Excerpt from letters I've been writing to strangers about friends I once knew, and the people they could have been.
Five thousand steps from where I lay, there’s a boy with blistered feet. His shoes two sizes too big, passed down one year too soon. On Mondays, he walks east, and we meet—peripherally. Incidentally. The way seagulls note the presence of fishermen as both parties attempt to catch fish.
On Mondays, his feet blister from shoes he tries too hard to fill in an attempt to pacify beasts in his chest fed by the cloud heavy lie of his head: “Never enough, Never enough,”
Soundless noise whispers in his ears. It is so loud he misses my greeting, so distracting he misses me entirely.
Two thousand steps from where I lay, he steps on beds of sands in shoes that fit. Size ten.
On Tuesdays, he shakes of his beast, and he is himself again—feet nimble and quick, Meleager besting Atalanta. Without the tricks.
On Wednesdays, his burden presses against his breast, and his shoulders sag beneath the weight again. He feeds the beast lies, believes them to be true in the process, and when made aware of their falsehood, continues to believe them anyway.
From where I lay, I pray to God for telescope vision, or needlepoint fingers to pry the monster from his frame. From where I lay, he is no longer visible: feet too weary to prop legs up, legs too heavy to stand.
He does not hear me when I ask him: whisper your secrets so I may Atlas-carry your burden. My shoulders tuck neatly beneath your arm for you to crutch-lean upon me for support, but still he pushes up at burdens. Pushes me away. Like I said, we meet peripherally—Winter and Spring, our feet never bringing us close enough.
Note: Satirical. While spacing out in class sometime this week, I wondered what my thought process would look like when coming up with a differential diagnosis. Did my neuronal personas have whiteboards? Names? Completely unproductive side conversations? Probably.
“Our patient,” a greying Dr H said, doning his century old white coat as the clerk whispered didn’t they phase out those old things? as softly as she could muster. “Has hypertension, excessive acne, and asthma. What is wrong with him?”
Bespectacled Jace raised his sorry excuse of a hand even if he didn’t need to. “He’s lonely and can’t get a date. Probably depressed.”
“… Wrong… On all accounts. His wife has been here since dawn. You, Anson,” Dr H nodded at his most promising clerk yet.
“Autoimmune? Lupus?” if he means it as a joke, Dr H wasn't buying it. He wrinkled his brow and sighed.
Dr H’s wrinkles pressed further into his skin. How disappointing. “Anyone else?”
Jawn again—“Thyroid problem? Increased T3 and T4 could cause hypertension and cystic acne.”
“Thyroid hormone levels are normal,” Dr H nodded. “But good try. You deserve a pat on the back from yourself.”
Anson shoved his glasses up his nose bridge. “How old is he? Could be environmental. Toxic air, toxic food, toxic twenty-first century lifestyle.”
“This isn’t helping your lupus case, you idiot. It’s never lupus.”
“Corticosteroids,” Kale said. Dr H never took her name seriously, and usually took her answers less seriously than her name.
Today, however, Kale’s answer was “acceptable.” He asks her to go on.
“Primary asthma,” Kale began, staring down at her smart phone, “leading to chronic intake of corticosteroids. Hypertension could be drug-induced due to sodium and fluid retention. Increased sebum production from overactive glands (also induced by steroids) can cause the acne.”
“You googled that!” Anson complained.
Kale shrugged. “You didn’t.”
I've been meaning to write something dark and short for the longest time, so here it is.
“You can’t be serious,” Liam scoffed. He could hear the train rolling into the next platform behind him. The low rumble drowned out Adam’s reply. Liam watched his mouth move quickly—a rarity given Adam’s propensity to stutter. “By Jove, you are, aren’t you?”
Adam grinned back at his companion, his eyes glinting in the afternoon sun. The train behind them chugged lethargically from the platform behind them after offloading a single man tugging at a square rolling luggage. Liam watched the sun cast shadows directly in front of him so he was keenly aware of the man’s movements down the platform and into the underground passageway. Beside his own shadow, Adam’s moved ungainly about with hands flailing and feet shuffling.
“But that’s impossible,” Liam whispered after a long bout of silence.
Adam shook his head, sending his light curls tumbling over each other. “Liam, i-it all checks out. The m-math, th-the phy-physics, b-bi-bioch-chemistry—all of it.”
“See here, you’re trying to defy the laws of nature, Adam,” Liam said in a lower voice. “This is madness, my friend. You’re dabbling in things that you ought to leave alone.”
“No, Liam, thi-this is n-n-nature.” Liam had never seen Adam quite so serious. He watched as Adam’s long fingers twitched uncontrollably.
“You can’t separate the spirit from the body, Adam,” Liam said slowly. “It’s not possible, and even if you could—which you can’t—how would you reverse it?”
“That’s har-hardly the point,” Adam replied, exasperated. “I’ve just discovered th-the most n-n-novel thing—”
“No, no, y-you d-d-don’t understand.”
Liam moved away from the platform, trying to process the information. He thought Adam had called him out today to get away from the looming finals week, but instead he had shared his most insane idea yet. Adam claimed he had discovered proof of the soul—something neither of the boys believed in at all, as far as Liam was concerned. This, he decided, was just Adam’s version of an elaborate joke.
Liam heard the train rattling in the distance, and turned to face his friend. “Alright, Adam—”
His thoughts were cut off by Adam’s abrupt step backwards, bringing him dangerously close to the platform. In the background, Liam heard the train rumbled closer towards them.
“Adam,” Liam said warily. “What are you doing?”
Adam closed his dark eyes, allowing the wind’s breath to flow through his long hair. With grim realisation setting in, Liam inched towards the platform as the train sped closer and closer towards the platform.
“Adam, open your eyes,” he said frantically. “Adam, please. Look at me, mate. Adam—Adam, for God’s sake!”
The train screamed angrily against Liam’s own cracking voice. It drowned out Adam’s reply and movements so much so that Liam could have sworn his friend had simply vanished on the spot if not for the great thud that collided with his ears.
The train screeched to a stop, but it was far too late.
Adam, it seemed, had put his theory into practice. Whether or not he had succeeded was something Liam would never know—and neither was he inclined to think about his friend’s theory ever again.
Adam was, by physical standards, quite dead.
The pool at the university I go to is rather unconventional. When I swim in the afternoon, I can hear the orchestra playing from the second floor. The sound proofing is apparently faulty.
This story and this photo are not of my university, but I suppose I like the concept of the orchestra soundtracking my swim.
I also like the concept of swimming as a sport of perseverance more than natural talent. I suppose it's because I correlate success with tenacity and persistence. I suppose it doesn't apply in all circumstances.
The first sound that hit her were the strings from the second floor landing floating above the pool like a balcony. The orchestra had gotten into the swing of rehearsals, their brows glistening with smudged black notes and trembling keys. They were playing an especially mellow tune, unintentionally soundtracking Mia’s tired stride as her feet kissed the poolside’s slippery tiles. The sun was peeking through the frosted windows, unwilling to relinquish its hold on the day. Personally, Mia had had her fill of it. The sun shed too much light into her small lab, and today it made her far too aware of her cancer proliferating cells filling up her petri dishes. They were supposed to die. Instead, she came in to a thriving culture. Just as she had for the last hundred (or was it two hundred? she'd lost count) trials. No, the sun had shown her enough today. She was looking forward to the moon’s reign.
