A woman from the street came in laughing from the cold. It was funny to see her with her black hair blowing all about her face. Her face was red. Red from the cold, red from the laughing, red from the rage that fueled that laughter.
There are funnier things than a woman like that, but, well, she was the only one we got to look at that afternoon.
Her name was some kind of long. It was Magnifica Angelica something at the end. We didn’t care to take note because soon as she saw us sitting at that table—it was made of beech wood and the shop owner had painted it shiny white—she began to rage.
You, she said. You and you and you. Sitting there at that table all smug and happy. Drinking your wine and dipping salt crackers in that vile concoction called a dip. You think you’ll be safe. You think you got it made.
We all didn’t know what to say.
She’s nuts, Pedro la Luna said. Ignore her.
And we tried, we really tried, but the more we didn’t listen to her, the more she raged. Such swear words she used. I mean, no decent woman—no woman in their right mind—would swear so.
Woman, the waiter said. You’re disturbing our good customers, please take the mouth outside.
I got every right to be here, the woman said. My name is Magnifica Angelica Superable. Remember that.
The waiter (his name tag said he was Victor) turned pale.
We all paused in the middle of our eating and drinking. It must have made quite a funny sight. I mean, there we were a group of twelve grown men, with salt crackers halfway to our lips.
Stunned, that’s what we were. We only knew that name from the pages of the journals we sometimes read when we were lounging at our special clubs.
Superable, Victor said.
Yes, the diabolical woman said. It is I.
She said those words and we felt as if the world was going to turn upside down. Perhaps it was a premonition of things to come. Before we even knew how or why, we found ourselves out on the curb as the woman raged and raged.
She threw out the chairs, she threw out the tables, she threw out the placemats, the tablecloths, the knives, the forks, the spoons; everything she could lay her hands upon, she threw out.
We huddled together and whispered our minds.
What kind of woman was that? we asked. What kind of woman does that?
Let’s go home, we said to one another. Thank god that woman’s not a wife to any one of us.
It was rather lonely to be walking home in the cold when we had looked forward to the regular meeting that usually lasted until well into the early morning hours.
• • • •
What a disaster, Magnifica Angelica Superable said. One leaves for a walkabout and when one returns, things are not as they were meant to be. Well, I’m back now and things are going to change.
You can’t change things at this late date, Victor said.
Everyone who passed by could see them sitting there. After all, Magnifica Angelica had designed El Café Té for that very purpose—so all could see who was inside.
The women in their wide-brimmed feather hats, and the men in their tall polished black tops—they tried not to show it, but their eyes glanced a bit to the left when they passed by.
Curious though they were, no one went inside. Not even one. Perhaps it was Magnifica Angelica’s imposing size. She was quite broad in the shoulders, after all. Her sleeveless shirt revealed a tattoo on her left arm. And when she flexed, it was clear to see that she was more than bulk.
Magnifica Angelica—oh, she was magnificent indeed. When she spoke, her voice sounded like the voice of many waters. Her voice sounded as if it was rolling up from the deep. It reverberated through the air and found a resonance within all who listened to her speak.
I put this all together, Magnifica Angelica said. These shops, these streets, these cathedrals sitting side by side, it was I who made these things happen.
Not exactly, Victor said.
Yes, yes, Magnifica Angelica said. I know you helped, but not a lot. It takes a god to get things done.
She laughed as Victor’s lips pulled down in a frown.
Stop pouting, Magnifica Angelica said. I’ll give you due credit for the work you’ve done when we ascend. You can’t be blamed for the mistaken notions of the male sex.
You plunk down something in somewhere and go off on your jaunts and expect things to be as you wish when you return. I can’t do anything more than I have done, Magnifica Angelica. I’m just a god-helper, you know.
Well, Magnifica Angelica said. Things are going to change, and they’re going to change as fast as I can make them change.
Might not be as easy as you think, Victor said. These beings you plunked down in this city, they’re kind of stubborn.
They might be stubborn now, Magnifica Angelica said. Humans are usually like that until they realize how much they benefit from change.
• • • •
At home that evening, Marshall Regard was the first to notice a change. His dear wife who he had brought over from the continent didn’t serve him his tea at the usual time and his slippers were not waiting at their usual place beside the door.
