Saturday, November 2, 2019

Tap

by Lisa Kwan

***


The crying. Non-stop crying. Where is she?

Brendwyn realizes she’s in an empty room. It isn’t any room she is familiar with though; there are no walls, no windows, just nothing. But she hears the crying. Her heart is pounding, and cold sweat forms on her forehead, in her palms.

Suddenly, she sees her. She’s there, in a corner of the room, if there were a corner. A small bundle, completely wrapped in swaddling cloth, dark, unmoving.

The crying.

Brendwyn moves forward, slides to her knees beside her, absolutely terrified to pick her up. She leans in, but hesitates. She wonders why. Guilt creeps in.

The crying.

She lifts her up, and the crying intensifies. What’s wrong? She hastily unwraps the cloth from her covered face. She pulls the last of the folds of cloth free to reveal her baby...with her eyes gouged out.

She screams as she drops the bundle, and watches in paralyzed horror as long slimy dark tentacles snake out where the baby’s arms and legs should have been, and as they creep up her legs, grip her abdomen, slide around her shoulders, and clutch her neck, tightening their grip. They draw her closer, closer to face the eyeless face, its mouth now rounded in an “O”, as if surprised.

She screams.

***

Brendwyn jolted awake. Where am I? She looked around at the messy desk, the bright orange couch, the cabinet, the fake potted plant near the virtual window that was indicating a very bright morning. The large numbers on the wall showed 10:03AM.

Her body felt like it’d been crushed by an anvil, very much like the one in that old, almost ancient cartoon with the coyote--what was it called again?--and she was emerging from a similar cloud of dust. The shooting pain in the left side of her head had resumed, and she could barely move, she was so exhausted. She attempted to adjust how she was sitting, groaning.

It was then that she noticed quite a number of eyes peering at her over their virtual screens through the transparent walls, feigning ignorance, but betraying nosiness. She swiftly waved her hand, and the walls became opaque, emitting a soft glow. She bit her lip, appalled by what the others must have seen, or worse, heard.

A petite bespectacled female assistant appeared, her eyebrows in a furrow. “Ms Abedeen,” she started, but then she disappeared and instantaneously reappeared with a glass. “Have some,” she offered.

Brendwyn stared at the glass as if it were completely alien to her. Eventually, she wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand, and took the glass and drained its contents. The effervescence was both soothing and calming, and her shoulders relaxed. “Thanks, Triss.”

She nodded at Triss, gave her a small smile. “I’m...sorry, again.” She ran her hand through her hair, which felt rather oily. When was the last time she’d washed her hair? She sighed. “I’m kind of a mess.”

Triss’s smile mirrored hers. “Let’s get you ready for that meeting.”

The walls of her office lit up with her presentation, one that she’d been preparing for the past two months, ever since she came back.

As she stared at them, she felt the familiar prickling of cold sweat in her palms, at her temples. Why did these look foreign? She knew she’d been working on them all day yesterday. Or was that the day before? Was it Saturday? Monday? Wait, what day is it today?

Triss reappeared. “Everything alright, Ms Abedeen?”

Brendwyn swallowed. Swallowed hard. “Yes, everything’s fine.”

***

Brendwyn stared, her mouth slightly agape, her mind gears stuck, and painfully silent. The wall displaying the slide she was on blinked, the words blurring, as if telling her, "You're on your own, honey." She looked around at the others sitting around the conference table helplessly. In fact, a number of them looked away, embarrassed.

"Ms Abedeen? You haven't answered the question."

She opened her mouth, and closed it again. "I-I'm sorry," she managed.

Minutes later, after the haunting whoosh of the holograms disappearing, Brendwyn slumped over on the table. Mr Melvedant hadn't said much. Rather, he had been uncharacteristically civil and sympathetic, which meant she was almost certainly in deep trouble. She wasn't sure if she would come back to a job tomorrow.

Her ear buzzed. She tapped on her right ear, and sat upright, wiping off a stray tear, absentmindedly wondering if the new eyeliner she'd purchased would streak.

"Yes, Melyssa."

"Brendwyn, good morning. How was your meeting?"

"Melyssa, get straight to the point. I didn't pay for you to beat around the bush. I pay for you to take care of my house."

