Monday, October 5, 2009


by Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Jhoy’s note looked salty. Translucent, grey-purple paper ruled with dark purple ink, like a sliver of my grandmother’s veined calf. Torn from a worn, cheap notepad. It didn’t look dirty to me, exactly. It looked salty, just as the dull yellow brine in the jars of Jhoy’s stall looked salty, the brine that kept all those shriveled smidgens of strangeness in suspension. All those wrinkled brown things that may or may not have been seahorse heads, lizard tails, worms. The jars were sealed tight with rubber bands, but the essence of their contents must have seeped into the paper somehow. The note looked salty, like I didn’t have to smell or taste it to know that it was.

I sat cross-legged on my bed and read the note. The instructions had been scribbled down beforehand to make for a quick transaction. I remembered how each page of Jhoy’s notepad was filled with the same set of words.

mamayang gabi di maghahapunan
9 p.m. 2 cytotec (inom) 2 pahilab (inom)
11 p.m. 2 cytotec (pasok sa pwerta) 2 pahilab (inom)
bukas maga paggising
5 a.m. 2 cytotec (inom) 2 pahilab (inom)
bawal maasim malamig

The pills were wrapped in a salty-looking yellow flyer for some housing development. They cost 2,000 pesos all in all, half of my week’s allowance. Six huge Cytotec tablets in printed silver packets and six tiny blank tablets in an unmarked plastic pouch. Jhoy said the tiny ones were for cleaning out the uterus. So that I wouldn’t have to let some other woman do it manually, she said. I didn’t even know that my uterus would need cleaning after. I would have to believe her. The Cytotec, at least, I knew were meant for stomach ulcers and just so happened to kill fetuses on the side. I got that from the Ask Yahoo! Health and Wellness section. They have a resident doctor who answers all your questions.

I looked at the wall clock. 8:57. The last thing I ate was a stick of fishballs for lunch, before the FX ride home from Quiapo. Perfectly pedestrian. I smoothed out the towel underneath me, fluffed my pillows, poured some bottled water into a glass, set my cellphone alarm to 11 and looked at the wall clock. 8:58. I snapped open two Cytotec packets and shook out two cleansers. The Cytotec were smooth, Mentos-like. The cleansers reminded me of that chalk they used for cockroaches. I swallowed them one by one with some water. The Cytotec didn’t taste like anything, but the cleansers left a metallic-salty aftertaste, like they had been in the palm of an FX driver all day, absorbing the zest of change. Not like I had ever licked the palm of an FX driver, but that’s probably what those people taste like, if ever. I lay down, sniffing my fingers. Chalky, salty.

There was a knock on the door. I kept flat on my back.

“It’s open.”

My grandmother entered.

“Good evening, lola.”

“Good evening, Consuelo.”

She shuffled over, her diaper crackling beneath the quilted gold dressing gown, and sat at the foot of my bed. Crackle, crackle.

“How was your day, Consuelo?”

“It was okay. And yours?”

“I sent Gerry out for DVDs this morning,” she replied in her deep, regal tone. “We have Reservoir Dogs and Battle Royale 2.”

“We already have Reservoir Dogs, lola.”

“We do? It’s alright, hija. An extra copy.”

We had extra copies of a lot of films. American Psycho. Saving Private Ryan. Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Cannibal Holocaust. Ichi the Killer. American History X. Taxi Driver. Silence of the Lambs. We based our purchases on’s growing list of The Most Violent Films of All Time, which my grandmother had asked me to search for. She and I coped through bloodshed. The films reminded us to always be on our guard. We needed to see people dying dreadful deaths, scenes that would lodge right into our brains from a classic, upside-down gunshot in the mouth. That was how my parents died two years ago. A killing spree at the Shangri-La Plaza parking lot, where innocent shoppers were shot and hacked at by Chinoy teens high on coke and Scarface. It’s not like the guards at the ticket booth check the passengers’ jackets.

Gerry was our sixth driver since their death, so he wouldn’t have known which titles we had. My grandmother kept changing the help as a safety precaution. They must not grow on us, she said. Her father was a governor slain for collaborating with the Japs. She had relinquished prayer after that, focusing instead on increasing her inheritance by being a Sampaguita soap spokesmodel. She wanted to be rich enough to forget, but that never stopped her from being on her toes all the time. One of the toughest, most prudent women I knew. And the most poised.

