Wilted carnations nestled upon Gina’s palms, their color so dark a crimson it resembled frozen blood on a disregarded wound. Owen traipsed over the barbed wires encircled two feet away around a small grave and asked her to come over. But she didn’t move a single step, didn’t utter a single word, didn’t even look at him for a split second. Owen ignored her, then. It was pointless, she was pointless, the whole graveyard was pointless. Why did he ask her to sleep there again? A heavy sigh passed through his lungs, his lips. He started to shiver but hid the discomfort for her not to feel the same.
“Hey!” He shouted through thin air. Gina faced him with a blank stare. “Can you come over here? Please?”
This time, she nodded. The grass rustled under her feet. Her legs trudged like flower stems, ribs poked through tanned skin like thorns, face hollowed out and devoid of vibrancy like unpainted cement. Her breathing was an insult to the dead.
Owen reached out his hand to help her through the wires but she refused to lower down the carnations. In turn, she stumbled upon a wire which scraped a tiny piece of skin below her left knee. Blood did not ooze out, only frozen in place. “Hey, does it hurt?” He still asked.
She shook her head. Of course, it didn’t.
A church bell rang in the distance. The silence that followed was a procession of pilgrims seeking the Holy Land. That was when a soft voice echoed through the graves.
“Garlic?” Gina whispered.
He stared at her for a moment, perplexed. He didn’t use to play by Gina’s superstitions, but she wasn't getting well. It was the only way, wasn’t it? So out of his charcoal travel backpack, he took a plastic full of minced garlic and scattered them around the grave. The garlic was supposed to protect them-it was a staple in Philippine superstition-but Owen had always been skeptical. Still, he was the one who placed the barbed wires a month ago with permission from the caretaker because Gina insisted it would keep the dead safe. How she arrived at that logic was one he couldn’t fathom.
She studied him like a predator then placed the carnations on the grave once he finished. On the rectangular cement, the name Azriel H. Buenaventura was carved in messy cursive. He died only 2 months ago, on the 27th of August.
Instinctively, her right hand moved over to a black rosary that dangled around her neck like a rope.
“You’re safe now,” Owen said. His gruff voice always softened when it came to her.
She let go of the rosary. “Am I?”
“Yes, you are.”
They shared a disenchanted look. It was normal at this point.
Owen took out a blanket, placed it on the left side of the grave, and sat. He tapped the space beside him thrice, but Gina placed another blanket on the opposite side and sat on it. Owen sighed, took out a leftover piece of pandesal, and split it in half. He wasn’t hungry but only needed something to busy himself with. Gina refused the other half and murdered the blades of grass instead. One by one, she would pluck them, and one by one she would smile.
“Do you think he’s happy?” She said without facing Owen. It took him a second to figure it was probably addressed to him. He bit and chewed a little part of the pandesal before answering.
“I don’t know.”
Gina stopped plucking the grass and finally faced him. “He could’ve been with God, you know?”
If only it wasn’t for your fault, was left unsaid. But he was with God, wasn’t he? In heaven, entertaining Him with his smiles.
Owen finished the entire half of the pandesal before mustering the courage to speak up.
“How can you be so sure a tiktik killed him?”
“Because his organs were out,” she cried. “You were there.”
Owen looked down. Not this again. Only old and irrational people believe in myths. They said garlic can battle child-eating creatures-tiktik-but his deductions never led to that conclusion. It was pointless.
“Do you want to leave now?”
“No, you said we’ll spend the night.”
“I’m doing this for you, Gina,” he stopped. “Can’t you see?”
Or maybe not. Obscured by a haze, the truth caved deep in his head: this might be the only chance he can talk to her alone. Their house was full of relatives, typical of a Filipino home, and Gina used it to her advantage to avoid him at all costs. She only agreed to stay because she would be with Azriel for a night. He was the angel they've been waiting for since they tied the knot 5 years ago.
Owen fumbled with his ring then looked at her finger. There was the same ring there, once.
“Did you lose it? Our ring?”
Gina hugged her knees to her chest. Her gaze shifted to the grass, the barbed wires, the distant trees, the sky. Yes, she was pointless-the whole idea was pointless. But still, he kept talking.
“Do you still love me?”
He bit his lower lip and forced himself to look her in the eye.
She averted her gaze to the grave, traced the carvings with her right fingers, brushed the dust in the process.
“He was my son too, you know?” A thorn poked in his throat-spilled blood in his insides. “Your lost was mine-"
“No, I suffered more. It was my womb he was housed in for months, it was me who had to-”
“Gina, please,” his voice cracked at the end. “Stop your nonsense. Azriel died because he was a sick infant, not because of some mythical creature-"
“Shut up! T-the garlic! You didn’t put garlic that night-we weren’t safe! I was there, I-I saw his ruptured organs-”
“It was at the hospital, for goodness sake! He went through a surgery, and now...” His gaze retreated to the grave.
It was the same narrative. Azriel suffered from diaphragmatic hernia before God took him, but Gina always failed to understand. Or maybe she did but merely distorted it in her mind to blame their son’s death on Owen.
She stared at him blankly; another weighed silence.
“Go away,” she uttered. She slowly laid down beside the grave, knees bent to accommodate the small space. “I’ll sleep here with my son. Forever.”
Owen’s tears dotted the grass. This would never stop. Gina might be this way for years, but he took a damn oath in front of the Lord. He won’t take it back.
Wilted carnations lounged like dead bodies, drunk in tranquility. Gina stirred when Owen placed a blanket over her and kissed her forehead, but didn’t utter a single word. Yes, it wasn’t pointless, she wasn’t pointless, the whole graveyard wasn’t pointless. Owen laid back on his side of the grave, the soft light from the stars reflected upon his eyes. That night, their family was complete.