This page contains:
- Disregard for personal autonomy
- Child abuse
- Mental health issues
Near the end of her days, Abuela Manuela Corazon Monquillo would make the confession that the secret to a long life—if that was anything to be desired at all—was a thorough accounting of sins and carefully crafted deceits.
When she made that observation to her devoted secretary, she was aged more than a full century. She was beyond the graying years and was already as melancholy and stooped as a weeping dalakit tree. She was, truth to tell, edging towards her 150th year, but her mind was still sharp—even if memory itself became, for her, an act of occasional negotiation she didn’t always win.
She knew this to be true about the business of living too long: the accumulation of sin and deceit required scores upon scores of ledgers and record books. Turpitude, like a virus, multiplied, so she had taken to keeping a small library of these books hidden in the den of her house; volumes upon volumes of confessions bound in leather, the covers of which had since turned a dark shade of scarlet from all the years in the shadows. No one in Hinirang knew she kept them. Upon anyone’s cursory examination they resembled the nondescript pages of common bureaucratic manuals, and in that guise, they remained a secret. This Manuela Corazon Monquillo considered her paramount achievement.
There were days when she would look over her collection like the hesitant keeper of covert things. She would sometimes wonder how much energy she had expended chronicling all these secrets—perhaps equal to the energy she had spent not telling anyone else about them?
But then who would believe her?
And worse, how would she fare in the wake of someone else’s knowledge of her secret hobby?
Certainly, no one wanted their secrets recorded or their acts of deceits ledgered. Sins were best forgiven, and forgotten.
Still, she kept at it all those years, and had come to regard her record-keeping as a kind of duty. Until one day in the early years of her strange endeavor, she found that, with every item she stored, she was adding a few more precious days to her life.
She could feel the gift of added time as a kind of small reverberations in the bones, and a deepening of air in her lungs.
But as with most miracles, there was a catch: her contraband knowledge never stopped gravity from curving her back, nor her face from crumbling into decrepit creases. She was kept gloriously alive, even as her body became as gnarly as the worst of sins.
It had been such a long time since Manuela Corazon Monquillo wrote down the first confession. She couldn’t even remember what it was, and she couldn’t even remember how she came across this uncanny secret to longevity. Since turning fifty, she had resolved to end each of her days with two carefully observed rituals for her scrupulous recording:
First, she would extract from her own day a small act of deviousness that amounted to sin.
Second, she would extract from another a confession of their own dark frailties.
It did not matter how small, or how great; they all had equal weight, anyway. Sometimes, she’d muse over how life could be cruel as people with the grandest misdeeds often ended up getting the lightest of punishments, if any at all. Steal a chicken, and your life could be one spent languishing in the eternity of a jail cell; steal a million pesetas from the colonial treasury, and you could end up becoming the feared gobernadorcillo of the whole of Hinirang.
What was it that Anfone once told her? Something about the weight of deceit being the mark of accomplishment—something like that, she couldn’t remember exactly. And who was Anfone? She dismissed the thought, irritated at how randomly it came to her—the palimpsest of things she no longer had vocabulary for.
The daily collection of other people's misdeeds was not particularly challenging for Manuela Corazon Monquillo, but it was not an easy task altogether either. Casa Roca, her house at the dead end of Encanto lu Caminata, was peopled enough with assorted lascamareras and unwitting visitors coming and going through the narra portals that served as the front doors of her childhood home, presently her queendom. It was from this stream of people, as well as from those she met in her occasional dalliances with the outside world, that she found a steady supply of confessions that made up everything else about her library.
