Translated by Vicente Garcia Groyon from the Filipino “Patayin sa Indak si Anastasha!”
My last sortie ended at 10:45 PM. If Dr. Constantino hadn’t taken so long, I could have rested a bit before rendering time. Some people just take forever to look at brochures. You’d think she was buying wholesale, the way she assessed each product. Although I’d known for some time that hardly anyone ever buys anything. It’s all going over the brochure, complaining about the prices or the products. The color’s ugly. The scent’s too strong. It makes my skin itch. Every flaw that can be detected is detected. Sometimes we don’t even make it past the gate. If they only knew—even if they wanted to buy anything they would never be able to.
Once, one day, it just occurred to me—I wished no one would buy anything. I wished there were no kindhearted, trusting people who invited strangers into their homes. I wished there were no more cheerful housewives, inquisitive servants or security guards, or homeowners who didn’t know what to do with the money they made. Sometimes, the goodness of some people is just appalling.
I walked down the long street that led out of Mojica Valenzuela Village. I smiled at the guard standing at the gate before I went through. The dummy just nodded, didn’t bother to inspect the contents of the green plastic bag I was carrying. The hot electric green bag.
This was what was printed on the bag—letters in cursive that looked like the handwriting of a princess, or a queen, or some such elegant creature.
There were hardly any cars on the highway. Only a balut vendor and two town cops passed me as I walked. The street lights were blinking and the markets and stores were closed. Which was perfect—the hour and conditions were ideal for rendering accounts.
I wolfed down the two penoy I’d bought from the balut vendor who passed me. I sprinkled the leftover salt into the eggshell before scraping out the last bits of flesh with my right forefinger. Just a few minutes before midnight. I stopped in front of an electronics shop and waited for the signal. Three, two, one. Stroke of midnight. Time for my audience. I whispered the secret password to the dead television sets.
The screens of the broken television sets in the electronics shop began to flicker. Every midnight for the past five months I’d waited for this scene: several seconds of electrical humming, followed by a powerful flood of light—yellow, red, blue green—a pulsating energy, then the whistling of wind accompanying a silky female voice singing, the cue for the appearance of a giant eye in each of the broken TV screens. Giant, all-seeing cathode eyes.
The giant eyes of the Goddess Anastasha.
“Begin your account, Agent HB-1182.”
“We have conquered 57 percent of Novaliches, Goddess. And as I speak, Her agents are commencing invasion of Fairview and Bulacan.”
“Your four-odd months of service have been very satisfactory, Agent HB-1182.”
“I am pleased to offer the remaining days of my service to the Goddess Anastasha. I ask only that She refer to me as ‘Preciouse’ in the manner of the earthlings we bodysnatch, beloved Goddess.”
“You seem to have grown too accustomed to your fake identity, HB-1182.”
“Well, I wouldn’t put it quite that way…”
“You are talking too much again, HB-1182. Deliver your offerings unto me!”
“As She wishes.”
I held up the green—electric green—bags I was carrying. From the giant eyes sprouted Her tentacles of electric green energy, which slithered into the bags I carried. And once again, She quickly sucked up the fruits of a day spent visiting homes, a day spent pretending to sell underwear, toys, makeup, shoes and flipflops, shaving creams and pomades, jewelry, cold cuts, perfume. Again the compass of Her power was extended. And just as quickly as She had appeared, the light fled the broken TVs.
I had to walk a few more meters before I got to a waiting shed that some jeepneys still passed at this hour. As I stood there clutching the empty Anastasha bags, I wondered why there were beings like me who were denied simple rights, such as having my own name, my own identity.
If it’s a sin to tell a woman that you have a tumor in the left hemisphere of your brain just to get rid of her, then yes, I am a sinner.
To me, that’s a whole lot better than the tired “It’s not you; it’s me,” or “I need to find myself before I can love you.” If I’m going to lie, might as well be original. And if she asks what type of cancer I have, well, might as well make it cancer of the lymph nodes. And if she asks where the lymph nodes are, I turn on the waterworks.
