The Inaugural Issue

Stout

Jeffrey Pascual Yap

 

That night when Gab’s arms began to wobble, he was hesitant to press it against Fritz, whose body was starting to become more defined. The two of them were squeezed inside a tricycle, a three-wheeled motorized rickshaw that trod on a cemented road lined with coconut trees and other plants moistening the air. There were no streetlights that guided the driver to the resort; only the headlight of the tricycle showed the way. Fritz had told Gab nonchalantly that it was twenty minutes away from where the bus had its last stop. It was at the edge of that province, eight hours away from the city.

 

They plied the road in silence, except for an occasional, indistinct sighing from Gab who kept pulling his shirt off his skin. He bought it three years ago when he made a vow in front of a three-way mirror that the shirt would fit in four months. He tried to recall that day in the clothing store with his eyes closed while feeling Fritz’s shoulders beside him. He could smell the ocean to his right, where it looked like an endless blackness that stretched into the horizon. The muffling sound from the tricycle started when the road reached an incline. The driver squeezed the hand clutch to make it climb up the road. Gab was listening to the splashing of the waves when they were told to get off the vehicle and help the driver push it up, over the hump of road.

 

Gab’s backpack was lighter after he finished off the one liter of water he had been lugging around for hours. It lessened his burden, but he felt all that weight went straight to the loose flesh under his chin. Even the water felt like it was mixing with his fat, elevating his cholesterol level, retaining the salt, fluffing the skin on his face and the back of his neck. When they started pushing the tricycle, Gab watched his belly droop to the ground. Every effort to move the vehicle caused a trigger on his nerve that made his heart beat faster. “Are you okay?” Fritz finally asked. It was his first attempt at a conversation after almost eight hours of not speaking to each other.

 

Gab shrugged as he struggled with his breath. Inhaling and exhaling in that part of the town was like breathing in salt water, and he felt that his insides were starting to swell.

 

͝

Fritz started becoming silent that afternoon on their way to the bus station. It was his way of showing displeasure.  Five years of going steady had established a system of rituals and role playing that gave them convenience, allowing them nonetheless to discover what pissed off each other. The planning was voluntarily accepted by Fritz, with interventions from Gab every now and then. The trip that weekend, for instance, was mentioned by Fritz while they were on their way to watch an annual film festival. That was to be their first official out-of-town, and he specified that he was going to provide a more organized and detailed itinerary.

 

Fritz reminded them that leaving the house after lunch would give them ample time to make it to the bus station, which was about an hour or so from the outskirts of the place where they lived together. At two in the afternoon they were still in the freeway, and Fritz who was standing and holding on to the handrails in the bus was already fidgeting right next to Gab, who was seated yet burdened with their two backpacks.

 

When they arrived at the bus station two hours later, Fritz was already buried in silence, and to distract himself, Gab thought of the sushi and sashimi he would eat once they returned from the trip. Fritz was walking ahead of him, and was twice paranoid than usual, mentioning all the possible problems like waiting for a bus to arrive for another two hours, not making it on time, or worse, not making it to the wedding at all.

 

Fritz was quiet when the bus finally arrived, even after they got good seats. For Gab, his silence was a myriad of disasters waiting to happen. Gab felt questions and self-doubt about his capability to sustain a relationship rising within him, and he, being the person that he was, assumed the worse of the situation. He was prepared to call it quits if Fritz felt that his incapacity to decide for themselves was already the last straw from a series of blunders that he had committed in the past. He had never cheated—there was no reason to, but he knew what he was incapable of, and that was to understand Fritz and his mood swings which he suspected were grounded on self-centeredness.

 

The driver told them that they were past the incline and that they can ride the tricycle again. The lighted signage of the resort could be seen from what they assumed was just a short distance.

 

“Why don’t we walk instead?” Gab suggested.

 

“Then why did we hire a driver?” Fritz asked.

 

“Walking will be good for me,” he replied. “Besides, that’s just what, five minutes away? I’m sure we can manage,” he added.

 

“You know that Joseph and his wife have left us some food for dinner,” Fritz said.

 

“We’ll have more time to eat tomorrow morning before the wedding. What are they serving, anyway? Vegetables? The so-called specialty of this place?”

 

“I thought you’re hungry?”

 

“Do I look like I’m always starving?”

 

Gab rolled his eyes every time someone asked him if he wanted to eat. He never considered it well-meaning because he wasn’t always happy about eating. His satisfaction ended after each meal, and finishing off a plate was the beginning of his self-ruthlessness. His body never lied to him as well—two cups of white rice would turn his chest into breasts. The only time that he felt at ease with his body was after taking a bath in the morning, when his skin was still tight and there weren’t much salt yet present in his system to bloat his stomach.

 

They crushed the compact sand with every step of their shoes as they walked to the hotel. The entrance to the resort was adorned with two Fu dogs painted gold from head to foot and the wooden door was curtained with strips of sea shells. They saw Joseph leaning on the reception counter to get his key. Fritz shifted to being amicable and apologized endlessly like “sorry” was to be deleted from the dictionary. Gab nodded in half a smile when Joseph waved at him and pointed at the buffet table.  “There’s more left. I think they’re still serving lechon.”

