10 October 2007 | Vol. 7, No. 3
The pig's cage was in the corner of the yard in deep grass. She scratched its hairy black back with a stick, and it grunted and leaned into the bars. She rubbed the rough hide.
"You spend too much time with that animal." Tiya squatted in the doorway of the cottage sifting rice in a flat basket. The grains jumped in the air and whispered as they hit the dry reeds. "It's only a pig."
"He's a good pig," Lisa said.
"A pig is a pig," the old woman said, and rose slowly, a hand on her back. "A pig is only good for one thing." She went inside out of the sun.
"Good pig," Lisa said, rubbing its side. "Good pig."
She sat in the grass, back to the cage, shaded by a fringed Sugar palm. The pig snuffled wetly beside her. She tore a blade of grass and threaded it through her fingers. The bruised stem left a green stain on her skin. She drew juicy green dots and whorls on the pale underside of her arm and snaking up her narrow calf.
Tiya would scrub the marks if she saw them, shaking her head and clicking her tongue. Lisa licked a thumb and slowly rubbed them out.
In the sunlight beyond the dark circle around the cage, the neat, whitewashed house shimmered in the sun. At night, the wind fingered the roof's tight layers of dried grass, sighing, and the smooth wood floors and bamboo walls gave off a dusty scent like cinnamon. She would lie under the white mosquito netting and watch the gauze breathe, rising and falling in eddies from the slow, spinning blades of the overhead fan. It was difficult to sleep in the murmuring, watchful house, but in the afternoon it was still and quiet. She had nowhere to go. It would be hours before her father came home. In the cool nest of lemony grass she shut her eyes.
Lisa's father spent his days at the university, where the Dean had invited him to lecture for the summer. He hadn't been given tenure at the small Midwestern college where he taught during the year, but in The Philippines there were opportunities for an educated American with contacts. This visit might be the start of a new life, he had told her. Asia was wide open, he said, wide open. A dollar could buy a lot of pesos. They would work hard to make a good impression, and they would be asked to return, or perhaps they would stay. In the meantime, the house they lived in, and the pig, belonged to the Dean.
In the evenings, in the cottage, her father practiced his lectures, walking up and down the wood-lined rooms, gesturing, to the glowing lamps, to the wood walls, to her. She didn't understand his work—something about trade and resources, something about selling—but she would say, "Very good, Daddy, very nice."
Her mother had understood his theories, had sifted through pages of his looping script and wandering sentences and fashioned his manuscripts. She was patient and admiring. In the afternoons, she and Lisa would sit near the open window and watch for her father on the street below. When they saw him they would run to the front door. Beneath their feet he'd be pressing the elevator button and patting his pockets for the key. The cables would thrum as he rose to them, the key would click in the lock, and, finally, he would step into the room in a gust of cold air. Lisa would search his pockets for trinkets. She would put her tiny feet on his long black shoes, and he would spin her around the room.
After her mother died, he worked longer hours, but fell further behind. His articles went unpublished. He would begin a sentence and drift into silence, hold a scarf or a comb and turn it over and over in his hands. He jumped from project to project, was mute one moment and manic the next.
Lisa tried to make it better. She would meet him at the door and take his coat. She listened as he talked about his day, what a student had said, or how the bus was late. His voice would rumble over her like white noise, and she would nod and murmur. It felt right to listen. It made her mother seem present. It made him happy. Happier.
In the cottage, as night fell, her father said, "You must be bored here all day. You must be lonely. It's not much of a vacation for you, is it?"
"It's fine, Itay."
"You're learning a new language, at least."
"Talaga." It's true.
"I'll get you a tutor."
"Tiya can teach me," she said.
"One of the students perhaps."
"If you say so."
"You're a good girl."
She was almost sixteen. She understood that her father had stopped seeing her. He was preoccupied or else she was a painful reminder; she had her mother's fine bones and startling light eyes. When she looked in the oval mirror on the cottage wall, all she could see was a jumble of bones. She was a puzzle, the pieces stretched into nameless, aching, indistinct shapes.
The tutor was soft-spoken. His long face was pitted with scars, blue against his dark skin and mysterious like tribal designs. His name was Mitchie Torre. He tapped the kitchen table.
"Lamesa," he said. "We two sit, upo, and drink tsaa at the lamesa."
"Lamesa, upo, tsaa," Lisa said.
At the stove, Tiya sniffed. "Some people. Some people have nothing better to do than talk."
