was in a news snippet on this reading organized by a high-end bookstore, where I read an excerpt from a story I wrote, and whose audience was comprised mainly of the very people invited to read their works, plus a smattering of their friends. It was a soundless clip: just a few seconds of me mouthing a sentence to a microphone while the reporter’s voiceover said something about the store’s refurbished Filipiniana section. And I didn’t mind then, because I was already overjoyed at thought of being remotely associated with local literature in the eyes of the mainstream media, for a sad little girl was I. Now, however, a microphone was being thrust right in my face, with about ten pairs of eyes and the seething red dot of a large video camera trained at me, and I was not feeling particularly jubilant, or proud. Patient wasn’t dead. She was going to have to stay much, much longer thanks to the emergency surgery, but at least none of her kin were writing eulogies and daydreaming of me rotting in prison—at least, that was how Ms. Susan explained it to me. Furthermore—and this was the part I didn’t know how to feel about—Patient decided she would not sue the hospital provided certain “requests” were met: 1) She would be moved from her current room in the Executive Wing to the Presidential Suite, free of charge; 2) Dishes from La Cocina Terecita, her favorite restaurant, including but not limited to callos, lengua, paella, and pavlova, be delivered to her hospital room twice daily for the duration of her stay;

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3) She would have lifetime unlimited access to all spa services at the hospital’s Holistic Wellness Center, including the twohour gold leaf rub and wrap; 4) The hospital, as an institution, would have a halfspread press release out on major dailies apologizing profusely for the incident; and, finally; 5) I, as an individual, would make my own public apology at a press conference arranged by the hospital, during which all major news crews had fair game. “Just read it, dear,” Ms. Susan mumbled into my ear, referring to the statement she and I had punched out at the Corp Comm office the night before. It was the kind of statement the word “groveling” was coined for, where every syllable dinged like a cash register being opened and emptied. I skimmed through each paragraph, my head swirling. With utmost remorse. Rueful and reprehensible act. Fully culpable. To atone and make reparations. Negligence. Transgression. Respectful, regretful. “May we have your statement, Ms. Cordero?” one of the TV reporters asked, giving a blatant glance at her wristwatch, outright hinting at her big and important day of hopping from one staggering, historic event to the next. Someone trained an extra light on my face. I could imagine everyone I knew flipping through their TVs later that evening and suddenly finding my bewildered mug on their screens. They’d wonder what the hell I was there for, and would doggedly brace themselves for the words that would come out of my

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mouth. But what would I say? What message could I proffer that could make the best possible use of my rare and unusual advantage? Dear everyone. Today, I have been tasked to announce that I have done something horribly, horrendously wrong, and that because of it, I should be despised at worst, and forgiven at best. But instead, I am going to take advantage of this opportunity to let everyone know that, beginning today, I am going to shed all pretense of needing this 9-to-5 dreck, writing things I do not love, and move on to what I truly want to do with the rest of my life. It’s going to be difficult. In fact, it’s going to suck, big time. Because here’s what has to happen: I will have to move back to my parent’s house. I will have to be on a never-ending search for rackets here and there—cheap, brainless labor I can amass to form the equivalent of one decent paycheck a month, but without the constraints of contracts and offices and pretending to respect corporate values. I will have to spend a much, much longer time per day writing my stories, punching out little spurts of words in between long stretches of conceptualizing and second-guessing and staring at the computer screen in writerly fury, because being persistent and prolific is key. I will have to remain steadfast and loyal to my written output, and not fall prey to what other people think is right and wrong about what I made. I will have to strike that torturous balance between being present at all necessary literati events yet still managing not to care about the goings-on, simply assuring my existence without giving any thoughts or feelings away. I will have to get respect without asking for it. I will have to receive praise from someone without being obliged to praise that someone in return. “It is with utmost remorse that I admit to this rueful and reprehensible act,” I said. “And because I am fully culpable, I do promise to atone and make reparations with Mrs. Gomez-Cui. It was an act of outright negligence, almost a transgression towards what I, as an employee of this hospital, stand for, and I truly am sorry. I will strive to be respectful and regretful from this point forward. Thank you.” And just like that, the light blinding me was shut off, and I could sense the immediate withdrawal of all attention from me and whatever I had to offer. And at first, I felt relief. I felt colder and lighter. And that stayed with me for a few seconds, up until this teeny tiny ball of heat began glowing right in the middle of my stomach, and began growing larger and larger and larger, so much that it became this huge, flat mass of heat radiating from below my neck, and it was starting to stifle, to creep upwards and swell up my throat, as if trying to smoke certain words out of me, words like, “Wait! Come back! I’m sorry! Let me tell you something! If you could just give me a minute! Let me tell you what I’m really sorry about!”

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Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon  Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon is a Social Media Producer for Rappler, and Editor-in-Chief of the Filipino Freethinkers’ website.



She should have known that her relationship with September would end. His name had three Es, and if you had three tiles of the same letter, you had to trade them in. Well, never mind, he was with Amanda now, another person who shared his name’s characteristic. She saw them together once; they were holding hands, exiting the movie house, having watched some cheesy romantic flick she wouldn’t have wanted to watch with him anyway. She had met September in June. She was in her junior year, sitting at computer class, done with the day’s task, bored and browsing random websites on the internet. He was seated beside her, slamming his mouse down with his every mistake, as though it were to blame. He turned to her and asked if she could help with creating hyperlinks for his website project. He told her he was creating a Choose Your Own Adventure type of site where users decided the fate of their main character, except it was more like Choose Your Own Death. Oh, cool! She scooted closer and helped him, their fingers colliding over the keyboard, sorry! Both their hands reaching for the mouse at the same time, sorry! Both reddening and mumbling their apologies over and over again at the slightest touch. He sat beside her during lunch that day and offered her half of his dessert. He told her his name was September. She asked him if it was because he was born on that month, and he shrugged and said, nope, July. Then he started laughing. It’s a joke, lighten up, hahaha. He asked her name. Now Jocelyn took pride in her name. In total it was 19 points; J with 8 points, Y with 4, C with 3, and O, E, L, N with one point each. It was exactly seven letters long without having to repeat a single one. It was as though her parents reached into the velvety bag of tiles and pulled out a Bingo! at the get-go, and every Scrabble player knew that was rare! She believed that her parents had the foresight to carefully consider her name; that names predicted what kind of person you would be in the game of life. Maybe it was the fault of September’s and Amanda’s parents. They gave their children names without thinking, and look at what they turned out to be. But then as she shared the plate of dessert with September, she did not know any of this about him. Funny how as she ate sansrival the day their relationship started, the thought occurred to her that if Plural | 59

she sounded the word out differently, she heard sans rival, felt confident it was a sign that they were meant to be. She found herself counting the number of letters of each word he said, as she often did during conversations. She instantly had a crush on him when he opened his lunchbox and inside was lasagna. That’s seven letters, 9 points. He told her he lived in San Juan, another 14 points. And when he told her his surname was Mendoza, 19 points, she decided she was in love. When she was five, Jocelyn learned to read and spell using her mother’s Scrabble board. Her mother would sit her on her lap during games, and after these, mother would spell out words like ON, rearrange the letters and show how all of a sudden it read NO. Jocelyn found it fascinating. ON meant okay, go ahead, yes, affirmative action. Switch the letters around and access was now denied. Kind of like how her father was with her staying up late, or eating another scoop of ice cream, or sleeping between her parents in their bed. On, no, on, no, on, no, ohno! Change the sequencing of boring BAR into the funnier word BRA and she would immediately envision her Mother’s bras strung up on the clothes line, faded cup Ds flapping in the breeze like tethered balloons with their strings twisted together, struggling to break free. She took to her books immediately after she learned how to read, devouring each one on the little shelf in her room until she finished them all. Hop on Pop. Froggy Learns to Swim. Goodnight Gorilla. Jalapeńo Jal. See Spot Run. I Love You Stinky Face. When she ran out of books, she padded into her parents’ room and announced, I don’t have anything to read. Her father looked up from his newspaper, fussed with her hair and called her Silly, then told her to pick her favorite and just read it again. But when Jocelyn did this, she got frustrated at how she knew what would happen next, at how the words did not change, how the story stayed the same despite reading and re-reading it. From then on, whenever she received a new book, she read through it once and then stuck it into the trashcan by the bathroom. The next day she would be surprised at how it would magically reappear on her bookshelf. One day, Jocelyn watched her mother fold back a roll ofstomach fat to inject herself on the hip with a clear liquid that came from one of

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the very many tiny vials she had lying around the house. What’s that, Mommy? It’s sugar, Honey. Get a teaspoon of sugar, heat it in a low flame- remember to keep stirring!- and put it in little bottles marked Insulin. Why do you need sugar, Mommy? Because life is sweet, Honey Of Mine. Mother had a Humpty Dumpty Took A Dumpy body, Jocelyn’s classmate Gregg said, when she was in second grade. He had laughed and pointed when Jocelyn’s mother fetched her at school, toddling at an ungainly balance, looking more like a child taking its first steps. Mother used to be thin, father used to be able to wrap his arms around her tight in a hug. Jocelyn walked into their room once, they were both naked, their limbs entangled. Jocelyn ran to their room because she heard strange noises all the way outside to where she was playing. Mother said, Daddy was just giving me a bear hug. Oh, so that’s what bear hug means. Mother had grown fat in the last year, but her arms and legs had stayed the skinnysame. Her neck grew lumpy, her face puffed up, her chipmunk cheeks always full, her breasts spilling onto her distended stomach. She started sweating a lot. Walking from one end of the room to the other caused large rings to form on the armpits of her shirts, her forehead and neck were always damp, the thickening fuzz of her upper lip constantly moist. Mother used to wear such clever clothes. Tailored slacks, double breasted- I have two breasts, Honey Of Mine!- blazers, hound’stooth dresses made from teeth of hounds, kitten heels made from heels of kittens who did not behave. Now, she had to wear dusters with loud flowery prints and wide, sensible, flat shoes. Why are they called dusters, Mommy?

