This Great Society - Arts

 


Illustration: shortie66

Alle C. Hall: Good Girls Don't Get Stoned
Illustration: shortie66

 
 

          Daan means road in Filipino. I don’t speak Filipino. I learned daan from the guy who checked me in. There is a big damn daan just outside this guesthouse. The trucks up and down it are driving me crazy, but I am afraid to go out.
          I am sequestered in the bottom shelf of one of the eight metal bunks lining the walls, and I spend some hours chewing through sticky Filipino candies, small lumps that I bought at the airport. Big lumps occupy most of the other bunks. They smell male. It is too weird, watching them sleep.
          I am doodling with the conviction that the only thing to do is never leave the Philippines, Manila, or my saggy little bed, when three Australians invade the dorm, a brown-eyed frenzy of tanned breasts called Cathy, Katherine, and Cassie, “just off” the overnight bus from the north. The rice terraces were “good fun” and “the local product” easily obtainable. They know in a second I’ve never smoked hash, so I accept when one of them—Cathy?—offers a cigarette. They cackle as I gag my way through the first puff.
          “Bet she’s cherry, too,” says Cathy. One guy pokes like a turtle out of his bedding. He farts and retreats under his sheet. The girls shriek, “Dutch oven!”—whatever that means—call me “mate” and ask me along for a beer. Isn’t it about noon?
          At the bar, the music is too loud and all last year—that “We Are the World” one, then “Would I Lie to You,” sung without a shred of sarcasm by the only other girls here, Filipinas wearing tight little tops and teensy skirts. My new mates order a pint each. I ask for a Diet Coke. They stare.
          I say, “What?”
          Cathy calls me a no-hopper, which can’t be good. She starts a game where they spin a coin and guzzle, apparently every time the coin drops. The guys at the next table start a conversation, and we merge, a neat group of four and four. I am assigned Billy. It is agreed that we will meet up later, and without asking, the girls lead me onto a city bus then around a pretty cool old fort. They still haven’t asked my name. When it is later enough, we are back in the bar. I hate going—I hate it. The hookers make me so sad. The pig men who are going to buy them and fuck them should be smashed like cheap, white chairs into the cement wall. I let Billy buy me another beer, then another. The next thing I know, some subset of the girls is pouring me into my bunk. No nightmares, for once.
          In the morning, my head shrieks like the brakes on the trucks banging past our window. My stomach is in upheaval. Cassie and Katherine advise me to get to the Technicolor yawn and be done with it. I ask about Cathy. They snigger, “We’ll meet up at breakkie,” and walk me toward a restaurant.
          The streets of the shoestring traveler area, the Ermita, are wide and hot, the buildings lining them two-storied and flat-roofed. The restaurant is pineapple yellow. As if by magic, Cathy strolls in 15 minutes after I bum my first smoke.
          Cathy’s account is excruciating in its detail, told with proud indifference. It all makes me want to puke.
          This day’s bus takes us to several cathedrals and Chinatown. The evening finds us in a bar. At least it’s a different bar. One of this evening’s guys has some local product, what he calls a spleef. The girls eagerly partake. Right there in the bar. The boys don’t miss the sexy effect that getting stoned has on their plentiful curves.
          Good girls don't get stoned.
          Don’t get stoned, don’t spend the night. When I cold-shoulder this night’s Billy, Cathy demands to know if I really am a virgin. I drain my pint. “Fuck off.”
          The goal was to deliver that with the girls’ nasty nonchalance, but I’ve never said it out loud and give it too much gas. I try to bum a cig. Cathy tells me to buy my own.
          I stalk to the cash register. I don’t even know what kind to buy. Cathy likes American smokes. I ask for two packs of the only brand I recognize, Camels, then return to our table and slide one across the grainy wood. Cathy grins. “Cheers, mate.” It is settled. The next morning, I sneak out while Cathy sleeps. The other two aren’t back yet.