Casa Roca clung to the edges of Ciudad Meiora and occupied a small estate surrounded on all sides by high fences which were thoroughly covered with an abundance of creepers: not ivy, as one would expect, but a different kind of plant—a rare variety the natives called buglasay—which was impossible to cultivate and was mostly green in both dry and wet season, but could turn indigo, or lavender, or crimson depending on the mood of the estate’s mistress. This was certainly a botanical conundrum not even the brightest scientific mind in all of Hinirang could explain. Manuela Corazon Monquillo could not be bothered with explanations, and thus, the constant green. The color of apathy was the dark green of the algae off Malazarte del Mar, that nearby sea where nothing swam except the ghosts of the fish that once teemed in it. Once, and only once, did the buglasay turn the bright happy pink of bougainvillea, but it was so brief that almost everyone soon believed the report was apocryphal, an instance of idle gossip. The leaves had always been green, people insisted, the way Manuela Corazon Monquillo had always been the same stern woman to everyone else in her life.
Despite being situated in a far-flung barrio removed from the center of Ciudad Meiora, Casa Roca was the locus of a sprawling neighborhood that was considered still dangerous enough for small-time thugs to parade around in the splendor and furious bling of notoriety, but also thriving enough to possess clusters of cafes and galleries which Ciudad Meiora’s artists and poets frequented in a mad rush to approximate bohemia. Encanto lu Caminata was the thoroughfare that cut around the barrio in an inelegant “S,” punctuated eventually at its southern terminal point by the wrought-iron gates that led to the narra doors of Casa Roca. To this neighborhood Manuela Corazon Monquillo would go, knowing that it was always ripe for the picking, with more confessions rolling in than she knew what to do with. Mostly she’d stay home. Her servants were enough sources for her daily chronicle—how colorful their lives were! how liberal their revelations to each other! They seemed curiously unaware of the subtle ways their mistress eavesdropped on them. Truly, the walls had ears, didn’t they know that?
Manang Marga, the cook who was past her prime, had been carrying on a torrid affair with her nephew Andoy, the gardener, more out of convenience than out of love. Andoy, on the other hand, had accidentally killed the pug that Cecilia the seamstress had kept for years in the comforts of her sewing room; he had buried it in an inaccessible spot in the garden where the beetles tormented the rose bushes. Cecilia was not Isabella’s much older sister as she had claimed; she was in fact her mother. Isabella knew this, too, but had chosen to keep her knowledge to herself, even from Cecilia, perhaps unsure with what to do with this revelation. Perhaps this was what gnawed the insides of her elderly father—really her grandfather—who was once butler to the entire Monquillo household until too many secrets ate at him and rendered him an invalid wallowing in waves of constant pain.
Manuela Corazon Monquillo would record all of these, each line a wealth of human frailty and foibles, and she’d feel her bones grow tighter, her breathing deeper, her insides purged from all impending ills.
Sometimes, if she felt like it, Manuela Corazon Monquillo would ask Isabella, her secretary, for the same blue parasol that had seen better days—a signal that she would be visiting the neighborhood cafés, with orders not to be disturbed until she signaled for them.
The servants knew these excursions as excuses for their mistress to bask under the sun, alone, perhaps to derive pleasure from the quick changes of the streets through the decades—the motorized contraptions becoming kings of the byways, for example, or the various sartorial whimsies evolving through the years that people called fashionable. Which was true, of course, but only to an extent. The changing modes of things now bored her, and all she could really muster some days was a chuckle of small amusement that last year’s mini-skirt was now this year’s flapper dress.
For Manuela Corazon Monquillo, what was important was to sit in the corner of some café, where she would allow her old age to give her a cloak of invisibility she needed to eavesdrop on the conversations of other people. She did this usually in the midafternoons when there were not too many customers, and the cafés could be expected to transform into refuges of confession by those who’d think a quiet coffee place with only an old woman as customer in it was private enough for any of them to rail about their lives or to venture confession sometimes unfit for priests.
“I don’t know why I ever decided to become a mother,” said one woman one day, deep in conversation with a friend. This was in a café that used to be called Low Chairs, but now sported the name Hinirang Highland Brew.
Said the friend, “Does your husband know you feel this way?”
“Who? Leonardo? He’s quite useless—and you know that, Nena.”
“I know, Teresa. But I remember you always told me you wanted to have a baby.”
“I thought it would bring Len and I closer together.”
