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Authors: Alexander Yates

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BOOK: Moondogs
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Monique put a hand on his cool, damp back. “There’s still a year to go after we get back. It’d be nice to know this isn’t torture for you.”

He was silent. He worked his back into the heel of her palm and she started rubbing it, bouncing up and down the depressions between his
ribs. They both turned their heads when a loud crash erupted from the kitchen—likely a cast iron skillet falling onto the already chipped countertop. Amartina, their maid. Monique felt a chuckle thrum through Joseph’s trunk.

He turned back to look at her with a half smile. “I suppose you are going to miss her, then? Her heavy, greasy food? Her banana ketchup?”

Monique quit rubbing. She sat up so they were shoulder to shoulder. “Never having to scrub mildew. The kids’ laundry always washed and folded. Coming home to a meal.”

“I never begged for those things. If she were not here, I would gladly do them myself. It would help fill up the day. We both know that is something I could use.”

They’d had this fight so often that it didn’t feel like a fight anymore. Monique got out of bed and stripped off her nightgown. She walked to the master bath, paused in the doorway and spoke without looking back. “So I take it you’re not coming into work today?”

“That isn’t work.”

“The people who do it would argue.”

“The people who do it are wrong. Or desperate. Escorting janitors, watching them empty dustbins and water the ambassador’s ficus, is not work.”

Monique closed the bathroom door on him. He was right—most of the jobs available to trailing spouses weren’t real work. But neither was staying at home, sleeping on the sofa, lamenting the lack of nearby universities with Composition and Cultural Rhetoric programs, English instruction, and vacancies. Not much she could do about any of those things, other than take the man on his vacation.

She leaned in close to the mirror and examined her pores, which seemed bigger every month in this weather. The master bath shared thin walls with the den and kitchen, and from where she stood she could hear almost everything. Joseph had turned off the air-conditioning and was back at the window, tapping his fingernails on the glass the way he did when he couldn’t sleep. Shawn had the television on and epileptic Japanese cartoons—dubbed into a mix of Tagalog
and English—fought their way through the den. Music played from Leila’s bedroom computer and Monique guessed that she was online, chatting with old friends back home about new friends that she hadn’t yet made in one year of living here. And Amartina was still clattering about in the kitchen, making breakfast. Monique could smell fried Tabasco-Spam and eggs, and her stomach did a slow roll. She hauled herself into the shower. The pressure was strong, and the water was very hot.

to resist—even hate—the idea of moving to the Philippines, but they surprised her. She sounded Joseph out first, one evening while they were up late watching coverage of the invasion of Baghdad. He didn’t say anything for a while, his face lit green by night-vision scenes. He muted the television and turned to her.

“What kind of commitment would we be talking about?”

“A two-year tour is the standard minimum. We could do more. If we wanted.”

He nodded. “Why didn’t you tell me you had passed?”

She took a breath. Her Foreign Service exam results had sat in her office inbox for weeks. “I’m sorry. I wanted to be sure how I felt about it. But now they’re scheduling me for orals, and I don’t want to attend if it’s not something we’re interested in.” She paused and watched him. Explosions brightened the walls. “I’ve looked into it, and it shouldn’t take too long to transfer from Civil to Foreign. I’ve already done the paperwork for the higher clearance I’ll need. We could be in Manila by the fall.”

“I thought that you didn’t get to choose your post.”

She paused. “I don’t. I’ll have to do a whole bid list. But with my Tagalog, Manila is likely. Also the admin councilor knows me from when I was at RM, and she’s ready to request me. They have a junior slot opening up at American Citizen Services.”

Joseph nodded some more. He turned the television off and Monique lost sight of his face. It was already going better than expected, and for that she credited her timing. Joe was having a rough
year. He’d been turned down for a tenure track spot at Georgetown after almost a month of interviews, and American University halved his teaching load for the spring semester. On top of that was the incident at the faculty Christmas party. The department chair, who’d had a few too many cocktails, jabbed a pen in Joseph’s mouth like a tongue-depressor and diagnosed him with Adjunctivitus. Joe said something ugly about the clumsy art that the chair’s teenage son had pasted all over the kitchen door. Monique believed him when he said he didn’t know the kid was retarded—a word Joseph scolded her for even using—but no one else seemed to.

