Lobster for Dinner | Katrina C. Elauria

Immediately after Mr. Santos found a stray cat sprawled in their yard—dead, maggots burrowing through its carcass—he and his wife decided to move out. They became certain a plague had hit their town. It was noontime when their SUV drove off. Nobody in their town noticed their sudden disappearance until another couple occupied their house months after they left.

It wasn’t the first time for Mr. and Mrs. Santos to move—to leave and never come back. Once, they had to move after Mrs. Santos noticed that the sun had been rising late in the morning. It was summer. She used to pattern her daily activities according to the shifting of the sun. By the end of the week, she concluded that the days had become shorter. It gave her insufficient time to count and at the same time polish their porcelain dishes and to do her other preoccupations such as rereading her un-mailed letters to their daughter who had died recently of pneumonia and reading the previous day’s newspaper. After a rather short discussion, the couple decided to leave. One day, they waited for the sun to rise so high, and then they left. It was the last day of summer.

They left everything behind whenever they moved out. There were, however, those instances when Mr. Santos would glance back at their house, and realize he had to get something. The time they moved out of their first house, he brought his rifle. It was so glossy that one might think it fake—a rifle made of plastic for little boys, only it once had real bullets in it. He had a penchant for polishing it since the war ended. The next time they
moved to another house, he left it for a shovel.

His wife, on the other hand, never brought anything. She was too slow to recall things and too weak to carry anything besides her own arthritic body. At first though, she regretted leaving behind their family portrait. Their only family portrait. Then she realized it was just a family portrait and started regretting leaving another thing: her eyeglasses.

She was knitting a hat for her husband when her husband went inside the house. The silence of the morning was broken when Mr. Santos slammed the front door.

“There’s a dead cat in our front yard.”

Mrs. Santos rested her hands on her lap for a while and looked at her frantic husband. “You think it has reached our town?”

“I think so. There is an ambulance parked in front of a house three blocks away from us.”

Mrs. Santos clenched her hands, creasing the hat.

“I’ll get the car ready.”

She inhaled and reluctantly set aside the hat she had not finished knitting. It would have been the first hat she had knitted for her husband.

“Hon, I think I found a name for the fish,” she yelled.

“That’s good!” Mr. Santos yelled back as he scurried down the patio.

Mrs. Santos went to a drawer near the window, took a handful of flakes and sprinkled them in the aquarium. “Alberto, you’ll be Alberto,” she muttered to herself. It was their first goldfish. They bought it at a pet shop one Sunday. At first they wanted to buy at least five of it, but Mrs. Santos whispered to her husband, “It’s a pity I cannot name them all.” They only bought one.

There were things they talked of only when they were in motion, the engine vibrating, surrounding them with its monotonous droning. Scenes outside were reduced to flashes of light.

“It looks like it will rain,” Mr. Santos said without looking at his wife.

“No it won’t. It hasn’t rained for weeks.”

They fell into silence. Mr. Santos stepped on the accelerator and went past a bus half-filled with passengers who were mostly asleep. Some just stared out their windows towards the bare fields on the highway.

“Your daisies were in full bloom, did you notice?” Mr. Santos asked.

“Yes. It really helped paying Bob to water our garden every day,” she said, smiling to her husband.

Mr. Santos smiled back. It was he who requested Bob to take care of their garden after a week of no rain.

Mrs. Santos once became depressed when a pot of her daisies died.

They were silent for a few minutes. Mrs. Santos thought she felt a slight pang in her chest but dismissed the thought at once.

“I’d love to travel to Galapagos Island with you,” Mrs. Santos said, looking at her husband.
“Yes, hon. We’ll go there one day.”

“We’ll live there and we’ll eat lobsters everyday.”

“I must say it’s a good idea. But the doctor said you have to be careful with what you eat.”

“We’ll live there and we won’t have to buy turtles,” she said, not minding what her husband had said.

“Yes, hon. We’ll live there and we won’t have to buy turtles.”

They sat still, faces unmoved. They passed by an ocean. It was too lovely to be ignored. But they did for they were lulled by the humming of the engine.

“It’s getting dark. Are we there yet?” Mrs. Santos asked.

“We’ll be there soon.”

“You said it’s an old town.”

“It is. We used to live there before the war broke out.” He paused before taking a sharp turn. The wheels made a screeching sound. “All my childhood friends left after getting married. They thought that place to be a creepy old town, impossible to be restored.”

They drove a few more miles. Mrs. Santos dozed off, waking up whenever she knocked her head on the glass window.

It was already dark when they reached a remote town bordering a forest. The sun had already hid itself behind the towering trees. They slowed down and Mrs. Santos glanced at houses they passed by. Most of the houses were old. Rooftops were rusty. Doors needed repainting. Fences were run-down. Mr. Santos knew every part of the town by heart that he did not need to look at every house to know where he was headed.

Neither of them spoke. After a few more turns, they stopped in front of a deserted three-storey house. The vines that had been creeping up the front wall for years almost reached the roof.

“You never told me your house was this big,” Mrs. Santos said as she unbuckled herself from her seat. When Mr. Santos turned off the ignition, everything became dead silent.

They stepped out of the car. They felt strange for having to move their numb bodies.

Mr. Santos stared at a house he left forty years ago. He didn’t notice that Mrs. Santos was already at the door waiting for him.

“Shall we enter our new house?” Mrs. Santos asked.

Mr. Santos smiled at his wife as he waved a set of keys.

First published by the Ateneo de Manila University in 2011 in The Kritika Kultura Anthology of New Philippine Writing in English, edited by Mark Anthony Cayanan, Conchitina Cruz, and Adam David

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