Talking Shop

Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon

Talking Shop “It’s that good?” “It’s that good.” The voices were female, 21 to 25 years of age, casual but crisp, university-bred, and were coming from the seats right across Sonny’s, their speakers hidden from view behind pairs and pairs of trembling thighs. The commuters attached to these thighs were silent, eyes fastened to the city spooling out in between MRT stations, muscles tensing at the train’s every lurch and lunge, and Sonny knew they could hear the girls, too. They were listening, eavesdropping, letting this banter quicken the minutes and distract them from their collective, bumbling balancing act. “Better than Bomber Burger?” “Better. Bomber’s patties are smaller.” “What’s it called?” “Big Bad Belly. And they have chili-flakes in their buns.” “So they’re spicy? The buns?” “Not too spicy.” “Chili buns. You know, that’s a good idea.” “I was with Tess the last time—you know she’s a pig, right—and we had those really big burgers, and some jalapeño garlic mozzarella fries, and then peanut butter caramel brownie sundaes—“ “That sounds good.” “I know!” “I guess they’re pricey.” “Actually, same as Bomber Burger and Grande Grill. Around 150 to 200 for a decent meal.” “That’s not bad.” “It isn’t.” “Where is it?” “Along Timog, near that bar we went to after LJ’s thing. Remember that bar?” “Ah, okay. That area.” “It’s easy to get to.” “I’ll bring Ryan there. He’s a burger guy. What’s it called again?” “Big Bad Belly. You won’t regret it.” The girls then fell into a contented silence. Sonny could, at that instant, spot a similar sense of contentment on the commuters’ faces, as if acknowledging that the conversation had come to a worthy close, and that they were now left to process and preserve the facts that had just been proffered them, albeit unwittingly. There was this thing they all did with their lips—a specific kind of tightening; the seamless marriage of a purse and a smile—that signaled triumph, and very possibly hunger. They knew something beneficial those beyond earshot did not. All of a sudden, the dead space above their heads were occupied with varying ideas of beautiful burgers, and custom delineations of Timog Avenue, and notes to selves on whom to share delectable victuals with on particular weekend nights.

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Talking Shop

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As the train slid into Shaw Boulevard Station, the two voices began begging their pardon, and Sonny, risking looking like some middle-aged creep, strained his neck all the way out to catch a glimpse of them, weaving stiffly as they were in and out of the thick, unyielding throng. Whatever bit of head he could catch was swathed in long, straight, black mane, but he had no luck with the actual faces, as they were pointed away from him and towards the train’s open, beeping doors. He also noted the sheer simplicity of the little clothing he could manage to see—light cotton, blue denim, patent leather. And by the time the doors shut closed, it was clear that the girls had leached themselves right into the clusterfuck at the turnstiles, never ever to be differentiated again. Suddenly, the carriage felt emptier despite the new batch of passengers. Sonny nonetheless knew how volatile this sense of absence—shared among over a dozen strangers—truly was, that these girls and their strident voices would be still be skimmed straight off of everyone’s memories in the next station or so. The burgers, however, would enjoy the opposite. The burgers would, instead, prevail. Because it was a matter of priority. Because an opportunity—its details served up in such succinct yet succulent portions—had materialized, and it was genuine, its source being a real, flesh-and-blood person who had the physical and financial capacity to ride trains and eat dinners out and was mentally and emotionally able to have friends. There was, therefore, some good grub out there. And a good number of these strangers were going to eat it. This was how Sonny wished to see it. +++ Sonny ambled down the stairwell of the GMA-Kamuning MRT station, warming his knees up a bit for the walk ahead. He usually took the jeep to his office several blocks down Timog Ave., but he hadn’t been in much of a working mood, or in an anything mood, for that matter. Thus, he wasn’t exactly in love with the idea of strolling down a shade-less, dust-stricken strip of avenue in the near-noon swelter, either, but it was something somewhat different. That, and he knew that Big Bad Belly was just along the same messy row of office-condos and bar-and-grills, though he hadn’t bothered to give it a gander before; he never had the stomach for much monstrous meat. Since stepping off of the train, however, he had begun to wonder how the place looked up front, and whether this actually complemented the girls’ conversation and its sheer glorification of the foodstuffs waiting within. Big Bad Belly, Sonny surmised upon reaching the spot, was not very big, but it wasn’t too bad. He had imagined a bright and bold, almost violent, façade, maybe fire engine-red walls and giant, blinding yellow light-box letters spelling out its name, and maybe a massive window lending passers-by a glaring view of vivid, Plexiglass furnishings and numerous patrons feeding in bliss. It was, instead, what most anyone would agree was enough of a respectable-looking eating establishment. Nothing too imposing—a plain white exterior; a clean, okay-sized window revealing a 50’s diner-like space indoors, with the ridged aluminum tables and chairs and the checkerboard linoleum and the colorful, cumbersome jukebox. Save for the large, woodcut Buddha set above the entrance—one hand wielding a burger, the other rubbing his bounteous belly;