“You must really miss it there.” His voice was disembodied in the dark room.

“I do, sometimes,” she said. And it was true, what she remembered of the Philippines she missed intensely.

The kiss on her left cheek surprised her. “Congratulations. Whether we go or not, you should be very proud of yourself.” He kissed her again on the corner of the mouth, and again on her bottom lip. He lay on his side and didn’t say another word. Monique’s eyes adjusted to the dark and she watched him fall asleep. He always used to fall asleep first.

The next morning Joseph acted as though the decision were already made. Toothbrush poised before his mouth, he extolled the virtues of relocating to Manila. It was the perfect time to move the kids. With Shawn in sixth grade and Leila in eighth, they would both have to change schools next year anyway. And moreover it was responsible parenting. Asia was an emerging player—his exact words—and personal experience in that part of the world would be invaluable for a young person. It would broaden their perspectives like it had broadened Monique’s. He gesticulated, flecking the mirror with foamy blue paste.

Later that week she brought home the Manila Post Report and laid it out on the kitchen table. Glossy and laminated, it had pictures of the skyline, maps highlighting beaches and dive resorts and lists of restaurants and outlet stores available near embassy apartments. The children leafed through the book excitedly. They paused at a picture of the old U.S. naval base at Subic Bay. It was taken from the air on a clear day, Mount Pinatubo shimmering in the distance.

“Hey Mom,” Shawn asked, “isn’t this where you’re from?”

“Not really,” she said. “It’s where I was born.”

. Looking good in her navy herringbone skirt suit was not overly important to her, but she was glad she did. She went light on the makeup, just some lipstick and a dusting of powder to keep from shining when she went outside and started sweating. No meetings scheduled for today so she slipped on a comfy pair of flats with gel insoles and walked out into the den. The television was still on, screaming at empty couches. The door to Shawn’s room was open, which meant he definitely wasn’t in there. He’d left his lights and air conditioner on, and from where Monique stood she could see slithering movement in his bedside aquarium. His spotted gecko pressed itself against the glass looking emaciated and intensely unsympathetic. It was one of two replacement pets, bought shortly after the family cat arrived dead in her carrier. It had been upsetting for everybody. Leila chose an African lovebird.

Monique turned off the television and went into the kitchen. Her whole family was there, sitting around a square table and eating meat and eggs on piles of thick, crusty pancakes. Amartina was at the sink washing the skillet and pretending not to eavesdrop. Monique said good morning to the room at large and sat down between her children. Leila responded with a vague greeting directed mostly at her breakfast and Shawn said nothing at all. The kids looked so much alike, and nothing like their parents. They were brown, which in racial shorthand could be called black, while Monique and Joseph were more Irish sunburned pink. This confused new acquaintances. Their reaction was always the same, rippling under their faces like brail. Did she say son? Oh. Oh.
. Good for them.

“Good morning, Shawn.” Monique looked right at him and he looked right at the wall. He hadn’t spoken a word to her since she forbade his going to the prom. Not hello, or good night, or can I please have so-and-so. The worst part was that she’d said yes at first—she’d assumed it was the local counterpart of one of Leila’s middle-school dances back home. Awkward and harmless, as long as the chaperones
stayed on their toes. But a few days later Shawn came home with a rock in his ear. It was a gift from his date, the seventeen-year-old who was going to take him to the
prom. Monique took away the earring and her permission faster than it took to slam a door, and by dinnertime she’d gotten hold of the girl’s home number and had an angry conversation with her father. Shawn said she was intentionally trying to humiliate him and she laughed. That made things worse. The hole in Shawn’s earlobe still hadn’t healed. It had been joined by a fuzzy top lip and tightly braided cornrows that Joseph wouldn’t dare say he hated. Wouldn’t dare, on account of the fact that Shawn and Leila were, as far as their parents could tell, the darkest children in their new, private school. And Joseph suspected an eagerness on the part of all those rich kids to engage in racial caricature. Such a matter, he insisted, had to be broached delicately. If at all.

