I can’t write any articles on loss and grief because I am not old enough yet. There are teenagers who post on their Facebook walls sadness in a status and teenagers who decorate their Instagram feeds with black and white, vignette, varying hues of gray and darkness and teenagers who slit their throats in 140 characters; the short sentences are extremely sharp and hurt their readers as well, prompting a Retweet. I can’t complain that I am sad and tired and that I feel, wondrously, miraculously, that I have given up, because what right do I have, I am only a teen and I am not an adult who has lost her sheen which the harsh adult world took from her like a blanket stolen off a baby in a cradle. I watch as my friends meet half an hour earlier in front of the school gates, to talk about things that they’ll be told off for talking about at home. I watch as my friends get asked why their pocket money is depleting so quickly, why there’s messages telling them not to die in a ditch, things’ll be better soon dear fifteen year old pal, it’ll be alright – the money was spent on tissues; a tissue transaction to soak up the many tears cascading down a soft cheek, skin that’s pimpled and pigmented and undergoing puberty; so young. The cheek of youth stained by tears. I can’t talk about my sorrows because it just shows how much of a teenager I am, someone who likes to complain and shriek and sob at the dinner table, cigarette hanging from my lips, tobacco nicking the piercing glistening on the skin of my lips, sins spilling from my lips. I can’t talk about the fact that I am also a vessel of regret, of sadness, of depressing things to talk about, like my mother, her mother, her husband, his wife, the grown-up cousin at a wedding, my distant relative whose son is the CEO of a tissue paper company that may or may not make money from sad kids who soak misery into the three-ply, four-ply, five-ply tissue paper like how teenagers – the girls, that is – use pads on their periods. I can’t pass discourse over the women who buy pads in excess and the fact that teenagers need them more than they do, nowadays, because I am too young and I should not have gotten my period, and I ought to keep my mouth shut. I can’t let the words tired, sad, really frustrated, want to fling myself off the building you work at slip out of my mouth, because the world has given me the privilege of owning thread and a needle to sew my young, ripe mouth up.
I pick up the phone one day, when my brain is floating in a clear glass jar, separate from my body. My mind isn’t present in my body, and it’s just my limp arm moving forward automatically to pick up the phone when it rings.
“Hello?” My mouth moves on its own, forming the simple syllabelle-d word without much energy, and my caller catches out on my enthusiasm—or lack of it—immediately.
“Hey! What’s up?”
Nothing, I want to reply, that’s the problem. I hold my cell phone away from its previous spot on my cheek, checking caller ID. It’s someone who I suspect will natter off for a long time, perhaps even babbling away ‘til I fall asleep, so I move my tired body to an armchair in the living room, and fold myself into it.
From the corner of my eye, I see my brain, floating in the jar, inch slightly towards the direction of the armchair. My brain is a soggy, dirtied shade of black and seems like it is deflating by the second.
I am incapable of thinking. I am sick of solving problems, and I guess my brain was sick of it too—hence, it became a big problem.
Casting my eyes away, I try to re-focus on my caller’s voice.
“…I know there’s something wrong.”
My caller responds with a sigh that manages to feel like fingers dancing in a comfortable manner atop my shoulders. I let out a sigh of my own, and my caller instantly starts talking again at the sound of ‘life’ from my end of the call,
“You can tell me, you know!”
The fingers of my free hand fly to my temples, and they start to knead out the knots—mental and physical knots—out of my forehead.
“I bet you’re massaging your head now, or whatever weird thing it is that you do”, my caller says, smugness inching into his voice. I roll my eyes.
“Now you’re rolling your eyes.”
“Yeah”, I utter, my first real word of the phone-call, “I’m rolling my eyes at your question.”
I look away from the lint on my armchair for a second, and catch a glimpse of gray.
Gray. My bloody brain, sitting in a bloody jar, has lightened—it’s turned into a bloody shade of gray.
It bloody changed colour.
“T—the question.” I somehow manage to get my voice back from my stunned state.
“Oh, you mean What’s Wrong? Of course I know that you hate telling people what’s wrong…but you never talk about anything that should be talking about, so…”
“What do you mean?” I feel heat rush to my cheeks. “I’m not entitled to tell you my problems—we aren’t even close, goddamnnit. I don’t even know why you called.”
