Like a Prayer
By O Thiam Chin
Mrs Wong is June's next-door neighbour, who has been babysitting her since she was just a kid, though babysitting isn't a word June likes since she is now almost 13 and no longer feels like a kid, or a baby. June has always wanted to stay alone at home after school, when her mother is at work at the neighbourhood food centre or out searching for her father at the kopitiams in their estate, but her mother has flatly refused, not trusting June to take care of herself when she is not around. What if you forget to turn off the stove and gas yourself dead? What if there's a fire, and you burn yourself alive? No matter how June tried to prove to her mother that she's old enough to know what's what, her mother remained unconvinced, pig-headed. You don't trust me at all, June once railed at her mother when they fought over this. It's not that, her mother countered, screaming back, you're just too careless, you don't think at all.
So, every afternoon, coming back from school, June would knock on Mrs Wong's door and be let into her flat. As per habit, Mrs Wong would offer her a drink warm water, usually, sometimes a cup of Milo and ask June about her day. Mrs Wong is a short, fussy woman, 50-something June doesn't remember her age, though Mrs Wong had mentioned it in passing once or twice before; anyway it's impossible for her to gauge a woman's age after a certain stage, say, after fifty, when they all look practically the same to June with their greying hair, flabby cheeks, and mismatched, uninteresting attire with greasy, shoulder-length hair, smelling of burnt coconut, and perpetually squinting eyes, which hold a glint of stoic judgement, or icy mockery, in them. June doesn't like to be stared at by Mrs Wong, who likes to pass barbed comments on June's looks, how she's dressed, the way she talks. A girl won't sit like that, with her legs wide open, she would say, you want to catch flies, is it? June would smile blandly whenever Mrs Wong starts talking a blue streak, inwardly counting down the minutes it would take before Mrs Wong exhausts her supply of remarks complaints, really and switches on the TV, directing her vitriol at the old folks croaking on a singing competition variety show. What kind of singing is that, a dog can sing better than her lor, screeching like a crazy parrot? He sings like he got a whole chicken stuck in his throat, so horrible. Whenever June needs a break from Mrs Wong's tirade, she would escape to the bathroom, which reeks of Cif and faint pee and Colgate toothpaste, and sit on the toilet bowl, reading the ingredients list on bottles of shampoos and boxes of medicated soaps. Sometimes June pees and leaves it unflushed, just to get a rise out of Mrs Wong. When they are not watching TV, Mrs Wong tells June to take out her homework and work on it at the dining table, and brings her plates of kueh lapis or pandan cake, which June would devour in no time, not bothering to spare a piece for Mrs Wong, who doesn't seem to mind. Slow down, you want to choke ah, she would say, filling up June's glass with more warm water or Milo, beaming down at her with a beatific smile.
Mrs Wong lives alone, for as long as June can remember, though she knows she has a son; she has seen a few framed photos on the vanity table in her bedroom. June can barely recognise the young woman in those photos a studio shot of Mrs Wong dressed in a lacy bridal gown, or at a park wrapped in a flouncy lavender dress with a small otter-faced boy beside her with the slim figure and enigmatic kohl-rimmed eyes. Mrs Wong occasionally mentions her son, though June has never seen him before; her late husband had been dead for nearly a decade. June had gone down to attend the funeral wake at the void deck of their block with her mother when he died, and cried when she saw his portrait on the offerings table placed in front of the coffin.
The Wongs had a rough, turbulent marriage, from what June can recall, having heard their fights through the living room wall. Maybe that explained why Mrs Wong became so fervent a Christian a few months after her husband died, with the large wooden crosses she hung around the flat, one in each room, and a flashy silver one she wears around her fleshy neck. She keeps a huge large-print bible with gilt edges on her coffee table, and June would flip through it when Mrs Wong is busy in the kitchen, peeking at the Sunday service sermon notes inserted between the pages, fattening the bible to twice its size. Mrs Wong had asked June to come with her to church on many occasions, and so far, June had rejected her politely, citing her mother's staunch position as a practising Taoist and her unquestioned submission to her mother's beliefs, though June privately doesn't hold or subscribe to these beliefs or believe much in anything she can't see with her own eyes. Faith is not something you can see, Mrs Wong remarked once, it's something you feel inside jabbing her finger at her saggy left breast for emphasis and June had to restrain herself from rolling her eyes too obviously.
