Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Garden of Daisies

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Phoenix

Garden of Daisies

By Lisa Kwan

I kneaded the soil with my hands, relishing the feel of the dirt between my fingers, the earth trapped in my fingernails turning them brown-black. The spade lay beside me, but I felt no need for it.

I looked up for a moment, stared at the sky. Dark clouds were visible in the distance, but right now, over my flowerless garden, the sun was bright and glaring, and hot; small beads of perspiration were beginning to form on my temples even though I had only just started. I’d better get this done soon.

I dug my fingers deeper, removing more soil, the beginnings of a hole forming, a shallow grave. I kept on digging, trying to keep my mind focused only on what was in front of me. Dig, dig, dig. Don’t think of anything else, I tell myself. Don’t think.

The corner of my eye caught the pale, smooth stone I had brought with me out to the garden, and I failed. I don’t really know how it would have looked like, but I had imagined it fair, and beautiful, taking after Jonah’s and my complexion.

Nowadays, that is as far as I would allow myself to imagine. The more I had imagined, the bigger the heartbreak, the deeper the scars. Would he or she have been a runner, like Jonah? Or a pianist, like me? Would he or she have liked eating cereal, or vegetables? Or be a meat-lover? Would he or she have grown up to be a doctor, an artist, a teacher, a national swimmer?

No one would ever really know. And I hated myself for wondering.

I blinked back the tears, trying to push the feelings away, failing yet again. The ugly monster emerged once more, sneaking its slimy limbs around me; first around my waist, up my back, over my shoulders, then closing in on my neck and throat, chest, until I couldn’t breathe. Was it my fault? Had I done something to cause this? Maybe if I had been happier, more careful, it would still be alive?

I hadn’t asked for this. I had never thought of myself as a mother. But those stupid daydreams and sickly giddiness at the thought of being one had grown and flourished as the weeks went by—having a little girl to share my love of summer dresses, or a little boy to teach to go catch spiders with. Stupid.

I remember when it had first happened. Oh, the pain. It felt like someone had punched (and kicked) my stomach. Or like someone was turning my body inside out through my abdomen. I had fleetingly thought, Is this how it feels to die? And oh, the bleeding. So much blood. And then came that sinking feeling, that my nightmare had materialized. It felt like a huge stone had been slowly, carefully, lowered squarely onto my chest.

I picked up the stone, clasped it in both my hands and held it to my heart, closed my eyes and wept. Goodbye, little one. I already love you with all my being.

Maybe I was not meant to ever have a healthy baby. Maybe I was only meant to carry them around with me for several weeks, dream of our lives together, share whispered secrets and wishes and thoughts to each other, and then they leave. Maybe that is all the mother I will ever be.

When my sobs had ceased, I lifted the stone, touched it to my lips. I finally lowered it into the hole I had made, and gently covered it with the loose soil, built a small mound of earth, a mountain of my grief.

I sat up and took a deep quivering breath, and stared at my flowerless garden, now with six silent mounds staring back at me. No more, I tell myself. No more, please.

But my breath catches. I notice something I hadn’t before. A single, tiny, delicate daisy, growing atop the very first one. How? I wonder. How?

I see a little girl kneel down by the daisy, touch it lightly, and turn to me laughing. I see a little boy run up to it, sniff it and call me over excitedly, asking if he can pluck it.

I blink through the tears, and they disappear. I want that. So badly.

I hold my breath as I walk over to the daisy and kiss it. Some day, I think. I’m going to be a mom.

Author’s Note: Written for the Writer’s Tower with the theme “Phoenix”. Inspired by a recent experience of a friend who is now expecting. Details mostly fiction.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Resit Test

by Lisa Kwan

Written for: The Writer's Tower 
Theme: Irony (March)
Medal Words: seductive, goblet

The lecturer had been nervous all day, wondering how and when she was going to tell them. Would they be upset? Would they cry? Would they be angry? Or worse, would they complain about her to their faculty deans and get her in trouble?

But she had to tell them; she just had to.

Probably at the end, when they had less time to....kill her.

Throughout the lesson, she had tried to act as normal as she could. Students had asked her questions about class work, she had answered. A student made a joke, she laughed, albeit a little restrained.

Finally, it was the last ten minutes of the lesson. She had to do it—now or never.

“Guys, there's something I have to tell you. It's about your test.”