          The sky is blue-black, the wide road practically deserted. The air the coolest I've felt since I landed in Hong Kong two weeks ago. I hate being alone.
          “Taxi?” A beat-up gray vehicle has pulled in front of me. Once the young Filipino behind the wheel has me in his back seat, he could take me anywhere, do anything. But it is blocks and blocks to Manila’s main bus station.
          I shove my bulky pack into the cab. By the time we arrive at the bus station, the morning is brighter but still misty. Next to a rundown building of two-story cement stretches a parking lot packed with large, colorful buses: blue on top, yellow below; yellow on top, green below. I pull out my Camels. Smoking is still harsh on my throat, but I am beginning to love the way the cellophane crinkles when you unwrap a pack, the way you whap the pack against the heel of your palm to settle the tobacco. The way it gives you something to do when you have no idea what to do.
          I can't work the match.
          A lighter snaps close to my ear. This guy is thin and dirty-blond. His smile is as hesitant as the morning. “My thumb is burning.”
          I accept the light, marveling at his steady hands. We are standing in the same cold. I say, “Where d’ya buy a ticket?” amazed at the sound of my voice. One of the girls.
          He gestures toward the cement building. I move off, glad to shed him, wishing I wasn’t alone, imagining how the girls will swear when they find me gone.
          Guidebook. I read quickly about Northern Luzon, the area the girls just came from. First stop, city of Baguio. The bus smells like oil and corn and is about half full, mostly with Filipino men in worn-out, short-sleeved button-downs, straw hats, and tense faces. There are a few tired-looking ladies traveling with a passel of kids, live fowl, both.
          The lighter guy climbs aboard, sits across from me and one seat back. Those are some blue eyes. He leans over with a fresh cig. My shoulders decline for me, and I am left feeling that I should have done that differently.
          In due time, the bus sputters to a start. Picking a careful path through increasingly crowded streets, we take almost an hour to clear the congestion that is Manila. The sun decides, yes, she will shine a bit today. The light is soft but crisp and there is a golden, moist feeling in the air. The highway passes dense, green fields of wide-leafed bushes, smudgy blue hills in the distance, an occasional brown hut at the side of the road. I suck more smoke and relax, finally, into the ragged plastic seat.
          This is it. This is disappearing.
          Eventually, my pack is empty. Even more eventually, he leans over. His name is Bob. He is English. This time, I am mellow from the cigarettes. I am aware enough that my last smoke was, indeed, my last, and so I shrug yes. In the hours spent winding up the rainy road to Baguio, everything reminds Bob of India. “You think this trip is long? On the way from Calcutta to Varanasi, there were no seats left, see, so we’s hung off the back. Eleven hours. But that was nothing compared to the trip to Goa. Now that… ” So pleasant, to smoke yet another of his while he talks, to put off considering all I will need to accomplish when the highway ends. Only as we approach Baguio does Bob let on that he is 23. I tell him I am twenty.
          “Oy, you got a name?”
          I take a bottomless drag. It is time to become who I plan to be. “Carlie Adams.”
          He employs that hesitant, compelling smile. “Carlie Adams. Nice name.”
          That's why I chose it.

          The bus slowly closes in on Baguio's main terminal, passing neon pizza parlors and yuppie-looking restaurants. I barely see them—not because they aren’t what I imagined I would find in a mountain city north of Manila. I'm not really seeing the gray cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages, either. The road is ending.
          We rattle to a stop. Bob's voice snaps near my ear the way his Bic did a few hours earlier. “Did you not say you were getting off in Baguio?”
          Somehow, I respond.
          “Then get off.”
          The damp, black pavement of the parking lot feels hard against my feet. Bob slings his pack over his shoulder. His spine slumps into the same question mark making up his face. “Hear of any good guesthouses?”
