I scratched my head and glanced at the clock on the wall to my right. It was past 10 in the morning and I felt like my head was about to split open.
“John?” she said.
“I’m sorry, who is this?” I said.
She burst out laughing.
“You mean to tell me I’ve been talking to a brick wall for the past five minutes?” she said.
“I’m sorry, I think I had too much to drink last night,” I said. Right away, an image flashed inside my head: Muriel in front of me, holding a glass of vodka, lights flashing on and off from the ceiling above us. I remember smiling for no apparent reason. The silver dusts sparkled over her eyebrows and cheeks. That’s all I can recall.
“Muriel?” I said.
She laughed again. “You’re having a serious hangover,” she said. “Do you want to meet up another time?”
“No, no,” I said.
“You wanted to meet up today, remember?” she said.
“Yes. I did?”
“Yes. But we can always meet another time.”
“No, I’m okay. Let’s meet today.”
“Okay, then. I’ll give you time to recover. How about if we’ll meet in Ayala after lunch instead?”
I went back to bed, but I couldn’t sleep because of the pain. I threw up a few times, then hit the shower. I felt a bit better afterwards.
We met in a newly-opened Italian restaurant in Ayala.
“How are you feeling?” she said after she settled down on her seat.
“Better,” I said. Immediately after I said it, I felt nauseous.
“I’m so proud of you.”
I gave her an incredulous look.
“Don’t worry, I’ll help you with your decision. It won’t be easy at first, especially for a guy like you. My ex had a rough time, too, when he tried to do it. But I’ll be here for you.”
“What are you talking about?” I smiled.
“Your new year’s resolutions, of course. I’m so proud of you.” She smiled again.
“New year’s resolution?”
“Yes.” She became serious. “Okay, the first thing we need to do is go to church and receive the sacrament of reconciliation.”
I laughed. “The sacrament of what?”
“You know, confession. You need to confess all your sins to God first. I mean, before anything else, you need to do that. You do believe in God, right?”
What have I gotten myself into? I thought.
“We can do that this afternoon. Then, we’ll attend Mass. Then, in the evening, you can write down your resolutions on paper and sign your name on it, so it’ll be official. I’ll be your witness. I’ll hold you accountable.”
“What did you give me last night?” I said.
“Only vodka,” she said.
“I can’t remember what happened.”
She giggled. “Nice try,” she said. “You were perfectly lucid and rational last night even though you were a bit drunk. You can’t turn back now.”
“I can’t turn back from what?” I said.
“Your resolutions. How many times do I have to repeat it?”
Another image flashed in my mind: Muriel sitting on a metal stool inside the Emergency Room. It was the first time I saw her. I had to rush to the hospital because I cut my hand accidentally with a knife. The wound was small but deep. The bleeding wouldn’t stop, so I was eventually brought to the O. R. for surgery.
The following day, I had to rush to the E. R. again because I fell from the stairs and broke my shin. Again, I saw her there. She was the one who interviewed me.
The day after that, I returned to the E. R. again because I accidentally drank a bottle of toilet bowl cleaner.
I only stopped going there when the resident physician asked me if I’m not suicidal, but not before I got her number.
“Can you tell me what my resolutions were?” I said, teasing her.
“Stop pulling my leg, John,” she said. “You can’t turn back now. I already expressed my willingness to help you. You’re my friend, and as a friend I want to help you carry this out.”
“I’m serious, tell me what I promised to do last night.”
“Very well. You promised to come clean. You promised to stop fooling around with women. You promised to stop flirting with me. You promised to improve your character. Your own words, not mine.”
I looked at her face, and saw traces of the silver dusts on her chin. She glowed, as if someone from a dream. How can someone like her still be single?
I called the waiter over and ordered a drink.
“You also promised to steer clear of alcohol,” she said. “I already ordered tea for us.”
“Muriel,” I said, “this is so surreal. Wow, that rhymed.”
“You need to stop calling me ‘Muriel’. Alright, my real name is…”