HE WAS outraged by Katrina’s 8×10 black-and-white photograph hanging on the bedroom of their two-room apartment. It was a shot of her doll-like face peering over her naked shoulders, her delicate hands lifting the crimped hair into a hand-held ponytail. It briefly reminded him of mornings, when, in pink pajamas unbuttoned to the valley of her breasts, she would sit in front of the dresser and put her hair up into a messy ponytail while she smiled at him over her shoulders.

He touched the slender neck on the matte surface of the photograph and felt his breath stop in his throat. He felt as if he had never seen a photograph before. The ears were clean and softly curved. She wore dangling earrings, the size of a baby’s fists, decked with Indian designs and various tiny stones. The quartz had caught the light and emitted a soft glint.

Her face had been left unpainted, he was sure of that. Else, there would have been a gray tinge on the region of her cheeks. But she wore a thin, hazy line of kohl under her eyes, giving her a sophistication he had never seen in her before. And that was mascara on her extraordinarily full lashes.

Around her throat, she wore a brace engraved with a lotus design. It was worn a little too tight on her skin that he wondered if it left a mark after she took it off, like his fingers and lips sometimes did. She bruised easily. That was why he never touched her carelessly.

But what maddened him the most were her lips. These, too, were untouched by rouge and had retained their girlish freshness, but they were moist and slightly parted as if she had been a little uncomfortable, breathing through her mouth when the photograph was taken.

The other things that bothered him was her boldness in the photograph. She showed no trace of the naiveté she used to have. She was peering over her shoulder, her arm framing her face as she held up her crimped hair—to show her alabaster neck perhaps? Her tenderly lined eyes were looking straight at the lens. At the back of his mind, he imagined that somebody had chanced upon Katrina while she was busy with the curling iron, joked around her a little to put her hair up for the lens and happily triggered away.

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But it was not a lewd photograph. In fact, it had a strange beauty to it. Anyone could have taken the same shot, minus the lighting, minus the framing, and it would still trap the breath in his throat. The person who took it only had to concentrate on the smallest details and still did well. He could never have done better himself in all the years he had been taking pictures. The person who took it had his wife falling to his whimsy like light getting trapped in a filmstrip.

The sound of the door latch sliding reminded him where he was. He heard the scratch of Katrina’s sneakers on the doormat, heard the weight of her books on the table. He knew he would hear the rush of tap water next, then the bubbling of water in the kettle for the bath. They couldn’t afford a water heater yet.

The faint shuffle of feet grew louder.

He turned around and saw Katrina standing at the doorway. She wore a baby-blue cardigan over a white shirt and blue jeans. Her shoulder-length hair was done in twin braids. He thought she looked like a high school girl.

“You could have told me you were coming back today. I could’ve taken the car and picked you up at Laoakan Road. That’s where the inn is, right?” she said to him. She was smiling. The little whore, he thought, was happy to see him.

He sat down on the bed. She padded back to the kitchen, the bunny slippers over her white socks looking so girlish. He suddenly hated her. Why could she not learn to dress like a woman and yet have her photograph taken like that?

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“Why did you leave the car?” she asked from the kitchen. “I know it’s old and sometimes embarrassing but it could have taken you to Baguio without hassle. The engine works fine. I mean, if you’re embarrassed by the car, we can have it repainted when I get this month’s paycheck.” Water steadily rushed from the faucet.

He listened for guilt. He could only hear the tap. This woman, he thought, in her 23 years, had grown totally shameless. He gritted his teeth and tried to think of something he could hurl at her.

“I thought you might need it,” he said.

“Well, I did have use for it while you were gone but it wouldn’t have been much trouble, really. Would you like me to fix you something?”

“You must have had a wonderful time while I was away.”

The tap water stopped. He wished he could see her face. “It was pretty uneventful, actually. I graded papers, went home and then, the other day, Jhong came over and showed me some pictures.” She was smooth.

“Jhong?” He was calm, he was sure of that. “Jhong, that lesbian friend of yours?”

He heard Katrina sigh. “She’s not lesbian. She just dresses queer. I already told you that but you said I was just being nice and considerate. I’m not.”

The apartment was silent. He felt a strange ringing in his ears. He suddenly found himself wondering what she looked like standing there on the kitchen floor. Did she wear a panicked expression on her face? Was she sweating?

“Do you remember the time when I told you I wanted a glamour shot before I die?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you dismissed it like it was a joke. You pinched my cheek and said ‘that’s cute’,” she mimicked his voice. “And then I asked you again and you said ‘what has gotten into you? Sure, hayaan mo, bukas na bukas din, kahit sa gitna pa ng EDSA.’”

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“Why did you hang it there?”

“I just want to show you that I’ve done it. I thought it would have been selfish if I kept it under my drawers.”

The whir of the electric fan seemed louder to him than usual.

“I said I wanted a glamour shot before I die. That’s a span between 23, 33, 43,” she paused. “or 93.”

The kettle whistled. She turned off the stove. Again, silence.

“Are you mad at me?” she asked, her voice recovering its old girlishness.

“No.”

There was no other question and he was even sorrier that he could not see her face. In her silence, he felt that she had dissolved completely.

The suitcase lying at his feet snapped open and littered the floor with faces of models whose pictures he had taken three days ago. The photograph of a young Korean girl he had taken yesterday lay at his feet. She was a walk-in but he had decided to take her picture anyway. In the photograph, she was sporting a stringy bikini. He remembered choosing the ensemble for her. When she came in, her dark hair was streaked with the most unusual hues, reflecting the artificial color of her eyes. Her low riding jeans were falling off her plump bottom, and her perfectly round breasts were almost escaping from the negligee material she wore as a shirt. Later in the night he cropped her image and pasted it on a backdrop of parched earth and slithering serpents. He was pleased with the result. He picked up the photograph and scrutinized it for flaws. The light from the bedside lamp struck the tender white skin clad in animal leather. His eyes moved to the lips and found them softer under the fierce lip color.

He glanced at his young wife’s photograph on the wall. Closing his eyes, he saw Katrina in her pink pajamas, the clean slopes of her breasts visible where the buttons had come undone.

She was smiling.

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