Wednesday, October 04, 2006

vignette: west of the moon

Your parents, of course, were the very definition of poverty – except for children, which they claimed was their only wealth. At the tail end of ten siblings, whatever clothing you had was worn by several others before you. But at least you were beautiful, which your mother told you was your only wealth.

She’d say things like that, especially when there was little to eat. “Oh, my youngest,” your mother would say, her eyes filling with tears. “There are no bounds to your beauty, even if the world is a difficult place.” It was by eating those loving words that you quieted your empty stomach.

You remember that Miercoles night, sitting with your sisters and brothers for warmth while a wild storm raged outside. You all kept your hands busy because your father believed that hands must always be doing something, even when there was truly little to do , and so the same old pieces of cloth were mended, the tiny shrine to the Tres Hermanas tended.

Three raps on the door startled you, coinciding with thunder. Your father stood up and opened the door while the rest of you peered from behind him, wondering who could be out in such inclement weather.

It was kapre, standing like a man, his thick dark fur drenched in rainwater. Before a scream escaped your lips, the towering creature spoke.

"Vueno noche," said the kapre to your father, lowering his massive head in a bow.

"Vueno noche," whispered your father, and for a moment you thought those would be the last words he’d ever say.

"Will you give me your youngest daughter?" said the kapre, the growl in his voice the sound of colliding stones. "If you will, you shall be as rich as you are now poor.”

As the import of the request filtered through the initial shock to your brain, you realized that a deathly silence pervaded the house, as if the rain too was stunned into quietude. You felt the hands of the siblings nearest you tighten around your arms, your shoulders, your legs, and caught the gaze of your mother. Unable to read it, you ran away from the common room and huddled in the room where all the girls slept, where your tears began.

It was only moments before your father found you. Behind him, your mother said nothing but only looked at you with a face painted with a mixture of love and something else.

“Youngest,” your father said. “There is a kapre, a great horse-headed kapre outside, in the rain. He says he’ll make our family rich, if -”

“If what, father?” you interrupted, already knowing the condition but wanting him to say it aloud, to state it in front of you and your mother, to hear the absurd words himself, to be shaken by his voice and be forced to find some other way, to somehow to get rid of the sudden creature with his inconceivable request and outrageous promise, to save you.

“If he can have you.”

Words rumbled in your heart and cascaded upwards your throated, stumbled on your tongue but only one escaped your mouth, elegant in its vehemence.


You looked at your father look at your mother before he looked at you. In all those looks, someone must have understood something because your father left you where you sat without another word. He left without another word and you thought it was over.

Later, your father returned.

“Listen, my youngest,” he said, his eyes burning into yours. “I told the bear to come back next Miercoles, next week, for your answer.”


“If you go with him, he’ll make us all rich. If you don’t, he’ll get angry and kill us all. Do you want to be responsible for all our deaths?”

You realized that sometimes love wasn’t enough. “I’m so glad you value life above all things, father.” You thought perhaps your clever retort would make him see how unjust he was being.

Your father smiled. “I knew you’d see it that way.” He kissed your disbelieving face. “Now go and mend your rags, wash yourself, and make sure that you’re presentable.”

In the whirlwind of days that followed, you realized that you were as good as dead to your family. Your siblings talked animatedly about the wealth that the future would bring, of carabaos and dresses and good things to eat, of a new house and farmland and of too many things set loose from imagination by hope. It was only your mother who talked as if you were still with them, her shoulders heavier by what you thought was the thought of losing you.

The next Miercoles, a dry evening, the horse-headed creature returned. One by one your siblings bade you goodbye, to write them, telling you how much they appreciated your action, your sacrifice, the immense depth of familial love and devotion that they would remember for the rest of their lives.

“Be brave,” your mother whispered in your ear, as she handed you a small bundle that represented every material thing you owned in the world. “My heart goes with you.”

“Here she is, sir,” your father said, his hand on the small of your back, nudging you outside the cottage where the kapre waited, smoking a thick roll of tobacco.

“Climb my back,” the kapre growled. And so you did, clutching your scant possessions in your arms, looking back at your home one last time before what you thought was end of everything.

It wasn’t comfortable on the kapre’s back and his fur smelled of sweat and smoke.

"Are you afraid?" the kapre asked.

"No, that I am not," you replied seeing no point in stating the obvious – how terrified you were, how you wondered when he would stop to eat you or fuck you or fuck you then eat you.


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