"Tsaang malamig, cold tea," Mitchie said steadily. "From tired old leaves. The man drinks tsaang malamig in the woman's big, empty kitchen."
Tiya sniffed, but lit a flame under the kettle.
Lisa smiled into her palm.
"Maybe a few outdoor words," Mitchie said, and followed her into the overgrown yard. The grass brushed their legs as they walked.
Mitchie paused at the pig's cage. "Baboy," he said. "A nice fat pig."
"My friend," she said, and immediately regretted it. It sounded childish. "Baboy," she said quickly. "Big, fat baboy." The pig rolled on its side and sighed.
They walked around the garden naming plants. At the edge of the dusty road Mitchie stopped and lifted his chin to the terraced mountains. "It's not like where you come from?"
"Where I come from is flat and cold. Malamig."
"Malamig, yes. Here we work in the sun."
"Not you," she said.
"Because I study? No, you see?" He held out his arm. The top was dark, like coffee, but beneath it the brown was shot with cream. She put her pale forearm next to his, and they stood a moment looking at their two arms touching.
"We shouldn't waste the tea," he said, and put his hands in his pockets.
They stepped into the shade.
"Tsaa, fat baboy" Lisa told the drowsing pig as they passed. "Tsaa with Mitchie at the lamesa."
Mitchie held open the door.
The Dean lived in the big house on the rise, overlooking a manicured lawn lined with palms, spidery orchids, and limp, ripe Medinilla blossoms. There was a fountain, with dimpled cherubs, and a gravel driveway that wound from the dirt road to the pillar-lined front porch. Inside, the floors were covered with thick, Oriental rugs, and the walls with gilt-edged oil paintings.
When they first visited, Lisa had marveled at the portraits lining the entry. The women wore bright, beaded dresses, the starched shoulders of their sleeves rising high around their necks like collars. The men stood impassively behind them, their eyes hooded. They were like kings and queens.
The Dean's son had come up behind her. Boy, he was called. His hair was slick against his head. He had stood too close, near enough for her to smell the cloying sweetness of his aftershave and, beneath it, a hint of something acrid.
"Old paintings of dead people: these are not for young American girls, I think. Americans like fun, no? Loud music, fast cars."
"They're lovely, really."
"No, no. You'll find it tiresome. This is what you Americans call the 'third world,' after all. We're behind the times. But not so bad as this." He waved his hand dismissively at the paintings. "We can do better than this for entertainment."
He had squeezed her arm, and she had edged away, smiling politely.
Now she was back on the wide veranda at Boy's invitation. Her father had insisted.
"He's creepy," she said.
"Really, Lisa, don't be rude. You've barely met him. I'm sure he's a fine young man. Give him a chance."
She stepped through the wide doors and followed a pounding bass beat. In the living room, Boy was dancing, his eyes closed and a cigarette dangling from his lips. Ash fell, and he ground it into the carpet.
"Lisa, Lisa," he said, opening his eyes. He dropped the cigarette in a cloisonne bowl. "Good, you came. Come dance with me little Lisa."
His shirt was off. His fleshy chest glistened.
"Come." He took her hand and spun her. The song ended and a slower one began. He pulled her close, his hands on her back.
The breath in her ear was smoky. Through the sheer curtains she could see a line of trees, and above their branches the gentle arch of the cottage roof.
"Lisa, Lisa," he hummed. "Pretty American Lisa."
When she was small, she would hide in the closet—not hide so much as be. She would press her face into her mother's furs and the silky lining of her father's jackets. She would slip her feet into their giant shoes, her mother's pumps like stilts, and she would wiggle her toes. She would fill her chest with the bitter smell of mothballs and her ears with cloth-muffled silence. Some days it would be hours before they found her.
Her father had given away her mother's clothes when she died. There were cold white spaces in the closet between his hanging suits, echoing bare wall. Then they moved, and she had no special place.
Pressed to Boy, his sweat dampening her shirt, she closed her eyes and tried to remember what quiet felt like. She tried to remember the feathery softness of the fur on her cheek and the thick, cottony silence. She willed herself into that small, safe space, but his hands were on her back and she was hard against his unfamiliar shape. Then the song ended, and in the moment of silence between the tracks, he said her name as if tasting it: "LeeeSaaa."
He released her, and she fled.
That night, she waited in the dark doorway as her father came up the walk. He kissed her cheek and she took his bag.
"How was your day?" he asked.
