Vapor left white cylindrical vessels and made the room smell of bamboo. We’re still carrying the full inventory of the ultrasonic diffusers you sent over last month. Most people who come here work there in those export factories. The GoodAire sales assistant pointed to the direction of the Zone. We were inside the mall so I couldn't see where her finger wanted to go. They don't buy this shit, she said. I was obligated to check the expiration of essential oils.
She told us that if we wanted a shortcut back to the city we could snake through the Zone. Just don’t leave your driver’s license at the entry gate, she said. But the guard lifted the arm barrier without hesitation when we said we were just passing through. We didn't see anybody in the ten minutes we spent obeying curves inside the compound. Right out by the exit we ordered spaghetti from the nearest drive-thru. There were three of the same restaurant two kilometers apart from each other until we hit the highway.
There was a short angry rain soon after I returned to my desk. The twelve-minute pour was dense as a pinscreen over our office and flooded the streets. Someone had cleaned out the soil out of my potted plant but I suspect it is the tom cat that comes looking for food because HR has trained it to.
At the hamburger place later that evening I said, maybe you should start going on Twitter. You can also turn on night mode and it will make your screen turn black. On TV, a cardiologist was getting a heart attack on her bed, with a ghost child watching over her. And then I packed away two chicken drumettes and we went to check on a work site at night to see the way acrylic can diffuse a hallway light. It makes it more even, rather than cause a dark, defined shadow.
Later in the evening my friend told me that a huge fire happened at the Zone. It started several hours ago. Have you heard of the place? I was just there, I said. Hundreds are trapped in the third floor of a factory that makes tsunami-proof homes. I found out on Twitter, she said.
We drove by observing the isolated topiaries that appeared like lollipops staked on lonely islands. I was going to take a picture of their acrylic sign that said “472 days of loss-free accident” because I thought that was a strange achievement. Would they have to just keep it at 472, until they make it back to 473? People are praying for their souls on Twitter.
The news reported a chemical fire. There is an old picture on their Facebook page, in between images and word art proclaiming “Safety First”, of the group in an outing in 2014. It was a shot taken from afar. No one faced the camera and they were all wading in waist-high artificial waves. Behind them was a resin grotto of Noah’s ark and all his animals. And above it, it says God With Us. Hundreds feared dead. Everyone evacuated.
The fire went on for the next two evenings.
We had just set the ground pork on the table for dinner when I swooped down and held onto its wooden legs. It was an impulse because the building had started to shake. I hadn't realized what I had just done. She and I were about to have a very serious conversation but then we decided as it was still shaking to remove the glassware from the table and place it instead on the kitchen counter where all the plates and glasses were gathered so narrowly they were worse off there. She pulled out two hard hat souvenirs from a theme park and we wore them for a while crouched under the table. Maybe it's better you go home, she said. There were fourteen aftershocks.
The only road home passes through Shakey’s Pizza. I always look to see if there’s a party. There was a kid outside the double doors with two uniformed men and from where I was he appeared to fake choking. He was holding his neck and shifting his weight from side to side. Fifteen, sixteen, seventeen. One of the men in the black shirt did some of the dance moves of Bruno Mars’s ‘24K Magic’. But when the child continued to sway, the man realized something was wrong. The child was stiff. He picked the kid up like he were a mannequin and carried him down the short steps. His partner opened the back door of a van that had the word ‘emergency’ on it and put him in there, while the restaurant’s security guard was watching at the top of the steps, drinking coffee from a melamine cup.
There was a white dog lying in the middle of the road with his friend sniffing grass by a bent signpost. It was stretched out flat with no care for motorists. Our jeep swerved to avoid it and when I looked back it was because it was dead: it bloated like a water-filled latex glove that someone had poked and then a small stream of red eased the pressure. Or it could have been a Pomeranian mix. It was the second dead dog I had seen that day.
We turned left into the national highway. I always check for signs of change. There was a man on a motorcycle. The wind against his jacket made his sleeves puff up like the Michelin man. He had a tough face stapled onto his skull with a thick moustache. He shrunk his eyes to keep them from the headwind. As he drove past us he looked like a rare albino crocodile, and we were racing through the swamp.
That evening her aunt Amelia met us at the Gorilla Grill. She said that the bartender was absent yesterday and when he came back with his arm in a sling, he told her that he had gotten into an accident. He was driving home on his motorcycle late last night, and then suddenly, he said, a street pole appeared in front of him. “It was fata morgana, ma’am.”
He served us mushrooms on a black sizzling plate with one hand. A piece of minced garlic flew into his hair as he set it down the table. Later I saw him standing by the kitchen door and eating the fried cheese sticks a customer had ordered and said they didn't. He coated it with thousand island and ate it quickly, and disappeared with the ring of the bell.
I went to eat rice and pork with ketchup at my grandmother's house. She had rollers on and was playing rounds of Solitaire on her tablet. She calls the game “Duterte,” unintentionally, because she got the president confused with her own pronunciation of the card game.
The television was on. The ghost child on primetime, who was not dead but in a coma, was still following the cardiologist. She made the doctor and her doctor daughter embrace each other. My grandmother barely looked up.
She was playing Duterte with a pen with a soft rubber tip and stabbed the cards. It was a conference souvenir that looked like flabby skin made to trick screens into thinking they were index fingers. She pressed the upper right card so that it made a shuffle sound and reveal themselves.
She said there's never anything to do. She doesn't sleep until midnight and has to pass the time. She pushed all the cards up into the upper deck. I said you could bring them back down from the upper deck so that you can match up the smaller cards. She told me that I was cheating and that I should go home.
It was Maundy Thursday. I had just learnt about the Bikini atoll. I kept seeing the Marshall Islands on the rightmost part of the National Geographic fold-out map that I stuck on my bathroom wall. I have been trying to memorize the world. I was wondering why the bikini had been named after it.
He came to the house in the afternoon and I have not seen him for a long time. He brought over some star apple and films on a hard drive. My dog had her period and she stayed on the floor.
At two in the morning when the end credits rolled I was ready to sleep and he mentioned that he was going to ride along with a news crew to San Fernando in an hour. He was going to watch the crucifixion. More than ten or so men are nailed to a cross. Have you ever been? No, I told him I didn't know much about it. One of them is an IT systems manager, or something, right? I heard him interviewed on the radio. They know the exact point to nail the hand so that it goes through cleanly. There are doctors on standby. They've been doing it for years.
I cleaned up the living room and saw the dog’s blood dot all the cushions of the couch. I put a blanket over it and went to sleep.