If she’d lived nearer to the river, she’d have driven down to the bank and hidden her car in the underbrush before going for a long swim. As it was, her wilder days were behind her. She lived in the more urban side of town, flanked by red brick dormitories and biking adolescents. So instead, she settled with the university pool devoid of a heater. Unwrapping her towel from about her shoulders, she deposited her belongings on a hook next to the pool before she slowly slipped in.
Already, younger swimmers were making waves, tossing the water about, causing artificial currents to form from all their flapping arms. She stood near the ledge as the freezing water wrapped its cold breath around her limbs, encouraging lethargy. Age was catching up with her, and she wondered where all her time went. Just yesterday, she was young and ambitious—eager to prove herself in an environment filled with geniuses. Now, she just felt tired. Overworked. Her youth and ambition had long faded, and all she was left with was the work. It took a bit of effort to stretch her legs out as she poised her self to swim. Her first few laps made her feel like a fish out of water. Her breath was ragged, her limbs stiff, her feet seemed to chop the water harshly, she slowed the faster she tried to go.
The sweet hum of the orchestra’s cello helped her find her rhythm. Soon, she was slicing the water with ease, allowing the day’s weight to slide off her shoulders. Her research could bother her the next morning. For tonight, it could bloody well sink to the bottom of the pool for all she cared. It had taken enough from her already—decent sleep, society, any chance at the Nobel—and she was fed up with it. Five years was enough time to finish a PhD program, she once thought. She was close to six this year, and she felt like a failure—she had no data, no more funding, and no alternatives. She was at the end of the line, and the train conductor was respectfully asking her to disembark. Perhaps it was time she did. God knew she’d tried her best.
Mia twirled the idea of it all ending as she swam her laps, watching little rings of light pattern themselves onto the pool floor. Tomorrow, she would perhaps pack up her things and leave her research for some other young kid to work on. Perhaps tomorrow she would keep working. Who knew? Mia certainly did not. She swam and swam until her toenails turned blue, and surfaced to the twang of bows as the archery team in the adjacent practice room flung sharp arrows at their marks—hoping, perhaps, that she could somehow hit hers as well.
My ledgers were filled with more notes than those in all my pages combined, but I couldn’t help it. I was hardly the studying type.
Then again, few of the students casually draped across the lecture hall chairs were really the studying type at this hour—it was a seven o’clock class, and the sun had barely stretched its arms over the horizon. Our dumpy professor held the cryptic ritual of running through the class list with his raspy morning voice every single meeting—occasionally missing a student who had fallen asleep as the roll call stretched on.
The entire idea of studying in these conditions was numbing—the dull droll of the professor at the front of the classroom, his limping hobble as he scratched equations on the board, the steady tick of the clock hanging just a foot behind my head reminding me that time is in fact moving forward despite the never ending lull in my head.
My perception of time was evermore distorted by a set of striking cheekbones bestowed upon some form of demi-god seated next to me. Poppy had a strange way about her—an almost unnatural focus on nothingness. She held herself casually, as if in contempt. I don’t think she ever cared about the class at all. Her name must have been called five times before she finally turned her head in acknowledgement. It ought to have been unnerving, but instead I’d found it endearing. She’d possessed a certain thoughtfulness I could not grasp. Amidst the dull intellectualisation of an otherwise mundane subject matter, there she sat—completely intent, always smiling when anything had caught her interest. She seemed rather alive in a class that wore everyone to death. What on earth was running through her mind? This question plagued me for the entirety of the period. The hours in that dull room became remotely bearable when she flashed her bright brown eyes at me, as a doe does once caught in glaring headlights.
I wish I could say that something--anything—of significance transpired between us, but I feel I was alone in implanting meaning to the glances we’d shared. In fact, every time I’d express some new “advancement” to my sister Carol, she’d have three words for me: it’s not real.
Because, really, how could any relationship be founded on speculation or one sided regard?
Yet there seemed a great dissonance between knowledge and feeling. Although I certainly knew that nothing could come out of such interactions (or, rather, the lack of them), the knowledge of such things did not quell the fluttering in my own chest—certainly not when she stared at me inquisitively with her doe eyes.
“Do you not know?” she asked me, but I hadn’t heard the question. I was preoccupied with the general look of her.
She rolled her eyes at me, amused. Or perhaps she was annoyed? Or flirting? “When the exam is, you know, the final?”
“Oh, right,” I said stupidly. “It’s, erm, Tuesday. Same day as Briar Friar’s Lunch Specials.”
She laughed. “Nice to know.”
“Have you ever tried their lunch specials?” I ventured, careful to look into her eyes and not down on her never-ending legs.
She shook her head. “Never.”
“Pity. They’re wonderful. Especially after a hard exam.”
She smirked. “Should we go after the final? I’d love a good meal to shake of a bad mark.”
I smirked. From the looks of her, it was quite impossible for her to get a bad mark. But I wasn’t going to ruin such a straight invitation with a snide comment.
“Sure. After the final, then,” I replied.
“Great,” she smiled, impregnating herself into my thoughts once again.
Carol, of course, was unimpressed. It’s not real, she urged even when I listed nearly a million reasons why Poppy might be remotely interested in me.
1. She started the conversation.
Carol said it didn’t count. It was a generic, class related question.
2. Even if it was a generic class related question, she asked me out of all the people she could have asked.
Carol said I was the convenient option. It didn’t mean anything.
3. Then why would she invited me to lunch?
Friendly gesture, Carol insisted. Not everything Carol did had to be related to my “obsession” of her.
Not that I was obsessed.
And not that my reasons ever summed up to nearly a million, but three was good enough.
Carol held firm to her belief, however, that apparently, none of my observations proved anything but my own tendency towards fixation. Not everything had to weave into a story. Sometimes, they were simply coincidences, chances, probabilities, sneezes.
Yet, hope was treacherous—the ledgers of my mind swelled with thoughts of Poppy the way riverbanks overflow when there’s steady rain. Hope, hope, hope flooded me all week. The withered Willow tree branches that swung lazily outside my window seemed almost cheerful. My no-bedroom student dormitory I perceived as some lavish dwelling. Carol’s nagging, even, seemed like some endearing form of encouragement (on this score, I was indeed stretching my imagination).
The day of the final came swiftly. Our dumpy professor drew his lips into an ugly sneer as he slapped exam papers onto our desks, snorting at us to begin.
Dismal was an understatement. But I’d expected that. Bad marks for bad students, all all that.
The bell sang its shrill song, and all thoughts on my final were replaced by thoughts of Poppy. If only her thoughts drifted towards me just as quickly. I craned my neck in search of her light long hair, but to no avail. She’d disappeared.
Carol, of course, gave me the obligatory I told you so before sympathising. Just as well since we both were in for the shock of our lives as Poppy stepped out of Briar Friar, completely immersed in her own company.
“Well, then. There you have it,” Carol said, taking a sip at her coffee, a smug smirk on her face. “It’s not real. It never was.”
