She turned from the open window to the man sprawled across the bamboo bed, observing his nakedness and stillness, which reminded her of a corpse. She stared at his slightly parted lips, from which, a long time ago, affection was uttered, and from which, recently, came words of contempt and abuse. She looked at his brown skin, which she used to bathe with kisses in their sweaty and sultry lovemaking; at the coal-black mass of hair on his armpits, against which she snuggled when they lay spent, exhilarated; and at his chest rising and falling in cadence with his round abdomen. It was at his chest where her eyes stopped because from inside, she knew his heart beat, no longer for her but for the mere mechanism of it, just a muscle pumping blood to his veins, and pumping faster whenever his temper flared. She also knew that the same heart had already weakened upon seeing the pubic hair across his navel; it was caked with blood. On his groin, right above the sagging scrotum, was a bright red stump, from which there were rivulets of blood coursing down the side of his buttocks and the inside of his thighs.
Shifting her gaze to the bedside table of rattan wood, she saw his shriveled and weltered penis that gave off the stench of iron and decay, like unwanted meat in a wet market. A huge fly of iridescent green was crawling on it. Seemingly insatiable, it moved hither, thither in the rot and putrefaction. Though flaccid and looking so pathetic being detached from the body, his penis still evoked memories of the time they were passionate and incessantly seeking each other’s flesh, whether in the sweltering heat of the tropical sun or in the deafening pounding of rain on the rooftop. She used to gobble at it at times, regardless whether he commanded her or not, anticipating the rapid pulsation and the inevitable spurting of his come that followed. But those were days gone by, and for sure, she would never experience that pleasure again.
She bent a little forward, to check on the kitchen knife below the bed. It was still there, a witness hidden in the dim, far corner, where the walls met in a right angle. The streaks of blood on it looked black, and, at certain positions where one was looking, its faint glinting could be seen.
In front of the bed, the poster of the Virgin Mary hung on the closed door. The image, pristine in white veil, seemed to smile at her. She noticed the understanding and compassion on the face. And because of that she knew she was justified. She turned back to the window.
A warm, gentle breeze rustled the leaves on the mango tree outside. The mango tree was in bloom as tiny flowers sprouted from the branches, which soon would bear the weight of heart-shaped fruits. Beyond the tree, in the sloping distance, a white cow grazed on the meadow that led to the east mountain, above which the sun shone, a ball already blazing in mid-morning.
Seated by the window, she listened to the twittering of birds, and saw that some of them were attacking the cow, diving down to peck at the hide, then flying back up to momentarily perch on the branches of a nearby tree, as the animal mooed and tried to move sluggishly away. She reveled at the sight, remembering how she would shoo the animal away from her backyard, where her laundry, dripping wet and newly rinsed, hung over the clothesline and looking so white in the glare of the sunshine, because sometimes in her moments of carelessness or getting too preoccupied with other household chores, the cow, foraging, would enter her yard (they had not installed a fence), and smear mud and dirt on the sheets with its dirtied body. This would infuriate her. Even though the cow was not theirs, her husband didn’t mind as she complained to him. They did not keep a cattle or a farm for that matter since her husband was contented with his job at the market. He went there to stand idle until one of the merchants needed him to carry a crate of fruits or to transport a whole, freshly slaughtered pig to a certain stall. His earnings then would be enough for both of them if he didn’t waste them away for a drink of rhum or beer on a corner store porch. But she didn’t complain about this, though. Instead, she complained about the cow that pestered her during laundry day.
“I have other important things to do than go to Pareng Mel,” he would answer, his breath reeking of alcohol.
“Must you ask me to do everything for you, Hermana?”
She fell silent after that because, smelling him, she knew that if she insisted, he would grow impatient and whip her until she cried for him to stop while he reiterated with each blow that he had more important things to do and a bitching, nagging wife was the last thing he needed.
She tried to do something about the cow. She went straight to the owner, their kompareng Mel, who appeared to listen, smiling, and who merely apologized before he invited her for a cup of coffee, which she refused, claiming she had other chores to tend to. And having that done, she wasn’t surprised to see the cow coming stealthily into her backyard the next day to graze and unknowingly smear the laundry with dirt that, if left unwashed, would encrust and become difficult to scrub off. Thus, she settled on vigilance. She would listen for the soft, padded steps outside and, at the slightest thud of its hoofs, would run out, grab and raise the coconut-rib broom, and yell. But she was too late most of the time as the clothes were already smudged with brown stains; the cow had already passed by and proceeded to lap up the water in the basin of the remaining laundry, soaked in soap-suds water under the heat of the sun.