As an afterthought, because I’m still in painful shock from the fact that my brain turned gray—and also the fact that it’s floating in a fucking glass jar that magically appeared in my living room—I spit out, “You can hang up.”
My caller allows me to simmer in exactly one and a half seconds of silent fury, before cutting in the stew of my rage with a voice as smooth and cool as a curl of butter. “You can, you know. Open up. Right here and right now. It’s okay.”
And because I’ve been a selfish, self-centred brat all this time who just wanted to hear the words It’s okay all this time, I let the dam break.
It’s okay to let it out,
A wall, carefully constructed with crawling lattices and stones stacked up nicely, starts to crumble.
It’s okay to cry, I promise,
The first stone falls, and hits the ground on the other side of the wall. More follow.
It’s okay, really.
Soon, more stones fall, creating a large gap in the remaining wall of stone. The lattices have been torn apart by some mysterious force that makes my insides feel all warm.
It’s okay to be human, and act like one, too.
Sunlight filters through the gap, and tears slip down my face. They are wet and warm and streak down my cheeks smoothly, like pearls in oil.
“I—I would love that. To tell you more. Thank you.”
And my caller responds with, “You’re welcome.”
He speaks again, and it seems like what he says is an afterthought, “You’re always welcome. You know that.”
I end the call with a smile on my face, dimples finally finding their place on my face once again, crinkles lining my eyes like they used to. My hands are trembling, my toes vibrate—I feel like a new person, with every skin-pore and fibre of my being filled with joy.
But something’s still missing.
I close my eyes, and clasp my hands together in front of me. I’m sitting up straight in the armchair, because there’s no longer the need to fold my body into its warm fabric—I’m full of warmth.
THUNK. My skull rings with a new weight, an additional pressure that is felt all the way to my torso, wrapping around my abdomen, ribboning down my legs and setting each bone in my body into place.
“Welcome back, brain.” I give my head a little pat, hoping my brain will appreciate the congratulatory gesture I’m offering it. It’s been a long journey, a rough voyage for my dear brain, and you betcha, I’m gonna appreciate its presence.
Now that I’m capable of thinking again, who knows what I’ll think of—the possibilities are endless, and I’m able to do anything, once my mind is set—settled right back down in my body—and once I set my mind to it.
I know it.
alternate title: Voyage
Written in response to this prompt, and written to
“Stop the clock” he says softly, lifting a finger to touch the inside of my wrist, “we have time.”
I jerk away from his hold, because we have none. We have none, and we will not have any time left—every grain of sand in our hourglass has trickled down to the lower-half of the container, and I will not taste his smile against mine ever again.
“Stop the clock”, she says, teary-eyed, wrists wrung and mascara running, “I swear to God—no, this can’t be, we had all the time in the world—stop it, stop it!” It comes out as a plea. I flinch at the harsh desperation seeping into her tone; she grabs the only thing by her side—a blue umbrella, with a nicely-carved wooden handle—and lunges at me, the thing that used to be at her side. I step away, just in time, and as the time ticks away, I think of how my collar will be clean from her powdery foundation. Not sure if that’s the best thing for me, though.
“Stop the clock”, he lifts up the comforter; it cocoons our bodies, fully-clothed, clothes rumpled. With quick flicks of his wrists and jerky movements from his legs, we are untangled. Our limbs are no longer sharing warmth, and his heart—I can no longer feel it expound whatever feeling we shared, against my chest. This time it is not me who accepts that time’s run out, someone else does it for me.
I smile as I go, shaking out my hair and thinking of how I’ll have to get a proper comb now that time’s run out, and his fingers won’t be there to card through my tresses.
“Stop the clock”, he crushes me against a wall, dry lips moving up my neck to my jaw and my face. There’s a knife in my hand, blade glinting eerily but pleasantly in the dark of night; he knows what I know. He knows that time is up on us, and time is up for him, too. I let his hunger consume me for a split second, imagining that the prickly five o’clock shadow is the mane of a lion, and his coarse lips are the dry tongue of an animal needing prey. Desperately. He makes a sound, it unfurls from the back of his throat and snakes into my bloodstream, merging with cells inside of me, becoming part of me.