The train was often a canister of densely packed bodies in the late afternoon. The sun bathed the car in light through the fingerprint stained glass, as if saying goodbye to the city before it relented the sky to the night for safe keeping. Inside, salty sweat warmed the car faster than the air conditioning could cool it, but the commuters didn’t mind. The city’s summer heat was a far worse alternative. The car, at least, was not as humid.
This afternoon was no different.
The line on the platform was non-existent, and the would-be passengers stood in solid chunks at intervals on the platform. Impatience was evident after two trains had rattled past them filled with people, unwilling to open their doors. The skip trains, as they were called, brought the false hope of an early homecoming to commuters, only to crush their expectations by speeding past without picking up passengers.
Twice did the trains play their games in this way, and quite frankly, the commuters no longer wished to play along.
Perhaps the operators sensed this, and thus sent an empty train hurtling their way as the chunks of waiting commuters swelled like cookies being baked in an oven.
At last, sighed the hoard when the train came into view. The moment it screeched to a halt, bodies squashed themselves onto and off of the platform. Leo Masagi’s own body was amongst them, shoving through the crowd with his broad shoulders to get himself into that train.
At half past five, Leo was running late. His not-so-baby sister had been let out of school an hour ago, and he was meant to arrive at the gate at precisely six o’clock.
Leo glanced at his watch and allowed a groan to escape his lips. He shuffled into the train as quickly as his feet could take him. The doors began beeping, warning passengers to hop on board.
As the doors closed behind him, heavy bodies slammed against Leo’s back. He could feel the weight of a pudgy man against him. Too often had he been groped by seemingly innocent bystanders, so he discretely inched away from the man’s bulging stomach, fearful that something more intimate would press itself against his flesh.
The common chorus of ‘oi’s and the ‘move to the centre of the car, will you’s were absent this afternoon despite all the space towards the centre of the cart. Perhaps the heat rendered the passengers momentarily mute. But no, Leo could hear faint whispers around him.
“I’ve read about his sort,” the pudgy man was saying, “But I never thought I’d see one.”
“I can’t believe the guards even let him in,” his small companion muttered bitterly, hobbling away from the door.
“We used to have a house helper like him,” a stout old woman murmured to her niece, “but we let her go. Nasty business, it is.”
Leo felt curiosity stir in his belly. What was this nasty business they were all talking about?
He ventured to the centre of the car, where there was room to breath. Leo wriggled past men with backpacks sticking out like humps from their spines, and past women with wide shopping bags filled with fruits and vegetables propped up between their feet.
Though the space enabled him to roll his shoulders back, Leo felt the air thicken. The passengers this side of the car held their handkerchiefs close to their mouths as if bile would spill out any moment.
It was by chance Leo saw him. Perhaps the emptiness that surrounded the man lured Leo’s gaze. He was a leper, Leo understood as he gazed at the body covered with open sores. It looked as if chunks of flesh had been scooped out of him, leaving behind rotting flesh and exposed bone. The sickness covered his body—from his face to his arms to his legs. White puss oozed from the open wounds. Whether it was the body’s attempt at healing itself or giving up was beyond Leo.
He suddenly wished he had boarded another train car. The sight of the man gave him goose bumps.
Where the Leper’s flesh disappeared into his shirt’s paper-thin fabric, a white salve kept the cloth from plastering itself onto the healing skin. His leather sandals dug into soiled bandages, causing the Leper immense pain.
Leo turned away in disgust. He felt bile lurch up his throat as the leper’s image imprinted itself onto his memory. The clip rolled itself over and over again in his mind long after the encounter. To this day, Leo had not been able to shut his eyes without seeing the Leper.
He’d grown accustomed to it. In fact, he had once expressed a touch of fondness over the memory. His broken record mind taught him sympathy for those who had received none of it. But on that day, when the memory was yet reality, he had nothing but distaste for the Leper.
Leo looked over to the man with blackened flesh. His mind echoed the opinions of his fellow commuters: this man should not have been allowed on the train.
And yet, amidst his disgust, a small voice urged him to gaze on, as if he had missed really seeing the Leper.
Over and over again, Leo’s eyes drifted towards the man’s disfigured form.
Finally, he saw all he had missed.
The Leper stared down at the floor with hollow eyes that saw without seeing. Leo needn’t wonder whether the man heard the opinions voiced by his fellow passengers. As he studied the sick man, he knew the Leper felt their words. The way he sat with his shoulders hunched forward revealed enough as the man took as little space as physically possible whilst enduring physical and emotional torment.
The whispers were indiscreet, getting louder and louder as commentary turned to conversation.
“But it’s not airborne, is it?” the pudgy man had exclaimed.
“Of course not, don’t be daft,” his small friend said, coughing up laughter as he did.
“Worth my asking,” the pudgy man grumbled.
Despite assuredly breathing clean air, the pudgy man and his friend stayed as far away from the Leper as possible. Most commuters thought the same in this respect: the further they stood from the sick man, the further the sickness was. They averted their eyes and had their minds play tricks, pretending the Leper was absent though he was present.
Leo’s eyes were fixed on the Leper, who, over the course of the conversation, had arched his back further inward. His eyes, bordered with swelling flesh, had glazed over.
If a person required human acknowledgement to exist, the Leper would have disappeared that instance. He was perhaps more reviled by all in the train despite the presence of a stocky man at the far end of the car groping up a terrified young girl’s bottom.
Such was the nature of disease, as the Leper was well aware: there was no concealing his putrid physique. Rarely did a man’s nature look past what his eyes could see into the depths of his soul.
A pang of pity hit Leo squarely in his chest. Suddenly, his revulsion encompassed more than just the sick man’s rotting flesh. He turned to scowl at his fellow passengers. If he had been confronted with a mirror, he would have scowled at himself.
What was this mean spirit he felt in himself? Could it be that the rotten ones in the car were those with healthy skin and rosy cheeks?
Such was the irony of it: the abled bodied were those who forgot the value of their health, and the sick were those who were too well aware of it.
Leo was suddenly very conscious of his evenly tanned skin, and the fact that there was no reason for anyone to stare at him. He glared at his feet in distain—distain of himself, of these wretched commuters, of the Leper’s fate.
But his distain was short lived. The train slowed to a halt and nearly all the passengers shuffled out of the cramped car. They did not disembark for fear of contamination, oh no, though they were more than happy to be rid of the Leper. They had simply arrived at their destination, and it just so happened that their destination led them away from the sick man.
So it was that Leo was left alone with the Leper. He chanced another glance at the man, and found it impossible to pull his eyes away.
How could he avert his gaze when he had become so aware of this poor man’s plight?
Each screech of the train sent his shirt rubbing against his wounds, and he winced. His jaw clenched tightly as he struggled to breath normally.
Leo felt words tug at his throat. Somehow, intuition urged him to act—some small act of kindness ought to do it. Some small act of kindness ought to ease this poor man’s pain.
