Demi felt quite lucky with her job at the gym. It was relatively easy although there were, of course, the occasional problems with the members (a missing baggage, a terrible schedule). It was sort of boring too as one had nothing to do but sit down behind the counter and watch the same types of people go by. The beefed-up, the obese, the bony, and the curvy. Nevertheless, it still turned out beautiful. A pretty job where pay, privileges, and chances of meeting cute guys were all high. What else could top that?
She deserved this, she had always thought. And she worked hard to maintain all of it.
Everyday, she would come to the workplace with a frappe in one hand and, on the other, a fresh bouquet that she had bought from Agdao. She would then boot up the computer, check each itinerary—the services that had been bought, the fees of the members, the other important schedules—and rechecked them again. She had to make sure that throughout the course of the day she accomplishes her schedule so that she wouldn’t have to postpone anything.
Of all the dreadful things, she hated forgetting the most. It has been her childhood weakness. That was why she always had post-its stuck on almost every corner of the table to remind her of all things urgent.
She kept everything organized. She always did her job clean, with no side businesses. She lived by Murphy’s Law and tried her best to do things right before something wrong happened. Since all things interrelate, she believed that she must keep order by never breaking her routine.
Now, if only her memory would cooperate.
“Happy Good Luck,” Demi whispered as she read the label of the box. A funny brand name for memory enhancers, she thought. She studied the box further. It was in white, and the letters, characters, and designs were all in alternating neon colors. She put the box down and nodded to the old woman standing behind the counter. “I’ll take this one.”
“Are you sure?” The old storekeeper said. Demi stood stunned. The storekeeper didn’t move and only pulled a wrinkly grin. The pupils of her small eyes disappeared as her cheeks stretched. She was quite old, perhaps in her seventies. Her yellowish face reminded her of crepe paper. It also bore a number of moles and spots. Her gray hair was tied in a bun and she wore a traditional red Chinese blouse made of satin.
“Are you sure you want it?” The storekeeper repeated. Demi opened her bag and got her purse.
“Of course I want it,” Demi demanded, holding up a crisp hundred peso bill. “I’m paying for it, see?”
The storekeeper laughed. “I’m sorry,” she said. “But the pills are only for people who have trouble with remembering things. One doesn’t give medicine to people who don’t need it.”
Demi narrowed her eyes. “That’s exactly what I’m experiencing right now,” she said. “I wouldn’t have come here if I didn’t need it.”
The storekeeper stared at her. Her ancient eyes were boring at her as if asking another question, or simply waiting. The dollish smile remained suspended between her cheeks. After a few seconds of silence, the old woman asked, “How long has it been since you ate your last breakfast?”
The sound of a speeding car.
“This,” Demi paused. “This morning, of course,” she said.
The storekeeper nodded. “Perhaps, you might need this after all.” She got a small cellophane pouch and wrapped the box of memory enhancers. Demi received it and went for the door.
“You will be back,” the storekeeper said. Demi didn’t bother to look back. She pushed the glass door in front of her.
The wind chime rang as she went out of the store.
The date was August 12, 2010. Thursday.
“It has been a tough day, ‘Ma,” Demi was talking through her cellphone, a little loudly as a heavy rain poured in the background.
She was standing on a sidewalk, waiting to cross the street. The other side was rather hazy, because of the rain.
“They were really mad at me. I forgot to recompute some fees, and now I have no idea how to bill the members again. It’s going to be taken from my salary. I just know it. I’m beginning to be forgetful, ‘Ma.”
“Oh, our poor baby,” her mother said. “Just relax and calm down, alright? You know what? Memory enhancers really do the trick. Those herbal brands, they really work, you know.”
“Thanks, Mama.” she cooed. “I miss all of you.”
“So do we,” said her mother. “And promise you’ll be coming over next week? Before Papa leaves for Dubai?”
“Promise,” she confirmed.
Both hung up after a minute of farewells.
I feel better now, she thought. She crossed the street.
The words “Murphy’s Law” kept ringing around her head. She really hated it when she forgot to do something. She just knew that it would trigger a series of misfortunes and everything would just mess up.