Manuela Corazon Monquillo quickly took pen to paper and listened more intently.
“And it has not done that?” the woman named Nena asked.
“He claims to love the baby—but he also says he has to work on that goddamn novel of his, and a crying baby was a nuisance he did not care to have. And so I barely see him—he writes in that goddamn shed all day, and he only comes in for dinner. Would not even take a break for lunch.”
“So you know what I feel now?”
“What is it?”
“Every time I look at the baby—“
“What is it, Teresa.”
The woman named Teresa broke into craggy sobs. “Every time I look at the baby—all I could see is how unwanted she is.”
“But Anna is such a lovely girl.”
“I don’t want her.”
“How could you say that now, Teresa?”
“I just want her to disappear.”
“Surely you don’t mea—“
“I want what I had with Leonard before—just the two of us.”
“The other day, you know what I did?” Nena would not reply, and so Teresa continued. “I didn’t feed her at all, all day. The baby cried and cried, and I just let her cry—until it was so tired, it fell asleep.”
“I know! I know! I’m a horrible mother.”
“Don’t judge me too harshly, Nena. Of course, I regretted it soon after. I fed it, gave it milk when it cried again. And I swear I will never do that again, I swear.”
“You promise me you will not do that again, Teresa.”
The woman named Nena cried some more, her tears lost in the heedless and uncaring bustle of the streets beyond the café. As the two women continued on comforting each other, talking in wasted generalities about how life in Hinirang was much too unfair for many of them, Manuela Corazon Monquillo patiently inscribed in a neat and curly script on the blank page of another bound scarlet volume everything she had heard, her hand steady and sure as she rounded each word and made her punctuations—she had done this for years and years—and all the while feeling the witchcraft of the words she had written course through her fingers, under her skin, and into the parts of her that was a hungry void. Manuela Corazon Monquillo allowed herself to mourn a bit for this new accounting of human frailty.
We are all capable of small monstrosities, she thought. And you know what was worse? People have their reasons.
Before the afternoon sun could set, she would signal for Isabella that she was ready to rush for home in the tartanilla she insisted on keeping, never mind if the rest of the streets of Ciudad Meoira, with their growing abundance of motorized traffic, no longer saw many horse carriages.
Once safely inside the quiet and tree-shaded cool of Casa Roca, Manuela Corazon Monquillo would march straight to her study, and under the hulking mass of all the shelved volumes of confessions and deceits, she’d make the usual mark of her own deceitful day.
Today it was this:
I promised Isabella a full raise. She has gotten only half of it.
In penning that last entry, she once again wondered how painfully crafted these things were—as if she woke up each day already possessing a plan for the commission of small sins, small indiscretions, all for the purpose of having something to chronicle. What were the repercussions of daily misdeeds? Perhaps eroded trust from those who surrounded her? Did she care? Perhaps a tendency for disloyalty from the rest of them? Did she care? She could not really blame them. But they were there, always, as if bound to her by some ugly magic; most would never leave.
The next day, past mid-morning, IsabelI promised Isabella a full raise. She has gotten only half of it.la came to her mistress’s bedroom to do the exquisitely layered business of waking up Manuela Corazon Monquillo. The secretary set about for another rigorous round of putting together an appearance for her mistress: the breakfast tray that contained only sliced ripe mango and cereal with carabao’s milk and a glass of cold calamansi juice sweetened with dogos, then the half-hour wallowing in a perfumed bath, complete with Isabella brushing her wet hair, now golden instead of the merely grey from old age; then the protracted search for the day’s dress, although it always ended with a severe outfit in a dark shade, an ensemble softened only by a hint of lace, or a dash of color, or tailoring that proved that Cecilia the seamstress—the fourth of her kind in the family—had an ironic streak in her. All these would be accomplished in tremendous quiet, which was, however, not unbearable since both were used to only the sounds of utensils clicking, water splashing, and clothes sighing as they were unfolded and folded.
