Amber Issue 1 - Feb 21

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ISSUE 01 | February 2021


Wen-yi Lee | Kimberley Chia | Christian Yeo

Cover & Title Art

Yasha Lai

This collection copyright © Amber: The Teenage Chapbook

Individual works © respective authors


Except for the purpose of individual consumption, criticism or review, no part

of this issue may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior

permission of the copyright holders.

Amber: The Teenage Chapbook publishes fiction, poetry, and creative non-fiction

by teens in Singapore. For more information, visit amberchapbook.wordpress.com.

Editor-in-Chief: Wen-yi Lee

Instagram: amberchapbook | Facebook: Amber: The Teenage Chapbook



Foreword ...................................................4

sunday morning | Soh Yong Xiang ................................5

Cloud Nine | Liang Li Yee ......................................6

SUNRISE. | rochelle lee .........................................7

EATING WELL. | rochelle lee ...................................8

the terracotta warriors | Shaun Loh ...............................9

i hoard stones in glass houses. | riel ..............................10

Acceptance | Alice Shen ........................................12

A Student’s Guide to Gravity | Gabrielle Kurniawan ..................13

first hunger | Emmy Kwan ......................................24

the merlion | Kirtan Savith Kumar ................................25

kintsugi | Athena .............................................26

of emotional explosions and compulsions; | claire lee ................27

instructions for self-destruction | Chua, Richelle Aubrey Ang ...........28

a eulogy for my living father | Chua, Richelle Aubrey Ang ..............29

The Stump | Tristan Tan .......................................30

The Times We Shared | Khoo Yi Xuan ............................31

funerals | Emmy Kwan .........................................37

3 a.m. | Silvia Suseno ...........................................38

walking, unmoored. | Tang Sumi .................................39

acceptance. | Tang Sumi ........................................40

heart’s content | riel ...........................................41

—sunset on venus— | Tang Sumi ................................42

it’s hard to keep a white dress clean | rui ho ........................43

kindness sown among the meek is harvested in crisis | rui ho ..........44

Today Is A Good Day To Die | Isabelle Lim ........................45

Contributors .................................................56



The three of us all met at separate times, but two out of three of those initial encounters

were at MOE’s Creative Arts Programme, one of the few venues specifically catering

to and bringing together teenage writers in Singapore. It’s been a few years since then,

but not quite so long that we don’t remember what writing as a teenager was like. Messy,

sure, but also unapologetic, unfiltered, and real. Writing was something we clung onto

then (and now) to navigate complicated feelings, but there weren’t many opportunities to

connect with other people who did the same.

So during last year’s circuit breaker we set out to create a platform specifically dedicated

to spotlighting the young local voices, and the result was Amber: traffic-light ambiguity,

a preserving snapshot of life, the colour of EZ Links and MRT gantry lights. We didn’t

quite know where to start—we’d all been on the submitting end of journals, but never

at the helm of one—and we spent the first couple weeks of our submission window

worrying we weren’t going to get enough submissions to fill an issue. But they were

unfounded fears, in the end; we were spoilt for choice, and overwhelmingly grateful that

so many young writers had decided to trust us with their work.

And so, we present the inaugural issue of Amber. This Teenage Chapbook features

eighteen Singaporean writers aged fifteen to nineteen. Wander through the city with

churning thoughts in rochelle lee’s “SUNRISE.” and Tang Sumi’s “walking, unmoored.”.

Explore facets of loss in Isabelle Lim’s “Today Is A Good Day To Die”, Emmy Kwan’s

“funerals” and Khoo Yi Xuan’s “The Times We Shared”. From streetsides to dusty plains,

dining tables to laundrettes, classrooms to confessionals, these twenty-five pieces are a

journey of fierce, turbulent emotion. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.


Wen-yi, Kimberley, and Christian


sunday morning

Soh Yong Xiang

if the rain keeps us inside, or my will

doesn’t last past the main door

then it is quite enough that the taste of the previous

batch of grapefruit seeps into the puer, in the teapot

and that the lights split me into two

silhouettes in the kitchen ceramic

which i have noticed again and again

for years, and will continue to notice

for years to come, and that my parents have a new hobby

and cannot stop outfitting the home with furniture,

gadgets and trinkets and such, and really (bravely!)

our house has become a chimera that never looks back

because one doesn’t have to wear the past

like a stuffy jacket, or carry it as a stone

of something to be fulfilled, and that if you pay attention

that nameless neighbour has really improved at the piano

and it is quite enough to be a stranger as long

as they keep playing, which they will


Cloud Nine

Liang Li Yee

you wait for your turn

to ascend into fairyland

to reach far and high

without the danger of white in the nigh

two hands on deck

wrapped around your neck

a little squeeze is all it takes

for the rush of things

to take place

your body screams to breathe

‘not so soon’

a moment longer is all you need

just a little more

to savour the feel of bliss

to savour…

to live

to breathe

you feel light enough to fly, gone is the sad

the air buzzes behind your back

to make things great

they all record

like it’s a spin

if only for a moment

until its permanence ceases



rochelle lee

with every sunrise, you leave a sunset behind.

It is too early for the stars to start sleeping,

for the washed-out watercolours in the sky

to start counting the weight of the world

on their fingertips. Restlessly they splash against

my shoes, like silk and blade. Trailing my

steps, ghost shadows reminding me

of the evening that once bloomed here,

watering the ground with calm.

The streetlamps blink slowly, stretching, yawning

at the lightless skyline. Whispered secrets start to

drain empty into the day’s promised bustle. Sun

pours out of the iconic dragon’s mouth like fire,

soaks the playground in gold grime. The 4 a.m.

conversations go smudged then, half-memorized on the

edge of my tongue. It’s all dawning on me now, lightheaded

and slow-burning. A moon; trying so hard to

wade through the tired water and come out still feeling.