The class immediately quietened, and she could see (and somehow feel) all eyes on her. Her heart began to thump again, an erratic drum beat in her ears.

“There's no easy way to say this, so...” She took a shuddering breath. Whispers began and died before her next line:

“Your writing test papers that you did last week? Well, I’d kept them in my box in the office after marking them, and I was going to return them to you next week. But when I checked my box this morning, they weren't there.” Silence.

“The problem is, I hadn't recorded your marks because I wanted to go through the paper with you and finalize the marks before recording them...and now they're all gone.”

A collective audible gasp went round the room, like a creepy wind.

“I think you'll have to re-sit test. I’m so sorry.”

Anxious questions started pouring in. “Will they be the same questions?” “Of course not, I can’t do that.” The boy looked crestfallen. “Will it be during class time?” A girl, eyes a little teary, asked.

“That’s what I needed to talk to you about. I need to find a common time slot when all of you are free, so we can do the test again. Since I still have a lot of the syllabus to cover, it’ll have to be an extra class.”

Groans. Tears. Curse words. In English and Mandarin.

“Miss, can’t we just do some lousy quiz, and you’ll give us the marks?” “Miss, just agak-agak the marks, can already lar!” “Miss, give us high marks. No need do again lar.” “Yeah, Miss.”

The lecturer looked at all the pale faces staring expectantly at her. She wringed her hands, and said, “I just wanted to say….April Fool, everyone!”

The class erupted in an uproar. “Yor, Miss, don’t do like that to us lar! Heart attack oh.” “Miss, you so bad lar. Scare us only.”

She laughed out loud, smiling. “I’m sorry, guys, I couldn’t resist. April the first only comes but once a year. Besides, it was kinda fun.”

“Not fun ler, Miss. Fun for you only lar.”

The class dismissed then, mostly relieved. And the lecturer imagined that they would be talking about the funny prank that their fun, sporting lecturer had played on them for a while.

She headed back to her department office, and decided to stop by her ‘pigeon box’ in front of the counter, waving distractedly to the administrative assistant, Belinda.

The test papers were not there. They really weren’t!

She searched high and low, turned her office room upside down, asked Belinda if she had seen anyone sniffing suspiciously around her box. Who would want to steal students’ test papers?!

They were mysteriously gone.


Good luck to her trying to explain this to her students now. Maybe, just maybe…they’ll find it funny?

Author's Note: Inspired by true events. Partially fiction.


Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Flower

by Lisa Kwan

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Unromantic (February)
 Medal words: candelabra, eccentric
She was annoyed.
Despite it being the morning, she had awoken in darkness.
She pushed herself off the bed and padded in her bare feet towards the ceiling-high windows of her bedroom, her translucent nightgown almost trailing the floor. They were still tightly shut, the windows, probably the work of some ill-informed servant—she hated them closed like that, especially in the mornings.
She pushed her tiny hands against the wooden shutters, and they creaked as they opened, as if protesting most enthusiastically. As she had suspected, it was a beautiful morning in Willow Vale. A special day. She wondered if today would be different. And a tiny part of her dared hope. It was, after all, their first anniversary.
There was plenty to do before her husband returned home. But at that very moment, her stomach growled.
“Melyra,” she said.
A young girl came beside her almost immediately. “Yes, m’lady.”
“Downstairs, m’lady. I will escort you.”

They walked silently down the winding stairs, the stone walls dark and cold and depressing. Couldn’t these stones have any other colours other than grey, grey and grey? She wished she could spruce up the place with colourful banners and silks and flowers, which she’d tried, once, while her husband was away. She lightly brushed the side of her left cheek before she tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

They finally arrived at the dining hall. The high-back chairs were neatly arranged in long rows on both sides of her as she sat at the head of the table. She imagined them all greeting her “M’lady,” splintering as they bowed like wooden lords and ladies.
Out of habit, she traced the edge of the table with her fingers, galloping stallions that ran all along the sides. As in almost all their possessions, there was some form of a horse motif, reminding anyone and everyone who her husband was.
Even before they were wed, she’d heard stories about her husband—stories of how his horses had been trained to walk through fire, swim across Red Lake and run a hundred yards in mere seconds, whose coats shone like gold. And when she had seen those magnificent beasts for the first time, she never doubted. They were creatures people would kill for. Creatures people would sell their daughters for.
There were stories about him, too. That he grew up with horses, ate and slept with them, had sexual relations with them and even fathered human-horse aberrations that became his prized horses. “You’re wedding The Centaur,” they told her. Half man, half horse.
She had seen her husband ride, flying across their fields as if one with his steed; fully man, and an admirable one at that. She knew the rumours were rumours. Her husband was only…eccentric.

