Every morning after
I wake up to the dream of red curtains. On the left, I see the soft dawn behind the sheer lace, like looking at an apple through yellow cellophane. I know what I will see when I take a look outside, so for now, the sounds: M’s fractured breaths from the lack of blankets pooled around our feet; the distant hum of traffic along Quezon Avenue; the old air-conditioners pockmarked on the adjacent building. When I close my eyes, I can hear the early birds. Or is it insects, scratching and fluttering and lost on the 20th floor window?
The next time I open my eyes, the morning has been filtered: M’s pale body is half-bathed in an amber glow, with some secret slopes still in shadow. I raise my head to gaze at her properly, but her face is in the crook of her elbow. The hair sticking to the side of her neck is warm and lustrous. The blankets are covering us again, probably by some trick of feet and frustration.
Because I feel lazy, I decide to wake M using only my ring finger. She is lying on her left, her legs tucked between mine. I start on her earlobe, with a little rub, and move on to her neck and shoulders. Then down her arms, the side of her breasts, her zigzag ribs, and the swell of her stomach and waist. I cup her butt, a rare gesture of energy this early in the day, and continue down the side of her thigh, massaging little whorls now and then. Is there anywhere left to explore? No? I move my finger up again, and stop at the place that guarantees a very good morning. M is not disappointed.
Brunch is composed of the following items: lipstick on the wine glass, pears, white bread, a plate of roasted chicken, and the occasional footsie under the table. This is not due to any lasciviousness on our part: every time one of us tries to stretch, we end up rubbing each other the right way.
Usually, M is very particular when food is concerned. There should be absolutely nothing else on the table, no smartphones, no reading, no work, no talking. Not even music.
M allows the footsies. She does not tell me why. She feigns ignorance and hides a smile behind her second pokerfaced cup of coffee.
Who gets to decide who showers first? This is the most important question of the day.
M is insistent. “My apartment, my rules.”
I promptly proceed to carry her, fireman-style, into the bathroom, while ignoring her half-hearted protests. My good intentions of conserving water is thwarted when I find out that the bathtub is mighty slippery even without the grappling and the rubbing. To my regret, it is also too small to fit my frame when sitting down. The desire to help nature must be counterbalanced by the desire to avoid leg cramps.
“What now?” M looks pleased, as though she had avoided an ordeal. I tell her that there are other things we can do while wet.
I end up helping M dry off. I do so vigorously, with awe-inspiring thoroughness.
“Ed, do not tickle me awake again. I’m warning you. I promise death.”
To which I found out that death is best while being chased around a bedroom by a petite naked woman holding a clothes hanger and plastic vase. Our wheezing laughter means that there is no need to get any honest exercise that morning.
There is an empty cupboard in the bathroom, so full of honest intentions, that even without M saying anything, led me to feeling that I needed to cut things to the quick.
Before going to bed, I deliberately began packing up, organizing my clothes and toiletries in the overnight bag I brought. In the morning, we ended up having an argument about things: what I bring every time we see each other, and what I decide to not leave behind.
I am insistent in this fact: I am only a visitor in her place. A guest. Albeit a very good-looking one. M does not appreciate the humor.
M is indignant. While she points out that I may leave things purely for practical purposes, she insists that the empty cupboard is only ever an empty cupboard. It being filled up, or used, cannot mean anything more.
What else can filling empty spaces imply, after all, but futile efforts at disguising what is hollow?
On the outside, I can only agree. But then she asks, “Then why waste good space?”
The old shower debacle all over again.
“You take an hour to shower. What do you do in there?”
I couldn’t tell M that even in the midst of happiness, I still feel the need to withdraw into myself, into a place of quiet. To think of nothing.
Sometimes, I wake up with the feeling of not wanting to see anybody, and I’m honestly annoyed and full of dread that there is someone besides me. There are days that I feel unclean, days when I don’t want to be touched.
But I tell M none of this. I stay longer in the shower, praising this false baptism. Outside, I feel M growing wearier from waiting, and from want of an explanation. But I don’t have anything to say to her, nothing specifically about her.