I am laughing to drown out the after-party emptiness

sinking in my chest, the people who have gone; looking

up numbly and thinking oh. The sun is up. This was the

beginning of our ending — when we tried to run

our fingers through a pale flush of stars, still dreaming, and our

hands crumbled with the last of the hourglass. The clean wash of

nirvana was too high, too quiet; dripping so it felt that

on the way here we had long left something behind.



rochelle lee

Her love is steamed buns for breakfast, cradling tender bits of pork

and hard-boiled yolks like open, blossoming hands; her love is a slippery

bag of noodles, half-bathing in ketchup and sweat, soup stinging of salt;

her love is sensing the heaviness of that hour between 3 and 4p.m. and

saying nothing but are you hungry? are you hungry? Her love is an

afternoon snack, a chunk of pandan cake, the last slice of French toast

from this morning, an egg tart pressing flakes of pastry onto sticky fingers;

her love is giving you an afternoon snack but telling you to ease up, dinner

time will be in half an hour — she’ll call you when it’s ready. Her love is

too many dishes to fit on the table; her love is digging into the fish with

her fingernails for the good crispy bits; her love is a steaming bowl of sickly

bitterness, liquids brewed long and hard with red dates and roots and herbs

that’re good for you, they really are, drink up and don’t you dare leave a drop.

Her love is calling for you to leave your plate, she’ll clear it; her love is the

cracked, spoilt-gold light of the dining room, the air softening and sinking

as the steam from the plates settle into our spoons. Her love is the cloying

flavour of oil and grease, the aftertaste of soya sauce closing up the back of

your mouth for the day. Her love is handing you a bowl of jade-polished

grapes and telling you they’ve already been washed; her love is the silence

as you savour those grapes, each subtle burst of sweetness fresh and clean

on the palate. Her love is the sound of her hand dragging across the banister

like the sweep of a broom, one step at a time, mumbling things as if halfhoping

someone would hear; her love is leaving a covered plate in the rice

cooker, filled with the meal you missed. Her love is not accepting a single

thank you / no i’ll wash the dishes / are you alright? / im sorry for the trouble;

not a word even potentially irrelevant to the next soup refill or bowl of rice.

She feeds me too much, gives me hugs I don’t understand.

When I look up halfway through my dinner she is sitting nestled tightly

in a corner of the sofa; eyes gone soft from the television. When she

catches me looking she rises up, peering to see if the bowl is empty, if

my chopsticks have gone idle; nudging

a forgotten spoonful of rice into my mouth. She returns

with the bowl replenished and kisses my forehead, sniffing my hair;

leaning in so close I have to shut my eyes. As if afraid

that if I get too close I can see in all the little creases

how hard she finds it to love her own love. That warm full feeling swells in

my belly, aching to plop to my feet. Lately, though, I find that

it doesn’t quite want to go down all the way; leaving me

half-choking, tasteless.


the terracotta warriors

Shaun Loh

After decades, from white to marble, they

seemed even older than Methuselah.

In this dingy mausoleum, saccharine

boxed-up milk chocolate they shone like.

Lactose-intolerant, my curiosity

piqued. I wanted to be like them, stoned and

ceramic. Hibernating by the world,

yet bare for her ignoble scrutiny.

Amongst loveless servicemen just like me,

fighting, controverting unrecognised.

Apparently, “terracotta” meant baked

earth. Porous skeletons, eternally

connected to the air, even after the burn,

so that life would not trap itself within.

I tried searching myself for signs of such.


i hoard stones in glass houses.


i spend my whole life waiting.

yes, all seventeen years and thirty-eight days of it,

as long as i have to get up in the morning and glimpse

my reflection in the mirror,

double team pixelated into the inverted-triangle stickman

on all the toilet doors. when the pink gates lock, the

tiles wet and overflowing with salt, i make myself leave

the decapitated head of the other ( open ) door blinks, questioningly

and the soaked hem of my skirt answers, silently.

we all wear the shorts in this relationship. the blood on my knees follows me

from white to white to khaki,

but it stains the cloth all the same. i cannot

break gender roles if i never conform to them in the first place. i don’t want

equality. i want to be selfish. the pant legs hide scars, and not much else.

what do i have to cover up, anyway? all my degeneracy is in here.


i spend my whole life wanting.

it has always been about the pretty boys, and the video

games, and the irrational desire to be shaped like the xbox

se:x—but i don't know where all the pieces fit. i am seventeen

months old again, jamming

the circle into the square hole over and over and over and

i cry when my corners break off; of course i do.

when i talk to people about boys i am careful to correction

tape the worst parts out, but this makes

my story heavy with bandaged lies. i have never known how

to fix it,

how to look across the motion blur of the canteen and think i

want to write poetry about the swoop of his hair without also

dreaming about the scissors in my desk drawer,

how to stop feeling the jacknife of false happiness in my

throat when it rasps, sore as a wound, to rock-bottom.


across the classroom my

classmates struggle into each others' clothes, eyes ledbright

with smiles. i want

to be happy, too.

i am made of glass

but instead of propping myself up with scaffolding i shatter with every careless

word. i say,

i don't want to see your face ever again,

staring at me from mrt platforms and the

windows in the doors and everyone else's

gazes on me. the surface of the mirror ripples like tears;

i am not narcissus

and it kills me to know it.

i say, i am melancholy. i am miserable. i am not a man, and i am not glass. i do not break as

easily as i would like to.


i have spent my whole life wasting

the virtue of my name, the easy confidence that grows

along with hair to my waist, hair worth enough

to section

and cut off like a

braided loop of rope.

i am surrounded by people who don't speak my language

of love, and even more who

don't speak my language of loss, and i think this is my

tragicomedy. this is my torch to carry. i am such a fool,

it isn't even

funny anymore.

so be it: if my voice makes itself heard exclusively

in sobs, instead of speeches, if my heart is loudest

when it stops beating. if my name is one not meant

to be spoken, but to be inked onto sheets of paper and

google forms and carved into the flesh

of the bathroom doors,

so be it.

it is not mine, anymore. it never has been.



Alice Shen

Why must I be like you?

Is the norm that you hold so dear,

worth my identity?

I desire not the ability to be able to reach as high as you

Nor to run as fast as you

Do you not see?