His hair was mussed, as if he'd been pulling it in frustration. His shirt was wilted, and there were circles of sweat under his arms.
"It was fine," she said. "Tiya has dinner waiting."
"And Boy?" he said, sitting heavily on the high-backed chair by the door. "How was it with him?" He pulled off his shoes and rubbed his feet. He sighed, relaxing.
She squeezed his bag to her chest.
"He played music, and we danced," she said.
He loosened his tie. "That's good," he said. "I told you."
Lisa's language lessons continued, away from Tiya's sharp tongue.
The road they were on twisted and curved around the terraced mountain like a snake and, beyond the edge, dropped sharply away. She dug her fingers into Mitchie's shoulders and kept her eyes on the horizon.
They stopped at a small shop. The sun was high. They sat on the steps drinking cold, sweetened limejuice and eating soft rolls.
"To hunger, gutom. To eat, kain," Mitchie said.
She nodded, her mouth full of sweet bread.
"And for someone who talks too much—this is not your problem—we say tulak ng bibig, this one has two mouths."
The narrow street was empty. Strains of tinny music floated through the open shop window. A yellow dog in the shade of the tiled roof twitched and trembled in its sleep. On the wall above them, a sleek lizard tilted his head and eyed them. It scurried into a crack and disappeared.
Lisa's legs still tingled from the ride up the hill. Her lips stung pleasantly from the limes. She felt slow and comfortable in the sun. She wanted the moment to last.
"What?" Mitchie said.
"Nothing. I like it here."
"Yes. It's nice," he said, watching her stretch. He looked away. "There are parts that are not so nice, though. Places you wouldn't like."
"How do you mean?"
He shrugged. "We're a poor nation."
They walked back to the bike. She climbed up behind him. The knots of his backbone pushed through his thin shirt. They looked like the keys of an instrument, and she wondered how they would sound if she ran a finger along them. She clenched her hands.
"Show me," she said.
"I don't think so."
"I'll never know what it's like then. What it's really like."
"You won't be frightened?"
"You'll be there."
He kicked the bike into life. "Hold on," he said.
They rode into the valley.
Lisa followed Mitchie through row after row of listing tin shacks. Puff-bellied children tugged at her hands and clothes. They stroked her white skin and made darting swipes at her yellow hair. They giggled and covered their broken teeth with dirty fingers. She emptied her pockets into their hands. She undid the clasp on her thin silver chain and dropped it in a boy's open hand. He ran off shouting, waving the necklace like a flag.
An oily stream ran sluggishly beside the walkway, its banks lined with garbage: plastic bags, torn paper, twisted metal, and the sodden, fly-blackened carcass of a dog. A rat poked its pink nose through the bones. The smell was like a living creature burrowing into her skin and infesting her clothes. She wanted to cover her nose, but she was ashamed. People lived here.
"Your family is wealthy?" Mitchie said.
"Do you know what poverty is though?" He took her arm and helped her around a stagnant puddle. Beside them, a woman sniffed shabu from a plastic bag. A toddler pulled at her shirt and she waved it away.
"Having nothing? Having no hope?"
"Having no choices."
They were at the dump. People crawled over the rubbish mountain like beetles. Men's damp, bony backs shinned like shells.
A girl took Lisa's hand. She pointed to a figure high on the hill.
"Inay," she said. Mommy.
Mitchie said, "This is the heart of my country."
Back at the cottage, Boy was in their small living room, drinking beer with her father. The men rose.
"Lisa, look who's here." Her father smiled.
"Lisa," Boy said. "Happy to see you again."
She nodded. She kept her eyes down. She played with the soft lace on the edge of her blouse.
"Sit with us," her father said.
"I should change."
Boy nodded. His eyes followed her out the door.
"That Boy, he likes you," her father said at dinner. "He wants to make sure you're having a good time."
The next morning, there were packages on the doorstep.
The Dean had sent her father an embroidered barong tagalog made of stiff, yellow pineapple fibers. He put it in over his undershirt. His potbelly stretched the fabric.
"Formalwear," he said, smoothing his fine hair. He was beginning to bald.
"You look nice," she said.
In another box lined with white tissue paper, there was an elaborate light pink piña seda dress. It had sleeves layered like petals and a fan that smelled of sandalwood.
"Try it on," he said.
Mitchie took her to lunch.