So there, because my latest break-up took longer than usual, it was already 12:30 and my jeepney still hadn’t passed Mojica Valenzuela Village. My stop was still several meters away.
A woman got on. Just my luck, I said to myself, pretty chick-a-babe gets on just when I’m about to get off. Chick-a-babe. The words I use for girls are so corny. She was wearing a uniform, red like everyday was Valentine’s Day at work. I knew that uniform. I remembered it. I also noticed the bags she was carrying, empty now. A really vivid green.
“Looks like they cleaned you out.” I was too obviously trying to get her to look at me, but it was OK—she was pretty. But she didn’t notice me. Didn’t even turn to look at me when I spoke. Like she hadn’t heard a thing.
“What are you selling?” Anastasha Girl still didn’t say a word. Good thing the only other passenger was a sleeping drunk—no one to witness my embarrassment.
I shut up, since I was about to get off anyway. If she didn’t want to chat, then she could eat me. But the sleeping drunk suddenly grabbed Anastasha Girl’s bags. The bastard had been only pretending to sleep.
I don’t know who was more drunk—the sleeping drunk (who was really awake) or Anastasha Girl. I mean, if you’re going to steal something, why an empty plastic bag? Anastasha Girl, on the other hand, kept shrieking—Don’t, she said. You’d think some creep had his hand in her crotch. So I had to chase after the drunk—you know, to impress her. Just like in an action flick, I jumped out before the jeepney had come to a complete stop, even rolled a bit on the asphalt, then ran in the direction the drunk took. Even managed a “Just you wait, thief!” before I followed him into the tall grass beside the highway.
I was going to whip out my Kung Fu moves, but I never got to use them. I heard the drunk screaming. He’d dropped the plastic bags, and I caught a glimpse of the fool running away. I picked up the bags so I’d get to talk to Anastasha Girl, who’d ventured into the tall grass just to retrieve her Anastasha bags.
“Here’s your magic plastic bags.” I pretended to be pissed so she’d feel guilty. It seemed to work.
“Tha…thank you, and I’m so sorry for all the trouble.” Anastasha Girl could speak, after all. She was even prettier when she spoke.
“That was nothing. But, I mean, you got so worked up over some plastic bags. You hiding money in them? Receipts?”
She didn’t answer. Avoided my gaze before speaking again.
“Your parents might be wondering where you are. You should go home.”
Anastasha Girl seemed to be hiding something.
“That’s no problem,” I said to her. “I don’t have parents anymore. Come on, I’ll take you to the jeepney stop, Anastasha Girl.”
So there, together we walked out of the grass, back to the pothole-strewn highway, walked to the nearest waiting shed. We waited an hour before another jeepney drove by, and I didn’t bother to chat Anastasha Girl up. I hailed the jeepney, helped her get on, said “Take care,” waved, and continued home on foot, since I didn’t have a long way left to go.
Right before the jeepney rumbled out of earshot, Anastasha Girl called out to me.
“Preciouse! My name is Preciouse!”
I managed to yell out “Robin” before she disappeared from view—Preciouse, my mysterious Anastasha Girl.
I still remember that day. Mrs. Piocos handed me the orange juice in a glass that came with Jollibee Kiddie Meals. “Read something while I look at your brochures, OK?” And she handed me a romance novel, its pages torn and its cover wrinkled.
There—it was there that I first saw him.
He was there, on the cover, sucking on Nanette Medved’s neck. Robin Padilla, wrapped around Nanette’s body, holding her with arms that rippled and bulged. His skin slick with sweat, glistening. The way they posed made it seem like Robin Padilla was siphoning out Nanette Medved’s very soul. A god taking back strength and life from his wretched creation.
“Robin’s really hot, isn’t he?”