It’s too bad that I have to kill him. Too bad for me, not for him—I can survive, time and time again, without him. So I don’t hesitate to thrust the knife in him, a place on his chest where we had marked out with several lipsticked kisses the night before—“It’s a team decision”, I say brightly, swiping blood from the blade off with the hem of his shirt.
He groans. Manages to steal a final kiss from my lips. Dies, a man in the alley.
“Stop the clock”, she says, and stops arranging the flowers for one second to look at me. One second was all she needed, and I rob another two seconds from my clock, in order to run my hands through her blonde hair one more time. It’s as soft as the silky shirts my mom used to buy me, and I know my fingers will remember her, if not my heart. “Hey, good-bye”, she says, detaching herself from my hold.
She goes back to arranging flowers, like nothing ever happened.
“Stop the clock”, he says, and hands a package to me. I rip it open now, in front of him, because there is no time to waste later on. There will be no extra time, even though I want it—the clock rules all. It’s a Polaroid camera. He’s grinning sheepishly, rubbing a hand on the nape of his neck, “Maybe you could start taking pictures of them. Recording the faces.”
Instead of turning on my heel and leaving, I just stare at the photo-taking device in my hands. He’d put film in it; black and white film. I have a million questions, how did he know being the one I should ask, but instead I blurt out,
“Why black and white?”
He’s already twenty steps in front of me, but he turns around and yells, “Because they’re the only colours you need.”
“Stop the clock”, I say. I’ve been playing around for too long; dripping saturated yellows and cyans all over the place, messing around with splotches of white and black on my painter’s overalls, getting acrylics onto canvases I shouldn’t be touching. Littering the rainbow on my lips, tattooing red all over my body.
I strip, and stand in front of a mirror. For the first time on the clock, I stare at myself. Take in the red that spills across my right hipbone, touch the red lining the lines of my lips, try to scrub off the slashes of red hemming my ears and the hollow of my neck.
Something is wrong. I shouldn’t be getting this much time to myself.
I close my eyes, and soon enough, I’m whisked off, naked and in another hotel room. Someone is in the shower, and there’s red all over my thighs and ribboning down my legs.
I sigh. Should’ve known that the clock wouldn’t listen to me, either. No matter how much I wanted time to stop.
“Stop the clock”, he says, and slings an arm across my shoulder. Time isn’t even up yet. “What’s your name? I wanna know before you…before you go.”
Startled, I pull back from the warmth of his arm. No-one’s ever asked me that before.
Before I tell him my name, I make sure to whisper an apology. “Sorry, I can’t stop myself.”
“My name is Titus.”
note: titus means Time
alternative title: I can’t stop myself.
Another day, another battle.
She sits on the couch, one leg spread out, the other bent at an angle comfortable enough—balanced atop her knee is a bowl, and in the bowl lie six cubes of papaya, orange and vibrant. The fruit must not fall off! She rotates her ankle slightly, adjusting position so the bowl is resting firmly on her knee.
The sight of papaya, its shimmering sheen making it look like an exorbitant jewel in the light of the sun’s rays, elicits a strange heat from her belly. It starts from the pit of her abdomen and blooms up; the heat consumes her front and before long, arches over the straps of her bra and criss-crosses, like a decorative lattice, into the curve of her spine.
I want to eat it. There is music playing on the T.V in front of her. The television is on, like it was when she first sprawled on the couch a month ago, ready to eat her weight in fruit and drink her sorrows away with some form of tasteful drink. Never water, never green tea, never anything that would be deemed ‘nutritious’ on a health broadcast.
I eat healthily, she thinks, shoving slice after slice of pineapple into her mouth. I eat healthily, she sighs, as watermelon juice, red and sometimes sticky, trails down her arms, down her chin, straight into the hollow of her neck, and across her thighs (eating fruit without pants was a great decision, one of the greatest decisions she’d ever made) in the reddest organic glory. I eat healthily, she murmurs softly to herself, eyes downcast and away from the screen of her T.V—her gaze is fixated on the paleness of her banana, freshly-peeled and curving gently into a smile, one that could rival that of the Nepalese.
It is a rainy afternoon. She decides that it is an afternoon for bananas, and separates one of the fruit from its yellow bunch. As the waxy skin comes apart in her hands, she thinks of how it had felt when she was with a group of people, thick as thieves…tight as a bunch of bananas.