"Americans! Coca-Cola, McDonald's. You have no culture, you Americans. You export crap—Excuse me, lady, garbage. You're like children. Friends. Monica and Chandler. These are real people? You know these people?" Mitchie's friend Ponso punched the air.
Tonton said, "Don't listen to him. I love Americans. I love American music."
"Oo, yes, America, The Beautiful. Three million dead of AIDS in Africa and you send expired medicines. You dump food in the sea. You pay your farmers not to grow crops. Not to grow them! These are crazy people. This is a crazy place, America."
"Listen, listen! Bruce Springsteen! Justin Timberlake! 'Go ahead be gone with it. Get your sexy on.' This is great music!"
Ponso waved his hands. French fries spun across the Formica. "Your President, he's crazy, no? You agree? This war is a terrible thing."
Under the crowded table, Mitchie's thigh rested against hers. She could feel the warmth through her jeans.
"They're harmless," he said cheerfully. "My friends, they're happy to meet you."
The men smoked and shouted. They danced in their seats. They shoved their trays of sweet noodles aside and danced on the tables.
"Hey, American lady, look at me! Hey, Michael Jackson! Moonwalking!"
The heavy air hummed. Rain was coming.
Mitchie came to the door. "Hurry," he said, and pulled her onto the bike. They drove into the country, toward the mossy, stepped mountains. A gray curtain was falling over the valley. Mitchie left the bike in the dirt by the edge of a broad, flooded field. Lisa followed him down the bank and along a low mud retaining wall. He stamped his feet and a yellow snake the length of her hand flashed through the green rice stems and disappeared.
"Get in the water," he said.
"But the snakes?"
"They're gone now."
She stepped out of her sandals and into the pond-like field. It was warm, like a bath. The mud slid between her toes. She waded out holding her skirt above her knees.
"Yes, fine." He squatted on the bank. "Today, a lesson in water: tubig. Rain, ulan. Every year, the monsoons come and flood these fields."
Behind him, the wall of water swept closer. Its edges glowed, eerily lit by the hidden sun. The center was dark and shifting; the hills vanished into its folds and the field frothed. At her feet, the smooth surface of the pond trembled.
"It's coming," she said. "It's here."
And then it was on them, a few fat drops at first, then, like a wave, like a cloud, so dense that it was difficult to tell where the water left off and the humid air began.
She dropped her skirt. She held out her palms and let the rain run down her face and neck. It fell in her mouth and spread like a stain through her hair. Her shirt clung to her and the thin cotton skirt, dragging in the muddy water, lay flat against the ridges of her hips and legs.
She was the stem of a dry plant drinking, she was a petal unfolding. There was nothing but the heavy column of water weighing her down and the clean, fresh smell of rain.
Mitchie, hugging his knees, watched her.
And then it was gone.
Afterward, standing on the smooth clay tiles of the kitchen floor, water pooled at her feet.
"Silly girl, take off your clothes." Tiya rubbed her with rough cotton towels and muttered. "Luko-luko, foolish, doesn't know when to get out of the rain."
Her skin was red and tender. The old woman wrapped her in a blanket and propped her up with pillows.
"Drink this, silly girl," she said, and Lisa sipped the bitter, scalding tea.
A cockroach, its iridescent wings shining, skittered across the slippery floor. It paused at the rim of the puddle, dipped its head, and raced away, feet clicking.
"Have you tried on the dress from the Dean yet? The banquet is soon." Lisa's father nudged his glasses higher. "Tiya can hem it for you, or whatever needs to be done."
"I will," she said.
She was reading at the desk in a circle of light. The base of the lamp was shaped like a candlestick.
"And Lisa, Boy came by my office."
She froze. A moth, dazzled by the bulb, batted against the papery shade. She could hear the beat of its powdery wings. She could hear her own heart. He must hear it, too, she thought. Surely he can hear it beating.
"He wants to take you out. He wants to introduce you to his friends."
She rubbed the page between her fingers. She pressed hard enough to feel her skin burn with the friction. He couldn't hear.
Her father laughed softly. "They're so polite here. He was asking my permission."
The discotheque was loud, filled with gyrating bodies and colored lights. Boy's friends wore shiny shirts and laughed around cigarettes.
"Lisa," they shouted together. "Lisa, Lisa, everyone loves Lisa."
They made a space on the edge of the booth. Boy pulled her into his lap and held her there. He waved a waiter over.
"What will you have?"
