When my friend held my arm, I have the strongest urge to slap it away. I could clearly see her pores, as clear as the fucking moon, and the sweat dripping out of it that reminds me of the syrupy liquid drops my mother used to force down my throat. They have the same urine-like color and it revolts me to think that it was touching my skin, her urine colored sweat rubbing against my arm.
She is laughing, oblivious of the discomfort she is giving me. Laughing about her cute boyfriend. Laughing about her five-year old son who has memorized the story of Goldilocks and the Three Little Bears. She does not notice the spit coming out of her mouth, the ant crawling at the corners of her narrow nose– they’re always there in your body, those ants, coasting the edges and corners and holes of your body as if they were surfing the great pacific.
We pass by a marketplace. A batch of melons catches her eye. Her son loves melons, she says, and picks through a couple of good ripe ones. She weighs them with her sweaty hands and she doesn’t see the worms, silky white and about a hundred of them, budging out of the melon’s soft shell. She doesn’t see the scratches and the things stuck between them, a person’s filthy nail, a drop of red paint that may be nail polish or blood, and another ant making its fast, steady run across the melon, leaving dirt and shit that no human eye could possibly see.
But I could see. I could see them all so clear.
I scrub my arm with a damp towel until all traces of Clarissa’s yellow ooze are gone. I push the towel on my neck, my legs, my stomach. My nails are full of shit that I couldn’t even name. I scrub them clean until they are close to falling off. I could feel my skin stinging and I know they are peeling off but I keep scrubbing anyway. Until the smell come off. Until the repulsive colors come off. Until my own skin come off.
I would have kept going if I didn’t hear the front door open. I quickly rinse the towel, a bit of blood smudged on it, and look at myself at the mirror. My skin has turned into an irritating red and I could see traces of blisters and scratches everywhere. I wipe away the drop of blood on my neck. It stung of course. Even the lightest contact burned me, as if it someone had pinched me hard. The good thing is, I couldn’t see the yellow grime or any of those tiny worms anymore. There are still traces of their flesh and skin, and a few ones shaking as if they are sick. Do worms get sick? Atleast they are dead, I thought. I could rub off the carcass the next day though, you could never really get rid of the worms. I accepted that long ago but I still keep scrubbing them away, perhaps for fun, I don’t know. I don’t like how they keep burying themselves in my skin and then dig themselves out the next minute as if my skin was their filthy earth. They’re as perpetual as those little ants. I see one emerging from behind my ear and I flicker it away. I don’t like squishing ants, they make a big mess, those little creatures, and their blood smells the worst.
I wash my face for the umpteenth time and look at myself in the mirror. People often told me I am pretty. Adrian said I was beautiful but I never saw myself that way. The only thing I saw on my face are the worms eating my cheeks, the huge pores on my nose that gaped open and closed, and the dark cracks under my eyes that reminded me of overcooked brownies. My lips are chipped and peeling off but that’s because I bit it all the time. I check my hands and then my nails to see if anything was breeding down there. When everything looked pitch perfect, atleast for now, I grab my wedding ring from the sink and replace it on my finger. The ring is purple and at the middle of it is a purple diamond (which was anything but) that sparkles nicely after rubbing ammonia on it.
Adrian was sitting on the bed when I came out of the bathroom. I flinch away at his sight. He is dirty, everything about him is dirty, but what I couldn’t bear look at are the smudges of powder on his face. He did a good job wiping off the lipstick on his lips but he forgets to clean his neck. If he opens his shirt, I’ll probably see more of it, the light pink smudge trailing across his chest and his stomach and I’ll start feeling bad about myself, feeling bad about ourselves.
He takes off his shirt. He takes off his trousers. He takes off his shoes, his socks, all he threw in the laundry. I didn’t see, I couldn’t look at him, but I know the routine. He’ll heave a sigh, he’ll pick up his pajamas from the chair, his white shirt, and then he’ll ruffle his curly dark hair. I use to ruffle it for him before. I stare at his shoes and see the mud and grit clinging to it. I always tell him to keep them outside. He couldn’t see the trails he leaves on the floor. All the shit he stepped at outside is now on the floor that I always scrub clean, all the shit crawling and moving noiselessly. It’s like watching a slug move forward but I knew what a slug looks like. This one is definitely not it but it crept that way, fucking my floor with its grime. I couldn’t resist, I pick up a rag from the closet and throw it on the floor. I went on my knees and start scrubbing.
I hear him throw himself to the bed and a few minutes later, he snores. I stare at the floor and cry.
It’s when I turn off the lights when I could finally face him, when it’s dark and I could hear his soft breathing. The dark conceals many things I didn’t want to see.
