by Mark Galarrita
When Bonnie dumped me after gym class, I skipped the rest of school and went home to do my laundry. It was two days overdue and it had to be done. Whenever something bad happens and I get anxious, I fold my shirts. It’s the least I could do. On the drive back to Pop’s apartment, I replayed the morning so I could get the memory right. She stood in front of me, hands folded over her stomach. The same way the ER doctor did when he delivered the news that my mother said sayonara to the world.
“We’re growing up and we’re growing apart,” she began, “I don’t know how to feel about you anymore. We should take some time alone.”
The hell does that mean, ‘We should take some time alone.’ I thought it was a line she took from a band. On the drive home, I Googled it, but nothing came up.
When I came home, Pops didn’t ask why I showed up from school three hours early. He asked if I was hungry. When I said no, he nodded, and I went into my room to get the hamper. It contained a mix of dirty gym clothes, crusty socks, and shirts that were overdue for a clean. As I made my way out the door, Pops cursed in Tagalog and I asked him what was wrong.
“Ay jusko po! The country’s going to hell! We have a crazy man running for President.”
I shook my head. “I wouldn’t worry about it Pops. America isn’t that crazy.”
“What?” Pops asked. “I’m talking about the Philippines. I’m talking about our home.”
I nodded to let him know I understood, but I didn’t. I knew nothing about my father’s home beyond a few hamstrung pictures of farmhouses and beaches. The Philippines was as far from New Jersey as my love life was away from reality. I took my hamper and made my way for the Laundromat, a two-minute walk in a basement underneath the landlord’s room. When I flicked the fluorescent lights on, they sputtered on and off. The neighborhood kids used to call it the murder basement but those dudes grew up and weren’t around anymore so it’s just a dirty, creepy, place to wash your pants. The lights crackled for a good minute before they kicked into gear and stayed together as one. Once they were on for good, the washing began.
The art of laundry is soothing. It’s all about mindfulness. I have to keep the type of clothing separate, whether they’re towels, cotton sheets, or just a big ole pile of white socks. I have to watch the timer and add just the right amount of detergent for the washer and fabric sheets for the dryer. If I don’t do any of this right, a shirt could be covered in different colors or a pair of gym shorts would be tied up in knots. Before the heart attack took her away, my mother taught me this. She told me that all clothes have a purpose. Colors had a purpose. Bright colors stayed together, whites stayed together, and you couldn’t mix, because if you did it would mess everything up.
I liked to listen to music whenever I did this and since I was in a breakup mood I listened to one of Drake’s older albums. While I loaded the washer, I fiddled with my iPod until I stumbled upon a Drake and Jhene Aiko collab. I sorted colors and whites while the lyrics took me out of the present. It was after the second verse when Drake started talking about the Hooters waitress in Atlanta that a pale werewolf walked into the room.
He had a twisted, lanky body, like a boy in fifth grade who grew up too fast. More awkward than athletic. His legs were bony and jagged like a goat living in in the Alps, and his arms were thin but hairy with hands as big as webbed chicken’s feet. It was his chest that was the biggest feature about him. Without any clothes on, he looked like a giant overfed rat with a werewolf’s head. The werewolf walked towards the other end of the laundry room, to a small corridor where the storage room closet was. The thing noticed me once I took my headphones off.
I stood there, staring at it, and the thing stared at me back. Red eyes wide and all. I waved.
“Kamusta po kayo,” the werewolf said in Tagalog. Like fresh off the boat in Newark kind of Tagalog.
“Sup,” I said. Drake was still spittin’, so I paused my iPod.
The werewolf purred and got on all fours to stretch.
“What are you listening to?” The beast said as it cracked its back.
“Never heard of him.”
“He’s pretty popular. You listen to stuff on the radio?”
“I don’t listen to radios,” The werewolf coughed out a gray hairball the size of a jawbreaker. “I don’t listen to anything, except the siren’s call. She’s calling for me to find her.”
The werewolf turned his head into the corridor and the laundry room’s lights flicked on and off in a flash of seconds. I held onto my khaki’s as the lights flickered.