But the floor was like tar keeping his shoes in place, for his sense told him not to go out of his way. His throat was like honey keeping words from climbing up its walls, for his tongue could not decide what he ought to say. What, after all, could he say to make anything any better? And Manila folk don’t just walk up to strangers, Leo thought. Such a thing was abnormal in his city. Such a thing was abnormal to his lifestyle. But still, ought he to do something? Ought he say something? What if he was capable of easing the Leper’s pain in some way? Shouldn’t he ease it?
Leo turned his gaze to the horizon that lay beyond the car’s windows. The large orange sun had accomplished today’s journey, and had accomplished his retreat. The skyscrapers stood tall, craning their necks towards the heavens as the moon loomed above them.
He rode the train so often that he could count the number of streets they fly past before the car will alight on the next platform—the platform he disembarks on. Just as they past the seventh street from the next stop, Leo glances at the Leper. The sick man glances back at him, and for a brief moment, their eyes meet. Leo clenches his jaw, unsure of what to do.
The Leper’s eyes shift from hollow orbs to desperate pleading ones. His frown softens, and Leo assumes he’s about to speak.
Leo, unable to form words, forces his lips to pull into a tight smile. The Leper stared at him, astonished.
Was that the fourth street or the third?
Leo turned his head to look at the street below after having lost count, and, in doing so, did not see the Leper twist his lips painfully to smile back.
Just as Leo glanced back at the Leper, his smile faded and the sick man had dropped his gaze, frowning once again at his bandaged feet.
Leo felt his heart plummet into his stomach. If he had only the patience of another moment, he would have seen the Leper smile. Perhaps, then, his own would have mattered.
The train slowed to a stop, and the tar beneath his feet gave way. He glanced at the Leper once more as the doors peel open and a blast of humidity caused his cheeks to flush. The sick man does not dare lift his head again. Not to witness how one turned away. Not again.
With a sigh, Leo turned away and disembarked—aware that the unseen wounds he had left un-bandaged were those he could have healed. That day, he had acquired a putrid guilt that gnawed at his heart just as the disease gnawed at the Leper’s flesh. Guilt was a funny thing that he carried with him far into the future. But guilt did nothing for the Leper. It only reminded young Leo of what he could have done. What he had not done.
an adaptation of the old Chinese idiom
Thirteen metres high, five metres across, no corners, or anything that could connect her to the outside world except a full moon shaped hole where the roof was supposed to be.
This was Claire’s sanctuary.
She woke to the sun lavishing her with warm kisses, and fell asleep to the wind singing lullabies in her ear. If the sky began to cry, her tears never seemed to fall into her deep hole. If the sun seared the soil in anger, his hot claws never seemed to reach her pit.
For the most part, Claire was left to her own devices—which, given that she never left her little hole, were scarcely abundant. There was daydreaming, then there was stargazing, and of course there was sunbathing—not that the sunbathing ever improved her pale complexion. Besides her pallor, she was (contrary to popular expectations) quite content with her lot in life—and more so with the hole in which she lived in.
The only time her contentment was ever up for discussion was the only day of the year she ever had a visitor over—but her visitor never came in, mind you. Robin was not very tall, and would most likely tumble to the bottom and never ever get back out if she did try to get in… Not that she ever wanted to, anyway. Instead, Robin poked her head into the hole, and had a long chat with Claire.
“This year, the gardeners planted rose bushes,” she said to Claire. “Oh, how I wish you’d come up to see them.”
“Come up?!” Claire gasped. “But-but there are people there! And snakes and birds! No, Robin, I’d very much prefer to stay in here where it’s safe.”
“But the rose bushes, Claire,” Robin said with a dreamy sigh. “They’re beautiful—all red under the sun.”
“Never you mind that,” Claire said, sticking her nose up. “I, too, have seen the sun’s beauty as it rises. And I’ve seen the full moon in all her glory. Frankly, I doubt I’m missing out on very much. I do believe you should have your own little hole to find safety in.
“And give up the vast horizon?” Robin shook her head. “Not for the world.”
“Horizon? The sky is round, with edges, you see, Robin,” she clucked at her friend. “How distorted the upper world has made you. Vast skies? Bah! It’s such a queer thing! Preposterous! Everyone knows there’s no such thing. The sky is shaped just like the moon—completely circular.”
“Oh, yes,” Robin said, rolling her eyes. “Everyone knows that.”
And Claire was quite confident in her own little hole, thank you very much. So Robin said goodbye, and watched the roses stretch their petals towards the sky as night fell wondering as she got into her car how anyone could think of full moon shaped skies and remain contented with their life.
There it was. The countdown had begun.
The ticking of clocks, so much like the impatient tapping of Father’s shoes at parent teacher conferences, irked him. It was all too familiar—the squid tentacle sensors glued to his skin, the sterile smell of nothing in the ICU, the numbness that came with being cognitively sound and yet physically incompetent. Bass was used to this now, really.
Bass wondered what was beyond death—that was where he was going, after all. This… This experiment, as the white coated non-medical doctors liked to call it, was nothing more than an organised murder.
The sky above him was plaster paint illuminated by the lightbulb sun. He cringed as the room wobbled about him. His existence would end the same way it started: in a manufactured clean room with life that was more artificial than intelligent. No trees, no rivers—just white walls and faux wooden floor panels. No Father either.
A blonde doctor wriggled out the IV drip tube that circled its way into Bass’ left hand, and another held up a syringe filled with bluish liquid in preparation for what they dubbed the best option Bass had since he got here. It certainly felt like a joke. Who would have ever heard of killing a person and jumpstarting him alive again? The doctors hoped that somehow, Bass’ brain would remember how to move the rest of him. The reboot, they claimed, would allow him to walk out of here.
Bass personally just thought his doctors had secret sociopathic tendencies they were so desperate to actualise. Consent, of course, was somehow coerced out of Father.
“Anything. Just fix him,” he had said.
But Father didn’t understand—the doctors were incapable of fixing him the way Father wanted. And this entire demonstration of death was downright irresponsible of him.
Any minute now, he thought as the sensors recorded his rising heartbeat.
“Paddles ready,” the grey headed doctor instructed. Bass wished he had asked if Bass was ready, but he knew he’d have felt like a fish being slaughtered for sushi or something.
“Paddles ready,” the blonde doctor said, holding the paddles like foreign laundry irons he’d never used before. God, he must be one of those over eager doctors, or something. Give the paddles to the other doctor, Bass thought. The one with glasses!!
It was no use now. The paddles were with the blonde one. Perhaps Bass was wrong and this one was the competent physician. He certainly hoped so. Fifteen years was hardly the proper age to go. He hadn’t even gone through a quarter-life crisis yet.
Of course, Bass would hope he was wrong… But perhaps he’d be quite all right with being right. After all, the treatment was certainly not going to work, so perhaps death was a more agreeable outcome.
“Injecting into the IV,” the one with glasses said stoically. As if Bass’ life didn’t depend on it.
Where in the bloody blue blazes was Father?!
Bass felt himself slipping from consciousness even as the doctor said, “heart rate dropping.”
This was it, then.
The moment before death.
When I was in Japan earlier this year, I had the pleasure of watching the cherry blossom trees bloom. It was the tail end of the wonderful season, but I witnessed it nonetheless.
