Friday, October 6, 2017

Guest Blogger: "WIFE" by Wanggo Gallaga #Fiction #Philippines


By Wanggo Gallaga

Copyright 2015 & 2017 by Wanggo Gallaga
This story was first published in Team (Issue 2, 2015)

Tacky. Julia’s house is so tacky. It’s like they just randomly turned the pages of three different interior design magazines and pointed blindly at what they wanted. Julia never really had good taste. She gets that from her dad’s side of the family. Our mothers had impeccable taste. And class. How did Julia turn out the way she did?

Thank God Adrian and I had left Florence for Lisbon during her European tour. Adrian would hate her.

Would have. Adrian would have hated her. Shit.

“Arnie, it’s so nice to see you again,” she says, floating down the stairs like a cloud. That’s a rather puffy skirt for a Wednesday afternoon. Is she going out? I thought she just stayed home all day eating carrot sticks and waiting for her kids and husband to walk through the door.

“Arnie, how long has it been,” she asks, and that’s when I notice the Botox. Her forehead doesn’t move when she talks. And while she always talks in exclamation, her facial expressions no longer correlate to the pitch of her voice.

Why is she asking me this question? She wrote it on my Facebook wall when I announced I was coming back. I even mentioned the year: 2008 since my last visit to Manila. Rhetorical? She doesn’t even know what that means. And she knows I hate being called “Arnie.”

Thank God Beth is answering for me, once again proving she’s my favorite cousin. There she goes, serving as a buffer from all this pleasant-ness. Adrian is really good with moments like this. Picking up cues, reading other people’s body language, and he always had something to say. I’m the one who’d end up in one corner babbling away at parties with the one person I could connect to. I’d monopolize him or her for the entire evening until Adrian would remind me of my manners. I’m not one for small talk. I never was.

Adrian was really good with moments like this. Was. Would have been? Adrian would have been good with moments like this? Damn it.

Julia tells us to sit as she calls on a maid to bring out refreshments. I continue staring at the furniture. Sit where? That’s not a couch. It’s a cushion on stilts. Beth is giggling under her breath. She knows what I’m thinking.

I would take the easy chair except that it’s facing the wall were that godawful painting of a man squatting on a field of I-don’t-know-what is. Squatting man is supposed to be pensive but he just looks like he’s taking a shit. I quickly look away and sit down on the stilt-cushion because if Julia sees me looking at it, I’m sure she’s going to tell me where she bought the painting, how much it costs, and how close she and John have become with the artist.

Julia married rich. She came from a good school. Sometimes I can’t believe our mothers are sisters. When did she become so desperate? Or has she always been this way? I was gone for 17 years—maybe I never really knew her.

Anyway, Beth can’t speak for me forever so I start talking about the move and settling back into the old house in New Manila. Julia asks me if there’s “some comfort in returning to the house you grew up in now that…” She trails off, unable to say the words. I could register panic in her eyes but none in her forehead. Beth takes my hand and grips it tight. It’s a sign of support, of consolation, a sign of Please-don’t-lose-it-and-explode.

I can only smile as an awkward silence hangs in the air. Julia reaches for a crostini that arrived in a tray with some kind of colored drink, probably juice, and various dips. She chooses the spinach dip and takes a bite.

I could tell her that I am absolutely livid with having to return to that house after all this time away. Papa maybe pushing 70 but he’s healthy and still ruling that house with an iron fist. Mama and I have to wait until he’s left for work so I can meet her at the second floor library to talk about Adrian and cry on her shoulder. The house hasn’t changed at all since I left. Nothing is new. Everything is old. Even the dust.

It’s not my home. Who needs a house that big when only two people live in it? I suppose it has to be that big so my parents don’t ever have to deal with each other; lots of corridors and rooms to hide away in until they eventually come to the bedroom to sleep. In 15 years, Adrian and I moved homes a total of eight times because of his work. And no matter how well he did or how high his paycheck was on the next assignment, we chose to keep our living space small. Cozy. He had to be able to smell the coffee brewing when I was in the kitchen, as I always woke up before he did.

