Forever 81

Too many mouths

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“HEART ROT,” by Gilda Cordero Fernando, owned by Daniel Kho. ISABEL KHO

Nota bene: I have substituted the word “mouth” for the original “vagina.” Nanay Onor used the Tagalog term. She used it in the whole, telling it forthrightly and without malice. Since I can’t do the same, you have to be content with the euphemism and do the mental substitution yourself. Have fun!

Part I

This is an abridged and different version of the same tale I did for “Filipino Heritage” Vol. V.

Once there was a couple with no children. “Give us a child,” they begged the saint. “We will accept any offspring at all, even if it be just a mouth.”

And so their wish was granted. They were given not just one child, but many children! Except that—except that—each one of them was just a mouth. No eyes, no ears, no nose no face. Twenty-five mouths opening and crying, hungry all the time. And they weren’t even pretty mouths, but thick and purple and ugly.

The wife wept all day and all night until the husband could stand it no longer. He gathered all the mouths in a sack and brought them to the seashore. There he flung them one by one angrily into the sea. One mouth, however, the thickest and most unsightly of all, got stuck on a tree branch. And so all its siblings drowned but it.

The mouth clung desperately to the branch. At night it thundered and lightened. Rain soaked the mouth and it shivered with cold. When day came, the sun beat on the mouth and it became more shriveled than ever.

Since it had become an orphan, the last mouth made the tree its home. It cleaned the mud and the webs off the branches and the leaves. Every day, when its chores were done, it hung at the end of a branch, singing. And it grew up brave and wise and clean and reverent.

A test

Now, the king of this land was getting old. He wanted his three sons to bring home wives before he died. “However, I will first have to give each of them a test —a handkerchief to embroider. That way I will know whether they will make fitting wives.”

The next day the three princes set out together on their quest. They reached a fork in the road. The eldest, Don Alberto, turned east where his sweetheart lived. The second, Don Enrico, turned west where he had fallen in love with a beautiful girl. Having no prospect in mind, Don Rodrigo did not know where to go. So he just wandered aimlessly until he reached the seashore where he sat under a tree. He had barely closed his eyes to rest when he heard the purest voice singing.

Don Rodrigo was transfixed with wonder. The exquisite voice filled the air but he looked all about and couldn’t locate it. Finally he traced it to a violet and wrinkled object hanging at the end of a branch.

“Can it be?” he asked. The mouth finished singing and hopped a branch lower. “Don’t come near me!” said Don Rodrigo in horror. “You mushroom or cricket or worm!”

“Please be my friend,” begged the thick lips, “for I have none in the world.”

“But what—who—are you?” he asked.

“I am the defective product of a barren couple. And abandoned,” explained the pitiful creature.

The prince sighed. “Then we are in the same miserable fix,” he said. “My father, the king, has tasked me to get a handkerchief embroidered before nightfall. And by a future wife!”

“And may I know who this future wife might be?” asked the mouth.

“That is the problem,” Don Rodrigo sighed. “I have no one.”

“In that case,” said the mouth, “take a nap. By the time you wake up I will tell you if there is good news.”

The prince left the handkerchief on the sand, walked to the other side of the tree and went to sleep. The mouth slid down from branch to branch and dropped right into the middle of the handkerchief. The mouth hopped up and down and up and down on the cloth. It worked for a long time. Soon the cloth was embroidered with leaves and flower—how finely the creature could sew!

When Don Rodrigo awoke, he was astonished. The mouth was hanging smugly at the end of a branch. “It is marvelous!” he said. “What magical creature made it?”

The mouth did not reply. It just grinned, swinging happily on its perch.

Don Rodrigo thanked the sea spirits. Then he picked up the handkerchief and headed home.

When he reached the palace the two older princes were already there. The king was praising their sweethearts’ work. But when he saw Don Rodrigo’s handkerchief he judged it the best of all.

(To be continued)

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