“I want to know the fires your hands bring—”
“Having Been Cast, Eve Implores” by Barbara Jane Reyes
Tonight, as in every night, she smiles when the door opens. Her arms loop over your neck; she leans in and rests her head against your cheek. She looks down at the basket between you. “Is this for me?”
She already knows the answer, but: “Yes, my jewel.”
It’s four golden mangoes this time, and a bunch of lakatan bananas, stubby and sweet. She lifts a mango to a patch of moonlight, turning it pale silver. “From who?”
“Which one is he?”
“The one with a very square chin. His head is like a box.”
She laughs; her laughter soothes the knot tightening in your chest. As her sixteenth birthday nears, the number of suitors grows by the day. They come from farther lands, ever distant shores. The gifts they bring grow more numerous, more elaborate. They are given audience for an afternoon, discussing with her parents. Sometimes they are blindfolded and taken to a dark room, where they kneel, waiting in agony, til at last they are permitted a glimpse. You sit with Anyag on the other side of the wall, watching her hold her laughter while she carefully pushes her smallest finger through a hole cut into the wood. There is usually a sharp intake of breath on the other side. Then you both wait, quavering, until at last a door clicks shut, and you fall over each other, erupting in giggles.
Part of your pain comes from not knowing what will happen when she marries. Will she stay here and become a lady of the village? Or will she leave with him, for some faraway place where you can no longer be part of her life? These thoughts haunt you more than you care to admit. To distract yourself, you inspect her weaving progress for the week, the colorful tapestry only begun: the impression of a woman, bare-shouldered.
“Mm-hmm.” She takes a banana and peels it. “I dreamt of one,” she says. “She sang the song of Buyi-Lahin, so sweetly. While the men rowed close in their boats…”
“Dreaming of men now?”
She shrugs, talks while chewing. “And why not? They’re only people. You know the only man I’ve ever seen is my father, so I have to imagine. Anyway they’re no different than women, besides what is between their legs.” She snickers. To her, men’s bodies are funny. She has never had reason to fear them, of course, which is a relief. But that could all change, one day not too far from now. You decide her curiosity is a good thing. It might make the wedding night easier. She continues: “It was strange; in my dream, Buyi-Lahin was no man, but a woman without hair, who rode a steed of dark copper…”
While she recounts her dream, you gather the materials for bathing: clean clothes, a smooth stone to polish her feet and elbows, coconut milk for her hair, salt crystals, and a midnight cloth to shield her from view, even if no one dares come by the river, lest they be put to death for straying eyes. You would hold the knife yourself, slit their throat, pluck their eyeballs, partly because it is your duty: she is your handiwork as much as her family’s. And partly because you love her, despite all your efforts not to.
She doesn’t make it easy, but you’re good at difficult things.
“Shall we bathe, then?”
She nods and drapes a veil over her head. You follow her down the steps of her tower, into the quiet night outside.
When your mother was a girl, there were still two moons. Like Bathala’s eyes, she would say, working a long blade over her fire. You always imagine Mother the same way: sweat shining on her brow, curls plastered against her neck and cheeks, sparks dancing at her elbows. At her throat glints the amulet you now wear. On her sturdy neck, it was more like a choker, the bright pendant reflecting forge fire. What a delight it was, to look up and see them both there, an assurance that everything was safe; that we had not been forgotten by the gods.
And? What happened?
And one night, when the two moons were glowing bright and beautiful, it came for them: the Moon-Eater, rising out of the ocean, groaning as it ascended over the land. The trees shook and snapped in the force from its beating wings. It had rows and rows of silver teeth, each one as big as the boulders lining the caves of Aman Puli. Its ribbon-like tail was serrated at the edge—here, mother holds up the knife she is sharpening, ridges flashing in incandescent light—and it lifted in a tremulous zigzag, out of the water. When it flickered, a shower of saltwater fell on our rice paddies, our homes. For days after everything smelled of salted fish. Our skin, our hair. Our hands.
You shudder at the idea of a mouth so large it could swallow ten of you in one go.
It rose, and rose. It was every color. We stood transfixed—unable to move, unable to stop it. It sank its jaws into one of our moons, which disappeared down its throat. We saw the shape of our moon roll down the length of the monster’s endless body, shining through those giant scales, while the monster laughed—its laugh like a roar—for it had taken something precious from the children of the earth, and it was delicious: our moon, our suffering. Its great orange eyes trained on the next moon…
“Our moon,” you breathe, and look outside the window, even if it is daytime.
Yes, the moon that remains with us. For just as soon as it had eaten the other moon, the beast could already feel it melting away, like the six it had swallowed in your ancestors’ times… Its hunger was insatiable, and our moons were never meant to last outside the sky. It sank its teeth into our last, final moon, and our hearts lurched in our chests, for we would soon be cast into darkness every sundown…
And then, three things happened at once. The village priestesses, your great-aunts among them, took up a chant. Their voices, straining through panic, rose like cutting knives, and the pitch made the bakunawa blanch, the great moon bobbing out of its jaws. The village warriors began to pitch their spears at the beast. Driven by the chanting, some spears found their mark and pierced the bakunawa’s side. But what little effect it had! The bakunawa merely roared at us, a sound that still rings inside me today (here, her eyes water, though whether it is from the rising smoke or the memory of that cursed night, you know not. She blinks the tears away because her hands are grimy, and continues). What made it stop was not the spears or the magic, but the high, clear voice of Hugan-an, who emerged from her house, to everyone’s shock.
Hugan-an, our precious jewel. Hugan-an of fabled beauty. It was the first time any of us had seen her—those not of her family. For she was a binukot, protected from birth, shielded from view, in order to be as pure and unstained a gift for one suitor most worthy…
She sang a song we did not recognize, with words that she was making up, words that were not handed from our ancestors: leave the moon be, leave my people be, and I will be your bride, Moon-Eater, if it pleases thee. She walked on the sand towards the shoreline, and the priestesses stopped banging on the gongs and kulintang, and held their breath. Her father ran from his house and screamed for her to return. But she was so sure, she was unyielding.
The moon emerged from the serpent’s mouth, fixed itself in the sky, shining brightly, while he dove, and took Hugan-an in his jaws…
Like the moons, she sparkled as she disappeared down its throat. The beast fled back into the sea. We had finally learned the secret of keeping our moons alive, after he had already taken six. And he may never take another, so long as she is his bride…
But how her father sobbed! Despite everything the village gave him, nothing could ever make up for that sacrifice, and he died of heartbreak not long after.