They are called dusters because you wear them and roll around and about on the floor to dust the house clean. Mother had a wild laugh. Nowadays, walking makes mother’s bones ache. Mother used to take long walks with her before she had to sit in the wheelchair. They would hold hands and go for ice cream at Matahimik corner Maginhawa. She used to have a nice motherwalk. Father used to come along. They would play Mommyholdsonehand, Daddyholdstheother, and Jocelynswingsupanddown. Mother said it was alright that she was on a wheelchair now since it was a We’llchair, and in the We’llchair, we’ll ride round and round and up and down and back and forth and never tire and never have to take breathers. What’s a breathers, Mommy? Breathers are stopping and stooping low with hands on your knees and dropping your head down to take a breath, because air is fresh closer to the ground. Jocelyn knew breathers; she had to take a breathers behind a tree one time, when Gregg chased her around school with a frog in his hands. Jocelyn did not like feeling ashamed when her mother fetched her at school. She punched her classmate Rorrie on the nose when she said, your mother looks like the moon when it’s full. Your mother is a full moon. She ate the moon! Hahahahahaha! When she started the third grade, she told her mother she wanted to ride the school service going home. Jocelyn disliked school. She found it tedious to come to a class she already knew the answers to. She made no friends, and no one was interested in playing games with her; everyone else enjoying Barbies and blocks and

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tow trucks. She was doing poorly in class not because she didn’t understand the lessons but because she did not participate in lectures or bother in completing her seatwork. She was having a fierce shouting match with yaya after being asked to do her homework one afternoon. She refused, and even threatened to break yaya’s favorite things if she was forced into doing so. Mother would wonder later that night why the pots and pans she had polished religiously every weekend were banged up and littered all over the floor, why the detergent and other cleaning agents were spilled down the drain, a pool of blues and greens and yellows melting into the rusted grating. When her mother saw a sweaty and breathless Jocelyn in the living room, she told her that she would do her Math homework for her if Jocelyn would be in charge of tallying their scores in their Scrabble game. Her mother made a deal with her, that for every time Jocelyn won, she would sign an excuse slip so she could absent herself from school. And so Jocelyn grew up playing against her mother, starting off with two and three letter words, gradually working toward four, five, six, and finally, Bingo!, seven letter words. That earned her plus fifty points. And if she positioned her letters just right, hitting the Premium Word Squares- a Double Word, or better yet, the Triple Word space- well, that just multiplied the amount she would earn by two or three! Her mother would be at the living room waiting for her when she got home from school every day, and they would play a game over their merienda of puto pao. What did you learn at school today? Oh, we read Tarzan. Jocelyn first beat her mother at Scrabble when she was in the third grade. Her mother was sitting in her wheelchair, twirling the Scrabble board this way and that, her lips pursed, a dry and scaly pointer finger poised over her rack of tiles. Finally, she took a letter up, and one by one arranged her tiles from left to right. Her mother laid the tiles I, R, A, T, and E directly under where the board previously read HAM,

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and now the new words HI, AR, MA, and IRATE were formed. Hi, ma, greeted the irate pirate. The letter R fell on the Double Word space on the board, bisecting AR and IRATE. That meant AR was 2 points times 2, IRATE 5 points times 2. HI and MA brought in 9 points. A total of 23. Ar, not bad, mate, not bad, the irate pirate said to ma. Sometimes, you can call your mother ma. Especially when you’re a pirate. Jocelyn had watched her mother play a dozen times ten times. Her mother told her that practice made the difference; that you can have the luckiest hand and still lose if you did not train yourself to spot the best position to place your tiles, if you left openings that your opponents can use to their advantage. She was seated on the couch, her feet dangling in the air. She looked at her letters and adopted the same look of concentration her mother had. Her nose wrinkled as she rearranged them around in their wooden rack. Her back tensed as her eyes widened, why did she not see this until now? She imagined that it must be how pirates felt when they saw treasure, or how Tarzan felt when he saw Jane. Her heart thudding, she placed the letters M, E, T, E, R, E, D under the word IRATE. The words HIM, ARE, MAT, TE, ER and METERED replaced those her Mother had previously spelled out. Him are all that matter, said Jane to Tarzan. Tarzan smiled, Him meet her are all that matter. JunglEnglish is a funny language we speak with chimps and men in noclothes. Even before JunglEnglish, we spoke in grunts and drools. Jane teaches us how to speak PeoplEnglish. Jocelyn’s eyebrows furrowed as she added up her score in her shaky nine-year-old handwriting. METERED alone- M was on the Double Word space- scored 22, but being a Bingo! word meant it had an additional 50 points. HIM, MAT, ARE, TE, and ER together earned 29. That meant her one move earned her 101 points. 101 plus 37 equals 138. Take that, irate pirate! Mother asked Jocelyn how she knew the word metered. Metered is when Teacher Rachel whacks you hard on both palms with her meter stick for doodling on the nice, clean table while the rest of the class read Tarzan aloud. The root words of metered are meter and red. Tarzan started wearing clothes when he learned to speak PeoplEnglish. September, Jocelyn would quickly come to learn, was a funny boy. He was not funny the way a circus clown was, or the way

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a dancing cartoon hippo in a pink tutu was. He was funny in the way someone would tickle you roughly in the ribs even when you say stop, stop, stop September! over and over again, even if you accidentally pee yourself a little, even if tears of laughter and pain well up in your eyes, and for many days after that, you’d feel the bruising, see faint finger marks, but it’s okay, you even press on the site to make sure you still feel it, and it’s there. She had spoken of him day in and day out ever since they had started dating. He’s got a motorcycle! He took me to a movie. His grandmother is part French. He kissed me! His favorite band is Nirvana! Her mother laughed and told her to invite him over for dinner one time. Oh Mommy, we must have lasagna! He would take Jocelyn on speedy bike rides around town, telling her to cut the last class, or to stay out a little bit later after school, it’s okay, I’ll get you home by dinner, I promise, gunning on the motorcycle past busy intersections, beating red lights, and squeezing into impossibly tight spaces between cars, buses, trucks, and people on foot. Initially she would ask him to slow down, her heart thudding so hard against her chest she could feel its force reverberating against the back of his thin white shirt. Always a thin white shirt, hot and damp and sticking to her on the warm days, and soft and cool on her cheek when it was cold out. He was easily revved up like his bike was, that’s what he always said. He said it was because his father used to beat him up, and how somehow it was ingrained in him, that anger, that need to inflict pain. He said it was because he was an artist- he had his websites, and his collection of broken mannequins in his backyard- and she had to understand, artists had a temperament. He said it’s because he felt too much; he loved too much and hated just as quickly, I’m sorry Jocelyn, I didn’t mean to pull

on your arm too hard, it’s just that that guy was looking at you funny and you didn’t seem to mind and I’ll never do it again, sweetie. He called her Sweetie. She liked it. It was seven letters, 10 points. He always cracked gum in his mouth, and he always tasted just like his monikker for her, always just the right amount of sweet. That night, after he told her he loved her, she came home a little bit sore, a little wide-eyed, the scent of his Juicy Fruit seeming to cling everywhere, her hair, the back of her neck, her lips and tongue, between her ribs, between her legs. For many days, just before falling asleep, she would touch herself, prod at the aching places where he held her, and smile when she felt the dull pain, felt that it was there. What’s a Cushions, Mommy? Jocelyn was sitting on Mother’s lap as the driver wheeled them out of the hospital. Mother had an appointment with Doctor Atanacio at 2:30 PM. Jocelyn had just learned opposites in class. The opposite of appointment is disappointment, which the doctor would be if they missed it. Jocelyn had been playing with the stethoscope, pressing it against her head to see if she could hear her thoughts. Father said that to her a lot whenever she got into trouble, there you go, listening to the voices in your head again! She wanted to know who was responsible for talking her into pouring a box of detergent into the pond because she wanted to give the fish a bubble bath, or putting Playdoh in the oven so she could bake a pie, or eating an entire tube of paste because it smells just like rice, doesn’t it? Instead of hearing the little people in her head, however, Jocelyn heard Doctor Atanacio tell mother that she had Cushing’s Syndrome. The words held no meaning for her, but the faces of her mother and the doctor looked

just like father’s did when he told Jocelyn that grandma had died. The word to describe that look is grim. Grim sounds like the name of the scary troll that stays under the bridge and wants to eat the Three Billy Goats Gruff. Grim is spelled just like grin, except a little bit different. Grim is grimmer than grin, who smiles a lot. Grim does not have reason to smile. Grim is not a color, stupid! And so, as they were on the way home, Jocelyn asked, what’s a Cushions, Mommy? Little brown eyes have shadows of worry. Little pink mouth was excellent at being grim. Mother smiled and drew Jocelyn toward her for a hug. Cushing’s is when your body turns into fluffy pillow cushions for others to lie down on. Jocelyn’s face is now the opposite of grim. Cushions is not so bad, then, after all. It meant warm and cuddly and safe. Jocelyn liked the idea of taking a nap lying down on the soft, smooth folds of mother’s belly. If you’re turning into a Cushions, how come Daddy doesn’t lie down on you anymore? That’s because Daddy is never tired anymore, Honey. On her very first day free from having to go to school, Jocelyn sat at the curb of their street, at a loss as to where she should go. Her mother allowed her to go anywhere in their village, so long as she waited to cross the street only when other people did, and got home by merienda. There was the playground over at Valenzuela Street, the ice cream store at Mabait corner Matahimik, the movie house at Cuanco, a used bookstore at Session Road. But these places she got to go to during the weekends. She kicked at a rock sitting at the gutter and watched as it skipped across the road. Jocelyn was hungry. She entered her house and decided to see what her parents were up to. Mother was at the living room, lying

down on the couch, her feet propped up on pillows, it soothes my aching back to have my feet up, Honey. There was no pandesal, scrambled eggs, and hotdogs on the table like there usually was. She wanted to wake mother up but knew that she was always tired. Never mind, I’ll go find Daddy, we can make pancakes. She looked for her father in her parents’ room, but only his newspaper was in bed. She walked back through the kitchen and into the dining room. Maybe yaya can help me make breakfast. She heard a grunting sound coming from inside the downstairs bathroom, its door slightly ajar. She knew the sound was familiar but could not quite place where she had heard it before. She tiptoed quietly toward the source and peered into the room. Yaya was making the noise. She was bent over the sink, her hands on either side of it, hunching up and down. Oh, she must be sick. I think she’s gonna throw up. Don’t look. Oh no, I think I’m gonna throw up! Someone else was in the room, making the same noise yaya was, but a little bit deeper. Oh, it’s just Daddy! He was standing behind yaya, rubbing her back and tugging at her hair and smacking her on her butt. Don’t say butt, say buttocks! Yaya’s skirt was bunching up and down. Jocelyn heard the slapslapslap of skin against skin. Daddy must be helping yaya throw up. Why doesn’t yaya have her shirt on? Oh, I know, yaya must not want to get throw up all over her nice uniform. Yaya’s low moans become louder and louder and her father clapped one hand over her mouth. Jocelyn thinks the word breast is funny. So are the words penis and vagina. She doesn’t know why, but they make her giggle. She walked back into the living room to see her mother still asleep. She sat down on the wheelchair, wheeling herself this way and that.


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She wondered if it really was Daddy she saw in the bathroom. No Silly, it was just a bear giving yaya a hug! One day in September, Jocelyn took September home with her to introduce him to her mother. She was dragging him by the hand down the street and through their gate, announcing that she was home just as they cleared the front door. The living room was bare. Her mother’s wheelchair was in its usual place, but her mother wasn’t. There was no scent of lasagna warming in the oven. Jocelyn dropped September’s hand and rushed up the stairs two steps at a time. Her mother was in bed, her thinning hair damply slicked across her shiny forehead, her body blanketed up to the neck. She smiled at Jocelyn and said, I’ve had too much sugar today, Honey, and yaya had to help me up to bed. She reached an arm out from under the bedspread and beckoned to her with a greenpurple finger. Yaya forgot to put Vaseline on your hands and feet again, mommy, Jocelyn observed. Her mother shrugged. Jocelyn grabbed a pot of petroleum jelly from the dresser and pulled the blanket down from her mother’s chin. She put her mother’s leg on top of her own, removed a sweat-stained sock, dipped her hands into the pot, and gently massaged her mother’s right foot. Mother smiled in pleasure as she felt the warm, sticky liquid soothe the cracks of her heel and work its squishy way between her toes. The hem of her dress was pooled around her huge belly, purple and red lines drawn on its uneven, pale flesh like they were thick roots of a dying tree. Her bellybutton was a knothole. Below that, a nut hole. No more nuts are stored in the hole, not for a whole long, long time. Her flowered underwear, size XXL, had frilly edges and a blooming garden in the middle. No need to blooming water these

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blooming seedlings under these blooming bloomers. Mother was humming a tune when she stopped altogether, why, hello there. Jocelyn turned around to see September standing at the open doorway, one hand on the doorknob, his mouth agape. He mumbled an apology before turning and sprinting away, a thudthudthud resounding throughout the house- mimicking Jocelyn’s heart hammering at her ribcage- as he ran down the steps, the slamwhambam, nothankyouma’am! of the front door closing. Jocelyn’s shaking fingers kept on moving as she silently rubbed at her mother’s corns. Salt mixes with corn to make binatog. It’s better to use iodized salt though; salt from snot and tears taste bitter or happy or angry or sad depending on the mood of the binatog-maker. The next day, after reporting to her mother that September ignored her during Computer class, and then sat beside Amanda during lunch, sharing his dessert with her, tickling her and making her giggle loudly, Mother held her hand and said, Honey Of Mine, the root word of betrayed is trade. One day, just before Jocelyn turned ten, she came home to find her father carrying a baby boy in his arms. This is your brother Gabriel, he said, holding him down for her to see. Jocelyn tentatively touched the baby’s little hand and he immediately grasped onto her by reflex, his fingers opening and closing over hers as he drifted off to sleep. Gabriel was a Handsome Young Thing, as father fondly referred to him. He was a little darker than Jocelyn was, and had curly wisps of hair. Jocelyn’s hair was slick straight, so were father’s and mother’s. She wished she had curly hair like Gabriel did. Jocelyn has learned about reproduction in school. She learned that the mommies carried the babies in their stomach.