When the lights went back to a normal state, the werewolf was still there.
“What’s your name?” I asked him.
He smiled and I could see his teeth. Bony and sharp, every single one. A mouth of nails. “Peter,” he mumbled.
“Cool,” I said. “My name is-”
“Wala akong pakialam! You’re just a boy,” Peter hissed. “Tulong ako?”
“Help? You look like you can take care of yourself on your own. Better than I could ever help you.”
When Peter the werewolf laughed, it sounded like a snake’s hiss. It was uncomfortable for me to be in the same room but I stood still, trying to feel the back of pants for my iPhone.
“I know that, boy,” Peter said. “But I can’t do everything by myself. Especially when the siren calls for me to help her. Wala akong magagwa,”
“Everyone has a choice, man,” I said.
“Tulong, tulong, tulong-”
“Alright!” I shouted. “I’ll help you real quick, but I gotta finish my laundry. Then I have to do my homework.”
Peter stood up and howled. The hairs on his body stood up as if he had just been struck by an electrical current.
“Thank you, boy! Thank you!”
The werewolf got on all fours and told me to come with him into the dark corridor. I stepped from one end of the light and into the darkness; the fluorescents behind me sparkled until they shattered, sending flickers of light to the floor and disappearing into the darkness.
“Not to worry,” Peter hissed as he walked. “That happens sometimes whenever we enter the siren’s land.”
Rambling into the dark, I thought of my oxford shirts and the khaki pants unfolded. They were jumbled into the big pile I left on the folding table and they would have to be ironed by the time I got back. All I wanted to do was to do my laundry and listen to Drake. I wanted to forget Bonnie. But forgetting someone is never about how you plan on doing it, it’s what you do to forget them.
We traveled for half a mile in the dark until we reached a door colored like a stale, moldy, croissant.
“This is it,” Peter said as he stood on his pencil legs. “The siren’s just in here.”
“Okay,” I said, scratching an itch on my neck from a cobweb that fell. “I will be home later tonight, right?”
Peter growled low. “Yes, yes. Come on, we’re burning daylight.”
With his chicken hands, he turned the nob and pushed the door open. I was hit by a flash of light as I fell from a thousand feet in the air with the werewolf next to me. I screamed as the winds took me from a clear, sunny sky, and smack into a great ocean. It was crystal blue and clear, like touristy photos of the Caribbean. I plodded into the endless depth of blue, the water’s chill engulfed my skin, filled my lungs. I swam towards the sun’s light and reached the surface. The rays of the sun poured over me in a pleasant, warm, embrace.
The werewolf paddled like a grown dog next to me.
I spat water out of my mouth. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
He ignored me and pointed to something behind me. I turned around to see a great big island of jungle and rolling hills. The werewolf paddled past me, kicking his legs up and out of the water like a toddler learning to swim.
“Well,” Peter said, “come on then!”
There was nothing behind me but an endless, clear blue. I turned and swam with the werewolf to the island.
While the journey looked as if I’d have to swim half a mile, it took two minutes. I ducked my head and swam, and before I knew it I reached the shore with the werewolf next to me. Once I dumped the water from my ears and got a bearing on where I was, I heard a sad voice, a singer’s voice. The noise came from within the island and high above me, atop a mountain. I turned to Peter and he heard it too, sniffing with his huge pink nose as he got on all four of his webbed feet.
“You hear it too?” I said with a redundancy to make sure I wasn’t hearing things.
Peter sniffled. “Good, the siren is still with us. Let’s go save her.”
Save her? I wasn’t in the business of saving lives or knowing where to begin. We followed – or I should say I trailed behind Peter – deep into the island. It was a craggy land of endless uneven hills and jungle. With every inch I took, I spent the time swatting flies, mosquitos, and watching my step as I either tripped or fell into a pile of wet mud. I passed by empty straw huts and farm houses, like the ones from pop’s old photos. I wanted to stop and search them but Peter didn’t relent and I wasn’t about to be lost in the middle of a jungle.