Although breakfast was rich and looked appetizing, she barely touched it. Her taste buds had yet to get accustomed to the food on this side of the Red Lake. She pushed her plate away. “M’lady,” the young girl said.
She pouted. “I don’t want this.”
The young girl nodded and said no more.
Then she stood up and announced to the rest of the waiting servants, “We have plenty to prepare before my lord arrives. So let us begin.”

The rest of the day flew by as she directed the servants to clean, dust, polish, wash, and cook. Nothing but the finest linens, the smoothest silks, the softest pillows; the most tender meat, sweetest figs, the strongest wine. All the gold-plated candelabras were brought out, now sparkling. The servants lit them and more candles as the sky grew dark, arranged them on the overflowing dining table, and in their bedroom.
As she looked over the feast awaiting them in the dining hall and the entire castle lit with candles, she hoped she’d done it right. She prayed he would be pleased. Now, there was only one last thing to do.

She returned to her bedroom with Melyra wordlessly following behind her. She stripped herself of her clothes, damp with sweat. She stood before the mirror, staring at her own naked body, wide-eyed. Her budding breasts had flowered, and her hips had taken on more womanly contours. Hair had appeared on certain parts of her body, much to her dismay.
She could only imagine what doing it would be like, her knowledge of such matters only as deep as the forbidden romance novels she used to read secretly in the outhouse under the light of a dying candle as a child.
She ran her hands all along her body, from her chest, down to her belly, picturing his big strong hands, hands she had seen pull a foal out from its mother, touching every part of her. Caressing her, kissing her softly, and gently. It seemed to be full of passion, love, lust and desire. She wondered if when you made love, two really did become one. Would she be part of him, become half horse as well?
Maybe she could win his heart this way. Then maybe, he would stop.

“What are you doing, child?”
She swung around, startled, and saw her husband had returned. From where she stood, his graying hair shone almost silver. Melyra hastily excused herself and left, leaving the two alone.
“I was getting ready…for you, my lord.”
He frowned as he looked around at all the flickering candles in the room. “I am tired from the riding. We’ll speak in the morning.”
She took two tentative steps towards him, placed her shivering tiny hand on his hairy one. “I had my first bleed while you were gone,” she whispered. He stilled. She continued, “I..I thought maybe we could…” and she leaned up against him, as all her heroines had done when it begins.

He struck her hard across the face, and she reeled back, instant tears in her eyes. He grabbed her petite body and threw her on their bed, laid with the soft silks she had the servants place earlier that day. Before she could get up, he flipped her onto her front, her face buried in the pillows; but not before her face had tasted the strength of his hand several more times.
Without a word, he mounted her like he mounted his horses, and she cried out from the pain. As the tears streamed down her face, she looked up to see the horses, those damned horses galloping and frolicking gaily on their headboard.

They were all she could see.


Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Sanguine

by Lisa Kwan
Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Sanguine (January)
Bonus words: "saucepan" or "croissant"