Sometimes they laid eggs. Sometimes they gave birth to a whole baby, that’s called a mammal. Mother must have been pregnant and Jocelyn didn’t even know it. Maybe that’s what Cushions is; your body turns into fluffy pillow cushions for others to lie down on. All that time that mother was getting bigger and bigger, it was because she needed to become a bigger and bigger cushion for Gabriel to lie down on. Jocelyn loved Gabriel right away. He was always smiling and laughing, and rarely cried unless he was put down. Jocelyn wondered why mother never touched Gabriel. Mother stayed in bed for longer and longer periods of time. Father had moved out of their room and slept on the couch. He said it was because he did not want to disturb mother while she was sleeping. Jocelyn asked, Why doesn’t Gabriel sleep with Mommy upstairs, doesn’t he get hungry? Father told her that Mommy is really, really tired from having a baby and Gabriel should just stay in yaya’s room until he gets older. He said that yaya was in charge of giving Gabriel milk. Father always greeted Jocelyn at the door with Gabriel in his arms whenever she came home from school. It’s okay if mothers don’t take care of their children; there are daddy animals like kangaroos, penguins, wolves, ducks, and seahorses that take care of their babies. Those babies’ mothers must be very tired from giving birth, too. Jocelyn liked Gabriel’s name. It was seven letters without having to repeat a single one, just like hers. It had a Scrabble score of 10. She knew this because once while playing Scrabble with mother upstairs, she added the letters G, R, I, E, L to mother’s word AB. Look, Mommy, I spelled Gabriel’s name! Mother slammed her fist onto the bed, causing the board to shake and the tiles to jump. The word Gabriel isn’t allowed. How come, Mommy? Because it isn’t a real word, Honey, now hand me a tissue. Jocelyn had been shocked at mother’s reaction. She looked down at the board, the letters swimming before her eyes. Mother wearily righted herself in bed. Be a dear, Honey Of Mine, and get me a glass of water. Jocelyn ran downstairs to the kitchen. There were no clean glasses by the sink. She stared up at the cupboard, wondering what to do. She could call yaya for help, but she didn’t really like going near yaya’s room. She pushed and pulled at a stool by the kitchen counter and righted it just under the cupboard. She carefully climbed up its foot rest then slowly shimmied up, one leg at a time. When both her knees were on its cushiony seat, she held unto the stool’s low backrest and stood up. The chair wobbled and Jocelyn held onto the handles of the cupboard for balance. She pulled the wooden doors open. Dishes were on the bottom shelf, father’s wine glasses were in the middle- no touching, Silly!- and the everyday glasses were on top. Jocelyn stood on tiptoes as she reached for the nearest glass. She had

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her three middle fingers around the rim when the chair swayed. Whoa, don’t look down! She desperately grabbed at air as the stool shifted, her hands pulling at plates and bowls before she fell down onto the linoleum with a crashcrash and an ouch! Mother could be heard hollering from upstairs, what’s the matter what’s going on what happened? Father rushed into the kitchen, bits of grass and dirt clinging onto his clothes, a pair of muddy gloves in his hands. Yaya came running from her room. Gabriel was in her arms, his face nestled between the folds of her shirt where the buttons were opened. When mammals are born, they drink milk from their mother’s teats. Teats are breasts too, but when Teacher Rachel asks you to read it aloud in your Science Learning 3 book, it’s not funny, so stop laughing. Jocelyn could often beat her mother in their games when she turned sixteen. Mother’s neck had to be propped up on pillows and they would place the board on the broadening expanse of her belly. Mother placed the letter S beside Jocelyn’s ZIP, and then laid Q, U, I and D vertically under it. The letters Q and I were on the Double Letter spaces, earning SQUID a score of 26 plus ZIPS’ 15. 41 points for the stinky, inky squid zipping by. Having played since she was a child, Jocelyn knew to position her tiles for the maximum score possible, knew to only connect her S tiles onto the high-earning words, to save her Zs, Js, Xs and Qs for the Double and Triple Letter Squares, and to avoid leaving openings into the Triple Word Squares. Today, however, she played carelessly, thoughtlessly, forming words like ON that earned her no more than 3 points, or giving up her turn just to swap one tile. What mother did not know was that at the start of the game, Jocelyn had drawn the letters B, S, T, R, Z, P, and A, and that she had been playing with the utmost concentration since. Jocelyn looked at the board, nodding when she saw that her word could be added to her mother’s previous play. She placed B and A above the letters I and D of the word SQUID. Then, she connected the letters S, T, A, R, and D to it. The new words were BI, AD, and BASTARD. A total of 23 points. Mother stifled back a gasp. Bingo! BASTARD, having seven letters, meant another 50 points. Mother stared at Jocelyn, her chin bobbing, her cheeks flushed. She carefully twirled the Scrabble Board to face her, her other hand on her tile rack. She started placing her letters on the board but then Jocelyn interrupted her, aren’t you going to challenge my word? Mother laughed. Bi is a word, you know that, Honey Of Mine. Jocelyn didn’t particularly feel very sweet. She didn’t like being called Honey Of Mine any longer. It made her envision her mother creeping into her room in the dark of the night, rolling her over in her

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sleep, and sucking her fingers raw until all the sweetness ran out. She looked at her Mother’s cracked, dry fingers, and then folded hers up until her nails dug into her palms. Do you know what bastard means, Mommy? Mother cleared her throat and said, I suddenly feel so very tired. It was Jocelyn’s turn to laugh. Do you know that that’s what they call Gabriel when we go to church? The nuns would come over and kiss him and say, tsktsk, you poor, poor, poor bastard. He would tell them, I’m not Bastard, I’m Gabriel, and then their hearts would break all over the church floor. Mother pushed the board from her stomach and turned away. Really, I am very tired. Jocelyn moved into a dorm room after bunking with her cousins during her first two semesters in college. She was unpacking her things when her cellular phone rang. It was Gabriel calling, Jocelyn, come home, something happened to Mommy. Gabriel, he was nine now, and a very precocious boy. He had become responsible for mother after yaya had left them. Yaya was fired when Jocelyn was sixteen. But maybe yaya just left. Gabriel was six then, and no, she did not want to take the poor bastard along with her. Gabriel woke up early every school day to make sure he had washed mother, fed her, given her medicines, and helped her to the toilet before the school service came to take him to class. Gabriel and mother played Scrabble every afternoon as soon as he came home. Mother called him her Little Angel. Jocelyn and mother had stopped speaking a few months into college. They had arguments all the time, with Jocelyn asking mother, why do you stay in bed all day? Why don’t you have surgery? It’s just a tumor, you’ll be better when it’s taken out! She had blamed her mother for their family falling apart, for her failed relationship, for living in her own dream world speaking in her own dream

language. Jocelyn would come home every weekend to do a load of laundry, help clean the house, and cook meals. She did this every week no matter how tired she was. But she never went upstairs anymore. Every week, Gabriel would ask if she wanted to join in on a game of Scrabble. He asked her every week even when he knew her answer. When the taxi pulled up in front of her house, Jocelyn was shocked to find it shabbier than she had remembered. She walked in, past the living room, past mother’s wheelchairrendered useless when mother refused to leave her bed, oh my bones, Honey!- sadly sitting in its usual place, dust and cobwebs decorating its seat and wheels. Jocelyn slowly walked up the steps and into her mother’s room. Father and Gabriel turned to look at her when she walked through the door. Mommy’s dead. Jocelyn nodded, her knees swaying. Father stood up from his seat and hugged her. Hey there, Silly. I came home from work as soon as Gabe called. Mother was laid out in bed, her hands folded over her lap, eyes shut, her mouth slightly open. She had grown larger than the last time Jocelyn had seen her. Her hair had thinned into a fine fuzz over her head, the skin of her face slack and riddled with dry flakes. She had suffered painful necrosis of the hands and feet. She was unable to hold onto her tiles in the last few weeks. What’s necrosis, Mommy? Necrosis is when your neck begins sprouting roses and your hands get all bloody from the thorns. No it’s not, necrosis is the death of living tissue. Necrosis means your mother is dead and who knows if she died because you weren’t speaking to her? The doctor said the medicines had stopped working. Oh. The casket will be here in a while; I had to order a larger one at extra cost. Maybe you should think about coming back home. Okay. They stared at each other, wondering what to do. Finally, Gabriel reached beneath the bed and pulled out mother’s Scrabble


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board. The tiles were worn and faded, the board stained with oily splotches, the mixed scent of mother’s perfume and sweat. They each took seven letters out of the green bag, its velvety days long over, and arranged them in their racks. Father had drawn an I and played first. He placed the word LILY at the center of the board. Jocelyn recalled the time she had played Gabriel’s name and how her mother had gotten angry, saying that names were not Scrabble words. But lily can both mean an aquatic plant and the name of a woman who was very sick and spoke in JunglEnglish. Father smiled as they proceeded to play, telling them they had met at work. She was an architect, I worked in landscaping. I first got to talk to her when we played against each other at our office tournament. She was a serious player, but I beat her somehow. My winning word was Quakers. I was only thinking about the oats, but she thought I meant the people. We got married a year later. She was really disappointed when she found out that I never was any good at the game. She was really disappointed at a lot of things. LILY had earned father a score of seven times two. The star at the center of the Scrabble board is also a Double Word Square.

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Jenette Vizcocho ď Ľ Jenette Vizcocho is a working student. This is what she always says in a whiny voice to get her parents, friends, and co-workers to feel sorry for her; it never works. A lover of telling stories, surfing, and Bon Jovi, she somehow manages to mix all three whenever she feels the occasion calls for it. She comes up with very awful jokes, and she will forgive you if you do not laugh, because she is very busy laughing, anyway.


