What was Wrong with Ikka? | Dennis Andrew S. Aguinaldo

Maybe it was her hands, those hands being the least sexy thing about her, the skin on them too hairy, her knuckles and the joints of her fingers too aggressive, like dark oversized buttons that belonged nowhere except in that long ago what-decade of shoulder pads, and moreover, Ikka’s fingernails were trim, the paint on them always chipped.

What was wrong with Lilac?


With July?

I said, nothing.

With A?

You promised me we would never talk about A.

In fact, I don’t see anything wrong with Ikka’s hands.

Once taken against the flurry of context, those hands of Ikka’s reveal themselves as the focal point of her most engaging beauty, those hands being the force that blows out of nowhere, from my blindside as it were, to lift my elbow and kiss the armpit of choice French-wise, or to shove me out of her way to the toilet, or to pull me out of the office for vertigo rides at Enchanted Kingdom, for jeepney rides to low-budget Festival Mall where various arcade installments of House of the Dead await, she promises, or so her hands promise, so together together, we’d shoot down zombie frogs, owls, crawling lichen, giant undead squid.

There was no saying No to her, and that must have been the trouble with Ikka.

Heavy footsteps and one smart slap against the cubicle (particularly the wall that supports the PC) tells me Ikka’s in the office, headed to some corner or closet where she wishes to be found, the High Noon Hide & Go Seek of Wednesday, maybe already standing behind some shelf or colleague. Within 5 or 10 minutes, I will read in the face of my captive her intention to spring me out of the office, Let’s blow this joint, her face will say, specially that grin of hers that’s skewed to the right cheek, her hands will have already gripped me by the nape, prompting me to compose excuses why nobody could reach me when everybody knows: It’s office hours, where is he?

Sometimes, just thinking of her would drive me to my notebook, scan old excuses, and look up how many times I’ve used migraine, how many times was it my depressive sister threatening suicide sorry sir ma’am family still comes first but I’m loyal, see I outlined the reports with my left hand while my sister was chewing my right shoulder for a taste of reassurance therefore the right hand was better disposed to lightly support her head. Are both my grandmothers dead and did I make sure they were from different causes? I think I already said TB once but if they go Oh, another dead Lola, are you sure? Maybe I can say it’s the Lola who raised me, who was the sister of my biological Lola (daddy side) so I can still claim tuberculosis sir ma’am, there’s a possibility it caught on, I’m not sure. Sometimes, verisimilitude is best achieved by committing to something not entirely credible and then (this is important) showing how it’s something you would yourself rather not believe or ask others to believe but hey it’s true, what can I say, except the truth. Grant me that.

You know, 9 out of 10 times, they did grant me that. Then came the tenth.

Ikka pulled me out of the office and someone knew I was with her, saw how both of us looked mischievous and noisy. This someone (it doesn’t matter who) thought she would benefit if ever I got fired (I would learn of her thoughts later). Nevertheless, this someone would not have spoken behind my back had I left at a time when I was less necessary, but that time when I did leave was crucial, make or break, and the storyboards have not been drawn to the pinstripe and fuchsia specifications of the clients, and there was no Earl Grey tea—No tea! Where’s the stupid tea? They specifically specified tea, Djinn brand, bergamot, bergamot! Where’s the stupid man we specifically employed for the stupid tea?—assistants were fidgeting unable to create storyboards or spell “Grey” while the clients were glaring at the boss and the boss was glaring at her (the someone who mattered little) and that glare should have been shot my way but Ikka and I was already on the first provincial bus we saw on the highway (That one look, Guagua! It’s Wawa, idiot. Wanna bet? Fine, I’m for Wawa. Let’s go ask the natives then….) so the glare had nowhere else to fall but on this someone (it doesn’t much matter who) who felt she had no other recourse but to say: He went out with his girlfriend and together they had the look of mischief, it was lunchtime so who would have known he’d miss 3pm, ma’ams sirs, had I known, I’d have stopped him. Let me officially express my official apologies on his behalf.

I lost the job because that inconsequential someone did not give me as much as a fair warning. So when the bosses came asking I replied sir ma’am my father spat out blood and didn’t want to worry my sister, because well you know about my sister, but despite the buoyancy of his principles, my father couldn’t do so much as pick himself up and throw himself off to a cab. Ma’am, sir.

Oh, it’s that way.

Did you leave immediately? Worried? Alone?

We heard reports you were laughing on the way out. Clarify: was it grinning?