Their march-like footsteps could be heard around the corner. We ducked into a nearby alley, hearts pounding. They trudged safely past. Any second later and they’d have caught us. I shivered. I gripped her small hand tighter.
We crept along the walls, barely daring to breathe. Her small bag of belongings swung heavily around her slight shoulders as we swiftly turned corners and darted between the shadows. I remember fleetingly wondering what she’d brought with her, knowing there was no return; if one of the contents was regret.
She suddenly pulled me back, gripped my cloak. We’d arrived at a dead end. I must have taken a wrong turn; it was too dark to see. It wasn’t the same way I’d come by. Still, I pulled her closer, and silently made way towards the main road. It was our only path out of the town.
Merely a few steps later, a guard headed in our direction, his armor reflecting tell-tale moonlight. I felt her squeeze my hand ever so slightly. We were exposed. Quickly, we slipped into one of the houses through a side doorway. I thanked the gods that these people never locked their doors.
We found ourselves in a kitchen. We stayed deep in the shadows by the doorway, watching for anymore incoming guards. She leaned back and knocked over a saucepan which clattered to the ground, a deafening sound that made my stomach shrink.
I grabbed her and we ran. Ran until our lungs felt like it was about to explode. But I heard them coming after us; first the one, then several, their shouts getting closer. They must have realized, too soon, that she was gone.
Against my better judgment, I turned back to look. The street seemed like it had been lit on fire—blazing torch flames danced and rose high to the roofs; the smell of smoke and their fury equally choking.
She tripped, and her legs just gave way beneath her. She collapsed in a heap; even so, she fell as gracefully as if she were doing a dance. As my heart sank together with her, I watched everything in slow motion. Mid-air, she smiled a sad smile, as if knowing this was goodbye.
I ran to her side, tugged her to her feet; but suddenly there were hands surrounding us, grabbing us, clutching at us. We were pulled apart, and I cried out her name. I only saw my name on her lips, noticed the cut above her eyebrow from her fall before she was taken away, disappearing into the crowd.
Several successive blows landed below my ribs, and I doubled over from the pain. My eyes teared up, clouding my vision. But as I looked up, I recognized the face—the chief of the Sanguines. Her father.
As he stood in front of me, six-feet tall and in full armor, the mob diminished to a hush. Without warning, he bent down and tore my robes at the shoulder, revealing my mark of the Earth—of a Melancholic.
“A Melancholic,” he spat. The crowd grew restless. “So it’s true,” they murmured. “The chief’s daughter and a Melancholic were together…”
I pushed myself up, albeit shakily, with the little strength I had in my arms. “Please,” I begged.
I was completely blindsided by the chief’s ensuing blow. “You know the law. All of us, be it Sanguines or Melancholics, Cholerics or Phlegmatics—we do not mix, mingle, or socialize with anyone outside of our community. It is absolutely forbidden. You know that. Yet you chose to seek out my daughter, a Sanguine.”
I wiped the blood off my mouth, my hands shaking.
“What reason on earth,” he bellowed, “—would a Melancholic have with a Sanguine, other than to spy on us and to have us destroyed?” He took a shuddering breath. “You took advantage of my daughter. You used my Zethora for your own agenda.” The murmurs rose.
Even though it wasn’t true, I kept silent. Now that I had been caught, I needed to make sure Zethora would be safe.
“Add to that the fact that you have been captured on Sanguine land. That, too, is punishable by death.”
“Please, sir. I would never hurt her or any of your peo—”
“LIES! All lies! Silence your deceitful mouth, or I shall!”
I hung my head. I thought of the day I first saw her, watching her in secret, in awe, and vowing to have her; so what if she were a hated Sanguine, and I, a Melancholic.
And I remembered growing to know her—her kindheartedness, optimism and spontaneity a stark but welcome contrast to my wariness, pessimism and rebellious nature—and eventually, inevitably, to love her. And I realized that, unlike what had been ingrained in us since birth, Sanguines were people too, with hopes and dreams, full of love and compassion.

“…and we’ll live in a small little hut surrounded by fields filled with flowers of all kinds.”
“I hate flowers.”
“It doesn’t matter. I love them. They’re beautiful.”
“You would.”

We were silent once more. I gently traced the mark of the Air on her shoulder, burned into her soft skin at birth. As was mine.
Earth and Air.
Day and Night.

“We will…could…one day. Right?”
I turned to her. Her eyes glistened. And against my better judgment, I promised.

“Now, any last words, Melancholic?”

I wish I could have held her face once more, kissed her once more. I wish I was stronger. I wish things could have been different—perhaps another time, another place.
As they dragged me away, I somehow heard her voice. Almost a whisper in my ear, “I’m coming with you.” My eyes searched the crowd for one final glimpse but could not find her.
           I prayed she was safe, that she would live on.

*Author’s note: Story inspired by the theory of the Four Temperaments.


Wednesday, December 31, 2014


by Lisa Kwan

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Bridge (December)

BRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. Brrrrrr-brrrr-brrrr.