She stops working the blade, and sets the polished steel down. “I pray it does not happen in your lifetime,” Mother says. She is speaking about the return of the Moon-Eater, and the loss of a binukot. Having completed her work of the afternoon, she reaches out to you. Neither of you know that in just a few months, she will be dead from a blood illness. Your living relatives will barter you for coin, and you will become a servant at the house of one such jewel. You nod and press your head against her chest, breathing in her smell: smoke, comfort, a sorrow that has never left.
You help Anyag shed her clothes by the river: undoing the pearled clasps of her top, first, then the hooks of her skirt, the soft woven undergarments. You set them aside on the grass, while she removes her earrings, the clips in her hair, the necklace with two thin braids of gold. Jewelry from her family—she is not allowed to wear gifts from her suitors, not yet. Her mother keeps such offerings in trays, stacked in a dining hall cupboard. Pearls the size of lanzones, green gems that mimic the eternal depths of the ocean, ivory cut into intricate starscapes. And letters, love poems, the most delightful or daring of which you read to her in the evenings. It’s a curious game: you choose the words you think will make her fall in love with the suitors you like best (how can you not judge, even knowing it isn’t your place?). You read them to her as sweetly as you can, but lightly, too. Your guilt and shame coalesce with envy, but you never let it leak through your voice.
“I liked that one,” she says sometimes. Sometimes, she says nothing.
Sometimes, she smiles at you in wonder, and something skitters under your skin, a fey creature with too many legs.
What if you were to write her a letter of your own, just to tell her how you feel? No one would know. But you cannot bring yourself to do it. What use would it be, even if she turned to you after and said, I liked that one?
You can’t fall in love with your jewel. You have always known it, but never dreamed it would be a problem. Every time you think you’ve managed to escape your feelings, they flood back. A smile, a look, a sharp word: needles to the heart, as sharp and biting as if you’d been actually stung. You would tell her to stop doing that to you, but she doesn’t mean it, isn’t even aware of it. You know her as no one else does, and this makes you ashamed; this knowledge should not make you love her.
Anyag wades into the river. “Gah!” she says. “It’s cold.”
“You always say that.” You unfurl the cloth and step into the river, up to your ankles, and wait.
After a moment, she says, “Sing for me?”
“Only if it’s a duet, then.” You’re toying with your own feelings, pushing the boundaries of what you can bear. You recklessly start the song about three stupid monkeys splashing in the river, and the turtle that outsmarts them all. Anyag joins in, playing the high-pitched parts of the baby monkey and the grumbling murmurs of the turtle. After the last verse, you laugh, expecting her to join in. There’s a pause that makes your heart skip—then she finally does.
“That song never gets old, does it? We’ve been singing it for years.” She pokes you through the cloth. “I’m done.”
You wrap the cloth around her. “Some things never change.”
“Yes. Some things stay the same for a long, long time.” She sighs. There it is: from the moment she said I’m bored, you were expecting this. What a longing she must have, to see more of the world, instead of being locked away. No sun, no other humans, no freedom to wander her own village, except at night, with you keeping watch. Her cage a tower, and you its guard—or is it dragon, fending off any who come to lure her out?
It’s your duty, but sometimes you wonder how much damage you’re actually inflicting. You understand why she’d want more than this, so you say: “Things will change, soon enough. Your presentation is only a few weeks away. I am certain your future husband will show you more of the world.”
“True,” she says. There are countless things unsaid in that true. You string them together in your mind: excitement, eagerness, resignation. A thread of wistfulness—no, that’s only your own hope manifesting. Without warning, she asks: “Will my marriage make you happy?”
“Your happiness is my happiness.”
“That’s not an answer, Amira.” She sounds a bit scolding, and you laugh and tell her it’s true, ignoring how your heart aches. Why does it feel as if both of you are speaking in code tonight?
She dresses herself while you wash her garments. For reasons you cannot fathom there’s a nervous taint to the air between you as there has never been before. Then a thought strikes you: she knows. She knows how you feel, your desires like poison, and she does not know what to do with this knowledge. How to break your heart carefully. How to tell you that what you want is wrong: not only because you are both women, and you are a servant, but most importantly because she does not feel the same. It doesn’t matter, you think desperately, while you twist the cloth to let out water. It changes nothing! Just ignore me. You wish she would understand that you know your own foolishness and want nothing more. Your heart pounds loud enough to drive moon-eaters away.
When she speaks next, however, it’s with her usual nonchalance. “Will you teach me something new tonight?”
You feel your body unspooling from lost tension. “You mean the last verse of the Twenty-two Laments of Matang-ayon?”
“No! You know what I mean.”
She should really be practicing her dancing and singing—she always forgets that last verse, no matter what you do. But ever since you made the mistake of teaching her the sword arts years ago, she has been preoccupied with learning nothing else. As with everything, you cannot say no. That first time, she plucked the dagger from your scabbard, and held it aloft in her fingers, like it was just another offering of fruit. Her eyes grew bright with the possibility of acquiring something that opposed tenderness. Something that let her be powerful rather than delicate. Respected, rather than revered.
You’re skilled at this, aren’t you? You had never shown her, not til then. But you are the blacksmith’s daughter, and even after your mother’s passing, you continued to train with the village warriors. Someday, when you are no longer in the service of Anyag, you plan to join them. And there perhaps find another girl with bright eyes, who can sing silly songs with you, who can actually be yours, if only in secret.
This, at least, is familiar territory. “Of course,” you say. But not out here, where someone might see. She keeps her blade in her fruit bowl, under the mangoes and bananas, the one sweetness you alone can offer: self-protection, even with the hope that she never has to use it.
Anyag has a talent for the blade. It might be her quick steps from years of dancing, or the creativity born of being a captive. Tonight she gets in close enough that you strike her on the hip without thinking. She claps her hand to her mouth instantly, muffling a cry. You grip your weapon and crouch next to her, cursing yourself and the tight confines in which you spar. Her skin is hot to the touch. She makes a sound like “Tsst!” through her teeth, then immediately says, “Don’t. Apologize.”
“But it will bruise…”
“No one will see.” She touches your cheek, unaware how you melt. “I’m glad you’re taking me seriously.”
“I always do,” you answer, mock offended. She meets your gaze. Look away, you plead silently, but she does not. In the end, you’re the one that drops your head; she removes her fingers from your face.