“Good morning, Shawn.” Still nothing. “You left everything on in your room. It’s wasting electricity. And that lizard of yours looks like it needs to be fed.”

Joseph swallowed hastily so he wouldn’t have to talk with his mouth full. “And don’t forget, son, that you still need to find someone to look after it when we go back home.”

“I’m not going.”

“You’re going,” they said in near unison. Joseph leaned over his breakfast. The fluorescent kitchen light brought out the red in his eyes and the loose way his translucent skin seemed to hang. “You are going.”


Monique sipped her coffee and held the mug up, pretending to look at it. “Lights. Air conditioner. Crickets for the lizard. Now.” She put the mug down hard and some coffee sloshed onto the plastic tabletop. Shawn nodded almost immediately. Then he poured himself more juice. He did this as though it had all been one motion and the nod was happenstance. He drank his juice slowly, got up and walked out to the den.

Joseph and Leila continued eating in silence. Monique took a bite of pancake and wished she hadn’t. They were thick and slightly hard,
another attempt at what Amartina clearly thought was an American breakfast. Dinners were the same story. Over-salted pork medallions and grease-dripping fried chicken, usually served alongside mashed baking potatoes. Monique would have been happy enough with tapsilog for breakfast, and a sour soup or pancit at night, but her family vetoed Filipino food. She made up for it by taking lunch breaks at the embassy gym, but a year of this cooking was starting to show on the kids, especially Leila. It wasn’t that she’d gotten fat, but she still insisted on buying outfits for the year-ago version of herself. Monique walked in on her more than once taking apart some piece of clothing with a pair of art scissors. “That wasn’t free,” she said when she caught Leila destroying the elastic waist of a miniskirt. “You could just as well be cutting up the shopping money we give you.” Leila responded coolly that the skirt cost less than a dollar at Landmark, and that her mother could “bill her.” Monique played this conversation over and over in her mind. Sometimes she imagined slapping Leila, hard. But the Leila in her mind always slapped back, and things got terrible after that.

Out in the den the telephone rang. Shawn yelled that he would get it and appeared in the kitchen a moment later looking put out. He placed the cordless on the table and left again, tossing “It’s for Monique” over his shoulder.

She picked up the phone. The voice on the other end was familiar. “Are you as horny as I am right now?” he asked. “Or are you hornier?”

“Sure thing, Chuck. I’ve got it in my bag.” She stood and walked calmly through the den and into her bedroom.

“Chuck? That’s hot. Let’s incorporate that. Are you dressed for work yet?”

“No.” Monique closed the bedroom door. “Just socks.”

“You are very good to me.”

“I’ve got to go.”

“I need to see you before you leave. How does a king-size at the Dusit sound?”

“Can’t. Nowhere in Makati, the kids spend half their time there.
Besides, you had your chance. I was at that goddamned bar for two hours last night.”

“I’m still in Davao. A friend of mine had an accident.”

“I’m sorry.”

“He’ll be all right. I won’t be if I don’t see you.”

“I’ll try.”


“Don’t call on this line anymore. Next time I’ll just hang up.”

“That’s what you said last time.”

Monique hung up. He always, always did this. Flowers delivered to the apartment with ambiguous notes. Singing telegrams, which apparently still existed in the Philippines. E-mails to her address with
From Your Lover
in the subject line. Joseph was none the wiser, thank God, but Monique thought that deep down he might be fostering a kind of proto-suspicion. Not in his heart of hearts, more in his ego of egos. As though he was righteously primed—ready to be the injured party. And in this case, he would be. Monique, for her part, threatened to break it off if her lover didn’t quit with the risky games. He called her bluff.

She washed her face, reapplied her makeup and collected her things. With briefcase in hand she left the bedroom. Leila was on the couch in the den, doing homework that should have been finished already. Shawn’s door was closed and from behind it Monique heard his humming air conditioner and the horrible chirping sound his gecko made at mealtimes. Joseph dozed in the kitchen while Amartina cleared the table. Monique shook him awake. “I’m heading out. Are you sure you don’t want to come to work? There’s a construction crew in the annex and Jeff needs all the escorts he can get. You probably have time if you get dressed right now.”

BOOK: Moondogs
6.23Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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