A Rubbed Out Sky

In the nine months that you have been gone, our home has learned to discard its old chrome and glass skin for my brother’s eclectic one. Mama insists that he stay here to keep me company. There is a sisal mat in the foyer and another beneath the dining table. You wouldn’t have liked either, but I am in no mood to argue with Dom. He leaves his marimba and kulintang in the bathroom. He invites his book club on the weekends and his girlfriends on weeknights. Tonight, we are dining with Dara Surrey and he’s prodded me off my bed to make chicken masala and basmati rice for her benefit. She is not, of course, the real Dara Surrey, but she pretends to be. She stars in that UTV fanseries that Dom produces. You must have seen at least one episode, channel-surfing at two in the morning, in between your video-conferences and online auctions. There are too many fanseries to count but according to the views, hers is the most popular one. Do you remember it now? The original show is at least thirty years old and has been remade at least six times. In this incarnation, the aliens have already arrived and Dara Surrey’s partner is still missing. She is all that stands between us and them. The actress has a face for standing alone. She is slow to smile and she gazes too hard and her teeth are beautiful between her prim, plum lips. But she is gracious enough, and she thinks the chicken is delicious. I actually call her ‘Surrey’ in the middle of dinner. Dom has told me her name, Lourdes or Fatima or some such Marian apparition, but it has since slipped my mind. “Thank you, uh, Surrey,” I say instead and nobody corrects me. You would have been appalled by my behavior. “Dom tells me that you’re an actress as well,” she addresses me. “Have I seen you in anything?” “Plays and such,” Dom answers. “Nothing fancy. My sister dabbles.” “Anything recent?” Surrey presses. What do I tell her? That in the last nine months I have done nothing but shadow theatre in my room? “No, but I’m auditioning for an indie film with a Kafkaesque vibe.” It’s somewhat true. I saw a casting call on a forum and thought about it for a minute. Plural | 73


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She shrugs. “Everybody writes a Kafka. I’ve read people turning into lizards, into fish, into roller coasters. You can do better.” Then her face brightens unexpectedly, dark lips pulled into a smile as she turns to Dom. “Why can’t she be Surrey?” She is resigning from the fanseries, Dom explains, moving on to play Judas in one of three controversial Biblical adaptations. They have been looking for a replacement but schedules have been tight. “We’re not like most fanseries,” he admits. “We have a fixed stream schedule. People depend on it. But the schedules turn a lot of the actresses off.” “You could still try. Do us a favor,” Surrey insists. “They won’t let me quit without a proper replacement.” I look at Dom and his eyes are kind. But no, no, they tell me, don’t. I probably didn’t need to tell you this but when we were kids, I was the one who was always telling him that he couldn’t come with, that he was too young for this, no, Dom, no. Now it’s my turn to be reckless. It’s been a while since I had a paying gig. An audience. But you’ve never liked UTV, and I wonder if you will still click and watch me when you come across my stream. We shoot in a home clinic in New Manila, owned by the director’s uncle. The uncle isn’t there but the director motions to us from Dom’s phone. He is telling Dom that he wants me to walk to the gurney as the scene opens. I try not to think about why a home clinic has a gurney. The space is too small. The tiles are the light blue of a rubbed-out sky. You have a shirt in this color. Before the weekend airing, the material would be sent with the other footage -- Kryukov is shot in Spain, Spanner in Vietnam -- to a quick and dirty post-production house in Denmark. We only have two days to perfect my Surrey’s first five minutes on UTV.

“I’d like a wig,” I tell no one in particular. “You don’t have to wear a wig,” the director says from my brother’s handheld device. “That’s the beauty of it, see? The actress is gone but the character remains. Our writers are industry greats.” I look at Dom, who had the grin of someone with an illogical pride in something he did not do. He’s relented, finally, but I still want to push his buttons, just because I can. “I’d still like a wig, please.” In the end they give me red hair, a throwback to the original. No one in their version has done it before, as if hair color alone can set them apart from all the others. I touch it, wondering how it shouldn’t feel heavy but why it does, it does. Dom comes home the next day, telling me I’ve gotten the role. Yesterday was just a trial run, he reveals now; they would have killed me off if I didn’t register well with their test audience, a group of forum fanatics on the widest online UTV review site. Merciless, he calls them, with unpredictable tastes. But for now, I am safe. “They think you look motherly,” Dom says. “They’re extracting Biblical and mythological undertones from your portrayal. The director loves it.” I nod, as if that had been my objective all along. Better that than tell him now that all I had been thinking of were the ghosts of that gurney, seething with rage that their deathbed has become a movie prop. Did I feel someone’s hand touch me, or was that just the industrial fan at work? Or was it you, where you are, clutching at the spaces I had left absent? In the script that Dom hands me, Holder is chasing black oil in Tunisia and Surrey is left to solve the case du jour: twin

synesthetes who communicate with machines. They change their grades. They change their town. They want little else in life. I imagine Surrey in the dingy motel room, and am surprised to find myself there. The bedside phone is cold. She wants little else than a call. “What happened to Holder?” I ask Dom. “Well, he refuses to accept his sister’s death and believes that the only way to expose the whole conspiracy is to go off the grid.” “No, I meant the actor.” “Oh. He’s studying for his A-levels. We tried replacing him with another actor but there was a lot of flak over it so we rewrote the part until he can be back on board.” “So why replace Surrey?” “Because the guys always love Surrey, no matter who plays her,” he says, patting my arm. “You’ll do fine.” My phone rings in the middle of the night. I can always tell that it’s you. I start to answer but Dom is knocking on my door and telling me to let you go. Choice is no longer an illusion. As our fanseries unfolds, I begin to understand how to rewrite reality. What did we do before this? What life did I have, the quiet acquiescence, the shuttered light of mornings? Why did you want to leave, and why did I let you? Surrey has a one-sided conversation with the actor who plays Spanner. Somebody -- maybe Dom -- recites Skinner’s lines softly for my benefit. “They said the rain made them do it.” Me. “Their rain god, you mean.” Voice. “No, the rain. There was no ritual involved here, no traces of the hallucinogenic wine the elders ingested to create the Dream-State. They believe that the rain entered them through their skin and their orifices and that made them slaughter the rest.” Me.


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Dom watches me carefully. I think he thinks I understand. I’ve skipped the wig because I think my hair is better red anyway. I’ve dyed my eyebrows to match. The next time you see me it will be through a glass, across a crowd. I close my eyes and think of Spanner in Vietnam. Maybe he is sitting in a loft in Hanoi, brand-new, with its painted-on French windows the only thing about it resembling the older façade around. Maybe he is waiting for an email that will change his life, telling him that he has won the part on off-off-Broadway show so he can head to Hoboken, New Jersey instead of doing this fanseries in his free time. We have been to Hanoi once, haven’t we, backpackers fresh out of college. It was summer. You didn’t want to hear mass but I insisted. We were the only ones who held hands while they recited the Lord’s Prayer in their tongue. Give us this day. I said it differently but I meant what they meant. Deliver us. My phone rings in the middle of the night. The moon is looking the other way. There is no one to stop me.

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Chris Mariano  Chris Mariano’s work has appeared in Fully Booked’s Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Prose Anthology, The Philippines Free Press, TAYO Literary Magazine, Ideomancer, and the Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology Vol. 7. She was a fellow for Poetry in English at the 34th UP National Writers Workshop in Baguio. Cover (Story) Girl, her first contemporary romance novella, was published independently.

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The Perfect Crime

Recess noon at kakatapos ko palang kainin ang baon kong vienna sausage with rice at inumin ang medyo nainitang tetrapack ng gatas. Halos palaging ganoon yung baon ko araw-araw pero hindi ako nagsasawa dahil Grade 2 pa lang ako noon at hindi pa yata nag-dedevelop yung taste buds ko. Maaga akong natapos kumain noon at ayaw kong makipaglaro sa mga kaklase kong nabilad sa araw. Ayaw kong mahawa sa amoy nila na parang pinaghalong Johnson’s Baby Cologne at pawis kaya naisipan kong magpa-aircon na lang sa classroom namin kasi sobra rin yung init noong araw na ‘yon. Habang mag-isang nakaupo sa classroom, may naramdaman akong kakaibang paggalaw sa aking tyan. Inangat ko yung isang pisngi ng pwet ko at nagpakawala ng medyo napahaba at napasarap na utot. Nang maayos ko ulit yung upo ko parang hindi ako mapakali dahil parang may something-something squishy sa loob ng brief ko. Hindi ko alam kung bakit ko naisip i-check ito gamit yung kamay ko. Kinapkap ko yung loob ng brief ko at aking laking gulat sa natagpuan kong sorpresa. Nataranta ako dahil nasa kamay ko na ngayon ang problema. Inisip ko kung paano malilinis ang krimen mula sa aking pwet at kamay. Alam kong hindi ako pwedeng lumabas ng classroom na may ebidensyang dala-dala kaya naghanap ako ng magagamit upang mailipat ang kasalanan ko sa iba. Napako ang tingin ko sa bukas na notebook ng foreign exchange student namin na ayaw ko dahil maitim siya at hindi ko siya maintindihan mag-Ingles. Hindi ko alam kung saang bansa siya nanggaling. Sabi sa akin ng lola ko na ‘wag daw ako lumapit sa mga maiitim na tao kasi madumi sila kaya hindi ko na rin sinubukang alamin. Madali kong pinahid sa isang pahina ng kanyang notebook ang aking kamay na parang nagpapalaman lang ako ng chunky peanut butter sa Tasty. Isinarado ko ang kanyang notebook at tumakbo palabas ng classroom papunta sa pinakamalapit na CR. Nang makarating ako sa CR natandaan kong nakalimutan ko pala yung pampalit kong brief at tissue. Pumasok ako sa isang cubicle at sinakripisyo ko ang aking brief for the greater good. Fli-nush ko ang lahat ng ebidensya, nagpaalam sa aking magiting na brief at agad bumalik sa classroom dahil narinig ko na yung bell. Plural | 81

Medyo feeling wet, wild and free yung pwet ko noon dahil hindi ko na siya natuyo nang maayos sa pagmamadali ko. Kahit naging moist and sticky yung shorts ko dahil sa pinaghalong pinanghugas na tubig at kabadong pawis nang makaupo na ako, tiniis ko na lang siya, at nagkunwari akong nagsusulat sa notebook habang pasulyap-sulyap kung namalayan na ni foreign exchange student ang regalo ko sa kanya. Dumating ang aming titser at pinabuksan ang mga notebook namin para kopyahin ang sinusulat niya sa blackboard. Binuksan na ni foreign exchange student yung pahina kung nasaan nakatago yung sorpresa niya. Palihim kong pinagmamasdan ang kanyang reaksyon nang makita niya ito. Sa unang tingin mukhang akala niya yata na mantsa ng tsokolate ito kaya nilapit niya ito sa kanyang mukha, at bigla na lang narinig ng buong klase na sumigaw siya ng “Yuck! What is this?! So gross!” Sabay hiniritan siya ng katabi niya, “Yuck! May tae sa ilong! Kadiri!” Nagtawanan ang mga kaklase ko habang naiwan akong nagtataka kung paano nakita ng kaklase ko yung tae sa ilong nung foreigner kung kakulay naman ng balat niya ‘yun. Isa-isa kaming sinuri ng aming guro para malaman kung sino ang mga salarin. Nang oras ko na para tanungin ng aming guro kung may kinalaman ako sa nangyari, binigyan ko siya ng isang Oscar-

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award winning performance. Hindi kayang pagdudahan ang aking simpatiya sa aming kaawa-awang bisitang dayuhan at walang katumbas ang paghahangad ko ng katarungan para sa karumaldumal na nangyari sa kanya. Pagkatapos ng ilang oras ng sermon ng aming homeroom adviser kung bakit namin dapat galangin ang mga bisita tulad ni foreign exchange student, pinapunta ng aming adviser si foreign exchange student sa clinic para malinis daw nang maayos ang kanyang mukha. Nang makalabas na siya ng kwarto, tinawag ng aming adviser ang ilan sa aking mga kaklase sa harap. Pinagalitan sila dahil tinawanan nila si foreign exchange student at sinabi sa kanila ng aming adviser na sila raw yung prime suspects sa kaso na ito. Narinig ko rin na sinabi nung adviser namin na pag umamin daw sila ngayon mas mababa raw ang parusang ibibigay sa kanila kaya umamin na raw sila para wala nang problema. Humingi ng tawad ang buong klase sa kanya dahil walang umamin sa amin. Umalis na si foreign exchange student papuntang New Zealand noong sumunod na linggo. Napagalitan ang aming homeroom adviser dahil hindi niya nahanap kung sino ang may kasalanan. Pagkatapos ng insidenteng iyon natutunan kong hindi dapat akong uminom ng gatas habang nasa school.


