*Larita Kutsarita - n. see THE AUTHOR
*Spoonfuls - n. articles/dispatches/scribbles by Larita Kutsarita
(Background photo by Aiess Alonso)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Alice Leaves Wonderland (fiction)

As I sit here on the edge of the queen-size bed, I have all the world in front of me. My little piece of the world, actually. Our little piece. Her name is Alice. Once, I joked about calling the place Wonderland and it just kind of stuck. Wonderland is room 202 of #32 Delgado Apartments along Panay Ave. in Quezon City. In there, time ceased to exist.

Well, it did, until Alice’s alarm clock would ring at 5 a.m., and this would remind me that it didn’t. She worked as a researcher in the nearby TV station and she had to be in before her 7a.m. calltime. Considering that she took hour-long showers, she’d have to be up and about before six. Worse, it was Natasha Bedingfield’s Unwritten religiously playing at 5 a.m., which would then remind me of all my deadlines whose outputs were yet to be written.

“Alice, turn it oooooff,” I’d moan and muffle my head with a pillow. She would instantly turn beside me and get the phone to put the alarm on “snooze,” afterwhich, there would be a perfect ten-minute silence followed by another damned intro of that overused theme song of The Hills, Pantene commercials, and even the video game, Thrillville. “Aaarrgggghhhh! Alice! Alice!” I’d be doing this for about three to four times before she’d finally get up and I’d be feeling like the guy calling on Alvin in The Chipmunk Song (Christmas Don't Be Late). This was always how our weekday started. I hated weekdays.

Alice and I never really got along much except when it was about the movies. We both had a thing for long period films like Gone with the Wind and Memoirs of a Geisha, and fantasy films like Pan’s Labyrinth and Wizard of Oz. Oh, and we both loved cartoons: Shrek 1 through 3, Ice Age 1 through 3, and we were actually looking forward to the third Toy Story. She didn’t like horror much while I did, but she kind of liked Quentin Tarantino after I got her to watch Death Proof. I remember how she couldn’t stop laughing at the fight scene in the end to the point that she was tearing up, her face flushed, her hands over her red cheeks. “I never wanted Kurt Russell’s ass kicked this much! It’s priceless!” she blurted, and I found myself cracking up, too.

I didn’t admit that I liked When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle when she got the DVDs but I really did. In fact, that was when I found out how much I was into Meg Ryan flicks. Well, maybe Kate and Leopold would have to be an exception. And I didn’t like her much in In the Cut, either.

I remember this one time when we were spending another lazy Saturday morning in Wonderland, plopped on the couch like useless things, just watching and rewatching movies on HBO. I forgot which Meg Ryan flick it was, but it also had Tom Hanks in it and she had a twin in the story (or were they triplets?) and there was this scene when Tom and Meg were in a convertible looking over night-time Los Angeles. Alice was cuddling my arm and I thought she was just reflecting the mood of the scene. But then I felt her lips starting to quiver on my neck and her hand was caressing my thighs. Knowing the places that she could possibly touch next, I was trying to stop myself from giving in if only to play a bit “hard-to-get” for two seconds or so.

“Hey, wait until we finish the movie,” I said jokingly and went in to kiss her, obviously delaying the wait, but she pulled away slowly, clasped her hands on my face and whispered, “I’ll wait until you finish your novel.” She was smiling but I could tell that it was the sad sort of smile. I was aware that she meant to say “Finish it or else!” in a kind way because I knew Alice too well. She never really meant the things that she actually said. They always stood for something else and I always had to guess.

“It’s not my novel, I’m just the editor,” I retorted. And I turned back to the TV and Meg Ryan was already crying for some unknown reason. Tom Hanks was trying to comfort her.

“But it’s taking you too long, don’t you think? They never seem to know what they like. What about us? I mean, Arty, it’s been, what, four years?” she insisted, taking my arm and resting her head on my shoulder.

“Three,” I corrected her. “Hey, I’m doing my best. Just give me some more time, okay? We’ll talk about this later.”

With that, she withdrew my arm and left the couch. I thought she was only going to take a leak or throw her rage at a sandwich or something when she surprised me by hurling the kitchen wall’s calendar at me. The 21st was encircled with a red marker on that month of February. It was our fourth year together.