 

He picked up a plate on the table and scooped rice that had already gone cold. He poured some sauce on it before forking pieces of lechon on to his plate.

 

“Would you like vegetables to go with that?” Fritz asked.

 

Gab glanced at Fritz a few times while eating. His body frame had gone from small to medium. Gab was the one who was in good shape in the first year of their relationship. He ran thrice a week, did light weights in between runs, and didn’t eat anything beyond his standard small plate. Nothing fried, no junk foods, and no sodas. Fritz, on the other hand, would refer to his body as soft as a grape, and swore that he would never go into any kind of fitness regimen even if it was for a mere visit to a gym that was just a five-minute walk away from their house.

 

Their tandem was mocked by their friends—how odd it was to combine the gym rat Gab and the bookish Fritz. Of course, Gab was not all muscle head, as he was a filmmaker by profession, and had a number of short films that almost made it to competitions and film festivals. He was too tired to give it another try, but Fritz’s daily presence and gradual integration into his life made him take his craft seriously. Fritz gave his full support by encouraging his long nights of editing and researching for his up and coming shorts. The visits to the gym became once a week until he had completely removed the routine out of his system. Fritz, on the other hand, just thought about lifting weights for the reason that he might like it, which he did.

 

Take-out and delivery food were a filmmaker’s best friend, and countless days and nights of polishing his films had turned Gab’s gut into flab while his face had ballooned from too many double-patty burgers with extra cheese and mayonnaise. He was also reminded by Fritz not to forget his other dream—to cook. “Remember that you love food,” Fritz had told him too many times. One day, Gab took out a pan and heated it on the blue flame—oh, what a marvelous glow a fire can do! He considered trips to the grocery as an escape where every aisle was scanned and new products were picked. After his sessions of editing, he would make an omelet with whole milk and butter. From then on, he cooked food good for two. But      a second serving was only for him.

 

Fritz placed a plate of lechon on the table. “They ran out of vegetables,” he told Gab, who didn’t respond and continued wiping out the remaining lechon off his plate.

 

He invited Gab for a walk in the beach. Assuming that it was an excuse for another relationship talk, Gab pointed to his feet, sore from pushing the tricycle past the hilly terrain. Fritz tried to convince him that it would be nice to remove their shoes and feel the sand on their soles. “You mean souls, as in spirits?” Gab asked, who was obviously trying to patch things up with Fritz for erroneously telling him that they can make it to the bus station in less than an hour. But he was too tired to go for a walk and to talk, so he left Fritz with Joseph who was having drinks with his friends at the bar.

 

Gab woke up the next day without Fritz beside him. He saw Fritz’s last night’s shirt lying on a chair. Size medium, he thought. He lifted the blinds and saw him running by the shore, back and forth, and stopping once in a while to sip from his handheld water bottle. It was his first time to see him shirtless in public with his chest pushed outward, his arms toned, tanned.

 

They had fought over the day before, over why the venue was too far and who in the right mind would have a wedding at nine in the morning. “Your friend is only thinking about himself,” Gab said.

 

“Of course he is!” exclaimed Fritz. “It’s his wedding!”

 

There were times that Gab wondered if he ever had the time to plan things for himself instead of just working on his films. Five years with Fritz, even if he had his full support on doing what he believed he was good at, had prompted him to stop altogether. He just wanted to stop and not do anything for a few months. Then Fritz’s compulsion to plan things for them surfaced by filling all their weekends with activities: weddings, birthdays, meet up with friends, out-of-towns. They were always together that they already looked alike. Their resemblance to each other was subtle, yet also inexplicably obvious.

 

Fritz came in all sweaty from running and climbed on the bed where Gab was still half asleep and kissed him. Then he smiled and greeted him good morning and told him that the stubs for the breakfast buffet could be picked up at the front desk. Gab looked at the two barongs that he and Fritz would be wearing: one was medium, the other was extra-large. Gab reached for his phone and took a photo of it.

 

“A study for your next film?” Fritz asked.

 

“Maybe. Who knows, I might delete this picture later,” Gab said.

 

Outside their room was the garden facing the sea, now dotted with round tables covered with white cloth and accented with small bouquets of white and red roses. The sun was out, blasting its heat in that supposedly rainy month considered lucky by soon-to-be married couples. Gab walked further towards the buffet table and gave his stub to the waiter. The barong felt too loose on his body, and his black pants were too baggy that another pair of legs could fit in. He watched Fritz from the shore being photographed with the rest of the groomsmen. His slanted eyes got smaller each time he smirked. How silly it was for him to be smiling like that, he thought. He knew Fritz didn’t like gatherings and too many people around him, let alone being photographed. But a new look and a sculpted body did wonders for him. Fritz had had a change of heart, just as Gab had predicted.

 

While Fritz was far from him, he made some mental notes for a scene or two for his next film. A woman riding a bike in a foreign country. She was all by herself, slowly gliding the pedal on the tree-lined street with sidewalks occupied by cars. Patches of sunlight streaming through the trees formed clover-shaped patterns on the pavement. The woman arranged the basket tied to her bike, but she couldn’t fix it right away so she got off her bike and started walking.

