Saturday, January 28, 2017

Love After Heaven, Parts 16-20 by Isagani R. Cruz

Love After Heaven, Parts 16 to 20

Father Romy faced the children in the auditorium. He was impressed by their behavior. They were absolutely quiet. Their faces were all turned towards him. None of them even shifted in his or her seat.
“Dear children,” he began, in a tone that he hoped would sound parental. The children did not react. They just sat looking at him, with no emotion that he could identify. They could very well be just manikins or robots.
“Dear children,” he repeated. “Good morning.”
All the children suddenly shouted in unison, “Good morning, visitor!”
Momentarily surprised, Father Romy wanted to laugh. He was not a visitor. He had been invited at the last minute by a fellow priest to conduct a recollection.
He heard the voice of the principal over the loudspeaker.
“Children,” the voice said, “Father is not a visitor. He is here to help you with your spiritual life.”
The children all fell silent.
The principal, who had a wireless microphone in her hand, approached Father Romy on the stage. As she walked towards him, he felt something stir inside him. As a priest, he was not supposed to react in any physical way to women. When women came close to him to take a selfie or to shake or kiss his hand, he never felt anything that he could call remotely physical. He knew that concupiscence was a common problem for priests, but he himself never experienced it, at least as far as he could remember.
Now, however, there was something. It wasn’t quite concupiscence. It wasn’t even what he would consider desire. But it was definitely something.
The principal looked like the stereotype he had in his mind about principals. She was tall and slim. She was dressed in a long-sleeved uniform, revealing nothing of her arms. Except her hands, which had long fingers.
Her skirt was way below her knees. He could see the stockings glimmer in the subdued light of the auditorium. They were nice-looking legs, what he could see of them below the skirt. He shook his head to remove the thought of even looking at her legs. Vaguely, he remembered the prohibition against “bad thoughts.” “If you fill your mind with bad thoughts,” he seemed to remember some older priest telling him, “there will be no place for sublime ones.”
He moved his eyes from her legs to her breasts. Although her uniform was designed so that she would not have to put a hand on her chest every time she would bend to pick up something from the floor, he could still see that she was not flat-chested. Again, he tried very hard to move away from that train of thought. Unconsciously, he looked up at the ceiling, hoping perhaps to find an angel or two hovering there to keep him from succumbing to the ways of the flesh.
“Father,” Julie whispered, thankfully interrupting his inner struggle with himself and bringing him back to the podium, from where he was expected to hurl fire and brimstone on the young children. “I apologize for the outburst of the children. They are used to answering ‘Good morning, visitor’ when someone from the outside greets them ‘Good morning’ in their classrooms. They will now listen attentively to what you want to say to them. Please continue.”
This woman’s authoritative tone bothered Father Romy a bit. He was a priest. He was used to telling his parishioners what to do. For this woman, this lovely woman, this strangely attractive woman, to tell him what to do was, well, unexpected. Not to mention that the two of them were on stage and she was not supposed to talk to him at all.
But Father Romy, drilled into obedience by what he supposed were years of training in a hierarchical church, continued as told.
“Dear children,” he said, for the third time now. “I want to tell you the good news.”
Julie interrupted him in what was now a loud whisper, “Father, I failed to mention that this is an ecumenical recollection. Please do not say anything that will offend the children who have Jewish or Muslim parents.”
Twice interrupted! Father Romy was a little peeved. But she was attractive. He could imagine touching those long, tapering fingers and being touched by them. He shook, then nodded his head. He could not possibly offend the children, he thought, because he didn’t have the proper words to say, anyway.
“Please continue,” Julie whispered.
Father Romy continued. “The good news is that there is a Supreme Being that keeps us alive.”
That was more like it, thought Julie. This priest learned quickly, she said to herself. No talk of any specific god. Just a Supreme Being.
Father Romy continued. “You will learn from your studies now or later that we human beings have been on planet earth for only a very short time. Before us, there were all kinds of animals, even dinosaurs. You have all seen drawings of dinosaurs, right?”
Julie whispered to him. “They have all watched the Jurassic Park series, Father.”
Now, this principal was really getting into his nerves, thought Father Romy. He was delivering what was supposed to be a speech to inspire and she kept talking to him. That had never before happened to him, at least as far as he could remember, which was admittedly not very far back.