Needless to say, I’d to ditch Meg and Tom right away, and chase after her when she locked herself up in the bathroom. I was trying to apologize and make her come out but my rhetoric was only good enough to make her go to bed that night while I took to the couch. I’ve always hated sleeping on the couch. The next morning, I’d a most serious backache. I bet Alice wanted to continue with the cold treatment but the moment she saw how miserable I was, she got out some of her minty oils and gave me a massage. She knew how to soothe stiff muscles. She had a complete home spa treatment, in fact. I took it as her acceptance of my apology. Besides, I hardly went out, I often kept the blinds shut so I couldn’t distinguish night from day, and I only looked at one calendar: my deadlines. I’m pretty sure she understood.

Well, I thought she did. After that weekend, Alice didn’t really ignore me but she was kind of detached. Her eyes had that same sadness, she didn’t laugh or whine as much, and she got up on Natasha Bedingfield’s first raspy lines at 5 a.m. without my having to prod her. She didn’t nag me as much anymore, either. She didn’t argue over who had to do the dishes after dinner; she’d get up and wash them herself. When I asked her what was wrong, she only said, “I’m tired of spelling it out for you all the time, Arty.” I’d snap back, “Look, I forgot. I’m sorry, okay? I’ll make it up to you next year!” or something along those lines.

Asshole,” I think aloud as I currently sit on the edge of the queen-size bed. Come to think of it, I never thought about how huge the bed really is until now. The whole room, in fact. I’ve been sitting here since morning. The whole world in front me. Wonderland. Or what’s left of it. It’s another one of those lazy Saturdays, except that I don’t feel like watching HBO alone. My gaze finds its way on the bed, on the colossal queen-size bed, and its red floral silk sheets. I run my hand over the cloth, closing my eyes, imagining that it is her skin I’m touching, taking in the smoothness and softness. I grab hold of a pillow, hold it near my nose, pretending that I have never smelled it before: coconut and peppermint. Something aches in me that I know I can never identify where exactly. I remember how long she stayed in the shower every night, cleaning herself up and putting on all these creams and concoctions, explaining all the while that “she never could sleep without fulfilling her rituals” in her usual defensive manner. I don’t know whether I should be laughing now or spilling out tears and profanities. My head’s throbbing like hell, as if the whole room’s closing in on me. The mess is unbearable. The closet’s all ransacked, the bedside table/makeshift dresser’s half-emptied, and her perfume lingers in the air. I haven’t done anything since I woke up to find this scene. It’s almost unbelievable, really. I mean, it’s been four years. This can’t be possible.

I bring myself to stand finally, my other senses struggling to regain their ability to function, my head swimming in this time warp. My first instinct is to get myself some beer so I make my way to the fridge. I pass by the coffee table on which one of my old books lay, Alice’s favorite, Gaston Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera—she adored the musical even more. Beside the book was a framed black-and-white photo of Alice and me taken in one of those cheap photo booths. She was still in college when the picture was taken and she was grinning, and she still had braces then. I walk past my extra-large jersey shirt carelessly dumped on the couch’s arm. Alice liked wearing it when we just stayed in during weekends. I accidentally step onto one of her indoor slippers: pink, size 7. But when she was wearing closed shoes, she wanted them to be a size 7 ½ or an 8, even. She was quite fond of wearing those, what d’you call it, uh, “kitten heels,” because she said she wasn’t the kind who liked punishing herself by enduring stilettos. I get to the fridge and I open it slowly, my energy slipping out of me almost as slowly. I find Alice’s yogurt and fruit juice drinks, the Nesvita cereal that she forgot to finish yesterday as she rushed to work, some facial creams that need refrigerating and that are now half-consumed, her pills and the meds for her allergies, the bottle of hazelnut chocolate spread that she usually eats as standalone, her sinful indulgence. There’s no beer. I guess I just took the last swig the other night and I forgot to do the groceries before the weekend. I hated doing the groceries, anyway. And it was one of Alice’s small pleasures in life.

“Fuck.” I slowly close the fridge’s door and walk towards the bed, trying hard to ignore all the other memories that all the things in the room flash like little projectors into my head—onto the white screen, the empty, clueless screen. On the fridge, a note is secured by a little strawberry magnet: I love you, Arty. I waited. I’m sorry. All the world’s in front of me and yet, all the world is gone now. I used to hate weekdays but I’m getting the feeling that I’ll be hating Saturdays more, though.

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