This short story is about seasons and the inevitability of change, but also about how the inevitability of change isn't as inevitable as we perceive it to be.
When the sakura trees are teased by the Spring wind, they tend to cry buckets of tears despite the pleasant season they find themselves in. At this time of year, the weather is caught between the sweltering summer and the frigid winter: a glimpse of nature’s youth, ushering the pink-sea-week in.
As per tradition, Kaoru emerged from his hovel to gaze at the park’s pink riverbank littered with couples and foreigners posing before plastic cameras. His dark hair fluttered in the Spring breeze the way over grown grass would. He ran his long fingers through his hair. It was getting too long, but he didn’t have the time to chop it off. Instead, he pulled a rubber band from his pocket and bundled his hair into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. This will have to do for now, he thought. His watch, as usual, told time five minutes too soon. He was, therefore, fulfilling tradition five minutes too soon—as he had done for the past five years or so.
But things had not changed—Kiri’s watch was still ten minutes too late, and had thus kept him waiting for fifteen minutes, as was tradition.
Kaoru didn’t mind. He turned his angular face to the sky, and allowed the pink petal snow to catch on his long lashes. It was only once a year, after all. After today, it would all be over again. Whether or not he was pleased with this idea was still up for discussion. He couldn’t seem to decide.
Instead, he allowed the memory of last year to push through the flurry of other thoughts in his mind. His hair was short again, cropped close to his scalp, and Kiri was her usual cheery self. A light drizzle had dispersed the crowd ever so slightly, but just enough for Kaoru to exhibit a rare act of spontaneity as he ran past the riverbank and into the park’s grassy field covered with cherry blossom petals. There he collapsed upon it, eagle spread as if it were his own bed. Kimi laughed, and Kaoru hid his smirk behind his hand. Her melodic laughter cleared his mind of all relevant thoughts. It was enough to stop his heart, perhaps, but it had not happened just yet.
“Are you going to keep chasing sakura petals every year, Kaoru?” Kiri teased, pushing her long hair behind her as she gathered her white cotton skirt up to run behind Kaoru.
Kaoru bit his lip, glancing at her tentatively. “Would that be a bad thing?”
“Not particularly,” Kiri shrugged. “Why do you do it anyway? Chase petals with me every year?”
Kaoru gazed at the clear blue sky obscured by the cherry blossom trees. If he himself could only admit the answer… But now was not the time. “It’s tradition,” he said instead—not very convincingly either.
“Sure,” Kiri scoffed. “As if an eighteen year old nerd would be so sentimental about some petal chasing ritual we came up with ten years ago.”
Kaoru tried not to fidget under Kiri’s intense gaze, and somehow found his eyes tracing the soft curve of her chin and the slight pinches around her eyes.
When she frowned at him with her coral tinted lips, Kaoru shut his eyes firmly, and said, “it’s tradition,” through his tight wind pipe.
But this year, Kaoru knew, would be different. Though Kiri’s lips were still tinted coral like last year, and she still dressed in cotton skirts, and though she still refused to tie up her long hair—though everything was absolutely picturesque, everything had so obviously changed. Perhaps because it was the sort of year that was meant to change everything.
“There’s no space to run,” Kiri said, frowning, but Kaoru had no intention of running.
He shrugged. “Let’s walk by the riverbank instead, then.”
“Finally tired of chasing petals, then?” Kiri smirked.
Kaoru gave her a tight smile, looking her straight in the eye. “Would that be a bad thing?”
She sighed, shaking her head gently. “Giving up on your yearly tradition just because you’re going to Tokyo for university. It’s not like you, Kaoru.”
Kaoru simply shrugged, and stared at his feet. “Chasing petals is not like me. It’s time I grew out of it.”
Kiri frowned, not understanding.
But Kaoru knew what this implied.
“You’ll be staying here for university, then, Kiri?” he asked nonchalantly.
Kiri beamed, though the conversation’s direction confused her. “Of course.”
Kaoru merely nodded. “Ganbatte.”
The sakura petals fell heavily around them, as if the sky were mourning the end of an era. In fact, the trees were shedding the tears Kaoru never could. He tried to memorise the moment, implant it behind his eyelids. He tried to memorise Kiri’s cotton skirt peppered with pink, tried to memorise the river caked with pink frosting, tried to memorise the faint rustle of the blooming flowers above him, tried to memorise how his heart beat heavily next to Kiri’s before time passed by too quickly.
Tokyo was a long way off.
His revelation came five minutes too early, and Kiri would realise it ten minutes too late, when chasing petals would no longer be an option, when the one word that would have saved it all could no longer be uttered—“stay.”
A few weeks ago, I came across this prompt that requested a "realistic but trippy story." The kind of story that makes you stare at the ceiling wondering what on earth the writer was thinking. I'm not one to back down from a challenge, and so I wrote such a story. Fair warning: I do have a point buried in all this, but it's hard to make sense of this little piece.
Mr Hagfish had the habit of forcing sleepy students to the front of the classroom in an attempt to invigorate our dying brains. In my opinion, our brains were perfectly healthy—if not a tad bit under utilised—that summer, but I wasn’t technically allowed to have an opinion in Mr Hagfish’s lecture class. At least, I wasn’t allowed to have my own opinion in Mr Hagfish’s lecture class, especially if it was contrary to whatever he seemed to be spewing out at that moment. Nevertheless, I couldn’t help having my own thoughts. I was, after all, my own person—then and now.
It was rather frustrating, therefore, when Mr Hagfish decided that I’d be the sleepy bugger he’d toy with that morning. The sun was streaming through the dusty lecture room, warming our backs as our necks slowly beaded up with sweat. I extracted my sweaty body from one of the wooden armchairs I’d claimed as my own on the first day of class. I somehow had the foresight to choose the one right next to the window, where warm summer air would drift into the classroom and huff against my face before turning about to bug someone else. I also had the benefit of a view—it wasn’t much of a view, but it certainly proved a less provocative distraction to the scantily clad young women in the classroom. Apparently, wearing cloth swimsuits in a lecture was the summer norm.
It was a long walk from my seat to the front, but then again, I hardly had a choice but to walk the plank like the man I’d convinced myself I was.
The philosophical question we’d been tasked to contemplate desperately clung to the board with its chalk dust claws, fearing, I suppose, that if it didn’t, some student would go on and erase it from the face of our universe.
“Read it out loud, Mr Goop,” Mr Hagfish said, nudging his stubbly chin towards the blackboard.
I pressed my glasses firmly against my nose bridge. His handwriting was so small not even ants could make the sentence out. Fortunately, I had near supersonic vision—courtesy of my deplorably high eyesight aiding lenses and my stork neck able to crane closer and closer to the board.
“You have a moral obligation first and foremost to yourself,” I said as monotonously as I could muster. The words roll of my tongue as if I didn’t have one—as if I was a robot trained to spew syllables out without putting much thought into it.
Mr Hagfish, however, doesn’t seem to mind. We’ve already argued over the moral implications of becoming a robot earlier in the semester, and he’s of the opinion that artificial intelligence can indeed achieve sentience. I suppose that’s what we all were to him—non-sentient humans or sentient robots. I don’t think there’s much of a dichotomy when it comes down to it. I just had more body parts than a robot, coupled with the ability to impregnate a woman and watch micro-copies of me run around someday. I think I’ve got the better half of the deal.
