• Victoria Lambinicio

The Death of Men


I. Vulnerable

“There are no more real men in the world,” were the first words written in a little black notebook that Isabella found at the University of the Philippines’ library. It had dropped to the floor when she was pulling out a very different book, a book about women’s history in the country.


The event of a book falling down wasn’t strange and the girl was about to simply put the black notebook back on the shelf, but when she picked it up by its binding, a check fell out from its pages, an unnamed check for 20,000 USD, dated a mere month ago.


She gasped. There was no way that could be real, but, full of hope, she picked it up, turned it over and over, examining the feel of the paper between her fingers and its sharp edges until finally she placed the check carefully in her purse and started reading the notebook for some form of confirmation, a reason why the check would exist.


It was a diary. The first page said,


“There are no more real men in the world. They’re dressed up as the gods of society, may the manliest lord over the world with an iron will, but if they are so special, why are they so full of fear? The fear of the truth: their own vulnerability and the sameness of women.”


Isabella, uninterested, closed the book. The idea that the men she knew, including her father, were full of fear was preposterous. It must have been a crazy person that wrote it. Of course, only the insane would write an unnamed check for $20,000 and put it between the pages of a book.


She opened her purse to get another glimpse. The check was still there, still unnamed and $20,000. She looked around the library, but no one was paying attention. They were all studying. Quickly, she put the notebook in her purse as well and left the building almost at a run.




II. Gay

When Isabella got home, she was surprised to find all the women of her family—her mother, two aunts, and five cousins—sitting around the living room, talking in serious and hushed tones. She tried to say a simple “hi” and head straight to her bedroom upstairs so that she could give the check a second look, but every head in the room turned to look at her when she walked in, and then her mother called her over saying, “Bell, come over here.”


Begrudgingly, Isabella cut through the crowd and her mother lifted a photograph to her face. It was her brother, Rodrigo, that had moved to the United States three years ago. He was the one that always defended her when she was in trouble with their father, like when Rodrigo stopped their father from beating her for being caught with a boy. Then the distance made them grow apart.


In the picture, Rodrigo was wearing a wedding dress. Isabella felt her face contort in disgust. Her mother then asked, “Did you know anything about this?”


“No, what happened? Why is he wearing a dress?”


“Roddy says that he’s getting married to another man, a Black guy from America, and he’s asking for money to pay for the wedding.”


“Whoa,” said Isabella, “What are you going to do? Does Dad know?”


“It’s an abomination!” shouted one of her aunts, suddenly. She was crying.


“Not yet,” said her mother, “But here, he wrote a letter for you. We opened and read it already, but it’s yours. Now, sit with us and read it while we’re all waiting for the men to get home from work. We already told all of them to meet us here.”


When Isabella hesitated, her mother glared at her, so Isabella was forced to forget the check for now, sit, and read. She tried to ignore all the memories flooding back to her where Rodrigo was the only one who would protect her from both herself and others. Why would a freak think that they would still be close after him turning gay?




III. Love Stories

“Hey Bell,


“Guess what, I’m getting married! His name is Demetrius. We met through a mutual friend that thought we’d make a great match. D is such a wonderful man. He’s old school macho, so I know Mom and Dad would love him.


“I know I told Laura that when I go back to the Philippines, I would marry her, but when D and I met at our mutual friend’s birthday party, one look at him smiling at me and his eyes locked on mine… that one moment had more passion and love than Laura and I ever had in our whole relationship. We exchanged numbers and met up a few times, not as dates, but as friends.


“That all changed when it was time for me to go back. D drove me to the airport. When we pulled up and I was about to leave forever, he held me back and asked me to stay.


“There I was, in a foreign land with three seconds to decide my future. I could have gone back to the Philippines and been happy with Laura even if we would never be as in love as D and I were. But then he was asked me to take a chance on him. Don’t ask why, but I’m still here.


“Now, would you be my maid of honor?


“Love always,

“Roddy.”




IV. Femininity

When Isabella crumpled up the piece of paper, her cousins gave her a cheer. It was at the moment that Isabella threw down the balled-up paper and stomped on it, exclaiming, “Freak!” that the heads of the households walked in.


“What’s wrong?” asked her uncle as he kissed his wife, her aunt, in greeting.


“Roddy is gay,” said her mother, “And he’s getting married to a man in America.”