Eight times. We had become masters of rebuilding our home from scratch. After the third time, we stopped bringing everything from the last home and just brought the essentials. “We’ll just get new stuff in the city we’re in,” he would say. Later on, we discovered the joys of collecting work from street artists. That watercolor painting of sunset at the Tagus River from a woman at an underpass in Lisbon. The guy in Rome who drew portraits with ballpoint pen. A sketch of Adrian in less than 10 minutes. These works fit into just one box. A record of our moving.

The old house in New Manila is filled with the work of old “masters” that don’t really mean anything except for how much they cost and who they are going to when papa dies. The ones that were supposed to go to me are now to be inherited by Bea. “Because at least she can give it to her kids,” Papa said. Papa never met Adrian, nor would he have wanted to. 

“I’m thinking of finding my own place,” I tell Julia when she asks me what it’s like living with my parents again. She laughs, thinking it’s a joke. She would. She doesn’t do anything and her husband Billy, Vice President in Daddy’s Company Incorporated, just gives her free reign to do whatever. So she buys things and thinks she’s making a home. She buys the kids their toys and gadgets, pays the help to watch them, and thinks she’s caring for her family.

But what happens when her kids grow up and don’t need her anymore? Or when Billy comes home one day and they have nothing to talk about.

“It’s going to be expensive to get your own place, Arnie,” Julia says. “Do you have money saved up? I mean … I understand you didn’t really work, right? How would you pay for rent? Or for groceries?”

Beth immediately comes to my defense but, really, all she could say is “Julia” as sternly as she can. The questions are probably on her mind as well. Beth, still single, has worked all her life. She’s a self-made woman and lives life on her own terms. My life is alien to her.

Adrian worked. He worked so hard for the both of us that I didn’t have to do anything but be there when he got home and made sure it felt like a home. There’s a lot you could do with an English degree, I suppose, but after my third job as a copy editor at some unheard-of tabloid, Adrian just said, “You don’t need to figure it out right now. I’ll take care of us until you figure what you want to do.”

I sort of did. It was building a home for him. I learned to make meal plans and bake bread. I learned to unclog drains and do laundry in the most efficient way possible. I kept the bills behind the fridge magnet, balanced the books, paid everything on time. Later on, I cooked meals that were so good, he didn’t realize I had put him on a diet. I read books that I knew he liked and we’d talk about them on his free days. I’d explore the cities we were living in and took him to secret spots I knew he would love – San Francisco, New York, Toronto, Florence, Lisbon, Madrid, Sydney, Melbourne, Seattle – shit! That’s nine. We moved nine times.

I took his friends out when they came to visit and played host until he could escape from work. He worked for the both of us while I worked on us. What I didn’t anticipate was that he’d work himself to death.

“When was your last job, Arnie,” Julia asks. I can hear the concern tumbling out of her mouth and spilling onto her puffy skirt. “I mean, I hope you don’t mind, cuz, but you didn’t do anything since you and Adrian got together.”

Beth glares at her but softens and turns to me. She, too, is wondering.

“I guess I didn’t do anything,” I reply. I stand up and transfer to the easy chair. The pooping man is facing me and he’s right above Julia’s head. “I was a housewife. I guess I was too busy making a home, I forgot to be useful.”

Adrian would be so angry with me if he were here right now. When did I become so mean? This isn’t Julia’s fault. It isn’t Adrian’s fault for leaving me, either. And it’s not mine for making a choice.

It is what it is.

“Julia,” I say, my face finally relaxing and a genuine smile actually escaping my lips.

“Do you have some whiskey? I think it’s time for some whiskey,” I say, mustering all the warmth I can as the anger beneath my skin slowly dissipates. “And we have to talk about that painting, cuz. We have to talk about this house. I really want to help you.”


BIO: Wanggo Gallaga is a screenwriter and poet. He has written the films Sonata (2013) and T'yanak (2014) and is part of the writing team for the web series Hanging Out. He is currently teaching scriptwriting at College of St. Benilde, School of Design and Arts and at the SHIFT Film School.

Tags: #Philippines #Filipino #fiction #story #literature #Manila

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