Excerpt from “Picture”
(published in Going Home to a Landscape: Writings by Filipinas, Calyx Books, 2003)
She’s leaning forward, as if to kiss him. There’s a mark on his cheek; perhaps she’s done it already. They are both smiling.
These were my parents in Manila, circa 1956. They were happy; they had always been happy. The happiness of their marriage was like a reproach.
I didn’t think he looked that ugly. El unico problema es que no es guapo. Who said this? My grandmother’s cousin, Lola Paching. This, at least, was the family story.
But there was a certain kind of attractiveness in my father’s face. My mother, I saw now, looked like me. Or like I might have looked, if I too had been happy. She was wearing a white scoop-necked gown. Her breasts looked heavy and full, but her arms were thin. She was looking up at my father and smiling.
I am collecting old pictures now. I don’t know what this tells me about this stage of my life.
My husband and two children are far away. My husband said, as he packed their things, “Don’t call us. We’re happier that way. I may have murmured something in reply, compulsively polite, even under such circumstances. I didn’t know whether I meant to say, Good riddance, or I’ll be seeing you or Have a pleasant day! I stood on the driveway and gave a little wave as I watched my two children’s faces, grave in the back seat.
Marco is ten, his sister, Maya, is four. I had them a long time ago, when I was a different person. Now I find it hard to remember that person who changed their diapers without complaint, who gave them heated milk in the middle of the night. They lived in a neat house, then.
Two months ago, my sister-in-law called from the Philippines. The phone sounded shrill in the empty house.