“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned…” — The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve
“There’s something I need to tell you.” She hated hearing those words. She heard it twice before. Once when her mother broke the news that her grandmother had died.
The second time was when her world fell apart.
Tired from squatting on the ground, she stood up. Wall to wall people surrounded her, brushing past her, threatening to suffocate her as she jostled her way through Miranda Plaza, an area of Quiapo, Manila’s “old downtown.” It was the annual scene of the mad frenzy of devout Catholics. She struggled to breath in the stifling, swelling claustrophobic ocean of bodies.
A woman behind her fell out in a faint; all her companion could do was fan her. The medical tent was too far and losing your spot in the crowd was not an option. The old and young, rich and the poor, and those in between all eagerly awaited the glass casket that would emerge from St. John the Baptist Church.
Clara felt the pulsing anticipation of thousands of sweating bodies. She clutched her handbag to guard against purse-snatchers, glanced at her watch. Any minute now the stampede of the forward rush would erupt. She felt sorry for the handful of tourists with their cameras. Surely, they must have read about people being trampled. Poor idiots.
It was January 9th; the day of the Black Nazarene, when thousands gathered to touch the ebony figure of the miraculous Christ. Once a year, the resplendently dressed figure, draped in red velvet and embroidered golden threads, was paraded for viewing by hundreds of thousands of the mostly Catholic population of the country.
The figure of Christ must indeed be miraculous, she thought bitterly. That is, for the true believers. After all, the image survived fires, earthquakes and the bombings of the church during WWII.
She felt like a cadaverous bag of bones herself, haggard, angry, bent on her mad mission.
So, why didn’t He come through for me in my time of need? Ah well, what does it matter now? The original was inside the church anyway. The image the church paraded was a replica.
Still, a small doubt crept in. Maybe she should have stopped by one of the many fortuneteller booths. She needed affirmation, even if from a bogus soothsayer, that her plan would take off. But what was the point? She was determined, was she not? Besides, there might be that one real mystic who would see through her murderous heart.
What she was about to do went against her Catholic upbringing, but anger, humiliation, trampled pride and pain are very powerful emotions. She thought back to the day that slime bucket; that piece of crap bastard deserted her and the children.
It started out pleasant enough. There was the usual ho-hum virtually non-exchange of dialogue between married couples. They didn’t have much in common, not anymore. The children didn’t even matter to him; she and the kids were just mouths to feed and bodies to dress and provide for. It was so clinical, like his medical practice.
They sat in the breakfast nook of their comfortable kitchen. The kids were off to school with the driver and yaya in tow. They lived in a subdivision in the exclusive area of Makati. Life was comfortable, not the ideal kind, but it was all she could hope for her and the children.
“Listen to this,” she said, sipping her coffee. “A vast array of pharmaceuticals — including antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones — have been found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans, an Associated Press investigation reports.”
No reply from the bastard.
“Hon?” she asked.
“You know,” she went on. “I was having lunch with Esmeralda the other day. You know, my friend from the Spanish school? She said that the pharmaceutical companies sabotaged the waters of Manila with estrogen. She is convinced this is the reason why the majority of the men here have turned gay. You don’t have to be a priest to be gay these days. Ha, ha, ha, get it?”
Why did she even bother making conversation with that selfish, uncaring person she called husband?
“Remember the fiesta we attended in the province?” she continued. “Even the provinces haven’t been spared, gay men are coming out of the woodwork. Remember the gay talent contest? Remember one of the questions asked? ‘Why are there so many of you when you don’t even have children’?”
She was about to quote the reply of one of the contestants and laugh some more. She knew that contest upset him at the time. He said that it was exploitive and made fun of a minority group, and she agreed. She never judged people’s sexual preferences; it was a personal choice and she respected it. After all, her closest and dearest friend was homosexual. But it was still funny.
His silence bothered her this time.
She looked up to see what was always more important in the good doctor’s screwy brain, certainly, nothing to do with her or their children.
He gazed out the kitchen window at their spacious, lush garden with the inviting pool, as if committing his living space to memory. As if it was the last time he was seeing the beautiful fruits of his hard labor.
Apprehension crept up her spine. Warning bells clanged in her brain. She felt like the robot with flailing arms sounding off an alert in the old Lost in Space TV show.
Finally, he turned to her. “ Clara, there’s something I need to tell you,” he said. She imagined herself as one of his patients as he kindly gave the dreaded news of the fatal illness.
“Brace yourself, girl,” she muttered to herself. “This may be the news, the revelation of what he is, his epiphany.” She stood up and walked over to where he was standing. She had prepared for this moment.
She wanted him to see her reaction when he told her, to see the disgust on her face, thrown back at him for the times he showed his disdain when she made attempts at intimacy.
She had practiced this scenario in front of her bathroom mirror many times before. They had separate bedrooms. Even before they married, when they lived together and the lovemaking was passionate, he slept on the other side of the king size bed they shared.
