LICKING EACH OTHER'S SCENTS
nawa alviar horton
I started out as a Yaya in 1987. I was hired to watch over General Frank Murphy II’s family in Germany, I arrived two years into their stay. Wiping their children’s diaper-rashed asses. I loved the children so much. I would lose them in the white of the baby powder, the white of the snow, and the white of powdered sugar on mickey mouse pancakes.
The General would often set me up with one of his friends, Phillip. I never got fluent enough in German, English and social cues to understand what was going on until his fiancée found him cheating on her. She looked like me, but prettier and more respectable.
Either way, I wasn’t interested. I haven’t ever kissed a white man before. I haven’t kissed a man before. I haven’t kissed before. I haven’t kissed. I have no kiss. I have. I. I have. I have killed. I have killed before. I have killed my only love long before.
We arrived in Florida a few years later. Mickey Mouse at Disney World balanced the fruit stands with watermelon and jicama. They never had vinegar on the side, ew, the children would say, why would you eat it like that! My hands are sticky with watermelon seed, I suck my fingers until I can feel my gluttony, touch starved. The love I killed sold sliced pregnant fruits in plastic bags with me. I was eleven, eight years old siya. The fruit skin peels at will under my love, who sliced the papaya’s belly open, gutting the descendants. We offered the seedlings to the grown and I suddenly dreamed of our own babies. But how? I cut the ribbons to condom the fruits for easy-to-travel-with carry ons for the passengers’ three hour jeepney rides. When we were done with our morning shift, the back of our hands brushed hard enough to forget-us-not across oceans. I was 19. I left Siya with no regard.
Phillip trailed behind, stationed at the army base nearby. Being the Yaya also meant that I became Phillip’s trinket to the military ball. I wore a blackened eggplant evening gown, a hand-me-down of his used-to-be missus. Missus Pia Angelique Diaz had left Phillip back in Germany two weeks after their star-spangled engagement announcement at the last military ball. She died suddenly. Died of barbiturates. Died of a broken heart. I slipped into the dress which made me feel like a loganisa, compact, wrapped raw, meaty and on display. My chest gaped at the top of the sweetheart neckline, the ghost of my breasts met the eeriness of the fabric’s last ruffled memory of skin. I am not her. But we are touching now, her, the ex-fiancée and me.
I smell the dead skin of her perfume, Poison by Dior, full of Jasmine—under oath as the first national flower of the Philippines and loving it. She smells like Margarita Moran on her winning day of Miss Universe 1973 and the Papaya whitening soap she used twenty-four hours before. Sampaguita with bleach and a touch of Vitamin E- ELEGANT, ELONGATE, EARNEST, EUROPEAN. The nationalism flakes on me, dead stars are stars and she still found a way to unfurl past her time. Through me. She’s coming onto me. Missus Pia Angelique Diaz’s slender Ballet Philippines physique presses onto me from the inside of the beaded corset, our bodies touching across time. I sweat like the smell of the second draft pick, like blooming in summer when the heat sours the sex and all that’s left is an Orchid’s face, defiant against the monsoon or heatwave. I look like summer in winter, a velvet tablespoon of vanilla, which is to say brown but in America, commercialized as a freckled ice cream. Lick it. The ex-fiancé gropes at my chest and reminds me that they are breasts. I feel Pia stiffen the butterfly sleeves, making sure my shoulders are constricted and mighty. I pull the zipper up and Missus Diaz's spine elongates against the stem of my vertebrae. She whispers something repressed in my ear.
The hair on the back of my neck chicken feathers, fowl. Foul desire is ignited and I quiver, seamed together with Pia and I know somehow the love I killed back home has spotted us licking each others’ scents.