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Talking Shop

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a grotesque, open-mouthed smile on his face, as if cackling over the utter incongruous nature of his roost atop this bastion of bogus Americana—the place was definitely not original, but it was not a dump. Sonny saw two tables occupied, littered with plastic baskets of larger-than-average burgers and thick-cut fries. It all looked sufficiently appetizing, and so far, none of the customers were chewing and looking devastated at the same time. But they weren’t quaking in ecstasy. And that was why the girls from the train were paid to talk about the place. The longer Sonny stared at the sincere yet inadequate attempt that was Big Bad Belly, the more he understood why its owners had opted for Babblers. Babblers were, after all, best-suited for food-related ventures in the first place; they were most often deployed at traffic-heavy hours and places, such as food courts at lunch, and the trains at rush hour, and gyms at the break of dawn, when people’s stomachs were at their most cantankerous. Moreover, there were Babblers for most any demographic—university burnouts, British expats, lesbian live-ins, sheltered brats, veterans, Wiccans, the old, the bold, the beautiful—which would serve as Big Bad Belly’s massive market umbrella. Babblers were also the optimum option for new produce; they volunteered information that couldn’t have been dealt just anywhere: that this unknown establishment and/or product and/or service had already passed a consumer’s test with flying colors, and that this establishment and/or product and/or service could be located/procured at x venue/x source. But the best part about Babblers, of course, was that they didn’t exist to the public’s knowledge. There were no such creatures as Babblers, but there were such creatures as co-workers making small-talk in elevators, and married couples bickering in supermarket queues, and old friends catching up on chance shared train rides— entities that generated a very special kind of conversation, the kind spoken to anyone outside of the dialogue with the faculty to process sound. And these creatures were trusted to never let on to the truth: that they really weren’t the pal or spouse or sibling of the other, and had only first met at the agency’s office, where they were briefed on the product, as well as their spiels, schedules and sites, and eventually left in a room to practice both their lines and their rapport, during which they’d compare salaries and discover that they were both being paid the same, considerably handsome sum for talking about things audibly. The chrome clock above the jukebox read noon. Sonny figured he should head to the office at that point, in order to arrive when everyone was out lunching. Before he could move onward, though, he noted one young man stepping into the restaurant. He did so casually, very possibly a repeat visit, and now three tables inside were occupied. Three, not twelve, at noon along a well-populated area. Not really good enough, thought Sonny, and he started walking away. +++ The office was empty. It was cold and roomy and carpeted, its furnishings in stark black and deep, viscous gold, like a cavernous bottle of scotch. It was the kind of space Sonny had longed to work in since his days behind a lotto kiosk, which was essentially a painted plywood holding cell in a corner of his family’s convenience store. The store had always been successful—it sat right along the barangay’s main
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thoroughfare; his parents were a hearty, cheery pair; and it had a lotto kiosk—and Sonny had a properly substantial childhood. Still, a cavernous scotch bottle of an office was categorically better than a glorified carton—which only remained a carton because his folks were practical creatures, and would rather glorify than prettify. A lotto kiosk was a lotto kiosk was a lotto kiosk; what people needed were tickets, not the thought of Sonny free of cramps and splinters, and Sonny understood this thinking properly. In fact, in terms of necessity, then, his office’s attempt at lavishness was even imperative to the nature of the business. The carpet, however, had become frightfully chafed; it now felt like walking on an old stuffed bear, its hide patchy and scratchy and grubby with neglect. The cubicles now leaned at the slightest