He runs his fingers down the swollen scraps on her skin, circling the dried blood on her arms and thighs. Then he kneels on the floor and opens her legs to see that flaming morsel, ravished by his girlfriend’s fury after he exited the mockery of their threesome. Sitting on the edge of the bed she looks smaller than she really is, a woman of long, slender bones and composure.
‘I never thought Flora would do this,’ he says, kissing the cuts on her thighs. ‘She smiled when I asked her.’
‘It was me who asked, in the first place.’
‘She said she missed girls.’
‘I asked because I missed you,’ she lifts his head to push him away.
In the heat of his lovers’ kisses, finger-fucking and penetration, he had fondled those small and perky breasts of his ex-girlfriend’s for as long as it took her to trust, to stay still so that he could tie her hands to the bedposts. The moment she looked at him in a haze, Flora took over and seized her with a smothering kiss. The passion was such a perfect drape for the women; there was no place for him and Flora should have this beauty to herself, as she wanted to.
‘That you’re the woman I once wanted to marry. Until you left me.’
‘And you don’t want to marry her,’ she says and closes her eyes.
Category Archives: Nicolette Wong
Home sweet home is the water we sink into in the music of your dream. The strings will not give & my lungs are wheezing, from embraces I fail to make towards you in green. Your eyes are crazed, of a water ghost murdered in his past life by a recalcitrant lover.
We used to draw bubbles at drowsy hours. Mine was a string of insanity crawling down the dotted lines, until you snatched it from my hands & held it to the light. ‘Oh baby,’ you said. ‘Go get some sun.’ Your bubbles were light, foaming at the corners & other surprising spots on the scrap of paper. Like love.
Since we parted you have been to home & hell & back. Crashed your bike against the fences to dive into the lake for a mock suicide. Boarded the plane to a foreign land to suffocate from polluted air among strangers. Hopped on an overnight train to cross the border, passport & a dead heart at the control point.
Now you reach out to me in a muddy green. ‘Our homes lie in people,’ you say. ‘Don’t fool yourself.’
I have no choice but to close my eyes & forget about shore. It is the only way I would reach it.
Cold front is you on the morning I cut through mist. Around the park where old men wave their wooden swords in unison, blunt-edged glory boiling in their veins. I tread a path of oval stones to haunt the trees, reading their names & spirits to make them my allies.
I must reach my stop before the sun scorches my eyes.
Since you passed out from too much alcohol in my bed, I have turned it into an ummarked grave. I shoveled dirt over your blonde hair fused with grey, your blue eyes burnt by past phantoms while you ran up the tower you built around yourself, panting, holding onto me for lights from a distance. Every step of yours made me cringe; it made me run to that snowy landscape where a fox smiled & flitted past, a reminder of your false love.
Now I must run to the last tree I could find & wrap my arms around it. Only its embrace could save me.
–for Todd Tam & late-night music
I dip a feather quill in dragon blood ink for protection from you: my sketched giant, eyes flaming inside a streetlamp & a knife in your pocket, a stabbed life to the edge of the ring notepad. Your anger is rising like the smoke above my fingers. Pull the knife now. Slice the fish on the table to match the fine traces of your prison.
Every time the blood splashes an anonymous face would break, & turn into a skeleton holding onto the lamppost in fright. I cannot stop these characters’ changes, just as you cannot find your tainted heart in that open book in your hands. A dot upon another until it turns into a tornado. Let it swirl; let time elude and fade.
You have forgotten your identity, even your lost love. All night I draw to the music for which you are created, red ink on my skin & your lapsing rhythm. The cruelty you are living has nothing to do with your soul. It is a flower blossoming in someone else’s loneliness, on a night locked in broken sounds and distance.
The barricades pierce her heart in a blind spot of hope undone. Like a dead bird in the air falling to the battlefield, between distorted faces and arms entangled in blood, dust of broken will that would forever be fooled by a grand promise. Her voice breaks against children’s laughter, ambient music in her studio and the stillness I am trying to hold, over the phone.
‘He called the whole thing off. The photo shoot. The banquet,’ she sobs.
My friend is a sturdy woman with wide shoulders, wavy brown hair and a jolly gait. I imagine her falling flat on the floor, a crucified victim surrounded by curious children. The paint on their hands would dry in an instant when they saw the light had gone out of their teacher’s eyes.
‘Did he say why?’ I ask.
‘He loves someone else. A young man he met at work.’
The man who left purple roses scattered over my friend’s drawing table, to go home and sit between his mother and sister in front of the TV screen? Now he must find his private sphere so he can lock lips with another man who ignites the fire in him, tearing apart the composure he has feigned for years. He will emerge a glistening man, fresh-faced with joy and sanity.
‘I don’t understand why it took so long for him to tell me,’ my friend says.
‘I’m sure things happened at the right time,’ I say.
It was our last voyage into the familiar shore, small tins and scoops tinkling in our hands and songs. The fiddler crabs had retreated into the setting sun. Broken shells were all we could find, between grey glistening stones and our shadows on the sand.