Francis Alcantara ď Ľ Si Francis Alcantara, mas kilala sa pangalang Chise, ay isang manunulat na trip pagtawanan ang mga bagay-bagay na nakakaaliw para sa kanya. Mahilig siyang magsulat ng mga sanasay, at mga tulang hindi mukhang tula. Kasalukuyan siyang nag-aaral sa Ateneo de Manila University kung saan niya kinukumpleto ang Fine Arts Degree niya sa Creative Writing at Minor sa Philosophy.


Tita, I’m Home “Up till when? Will it always be this way… Always so desperate?” — INSIANG, 1976

SEARCHING FOR HOME I was born of two countries—one with a heavy, tormenting sun and dry weather that cracked my skin, claimed that I was of the other, which questioned my brownness and the accent in my voice. One where I was called “small” repeatedly, critically, and where I attended school with a sea of other brown faces who spoke languages beyond English, a mix of Spanish, Tagalog, and Samoan, and we learned only about the American civil war and white-wigged presidents, memorizing and singing their names. A country where I perfected my English with Hooked-On-Phonics as my father stood above me—hands on hips, eyebrows furrowed—practicing the strange words I couldn’t sound out, words that didn’t even fit his own mouth. It was here where my father, worried of his daughter’s failures, silenced his Tagalog and stopped speaking to me in his mother tongue because I was taken aside in the first grade and placed in an ESL class—despite the fact I didn’t speak a word of Spanish, or even Tagalog. It was here where the slur and silences that imbued my speech were deemed “problematic;” they embodied my loss of language, and in turn, my loss of culture. The loss of self. In this one country where I was born, I was taught to forget. Whether it was about my mother, who left my family when I was two, or about the hills in a faraway land she had once roamed when she was a child, I was taught not to remember. I was taught silence. My father and lola, who both raised me with iron fists, rarely mentioned their homeland, their fractured memories of Marcos or addictions to gambling. There were no stories about their broken childhoods or the land they still loved—only the want, the need, to return. They would still speak of the Philippines like it were “home.” They would fill balikbayan boxes with cans of packaged meats, snacks, sweets, or my outgrown clothes, and “Send it home.” Plural | 85


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Growing up, this loss of “home” spilled into my lola’s or father’s anger. Whenever they were angry with me—whether I was home late, talked back, or acted like a know-it-all “Americana”—they would switch to Tagalog, and I knew the level of their rage from the shrill or twitch of their eyebrows. A cascading wall of sound. I had to distill meaning from the movement in their mouths, the crooked smiles, or the narrowed eyes. Tagalog, to me, has always been emotive, like images replaying on a screen. It was the one tangible thing I could hold onto in my head and mouth, the vehicle I used to imagine that land my family had once walked. It is that land, my other country, to which I also belong. It is a land I had not seen until I reached the age of 12 and flew across the Pacific to the tarmac where, five years before my birth, a man, whom I had not known or recalled or remembered, was shot. This history, this memory of a dictator and his ruthlessness, this nightmare that forced my family to flee from the country of my ancestors’ birth, never left my body. And when I returned to Manila at that tender age, that age of awakening, a torrent of change lapped through my body. It was the moment I first felt the wet heat, heard the incessant honking and spitfire Tagalog on the streets, entered a cemented church in colonial square, and pressed my feet on the land that obsesses me today with no end. It was the first time I marched in a funeral parade for my father’s dead sister. It was the first time I ate pancit palabok on a banana leaf and nibbled on fresh pan de sal in the twilight of morning. This was a strange moment of my life. It somehow trajected everything that made me into the dalaga I am today—it perpetuated this in-betweenness, this constant walking between two countries, this rampant desire to discover, reveal, who I am. When I was 12, I flew to the Philippines for the death of a family member. It was at this funeral procession, where I walked over the hills my ancestors walked, when I first met my Auntie Susan. To the rest of the world, she was known as Hilda Koronel: great actress of the Philippines. I remember this moment distinctly: she was tall, unlike the rest of us, she was pale skinned, had long, dark hair, and large sunglasses that covered her face. She wore a billowing hat. I walked behind her as we trailed the limousine that carried my father’s dead sister. I wore a white barong dress; she wore black. The heat was relentless; both our backs were drenched. The crowd moaned, treaded the dirt path, and the banyan trees swayed. My father’s cousin held onto her arm like they were blurring into one in the heat. A few weeks later, in a chapel in Las Vegas, where a drier heat still draped our backs, I watched my father’s cousin and Auntie Susan get married. I sat in the pews in that same barong dress. Later, as she walked down the aisle, I stood up and hugged her, congratulated her on

entering our big, Filipino family. She smiled at me, her lips perfectly red: “No, salamat, dear dalaga. Thank you for letting me become family, too.” It wasn’t until 13 years later, when I grew into the body of a young woman, a dalaga on the brink of an awakening, that I realized whom my aunt was, and what she meant to me as a Filipina in the diaspora. But it took time. It took years of schooling in an overcrowded public system where I fell between the cracks, entered a low-ranked community college after graduation despite my shame, and after years of hard work and sweat, I transferred to a prestigious private university where I discovered the books and films that told me everything about my homeland that my family did not. It took years of anger—anger at my

mother for leaving, at my father and lola for policing my body—which later morphed into a relentlessness to become a writer, an artist. This contention, this obsession of motherhood, land, and belonging brought me to Lino Brocka and his lead actress, Hilda Koronel. My Auntie Susan. Growing up, I heard through the grapevine that she was once a famous actress in the Philippines. But to me, she had always been Auntie. To the world, and to my homeland, she was the beautiful, graceful Hilda. A fact I didn’t discover until I was 19, alone in my university library searching for films that resembled anything that mirrored my other country, that reflected, inherently, myself.


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DISCOVERING LINO: DISCOVERING HILDA When I first discovered Insiang, I was blown away by the first scene: the screeching of the pigs and the gutting of flesh. It was my first Filipino film that spoke, without averting its eyes, about the devastation and desperation I knew so well—in my family and my own bones. Insiang was also the first movie I watched by Lino Brocka. I discovered him by happenstance. I was in the large, grand library at USC, flipping through a collection movies for my philosophy of film class. My hand landed on the cover of Insiang—a woman’s face frozen with eyes that looked much like mine: black, almond-shaped, Filipina, and not white. Then I realized it: it was my Aunt Susan. This discovery was a shock, my knees buckled, and I immediately put the movie into one of the library’s video players. It was then I became obsessed with Lino Brocka. It was then I learned that Insiang was the first Filipino film screened at the Cannes Festival in 1978. That Lino was nominated for the Palme d’Or twice, in 1980 and 1984. His films exposed me, once again, to another land that is a part of me and not. In a strange, ironic moment, alone in a film library and surrounded by the hush of white faces glued to other video players, I sat alone, numbed and in awe that I did not know my own aunt was part of a history I was desperately trying to figure out. Lino’s films about Manila and the slums, poverty and desperation, and that land that is mine and not, encircled me back to my own blood, who had married into my large Filipino family when I was 12, who later let me interview her and ask her questions of her childhood—something unprecedented in my tight-lipped family. She was surprised and honored when I asked to interview her. She was bashful. She let me in her house and accepted me with opened arms. It was as if her life story was something nobody, at least in our large family, had asked her before. This is her story. In a way, it is also my story, my family’s story, and in another, it is every dalaga’s story: a story of in-betweens, of mothers and daughters, of father figures and that search of belonging, that contention between living in two worlds, two countries, and existing in neither. It is that story of home, that declaration: Tita, I’m home.

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TITA, I’M HOME: A BRIEF LIFE My Tita Susan was born as Hilda, the daughter of a Filipina and American G.I. once stationed at Clark Air Base. She was an American Occupation, post-World War II baby, born in Angeles City, Pampanga, and grew up impoverished in Pasay City, as a mestiza child in the slums with no father. She stood out with her fair skin and long black hair, and everyone in the barrio told her: “You could you be an actress one day. Especially with that face.” But her mother: she was indifferent, passive, silent, and only reclaimed her when Hilda became famous. She was raised by her aunt, her mother’s older sister, until she was 12, when she was discovered by LEA Productions. Her aunt tirelessly took Hilda to different studios for extra casting calls, and when she signed her contract, her mother took over. But, it was as if the stars aligned that year in 1969. A year before that, Lino Brocka had just returned to Manila as a failed Mormon missionary, escaping the sugar cane fields of Hawaii and his job as a busboy in San Francisco. Lino was born poor, too. Of his sojourn to Hawaii, Mario Hernando said: “[Lino] had gone from being a prize-winning high school graduate with the world ahead of him, to a university dropout whose mother compared him unflatteringly to his former classmates, and his search for meaning in life through the Mormon faith was unfulfilled.” In 1970, Lino casted Hilda as the supporting actress in his award-winning film, ‘Santiago!’ At just 13 years old, Hilda won Best Supporting Actress from the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences (FAMAS), a prestigious title and record that no one has beaten to this day. This was the start of a beautiful mentorship, of a relationship that has never left Hilda, of a family built outside the bounds of blood and genetics. Lino, as a gay man in a Catholic country, was like a father to Hilda. They loved each other dearly. Like Lino, whose classmates used to laugh at him for pronouncing “bathing suit” wrong, Hilda fought her way into the University of the Philippines (UP) for a master’s degree, the best school in the country. Growing up, she had to teach herself English from a dictionary. She finished her bachelor’s

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at Maryknoll College but couldn’t finish her master’s thesis at UP. Married life impeded onto her studies and she left her second husband, forcing her to return to work and provide for her children. But it was that connection, two university dropouts desperate for survival, which brought Lino and Hilda together—that understanding of in-betweenness, desperation, and resilience that made their love thicker than blood. He trained her despite her youth, directing the 1971 televised drama, “The Hilda Show,” a corroborative effort during the Marcos era dedicated to cultivating Hilda’s craft. She was just 14. He promised Hilda that before she turned 18, he would make a film that showcased her talent, and the award-winning, the first Filipino film ever to enter the Cannes, was it: Insiang. Parts of Lino’s films, like Insiang and Hello, Solider were taken from Hilda’s own life. And it was painful for me to watch them. The mothers in these two films were polarities reflecting off of each other: in Hello, Solider, the mother mirrored Hilda’s very own mother, except she was full of life and love and rage and bitterness. She let herself feel her emotions. The mother was another dalaga impregnated by an American G.I. during World War II, and the daughter was a fictitious young Hilda, hell-bent on leaving the slums, moving to the States with her American father, and erasing everything that has ever made her poor and utterly herself. I will never forget the scene when the white man and his wife stepped into the shantytown, in search of his mestiza daughter. The movie played out Hilda’s tragic life. As the neighboring kids guide the retired G.I. to his daughter’s nipa hut, a crowd grows from the heavy heat, the crowd becomes larger and larger, grabs onto the white man and his wife, and women ask them, assault them with photographs of other G.I.s who left the Philippines: “Have you seen my soldier? Look, this is my daughter. This is his daughter!” The contrasting realities in Hilda’s life and her imaginary role is like that ending scene: the mother rushing through the slums in tears, in search for her daughter, deathly afraid that she has abandoned her. In real life, Hilda’s father never returned to her. He never

