The mys­te­ri­ous O looks to the stars and into her cof­fee mug. Fic­tion by Sasha Martinez.

Esquire (Philippines) - - THIS WAY IN - BY Sasha Martinez PHO­TO­GRAPHS BY Edric Chen

BE­FORE HER DAY BE­GINS IN EARNEST, OUR CHAR­AC­TER O.— milk­ily com­plected, a wa­ter­fall of thick hair that ends in an abrupt line just above her shoul­ders, clear-browed, bow-lipped, in pos­ses­sion of too many pairs of ear­rings that never seem to match—sits down at her desk at home and checks her for­tune.

She knows it is silly to look to the stars, for­ever over­head they may be. She knows this. And yet here she is, our char­ac­ter O.—mostly clothed, save for the shoes that stand ex­pec­tant by her front door, be­cause she hates shoes, hates the con­fine­ment of them, the forced ci­vil­ity of them, she al­ways saved her shoes for the very last, as though they could not be helped, mostly be­cause they could not be helped—bend­ing over the news­pa­per that landed on her wel­come mat at dawn. She’s fore­gone the car­i­ca­ture of govern­ment on the front page, the gore of modern liv­ing on the rest of the newsprint, the neatly or­dered sec­tions de­tail­ing one pre­oc­cu­pa­tion and an­other. There, above the comic strips and an in­sert de­tail­ing bits of trivia she ei­ther al­ready knows or highly doubts—to­day’s are: An ant can lift fifty times its own weight; Thomas Edi­son was afraid of the dark; Ac­cord­ing to an Old English sys­tem of time units, a mo­ment is one and a half min­utes—are the horo­scopes.

She will run through the con­stel­la­tions, the line of the zo­diac long made ar­bi­trary by lore and history and cul­ture. Aries is ad­vised to lis­ten to a men­tor re­gard­ing a ca­reer move; the Sun spends its last day in their do­main, fill­ing them with vivid­ness. Tau­rus is en­cour­aged to dis­cuss their fi­nan­cial lives with a trusted elder; to­mor­row, they must em­brace soli­tude. Gem­ini is cau­tioned to re­turn to their so­cial lives one last time, as the Sun ap­proaches their house ded­i­cated to lone­some­ness.

She un­der­stands very lit­tle of the astro­nom­i­cal fil­i­gree of these horo­scopes—the houses and the po­si­tions of the plan­ets and the am­ble of the Sun and the Moon through it all. She has never picked up the ob­scure math­e­mat­ics of the ce­les­tial bod­ies. When Libra is soothed by the knowl­edge that Sun spends its last day in Aries, their com­ple­men­tary sign, O. knows to wait for the mun­dan­ity: Time with the one you love will linger like a breeze from the ocean; it is a per­fect time to ne­go­ti­ate about liv­ing ar­range­ments. When Scor­pio is cheered on by to­day’s Sun-Saturn link, O. is in­formed that they must use their tal­ents to show ex­per­tise in their in­dus­try; to­mor­row, Scor­pio must go to the gym.

Her cof­fee will cool in this enu­mer­a­tion; this is by de­sign. Col­lege in a univer­sity town with its crowded cafes and waves of over-mon­eyed un­der­grad­u­ates have taught her to nurse a bev­er­age that ap­par­ently dies in its cup within thirty min­utes. A peek at the stars in the early morn­ing is more than enough time for the sweet­ness to scat­ter and soak through the brew.

Her cof­fee, un­til now, even years and years and years later, is a com­pro­mise be­tween her gut-stub­born tastes that run to the trea­cly and sac­cha­rine and the by-prin­ci­ple pref­er­ence of a boy she loved: Pitch black, strong, full, threaded through with enough sugar that she will feel the rasp of the sweet­ness against her tongue even hours later.

He taught her how to make cof­fee the right way, he’d teased, the bet­ter way, be­yond sim­ply spilling pack­ets of in­de­ci­pher­able pow­der into tepid wa­ter. Grind­ing cof­fee beans by hand, the un­even­ness of the de­bris that re­sults, the mea­sur­ing of this very de­bris by spoon­fuls, flat or heap­ing. The wa­ter at just the right tem­per­a­ture. The para­pher­na­lia—French presses en­cased in brass, steel lit­tle pots, one as­sem­blage that in­volved blue flame and glass orbs, all this de­tri­tus the per­pet­ual mo­tion ma­chine of her morn­ings. It was pomp and it was cir­cum­stance, and it was all part of a cer­e­mony that she’d been al­ter­nately amused at and mys­ti­fied by. And hadn’t that been so many morn­ings with this boy? Head perched on her hands, her wide mouth still slack from the evening, gaz­ing with won­der at him and his hair that glinted brown against the sun­light. Cof­fee was one of his few con­ceits, and she’d tended to tell him she loved him his silli­ness, the solem­nity of him. Isn’t there al­ways a boy our char­ac­ters Xs and Ys once loved? Room-tem­per­a­ture cof­fee; he’d teased her about that. It had been good-na­tured. No one will take your seat if you drink your cof­fee right away, he’d say. That’s what you’re afraid of. You get used to hold­ing the fort, and you think you should guard that drink for as long as you need to stay.