We are all adrift in the same sea,

and yet our ships are all so different

I may seem slow and awkward,

but I prefer to be a junk,

than a boat of reeds

The unknowing might mock me,

but at the end of it all,

I would ferry the spices,

achieving for our home


A Student’s Guide to Gravity

Gabrielle Kurniawan

Q18a. Define the term “gravity”.

Her hand won’t stop shaking.

It’s too cold to take the exam. For a moment, the faint regret of not packing her thicker

jacket burrows into her intense concentration, because now she’s freezing and probably

sick and filled with the unrelenting desire to go home and collapse on her bed and die an

immediate, painless death.

But she can’t yet. She has to focus, because if she doesn’t, the regret will hunt her down

and eat her up. She has to at least try and finish this, ignore the throbbing pain in her

head, and finish this stupid flimsy piece of paper that feels too cold and sharp in her hand

with questions that will swallow her whole…


She closes her eyes, trying to place herself back into a year and a half ago, when this topic

was first taught. Which classroom was it in? The air con was cold that day, and the faintest

glare from the visualiser was eating into her vision. Gravity is defined as…

“The universal force of attraction acting between all matter,” her teacher had said, rapping his knuckles

against the whiteboard. “But if gravity is the force of attraction acting between all matter, why do things

fall to the ground?

“It’s because everything possesses gravity, a force that pulls something else toward itself. But the greater

your mass, the greater your force. The Earth’s mass is so mind-bogglingly huge that its gravity is

inescapable. That’s why if we jump, we all fall back toward the Earth.”

Kate blinks once, twice. Then she picks up her pen and scribbles everything down on her

paper as fast as she can before she forgets it.

When she’s done with her eighteenth question and mildly satisfied, she closes her eyes and

lifts the back of her hand to her forehead. It’s too hot. She’s burning up, but that can’t be

the only reason as to why she sucks at this whole exam thing right now. She looks around

the classroom. In front of her, the class president’s a whole page ahead.

Kate exhales quietly, her pen clattering to the table gently as she runs a hand through

her hair. Physics has never been her strong suit. Maybe it really is time to get a tutor…

who should she go to for a recommendation? It’s unfair that so many students seem

to understand physics better than her when she genuinely does like the subject, not to

mention the fact that Kate feels like physics is an explanation for everything she’s gone

through before.

Why do all students seem to be tugged along the same tide of school stress, of studying

until they pass out, of stuffing as many tuition classes into a day as possible? Inertia, equal

and opposite forces, gravity. They all make sense on paper but become puzzling when


Kate sees them in real life.

After all, she’s not the one scoring A1s for her Physics papers.

“Twenty minutes left,” the teacher at the front of the classroom taps her pen on the

whiteboard twice before returning to her seat, shaking out another paper to mark.

Kate sighs, looks down, and picks up her pen.

Eleven years ago

Kate experiences gravity for the first time at the age of six.


Light is pouring in through the windows, and debris of the humid summer air that’s crept

into the flat sticks to her skin. Kate’s fingers are intertwined around a thick wooden pencil

that clatters to the table as she looks up.

“Mum? Are you done yet?” she says quietly.

“Mm, not yet.”

“Mum? I’m tired.” Kate creeps up to her mother’s side and taps her hand. “Can you come

and play now? Please?”

“I told you, I’m busy,” her mother sighs. “Don’t you have a lot of homework? Can’t you

just do that first?”

“But Mum!” Tiny fingers lace around her mother’s bony wrist, and her wide eyes blink

twice before they begin to well up with tears. “You’re always so busy, we never get to play.

It’s not fair…”

Kate doesn’t even realise the stinging at the edge of her eyes until there are round, fat

tears rolling down her cheeks like rain. Her mother sighs loudly, takes three long strides

toward her, and before Kate knows it her vision is shaky as bony fingers roughly claw at

her face.

She looks up, eyes wide with shock. Her mother’s gaze is suddenly unfamiliar. There’s

a strange, crazed look in her eyes, an awful sharpness Kate has been noticing more and

more often recently. “Well, you know what? This whole shitshow isn’t fair, yeah? You

think I want to have to work all day? Huh? You think they worked hard for everything

they own? No! They don’t!”

“M—mum?” She blinks once, confused.

“My God, stop crying! All you do is cry,” her mother hisses. Kate’s gaze traces the long rippling

bone from the pinky side of her mother’s hand all the way to her arm and swallows

her confusion to silence.

“Some people just have it easy, and we aren’t those people,” her mother finishes off bitterly,

dropping her fingers from Kate’s face. “You have to work hard. You have to work

hard and make it seem like it’s easy, because that’s the only way you’ll win. That’s the only


way you’ll beat out the people who don’t deserve it.”

“Don’t deserve—Mum, what do you mean?” she echoes, alarm tilting at the edge of her


Her mother stares at her, eyes squinted slightly as she shakes her head. Suddenly, the

wrinkles under her eyes and the protruding bones from her face make her look like a

balloon stretched too tight, ready to snap at any moment.

In the quietness of the living room, she watches her mother shrink back into the couch,

close her eyes, and fall asleep.

“Class dismissed.”


Cheers erupt from the students, and the air is light as the teacher strides out of the

classroom. Kate watches her friends sit in their seats for an extra moment, stretching their

necks, cracking their knuckles, staring ahead with wide eyes as if they can’t believe exams

are finally over. They’re teetering between disbelief and exuberance, not yet fully pushed

out from the exam weariness.

Newton’s First Law states that an object will remain at rest or in uniform motion in a straight line unless

acted upon by an external force.


Then the school bell rings, loud and clear, and it’s as if the ringing through the speakers

is the external force that triggers the eruption of a bubbling volcano as students leap up

from their seats and pour out the door. Before she knows it, everyone has disappeared,

leaving the classroom empty and grey. She touches her forehead again. It’s still hot.

The smile slides off her face in the darkness as she sighs, sits down, and closes her eyes.

It always feels strange to be alone in a place that’s usually crowded. The classroom is dark

now that the last student has flicked the light switches off, and Kate can’t shake the quiet

feeling of emptiness crawling up her skin. She wouldn’t be here if she had a choice, but

the crumpled piece of paper in her hand keeps her feet rooted to the floor.