I smiled at Mrs. Piocos’s comment. What she didn’t know was that I had deeper reasons for staring at a movie star’s photo. Before I saw that photo, I had thought of myself only as Agent HB-1182, a minion of the Goddess Anastasha, no different from the rest of her agents, brought to life for five months to serve her. But suddenly, when I saw that romance novel cover, my mind was swamped with images, memory-images that had been sucked out of my brain so I could serve my Goddess. Yes, I remembered that before I became an agent I also liked to read komiks and romance novels, I liked watching movies and TV shows—my favorites were Tito, Vic, and Joey, and my mother and father’s favorites were Robin Padilla and Vina Morales. Yes, I had a family then. I wasn’t born an Anastasha agent. I was human—yes, I had been human once.
“Something’s on your mind, Agent HB-1182.”
So the Goddess Anastasha had noticed my listlessness. This time Her giant eyes had appeared in the round fluorescent orbs that lighted the Quezon City Circle. In a secluded bicycle lane in the park, where not even beggars or callboys dared to pass, I offered up my plastic bags while the electric tentacles sucked up the fruits of the last sortie.
“I’m probably just tired, beloved Anastasha.”
I prayed that the Goddess couldn’t read my mind. That I even had thoughts, beyond the fulfillment of Her mandate. That at that moment, I was lying to Her. That while I was offering fresh booty to Her, I was thinking of my encounter with Robin in the jeepney, him chasing the thief who’d snatched my bags, the way he dove into the tall grass to catch the criminal. When I followed this man into the tall grass, the memory of a scene from a Robin Padilla movie suddenly swept through my mind—a scene where Robin was dodging grenades while escaping down a hill bristling with tall pine trees. What if the Goddess Anastasha had known that at that moment I loathed the fact that in a few weeks, my five months of service would be complete, and I would dissolve into the air without ever seeing my hero again? Robin—a perfect name for my hero. His carriage, his speech, build, the way his hair rippled when he ran, everything reminded me of the famous movie star whom I believed to be a part of my previous life. I dared not think of the punishment that would await me should the Goddess Anastasha discover the resurgence of these memories.
Oh, Robin—you hold the key to the reclamation of my stolen identity!
The round light bulbs around the circle returned to their former appearance. As I walked home, I thought again and again of my encounter with Robin. How quickly the days go by, how brief our time on earth is. Would fortune smile on me and allow my path and the action star’s to cross once more? A speeding jeepney roared past me. I caught snatches of the lines “O giliw ko, miss na miss kita, gusto ko sana’y makayakap ka…”[*] slowly fading away, receding into the distance.
Mother and I saw each other again.
She was wearing her red uniform, as always. She was very happy that day, because it was her first day at work. It took a lot of convincing before Father allowed her to work again, so I could understand her joy. “I’ll bring you a hamburger and some spaghetti when I get home, all right, squirt?” I can still feel the touch of her soft hands on my cheeks. She said goodbye to my elder brother too, and kissed my father before she left.
That was the last time I saw her.
A moment of darkness, a stream of colored light, the strains of a song familiar yet not, and then I awaken swimming in an ocean of green light. Several severed heads bob and sink, screaming, pleading for help even as they’re swamped by that green energy. I swim through the green, cutting through the mass of severed heads asking me for help. They’re biting me, clinging to my T-shirt, my pants, my shoelaces, but I ignore them. I’m concentrating on a shout, looking for the source of that familiar voice hidden by the sea of light.
Mother! Mother is calling me!
I swim through that endless sea of light and severed heads, and the people clinging to me keep pulling me under. In the end, at the moment when I believe that I have no hope of ever saving Mother, I suddenly see her. Mother’s severed head, crying, begging me for help. And before I can touch her face, she’s sucked away, far from me, towards nothingness, and again I’m mobbed by the giant eyes—giant eyes spewing electric green energy.
Then I would wake up again. In my apartment, sweaty and alone, as on many other nights. Mother. My mother, who never returned after she left our house, left to pick up the green bags she would use at her new job.
The green, green bags of Anastasha.
On nights like this, I’d turn on the TV, watch a DVD, listen to the radio, play a game on the Playstation, or tinker with the computer. Sometimes I’d just leave my pad, hang out somewhere. I didn’t want to sleep. For some people, rest is a gift. To me, sleep was a curse. If I could have stayed awake for the rest of my life, I would have. I would have.
