Pages

Monday, September 27, 2004

BREASTS LIKE SOFT LAVENDER





1. Sperm tastes like mucus. This I found out the first time I swallowed my own. I did so because I thought it hypocritical to expect women to gulp down something that repulsed me. Sperm is salty. The first time I swallowed sperm I had this nightmare: I could not speak. My brother, fresh from battle abroad, went home, and we told each other no stories.
The morning I woke up from that nightmare, I vowed never to swallow my sperm again. I did so six or seven more times, in each case to rid myself of hypocrisy. After the second time I did not get nightmares anymore. My brother went home from the war a month ago. He was a corpse.
Today I must finish two more crosses. The Romans have captured Barabas and his left hand, whose name I do not know. Curious how a subordinate frequently has no name. Everybody knows Joshua. Does anybody know me?
He is in the shop when I arrive, hammering furiously and sweating like a goat. He grunts a good morning but continues working. The air is thick with sawdust—he really does not know how to saw. I flex my muscles a little, posing in front of him. He pays me no mind, so I hasten to do what I am paid for.
My tools are neatly piled in a corner: hammer, plane, chisel. I own no saw though I should. He owns a saw. His father owns the shop.
We work in silence, a choir of blows and skinning. Lunch comes and he gets up. His cross is finished. He invites me to eat. I know he will be meeting Magdalene. I tell him I am full and he tells me he will be back. He should, he is the one the Romans talk to. I watch him skip and hop away.
I finish some hours later. He comes back. The soldiers arrive. They pay him, he pays me. They thank him. I go home. He calls after me, invites me for a drink. It is the same deal with lunch.
“Tomorrow then.”
I do not answer. He knows I will be back.
I go to the tavern and buy wine from John. He smiles at me the ways he smiles at all of his costumers. I doubt he even knows my name.
There are a couple of people around. Some faces I know. I nod in their direction. No one returns the gesture. I contemplate throwing my wine at them, but think better of it. A man who makes crosses for his dinner should not go around wasting good drink. I spend my silver well. And tonight I spend it on Magdalene. John should have arranged it. I placed my reservation a week ago. Prostitutes are hard to come by, in our parts. Magdalene, I estimate, serves at least thirty men each night.
I wait for a while, watch Martha dance naked in the middle of the tavern. Everyone else is drinking and talking among themselves. I eavesdrop on those near me. Mary, I do not know which, I know seven of the same name, is pregnant, I hear, Peter’s wife heard it from a reliable source. Foolish rumor mongers!
I should have been a Rabbi. Could have been. I can write. I can think. They cannot read. They cannot think. They listen to whoever speaks. I do not have a tongue for their ears.
After four more cups of wine, I give John a gesture. Paying for a prostitute is accepted, even celebrated, but one does not proclaim its merits out loud. Good thing Martha is singing a song of praise with all the other costumers as chorus.
Still, I keep my voice low: “My order?”
“I just gave you your cup.”
“Magdalene.”
“No my friend, I am sure it was I.”
“Magdalene. I ordered last week. Paid half in advance.”
“You ask for half-paid wine you ordered last week? Forgive me, but J—”
“We agreed last week that I am to have sex with Magdalene tonight!” This is a shout. The merry-making stops and the whole tavern stares at us. I go red.
John is all contemplation. “Yes,” he nods after a millennium. “Yes. These things I never forget.” He taps his head. “She is upstairs, and is probably wondering why I am giving her a break. You must come up at once. She might get anxious, interpret the interval in the way simpletons do, and conclude that men do not want her anymore. God only knows—”
I shove the thirty pieces of silver into his ever-open right palm. I try not to run to the second floor.    
“All the costumes are there!”
His holler makes me feel better. Magdalene is always wearing something from Rome, and gets intimidating. The costumes level us. And when we get naked, we are equal.
There is only one room on the second floor. I knock on the door. Magdalene does not answer. I come in. She is sleeping on the floor mat: hair wild, lips red, skin pale dead. I stare at her breathe and then undress her. I thrust and thrust but she only wakes up after I slap her.
Her eyes almost pop out and she slaps me back. “You.”
My forehead knots. “You mean not him.”
“Not even close.”
“It is my silver, not his.”