The next day you blunt the blades you use to spar. A bruise you can cover; a gash would be too much.
There is only one other binukot in your village, and she was married two summers ago—three days after her presentation—thus rescinding her status. Since then the village has hummed with anticipation for Anyag’s own coming-out. It is strange that the person you know best in the world is spoken of with such wonder.
I’ve heard that her hair is darker than black, for it has never seen the sun…
Her skin pale as the sand on the shores of Aman Puli…
When she dances it must be like a diwata gracing our earth…
They look to you, hungry for a tale, some inclination that they are right. You could spin so many threads for them from memory; you wouldn’t even need embellishments. But part of your duty is silence, keeping her a desirable mystery. “She is learning her epics well,” you say. You don’t add: her smile is like cool water after a burning day; her touch a suffering the skin yearns for anyway. You will love her from the moment you lay eyes on her, but even then, not half as much as I do.
You have never spoken to the apid of the other girl. Freed, now, from her bonds, she tends to her family’s farm of root crops. You have sometimes thought of things you would like to ask her: did it hurt, when you said goodbye? Do you ever see her, now that she lives in the home of Seryong Baniig? Do you miss those days of servitude, teaching her poems and brushing her hair, or are you glad they are over? Does your existence now bring you peace?
You fear that her answers will hurt. Not knowing, you are sure, hurts less.
A week before Anyag’s presentation, a nobleman sails into town, his ornate boat calmly docked on the beach. He proceeds to your master’s house, standing by the gate with a cool-eyed confidence that hushes the world around him. He has no attendants, which is odd despite your village’s current peacekeeping policies. His robe is a deep blue threaded with silver, large sequins all down the sleeves and back, glinting fiercely in the sunlight. His chin is sharp as cut glass, and his thin lips curl in a resting smirk. There is no doubt what he has come for.
His name is Lisoryo, and he has traveled from far away to make his intentions known.
It’s a hot day when he arrives, and everyone melts in his presence. The other servants preen while they bring him chilled calamansi juice and boiled corn, shaved into a bowl and topped with grated coconut. Before dining, he rolls back his sleeves; your eyes trace the delicate pattern of his tattoos, finely-drawn scales from his elbows to his wrists. He looks up and catches your gaze, and your throat tightens. The lady of the house smiles with her mouth slightly open, so that he can see the gold in her teeth. The master of the house refuses to speak directly with him, as he does every other suitor, but studies the dowry the man has brought in a large wooden chest: six globes the color of no gem you have ever seen, a pearlescent white with shades of gray, beautiful enough to make the heart ache.
“What are they?” Anyag’s mother asks.
“Crystals,” he answers. His voice matches his face: quiet, smooth, with a resonance that gets into your bones. “They were bespelled by a witch in the southern sea, whom I traveled a great distance to barter with. I assure you that it would be impossible to find others like them. During the day they are merely beautiful, but at night, they give off enough light to brighten the whole village. Of course, I would need your daughter’s hand to prove this.” He shuts the chest, with a meaningful snap.
You are called to introduce yourself, and to receive his letter for Anyag. There is not a trace of sweat on him despite the blistering sunlight filtering everywhere. You kneel, your head bent, until he asks you to show your face. A bead of sweat crawls from your hairline to your chin, and his eyes follow it languidly.
“What is your name?”
“Amira. But you are only a child yourself. Can you polish a jewel and make her sparkle, being so young?” His eyes are the midnight black of the ocean when there is no starlight. Anyag would find them very poetic.
“I descended from a family of smiths and priestesses. We were poor, but I learned to sing the epics before I could speak, and I have sought to enrich my jewel by being her dearest friend.”
“Her dearest friend.” He seems to savor the sound of his own tongue. “How well does your jewel recite her epics, Amira?”
You should lie. Terribly. Her voice breaks above a certain note, and she always forgets her last verse.
“Very well, sir.”
“I look forward to hearing her, then.” He holds out a letter, which you take. His nails are very long, filed nearly to a knifepoint. It must be a foreign custom. This close, you can sense strong magic on him, but not like that of your village, the soil and storms you carry in your blood. His magic is deeper, scavenged from the depths of places you’ve never trespassed, with edges of salt. You tuck the letter into your belt, assure him that Anyag shall read it tonight, and withdraw to a corner of the room, where you wait for the visit to end. It lasts forever, while he describes his realm, his great conquests there, how Anyag will live like a princess beside him, and have her every dream fulfilled. He will stay until her presentation, and he will not back down.
When he finally stands to leave, his eyes find yours again. He smiles, briefly, holding your gaze. For a moment, it feels like you are drowning, as you choke on air, on the knowledge that you’ve lost.
Not that she is a prize to be won. The trouble is, you can’t help thinking of her as yours—and yourself as hers. If only you could erase all your memories together. She calls you her best friend, months after you start looking after her. Her last maid, a soft and simple older woman, was let go after she was found with child. Someone your age might be a better companion, so long as you can keep her out of trouble. You are nine and she is seven. Your hands are rough and calloused, and hers are soft as a newborn’s. Your hair is short and curly like your mother’s, while hers comes down to her waist in one shimmering sheet, which she constantly twists into knots.
You are an orphan and have no home, but you come from good blood—despite the disease, of course, but at least it is not transmittable. Your last living great-aunt has you stand before the lord and lady and recite the Twenty-two Laments of Matang-ayon, and then display the first six movements of Soaring Eagle, Claws Outstretched. Afterward they speak to her in quiet tones and hand her a cloth bag that tinkles. They take you in, for your knowledge of blades and epics both; you are promised freedom after Anyag’s presentation, with enough gold to reopen your mother’s forge if you wish. She is a binukot and has no other friends; until her partner is chosen she is to remain in her tower, never to see the sun. She may as well be an orphan: even her parents do not visit her unless necessary. You are lonely and she is lonely, mirrors to each other, as you walk the same black pool of wondering why you exist.
You do not like her then, but you understand duty. Looking after Anyag is a distraction you can direct all your efforts to, numbing enough that you don’t have to think about loss.
“Amira? Why do you call me your jewel?” In the candlelight her eyes are luminous. She is missing one of her front teeth. You are writing out an epic poem together, and she is already bored.
“Because that’s what you are.” Stories are easy, and they give life order, a piece of driftwood to cling to in the storm of grief. But even stories must be accurate. “Because that’s what you must be, for you are a binukot.”
“So what are you?”
