Mattress Island

Bernise Carolino

Queer Is...

It’s so early in the morning and I, Blacky Dano, the self-proclaimed weirdo-writer-woman, am already so terminally hip. Imagine: I’m sitting back on the crumpled sheets on top of my mattress, my legs luxuriously stretched before me, left leg crossed over right, perfectly poised, wearing my typical uniform—black blazer over a crisp white button-down shirt tucked into slim black trousers with hems just kissing my ankles, exposing wine-colored socks on top of black patent leather oxfords. My short hair is tucked neatly behind my ears, and my eyes are hidden behind dark glasses—lenses perfectly round for that vintage, retro feel. In my right hand I have a cigarette, and in my left hand I have a goblet of brandy. I’m intermittently taking deep drags and heady sips as I survey the remarkable scenery around me.

How brown! How queer and brown! Everything around me is brown. You see, last night, a typhoon raged, I forget what it’s called but some very Filipino-sounding name anyway, something nobody uses except to name typhoons. Let’s say Anding. So last night, this bitch typhoon Anding spit her icy breath into the whirling air, fat globs of her spittle leaking down and reducing the usually dusty, dry dirt of barangay Concepcion Uno into one gigantic bowl of mud soup being stirred by the sky gods. The sky gods must have knocked their heads together and said, “The taste is much too strong—can we add more water still?” And that is what they did.

Now here I am, on a desert island, minus the desert, plus this whole gigantic soupful of flood. From where I float on my mattress island, I can see the mud soup blurping against two rows of roofs that used to be P. Gomez Street, where I lived. There, see, that red roof is mine. I wonder if I can still return and live in that house. I don’t even fucking own it. It’s my parents’ second home—I claimed it after they took my younger siblings and left for that nicer one in New Manila. I wonder how they are, if they’re safe. I wonder what the fuck I should do now. Will my parents, assuming their nice new house survived this flood, welcome back their 22-year-old cross-dressing deadbeat daughter with grand delusions of being the first Filipino winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature? Before the bitch Anding came to my life and ripped away everything I owned, I lived on alcohol, cigarettes, and the strained goodwill of my parents. Not so much on food. Well, I guess it’s a good thing I’ve gotten skeletally thin lately—good for floating on my mattress on a flood. Who knew my badass lifestyle had that particular perk?

See, last night, when the evacuators were slamming on my door and yelling Get out! Get out now! I was as calm as anything, smoking a joint on top of my bed, watching the rain outside the big picture window in my room. It had been raining for forever and I was too immersed watching the raindrops slash and smack on the glass to pay those dudes any real attention. Even though the house has only one fucking floor, I never dreamed the water would actually rise, you know, inside. But rise it did. And alarmingly fast. But since I was so fucking high anyway, I watched that too. The flood rising. Fascinated with all the brown pooling around me. Then when the flood was lapping at the wood frame of my bed, I knew it was time to go. But suddenly I didn’t want to leave my bed, my sweet companion for the past who knows how many days now. So I threw away my joint, which was all smoked up anyway, and kicked the pillows off my bed and grabbed all my mattress island necessities and wrapped them inside my blanket and pulled open the glass of my huge picture window, and then flew out like whoosh! I launched my mattress outside the house and I rode the flood like I was riding a fucking skateboard down a ramp. I rode like one of those skater punks, or maybe a surfer beach babe, except of course my mattress island necessities consisted exactly of booze and cigs and not much fucking else and I’d forgotten my goddamn umbrella, so I rode the flood looking as badass as a drenched cat.

Luckily the wind wasn’t too strong. It was just rain, all rain, like that asshole Ondoy some years ago. I gave up trying to be a badass skateboarder and sat down on my mattress instead and took cover under my blanket. But of course the rain dripped down my clothes anyway. And I couldn’t smoke because my cigarette got all soggy, so I drank instead and waited for the bitch Anding or whoever to shut her fucking mouth and finally subside. I sat on my mattress and floated on the flood and drank a good many cocktails of 50-percent brandy, 50-percent rain. I was weeping a little because I had to leave home, but after some cocktails, the world got all mellow and nice and stayed that way, thank God. And the night closed and took with it the rain, and the sun came out baking hot, so right about now I’m half-dried up already. I throw away my soggy, useless blanket and pull out my dark glasses from my breast pocket, and if anyone comes out and sees me, well fuck that, I’m wearing my vintage sunglasses for maximum swag effect. And sitting pretty. As if I wasn’t sobbing like an infant just the night before.