She’d liked that. Be­ing de­scribed. She’d thought she hadn’t been de­scribed enough, un­til this boy. She’d en­joyed hav­ing some­one ar­tic­u­late what she was, what she could be—the an­nounce­ment of her.

(When she was much younger, O. was loved by a boy who un­furled his morn­ings through the cer­e­mony of cof­fee, the de­lib­er­ate­ness of it, the care he took with it. The small fur­row that formed be­tween his eye­brows when he mea­sured, when he ad­justed flame. One morn­ing, this boy shared a day­dream our O. would steal years later un­til it fi­nally be­came her own: I want to live in an­other coun­try whose lan­guage I do not speak. I’ll live in a small apart­ment and talk to no one for most days. With a dic­tio­nary, I’ll write astrol­ogy for a lo­cal paper I can’t read. I’ll be flu­ent in faux prophecy. They’ll read like love let­ters. Aries: You are sound and fury by de­fault, and you’re in dan­ger of drown­ing out ev­ery­thing else. Lis­ten to the softer parts of you, the gen­tler parts of you, the more quiet parts of you. Tau­rus: How brightly must the hori­zon flash and flicker un­til you are com­pelled to lis­ten to the rus­tles within you that ask you to rush head­long to­ward that light? Gem­ini: Pep­per your home with flow­ers; take some­one’s hand in yours. Can­cer: Raise your voice as high as it can go, as loudly, as en­com­pass­ing—pour into your wail­ing all the hurts and all the be­tray­als and all the things that should have made sense but didn’t and all the times you’ve wo­ken up to a morn­ing that still per­sisted in spite

of ev­ery­thing and all the mid-af­ter­noon mo­ments you looked at screens and found noth­ing but blinks. Leo: The heav­ens will croon back to you, sweet­heart, and this is a prom­ise. Virgo: This week, re­mind your­self that the bud of a fire-tree bloom cares not for the risks it takes to blos­som in the heat of high sum­mer. This week, re­mem­ber that you were once told that you were a fuck­ing su­per­nova. This week, un­der­stand that there is a con­fla­gra­tion in you, and all it needs is your leave to rage. And that once you’ve set it loose: Know you’ll cast into the shad­ows even this fear­some sun beat­ing against your aching skin. You will be loud and you will be lyri­cal and you will be bright and you will be blind­ing—and you will singe what needs to be singed. Libra: Re­mem­ber the value of a pref­ace when you reach for a kiss: Ev­ery­thing I am right now, ev­ery­thing that has led to me stand­ing here with my breath min­gling with yours, you can keep it in your pocket, you can keep it in that dip be­low your lower lip. Scor­pio: This week, too, you will be asked by these heav­ens to re­mem­ber how, one milky-way evening, you told your most fa­vorite per­son in the world— the same one that com­pels au­ro­ras to branch out of the mid­night blue over­head—that nu­clear fires last. Sagit­tar­ius, Aquarius, Capricorn, Pisces, and down the line again, over and over, as needed, as need be, as it must: There re­mains weight against your spine, I know; you can feel how it has set­tled in the ex­panse be­tween your shoul­der blades. The line of your back bears it hard­est, this long­ing to drink some­one in.)

Virgo: Have a talk with you fi­nan­cial ad­vi­sor about long-term se­cu­rity. In­cre­men­tal progress will mat­ter as Mer­cury, Virgo’s ruler, joins the Sun. One step for­ward will take you ex­actly where you need to be.

By the time she’s gone down that line, by the time she’s read ev­ery­one’s for­tunes at her desk—un­clut­tered ex­cept for a tea­spoon stain­ing the sur­face with sugar—her cof­fee will have cooled, and she could drink it all in, one breath­less wince down her throat. Our char­ac­ter O. can now make her slow am­ble throw her house to­ward her front door, slip her feet into her ex­pec­tant shoes, and she’ll con­sider if there is some­thing she has for­got­ten, for aren’t there al­ways things our char­ac­ters Xs and Ys have ceased to hold close? Not, say, the weight of an­other’s jaw against the crown of her head when she’s eased enough to rest, to bur­row. No. Noth­ing like the warmth of an­other’s torso in the mid­dle of the night, a cer­tain warmth, a spe­cific warmth. Her keys, per­haps. The back door un­locked, the wa­ter heater still switched on? Not like this miss­ing in the quiet. Maybe the lights in the bath­room, an open win­dow? Not like cer­tain points within the tra­jec­tory of a ca­ress: How the fin­ger­tips, more of­ten than not, linger against her skin at the close of a sweep of a hand down her brit­tling spine; that hand’s pro­tracted pause in the air be­fore it rests against the curve where the waist meets hip. Her used cof­fee cup to place in the sink, per­haps, and not how black hair can glint the warm­est brown against morn­ing light. Not the old sor­rows.

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