You blink in surprise. No one has shown this much interest in you, not since mother.
“Me? I’m your… hmm. I teach you what I know. I stay with you, and protect you from bad things.”
She pokes her tongue through the gap in her teeth. “Hmm. Sword,” she says.
“You’re my sword, then. I am your jewel, and you are my sword.” It is so simple and easy; it must be true. “Amira, my sword,” she repeats, sing-song, while reaching for your hand. Twining her fingers in yours, you have a feeling of finding purchase on land at last. Belonging, if not to this fine house, than at least to this room, this girl.
In the years that follow those words become your guide. The promise you will keep until you can keep it no longer. The ache you carry every time you are near her and not.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, seconds after opening the door. You curse how easily she can read you.
“It was very hot today. I couldn’t train like I wanted.” To distract her, you take the letter from your basket and hold it up. “A new suitor came, from far away. This is for you.”
“Did you not like him?”
What you think doesn’t matter. You did not miss the long look your lord and lady exchanged, after he left; how your master touched his wife’s arm, while she bent and murmured how this suitor lived so far away. He embraced her, and said perhaps that was for the best. “He brought a beautiful dowry—magic crystals the like of which I’d never seen. And he had fine robes, and the most intricate tattoos, like fish scales on his forearms.” You start laying out dinner: rice porridge with two teaspoons of salted fish, a lighter meal for this final week that the lady insists on, so that Anyag may appear irresistibly slim at the time of her presentation. Anyag used to complain, but does no longer. She understands inevitability.
You try not to watch her reading the letter, as you pour out mint tea, then slice a mango lengthwise and crosswise.
She folds it, frowning. The moon tonight is faint; in the faded candlelight you can’t tell if she is blushing or not.
Silence gnaws holes into the air until you ask: “What did you think?”
She glances at you, and you are chilled by her look—piercingly remote, as haughty as she must be on her presentation day. Already not yours. But she was never yours.
“What does it matter to you, what I think?”
You could say nothing, but she has asked you a question, and in delivering that look it’s as if Anyag has reminded you of your place, which she has not done except in the rarest of moments. Suddenly you are seized with a desire to end everything, tonight. If you break your own heart, at least no one else has that option: not the gorgeous Lisoryo, or the lord and lady, or Anyag herself. You tip your head in apology. “I shouldn’t have asked. It does not concern me.”
“Right.” Anyag exhales, then puts the letter away and takes her seat for dinner, not looking at you. You eat together in stony silence. This is safer. If she is angry the next week will be easier—saying goodbye, parting ways. You are thinking so hard about what you’ll do once the presentation is over that you almost don’t hear her saying: “I’m your shackle. I keep you bound here, and it makes you suffer. You think I haven’t noticed, how you drag your feet around me, how your eyes are always blank and faraway? How you don’t talk to me anymore?” She scrapes her spoon around her bowl, voice thin. “I know you can’t wait for this to be over. But I wish you could still pretend to care about me, at least until then.”
Your lips part, through your shock. “I do care—”
“Because you’re my sword.” Her eyes are ablaze. She isn’t sad; she’s angry. “Because it’s your duty. Well, it won’t be for much longer.” She smiles then, a different smile than every other night. You realize that for all her lighthearted banter and dreaminess and passion for practicing with a dagger, Anyag is brittle; she’s been crumbling away in the furnace of what’s about to happen, and you were too wrapped up in misery, too busy protecting yourself, to notice. Anyag drops her spoon into the bowl. She has not touched her food. “Amira. I am going to be wed to a stranger. I am moving from this cage to another, more elaborate prison. You will be freed, at last, but not me. Not me.”
Her eyes brim with tears. She turns her head, because your jewel—your best friend, princess, home—has always been proud. At once your choices, safety—your wreck of a heart don’t matter. You skirt the table and fall to your knees beside her. You wrap your arms around her. She pushes you away.
“Don’t act,” she says.
“I’m not acting.”
She keeps shoving you back, her hand on your collarbone. “Then answer: What does it matter to you?”
It matters because I love you. Because I can’t bear to let anything hurt you. Because I have no choice, because it won’t make a difference, and I am weak. I could only ever teach you weakness.
Words escape you. In the end, the answer is in your swiftly pounding heart, your fingers threading through her hair til they rest at the top of her skull to turn her face towards you, ignoring how she pushes her elbows against your chest. You look into her burning eyes, lean in close. You press your lips to hers, still distantly hoping she’ll hate you afterward, so that you can take the years of falling for her and coil them into a ball in your chest and say goodbye to them forever. At the same time you are hoping she understands what you’re trying to tell her: you never wanted this; she is the most precious thing to you and you are a coward; your only hope is that somehow you can still make things right.
Anyag freezes. She stops pushing, and the lack of force makes you fall against her. Your hands splay on either side of her, clutching the table for balance; your heart thuds against hers. You pull away, ready to slice yourself open with your dagger if she asks—maybe even if she doesn’t.
“Amira,” she says, quietly. “Do you mean that?”
You nod. Tears crowd your eyes, but you don’t let them fall; you’ve shown enough weakness, tonight.
Anyag sighs. She places her thumb on your mouth, feels your lips tremble beneath her touch. When she smiles, it’s different than before—weary and gentle, like she knows how easily she can break you.
“Then let’s fight for our freedom,” she whispers. “Yours and mine.”
Did you ever hope for it before?
No—it’s not like you. You stick to what you know. The stories you shared, the songs your great aunts burned into your memory, the poems you and Anyag made up together. Not once did you speak of freedom. The word carries with it so much weight, even as it edges tantalizingly close to betrayal—and misery, even, for if things go wrong you could lose everything.
Why had you never dreamt of it? Why did you never think you could possess it, too?
Of course Anyag has dreamed of freedom; has been thinking of this since forever.
She has never seen the blue sky or the sun, yet her visions for the horizon extend much farther than you could ever fathom. She sees a world that has no limits, a world even you could own.
It will only work, Anyag says, once they believe she has left with her new husband. The best time to escape is following the marriage feast, just before they set sail; to save face, he will not dare to let anyone know that his bride has left him, and her parents will not have to bear the burden of shame. By then the other suitors will have departed and the town will be muzzy from three days of drinking.
“And how do you know who you’ll leave with?”
She smiles. “Isn’t it obvious? He must be the one my parents admired best, for his dowry and conquests and confidence. You must choose.”