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came back to fetch her, to offer her an American dream, an American ticket to the States. She had to fight her own way to America, and it was through countless failed marriages, countless cruel lovers, and it wasn’t until she married my uncle, my father’s cousin, did she find someone she could trust, marry, and let go. The mother’s words, when she finally meets her old American lover again, haunt me, and they reflect the ostensible shame that imbues Hilda’s dreams, my own nightmares, and the collective Filipino psyche: “I was so happy when you came with your tanks and guns. I trusted you. I let my own savior fool me.” In Insiang, the mother is fierce and ruthless, her Tagalog spitfire, as if they were my own lola’s tirades. I saw every mistake and sin impressed upon the mother’s lips as she blamed her daughter, Insiang (played by Hilda) for every thing that is wrong with her life:

the father’s absence, for living as a squatter in the Tondo slums, for Insiang even existing. The silences and the emotive Tagalog gripped me, reminding me of my own childhood in Los Angeles, of the expressive lines that came across my father’s crossed face or my lola’s tirades, when I couldn’t understand their angry, Tagalog tongues but knew, in my body, every ounce of rage and emotion they spoke of. Whenever the mother screamed, whenever Insiang pleaded, “Tama na, tama na,” I broke down: to me, the film was a cascading wall of sound, a remembrance of something my body knew, this brokenness of home and language. The mother pays to sleep with a younger man, Dado, a pig butcher that owns the slums like the back of his hand. He eventually moves into their bamboo hut, and in turn, he cons Insiang’s boyfriend to stay away from her, claiming he owns both daughter and mother


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like a Shakespearian tragedy. He rapes Insiang late at night. Repeatedly. And the moment her boyfriend, her last chance at escaping her lot, leaves her in an abandoned Manila hotel room, Insiang shifts, becomes ruthless, just like those before her. She enacts her revenge, grabbing and twisting both Dado’s and her mother’s emotions and lusts with her bare fingers, and Lino captures that moment in focused single-shots: the mother stabbing Dado’s back, repeatedly, with a pair of scissors; Dado falling to his knees, his eyes swelling, blood dripping; and Insiang standing before them, chin lifted to the ceiling and her eyes dead and cold. It was as if this were a scene from Hitchcock’s very own Psycho, but comparably better, more bitter. ON SURVIVING Hilda was his Kim Novak, Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman, and Lino was her Alfred Hitchcock, except he lusted after men. He taught her everything, from how to move her body, lift her eyebrows, smile, and seduce the camera: “Lino taught me everything about acting, how to be and look seductive, through mere eye movement.” Their relationship only grew stronger through the years, and Lino would doll up his protégé, fixing her hair, applying her make-up, and dressing her in colorful ternos made by his couturier friends whenever there was an awards ceremony. He even dressed her for her appearance at the Cannes in 1978. She remembers the red carpet like it were yesterday, but even then, when people asked her where she was from, she faced the same prejudices she experienced at UP. She answered them proudly: “The Philippines.” But they responded: “Where?” and “But your English is really good.” Years later, after ‘Maynila’ screened at the Cannes, Hilda said in an interview with the Inquirer: “When Insiang went to Cannes, Lino and I secured a place in Philippine cinema history. No one can take that away from me.”

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She learned to stand her ground from Lino, a regular protestor during the anti-Marcos rallies. He was her idol, her model, her father figure. When he died in a stupid, easily avoidable car accident on a humid day in 1991, his words never left her: “Life will never put me down; I shall prove stronger than life.” She was there to dress him in the morgue, the eve before his funeral. She couldn’t even look at him, but in her tears, in the presence of a man who loved her more than her mother or father ever did, she remembered what he taught her: life. That is was hers to live. Hers to make her own. Hers to laugh, cry, and fight for. Hers to never forget. That strength Lino bestowed to her never left. With over 100 films under her belt, three awards, 11 nominations, and five children from four different partners, she raised her children single-handedly, with her own grit, resilience, and intelligence. She is as giving and as funny as Lino, reminding me that my contention between my two countries, my in-betweenness, my dalaga-ness, is just a part of life, something that makes me into me, that gives me strength, that makes me mine. That the mothers in Brocka’s two films who broke me, who reminded me of how my own mother left—with her silences and indifference—is just the fabric that has made me into an artist. She says, with gusto, taking my hand: “No matter where we are in life, no matter who we are, we work harder, better, and with every bit of passion within us. Kayang kaya natin yan. World-class talent tayo. Let’s never forget that.” I will always remember this moment: the way my aunt holds her body, sits straight in her chair, smiling and laughing, recounting her life story to me with all its hopes, failures, silences, tears, happiness, and laughter. She looks at me with those seducing eyes Lino had taught her years ago: “You are a survivor like us, sweetheart. And you will make a difference in this world.”



Melissa R. Sipin  Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, California. She won First Place in the 2013 Glimmer Train Fiction Open for her story, “Walang Hiya, Brother,” and her writing is published or forthcoming in Glimmer Train Stories, Kartika Review, Kweli Journal, and The Bakery, among others. She is the Narrative Writing & Community Engagement Fellow at Mills College and the Tennessee Williams Scholarship recipient at the 2013 Sewanee Writers’ Conference. Her short fiction received the 2013 Ardella Mills Prize, the 2011 Miguel G. Flores Prize, and in 2012 and 2013, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. As a VONA/Voices fellow and a U.S. Navy wife, she splits her time writing on the Pacific and Atlantic coasts.



The signs of life here are that of death. Little spiders that throve on the bugs that found their way in the room. Mosquitoes that buzzed by my ears. The little insects that crawled on the leaves of books. All smashed by my hand. The bodies of mosquitoes are on the window. u

People ask me where I live sometimes out of whim, others out of necessity for flood updates or picking me up and dropping me off. I cringe whenever I say Biak na Bato; it feels so coarse in my mouth, as though I were chewing rocks as I say it. I don’t have the leisure of saying I live in Intimate Street, Calypso Street, Paraiso, or Third, Sixth, Seventh Street like my friends and other relatives do. Biak na Bato turns people off. They, too, feel the coarseness. But they don’t know where it is. I’ve been answering Banawe for a while now, a mistake every time as the customary reply Rice Terraces? makes me feel like I belong nowhere. For proms and balls back in high school, there’s no evading the question unless I went on my own to the hotel or country club, or just stayed at home. I had to go, though, because my mom said so. She had the pleasure of putting make-up on me, dressing me up, and fixing my hair. She loved having my date go in the house and showing me off. I always just led the boy out as soon as I could, tugging his suit to the direction of the stairs. Going down the stairs or on the way to the parking lot, the date would comment on the house: how traditional Chinese it was with the workplace on the ground floor, and that my family had not yet outgrown it while his did; how difficult it was finding the street, and then the apology for the slight lateness because he got lost. One pointed out the stench, another laughed at the plump lantern torn apart by time. It still blackens like a rotting pumpkin as it hangs in the warehouse. u

What’s framed becomes permanent. The sunset at my bathroom window. The crisscrossing bars over the glass impede the view. I take my camera out for a shot. They become part of it. Nothing’s ever clear. The first time I drew my curtain to the side at night, I jerked Plural | 95

in fright. A person was staring back at me through the window. Then I recognized myself and my room. u

The convenience of things is in the nearness. Twenty-six steps on the staircase separate the warehouse to our bedrooms; twenty-one between my grandparents’ place and mine. I live on the second floor, my room beside my brother’s, both directly above the office. A door at the fourth floor opens to the playground with swings and seesaws. I once frolicked with my brother and my cousins there, bruised my right knee, twisted an ankle. Attached to the slide where I used to play on, the basketball hoop rusts. No net hangs from it. It remains unmoved no matter how turbulent the wind against it may be. I used to look up to it from the bottom end of the slide. The sun would find its way in slowly and carefully unlike the ball my brother and my grandfather released years ago at the flick of their wrists. To view the sunrise or the sunset, one may go up the spiral stairs to the fifth floor, the roof deck. There is no need to go out; I’m comfortable here. See me climb stairs to dine with my grandparents every meal. u

A cousin two years younger than I am waits with a boy at two in the morning for the gate to be opened. Sitting on the counter, I watch them sometimes through the kitchen window when I happen to be awake and hungry enough to look for food instead of surrendering to bed, anticipating breakfast. He smiles when she is let in. She turns to him and wishes him a good night. She walks right beside the part of the lot where a garden used to be. Three cars are parked there now. u

The house in Greenhills had too much empty space for a family of four with two helpers. The ceilings were high, walls plenty. Either there was one commodious living room or three living rooms separated by arcades. Afternoons were spent in the living room. On one side: a billiard table, the sticks leaning on a corner with their tips lining the white wall blue. Another: a treadmill beside two punching bags suspended on a black stand; a cycling machine; a wooden bench before a wooden table that looked like the remaining trunk of a tree that had been chopped. Another: a piano before cream-colored leather couches. Another, by a window: four cushioned chairs surrounding a little round glass table, their metallic green legs curled like tendrils. Our voices echoed. So did music, so did the sound of chairs brushing the floor and the clatter of silverware. Over dinner: I bought a pair of small boxers today. Why not extra large? I asked for extra large and the guy showed me this!—my dad stretched his arms to the side, and we laughed; I think that rum cake had too much rum. I had a slice today, got sleepy, slept the whole afternoon. Me, too! And I got so dizzy while taking my trig quiz today. Would you believe Adams Street got flooded ‘coz of Milenyo? What does ‘yero’ mean? She’s the girl

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who vandalized my face in our group picture. Wait, she’s the sister of that guy who hated me for having a girlfriend! How’d the stampede happen? What did he say? Well, it’s obviously his fault. How’d he react after you asked? What did you ask him again? I asked, How could you say ‘I love you’ to two women at the same time? Outside was a garden. There were steps that led to a little house. The kitchen. Beside it, a little shed for grilling. In between their roofs, metal bars where I hung from to keep my scoliosis from worsening and prayed my weight make my spine straight. Sometimes my brother did pull-ups beside me. After dinner my dad would spend a few hours by the garden, whispering to someone over the phone and smoking. u

You are usually under a roof. Outdoors, you open an umbrella. You clutch the handle as if your life depends on it. Sometimes you guess the length of shadows that buildings cast, what the angle is and where they face given the time of day and year. You walk where the shadow is. Choose the shady path in a fork. Averse to the sunlight and the freckles it might give you. All for whiteness. More averse to having dark spots on the body than what creeps and crawls in the dark. But at night the shadows on the ground keep you from walking. u All bedrooms in the house are clothed with wallpaper. Vines with flowers which I thought looked like fu dogs or one-eyed ducks, spiral down from the ceiling until two-thirds of the wall. I used to fear them. The bottom part is polka-dotted. I became attracted to pristine white walls when I lived in Jefferson Street, Greenhills West for five years. The house was white, and so was my room. While barking dogs woke me up in Biak na Bato, chirping birds did in Jefferson. Because I had curtains for the first time, a shift from Venetian blinds, my room would have a touch of pink or peach, depending on their color. I caught myself imagining the silhouette of my naked body by those curtains. People knew Jefferson Street. Going there was hardly a problem to any of my friends; it was just like going to school. It was about ten blocks away from my school. The house was then pregnant classmates and friends, few suitors that brought letters, bandmates I played rock songs with. My brother had his friends over, too. Hours of practicing his shots and tricks on the pool table paid off as he beat them in every round. The village was across a mall. Most Saturdays were spent in the cinema with my mom and my brother, then in restaurants in the area for lunch. Some were spent with my girl friends who had invited boys to hang out with us. It would take me around an hour to fix myself for people I weren’t close to. My clothes didn’t seem to fit me well anymore. The hem of my tops stretched on my hips. I was having hips. My mom teased me that it was becoming wide like my grandmother’s. It was a ten-minute walk to the music studio I frequented. Even if I