"Coke? Coke? You can't have Coke here." His friends laughed. He ordered her a drink. It was dark and sweet, like Coke but with a syrupy, smoky flavor.
It was hot in the loud room. She finished the drink.
Soon they were dancing, Lisa in a crush of men. Bodies bumped her. The lights flashed, and the room swam.
Boy towed her through the crowd. Then she was outside, in the dark. She leaned against the building, breathing.
"American girls are so sexy the way they dance," Boy said.
He put his hands on the wall on either side of her head. She tried to push him away, but his chest was hard against her and her arms wouldn't work. He put his mouth over her lips and forced his tongue between her teeth. He put his fingers between her legs and squeezed. He had his hand on her breast and he was kneading it.
Her chest was burning. She couldn't see and she was choking. Her mouth was filled and he was tearing at her. She would snap. She would break. It was all wrong. She was trapped in the cage of his arms and she couldn't breathe.
Then he was off her, spinning away, and there was a wet sound like meat hitting a cutting board. He was on the ground and bleeding, and someone grabbed her and pulled her away. She was running down an alley, stumbling, and then Ponso, breathing heavily, his arm around her, was saying, "Ay, what a mess." And Mitchie on the other side, his arm around her waist, was cursing urgently in words she didn't understand.
They were at the car. Tonso opened the back door from the driver's seat. "Hey, American lady. Good thing you got friends in low places."
She took a step then bent over the car and was sick in the street. Mitchie held her hair off her face.
"It's all right, it's all right," he said. "I'm so sorry."
"She'll feel better in a minute," Tonso said.
She wiped her mouth. Ponso gave her a package of Chiclets. She chewed one and spit it out. Her mouth was sore. Mitchie looked worriedly in her face and she said, "I'm OK now."
Driving home in the dark between Ponso and Mitchie, jasmine-laced air washed through the open window. Lamplight pooled over their faces, then slid away. Mitchie held her hand. She stopped shaking.
"You came after me," she said sleepily.
"Of course," Mitchie said. His voice made his chest buzz. She felt it through her cheek. He touched her hair. It glinted in the light falling through the rear window. "Lisa, you know what mutya is? A jewel, like a pearl, a precious thing."
"Mutya," she murmured. "Pretty."
She woke sweating from a nightmare. Hands were over her face and tearing at her flesh. Fingers were around her neck. She sat up gasping, entwined in the knotted sheets. She tugged them off and threw them to the floor. She curled into a ball, her arms around her knees.
It was only a dream, but she wished she could call Mitchie. Hearing his voice would make it better. She tried to relax. She tried to slow her breathing. She closed her eyes, but she couldn't sleep.
She rose and tiptoed to the kitchen, poured a glass of water from the earthen pitcher on the counter. She took the cup outside. It was a still, hot night. The moon settled a silvery blanket of light over the lawn. She made her way to the pig's cage. It was asleep on its side.
"Baboy," she whispered. One of its feet trembled and it made a low noise. The pig was dreaming. She knelt beside it and rested her head on its bars. "Do you know what mutya is? Something precious." The pig twitched.
Mitchie didn't have to come as often as he did. He spent more than her father paid him on petrol alone. And he had come after her, he and his friends. He had saved her from Boy.
"Mutya," she said.
Something beautiful, that's what he saw when he looked at her.
Tiya had pins in her mouth. She took the silky pink piña seda fabric between her fingers and stuck the pins through the hem. She stood with a groan. She took more pins and pulled the dress tight around Lisa's waist. She looked around the girl into the mirror.
"Too skinny," she said, "but the dress is good."
Lisa smoothed the fabric over her stomach. "I don't like it."
"It's a gift," Tiya said. "You have to wear it."
"I know. But I don't like it."
Tiya sniffed. "I could eat for a month on what this dress costs. Two months even."
"You can have it then."
The old woman sighed. She looked critically at her handiwork. She looked at Lisa in the mirror. "You can't eat a dress," she said in her sour voice.
Mitchie drove Lisa to a hotel. A green neon sign winked from the eaves. He opened the car door and took her hand. She stepped out and the top of her head was even with his shoulder. She looked up at him and smiled.
"This is a good place," he said, "but I'm sorry it's not nicer."
A birdlike woman at the front desk gave her a keen look before handing Mitchie a key and counting change into his palm. They crossed a courtyard slung with vines. Palm fronds clicked above their heads. The key turned easily in the lock. As Mitchie opened the door, she raised her eyes to the sky. The moon, full and heavy, seemed to rest on the rooftop
In the room, there was a rattan desk against the wall and a ceiling fan slowly spinning. There was faded green shag carpet and green bamboo wallpaper. It was like standing in a forest of giant grass.