When Lisoryo returns, you have a letter for him. Dear Night Sky, dear Veil, hear me. A lullaby aches in my rib cage. Today, I am a dovecote, and there are songbirds cooing inside, twittering, goldened, precious. How they all at once alight as I open my body to your waning autumn moon. I am waiting for you to fill me.
You watched Anyag write it out, grinning at her own audacity. “You think he’ll believe it?” she asked.
“Powerful men never doubt themselves,” you answered. “Take care not to let the ink bleed through.”
He receives the letter with a knowing smile, but does not open it in front of you. He thanks you, then asks if you might sing for him.
You have no idea what to do with his request, except comply. “Will a verse from The Twenty-two Laments of Matang-ayon suffice, sir?”
Feeling caught and foolish, you sing verse eight, about Matang-ayon’s sojourn to the Eastern Valley of the Sky, to seek the hand of the bride of darkness. His ankle is caught between two grinding bits of cloud, and his flesh tears, but he does not cry, for he is a hero.
As you sing you feel Lisoryo’s magic reach for yours, sly and searching; you divert it gently, as if you do not know what you are doing. Anyag always wanted to meet other sorcerers to exchange stories with. He is dangerous, not only because of his face and his wealth. You finish the song, and he breathes in, satisfied.
“You could come with us,” he says evenly. “There’s always a need for more beauty in my garden. You could make yourself useful with the palace’s defense—and you would have all the training you desire, for your sword arm and your magic, both.” He licks his lips. “Besides, I’m sure the jewel would love to have the one who first polished her quite near.”
You don’t bare your teeth, but you can’t return his smile, not even as a lie. “Thank you, sir. But I know where my place is.”
“The offer stands.” He clasps your shoulder, briefly. The tips of his nails dig lightly into your skin; you fail not to shudder.
The rest of the afternoon, while he is eclipsing the other suitors who are making their case for Anyag’s hand, you play the part of a good steward, standing silent in the corner. While he is waxing poetic about his domain by the sea and the vast riches of his people, you imagine how just days from now, you will make a break for freedom. You will leave in the dark, with no witness but the moon—customary for you two, but next time, it will be different. The day after, when the sun rises, Anyag will not have to hide, and you can watch together, hand in hand.
After practice that evening, out of breath from dancing and sparring, Anyag asks, “For how long?”
You wipe your sweat, not really attending. “Hmm?”
She’s not looking at you, so you don’t see her expression. “For how long have you loved me?”
Your face, already warm, turns hot. There’s no simple answer. You’ve spent half your life looking after her, memorizing every note in her laugh, the way her eyes grow glassy when she’s ill, how she has grown more distant from her parents with the passing years (“They don’t see me, Amira, not the way you do”). You’ve adjusted the cant of her hips in the middle of a song, the way she holds a knife, the words she breezily recites: Abya Malana, Matang-ayon’s temporary lover, cannot look him in the eye, for she is afraid the looking will render her speechless. And without her words he will see her truly, and find her incomplete…
That first year together, when you were weary and grieving, you once awoke from a nightmare to find your face against her chest. She was stroking your hair, as your mother had done before she fell ill. “It’s all right,” she said, the once momentous gap of your stations rendered to nothing. “You can cry. It doesn’t matter here.” You couldn’t even apologize, broken as you were, and you sobbed instead, on this girl who was much smaller than you, saving embarrassment for the morning after. She only laughed and said it was nothing.
You loved her then, but as your only friend, your reason to keep going. It’s different than now. You don’t know how it turned into this. One day you looked at her and she was brighter and more beautiful than anyone had a right to be, and something in you begged to keep her just a while longer. That was when you knew to be afraid.
This girl knows too well how to play with your feelings, but you’ve known her for just as long. You want to make her heart beat faster too—it’s not lost on you, that she didn’t kiss you back, that she doesn’t trust your loyalty—to her? Or to her parents, your masters?
You are trying not to hope that freedom necessarily means together, but how will you know for sure? You reach out and grasp her arm.
“Will you believe me if I said always?”
She shakes her head, grinning. “You once threatened to spank me if I made a joke instead of concentrating! Abya Malana, Matang-ayon’s temporary lover,” she repeats, sing-song, even as you pull her towards you and hold her. “Cannot look him in the eye, for she is afraid the looking will render her speechless…”
“Is that what you’re doing right now?” Her head is against your shoulder; you smooth her hair, as you’ve done countless times before (but not like this. Not like this). “Not looking at me?”
“I’ve loved you for a long time, my salt and stone, my ivory bone. And I will keep on doing so, and hurting for it, won’t I?”
She kisses your shoulder, a drawn-out motion that makes everything in you tingle. She kisses your neck, your cheek. Your nerves are strung so tight, you are certain one inhalation will break you apart. She touches her lips to your ear. “Maybe,” she murmurs, and you are too breathless to reply, too ablaze with want to be angry.
The presentation is a story. Like a story, it has a beginning and an end.
The drums start when the sun goes down, the kulintang blending in after a few beats. Anyag’s parents have spared no expense, and the entire village comes to witness the spectacle. In the first few years after Hugan-an’s sacrifice, the village feared for their binukot, for the coming of the bakunawa. But that was countless seasons ago, and the moon remains, and the monster has become one terror your people do not fear. The young maiden’s death, still recent enough to be in the memory of some, has become the stuff of legends. With it has come the elevation of every other binukot: their purity, talent, and beauty are such that even celestial beings—monsters, no one says—are content with them forever. If you take a binukot as a bride, then surely you are blessed by the gods.
There are seven suitors in total, arrayed in a half-circle, waiting for Anyag to make her entrance—but everyone’s gaze is on Lisoryo, who has come wearing a silver band that sits like a crown upon his brow, black paint lined sharply around his eyes. His robes graze the sand even when he stands. The lord and lady sit on rattan chairs with golden embellishments, decked in their best finery, faces impassive as they survey the gathered crowd. The sun melts into the sea, and the sky turns from red gold to pink, to blue.
The other servants light lamps. The drums slow, and soften.
Now the cast is in place, save the main character. At the door to Anyag’s tower, you hold a lit torch. With your other hand you touch Mother’s amulet, begging her spirit to be with you, even if what you are doing may be wrong.
Behind you, Anyag breathes out to steady herself.
“Are you ready?”
“I’m ready,” she says. Quiet and firm. “Stay with me, no matter what happens, Amira.”
You reach back and twine your fingers together. You listen to the drums. For a minute you are afraid, then you remember to trust her, your worry dissipating.
