By Ng Shing Yi
you came to me in a frenzy, an enigma ready for unraveling, a song of the sirens. and I without a mast.
you coiled, fastened and receded, whispering that you were always cold. I'd declared that you released me. and you did – you broke me from the routine, taught me that the world could be whittled to a space for two. I thought your soul was old, as old as mine, even if in that pinafore you looked like a doe-eyed lolita...
but now I watch Sue sleep. we’ve pulled up by the expressway, and the cars race past us. towards night shifts at empty offices, waiting dinners, the intoxication of neon strips, lovers nostalgic from the day spent away from each other. Sue and I, by the road, watching life rush by. rather, I watch, she sleeps.
her eyelashes are sooty and wet against her cheek… she looks old and her mouth is pale and creased from crying. did I tell you? on christmas day we sat silently apart before the tv. then she put dinner on the table. later she placed the leftovers in the fridge for sandwiches and stew. at the time I resented eating turkey for a week. now I realize.
it’s a minor epiphany, really.
she’s a fulcrum. something I can count on. faith, inertia, a promise, call it what you will.
do you know what she said to me in the car? quietly, “You know you are free to do anything you want. I can't hold you back.”
but a promise holds me back with this woman who stays.
I'm not coming to you this time. give me my freedom Meg. your love enslaves me to a fickle child.
He could always write, Meg thought. Trying not to gasp, she closed her eyes and willed the dyspnea away. Seconds later, she walked over to the ledge on the roof and sat with her knees together, cold. She contemplated for a while, then took her shoes off. Her feet got colder.
He could always write. What was that first email he had sent?
...from the packet rice on my desk and the clock that says 1:56, lunchtime’s nearly over… distracted from the workday… my sleep last night was distracted with dreams…
it’s only been a day, I know, but there you are, incessantly in my mind. I think of the way you move across a room towards me and smile… how you dance without looking at me, eyes closed… I am going through the motions of the day, but all I know is that I've left life behind last night, somewhere in the spaces between your fingers, or lost among your hair...
Something along those lines, he had written. Confectionery words, Meg mused. She looked at his name she had etched into the figurine with her fingernail. It seemed like something appropriate to do in such a situation. The figurine of an angel was a Christmas gift from the top of his tree. “You angel,” she had said then into his ear, while pensively nibbling it.
The angel's sweet face currently looked very small and very distant.
“Hardly,” she said aloud. Giving the bagatelle a kiss, she prepared to cast it over the ledge, but changed her mind. The trinket could go into a shoebox of memorabilia, and she could write poems addressed to it.
“We don't need an old fart to ruin the idea of romance do we?” she said affectionately, tucking the toy into her pocket. She was the kind of girl to talk to herself.
Going downstairs into the warmth of her room, she composed a reply in her head. After all, she thought, John wasn’t the only one capable of dramatic turns of phrases.
john, my sweet...
U will regret this. I promise. meg.
Sue snapped awake to find herself in a parking lot. John's arm was hoisting her up, half-dragging, half-carrying her towards a block of flats. Her first thought was that he had tried to kill her, thereby removing the banal impediment to the sort of epic romance he and Schoolgirl Meg must undoubtedly believe of their relationship.
But then it was a familiar block of flats. As soon as her vision facilitated it, she saw that it was the home she and John had to apply for two years in advance, while the marriage proposal hung unspoken between them like a cobweb.
“You could have woken me up you know.” This was uttered in an irate and pragmatic rasp. She knew that this was not the response he was hoping for.
In the elevator, tension developed to an intolerable intensity. She decided to ignore it by reading, very carefully and several times over, the notice of elevator certification next to her.
“I have decided to leave Meg,” he declared in the living room when they had reached the apartment. He was poised before her like an orator.
She said nothing. Suddenly weary, she stood up, and smacked her way to the bedroom, fending off the mockery of words like “farce” and “platitude.”
“Dinner’s in the fridge. It’s been a long day. I’m going to bed.”
He sprung up like a jack in the box. “I love you.”
She closed the door to her bedroom, resolutely. Oh jack. Go write a novel.
I guess I’m the last person you’ll want to talk to. This is Sue. I’m sorry it had to turn out like this. I guess you were genuinely hoping for someone you could talk to and understand. In a place like this, all anyone wants is a little sanity –
It was all painfully cliched, so Sue switched the computer off and decided to call the girl instead. A human voice, spontaneous, was necessary, instead of a composition of pre-selected words.
The phone rang only twice before it was picked up.
“John?” Meg’s voice was muffled.
“I just wanted to let you know. This is Sue. I hope you’re not hurting too much. John is a child, a real goner for drama and passion. You may think he’s everything at the moment, but trust me, there will be men who enjoy the poetry of Anne Sexton. They may even be unmarried.”
Meg could not keep the bitterness out of her reply. “Are you acting all maternal and sarcastic now that you’ve won?”
Sue sighed. Winning, losing. All these expected scripts of how dramatic situations should be carried out were interfering with genuine human intercourse. The schoolgirl probably could not envision her face without Triumphant Wife written all over it.
“He does not love you.” Sullenly, Meg tried for insecurity.
“Ah the universal fear. You’re a bright girl. You take drama lessons and make distinctions between living and existing. For instance, I exist and you live. Or, John lives with you and exists as my husband.
“Do you know what he’s doing? He’s eating turkey sandwiches cold from the fridge. Perhaps he will change his mind about staying with me.
“You see I think love is a play already pre-written. Lovers are not required to contribute much input, though they are allowed to play director, casting director, stage manager and actor all at once. I only want to take a pair of scissors and cut off the strings jerking us around.” Sue was surprised; she rarely expounded. It was one of the things she left to John.
“You do not love him,” Meg said.
Sue had to wonder at that. There must have been a great deal of affection in order for her to promise the rest of her life to him. Sometimes when he fell asleep reading in bed, she removed his glasses, turned on a soft lamp, and watched how the light fell on his face. But in the mornings after, they would have to speak to each other, and sometimes even listen.
How convinced he was of his own heroism, just as this girl was of hers, she thought. It was difficult to be heroic after the cynicism of knowing an idealist too well for too many years. Let them try if they wished.
“Another thing. I’ve decided to leave John,” Sue said.
This would surely upset his notions of a romantic, dramatically just ending.
QLRS Vol. 1 No. 1 Oct 2001