I change my showering time from morning to night, to avoid inconveniencing M. She says that I must be cold-blooded, or I am in serious risk of low blood pressure or pneumonia.
And yet, we wake up each morning feeling colder than the night before.
I decide to surprise M one early Saturday morning. I went to her apartment, groceries in tow, fully intending to make, at the very least, an edible breakfast of runny eggs and grilled ham.
I knock on the door. There is no answer. Do I knock louder? Or maybe it’s still too early, and I should let her sleep in.
A few hours pass. I’ve been sitting against her door so long that I wouldn’t be surprised if it starts to bear the permanent shape of my back. During these hours, I think of nothing specifically. Not where could she be, not why isn’t she answering the door, not why isn’t she letting me in, not why is she ignoring me.
I text M.
Have any plans this morning?
No, I’m just staying in. Why?
I didn’t reply back.
I read her last message again and again. I’ve lost track of how long I’ve been waiting.
I knock again, louder this time, with fist and open palm. There is still no answer from behind this door.
And the truth: it is perhaps behind all the other doors we’re meant to be opening together, in some distant time in the future.
There is that moment, when you have all the answers but still feel uncertain and inadequate. That moment passes quickly.
I leave the groceries by her door.
Our lovemaking in the morning has become a furious spectacle, a battle of urgency and wordlessness.
I have become so accustomed to M’s silent breakfast rule that even she was unnerved. She began asking me if I was giving her the silent treatment, and if so, why.
It startled me. I didn’t notice that I had stopped looking at her.
We had taken up the couple’s habit of doing things while naked and in various states of undress. But even then, my attention was always somewhere else, never fully in the room, never fully on her.
We read together while in bed, with M facing one side, and me facing the other. When we do the groceries, we split up the task only to end up taking the same things on the list, creating feelings of confusion and irritation, and that peculiar tension that useless things were piling up on us.
Even when M is being tender, leaning on me to take short naps, I can only think of one thing: look up. Look at me. Look at me now.
I wake up to M poking me on the sides. In the course of the night, I had rolled on top of her again. I try to apologize, but M has turned her back. She feigns going back to sleep. It is past dawn, and the light breaking into the room is hurting my eyes.
Again, the refrain in the silence. What did we talk about last night, what did we not talk about. What are we avoiding, how long do we want this to last.
I sit up on the bed and close my eyes. M’s slender frame is shaking. Underneath the blankets, her fists are balled up and tense, with her fingernails digging into her palms. I am certain of all of this.
I put my arms around her waist, willing her to face me. She refuses. I spoon myself against her back. She says something, but I did not catch it. Lately, everything we’ve been saying to each other is muffled and disjointed.
After breakfast, and before leaving, I go to the bathroom for a quick wash. Out of curiosity, I open the empty cupboard. It was now stacked with towels.
There is a kind of confrontation that is only full of questions, and a reckoning where we only present an inventory of each other’s faults. We leave our own weaknesses at the door.
I’ve noticed that M has lost weight. Her head on my shoulders does not leave the same kind of ache. When she puts her head on my chest, I can hardly feel her breathing. When M cries, she leaves more of a shiver than a tremor.
Why do you stay? When are you leaving me?
I don’t know, I don’t know.
“Are you even sorry?” This is something we were both afraid to ask one another.
I am distant. M is ambivalent. Every morning, there is a renewed sense of fragility that neither of us is willing to articulate.
Here is how it ends. For spectators, the scene in the bedroom is a tender one. The man is sitting on the bed, with the woman between his legs. His head and face is pressed against her chest. His arms are taut around her waist. The woman is looking downwards, her eyes unfocused. Her fingers sometimes play with his hair. They know that their bodies are full of a kind of devotion that neither one deserves, and full of a kind of devotion that neither wants to share.
Edmark Tan is a writer and scholar. He does consultancy, documentation and developmental projects for the government and private clients, while completing his Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing degree at De La Salle University. Prior to these, he took up BA Literature from the University of Santo Tomas, graduating with honors and earning several literary prizes. When not writing or reading, or perpetually arranging and re-arranging his collection of books, he takes a break by taking long walks, sometimes at night, the time of day he loves the most.
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