The first had occurred almost two weeks ago and Katharine hardly felt it. Richard was attending the Philippine Medical Association’s annual convention that weekend. It wasn’t his first, of course, and he bemoaned going every single time, but Katharine remembered how Richard had been so eager to leave that Friday afternoon, a heightened excitement he hadn’t displayed in a long while. She assumed it might be because they were going to Cebu this time but when she wished him a fun weekend, he replied, “Sure,” before easing the car out of their driveway.
Sure. The tone he gave to the word, a flat, perfunctory acquiescence, stuck inside her like a needle, piercing the once secure, unperturbed life she had made for herself all these years. Since then she had become only too sensitive, ears acute to his abrupt silences, warily anticipating a sudden eruption. But over the next days, since his return, she only felt a sort of disturbance emanating from him, like a ripple in a pond that grew and grew, pushing her farther and farther away, eventually shutting her out.
The second had happened just last night, an argument over — of all things! — the fish she grilled for dinner. He called it tasteless. She passed him the salt. He slammed the shaker on the table and ate the fish anyway. This savage and seemingly calibrated gesture wrenched her heart, hurling tiny shrapnel to the other organs of her, leaving her shell-shocked. She managed not to show it, just continued to sit there as if it were nothing, silently munching away while he finished and retired to their bedroom. She teared up a bit in the bathroom, afterwards, sniffling at her tired middle-aged face in the mirror, wondering if at forty-one she wasn’t already looking deflated and matronly. Perhaps it’s what women like her turn out to be in the end, mere housewives who look to their successful husbands for security and validation.
And now this.
When she heard the news of the blast, Katharine felt her heart turn to metal. She turned up the volume on her radio in the kitchen and heard the frantic voice of the male newscaster: …the bomb ripped through the LRT train just as it reached Blumentritt, one of the route’s most crowded stations. Several have been reported injured and many are now believed to be dead…
She called up her sister. “Are you listening to the news?”
“I’m watching it on TV!” came Marlene’s exhilarated reply. “The train has been cracked open like a nut. There was this policeman, thought he was pulling out a dead child from the wreck — but it turned out to be just a bloodied doll.”
Marlene’s disappointed tone frightened Katharine. Surely her sister didn’t wish to have seen a dead child on TV. “This couldn’t be happening,” Katharine said, uncertain of what she was actually referring to.
“It’s terrorists, for sure!” Marlene said, apparently eating something; Katharine could hear her horrible munching on the other end of the line. “What does Richard think?”
She already felt the question coming even before its utterance. She didn’t know what Richard was thinking, after all. She had heard a rumor once, about another woman, a fellow doctor, naturally, but she had always been too proud to confront him about it. What she did know was that — and of this she was certain for she had been the sole witness — Richard had quietly packed his bags this morning and left, with not a word about returning. Perhaps it’s all for the best. She had been very proud of that fish.
“Richard isn’t home now,” Katharine said, and she felt relieved that she didn’t have to lie. How plain, honest and utterly devoid of sensationalism that statement sounded.
After talking to her sister, Katharine looked out upon the scene from her kitchen window. The lawn was neatly cut, gently speckled by the shadows of the leaves of the guava tree that stood in one corner of the backyard. She saw the white Christmas lantern hanging from one of its branches, swaying in the afternoon breeze. She breathed in the smell of the neighbor’s beef mechado and thought, How normal the day seems. How calm and untroubled, despite the newscaster’s continued frenzy: …reports of more bombings coming in…explosion near the US Embassy in Manila… Aquino International Airport… blast next to a Petron gas station… killing two policemen… She tried to put these terrible news aside, reducing their significance. In her mind, she visualized miniature grenades harmlessly going off in a glass jar — little bombings, and she wondered if the phrase is an oxymoron. And then she remembered: Richard didn’t take the car today, said he’d take the train instead…
She turned around upon hearing movement behind her.
“Mommy!” It was Richie, her four-year old son. He was wearing his pajamas that had drawings of tiny elephants and he was rubbing his eyes. “Daddy was just in my dream!”
Was this to be the first omen? she thought. Omens appeared in dreams before they take on tangibility in the waking world, didn’t they? And yet, this one was already real, growing more palpable. She stared at her son, so small, so innocent, so fragile. A shield to an uncertain future, his protector, it was what she must become to him all the more now. Was she up to the task?
She felt the first wave of panic crash into her even before she knelt down and engulfed her child in her arms. She suddenly couldn’t hear anything; just a queer ringing in her ears drowning out her son’s entreaties — “Mommy, what’s wrong?” — as she held his tiny body close to her chest, as if bracing them for still another unforeseen, yet imminent, detonation.
Peter Zaragoza Mayshle received an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, where he was awarded two Hopwood Awards, a Farrar Award in playwriting, and a Civitas Fellowship for teaching in the Detroit public schools with the InsideOut Detroit Literary Arts Project. He received a Yaddo artist residency in summer 2010. His short stories have appeared in The Manila Times, The Philippines Free Press and Mandala Journal, and forthcoming in Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine. He is currently doing research in Manila for his doctoral dissertation in Composition and Rhetoric at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.