She nods and points toward the costumes. I completely undress then go to the dresses. They are in a pail of water and some of them are wet. I sort them out and pick some out. I no longer want to be a Rabbi, and all the others are either tattered or have dried blood on them—so I choose the legionnaire’s armor. As I put it on Magdalene stares at me.
Shining I approach her.
“You ape him but you are not him.”
“I am my own.”
“That is not something to be proud of.”
I slap her. “Centurion did not give you permission to speak.” Blood on the gloves. I smile. Games are better realistic.

2. I live with my father. My cousins and friends they are up in the mountains, up in arms, or dead. I make crosses. I believe our revolution will not amount to anything. Only Magdalene sets my heart aflame. I write poems for her. I give them to her at John’s tavern, before our sessions, so that she may not praise them out of fear. Hundreds of verses written over moonless midnights and not a single one she likes. I beat her senseless during our congregation but for her poems should rhyme.
“My hair, black wires?”
“That is not what I meant at all.”
“Why can't you just mount me like he does?”
I beat her but never break her will. She chose him over me, and she is not the kind who changes choices.
Yesterday, Joshua pushed me to make four crosses. He was not feeling well. I made three, he only paid me half my daily wage. Enough for wine but not for dinner. If only I owned the carpenter’s shop.
Last night I had a nightmare. I was a titanic creature with the whole of Israel on my shoulders. Everyone shouted at me, begged me not to fail.  I wanted to cry to them, so that they may help me bear the burden. But I had no voice. I carried the weight, and my back gave. Everybody died. The rest of my dream I was immobile on the floor, with nothing to do but recall my sessions with Magdalene.
I wake up and it is day. The sun molests me on the floor. I am in my room. I get up and stare at my bed. I drank last night, but did not get to eat. In the next room, my father is crying for my dead mother. I work up my strength and make it to the kitchen. I fall on my knees and flat on my face. I hear no choir of angels.
When I wake it is my father’s gaze that caresses me. Like in my nightmare I cannot move—even my arms and legs. I tell him to grope my pocket, for the silver coin. He finds it then gives me soup.
With my father staring at me, I cannot think of Magdalene. My father, he used to be a scribe. He taught me everything he knew. Now termites have almost hollowed him out. He teaches me nothing. I ejaculate a prayer. I ask for lamb.
My father goes to find fresh meat and I think about Magdalene. I killed a man for her, but failed to protect her from a mob. She will never forgive that. I will never stop begging for her forgiveness.
It is he! It is he that poisons her against me. He presses his lips against her, and she loves the lies he says. He proclaims great wonders and among the crowd she cheers him. Him! He who never speaks to me but to command. He who makes me do all the work so that he might preach. This is not jealousy. I just want her with me again. He can keep the crowd.
And the coming wrath of the Romans. Carpenters can only be so useful. And a carpenter who preaches—not so much. 
But he saved her. I did not. I abandoned her. My heart crushed my lungs and broke my ribs, beating as it did that day. I used a cross. I used a cross to kill her father. He was going to marry her off, to some fisherman! I was a scribe’s son! I faced him, Jesse son of David, at his own shop. He was Magdalene’s father, and she was there watching with her sister. I only meant to spirit her away. But he had a knife. I knocked it from his hand. He strangled me. I kicked him away. He threw all his tools at me: hammer, plane, chisel. He was a good shot. I cried blood and went blind. But the last I saw was his triumphant pose. I charged at him, felt him fell. I grabbed a hand and ran. I dragged Veronica through half the town before I realized who she was. When I got to Magdalene he had already saved her, and I had already lost her love. Her father was dead, his skull cracked open by a cross—the last thing he ever got to work on.
My vision back, I learned about the crowd that almost stoned her. About Joshua’s heroism. Magdalene would not speak to me. I lost my vision once more, this time to tears. I cried for two days and three nights. When my mother died a week later, I could not cry. I no longer have tears.
My father returns, disturbing my sadness. He has the lamb I want. Roast. I can only open my mouth and chew. He feeds me. He brings wine to my lips. Once, when we were young and he was still my equal, Joshua, I, and our friends went to a wedding. We brought our own wine, as Boaz and Ruth had already announced they were only going to serve water. Joshua convinced me to mix the wine with the water. I had contaminated seven jars before I was caught. All our friends left me. Joshua stayed. We were both punished. We were twelve. Now I am thirty-three. I no longer know how old he is.