“Yes, my jewel.”
You rehearsed this moment so many times in moonlight, walking in a secluded area of the beach. You practiced the movements in her room, with all the furniture pushed to the sides. Watch your feet, you’d tell her, and she’d laugh and shove at you and do it worse, just to hear you mutter in frustration. She does none of that now, regal and delicate as she emerges from behind you and stands, blinking, in the light of your torch. Theatrically, she removes her veil. The crowd murmurs, gasps running from mouth to mouth so that it sounds like the wind whistling.
Anyag descends the steps of her tower while you keep pace behind her, so that your firelight barely brushes her skin. She carries the tapestry she completed last season—one with a great eagle soaring over the sea, the moon hanging above everything. As she walks to the half-circle where she will perform you step away, standing just beyond the ring of lanterns; despite everything, your heart is bursting for her to do this well, this moment you’ve spent years over, the moment to take their breath away. It is the one gift you can give this village, before you betray it. The crowd hushes. The only sound besides the steady thump of the drums is her anklets, stacked so that they ring like bells with every step. She spreads her tapestry on the sand, so that all can see it and marvel: the delicate weave of color, the intricate story that her hands have brought to life. She straightens, and stares every suitor in the eye, briefly. She takes her longest with Lisoryo, their respective gazes magnetic, and the moment stretches tight: a breath held long enough to suffocate.
Then she smiles, the proud smile of an enchantress who knows the power she commands, and she raises one arm to cover her face. She stretches out one leg. The gong sounds, and she begins to dance.
She’s not perfect—no one is, or can be.
But she’s breathtaking. Close enough to a diwata that no spell, no song, would get her closer. There’s a moment when the lady, her mother, looks at you and nods. Pride swells through you. Anyag lifts her arms, and your heart is dragged with them; she rolls her shoulders, and you are out to sea; she smiles, and you are not here.
With a start you remember that it’s not her you should be watching. You glance at Lisoryo. He is resting his chin on one hand, long fingers obscuring his mouth, but his eyes never leave her. In the glare from the lanterns they are no longer fathomless black pits; instead they reflect the gold at her wrists and ankles, the haze of gentle fire. You recognize desire, kindling. It’s the suggestiveness of the song, calling a warrior to sweet rest: Buyi-Lahin closed his eyes, leaning on the fair maiden Ka Bigtuang’s lap, and slept for a thousand days…
The music stops. The crowd cries, expressing their admiration, their awe. Anyag stands before her parents and kneels, her forehead nearly touching the sand, until her mother says: “Rise, my jewel.” She goes to them and kisses their brows. The firelight illuminates the sweat on her skin. The suitors, shaken from their stupor, stand and wait for her approach. Over her father’s shoulder, she catches your eye—and winks. She’s excited and fearless, exhilarated from her victorious performance, and you can almost hear her think: we’ve got them. With this, it begins.
They give her away that same evening. There is no argument —there never is—but her choice freely coincides with theirs, which is all anyone can hope for. The other suitors understand how this goes; they are gracious in their defeat, and will travel to other islands to find their wives. As they are leaving, Lisoryo and Anyag exchange their first pleasantries, where the lord can see them. You are summoned by the lady and instructed to pack up her meager belongings, for the newlyweds will sail tomorrow, just after noon.
“Tomorrow?” You had expected the festivities to continue for a day or two longer, for the wedding feast to come in the traditional three days, after which you would immediately depart, leaving her husband behind.
“Master Lisoryo has been away from his domain for more than a week now; we agreed it best to have them sail immediately, given the potential for storms, and so that Anyag will start her new life—with joy and excitement.” The lady falters. You consider possible liabilities: she has no love for this village, and though she cares for her family, the only thing Anyag can truly be concerned for is—you. You swallow and nod, hoping your lady thinks it only extends to this—the tearful goodbye between sisters, dear friends.
“Then the wedding ceremony will be…”
“In the morning. At first light.”
“Understood, my lady.” If the wedding ceremony is tomorrow, then she will sleep at the foot of her parents’ bed tonight, as is custom. So you will have to approach in darkness, and hope that Anyag has realized as much as you. Hope that she hasn’t forgotten your plans in the glare of admiration and longing that Lisoryo casts her way—for when you look at them again she is staring at him with an expression close to heartbreak.
You’ve packed everything you need. Both her dagger and yours are in your belt. It is past midnight, and there is no time left to second-guess things. You leave the servant’s quarters for the main house, and creep to the room of your lady and master, praying to find her outside the door. She isn’t. You wait; perhaps she has simply gone to sleep—or maybe she has decided, at the last, not to run away. After the seconds become unbearable you push the door open, gently. On the bed lie your lady and master. There is no sign of Anyag on the cot next to theirs.
You will yourself not to panic, but know immediately where you must go. You race for the shore, running faster when you see Lisoryo, and Anyag beside him, walking with her head bent. They are almost at his boat.
Lisoryo’s expression is somewhere between disgust and gloating. Anyag’s eyes grow wide, then harden. “Stay away!” she yells, but you don’t listen, you run right up to them even as you wonder what you will do—separate the couple? Threaten his life? Then the village would have you beaten with bamboo rods, and branded for your insolence. But you are fueled by instinct now, and your hand flies to the knife at your side.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m leaving with my husband. It is no concern of yours.”
“What did he tell you?” She wouldn’t do this, not for no reason, your Anyag wouldn’t—
“I owe you no answers. Don’t talk as if you own me,” she says, coldly. “Leave us.” A slap to your face would have been kinder. You look at her eyes, searching for any enchantment, and find none—only steely determination. Your heart crumbles like soil squished in a fist.
“I’m tired of waiting, my bride,” Lisoryo drawls. He inspects his long fingernails.
“We’re going,” she says shortly, and turns away.
“Anyag—” You grab her arm. Lisoryo sighs, steps forward, and backhands you so that you sprawl on the sand. You are surprised by his strength. When you blink up at him, head starry with pain, you are further surprised by his narrow eyes and the way his teeth are sharp within his smile—sharp as his fingernails; sharp as a dragon’s fangs. The amulet at your throat begins to burn with a memory, of standing on the shore to see one moon gulped down, then another…
“Oh, have I been found out? There are too many clever girls in this village.”
In a flash you are on your feet. You will die for striking a man unarmed, but you are certain that he is no man. You try to slash him across the side, but he merely sidesteps and kicks you hard in the stomach. You drop to your knees.