Meet me in class after today’s exam? :)

She feels too vulnerable standing like this, in the middle of the empty classroom, one of

her fingers laced under the strap of her bag. Like she’s a rabbit waiting to be eaten. She

looks at the whiteboard shrouded in shadows and tries to think of her breath going in

and out of her lungs, slowly, carefully, each breath dipping into her skin and being tugged

out. She thinks of the sensations around her—her skin nestled in between the leather

of her bag and the soft cotton of her shirt, the feeling of her jacket pressed against her

palm, the cold metal of her watch brushing against her wrist. She inhales deeply.

Behind her, the door creaks open.

“Kate!” A familiar voice calls from behind. “Kate, thanks for waiting.” She swallows


heavily, once, and then crumples the paper tighter in her fist.

Kate turns around, and there he is in all his handsome glory—dark brown fringe swept

slightly to the side, stupidly perfect skin, twinkling eyes crinkled at the edges as his

lips turn up in a gentle smile. He raises his fingers to wave to her, and she feels oddly

nauseous as she raises her own hand to wave back.

Suddenly, she finds herself bearing a striking similarity to Pavlov’s dogs; the sound of his

voice is enough to send her stomach lurching as her legs freeze. But she forces a smile on

her face anyway.

“Hi, Matthew,” she says quietly.

She sneaks a quick glance at the hallway outside. It’s empty. She swallows thickly, trying to

locate every possible exit point in the classroom.

(She comes up with a dismal two.)

He takes a step closer, and she fights the urge to stagger back. “Kate, are you okay? You

look so tired.”

A sharp feeling tugs in her chest, but she forces her smile brighter anyway. “I’m okay! It’s

just, you know, finals. I need to get some sleep is all.”

He nods sympathetically, and she hides her clenched fist behind her back. “Yeah,

everyone’s been exhausted. I wanted to give you something, actually. Hang on…”

Before she can say anything, he’s rummaging through his black bag, eyebrows knitted

carefully. Words of protest wilt in her mouth before all that’s left is an unease brewing at

the bottom of her stomach.

It’s strange, she thinks as she looks at him. Whispers passed around the classroom have

told her that this is the boy who’s always been well-known for being intelligent, sweet,

thoughtful; yet when she looks at him all she can see is a ravenous wolf hidden behind a

ready smile and dark eyes, ready to pounce and gobble her up.

Why are they talking to each other like old friends, she wonders? What kind of

performance is he staging?

Or does he really not know? Does he really not know the way she feels about him, the

anger that surges through her veins every time their eyes meet? That every time their eyes

lock, the same sentence from so long ago rises to her head?

“You have to work hard and make it seem like it’s easy. That’s the only way you’ll beat out the people who

don’t deserve it.”

You don’t deserve it.

“Aha, here!” At the sound of his voice, she snaps her head upwards. He grins victoriously,

waving a little biscuit packet in the air. “Found it. I hope you’ll feel better, since, well,

you’ve been looking a little pale recently.”


She forces a smile and accepts the gift politely with two hands. In her fingers, the plastic

crackles like static. “Thanks, Matthew. I’ll bring you something next time.”

He grins, waving his hand. “No need, Kate. If you did, it wouldn’t be a gift, don’t you


“Ah… Well, I guess not,” she concedes quietly. An awkward silence hangs over them, and

she spies his fingers fidget nervously next to the pocket of his pants. She exhales through

her nose, trying to rack her brain for a suitable excuse to leave as quickly as she can as she

subtly peers over his shoulder to the corridor, which is shining with a faint glow of light.



Kate feels herself redden. “Sorry. You were going to say something?”

“No, no,” he shakes his head. “I suddenly forgot.”

“Ah.” She hums noncommittally, but it’s clear that he knows exactly what he wants to say.

And she knows exactly what he wants to say, too.

Kate forces herself to look up, and the thought crosses her head—do I hate him? In

that same moment, he raises his head too, and there’s a split second where their gazes are


Do I hate you? she wonders, and as the thought flashes across her mind, it’s like a switch is

pulled and the universe shifts into acceleration and it’s just the two of them standing in an

empty class. And why are you here? What do you want from me?

“Excuse me, Mrs Lee? You didn’t call my name on the attendance register.”

“Is that so?” The teacher glanced down at the list of names. “Kate Hong? Ah, you. You’re the one who

didn’t come for the registration briefing.”

“Registration brief—what? What do you mean, Mrs Lee? I didn’t hear anything about a briefing.”

From the side of the class, Kate watched as a humid puff of water vapour expanded in her teacher’s

saggy cheek and disappeared into the air. She shook her head and rapped her knuckles on the table in the

way teachers do when they want you to feel like you’re the worst person in the world.

“Can someone inform Ms Kate Hong here that next time, she needs to take responsibility over her

matters? We even waited ten minutes for you to show up, but you never did.”

“W—what? Are you sure?” she protested. Her cheeks felt like they were burning against the tide of

faces staring at her blankly in irritation. “But I didn’t receive any notice of anything!”

“I’d think after so many years of being a teacher, I’d at least hear a better excuse than that.” Mrs Lee

scoffed. “Everyone else made it here just fine. The student rep gave out the briefing slip, after all. Unless

you mean to say that it’s my fault?”

She glanced toward Matthew. For a split second, there was an indescribable emotion flickering across his

eyes before he turned away from her entirely.


“But Mrs Lee—” The teacher turned to face her, gaze icy as murmurs drifted throughout the class like

rippling waves. “Kate, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

Kate felt her jaw clench as she looked at the ground. Suddenly, she felt as if she could identify the look in

Matthew’s eye as she caught his gaze one last time before turning around to leave.


She glances down for a moment, tracing her gaze over his navy windbreaker. It’s the same

one he wore last year around the same time as today, when the exams were drawing close

and deadlines for projects were looming near. She had been so frustrated and so tired

that day that she wasn’t thinking clearly, so angry that she couldn’t control herself from

confronting him in broad daylight in front of everyone else.

