Many years later when they left the office people didn’t know what to do with all the fish. Their manager had been to an international office once, where all along one wall ran an aquarium, bluer than any sky, with rarefaction so brilliant that the water seemed a creature itself, the fish mere ornaments in its hair. When he came back from the conference the manager did what he could; their numbers were falling and morale was going down with it. Outside, the Manila-envelope spirit of their office was becoming less and less visible. A corner office with Doric columns could easily stun a child, but in his last few years alive the manager realized he was experiencing again that feeling, of coming to a playground and seeing papier-mâché instead of sturdy see-saws and giant slides. Every day he went to the office, and every day he shook the feeling off, the one that said a giant fist was about to tear through the office windows, dirty with encrusted pollution and mildew. Buying one small aquarium, he believed, bought him just one more day. He was putting on a brave face. He asked his secretary to research into which kinds of fish thrived in bowls, which variety wouldn’t be able to stand another even in a larger aquarium. Which brands of fish flakes were the best. Then when most of his questions had been answered he went about the office scattering bowls and aquariums everywhere. Teetering over a crumbling lounge countertop. Too near the soap dispenser at the common sink outside the lavatories. On Janice’s already crowded desk. On the row of shelves with old magazines and company flyers when they were still relevant to the business. It took him several rearrangements to find whatever suited his internal, aquatic feng shui. He wondered why the dream in his mind always looked cerulean, and the one in the office always pathetic.
Come one Monday morning, Janice’s desk became flanked by two bowls with betta fish, blue-black and violet-yellow, both wielding sword-faces, more suspicious and snobbish than ever Janice herself was. And if the sheet on her desktop said the man in a drab jacket who looked as though he had come straight from 1997 or the woman with the bad perm from a Koreanovela had an appointment with her boss, she simply had them sign the logbook and left them much to their own devices with the following instruction: “Knock on the door and if he says come in, go on in, and if he doesn’t answer, do it again. If he says he’s busy, sit back down and try again in a few more minutes. I’ve got lots of deliverables today and as long as you’ve logged yourself in I can’t help you much, so there you have it. Truly sorry.” And instead of hitting “Like” on the face of her ex-boyfriend’s new baby like her other self wanted her to, she started working on the liquidation sheet that had been due last week, steadily working for ten minutes before she once again rewarded herself with the torture of looking at the child’s rosy cheeks and small, curled fingers, thinking that such an individual could just as easily have quickened in her womb.
She never bothered anymore to knock on his door on behalf of the waiting appointees. They never got what they wanted anyway, or if they did, they always realized that the gimmicks they wanted were lacking in imagination to begin with. That what they had initially imagined as brilliant really had the same charm as handwritten signs on electric poles (WANTED LABANDERA, WEDNESDAYS AND SATURDAYS. URGENT HIRING!), the kind suspiciously written in black permanent marker and wedged in beside whatever scrap of wall was not currently demanding lady bedspacers or offering Wi-Fi and bunk beds. The manager, after the initial wave of his fish craze, had donned a considerable, five-to-seven-hour-a-day passion for new clients, whether walk-in or hopelessly trusted ones, so that eventually he could build an entire aquarium for a wall. But whenever he laid his eyes on a flimsy memorandum of agreement or price quotations next to the office bills and employee memos he had to sign or pay, he realized he wanted out of the whole goddamn mess. All of a sudden he longed not for a slightly better office but for the long walls of an endless aquarium inside the comfort of an office that wanted to be a hotel that wanted to be a home that wanted to be a mental prison, but sometimes he had a recurring dream where he would drown his perfectly hardboiled head, Murakami-style, into the rectangular aquarium behind his desk where four large bubble eye goldfish bobbled frantically.
Once a month he would have that dream, and on those nights he would get up for glass of water to find that his son had bought him another small bag of those colorful plastic stones for the bottom of an aquarium or fish bowl; it would be 4AM and the young man would have just gotten home from his job at the call center. He would peer out of his room and nod to his dad and say, “I’m having another round of insomnia, Pa,” as though it were a drink he was paying for, and then: “Let me drive you to work.” And this old man, this manager, who thought of disappearing among forgotten brown folders or driving all the way to the provincial home of his fathers, there to finish the rest of his days fishing for food on a gray-sanded beach, would rest his eyes on his son and worship the strong lad, light of his life, fruit of his loins, who would triumph after him and his old bones, this seed grown who would never have to covet another man’s fish in the future.
 They knew that he knew—everyone knew it was just a matter of time before they closed the Manila branch down—before people in the international office, even, started letting people go all around the globe, because globalization meant fewer people, and they needed only so many eyes to stare lustfully at their fish; but for the meanwhile the bigger bosses with their white beards and tired eyes chatted with this man about the good old days, and while they did, they almost felt a pang of pity not for him, but for the cruelty of their younger selves.
 As a child he had been scolded by his mother on the projects he fell madly in love with. One summer he had wanted to cover an entire wall of his bedroom with glowing sticky stars, but when they fell off without wishes and he stuck them back on with masking tape and they fell back off they left marks on the plaster that, she complained, she had lovingly picked in mint-green for her only child; and six months after he had developed a knack for rock climbing and begged his father for all the gear that slowly ate up his room, until a sprained wrist made him lazy and he settled for comic books, which, on the year he moved into a boarding house to attend college his mother sold to a newspaper-slash-junkshop for which, aged 18, he wept for late at night in his lowly cot on the third floor while his roommates smoked up.
 She was sleeping with the manager’s twenty-one year-old son, because she had just turned thirty and what the hell, she’d always been curious about that movie starring a young, blonde Maggie Smith where she proclaimed to her girls and her colleagues that she was at her prime, and though Janice didn’t have a bevy of schoolgirls to whom she could preach about the evils of Fascism, she settled for madness with a man she considered a boy.
 One day soon, they would be gone. They would stop coming to this dilapidated box of an office and find what they thought may be better companies, both people and institutions; he dreamed of polo-barongs and glass elevators, and she dreamed of throwing around words like “catching up” and “brunch,” never again part-time saleslady, never again errand girl, never again eyeing Janice and wondering where she bought her steel-blue pumps and how she had treated the saleslady who had had to bow down and fit them on her feet.
 She liked the betta fish. She liked that they gave her less space than she needed to transcribe her notes, so scribbling minutes down took on a particular urgency: Against this crowded desk and inside this dilapidated building my hand must fly across the page and take down what Mr. Mercado said about finances and why the senior graphic artist wants to resign and why he just doesn’t care anymore.
Andrea graduated with honors in 2010 from the Ateneo de Manila University. In 2011, she was a fellow for fiction at the Silliman University National Writers Workshop. In 2012, she published her first collection of short stories under Boutique Books, for the 3 rd Better Living Through Xeroxography (BLTX), a small press expo. She is currently working on her M.A. in Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines, Diliman. She also serves as editorial assistant for Kritika Kultura, the semi-annual, peer-reviewed international electronic journal of literary, language, and cultural studies of the Department of English, Ateneo de Manila.