Father Romy continued, “Can the dinosaurs or any animal or the trees or the waves on the sea be there without someone or something causing them to exist?”
Julie nodded. This was more like it.
“Did the Supreme Being create the universe and then just leave it alone? That doesn’t make sense, dear children, because we cannot, all by ourselves, cause ourselves to exist. The Supreme Being must still be creating us.”
Julie motioned to him. She whispered, “Father, please do not be philosophical. The children just need to be told that they should pray before meals.”
This was really silly, thought Father Romy. If that is all this principal wanted, she could have told them that herself.
As though reading his thoughts, Julie said, “They pray before meals, but they do not know why. Just tell them why, Father.”
Father Romy could not believe what was happening. He was being told what to say and what not to say. How dare this woman? But then again, how could she do any wrong when she was so attractive?
Father Romy continued. “So, my dear children, we have to pray before meals.”
He stepped back from the microphone and waved goodbye to the children.
The children shouted, in unison, “Goodbye, visitor! Have a nice day!”
Father Romy turned to get down from the stage of the auditorium. Julie shook his hand and placed an envelope of money in it.
Father Romy took the money, but it wasn’t the money that he was thinking about. He was thinking about how nice it felt to touch this woman’s hand.
“We prepared merienda for you, Father,” Julie said. It was customary to offer a guest speaker refreshments after a speech.
“I don’t really have time,” said Father Romy, following the Filipino formula for such invitations. You always first declined an invitation that you knew very well you would eventually have to honor.
“It’s just a small merienda, Father,” Julie said, continuing the prescribed social formula. “It won’t take up too much of your time.”
“All right,” said Father Romy, finishing the prescribed dialogue.
They sat down to the small snack with five of the teachers. It was small by Philippine standards, just rice cakes and hot chocolate. Most “snacks” after a speech were full square meals.
Father Romy politely took a small rice cake. He was not hungry, at least not for food.
“Father,” Julie said. “My teachers and I are worried about the spiritual lives of the children. We feel that they are growing up without the fear of God. They seem to spend all their time after school in the internet cafes around the corner or in the shopping mall. We don’t see them carrying prayer books or rosaries or bibles or anything at all that seems religious. We force them to say grace before their meals during recess, but it’s just mere routine for them.”
Father Romy nodded. His mind was not on what Julie was saying, but on how her lips moved while she was saying it. They were well-formed lips, almost like the ones in lipstick ads. They reminded him of movies where the actresses always had their lips slightly open, asking to be kissed. He clenched his right fist and hoped that no one noticed. It was his way of reminding himself not to think unthinkable thoughts.
Julie kept speaking. “The Bible says, ‘Suffer the little children,’ but these little children, and I know that many of them are not little anymore, these children cannot recognize Jesus if He walked into this campus.”
Father Romy was surprised, not only at Julie quoting a Bible verse, but at how low-pitched her voice was. On the stage, she was whispering and seemed to be in a panic. Her voice then was high-pitched, or what he thought was high-pitched. Now, she had what he and his friends in school called a “bedroom voice.”
Father Romy was surprised, this time by his having a memory of something that happened before the birthday party, which he thought was his earliest memory. Yes, although he was agitated internally by something stirring in his groin, he was thinking not just of this woman, but of his classmates in his boys’ high school. He was the youngest in his class. He had been accelerated four times in two years, because his teachers had found him too advanced intellectually for his grade level. He remembered how he had been teased all throughout high school by his classmates, who were at least four years older than him. He was still playing with toy trucks and toy soldiers, pretending to be a general in a land war, when his classmates were all talking about the girls in the neighboring girls’ high school and already engaged in the war of the sexes.
Perhaps his memory was coming back?
Julie’s “bedroom voice” made him stare at her well-formed nose. He remembered that, in the seminary, he had been conditioned to look only at people’s noses, not into their eyes or at any other part of their body. That maneuver was supposed to keep priests from being attracted to persons of the opposite sex, as they used to call women then. Another memory!
“Father,” Julie said, “is there anything wrong? You seem so far away.”
“He’s a priest,” a male teacher said. “His mind is always on heaven.”
There was subdued laughter. Father Romy noticed that Julie did not laugh. She just smiled, but almost imperceptibly. It was, Father Romy thought, forgiving himself the cliché, a heavenly smile.