“Matthew! Did you—were you the one who messed up the notice to turn up for Mrs Lee’s class? I didn’t

get anything, and you’re the student rep.” She strode down the hallway, face flushed with anger, crumpled

piece of paper in hand.

As she drew close to Matthew and the crowd of students surrounding him, though, her confidence quickly

evaporated. Suddenly, a thousand eyes were pinned on her.

“Who is this girl again?” someone murmured.

“Kate… are you okay?” Matthew tilted his head, eyes wide. “Are you trying to say that I—”

“Everyone but me got the slip. I didn’t even see you that day, and no one said anything to me. Do you

think I’m stupid?” she’d continued.

She knew it was a small matter but she couldn’t help being so frustrated that she wanted to cry. She’d

never done anything bad to him, and everyone knew that if you wanted an A, you had to be in Mrs Lee’s

class. She’d done everything in her power to walk in the right direction, and now… now…

“Woah … Kate, do you want to talk about this privately? I think maybe you have the wrong idea. I

don’t know anything about that. I told you about it, in the hallway, remember?” He stepped forward and

placed a hand on her shoulder, like she was an angry child who had to be calmed down.

One of the students by his side stepped forward. “See? I know you—always whining about stuff like

this. Why do you hate Matthew so much? What did he ever do to you?”

“I—I, what?” she stammered. “That makes no sense. You never came up to me at all…”

“Don’t be upset, Kate.” Matthew smiled, but it didn’t reach his eyes at all. “I know you’ve been stressed


Her jaw clenched and her lips parted, but the words stayed stuck in her throat..

With everyone’s eyes on her, she had no choice but to drop it. Throughout the rest of the day, the blazing

tide of anger kept her hands clenched. A sea of whispers followed her wherever she went.

Kate closes her eyes, fighting away the memory gnawing at her head. There’s a gust of

cold wind blowing in from the door, and all she really wants to do is leave. “What do

you want from me, Matthew? Is it just more reassurance that I won’t tell anyone about

it?”“Tell anyone about…?” He trails off.


“I know you missed me out on purpose. I don’t know why but I just know you did.” She

feels her teeth grind against each other as she swallows.

“You… you…” he echoes again, but for once, Kate sees the faintest flicker of fear dart

across his eyes.

She sighs and lifts her head to face him. “I don’t get it. Why are you being so nice? Do

you feel bad? Or are you just worried that I’ll tell someone? I don’t have proof, anyway, so

nobody would believe me even if I tried.”

“Kate, I… I think you’re… mistaken.”

“Am I? Then why are you being so nice to me?”

“What—what are you trying to say?”

She exhales through her mouth once, closing her eyes briefly. “I saw you that day,

shredding my notice into the dustbin. I checked. It even had my name on it,” she exhales,

waving her hand slightly. “It’s old news. I don’t care anymore.”

“Wait, Kate.”

The sound of her name is low in his mouth. Even almost… frightening.

Kate turns around, raising her head to face him. When she meets his eyes this time, all

traces of a smile are gone, leaving behind only an angry scowl and dark eyes that seem

to cast a shadow over the rest of his face. He takes a step forward, cold gaze lingering

directly on her own.

A quiet dread begins to brew at the bottom of her stomach. “Wh—what is it?”

“You… are you really over it?” he says, looking down at the floor. “I just wanted you

to know that—if at some point, you change your mind, and decide to do something in

return… I won’t let it go easily, you know.”

She swallows, but forces herself to look up anyway, trying her best to blink away the fear

from her expression. A scoff falls from her lips. “Finally. I guess this is what you’re really


“You’re full of shit, too. Acting like you’re always the victim when you’ve been plotting

something against me, haven’t you?”

Kate feels her fingers clench involuntarily in her pocket; she tilts her head. “You know, all

this time, I even thought that you might even have felt bad about removing me from Mrs

Lee’s class, but I guess I was wrong.”

“I didn’t remove you—”

“No? You didn’t?” Kate says coldly. “Then who did?”

He says nothing. Just casts one last look in her direction before he turns around and goes.

His silhouette disappears quickly down the hallway, and her eyes graze over his rapidly

evaporating figure as he vanishes through the far door and from her sight. The moment


he’s gone, she closes her eyes and sighs. The biscuit packet goes plummeting into the bin.


Six months ago

“Second again,” her mother says sharply, voice hoarse. Her report card is crumpled at the

corners of her mother’s tight grip. “Second, again.”

“Mum,” Kate whispers pleadingly. “Mum—”

“I tell you the same thing every time, and you never listen. I don’t even ask you to be first

in the level, just first in class. Why is that so difficult for you? All you need to do is study



Kate looks up for the first time that conversation and immediately regrets it. Her mother’s

eyes are crackling like thunder, each word a bolt of frustration, disappointment, anger,

striking across her face. Her nose is stinging, but she doesn’t want to cry in front of her

mother. “Mum, you don’t understand—”

“What? What do I not understand?” Her mother takes a step closer, and each word sends

her voice growing louder and more piercing. “Do you think I had it easy? Do you not

think that I worked my ass off to provide for you, to ensure that you can get somewhere

in this society by getting into a top school? We cannot live life like those who have it easy,

Kate! Like your friends, like that boy who keeps getting first! That should be you! We are

not one of those people!”

Kate falls silent.

Months ago, in her physics class, she learnt this: when a thunderstorm hits, lightning

strikes because the atmosphere is simply too different from the ground. Particles in

clouds collide and hit each other, and this causes a buildup of charges. Clouds become

negative, unlike the positive charges of trees, lightning conductors, or even… people.

On a dark afternoon, when the clouds become too negative, electricity is tugged toward a

person on the ground, and lightning forms like a bolt of hatred.

“Mum,” Kate whispers. “Mum, I’m sorry. I know you have it tough. I… I’ll study harder.”

Her mother only looks at her, the inexplicable cloud of exhaustion lining the bottom of

her eyes as she pinches her nose and exhales. Kate’s fingers curl into fists as she looks

down, blinking back the sharply pooling tears.

(Her mother hates it when she cries, after all.)

Outside, lightning strikes, and the sky starts to pour.


When the sun is about to set and the campus is finally empty, she walks out of the building.