I had fooled around with everything that could be fooled around with the on the computer, played all that could be played on the Playstation, worn down my DVDs with repeat viewings. Looked like I had no other choice but to go out, get some fresh air.
Twenty-four hours, I will never surrender to the nightmares you bring me.
I saw Robin in the 7-11 across the street.
I sucked out the last tofu-like bits of penoy from the egg, my third that night, before I entered the convenience store. I don’t normally approach people, but I felt comfortable about Robin. He was different, I thought.
He was drinking coffee when I spotted him. He looked like he was thinking so hard about something he didn’t notice me walking in his direction. I put down the bags I was carrying, already full that night, and tapped his shoulder. His face brightened. The way he smiled, you’d think he’d seen a relative or a long-lost friend.
“Anastasha Girl! Long time no see!”
My action star was such a delight.
“Preciouse. My name is Preciouse. Don’t call me Anastasha Girl.”
“That’s right—so sorry, my Preciouse!”
We talked. About my fondness for penoy and balut, our mutual liking for the films of Robin Padilla and Tito, Vic, and Joey. We talked about my being a perpetual bedspacer, my constant moving from place to place because of my “work,” my 5-month contract. He told me about his relatives who’d migrated to Canada with his elder brother, who was a caregiver, about his missing mother, his living alone in a cramped apartment, his going to college while constantly hoping that his missing mother would turn up. I was elated and saddened all at once—elated because for the first time since I’d become an agent, I was talking to someone about things that had some connection to me; and saddened by the fate of Robin’s mother, because I knew what had happened to her.
“Why’d you become an Anastasha sales rep?”
“Me? Honestly—I can’t remember why.”
“Come on, that’s impossible.”
“Oh, you’re such a pest.”
“But a handsome pest. Right? Right?”
I had to smile. He said I looked prettier when I smiled. I said I’d treat him to a cup of coffee. Before I went up to the cashier, I cupped the brochure I was carrying in my hands, lifted them to my lips, and whispered into them.
“Five hundred pesos.”
I unfolded the brochure to its center spread and out slipped a crisp 500-peso bill that I then used to pay for coffee. I failed to notice that it was already 11:13.
I didn’t resist when he invited me over to his pad. I put the bags I was carrying on the sofa, their contents jostling each other as my hands moved. Robin handed me a glass of water and a black Beatles T-shirt.
“Why don’t you change in the bathroom? That uniform’s too hot for March. When you come back I’ll have a surprise waiting for you.”
I gazed at my reflection in the bathroom mirror. Slowly, I took off my uniform. The only clothing allowed by the Goddess. The thick red jacket, the red vest, the red blouse. I put on the black Beatles T-shirt. It was a little loose on me, comfortable. It was 11:50, according to the clock I passed in the kitchen. When I returned to the living room I saw Robin’s surprise.
“You know how to use one of these?”
A Magic Mic plugged into the TV. It was an ungodly hour, but my new friend had no consideration for his neighbors. We took turns with the microphone while attempting to sing the songs of VST and Co. I hugged him without meaning to when we scored 100 on “Awitin Mo, Isasayaw Ko.”[†] The churchbells had rung midnight a long time ago. But I didn’t care. In Robin’s company, I felt free.
“Now this one, this was my favorite when I was a kid.”
He connected a pair of dusty dance pads to the Playstation. He inserted the Dance Dance Revolution cartridge.
“This is too embarrassing; I don’t think I can do this.”
“Don’t you worry, my Preciouse—we shall be humiliated together.”
His right hand held my left. We turned to face the TV screen. The game’s music started to speed up. The dance arrows gradually increased in number, and we had to stamp on their counterparts on the dance pad to score. “Boys Boys,” “Stomp the Beat,” “Butterfly”—we danced together, me and my action star, danced to the songs, stamped as one on the Up, Down, Left, and Right foot buttons of that old game.