I finish the lamb and my father takes away the dishes. He tells me he met Joshua at the marketplace. Joshua had just finished preaching. He told father that I no longer have a job. Joshua was leaving carpentry for good. He was closing shop. “With him out and Jesse long dead, how are the Romans to crucify us?” Father laughs and toys with my hair. “Good night, son.”
“The sun is still up father.”
He laughs and he leaves me lying.
Paralyzed I suddenly dread recovering. Maybe I can finally set up my own shop. No. We no longer have money. Father is no longer a scribe. I should have been a scribe. Joshua, he speaks well. Sometimes, when I see him in the marketplace, preaching, I join the mob and listen. Sometimes, he makes sense. Once, one of his teachings I came to believe. I forget now, which one it is.
We met a lifetime ago. I was nine. My uncles brought me near a river. I thought they were going to teach me to swim. They threw me in and left. Joshua knew how to swim. He saw me. I was sinking but could not bring myself to shout for help. He saved me. A nasty habit of his, saving those in need. Now he says he is going to save the world.
He introduced me to Magdalene and became cold when I failed her. He wanted me for her for me. Now he just wants her for himself. I met him near the river, a week after I killed Jesse.
“She wants no part you.”
“She just needs time on her own.”
He shook his head.
I had a letter for her. “Please give her this.” I handed it to him.
He took it. “She does not know how to read.”
“She must know, please. Tell her I love her.”
He nodded, threw my letter to the river and went away.
My mother died. My father gave everything up. I was forced to destroy my hands to make instruments of torture, so I could have silver to pay for an hour with the woman I love. Now I am alone, unable to move—unable to feel my extremities. Unable to feel. I wonder, always I have wondered, if Joshua did deliver my message. The bitterness brings me sleep.
When I wake up, I can feel my arms and legs again. I try sitting up, and succeed. Night has fallen. From my bed I stare at the moon. It fills my room with light. The door rasps open.
“You should sleep.”
“I just woke up.”
Father sets a plate and cup on the table. “Do not lie.”
“Do not start.”
“She does not love you. Not anymore.”
“My heart tells me different.”
“Eat your lamb. She never loved you anyway. She just wanted her father dead.” His breathing is difficult. “And she belongs with him now. Perhaps she always has.”
I get up from bed and throw the wine at him. A puddle forms on the floor. He stares at this, then at me. He leaves and I return to lie. Curse you Joshua! Where will I find money to buy her servitude? If I can no longer pay for her performance at the tavern, what opportunity will I have to convince her to run away with me?
Magdalene. I stare at the moon and see your face.
Once I asked her to pretend that she was she, I was I, and we were back together. She refused. I offered to pay her double. She asked me to leave. “Triple!” She wailed. “I am a whore,” she said, “but you do not own me.”
I stare at the moon and stroke myself. My bed creaks and I whisper your name. I am hard now. “What must I do to know what you are?” I am masturbating and my penis is pain. I will swallow my sperm tonight. I will do so until you are with me again. I position my mouth—
I hear a rasp. And a gasp. My father. He has come back with a rag for the puddle. He closes the door. I ejaculate. My father’s gaze crucifies me. And I cry. But it is not tears that flow down my cheeks. It is sperm. All the sperm in my body. All the sperm I would have produced. It is a stream of sperm. A river. I am completely wet. The room is flooded with sperm. The level rises. Rises. I am submerged in sperm and so is my father. He opens his mouth and swallows my sperm. His eyes are gone. I see everything. Joshua. The crosses. Magdalene. I shout. My sperm enters my mouth and comes out my eyes, my ears, my nose, my anus. I do not stop crying for a long time and by the time I do half of Israel’s women are pregnant.

Philippines Graphic
September 27, 2004

Monday, February 02, 2004

THE PROPER USE OF ELBOWS





1. Most of her classmates sold out and became telemarketers. Vicky was one of the few who took the high road and became a bum.
Her mother, however, did not share her world-view. “You haven’t left the house in thirty days.” Mrs. Giambattista was about to leave for the office.
“You’re throwing me out, is that it?” Vicky was rubbing her eyes, having just woken up.