I remember the time when he was inlove with me, the time when he kissed my neck after I bled it from cleaning, the time when he told me I was the most beautiful woman in the world. The dark reminded me that he is my husband and I love him. I told him so.
There’s something beautiful about glass. It’s like staring through a kaleidoscope and seeing a dizzying sort of shapes and colors, all twirling around as if they were dashed with fairy dust. I love how the light makes them more beautiful and shiny and, how should I say it, immaculate—they glow under heaven’s light and twinkle like stars. Such beauty and yet I can’t look at it for too long– it becomes a nightmare when admired.
Adrian is breathing hard and I know he’s trying to stop himself from screaming. I wish badly for time to turn back again, at those precious little moments when we were not fighting or ignoring each other. If I look at him, I would see his nose red in anger and if we were what we used to be before, I would have teased him about it. But we aren’t and I’m afraid that another word from me will result to another plate hitting the floor.
An ant is crawling towards the glass and I twitch my nose at the sight of it. Go away, I thought. Get away from my glass.
“Look at me,” I hear Adrian say. I don’t.
“Just,” I hear him breathe in, as if he is in pain. “Just look at me, please?”
The ant is making a steady stroll towards the glass and I want to go down my knees and flick it away. Pieces of glass are all over the floor and someone might get hurt stepping on it. Not that I am worried about the ant, but it would be a pain scrubbing the floor with its shit while pieces of glass are all over the place.
“What’s the matter with you?” says Adrian, his voice a pitch higher. “Why won’t you look at me?”
I bite my lip. I want to cry but I don’t want to do it in front of him. I don’t want to be that kind of person and I don’t want Adrian to think I was losing my screws. He probably thinks I am, but I don’t want to encourage him more.
“Rhea,” he calls out my name and I could feel my mouth quivering. When was the last time he called my name?
“I’m sorry, okay? I didn’t mean to shout. I just…” he says, his voice growing weaker. “I was just hurt of what you said.”
I want to laugh, make everything cool and chill like before. Make everything look like one big joke. But I’m afraid of the sobs threatening to come out my throat and if I open my mouth just a bit, I think I’ll start wailing like a baby.
I almost cry when he starts laughing. He was thinking the same thing. I should laugh with him but my eyes are glued on the ant, its hairy legs touching my glass. Staining it. Making it filthy.
I wish I kept my mouth shut. It was like the time when I told mama that bugs were eating her face like she was a dead corpse—she did looked like a dead corpse, you see—and papa slapped me so hard I toppled on the floor. Mama only stared at me with her watery eyes and when she blinked, a small tear slid on her face, washing all the little worms and dust away for a bit, and I regretted what I said. She was sad and dying, and she didn’t need anyone to tell her that, most especially her daughter.
This is exactly like that.
Adrian cooked dinner for today. I often eat sashimi and noodles, sometimes I didn’t eat at all. He eats outside. It’s been a long time since we sat together on our table and it felt very much like the time when we used to went out. He even placed a candle on the table. The candle was clean, I notice, as if it was scrubbed clean by a towel. The marks were still obvious on its white skin. The table smells oddly of soap, even stronger than the one I use. When he notices me checking, he said, “I did my chores rather exceptionally well, don’t you think?”
I risked a look at him. I tried to ignore the mites festering above his brow or this worm digging through his skin, dangerously near his left eye. “I always thought you had promise on the sanitation department,” I said, looking at the air above his head. “Why oh why did you ever choose the mediocre life of bookkeeping?”
He threw back his head and his laughter fills my ears. “I don’t see any difference honestly,” he said. The mites on his face jump and scatter away like ants.
“And I assume you cooked today’s dinner?”
“Ah, now that’s the next thing to be judged.” A worm with white claws crawls out of his nose, threatening to enter his mouth. “We’re dining high class today, inside our own home. Remember the time when we went outside and we really want to eat at this floating restaurant?”
I chuckled. It helped hide the gagging. “Only it was raining and the restaurant was sinking by the time we got there.”
“And the other time when we decided to eat under the stars, as we dreamily called it, our big, beloved city under our feet.” I could see traces of feces on his teeth, a few on his bottom lip. I have the urge to douse vinegar on his mouth, his whole face, and scrub it clean. The critters on his face move restlessly as he talk and talk and talk.
“That’s when we decided that we won’t ever go out again,” he said, his reminiscing finished. I didn’t hear much of it but I smile anyway.
“I know what you’re thinking.”
I was thinking of flicking the ant creeping on his neck (there was no red mark there). How could he keep still with that thing on him?
“What is my husband’s scheme this time?” he started. “Surely he just wants to fuck or maybe he wants that new Firefly action figure he saw at the internet today, both which I don’t mind having, but really, dear, are you forgetting something?”