angles, as if to identify with their occupants, who now either slumped themselves onto their tables or slouched back in their seats, the opportunities to stir to life and work getting fewer and farther between. Even the airconditioning, however icy, had begun to belch drafts as thick syrup, and that smelled as sickly-sweet, a bouquet of mucus, mildew, dirt and disease, of a thousand tiny troubling things floating in the air, waiting to be breathed in. There was a time when the office was hardly ever empty, when the carpet was plump and clean, and the cubicles were the walls of a fort, and the airconditioning was a single Arctic sigh sustained. Auditions, trainings, deployments, wrap-ups—they would transpire simultaneously at any given day, and with the efficiency that could only come from that rare, almost mythical, source: the happy and contented workforce. Sonny remembered how the quota for applicants would be filled each day, how the waiting area was a permanent row of eager faces, unable to contain their thrill and incredulity at the thought of just plain talking for money. It was also an incalculable honor to be tapped for audition in the first place; a day or two prior, they had had no clue that the service even existed, up until some friend or other let them in on this pioneering, absolutely one-of-a-kind, and absolutely unquestionably extremely secret endeavor that was going to utterly revolutionize Marketing and Commerce, changing their faces forever and ever and ever, without anyone but the profiteers knowing of it. It was this energy that Sonny missed the most, this current that crackled its way across the walls and the carpet and seeped straight up into people’s shoes, blasting through their bodies, fortifying their every move with vigorous jolts of excitement. He had been the most excited of everyone. He had had the loudest voice, the hands that swirled and spasmed to stress the magnitude of his speech, for he was forever exalting the company and its innovations, and the feet that sprinted from one point of the office to another, allowing him to cover as much ground as possible when proffering his patent enthusiasm. He had barely occupied his office back then, but now that business was scant, he had become the room’s regulation objet d’art. A proper CEO’s office would call for a venerable antique or other, some marked conversation piece to hark the past’s utter grandeur, an icon of the company’s class and panache amidst the tawdry present. While this CEO’s office didn’t have a chunky, green glass abstract sculpture squatting on its side table, or a painting of scorched orange farmers stooping in scorched orange rice fields spanning its wall, it at least had Sonny, the stony, steadfast sentry behind the desk, committed to the cracked black leather of his chair. A monument, at least, to the company’s beginnings as one man’s earnest and legitimate dream.
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Sonny had just sat down for the day’s stupor when he noticed Aldo entering the office. Aldo had been the convenience store’s accountant, and was the first employee Sonny had ever hired. Aldo was not a particularly outstanding accountant; he worked at a decent pace, and could manage to in the convenience store’s dank burrow of a backroom. But he was the first person who had ever expressed belief in Sonny’s big business idea, back when Sonny hung out with him at break-times, the then-young man using him as a random, handy receptacle for which to corral his thoughts as they ate their microwave siopaos. While lotto players were a motley bunch—deathly bored granddads; college friends on benders—Sonny noted how often they would yammer with the others in line about the many lovely and mostly expendable things they would buy upon winning (surround sound speakers! six-course suppers! silken sofas and seaside summers!), and how all these sing-song spiels would always sound good to their fellow strangers as well. They would recommend things to each other, lauding or lambasting items and services they’d personally procured—foods they’d spat out, clothes they’d bought in bulk, places to which they’d made pilgrimage. With his brain using only a whit of its power handing out tickets in his flimsy little booth, Sonny was able to sense how this collective behavior could be deliciously exploited. Planting casual conversations to sell things: it sounded preposterous and correct at the exact same time, a quality so attractive that Sonny couldn’t shake the idea from his mind ever since, and felt increasingly obligated to bring it to life. It was a spark of genius. That, or the emergence of his self-respect, it having been so cooped up in his little lotto kiosk that it had to break out sooner or later and save Sonny from a life much squandered. “You’re done eating?” Sonny called out to Aldo, trying to sound kind. Aldo had also dared to fake the math for Sonny’s parents, as they needed proof that they could finance their son’s sudden scheme with minimum chance of regret. “Come in here. I saw two of our girls at the MRT, the ones on the Belly account. It’s been so long