As soon as he politely could, Father Romy left the school and returned to the rectory of his parish. He brought out his metal cilice and placed it around his left thigh. He felt the spikes bite into his skin, but they did not draw blood. It was something he could do to atone for the moments of weakness he felt in the presence of that woman.
That woman. He had to refer to the school principal that way. He did not want to pronounce her name, afraid that he would burst out into a song like that in West Side StoryThe most beautiful sound I ever heard and all that. He did not want to single her out among the women who came too close to him, invading his personal space, ignoring his celibate status, making him relive the temptation Jesus Himself had in the desert or with Mary Magdalene caressing His feet or the woman found in adultery. He was not sure that he was as strong as Jesus.
Walking with a slight limp due to the cilice, he went to the small library of the rectory and took out a Bible. He knew that he must have read it a lot in the past, because he instinctively knew where to find the passages that would give him peace.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, he read, mouthing the line voicelessly. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
What was this, Father Romy said to himself. When he read the line about the rod, he thought of his own rod, that appendage that he thought was going to be useless in his celibate life. The thought made him even more aware of the discomfort caused by the cilice.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me, Father Romy recited from memory, his eyes away from the pages. He brought his eyes back to the Bible and flipped the page back to Psalm 22, right before Psalm 23. Why art thou so far from helping me?
Father Romy had never been this conflicted before, at least since the birthday party. He felt physically drained by his spiritual battle with himself.
He suddenly remembered a debate he had with the Father Superior in the seminary.
“You can’t take the lines of the Bible out of context,” Father Superior had said to him.
He had retorted back, “But if each line of the Bible was written by God, then each line must be self-contained and true.”
Father Superior was a biblical scholar and was not about to agree with a sophomore seminarian.
There is no God,” Father Superior said. “That’s straight from Psalm 14. Does that mean that the Bible claims that there is no God?”
Father Romy vividly remembered that he had opened the Old Testament to prove to Father Superior that the latter was wrong. Father Romy – then simply Romy – had to think for at least five minutes after he read the complete verse in the Bible. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. He eventually learned in his literature class that literary critics in the middle of the twentieth century had written about that very verse. But literary critics did not see the Bible as divinely inspired. They read it the way they would read the Iliad, a well-written narrative but devoid of any transcendent meaning.
Father Romy marveled at how old memories seemed to be coming back to him. If he could only figure out what triggered these old memories, maybe he could remember where he was and who he was and what he was. Then maybe he would know where he was going.
* * *
Julie wanted sex. It was that time of the month. Her body craved it.
She had confessed and was, therefore, in a state of grace, but she wanted to give in to temptation anyway. She was still upset over Frankie killing her husband, but Frankie was the only one who would satisfy her monthly craving for an orgasm.
She did not want to do what she had heard other widows did. Widows, not just women who lost their husbands, but golf widows, or women whose husbands worked overseas. She did not want to order sex toys online and use them to simulate lovemaking.
She texted Frankie. “Come,” she texted.
It was, of course, much more convenient now that her husband was dead and buried. Frankie and she did not have to go to hotels or motels or anywhere where her co-teachers or – worse – her students might see her. Now, Frankie could just go to her condo unit. The guards and the maids, having been paid off, would keep their mouths shut and would not even gossip among themselves.
It would be the first time, since her husband’s death, that she would have Frankie in her bedroom. She had told him, frankly, that she did not want to see him again, did not want to hear from him, did not want to have him. She did not know that he was not joking when he said that he would kill her husband. But he had not killed his wife, which was the other part of what she thought was a joke. But she consciously did not allow herself to think that, perhaps, just perhaps, he was never going to leave his wife, never going to kill her, never going to go away to Hong Kong on that fantasy honeymoon.
She took a long, lingering shower, during which she touched herself, wishing that Frankie would touch her again as he used to. She put on some make-up and perfume – the best one her husband had brought home from a business trip to Paris. She chose a negligee that she had bought on a trip to New York; it hid nothing of her charms, which she herself – if she may be so bold, she said to herself – were not entirely unremarkable. She had only the negligee on, nothing else.
Frankie rang the doorbell much earlier than she expected. The maids let him in. He went straight to the bedroom that the maids pointed out to him, where she was waiting, pretending to not be too eager.
He took her into his arms, kissed her roughly, then carried her, yes, carried her, to the bed, where he slowly, oooh ever so slowly, kissed her neck, lingering there, not touching her breasts, then finally touching them, caressing them, kissing them one at a time, alternately, touching her down there, yes, down there, kissing her there, making her tingle with desire, finally removing her negligee and revealing what she had revealed to him so many times before. But always, with Frankie, every time seemed like the first time.
When she finally shouted “OH, MY GOD!” the face she saw with her eyes closed was not that of Frankie, nor that of her late husband, but of, oh my God, Father Romy.