          Together, we track down a Lonely Planet-recommended cheapy on a quiet street. No dorms. The proprietor displays a modest but clean room. Narrow single beds rest along opposite walls of creamy blue. Bob’s grin remains aloof. Like he hasn’t been trying since Manila. A memory zaps like nicotine: the girls’ curves, and how the boys in the bars loved them. My hip bobs out. “We should share. It'll be cheaper.”
          The rich puddles that are Bob’s eyes darken at their center. “I don’t mind.”
          “Let’s grab a beer.”
          We wander until we come across what Bob decides is the right bar. He nods to the other travelers, ignores the hookers, orders a couple pints. I ask if he studied Filipino. He smiles with some confidence. “Tagalog. Like, in India. Not Indian. Hindi. Tagalog.”
          I watch Bob’s mouth on his cigarette, some cheap Filipino brand, then push back a little, angry at wondering what that mouth feels like. I reach for my glass, for the ragged plastic relief of the bus, of Bob’s India talking. When he grinds out his final butt and tucks it into his pack, indicating that it is time to return to the guesthouse, the beginning of a sob reaches through my very nice buzz. In our room, he folds into his bed as if unconcerned that over in mine, a once again curious girl is noting the way the weak electric light turns his dirty-blond hair to gold.
          “Have you ever gone with a hooker?”
          Bob is back to tentative. “Once. Just to see what it’d be like, yeah?”
          “And what did you think it would be like?”
          There is quiet, during which the darkened dots in his eyes stick to me. I have no idea how that ends, except that I wake gasping into the pitch black. I haven’t cried yet.
          Across the room, a lethargic rustle. “Wha—?”
          I bite back a wail. From the darkness, more movement—oh, God. No.
          A recognizable click. In the perplexed light from his Bic, Bob monitors the situation. He lights a smoke, passes it. My hands shake as I take it. “Sorry.” Can’t look at him. I want someone to hold me, but safely. He would do.
          For three days, we roam the windy, wet city. All touch appears accidental—elbows bumping as we peruse the central market, knuckles brushing if we reach simultaneously for the same star fruit or wooden carving. At night, we sample the many bars. They shut down at 9 p.m. I am drunk by then. Because of the government curfew, enforced by soldiers in the streets, if you are not drunk by nine, you will wake gasping and the cute guy across the room will think you are insane. No wonder he never even takes my hand.
          On day four, we move to Bontoc. As we pull out of the bus station, Bob rips through his day pack for his smokes, doesn’t offer me one. I am positive I didn’t wake him again with a nightmare; I’ve made sure. Maybe he’s mad because he hasn’t gotten anywhere with me. Maybe he doesn’t want to.
          The trip to Bontoc is seven sodden hours of narrow roads up steeper and steeper hills, of chickens and cheap Filipino cigarettes. The young man in the seat in front of us introduces himself. “Eduardo.” His straw hat is similar to those of the men on the bus from Manila to Baguio, and his face holds the same unhappy tension. It increases as he rants about the unsatisfactory way Cory Aquino runs the country. “There is a coming revolution.”
          “Ssh,” says another Filipino, an older man. They go at each other in Tagalog, drowning out the rain. We arrive in Bontoc as dark settles, and follow the flow of white travelers to the Happiness Hotel, where rooms are thirty pesos per person.
          Bob says, “Pricey.”
          I droop into the only place to sit, the hard mattress. Generally it’s great, the way Bob finds the least expensive way to achieve anything. I’ve spent far less than the five dollars a day that the Lonely Planet recommends, but it’s not worth toting my stuff through the downpour to save a nickel a night. “Can’t we just stay here?”
          Bob hovers just inside the door, like my father always did. This bed is a double.
          The fellow who led the white wave from the bus station pops in, a comma to our tension. This time, he is peddling hash. “Is Purple."
          “Purple don’t grow here,” Bob says. After some negotiation, Bob peels a bill from his thick roll as if it hurts. I don’t want a double bed. I don’t know why I wanted anything from Bob this last week.