The quietness is almost deafening—even though it’s like this on the last day of exams


every year, she never really gets used to it.

There’s a spot at the edge of one of the cement buildings where she likes to sit. It’s

her favourite seat, underneath the withering tree that nobody else likes. Even though

the leaves aren’t thick enough to provide shade and always drift into her hair, there’s

something comforting about it—like you’re sitting with an old friend after a long time.

She leans back, not bothering to watch her posture, letting her body melt itself into the

shape of the wall. The cement is cool against her skin as she tilts her head backward and

exhales, swinging her legs against the step.

The sky looks so grey today, she thinks blankly, letting the thought swirl inside her muddy

brain before draining itself out slowly. So many things have happened this term, but now it feels

like nothing at all.

The day is empty and quiet, and for once she can hear her own thoughts. She’d studied so

hard for this term but probably won’t get the scholarship anyway. Where will the money

for next semester come from? What’s her mother doing right now? With the whirlwind of

exams gone and dusted, the exhaustion is beginning to creep in as she closes her eyes.

Are students supposed to be so tired? What is she being so tired for? The thought

resurfaces to her mind, but this time it’s so faint she can barely hear it, like listening to the

final echo a cliff coughs up at you before the sound disappears entirely. You have to work

hard and make it seem like it’s easy. That’s the only way you’ll beat out the people who don’t deserve it.

But why? Why does she have to beat them out? She tries to remember, closing her eyes

and struggling to fit the crumbling puzzle pieces of that day back together. Did her

mother ever actually explain it to her? Why does she have to keep struggling to reach the

top when she knows she’s never really going to make it? That was so long ago…

Kate looks up. There’s a leaf falling from the tree above, something that sitting at this seat

so faithfully promises. Her hand rises to her head, plucks it out, and then lets go. Slowly,

quietly, it floats toward the ground.

She closes her eyes.

Sometimes she wishes she could just let go like that, drifting as the wind takes her. Maybe

then there wouldn’t be so many things to do, so many things to handle, and the magnitude

of her gravity would be less. Doesn’t the magnitude of the gravity that tugs at you depend

on the mass of the object you’re being tugged toward? Would the mass of that object

decrease if her mother disappeared? If people like Matthew vanished? Or would she still

find another way to stress herself out, find another object to be catapulted toward?

After all, gravity spares nobody.

Soon after that incident with Matthew happened and his friends found different ways

to terrorise her, she really was angry. She thought that maybe, maybe she could post the

truth on the school’s confession forum anonymously and see if anything would happen

to him. Or maybe she’d go and dig up some dirt about his family, or make up some secret,

illicit relationship. There are, after all, many ways of getting back at someone.


But in the tail end of the month, when her hatred was fizzing out anyway, she found

the last remaining debris of anger evaporating out of her as she sat in the corner of

a seemingly empty library and listened to the sound of Matthew’s familiar voice and a

phone call come drifting over.

“Do you know how much we give you to succeed? How much we provide for you? You have everything you

need to do well! And yet you insist on slacking off!”

“I’m—I’m sorry, Dad.”

“I can’t believe you almost let that scholarship girl—what’s her name? Kate?—beat you last semester.

Your performance compared to your brother’s is disgraceful, Matthew. Think about it. If you put yourself

and Kate in the same situation, same tuition, same enrichment, same privileges, who would come out on

top? Who? Tell me who!”

“Dad, please, just stop—!”

“It’s sure not gonna be you, am I not right? God. My God.” A beat of silence. “What kind of son are


Matthew didn’t say anything in return.

Mild shock hung in the crack between the books on the bookshelf from behind which Kate was watching

him quietly. She blinked once, twice, letting her unnoticed gaze linger over Matthew’s curled fists and

damp cheeks as he hung up, pushed the library door open and then disappeared into the night.

(So he knows of gravity too, she thought.)

There are certain things you cannot be hateful about, especially when they remind you of

yourself. The picture of Matthew slumped against the cold library table, staring blankly

at the glowing exit sign for half an hour lingered in her brain for days on end. When she

got back home, she deleted the drafts she’d written for the confessions page and went to


All that was left in her was pity.

After all, she’s not too different. She knows what it’s like to long for acceptance and

approval so much that it makes your head hurt. That you’d do anything. Almost all

the students here do, anyway, it’s just the way by which you achieve it that makes you


How to succeed. She thinks of Matthew. How to be pretty. She remembers the retching sounds

she heard when she was in the toilet the other day. How to make people proud. For a moment,

she thinks of herself, the reddened skin of her own cheeks and her mother’s hand not too

far away. Students in this day and age can tell you how to do nearly everything, because

they’re all so desperate to do it themselves.

But what about being children? Do they ever get a chance to take a break? It’s another

question that gets swallowed up in the rumbling sound of thunder that hammers

acrossthe clouds as she looks up. The sky is beginning to darken.

She closes her eyes and inhales deeply. Perhaps it is greedy, but she just wants this


moment, this one moment, to herself. She will remember this moment of quietness

forever, she thinks—a moment carved from a late October’s Tuesday, the kind of day

when you begin to wonder whether you should begin spring cleaning, nevermind the

season. She doesn’t want to think about the homework sitting on her desk, the projects

due soon, all these things tugging her down like gravity.

No. For now she will be weightless, like the hanging crystals of water vapour suspended

halfway into the soft, slow-moving air, drifting upward into the clouds. Kate lifts her hand

into the air and rubs her fingers together once, slowly.

The moisture is cool on her skin.