Love After Heaven, Parts 11-15

Love After Heaven, Parts 11 to 15

Julie allowed her mobile phone to keep ringing. She had put it on silent but vibrating mode.
It was the twelfth time in the last hour that Frankie had tried to reach her. Not that she was counting. Okay, so she was counting.
Burning her husband in the crematorium had shocked her into rethinking her affair with Frankie. It was one thing to enjoy sex with her lover while her husband was at work or at home. It was quite another thing to see her husband being fed into the oven, with the flames rushing up to devour him.
She cried then, not the tears she pretended to shed in the funeral parlor, but real tears, tears of repentance, tears of guilt, tears of – yes – love.
She loved her husband. Yes, she did. It was the sex that made her cheat on him. The sex he never really gave her.
With him, it was always let’s do it, there it’s done, good night. With Frankie, it was always let’s do it, yes, but later, much later, meanwhile let’s kiss, fondle, touch, talk, enjoy the moments before I enter you, before I give you what you’ve been asking for for a whole hour now. With her husband, it was him loudly snoring immediately after, but with Frankie, they were always awake for yet another hour, talking about things that seemed to matter at that time though she could not really recall them now, except that she would reveal to him all the childhood anxieties she had, how she hated her parents, how she thought that they did not bring her up secure and happy, how they denied her all the pleasures of childhood, how she wanted to take her revenge on them by being principal of an elementary school that was secure, predictable, and solid because it had not changed at all but had stuck to the old ways of doing things, the way she herself had been brought up, how she had turned away anything that would disturb the universe of her school, like all those newfangled ideas about why children should be allowed to be themselves and about how the classrooms should not be designed like a college classroom with the professors talking down to students who would dutifully take down notes, how she had kept the school alive through her insistence on the old and time-tested values, how her job was her life, how Frankie was now her life, how she wished she had not married so young or at all.
She didn’t remember anything that Frankie told her, except that Frankie talked about killing her husband and then killing his wife and then the two of them going away to Hong Kong where they would live happily ever after.
She thought that it was just idle talk after one of their simultaneous orgasms.
Then Frankie did it. He went one day to the fourth floor of the parking garage of their condominium, waited until her husband had opened the trunk to put in his briefcase – which was what he did every day without fail on the hour – then stabbed his neck once, then his back, then when her husband managed to turn around, his chest, repeatedly, surgically, unhesitatingly, coldly.
Frankie left the parking garage as quietly as when he had walked through the fire exit from the second floor, where he had parked his own car. The guards thought that he had come to pick her up again as he usually did on Saturdays or on days the husband was away on a business trip. As the car exited the parking garage, they did not peer through the heavy tint to see Frankie’s hands all covered with blood. Her husband’s blood.
The driver of another car came upon the bloodied body of her husband. Miraculously, her husband was alive when he was brought to the emergency room. Alive, of course, was a figure of speech. He was in some sort of coma. He was kept alive by a multitude of tubes and drugs. The doctors argued about his being clinically dead, but Julie was too distracted to make the decision to pull the plug. She had to attend to a number of other serious matters.
She gave the guards a couple of hundred thousand each to keep quiet. She said that she did not want a scandal. Not the scandal of a murder, but the scandal of a prim and proper school principal having an affair with a married man.
She asked her two maids to give large envelopes of money to cops if – when – they came around to ask about the murder.
The case was not even reported in the newspapers. The police reporters got their share of the cash given to the cops.
Even the reporters stationed at the emergency room received gift certificates redeemable in appliance stores.
Only the doctors and nurses could not be bribed, but they were too busy with too many patients to worry about one stabbing victim.
Eventually, the line on the electrocardiogram went flat and her husband was pronounced dead, really dead.
The coroner erased the cause of death written by the doctors (“internal bleeding secondary to multiple stab wounds”) and simply wrote “cardiac arrest” as the cause of death. A month later, he and his entire staff went on a Mediterranean cruise.
The funeral parlor received a huge grant for its satellite building.
Everybody had been hushed up. Nobody else found out about the murder.
But today, after going to confession, she felt strangely peaceful. There was something about the voice of that priest. She couldn’t see him well through the perforations in the confessional box, but she heard his voice. It was a soothing voice. Almost familiar.
* * *
It was the usual regimented quiet after the Monday morning flag ceremony. Julie had trained her teachers well, and the teachers, in turn, had trained their students even better. All the students queued as they were supposed to, alphabetically within the grade levels, and walked to their respective classrooms in the kind of order that she wanted. No getting out of line, no talking, no veering away from procedure. Nothing to disturb the school universe.