Those days were gone by as well, she was sure of it, just as how sure she was about her husband not being able to cheat on her again. She heard him stir in bed.
He listlessly moved in his sleep. She imagined his pain must have started from the groin, gnawing and spreading, rousing him from deep slumber. He groaned as though he were having a nightmare. Perhaps he was, she thought, and he will never wake from it ever again.
His hand went for his scrotum, lightly scratched it and froze there, feeling the warm dampness on his crotch. With his eyes half-open, he raised his hand to look at it, and, upon seeing the blood on his fingers, his eyes grew wide. He sat up in bed and looked down at the mutilation, at the blood gathered between his thighs, at the red clumps on his pubic hair and at his missing manhood. A whine escaped from his throat followed by a wailing, like that of a dog bludgeoned in the head.
The bed had been stripped of its linen, and he sat on its bare frame, which was brown and varnished.
Alarmed and gasping, he turned to her as she stared back into his eyes with a brick face. But he couldn’t see her expression for her face was shrouded by some darkness, its outlines imperceptible against the glare from the open window. She was almost a shadow; the sun looming in the sky behind her was too bright, and as she had her back turned to it, he could only see the contour of her figure, her loose hair seeming like fire and her eyes, which glistened, striking him as somewhat sinister. “Hermana, what is this?” he howled.
“Why, Rey,” she answered teasingly, her voice carrying a tone of sarcasm. “Must you ask me to explain everything for you?” Then it dawned on him. He looked around the room and saw, to his horror, the penis on the table. It had attracted numerous flies, some were black, others were iridescent green, flying and crawling on the flesh. He moaned in disgust, looking down again at his crotch, then at his cyanotic manhood on the rattan table, and, fully realizing the situation, screamed; his voice, having the baritone timbre, reverberated in the small room and seemingly shook the plywood walls.
“You will pay for this!” He swung his legs over the bed, stood up, and, tottering on his feet, steadied himself on the bedside table. The flies momentarily dispersed away from the meat and, a few moments later―while Rey stood dazed by the bed―flew back to it. He was panting, leaning over the table, feeling the blood drain from his head as his knees wobbled. Beads of sweat formed on his temples and forehead. “Don’t be too hasty, Rey,” Hermana said calmly. “You will only get yourself killed.” He was incredulous amid his dizziness.
The whole room swam about in circles. He faced her, still catching his breath. From where she sat, near the window and against the striking light, everything was too bright, almost hazy.
“You just woke up,” she continued, rather too calmly. “You neither have strength yet nor the wit to kill me. So sit down. Let’s talk.” She rested her elbows on the windowsill, her flabby arm a silhouette against the blinding light. “After all, what else have you got to lose?”
He grunted, panting heavily, glowered at her as though he were capable of drilling a hole into her being, and tried to stand straight again but failed. He staggered whenever he tried to let go of the table. And, finally, he sat back, careful on each step and change in posture; his limbs trembled as he took his seat; he clung on to the table and on to the headboard as much as he could. Silence hovered as he fixed his eyes on her, his face a melding of defeat and rage. With one arm stretched out clutching at the edge of the table, he was gasping still for air, and didn’t speak. His knuckles were already turning white.
Seeing his hands clawed, she said, matter-of-factly: “You’ll chip the table.”
“Fuck you!” he spat.
“You no longer have the capacity.”
“Putang ina ka!”
“I was never one, Rey. I am neither a whore nor a mother.”
He lunged at her, stumbled, and fell forward, landing on his abdomen. The pain in his groin shot, radiated throughout his body that he screamed then wailed, like a child, tears coursing down his cheeks. He lay prone on the floor, unable to move.
“As you can see, I was right,” she said. “You’re still incapable of punishing me.” She furthered: “Sometimes it pays to listen.” She went to him, bent over and pulled him up, bearing his weight that was greater than hers, and when she couldn’t take it a moment longer, she pushed him back to the bed.
The thump of his buttocks on the bamboo bed, which creaked upon suddenly receiving his weight, elicited from him a grunt followed by a moan. He was in agony, grimacing as he fought to remain seated; the pain gnawing at his thigh, up to his pubis, radiating in his midriff, stealing his consciousness away. But he resisted blacking out; the rage built up in him, dammed up in him, ready to explode.
Edmond Julian de la Cerna was a fellow for fiction at the 2009 Davao Writers Workshop. The story from which this excerpt came was published in the August 25 issue of Philippines Graphic. For the complete version, please visit http://philippinesgraphic.com/?p=319.