‘Do you think these shells moved onto their next lives?’ April asked, holding a semi-transparent one to the sky as if it was a magnifying glass which would give her a glimpse of heaven. She was in a white, spaghetti strap dress, the kind I always longed to have. She was eight; I was seven.
‘I don’t know what lived in these shells before,’ I said, ‘Maybe they found new lives.’
‘My brother smashed a snail once.’
‘Did you watch?’
‘No, I ran away screaming when the hammer dropped. He cleaned up the mess and told me the snail would reincarnate into something else. A different animal.’
I picked up my tin and missed the fiddler crabs we used to catch. April liked to shake them in the tin until they faded from the shock. I watched mine bob up and down in the water for a while, then let them go.
On our way home April made me promise to visit her in the years to come. I heard her family never moved away from the island.
They say she is the wild card but the playground is empty. In the starlight I cannot see, cannot hear the voices coming from the sanctuary, a riot searing the night’s veil, ashes falling into her veins where she is turning into a statue, all grey and stone.
Her grief is green and mine is blue.
The playground stays empty every night.
Since she went missing I have burnt my world down: clothes, records, books and all documentary proof to my existence. Today I peel bank notes off my wallet and leave them all over the streets. If her flesh is gone, what else do I have to hold onto?
She is a young thing. So am I. Only I lost my soul early and saw it in time.
She takes a last drag of my cigarette, her eyes squinting at the stranger who has travelled half the globe to walk down her street. As she relishes the last smoke ring, I turn to leave.
‘Are you sure you aren’t coming with me?’ she asks, passing me the cigarette butt stained with my saliva and her dark red lipstick. Against the lamp post she looks tall and rough in a faux fur coat, her skin the color of sand. Her eyes speak of an old soul I once met, a girl who went on all fours on my table like a wild cat.
I throw the cigarette butt into the bin.
‘You’re going to be in good hands,’ she says.
Does she have vodka bottles hissing on the windowsills too, when the wind blows through the afternoon shadows? I bet this one is too busy to notice anything beyond her bed and nightstand. She must work all day, whenever she manages to pick up a customer on the street. I’m not strong enough for that.
Past the entrance to my temporary home, I hear the whirling cry of a possum that is out to kill.
‘Has Wesley been out for the day?’ I ask my fiance.
‘No, he hasn’t,’ he says. ‘It’s not safe for a girl to wander around this neighborhood at night.’
I grab our cat and put him on my lap. There are too many ways to be safe.
In memory of Mick Karn (1958 to 2011)
The fretting hand sought
Don’t look back
A dream guitar on my lap
My grandmother’s childhood was floating away on a boat. The moment she looked back at her brother on the shore, a bony figure waving goodbye in frantic pantomimes of love, she knew her fate was sealed. There would be no going back.
The strange woman by her side had chosen her because she was fair, the fairest child on the island. In the years to come she would grow into a solitary teenager who haunted the wood and cry by the sea until the well within her ran dry. Tall, erect and sparkly, she would break into Baptist churches in the colonized land to steal water before dawn, and tread between trampled bodies of soldiers before the first killings of the day began.
On this day she remained a small girl rocking to the waves in fright, and her tears made a magnifying glass through which she saw cruelty on the woman’s face. The middle-aged woman had travelled through mud and rain, in search of sweetness to bring into her barren household. A looming presence at the dinner table, waiting to receive the love that would forever elude her grip. The wind was in her eyes as she turned to look at the child.
‘My husband doesn’t like children crying,’ she said. ‘Dry your tears before we land.’
My grandmother never did what she was told. After all, she was headed for war times.
None of us can fight the combustion―not my boss, a soft-spoken man with cunning defenses; not my colleagues who could bring the house down after too much alcohol and a bit of pole dance; not the old lady cleaner who comes in everyday to break her back clearing someone else’s trash; not me, who has problem co-existing with more than a few people at a time and is always on the run.
Jack clenches the bottle of gasoline in his hand. I remember his Australian accent.
‘Calm down, mate,’ I say, ‘you want to go home and row down Albert Park Lake.’
‘We aren’t making a movie here,’ he says, pointing to the camera gear around our office. ‘You guys should have let me.’
The last syllable of Jack’s last word forms a magic ring in the air and for a moment our eyes are burst. When we look again, Jack is drinking up the liquid in a perfect frenzy that no amount of rehearsal or drama studies―which Jack claims to have wasted his early adult life on―could have produced. We can almost hear the lung smash and stomach stove inside him. Jack with no air to dream of lakes anymore.
Then he bends over, rolls off the chair and falls onto the floor.
‘What did you do?’ someone turns to my boss.
‘I told him he’d have to pay if he wanted to be on board, and it’s a lot to pay,’ he says.
Silence is a droplet of grief falling into the void that has forever opened between us—you no longer sparkle while you dance, and I cannot catch your meaning adrift in this room, stifling and cold with no exit to the future.
You must not follow me, you say, for I have let go of hopes and idealism. Take me home and lay me down to sleep, before you leave at daybreak to pursue what flies away.
To escape from your self-pity, I close my hand to hide the pear-shaped tear piercing into time.
