I'd made a deal with the carpenters across the street. They'd pool together some money at the end of each month and in return all I had to do was keep the blinds open.

I needed money. Just a bit, to supplement the two thousand and five hundred salary I was receiving every month. The three of them were happy to donate a few pesos in exchange for a nightly gander at my mistress' topless form through the window.

God knew why.

Ma'am Cecilia was a pudgy, short bitch with thick eyebrows and love handles oozing over the waistline of her constricting white cotton pants like buttercream icing on a cupcake. I had to admit, though: her breasts were quite nice.

The number of times she called me up to her bedroom to help undo the bra clasps embedded in her fat, fleshy back, I was able to get a glimpse of the two coconut-sized orbs dangling like swollen appendages from the top of her balloon-like stomach, her nipples pink and raw like coral pearls. She did nothing to hide them from my liberally probing eyes. I was in charge of cleaning the master bedroom since she was too lazy—or too fat—to pick up her panties off the floor, or even to close the windows. She had nothing to hide from me.

The two burly ones gave me thirty each. The tall, lankier one, with the long limbs, gave me forty because he was richer. He always got first gawk.

On the first day I went to retrieve the money, the three of them scurried excitedly from their work posts. The burly one with the brown hair had been running grey powder through a big, wooden sifter. The other burly one—with the black hair—had been struggling to hammer a long warped nail into a piece of wood. The lanky one with grey hairs sprouting sporadically from his thin scalp had been lounging under a tree, his lemon yellow hard hat perched on his nose, covering his eyes. Then, only the first floor had been completed.

"Oy! Mang Lom!" the lighter-haired carpenter called. "She's here!"

As they counted their cement-and-soil-encrusted bills, I decided to ask them, "So how was it, boys?" and the two young men erupted in excited chatter.

"That fatty? You wouldn't guess her tits would be that nice!"

"They were huge!"

"It was like viewing pink marble sculptures from afar," the grey-haired guy said softly, like he was trying to evoke some sort of depth by using cheap metaphors.

The two younger ones stopped their tongue wagging. They obviously thought the guy had said something deeply profound.

"Oh... Oh yeah," the brown-haired one said in awe, looking the older man in the face. "Pink marble... I'd like to live in a house with marble floors pink as those nipples of hers."

"Faggot," the darker haired, burly one said. "You go on and look while I taste those little cherries, sweet as lollipops." He stuck a finger in his mouth and withdrew it, making a popping sound with his lips.

"You really think they taste like lollipops, fool?" the other one replied. "They're just a little bit salty, almost tasteless."

"Like you've ever had one in your mouth," the black-haired one said skeptically. "Salty, you say? Been screwing a lot of dirty women, Charlie boy?"

Charlie knitted his eyebrows and slapped the other one on the back of the head. "Damn you, Lenio."

Lenio drew back his open palm to deliver a slap. Charlie ducked, forming a fist with his right hand. The two charged forward, each colliding with the other, noses banging together.

"Ow!" A chorus of shouts was followed by a string of curses.

The whole yard stared.

"Enough, boys, or we'll be found out," Mang Lom chided.

"What was that about?" another worker called from on top of one of the grey, unpainted walls.

"Nothing, friend," Mang Lom called back. "Just a disagreement."

The two quieted, returning to counting their money. They handed me thirty each and the older man gave forty. All three made sure to hand the cash to me as inconspicuously as allowed.

"Who's that?" the one on the wall was looking at me. I could see his eyes giving me a once over, pausing once they reached my chest and settling there. They never met my face.

"Charlie's girlfriend." Lenio lied, adding emphasis to the word girl.

"She a prostitute?"

Charlie looked disgruntled at the assumption. "No, dick."

"Well she sure looks like one."

I was about to reply with equal vehemence when Mang Lom turned to me and said, "I think you should go now. We'll see you next month."

I nodded and left, shooting a scowl at the man on the wall before turning my back.

It went on like this for a good three months: my going in to clean Cecilia's room and leaving the blinds open, then collecting my money at the end of the month. The arrangements went on unchanged until one day in October, after I came to collect the cash, Mang Lom made me another request. By then the second floor had been built, and half of the red roof shingled.

"I want to get closer," he said. "See those pink marble beauties up close. Magnificent." His voice sounded far away.


"I'll pay you an extra ten," Mang Lom offered quickly, "Every month. Just for me. If the others want to get closer, tell them they have to give you more, too."

Silently, I nodded, the prospect of receiving an extra ten (thirty, if Lenio and Charlie were up for it) every month nudging me to take the offer. Right then, we made plans.