I have to say, it’s not easy to be chill while floating on this flood. For one, it smells like a sea of a gazillion billion million liquefied soggy shoes. Pure putrefaction—leather and rubber and canvas, in their most glorious state of decay, stuffed roughly into my mouth, gagging me. So I take another brandy shot, then another, then another, anything to take the edge off the flood’s violent attack on my delicately bourgeoisie senses. If you can get over the overpowering stench of the flood though, it’s really rather serene otherwise, like being in a gently swaying boat out on a picturesque oceanscape. My mattress bobs slowly and softly over the water, and the rhythm is not frightening at all.

It’s like a pool party almost. My neighbors are boogying on their respective roofs, unashamed, irreverent toward the deaths that have surely happened elsewhere. Some of my neighbors have not quite caught the boogie fever and prefer to poke instead at the debris swishing past as the flood weaves around the double line of houses and around the beaten, bald tops of trees. I am one such swishing debris, and when the neighbors see me floating past, they laugh and wave at me. I’m sort of known around here as the neighborhood eccentric, and I’m proud of it. I wear the label like a nametag across my breast and tip my glass to them for the acknowledgement. They riot at the hilarity. And I wave back grandly because I’m drunk, because I’m high, because this whole thing is way too fucking weird.

As the street parties and anticipates salvation, here I am almost wishing I live on this flood, on this liquid mountain of putrefying shoes, forever. Here I have no responsibilities. Here I can be drunk and stay drunk and wave at people and not have to feel weird about it. I float without aim or direction. I steer away from roofs and particularly huge debris by using an empty brandy bottle as my makeshift oar. I never drift too far away from P. Gomez, which is good because it’s all very, very nice here.

Some sparrows fly down close to where I’m floating. How pretty! The birdies are flying all panicky, fluttering as if searching for a piece of land after the Great Flood. I’m watching them happily until, for some strange reason, they fly right up to my fucking face and rest on my body, seeming to equate my shoulders with branches on which to perch. Which I do not like at all—what if they leave ugly white poop stains on my beautifully rich black blazer? So I swat the wretched sparrows away wildly, but in doing so, I relinquish the perfectly arranged equilibrium of my placement on the mattress, and it sinks in one corner. I lose my balance and have to flail desperately, rearranging my ass on the mattress for the whole thing to float correctly once more. From now on, I must remember to just sit still and enjoy the scenery and drink and smoke. This aloneness keeps my mattress afloat. This buoyancy is fragile.

Just as I’m dwelling on this, one of my neighbors, a dude around my age, whom I think comes from 17 P. Gomez, suddenly calls out my name. I’m too close to pretend I haven’t heard, so I sigh and row over to his house. He and his mother and father and two little sisters are happily waving me over. When I get close, he asks, “Can you be driver for us?” I light another cigarette and take care to blow the smoke away from the kids and ask what he means.

He says, “We sit on bed and then all of us ride to dry place.”

The mother chimes in, “First Maria, then Mina.”

The father chimes in, “Then Misis.”

The dude my age explains, “Ride them then come back here.” Then: “I’m last riding.”

His mother says to him, “Blessed you are by God.”

His father says, “How kind is my Miguel!”

That’s when I speak up and say that this mattress, though surely epic and excellent, unfortunately doesn’t work that way. It can only carry one passenger at a time. Just me. So I’m truly sorry for their plight, and I hope help comes soon from the relief operations, or that the water goes down as fast as when the bathtub plunger is yanked out, and when it does and everything’s over and done with and the houses in P. Gomez are shiny and new again, they can be sure I’ll visit their sparkling clean home and bring over a large bowl of buko salad for a potluck dinner if I didn’t know jackshit about cooking.