And suddenly, fragments of memories came rushing back—my 7th birthday party with the Boyoyong Clowns and the Sesame Street puppet show; me screeching “The Greatest Love of All” at a singing contest; the faces of my parents. The memories grew clearer with each step, each beat. I saw my hand clutching Robin’s, I saw the sea of green light! The severed heads, the multitude of severed heads! All of them pleading for help! Dr. Constantino, Mrs. Piocos, all the victims of the Goddess Anastasha, me, my own severed head, my own severed head was there in that sea of light, begging me for my help!
Robin had been startled by my collapse. I couldn’t bear the rush of images in my mind. I was still a little dizzy when he carried me out of the apartment. I opened my eyes when I felt him stop.
Three agents of the Goddess Anastasha were waiting outside his gate!
I saw Mother again when Preciouse and I danced. And even her, I saw her in the sea of severed heads. But I had no time to think—Preciouse collapsed, and while I was carrying her out to take her to the hospital, our way was blocked by three Anastasha girls. They pulled out brochures from their green bags and shouted in unison.
They were enveloped in green light that blazed from the brochures they held, and suddenly their heads changed! Their heads turned into giant, veiny eyes! Scary and, and, disgusting!
“Return Agent HB-1182 to us!”
I knew it was the wrong time, but before I could think about what she meant, I wondered where the voice of this giant eye perched on a woman’s body was coming from.
“Preciouse? I will never surrender Preciouse to you! Over my dead handsome body!”
The three girls fell into formation. Two of them tumbled through the air, and the one in the middle cartwheeled towards me. After the cartwheels, a slide kick, catching me off-guard and throwing me and Preciouse to the ground. The three of them laughed, and I wondered again how they could speak. But I knew we were in danger, so before the one who did the cartwheels could rejoin her sisters, I went for it. From my pocket I pulled out a small pouch of salt, left over from the penoy that Preciouse had eaten earlier. I sprinkled it all over my right fist and punched the giant eye in the eye! I rolled towards the iron garbage drum, removed the lid, and frisbeed it towards Eye #2. I picked up our garden rake and rammed it into Eye #3. Then I picked up Preciouse and ran towards the town hall. I knew the Eye Girls wouldn’t die from such a simple counterattack.
Godo, a town cop I was friendly with, was out like a light when we got to the town hall. The other deputies were unconscious too.
“Nothing will stop the mandate of the Goddess Anastasha!”
Our Town Captain’s head had been replaced with a giant eye, and beside him was an Anastasha Eye Girl holding an Anastasha plastic bag. The Anastasha Eye Girl cried out.
The plastic bag began to glow, and out spurted green lightning. Headed for me and Preciouse. It grazed my left shoulder and went straight into the wall behind me. I dropped Preciouse.
“You cannot escape!”
I hid behind a table, a refrigerator, another table, a stack of Monobloc chairs (excellent hiding place, doh), but each one was vaporized by Anastasha Eye Girl’s plastic bag. I was going to lob a stapler that I had come across at her, but I had forgotten Town Captain. He grabbed me from behind, twisted my arm! Anastasha Eye Girl approached.
“Now, you are mine!”
Preciouse—she blocked the lightning aimed at my head! The light intensified, and the four of us flew in all directions. When I opened my eyes I saw that Town Captain and Anastasha Eye Girl were still down. Preciouse was on the floor too, blood on her legs, her arms, and her head, which had become a giant eye, an enormous, veiny eye. Disgusting. When she came to, she saw me gaping at her. We both froze for a moment.
“This—this is the real me, Robin.”
Our two foes had regained consciousness, and it looked like more were coming. There was no time to lose.
“Never mind. Let’s go!”
I carried her again and ran out the town hall, set her down in the sidecar of a pedicab parked outside. I took off the blue T-shirt I was wearing and handed it to her.
“Here, you might get something in your eye.”
I leaped onto the bicycle and pedaled like crazy until we made it out of the village. We passed Mojica Valenzuela Village, where we were ambushed by motorcab drivers with giant eyes for heads. A few Anastasha Eye Girls had also caught up. I pedaled even harder.
“How many are going to come after us?”
“A lot. Anyone who was in a house that an agent has visited is sure to have become a minion of the Goddess Anastasha.”
