This week in the Guernica/PEN Flash series, we feature a piece by Melissa R. Sipin. Subscribe to the series and get new flash delivered to your inbox twice a month—no spam or news, just stories. 

I heard the rumors. We heard the rumors that the men in olive suits were retreating. We whispered this truth as we huddled together. We were one. Our bodies. Our limbs were entangled in the other. Even the wires that enclosed us thought we were one. Some of us sat, some of us stood, some of us interlocked our fingers, others crossed their legs, and the dead ones, they lay on the floor, eyes closed, palms on chest, so quiet, quiet, quiet.

The chicken coop. I don’t remember the smell, the stench of flesh sitting in the sun for days, or even the lingering waft of feces, urine, a body lying against the wired chicken coop and on the wet earth. I don’t remember what the men in olive suits said in their high, electrifying voices, how they shouted at us, took us one by one to the school beneath the banyan tree, I don’t remember the cold touch of the gun with that knife protruding on the front, a blade that grazed my mouth to silence.

I still dream about those women, you know, but they are faceless. They come to me shrouded, reaching, their hands and fingers searching for mine, wanting to touch my nails, my fingers, my callous hands, and wrap themselves around my flesh: we are one. I instead remember their voices. Hushed when the sun beat on our backs, loud when the moon returned, illuminating our darknesses. The younger ones sat, cowered, the older ones shielded us when heat shone down, becoming our graceful shadows.

I still remember the day I heard the rumor. They’re coming, they said. Our men, the guerrillas are coming.

I was sardonic. I placed my hands through the wires, grasped onto the thin, sharp edges.

Who told you? I asked.

We heard, they said, We heard. Look at the mountainside. Don’t you see the smoke? Don’t you see? They’re in the distance.

An old one said: Isn’t your husband a guerrilla fighter? Don’t you have any hope left?

A young one spoke: The men in olive suits said they lost Bessang Pass.

I was still sardonic.

How do you understand them? Do you understand their jilted Tagalog, their commands in Japanese? I asked. How do you understand?

I must have elbowed the young girl to silence.

I must have shaken the chicken coop. I must have wrapped my fingers between those wires, clutching and clutching and clutching until blood came. I must have yelled, I must have screeched, I wanted to be a bird, I shook and shook and shook until even the earth moved, listening.

I must have broken my silence, for the men in olive suits came. The commotion, I remember the commotion, I remember the women, young and old, pointing at me, their index fingers raised, menacing. I must have been taken out, grabbed by the arm, I must have been thrown on the wet mud, the mud must have soaked through my hair, my white dress, it was already soiled, already ripped at the seams.

Do I remember the gun, the knife, the pain, the beating, the yelling?

Here is an example, they must have said, here is an example, here.

No, no, I don’t. I don’t remember. How could I? Those men in olive suits spoke a staccato language that revolted, that never skipped a beat, that sounded like the rain when it finally came and drenched the lands.

I do remember when Diego came. My dear, dear Diego. I remember the men dressed in sandals and ruined slacks and their rifles strapped around their backs. I remember those men in olive suits laying in the ditch, behind the school, their dead bodies entangled in the other, their voices finally stolen. I remember taking Diego’s gun, walking down the trench, flipping it to its end, and raising the metal rod and slamming it on the ground, over and over and over again, not caring what flesh I stomped, what flesh I flattened, what flesh I erased, what flesh I silenced, what flesh, what flesh, what flesh.

Melissa R. Sipin is a writer from Carson, CA. She won Glimmer Train’s Fiction Open and the Washington Square Review’s Flash Fiction Prize. She co-edited Kuwento: Lost Things, an anthology on Philippine myths (Carayan Press, 2014), and her work is in Guernica, Eleven Eleven, and Hyphen Magazine, among others. Cofounder of TAYO Literary Magazine, her fiction has won scholarships and fellowships from Kundiman, VONA/Voices, Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and was shortlisted for the David Wong Fellowship at the University of East Anglia. As the Poets & Writers McCrindle Fellow in Los Angeles, she is hard at work on a short story collection and a novel.