Procedure. This was how Julie called the discipline she required of everybody in school. The teachers had to submit their lesson plans for the week two weeks in advance. The students had to be on campus ten minutes – not earlier, not later – before the bell rang. The parents who had brought their children to school had to be out of the campus five minutes – not later than that – before their children lined up for the opening assembly.
There was always an opening assembly. She wanted the children to know that, on Mondays, there would be a flag ceremony, where everyone would put their right hand on their chest and sing the national anthem, recite the patriotic pledge, and sing the school hymn. Yes, the school hymn with hand on chest!
On Tuesdays, everyone would do calisthenics. Sound mind in a sound body, Julie would keep repeating over the public address system, counting from one to eight and backwards to one.
On Wednesdays, everyone would pray. Julie was nominally Roman Catholic, since she was baptized when she was an infant, when she had no religious freedom. She went to church every Sunday, because her husband wanted her to. She did not really understand why people had to stand, sit, kneel, sing, nod at each other, or whatever, but she wanted her husband not to know that there was something wrong with their marriage. Besides, it was good for the parents to see her being pious.
Pious she was not, but during the times when there was no one in the principal’s office, she would read the Bible. She had read the entire book once, from cover to cover. Nowadays, she would play a game with herself. She would randomly insert a bookmark, point her right index finger with her eyes looking up at the portrait of the school’s founder – a young mother back in the fifties who wanted to have more children than the dozen she already had – and read the verse that her finger landed on. She used that verse as others used a horoscope or a fortune cookie.
She also knew that people had to have their faith or they would, as a Russian novelist once put it, be allowed to do whatever they wanted to do. She could not have that. She believed with her entire being that, if students and teachers and parents followed procedure, the world would be a better place in the future.
The Wednesday prayer was not Catholic, but ecumenical, all inclusive. Julie would intone, “Lord God, Yahweh, Allah, Jehovah, you have many names. We call on you to guide us in following procedure. Amen.” That was it. No long, memorized prayers that no one really understood. Nothing that she felt would offend anybody’s religion.
On Thursdays, everyone would stand silently for three minutes (no more, no less), thinking of whatever they wanted to think of. Julie would have preferred that they thought of nothing at all, since that was what she learned from a television show about meditation, but she didn’t know how to impose that, particularly on teachers who had to think of what they would do the moment the children would be inside their classrooms. So she contented herself with the three minutes of silence.
On Fridays, everyone would do what professional singers and theater performers did before performances – vocalize. She once tried having everyone do what she read on the Web –massage the temporal mandibular joints, stick out the tongue, yawn, sing “Ahh” going up and down the scale – but too many students ended up laughing. She now merely asked everyone to shout as loud as they could, then to whisper as softly as they could, then to sing the first two verses from George Frideric Handel’s Messiah. Five Hallelujahs made her Fridays. Even if they were sung off-key. Even if they were not exactly the lines of Psalm 117.
Saturdays, of course, were not for the children but for Frankie. She would tell her husband that she had to catch up with work in the school, but she would really either spend the whole morning in bed with Frankie or watch a movie with him on the days she had her period.
Sundays, after the obligatory Mass with her husband, were for pretending to like pottering around the house.
There was one thing she liked about her husband, though, that she did not get from Frankie. She and her husband would have seemingly endless arguments about some verse in the Bible. Like her, her husband loved reading the Bible. Unlike him, she looked at the Bible as a literary text and not as a religious document. Their intellectual debates were the closest she got to having simultaneous orgasm with her husband. In fact, it was the closest she got to having an orgasm at all with him.
Julie was beside herself. Everything had been planned, all details had been agreed and written down, the school was ready for the recollection.
She had convinced the parents who were not Catholic that the recollection would be good for the children. She had told the priest not to insist on anything remotely peculiar to the Catholic religion. She wanted merely that the children would learn to pray to some transcendent being. The objective was spirituality, not religion.
With barely an hour to go, the priest called in sick. He was profuse in his apologies, but Julie wouldn’t hear of it. She implored the priest to come in, even if he had very high fever and some rashes. What did she care if the priest died of dengue or lupus or whatever it was that he had caught? She needed a warm body to stand in front of the children in the auditorium and make them pray.
The priest said, not to worry, he was sending a priest who was certain to give the principal what she wanted. His name was Father Romy.