“Anastasha? You mean…”
“Yes, everyone She vanquishes becomes like this.”
I flashed back on my recurring dream. Mother, the severed heads, the green light, and the giant eyes. They were all real. But because they were, it was possible, yes, probable—probable that Mother was still alive. And if she and the others were still alive, there had to be a way to restore them to their former selves!
“Preciouse! Now I know! I know where we should…”
Our pedicab flew into the side of the road. Preciouse and I tumbled out and rolled through the grass, stones, and dust. The motorcab that had rammed us stopped. The eye who was driving alighted with two more Anastasha Eye Girls.
“Give it up, HB-1182!”
The breath had been knocked out of me, kind of, but I recovered quickly.
“Yo, sore eyes—you leave my Preciouse alone!”
I threw some dirt at an Anastasha Eye Girl. And before the other one could use her magic plastic bag, Preciouse sliced a roaring chainsaw straight through Anastasha Eye Girl #2.
“Now where did you get that?”
She was holding her brochure—she cupped it in her hands. She whispered “boomerang” into it, and soon the brochure lit up and the light spat out a large boomerang. Preciouse lobbed her new weapon at Motorcab Driver, right at his left kneecap. Preciouse tossed the chainsaw she was holding to me. I gave Tricycle Driver’s arm a single neat slice. Preciouse clambered onto the motorcycle and made me crowd into the sidecar. She gave the starter a firm kick.
“Where do we go?”
“To SM Fairview, my Preciouse!”
Before we left our pursuers too far behind, my Anastasha Girl whispered into her brochure.
And I happily watched the fireworks display of my Anastasha Girl’s explosive material detonating as we zoomed farther and farther away, towards SM Fairview. A wondrous plan was forming in my mind.
On our mad ride to SM Fairview, we were chased by motorcab drivers, jeepney drivers, even taxi drivers. The three guards at the mall entrance all had giant eyes for heads too. So many had fallen prey to Anastasha. Preciouse and I managed to run over the eye guards blocking the main entrance. We ran like crazy, made a right at the Pizza Hut, went past Dunkin’ Donuts, Watson’s, before taking a left at Toy Kingdom, heading for the Quantum arcade. I knew there was a horde of eyes following us, and I wasn’t sure of the plan I had thought of.
A female voice was calling Preciouse, a voice like someone singing, or the wind moaning. Before we could enter the arcade all the game screens began to flicker. Then the flashing stopped and became a vivid green light.
The green light became lightning that shot out at us. It smashed the glass walls of Quantum, struck the chainsaw I was still holding, which caromed to the escalator opposite us. Lucky it was the chainsaw and not us. I grabbed Preciouse’s hand and pulled. We ran into the arcade. We could still hear the singsong voice.
We leaped through the broken glass walls. Rolled on the floor to escape the shooting green lightning, while trying to stay on course.
“We’re going to the Dance Revo machine!”
I dragged Preciouse to the dance machine. I opened the token slot, poked it a bit.
1 Credit Left
I poked it a couple more times.
2 Credits Left
I told Preciouse to step on a dance arrow.
“Are you sure about this?”
“I don’t know, but we have no choice.”
I took Preciouse’s hand. Me on the left, her on the right. We looked at the Dance Revo machine. Stepped to the left, chose a song.
The first beats of the song began to play. We saw the dance arrows streaming up.
I get knocked down, but I get up again…And you’re never gonna keep me down…
I get knocked down, but I get up again…And you’re never gonna keep me down…
I get knocked down, but I get up again…
And you’re never gonna keep me down…
The screen before us flickered, the lights changed color. The machine switched itself on and off repeatedly. Yellow. White. Blue. Green.
“Robin, here She comes!”
“Don’t be afraid. We can do this!”
I tightened my grip on her hand. As one, we grooved to every beat of the song. With each Left, Right, Up, and Down, different images rushed through my mind. Mother, the giant eyes, the sea of green light, Preciouse, our clasped hands, our hearts beating as one. Our hearts in sync to a single beat!
“What insanity is this, HB-1182?”