Today, Manuela Corazon Monquillo spoke up. “You look like you have not had proper sleep, Isabella,” she said. “I hope this does not put a serious cramp to our day?”
“Certainly not, abuela.”
“So what is the matter?”
“I did get some sleep last night, but—“
“You discovered this morning, from my accountant, that I could not completely give you that raise you were promised.”
Isabella was quiet.
“You are getting half of it, Isabella,” Manuela Corazon Monquillo countered. “Shouldn’t that muster at least some measure of gratitude? I cannot stand you sulking all day.”
“Most certainly, abuela. But my father is sick, and—“
“Your father will die soon enough. He is old, and he is in tremendous pain. You cannot waste too much money on someone who will die, anyhow.”
Isabella caught herself in a sob.
“Was that too harsh, Isabella?”
The young woman nodded, still tending carefully to Manuela Corazon Monquillo’s dress—the skirt, the blouse, the shoes…
“Life, my dear, is harsh. I should know that. I’ve lived for so long, so so long, and I’ve seen so much—and that is the barest truth about life I can give you.” The old woman sighed. “Sometimes there are days when I feel very much like Methuselah. It does not become me.”
“I know my father is frail, and that perhaps he only has days left in him—but I feel I would be remiss if I do not at least make some gesture to take care of him. To at least give him comfort until he—“ Isabella could not finish her sentence.
By then, Manuela Corazon Monquillo was fully dressed. She viewed herself in the tall and generous mirror that made for the door in her gigantic wardrobe, and in her reflection, she could count all the years she’d lived in the abundance of her wrinkles and in the steepness of the curve of her back. She suddenly felt very, very tired.
“I envy your father,” she said softly to Isabella.
“I doubt you do, abuela,” the young woman replied. “You have everything—“
“True, I lack for nothing.”
“And you’ve always had people taking care of you—“
“Ah, but comfort is a trap—albeit a lovely trap.”
“And you have lived for so long, you have certainly earned all the wisdom there is to be had in the world.”
Manuela Corazon Monquillo grew quiet.
Was she wise? What had all these years taught her? True, she had the key to longevity—a measure of immortality so many men had strived to find in all of history: in alchemy, in the making of art, in the miracles of modern medicine, in the search for legendary fruit, or grail, or fountain. To live forever, that was the dream. No one else had found the key, except she—and what had she learned from her secret knowledge? That deceit was fuel, that to live out the gift of a long life would mean being witness to so much death and disease, frailty and faults—and she could do nothing about any of these. No wonder her skin wrinkled, no wonder her bones bowed.
“You have no idea what you are talking about, child,” she finally told Isabella.
Manuela Corazon Monquillo looked out her bedroom window to stare briefly at the noontime Hinirang sun. That sun is much older than I, she thought. She imagined the fierce summer heat outside the cool confines of her room, and she must have whispered some words of dismissal for Isabella, because she heard the young woman mumble, and then she heard the door of her bedroom shut close, and she was finally alone.
Only then could she admit to herself what the years had truly wrought: how tired she was, how weary to keep on being keeper of decades and decades worth of sins, and she wondered yet again if it was all worth it.
Manuela Corazon Monquillo knew that keeping everyone’s sins and deceits prolonged her life, but she also knew something else equally as terrible: that this witchcraft was instrumental in the gradual erasures of most of her memories, especially of the times when she was most happy.
When she started building the ledgers of deceits, the minor memories disappeared first.
The color of her gown during confirmation, but she remembered for a while downing the wafer and the wine consecrated to the Tres—until this too would be forgotten.
The name of the terrible teacher in the primera escuela catequisma who berated her for not knowing the representative color of each region of Hinirang.
The capital towns of the Bisayan islands at the archipelagic center of Hinirang, although she would persist in remembering Dumaguet of the island of Buglas for some reason.
They dulled away, bit by bit, convenienced only by the fact that soon most of her contemporaries—the ones who defiantly made her their friend—would also lose their memory to the dementia that senescence brought. Soon no one was left to quiz her about the things in the world. Soon, they also died, one by one. By then, she had grown too much into her power and privilege to give much importance to keeping a rote knowledge of the world: she had servants to do her bidding, and her secretaries had become her memory.
