Mondays were never good for Alice. Actually, all Mondays are somewhat miserable for all people. But aside from the day’s sudden interference with the general weekend state of mind, Monday also meant a day of fast heartbeats gradually followed by surrendering sighs for Alice and the other production assistants in the weekly TV magazine show that they all slaved for. Alice referred to the whole process as “Monday Massacre” in which the supervisor and one of the producers, Betty Maneses—an overweight spinster whom most would pity if it weren’t for her bipolar personality, Machiavellian leadership skills, weird mustache, and bad breath, and whom they called “Master Bett” behind her back—took out all their story proposals and rejected them one by one, never missing the opportunity to remark on their naiveté, illiteracy, and idiocy and all the while calling them “honey” or “darling.”
There was one PA who’d get to have happy Mondays, though: Mike, The Master’s “Bet” whose stories all got a “go-shoot-signal” and who happened to have Jude Law’s Alfie’s swagger (and fashion sense), Brad Pitt’s Achilles’ ass (forget the heel), and Jim Carrey’s Lloyd Christmas’ brain (minus the sense of humor). Oh, and he also curiously happened to be sharing the same dwelling with Master Bett. How they actually managed to kiss and how he managed to ignore the hair above her lip and the godawful concoction of Bubba shawarma and probably stale saliva were, to Alice, a bit bestial. And the thought about anything beyond kissing once occurred to her mind, leaving her choco butternut donut to be forever half-finished.
This Monday was not any different. Once again, she’d be walking home, a small plastic bag in hand—containing instant coffee, her secret to survival and which she’d get at the little sari-sari store around the corner—her eyelids heavy and her chemically treated, once-straight-now-frizzy hair screaming “I couldn’t care less!” She looked forward to another week of abrupt calls from the mustached mistress depending on the erratic schedule of booking Mike’s guests, backpacking along with Mike’s subjects, and above all, Master’s bipolar tendencies. One good thing about her job, though, was the fact that her workplace was only two blocks away from where she lived.
“Windy today, eh?” Alice’s thoughts were interrupted by Lola Lani’s throaty greeting and possible remark on her I-couldn’t-care-less hair. Pushing her wheelchair was Lolo Caloy who, despite his being older, had managed to stay strong enough to attend to his weakening wife. They were Alice’s neighbors. And they’d been bugging her about their daughter, Shiela’s need for a personal assistant now that she’d just secured a position as events manager.
“Uh, yes. Good afternoon po,” Alice’s hand automatically pushed back her hair and reached out to Lola Lani’s own hand and directed it to lightly touch her forehead. She did the same with Lolo Caloy.
“No need! I still have baby hair, see?” chuckled the old man, referring to the small patch of hair left on the back of his head.
The old couple laughed as if nothing could ever hurt them anymore around this time. Alice laughed along, said her “Ingat po (Take care)!” and continued to walk home. They always met on the sidewalk because just when Alice would be coming from work, it was the couple’s 5 pm habit to take a stroll around the avenue and hear the 5:30 mass in the nearby chapel.
“I never want to grow that old,” Alice used to think. Now, though, she’d been thinking about the possibility of actually reaching that age. Would she be in a wheelchair as well? If so, would she be sitting there laughing along with her husband over senility, or would she be sitting by a grey window for hours on end, anticipating, waiting for death to claim her lost laughter?
By this time, she realized that she was already in front of the familiar, plain white wooden door. Arty, her four-year partner, once joked about calling it “the door to Wonderland” and it just kind of stuck. She shrugged off her thoughts and let out a long sigh. “Down the rabbit-hole again,” she thought aloud before opening the door. Wonderland was room 202 of #32 Delgado Apartments along Panay Ave. in Quezon City. In there, time ceased to exist. For four years, she had been living with a boy who failed to grow up, and they had been playing house, pretending that they would never tire of it. As she saw Arty snoring on the couch again, though, with Joe Versus the Volcano at maximum volume on HBO, she wasn’t so sure if she could go on pretending any longer.
After a few exchanges of “Arty, Arty, wake up” and several grunts later, Alice managed to rouse him to set the table for an early dinner. They silently ate and fought over washing the dishes afterwards (Arty lost the argument). He hadn’t shaved for almost a week now and the thickening beard from his jaw to his chin might be the only indication that he was, in fact, a grown man. Arty was a writer, although he wasn’t so sure for whom. He tried maintaining a column in the daily but he had trouble with the “daily deadlines.” He worked for a local congressman, writing his speeches, press releases, poster vote-me lines, and platforms, but he quit after six months, saying that he could not stomach the rotten system. Now, he got himself into editing somebody else’s novel because he said he never had enough time to write his own. He called himself a freelance writer. To Alice, though, he was simply “unemployed.” Before, she thought that Arty was an exciting struggling artist trying to find his place in the society. Now, all that Alice could see was the annoying beard, the empty eyes, the cigarette butts all over the room, and the overall wretchedness that had become of Wonderland.
“Did you buy coffee? I texted you this afternoon,” she said, her face expressionless, making Arty's eyebrows meet.
“Aw, crap, I forgot. I was gonna—”
“—Never mind, I bought a box of three-in-one’s from Aling Tere anyway,” Alice cut him off. He forgot. Again. Typical. She got out the instant coffee and began making two cups for both of them. They usually had coffee after dinner.
There was a brief silence before he asked in monotone, “So why would you tell me to buy some if you were already bent on getting it yourself?”
Alice could only stare at him, at his beard, at his empty eyes. She could tell that Arty was hurting but she couldn’t ignore the pain that boredom had built in her through all those four years of playing house and getting nowhere. She didn’t say anything as she placed Arty’s cup on the table and sipped from her own. If there was anything Arty hated the most, it was being ignored. He stood, returned to the couch, and went channel-surfing, leaving the coffee until it reached its cold and useless state.
That night, both of them went to bed, careful enough not to touch each other. If Alice had been the sort of girl who’d cry herself to sleep, she would have gone to work with red, puffy eyes the next day. But since it had already been four years down the rabbit-hole and since she was busier thinking about her possible future in a wheelchair, and the present state of her unmanageable hair, she slept with her last thoughts on getting a haircut right after work that next day.
“Off with her hair!” the Queen of Hearts would be booming in Alice’s head right before she slipped further into the dream. Two months later, she’d find herself resigning from Master Bett’s rule, packing her bags, leaving Wonderland, and setting off on her own in bright red shoes, armed with a new job as Lola Lani’s daughter’s secretary, and a fabulous bob. She would miss the boy in room 202, but she would cut on her caffeine and perhaps, everything would have to start from there.