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He took another bite.
Late night Wednesday, when the moon outside was a remarkable, dull remake of the opening sequence of Universal Pictures’ Van Helsing, Arthur ate the last of the crackers. He bought them during the day -- at Manang Lali's Sari-Sari Store. KILLER FLAKES, they were printed in bold, red letters.
Ironically, they will not hurt the pockets. They come in cheap plastic packs full of cheap ingredients. Some sell them at P2.50 each, others at P2.25; Lali priced them at a flat rate: 2-peso. The plastic packs come with roadside dirt, dead cat's dried-up entrails, and whatnot; blown by speeding motorists' man-made, mechanical winds. What matters most is how you eat them.
Eating crackers can be sad sometimes, well, especially if one is alone. They can pass as a sweet, unadulterated lover where the partner indulges this mindless monogamous affair of busy, tongue-to-cheek fidgets. With zombie-like eyes on whatever or whoever is in front of the person, life can never be boring (or at least, will never be one, if one happens to be a TV-surfer).
Between the eater and the inanimate eatee, eating crackers can be stimulating. They are, of course, cheap, melancholic snacks and are an easy prey: uninhibited, come-what-may indulgence for a boring company and a preoccupation for both mind and mouth, as well. He contented, though tasting bland, cracker-eating habit adds warmth to a cold, lonely night.
So what, if my neighbor told me it is a movie for the insane? Arthur thought.
So were the crackers' fate and design on a boring Wednesday, on a Last Full Show night.
He omitted a moviegoer's favorite snack -- popcorns -- as much as he hated all those insanely priced chips and junk food at the movies. He hated them (not the moviegoers); too much cheese on popcorns is overkill, though he loved cheese on salads and pastas. Cheese powders, ah, those that stuck on the fingers like grime, vicious as stains on clothes. He hated this concept: Cheese grime ending up on beautiful faces and dark eyebrows. The hand has a mind of its own when in the dark.
He hated washing his clothes.
For him, popcorns without cheese at the movies were also boring. He would prefer nothing if he was offered one, even if it is free.
Everything was déjà vu: same theater, same killer crackers, same wallowing darkness only the pupil can comprehend, and same Wednesdays, except, maybe the moon. Standing to get a glimpse of empty seats...
The crumbs fell to the floor. Some five millimeters away, two ants raced towards the heaven-sent food in the dark. His love for Pixar Animation Studios (and his dream of working there someday) would ultimately lead him to conceptualize this opening salvo from his desktop: A meteorite freely crashing towards them. Millions of ants jumping off-screen, mesmerizing the stunned audience, the movie bugs. Meteorite killer showers, really. The all-knowing audience knows best. The scene was cinematic, sort of, in an Orwellian's ant's-eye-view. He could create an original score on those exact shots while they were still storyboard-fresh: Odd, but fresh, a la John Williams creating a dark, soulful opus. However, he was not thinking of ants, real bugs on the theater seats, Steven Spielberg, cheesy popcorns or even the dark.
He paced some few walks, barely adjusted to his entire surrounding and perchance he would bump on someone – accidentally or at best, intentional. Otherwise, it could be the other way around. He hated this darkness, cruising around for a seat while...
He stood at one corner of his newly-painted green room; a faint yet nagging smell of an acrylic-like aroma spread the whole place. He pondered the smell going into his nostrils and lungs while he ate the indulging crackers of the night.
He pondered all kinds of scents, including that of an irresistible Rexona deodorant, its virile remnants tickled on his lips and tongue; a masturbatory rapture for his mouth. It was all too familiar. It belonged to the scent of a silent, unseen guy next to him. He opened the blinds of his windows. Faint street light diffused towards the room, towards the imposing guy -– six feet tall, he seemed, whose white shirt revealed most of his nicely-shaped chest.
He had a calm yet sad face, a kind of subtle handsomeness carved into his manliness. Arthur studied how the low light painted surreal linescapes and never-seen art contours on the immature youth appeared like. It was beautiful. He is beautiful! He was quick to think: this guy is full of quixotic, adolescent angsts and good looks he himself is not aware of. It reminded him of a forlorn, close-up shot of the now-deceased River Phoenix in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho.
