This new look challenges me. The mirror does not lie and it defeats. Your old Miss CTC. I look too old, too thin and my hair is all gone. The wig, my cursory nod to my vanity itches and my scalp is raw. I insist on wearing it even if it smells now. I loved hearing your voice when you called. Your voice echoes tears and I chatter, we pretend we are not sad. Day-to-day stories we do not share are lifelines we hold on to. I miss you. The crackle and static drowned the sadness that lingers between us. I will see you soon, I promise myself, and rue the day you all left. It is much harder than I thought, this distance, even if I chose it. Remember the old house in Balzain? How we followed each other, the five of us, looking like chained prisoners, just so we do not break contact. How we would tell stories over and over and laugh like loons. That keeps me. I imagine us like that and things are easier. Tonight the monsoon rain challenges my hearing even as it soothes. I know it is pouring more drops there than the faucet and I look at the clock. Deng is late again and I wait. Maybe by the time he comes in, the drums will be full. Inocando uses too much water even this late. I have been sitting here since three and the papag hurts even as it holds a secret--a growing litter of empty cartons of Marlboro reds under it. I have been smoking too much, surreptitiously, secretly. Too much. Sometimes, Hope is gentler on the body's battered state. My sisters-in-law probably think I am lazy but I do not have the strength to stand up. I try and your niece hovers. She's six! She should be out there playing. I drag my senses away from the door, and the night, and the rain and set my sight on the enlarged pictures you just sent. The wide empty space that is Las Vegas and the clouds that lord over you and everything. The scattered lights that appear to climb up to heaven. My little kitchen window fights with the high fence and huge towers Meralco built in the huge empty lot beside the house to allow me a glimpse of the sky or the touch of wind on my hair. Remember how I used to love doing laundry in the back so I can enjoy that gift? I miss that as much as I miss you. I am not complaining, there are graces and there are blessings. I found a new suki for pork at the Galas market even if it is expensive. Auntie Liz brought a sack of Milagrosa rice. Thank you for the balikbayan box. We are having an early Christmas.