Things changed when they married and moved to their new home; he insisted, no, demanded on separate bedrooms. His reason was typical enough, she’d heard it from other wives who were now divorced from their doctor husbands. The reason was coming home from his late shifts, and staying up to do paperwork. He slept throughout the day, ignored his kids.
Of course, there was his once a week appointment with the dermatologist — a futile, expensive attempt to smooth his pockmarked face, ravaged by acne in his youth, a major source of his insecurity. He woke up early for his appointment; slept through everything else.
The sex stopped altogether after their youngest child was born. She got tired of pleading, of the humiliation she felt every time she was rejected. She could have filed for an annulment on the grounds of severe mental cruelty, but that would have been a long, sad process. Besides how would she support the children?
So she stayed and suffered like a martyr for her children’s sake. It would have been better if another woman was involved, but that was never the case. It didn't matter that she still had her looks and her figure was still intact from working out. He could have cared less.
She gave up on the sex part, but what stung her more was his behavior. There were times when all she needed was just to cuddle, but was dismissed with a look of utter revulsion. Oh, the pain was unbearable at times. Thank goodness, she had the children to distract her.
She knew what her reaction would be, the steely expression on her face and the harsh words that would come out of her mouth. She practiced enough times; she had them all down by heart.
A hard shove brought her back to reality. The crowd was starting their push toward the Black Nazarene. She needed to focus now. She kept her eye on her intended victims.
There were two of them. She watched as the two queens, dressed in their tight clothes, jumped up and down, squealing with anticipated delight. Why couldn’t they be more discreet? Why did they try so hard to be like women?
At least, that bastard wasn’t blatant about his sexuality. He was effeminate in his mannerism, but he still dressed befitting the male gender. He used to hide to it, tried to be macho. Towards the end of their doomed marriage, he didn’t care anymore; his dirty secret, his big lie all came to the front, as if to prepare her for the inevitable.
She elbowed her way through the throng toward the unsuspecting screaming queens. Any second now, the inevitable crescendo of the rush toward the figure of Christ would begin.
She positioned herself behind the wannabe females. She almost lost it when one of them turned around and look at her intently. Oh my god, this one knows what I’m about to do. She felt relief wash over her as the drag queen gave his best come hither look at the man beside her. Probably checking to see if the man was with her.
The hunky man beside Clara reacted. “Hoy! Mahiya kayo! Today of all days, you choose to strut your abnormality!” the man said.
The scolded queen was crestfallen, lips quivering.
“Never mind him!” The other one said, offering the dejected friend a comforting hug.
“Mga pesteng Bakla!” the insulted man said, spitting on the ground before removing himself.
Thank goodness, there were still men in this infested city, she thought to herself. She now knew with certainty that the man’s admonishment was a sign. This was all meant to be —she was the instrument.
She slid her hand inside her bag, brought out a pair of latex gloves. There were boxes of the damn things all over the house, remnants of the faggot’s existence. She felt empowered thinking that word for the first time. She never called him that even as he walked out the door forever. She felt it was a bad word to use. But her views drastically changed.
She slipped the gloves on, retrieved the sharp object that would silence these two obnoxious, squirming perverts.
What followed was a fast forward series of event she would replay in her mind later. One minute she was standing at the ready, her hand aching from the tight grip she had on the weapon, next she heard the rumbling noise — thousands upon thousands of anguished voices praying and pleading to Christ filled the plaza — followed by the surge of the multitudes.
Right before the stampede of bodies, before she lost her nerve, she took out the very sharp, serrated knife. She stood in front of her victims and plunged the jagged weapon. She made sure to twist the knife, to ensure vital organs were torn apart. One after the other, in quick succession, the avenging angel thrust deep into their hearts.
The two looked at each other with utter surprise and disbelief, clutched at their chests, then turned to her. Blood bubbled from the mouth of one, strangling the question why. She quickly put the knife in her purse, backed away and lost herself in the sea of bodies. She vaguely heard the scream that was muffled by the thunderous roar of the crowd when the figure of Christ emerged from the church.
“Seems like you’ve reached a major decision,” she had said, with confidence as she approached her husband.
And now, once again, to reinforce her intent and nerve to complete yet another mission, she thought back to that day as she worked her way through the multitude of the faithful. She needed to reach inside and pull out a dose of unchecked rage.
She walked into the darkened movie theater. The film was about the sexual awakening of a young boy. She picked her next victims and sat behind them. It was early afternoon. The theater was not crowded.
The slime bucket hemmed and hawed. He seemed at a loss, how to put it into words: words that would destroy his family and plunge their lives into a tailspin.
He began to mouth off his confession, his moment of truth with her. “Now that my parents are dead, I can come clean. They were the reason I held back all these years.
“It would be for the best that I leave you and the children. You see, I’ve been with someone else and it’s time for both of us to come out. We are tired of sneaking around and meeting in secret. He, that is my partner in life and I feel it’s time to speak our truth.”
The many times she practiced her carefully thought out words and facial expressions in front of her bathroom mirror, all came to naught.
“Bakla ka?” That was all that came out. So many words buzzing in her brain and that was all she could say? She smacked her forehead loudly in the dark, silently cursing her.