since I heard something that passable. We should hire them more often and get rid of, what’stheir-name, those brothers who keep ad-libbing. Those girls are hard to—“ “We’ve been calling you,” Aldo cut in, stepping into Sonny’s office. “Joy took Ysa to the hospital. She has keto-something. She started vomiting and Joy couldn’t reach you, so she called me. I’ll take you there.” “They’re at Francisco General?” “Trinity Medical.” “But her doctor’s at Francisco General.” “What does it matter? Please get up, Sonny. I have a cab waiting downstairs.” Sonny tailed Aldo out of the office timidly, willing himself to think that the man was just another big, fat liar, someone dastardly enough to just fib about his daughter for kicks, and that this great cruelty would be over by the time they reached the starkly taxi-free curb, except Aldo had always been a small, skinny saint and had always been wonderful with Ysa, who had always been discouragingly, discouragingly sick, and so, before he knew it, Sonny was standing out on the curb in front of a taxi door held open by his very deathly concerned friend and he really really had to get in and quick. +++
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“Black tea. I take it everyday.” “Is that why your hair’s shiny?” “The plasma screen? It’s fantastic.” “Thanks. Bought them at Shoe Fly. There’s one with pink soles.” “They look comfortable.” “And it’s private?” “Yes. Really just for two. Overnight, or three days-two nights. Go one of these weekends, when she gets better. The site’s siquijor-getaway-dot-p-h. S-I-Q-U-I-J-O-R.” Aldo pats Sonny lightly on the back. “It’s not your fault.” He was referring to Ysa, who was somewhere several halls down, wilting, likely obscured by a forest of IV-drips. But at the moment, Sonny had hoped to be consoled for the ruckus in the ER waiting area, as he was sure that this particular fault, indeed, lay within him. “Didn’t he work for us?” he whispered to Aldo, pointing at a young man in a hooded jacket. This man had taken off his shoe, showing its detailing to another young man, who in turn stared appreciatively at the strips of banana yellow rubber and ran his fingers over them as if this was a perfectly ordinary and hygienic thing strangers do. “Probably,” Aldo answered. “Everyone’s a traitor.” “Your daughter’s sick.” Sonny shrugged and continued watching the people around him. Recently, he had been trying to limit the time he spent around crowds to his train rides. It had become increasingly difficult for him to be within earshot of anyone, as all he could feel amidst this tangle of idle chatter were the three following emotions, in more or less the same order: great envy, great anger, and great regret. Unless, of course, the voices were under his employ, in which case he didn’t feel much of anything, save maybe for a faint twinge of relief. “Try it,” said a young woman seated behind him. Locking his gaze to the wall ahead, Sonny then listened to a foil bag rustling, and then to a tentative crunching, and then to a young man’s tenor loudly humming delight. “You’re right. It’s good,” the young man said, thrusting his hand back into the bag. “Bought it at the mini-mart outside. The groceries probably have it, too.” Sonny buried his face in his hands. His eyes remained wide open behind his palms, and he stared at the floor’s speckled linoleum through the slivers between his fingers, listening to his heavy, staggered breathing. “Stop that,” Aldo said quietly. “I should be allowed to feel bad about this.” “They’ve been everywhere for a while. Literally everywhere. For what, a year? We’ve talked about this many times, Sonny.” “I still feel bad about it.” “You’re making me feel bad, too. And it’s nobody’s fault. The flaw was there from the start, and that was what we had to put up with. Again, we couldn’t shut people up.

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We couldn’t make contracts. We couldn’t patent anything. Sonny, you can’t protect something that doesn’t exist.” “It is my fault, because I ignored that part,” Sonny said, looking up. “I thought, why would people go out of their way to compete with us? That’s what I thought. I mean, we don’t exist.” “If that thinking worked, Sonny, then no company would have hired us to promote them. Remember our first client? It took a miracle to convince them that Babbling would work, right? But the point is that they were convinced eventually, and then everybody was buying their toothpaste. Same with these copycat assholes. They had to make people believe that Babbling worked, too. They had to go through all the trouble we did. And they had to make it sound like it was their idea, by the way. They couldn’t exactly go on and tell these big businesses that we existed. That we started it and that we proved it works. They can’t tell them that. And it’s not so much for competition’s sake as it is common sense. No legal documents. Nothing. So they had to take that risk, too, Sonny. They just hoped to be trusted. You know, everyone else has much more courage than you take them credit for. Please let this be the last time I tell you this.” The