Peter stopped in front of a mountain. The sad woman’s song echoed from the top, where I couldn’t see anything but the clouds. I reached Peter at the bottom, panting and begging for a break.
“No stopping now,” the werewolf grinned, “the siren calls to us to save her. We’re just the creatures for the task!”
“Save her from what?”
Peter looked at me with a grin. “From herself, of course!”
The werewolf jumped up and grabbed onto the mountain’s side effortlessly. He stopped short of his climb to nudge me towards the long path, a spiraling road that went around the mountain. I sighed and followed. By the time I made my way to the top of the lush knoll, Peter was already there trimming his toes. At the top of the mountain was a circular, trimmed, lawn like the kind you find in front of a house in the suburbs. Across from us was a woman with flowing red hair and pale, pink skin, singing and starting at the opposite end of the island in a green summer dress. From the back, she looked familiar. Like the person who I thought I knew before.
“Bonnie?” I shouted. The woman jolted to her feet and turned to us. When she saw me, Bonnie’s brows raised together as she swatted her green dress of dirt. Her freckles shined in the sunlight and her eyes twinkled in anger as she asked what I was doing here. She looked cute, happy, like whatever happened earlier today didn’t mean a damn thing.
“I was doing my laundry and he asked me to come here,” I said, pointing to the werewolf.
Bonnie narrowed her gaze at Peter, who bowed his rat-faced head at her.
“I thought he would make you feel better, my queen,” the werewolf said. “I can make him go away if you want.”
Peters webbed fingers grew into sharp claws. On instinct, I took a few steps back but Bonnie placed her hand on his hairy shoulder.
“Peter, stay,” she commanded. The werewolf retracted his claws and his sneer turned into a whimper. Bonnie walked over to me and raised her lips in a half-smile.
“I should’ve told you all about this sooner,” she said, “I’m sorry.”
“You don’t have to apologize,” I said.
Bonnie turned her back on me and walked back to where she sat at the edge of the hill.
“Sit with me?”
From our seat on the hill, I gazed upon an endless ocean and a clear blue sky beyond the jungle island. There was nothing out there. The werewolf squatted behind us, eager for the next command from his ‘queen.’ Before I could raise the question of what it was, she started to talk to me about something else.
“I was hoping that by being with you, I could feel something,” she said. “Did you?”
“Did I what?” I asked.
“Did you feel something for me?”
I thought back to our relationship. Junior prom, where we had our first dance. Our first date at the AMC in Hamilton where we saw that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie in 3-D and how big of a mistake that was. Walking in crowded New York City in the middle of the night, looking at Manhattan as tourists and deciding that neither of us would apply for any city colleges.
“Of course I felt something for you,” I smiled. “You’re my girl.”
She beamed for a second and faded after another. “I wish I could tell you exactly everything I’m feeling. But I can’t. I have all of these thoughts in my head, all of these worlds, and places I want to visit. But I know I’ll never be able to go to all of them or ever see them with you…and it makes me sad to think about that. After the summer ends, we’re going to be in two different worlds.”
I felt a warm breeze blow through us, left to right, gentle as Bonnie’s body up against me on a chilly winter night. She grabbed my hand and traced her thumb around my knuckles. I noticed the cracks on my skin and I thought of how I should’ve put some lotion on them before I left.
“This is where I come to think,” she said. “And now you’re here. This place will end soon, like all of my places to dream, my places to breathe. When I enter our world, I go on autopilot. Classes, field hockey, band practice…even hanging out with you. It felt ordinary, small.”
I was hurt by the last statement but I didn’t let it show. At least, I thought I didn’t. I tried to ask again about the island but she blew past it.
“If this is it, if this is all we’re worth after we graduate and go on to college, is this what our lives are going to be like? On autopilot and not doing anything exciting because the world is cruel and-”
I didn’t know what to do so I wrapped my arm around her. I heard Peter’s growl behind me but she told him it was okay.
“Do you want to listen to something?” I said.
I pulled out my iPod mini and untangled the white cord headphones. Placing one headphone against her earlobe and the other in mine, I put on a Jhene Aiko and a Childish Gambino track with an easy beat. She bobbed to the rhythm and smirked at the Childish Gambino verse. When it ended, she rested her head on my shoulder.