“Well?” Mr Hagfish said, stroking his prickly beard expectantly. He crossed his knobby legs and raised his brow at me.
I didn’t really have an answer, so I turned my gaze downward to the floor’s wooden panels. They seemed warm and welcoming against my stark black trainers. They seemed to say, “we’d rather have rubber sandals pressed against us,” or “take those ruddy trainers off, your feet must be steaming in there!”
Mr Hagfish, however, couldn’t hear the floorboards speak over his own booming voice. He addressed the class.
“This is what happens when you leave your brain at home,” he said, expecting perhaps to elicit some semblance of laughter from my fellow students, but most were lolling their heads as the sun continued to sink its fingers into our skin.
I imagined the entire school’s stone structure was baking under the heat, but I didn’t voice my concerns. The school had been baking long before I’d arrived. Surely it could take a couple more days in the oven before the sun transferred its energies to some other part of the globe.
I peered through my glasses at Mr Hagfish, surprised he hadn’t tut-tutted at my lack of an answer more than usual.
It was the oddest thing I’d ever experienced—Mr Hagfish’s stubble was growing out into whiskers and his eyes spaced further and further from each other. His peppery skin turned slippery, and his limbs clamped against his body. I’d never witnessed devolution, and I don’t think I’d ever wish to witness it again. Mr Hagfish had, in fact, transformed into a slithering slug of sorts, and if I wasn’t so terrified, I might have laughed.
As it was, I had this unreachable itch between my shoulders. As I craned my back and bent my arms to reach it, however, the itch began to spread until it didn’t feel like an itch at all. My smooth brown skin was beginning to crumple up and harden. My fingers felt rough, and my joints oddly stiff. I was degenerating too, but not into some slimy version of myself.
I tried to move forward, but it was no use. My feet felt like lead. My arms had completed their transformation, and stretched out from my torso like perfectly positioned shelves. The tips of my fingers were mossy and green—I couldn’t feel them, but I could still see them. The rest of me had turned stiff along with my joints, and when I finally had the guts to look down at my feet, they weren’t there. They’d joined forces with the floorboards. I was simply a step over them in the food chain—I, at least, was a living tree.
This is a story about an odd little rabbit and how he came by an unlikely friend.
Night fell over the woods as it always did when the sun relinquished its claim over the skies. The moon’s cold light remained to push the darkness at bay, but even then, the wood was not so accommodating. Its treetops formed a green veil, shrouding any cheerful light from the mossy terrain.
In this darkness, the bushes shivered, and the branches rustled. They always did at this time of night.
And, as always, a white ball of fur quivered under the rose bush. It shut its eyes firmly, hoping there was nothing in the darkness to see.
It’ll be day soon,the little thing told himself. It’ll be day soon, and I won’t have to shut my eyes.
The furball’s name was whispered in the forrest. At first, the whispers had actually been the truth. But it is common knowledge that as whispers travel, actual sounds become other sounds and soon enough, the first whisper is lost.
Such was the furball’s name. Even he couldn’t remember what he had whispered so long ago to that wise eagle with a crooked beak who first asked for it. That whisper was in the past. Presently, the furball’s name was said to be Grenny, believed to be an odd annotation (or more likely, mutation) of ‘green-eye,’ for the white mass of fur had drawn his lids shut precisely for this reason: he was afraid of his own eyes.
In the light, they sparkled like emeralds, and not a creature of the forrest could turn away from Grenny’s gaze. His eyes were entrancing orbs, setting ablaze abnormal sensations in the wood—so abnormal, in fact, that the older species called it witchcraft. With their great influence and swift messengers, word about this abominable creature with green eyes spread through the forrest. And all were afraid, for they did not understand it.
The trees shook their branches, sending their leaves trembling as Grenny hopped innocently past. The air sat on his back as if he were a pack mule.
God Himself would have been quite ashamed of His creation as they shut their eyes to the furball’s plight, went about their business and scorned one of their own—as if to do so were only natural. And to the woodland creatures, it was natural, for fear did the most terrible things to the purest of hearts. Even the dear old wolves, whose howls of caution were treated as law could not resist the darkness that made its way beneath the damp, moss padded soil. The Grey Pack Wolves, known to be wisest throughout the forrest, were corrupted by the fear that so silently seeped into their fur coats. Their thick pelts shield them not from its evil power.
“And why shouldn’t we be afraid?” the woodland folk said to themselves. “Grenny is, after all, an abomination. An anomaly. A freak!”
Never before had the animals seen a rabbit with glowing green eyes that defied the night’s dark reign.
“He’ll bring nothing but trouble,” the chattering mouse said to his pups one evening as they gathered ‘round in their little hollow up the oak tree. “See, he’s already done it! None of us dare tread this forrest alone whilst he lives!”
Oh, if only the mouse had seen Grenny that very moment, scuttling into the wood’s gentle brook with his eyes pressed shut. Grenny fell in with a small splash! His fur was drenched in ice cold water, and his ears had flushed red with embarrassment.
Alone in the woods, the furball wept. His tears trickled down his whiskers to join the stream that flowed into the river. The wind was unkind tonight as it battered his damp back, and the wood’s leafy curtain did not allow the moonlight through.
Morning is yet far away, the little rabbit thought. And this singular thought brought tears to his cursed green eyes. Sobs wedged themselves up his throat, but Grenny was too sorrowful to let them out. He would have choked to death if he had remained stubborn in his misery. In fact, only when he could hardly breath did he allow sputtering gasps to emerge from his mouth.
Grenny knew he ought to be quiet, for the Grey Wolf Pack had taken to patrolling the forrest at night, and as far as he knew, he himself was the only threat around.
Suddenly, Grenny felt teeth grab him by the neck. The stream swept quietly beneath him, but no matter how much he wriggled his feet, he could no longer touch the surface.
The furball began to cry harder.
I’m doomed, he thought. He wondered what would become of him as he watched droplets of water slide off his fur. Would the wolves sentence him to death? Would they kill him themselves? Would he perhaps be exiled to a different woodland? Or worse: would they hand him over to those nightmarish petting zoos where the big folk would grab him by the ears?
Grenny sobbed even harder.
“There, there,” the creature said from behind him, his voice muffled by the teeth holding Grenny suspended in space. “There’s no need to weep, little rabbit.”
Grenny was so shocked by the creature’s kind tone that he completely forgot his recent fears.
“Who are you?” the furball said, squirming to get a glimpse of the creature.
“I will tell you once you stop your squirming, little rabbit,” the creature replied.
And so, with much patience required on his part, Grenny quelled himself. His furry feet dangled over the clear rushing water then the green forrest floor as the creature swivelled him away from the brook.
“I will let you down now,” the creature said kindly, “and when I do, I should like to hear the tale behind your sorrow.”
Suddenly, Grenny no longer felt as warm. Memory rushed to fill the empty space the warmth had left behind. As his paws came to rest on the thick mossy, so the tears returned to sting his eyes.