Soon the major memories started absconding as well, leaving behind only the happiest and the most fugitive of them all, and perhaps this last one persisted only because much of that happy memory was in fact tinged with deceit. The retention of the memory proved the ultimate antidote, and she relished the fact that it could still be retrieved when she wanted to, which was not often.
Manuela Corazon Monquillo’s rheumy eyes, already blue and grey from the cascade of the years and the scores of ugly visions seen, were already blind to the ugly memories of what they witnessed once. The amnesia had taken more. She could really remember only four instances in her one-hundred-and-forty-nine years when she was truly happy.
The first memory was the sight of red balloons—thousands of them—escaping to the blue skies above Encanto lu Caminata and the surrounding caminatas, a riot in the color of blood that filled the very young Manuela with so much excitement that when she went home she found she could not sleep. Her body tingled still from that overpowering rush of sensations, and she spent the next four days trying to count, through sheer memory, the number of balloons she saw in the skies. At the end of four days and five nights, she came to the last specific count and was filled with satisfied certainty that there were five thousand and six hundred seventy-four red balloons that day. Then she promptly fell to sleep, exhausted from the effort and would not wake until hours later to a dinner plate that had grown cold. She was only six.
She would forget this memory in her 74th year.
The second memory was of her young husband taking her by the hand and giving her the first kiss she had ever received from a boy. Anfone’s lips were bold and sweet and brutish and tender all at the same time, and when it invaded her mouth, she felt the sweetness of lust, a new sensation for her, spread everywhere in her body, her pores breathing with the unexpected fulfillment of anticipation. This was on her wedding night, and their lovemaking would turn into a week of such lustful explorations that the dogs around Encanto lu Caminata howled, not at the sight of some full moon, but at the carnal smell that Manuela and Anfone exuded in those heady days, when she was so full of love for her young husband and had believed in the certainty of happily ever after. Anfone would die within a year of their marriage.
She would forget this memory in her 99th year.
The third memory was the sight of sunrise not too long ago, when she was already quite old. It had been a grueling year, with Hinirang in a flush of chaos that penetrated even the comfortable cocoon of her life along Encanto lu Caminata. She had found herself unable to sleep, the insomnia so severe she thought she could overcome it with a steady stroll through her expansive garden. She rushed to the dew-strewn grounds in the very early morning. All there was in the sky were the burning stars in the velvet darkness. When the sun burst from the horizon, all Manuela could think about was how beautiful the sight was—those purple and orange streaks preceding a ripening sun, and she remembered thinking: “I’ve never seen a sunrise so beautiful.” In fact, she meant she had never seen a sunrise in years, and she smiled at the surprise, knowing with some forlornness that this moment would probably never happen again.
She would forget this memory in her 135th year.
All the more peculiar it was that she would feel these losses—as if she could see the blank spaces in her mind that each piece of memory had vacated, unable to recall what she had lost, but knowing with some dark conviction that she had lost something.
At the end of everything, beyond the gradual loss of memory, Manuela Corazon Monquillo found she had leased another credit to life. She found she could actually listen to people talk, and that she could measure the confessions they’d tell her, and that for some reason her record of their confessions granted them some reprieve. Perhaps that was the engine that kept her going, despite everything else?
The reprieves were often random, sometimes even cruel—if that’s the right word for it—in the stretch of their repercussions.
An older man named Candido de la Torre spoke to her once with so much regret about cheating on his beautiful wife, a former beauty queen with several titles to her name, including Binibining Hinirang. He was now happily married to his equally beautiful former mistress, who surrendered a promising career in dance to become a housewife.
A young girl named Paula Tortovoncellos confessed, in halting fashion, about stealing her friend’s doll during a feast to the Second of the Tres, envying its rotating mechanical parts as well as the glamorous gown it was dressed in. She was now the proprietor of a successful toy store in the business district of Ciudad Meiora, her friend now the head cashier.