          The door closes. Bob is in my face with his most expressive smile to date, demonstrating how to cut the hash into a cigarette to make a whacky backy. He grins with the up-and-down of the phrase. Three times I inhale deeply, hoping to pass out. Instead, I discover more relaxation than I have ever known. It is so good.
          We lie on the bed, contemplating the plink-plunk of the rain as Bob finishes the spleef and gently strokes my arm. When I don't stop him, he starts on my back. The warmth is so soft. It doesn't run away when he kisses me. Even his tongue is nice—not pokey or spitty, just soft. Nice. Then nicer. I have never been kissed like this. I lose track of everything except his lips and tongue running from my mouth to my throat and back until his hands forge a path up my shirt.
          “Unh,” I say into his mouth. “Not ye . . . I ca . . . ” I can't form a sentence.
          “Crikey,” he whispers into my neck. “This waiting is going to kill me.”
          I wish I could acknowledge that I've been waiting, too. Strong sunshine pulls me from utterly serene sleep. The angle of the light says late morning. Bob is right next to me on the bed, holding an ashtray and grinding out the last of a cigarette, trying to act like he wasn’t just watching me. I wonder if he is planning to kiss me anytime soon.
          “Did I totally conk out?”
          Bob slips the butt into its pack. “Sleeper-creeper.” I must look confused, because he continues, “The skunk can do, if you're not used to it.”
          “Guess I'll have to practice.”
          He buys some from the man staffing the mission-run museum, and we close ourselves in our room. I hear my voice telling him how soft and safe it makes everything. Bob blinks like he is dealing with a mental case. As if changing the subject, he kisses me, kisses me for a long time before trying anything else, for such a long time that when his hands finally slip under my shirt, I am aching to feel them there. I hear low moans timed to his gentle squeezes. Hey, that’s me. Bob crushes me to his chest. I can’t breathe. His mouth feels dry, his hands are prodding. A lot of things are prodding. I want him to cut it out, but how can I reasonably ask for that now? This hurts.
          “Hurry up.”
          He freezes mid-thrust, then obliges, rolling silently off me when he is done, in a way that says he'll be gone at sunrise. I want to slam my hands into the headboard. That would scare him off for sure. I chew into the heel my palm, have no idea how I doze off but must because I gasp myself from sleep. Blood was spurting, up to my neck. I won’t cry. I won’t. I think I do.
          “Crikey Moses.”
          My hand goes to his hip. I've seen movies. Part of me wants to enjoy this. I arch and sigh the way I imagine a normal girl would, hoping I'll get there someday. It would be easier if I were still stoned, but if it isn't movie-star hot, at least nothing hurts. When he reaches for me at dawn, I am pretty sure he doesn't think I'm a bad lay.
          Bob spends the next week verifying this. Or not. He reaches often enough that I'm not too worried that he will leave, but he sure seems more interested in getting stoned.
          “Where’s the backy?” Bob says one evening, rooting through the ashtray on the night table. Seems like he hasn't smiled in days.
          “You finished it this afternoon, right before we . . . Are you mad at me?”
          I sound like some desperate, clingy girl. I made my mom mad once, made her so mad that she hit me. For the instant between doing what made her so mad and dealing with her reaction, I had the power. To make her feel that much. About me. I want to shriek, “Are you my boyfriend?” I almost do, the next morning, on the next bus to the next town. We go by miles and miles of rice terraces, an unbelievable shade of lime Jell-O, cut into the steep hills like steps for gods. All the white people ooh and aah. “Or are we just fucking?” It wouldn’t matter if I did shriek, if I strangled him. He doesn’t care.
          Banaue, population 62 or something. We find a find a two-dollar room, blaze it, screw, and hike into rice country. We are paused for a cig in one of the three-walled shacks that dot the trail when out of the surreal green comes a squad of men in raggy, sort-of uniforms. There is no way to know if they are army or revolutionaries, or even real, except that they do carry rifles.
