They came back to the pit on the day that marked the first month after Emily died. They huddled around the pit in their light sweaters, feeling another storm hovering in the atmosphere, smelling the pungent earth, the leaves. Cleofe had her legs dangling over the hole. Brian had one leg bent with his sobbing mouth pressed over the knee, Cedric gazing at him in contempt. There was a single white rose resting on top of the soil in the pit.
Brian looked up, sucked in his breath. His eyes were deep, red hollows. “We can’t let her stay there,” he said. “We have to get her out of there.”
Cedric turned and stomped all the way back to the house. Cleofe remained still.
“I dream about her,” Brian said suddenly. “I dream of her, and that needle rain she talked about. I dream of her eating the needles.”
Cleofe stayed with Brian for a while longer. She led him back to Cedric’s house, to the kitchen, and urged him to wash his face. She watched him leave. Then she went upstairs to talk to Cedric.
His door wasn’t locked, so Cleofe just pushed it open. Then she pulled it closed, swallowing a scream. She tried to stop herself from shaking. Cedric was cleaning a gun. He was sitting on one corner of his bed and was cleaning a gun.
“Cleo?” he said. “Cleo, calm down, it’s my mom’s.”
Cleofe opened the door slowly, slowly, and peered inside. “Cleo? There you are.” Cedric, who had been frowning, now smiled upon seeing her. “What, you think I’m going to shoot you?”
Cedric held it in his hands. It was small, and gray. It looked like a lady’s pistol.
“My mom bought this after my dad attacked her with a knife.” Cedric pulled the bottom drawer of his bedside cabinet and took out a wooden box. “She told me to clean it regularly so it won’t rust.” He placed the gun inside the box and grinned. “Just how many mothers do you know ask their sons to do something like that?”
And just how many sons do you know comply? Cleofe thought.
“You store it assembled?” she said.
“Of course, not. She keeps the bullets in a separate box.” Cedric placed the box inside the drawer and pushed it close with his foot.
“Why did you leave us back there?”
Cedric didn’t reply.
“It’s like Emily’s not your friend. Like you don’t care she’s dead. Like you don’t even mourn.”
He looked at her then. “Do you know what those two fought about?”
“Emily’s pregnant,” Cedric said. “They fought because Brian didn’t want her to keep it.”
She was sitting at the top of the staircase, humming, dressed in white once again, with floodwater licking the hem of her immaculate gown. The entire first floor of the house was submerged in water, making Cleofe wonder if her parents were floating somewhere, dead. Emily was making paper boats. Cleofe watched as she folded them on her lap, her lips pursed with melody, before setting them to sail into the flood.
“Hello, Cleo.” She looked up, briefly, swallowing the music. Now Cleofe could only hear the water hitting the banisters. “Cedric’s talking.”
“I know,” Cleofe said. She didn’t know this, but now that Emily had mentioned it, it made perfect sense.
“He mentions my name.” Emily placed the paper boat on the water’s surface, making it bob with a swirl of her fingers. “I hear him.”
“Aren’t you worried?”
Cleofe didn’t reply.
“You are. You are worried. But not for yourself.”
The boats sailed on. One of them went between the banisters and disappeared.
“You’re worried for Brian.”
“Do you hate me, Emily?” Cleofe asked.
“Do you know,” said Emily, “that cooperating with the authorities is the best way to avoid a jail term?”
“Do you hate me?”
Emily dipped her hands into the water and pulled out a handful of muddy leaves and a tiny foot.
“It’s cold where we are,” she said.
It was not difficult to avoid them. Their Chemistry teacher reshuffled the class for the next project, and now Cleofe had new groupmates: three girls who couldn’t reflect, who adored TV, who thought death was still eons away. But she loved them. She loved their shallow jokes, their simple-mindedness. She loved them because they could make her forget.
Cedric and Brian were still around, eternally existing, raising a hand to wave at her when they felt like it. Sometimes she would wave back. No one in school asked about their falling out – why they didn’t eat lunch together anymore, why they didn’t talk, why they had abandoned Cedric in the big house – because they knew. It was because of the missing girl.
But one day, a week after the Chemistry reshuffle, Brian came up to her and said, “Do you know where Cedric is?”
It was five p.m., and the school was empty except for members of the Theater Club and the Rondalla, who had to stay for practice. Cleofe stayed late for a meeting with her group mates. They had all left – Miya and Sol and Patty – laughing all the way to the gate. Cleofe wished she had just gone with them.
“I don’t know.” Cleofe kept her eyes on the floor. Whenever she looked at Brian now she saw two bodies on a warm bed, and so she looked away. “Why do you ask me? I haven’t talked to him for days.”
