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A Remedy For The Rat Race by Rizza Corella Punsalan

1, 2, 3. Joe drank as quickly as he could so nobody could catch him. Flames licked his throat, and sunlight held his skin. Drops of yellow spilled down his chin, and he wiped them off with his tongue. Nothing must be left unconsumed, the man had said. Anything missed and he would not be able to end all the suffering, all the questioning – lying in bed with a child who couldn’t be realized, breaking his back for a man he didn’t know, spending hours counting bills he couldn’t own. There were no second chances. The liquid could only be taken once in his lifetime. You miss a drop and you will have to bear the consequences.

Without meaning to, Joe plopped onto his bed, his body as heavy as though he had just plunged into a lake, his vision spinning like a top. Beneath his body, his sheets were smooth and cool. He closed his eyes and slept.

When he awoke, his bedroom was no longer dim or blue: the color of the sky was yellow-orange, illuminating the wooden dresser by the door and his wife, his beautiful wife. He stared at her glossy hair and full lips, her curves accentuated by her white nurse’s uniform. She was curled up beside him. He couldn’t help but embrace her. At his touch, she flinched.

“Just let me sleep,” she said hoarsely, turning away from him and pulling her blanket over her head.

“I love you,” he said to her.

She didn’t say anything.


“You know if you’re up, you can make yourself useful by mopping the floor. I saw a spill of something yellow when I arrived.”

Joe’s heart lurched. He felt as though something was amiss but he couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was.

“It’s probably nothing,” he said, more to himself than his wife.

* * *

It was a new day. He rode the MRT, humming a Beatles tune as incoming passengers pushed him against the wall and made him a chunk of fish meat in a Century Tuna can. But he was still breathing and for some reason that made him smile. In the background, a jingle for a sanitary napkin brand played; a woman in a pink tank top danced jovially on the screen above the doors. He tapped his foot to the rhythm. The song was actually pretty catchy.

When he arrived at his office, he said good morning though there was nobody there. He sat on his gray chair, began flipping through bills, stamping on deposit slips, checking records on his computer. He felt as light as a feather.

Then, there was a tap on his shoulder.

He turned on his swivel chair to see Mike, the teller with an almost completely bald head, dressed in his usual long-sleeved, buttoned-up shirt. Today, it was aqua blue.

“Hey, what time are we meeting up for the strike tomorrow?” he asked.

He shook his head. “I’m not going.”

“Dude, are you kidding? A quarter of the staff agreed to go because of you!” Mike exclaimed, his eyes as wide as a screaming mouth.

“Why me?” Joe asked, tilting his head.

“You know that they look up to you. If you go too, they know they’re safe,” Mike retorted, the wrinkles on his forehead making their rare appearance.

“I just don’t think it’s a good idea anymore.”

“Why not?” Mike sharply crossed his arms.

“Alice and I are okay just the two of us. We don’t need a child to be happy,” Joe said, grinning.

Mike squinted at him. “You’re acting very odd today, Joe.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Joe laughed.

“I just hope you know that you’re making a big mistake,” Mike snapped at him, turning on his heels and stomping away.

* * *

At exactly 5:30 pm, he left the office, skipping. He put on his earphones and swayed to Let It Be as he waited in an unmoving line, thousands of feet away from the door of the train, the smell of Potato Corner fries and engine smoke wafting through the air.

Here Comes The Sun, Strawberry Fields Forever, All You Need Is Love – he played them on loop.

More than an hour later, he was on the train, the crowd wrapped around him so tightly he didn't need to hold the handles. It was hot, the air-conditioning faulty and the pointy tip of a handbag drew cracks on his stomach. He just giggled. The woman who owned the bag raised an eyebrow at him and he just nodded his head in reply, beaming. She mumbled weirdo under her breath and looked away. Joe looked back at the night lights floating beyond the drenched windows, unable to hold back a smile.

Then the music stopped, wind filled his ears, and there was a pain in his chest so excruciating that his eyes started to collect water. Smoke clouded his vision, a breeze so icy it made him tremble. A large invisible hand was strangling him, squeezing him, willing him to pop, making his knees buckle as the darkness blanketed the strangers around him and the skyscrapers and billboards displaying Skechers shows and Levi’s jeans turned to ash…

Then, John Lennon’s undulating voice soothed him once more. He had so many questions but before he could fully form them they turned to dust. He shrugged and looked blankly outside the window once more, recalling he needed to mop the floor once he reached home. He was too preoccupied with something this morning that it slipped his mind.

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