“Your day was okay?” She shifted a bit closer to me, keeping her back perfectly straight, clutching onto the comforter for balance. “How was it okay?”

“I went out.”

“I know. I didn’t see you at lunch. Did Clarissa pick you up? Did you two have dance class today? Did you tell me you were going somewhere?”

“I forgot to. I’m sorry.”

“At least you’re with Clarissa. Senator Punzalan still insists on a bodyguard for her?”

“Yes, lola.” The bodyguard’s name was Polo. Short for Policarpio. Clarissa finds the name embarrassing, but I think it has its charm. “But I went out alone.”

“You did?” My grandmother’s voice rose. “What were you thinking? Where did you go?
Did you go to the mall on your own? Why didn’t you text Gerry? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I went to Quiapo,” I replied calmly. “To buy abortion pills.”

An astounding blankness swept over my grandmother’s face. The look Travis Bickle wore when he pointed his fingers to his skull like a pistol and went, bssshhh.

“For whom?” she managed to ask, her lips barely moving. “For Clarissa?”

“For myself, lola.”

“For yourself?”

“Yes, lola. I’m pregnant,” I answered, grinning. “Isn’t it great?”

My grandmother continued to stare at me.

“I’ve been having sex with Clarissa’s bodyguard,” I explained. “His name is Polo. He’s 36, very muscular and has a moustache. It tickles when he sucks on my nipples. I think he’s a good fuck, although he is my first so I wouldn’t really know. The first time we did it was at Iñigo Fajardo’s party, because Iñigo paid the drivers and bodyguards one-five each to drink with us. That was the first time I got drunk, lola. I really liked being drunk. It’s the greatest feeling, when you’re drunk. We did it in the garage. On the floor. We made it a regular thing. Sometimes in the Explorer after dance class, while Clarissa’s still in the shower. Sometimes at the Victoria Court on Canley, when you think I’m out for coffee. His cock gets really hard, lola, and it’s just no fun with a condom. I don’t love him, though, and I don’t want this baby.”

I paused for some air. My grandmother’s face remained blank. Her body was perfectly still. I threw her the biggest, warmest smile and resumed.

“I’ll only tell him if the pills don’t work. Been good at handling it on my own, so far. Did a lot of research. If you Google “find abortion pills in Philippines,” the most popular results are on Quiapo and Cytotec. Mostly message threads. Girls helping each other. Where in Quiapo, how to buy the pills, stuff like that. There’s some negative stuff in them too, like on girls almost dying from Cytotec, but that’s because they took too much or took it too late. I’m only two months pregnant, and you know I’m good with instructions, so you don’t have to worry. And I learned that they use Cytotec for abortions all the time in the States. It’s legal in a lot of countries. It was worth a shot, you know? Right?”

I waited for my grandmother to respond. A teeny nod, a few quick blinks, any itty-bitty twitch of recognition, anything. She was static. I kept going.

“So I took an FX to Quiapo. There’s a lot of them outside our village, right? Got down at the church. The stalls were there by the steps, selling weird things in jars and weird dried plants just like the message threads said. Didn’t have to ask for the pills. A woman from one of the stalls got up and pretended to walk past me, and she just said ‘gamot’ while looking at the church. Like in a spy movie. I nodded and we walked back to her stall, which looked exactly like all the other stalls, so I bet the other women were jealous. The woman’s name is Jhoy. With an H. She has bad skin but she’s very nice. She gave me the pills, a note with instructions and her cellphone number in case I had questions. After that, I walked around for a bit. The church is smaller than I thought and doesn’t look very special. There are palm readers by the square in front of the church, and people selling flowers and rosaries. There’s a tiangge in every side street. Hordes of people. They sell underwear on the sidewalk, lola. And DVDs. I browsed through them but they were mostly new movies and porn. I could have gotten some porn, but I wanted something we could share. Got tired after a while, so I took an FX home.”

My grandmother blinked, yet it was most likely because no one could keep their eyes open that long. A salty tang quickly filled the air. She placed her hands on her lap and shifted a bit on the bed. Squish, squish.