I missed the bus staggering through the pages in silver ink: a jolly vehicle that rocks along the highway into the morning mist, on the lookout for gullible souls who will come on board to share a silence that will weigh heavy on the empty seats if its solitude goes on for just a little longer.
The bus is not meant to be lonely. Neither is the girl who is waiting for me at the other end of the story. She stands hopeful in a pink wool coat, against the color of mercury which has taken over the daybreak.
On a fine day she is the messenger of good tidings: fine and sunny, windy and dry. Even her voice rings with what she leaves unsaid: today is the day when you seek your pleasure out there in this world, for you are only living for the day you die.
On a stormy day there is a slight crack in her voice. In the enclosed room. Over the radio. In the air that we breathe, on disappearing streets to the limits of our memories. We lose one another in the loss of hope.
The girl does not like it, but it is her job to be neutral. She boards the bus every morning to reach her stop. Today she is waiting for me, but I cannot hold her. We are not supposed to meet.
The music eludes me now the soundtrack in my memory resounding at the other end of the line. Let it ring for the eruption at someone else’s voice even though it won’t happen, I’m hanging from the end of the rope suspended from the real world: a surrogate self, holding onto the receiver.
I want to be in this world forever.
The telecom operator won’t grant me my wish.
The music is a song curling on a blank piece of paper unto the edge where I fall onto soft transparent strings. I wanted to learn to play the classical guitar; the person left me the night I asked. I kissed a kiss of death, breathing rings of darkness like the black cover of an erotic novel about a woman with no name. Who’s inside, burning in chains, all flesh and pain and hollows?
I shiver to think who lies in that shadow. Who lets in the rain splashing across my apartment piercing through the sphere from which I’m running away not knowing the image I’m clashing into: the suspense.
The music must stop.
‘I think you would have been quite beautiful when you were young.’
Your words are a blue haze rocking into the night at a sidewalk restaurant. I look over your shoulder for room to laugh. You, three years my junior, stealing glances at bare legs brushing past and beer in your glass, a moving reflection of your hopes: career, jokes, in a world where life means overlooking others from a heightened plane of safety.
At my smile you recoil for a moment before opening up to the embrace that will elude me forever. We are supposed to be friends, for you have never met someone whose soul mirrors yours and who already lives at the other side of the world. I sit before you and crack a peanut.
‘You haven’t met too many people in your life,’ I say.
‘That has nothing to do with it.’
Your phone rings. Requests. Reproach. Mistakes scorching a roll of film, unfolding in a non-existent space. Another barrier to cross while you dream yourself into being a man. Silence cracks across the table, lengthening the time we spend with each other in smirk and qualms. Nothing reigns besides your fear of failure. You shake your head; I put two fingers to my lips.
‘Say something to distract me,’ you ask.
‘It won’t be any different from what you’d say to yourself, or some things you don’t put into words.’
‘You, a person of many words,’ you say. ‘Shall we dance, then?’
In isolation you speak into the microphone and I watch the frequency of your soul darting on a screen. You are growing fainter—even your overt British accent starts to trail off into an indistinguishable flatness.
I have forgotten: your concentration rarely translates into strength.
Your lip noise tells me you need to drink some water.
You brought a bottle of tea. In that dryness lives the memory of us choking underneath a black umbrella, unable to escape from the gloom you had perfectly carved out for us. I hear you swallow and it makes me feel pretty flat myself.
‘Ready?’ I ask.
You give an imaginary nod. When the rustle of the paper ceases you speak again. I am in the control room, flipping switches against the volume of you. Where I am now is a place of absorption and diffusion. I am padded and safeguarded.
‘Sorry I made a mistake. Can we go back to the last line?’ you ask.
‘We’re good to go when you are.’
You breathe and sniff. Someone brought you in here so you could stretch yourself and chase your dream. Your voice births a strangeness that you have just come to discover: a new seed to sprout. You and I are divided in an enclosed room, imagining each other in disrupted silence.
‘I quite liked it,’ you say when we finish the recording.
It is just work for me.
Her stiletto heels are drawing music on the cyclical night. That’s all she cares about—even as her husband weeps in a reclining chair, his accusations like a ghost wind blowing through their soon-to-be vacant apartment. As she speaks she breathes life into space again, leaving behind the moment when she thought herself pregnant: the panic, the fear of confinement and guilt over the phantom fetus growing in her womb. A throbbing life one had to take responsibility for, a life born out of a marriage without love. How could she—or anyone else—bear such cruelty?
‘The baby never existed. It was a mistake,’ she says. He doesn’t believe her. Years have passed; he still fails to taste the wildness in her smile. No, she doesn’t lie. She has only willed herself to live a promise she made, in her youthful days, until the phantom fetus came calling: ‘Come and sign our freedom away.’
Her man trails on, haggard and stunned. He stares out of the windows as if the drama would pass with the next hurricane. But the roof of their domesticity is shaking, ready to be blown away along with other houses in their neighborhood. All is growing fainter at the end of the road where an accordion is playing: her future.
‘This is what we’ve come down to,’ he says.
‘We’re not responsible,’ she says.