My throat becomes red with guilt and the betrayal heats the shades of jade on my ears and jugular vein. There’s a heartbreak that’s mine, there’s a heartbreak that writes me letters forwarding them to addresses unknown and guesses, I found my heartbreak exiled in between the waning and running, there’s a heartbreak transplant, Pia and Phillip’s purple gowned romance from four months ago, engagement ring on her deathbed, and it finales like this into a full hybrid propagation of unusual combinations. I surrender into Pia’s figure, I am awkward, edging towards a confession not meant for her. I look like Santa Clara’s November Bride, out of season, out of bloom. A bride I could never stand to be, not in my homeland, not here, an impossibility. I drape myself in Pia’s dead love, and surrender to her figure. Pia the killed, me the killer. Together, I perfect her romance, I’m her perfect revenge. I learn Pia’s shape, Pia’s dreams that look like me, Pia’s collection of runner up pageant queen dolls. Her toys, her playthings. I am her next, her rebound. Pia’s dress presses harder around my thighs, waiting for my secret lust to come out of its tight-lipped cove. I am held, contained in my shame, and I try not to think of Siya who I left—first and final kiss, Siya’s long hair waiting to find a balisong to cut the follicles, to gift to me, under my pillow, Siya’s secret Harana right in the middle of the busy University street where everyone could see but no one did; no one saw Siya tuck the orchid behind my ear, near a moon river, I’ll remember the nervous jawline that still crooned better than a drunk tito on Undas, my promise to save myself for her, on a wedding bed, then, the excuse of family obligation, the HIV in my ading, the airplane ticket I bought, the luck I never believed in—the remorse bubbles into a petite mort, a tiny death. I am guilty.
I carousel down the stairs, where the General gave me a handsome sum of fifteen potted orchids in exchange, which was more than the roof-over-my-head salary. I enter the ball. I scan the room full of pinheaded men with jacket pins and every girlfriend, wife, mistress, comfort woman finds a femme fatale way to turn to me and think, I look nothing like her.
A month later the General sent me off with Phillip for a seaside vacation. This time, ten orchids, from Luzon, he says. Where he found me. Phillip asked me to wear a peignoir set and bullet bra.
“So ganda, my perfect orchid,” Phillip says, butchering the Tagalog the same way his men pulled apart my people limb by limb.
The fabric lost its shape from overuse, I realized perhaps I was in another girl's panties on day two. I came back to a vacant house, the General’s house. My suitcase that enclosed a medium stack of letters from the love I killed sat wrapped in a single string bowed vertically and horizontally. I read the front of the envelopes whose faces and characters warped with salt, ink and longing.
To: Vivi, mahiwaga ko.
Fr: Sinisinta mo. I’d die without you.
On the top right of each envelope, a postage stamp with sharp perforations framing an orchid and their names refusing latin names: WALING-WALING, WHITE MARIPOSA, SANGGUMAY, PILIPINAS, P9, 10 cents, 20 cents, 100P. I ripped the inner lining of my suitcase and placed the cards in the inbetween unseen place, promising myself to read them later when Phillip wasn’t in the car, when I wasn’t on Phillip’s porch, in Phillip’s living room, in Phillip’s mind, in Pia’s panties, in Pia’s dresses.
In the midnight hour, my sleep would walk me to the airport. I had five days before my work visa expired and I missed the love I killed back home. I bought a ticket, I took my suitcase. I’d see what I killed, what I didn’t say goodbye to, I’d fly over the sea so I could say hello again.
The next morning I woke up to Phillip, who sat on the edge of the fainting couch I slept on. He handed me a Manila envelope, blank faced on the front. No to, no from. I dug my hand inside which met a paper cut on my left ring finger. Inside American dollars, American forms, and,
“Stay? Just a little bit longer?” he says, the American Dream.
nawa alviar horton, known as "Moonyeka" (they/them) is a mixed bakla-nonbinary Ilocano-Filipinx shapeshifter who takes form as an interdisciplinary performing artist, teaching artist, author, choreographer, curator, scholar, brujx and interdisciplinary artist. They have the honor of being the Artistic Director of The House of Kilig. Harana for The Aswang is an interdisciplinary performance work centered on the research of harana, a Filipinx serenade song form rooted in courtship and grief rituals. As a Jack Straw New Gallery Resident, Moonyeka & The House of Kilig will be opening a 6-week exhibition of this interdisciplinary performance research on May 31, 2024. nawa plays in the fields of autofiction and biomythographic writing practices and is working towards publishing their first book. Find them on IG @m00nyeka x @houseofkilig