One comment

  1. These are the orgasm chapters. They are the fulcrum of the incidence of cheating on her part Should she find these an excuse? But that will have to be resolved in the thickening of the plot. Will he find her again in his reincarnation? Would he learn? This would probably happen in the climactic episodes. Abangan. :)

Love After Heaven 6- 10

Love After Heaven, Parts 6 to 10

Now that he was dead, she was free to live with Frankie. No more taking a shower immediately after coming home to dear loving husband. No more pretending to be with the girls. No more asking the guard at the school to swear that she left the campus very late. No more glancing over her shoulder to check if someone she knew would see her going into a movie theater, or a dimly-lit restaurant, or a hotel, or a motel. A motel, for God’s sake. She never dreamed that she would be doing what her classmates were doing when she was in college, or that the adolescents in her neighborhood were probably doing instead of attending their classes.
All her life, she had followed the rules. No kissing until months after the first date. No petting in the balconies of movie theaters. No sex in the back seat of a car in parking lots. No nothing, except for occasionally holding hands though never in broad daylight. Only in movie theaters.
She was a virgin when she married him. Even while married, it was always the missionary position, the word she learned from reading novels. Never any “experimentation.” Never nothing. She was bored.
Now, he was dead. Soon, he would be cremated. After all the flowers and the memories and the nice words from childhood friends and the condolences, he would be buried. She could forget about him and go about her secret – well, not really a secret anymore – life.
Too bad she couldn’t marry Frankie, though. Not because there was a conventional one-year gap between being a widow and having a wedding.
Frankie was married.
* * *
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. It’s been a while since my last confession.”
She looked vaguely familiar.
“I committed adultery. I committed murder.”
Father Romy had made the vow of confession so automatic that he actually never listened to the litany of sins that his parishioners recited. He pardoned them all, regardless of how grave or petty their sins were. He believed literally that the command to pardon sins – “Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” – was absolute. He had absolute discretion on which sins should be forgiven or retained. But he wanted everyone to go to heaven, so he felt that he should not stop anybody from getting eternal happiness, even if it might not be their just reward.
But this time, Father Romy straightened up in his confessional box. Murder was not an ordinary sin.
“You killed somebody?” he asked.
“Well, not me, Father, but I helped someone else do it.”
Father Romy knew his theology. That was one thing he remembered well, even if he could not remember much of anything else. He remembered line and verse of the Bible that he quoted from every Sunday sermon, but he could not remember when he actually studied the Bible.
That was one thing he had asked the bishop. Why did he have amnesia of some sort? Why did he not remember his childhood? Or why he entered the priesthood? Or where he was, in fact, a year ago?
A psychiatrist had examined him and pronounced him perfectly healthy, at least in the sense that he could function very well. He could say Mass like he had said it presumably hundreds of times before. It wasn’t even mechanical. He really meant what he said every minute of the Mass.
He could remember whole passages from books, not only religious books but poetry books. He could do mathematical equations like even the psychiatrist could not believe. He had tested on the genius level, in fact, on the IQ tests that the psychiatrist had made him do. He did the verbal intelligence test. He did the non-verbal tests, the culture fair tests, matrices, personality tests, work values tests – so many kinds of them. He even  took English language tests and proved to the examiners that he knew all the intricacies of outdated prescriptive grammar. He did all kinds of physical examinations, MRI, tumor marker tests, even HIV tests, for heaven’s sake. Anything the bishop suggested he did. All the doctors, medical or doctors of philosophy, and not only the psychiatrist, could find nothing wrong with him.
Except that he had no memory whatsoever of what he was and where he was or who he was before a few months ago, when the bishop had organized a surprise birthday party for him at the Archbishop’s Palace. They had placed forty candles on the huge cake. They all had fun making him blow forty candles all at once.
He was forty years old, but as far as his memory was concerned, he was a newborn infant. He was literally “born again.”
“It was my lover, Father. He planned and did it.”
The woman’s voice brought him back to the confessional box.
The voice was vaguely familiar, but like every other memory, it was no longer in his mind.
“I’m married, Father. I mean, I was married. Then I fell in love with this man. He made me happy. And he said he wanted to marry me. So he planned to kill his wife. And he planned to kill my husband. But he didn’t kill his wife. But he killed my husband. I am so, so sorry, Father. I didn’t realize he was really going to do it. I could have warned my husband, but I also wanted him dead. I’m a murderer, Father.”
It was a very strange confession, Father Romy said to himself. He was sorry that he had not heard the whole story because he had been distracted, thinking of why he could not remember anything before that birthday party.
“Say a perfect act of contrition, my child,” he said, mechanically. “God is good and will pardon all your sins, all our sins. Go and sin no more.”
The woman left. Father Romy suddenly remembered what he must have learned in theological school. He should have told the woman to go to the police and tell them about the murder. But he did not even ask how the murder was committed. He knew enough – somehow – about people imagining sins and he consoled himself with the thought that, perhaps, there was never any real murder and the woman may have been confessing to an imaginary sin.
He was used, anyway, to women coming to him for advice, or for confession, or to do a selfie. He did not think himself handsome, not to mention that, as a priest, he was not supposed to think of himself as a sex object, but women did come physically close to him more often than they did to the other priest in the parish.
Behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind, he could quote from Ecclesiastes. He was not about to give in to vanity. Maybe he was indeed handsome. Maybe he was indeed, as he had been teased by the bishop, every girl’s crush. But he had enough trouble trying to remember who he was to be swayed by the adulation of women – and sometimes men.
Father Romy did not even bother to look at the next penitent who was saying, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was yesterday. I remembered that, when I was a little boy, I bad thoughts.”
What I would give to remember any thoughts at all, even bad thoughts, thought Father Romy. “Say one Our Father and sin no more,” he murmured, barely making himself heard by the penitent, who was all ears.
“Thank you, Father,” the penitent shouted, jolting Father Romy. “You are heaven sent!