Once she forgot to get her keys out of her pocket, and then it went with the clothes when she took them to the laundry. When she got home she realized she didn’t have any keys. She also realized that she didn’t bring the duplicates. She decided to spend the night at Lucy’s flat but got lost—twice—along the way. When she finally got there, she found out that Lucy wasn’t home yet. She had to wait for two hours for Lucy to finally get home. It was really messed up. And to think that it all started with the forgotten keys.
She heard the sound of a speeding car. She almost jumped.
She turned her head around. Traffic slowed down. People started to gather. Oh my God, she thought. An accident. The asphalt ground was stained maroon. She saw an arm. The rest of the body was covered by the legs of the bystanders.
She didn’t bother to get nearer. She turned around and walked faster away from the scene.
“Happy Good Luck,” Demi whispered again the words as she read the label of the box. A really funny brand name for memory enhancers, she thought. She wondered what was so happy or lucky about the pill when it was designed to enhance memory. On the other hand, it also seemed mysterious. Is this even BFAD-approved?
She tilted the box to look for any description or dosage amount. She did find them, only they were written in Chinese. The neon colors of the box seemed to put her in a trance.
She pulled out a foil and got one pill. She realized that a pill was quite larger than any normal cough capsule. It was almost as thick as a playing marble. She studied it. A shiny, green, sort of sticky pill. It had a smell that reminded her of wet grass cuttings.
She popped it into her mouth to get the hell with it. Water and swallow.
She went to bed, said her prayers and played first with the some fantasies that had strayed around her head before finally drifting to sleep.
Demetria Cortez, twenty-one and a fresh graduate with a Business Administration degree, stood outside a cream-colored building. The sun was white and high overhead. Through the glass façade of the second floor, she could see the lively, beautiful people who seemed to have all the time in the world, walking about the course of life through treadmills. People letting out their frustrations, she was certain. No wonder people got addicted with going to the gym.
I also happen to have a frustration of my own, she thought. She straightened up her blouse and pulled back her headband. She took one last peek inside her manila envelop before entering the gym. All papers are ready. She gave out a loud sigh, an assurance that she’d wing the interview and start working ASAP.
Applying for a job as a gym receptionist was just a stray idea that came up to her during one random moment, perhaps while having lunch with her friends and talking about the careers they could take after college.
“I wouldn’t bother looking for an office work or, worse, teaching in a school,” she voiced with pride. “I would be completely happy if I could find a job at a resort or at a gym where I could just watch cute boys for the rest of my life.” They laughed.
It all ended up being serious, however. And her “dream” was beginning to be a reality.
A Doppler sound of car speeding.
“Happy Good Luck!” Demi stormed to the counter of the drugstore. “No wonder it had a stupid name. It’s bogus!” She held the box of medicine up the storekeeper’s nose.
The storekeeper, just as before, only grinned. She reached out her bony hand onto the box and studied it. She pushed her glasses up. “Nothing seems to be wrong with it. The expiration date is still next year.”
“Expiration date or not, that thing is not making me any better,” she complained. “It’s making things worse!”
“You mean you still keep on forgetting things?” the old woman exuded a cat-like innocence, and Demi couldn’t tell if she was mocking.
“I said it made things worse. This morning, I totally forgot to bring flowers and buy a cup of frappe. That was a complete shock enough; those were the initial items on my routine!”
The old woman behind the counter continued smiling.
“I would’ve let that slip out of my head. But during the day, I forgot to reserve three of my customers. Three! Within a day! Now, you call that thing as ‘memory enhancers?’ I feel I’m slipping away into dementia.”
“Tell me, how long has it been since you ate your last lunch?” The woman said.
“I eat lunch every afternoon. But asking that is beyond the point, now. I want a refund!” Demi’s hands were on her waist.
“Refund?” The storekeeper only chuckled. “But you haven’t paid for it yet.”
Demi felt a sort of electric current running down her back. “What?”
“You haven’t paid for it yet,” the old woman repeated. “I just wrapped it for you and you left, remember?”