When June's mother is late, Mrs Wong would cook dinner and ask June to join her. Before they start eating, Mrs Wong would hold out her hand and invite June to say grace with her, which June passively concedes to, her stomach snarling with growls. Dear Lord, we thank you for the food laid before us and June's mind would slip away, conjuring up an invisible being hovering just above them, a pair of dark fiery eyes glaring down, heaving heavy breaths on the nape of their necks, and pretend to be as contrite as she can, squeezing her eyes tight, gripping Mrs Wong's hand. After the first few times, June got the hang of the kind of words that are used for such a prayer, and would parrot the right phrases to herself when she's in school though she keeps her eyes open then having her meals during recess, just for the fun of it.
When June's mother comes to take her home, June would stand by Mrs Wong's side at the front door with her school bag, and study her mother's expressions and gestures to determine her current mood. Beneath her mother's tired smile and tepid greeting, June can always sense something turbulent, unsettling, passing under the surface, like a deep-sea creature swimming crosscurrent, its wavering shadow glimpsed through the shaded light of the water. It's there, contained and barely visible, and June often wonders whether it would ever surface or break forth, but her mother is never one to display her emotions before others, let alone strangers. Even at home, when her parents start to fight, it is her mother who would drag her father into their bedroom, lock the door and whisper her threats in low rumbles of rage, her voice deliberately subdued. When her mother talks to Mrs Wong, June notices, she would use her 'outside voice' June's term, coined when she was nine, when she knew how to differentiate the nature and quality of her mother's voices, and there are quite a few she possesses which is clear, crisp and unnaturally bright, the human equivalent of a raven's shrill call. It's not a voice that June likes or trusts; it's too made-up, like the rehearsed dialogue of the Chinese drama serials that her mother likes to watch every night. Still, June would watch and listen as they talk, usually for a minute or two, quietly absorbing the conversation, picking up a phrase here and there to keep and, if necessary, to put into use later. Before they leave, her mother would nudge June to remind her of her manners, who would quickly echo a shiny thank-you to Mrs Wong, doing her best to imitate her mother's.
When she gets home, June would usually find her father slumped over on the living room sofa and quietly head to her bedroom, not wanting to rouse her father from his drunken stupor. Her father would sometimes surprise her, stopping her in her tracks in a moment of hazy sobriety, and ask her about her day. Instead of ignoring him, June would nail herself to the spot and attempt to summarise her day in two or three quick sentences, just enough to satisfy her father before he lets her go.
Later, back in her room, June would lie on her bed, her senses keenly attuned to the movements of her mother in the kitchen, banging pots on the stove, the kitchen tap gushing at full blast. In her daydreams, she often imagines her parents divorced, and she being made to choose between which parent she wants to stay with. She would play out the different scenarios in her head where she will live, who will give her a bigger allowance, how late she can stay out and in her mind, it's always her father whom she would choose, knowing that he would grant her more freedom, which her mother is forever curbing. Sometimes, June imagines not staying with either, but would instead choose Mrs Wong, and amuse herself at the absurdity of living with her neighbour, whose strange, calculative ways are a complete bafflement to June. Will she make a good daughter for Mrs Wong, June wonders, and what kind of a daughter will that be? Will she be made to go to church with her every Sunday, and attend bible study classes? Will she be taught how to pray, and what prayers at that? June has prayed, on occasions, though not in the way she has seen Mrs Wong pray, with her grave, solemn words, always directed to God whom June associates with a pale half-naked Caucasian man hanging from a crucifix, ladder of ribs on his abdomen, his loincloth barely covering his groin always muttered in a penitent, placating tone; no, for June, her prayers are often a quick rambling of requests and pleas and ravings that she directs inwards, into a part of her that is like a deep cave, where it's quiet and dark and comforting, and in the sounds her prayers made in that infinite hollow she can hear a tiny voice that speaks to her, reassuring her with its soft, tender reverberations. Perhaps, June assumes, prayers are like the secret conversations a part of you have with another, each trying to commiserate with the other, each checking in to make sure the other's still okay. June has never told anyonenot her friends in school, and definitely not her parents about her prayers, since she has no desire to share any of her secret thoughts, lest they laugh at her antics as something childish, an attention-seeking gesture.