“Ssshh!” One her victims, with index finger on his mouth, hissed at her. She wanted to bash the bastard’s face in right there and then. Instead, she gave him an apologetic smile.
“Yes, I am,” Roland, husband dear had said simply.
“When did you come to that conclusion? When you married me? When we had children? When?” It didn’t matter now that she screwed up her rehearsed lines and reaction. Clara needed to know the truth.
“It happened when I was 9-years old,” Roland said. “Our parish priest …”
Thinking back, she thought she saw a flash of anger after he related his first experience, as if he had no choice in the matter. She brushed the thought aside. It wouldn’t do to sympathize with the bastard.
“So, a homosexual priest got to you first,” she said, the only jab that came out of her mouth.
“That’s history now,” he said, defiantly. “I am what I am. I make no excuses.”
“You married me, had children with me to hide behind a curtain of normalcy? You did that because it was the wish of your dead parents?”
She asked her questions rapid fire. She was hopping mad.
“Didn’t you, in your selfish, unclean pursuit of happiness, think of the consequences of your actions? Did you even care about me? Did you even have any love in that homosexual heart for us? Didn’t you stop to think about the lives you will destroy?”
She sat down hard, completely spent. She was surprised at the violent rush of emotions that rushed out, draining her. It totally caught her by surprise. She thought she was past that.
“I felt affection for you and the children, I still do,” he said, unable to look at her. “I’m sorry, but I have to go to my room and pack.”
Leaving all her unanswered questions hanging in the air, he walked out of her and the children’s lives forever.
The bastard didn’t even have the decency to say goodbye. She vaguely heard the door closed. She sat there all day, when the kids came home from school, demanding her attention, when the cook asked about dinner. She didn’t hear her panicked kids’ call to their grandparents. She didn’t notice anything until her mother shook her hard.
Her hand felt wet as she yanked her hand out of her handbag. The lid of the bottle of liquid sanitizer must have spilled, she thought. She was reaching for the latex gloves inside.
In the dark, as she wiped her hand, she saw the color of blood red that blotted the tissue. The searing pain and her memory of that day once again did the trick. It pushed out the pain, humiliation and the rage. Her anger went white hot once again just when the movie screen played the part where the child actor was going through his first sexual experience.
How appropriate, she thought, as she put on the latex gloves and retrieved a pair of ice picks, her weapons of choice for the attack.
She watched the two in front of her, their reactions during the foreplay of the actors on screen, and their sighs when the act was consummated.
“Bastards,” she whispered savagely, as she plummeted the ice picks into the back of their necks. She imagined she just stabbed her filthy ex-husband and his seminarian lover.
She found out about the lover. She followed them once. She wanted to see them together. They were so sweet with each other; holding hands and pecking each other affectionately on the cheek.
He looked happy. She was nauseated by their open display of affection. Even when he was pretending to be a man, he never treated her that way. She followed them and watched as they kissed goodbye. The lover got out of the car, and entered the gates of a seminary.
Clara yanked open the door of her car and threw up her meager lunch. “That’s a sin against his religion!” She exclaimed out loud, wiping the bile from her mouth.
That was the last time she saw Roland. She called his practice to curse and damn him to hell, but too late. She was informed that he left the country, without a forwarding address. She couldn’t go to the seminary to ask if the lover was still there. She didn’t even know his name; only that he was tall and good looking, like that priest she had a girlhood crush on.
Her world collapsed; the house, luxury vehicle, furniture, everything was sold to pay off creditors, the children had to be removed from their expensive, private school. She moved in with her parents and suffered the pitying looks from family and friends.
The pair in front of her slumped forward. One tried to reach for his neck, in an attempt to swat at whatever hard biting insect landed there. His hand thumped uselessly and lifelessly to his seat.
She took off the gloves, calmly stood up and walked out of the theater.
That was a year ago.
Things were going well for Clara and the kids. After the loss of the house, her possessions, her pride, turning over the care of the children to her parents, things began to look up. She got back on her feet, took over the care of the kids, and landed a good job with an advertising agency.
The best part was she now had a man who adored her, and finally the children had a father they looked up to. She and the kids moved in with her new man. She wasn’t in love, but you can’t have everything. She felt secure in the arms of a real man. She felt like a woman again. That and her children happy and secure was all that mattered. Her marriage had finally been annulled, and she was free to remarry.
Clara saw Roland one day at the Salcedo market, where the population of chic Makati gathered on Saturday mornings to buy gourmet food, where she ran into friends and acquaintances.
He was with the same lover. They were at a flower stand, marveling at the profusion of colorful flowers and plants for sale, munching on their croissants. A contented and happy couple.
As he picked up a bouquet of lavender and brought it up to his nose, he saw her. He was about to flash a smile, but the look of hate she gave him froze his face.
The urge to kill returned. She thought about paying a surprise visit to her ex-husband and lover.
© Patricia Laurel
Note: Above article was published in the Philippines edition of Playgirl in 2007.