“Master Lisoryo.” Anyag’s voice wavers. “Come now, you said you would harm no one.”
You cough out spit and blood. “Anyag! He’s not human!”
He laughs. “Human? No, but after taking the sacrifice of a human maiden I learned the shape and sounds of one, the simple artifice, the cues I need to make you believe. How I loved Hugan-an—her skin, her hair, the exquisite sweetness of her marrow… but the last of her radiance is gone, and I hunger once again.” He seizes your face. “Your precious jewel knows, slave. The only thing that has given me patience is how delicious I know she will be. You’ve heard the story. You know her song.” His fingers dig into your cheek and you are unable to move, your breath coming short. You do know this song; you know how it must end.
“Don’t hurt her,” Anyag says.
“Oh, don’t barter, beloved. You have nothing to threaten me with.”
Your blade is tight in your fist and you lunge up to take another swipe, at his neck this time—he jerks his head away, but you get him across the cheek, a fine tear that drips a single trickle of black blood. He sighs.
“I pity you, how you forget to be afraid. But I suppose hope is one of the best seasonings, for humans.”
You don’t see him move, but suddenly there’s a searing pain in your stomach—you cry out, your nerves buzzing as he kicks the side of your head and stomps on your knee. You touch your stomach, and your hand comes away wet with blood; you cough out spit that tastes of copper. He didn’t strike anything vital, though there are sparks in the corners of your vision that you try to blink away, as you scramble to your knees—but Anyag is standing before you, face tilted up to the man who is also a moon-eater.
“Enough,” Anyag says. “It’s me you want, isn’t it? If you’re starving so badly, why don’t you take me now?”
“Well, if you were in a hurry, dearest, you should have said so! There is no need of this filthy skin, then.” The glamour begins to slip from him, his skin turning to scales, melting into the midnight blue of his robe, as he grows and grows—
“Don’t.” She looks back at you, her eyes hot with tears. “You shouldn’t have followed, so you wouldn’t have to know. I must do this, Amira. See to your wound. Do not die.”
“No!” You watch in horror as he bends into a monster behind her, lashing out his enormous tail, eclipsing the moon. She turns to face him and mouths the song that will be her requiem: “Leave the moon be, leave my people be—”
She does not even finish before he snaps his jaws around her. You scream and scream as he takes to the sky.
There’s a moment, watching him spiral upwards, through the haze of your disbelief, that you realize what a story this will make: how Anyag saved your village, how like Hugan-an she made the most perfect sacrifice so that you all may have light, so that you may keep your moon. And there would be no pain this time, for no one but you would know. Everyone else would think that they had simply stolen away in the night: newlyweds so in love, unable to wait. If he spoke true words, his next visit would not be in your lifetime.
Then you remember the brightness of possibility, when Anyag asked if you would fight for freedom. You did not raise a jewel just to watch her die; even if this is how the legend goes, you cannot let it end like this.
His long tail has just left the ground; you leap up, run forward, and stab your dagger into it as hard as you can, chanting for power through the blood in your mouth, as your feet leave the earth. The bakunawa flicks its tail but you’ve wrapped one arm around it now, the other still pressing down as hard as you can with your dagger, drawing blood in thick black gouts. For nothing will you let go, not the world. You are calm in the depths of your sorrow, and if Anyag is dead, then at least you don’t have to live without her—at least you tried.
The bakunawa screeches, all human speech gone, as you sail over the ocean—it coils around you, wind rushing. When you turn your head you see the dark depths of its throat, the bright jagged line of its teeth, closing around you. You wrench your knife from its flesh. There’s a snap as air and wind and noise disappear. You fall into nothing.
You reach out blindly with your dagger, and catch onto something—a distended piece of flesh, somewhere in its long throat. The creature bucks, seizes, and your head rattles, but you drag yourself onto the ridge of bone, rolling away from the edge. You gasp, savoring the air—it reeks of the ocean and decay, but you can breathe in here. The flesh is soft beneath you, slimy but not acidic like you’d imagined, and you roll onto your knees, shaking. The inside of the beast is massive, but the place you’ve landed seems to be solid, at least, living flesh pulsing beneath you. You blink, trying to let your eyes adjust to the darkness, but there’s no light save the dim steel of your blade.
How did he consume Hugan-an? Did he take his last bride below the sea, and spit her out, and eat her bit by bit, to suffer? Or did she live out her life in this dark cavern, alone and starving, eventually fading away to nothing?
How will you find Anyag here? You remove your top and wrap it around your waist, to staunch the bleeding. Your desperation, and the last vestiges of your magic, can only go so far.
“Anyag!” you shout. It echoes back at you, dismal, desperate. “Anyag! I’m here!”
Nothing. Your heart quavers. At least you still have your weapon. Perhaps you can still find the beast’s heart, and slay it, before dying. At least you won’t have to wait long, if she’s truly gone.
Then, from somewhere behind you, a faint echo: “Amira?”
“Anyag!” Cautiously you stand, wary of falling back into the pit of the monster’s insides; you turn and reach out, but there’s only emptiness. You turn and walk deeper in, one hand pressed over your nose to avoid the dizzying stench, the other stretched out before you, searching. “I’m coming!”
You walk blindly into the dark, grasping the air, until your hand collides with something—another hand, a set of fingers. They twine with yours, shivering, the movement uncannily familiar. A sharp intake of breath, a stuttered cry—and then your arms wrap around each other, even in this place that might be your grave. You grip her tightly, like she might turn into nothing the minute you loosen your hold on her. Her fingers dig into your bare back, trembling. Blood slicks your arms, gashes from where his teeth grazed her (but didn’t snap her apart—he wanted to savor it—he said as much). She’s alive. She’s whole.
“You fool,” she sobs into your chest. “What are you doing here? I told you to stay behind. Your wound—”
“It’ll heal,” you say, hoping it will be true. “I promised to stay with you, remember?”
She barks out a laugh, and pulls back slightly. “Then we’ll both die here?”
“I won’t let you die.” You wish you had a light to see her by, but all you have is this familiar sensation; her cheeks beneath your fingers, wet with tears. You rest your thumbs on the corners of her mouth, feel her lips part, searching for words. Anyag has always known what to say, but caught here without hope, even she might hesitate.
Her arms slide slowly down your back, and loop around your waist. She exhales. “Then I won’t let you die, either.”