“What!”


The three men gathered around Rodrigo’s picture and each one had their own looks of surprise and disgust. Her uncle threw the picture to the floor, much like Isabella did to Rodrigo’s letter, and stomped his foot on it before yelling, “What the hell has he been doing in the States!”


“He turned into girl!” yelled her other uncle. When the men started screaming about how they should have known when Rodrigo spent most of his days shopping with the women, how they should have beat it out of him back then, and how dare Rodrigo ask them for money to pay for a gay wedding, Isabella excused herself.


When she got to her bedroom, finally, she took out the $20,000 check and reexamined it for authenticity. She held it up to the light, ran her fingers over its surface, and even smelled it. She was about to walk over to her desk and write her name on the check, but she accidentally stepped on the black notebook on the way.


“Ugh,” she said, remembering the passage. The author was just another liberal who thought ‘progress’ was to live in an anarchy. When she picked it up to give it another chance, she read:


“The first man of my life was my father, but he wasn’t real. Him going around with other women, shaming my mother, always breaking her dear heart, and all the other women would say:

That’s just how men are. But I, the child, thought: what is a man without his Word?”


Isabella teared up. Now it reminded her of all the times her own father was caught having affairs. He must have had women from all over the Philippines and whenever her mother would start screaming at him about them, he would yell even louder, “I’m a man!”


Isabella always stayed silent and just watched. Rodrigo was the only one who ever fought back for their mother, saying “Stop it, Dad!”


Suddenly, she was depressed. She went to take a quick glance at what was happening downstairs. Her father was yelling at her mother for raising his son to be gay. Her mother had her face in her hands and all her aunts, uncles, and cousins were sitting around, watching it all. Then, after hiding the check in a safe place, she cried herself to sleep.




V. Family

Suddenly, her mother was waking Isabella up at 6am and when Isabella opened her eyes, her mother shoved the phone into her face. She had a second phone in her hand and was listening in. On the other end of the line, Rodrigo’s voice spoke and said, “Hey Bell, how are you?”


“Roddy?”


“Yeah, were you sleeping?”


Their mother mouthed “no” and then continued her eavesdropping. Obediently, Isabella said, “No, Roddy, I’ve been up for a while now. What’s up?”


“I just wanted to know how the family reacted to me getting married.”


“Not well. Dad started yelling at Mom for raising you to be gay.”


“I knew it.”


“That’s why you should forget about this BS, come back home, and get back together with Laura. You’ll be happy.”


“But I can’t be happy with Laura anymore. Not after knowing what I could have with Demetrius.”


Isabella was silent. Her mother looked at her and offered no advice. Rodrigo then repeated his purpose for calling: “Bell, will you be my maid of honor?”


“No, Roddy, you’re gay.”


“Bell, please…” he whispered, and Isabella could hear him crying.




VII. Rape

“It’s not our fault that he’ll have to do this without his family,” said her mother, after the three of them hung up, “How dare he even ask for money!”


Isabella remembered the $20,000 she had hidden away.


“What is this,” her mother said, holding up the little black notebook. She opened it and started reading,


“The second man of my life was my rapist, and he wasn’t real. His strength broke my spirit, his might was more than I could bear. I, the woman, thought: what is strength that breaks the innocent?


“Oh, blah blah! Why are you reading this? I bet it’s some hoochie,” Isabella’s mother said before tossing the notebook away. She gave Isabella a scathing look and a quick glance up and down before leaving the room while saying, “You need to cover up more.”


Isabella looked down at her t-shirt and pajama pants. Rodrigo had been the only one to listen to Isabella when—




VIII. Change

As soon as her mother left the room, Isabella took the check out from its hiding place, but before she put her name on it, she decided to turn to the last page. She read:


“The last man of my life was my love and he was real. His strength kept me safe while needing no savior of his own. His intelligence lifted me up to a world I never knew. Although he left for Heaven one night in a crash, I stay here, grateful for the memories.”


Isabella thought she was unmoved, but when she bent down to write her name on the check, her hand moved on its own. Before she could stop herself, she wrote, “Rodrigo Cruz.”



END.



Short story by Victoria Lambinicio

Written originally for the Little Black Book Challenge on Vocal

Cover Photo by Cristyan Bohn on Pexels