"Sorry. Just wanted to update you that we had a slight situation earlier in the morning. Although Aurora's fever has come down from last night, she threw up a bit just now. I managed to calm her down with some songs and music, and at the moment, she's sleeping. For now, I don't think it's necessary to call the doctor yet."

Brendwyn sighed. "I've told you before, when I'm at work, you're not to disturb me with anything unless it's really important. This is an example of something that doesn't make the top of the list, Melyssa."

Brendwyn paused. "I really don't want to have to recall you," her voice lowered.

"I understand. I just thought I'd update you."

"This didn't warrant a call," she snapped. "Next time, just send me a FaceNote. I'll listen to it when I have the time." Brendwyn tapped her ear again.

"Ms Abedeen?" Triss’s voice appeared behind her.

"What?" Brendwyn swung around to face her..

"Private holocall from Mr Melvedant."

Brendwyn closed her eyes, pressed her forehead. Inhaled. Exhaled.

"Okay, Triss. Thank you." She waved her hand, and Triss disappeared.

She adjusted her suit jacket, and sat up so straight until her back hurt. Plastering what she hoped was a confident yet apologetic smile on her face, Brendwyn tapped her ear once more.

Mr Melvedant appeared, seated opposite her, his face grim. "Mr Melvedant, first off, let me--"

But something in his face made Brendwyn stop mid-sentence. All her fire dissipated, and instead, she stared at her clasped hands before her, praying he wouldn't see them trembling.

It was the longest five seconds of her life.

"Ms Abedeen, you have been our top-achieving executive for the past four years. But I must say that your recent performance after a certain…recent development, has been rather disappointing. It is one thing to make such unacceptable mistakes within the company, but with our most important clients? Do you have any idea the damage you've done?"

"I'm sorry, Mr Melvedant, I--"

"I gave them to you because I trusted you. I thought you could handle it. But from what I've seen today, I may be very wrong."

Brendwyn's heart broke a little. And she fiercely fought the tears and sobs that were threatening to escape from her. She fought once more.

"Mr Melvedant, I assure you, I can. Today was a rare, I mean, a one-time thing. It will never happen again." Brendwyn leaned forward, locking her eyes with his, willing him to give her another chance.

His gaze faltered, and he cleared his throat. She drew a sharp breath.

"Please, Mr Melvedant. You have seen my work. You know what I'm capable of. You know I can do this, no matter what the circumstance. I'll redo the presentation. I'll speak and apologize to each of our clients today personally. I'll fix this. Not only that, I'll make sure this project will be our most profitable one yet, and by the end of the year, you'll be rolling in so much money, you'd even feel like giving half to your ex-wife." Brendwyn hoped that teeny little personal bite she'd slipped in would work in her favour--they've known each other a long time.

Mr Melvedant leaned back in his chair, and crossed his arms. He didn't blink, and neither did she.

Finally, he nodded. Her heart leapt, then sank to its knees in relief. "Thank you," she whispered. And he was gone.

"Ms Abedeen?" Brendwyn jumped out of her seat. "My God, Triss. Stop scaring me! What is it?"

"Sorry, Ms Abedeen, but Sasukinawa san is on hold for you. He…wants to speak to you about the earlier meeting."

Brendwyn looked up. Here goes, she thought.

Just as she was about to tap on her ear, her ear buzzed. She hesitated, and then tapped.

"Brendwyn, Aurora's worsened. I'd given her Acetominophen, but her fever's spiked. I've called Dr Ameella, and she highly recommends her coming in. Would you like me to transport her, or…" Melyssa drifted off.

Brendwyn sank into the chair.

"Brendwyn? You there? What would you like to do?"

Yes, indeed. What do I do?

She leaned back, looking up at the ceiling, and grunted in frustration. Resigned.

"Melyssa, I'll be there. Just give me a few minutes." She tapped her ear once, and tapped again.

"Sasukinawa san, gomen-nasai…"

***

Brendwyn sighed as she finally arrived at the familiar ash grey door with the tiny gold ladybug. She had always had an inexplicable fondness for the ladybug, but staring at it this time brought no comfort.

She stood at eye level in front of it, and the door clicked open.

"Welcome home, Brendwyn," Melyssa chimed.

Brendwyn stepped in, took off her jacket and shoes, put them on the moving belt that silently swallowed them into the recesses of her closet.