A young man named Concho confessed, with some veiled delight, to the accidental manslaughter of a renowned poet beloved by many. He was now presidente municipal of the little town of Golayat, the port town off Malazarte del Mar, where the algae thrived and no fish remained.
Their confessions, their reprieve, her longevity—and then, in the sum of all things, one more brilliant memory gone in the now vast desert of the ghosts of all her remembrances.
There was a fourth memory she rarely ever played in her mind: one tinged with a measure of guile, and thus perhaps able to escape the ravages of loss. A long time ago, before that day with the red balloons, she had stolen a bunch of pesetas from her mother to buy for herself the sweetest chocolate concoction that Madama Carlota, Ciudad Meiora’s best chocolatier, could make. She had heard her friend Rosa boast of having tasted it, but she had warned that it was not always available. The Madama Carlota baked the tender thing only once a week, if she felt like it, a scarcity that commanded the most outrageous sum for its purchase.
Manuela’s own mother had told her promptly: “Chocolates will ruin your appetite for dinner,” and that settled that, even when Manuela noted furiously that dinner was still four hours away, and that her tutor had called off escuela for the day, which necessitated this adventure into cake and pastry. When her mother would not listen, she marched straight to her parent’s bedroom, absconded with a considerable sum from her mother’s not-so-secret drawer, and proceeded to town, alone, to buy this vision of a chocolate concoction.
It was not as rare as Rosa claimed. There were four of them on display in the counters of Madama Carlota’s shop, done in random shapes and coming in beguiling brown, their texture rich, their aroma fragrant with the whiff of magical cocoa perhaps sourced from some exotic land in Sud Amerigo. The chocolate Manuela bought was in the shape of a large cupcake, crusted on the outside and filled with moist cocoa goodness inside, and how she devoured it; it was like devouring heaven itself.
That evening, shortly after her encounter with the sad Isabella, Manuela Corazon Monquillo found herself in her locked study. In the dim light of the library, she found her fingers going over the spines of each volume of secrets, mentally noting all the years she’d spent compiling them. What could become of a project she was now beginning to doubt?
Then, in the inevitability of bowing to temptation, she knew what she had to do: she had to get rid of her cache of sins. It was an intense thought, and she could not shake it off.
Soon her fingers were busy taking down all the scarlet volumes, until they were a pile on the floor of the library. Her fingers seemed to know what to do next—they stripped the pages from their leather confines, a furious enterprise that involved a thousand paper cuts and the assault of suddenly disturbed dust flying at her and making Manuela sneeze. She persevered though it took hours and hours for her to strip down all the books to these shreds of paper, piles and piles of them. Soon she found that her back had considerably straightened and she could make several quick trips between the library and the kitchen, where she took the shreds and threw them into five vats of boiling water, all that drowned paper soon mixing into a kind of goo.
In the middle of the night, she surveyed the mess in the kitchen, congratulating herself for being so very quiet in this strange new compulsion of hers, so very quiet in fact that not anyone among the servants stirred to waking. Or perhaps they knew it was their mistress going about her strange midnight business, and had decided to stay away, preferring sleep rather than needless confrontation. Let her do as she pleased; it was her kitchen.
The goo, from all the pages and pages of confessions, she quickly gathered in one large mixing bowl, and then she proceeded to muster all residual powers of memory to remember how to bake cupcakes.
To her astonishment, her mind cleared. She found herself following body memory—preheating the oven she had not touched in more than a hundred years; lining cupcake tins with cases she found with ease in one of the cabinets; mixing butter and sugar and vanilla until they became creamy and fluffy, and to which she added the goo of all her confessions; mixing in flour and cocoa and bicarbonate soda; mixing them with the chocolate she found in Marga the Cook’s secret arsenal; and finally, spooning the mixture into the liners until each case was a third full.