“Did I do a good job, lola?”

“A good job,” my grandmother said very slowly. She blinked again, clearing up the flat glaze in her eyes. “What do you mean?”

“The sex, the pregnancy, Quiapo, this abortion. You could call it field work, lola. The real deal. Have I made you proud?”

“Oh. Yes.” Her head moved up and down, like a nod. “That was a good story. You made up good details. ”

“I didn’t make them up.”

“We should do this regularly. It will be good for us. Have one ready by tomorrow night.”

“I wasn’t telling you a story.” I patted the towel underneath me and pointed to the pills on the bedside table. “Look, lola, I’m getting rid of a baby.”

My grandmother’s eyes fell on the pills. She smiled. I took out Jhoy’s note and held it out to her.

“Read this. Jhoy gave me instructions. The next step’s at eleven.”

“Props,” she mumbled without looking at the note. “How nice. Good night, Consuelo.”

She stood up, back straight and chin up as always, and headed towards the door. The tang thinned out as she left the room.

Sighing, I looked at the wall clock. 9:12. I folded my hands over my belly, closed my eyes and told myself to be patient with her.



CONSUELO, 17, lies flat on her back in an empty parking slot. She opens her eyes.

Blood-drenched corpses are strewn across the lot, some disemboweled, some with eyes gouged out, some with heads blown apart, all holding on to plastic shopping bags.

Consuelo gasps in pain. She sits up, clutching her belly. A large, dark figure waddles up to her from the winding exit ramp. It is a GIANT SALT SHAKER mascot with plastic eyes, smiling plastic lips, gloved hands and giant red boots. It stops right in front of her. She looks up, squinting at its silhouette framed in stark fluorescent light.

You told her.

She doesn’t believe me yet. I’ll give her time.

You shouldn’t have told her.

Why not?

If she does believe you, she’ll stop you from doing it.

Consuelo stands up slowly and walks around the lot, examining each corpse. The giant salt shaker follows her, nudging the corpses with his boot. Consuelo stops at two bodies piled on top of each other. The one on top is of a woman in a brown silk dress and heels, the one underneath of a man in a dark blue polo, black slacks and black leather shoes. Their heads have been blown off. Consuelo squats beside them.

She’s the enemy.

(going through the corpses’ shopping bags)
She’s on my side.

She won’t let you get rid of it.

(flinging bloodied department store tissue paper out of the bags)
Of course she will! What are you talking about?

She doesn’t think the way you do.

Yes, she does.

Nope. No.

Consuelo pulls a newborn baby out of one bag. The baby, covered in blood and thick, white mucus, writhes in her hands. Its wails echo across the lot. Consuelo flings it over her shoulder, and it crashes against the windshield of an Explorer. The lot is quiet again. Consuelo continues rifling through the bags.

What are you looking for?

Consuelo pulls another baby out of a bag and flings it away. She continues fishing babies out and throwing them away, a pile of dead babies growing on the Explorer’s hood, the air punctuated by screams and silence. She stops and winces.

(rubbing her belly)
Wait, wait. I think it’s here.

Consuelo takes all her clothes off and sits splay-legged on the floor. She rubs her belly harder and harder, her expression growing more and more pained. A shiny silver knob slowly pokes out of her cunt. It is the top of an ordinary salt shaker. The shaker’s entire shaft begins sliding in and out of her, very slowly at first, and then gradually quickening in pace until salt grains start sprinkling out onto the concrete. Consuelo’s grimace fades. She moans in pleasure.

You’re weird.


I woke up to a rooster’s crowing. My cellphone alarm, rising in volume at every crow. I fumbled for the phone, shut it up and opened my eyes. My grandmother was standing over me, squinting at the print on one Cytotec packet through her gold-rimmed reading glasses. I still kept flat on my back. My belly felt heavy and pulsed with a slight, constant pain.

“See, lola?” I said with a smile. “I told you. Everything is real.”

“I couldn’t sleep. I hoped you’d be awake. Do you want to watch Schindler’s List? I made popcorn.”

“You don’t want to watch the next step?”

“Of what?”