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was prepared, having practiced well, often, and hard, before my music teacher my hands stiffened. Right hand forgetting how to hold the bow. Right hand being tapped by his index finger. Relax, relax. He was a decade my senior. We had to move back to Biak na Bato. Furniture sold to make up for money lost and spent elsewhere. I asked if I could at least have the wallpapers removed and my room painted. My mom said no. The wallpaper had been imported by my grandmother, the woman my mom disliked yet wanted most to please. u

I don’t have friends over anymore. The ground floor consists of scattered piles of boxes. Across the ceiling dangle cobwebs, nestling every insect and bug whether predator or prey, dead or alive. My grandmother’s employees spend most of the day on a stool. Their bent bare backs glisten with sweat. They polish and sharpen parts of vehicles. The area is dim save for the light that plunges its way through where the garage gate should be, and the intermittent sparks. The sound of metal: a canon of hammers pounding nails. Endlessly rolling grinders scratching away like a gramophone on a steady 78. A silver tube tossed, crashes in a box filled with others like it. The scent of boxes too putrid; a waft stabs the sinuses. Once during a typhoon when the local government officials opened the dams to release water to prevent them from breaking, the warehouse got flooded. A monsoon rain three years later resulted to the same mess. When the water receded we saw that the towers of stocks had collapsed, that pieces of metal jutted out from the soggy boxes like a fractured bone pushing against skin. The graying walls from years of dust became bistre with the addition of mud that swept across the place. The odor of mud, boxes, and rain altogether lingered for a month, and so did the germs on every speck of each surface. My grandmother was occupied with her drenched stock of auto supplies and the boxes for them. She ordered a group of men around the house to go one way to dry things, another to pack them, and then another to pile them high up once more. I worried about my health. I found myself holding my breath and rushing past the muddle of brown every time I got home from school— I gasped for air never mind fresh or not as I moved—quickly turning the doorknob to let myself out of the warehouse and into my grandparents’ office. Its mint blue bubblegum walls attempted to console me, but with the undeniable stench and the tingling sensation on my fingertips from contact with the knob teeming with filth, I stormed to my room where I washed my hands. I shivered in the warm water. One day I heard that the walls and the doors that had been submerged were scrubbed clean. I wondered what pushed my grandmother to consider sanitation. I found out later that my dad had scolded her workers for thinking of their salaries and work hours instead of health. u

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The spotlight is turned on every six in the evening, off every four in the morning. It’s there underneath the kitchen window of the second floor overlooking the parking lot and the gate for us to see who knocks, who has just come home. A few months after moving back, my father and I stood on the orange pool of light. My head down, his hands on my shoulders. u

I wanted my grandfather to teach me Tai Chi a couple of years ago. With some Tai Chi strokes, he once knocked down a man who held him up for his wallet. He muttered under his breath that Tai Chi was difficult, that I wouldn’t be able to do it properly even if I tried. After my mother coaxed him that nowadays no one in this generation apart from maybe myself bothered or was interested to learn Tai Chi, my grandfather led me to the parking lot where we began stretching. We did the basic 24 positions that day. I wasn’t sure of what I was doing other than attempting to copy my grandfather’s movements. My grandfather and I hardly spoke to each other. I didn’t quite know how to talk to an authoritative figure without being considered impolite, and I didn’t want to stammer and fumble for the right Chinese words in the proper intonations so I couldn’t ask about the placement of my limbs, let alone have him teach me how to fight. u

My brother and I used to pretend we were ninjas or spies. After creeping down the stairs, we dashed through the warehouse and work place. Sometimes, when I was ahead of him, I would hide behind one of the many stacks of boxes. I’d slide out, he’d shriek, occasionally nudge me. With stifled giggles we continued. Standing behind him, I watched my brother slowly open the side door of our aunt’s house, put his left hand in to gather the chimes hanging by the doorknob. He then further pulled the door open to let me go through, then himself while closing it carefully, then gingerly opening his hand to release the chimes that coyly swayed without a sound. We would creep through the living room and up the stairs to surprise our cousin in her bedroom. We invited her to play with us. Patintero with our yayas on the lot when the cars weren’t home yet. Cops and robbers, my brother and I ganging up on her—during the pick: wet willy, BMW, and other cues. It was only us three kids at the time. When exhaustion claimed the best of us, we strolled on our garden, even plucked little red flowers. My cousin sucked what she said was honey at the end of the stem. My brother and I gave our humble bouquet to our mom. u

I told my mom I wanted a maya bird. She had the cook catch one for me.

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One day, the cook was in our living room; the maya bird happened to be there, too. It was then only a matter of her stretching out her arms and jumping to clasp the frenzied animal in her fingers. The bird darted to the wall, the corner. No escape. The cook finally caught it. My mom got a big rectangular plastic basket and inverted it to serve as the cage. Frenetic, the bird kept chirping and flapping its wings and bumping its head against the basket. My mom got a stick and pushed it through one of the open spaces of the basket. The bird, finally having something to perch on, fell silent. I ran to my dad when I saw him, tugged his pants to follow me; I was going to let him meet my pet. “Free the bird,” he told me after seeing the makeshift cage and the bird. I didn’t want to, especially not after I saw the difficult task of grabbing one by hand, the almost impossibility of it all. “What if you were the bird and someone caged you?” “But I’m not a bird.” “You’ll let it die.” I asked my mom if that were true; she said it was. Later that day, I stood by the raised gate of our warehouse with the cook. The maya bird was in her hands. Realizing I had not touched it yet, I asked if I could pet it before we let it go. The cook passed me the bird. She said I should be the one to free it. The bird clawed my palms—so birds had claws and these hurt. It wanted to be as far away from me as possible, and it did what it could. The natural course of things.

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Stephanie Shi  Stephanie Shi is a senior creative writing major at the Ateneo de Manila University. She was a fellow for essay at the 18th Ateneo Heights Writers Workshop. Her works have been published in Heights, of which she is currently the managing editor for communications. “Projectile” is part of her thesis-in-progress.

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Philosophy, Science Fiction, and the Limits of Speculation A note from the author: The following paper was presented as part of the lecture series of the Philosophy Circle of the Philippines, co-sponsored by the DLSU Philosophy Department and DLSU Pilosopo, held last 27 July 2013 at the Waldo Perfecto Seminar Room, De La Salle University. The aim of the lecture series is to popularize philosophy and instigate critical inquiry among both professionals and students interested in the field. The paper is thus written primarily with a college undergraduate audience in mind, although humanities scholars and science fiction buffs may also find it worthwhile to read.

There are obviously many intersections between philosophy and science fiction (SF). Both are associated with abstract concepts and speculation. They both address the nature of reality, moral conundrums, the limits of human knowledge, and other classic philosophical preoccupations. They also inevitably feature an argument structure, whether this is explicit or implicit. We may say that literature in general is susceptible to a philosophical reading. However, the SF genre is of special interest to us for three reasons. First, philosophers themselves have written SF in order to evince their ideas. These are not just fictional sketches that preface abstract exposition, but full-fledged literary works that have been published in academic journals.1 Second, a great many SF works pivot on philosophical issues, and have thus been used by teachers to make the subject more accessible. Finally, the sorts of conceptual experimentation that philosophers and SF writers engage in are very similar, so much so that we may say that at least some SF works are doing philosophy. My main concern in this paper has to do with the third reason. When a philosophical or SF text makes use of conceptual experimentation, how do we assess its claims? Thought experiments, broadly speaking, are hypothetical—freely delving into the realm of the what-if. Hence, their assumptions are not based on facts about the world, but imaginative extrapolations of existing facts. What limits, if any, should be imposed on such speculations? How do we determine those limits? Since fictional discourse takes the form of a narrative, should aesthetic considerations, not just logical ones, factor in our evaluation?


See Table 1.

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In examining these issues, I address some skeptical objections against thought experiments in general, and the idea that at least some SF works are doing philosophy. By “philosophical SF,” I mean SF written by a philosopher in support of his or her views, or SF which is highly susceptible to a philosophical reading. SF and philosophical thought experiments Before I present my arguments, let me cite critic Darko Suvin’s definition of SF, which I’ll be using here because it underscores the similarities between writing SF and philosophizing. “SF is, then a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main focal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (Suvin 1979, 7-8). Suvin differentiates SF from both fairy tale and fantasy in that SF respects the laws of the empirical environment whereas fairy tale escapes from them and fantasy directly contravenes them. The estrangement or feeling of unfamiliarity induced in the reader by SF is achieved through a re-imagination of reality, in a way that is scientifically or technologically coherent. The alternate world presented must logically follow from factual circumstances. Suvin (1979, 66) thus refers to the work of SF as a “mental experiment” validated against a “body of already existing cognitions.” Moreover, Suvin’s poetics of SF puts a premium on cognitive content. The aesthetic value of a work of SF depends on the hard science of its world-building. In this respect, the link between SF and philosophy becomes clear. Etymologically, philosophy is derived from the Greek words philia (love) and sophia (wisdom). In the Platonic tradition, wisdom is a higher species of knowledge, which in turn is acquired through logical justification. The work of the philosopher is not unlike that of the scientist, who employs systematic rules and the empirical method. But whereas the scientist conducts physical experiments, the philosopher putters around in a mental laboratory. A favored tool, especially in the analytic tradition, is the thought experiment, sometimes also referred to as the conceptual experiment. The aim of any experiment is “to answer or raise its question rationally” (Sorensen 1992, 205), and a thought experiment is one which “purports to achieve its aim without the benefit of execution.” Some stereotypical features identified by Sorensen (1992, 208-09) include (1) autonomy (from concrete particulars), (2) metal imagery, and (3) bizarreness. A famous philosophical thought experiment is that presented by Descartes in his Meditations. Here he imagines the existence of an evil genius whose sole aim is to deceive him. If this were the case, how could he trust anything, from the data from his senses to mathematical laws and propositions? Descartes uses this scenario as a springboard to formulating his idea of the indubitable fact. While the Cartesian meditations are obviously not a work of SF, the basic idea behind them—paranoia about what we can know—may also be found in some popular SF movies, such as The Matrix (1999) by Lana and Andy Wachowski and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) by Michel Gondry. In the former, powerful AI have taken over the world, colonizing human bodies as a source of energy. The contents of our consciousness are a product of computer simulation; in reality, we are all hooked up to the Matrix. In the latter, two lovers disen-

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chanted with each other undergo a memory erasure procedure in order to start over separately. They meet each other again and begin to fall in love, not knowing that they had been lovers before. Both these films have an epistemological question at their heart. Both posit the existence of an evil genius of sorts: the AI in the case of The Matrix, and the memory erasers in the case of Eternal Sunshine. Each film dramatizes the logical conclusions of the alternative world it presents. Thus, thought experiments feature prominently in both SF and philosophy. In the following chart, I summarize some key works of philosophical SF, identifying their assumptions and the problem they address. In supporting my claims in the next section, I will refer to these examples: Table 1. Some key works of philosophical SF



Philosophical Issue(s)

“Where Am I?” by Daniel C. Denett (1978)

Dennett is tasked by NASA to diffuse a bomb, which he could accomplish only by sending his body in harm’s way while his mind/brain remains behind in the safety of a life-support system.