"You look like you need a hot beverage. Would you like one? We have coffee, or tea, or maybe some white pearls white tea?"

Brendwyn waved Melyssa away. She headed to the bedroom. The door slid open, and the bed rose from a platform to catch her as she fell onto it, her right arm falling over her eyes.

Something about returning home, the solace of her bed, unravelled everything she’d been holding together for so long, like a loose thread. Against her will, she sobbed, tears flowing down the sides of her face into her ears, snot filling up her nose, choking her a little. Before long, it turned into full-on howling.

Melyssa stood by, solemn.

"Brendwyn?"

"What now, Melyssa? What now?!" Brendwyn flung her arms out, and sat upright, the tears tickling warm in her ears.

Melyssa pressed her lips together. And in the background, muffled crying.

"Ugh!" Brendwyn groaned, stormed through Melyssa and out of the bedroom into a smaller, tiny room. In the middle of the room, a bare cot floated, surrounded by blue light beams.

As she soundlessly approached and moved past them, the lights disappeared. She stood there, looking down at what lay in it. There she was, crying so hard, her face scarlet. Her bawls were practically ear-piercing.

In a second, Brendwyn had picked her up and was shaking her, to which she responded by crying even louder. “Why do you never stop crying? You’re always crying! Stop crying! JUST STOP IT!”

Aurora shrieked. An alarm sounded, and red lights flashed. Melyssa appeared. “Brendwyn, put the child down. You’re acting in a very unsafe manner. The child may be harmed.” Her voice was soft but icy.

Brendwyn blinked, with Aurora still held up in mid-air. As she collapsed to the floor, Aurora fell onto her lap and rolled off onto the floor where she continued wailing. Melyssa wordlessly observed as Brendwyn pulled her knees up and sobbed into them. “I can’t do this, I can’t do this, I can’t do this…”

The alarm went dead, and the red flashes ceased. Melyssa vanished. And only the cries of a baby, and the sobs of a broken woman, were left.

***

Brendwyn awoke on the floor with her back stabbing her, and her feet numb. She had no idea how long she had been sleeping there. She got up, and found Aurora asleep beside her, her face peaceful and angelic.

She gently lifted her off the floor, tucked the corners of her swaddle in tightly, and placed her back in her cot, still sleeping. Her head throbbed. The world around her spun for a moment, and she swayed a little, held the cot to steady herself.

When the world stopped spinning, she gazed down upon her sleeping baby. There was an ache in her heart and entire body she could not describe, but she knew she had no choice. She exhaled.

She tapped the air above the cot. A screen materialized. She tapped on a few more buttons. The words in front of her felt absolutely despicable. Yet, she knew this was for the best.

RECALL THE ITEM?
YES            NO

The words flickered there for an eternity, and her finger was poised above them, uncertain.

She tapped.

ARE YOU SURE?
YES            NO

She tapped again before she could change her mind.

The portal opened up beneath Aurora as she slept, unknowing. Brendwyn only just managed to plant a soft kiss that barely touched her cheek before she was gone.

She propped her elbows up on the cot, and held her head in her hands. She didn’t even try to stop the tears, and they fell like rain on the spot where Aurora had been, still warm.

A tiny audible beep made her look up.

SEND NEW ITEM?
YES            NO

She blinked quickly, pulled the words into focus. She held her breath.

She tapped once more.



Author’s Note: Written for the Commonwealth Short Story Competition 2019, but missed the deadline (1st Nov, 11.59pm). Nevertheless, this is the first attempt at something a little futuristic, but on an issue quite close to heart.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Weekly Visits