Love After Heaven by Isagani R. Cruz

Love After Heaven, Parts 1 to 5

I shall but love thee better after death, one book says, but I don’t believe that. I’m dead and I don’t see Julie anywhere around. Of course, another book says that, after death, we neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. Angels, my foot! I don’t have wings. I’m not playing a harp. In fact, I’m exactly as I was the day I died, except I’m not tied to that hospital bed with all those tubes going in and out of my body.
Heaven is grossly overrated. I thought that, when I died, I would experience unimagined happiness, like orgasms that last for decades or food that I can eat without having to go to the bathroom or music that I can listen to without getting tired. Or at least, something really enjoyable. I spent most of my life praying that I would go to heaven, even being sorry for anything that would endanger my life after death. I could have done all those things I was not supposed to do, but I didn’t, because I thought that life was hell, or at least purgatory, and if I had suffered enough on earth, I would not suffer in heaven.
What crap! Heaven is just like earth, only a bit cleaner.
I remember the day I died. They were all around the bed – Julie, my cousin Gerry, my sister Yoly, and four, maybe six doctors all shouting orders to three or four nurses scampering like terrorized schoolchildren in the background.
Code, someone kept shouting.
I looked at them from the ceiling, or actually through the ceiling because I could see in front of me the fluorescent lamp and the fire sprinkler. My body – it looked like my body, even with the grotesque tubes injecting all sorts of colored liquid into it – was jerking with every touch of the defibrillator.
I could see not just the bed where my body was lying, but right beside it, or maybe superimposed on it – I can’t be sure now – my condo apartment in upscale Global City. There were two or three cops there – it’s funny how I can’t seem to count properly here in heaven. They were talking to my two domestic helpers, the cook and the laundry woman. I half-expected Julie to be there, shouting at them to keep their hands off the antique blue porcelain plates, but of course, she was in the hospital room, like the dutiful wife that she wasn’t.
I could also see a room in a seedy motel in downtown Manila. He was there, the asshole, the guy that turned Julie against me. He was with a woman, or maybe a man, or somebody anyway. They were in the shower. He was sitting in some kind of contraption that looked like a trapeze swing. He or she or whatever that shadow was was hovering over him.
Then I found myself, without even a dissolve or a fade-away, here in heaven, sitting in this queue that must have stretched for miles.
Oh, yes, sometime – and here in heaven, time has no meaning, so I can’t really tell if this was long ago or just a minute ago – I went through a tunnel. There was a light at the end, the light that some guy in white was waving at my face to guide me through the darkness. I say it was a guy, but it could have been a woman, or even an animal, or something. Maybe an angel? But whoever or whatever he or she or it was, he or she or it had no wings.
But I knew I was in heaven because, well, it felt good to be here. Peaceful. Calm. With no more pain. Not as good as I thought it would be, but good enough. Better than having all those doctors forcing my body to bounce on the bed. Better than seeing Julie pretending to still be in love with me even when she was already sleeping with that asshole.
Boy, that sucks! That really sucks! Some guy with a long beard comes to me and apologizes that they made a mistake somewhere in the bureaucracy here in heaven. I’m not supposed to be here yet. I’m supposed to suffer some more down there on earth.