"You can take off your clothes. I won't look," he said.
"You can look," she said.
She stepped out of her sandals and her jeans, and pulled off her t-shirt. She folded them carefully and set them on the desk. She stood in her white cotton underwear, carpet stems tickling the soles of her feet. She had narrow hips and a flat belly and coltish long legs. Her hair hung down her back between the sharp wings of her shoulder blades.
He was still, watching her. She took a step closer.
"Suso," she said, and took his hand and brought it to her breast. "Humalik," she said, and kissed him. Then she bent and pulled the covers back and stretched out on the sheets. "Halika," she said, and patted the empty space next to her. Come here.
Mitchie pulled off his shirt and knelt by the bed. He put a finger on the waistband of her underpants and traced its path along the curve of her stomach. He ran it lightly back and forth across the elastic.
"Lisa," he said, "are you sure?"
"Halika. Huwag kang matakot." Come, she said. Don't be afraid.
He rose and pulled off his pants, leaving on his underwear, a narrow band of blue across his brown waist. She'd never seen a naked man before, but she could tell by the way the fabric strained that he was aroused, and she wanted to touch him. He was unfurling like an exotic plant—for her, because of her—and she wanted to cup him gently in her hands and thank him.
He arranged himself next to her, close but not touching. His creamy skin was glossy under a fine layer of sweat. His voice was husky.
"You know how old I am?" he asked, and she shook her head. "I'm 24. I'm too old for you."
"You're not," she said and she flattened her hands against his thin chest and kissed him. He touched the curve of her back and drew her closer, and they lay together until his breathing roughened and he pulled away.
The skin across his face was taut. His lips were white. He looked as if he was in pain.
"Listen," he said. He gripped the fine bones of her hips hard and he said again, "listen."
She could feel heat flowing off him. There were beads of sweat on his forehead and runnels down his neck. A small, frantic pulse beat in the hollow of his collarbone.
"Cover your eyes," he said then, hoarsely. "Bilis, hurry, cover them." And he put a damp hand over her eyes. He put his wet face against her chest and she couldn't see but she could feel him shake. He shivered and his breath came in gasps, and then he groaned and was still.
After a moment, he took his hand away. She opened her eyes and saw the strain had gone out of him. His eyelids sagged; he looked almost sleepy.
"Did I do something wrong?" she said.
"No, hindi, of course not. You're perfect."
He lay quietly beside her.
"Is that all?" she said, hesitantly. "Is that all there is?"
He covered his mouth. "No, there's more, but we can't do it."
"I'm too young," she said.
"I'm not too young." She climbed on him and grabbed his hands and pressed them to her tiny breasts. The nipples were like little stones.
"Stop it. Stop."
"No. I'm not a baby."
"I know," he said, but he pulled his hands away. He tipped her off him. She hid her face, and he said gently, "Do you know anything? What do you know?"
She bit her lip. She shook her head. "Nothing. Something, but nothing really," she said.
"All right," he said. "All right. Like this. Do you know this?" He took her hand. He pushed it under the waistband of her pants into the warm, wet cleft. He put his own hand on top of the thin cotton, above her hand, and he moved them together. "This, do you know this?"
"Yes. No. I don't know."
It was wet between her fingers and slippery. He moved their hands together, the cotton between them, and she lifted her hips, and he pushed down on her. Their hands slid back and forth together, and the pressure rose between her legs and in her belly, like a cloud building, like heat, and then she was on the edge of some high place and their hands moved together and she fell.
He moved his hand back to her hip.
"Like that," she said after a minute.
"Yes. It's like that."
The room was warm. The fan spun in slow circles. They fell asleep together in the quiet.
Tiya had finished the dress in time for the banquet. Lisa pulled it on and tied back her hair. She fastened a string of her mother's pearls around her neck. It took a while to close the clasp; her hands trembled. She looked in the mirror.
Her father stood in the doorway in his barong.
"You look very grown up," he said.
She looked like a little girl in dress-up clothes.
"You'll stay with me," she said to his reflection. "You won't leave me alone."
"Of course not. You're my date."
"Promise," she said. "Cross your heart."
"I promise. Funny girl. I'll be right there beside you."