When her mother is done with all the banging and washing, and is ready to settle down for the night, she would summon June to the kitchen and ask her to sit down for supper. June's mother works as a cleaner at a food centre in the estate where they live, and often brings home bags of leftovers, given to her by the hawkers who work there, food that are no longer fresh or that the hawkers wanted to throw out. Indian rojak, fried carrot cake, fried bee hoon with pieces of shriveled luncheon meat. June used to enjoy these leftovers when she was younger "they can still be eaten, so why waste them," her mother said but lately she has been avoiding eating too much, after noticing that she has put on more weight than usual. Her classmates have been teasing her, pinching her arms and waist, and June is quick to dismiss these taunts as harmless jesting, not wanting them to hurt her more than she allows. She has taken to skipping her recess and lunch in school, sticking to her diet of water and green apples, and whenever she feels light-headed or nauseous, she would pop a mint or lozenge. A few times, when her mother was showering in the bathroom and her father was out drinking, June would sneak into their bedroom and strip before the full-length mirror on the inside of their wardrobe there is only one such mirror at home examining her body from chest to calves she avoided her own eyes, for she didn't like how they were always judging her with contempt, even cruelty noting the thick fleshiness of her expanding hips, the pointy nubs of her tiny breasts, the pudginess of her thighs. She would turn and study her body from different angles, pinching herself at the spots that were troubling her, smoothening out the excessive flesh with her hands, sucking in her unsightly belly. There is nothing she likes about her body, yet June cannot stop fussing over it, her curiosity and fascination sustained only by her own disgust.
Still, June would join her mother at the dining table and peck distractedly at the food placed in front of her. Her mother, like her father, would ask about her day. Again, June would offer up the same tired replies, though occasionally she would add in more details when she sees fit. Sometimes, when her mother brings up Mrs Wong, June would tell her what she has observed that day "she spits bits of food and saliva at me when she talks too fast" to the point of telling small lies "she farts when she watches TV, long stinky ones she thinks no one can smell", "she likes to roll her nose shit into tiny balls with her fingers and flick them away" to embellish her tales. Her mother would laugh at these stories, mildly chiding June for being rude and uncouth, but she doesn't stop her from telling them. After June is done eating, her mother would pack away the leftovers of the leftovers, June muses in plastic boxes and put them away in the fridge, barely touching them her mother has always had a light appetite, and June rarely sees her mother eat anything besides a cup of black coffee and a packet of cream crackers. Their fridge is crammed with stacks of plastic and styrofoam boxes, and it is not uncommon for her mother to throw away food that is beyond savaging after several weeks, when they start sprouting white fur of mould or have become grey misshapen lumps. We still waste food what, like nobody's business, June would grumble inwardly, though she never says this out loud.
It is usually at the end of their suppers that June would begin to dread what is coming. Her mother handing her a mug of hot jasmine or chrysanthemum tea and telling her to take it to her father, reminding her to make sure he drinks it all up. June would hold the mug gingerly by the handle, stand before her snoring father, and gently call out. When he doesn't rouse or stir, June would brush her foot against his. Then awakened briefly, June would thrust the mug at his face and hold it out till his father reaches up to take it, occasionally spilling some of the tea on his lap or chest, causing him to wince and mumble a weak chee bye. June would stay and wait for her father to finish the drink, which he rarely does; once or twice, June got so fed up with her father falling asleep while drinking that she snatched the mug out of his trembling hands and poured the rest of the tea into a potted poinsettia plant beside the sofa. But when June is in a better or different mood, she would sit down on the sofa and peer at the shrunken profile of her father, not really minding the sour alcoholic fumes that emanate from his bloated body, noting the hue of cherry-pink blooming over his chest, creeping up his neck and spreading across his face, deepening into a fiery crimson along the curves of his ears. The deep creases of his jaw as they slope to a sharp, unshaven chin. June often wonders at the parts of her father that she has been told she closely resembled, and questions the veracity of these pronouncements, doubting the similarities. I'm not my father, she thinks, I'll never be like him.
If she has dared to admit to herself, June much prefers her father in a drunken, dazed state than when he's sober and sad. Like a child forced into obedience, her father would take slow, laboured sips of the tea and mumble something unintelligible a loan someone, a chee bye gia, owed him, or his hong kan boss who gives him so much work, always asking him to make more deliveries than his other colleagues. June's father works as a deliveryman for a chain household furniture store, a job he despises intensely, though he has kept at it for close to a decade after being laid off from his previous job, as a deliveryman for a now-defunct coffee-bean/powder supplier. Nearly every piece of furniture in their flat was bought at an employee's discount from the furniture store or gotten very cheaply due to damages and defects, which were improved upon subsequently by her father. A plastic sheet to cover the fissures across the surface of June's study desk, a thin wedge of wood glued to an uneven leg of the kitchen table, an extra coat of paint to mask the deep scratches of a bedside cabinet. Her father was always pleased with the results of these repairs, taking to these tasks with a zeal and enthusiasm that had seemed excessive, even maniacal, to June.