People with eyes for heads were nearing the arcade, but we weren’t stopping. I knew—the two of us knew—that our synchronized dancing could defeat the power of Anastasha.
“Preciouse! My name is Preciouse!”
We went on dancing. The screen continued to change, from the game to Anastasha’s eye and back. My body, and Preciouse’s body, began to glow—different colors emanated from our skins. The light from our bodies entered the screen, entered the giant eye. The electric green began to battle with our searing rainbow. We were swallowed up by the dueling lights. Us, all of SM Fairview, perhaps the whole city. We melted into the blinding light. The last thing I heard was the sound of the Dance Revo machine.
Stage 1 Cleared–Excellent!
Robin was unconscious when I came to. Before us lay a multitude of people, people who had been restored to their true forms. The agents were gone. Could it be—was it possible?—that we had defeated Anastasha?
I rose from the Dance Revo machine. All of the arcade games were dead. In our machine’s screen, I saw my reflection—my old self! I had reclaimed my identity! He was right—Robin was right. Two hearts beating as one could vanquish any form of evil.
I bore my savior out of SM Fairview. How brightly the sun shone! A new day, in all probability, for all creatures who yearned to free themselves from their uniforms, for all creatures seeking their own corner of the sky. So many memories crowding in my mind. I wanted to tell Robin everything when he awakened.
I awoke in my bed. I was home again. Had it all been a dream?
No. This wasn’t a dream. I was still shirtless, my body grimy from the previous night’s adventure. And Preciouse, well, she was right beside me. Still wearing the black Beatles T-shirt I had given her. Sound asleep and snoring mightily. This Anastasha Girl of mine really is something else.
I rose, looked around the apartment, which still had not been tidied. All the stuff was still as we had left them—the Magic Mic, the Playstation, the dance pads, the DVDs, the glass of water that Preciouse had drunk from. Her red uniform was on the sofa. On top of the green plastic bags.
I went to the sofa, moved the uniform aside. The plastic bags bulged—they were still full. What did their insides look like? What would I see if I opened them?
I picked up one of the green plastic Anastasha bags, touched the bit of plastic that held it shut. I undid the first button. The second. One more and I could open this closed vessel.
The doorbell rang. Several times, in quick succession, like someone needed help quick. I put the bag down and hurried to the door.
When I opened it, I saw red shoes, red stockings, a red skirt, a red button-down shirt and vest and jacket, the face of a woman wearing red lipstick, red earrings, with red eyes and hair. She was clutching empty bags, like the ones on my sofa.
“What’s inside your brochure?”
Robin was exploring the length of my spine with his fingertips as I lay prone beside him.
“Honestly, nothing. It’s a green material with a hypnosis mechanism. Any kind of bag, shoes, or toy the reader wants to see, she’ll see.”
“So that’s how it works…”
I was going to drift off again, but Robin asked another question.
“And Anastasha, have you seen her since? And why doesn’t she just pop up in a TV or a lightbulb if she wants to?”
I sighed. I rolled over so I could look at him as I spoke.
“The apparitions of the Goddess…I mean, of Anastasha, aren’t that simple. She transfers Her powers to the agents, and in return, the agents give up some of their life force. If She were to appear anywhere just like that, the balance would be thrown off.”
“Oh, OK. So what happens when your 5-month contract is up?”
“We vanish. Then we reappear in some undefined place. We’re aware that we’ve been agents for some time, but Anastasha erases the details of where or for how long. All we know is, we serve for five months before we disappear for a while.”
Robin embraced me, laid his head on my naked belly.
“There’s so much I don’t know about Anastasha, isn’t there?”
I was going to ask why he was so interested in my former Goddess, but he beat me to the punch again.
“Preciouse, tell me what you remember of your family.”
I started to speak, but no voice issued from my lips. Robin was saying something but I couldn’t hear him. My vision began to blur, flooded with green light.
I awoke to find that our story wasn’t over. Not for a while.
[*] “O my love, I miss you very much; I long to be in your embrace…”
[†] “Sing It, and I’ll Dance It.”