“I’m telling you to make something of yourself.” Slam went the door.
Vicky was unperturbed, and began a conversation with her coffee and toast.
“I am making something of myself.”
The toast did not respond positively—it did not respond at all—so she bit it and turned to the coffee.
“I’m going to be a writer. No—a painter. Wait, scratch that. I’m going to be the next big star in television. Of the silver screen!”
As the coffee did not nod approvingly, Vicky drank her cup dry.
“Or maybe a singer? A dancer.” She got up towards the sink. “A mime!” She washed the dishes.
After doing so she brushed her teeth, turned on the CD player and went to take a dump and bath. Squatting on the throne she sang along with Paul McCartney, “In the vanilla sky…”
Vanilla Sky, she loved the musicality of the phrase. She owned everything related to the movie. VHS, VCD, DVD. Posters, mugs, the Spanish film on which it was based.
But with all things loved, there were objections. She disliked Tom Cruise, who supported the war against Iraq. She disliked Tom leaving Nicole for Penelope. And she hated Vanilla Sky’s ending. Sci-fi mumbo jumbo! The movie could have—should have—opted for a schizophrenic solution.        
Two hours later, intestines cleared, hair conditioned, legs shaved, with a towel wrapped around her body, Vicky decided to look for a job.
“Why not?” She opened the bathroom door and instead of walking out she turned to the mirror. “It’s just past ten. And have I not a résumé?” Her reflection agreed.
She flew up the stairs, decided against deodorants (“Not scheduled!”), and got dressed.
Facing the mirror, she saw that she had put on the same kind of dress her mother always wore: a brown tailor-made power suit. “Am I to become my mother?”
The mirror did not respond. 
Vicky grabbed her attaché case and was about to fly out her room when she caught a glimpse of her double, deep in slumber under a blanket.
“Don’t tempt me.”
Vicky’s double mumbled a reply.
“Dreaming?”
Vicky looked at her attaché case. She dropped it, took off her heels and stockings and pushed her double for space.
As she hugged her gremlin stuffed toy her mother’s parting words echoed in her head.
“After lunch. Promise.” She joined her double in dreamland.

2. Vicky met her double in high school, when she fell in love with a boy her mother said came from a bad family. “Drunkards and junkies.”
Vicky was in the library, staring at Janus, who was sitting across the room talking to his CAT clones.
Vicky had just gotten kicked out of the chic clique, being too flashy—she colored each nail a different color—for the cheerleaders.
She was alone, supposedly reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson,” but was instead sighing her heart out. She had been salivating over Janus for three hours.
“Read, read, read!” That was her mother dropping her off this morning.
Always Vicky was hearing her mother’s voice in her head.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Vicky thought. “Got to get good grades. Might even impress him.” She read the short story’s first words.
“Is anybody sitting here?” A voice as hard as hers came from her back.
Vicky, startled, turned around.
The voice belonged to a girl with brown skin like hers, big eyes like hers, long hair like hers—held by a brown clip like the one holding hers, Great Wall of China-glasses like hers, wearing the white skirt/blue blouse uniform of her Catholic school. Vicky decided then even before speaking, despite their superficial similarities, that they looked completely different from one another.
“No. None. Nobody.” She scratched herself. “Please—sit.”
The girl smiled, sat and stared at Janus.
Vicky did not know what to do, so she tried returning to Edgar Allan Poe.
But the girl beside her sighed.
“Vicky.” Vicky offered her hand.
“Really?” The girl’s eyes became as big as billiards.
“No, Vicky.”
They both laughed. The same sitcom canned laughter.
“What wrong with my name?” Vicky’s hand was still in the air, still unshaken.
“Nothing, it’s a beautiful name.” The girl blushed. “My name’s Vicky too.” Vicky shook Vicky’s hand.
Laughter.
“Well, what’s your last name?”
“Giambattista.”
“Spanish?”
“Italian. Half. Ala Assunta. Yours?”
“Lake.”
“A—”
“As in ‘big.’”
Vicky Giambattista blushed. She did not know what to say, though in her head she screamed, “What the hell kind of a name is ‘La—ke’?”
Vicky, the other Vicky, started whistling.
After a while, Vicky said: “Nice clip.”
“Thanks. Yours is cuter.”