Brian looked at her for a while longer, and then walked past her, down the length of the corridor and out of her sight. She decided to follow him, hurrying but not quite running, and saw Brian turn to the direction of the main grounds, where the flagpole was. Cedric was alone by the flagpole, copying notes from a yellow pad. Cleofe stood a safe distance away. She saw Brian approach, saw Cedric glance at him before returning to his notes, as if all he saw was an insect, an unimportant distraction. Then Brian whispered something that made him turn back.
What? Cedric mouthed, and Brian spoke with his mouth and his arms and his eyes while Cedric stared and stared and stared. He turned away. Brian stopped talking. Cedric raised his head and spoke one sentence. Please, Cedric, Brian said. Please. Cedric stood up and hit him across the face.
Brian fell on his back to the ground, and Cleofe ran. Cedric walked away, not hurrying, not glancing back. Brian sat up, covered his face. Brian was crying but Cleofe didn’t even look at him. She was looking at Cedric, at his fists.
A tall girl from the senior class was going to play Ariel. Cleofe would sit in the back row during rehearsals, away from the others, and watch her perform in the gown Emily had mended and danced in, in her dreams, and to Cleofe everything would start feeling so wrong, so wrong.
It was Cedric. Cleofe dragged the telephone to her bed, shut the door.
“What do you want, Cedric.”
“Your father – “
Cleofe felt as if her insides had turned to cement.
“Maybe we could talk to him,” Cedric said. She heard his breath hitch; he was sobbing. “I think we have to—“
He was sobbing too hard to continue speaking.
“Are you in the house, Cedric?” Cleofe asked. Cedric sobbed. “I’m coming over, all right?”
Cedric was going to tell, she was sure of it. She would give a start whenever the doorbell rang, whenever she saw the top of the gate swing open. Please, please, Brian had said, but Cedric had struck him to the ground.
“I want to go to the pit,” Cleofe said.
Cleofe walked to the big house despite the cold weather and found Cedric in the living room, sitting hunched on a chair, alone. The sky was dark but he didn’t bother to turn on the lights.
“Cleo.” He looked pitiful. Cleofe wasn’t moved.
“I want to give her this.” Cleofe held out a cream-colored brochure – an invitation to the Theater Club’s production of “The Tempest”. “She had always loved this play.”
She waited for the mockery. It didn’t come.
“You want me to come with you?” Cedric asked.
Cleofe put the brochure back into her pocket. She could see the trees swaying slightly outside, dropping more leaves on the ground.
“Let me just get my jacket.”
“I’ll get it for you.”
“But it’s upstairs.”
Cedric didn’t fight. He simply resumed that hunched position, careful not to look at her face. What the – are you insane? she heard Cedric say from a time long gone.
She entered Cedric’s room. The jacket was hanging on the inside doorknob. Slowly, she felt its pockets, and pulled out a string of keys with a handkerchief. Right on the first try; if she didn’t find it there she was resolved to look through his closet, the drawers, the bed. Cleofe took the keys – cold, like cubes of ice – and knelt in front of his bedside cabinet. Right on the third try; three keys went in and out before the bottom drawer finally slid open. She took out the box using the same handkerchief and pocketed the gun. After a few seconds’ introspection, she took it out again and checked the barrel. Empty. Cleofe reached deeper into the drawer and felt her fingertips bump into another box. She flipped it open. Yes. Her father had trusted her enough to show her how to do this. Cleofe used the handkerchief to cover her fingers and loaded the gun as quickly as she could, glancing at the door every now and then. Everything she had touched, she wiped with the cloth.
“I used your washroom. Sorry.” Cleofe handed Cedric his jacket, and he accepted it wordlessly. She saw him pat the pocket containing the keys. Cleofe let her arms dangle at her side, trying not to stiffen, or to scream.
“Let’s go,” he said.
They went out, the wind blowing through her hair. Cedric walked ahead of her. When he reached the pit, he simply stood on the edge and looked down. Cleofe took out the gun and raised it.
She started to shake. The tears fell. I’m going to kill, she thought, wildly.
She was going to kill.
“Cleo?” Cedric was now facing her, eyes wide behind the glasses. Cleofe gasped and took a step back. A twig snapped beneath her shoe. She cried harder.
“Cleo?” Cedric had one arm slightly raised. “Cleo, what are you doing?”
He’s going to cry, Cleofe thought, quickly stepping into the sphere of silence that had protected her after Emily died. It would be hard to make an alibi if the corpse had tears.
I can’t let him cry.
“Cleo, for God’s – “
She pulled the trigger.
What followed was a moment of confusion: not only did she hear the gun explode, she also saw it – the perfect ring of burned flesh on Cedric’s forehead; his body falling back, back, back; the crackle of dried leaves as he sank into the pit. She screamed, but there was another voice screaming with her.