How it had felt when someone tore her away from the familiar greenishyellowgreenishyellowgreenyellow colour that she had grown up with. Her nail pierces through the skin of the banana/
How it had felt when someone unravelled her with their own hands. Her finger slides from the top of the banana, now pale and looking extremely…vulnerable (she thinks that vulnerable sits wrong, yet right, when being used to describe a fruit without its skin) in her palms. Her finger traces the tip and then dips into the curve, and smoothens back up against the moist texture of the banana.
How it had felt when she lay there, smooth and unblemished, slipping out of her mother’s womb gently, a smile on her face as nurses wiped away gel and other messy fluids.
You had been born smiling, her mother says. Your dimples showed before your eyes could crinkle, full of tears.
A thought comes to her mind. No, the smiles of Nepalese people are brighter than that of bananas. She takes a fork and slices the banana. A coin-sized shape of the fruit lays nestled in her palm, the paleness of the banana slice contrasting her dark skin.
She pops it into her mouth, and repeats the same process for the rest of the sliced fruit. Hold slice, look at slice, admire the contrast…eat slice.
When the banana is fully eaten, she cleans up her couch-space. The banana peel is deposited into the trash bin, and her table is cleaned of seeds from various fruits. She washes the bowls stacked up in her sink; the translucent juices of fruits: red yellow green orange red yellow green brown remind her of how healthy she’d been eating this past month.
The T.V is still on when she arrives back to where she started—the couch—and she turns it off. The silence is unsettling, almost disapproving, like the static air around her is settling into a frown.
So, she smiles.
Listen, there are a lot of other things I could be doing right now. Things like bettering my skills in first-person writing or working on getting rid of the flab around my waist (or whatever you call it—it’s a waste of words; naming your chub-chubs).
But here I am, writing to you in second-person, using slang and tone I would never use in real life(‘cause I’m too fucking scared), but I’ve already started writing, so we’re going to…keep on going.
After all, if it’s you I’m spending time writing to, then it’s worth it. Honestly.
I am telling you, honey, to stop puttering about and waiting for text messages from boys who don’t really matter. I’m also encouraging—no, scratch that: STRONG RECCOMMENDING you figure out which team you bat for, or open yourself to both, because you know it and Future You (hi, hello, that’s me) also knows it: You tend to lead on both genders, or get too tangled up in the affairs of not only your boy- but girl- friends as well.
Or, you could consider cruising down Exit 101 and ditching everyone in your life who doesn’t really give a fuck about you; go for ‘em prickled-species: cacti make good friends and coffee-sippers. Just go with it. When life throws you a curve ball, you grab it and shove it down your throat and as the white, splotched canvas slips down the tubes of your body, remember that you were too fat to ever play baseball in Grade 3 anyway, the awkward Chinese girl who had her hair done up in pigtails and who ate too many Starbursts while sitting out on the bench during games.
Go figure. This brings me to another point; actually:
Don’t ever think for one second that you’re better than anyone else. Don’t think that you’re cooler than everyone just because you’re Chinese-American, don’t think that your reflexes are quicker than most because of that one and a half years you dedicated to playing baseball—you were the shittiest player, honey—and most of all, don’t think that just because you got an eighty for Maths, like, once in your lifetime of failures that you can lapse into self-content in the subject.
No. No. The main point of this lengthy rant/unnecessarily filthed-up letter to you, honey, is to get it in your head that you can never be complacent. You have to keep practising and drilling if you want to keep on achieving. You can’t fly without paying for an aeroplane ticket and if you can’t pay for an aeroplane ticket right now but still want to fly, don’t lapse into the tempting, soothing serenades that satisfaction brings. Just keep moving on like a fucking steam-roller(I mean you’re probably built like one, anyway) and keep plodding on ‘til your jeans snap and your shoelaces break and the skin on your cheeks sags and your lips are chapped and shredded to dust.
Don’t you rest ‘til you’re in your coffin, pale arms and pale legs dangling by your body, brain shrinking and life-blood draining—
Please. Or else we’ll both end up in a greater tragedy than the ones Shakespeare wrote about—or else you’ll really end up to be Future You currently, the one who drinks all day and wallows in her broken-hearted dreams of being a writer at sixteen, with nothing better to do.