Conceding that they had gotten as far as they could in the getting-to-know-you ritual, both girls turned to stare and sigh at Janus.
Vicky Giambattista was in her sophomore year then. She had no best friend—indeed, after the ass-kicking from the cheerleaders, she had no friend. But Vicky Lake came into her life, and she was never alone again.

3. Vicky screamed as dozens of Agent Smiths pummeled Neo to death while she, Trinity, could do nothing but watch.
She awoke.
Her double was sitting on the edge of her bed—lotus position.
“Nightmare? What kind of movie?” Vicky Lake was in an apron with nothing beneath—and the smell of flesh aroused Vicky Giambattista.
“Burgers?”
“And fries!”
“American junk.” Vicky faked a pout.
“You know you love them—imperialism and all.”
Vicky helped Vicky up. They flew down the stairs.
“Coke?” Vicky sat.
“I thought you hate American junk?” From the refrigerator Vicky brought out two ice-filled Vanilla Sky mugs.
Vicky Giambattista started wolfing down two burgers and a whole lot of fries, gulping the Coke, and staining her power suit. Her double, in contrast, delicately got a knife, eating only tiny bits while sipping—not drinking!—the soft drink. She, also, was reading.
“Was ist das?” Vicky leaned over and got her double’s knife.
Anna Karenina.”
Karenin.” Vicky started cutting the last remaining burger to pieces.
“Excuse me?” Her double glanced at the knife. Out of tiny bits of meat she just sipped.
“‘Karenina’ means wife of Karenin. In our nomenclature you drop the ‘a’ as Karenin is Anna’s last name.”
“Didn’t you go out with an Anna?”
“No—you did. Concert or something.”
“Sure?” Her double’s eyebrows were raised.
“Sure.” Vicky raised the knife high.
“Of course, yes, ah—now I remember.”
“You went steady, for three days?”
“A month. She left me for a DOM.”
“Truly?” Vicky wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Whatever happened to her?”
“Died. Bali—terrorists. Bombed to bits. They were supposed to get married there, damn shame.”
“Were you shocked?”
“Cried a river. Treated you to a movie.”
Vicky returned the knife to her double. “Be ready to leave in ten minutes.”
Vicky went to the mirror beside the refrigerator. As it was fractured from a plate-throwing contest with her mother, it didn’t help in showing Vicky the stains on her power suit. All she saw were multiple copies of herself.
And her double behind her.
“That call-center your mother recommended you to?”
“Yes.” Vicky remembered trying to cut her wrist with a shard from the mirror. She bit her lips to repress the memories of that night.
“I don’t want to go. I don’t want you to go. You don’t want to go.”
“You, me, we, haven’t left the house in thirty days.”
“But the pirate DVDs your mother bought us! Minority Report! Adaptation!”
“I hate Tom Cruise.”
“But you love Nicholas Cage!”
“American junk. Cultural imperialism. I need to make something of myself.”
“Telemarketer is not making something of yourself.”
Thirty minutes later Vicky and her double were waiting at the MRT Cubao station.
The train was crowded but fast. Soon the two were passing by the Shaw Boulevard station, minutes away from their goal—Ayala.
“Bet I can jump from the roof of Rustan’s and land on the train tracks.” Vicky’s double was wearing the same suit as Vicky—without stains, though.
They looked completely different.
“Why would you—or anyone—do that?” Vicky was looking at her reflection in the train’s walls.
“I won’t, but if I did I could.”
“But you wouldn’t, so how can we bet?”
Vicky’s double turned around and started making small talk with a yuppie, who looked a lot like them. Vicky looked at the people around her and saw that most of the women—indeed most of the men—looked a lot like her.
Back in high school this would have left Vicky disturbed, as meeting Vicky had already somewhat addled her brains. But entering college she found a lot of women—and yes, a lot of men—had looks similar to hers. In fact she met another double—a triple!—in her junior year. This time too a man was involved—Pres. Johnny Walker Blue himself.
Vicky Giambattista and Vicky Lake met Peñafrancia Purificacion at a rally against Erap’s second SONA.
Vicky convinced her double that being militant was being cool and they, in their twin Miriam College uniforms, shouldn’t get left behind. Mrs. Giambattista had told Vicky in her freshman year that activists had rotten brains.