He sniffed at the air, but he couldn’t smell the usual scents of her home cooking. Curious, he wandered out into the garden. After all, it was springtime and she liked to putter about with her trowel and her fork. But no, she was not there.
Bewildered by this change in the usual state of things, Marshall wandered back into the house. Maybe his wife was sick—or—he paused. Maybe, she was expecting.
With a smile on his lips, he walked about the house in search of the dear little woman. Finally, he thought. In his head, the house was already inhabited with a tiny replica of himself—he envisioned his wife, sitting in a rocking chair reading to the baby or knitting warm things. What else?
To his disappointment, he didn’t find her. Not in the bedroom. Not in the bathroom. Not in the attic. Not in the basement.
There was only one place left and it was a place he was sure she would never enter. After all, that was his own special haven.
• • • •
Well, what do you think of that? Magnifica Angelica said.
Too drastic, Victor replied. That one may just blow a gasket. You never know what kinds of things will happen when you upset what they believe is the natural order of things.
• • • •
In his study, stooped over his desk made out of polished oak, sat the little wife.
Once upon a time, before her life became absorbed by the man she called husband, she had been Ramona Someone Else.
Had that really been her name back then?
She frowned as she contemplated the space around her.
It wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy cooking or gardening. But sometimes, she would be in the garden tending to the plants and she would think up grand things like how to set up systems that would water the plants at the right times in the summer or gadgets that would turn on the lights when darkness fell. In those moments, it was as if she was grasping for the edges of a dream. As if those thoughts belonged to a reality lost to her as she was lost to it.
What was I before I became Ramona Regard? she asked out loud.
Of course, no one replied and she herself didn’t know the answer anymore.
Cooking and cleaning and washing clothes. Ironing and weeding and polishing the floor. There must be, she thought. There must be something more.
Slow day by slow day, she’d tried to let Marshall know that she wanted more. But her ideas for innovation, her thoughts on what certain engineers said were pooh-poohed at.
“Don’t bother your little head,” her husband said. “I don’t want you to trouble yourself over things like that.”
And so it had gone. Day after slow day, until today.
She’d been standing in the kitchen, getting ready to make Marshall’s tea, when the realization that she was living life by rote struck her.
She stumbled as she went to put the kettle on the fire and, looking at the mess of water on the floor, she found herself completely unable to feel any remorse.
Well, why should you, a voice said.
She looked up and she saw the face of a god. She had red lips and dark eyes and when the god spoke, Ramona felt as if her chest was an open wound.
Who are you? she asked.
But the god didn’t give her a name. Instead, she bent down and pressed her lips to Ramona’s lips.
Fire scalded Ramona’s lips, fire burned her tongue, it warmed her throat and drove out the chill in her limbs before it sank down to her belly.
You! Ramona said.
And the god gave her a lazy smile. A beloved smile. A smile from a remembered long ago. With that smile, Ramona felt the inside her, Someone Else, sigh and open her eyes. She felt her arms stretch up and outwards as if to embrace the world around her.
The fire of memory chased away the shadow that had taken her and made her nothing more than a Regard.
• • • •
In the past, Ramona as she had been had the strength to pull dreams from the air. In the bewildering monotony of her new everyday, in the striving to make a life and become what she thought was a proper wife, that strength had dwindled until there was almost nothing left of it.
That you isn’t gone, the god said. It’s not too late.
It’s not too late, Ramona replied.
And with those words, she took the god’s warmth into her being.
Go, the god said. Go and be.
This was how Ramona found herself in Victor’s haven. His leather chair which was curved to the shape of his body, his desk which was polished to a high shine, his papers which were arranged in casual order, and his cigars which were hidden away in a secret drawer.
This, Ramona thought. This. This. This.
And she sat down, took out a cigar, and lit it. She leaned back in his leather chair, put her boots on top of his highly polished desk, and considered what she was and what she wished to be.
• • • •
There is nothing more unsettling for a man than to find that his haven has been invaded. His chair was taken, his desk was occupied, and his wife (his petite foreign wife who he’d married because they said foreign wives were always good to their husbands) sat there, her fingers stained with ink, her hair all wild about her face.