The next night, after all the workers had left and only the dark shadows of Mang Lom, Charlie, and Lenio could be seen moving on the messy lot, I crept out the screen door and keyed the large, heavy padlock of the metal gate, making the sound of a gun being cocked.

I stole back into my quarters, which were right underneath Cecilia's bedroom. I peered out the window from my darkened room, watching, waiting to see what Mang Lom would do next.

I heard the slow, dragging sound of metal grating on metal, soon after followed by Mang Lom appearing through the slim space. He slowly crossed the yard to the large, imposing mango tree just outside the window and proceeded to climb, the muscles in his exposed calves growing taut.

He settled on a thick tree branch, his bulging eyes reflecting back the yellow light that glowed from Cecilia's window. From where I was hiding, it looked as if tears of joy were settling on the brink of his eyelids.

I was startled at what he did next, though I now wonder why I never anticipated that he would do it. What I can remember most clearly is the flaccid thought that sprung into my mind after my initial surprise: He's got a brown dick.

I never expected it to be nearly as dark as it was. Mang Lom wasn't fair-skinned, but from my vantage point his penis was an unnaturally dark brown—almost black. It was as if a stiff twig had suddenly grown out of the bark of the tree on which he was perched. It was a few tints darker than the rest of his body.

Or maybe it was just the shadows.

I grew uncomfortable when he started to breathe raggedly. I had looked away long before, though now I felt the need to cover my ears as well. His grunts got longer and louder before I felt the need to tell him to stop. I turned back to the window to see that his breath had created a mist over the glass. I knocked on my window to catch his attention. "Mang Lom—"

A shriek came from my mistress' bedroom. The window opened with a loud bang and Mang Lom, startled, fell in a lump on the ground below it.

"What the hell are you doing?" Ma'am Cecilia squawked. "Who are you? Get the hell out of here!"

Mang Lom gathered up his trousers and fled. In the distance, his posture resembled that of a dog fleeing with its tail between its legs.

It was pretty easy to figure out I'd been responsible for the midnight peepshows after that. One visit to the construction site and the two burly ones were happy to give me away. Who was I to them? With me gone, they wouldn't have to take a few pesos out of their salary every month anymore. Their fun had been ruined anyway, because now Ma'am Cecilia made sure to close her blinds every time she undressed. She'd keep the oversized cloth of her shirts close to her round body, too, for added measure.

That same night, I left for Romblon, anticipating what my father would say once he found out I'd been told to leave my job. I trudged slowly to the village exit, passing the construction site, now empty of the three hulking figures of Charlie, Lenio, and Mang Lom. I stopped, gazing up at the house, now almost complete, with a tacky purplish-blue paint job that made it look like ube ice cream studded with uneven globs of violet. I felt my lip curl, mildly disgusted by the color.

I turned to leave when a familiar voice, gruff but still somehow smooth, stopped me in my tracks. I could see three shadows, one topped with a yellow hard hat—a brightness that pierced the darkness. "I paid these two to help me rape you," came the voice. Then a sudden movement.

I was sprawled on the gravel of a narrow alley between two empty lots, barely knowing how I had gotten there. The sharp stones dug into my back and I could feel them embed themselves deeper into my skin as Mang Lom lay on top of me. His face was inches from mine, so close that all I could see were his eyes, framed by deep crows feet that looked like cracks in the mud. His lips brushed against mine and I could feel that they were chapped. Cold, strong hands gripped my wrists and ankles, pinning me to the ground. I didn't know whether it was Charlie and Lenio who were restraining me, or if they were entirely different people—strangers.

They say it's only painful your first time. That first entrance, the first probing into secret parts, is the only one that feels like a violation. I realized then that those who say that know nothing about being violated.

Each movement, each plunge that Mang Lom made, created a fire that burned me and became worse each time. Each time more painful. I couldn't scream or make a sound because his tongue choked me the whole time. His spit tasted like grime and cement. My whole body couldn't bear the heat, and the traitorous cold hands on my wrists were a dim respite from the fire that engulfed me.

When it was over, Mang Lom stood towering over me, his eyes roaming my body. My underwear was a twisted vine at my ankles. I lay still with my shirt yanked open and bra clasps torn.

He bent down for the last time. I was surprised at the gentleness of his rough fingers as he took one breast into his hand and kissed the raw, tawny nub at its peak. As he righted himself and turned away, his eyes seemed to say thank you, his yellow hard hat growing fainter in the distance as he walked.

The ground underneath me was rough as asphalt, cold as marble.