“Omigod omigod omigod! That guy on top of the fire truck, he’s drowning the rallyists!” Vicky covered her eyes with her right hand—fingers spread apart so she could peek. Her left fist was in the air.
“This is fun!” Vicky’s double was sweating like a guilty suspect at the witness stand, but grinning like one who had the highest-paid lawyer on her side.
“Omigod! They’re beating that guy!”
“Oh cool—blood!”
“Must they use truncheons?”
“This is exactly like Survivor!”
Vicky stared at her double with coño eyes that said: “Well, hell. Now everyone knows you’re stupid.”
“No it isn’t.” Vicky heard the words in her head, then realized they did not come from her mouth.
Vicky and her double did an about-face and came face to face with the source of the insult.
Vicky gasped—it was like looking at her reflection look at a mirror.
Vicky and her double were stunned tongueless—the girl had brown skin like theirs, big eyes like theirs, and a grin that said, “Hi, my name is Vicky Giambattista. Or Vicky Lake.”
The girl was in stereotype activist clothes—dust covered sandals, pants filled with holes, Che Guevara t-shirt, red bandana. It was her hair, however, that marked her different from her comrades. It actually looked shampooed.
“This is not Gladiator dears,” the girl said, “and you’re not in the movies. Might I suggest moving some kilometers away from the action? Why don’t you go to a mall?”
“Why don’t you go to hell?” Those were Vicky’s words, but her double said them first.
“Look, Miriamite…”
“How dare you call me that! Boxing me, stereotyping me, reducing me. I have a name—you communist!”
Vicky was about to butt in when she felt a horse hump her ass.
The police were pacifying everyone.
“Omigod—G! Your panties!”
“Jesus Christ! Help me help her up.”
The girl and Vicky’s double hoisted Vicky up.
“Are you hurt?” The girl seemed sincere, and her arms were the only things keeping Vicky up.  
“My legs. And ankles.”
“Jesus Christ.”
“Miriamites and rallies don’t mix.” The double’s defense.
“I have a car.” Vicky’s eyes invited the girl.
“I have a fascist to fight.”
The three of them were about to argue when they saw another girl activist—this one was sliding belly up across the asphalt.
“Which way?”
They were all bumps and bruises by the time they got to Vicky’s car. The anti-rally squadron used everything: water, truncheons, rude gestures, name-calling. It was a carnival.
“So what do your friends call you?” Vicky Lake was at the wheel.
“France.” Peñafrancia Purificacion sat beside Vicky at the back seat, massaging Vicky’s left foot.
“Wherever did you get those earrings?” Vicky was trying really hard not to laugh. Her feet were particularly ticklish.
“France.”
“Visited the Tower?”
“Althusser’s grave, actually. My parents’ idea.”
They left the rally at the right time. News reports would later show that violence escalated even more as the SONA got underway. Around fifty activists, mostly students, were injured, and one, a grease person, innocently wandering, got killed.
Vicky, however, did not know this and was ashamed of herself for running away like a dog. Her double, however, was perky, and infected everybody, so the triplets were one happy bunch by the time they got to the Giambattista residence.
There they watched TV, drank alcohol, ate chocolate cake, watched gay porn, drank alcohol, ate dinner—pizza and tacos, watched Being John Malkovich (“Malkovich? Malkovich!” Vicky Lake kept joking), drank alcohol and decided to undress to compare the similarities of their bodies.
They were standing in front of the half-wall-sized mirror at Vicky’s sala when Vicky’s mother, dead from work but happy to be home, opened the door and caught them comparing asses.
“Jesus Christ.”
Mrs. Giambattista was shocked—not at her daughter’s nudity but at her daughter’s companions. Vicky since high school was always talking about her double. Mrs. Giambattista first dismissed this as a fantasy (her daughter was introverted and daydreamed a lot), became curious when Vicky showed her a picture, was almost convinced by the sound of Vicky Lake’s voice on the telephone, but surged back to doubt then to disbelief when she saw not her daughter’s double when she went to her daughter’s graduation.
“She’s poor you know, couldn’t afford the graduation fees, you know the situation.”
“I just don’t understand.” Mrs. Giambattista kept jumping looks from Vicky to Vicky to France.
The triplets didn’t understand too, so the four of them spent the night drinking.