“Do you remember when we first started dating and I asked you that stupid question?”
“Which one?” I asked her and she slapped my chest with the back of her hand.
“I asked you if you were Filipino or Mexican. I couldn’t tell. You gave me this look like you were offended-”
“I wasn’t offended,” I crossed my arms and squinted.
“You did that! Just that! You always do it when you’re mad, you can’t help it.”
I rolled my eyes.
She smiled a little longer and I had a feeling she was back, but before I could get my hopes up and maybe kiss her on the cheek, do anything to make her feel better, it didn’t work.
“We knew nothing about each other,” she said, “you told me about your parent’s home in Mindanao. The country of over seven thousand islands. It was so beautiful to hear you describe the water, the farm house your father grew up in. The small parochial school your mom went to. Where your dad and your mother met at the pharmacy in Manila. I wanted to see all of that with you.”
“We can still see that.”
She squeezed my hands.
“No,” she said, “we won’t.”
I shifted away from her. The grip around her hand slipped away like grasping a greased ledge, hanging on to the edge of a building.
“You’ll be on one Coast and I’ll be in the middle of nowhere,” she said. “But I want to go back to that. First times are nice. We were innocent. We had these thoughts of the world that anything was possible, so long as we were there together.
I turned around to see if the werewolf was facing the other side of the island. His chicken legs and arms faded in a slow, concise, shadow.
“Bonnie,” I said, “What are you doing?”
“We have to let go of our dreams and grow up, don’t we? We have to accept that our lives are not in our control but in everyone else’s.”
The island shook. The lawn on my feet crackled, spitting out dirt and grass in my face. The werewolf looked at me with a sullen look. He growled and howled at the sky.
“Thanks, lalaki,” he grinned with his mouth of nails. “You saved the day.”
He faded like a seceding fog, as did the ocean and the lawn and the hill in front of me. They were replaced by a white, endless, room. A ceiling and floor of all white. Only Bonnie in her green dress and I stood there. I didn’t ask where we were, what was the point?
“What are you afraid of, Bonnie?” I asked her.
She looked down to the ground and crossed her arms, her back to me.
“I want to tell you, but I can’t. I don’t feel anything for you anymore and it’s just best…best we go our separate ways. Thank you, though, for everything.”
I walked to her but as I got closer, she vanished. Poof. A light appeared ahead of me and I ran towards it. Once I reached the bright light, a door appeared, and I turned the knob. I came back upon the Laundromat where my clothes were astray on the folding station. Portly Mrs. Rodriguez and her two ninita’s saw me enter through the darkness. The big mother of two jumped first, pointing at my chest.
“Oh Mia!” She said as I rubbed my eyes from the light. Rather than shock them, I stuck my hands out but I saw what they were shouting about. Not me, well not totally me, but what I was in. I was soaked in water from my t-shirt, to my Nike’s. Mrs. Rodriguez asked if I was okay and I nodded. One of her girls gave me a bottle of water. The other gave me a warm, beach towel.
“Gracias,” I said.
I took my hamper, shoved all my clothes in, and headed back to the apartment. Pops was in the living room watching a Kurosawa film, not one I remembered at the time.
“Is that you?” He asked.
“Yes pops, it’s me.”
“Did you eat?”
I went to my room and sorted my clothes. When I looked at my computer I saw that it was Sunday, five days since Bonnie broke up with me. The world moved on without us.
I reached for my cellphone and called Bonnie but it went to voicemail. I thought about calling her a second time but I didn’t. I sent her a message on Facebook but she ignored that too. The next time I saw her was at graduation a month later. I waved to her but she glided past me, like I wasn’t even alive. I tried to contact her a few more times in the summer. Same results. Life passed on to a new current and she created her own distance from me and I guess, screw it.
Mark Galarrita is a Filipino American fiction writer from New Jersey. He has a B.A. in Political Science and a minor in Creative Writing from Marymount Manhattan College. He also has a forthcoming short story with Bull: Men’s Fiction.