Meanwhile, we were humiliated. Let’s all share a laugh on your way out.

It was hard to refuse Ikka anything, and come to think of it, I never did, never could, it was always a lovely slap to say Yes, come on. So I considered refusing her. While formulating that refusal, I figured that it’s one big No or nothing, that’s the only way with Ikka, and after that No, there was no turning back, so I gathered my courage, and thus gathered, the entirety of my courage said: It’s over Ikka, I lost my job and on top of that Lolo had no one else to call and the only number of mine that was working on his end was my office number so he called me there while he was pissing blood on tropical-type shorts, Ikka, believe me, tropical-type shorts, so Lolo called my sister who was enormously depressed because it was the Lolo who religiously fetched her from school during her elementary years, Lolo, for whom she held peak affection because my sister already knew at too young an age that Lola was fooling around. My sister had only to choose between the guilt of telling against Lola (whom Lolo adored) and the guilt of never telling Lolo or anybody (which was complicity, which seemed to her equivalent to fooling around, also, with the baker with whom Lola was fooling around, but my sister was a virgin then, Ikka, we were but elementary, how could someone so premenstrual carry around the guilt of a woman fucking around with dough and peanut fucking butter, Ikka?), Ikka, do you see we can’t just up and leave anytime we want to go ask the natives questions about their hometown the answers to which we summarily forget so we could up and ask them again at another time with better sky. You understand me how I can’t change (for me, responsibility is a capital R with its own organizational chart that I should have memorized yesterday, 1 pm, sharp), and of course you can’t change (no, please don’t, please, I would never be able to carry the existential burden of having irreparably taught you the notion of “compromise”).

Goodbye’s the best thing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a concession, let’s consider this closure, please. Goodbye is a hard thing to say, but there. Listen, I said it, it’s out, and it’s solid.

Good luck too, it’s not a happy world, evidence suggests it’s a bleak spherical thing bound to disappoint us all. Getting us down is the primary function of its attributes, says experts (but Ikka’s fingers were on my nape).

IKKA: We’ll get you a spanking new job tomorrow. A spanking new boss as well, if that’s the sort of thing to sweeten your heart. Let’s see, what’re we doing tonight? Get dressed, come on, get dressed, there’s fireworks at the Fort! My treat, naturally, let’s go!

Just what I need. A night all lit up. Is that everything I need right there?

IKKA: Pizza dinner should hit the spot. Super-family size.

Do you think I have time for a quick shower?

(Sometimes when I’m thinking of nothing in particular, my nape can still feel her fingers.)

What was wrong with July?

Juhlienne’s life is precious. I wish both of us believed that.

The problem with July was how she couldn’t see her life as I did, that it was valuable, that it was in truth invaluable and as thus cannot be used—cannot even be considered for use—in earthly transactions. I must clarify this, and to that end, allow me to utter the four notions that, when taken together, would best describe what she put me through. After that, allow me to provide a generic prosaic explanation, one that would constitute neither the best nor the second best way of describing what July put me through. First, the notions:

Notion 1 – Jesus is a clingy girlfriend. The type who threatens to kill herself if you let on that you don’t love her. The wages of rejection is death.

Notion 2 – Jesus is a crazy girlfriend. The type who transcends mere words, the type who goes ahead, does the deed. Gets dead. Gets the temple curtains torn.

Notion 3 – See, now you really have to love her. You planted Jesus up that cross, you asshole. It’s the very least you can do. Love the poor beatific thing.

Notion 4 – Do it in memory of her.

On to the generic exposition:

July was always with me, never left my side, she was that type you see, a type that I once thought was my type, but no. She was not my first love; my first love came after her. Neither was she my first anal sex, that distinction belonged to Josie, my last being Dante, nevertheless I provided July all I could, everything that I believed a lover should supply, gifts of comic books and bags, love letters, hand jobs, a listening ear, lunches, dinners, an ear to gnaw on, thorny arguments of various durations, a queen-sized mattress with plaid bed sheets and home delivery, the occasional praise, tiny well-timed vows oh swallow the ears, July, if you must, fishnet stockings, starch. It was too long a time ago, and though I still recall that it was during the third3rd course of our 2nd year anniversary dinner when I realized that I didn’t love her, I have long forgotten how I came upon such a realization.

Was there a third party? Was there no third party? And between these two possible circumstances, which was truly the sadder one?

