We left Monday morning, and our flight to California felt like backwards travel through time. In Manila it was night but outside the plane the sky was packed with clouds so white they looked fake, like the clouds painted on the cinderblock walls of the La Luna. Checkers and I began our courtship there, thirteen years before. I was sixteen, he was twenty-two, and every Saturday night we held hands in the second row for the midnight double creature feature. Checkers would marvel at what he called "the beauty of the beast" - he confirmed the expert craftsmanship of a well-made monster with a quiet "Yes" (he gave a standing ovation for Creature From the Black Lagoon) and let out exasperated sighs for the lesser ones. The more menacing the monster, he said, the better. But I preferred the monster that could be tamed. Like Fay Wray, I wanted to lay on the leathery palm of my gorilla suitor, soothe his rage with my calming, loving gaze. "You'll be on screen one day," Checkers said. "I'll put you there. Just keep faith in me." So I did. After high school, I moved in with Checkers, took odd jobs sewing and cleaning while he worked on his treatment for The Creature In the Cane. The night CocoLoco Studios bought it, I was rewarded for my faith: Checkers gave me a white box tied with pink ribbon. "Wear this," he whispered, "for me." I expected a nightgown with a broken strap and tattered neckline - standard attire for a woman in peril - but when I opened it I found a pair of wolf ears, a rubber forehead covered with boils, several plastic eyeballs. "You will be The Creature," he said, near tears and smiling. "You."
The night we started filming, as I rubber glued eyeballs to my face, I told myself this was a first step, that even great actresses have unglamorous starts. I told myself this again the night of the premiere, when audiences cheered wildly as a dozen sugarcane farmers descended upon The Creature with sticks and buckets of holy water. This is only the beginning - I repeated it, like a prayer, through all the films I did for Checkers.
The plane shook hard when we landed in America, and Checkers woke in a panic, hitting his head on my chin. "We're here?" he said, breathing heavy. "We finally arrived?" I rubbed the back of his neck to calm him. But my lip was bleeding. I could taste it.
Gaz didn't live in Holly-wood. He lived east of it, in Los Feliz, in a gray building called The Paradise. "This is it," he said, unlocking the door. "the home of Gaz Gazman and DoubleG Productions." It was a tiny apartment furnished a sinking couch and a pair of yellow beanbags, and the offices of DoubleG Productions were a walk-in closet with a metal desk crammed inside, a telephone and a student film trophy - second place - on top of it. A junior college diploma hung above the fake fireplace, and it was then that I learned Gaz Gazman was not his real name. "Who the hay wants to see a movie by Gazwick Goosmahn? But Gaz Gazman" - he snapped twice - "that's a director's name."
"It's the same with me!" Checkers said. "My real name? Chekiquinto. Can you believe?" He shook his head and laughed. "Chekiquinto. My gosh!"
"Horrible!" Gaz laughed along. "And you? Is Reva Gogo for real?" He said it like he already knew that I wasn't. My real name was Revanena Magogolang. I never liked it, so right before The Creature In the Cane, I de-clunked it down to its smoothest sound. And Reva Gogo, my credit read, as The Creature.
I took Checkers' hand and made him sit with me on a beanbag. "Show us your movie," I said. The sooner we saw Gaz's clips, I thought, the sooner we could get our money and hurry home.
Gaz wheeled in a film projector from his bedroom, loaded a sixteen millimeter reel, then hung a white bed sheet on the wall. "There are rough spots," he said, "but I think you'll like what you see." He drew the curtains, turned off the lights, filled a bowl with pretzels, then showed us what he had.
Excerpted from Monstress by Lysley Tenorio. Copyright © 2012 by Lysley Tenorio. Excerpted by permission of Ecco. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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