The Dean's house glittered in the dark. The gongs and drums of a kulintang ensemble beating elaborate, tinny patterns as the guests passed through the columns into the foyer. The chandelier sent shards of light rocking around the room. Lisa held her father's arm.
"So glad you could come," the Dean said, and took her father's hands in his. Lisa, adrift, crossed her arms across her chest.
"Tuloy po kayo," the Dean's wife said. Please come in.
Behind his mother, Boy stood, serene. He had a darkening line of red down one lip and a faint yellowing bruise on his forehead.
"You've injured yourself," her father said.
"It's nothing," Boy said.
The Dean had his hand on her father's back, steering him through the crowd. Lisa followed them into the dining room.
The table was filled with bowls of meaty broth spiced with tamarind, chunks of fish in glowing coconut milk, and steaming bowls of vegetables. In the center, on a carved wooden platter, was a whole roast pig, a celebratory lechon, dark and leathery, its milky eyes staring.
Boy was at her elbow. "A friend of yours, I think." He gestured toward the pig. His voice was smooth. "The meat is very sweet, very juicy. I think you'll like it."
Lisa's stomach rolled.
He pulled a chair out for her. Her legs were rubbery. She sat and stared ahead, her hands gripped in her lap. Across the table, her father was deep in conversation with the Dean and laughing.
Boy took a forkful of the pork and set it on her plate.
"Poor pig," he said. "Poor, poor piggy." He put a forkful of the tender meat in his mouth and chewed meditatively. "Do you know how to butcher a pig? It's simple, really. You drag it out of its pen and you shoot it in the head, bang!"
"Then you slit its throat, and its blood pumps out." He took another forkful. "You might wonder how that's done." He pointed a meaty finger at her throat. "You take the blade of your knife, and you stick it in here, and you slit the arteries. If the pig is a male and hasn't been castrated, well, you cut off its testicles so the meat will stay sweet." He licked his greasy fingers. "You see? As I say, simple." He leaned toward her. "You understand, don't you Lisa? You understand what I'm saying. For a rich man in this place, anything is possible."
She put a hand on the table to steady herself. The room spun. The air was unbearably hot. Dark crescents of sweat bled into the silk under her arms.
"A pig is just a pig," she whispered.
"Yes," Boy agreed genially. "Unless it's a man."
She tried to catch her father's eye, but he'd turned away.
It was a typhoon, circling from the east, marking the end of summer. Lisa sat in the cottage, her legs beneath her and a book in her lap, listening to the wind. The timbers groaned but held; the storm was still building.
The door swung open and her father, arriving, grappled with it awkwardly, his briefcase in one hand and a dripping umbrella in the other. His shirt clung to him and his hair stood in tufts. He shook, spraying the floor.
"Lisa, be a good girl and get me a towel."
"Tiya, my father needs you," Lisa called. She was reading.
There was no answer from the kitchen. Lisa remembered—Tiya had left early before the brunt of the storm. She unwound herself slowly from the chair. In the past month her gawkiness had faded and she moved with a certain languor. She gave her father a towel from the bathroom and sat back in her chair.
Her father swiped at his face and settled onto the sofa with a groan, not bothering to remove his wet shoes. He sighed theatrically. Lisa did not look up.
"I have some bad news," he said finally, heavily. "I had hoped for a more permanent position, but the Dean… My contract is not being renewed."
"Yes, I know. Boy mentioned."
"It comes as a disappointment."
Lisa marked her place with a small piece of pink fabric and shut the book. She crossed her hands and looked at her father, unblinking.
"I had hoped…"
"It was not possible."
"No. Those were the Dean's precise words." He pressed the towel to the damp fabric of his trousers. He hesitated. "Perhaps Boy might speak with him?"
"I think not," Lisa said. "I believe the decision was final."
Lisa leaned back and watched her father dab dejectedly at his trousers. Such a sad little man, she thought. He had no idea. The Dean's words had come at a considerable cost. It was a game she and Boy played: negotiating. He was an excellent instructor, and she had caught on quickly. 'I will do this, if you do that.' 'If you move just so, I will do exactly as you say.' Everything had a price. It was a matter of agreeing on the terms. She shifted in the lamplight, and her father remarked how her eyes glittered.
About the author:
Laurie Seidler is completing an MFA at California College of the Arts. Her fiction has appeared in or is forthcoming at StoryGlossia, Small Spiral Notebook, In Posse Review, Hobart, and The Shore Magazine.