I decided to tell her my feelings or lack thereof. I even decided to tell her parents. I was a gutsy youth. I wish that I met you when I was young. I wish that you’d likewise wish you met me when I was young. But you are content meeting me when you did, and that’s that, we were talking about Juhlienne.

Well, when I told her about my decision to leave her, she said she had no idea how to live without me, she would probably end up taking her own life, she said. It’s a major possibility, an almost finished concrete wall option with its density increasing by the minute, she said, by the minute! I respected her sentiments without sharing any of them, for one thing, I had a 1st tier palo tsina drawer of ideas about how I would conduct my life in her absence, and a 2nd tier drawer of ideas regarding how she could conduct her life in my absence, these ideas that in sum counted as the best ideas in my life, ideas that I began to enumerate for her 1) proceed with your studies, you’re brilliant, July, everybody says so, you could do corporate law or enter the foreign service, 2) you’ll breeze through the exams, you’ll learn six languages, minimum, 3) make sure your brother finishes his studies, he’s not half your brilliance, not a fourth of it, he’s actually lackluster like blobs of expired ink, and though he’s coherent enough—you know what I mean—he’ll need the diploma, 4) work toward giving your parents the world tour you’ve always dreamt for them, those silver tickets are within your reach, 5) badminton has done wonders for your life, don’t ever ever let it go….

That list went on (it’s probably still going, grinding somewhere in the better engines of my secret mind), but her face was turning red, her tears were real liquid, her watch was getting wet, and she was having difficulty breathing (by the minute! by the minute!).

Everybody in the food court was staring as if this world wasn’t a world where there was always someone crying somewhere. But this was such a world and sometimes the place is a place where everybody eats, where everybody was advised to eat by traffic, advertising, corporate schedule, and the quotidian and/or lifelong quest for enabling environments. Sometimes the person crying is you; sometimes it’s someone for whom you hold genuine concern, the very best of wishes, and even a swatch of homegrown affection. Sometimes the person crying is me, or well, there must’ve been a time like that whether or not I remember it. I mean, all of us, without exception, participated in childhood at least once. However, at that point it was July’s turn to be the person in the world with tears in her throat, and I cared for her, didn’t want her red and choking in any location public or private, so I stuck with her for another year or so of greeting cards and pasta and tucking hair right back behind the ear and pencil portraits.

Up until the end she was channeling the possibility of killing herself, dreaming it—said she—palpable dreams with advanced graphic resolution, venting out words to that effect whenever she saw fit to do so. Those amounted to a lot of ruined afternoons, plus/minus a handful of mornings. Wasted time, and still more time wasted on the recollection of wasted time. Well, what can I say? I lost respect for her because of this. I didn’t want to lose respect, it’s not something you do lose in the active sense of the word, waking up one morning to say goodbye to or release like a slightly yellowish pigeon, but I lost it nonetheless. So I said goodbye to her, it was not working, I failed to make it work, I’m sorry OK, I still hold you in high regard, forever will. Things like that.

She’s still alive, I hear, apparently not crazy, clearly no Jesus for herself or for anybody. I wish I learned to respect this decision of hers to stay alive, but how could I, I mean, why discharge such heavy intentions to the free air only to fail to act upon them? I knew it was not for show, I knew it was the truth of her condition, and that somewhere inside her she meant it (she actually couldn’t breathe after all, she who had no medical history of lung trouble), which was probably the exact thing that made it worse.

Still, I’m glad she’s alive. I am.

I heard that she has thrown away the shuttlecock, practically, except there are those occasional office outings to the beach and there’s a shuttle on its way to her face and suddenly there’s a racket in her grip so whoosh. I do wonder how she feels, you know, when it’s a competitive thing and she bags the win from her 14 other officemates. I also found out that she designs systematic and engaging slide presentations, and how this skill – particularly when combined with her eloquence, beauty, and talent in related professional domains such as diagnosing computers and basic accountancy – makes her the envy of all her colleagues. She’s married, I heard, and they’re an infertile couple.

I heard everything solely through the grapevine, I assure you, every detail was volunteered, no information solicited. The sources have limited awareness of events regarding July. This is why I don’t know who’s inadequate, Mr or Mrs.

What was wrong with Hannah?

Toilet St. Eliot.


Draw, o coward!

The issue with Hannah is the issue with all palindromes, namely, symmetry.

