Break-Up Stories

I. Oh, what a night

The last time I saw trees shaping strips of moonlight into curves, I was ten. We–my sisters, my yaya, bnches of kinchay, strawberries and jars and jars of peanut brittle–are bundled up in a car, parked outside my father’s house.

My father is outside, reading a letter just handed to him by my mother, who is getting into the car.

She slams the door, adjusts the rearview mirror, and asks, “Who has to go to the bathroom?” My sister starts crying, but no one answers, so my mom starts to drive away.

When I look back at my father, he is tearing the letter up into tiny pieces. They’re carried across the moonlit strips, until we turn into a curve, and then I can’t see anymore.

II. Christine

Everybody has a girlfriend named Christine. Chris, Kristy, Tin-Tin, Ina Christina, Tina, Kat, Trina. They’re freshly powdered and Nenuco-ed, long hair ponytailed, books held tightly to their chests. To pick things up they never bent down crassly by the waist but discreetly buckled at the knee, tucking the hair behind their ears.

These Christines have flowers and chocolates from you, teddy bears and pursed lip kisses are all you give. You practice enunciating your “I love you’s” with a Christina.

You ride at the back of a pick-up to the beach, counting streetlights like stars as you whiz past with Chris. At a party, you get so drunk that Tin-tin has to take you home in a cab. Ina cuts class to bring you lunch if you are hungry in school. With Kat you ignore curfew and lie to your parents. In the times when you’re about to fall asleep, deep breathed and rested, a girl named Christina strokes your arm, smelling like cologne and bread.

With Tina, you learn to love.

But during the rainy season when the traffic at EDSA slows to a crawl, or when dusk gleams through night lights in pink and orange, you dream of a different woman. Head thrown back, her laughter like dancing, asking you to join her in the rain.

III. Out to Sea

She took him out to sea, which was brown and curled up at the edges with seagrass. It wasn’t like she remembered; the sea looked less blue, the sky less infinite. His presence filled her vision so she could hardly see the view. The tide was receding and they walked in ankle-deep water. There were sea urchins and dead coral they had to watch out for.

When the water got deep enough they sat down facing each other, and he wrapped her legs around his body. He tried to fuck her in this position, but it didn’t work too well—it was noon, and it was as tight as the first time.

Facing the beach, she kept looking over his shoulder to watch out for people on the shore. When he finally cried out, “I love you, I love you,” she stared at the twinkling waves, her eyes brimming with salt.

IV. Heartbeat

With other boys her heart would beat a fast drum pound dug-dug-dug-dug-dug not stopping for breaths in between. These boys she watched out for; looked for the tops of their heads in crowded rooms, waited for their calls.

She lived for their comings and goings—they made her heart beat-buzz through her veins like a telephone—ringing in her ears, the sound vibrating on her tongue. Jose was different, though. When they were in bed together she hugged him to look over his shoulder, her heart resting against his. He said his “I love yous” a countless million times, and her heart slowed down with every declaration.

Some days he hugged her stomach, and tried to listen for her heartbeat. It was there—a slow thunk- thunk- thunk of hollow tin.

V. Questions.

My mother had her eyebrows tatooed on her face when it was mod, in the early eighties. They were perfectly placed, new moon thin above her eyes. As she grew older and her face started to droop, her eyebrows remained perfectly placed on her forehead—a few inches above her eyes that drooped down at the edges like an upside down smile, a few inches below the hairline that crept every year like a caterpillar.

With her eyebrows, she looked like she was always asking a question. Good morning, honey? She seemed to be wondering at me, when I woke up. Go fix your bed? Her mouth queried, in afternoons. I hate your father? She would exclaim after too much wine at night.

Leave me? She’d wail, when we were alone.

VI. What Is to Come

It was a few days after the national election, and we were about to board a plane. My husband tells me to wait with the children. He gets our boarding passes, we huddle with our bags. My eldest is six years old and wants to drink a Diet Coke, “like papa.”

We have run around these islands like headless chickens, we have sung and we have danced. In three weeks the newspapers will give a list of the congressional winners. My husband’s name is on it. We throw a party to celebrate. He gives his woman a diamond ring. I keep silent around him and his staff; collect newspaper clippings. When my son asks for a drink, I give him nothing but water.


Break Up Stories, published in The Philippines Free Press and Fast Food Fiction (2003), edited by Noelle de Jesus

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