You remain standing like that, holding each other, for a moment. Then you step back and fumble at your belt, unlatch her dagger and press it into her hand. “We have these,” you say. She holds her dagger tightly, considering. You skim her arm, feeling for cuts, and she stops you by clutching your hand—no need. I’m fine. She makes a thoughtless humming sound, as if you are merely in the dark of her room and not in the belly of a monster.
A sudden thought crosses your mind—a flicker of possibility. You hum with her, letting the idea take shape. You have nothing better, and neither of you dare wait—already you could be sinking into the sea, miles away from where anyone can save you. You have to try.
“We can change her song,” you say. “We can make a new one. Just as Hugan-an did, that time.”
“But my magic isn’t—”
“We have to try.” You’re both more comfortable with swords than with spellwork, but against the bakunawa, brute force will get you nowhere. Anyag nods, keeping quiet. You sense her thinking, determining how to lay down the words, what to sing so that you might live, or if not, take this monster with you in your perishing.
“Bathala,” she starts, her voice thin and shaky. “I, your humble daughter, have nothing to offer—”
But I raise my eyes to you, beseeching, my arms uplifted, reaching—
I call on you to fill me with your light
That I might take this blade and shatter darkest night…
You take the thread of her chant, her magic, and weave it into yours—just as you first guided her hands to mimic a dove’s wings, taught her to swing a sword—but this is her power, her right for the sacrifice of becoming binukot. She is destined for this.
And you have been singing together for years.
You repeat the words, join your free hands, feel power thrum through both of you. The sensation of warmth flares around your neck—your mother’s amulet, her anting-anting, alighting, the last gasp of protection from your blood relatives responding to this plea as you shut your eyes and beg, beg, beg—for you deserve to live, too, you deserve a chance at joy. Not everything has to be a sacrifice. On your third round of the song, something changes. You open your eyes and there is light in the darkness, a bright fire, dancing over both of you, crackling, growing—
Your song begins to echo. You don’t dare stop singing it, but another voice joins it, then another, and another, each note different, some a throaty hum, others at a pitch higher than humanly possible—a melody of moons, and the spirit of a girl who gave her everything to save a village and would give no more, not this time.
Has he heard you? Bathala listens and does not in turn, and anyone invoking him knows that. One must accept what fate rolls out in due course, inexorable as the ocean and the slow growth of trees, the tide drawn in and out, the shape of a song that has been carried in a heart for years and years at last finding itself…
The light collecting above you spirals down into your blade. You keep singing as you hold the blade out, no longer a simple kalis but a beautiful kampilan, curved and deadly, sparking fierily, then growing longer and larger until it is a giant shaft of light.
You see Anyag’s face at last. Her eyes are scrunched, set with her will to fight: one answered prayer among so many abandoned, one dim ember sparked to flare all of your guttering hopes. Her hand in yours tightens; in the other is her blade, and you see that it is now a burning pillar of light as well.
Then Anyag’s eyes snap open and she nods, bidding you to strike. You face opposite directions, determined to slay the beast together. You arch your arm, and thrust with all your might into the darkness, throwing the light, pushing your magic out as far as you can—the amulet at your neck explodes, and the wound in your gut opens wider—but you do not let go, Anyag’s hand clutched tightly in yours, her voice high and clear above all the others.
The world wrenches apart, the floor beneath you gives way. You free-fall in the midst of the wildest screeching, a scream so inhuman and endless that your head feels like its tearing. But light is spilling through—and air—and the sound of the ocean, and drums beating. You are not beneath the sea at all—you are still in the sky. Just as you two were fighting a battle inside of the beast, the village was doing its best outside of it. Your sphere of light keeps growing, extending from both ends of the hilt now, splitting the beast apart around you, until its scream is cut off and you close your eyes against the glare of light, brace yourself for an endless fall. Only then do you stop singing.
You aren’t expecting Anyag’s hand to find yours, as you drop through the air, still trapped in the gutted neck of the bakunawa. But it does, and you are only a little surprised as you curl your fingers together.
The first thing you see is Anyag’s face, fractured through your bloody vision. Her hands rest on your stomach, sealing the wound with the last of her newly strengthened magic. Everything hurts, but you’re alive.
“My jewel.” Your voice is cracked, having spent it all in spell and song. You lift one hand and she grips it, weakly.
Behind her floats the moon. You are lying in the carcass of the moon-eater. You are floating in the ocean to the beat of drums.
You don’t dare hope that you are free.
“Amira,” she answers, and her smile is bittersweet: she has grown up, so impeccably, and it has nothing and everything to do with you, of who you are together. “Don’t call me that. When we leave this place, I can be your jewel no longer. And you cannot be my sword. It won’t work.”
Your heart splinters, a loss as distinct as your mother’s amulet, now an empty piece of string around your neck.
“I refuse to be something you must take care of and defend at every turn. I want to stand with you on even footing, and face you freely. Rather than your jewel, let me be your shield, for I can protect you. I cannot honor that unless you do.”
You ease yourself up so that you are sitting. You do not touch her face, but you press your forehead to hers, look her in the eye. “Have I ever said no to you?”
She grins. “Yes. Lots of times.”
Fair enough. You don’t know what it will mean, to be together after this. You’ve never known a life where you don’t feel beholden to her, simultaneously paving her way and blending into her shadow; where your hopes aren’t tethered to hers by default. “It won’t be easy for me.”
“I know. But you’re good at difficult things.”
You nod, and her smile goes from tentative to delighted. There will be time enough in the future to determine how things must be: where you will live, how. What to say to her parents. What songs you will sing. Bathala is not known to bestow favors twice, and you already know your future cannot be in this village. But for now. For now. None of that matters.
Anyag turns her face slightly, so that half of it is cast in moonlight.
“I want to see the sunrise,” she says. “It’ll be my first.”
She leans into you, and you do the same, balancing each other out in your exhaustion. Right now, you have all the time in the world. Time enough to watch the moon melt into the horizon, and wait for the sun to appear, as blindingly bright as its promise of tomorrow.
(Author’s Note: The lines in the letter Anyag writes to Lisoryo (Dear Night Sky, dear Veil…) are from Barbara Jane Reyes’s poem “Having Been Cast, Eve Implores 2” from the collection Diwata, published by Boa Editions in 2010. I received the author’s permission to include the lines in the piece, with credit.)
(Editors’ Note: Isabel Yap is interviewed by Caroline M. Yoachim in this issue.)
© 2018 Isabel Yap