young man who had wielded his shoe earlier shuffled past the two men, his face partly obscured by his jacket’s hood, his hands in his pockets. He didn’t appear particularly determined to get from one point of the room to another, though there was a deliberate weight to his step, a stomp almost, listless and raring to leave that room and its dreary, rudimentary phlegm green walls, as if he couldn’t bear the thought of his supposed loved one flat on a gurney, being wheeled farther and farther away from him. It also drew the room’s attention to the overpriced rubber wrapping his feet, with the banana yellow soles and the houndstooth shoelaces and the logo curved across their backs in hot pink plastic. Sonny kept his gaze on the hood bobbing off to the end of the room, eager to lock eyes with the man who took him for a moron. He wondered how he got into the ER area in the first place. Did he lie that someone he knew had been taken in? What if the nurse asked for a name? Did they hire sick people now? Like people with moderate fevers, who would technically need further testing at the ER in case they really weren’t just moderate fevers? Or were they made sick on purpose? There’d been so many new strategies for Babbling at that point that Sonny had lost track completely. Eventually, the young man spun around and scuffled back in Sonny’s direction, and for the few seconds that the two made eye contact, Sonny glowered with all his strength, radiating his fatherly disapproval. The young man did nothing in response. He didn’t look miffed or surprised, and he didn’t throw a smirk or some other smug tic or anything at all to tip off their previous professional relationship and his succeeding betrayal. He looked at Sonny the way anyone would anybody who just happened to be in the line of sight, with no actual recognition, let alone emotion, anywhere on his face. Then, he looked at his feet. Somehow, the laces of his shoes had come undone. He bent down to tie them. “He’s very good,” whispered Aldo. +++

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Sonny’s wife Joy wielded a soft cover edition of Pretty Paola Goes to Pluto, still glistening in its shrink-wrapped plastic. “Surprise.” Ysa sat up slowly from the hospital bed and reached for the book, stretching the tubes stuck to her arms, resembling a tiny stubborn octopus. Sonny had learned from the doctor that she had dodged a bout of ketoacidosis, a deadly fit of dehydration among diabetics, and that it was more or less his fault. Ysa had had diarrhea the night before after takeout from some random Italian fast food place he had spotted homeward. Of course, it was never wise to assume goodness. Sonny took Ysa’s interest in the book as a promising sign—she wanted arbitrary objects again; she was probably getting better. He feared the bill that was slowly bloating in his name at Trinity Medical’s accounting office. He had requested for the simplest room, and they were duly sped off to the sweet Suite 324—twice the size of Ysa’s own bedroom, with a cable-fortified flat-screen TV bolted to the wall and another honest-to-goodness bed for a family member, plumped pillow and fitted sheet and all. Its divergence from Francisco General’s spartan space, tiny three-channel TV and pleather visitor’s couch was outright hostile. Aldo burst out of the bathroom with gleaming eyes. “Have you seen the toilet?” he asked Sonny. Sonny had seen the toilet. And Sonny had toyed with the electronic bidet for a good ten minutes, spurting varied permutations of streams and temperatures onto the tile wall (cold pulse sprinkle warm hot steady blast), thoroughly engrossing himself as the doctor spoke vigorously to Joy about Ysa’s new, reworked diet and the restaurants he felt best complied with it. He came back out again once Dr. Tantiangco’s treatise on the Living Earth Boutique Eatery’s distinct superiority over Go Gulay Gourmet Café (“There’s organic alfalfa…and there’s organic alfalfa.”) had concluded, and the good doctor had to be off and away to save a different person’s life. “Yes. I’ve seen the toilet,” Sonny replied, sitting warily on the edge of the visitor’s bed, afraid it would swallow him whole. “Is that why you forced Joy to go here? To see the magic toilet?” “He didn’t force me to go here,” Joy cut in. “I took Ysa to Alegria. Trinity’s across the street, so he told us to go there while he looked for you.” “What’s Alegria?” “The new mall.” “There’s a rollercoaster inside,” Ysa chirped from behind Pretty Paola. “Kiddie rollercoaster. The parents have to ride too. You’d like it there. They have a Peace and Tranquility Garden—big, open space and no people.” “Francisco General’s not that far.” Exasperation gurgled through Sonny’s veins. “Just 10 minutes more. And that’s where Dr. Fuentes is.” “The doctors here are very good,” said Aldo. “They have to be good to work in a place like this. They studied in Europe, the States. And 10 minutes is a long time. It was an emergency, Sonny. You can’t delay things. You have to get that into your head.” “They took Ysa in the second we got here,” Joy offered. “Boom-boom-boom. Very fast.”