Okay, so I got carried away saying that heaven was overrated. Okay, so I used the word asshole here. But surely those are forgivable misdemeanors. Surely all my efforts at being good on earth were worth something. I thought that the bureaucrats here kept a ledger of my good deeds. Of how patient I was when I found out about Julie and that asshole. Excuse me, that person. Okay, that human being. Surely that counts for something.
I can’t go back to earth. I was the laughing stock of the entire corporation there. Everybody knew about Julie. Except me. Her husband. Her husband of twenty years. Twenty years of being faithful to her. Not even glancing at any other woman. Not even entertaining any thoughts of sleeping with anybody else.
I was a fool, for heaven’s sake.
When I did find out, I did not even confront Julie. I just went to our parish priest and asked him what to do. He said that I had to forgive her. She was a human being, fallen because of original sin. The devil made her do it. He asked if I still loved her, and I had to say yes. I couldn’t lie to him. He was a priest, after all.
I did love her. I still do love her. But I am not sure if that means anything to her. One thing I know, I don’t really want to see her again. When we got married in that grand wedding in that old cathedral, she promised to love me till death do us part. Well, death is a good way to part now. Though she did say, during our first anniversary, that she would love me better after death. She made me memorize that poem, for heaven’s sake. How do I love thee and all that shit.
No, please, do not let me go back. Please, no, let me stay here in heaven. I promise never to badmouth heaven again. Seriously.
Well, it looks like this guy listened to me. He now tells me not to worry. He will send me back, but not to the same body. He will send me back in a different body, as an adult. I do not have to be born again as a baby and wait so long to be as old as I am now. I will be resurrected – I think he used the word reincarnated – as a male, single, mature adult.
Maybe things won’t be so bad, after all. Maybe I will meet Julie again and she won’t meet that asshole again and maybe we can live happily ever after after all. Perhaps even meet here in heaven again. Perhaps.
What? Now, that really sucks! This guy with the beard says I won’t remember my past life at all, except in moments of great stress. How can I find Julie again if I won’t remember that we were once happily married, that I loved her even when she was unfaithful to me, that I want to be with her again? Holy shit!
* * *
Julie cried, as she had to. It was what she was expected to do. She had practised it at home, in front of the mirror. How to cry without ruining her mascara. How to cry like she meant it.
This man had made her life miserable by doing what she never expected him to do. He had ignored her affair.
He had kissed her like he always did when he would come home from work and she was in the kitchen, preparing their dinner. Except that she had not prepared dinner. She had dinner instead with Frankie. And not just dinner. Dessert. Dessert like she never had dessert before with this husband of hers.
But this man kissed her anyway. Did not even ask, never even asked, where she had been. She was sure that he could smell Frankie on her skin. He was not dumb. He was, in fact, very smart, the smartest in his group of business executives. He had not become a millionaire by being dumb.
She knew that he knew, but he never said anything. Just kissed her on the cheek as he did every evening of their married life. Their unexciting, boring, routine married life.
The only excitement – if she could call it that – was the anxiety of not knowing when he would finally let go and slap her, kick her, maybe stab her with that paper cutter he kept on his desk. But he never let his anger show. The guilt she felt was worse than even the ugliest scene she could imagine between him and her.
She could never forgive him for forgiving her her trespasses.

Hansel and Gretel9