When she notices the tea has gone cold or that her father has again fallen asleep, June would take the mug out of his loose grip and wash it at the kitchen sink. Then she would return to the living room and switch off the lights, leaving her father alone on the sofa, her mother having retired to the bedroom long ago, not bothering to check on him. From behind her closed bedroom door, June can hear the sonorous roars of his father's snores starting up, like the slow grinding of metal gears. She would stick in the earpieces of her Samsung Galaxy, scanning YouTube for a fast, loud song.
In the mornings, when June comes out of her bedroom, she would find her father already awake, in the kitchen, having breakfast, getting ready for work. He would look up from the dining table and get up to make Milo for June. He is always remorseful and sheepish in the morning after a night of heavy drinking, posing solicitous questions to June and, from time to time, giving June a five- or ten-dollar note. He would quietly put it under the loaf of white bread or a plate, which June would slip into the pocket of her school uniform just before she leaves the kitchen, when her father is not looking. Back in her bedroom to pick up her schoolbag, June would take out the black NIV bible, a present that Mrs Wong had given her for her birthday two years ago, from the bookshelf and slot the money between the pages. On Sundays, after locking her bedroom door, June would straighten out these notes with a hot iron, until they look as crisp as new ones, the creases gone, the corners sharpened. She doesn't spend any of these extra allowances, or put them into the piggy bank she has had since young, an old battered Doraemon. She would smell the freshly-ironed notes and place them back neatly into the bible, one note between two sheaf-thin pages. She has started at the New Testament, and is gradually working her way through the gospel of Mark. Come Christmas, June will have enough to upgrade her phone to an iPhone finally, the latest 11 Pro model.
In school, June doesn't talk about her family with her classmates or teachers. What can she possibly tell them anyway? That her mother is a cleaner at a food centre, and that she now avoids the place if she can, backing out of meals with her friends if she knows they are heading there, even though when she was in primary school, her mother would bring her along when she worked her shifts and June would spend her time there, happily, guilelessly, in the washing-and-rest area with the other cleaner-aunties who would share their afternoon snacks of you-tiao, goreng pisang or kueh tutu with her? That when she wandered from stall to stall then, the stall-owners would recognise her "that's ah pui's gia lah" and give her handouts of satay bee hoon or cheng tng which she would accept unabashedly? That she would tag alongside her mother on her cleaning rounds and help to clear the dirty plates and bowls and utensils from the tables, until the cleaning supervisor received a complaint and forbade June from doing so? That she only started feeling awkward a new feeling creeping into her that she couldn't, or perhaps didn't want to, identify until it hit her right in the heart: shame when she entered her first year of secondary school? That she noticed the looks that were thrown at her mother, scraps of pity and annoyance worse still, indifference that the latter never seemed to notice, or pay much heed to, though they cut June like hot little blades? That she flinched each time she overheard a parent yelling at a kid, if you don't want to study, then you want to become a cleaner, is it? It's so much easier if she doesn't mention any of these to anyone, and if nobody knows, then it will not matter at all.
Yet, Mrs Wong knows, June can sense, even if everyone else doesn't. She must have seen and heard much of the fights that took place just next door to her. The walls are porous after all. And Mrs Wong is not one to keep mum about anything, often bringing up needling questions that seek to pry more information from June, masking her nosiness with choice words like "concerns" or "worries." Mrs Wong is relentless in her questioning, and at times June feels like a criminal placing under a hot glaring light, interrogated for some crime she has not yet committed. Quite often, despite her best efforts to say nothing, June would yield up some sort of a reply, a half-truth or a white lie, to get Mrs Wong off her back. And whenever Mrs Wong hears something she doesn't like, she would flare her nose and, unconsciously, fish the cross necklace out of her blouse and rub it between her thumb and forefinger, as if she is trying to invoke a genie out of the metal. Sometimes, if June says something recklessly untrue, like how her father would slap her mother if she nags too much which he has never done before, though he did shove her once, purely out of annoyance rather than rage or malice Mrs Wong would ask on the spot, after clucking her tongue repeatedly, to pray for June and her family, and, without waiting for June's response, would grip both her hands and start rattling off a long, emotionally-charged prayer that often results, June notices, in beads of tears coagulating near the corners of Mrs Wong's eyes. When Mrs Wong is ready to end her prayer, June would time it just right to synch her amen with hers. And after this brash display of pity and kindness, Mrs Wong would smile triumphantly at June, her hand on June's head, and say: "God will take care of you and watch over your family, okay? You only need to believe." Then she would get up and go into the kitchen to fix a snack for June, a larger than usual piece of kueh lapis or pandan chiffon cake that June would only take a few perfunctory bites. And while Mrs Wong is in the kitchen, June would pinch herself on the arm to stop from laughing out loud.