Written for: The Writer's Tower
Theme: Euphoria


Weekly Visits
by Lisa Kwan
I walk down the hall, flanked by notice boards boasting of students that had won awards, competitions, achieved straight A’s, their faces bright, innocent. I knew he wasn’t up there, but he was as talented, smart and beautiful as any one of them. I reach the “Congratulations on coming to school!” sign, which I scoffed at, right outside his classroom, and knock on the open door.
            The teacher, Ms. Manjeet, turns around, stopped at mid-sentence, surprise on her face. I take one step into the class and nodded. She comes towards me, and I whisper into her ear. Her turn to nod. “Tobias, your father is here to take you. You can gather your things and leave with him. Check with Hannah on what you’ve missed, okay?” Tobias’ eyes were already on me, as his teacher speaks, his eyebrows high, questioning. I made sure Ms. Manjeet doesn’t see, and then I wink.
            He looks even more confused, and hesitantly turns to pack his bag behind him. In the meantime, I thank Ms. Manjeet and wait outside the classroom, and I hear her continue the class on Subject-Verb agreement. I get a sense of déjà vu, but I just crack my knuckles.
            Tobias appears beside me, slinging the other side of his backpack over his left shoulder. “Is everything okay?” His voice is a little shaky, and I feel bad for scaring the poor kid. “Let’s get to the car first,” I lightly touch his shoulder and lead him towards the car park.
            “What’s going on?” he asks again, his voice hoarse. “Have you got all your things?” I reply instead, eyes looking straight ahead, poker-faced. “Yes.” “Then, let’s go.” He is silent. A million thoughts must be running through his head. Is something wrong at home? Did someone die?
            When we are out the school gates and the sun is shining so hard on our heads that I have head sweat, I turn to him, finally ready to put him out of his misery. “Toby,” I deliberately suck in my breath. He looks up at me, wordless, his eyes a hint of panic. “I have something to tell you.”
            He flinches, steals a quick look down and then back at me, as if he had convinced himself to be brave, to face me when I break the bad news, and it had to be bad, whatever it was. I exhale.
            “We’re going to the fun fair.”
            Silence.
            “What?”
            “I’m taking you to the fun fair. You said you wanted to go for your birthday, and today’s your birthday, so I’ve pulled you out of school to go. So do you wanna go or not?”
            “B-but I thought—”
            “What did you think I was going to say?”
            “Well, I dunno, like somebody died or something.”
            “Actually, yeah.”
            “What? Who?”
            “I’m just kidding. The fun fair thing though, we’re doing that.”
            “What! Oh my God, Dad, can you stop kidding around? You’re going to give me a heart attack.”
            “You’re too young to have a heart attack. Stop being so dramatic.”
            “But, what about school? What did Mum say?”
            “Don’t worry about school. I’m a very charming person, as I’m sure you know, and I’ve got your Principal, Mrs. Kuan, eating out of the palm of my hand. And what Mum doesn’t know, won’t hurt her.”
            “Dad!”
            I ruffle his head, and throw my head back to laugh. “Come on, kiddo. Your Magnificently Fun Day Extravaganza With Dad begins now!” He sideways-glares at me, frowns as if assessing if I was kidding, then finally smirks, deciding that I wasn’t.
            “Okay. You’re buying me cotton candy. And I’m gonna beat you at every game there is. You better bring your A-game on.” I stare at him. A corner of his uniform shirt is untucked, and his Monday tie is a little askew. But his steps have become springy, as they always do when he gets a little excited, his cheeks are red from the heat, and his dimples show. He looked like he still had his whole life ahead of him, but he is merely enjoying the present moment. And I soak it all in. This is what I miss.
            I wait till he looks up at me again. I wink. “Deal.”
***
            Even though it is a weekday, there is still a crowd. Amidst the tantalizing smells of all things fried and positively sinful, starkly reminding us that it is just about lunchtime, kids are running around pulling tired-looking resigned parents behind them, squealing excitedly at this ride or that, this snack or that treat. Teenagers, mostly in twos, strolled together, hand in hand, or arms slung over each other, laughing, kissing, giggling. I guess we had more than one truant at the fun fair today.
            I reach down to take Toby’s hand, and he pulls away. “Daaaaad. Come on, I’m seven.” I am amused. “Wow, Mister I’m-A-Big-Boy. Too cool to hold your dad’s hand now?” He shrugs, and something about the way he does, each time, hits me with the realization that he is growing up, faster than I’d like; but I guess the him now is all I will have.
            His steps suddenly accelerate slightly, almost unnoticeable, but I do, and I see why—we are approaching the bumper cars, his favourite ride. He holds back, as if hesitant, clears his throat. “Hey, we’re at the bumper cars.” He nods. “Did you know that bumper cars run on electricity? They get powered through the poles that connect the back of the cars to the wire grid at the top.” Toby points to the ceiling as we arrive at the queue.