Is the self an information pattern independent of the body or the brain?

“A Brain Speaks” by Andy Clark (1996)

The reader is introduced to the point of view not of a human subject, but of a brain. The brain explains the phenomenon of functional decomposition, i.e. the distribution of specialized functions among different subcomponents.

Are human brains computational entities?

“The Book of Life: A Thought Experiment” by Alvin I. Goldman (1968)

Goldman finds a book in a library that accurately describes his past and seems to accurately predict his future. He devises some experiments to test whether the book would be right.

Is the world or our lives determined? How can we know otherwise?

1) SF works by philosophers

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2) SF films susceptible to a philosophical reading Blade Runner (1982), based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Humans have developed the capacity to create clones or replicants, which service earth’s distant colonies. Deckard is a retired Blade Runner, a cop whose job is to terminate replicants. He is called back to duty when four replicants escape from an offworld colony and go to earth.

What is the difference between a human being and a machine?

Minority Report (2002), based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick

The Pre-Crime division headed by John Anderson ensures a crime-free world by arresting people before they could commit their acts. They rely on visions from three “Pre-Cogs,” humans who can predict the future. When Anderson is himself accused of a future crime, he escapes and tries to find what may have manipulated the system.

Are we free, or are our actions predetermined?

Total Recall (1990), based on the short story We Can Remember It for You Wholesale by Philip K. Dick

Quaid, a construction worker, buys a memory implant of a vacation on Mars. The procedure goes wrong and he recalls instead having been Hauser, a secret agent. During a series of adventures, some characters try to convince him that he is really Quaid, having delusions that he is Hauser. He sticks to the Hauser identity, eventually foiling the government’s attempt to charge people for oxygen that can be freely obtained on Mars. The ending has the character wondering whether it has all been a dream.

What is real? How do we know?

Gattaca (1997)

Humans are categorized according to their genetic makeup. The strongest, healthiest, and smartest ones occupy the top tier while the flawed ones get menial positions. Vincent Freeman, who wants to go to space, deceives the system by using biological samples from a former athlete, now a paraplegic. When a murder is committed, the resulting investigation jeopardizes his secret.

Is it just to organize society according to eugenic principles?

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Aeon Flux (2005)

In a future world, humanity was almost wiped out by a virus. A cure for it was eventually found, at the price of an entire city submitting to a totalitarian regime. Aeon Flux, a rebel, is sent on a mission to assassinate the ruler, Trevor Goodchild. In the course of her mission, she discovers the secret behind the survival of humanity—the replication of consciousness through cloning.

Is immortality something to be desired? Is genetic engineering ethical?

Prometheus (2012) by Ridley Scott

Dr. Elizabeth Shaw is on the trail of aliens that may have created humanity. She goes on an exploratory mission, funded by a billionaire who wants the secret of immortality. Finally encountering a representative of the creators, she finds that their intentions may not be benign.

Does God exist? Does human life have a purpose or meaning?

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) by Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke

Humans go to Jupiter in search of a monolith that somehow affects the course of human evolution. Two astronauts engage in a battle of wills with HAL, the supercomputer that controls their spacecraft.

Can computers be self-conscious?

Assessing the claims of philosophical SF How should we assess the claims of philosophical SF, given their heavy reliance on hypothetical worlds? This brings us to a conundrum in the philosophy of literature, about the status of fictional discourse and whether it can be said to be making any truth claims. That question cannot be settled here given the scope of my paper. Instead, I will take a stand and adopt Currie’s (1985: 387) definition of fiction. Fiction is an illocutionary act in which the author intends to get the reader to engage in a game of make-believe, which the reader does so in recognition of this intention. This entails that the opposition between fiction and nonfiction is not equivalent to the opposition between false and true. The claims of works of fiction—which encompass philosophical SF—are not necessarily false simply by virtue of being in and of fiction. They may be true or false, in the same way that the claims of nonfiction works (e.g. an unreliable memoir) can be true or false. Plural | 109

The ideal reader of philosophical SF enters the world of the text with evaluative criteria apart from propositional truth. Her enjoyment of the work depends on its speculative vision. How plausible is it given the scientific and technological constraints of the world she lives in? How relevant is it to the concerns of her actual world? Dennett’s short story, “Where Am I?”, certainly raises an important question concerning personal identity. After the digital revolution, we are increasingly becoming like the disembodied character described in the story, whose consciousness may be uploaded in numerous instantiations. However, on the whole it fails to convince me. Dennett’s assumption that the living brain could ever be severed from the body is, in a word, preposterous. Not only is the scenario he envisions based on bad science, it also forces Cartesian assumptions on the reader. The story leaves us no room to think our way out of dualism. The very question of “Where am I?” becomes intelligible only in spatial terms, making us look for an “I” that is an object, a thing.

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On the other hand, the movie Prometheus convinces me about its message that human beings have a vestigial need to believe in, and search for, a creator or god, and furthermore, that such a search is futile and misguided. The idea that aliens have created humanity and left cryptic messages in ancient caves is not implausible, considering the prevalence of such speculations. Regardless of the propositional truth of the statement, “Aliens exist,” the belief that they do exist is popular enough to warrant a reference in fiction. Also, the technology depicted in the film is not out of bonds with our existing capacities, in particular the presence of an immortal android. We know that we can create machines with unprecedented computing capacities. It is still debatable whether such machines can become self-conscious, but it is not the fact but the possibility that counts. The way that the movie juxtaposes two creator-created pairs—aliens-humans and humans-androids—drives home the futility of Elizabeth Shaw’s quest to find the ultimate creator. The android already knows the answer to who created him, and it makes no difference whatsoever.

Thought experimentation is thus not an “anything goes” art; it has constraints that bear on the text’s overall power to convince. Minimally, there must be a logical relation among the cognitions that arise from the experiment. We may also say that the work’s argument is sound if it addresses the pressing issues of the real world that it essentially mirrors.


Now, there may be two objections to the view that at least some SF works are doing philosophy. The first objection reflects a general skepticism about thought experiments. In his criticism of John Searle’s Chinese room experiment, Dennett (1991) writes that thought experiments are not arguments so much as “intuition pumps.” As such, they are skewed to evoke certain images or emotions that affirm the assumptions of the author. Dennett’s point is that these are merely assumptions, not in themselves arguments. My view is that philosophical SF, as thought experiments, are arguments in terms of their author’s speculative vision about the world. Cultural critics like Luckhurst (2005) show that SF as a genre is inextricably tied to the social issues, norms, and technological possibilities of a particular era. Thus, philosophical SF mirrors reality based on the author’s chosen conflict (the premise) and inevitably present a solution, answer, or verdict in the end (the conclusion). The second objection is evinced by Sorensen (1992) who classifies fictional experiments as “natural thought experiments,” which are not intentionally produced and are therefore not experiments as such. He thinks of the phrase “fictional experiment” as a misnomer. I think that Sorensen subscribes to a hasty generalization concerning the aims of SF writers. While we may imagine that literary works are primarily written and read for ludic purposes, who is to say that their authors necessarily have no philosophical aspirations? We cannot read their minds. Also, what of SF works written by philosophers intended to support their views, cited above? These are clearly thought experiments, yet they are in the form of fiction. The phrase “fictional experiment” is not necessarily a misnomer.

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Conclusion In this paper, I have argued for the case that at least some SF works are doing philosophy. I call them philosophical SF, and have outlined a way of evaluating their power to convince. I have made use of two conditions. The first corresponds to Suvin’s idea of cognitive validity. Although we are not concerned with propositional truths in fiction, we must judge the plausibility of alternate worlds against existing science and technology. This entails that there are, and must be, limits to speculation based on these considerations. The second concerns the relevance of the author’s speculative vision to the actual world we are living in. Although SF is purely imaginative, even imagination must begin from empirical facts. In keeping with the cultural criticism of SF, I submit that the work must be read in terms of the historical and socio-cultural circumstances of its writing. Its aesthetic value, and moreso its power to convince, therefore depend on how it addresses the problems or issues of its social milieu. Given the broad scope of philosophical SF, my aim in this paper has been to explore the specific question of whether a literary work such as a science fiction narrative can be said to be doing philosophy. If so, in what way, and how can we assess its truth claims? In discussing these issues, I have referred to popular SF narratives summarized in the preceding chart. Interested instructors may use these stories as springboards for critical discussion. As for the interested reader, he or she is invited to test the paper’s claims by applying the two conditions I enumerated (i.e. cognitive validity and socio-cultural relevance) to his or her favorite SF works. For a more detailed criticism of the SF genre and specific narratives, which is outside the scope of my framework, I refer the reader to Darko Suvin’s classic Metamorphoses of Science Fiction: On the Poetics and History of a Literary Genre.

References: Dennett, Daniel. 2009. Where am I? in Science fiction and philosophy, ed. by Susan Scneider Schneider. Massachusetts and Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. ----------------------------. 1991. Consciousness explained. New York: Penguin. Luckhurst, Roger. 2005. Science fiction. Cambridge and Massachusetts: Polity. Sorensen, Roy A. 1992. Thought experiments. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. Suvin, Darko. 1979. Metamorphoses of science fiction: On the poetics and history of a literary genre. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

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Dr. Noelle Leslie dela Cruz  Noelle Leslie dela Cruz is Associate Professor of Philosophy at De La Salle University. She specializes in philosophy of literature, existential phenomenology, and feminism. Her most recent co-edited book is the anthology, “Feminista: Race, Class, and Gender in the Philippines.” In 2009, she won first prize for her poem “Discourse” in the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards. She is currently working toward her MFA in Creative Writing in DLSU.

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EDITORIAL TEAM CARLO FLORDELIZA Jose Carlo C. Flordeliza, who was born in Davao City and raised in Manila, graduated from De La Salle University-Manila with a degree in literature. He was a fellow of the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in 2008 and the Silliman University National Writer’s Workshop in 2010. His works have appeared in the Malate Literary Folio, Ideya: Journal of Humanities, the Philippine Free Press, and the Philippines Graphic. He is currently completing his first novel.

ERIKA CARREON Erika M. Carreon currently staggers through academic life as a lecturer at De La Salle University-Manila and as a creative writing masters student at the same institution. She’s also co-editor of its MFA creative writing journal, TagAraw, for its revival 4th issue, to be released in 2014.

NEOBIE GONZALEZ Neobie Gonzalez is a student at De La Salle University–Manila, taking up her Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing. Her works have appeared in the Malate Literary Folio, as well as in the anthology “A Treat of 100 Short Stories.” Her essay Voices from the Village (2013) won a Carlos Palanca Memorial Award for Literature. She is currently crafting her own collection of fiction, perhaps a few memoirs, and an igloo to stay in.

LYSTRA ARANAL Lystra Aranal is an MFA Creative Writing student at De La Salle University - Manila and is the 2012-2013 Fiction Fellow for the DLSU CLA-RAS and BNSCWC Mini-Grant Recipient for Creative Writing. Her fiction and poetry have been published in the Philippines Free Press, TAYO Literary Magazine, and other contemporary Philippine anthologies. Her short stories Bright Lights (2012), Rén (2013), and her one-act play Debrief (2013) won her three Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature. She is in the process of completing a collection of short stories.

ERICH VELASCO Erich Velasco is a writer and graphic artist currently pursuing his Masteral Degree for Creative Writing at De La Salle University-Manila. Some of his works have been published in Malate Literary Folio. He is currently in the process of writing.

JULY AMARILLO July Amarillo is an essay collection away from completing her MFA degree in Creative Writing at De La Salle University-Manila. She’s also a layout designer whose most recent works include zines, online journals, and poetry books.

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