Hannah is the bleach and the acid and the tiles creamy white and notice how there’s no attenuation to the gleam, in fact, the tiles seem brighter, creamier than when we first set them and we were shoulder to shoulder, my tile then her tile then mine and so on, o beloved Hannah! She is the sun that enters the dry rooms and the wet rooms then evens everything out, except the shadows, but who would mind the shadows? It’s a resplendent morning and there’s a woman perfectly washing her face and her perfect neck, divine to the bone, even the brushing of her gums seem like ablution, man oh man, had I bells at hand I would ring them! Wistful Hannah, my handsome girl. She loved me, she loved me.

I must thank God, do my calisthenics, and genuflect.

What was wrong with Elle?

I must thank God, do my calisthenics, and genuflect. She loved me, she loved me.

Wistful Elle, my handsome girl. It’s a resplendent morning and there’s a woman perfectly washing her face and her perfect neck, divine to the bone, even the brushing of her gums seem like ablution, man oh man, had I bells at hand I would ring them! She is the sun that enters the dry rooms and the wet rooms then evens everything out, except the shadows, but who would mind the shadows? Elle is the bleach and the acid and the tiles creamy white and notice how there’s no attenuation to the gleam, in fact, the tiles seem brighter, creamier than when we first set them and we were shoulder to shoulder, my tile then her tile then mine and so on, o beloved Elle!

The issue with Elle is the issue with all palindromes, namely, symmetry.

Draw, o coward!


Toilet St. Eliot.

What was wrong with Lilac?

Nothing. She died.

We will not talk about her. I refuse to talk about her. I refuse to believe that you wish to hear about her just so you could establish firm paved grounds for your insecurity. For the record: I refuse to believe you are insecure. You have no basis, never will! I shall treat this as an innocent question, one for the surveys. You meant nothing by it; it’s just Lilac’s there, among the others, so how can we not talk about her? Wouldn’t it be a disservice? Wouldn’t she feel left out? These are your thoughts, or these are the thoughts that we’ll assume you were thinking.

Lilac is and will forever be an absence, and in that respect people should understand that those who loved her will always remember her with a certain gloss, a certain mahogany varnish, for maybe she had multiple sins, but in hindsight all of them were darling little faultlings, and we loved ones—those of us who truly loved her anyway—never remember her factual pixel by pixel smile, rather we see the best possible smile that the image of her face could accommodate and when we see that smile, we acknowledge: that’s Lilac, that’s her smile, I loved her, I still love her. This is a world of jellyfish and clocks and once there was Lilac, and after her, for the rest of my life it’s all just one synapse after another. One synapse I love her, the next I forget, and then another synapse and again my love for Lilac, Lilac who died because she went mountain-climbing with reckless friends under reckless weather, but it was not her fault; I could not find it within me to file a leave and go climbing with her. Neither was it my fault, and although it’s actually simpler to just go ahead and believe that it was my fault, I can’t. Because it wasn’t.

I made my choice to work during that weekend, and she made her choice.

The weather made its weather.

I have long given up the attempt to convince myself that I was at fault in the case of Lilac.

Nothing truly wrong with Lilac. Not the unflattering superfluity of her moans, not the fact that she cost me my job (it was only once, and that was my fault), not the fact that she befriended Ikka with the sole motive of ruining her (which Lilac managed to do, ultimately with composure, gaining me in the process), no, nothing wrong with Lilac I tell you, not even the fact that she is dead, that she died a death that was neither noble nor metaphorical.

You must understand how, in a very real even tangible sense, Lilac has no outstanding flaw. Her lack of mountain-climbing skills is not a flaw in the truest sense of the word flaw. Her lack of common sense is not a flaw and, you must forgive me, but Lilac cannot help it if she had a more comely, enigmatic, balanced, and significant smile than you could ever hope to have. Except possibly in my memory, and only after the event of your death. Which will never come to pass, I promise.

Do you finally comprehend why I refuse to talk about Lilac? Are we crystal on this? We shall not speak a word of Lilac in this house.

Tell me what was wrong with Joy.