In this moment, it seems almost as if… gravity doesn’t exist at all. For the first time, even

if it is only temporary, she feels it—the tide of bitterness in her throat is finally beginning

to recede, beginning to drift back toward the horizon.


first hunger

Emmy Kwan

it was cold.

puddles of dripping water

clanking honks in dense traffic

mornings could not be any more dreary

as December crept near.

a brown scarf, a shiver under coats

a bitter smile and warm eyes

people passing by

red shoes clink against hard pavement

soaked in monsoon rain

darkness loomed and the only light of day

was signalled by cackling thunder and hidden sunrays.

sunglasses perched on her nose, slanted eyes under the hood.

red, bold with light spilling along the traces of her lips.

she never smiled.

but she did dream (we all do).

behind the cold, cold smile

she dreamt of lavender fields and sweet honey scent

of the little bee down the aisle that beckoned her and went

glistening and shining

as if a mellow dream

she followed him until they reached a soft rushing stream

he crossed because he was light and weightless

and she couldn’t because she was heavy laden and bare footed

she watched him disappear, a buzz of yellow and black

waltzing into the thick bush of misty lusciousness, never turning back.

and it is that pain that lies deep in her bones to this day

the pain and the longing to reach across the terrain

to one day cross the soft rushing stream

and to whisper to the gentle hushing wings of a bee.

that she hated the frosty city and the frivolous silhouettes

that she hated the files and frowns she daily met

that all she wanted was a small blossom of warmth

in a lavender sweet field filled with summer humid storms

and an oozing sun to bathe her soul in

to feel the warmth of a human heart

she never could be quite within distance with.


the merlion

Kirtan Savith Kumar

in her hut by the sea, the weaver spins legends

tales centuries-old, wandering the remnants of time

as a deceased’s spirit would the half-world

clockwise, her head lolls, eyes shut, murmuring a prayer

and yet, even in her lucid state, her fingers tremor deftly,

intersecting blades of rattan to form baskets,

which she proceeds to chuck in a corner when done

she now starts on a new basket, fingers spinning,

mouth ever moving, yearning to form forgotten consonants,

dry tongue lashing at the sea.

she hears it then, the gentle breathings of the ocean,

azure heartbeats rippling across the calm

hidden beneath the glaze of saltwater, aged scales glide

wet fur, and a skin numb with centuries of exhaustion yearns to surface

despite her hoarse voice, her prayers are clear,

yet he fears, should he obey, remerge, and cast a gilded hue across

the sweet black waves, he shall be seen by the unwanted

deep in his heart, branded with the scars of man, he knows,

the moment he emerges, the orang laut, armed with fiercely woven nets shall attack

yet he’d rather drown than be taken hostage.

but for her he dares try, and so the last merlion begins singing

circling the ocean, tail whiplash, spiralling sapphire waves of a hurricane

blossoming in the distant abyss, he sings of a woman he once loved,

now condemned to live across the tides, his cries are temporal,

bitterly reminiscing, how angry the goddess of the reefs was

when she learnt of their forbidden romance, that she cursed an innocent merman

to be condemned to the body of a beast. he sings—

and suddenly her mind is clear, trance broken, she remembers.

the weaver races across the beach, sand splashing behind her,

utterly ignoring the warnings of fleeing fisherman,

as she dives headfirst into the sea, paddling frantically to her beloved,

converging finally in the eye of the storm, embracing a worn muzzle, woman and beast.

because even a goddess has mercy—and one day a year, when she feels like it, she grants

the weaver sanity, such that she may reunite with the monster a curse could never stop

from loving.




broken pottery in the desert find each other through the shifting sands

and in delirion and loneliness we saw each other as liquid gold

in the desert there's only water flowing between broken pieces into the sand

and delirion and loneliness made us liquid silver

eternity in the desert will never fix broken pottery with misplaced splinters


of emotional explosions and compulsions;

claire lee

To live, to die, belies a sort of beauty and melancholy.

The low rumble of thunder that makes a dog shudder and a flower bloom.

Tossed in the capricious tides of fate and stroked by the gentle indifference of the world;

where nothing started , nothing need be finished, so where do we go from here?

The inclination to love and be loved, maybe not so much but just to feel seen.

To suffer the cruel benevolence of heartache, a painful lesson of love you grow to tolerate.

A progression towards and regression from ...

What exactly is it that we purpose ourselves? (if not love)

The noiseless chatter of love and hate droning on and on.

A treadmill of desires and wants. to what end do we seek?

The blurring hues of cruelty and benevolence; from adversity blooms beauty,

Perhaps something to compensate for fate. A lone traveller tries to navigate, but

All is a fog. A cog in the wheel, and heavy hangs the heart.


instructions for self-destruction

Chua, Richelle Aubrey Ang

put me in a petri dish and watch the wounds fester,

—psychedelic episodes turned season four

stuff me inside a box and out comes a sheep

—little, delusional prince who rules a planet with one rose

beat me down and bleed me blue

—dysfunctional limbs like a puzzle missing a piece


culture the embittered man and watch him thrash around

inside the glass plate he’s created for himself

grow baobabs and let the weeds overrun the pantry,

three holes are just enough to breathe through

receive the successive punches with a crooked smile

we’re playing operation: disable the spinal cord


a eulogy for my living father

Chua, Richelle Aubrey Ang

… see the flesh underneath,

hemispherical kiwi slice, perfectly rough on the surface.

i do not have to tread through layers upon layers of

snow white hair (i, your magic mirror, to tell you that you are


these? worry lines—

boiling hot material &

mantle mechanisms cut the crust open,

hills that came spitting out of

the core of the earth, swallowed up in one, then

two swift chugs of sweet carbonated coke

papa, these are not your college days when you sit in

wakefulness to draw yet another blueprint, the sugar rush to keep

you company. you map out the coordinates at the back

of my hands, grooves that stretch

skin-tight to saggy to-

... sometimes i sit in wonder

(sipping coke in hand) and reminisce

about your trips to outer space,

taking nothing but your brute

strength (fished out the sun with one

hand and a couple of nebula stars with

the other) ... even gravity couldn’t

drag your sun-bright smile down

poof! you are the fairy godmother

sitting at a spinning wheel stool,

axis tilted at about 45 degrees.

the spindle needle is not a lifelong curse

but instead, your lifeline.

prick! the little vial sits empty

at palm of coarse hand.

… and as i sit in your place

to weave and piece and stitch

the blueprint of your life together, and

breathe life to these cold, buried words,

the thimble shakes furiously.

i am not a great seamstress but

i slot the thimble back in,

& sew.