Their muffled breaths gagged silence amid the dwindling swaying of lights. Their sounds crackled: breaths somewhat like fake pantings. A kind of boisterous informality. A forcible dare of come-ons. A wicked monotony in the dark.
The crackers cracked softly under Arthur’s tongue, licked them with gusto. He munched the last bite as his hands replaced the house keys he burrowed into his right pocket for his cell phone. Motorola-unit-turned-flashlight-in-a-flash. He remembered where he placed the maroon lighter – with a sticker of a sultry woman in skimpy red bikini, her exposed boobie hang so big – just beside a third-rate shoe rack. He then lit the sky-blue, unscented candle which lay idly beside the cluttered shoes.
“Do you want some more?” Arthur handed the last pack of his crackers.
“No, thanks.” The guy’s shadowed face had a wicked grin. "You're still rugged in that look, but I like the way you smile while your hair parts when you turn sideways quickly."
“Just sit down on that bed,” Arthur pointed to one corner, ignoring the guy's remarks. “There’s an extra shorts. You can wear it tonight.”
Crunch. Munch. Mmmms. Arthur watched himself on the mirror, eating the crackers away. He looked into his eyes and a bright smile lit his being. The room was still dark.
Mmmmmmm. A munch. Then a crunch. Unnecessary sounds, really. Arthur thought.
"Do I look handsome to you?"
"If there was someone better than you, I won't end up here, you know... stupid!"
"Say that again and I'll tear open each of your own guts."
"So," Arthur paused, "do I really look great to you?"
They looked at each other. A kiss somewhere, anywhere, and everywhere will finish all this wordy crap. They might have thought of it.
Insane movie, yeah! Cut the hire wires, omit the CG and Van Helsing will fall into a deep crevice. Who cares if it's underwritten, chock-full of cheesy lines? Heck, it's alright. They could have CG'ed Hugh Jackman also. What a H-U-G-E movie budget for a twisted plot! Hmmm, there's more on that cinema! There's more to them! Mr. Helsing is one monster of a hunter extraordinaire... and movie monsters in the movie houses? Hmmm. The words sprang into mind in Arthur's acrylic-smelling room as he, still, ate his remaining crackers. He munched at him, piece by piece with the cracker indulgence, flirting, and watching the guy as a demented sorcerer at his hapless apprentice.
The words were like nuke. They bombarded him with a certain level of addiction.
One lazy afternoon of over-indulgence, some few months back, this one-time, druggie neighbor had recounted an event he will never forget in his whole, heterosexual life. He smoked weed like a desperate anteater on an empty anthill. "He did it like my girl." He bragged. Laughters ensued during his pep talk. It was so loud that time, choking on his marijuana absent-mindedly. "But he was a he. And dammit, it was dark, man! I couldn't tell the difference." If only Arthur had understood outrightly, he would have cracked the ground open in laughter, too, leaving him to dig at this crazy guy's incident.
"He did better than my girl!" At last, he confessed, laughing like a hysterical hyena in heat, almost swallowing his weed.
"Twice each week, I would go there. On weekends, too... Yes! It's like this cursed smoke I can't do away with." He smiled in the air like an anesthetized monkey, like a fool. "Boys, men, young and old alike... ataya, Part! They groped there like some wretched worms in the dark!"
The 25-year old neighbor, whose real name he had already forgotten (but was better known as Abo** in their barangay), continued laughing, licking and crunching on the crackers they both shared while he told his various naughty encounters before, to Arthur, at that infamous Cinema 8. What was that cracker's name again? Arthur felt sorry for his memory lapses. Still, he had forgotten his neighbor's name. Arthur, rather, will never forget how Abo killed one braggadocio guy who fellated him in the theater when Abo tried to ask for P1000. Using a butterfly knife, Abo fatally stabbed with precision. The knife surreptitiously plunged in the dura mater, inside the skull. The sudden blow to the foramen magnum of the head caused severe blood loss, an instant death. It ended the guy's simple three-minute pleasure without even a noise or a cry. He gagged. On Abo's bloody groin. The guy was a 4th-year Medical Technology student at the University of Cebu.
Cracker stories mixed with pot will never be the same again.
Like tonight, it could be any other night (or Wednesday nights, to be exact!). While Arthur busied himself fixing a candle here, a shoe there – his forehead sweated: bead-like, they drenched on his sideburns and some settled down on his neck. He was tired to grab the broom from a corner, too tired to make a swift, clean sweep. His chest was heavy with spurious breaths.