          “Get behind me.” Bob is abruptly and completely sober. He steps out of the hut, gestures in a harmless way, and tosses them his pack of smokes. They continue along the path with only the briefest glance my direction.
          The time my mom hit me, it was morning. My father was in the shower and my fingers in his wallet. This was usual. Over the shower, I heard behind me, “Are you stealing?” Mom’s eyes darted to their bed, and I felt that rush. She smacked my face.
          Someone sits next to me on the plank bench. One of those soldiers—no, Bob. He rests his fingertips lightly on my knee. Who taught him to be so kind?
          “Fuck.”
          He says nothing.
          “Did that just fucking happen? Fuck.” I want to say that I didn’t care how much trouble I got in, that I had to get away from him. So I stole. I slap his hand away. “I’m really just seventeen.”
          His face is impassive. “I sussed as much, when I saw what you could do.”
          “You know, fuck off.”
          Bob smashes his fist into the wood wall. I grab my day pack and storm down the very path the soldiers took. I hope they rape me. Then he’ll be sorry. Tragically, I reach the village unharmed. I get to the restaurant across from our guesthouse before bursting into tears. Fumbling for my cigarettes, I realize I left them on that plank bench, and soothe myself with a slice of banana bread. Then another. I blister for nearly an hour, wanting him to come find me, to apologize. Waiting for the sweet, patient fellow I thought I met on that first trip from Manila. I buy more sweets.
          The terror of being alone is creeping over me when along come two Swedes from the ooh/aah committee on the bus to Banaue. They buy me a beer. The table is littered with empties by the time they ask where’s that guy I’ve been hanging out with. Fuck Bob for not appreciating me. Single girls along the Lonely Planet Trail are about as rare as hot running water. I must say that out loud because the Swedes agree.
          When curfew sends us back to our hotels, Bob is not in the common area. He is not in the toilet, he is not in our room. It is nine-thirty. On our bed, I wrap my arms around myself and rock. From the direction we hiked earlier comes a sound I have not heard before, gunfire. At six past ten by my travel alarm clock, there is a tap at our door. I know instantly that it is Bob and he is okay. When he calls, very naturally, “Hallooo,” I wait. I want to hear him use my name. He has not said it since the day we met, when he said it was a nice name. Probably doesn’t remember it.
          “Carlie, open up.”
          I fly to the door and pull him roughly into my arms. After we disentangle, we stand awkwardly with each other. I ask, “Where were you?”
          “The restaurant next door. I missed getting back for curfew, and had to wait until the soldiers cleared out.”
          His blue-eyed bravado is easy to decipher. He draws me in for a long, slow kiss. I let him do it then, because even the smell of his sweat tells me he needs me. Afterward, Bob lights up. He exhales thoughtfully as he passes it. “I shouldn't smoke so much.”
          I run a free finger along his jaw line. Second to a man's neck, this is the part of their bodies I like best. “You want me to finish this?”
          “No, the skunk. I know it makes me…” He closes his eyes, hands locked behind his head. “I’d given it up, right before I met you.”
          That's the kind of thing they say in movies. It pulls me closer to him. I whisper, “My name isn’t … it’s Jen. I changed it, I ran away. My father, he—oh, Jesus.” I look to Bob, certain my confession will drive him away.
          He is asleep.

          We wake to more rain. In our room, a similarly grey uncertainty. Bob is not acting like he heard, last night. He’s not acting like anything. Just smokes, looks into the wet, says, “Bloody mizzle.”
          He fell asleep.
          Bob tucks the last of his cigarette into his pack. God, I hate when he does that.
          “Why do you always do that? Save your butts like that.”
          The neutral look he gives me makes me wonder if he's planning to punch out another wall. At least it'd be a response. His answer is irritatingly dispassionate. “I'm trying not to smoke so much.”
          “You said hash.”
          “Why do you care?”
          “I really don't know, Bob.”