“B-but, I held out a hundred peso bill, I’m sure I,” Demi grabbed her bag and searched for her purse. “I’m sorry, let me just, wait a second …” Demi dug deep but couldn’t find her purse. “I swear I had it on my way here, I must’ve…”
“You forgot your purse?”
“No, I- I just,” Demi panicked, flipping through every compartment of her bag open.
“Not to worry,” The storekeeper said. “I’m not letting you pay for this yet.”
Demi zipped her bag and listened intently to the storekeeper. She felt a little relief inside. But of course, there had to be a catch.
“Also, you could triple the dosage of the medicine.”
The storekeeper pushed back the box. “Take three pills everyday. That should work.”
Without another word, Demi put the box back to her bag. She went for the glass door.
“Come back when nothing happens,” she said. Demi gave a nod and pushed the door. The wind chime rang. A sound of speeding car.
August 12, 2010. Thursday. 9:30 AM.
Demi, with the frappe on one hand and a bouquet on the other, clocked in and went towards the front desk. Lucy had just finished a phone call. She smiled to herself as she dropped the phone and proceeded to work.
“Someone’s blooming today,” Demi teased. Lucy hid her blush. Demi hummed a wedding march as she held the bouquet to her stomach. “Three more days! I can’t wait any longer. You in that trailing gown! It’s just so–” she shrieked and jumped.
Lucy threw an imaginary stone at her. “It’s my wedding day, Demi. Not yours.”
“Can’t I be a little excited for you?”
“You could, if you kept it on the ‘little’ level.”
Demi bit her lips and motioned to contain all her excitement in her chest. Both girls laughed. Demi went around the counter and arranged the flowers in the vase.
“Tonight’s the last practice for the wedding, by the way,” Lucy said. “Attendance is a must.”
“Okay,” Demi said, as she sang a love song. She wrote her schedule for the day on the post-its, sat down and proceeded to work.
A man approached to the counter. “Hi, misses,” he said. Demi didn’t bother to turn her head around. The voice was too familiar that it has paralyzed her in her seat. More spine-tingling even when he called, “Hi, Demi.”
Demi pretended not to hear. Lucy tapped her lap. “Demi, Daniel said ‘hi,’” she whispered.
“Hi, Daniel,” Demi said, curtly. She tore three sheets of post-it and wrote on them. She didn’t look up.
“So, um, you got any plans tonight?” Daniel said.
“W-what?” Demi almost choked on her saliva. “Oh, um, yeah. I got to go over to Lucy’s house tonight, for the wedding practice.”
“Oh, Demi,” Lucy said. “I only said, ‘attendance is a must,’ not ‘don’t be late.’ Go. If you have to.” Demi turned and glared at her with narrowed eyes.
She then gave a small nod to Daniel, still not setting her eyes on him. “Sure, just… don’t pick me up. I have to wait till closing time. At Marty’s Grill. 8 pm.”
“Great,” Daniel said, ecstatic. He ran to the café to give his friend a high five.
“How demanding of you,” Lucy said, rolling her eyes.
Demi slapped her shoulder. “And I didn’t know you work as a part-time pimp,” she said.
“What? He’s cute. And he asked you out,” Lucy was giggling the words.
Demi took a short glance at Daniel, serving snacks to the customers. “Well,” she said, looking back at her computer. “I suppose he is…”
“Someone looks blooming today,” Lucy teased.
“Shut up,” she said.
A sound of speeding car.
“It just doesn’t work!” Demi said, almost shouting. “I already took three, then four, doses every day, and it still…doesn’t…work!”
“How long has it been since you had your last dinner?” the storekeeper said.
“I don’t know and I don’t care! The problem is that your product is making my life more miserable instead of helping me!”
“I want you to tell me, when was the last time -”
“It’s making my life more miserable, you hear? I forgot to visit my family, so I didn’t get to say goodbye to my father! I forgot to attend my best friend’s wedding in which I am the maid-of-honor! I forgot to meet up with Daniel when he asked me out! I forgot lots of things! And I can’t even remember where I’ve been to during those times.”
She buried her face in her hands. She began to cry. “Please don’t ask me what I’ve eaten for breakfast, or when I ate my last breakfast, or whatever shit you might come up with.”