            “Really?” I act surprised.
            “Yeah. Electricity is converted to kinetic energy—that’s movement—and also, heat. And it’s based off of Newton’s third law of motion—that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” I raise my eyebrows at him. “I’ve been reading up,” he mumbles, embarrassed, and shifts his weight to his other foot. I am struck by how smart he is, how curious, how brilliant. I am in awe. He is after all, only seven.
            He is quiet, but his eyes shine, and I know he is almost impatient, a bird about to burst forth from its nest. “Let’s go,” I turn and take a few steps away from the cars. He stares after me, crestfallen. I pause and turn back to him, beam wide like an open wallet. “Daaaaaad,” he whines. I grab him into a wrestler’s embrace, squeeze him tight despite his protests. “This cool-boy attitude you’re trying to pull is so not working,” I playfully punch his face. He proceeds to deny it, but not very convincingly, as we get in line.
            “You suck, Dad,” he finally ends his rant. “Language,” I reply. “Sorry.” But I am smiling so hard.
***
The final credits of the movie scroll up and fade out to black. I glance to my right and see that my wife is asleep, and lightly snoring, her mouth open. Thankfully, she had suspected nothing, even though our little “skit” to explain how I had finished work early and picked him up for ice cream was a poor performance, to say the least. Either that or my wife was one damn good actor.
My eyes sweep over the coffee table where three pairs of feet were miraculously propped up on between the dishes from dinner earlier. Pizza and birthday cake for dessert was a roaring success, well applauded by both Toby and my wife. You can never go wrong with pizza. And who doesn’t love birthday cake? Wishes were made, copious kisses were planted on a seemingly reluctant recipient, and laughter heard throughout. The movie of choice was of course decided on by the birthday boy (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for the hundredth time) and (grudgingly) accepted by all.
And on my lap, Toby lies, where his slightly-too-long fringe covers his eyes, and a tiny bit of cream sticks to the corner of his lips. I thought to wipe it for him but didn’t for fear of waking him. My left leg is asleep, tiny pins and needles running up and down it, and I yearn to stretch, but instead, I continue staring at my son.
I think back to the day he was born, and remember thinking that nothing anyone had ever said to me then had prepared me for the arrival of my son, a little ball of angry, bawling red; the overwhelming fear and sense of responsibility that consumes you at that moment, and all moments since, the love, the joy. The anticipation of nurturing this little creature whom everyone says has my eyes, my chin, my way with words, my devilish grin, into the man he is meant to be, a man I would be proud to call mine. He is one that I am already proud to call mine.
A flash of the world spinning 360 degrees, the steering wheel, the roar of metal against metal, his screams. What is this? A glitch?
He stirs suddenly in spite of my best efforts to be completely still. He frowns, wrinkles his nose, blinks up at me, relaxes. “Hi, dad,” his voice croaky. “Hey, buddy.” We are silent for a moment, eyes and hearts connected. “Best birthday ever,” he whispers. I inhale. “I love you,” I place my hand on the top of his head, draw comfort from the warmth, try to absorb it, sear it into my memory forever. My heart is full, overflows, spills over like a waterfall over Toby, over the coffee table, filling the room. Intense joy.
Just like that, everything fades out to black, and I am hit with sudden panic, screaming inside. “No!” I shout. “No, not yet, please! Give me more time!”
My heart falls as I see the familiar white coat come into focus. I am sweating. “I’m sorry, Mr. Daniel. Your time is up,” her eyes are soft, almost apologetic. She proceeds to remove the IV lines from my wrists, the neurofeedback EEG sensor cap that feeds the images to my brain. “But I need more time,” I plead. She is a statue. “Please. I have more money.” She finally sighs. “Just…please. He is—was my son,” I grab her hands, desperate. She gently pulls away.
“We don’t recommend that our patients spend too long in one session, Mr. Daniel. Maybe at the next one? Make an appointment at the front office, and we will be waiting for you next week, okay?”
I slump into my chair, resigned. Till next week, Toby. I’ll see you again soon.

The End

© Copyright of Lisa Kwan 2018
Written 24th June, 2018



Author’s note: Written for the Writer’s Tower, for June 2018 theme: Euphoria.

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.



© COPYRIGHT LISA KWAN 2018

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.

Well.

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.


© COPYRIGHT LISA KWAN 2015

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.”
“Breakfast.”
“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.

© COPYRIGHT OF LISA KWAN 2015