It was three thirty in the morning when, sitting on the couch, Mrs. Giambattista declared: “If you think about it, everyone looks like everyone else, somehow—a little bit. There are lots of people like me who have big boobs. Others share my porcelain skin. Still more have the same tiny eyes. You three just happen to have similar attributes grouped together in those bodies.”
As Vicky, her double and her triple were all away dreaming, nobody contested Mrs. Giambattista’s theory. She stood up and fell asleep.
Vicky Lake and France stayed for lunch.
Before she left for work Mrs. Giambattista invited her daughter’s friends to her sister’s daughter’s wedding.
“Count us in!” This was France.
“Food?” And that was Vicky.
After the wedding, which was held later that month, France took Vicky’s hand, led her to the reception hall’s garden’s grass labyrinth, shook off Vicky’s double who kept following them like a voyeur-stalker, and sat Vicky on a stone bench beside a fountain at the center of the maze.
Vicky was screaming in her head: “Omigod—this is it. Lesbian sex!”
France’s eyes were grim.
Her lips determined.
“Vicky, I’m going up the mountains.”
“Well, that’s not really roman—oh. You mean, underground?”
“Yes,” France took Vicky’s hands. “In the weeks that I have known you, you’ve done more than anyone to convince me of the need for social change.”
“So you’re saying my Miriamite, coño life makes a good case for revolution?” Vicky was crying.
France smiled, caressed Vicky’s hair, whispered softly in her ear and walked away. Vicky waited fifteen seconds before following.
She would not lose her.
No!
Vicky found France at the buffet table.
Three days later, she was gone.
Vicky never heard from France again, she was the biggest what-if of her life.
Vicky learned, after graduating from college, that France died in a military raid. It was early in the morning, she was supposed to go to her first job interview later that day. Her double shoved an Abante up her nose. 
France was shot in the back. Her dead picture in the tabloid prompted Vicky to think, “I’m reading news about my death.”
Vicky did not go to the job interview.
France’s last words to Vicky were, “I shall never forget you, Vicky.”
“Vicky? Vicky?”
Vicky Giambattista turned to Vicky Lake, who said, “We’ve arrived.”
The two stepped off the MRT Ayala station and Vicky, getting shoved and caressed by the mob rampaging towards the only escalator, forgot about France.

4. Vicky’s double’s father died last month, in an apparent suicide after their house burned down in the latest squatters crackdown in Kamuning. Having never met her mother, her parents separated when she was still a baby, Vicky’s double was left with nothing. Her uncles, aunts and godparents suddenly couldn’t recognize her anymore. This was how she came to live at the Giambattista’s residence.
Vicky’s double was a hard person—scientific, calculating, pragmatic. She knew that her staying at Vicky’s house wasn’t for free. There was a price, which was to suck Vicky’s ass continually. Act the clown, the nerd, the psycho, the psychologist, the friend, the lover, the fool—according to Vicky’s needs. Today, it seemed to Vicky’s double, Vicky needed a philosopher.
They were at the waiting room at Tejano International Telemarketers, in line for Vicky’s interview, with some seventeen people ahead of them and some twenty more behind. Some of them looked a lot like Vicky. Some, like her double.
“Time and the experience of time,” Vicky’s double began, “can be deceiving.”
Vicky wasn’t paying attention. She was eyeing a fat bald guy standing at the head of the line.
“Take a kiss, for example,” Vicky’s double continued, “Your fist kiss, say. In real time, measured in seconds, it didn’t probably last for long. But the experience, the orgasm of the sense, the saliva production, the living of it—hours, days!”
Vicky turned to her double. “And standing in line for a few minutes feels like months. And every second as a telemarketer will feel like years. Yada yada yada. Can you at least be subtler when you’re insulting me?”
“I was trying to be profound.”
“You were being annoying.”
“Well sor—”
“Deliberately.”
All the people in the line were giving them dirty looks.
“What has gotten into you?”
“If you didn’t want to come—”
“I’m the one who lost a father here…”
“At least you had a father.”
“Quiet!” It was the fat bald guy.
Vicky and her double fell silent.
Years went by and finally it was Vicky’s turn to be interviewed. Her double sat on the floor directly in front of the door.