June has never really had much of an issue with her father. Yes, she knows he drinks more than he can hold, and that he is, these days, more often drunk than sober when she sees him at home, but she knows her father still dotes on her. At least her father is around, unlike some of her classmates'. One has a dead father, prostate cancer, and another is constantly getting beaten by her father for nothing; the latter had shown June the bruises on her upper arms and thighs, rust-orange cores fanning out to blunt-edged purples, that reminded June of the colours of the lights in the sky at dusk. She had tried to give herself a bruise shortly after, to create the same effect, but all she did was reddened her skin and made herself feel frustrated for not being able to endure the pain beyond a certain point. You're so weak, she thought, you can't even take a little pain. June had tried to recall the last time she was beaten by her parents, and the only clear incident she could remember, from when she was eight years old, was when she had toppled a flower vase in a spate of tantrum and her mother had slapped her calves a few times. Her mother is the one who metes out the punishment, while her father goes for the soft approach, and June is quick to be aware of what she should do or behave in the presence of one or the other. June has always prided herself for knowing the right thing to do in any situation, whether she likes it or not.
The first time June's mother had gone out to look for her father at the kopitiams in the estate, she had taken June along. June was nine then. She was the one who had spotted her father at the fifth kopitiam they searched, drinking alone in a corner. When they approached him, June could see a wave of expressions sweeping across her father's flushed face, and felt a sting, painful and unfamiliar, nipping her insides, causing her to swell with something akin to humiliation as if she had just caught her father doing something bad or illegal. Her mother had sat herself down on a plastic chair in front of her father, silent and solemn, not saying a word, while June stood close to her, lowering her face to her feet. When her mother finally spoke, in a suppressed chilly tone have you had enough? June looked up, swinging her stare from her father to her mother, unable to decipher the meanings behind her parents' contest of stares. Her father drank the last dregs of the beer, got up, wobbling just for a second, and walked away. June and her mother trailed closely after him, as if they were on a leash. Since then, June had found excuses not to follow her mother on these searches, citing homework and sudden ailments and, recently, her periods, and in return, her mother had sent her to Mrs Wong's after making a quick phone call, not wanting to leave her alone at home I don't know what you'll get up to at home by yourself. And between the shame of catching out her own father and the indignation of being babysat by Mrs Wong, June has much preferred the latter; at least she can bear with the faux, facile kindness of the silly old woman.
Whenever Mrs Wong raises the topic of June's father, she would inevitably also mention her late husband whom, it seems to June, is still constantly present in her life, summoned into any conversation when some sort of comparison between men, say, June's father, is required. "At least he didn't drink or smoke, like some of them," "he'd come back home on time, and not stay out doing God knows what." June pretends not to pay Mrs Wong's comments any mind, but inwardly she would rage, burning like a hot red coal. At least he is dead and not listening to all your stupid nonsense, I think he would rather kill himself than spend one more day with you, you dumb shit, June thinks. Sometimes, June would overhear Mrs Wong mumbling in the kitchen and briefly catch the tail-end of a private conversation, they won't change, Seng, I already told you. On days when June can't endure Mrs Wong's incessant grousing, she would pick up a pen and stab it repeatedly on the surface of the latter's coffee table or inside the huge black bible, careful to arrange the table cloth over the fresh pockmarks and smooth out the tiny holes she had made on the pages. Once, after complaining to her mother about Mrs Wong over their supper, June had asked her why she had borne with Mrs Wong, knowing the kind of person she was, and her mother had said, "She's just lonely lah, harmless, but she's kind." Kind, are you crazy? June had wanted to scream then, the word's just about the last thing she would use to describe Mrs Wong.