Joy was one of my most tenacious loves; my heart still sometimes misses her weight in much the same way that the Muslim war cripple is perennially haunted by a ghost leg. Joy. Voluptuous of lip, piercing of wit. Her grip proved tight, which was endearing at first, but later this grip annoyed me like other things about her that annoyed me: (a) her braids were irreparably skewed, (b) her taste for aesthetic labyrinths seem to me an inauthentic enthusiasm mostly amounting to affectation because Brodie, Burgos, and Eco were inescapable fads and for some reason or other she craved popularity among the intellectuals, and (d) her blow jobs were so perfunctory, so straightforward that it was only under the influence of her love when I began dreaming of false teeth. It was a recurring dream, and despite the accumulation of years—years atop years atop years, really—since I last saw Joy, I still dream of false teeth. Sometimes they are green and afloat and hermetically sealed within pickle jars. Even when it’s you and your dexterous mouth and your agile tongue and it’s our conjugal fellatio, I still dream of false teeth. You know this, sometimes it’s your lip but at the same time Joy’s.

It’s not the first time I said this. Joy will always be with us. Of this, I am certain.

God, what’s wrong with you!

  1. Over the top dependence on the pharmacy.
  2. I cook with too little pepper. My dishes suffer as a direct consequence of this. I fear an excess of pepper. Under the kitchen-light, I count the corns. I weigh if crushed.
  3. A perpetually swollen chin.
  4. I make sure I’m on the danger side of the road when crossing the street with my lady beloved. Likewise, I make sure I’m on the danger side of the road when crossing the street with women who are not my beloved. Unforgivably, I also insist on the danger side of the road when crossing the street with women who have ceased being my beloved. This is one example, an example among many, urging you to realize that there are things about me that can’t ever be altered.
  5. Migraine.
  6. Stress. Particularly that pressure which emanates from this tricky recent assignment where I must statistically project the success of various strategies of marketing mere multivitamins as “stress tablets” then identify exactly (a) what these projections inform us about the demographic, (a) how the demographic informed these projections, (c) how the demographic projected the information, (d) if question A ought really precede question B, why, and what difference does it make, (e) if question C should have been asked at all, and therefore (f) what about F when there’s only 5 questions and possibly less, yet management has routinely implied that the company will accept nothing less than 16 prize questions? Therefore, on to (g)….
  7. Self-reflexivity.
  8. A budding pot belly that the belt fails to defeat.
  9. My vision of multi-sectoral collaboration to feed the hungry at least twice a day with food containing all the recommended daily nutrients, plus a handful of prunes should budget permit. Maybe a bottle of Yakult should budget permit. My invincible hope that budget permits.
  10. My predisposition to talk about my hope and my vision inside the movie house. In church. Sometimes in bed, after we make love.
  11. My long-standing belief in the specific limitation of a woman’s strength, and how beyond that limitation one discovers an assortment of crushed families. My long-standing belief that the strength of men is similarly limited. With equivalent ferocity, I believe both things.
  12. My recurring dreams of false teeth. Sometimes they are glistening, glistening under the sea, asking questions, the questions propelling them as if false teeth were a sea animal receding into the murk of distant water, and I wake up with a feeling of unalterable lack. Something was missing, something. Something.
  13. Righteous indignation.
  14. I cook with too much oil, oil which I never re-use and secretly throw to where you planted okra despite constant reminders and the trying times.
  15. Three out of five times I can’t sustain erection, sorry. I remember that there was a time when we wrapped up each of those “five times” in one day (usually three of them accomplished in the AM, the last one at night, and the fourth straddling the PM-AM divide, high noon as it were, the special time when you would, without fail, reach orgasm). Then, two days. Three. And so forth. Currently, in our married state, three times is a week’s accomplishment, and only when we’re on vacation. During workdays, three times can only occur in a month. When I’m lucky. When you’re lucky.
  16. I keep count, and the notebook is hidden from you. Forever.
  17. My love of God which is nothing more than my toleration of your love of God. My love of God which is demonstrated by an occasional prayer to Mary Help of Christians, Channel of Peace, the First Tabernacle whenever I feel the pressing necessity to hedge my bets.
  18. Convenient migraine.
  19. My endless campaign against illegal drugs and abortifacient relationships.
  20. A longing for elementary school.
  21. Misogyny.
  22. Allergies: crabs, punctuality, and very small shrimp.
  23. Curiosity, which is a euphemism for my terrific lust.
  24. My love for you, but that’s not it exactly, rather, my view that my love for you is a personal weakness that generates a very bright spot on my aura, right smack between my 3rd and 4th chakra which is easily perceived by those enemies of mine who dutifully pried their 3rd eyes open so they could wreak upon their hidden rooms parallel avalanches of blueprints, maps, and conversations that will eventually lead to my downfall or demise. Probably your downfall or demise as well, but I haven’t seen a blueprint in years. Actually, I have never laid eyes on any blueprint.
  25. The absence of enemies.
  26. A longing for enemies.
  27. Aversion to all types of salad, even the fruit types of salad.
  28. The candidate that you and our friends don’t want to win has won my secret vote for President.
  29. Well, my hate of racial discrimination.
  30. Convenient self-reflexivity.
  31. I scratched my pimples when I was young. They left their mark on my face which I intend to take to my grave even if the cosmetic surgeon gives us a generous offer, three laser beams for the price of one. To my grave, I’m serious. Even if you win the lottery, deliver your pitch, campaign for the graduated increase of my beauty, and put a cosmetic surgeon on the To-Buy List. The marks are indelible as far as I’m concerned. Even if, as markings, they communicate nothing.
  32. My resentment toward that triple improbability: that you will win the lottery, cajole me to fix my face, and bring home the surgeon.
  33. I don’t see anything criminal with a diaper put on backwards.
  34. Club feet.
  35. Partiality for (and frequent use of) the expression “It’s not in the size of the ship; it’s in the motion of the ocean.”
  36. The fear of leaving a question unanswered. Any question. Did you say anything?
  37. You’re right, I almost forgot one thing: bad taste. Bad taste, except in the last instance. You being the last instance.
  38. Permanent inability to perform magic.