The interviewer (“Whatever is his position?” Vicky racked her brains) was an old man with white hair and white skin, dressed in a white suit. The room was full of TVs—three! Vicky saw that one was on CNN, another on the stockmarket channel and the third was on MTV.
The man in white motioned Vicky to sit.
Vicky sat. The chair was large and ate her.
The man in white started walking around the room. Then he spoke: “You’re probably thinking, why the televisions?”
Vicky was shocked—that was what was on her mind. All she could do was nod.
“Two to bring worries, one to calm the nerves.”
The man paused, as if waiting for a reply. So Vicky said: “Yes, MTV can be soothing.”
“I was talking about CNN.” The man in white laughed. “All that politics and violence. It helps one… forget.”
Embarrassed, Vicky decided from then on to just nod.
“You are Vicky Giambattista?”
“Yes sir.”
“Betty Giambattista’s daughter?”
“Yes sir.”
“I knew your father, Benny.”
“Yes sir.”
“You start our seminar tomorrow. That’s for two months. Even though you wouldn’t technically be working, we’re already going to pay you twenty thousand a month. However,” the man in white stopped pacing, “you can’t quit. If you do, we will take back the money we gave you. And you can’t tell us you’ve already spent it.”
The man in white stood tall and made a decapitating gesture with his pointing finger and neck. “We have ways.”
Vicky nodded.
“Go to Marie at the reception desk, she’ll tell you what to do.”
Vicky stood up, and they shook hands.
“Are there still some to follow you?”
Vicky nodded. “Yes sir, around ten.”
“Tell them to go home and come back tomorrow.”
The man in white turned to the television sets, which in a mad coincidence were all showing the same “Wow—Philippines!” commercial, and Vicky turned toward the door.
Her double was on the other side, grinning.
“Well, was it Veni, vidi, vici? I expected as much!”
But Vicky paid her no attention, did not tell the other applicants to go home, did not go to Marie at the reception desk. Her double followed and the two were silent until they reached the MRT Ayala station.
“You’re right. Telemarketer is not making something of my self.”
“Oh come on!” Vicky’s double was red with guilt and shaking from the fear of getting kicked out by Mrs. Giambattista. “I haven’t tried it. You haven’t tried it. Maybe it’ll be fun!”
“I’d rather die than live like the walking dead.”
“Vicky, don’t talk like that.”
And they were silent again.
Until they reached the MRT Shaw Boulevard station. At the last minute Vicky got off the train and her double almost got halved by the doors trying to follow her.
“Vicky…”
“I’m calling your bet! We’re going to the rooftop of Rustan’s.”
“Vicky!”
But minutes later they were on the rooftop. Some five security guards were pounding on the only door that led to it.
Vicky stood on the edge, calculating the distance to the MRT tracks.
“Just like Anna…” Vicky’s smile was limp. She bit her lips.
“You haven’t committed adultery.” Vicky’s double was crying but she knew she could do nothing.
“Just like in Magnolia. That kid who jumped from the roof but got shot on the way down…”
“That’s a fucking movie!”
“Based on real life!”
“All made up! It doesn’t make sense.”
“I jump from here, instead of dying from the fall I smash into a train.” Vicky Giambattista did a Kate Winslet on the Titanic.
“Why are you doing this?”
“Sigmund Freud analyze…” But Vicky did not finish the joke, seeing that the security guards were finally able to break through the door.
“If you jump, I jump.”
Vicky jumped, knowing her double wouldn’t.
The moment lasted for years. Vicky saw her childhood, her mother losing her at the mall, her high school, crying when she first got her menstruation, her first kiss, in college, and her mother, and her double, and France.
Vicky’s vagina geysered.
“Damn,” she thought, “and me without a napkin.”
She had seconds to consider how embarrassing it would be, for her, for paramedics to find her panty stained with menstruation.
She missed the station by a good seven meters.
She slammed into the pavement.
She did not die.
But along came a bus…

5. Mrs. Giambattista was crying, the TV flashing her daughter’s brains, when Vicky opened the door.
She said, “I got the job. I start tomorrow.”
Mrs. Giambattista hugged her.
“I hope you’re happy.”
And the two of them, mother and daughter, ate dinner and watched the HBO special—Multiplicity.

Philippines Graphic
February 2, 2004