“Of the abortion,” I replied patiently.

“Oh, yes. That. Alright, I can play the grandmother.” She chuckled. “I can get shocked and start praying for God to forgive you.”

“Lola, this isn’t a scene,” I told her firmly. “Everything I told you really happened.”

“Before we start the play,” she said. “I have to ask. Where did you get this printed?” She held up the Cytotec packet to the light. “It’s very well-made.”

“Lola, I didn’t.” My voice was much louder now, and I uttered each syllable as slowly and clearly as I could. “They’re real.”

My grandmother snapped the packet open and slipped the pill onto the palm of her hand. She looked at the pill with the purest wonder, like a hen would at the smallest, smoothest, whitest egg in her nest. She rolled it around in her fingertips.

“Oh, it’s a mint,” she declared.

“No. It’s for killing babies, lola.” A sense of urgency and annoyance was building up in me, mingling with the ache in my belly. “I bought them in Quiapo, like I said. From a woman named Jhoy. With an H.”

“I love mints.”

She held the pill up to her full, crinkled lips. I sat up a bit.

“Lola, no.”

She popped the pill.

There was nothing like it, when my body switched to automatic.

I shot out of bed and tackled my grandmother onto the carpet. Pinning her shoulders down with my knees, I jammed my left hand into her mouth while my right grabbed her cheek and yanked it to the side for more room. My fingers jabbed at every warm, wet inch of the cavity, poking the insides of her cheeks, prodding her loosening dentures, stabbing the slick, rutted underside of her tongue. No pill.

When I thrust my hand out, she started making this hollow, jagged sound, like a bad impression of TV static. The pill had lodged in her throat. I thrust my hand in again, slipping my finger down as far as it could go, crooking it again and again once I felt a tiny, hard curve. It wouldn’t budge, and my grandmother’s writhing was making it hard for me to latch onto it. I pulled my hand out and gripped my chin in thought. Fresh saliva coated my jaw and dribbled down my arm in gobs. My grandmother continued to writhe beneath me.

My glass of water waited on the bedside table. I grabbed it, smashed it against the table’s hard wood and chose the largest, sharpest shard. Like all crucial weapons in movies, the shard glinted with great promise. My knees dug into my grandmother’s shoulder blades with extra force. She was probably screaming, but it came out a long, strained wheeze. I sliced down the length of her papery throat. Blood burst out, streams of ruby seeping into the gold satin of her dressing gown like a hurried sunset. The pill, now a shiny red cherry, was at the base of the wound, snuggled against layers of gummy, deep scarlet murk. I fished it out of the folds of frayed flesh and looked at the wall clock. 11:07. The smarting in my belly told me to hurry. I glanced at Jhoy’s note resting on the comforter.

11 p.m. 2 cytotec (pasok sa pwerta) 2 pahilab (inom)

I slipped my panties off and splayed my legs wide open. The blood coating the pill would make for good lubricant. I pushed the pill into my cunt as far back as it could go, until I was sure it was nestled into the warmest part of my cavity for optimum utility. Suddenly, the image of Polo’s cock ramming me came to mind. I repeated the process with another Cytotec pill and shook out two cleansers. Their chalky, white exterior turned pink and gluey from my dripping, red fingers.

I dry-swallowed them and licked my lips. Extra-extra-salty.

I stared at my grandmother’s corpse. Her dressing gown was flung open, blood from her gashed neck slowly coursing down the small, pruny flabs of her breasts, down her stomach sprinkled with raisin-like moles, leaching into her bunched-up plastic diaper. The diaper blushed.
The whole room reeked of blood. The whole room was salty. An air of menace and misery, of everything my grandmother and I tried our best to value. It was frightening. Fragrant. I loved how the saltiness shot fiercely up my nose at every breath, how it stung my eyes with such ruthlessness. I placed a hand proudly over my sore belly and smiled at my grandmother’s corpse.

My grandmother had always been on my side. This was all a test. She wanted to see if I would do the right thing, if I knew what to do in matters of life or death.

“Did I do a good job, lola?” I asked, slipping back into bed. “Have I made you proud?” I set the cellphone alarm to 5, pulled the comforter over me and closed my eyes.

Silence means yes.