But none of them are listening. They’re busy consulting with each other about who should go with me first, if the girls should go first to be safer the sooner, or if their mother should so that she’ll be ready to take care of the girls when they get there. And the father is loudly calling out to his neighbors on either side, 16 and 18 P. Gomez, and sharing with them that bravo! They have found a ferrywoman to save them all! What’s my name again? I reply meekly Blacky Dano. And I really, truly think they’re a lovely family, not unlike my own, with a personable father and a caring mother and a rough-and-tumble kuya who’s kind and brave deep down and younger siblings with eyes that shine like hope—they’re all lovely, really, but you know, I have to go. In this mattress island, I’m alone, isolated even from the littlest, lightest sparrows.

So I begin to murmur excuses and row away with my trusty brandy bottle but I barely go a few feet, when Miguel calls out, “Hoy Blacky! Where you are going?!”

Then a splash. I turn around and am horrified to see that he’s dived right into the stinky flood to chase after me. He swims toward me using the doggy paddle, his head bobbing up and down the water. He’s grinning as if he thinks I know this is some sort of game. Then—horror of horrors!—he calls out to his friends from other houses: “Hoy Jun! Hoy Santi! Hoy Elena! Hoy Boy! Hoy Mimi! Catch her!”

I hear a chorus of splashes from behind me as they jump into the flood to support him. I look around and see they all swim faster than I can row with my little bottle. Their arms are so much stronger. They close in with swift, sure strokes. Then Miguel’s hand reaches the edge of my mattress and grabs it hard. His friends are hot on his heels and quickly swim in a circle around me, each grabbing the edges of the mattress on every side. The weight is too much for my fragile mattress to take, and from all the pressure of so many people, it seeps in the floodwater and sinks from beneath me. I find myself submerged in the brown water, and I am gasping for air, but hands quickly grab me from all sides and I feel myself being dragged some distance through the murky depths and then finally pulled up a rough surface angling up. The surface claws on me as I’m dragged upward, tearing my shirt and digging wounds into my back. I gasp again, water spurting out of my mouth. My terminally hip circular dark glasses have fallen off and my eyes are already open. And all I see is no longer brown, brown, brown—now I can see an immaculately glowing blue sky above.

I’m on a roof. It’s so high up here, safer, closer to this lovely sky. Goddamn it, it’s beautiful.

Then slowly all my other senses return to me and I can hear a little girl crying, “Mommy, Mommy, dead already?”

The father screams to his son, “Motherfucker kid this is!”

Miguel says sheepishly, “Sorry already.” He is echoed by his other friends who have swum here to the roof of 17 P. Gomez to save me. They tell me the mattress sank then overturned, and everything on it was lost. My brandy. My cigarettes. My mattress island necessities.

Motherfucking mattress island necessities. What bullshit.

I sit up and tell them, hey, that’s all right, I’m alive. But direly in need of a hug. I open up my arms and make goo-goo eyes at the little girl who was crying—Mina or Maria—and she wipes her tears and snot away with the back of her hand, shyly takes a step toward me, then throws herself into my arms. After a moment’s hesitation, her sister—Maria or Mina—jumps forward and hugs me as well.

One of the sisters asks me, “Okay already, Ate?” And I echo: okay already.
My hair’s standing up like a demented starfish and my shirt is now brown and so are my slacks and don’t even get me started about my patent leather oxfords, but who fucking cares right now? None of that shit matters. I’ve got company; I’m alive. And so, stranded together, we all boogie as we wait together for help to arrive.

Bernise Carolino is a recent graduate of the Ateneo de Manila University, and has since then been engaged in a drawn-out existential battle with herself on what she should do now with her life and God-given talents, to the great dismay of her long-suffering parents. Berry spends most of her time indoors and never gets bored. She likes iced coffee, the band Tegan and Sara, and books on all sorts and subjects. She lives in Marikina City, Philippines.
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