          Now he will leave me. I want to burrow into our bed, to curl and rock. That would make Bob want one last fuck and we’ve quit smoking dope, so it would hurt, so I say, “Let’s go back to Manila.”
          He taps his pack against the table. As an old man, Bob will be even thinner and more leathery, with careful, selfish movements. When he finally says, “I don't mind,” I could easily shake him and demand to know if he ever goes so far as to want anything. At least my father told me he loved me, after.
          Leaving the cool mountains for the heat of the flatlands, I forget that I ever wanted to be out of the rain. Big surprise, Bob is distant. Manila’s smog is visible on the horizon when Bob lays it on me. “I’m skint.”
          I am not completely sure that means broke. Bob sorts through his day pack for his “Whichever’s cheapest” shitty-tasting Filipino smokes. “I . . . er . . . forgot to change money before we got to Banaue and I wasn't about to take the bleeding rate at that hotel, I’ll tell you what.”
          “You’ll get a good rate in the Ermita,” I begin, when it hits me. It is Saturday. Banks close early and won't open until Monday.
          I shouldn’t have to give him money. It’s mine. Bob lights his last cigarette, suspiciously silent.
          “You have more traveler's checks, don't you?”
          He exhales out the window. The hot journey is completed in absolute silence.
          Manila. The flat-roofed buildings and busy boulevards throw me right into the mood I was in when I fled the Australian girls: hunted and forced. Bob looks about seven stops past furious. I pull out a business card I got from those Swedes. “We will be staying at the Holiday Pension on Jorge C. Bocobo Street.”
          “Do you even know where Jorge fucking coconut Street is?”
          We argue, bus or taxi. Two big Aussies lumber up. Apparently, they know Bob, although I can tell they don't remember his name. He is quick with theirs: Nigel and Rudy. These stellar examples of humanity invite us to meet them later—“You remember the place, ey, mate?”—saying they will set him up proper.
          I swiftly flag a cab. The stillness between us is a rat trap.
          The Jorge fucking coconut pension turns out to be a lovely, Spanish-style place with thick white walls, a red tile roof, and bricks under your feet that clank when you walk like good pottery against a table. Bob whistles when he sees our cool, quiet room.
          One hundred and fifty pesos a night, buddy—roughly double what we've been paying, but utterly worth $7.50, if you ask me.
          He doesn't.
          “My treat,” is all I say. Bob regards me thoughtfully. I wonder what else I did wrong until he asks for money.
          “I kind of figured I'd pay for things until you got some wired in.”
          His hand runs nervously along my arm. “Those Aussies, Carlie, they want cash.”
          “You said we weren't gonna smoke—”
          “How much did I buy for you in Sagada? In blinking Banaue?”
          “If you'd been more careful with your own money, you wouldn't—”
          Bob grabs my shoulders and shakes. He is small, but wiry and strong. He throws me on the bed, nearly cracking my head against the clean white wall. Standing over me, his face is terrifyingly neutral.
          “Give me the dosh.”
          I reach into my fanny pack, fumble for some bills. He snatches them and takes off. I try to stop trembling. Mom hit me, but my father never did, not really, just to make me still. Bob deliberately used hurt. The way he used my name—once when he learned it, once when he wanted me to open the door, and when he wanted money. Wanted, wanted, wanted, the only reason he tolerated me. Because I let him.
          Blackness floods me. Far away, near the edge of it, a speck of white light. I go to that dot and understand that I have waited too long and planned too carefully to fuck up over some boy who cares more about his stupid skunk than he does about me. The thing to do is move. Now.
          I sit up straight and say aloud, “No.”
          Grabbing my stuff, I march to the front desk and tell the clerk I am checking out—now—and want a refund. He tries to persuade me that this is very irregular.
          “I don't care.”
          On the sidewalk. The desk clerk rushes to me with Bob's backpack. The gentleman left this in the room.
          “Put it in the street.”
          My ticket is to Bali. The next flight leaves at 3:30 a.m. I am on it.

 

 
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