Look, there’s already a list of these things, pro forma, and yes, there’s a key to the safety deposit box where I preserve a list of these things—here see, a key—but if I give you this key and the map to the safety deposit box, you will discover what I got you for Christmas. Already, I am at a disadvantage, because you are aware that I bought you something for Christmas despite our No-Gifts clause, the selfsame clause that directs every centavo to the time deposit for the tuition of children born and yet to be born. I’d rather not give you the key. Be content with a partial list. Be content with your advantage.

What was wrong with Dante? There was a thing about him, yes, maybe only that one thing. Other than that, Dante’s fine, his charms including but are not limited to the boldness of his laughter, the cleanliness of his saliva, and the slender compactness of his hipbones. Yet ultimately, there was still that thing about Dante. He looked too much like my sister. No, I didn’t stop talking to my sister only after that, in fact my sister and I ceased communicating long before Dante, and that’s why it took me quite a while to see the resemblance.

With Eartha? Irresponsible elitism. Her insensitivity to the plight of the poor. Also, solipsism.

With Josefima? Her simplistic idea of social relevance. Ill-informed about market forces and the inter-regional balance of power. Also, flatfeet.

With Queenalynne? Her abject poverty. Extreme improbability of transcending perpetual financial encumbrances given her deficient skill-set and immense gullibility. Also, halitosis.

With C? Too easy. I was not even a word into Lilac’s story—actually, I’ve not even given her Lilac’s name—she’s already down, biting the skin behind my knee, her tongue involving the ligaments. Note how this curious situation developed where the back of my knee, although plainly under your sovereignty, had been explored more comprehensively by a certain C, pioneer of pioneers.

With H? Heartless bitch. I had finished retelling the death of my former beloved, going so far as showing her Lilac’s picture and the tears that I shed over that picture as collected in a crystalline vial. Then I allowed her to hold both picture and vial, although no no no, not simultaneously. With some reluctance, I told her of a letter I wrote Lilac while she was up the mountain, the letter that Lilac did not live to read. H wanted me to go and fetch it. It was already in my wallet, so I handed it to her. She permitted me to touch her chin, caress it for 15 minutes, and then she called it a night. That cocktease will die of myoma, a myoma with the size of a two-year old boy (going on three) and the auspicious nature of a previously unrecorded abnormality such that great waves of medical interest will ensue, kilos worth of biopsy will be extracted, and no cure of any success shall be formulated except maybe by future generations.

With R? Prude. Somewhat akin to Ms. H, and R yielded nothing below the collarbones. R thought that the handling of her sex outside of holy matrimony would reduce the luster of her hair. She cared deeply about her hair, never using shampoo on it, only conditioner repackaged by the British but originally from Gauteng, South Africa (where the main ingredient tree aloe—umlhabana as the people call it—is harvested and industrially processed much to the cyclical detriment of the Zulu folk but to the equally cyclical advantage of their elite). This aloe conditioner was the secret to her flowing hair, info which she gave to me as a reciprocal utterance after I told her Lilac’s story. We swore on the graves of our choice loved ones that we would never to tell these secrets. She gave me a strand of her hair which I inserted into the cylinder of my mechanical pencil. A pure strand, totally unmolested by shampoo from root to tip. I left her apartment feeling pity for her scalp. Actually, I still pity her scalp. I have pitied her scalp for years.