I was about to ask him what the hell was he was talking about when my eye catches the candle on the table and I notice the purple ribbon tied around it for the first time.
“Happy anniversary dear,” he said. Water fill my eyes and I blink it away before it could fall.
“Is my cooking that terrible?” he says jokingly, but I could hear the quiet anger in his voice. If I look at his face, I’d see the fake smile that I have become so well-tuned to. I hate it the most—not the lipstick on his neck or the bugs that never stop haunting me—it’s that ugly smile on his face that tries to assure me that everything’s fine, when it isn’t. It’s as repulsive as glancing at a cockroach and seeing its own eggs stuck on its hair.
“You know I don’t like pig,” I said.
“I know,” he sighs. “I won it from a raffle earlier. A whole pig, can you believe it? And today, of all days. I want to bring back the old times, you know, when we used to eat all sort of stuff together and just laugh all day. I even researched on how to clean the meat thoroughly.”
I glance at the meat on my plate, now on the floor. “They’re disgusting creatures. They’re full of—“
“I worked real hard to make this,” he says, cutting my words. He looks at the broken glass on the floor. The candle had gone along with it, staining the wooden floor with white sop. “I didn’t think you hated it that much to throw your plate to the floor.”
He starts walking towards the broken pieces. I keep my mouth shut, afraid that I might say something terrible again. If I overlook the shit all over Adrian’s face, I could see the lines on his face. He’s still young, both of us were, and yet he looks terrible and ugly. Every part of him makes me feel sick, even his smile makes me want to puke. I hate how the bugs looked even more alien on his face, twice the number even. I hate how he comes home late with that red mark on his neck. I hate how he stopped listening to me when I tell him about the things I see, the horrors I face everyday. I hate how tired he always sound. I hate it when he laughs, because I know it wouldn’t last long and I’m left wanting for more, his smile that I want to scratch out of his face, because of how deceiving it could now be.
What I hated the most is that he stopped telling me that he loves me. Two months ago.
I stare back at the ant on my glass. It is far more of a pleasant sight than this. I could take watching an ant scrub all sorts of excrements on someone’s face or a fly laying eggs on our spoons, but I couldn’t look at Adrian’s face, where only I saw filth.
“Your lip is bleeding,” he said, and when he leans towards me, I move away reflexively. There’s something on his hand, something moving on his thumb and I didn’t want it touching my lip. I didn’t want him touching me. Go away. Just go.
“Talk to me, please,” he whispered and I feel horrible than ever.
I looked at my broken glass and the ant shitting on it. A minute later, I hear the door slam.
“I love you,” I whisper, knowing all well that it was too late. Maybe I was afraid that he won’t return an answer. Or maybe he’d end up storming out all the same. It was exactly like mama’s situation. Everyone couldn’t handle the inevitable truth, even when it’s all too obvious. I didn’t even need my eyes to see that.
The ant is gone when I turn my eyes back to my glass, my precious glass, left idly on the floor, dirty and broken. I bend down and catch one of the pieces between my fingers, pressing hard until my thumb bleeds. A warm sensation fills inside me, almost feverish. Something is crawling on my neck.
I stand up and time just feels woozy, like the feeling before the rollercoaster plunges down, where everything feels so fast and yet slow, where both my stomach and heart feel empty. I wonder if I am pregnant, if this is one of those morning sickness that mothers feel. I certainly don’t feel too good and the crawling thing on my neck is irritating me. I don’t like strangers touching me. It makes me sick. I swipe my hand over my neck but the hairy feet are still there.
I climb up the stairs, to our bedroom. I could feel more feet trudging on my neck. It reminded me of Adrian’s soft kisses, his warm breath tickling my throat. I touch the hollow of my throat, realizing how thin I had become. Adrian liked kissing me there, sometimes, he even bit me and it felt good. Just thinking of him made me ache, but now, I simply felt empty and so, free. He was gone for good and I couldn’t explain how I could be sure. I guess, you sense it when something is over. It’s like when you’re beside your sick mother and knowing she’s about to die today.
When I finally reach the bathroom, seeing my face at my mirror, seeing the worms coming out of my pores, seeing the ants festering my neck, and last but not the least, seeing a tiny piece of glass kissing my throat as Adrian used to do, I was sure, oh so sure, that today, I was going to be clean of Adrian and his filth.
I was going off to a fresh, new start.
I originally wrote this piece back at college when I was working on my thesis. I was playing with my glasses (because anything is more interesting when you’re working on with your thesis) and thought, ‘Damn, I’m blind. I wonder what it feels like to have the perfect-perfect vision?” and so I made this piece. I was suppose to submit this for Stephen King’s short story competition but never got around finishing it until now.
I’d be happy to receive feedback. I rarely finish any of the Shorts inside my mind lol