His study smelled of cigar smoke and she didn’t look up when he entered. She didn’t look up even when he cleared his throat.
Go away, she said. I’m busy.
This. This. This. This woman, she couldn’t possibly be his wife. He stood there and stared at her. At her hair that had torn loose from its neat bun, at her hands stained with ink and her cheek with one black streak running down it.
She growled when he approached and he almost drew back, but then he remembered—I am the husband here.
She didn’t say anything, though. Not when he drew close enough that he could peer over her shoulder.
• • • •
And you should be satisfied with that, Victor said. You can’t go upsetting him much more.
Oh? Magnifica Angelica said. Can’t I?
The god-helper paled at her words. He paled at the look in her eyes. He had completely forgotten how Magnifica Angelica despised those two words: can’t and don’t.
• • • •
You can’t, Marshall said. You can’t be serious.
Ramona who now remembered herself to be somewhat more than just a Regard, looked her husband straight in the eye.
Can’t? she said. You really mean to say can’t?
Marshall paled at her words. He paled when he saw the look in her eyes. He remembered something he’d heard long ago—just before he’d gone off to the continent in search of a wife.
He remembered Ramona the first time he saw her. He remembered her voice—so clear and strong—her stance that said I am who I am and I will always be as I am.
He looked at her and he remembered and he wondered how he could have forgotten in all the years they had lived in domestic bliss and harmony.
Can’t, Ramona said again. I’ll show you what I can and cannot do.
• • • •
We should have seen the signs, but we refused to see them.
Ramona the Shaker. Ramona the Mover. Ramona the Dreamer. Ramona the Maker.
These are the things Ramona chose to embrace. These are the selves she chose to be.
This is a phase, we said to one another. A temporal phenomenon that would pass with time. How could a wife possibly desire the constant upheaval, the turmoil, the chaos that was all these things they were making of themselves?
But Ramona never looked back.
• • • •
Gone was the stifling pace of everyday. Gone was the Ramona who had been swallowed up by the name Regard. In her place was this Ramona, whose words shook the walls when she took the time to cook or to tend to the daily things; whose dreams filled the house with a fragrance to rival the herbs in her garden; whose presence now was discomforting as well as it was comforting.
On her busiest days, Ramona would return home to find her husband laboring over the stove. During his early endeavors, everything he cooked turned to coal.
Why? Marshall said. Why must you change?
You think I’m changing? Ramona asked.
You used to be satisfied, Marshall said. You liked your garden and the house and the kitchen.
I wasn’t satisfied, Ramona said. I was asleep. How could I be satisfied?
• • • •
They still had their arguments and their disagreements. Days would pass when Ramona wouldn’t speak to him. But then he began to see the things he didn’t see before. He understood the god had crept beneath Ramona’s skin. The god had planted the seeds of fire and Ramona had passed them on from hand to hand, from mouth to mouth, from an embrace and a kiss to the joining of beings.
The god had passed her fire to Ramona, and because of Ramona, the world of sleeping women woke up filled with fire.
Are you happy? Ramona asked during one of their quiet moments.
I . . ., Marshall said.
And he was surprised to find that he really was—happier than he had been in the time when Ramona Someone Else slept in the shadow of Ramona Regard.
I am happy, Marshall repeated in all wonderment.
• • • •
Ramona’s awakening brought about the coming to awareness of an entire city of women. Dreamers and movers and shakers and shapers. They came from all walks of life and in them all, the god’s fire burned and moved and danced.
Not because we don’t want to be mothers, Leticia Inangbayan said. Rather, this is how we can be the best mothers we can be.
They passed the fire one to another. From mouth to mouth. From hand to hand.
Dream, they said. Shake the world. Create the world. Bring it into being.
And like that, without quite understanding how, we saw the world around us change. The table, once ours alone, was now also occupied by women laughing and talking and singing. And we watched. We watched. We watched because . . .
• • • •
Well, said the god-helper. And did it turn out as you wished it to be?
Not yet, Magnifica Angelica said. Not quite yet. But I am full confidence it will be. I am a god after all. There’s nothing I can’t do.