Hagiographies: A Series
by Rosario Margate
for Elena Gonzales Melinger
HAG #1: Agnes
During the island’s many regular blackouts I watched Agnes play with lit candles. I am not a bad mother. The flames split before her; they always have. It was as if she could sculpt fire. Her first word was No. She refused to have her hair cut so I let it be. Somehow even the stray strands would not ignite. Her inky hair grew to her knees. I asked again and still she said no. Years have passed and she is now a dalaga.
When she gets home from school she takes off her uniform, undoes the coils of braids on her head, and lets a curtain of crimped hair cover her. My feral daughter. My noncombustible child. Her skin darkens anyway. Batang araw. She gets it from me. She has my color, my eyes, my teeth, my reputation, my lucky left hook. Her beauty is an accident she ignores; her intelligence is that of a sleepwalker who never trips, never falls. She spends the afternoons inspecting our garden and does her homework at night. She can tell me a month in advance what date the roses will start blooming. We grow them to offer to the Virgin Mary on feast days.
Do you love your mother? I ask her one night.
No, she says.
Will you love someone else?
Do you ever get lonely, anak?
She takes a moment, as if to consider what loneliness could be, then smiles:
I feel strangely proud. When the men find my Agnes, as they do with anyone who is not like them, I have no worries. Each one goes blind as soon as he sends a carnal glance her way. The ones that dare touch her recoil, scalded, palms burnt. I taunt the worst offender, caught trying to sneak into our yard. He has rope and a knife on him. The bandanna he masked his face with now only slightly muffles his sobs. He should be grateful that the last thing he saw was her. I tell him, Here’s something else you will never see: my daughter, afraid.
Agnes is already back inside, lighting candles.
HAG #2: The Incorruptible
If you would like to open up my thorax and take a rib, please do. They are fragrant and cure many ills. My liver is clean and supple, and the muscles of my heart still fibrous. If these are too cumbersome, you may have these vials of my blood to wear around your neck like rubies. So convenient. Take them, take them. Cut my hair to keep as a memento. Go ahead, before it grows too much and fills my glass casket again. Strung on an instrument and plucked, the strands will play hymns without regard to the player’s skill or talent, or desire for music. See my hands? One clutches the remains of a rose long dead, the other holds a quill, ready for dictation. Hold one, feel my nails dig into your palm. What you cannot have is my head. In life I was shot with arrows, dragged over coals, tied to an anchor and thrown in the river, but never beheaded. Don’t start now. My head I will keep with me until the resurrection. And my feet, which I have always liked for their long, flexible toes. Lids still cover my eyes, delicate as bats’ wings. Underneath them my brown eyes are rolling. Are you done?
HAG #3: Inés
Everything around me is decadent: the church's high, arched ceilings, the guilded putti, the sickly-pale statues in embroidered robes, the frescoes of saints smiling in rapture as persecutors chop off a hand or stir them into vats of boiling oil. The altar chokes with precious metals and gems, taken from everywhere in the world there were brown people like me. Inside a reliquary, the arm of an incorruptible. I take it all in like food, but it makes me hungrier. The high-waisted pencil skirt I'm wearing is only for skinny days. I haven't eaten and I wanted to look fancy.
I am not a fancy lady. Not really. I go back to the hotel, this beautiful box I scammed for a week. It’s seriously a palazzo or something. Just being in it makes me want to fuck. Yes, I am aroused by baroque architecture, by dappled sunlight pushing in through the blinds at that angle that refracts the colors in it, makes anything look expensive and everyone look loved. I peel the skirt off and masturbate to the lazy kiss of the ceiling fan. Later, starving, I change into a more forgiving silk dress. A recent trick gave me a book to read. Keats, since I’d said I was going to Rome. La Belle Dame Sans Merci, that kind of corny shit. I read the book anyway, over a dinner alone with many small plates and a bottle of Montepulciano, feeling smugly full in the city where this frail white man wasted away. Whatever. Would probably bang if he wasn’t tubercular and of course dead.
The golden hour light makes the skin on my fingertips translucent. I lift a slice of bruschetta to my face and realize I haven’t washed my hands. The scent is musky with a bleached, alkaline note. Clean.
Rosario Margate is an MFA graduate student the University of Houston. She was born in the Philippines, raised in the Northern Marianas, and is from Houston.