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“They use high-tech equipment,” Aldo continued. “Look at their toilets! This is a first-class hospital—probably the best hospital in the country, Sonny. This is the best care Ysa’s going to get. Did you see all those foreigners in the lobby?” “They’re building a bridgeway between Alegria and Trinity,” added Joy. “I saw it on the posters. It’s going to have those moving floors like the ones at airports, in case you can’t walk.” “Sonny, we’re on the 14th floor. Francisco General just goes up to 5. You should walk around and see how big this place is.” “They’re building condo units behind the mall. I think they want a spot with everything connected to each other—your house, the mall, the park, the hospital.” “See this screen attached to the bed? That’s Ysa’s records. They’re digital. And the screen’s detachable, too.” “We should drop by the mall after Ysa’s released. They have tennis courts. With lessons. Didn’t you want tennis lessons?” Sonny frowned. “Why do you think we can afford this?” he muttered, inflicting silence. He expected Joy not to reply, but to make that face she always made when he catches her deep in her daydreams—sheepish, ashamed, hooked back to the real world where Sonny felt dispensable, frightened and in need of heartening. Joy smiled. “I can pay for half,” she answered. “How?” “I got a raise.” “You did? You do voiceovers. Part-time. The network gave you a raise? “They did. I mean, I do a good job. And I’ve been with them for almost two years, even if it is part-time. Maybe they’re just being nice.” “Why didn’t you tell me?” “Because I was told just yesterday. That’s why we went to Alegria. To celebrate. You know, because we can buy things we like again.” Sonny resented the way she was speaking to him. Blameful, which he didn’t really expect from her, although at this point in his life, it was probably best to just think the worst of people and stick to it. She was lying about where the money came from. There were other ways. He was so sure of it, he suddenly felt repulsed by her presence, her face so blank and unrepentant. “Think of the money later,” said Aldo, placing his hand on Sonny’s shoulder. Here was another liar. Sonny jerked away and was about to tell him off, when Dr. Tantiangco entered the room again, a little less sprightly than before. He unlatched Ysa’s digital records from the foot of the bed and stared at the slim screen quietly. In turn, Aldo and Joy kept their eyes on him, as if waiting for their cue. “Doc,” Sonny began, tone still snippy. “You said we can leave by tomorrow morning?” Dr. Tantiangco held the screen to his chest and stiffened his back, like the statue of a random dignitary. “I’m sorry, Mr. Deseo. I’ll have to take that back. Ysa seemed okay for discharge, and we thought this last blood test would come out normal. But I just came from the

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laboratory. I really didn’t expect to see anything wrong anymore, but there appears to be a new problem.” Aldo and Joy leaned towards the doctor in unison, as if the Earth had tilted in his direction. “What’s the problem?” asked Joy, uttering it just before Aldo could. “There’s something unusual about her blood sugar count. It’s very difficult to determine what, exactly. We’ve never seen a case just like it, and I insist that she stay for at least two more days for further testing. She seems alright now, but of course, we’re in no position to take risks.” “Of course. Yes,” said Joy, setting her palm gently against Ysa’s cheek. Ysa had been engrossed by Pretty Paola the whole while, staring at each broad, vivid page and its few, short sentences for minutes at a time, quite possibly ignorant of everything they had been talking about. “You fell for that?” Sonny asked Joy, incredulous. “What?” “That ‘mystery’ disease?” “What are you talking about?” Joy glanced at Dr. Tantiangco abjectly and then stared at her husband with guarded concern. “Listen to the doctor,” Aldo cut in. “If he says we need to stay, then we should trust him on it. He knows much more than we do. And he’s not working in some two-bit hospital.” “It’s just two days,” Joy added. “Sonny, your daughter is sick. Don’t you want the best for her? They’re treating her well and they want her to get better. I know everything’s expensive, but they’re expensive for a reason.” “Mr. Deseo, I highly recommend that you spend for two more days here,” Dr. Tantiangco offered. “If you decide to risk it, you could end up spending much, much more if her condition worsens. Professionally speaking.” “You can’t bring her home if you’re not 100-percent sure she’s okay,” Aldo went on. “We have to spend where it counts,” Joy said. Sonny looked just past the three persons standing before him, gazing tiredly at the spaces framing their heads, and imagined all of their thoughts flitting about like fat, grey flies, turning the cold hospital room air a little less sterile, a little bit thicker and leaden with ill will. He could find no decent reason at that point to speak to them further. Some faculty of his, some ability to just bank on them had been sapped out entirely. He glanced at his daughter. Her tiny body slumped languorously against a large white pillow, Ysa seemed as content as could be, adorably unmindful of everything beyond the book propped up on her lap. She looked fine. As she read, her eyes blazed with attention, and she wiggled her tiny, bare feet every so often for no momentous reason. Then again, there really just might be something sinister inside of her, something that worked its devilry from the inside out, branching out from the very core of her, her precious sheath of flesh the final target of its evils. Or there might not. Finished, Ysa closed the book and set it aside, only then noticing how damningly quiet everyone had become. She returned her father’s gaze with hesitance, visibly afraid to ask why no one was bothering to say anything, or why they were staring each other down as if a prize lay at stake. Sonny looked away.
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“Do you like it here?” Joy asked Ysa all of a sudden. Her voice cracked straight through, and it loosened the dead air holding Sonny in place. Sonny strode to the door, pulled it open, and left. ●

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