Cleofe turned abruptly to her left, and saw a child.
A girl, seven or eight, with dirty knees and a gaping mouth. She was seemingly rooted to the spot, but when Cleofe turned her head the girl jumped and ran away as fast as she could, as fast as the wind that was now hitting the trees.
“No!” Cleofe ran after her, crying, screaming. She dropped the gun. “It’s not what you think!”
Cleofe’s right toe snagged on an exposed root. Before she realized it, she was falling to the ground. Her left knee hit a sharp, protruding rock. She felt it sink in, felt the warm blood gush around it. She pulled her leg up, howling, and tried to cover the wound with both hands. She saw the girl dart around the trees and disappear.
With difficulty she heaved herself up and began walking toward the house, gasping with every step, dripping blood. She could almost see her tears sluicing through the mud on her face. She passed by the gun but did not want to pick it up. The wind blew, biting as if it had teeth. The blood flowed between her fingers.
She could only feel relief when she saw Brian sitting in the living room.
“Brian,” she sobbed. “Brian. Brian.”
He looked at her for a long time before saying, “Cleo?” His eyes studied her from head to foot and found her knee. “Jesus Christ, what happened to you?”
He made her sit down on the couch. He disappeared into the kitchen and came back with a piece of cloth and a basin of warm water. Gently, he took off her shoes and socks and wiped the blood off her legs. The water in the basin turned pink.
“Cleo?” Brian said. “Cleo, where’s Cedric?”
The water was warm, nice, but the wind entering beneath the closed door and around the gaps in the frame of the windows made her legs tremble. The wound continued to throb and bleed.
Where is Cedric? Cleofe thought. He’s in the pit, but he’s not there.
“Cleo, why do you have mud on your clothes?” He looked toward the direction of the pit and turned back to her. “Cleo? Cedric told me to come here. He said he wants to say sorry for –“
“I shot him,” Cleofe said, staring at her foot inside the basin, at the water that was quickly turning red. “I shot him.”
Brian stared at her. “What?”
“I shot him in the head.” Cleofe looked up. Brian staggered back and sank into the chair opposite her, where Cedric had sat just a few minutes ago.
“What?” Brian’s face started to crumple, as if he were trying hard not to cry. “What?”
“He was going to tell on us,” Cleofe said. “He talks to the police. He said he wanted to talk to my father.”
“Oh God, Cleo.” And Brian did cry, the tears trickling to his shirt, to his hands. “Cedric would never do that. Oh God, Cleo. Oh God.”
“I saw him hit you.”
“He hit me because I killed his baby!”
Cleofe felt as if she had just been slapped across the face. The tears stopped.
“Cleo, I never slept with Emily,” Brian said. “That night you saw us fighting, she told me she was pregnant. I pushed her because she said it was Cedric’s, and I didn’t want to believe her, Cleo, I didn’t want to believe her –“
Cleofe didn’t want to hear the rest of it. She lifted her knees to the couch, trailing blood and water, burying her face into the upholstery. She saw Cedric’s wide eyes and the tears she had prevented from falling.
She saw the girl vanish through the trees.
“A girl saw me.”
“A girl? How old?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know.”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think she saw everything?”
“Where did you get the gun? Is it your dad’s?”
She shook her head.
“Do you still have it?”
“I dropped it.”
“Okay,” Brian said. “Okay. If the girl didn’t see everything, if she only saw you pull the trigger –“
“Brian, please –”
“Listen to me,” he said, grasping her hands. “Listen to me.”
Your name’s Joanne?
Ay, hindi po. J-O-A-N.
J-O-A-N. All right. Can you please tell your story from the beginning? I know these old men have been bothering you for the past few hours…
That’s okay, ma’am. They were nice to me. They gave me candy.
Okay, um…I was playing with my brother on the sidewalk this morning, but we had a fight, so I just left him playing alone and walked toward the big house.
Do you always play near the big house?
Only on weekends, ma’am, and only on the lot near the road, because my mother doesn’t let me. She says there might be snakes there.
And were there snakes?
Okay. So I was kneeling on the ground, playing with sticks and rocks and some leaves, when I saw a boy and a girl come out of the house and walk to the right.
Your right, you mean.
Ah, yes, ma’am.
You were facing them?
Were they talking?
No. Just walking.
Then they went someplace where I couldn’t see them. A moment later I heard the boy talking.
What was he saying?
I don’t know, ma’am. His voice was too soft.
I decided to go see where they are.
And that’s when you saw the girl fire the gun?
Did you scream?
Yes. The girl screamed, too.
Then she saw me and her eyes went big. Then I ran.
Because you were scared of her?
No, not the girl. She looked more scared than I was. She was crying. I’m…I’m more scared of the boy.