With R’s friend? Irregular menstruation, dysmenorrhoea. She had her first period when she was 10. She took her classmates to the toilet, showed them soiled panties, pooled money from them right then and there while the bell ending recess was ringing, had them buy pads from the canteen, caused everyone to be late, felt a flush of pride for her blood because her blood overtook everyone else’s. She grew up always late or absent for class, likewise always late or absent for trysts, consequently playing havoc with my schedule. R’s friend charmed her way to salutatorian, cum laude, business school, real estate, to marriage with one of the Ulpianos, the boss of my boss, whose number she gained from me by saying that she had to have it for her business network. Did you get that? 0917, 803, 40, 03, but don’t tell him I gave it to you, OK? Clear, honey. Now tell me about his habits.

With I? Ikka’s married, infected with incurable love and with what one could only conjecture as sweaty, jolly, and perpetual coupling. Once married, she will stay married; it’s a forever kind of thing, correct? I mean you know this, we had seminars, they had seminars, why do you feel this indestructible need to remind me, always—

No not that I, the other one. What was wrong with Ms I? Oh, her. She was a shriveled young woman, very much a walking raisin, but she was of a fair and palatable complexion. Our kisses were meaningful, each one hinting (hints gradually increasing in strength and specificity) at the inevitability of mutual dismissal. Gravity collected with each kiss and with such certainty that we almost did not kiss our last kiss. Out of fear, out of fear. Yet we gathered ourselves, the sheets smelled of freshly cut lemon and this facilitated our gathering of ourselves. In the end, we were brave, we were rational, and we were young. The final kiss (soft and long, and soft) smashed us to tiny shard-like particles.

With S? Clockwork menstruation. The chronic, rusty smell of her blood always nagged me—with uncanny accuracy—about my office deadlines. It stressed me out. Nevertheless, the problem with S that I actually discussed with her was her swagger. She had the swagger required by all pharmaceutical corporations from their medical representatives, and I said that her swagger did not fit her well, not that she had nothing to boast of, but that she had more, much more than all the swaggers of med reps the world over could confidently represent. I showed her my personal photocopy of her transcript, her multi-disciplinary competency, her chain of unfinished master’s degrees, her interests ranging from public affairs, systems theory, first aid, environmental science, pharmacy, brownie baking, women’s studies, and Tae Bo. I showed her the vastness of my concern. It pained me to see her go to waste. Even her choice of me, I said, was a concrete manifestation of her predisposition to undersell herself. This was the problem I discussed with S as my grounds for leaving her: she was overqualified.

With T? Breasts like rope. The nipples could meet each other at the small of her back. I know because I had the nipples kiss each other while she was in the prone position, the position from where she forbade me from doing anything naughty, so I let her finish with her forbidding before I took her nipples and rubbed them against each other behind her back. Among the words that occurred to me then were jumpstart, tenderness, and rodeo. I was relentlessly tempted to tie the breasts together. If I saw her, today or tomorrow, it would probably be the first thing I’ll think: can I tie them up behind her back, but I hope something like that eight knot won’t hurt her. Oh how I wish you didn’t ask about her. How I wish you never asked about her, now but also a week ago, when you wanted to hear what could be done for sagging breasts (“oh,” I said a week ago, “that’s easy:

—Wire-rimmed brassiere

—Clothes that cling to the skin, never coming off even after drinks

—Charlie, or any such Shih Tzu that can be trained to jump in front of the mirror whenever towels are dropped

—The Fountain of Youthful Breasts, fabled

—A compassionate man, rumored to be true

—A series of compassionate men

—Alternatively, soothing women

—Friends capable indeed of perceiving inner beauty and engaging in long darling conversations

—Self-acceptance, of the sort which is serene and not arrogant

—Existentialism, but not that mutant strain which leads to socialist forms of thought, socialist praxis being also partially hinged on purely personal charisma

—Motherhood, specifically the vindication of having directly nourished the offspring

—Charm,” I said). How I wish you were the type who wouldn’t ask about types like her. It was cruel enough for me to abandon T with some silly excuse (I forgot what exactly, except that it was a lie hastily written at the back of a withdrawal slip). But telling someone else the intimate truth about her like this saddens me, makes me feel filthy, which I am which I know I am but look it’s different to feel it like this especially in front of someone else: filthy, scum of the earth, would that God could help us with the scraping. But God does not exist. There is only you, you who are love itself, and no, OK, you are not someone else. You, you, you.