A million tiny pins were poking me in the eyes and I just didn’t want to open them and risk…more tiny pins poking me in the eyes. But the doorbell wouldn’t stop ringing.
With much effort, I managed to sit up, eyes still shut. My head was pounding like the bass beat at the club last night playing Oppa Gangnam Style.
But it could also be the pounding on my door at the moment.
A muffled: “Dad? Daddddddd. Wake up, Dad!”
The nausea returned. Oh my god. What time was it?
I stood up too quickly and almost blacked out from the vertigo. When my vision stabilized, I realized my apartment looked like a hurricane had gone through it and left all the debris behind. I guess I’d gone a little too crazy with the boys last night after our clubbing and chicks-I-could-totally-bang session back at my place. Resigned, I went to get the door instead.
“Dad?” My ten-year-old son looked up at me, relief and annoyance mixed on his face. “Thought you were dead, or something,” he mumbled as he pushed past me towards the living room.
“I’m sorry, son. I…was sleeping.” Stars started playing hide-and-seek before my eyes. I tried to swallow the rancid stench of overnight alcohol and vomit from my breath. And at the same time, swallow that lump of shame and regret down with it.
“You were supposed to pick me up from school. You forgot,” my son accused, eyes glaring. He pushed aside some empty beer cans on the couch and cleared himself a seat.
I glanced at the small alarm clock perched atop an about-to-topple-over pile of clothes and groaned. I’d slept past two o’clock?! He’d probably had to use up his allowance for cab fare to get here, by himself. And I hated the fact that it wasn’t the first time.
My boy picked at a loose thread on the armrest of the couch, silent. I sat down contritely beside him. I felt something squish under my ass, but I didn’t care. I was really sorry.
“I’m sorry, buddy. It won’t happen again, I promise.”
He scooted further away from me, pulling harder at that loose thread. The foam underneath was already partially exposed, rotting and ugly. I had to fix it.
“Whadd’ya say we get a pizza for lunch? We’ll get anything you want, stuffed crust and all.” I nudged him with my shoulder and noticed his lips fighting the urge to smile. And I resisted the urge to do the same.
He sniffed. “You…won’t be forgiven that easily, Dad.” I pulled him into a hug, which he pretended to get out of. “I know.” I wasn’t a good enough dad; that much I knew, and that made me sick to my stomach. But it felt good to hold my son. We sat in a comfortable silence.
“I want Hawaiian Chicken with extra cheese and stuffed crust. And barbecue wings.” I laughed and got up to make the order.
“And don’t forget the onion rings!”


“So…did you have a good time?” I asked, hesitantly. I was always worried. Worried my son would one day lose those rose-tinted hero glasses through which he saw his father—and I would be left to try to put the pieces back together.
“It was fun. We had pizza.” “Oh, really?” “Yeah, with stuffed crust. Stuffed crust is the best. And chicken wings. And onion rings. Hey, that rhymes!”
“So it does!” I chuckled along with him.
“Tell me about school today.” “Ooh, Mum, today in Science we learned about frogs and did you know frogs started as tadpoles that look like little black fishies and then they grow legs? And then Mrs. Raj said…” He happily launched into his I-don’t-need-to-take-breaths telling of his school day, which I absolutely loved. Reminds of when he was little and he’d go all red in the face when he told his stories.
“Oh, yeah. Um, Mum…” “Yeah, hon?” “The new Archie comic is out.” “Uh-huh.” “I think I kinda need an advance on my allowance.”
I stopped at the traffic light and turned towards him. “Why? I thought I’d given you your allowance on Monday?” “Don’t be mad, Mum, but I…kinda already spent it.” “On what, exactly?” “I…don’t want to tell you.”
He refused to look at me, but started peeling bits of skin from the sides of his nails. My mind whirled with the possibilities that he wouldn’t tell me about. Toys? Sweets? Porn?
Or…something to do with his dad. Somehow, I knew I was right. And that made my blood boil. He’s been a jerk of a husband; that I can forgive. But not a jerk of a father to our son. I believe I’ve given him enough chances.
As the traffic light turned green again, I opened my mouth to say something about that no-good father of his. “You know wh—”
“I’m sorry, Mum. It won’t happen again. I promise.”
He looked genuinely sorry, as if he had committed the worst sin in the world. When I knew he hadn’t.
I sighed. “Tell me about your day with Dad.” He looked up then, delighted. Not even surprised by the change in topic. I stole glances at him as he regaled me with what other little misadventures he’d had with his dad that day, and I couldn’t deny how his eyes lit up. I couldn’t.
“And then Dad says, ‘But you left your head!’ and I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants, Mum, it was so funny Dad is always telling me funny jokes do you wanna hear another one, Mum? A rabbi walks into a bar…”

I looked straight ahead, comforted by the sound my son’s laughter and soothing voice as he talked on and on about his father. I guess I could give him one more chance. Just one more.