The boy? Why?
Because he’s…Because his shoes are sticking out of the pit.
Mm-hm. Did the girl run after you?
At first. I think she fell down.
And she’s crying?
She was saying something. “It’s not what you think.”
She said that?
But you continued to run.
I was scared. I could have helped her when she fell – she was screaming so much – but I got confused.
Do you think the boy and the girl had been fighting?
I don’t know. Maybe. She was crying.
Are you comfortable on your chair, miss?
If you want, you could raise your leg on this –
No, it’s okay, sir, I’m fine.
If you say so. The boy’s name is Cedric?
Okay. You said you went to his house to give him an invitation to a play.
Yes, sir. That’s why I brought this brochure with me.
Then he told me to come with him to one of the empty lots. He said he wanted to show me something. So I went with him, and while we were walking I realized he was taking me to the pit.
You’ve known of this pit?
Yes, sir. That’s where he throws his garbage.
Then…then he took out this gun and pointed it at my head. He told me to take off my clothes. He said if I didn’t do it he’d kill me like Ann and Emily. When I heard Emily’s name, I just stared at him. What? I thought, and he said, I can take you to her if you like.
Is Emily also a friend?
Yes, sir. A very close friend.
We go to the same school, sir.
So what happened next?
I grabbed the gun from him and shot him in the head. I was on autopilot, sir. I had no choice, I was alone, and he could have easily grabbed the gun from me again if I just pointed it at him. So I – so I –
Okay. Okay. Do you think he raped Emily?
I don’t know, sir. But he did something to her. He said he killed her because – because –because she had their baby.
She was pregnant?
Yes, sir. Oh God. Oh my God.
Did he tell you where he buried her?
Oh my God.
He said he threw her into the pit.
The journalists and the police came with the storm the very next day. They found the revolver buried beneath a layer of wet twigs, photographed the blood-covered rock where Cleofe had fallen. At the pit they spent hours, hauling up mound after mound of leaves and mud and empty wrappers before finally strapping themselves and going down the hole when one policeman caught a glimpse of white cloth. Emily’s body was found in the most disgusting state of decay, but it did not stop the hysterical Ka Cely from kissing the corpse, the maggot-infested face.
Mrs. Placido flew from Cebu in the darkest pair of glasses anyone in Sto. Niño had ever seen. She did not deny that the revolver was hers, or that her son had all the keys in the house. She did not try to defend her son. She did not talk to Cleofe. She did not speak when someone outside the police station called her a “mother of a rapist”. She did not press charges. She flew back to Cebu after
burying her son. She buried him beneath the rain, with the brown water hitting the sides of her son’s coffin. She buried him alone.
Somehow, nobody doubted Cleofe’s story, especially after the autopsy report showed that Emily indeed was pregnant. That Cedric Placido ought to be funny in the head, they told one another, living in that big house alone with a gun and a box of bullets literally at his fingertips. And so, to their eyes, two murder cases had been solved and the rape-slayer was dead. Sto. Niño went back to its
laidback ways. There was no more need to be frightened.
They did not shun Cleofe; they admired her. They took the liberty of breaking into the cemetery and defacing Cedric Placido’s headstone, spraying it with red paint one time and carving the word RAPIST into it at another.
She saw Cedric in her dreams. She’d tell him, “I’m sorry about all this, but other people’s hatred won’t hurt you now, right? Reputation is unimportant to you, but it still is to me. It’s better where you are, I’m sure. Quieter. No fear of jail, or of killing a child. So it’s fine, right? What I did? You forgive me, right, Cedric? Can you forgive me?”
But he wouldn’t reply.
She avoided Brian, who also didn’t exert any effort to befriend her once again. Cleofe had always believed she did what she did to save her own skin, but now she saw she had simply been stupid, and weak.
On Fridays, when the streets were empty, she would go to Cedric’s headstone and try to clean up its latest defacement. Sometimes she’d cry.
I got away too easily, she’d tell his grave. Maybe there’s a catch. Maybe I’ll die in a fire. Maybe I’ll kill myself one of these days.
Cleofe had only one recurring dream. She dreamt she was at the pit, Cedric and Emily sitting on its edge, their legs dangling. Ann Guillermo’s murderer was also there, but since Cleofe didn’t know who he was, he had no face.
But she could feel him smiling.
Eliza Victoria lives and works in Makati. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in several online and print publications, including the Philippines Free Press, The Pedestal Magazine, Stone Telling, Story Quarterly, High Chair, Kritika Kultura, Expanded Horizons and the Philippine Speculative Fiction anthology series. Her work has received prizes from the Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and the Philippines Free Press Literary Awards. Visit her at http://sungazer.wordpress.com, or follow her on Twitter (@elizawriteshere).
The above image is from here.