When she was done, she had covered all the surfaces of the kitchen—as well as the nearby dining table and everywhere else in the cavernous interiors of Casa Roca—with chocolate cupcakes, and their aroma filled the house with charmed urgency. The alingasa soon woke the entire household, who all rushed to where Manuela was and marvelled at their mistress’s midnight madness.
Manuela sat at the head of the long dining table and, with a quick gesture, commanded everyone to seat themselves. They acquiesced without protest.
“Abuela,” said Isabella, who sat beside Manuela, “you made all these cupcakes last night?”
“I felt I needed to.”
“Abuela, this is all so surprising—what are we to do with all these?”
“What else do you do with chocolate cupcakes? You eat them.”
Manuela looked around sharply, a smile forming slowly on her lips.
“So, what are you waiting for?” she said. “Eat!”
They ate the cupcakes—and the patries were delicious, tantalizing to the tongue, as if they were baked with magic ingredients that could only come from the divinity of the Tres. Everyone had more than one, and everyone found themselves aching to eat more, their hunger insatiable and terrifying, doubling up on itself with each cupcake devoured. It must have been during the fourth or fifth helpings that many of them started to remember their own buried knowledge of sins and deceits, and so unbearable was this knowledge, and the guilt that sprang with it, that everyone rushed to wherever they could run—the bathrooms, the random latrines, the garden—to vomit. But they found themselves coming back for more cupcakes, the hunger unsated, and then they’d go back to wherever they had vomited to vomit again.
The narra doors burst open, and in came the rest of Encanto lu Caminata, the people shocked into strange waking on this strange morning and led on only by the tantalizing aroma of chocolate emanating from the kitchen of Casa Roca. They, too, ate their fill and had more, vomited in gusto, and went back for more.
All the while, bewitched by the taste of the cupcakes, they remembered all manners of guilt and sobbed and confessed to each other their sins and promised redemption, wondering in delirium how sweet the world was and how painful its deceits.
It was a strange cycle, and above it all, Manuela observed the feasting and the chaos with a look of utter relaxation on her face that had not been there for a century.
In the rush of that strange morning, Manuela regained her memories, both happy and sad.
The 5,674 red balloons in the sky.
The musk of Anfone’s kiss.
The marvelous sunrise.
The color of her gown during confirmation was lilac.
The name of her primera escuela catequisma teacher was Madama Borta, the Tres bless her soul.
The capital town of Siquidjor was Siquidjor, and it teemed with mananambals and their magical potions, including one to make someone else love you.
But with the avalanche of memories came the price: she had forfeited her chance to live longer.
Manuela ate the last cupcake, which she had kept for herself and which she knew contained the most potent concentration of all the secrets that she kept. She took a bite, then devoured the rest with gusto, and remembered suddenly how she had broken her beloved’s heart.
It had been a lovely evening, a long time ago, and she had asked Anfone what his dearest wish was. “To be with you forever,” he said, and then he also asked in turn: “And you, Manuela?” For some reason, her tendency for cruelty was unrestrained, and she said: “I doubt I could love you forever.”
Anfone had given her such a stricken, mournful look, and she had wondered ever since why she had said what she said. That night in bed, when the night turned deep, she turned to face him and ask for forgiveness but encountered only a very still Anfone, who had quietly passed on in his sleep.
Days later, in the black garb of widowhood that she flaunted to announce her guilt, she was comforted by her mother, who told her: “The pain is temporary, daughter. Someday, we will join Anfone in the paradise of the Tres. You would like that, wouldn’t you? To see him again? Some day?”
Manuela Corazon Monquillo, the weeping widow, wrenched herself violently from her mother’s embrace, and braving the guilt that ate at her, told the woman: “I don’t think I can ever be ready to face Anfone, even under the merciful light of the Tres.”
“But my dearest Manuela, no one lives forever,” her mother said, and Manuela wailed.
And having cried all that she could, old Manuela, one hundred forty-nine years old, felt a sudden release from deep within her—a bubble of fulfillment that embraced her—and remembering Anfone’s face one last time, she died happily.