“There, there,” the creature said, towering over the little furball. “I mean no harm.”
And yet, when Grenny peeked past his little lids, he nearly fainted with fright! Sitting casually before him was the legendary Leader of the Wolves. His copper fur shone like embers in the moonlight. It rustled with the wind. The Leader’s dark eyes stared past his own snout and down at the quivering little rabbit.
Grenny was terrified once more. He shut his eyes tightly, hoping the Leader would not notice his abnormality.
But the Leader had noticed.
“I know who you are,” the wolf said cautiously.
Grenny let out a single sob.
The Leader flattened his ears back and tilted his nose to the moon. After a deep breath, he let out a low howl. Awoo!
Now, Grenny thought to himself, now I am doomed.
The howl echoed deep into the wood. It traveled along the stream, through the trees, past the great oak tree, waking the little critters and the bigger creatures. The wolves of the Grey Pack twitched their ears to the sound and ran off in response. An eerie silence filled the forrest. Every creature attuned to the great Leader’s howl.
Just when Grenny thought the silence was permanent, other howls filled the air, an orchestra of deep throated calls meant to awake the wood.
In minutes, the Grey Pack had gathered, sitting in a circle exactly a meter away from their pack head. They were so tall, and held their noses so high into the air that Grenny remained to them unseen. The pack had eyes for their leader alone. He had howled, and this was their answer.
The Leader surveyed the grey furred wolves sitting attentively about him. They made no sound, nor did they urge him on. He was their Leader, and they knew him well enough to remain silent.
At last, he spoke.
“Too long has it been since I first set foot in these woods. My years as a pup are as far from myself as the treetops are from the ground.” His eyes wandered beyond the pack surrounding him and into the far reach of the hills and mountains. “Yet, I remember.”
It seemed as if the wolf’s bright fur grew brighter still as he spoke: a fire rekindling.
“I remember the day the forrest whispered my name and yet knew me not. I remember when I was legend for nothing more than my own difference.”
“That day has gone,” a grey wolf said, his voice loud, echoing into the trees. “You are now legend for the wisdom you gift and seek.”
“And yet,” the Copper Wolf said kindly, “the woods have not learned. You still whisper of legends that are nothing more than fear and difference.”
The wolf pack was silent, for the fear of Grenny’s green eyes had blinded them from their own folly.
“I speak of the rabbit,” the Leader said more plainly. “Who sits amongst us if you’d only have the wits to see.”
Confusion followed, and pure panic soon after. Shame and realisation came later than the Copper Wolf had hoped.
“He is no threat,” the Leader said, his voice as soft as Spring sun. “He is as I once was.”
Murmurs and whispers ran through the pack, and the Copper Wolf heaved a heavy sigh. Beside him, Grenny’s eyes had produced fresh new tears. These tears were quite alien to the little rabbit, for these tears did not sting or pain. Instead, they seemed to radiate a warmth that Grenny had for so long lived without.
“Thank you,” the furball said to the wolf.
The wolf shook his fiery mane. “You have suffered long enough under my friends. Fear is a nasty enemy, and I am sorry it has warped your form for too long.”
The little rabbit blinked back the salty teardrops. “Oh, I do understand,” Grenny said, “after all, even I’m afraid of myself.”
The Copper Wolf smiled. “I am not afraid of you.”
The whispers caught what the Leader had said, and soon, the whole wood had heard their own version of the story. The wolves were overheard by the mice, and one mouse had chatted with the old toad, and the old toad had croaked to the owl, and the owl gave a hoot at anyone who would listen. The veracity of these stories cannot be confirmed, but one truth prevailed, for every woodland creature had seen it themselves: every night since the Leader had howled so ominously, Grenny sat wide-eyed upon the Copper Wolf’s back, and the two creatures discussed many things.
They were inseparable.
And the wood was more cheerful because of them.
There was something about it, Chara decided. There was something about the music that made her blood rush properly—not like lethargic fluid simply going about its job, no, it rushed through her veins as if exhilaration lay within its core. She’d never been to a concert before—she never had reason to—but now, standing as a speck in the sea of the small crowd, she saw its appeal.
Individual human beings tightened to form a single collective, moving to a beat that was not their own, moving in sync though actual movements vary. It was not like a club where Chara feared being pressed too firmly against some stranger’s chest. It was not like that at all.
She had space enough to breathe, but she couldn’t—she didn’t feel claustrophobic, mind you, the breathlessness was a proper sensation. It was as if every drum beat sucked the air right from her lungs, and the rests in between were permissions to suck air back in. Chara was not particularly fond of having her breath knocked out of her, but this was ecstasy.
It was at that moment she practically ignored her companions and threw herself into the waves of music. The entire set was ironic: the rhythm was lively yet left her tranquil, the singer’s mangled voice sounded incredibly whole, the instruments distinct but blended congruently, the crowd moved harmonically yet each swayed to an internal tune.
When she ran her eyes lazily across the stage, Chara knew she was screwed.
Her fiery soul was ignited by dark orbs that went on and on and on until forever. They seemed to stare straight at her from the stage—the eyes’ keeper was casually beating the drum set before him, smirking, twirling his sticks in his hands. Chara felt like an ocean had erupted from the dam of her chest. With every beat, the drummer dictated the ebb and flow of her heart. The pounding infiltrated her system, found its way into her bones, poked around, and decided it was a neat place to stay.
All the while, the drummer continued to smirk, thumping with his feet, controlling Chara’s heartbeat.
It was the kind of smirk that hid a sharp tongue behind its lips. The kind of smirk that told Chara how this man would have said her name. It wouldn’t have rolled off his lips like honey, no. The drummer would have said it like a flint scraped against a rock. He would have ignited sparks of ember in the soul Chara had kept bundled under blankets. He was the type of man who would have promulgated his admiration, or his revulsion. He was not the type of person Chara fancied latching herself onto.
Yet, his eyes pierced her with a perverse yet pure intensity. It went against all her logic; she knew it was rude to stare; but Chara found she could hardly turn away.
It was a terrifying sensation mixed with thrill and confusion. She knew for a fact that the drummer was not smirking at her—the spotlight was just aimed towards the singer right smack in front of him, and he, the bludger he was, was avoiding the glare.
Yet he, the bludger that he was, was avoiding it by looking in her direction. Coupled with her rapid heartbeat controlled by his bloody drumming, Chara felt her sensibility being pushed aside.
At this moment, all that mattered was the ecstasy (not that she would do anything rash after the music stopped, that is)—and so, she threw her head back once again, allowing sighs of euphoria to escape her lips. She lost herself in the blaring music, lost herself in the pounding of her own heart.
Half across the world, the trees are stubborn today—half their leaves are golden and half are still green. The memo announcing Autumn must have been blown away by the pesky wind. But there are other ways to find out: the sullen faces of the children, being forced back into the classrooms, the pumpkin patches swelling with pride, the pumpkins themselves pumping their chests out, hoping to get chosen, the golden fields being stripped of their sprouts for the harvest, the general death of living things.
Unfortunately, in my portion of the world, the memo announcing Autumn never came.