 

Where was she going? He thought harder about where the woman’s bike would take her. Perhaps the woman simply wanted to take a long walk and look at the shop windows from time to time. Stores selling antique furniture would fancy the woman, and she would enter one of them and pick up an item from a pile of rusty metals in a wooden basket. Yes! Gab, realized that it was a story of a woman. About what? Well, he didn’t know yet. But he was certain that the woman enjoyed being alone.

 

The bride emerged from the suite room of the resort and was followed by three photographers and one coordinator who was giving her instructions on what to do. The wedding had started but Gab was still having a light snack masquerading as a heavy breakfast. He would never consider a ham and egg sandwich as a full meal, especially if there was only half a slice of ham and fried egg in between two dismally-thin slices of white bread. He asked the waiter for another sandwich using Fritz’s food stub but the waiter apologized that they had ran out of sandwich and if it was alright to instead give him half a slice of toasted bread with a stick of butter. He gave the waiter a grin and said that a half slice of toast would not even reach his throat.

 

He followed the crowd, gathered by the shore to witness the wedding ceremony of Joseph and his bride. He looked at the bride’s gown—it fitted her like a glove, and the trail was quite short but practical for walking-down-the-sandy-aisle moment. But one thing he noticed behind the veil was her arm flab. Just like him, the bride was on the heavy side and plump on most parts of her body. Even her nape had a surplus of flesh that was so apparent that no veil could cover up. Yet the bride and his groom were happy, and said rather candidly to the crowd that they felt a lump in their throat when they were reciting personal vows.

 

Fritz was seated in front and was looking at the couple intently while taking out his handkerchief to wipe the sweat from his face. His barong was soaked in sweat from the heat of the midmorning sun. Again, who in the right mind would want to have a beach wedding before lunch time? Gab thought that it only applied to film shootings because light during midday was the best natural light and was perfect for the camera. Fritz tried looking for Gab in the crowd but could not see him. He seemed to be carrying the weight of not being able to talk to him last night.

 

What was the misunderstanding about? Gab asked himself while the ceremony was in progress. They had been in a relationship for five years and he had repeatedly asked himself if the fights and conflicts accumulated. Had it piled up, suppressed under the years of things unsaid? Had he become numb as shown on his cheeks that were puffed from too much salt in his body?

 

After the ceremony, the crowd milled at the reception area to look for seats. Gab picked a table near the buffet area and checked if it was table number one. Unsure if it was the right table, he asked the waiter who gave him the thin sandwich if it was the first table to line up for the buffet. The waiter shrugged and left.

 

Fritz walked up to Gab and asked if he was hungry. Gab nodded. He returned the question. Fritz nodded as well, adding that he was starving after running on the shore that morning and barely eating anything since last night. When the host said that lunch was served and that table one was the first in line, Gab lurched towards the buffet table with Fritz trailing behind him.

 

He grabbed a plate only for himself, spooned rice equivalent to two servings, and asked the servers to put in more slices of roast beef and pour the gravy. He scooped out buttered vegetables too, along with fish fillet, chicken a la king, and oysters onto his plate. Fritz was smiling at the servers, explaining to them that Gab only had a sandwich that morning and that it was his first full meal. The servers smiled and asked if he wanted more sauce on his roast beef.

 

Gab went straight to the table and started eating the beef without the accompanying steamed rice. The slices of red meat rested on his tongue— they were warm and the gravy had seeped through and made them palatable. Then he gorged on the fish fillet that got mixed up with the chicken, making his plate look like a pigsty. He gobbled the vegetables and oysters while drinking water in between. A small boy with a bib over his little barong seated beside him was nibbling from a plate of peanuts, but not touching his plate filled with food. The boy pushed the plate towards Gab as if telling him that he could have it as a second helping.

 

Fritz arrived with two plates of pink gelatin with raisins for dessert and placed them in front of Gab.

 

“Look at me. When are you going to make me stop?” asked Gab.

 

Confused, Fritz finally asked what the problem was but Gab threw the spoon and fork at him.

 

He left the table and ran towards the shore. He ran, just like before, years ago when he still hadn’t met Fritz. Back when he had no flab on his gut, no loose skin on his arms and legs. He sprinted, hitting the sand and water as if it were asphalt. His leather shoes were drenched but he felt as if he was wearing his running shoes. Fritz ran after him, but Gab was almost at the edge of the shore.

 

The coast was not long so he had to stop. The sea water had dampened his shoes. He knew that Fritz was behind him, waiting for him to speak. While he was catching his breath, he heard Fritz saying sorry again, but it was drowned by the splashing of the waves. He apologized for everything, for whatever mistake he had done. Gab was seeking for a hint of remorse, but when Fritz apologized rather frivolously, he laughed. He laughed so hard as if the newly-wed couple in their full regalia were being swept away by the sea. Then he started throwing up. He vomited everything he had eaten—the rice, the roast beef, even the ham sandwich.  After heaving the chunks of food out of his body, he breathed in and out normally. Then he felt better, lighter.

________

Reference:

Jeffrey Pascual Yap. ‘Stout’. Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016.

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