The few times her father had crossed paths with Mrs Wong, and June was there to witness them, she had felt extreme discomfort on behalf of her father, though she noticed that he didn't seem to exhibit any unease towards Mrs Wong. He merely nodded his head and exchanged a few pleasantries with her, which she responded in similar fashion, with politeness and simple courtesy. When June tried to tear down this fake image of Mrs Wong with her father later on, by telling him some of the things she had said, her father had shushed her up and told June that she shouldn't talk bad about people if she knew nothing about their lives, that she didn't know how bad Mrs Wong's life had been, being a widow for so many years and having a son who only came around when he needed money. But I know that, and I also know she's a hypocrite, June said in return, which only earned a look of cold silence from her father.
One afternoon, June comes back earlier than usual from school, after her band practice is cancelled. As instructed by her mother, she is to head to Mrs Wong's and not hang out with her classmates. Remember to call me when you're at her place, her mother reminded her over breakfast in the morning. Coming to her block, June decides to skip the lifts, too impatient to wait for one, and takes to the stairs. Climbing the flight of steps leading up to the fourth floor, she hears a sudden rustle of movement and noise. Glancing up, she sees a man sitting in the middle of the stairs, blocking her path, glaring at her with a vexed expression. She lets out a tiny yip of surprise. The man has stopped in the middle of something, and in the split second that June takes to absorb the whole scene before her, she feels her skin tightening around the frame of her body. The man's right hand starts to move again in a spasm of jerks, and what June initially thought is the end of a belt jutting out of the man's jeans turns out to be a piece of engorged flesh sticking out of his open fly, the large bulbous head of a cock, purple and glistening, and the first image that rushes to June's mind is the shiny heavy end of a brinjal. For a long moment, June stares at the man, motionless, her mind grinding to a blank. A leer appears on the man's lips, and stretching out his hand, he gestures to June, as if beseeching her to give him a lift to get him off the steps.
You want to touch this? A voice, low and raspy, seeps into the air, followed by a burst of laughter.
And with that, the man starts to pump hard, slowly getting to his feet, making as if he is coming down the steps and coming for June. June takes a step back, her body moving independently of her thoughts, her heart in her tight throat, beating hellishly, the man seeming to tower over her, his long shadow reaching out to swallow every part of her.
Just as she is about to turn and run, June hears a loud grunt coming from the man and, from the corner of her eye, she sees something spurting out of the man's tight fist a magician's trick, long white strings, like party streamers and feels a few blobs of it landing on her blue school pinafore. June quivers back to life and floats down the stairs as if in a trance, her body light and immensely heavy at the same time.
For the next hour, June creeps from one block of flats to another, like a fugitive, unable to stand still, her mind a reel of endless replays. Her fear, like a thick impenetrable fog, wraps its folds around her, and she finds herself unable to shake off the thought that the man is constantly at her back, close on her heels. And when she feels she cannot take another step, June collapses on a bench beside a playground, her hands gripping the damp straps of her heavy schoolbag. She closes her eyes and gives herself over to a long and pleading prayer, using every word she has ever heard Mrs Wong used, invoking their powers of protection and refuge and calm. When she breaks from her frenzied prayer, June surveys her surroundings timidly. There's no one around, the man is gone. She glances at the dried-up crusts on her pinafore and tries to scratch them away with her fingers, but only leaves behind a powdery smudge. When she finally regains her composure, June begins to make her way home.
Vacantly, she walks up to her flat and stands for a while, staring long and hard at the closed door, before realising her blunder. She then walks over to Mrs Wong's flat, and looks into the dimly lit interior of the living room. Mrs Wong bolts up from where she is seated on the sofa and rushes to the metal gate, her exasperated face shaded with irritation.
Where have you been? Your mother called me some time ago and told me you should be home by now. Where did you go? What did you do? Mrs Wong snaps, throwing open the gate, glaring at June. And then, sensing something odd in June's expression, she bends towards June, a hand on her shoulder, her tone softening.
What's wrong, dear? You okay?
June can feel the sharp frizzle of emotions rising up from a bright molten core inside her, bubbling under the raw worn edges of her skin, and before she can do anything to hold it back, before she can let loose the feelings that are dammed behind what has happened to her, not just from what the man did but from what she has endured for so long her mother's incessant nagging, her father's drinking, her classmates' cruel taunts, her fat ugly body, her dumb ugly face, her plainness, her stupidity, the injustice and unfairness of everything in her life before she can throw her arms up and howl at the indignity of having to be babysat at her age so insufferable! June parries away Mrs Wong's other hand with a quick swipe as it comes towards her face.
Don't touch me, you fucking bitch!QLRS Vol. 21 No. 2 Apr 2022
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