Instead, the humidity still clings and the trees are evergreen—not pines, mind you, just leaves that never feel like dying the street a reddish hue. Our Summer ends when the rainclouds hover like they do in Spring. They cloak the sky and lend us shade, and then they tumble over each other, and brawl it out in the heavens. We hear it from the ground and call it thunder. The flash of anger in their eyes we call lightning. When they shed tears as they lick their battle wounds, we call it rain.
Big fat raindrops fall upon our city, bombarding the pavement in their eagerness to ride on through the canal. They don’t particularly like cruising through the air. Perhaps, they’re afraid of heights.
They preferred the ground, so the raindrops rush towards it, their little chests pulsing, like rapid heartbeats.
And we big folk complain of the rain as we do of the heat—but secretly wish we were children again so we could jump into the puddles that didn’t make it into the canals.
I wouldn’t expect much rain, though.
Not this year.
They say this year ushers in a slight drought—Summer being persistent after finding out how much people complain about it. It’s decided to strike back until we’re ready to admit that the Summer heat isn’t as bad as we make out to be. (Truth be told, however, Summer will always be myself as a steamed bun in this city. I’ve heard of Summer winds, but we have none of that here.) Or at least until the thunderclouds decide to play war again.
Sometimes, the absence of Autumn isn’t too bad.
I wear cut-out shorts long enough to get me through the uni gates, but short enough to stand in the sun and avoid the shade.
On rainy days, I twirl my black umbrella and send rain bullets in my friends direction. We play as we would if we’d been a decade younger. We play as if there was no homework. (But there was homework! Loads of it!) We play until the thunderclouds dry their eyes and we find our exposed toes blackened by the city streets.
Today, however, I wish Autumn’s memo had come.
I dreamt of a place I could layer up my clothes. I dreamt of a pile of red leaves sitting by the side of the road. I dreamt of pumpkin patches and children’s voices echoing through them.
Here, the leaves are too green; the clouds are too peaceful; my dreams had not vanished after I’d woke; and now I long for a plane ticket to leave.
Maybe if Autumn came, I would no longer want to.
But I know better.
I would still want that plane ticket.
Children, before you were ever born, I wondered what building a house actually entailed. When your Dad and I decided to start a life together, I moved out of my house and did not need to wonder anymore. I found out for myself.
At stage zero, we had a budget plan and a contingency plan (a.k.a. The apartment we almost lived in) and a few more contingency plans.
First, we looked at a lot—I thought this was the easy part. Find a space I could call my own, and a space your Dad could call his own.
It was a nightmare.
Every area I absolutely adored, he hated, and vice versa. We probably looked at half the city before we decided on a perfectly ordinary looking lot with vines wrapping themselves around the ‘For Sale’ signage, and a view overlooking nothing.
But it was a space we could call our own, so we did.
Then, there was all this business of testing the lot conditions—think of it as geology, only we aren’t looking to take anything out, we were just making sure our house won’t sink when built. Things seemed all right, but looks can be deceiving. More on that later.
Second, there’s the blueprint: how we wanted it all to look.
I don’t know how architects or engineers can make sense out of rectangles on blue paper (your Dad knows this about me—see, he’s shaking his head now!), but I didn’t find this much fun. I knew we’d have a kitchen, a living room, a study, three bedrooms and bathrooms, a decent sized laundry room, and a garage—and that’s all I could make sense of.
Third came the paperwork.
Fourth came the waiting for the paperwork to get approved.
Fifth came more waiting whilst revising the paperwork and resubmitting it to this or that municipality.
Sixth was the buying of the materials.
Seventh was perhaps the most exciting part of the whole project: we broke ground!
The whole building process was exciting, but in anything you do, the most trouble comes when you’re actually laying the first bricks. You plan and plan and plan, and planning is great, but not everything will go according to the plan. That’s why our house had to be built on stilts: when we first started building, the whole thing began to sink.
I don’t consider this house perfect, but building it was one of the best mistakes your Dad and I ever made: we learned how much effort it took to make something functional—I did not say beautiful because the house we had up in our imaginative little heads was much nicer than this place, but we make it work. And we’re happy with what we have.
Children, sometimes, you need to build your house on stilts.
Because sometimes, things don’t go the way you’d like.
And that’s not good or bad.
It just is.
But what you do will yield what you’d like it to be.
Four Days Left
There are four days left before Pinwheel Poetry's In Transit event, (which I will be performing in: open mic glory and all) and I've gotten quite nervous about it. Thus, I wrote this little piece of fiction to make myself believe that Saturday will be another normal day. And that hope is always present.
That is, a normal day with performance poetry in it.
It's been too long since I've shared a story on my blog, so here it is. A story.
The Boy at Number 4
There she stood over the counter sink, her tight bun undone and her face as pale as the flour tucked away in the pantry. The words had escaped her throat before her mind had processed the consequences. And there, alone in her kitchen, she began to understand the full gravity of what she had done. The cake batter littered the counter like the pieces of her heart—an utter mess in the midst of perfectly arranged furniture.
Four minutes had passed since the door had been slammed shut, and still she stood unmoving over the counter sink. Her hands were clenched into quivering fists. There was no need to blink back tears, for none flowed out. She was not sad, she was angry—irrationally, unconsolably angry. And not with him, oh, no, that was quite impossible. She was angry with herself.
From the outside, the whitewash house at Number 4 was perfectly quiet and peaceful. The streetlamp did not flicker, and the driveway was free of overgrowth. The neighbours liked it that way. Tonight, though, Cassie didn’t care what the bloody neighbours thought! The perfectly manicured lawn was nothing now—not when she’d added too much sugar into the cake mix. (Although this was not the real cause of Cassie’s little kitchen scene.)
And what would the neighbours say tomorrow when she’d show up at her sister’s perfect child’s garden birthday party with an overly sweetened cake instead of her Jordan by her side? What would they say?
The most terrible critics were those closest to you, and Cassie, standing over the counter sink, her cheeks smudged with flour, but now tomato red from shame, knew that tomorrow, everyone she held dear would be the most terrible critic.
“It’s because you nag him about his late hours,” Dad would say. “He works hard all day, and who are you to nag him? You’re just the woman he lives with.”
Or “it’s because you’ve gotten much to busy with this bakery business. How can a man love you when you’re in love with your cakes more than him?” (Of course, this was not true, Cassie was just as much in love with him as her cakes.)
The boy at Number 4 was everyone’s hero, with a walk as straight as his hair. He looked you squarely in the eye when he reprimanded you, and looked away when he complimented you. The boy at Number 4 was technically a man, but with the innocence of a boy. And she? She was just that girl who wasn’t good enough for him.
Suppose Cassie always knew this—from the neighbours, from everyone. Suppose she knew it was only a matter of time before he left. The boy at Number 4 was too good a dream to stay for so long with her, the spirit who was too free to hold him down.
Suppose Cassie always knew this, but hoped still that the boy at Number 4 would turn the brass door handle of their house and come in and say he didn’t mean to walk away and that he didn’t really want to fight.
Suppose she hoped to brew a cup of tea for the boy who never went to bed without it that night.
Suppose she was sorry.
The door handle did not turn that night.
But the doorbell—much to Cassie’s surprise—rang.