Rather, he was excited; happily guilty, and remorse, later, would cap the night. He was generally happy at this moment and confused. His feelings were like of a young boy, again, with his first toy gun as a gift. No, he was cautiously horny and still confused as ever. Why did I allow this guy to sit beside me earlier? Why? This had been the third time watching that same, old, stupid movie in that same, old, stupid movie house! He thought forcefully. His answers were vacuumed in the sweeping hormonal heat he had succumbed to an hour earlier, consuming his tired body in exhaustion, at the last row of the premier seats with the stranger.
While Arthur continued his trifles on things, the guy turned to the other side of the bed, grabbed the shorts, examine them (with bare hands) for semen stains, perhaps. They were dry. He unbuckled, and pulled off his faded jeans to reveal a red brief. Arthur saw his immaculate bulge.
Hasty guy. Not again! Arthur mumbled.
The guy turned, in such a way with a swift bent, exposing his well-formed bubbly butt, his back (still in underwear) at Arthur. And he knew if he turned, he would see Arthur stroking fast and hard now. Maybe, he came twice or relatively more. Now's the time to do it. Arthur fastened his thoughts for the kill.
But Arthur was locked in his sole imagination to indulge himself again, too busy fidgeting the shoe, the candle... "Where the hell is the match?" He was exasperated. The sweat trembled on his nose and it fell. The sweat dropped in zero gravity trapping a hapless ant on the floor; a watery dome drowned its minute life off.
His thoughts were like an unattended locker key to its own hole. He popped an inch of the crackers in his mouth. One big bite for a small thing. Crunch! However, it fused with a different sound, like the crumpling of bite-sized cookies. It gave a strange-sounding, metallic Zzzzzzzz-zzzipped!
Monster Van Helsing moaned in his sleep. Arthur closed his eyes, twitched his body in a careless, sweet abandon where he was seated, fourth chair at the last row.
"Do it some more, play it hard!" Arthur begged in the dark while he licked the last spongy nagging crumbs which trapped on his upper left molar. He thought of another kind of monster in the dark. And the stranger loved it so much.
Van Helsing almost gagged while the werewolf grappled him insanely on his throat. Arthur moaned in his seat. He jolted like a breakaway metallic cylinder from a spare part.
The moon reminded him of his lunacy. He moaned a lot. From theater to his titillating room. Arthur cannot differentiate the two places. This tastes better than weed! He chuckled at the thought.
Their heavy breaths continued: groaning, licking, and slapping in between. What? Yes, you can hear slapping of skins; skin-to-skin, that is. This went on for eternity. Then came a gamut of grating voices from one person – he sounded grumpy.
Suddenly, a latch tweaked, it creaked in the dull midnight surroundings (moon above, that obnoxious monotony of silence, and darkness creeping everywhere). Raised voices started, though they were unintelligible at first. A hand clutched at the side panels of the door. An irate guy stepped out, clutching his shirt and slammed it so hard that it almost broke the nearby glass louvers.
"What the...!" A voice was indistinguishable.
"Dammit! Next time, eat your crackers whole. Finish 'em at the theater and clean your bed! Don't leave the ants to join with us!" He shouted to whoever was inside; scratching his back, legs, part of his torso, even his crotch -- like hell. He was icky and he twitched, even a contortionist would envy. He scratched wildly about at the behest of ant bites on his disturbed, horny skin. Enraged, he made a quick step away from the door. The guy almost tripped off on his knees on the unseen ground.
The street lights were out. He came into the still shadows of tree leaves stretching to a patchwork of silhouetted gumamelas that ushered him to a ten-foot high gate whose rusty bars can cause instant tetanus to an exposed skin. His shadow became an ornate black, moving within his own disappearance at the profaned darkness. He cussed before he was swallowed by everything.
A last, crisp crunch, a biting skin-slap from the room, faded, whimpering moans and a thud! -– what seemed like a broom handle whacked uncontrollably on the floor -- were all that was left of the night.
* Story inspired from the original title, The Room of Ants. I've decided to change the title, after all.
** Abo, pronounced as A-bü, is a Cebuano term for ashes.
Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary. -- Sir Cecil Beaton (1904-1980) English photographer