“Take ten pills a day,” the old woman said. “Even for just a day.”
“Ten?” Demi was already voiceless, drowned by her own tears. She said silently, “Do you want to get me killed.” She sobbed and groaned so loud, her voice was already deep.
The storekeeper came out the counter to give her a hug. “Just ten, and everything will be all right.”
A sound of speeding car.
“What in the world?” said Lucy, paralyzed on the front steps of Demi’s room. “Is this how you live?”
“Well, don’t just stand there,” Demi said, with a quick roll of her eyeballs. “Come in!”
Lucy entered, chuckling on her way in. She couldn’t stop surveying the room. She liked it that everything was clean and well-organized, but she was more amused of the post-its. Everywhere – and everything – had a little neon-colored note sticking out of them. Each item, from the switch to the ashtray, from the fridge to the floor mat, had a little post-it that was attached like a price tag. On each of them was a reminder to almost every trivial thing which, when read out loud, reminded her of a telegram.
Switch off fuse on your way out. Don’t forget to bring keys. Buy new toilet cleaner. Today: red pumps, white polo, skirt. Tomorrow: Blazer, red polo, pants, stilettos. Doctor Fernandez’s number (clinic) 225-6325 (cell) 090523448177. Lock the door. Smile on your way out. You are gorgeous.
An entire room, with little notes serving as its wallpaper. All of it were neatly arranged and lined straight, horizontally and vertically.
“Girl, you are sick,” Lucy said, putting down her bag. “It’s great that you keep perfect track of everything, but ‘You are gorgeous?’ How bipolar slash OC of you. You are a bin of mental disorders.” Lucy’s shoulders were jerking with hiccups of laughter. Demi blushed and put a hand to her waist.
Lucy went nearer to the wall and examined one note. It was light blue in color. She picked it up and showed it to Demi. It was clear that each letter of the words were written in violent, repetitive strokes.
“Don’t answer Joey’s calls. He’s a bastard,” she read out loud.
“Fuck!” Demi cried. She pounced on Lucy and grabbed. “You don’t have to read everything.” She crumpled the note into a ball and tossed it in the trash basket. “There’s nothing wrong with reminding myself from time to time.”
“Don’t tell me you even fear of forgetting your own name?” Lucy said.
“Well,” Demi said. “I suppose you could say that.”
A sound of speeding car. A loud crashing sound. In a minute, people are already crowded around her.
“I- I didn’t see, I- I didn’t see…” The driver of the speeding car is panicking, calling for emergency.
Demi can still feel her head thinking. She can still remember things. She can still breathe. She’s alive. She has to be. She counts every beat of her own heart. One-one thousand, two-one thousand, three-one thousand. She loses count. She lost count, that’s all. She’s still breathing. She is.
“Tell me, how long has it been since your last breakfast?” the storekeeper asked.
“Two weeks ago? Three?” she said.
“How about lunch?” the storekeeper asked again.
“Also three weeks ago.”
“About the same time.”
“Perhaps that could be the reason why the pills, you know, don’t work.” The storekeeper grinned. “Because your body can’t accept it anymore. You must know that the pills, as well as any product here in the store only work to people who need it.”
“Well, I suppose you’re right,” she said, scratching her head. “But somehow, I can’t remember anything else. I know who I am, but I can’t remember who I’ve been.”
“Memory is the soul’s anchor to the physical things. Memory is a prison. That is why you don’t need to forget things, dear. It’s just one trivial item of the cycle. Very insignificant.”
“You’re right, again!” She clapped her hands and laughed. “I’m sure glad it’s over.”
The rain stopped. The moths started to gather around the street lights again. The roads were shining in their wetness left glossy.
“It’s getting late, she said. I have to get going, now.”
“Sure, dear,” the old woman said.
“Oh,” she said. “When can I see you again?”
“Anytime you’ll need me, child.” The storekeeper said, and turned around to fix the other items on the shelf behind her.
She pushed the glass door in front of her. The wind chime rang as she went out.
Freidrich Layno studies Creative Writing at UPMin. He was a fellow in last year’s DWG Workshop.