See that you never forget. How about M, what’s wrong with M again? Her idea of closure was to draw blood from each other’s arm then mix it with Rambutan wine in an elegant metal goblet which (she says) has never been used except for that purpose. The mixture was one part blood eight parts wine. We both drank from the cup, ladies first, of course. Yes, I’ve got our commingled blood here in me, somewhere. Maybe at the tip of a finger—this one or this one—or swimming in my spleen. Now do not mistake me: I would not have gone through the whole cut-drink thing out of my most solemn regard for every instant of our national history, even such moments as those most blatant about the political naïveté of our predecessors. Nevertheless, I was caught by surprise, and we people do the strangest things under the lightning influence of surprise. All the while, all of that time we spent together (we lasted more than a year) I mean, all that time I thought those six scars across her left arm were suicide attempts. I even mused, were they all cut in one night or did they come in twos or threes, would it be possible to carbon date each one of them, I thought: how could she be so far off the wrist? What could be the reason? These questions sustained me, you see (15 months, give or take). Had I known that they were not suicide attempts, I would never have gone through the bother of building up courage, drinking with pals so they could assist me in the building up of my courage, sleeping with T and C to build up courage, all that, only so I could ask her out to watch a superhero movie. Only so we could love, and leave, and be left behind. Only so we could bleed and, at one point, swallow our closure.

A’s cousin? She burps regardless of who’s on top. Even sideways, but you’re not after her are you? You know all their stories, have always known, up and down, oh you, your awareness of each story is in-depth and comprehensive. You’re not after M or Lilac or Juhlienne or—

A? You promised we would never talk about A, that we would if we could help it, resist conversation that would only serve to increase the awkward quality of our relations with A and my son with A. Permit me to release this one thread, cast it to the unstirring air, and likewise, on my part, to let go of my suspicion that all this time the only word you wanted to hear about was A. Allow me remind you that A devised a way so I could see my son, take him out for a day, and return him without seeing her. It’s a simple way, but effective and at times piercing: A’s husband takes my son to the drive-thru where we meet, where I later return my boy, yes you’re aware of this, yet allow me to remind you that when you mention A, it is the face of her husband that comes to mind and sometimes what comes to mind was the night you fought with me over the appropriate disposal of sardine cans and, before I could fully launch my defense, you had already left, and it was two weeks of you away (what were you thinking?), and I had to call someone, someone who would not complicate things like the last time, a time which I won’t elaborate being a thing of the past as well as something we agreed never to talk about in much the same way we agreed to let the words in our mind about A go unsaid (allow me to remind you), and the someone I called was A’s husband, who was courteous, in fact helpful, even wise. My spherical and perfect shame. Allow me to remind you.

OK. How about S? I told you. Clockwork menses. Without fail, her rusty blood reminds me of my age. Then came the precise time when I should have smelled it, but I didn’t. And there was a funny look on her face like she wanted to tell me something. I didn’t stay long enough to hear it, whatever it was. I remember I told you about S a while back. You know all their stories.

And me, what’s so wrong with me? All of the above.

What, say again? All of the above. The previous, the foregoing, each and all of that applies to you.

What. Say again. (a), (b), (c), (d), and (e). Your faults are plural (almost all-encompassing, but no, not quite; for one thing, you are not an epileptic, for another, your chromosomes are in place, all 46 of them impeccably paired, and yet one more thing, when you do whine, your whining is of the mediocre type, not really a reason for either of us to lose any sleep). If you are, in fact, a singular mistake, then you are one that is cumulative and multi-faceted and glaring like a furious tourmaline. Kindly also observe how there are things about you which I hesitate to call flaws. For example, I have noticed your natural disregard for courtesies such as filing a sick leave, giving an excuse whether true or untrue, following the chronological order, and composing Thank You cards. Evidently, that activity you do in the water which you call swimming, which seems panicky and prohibits your laughter, whatever that is, it’s not graceful. You repeat yourself—I have noticed—to the point of tactlessness. I have also noticed how you have an acutely impaired sense of remorse. I insist on noticing these and other such things about you because these and other such things about you are sexually attractive.

That’s sweet. Say that again. All of the above, my peaches and dream. Everything is wrong with you including the shape of your body. Happy anniversary.

. . .

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