The Stump

Tristan Tan

its lines rise and cascade

marks etched

into memories

into parts of the existence

the turmoil of growth

is not seen

in the rough exterior

beneath which the rings of time scar

but are, the beauty,

the significance

of what lies underneath

the presence of which

cannot be understood

through the eyes of he who watches

until it is all over

what used to exist

what can stand very nature itself

fell to the mettle of man

the test of time withstood

its secrets written and hidden

now lie on my kitchen table

like it never once wasn't

the tree that belonged to the stump


The Times We Shared

Khoo Yi Xuan

My white shirt had started to smell like incense.

The Buddhist wake had been set up under our HDB block. Friends and family had begun

to file into the void deck earlier today, sitting at any of the twenty round tables that were

each wrapped neatly in crinkly white plastic. Husks of peanuts and melon seeds rose in

mounds from every table, proof of the hours spent catching up and reminiscing about

the times they had had with Ah Gong.

The vibrant yellow of the tarp around the void deck didn't reflect the emptiness I felt. I

sat at the table furthest from the coffin, thoughtless, as the words of my relatives floated

past my ears. I didn’t need the reminder that my fourteen years’ worth of memories with

Ah Gong would disappear as soon as the wake ended. If I had a choice, it wouldn't be

like this. But that was the way it was.

A shadow caught my eye. I shifted my gaze back to the front of the void deck where

the casket lay, where a mysterious man now stood. His unnaturally tall stature was hard

to ignore. We made eye contact. Something about his gaze beckoned me to him. It was

welcoming—peaceful even. I found myself on my feet for the first time in hours, walking

briskly towards the casket.

“Good evening, Ashley.” His voice was melodic, almost like one you’d hear in an

advertisement. “My name is Orion. I’m a Presence from Hell. I have been sent on behalf

of the Post-Death Committee to inform you of the post-death processes.”

Death. I’d done nothing but think about it for the past twelve hours. A bitter taste

filled my mouth. “You’re here to tell me I’m going to forget Ah Gong. I already know.

Everyone forgets. The dead and their belongings are all burned. Nothing left.”

My cheeks were flushed. Orion smiled kindly despite my defensive comments. “You’re

not wrong. However, being the closest person to the deceased, you are to be given the

chance to remember him.”

Orion watched amusedly as thoughts soared through my mind. There was a chance. A

chance to not lose Ah Gong. He pulled a shiny silver tin out of thin air and handed it to

me. “You have till the end of your grandfather’s five-day wake to collect three items in

this tin. After the wake, every memory of your grandfather will stem from these objects.

Should you fail to do exactly so, you shall possess no memory of him.”

I nodded excitedly. “I won’t fail. I can’t forget.”

“Good luck,” said Orion, fading before my eyes.



I hadn’t begun going through his things. I only paused in the emptiness of his cluttered

room, taking in this new aura that had overcome what used to be his space—the space

now filled by mere possessions that I would have to so carefully choose from.

I had to start somewhere. I scanned the room for Ah Gong’s wallet—I already knew what

I wanted to find.

1. The picture

The timestamp read 7 October 2006. Its yellowish tint and brittle nature proved its

fourteen years of existence. I picked the picture up, careful to not rip it. Creases had

formed where it was folded to fit into Ah Gong’s old leather wallet.


Ah Gong’s burly hands looked giant in comparison to my new-born self. He couldn’t keep

his eyes on the camera. Fixated on his first and only grandchild, they sparkled with such

immense pride that the new-born’s curious eyes couldn’t resist the urge to open and gaze

back at them. His wide smile made his angular jaw seem too large for his neck.

And yet, so fleeting were these moments we spent together, so vast the number of

memories we made. To choose to keep a singular photograph would be to select a

singular memory and deem every other one unworthy of remembrance.

But what choice did I have?

The door creaked open to reveal my mother, shopper handbag looped around her

forearm, hand on her hip.

“What are you doing?” She probed at a stack of old magazines with her foot, while

looking around the room wistfully.

“Gathering some of Ah Gong’s stuff,” I replied half-heartedly. “Don’t want to forget


“Come, let’s go back to the void deck. People all asking where you are.” She plucked the

picture out of my hand, analysing her new finding. “Wow, this was from so long ago... His

room probably got a lot of things, we clear later. Don’t go anyhow touch now, don’t think

about it liao.”

Before she left the room, she paused for a moment, gripping the tiny picture in her bony

hands. Then, blinking herself out of her daze, she passed the picture to me and turned

swiftly to leave.

“See you downstairs.”

I lowered it carefully into the tin and slipped the tin into Ah Gong’s closet for

safekeeping. My heart throbbed. The picture was the only item I was sure to include. But

what else should I put in?I shuffled through the heavy air of the void deck, bright blue

pants screaming the guy in the coffin is my grandfather. Standing before the casket, I lit a joss


stick and squeezed my eyes shut.

“Ah Gong, please. I need to find the other objects. Please. I need to remember you.”

“Why are you here again?” It was day two. My mother had walked in on me tearing Ah

Gong’s room apart in search of feasible objects. “Tell you already, come here you will

never get over Ah Gong. It will just make you sadder.”

I could see her concern. It might’ve been my panicked state that seemed to strip me

entirely of rational thinking. Or maybe it was because she had brought up Ah Gong. My

rage and pent-up frustration flooded out of me.


“So leave! Who says I want to get over Ah Gong? If you’re so eager to forget him then

you can get out!” The thought of forgetting him brought a tight, wrenching feeling to my

chest. I couldn’t bear it.

She gaped at me, eyes wide. Whirling around, she slammed the door behind her, leaving

me to wallow in the unsettling silence of heartache once more. I could swear I heard

a sniffle from the other side of the door, but I had to focus. There were too many

memories I had to sift through, and the three objects I was allowed would bring me

nowhere near summarising them.

I assessed the room desperately. There had to be somewhere I hadn’t looked. Something

I’d missed.

2. The tape

Ah Gong had a lot of cassette tapes. Be it mixtapes, home movies, recordings of old

operas or even his own recordings, he had it all. A whole shelf full of them, no less.

I pulled out the only tape that was wrapped in white paper. Staining the fibres of the

paper was a drawing I must’ve made when I was three or four. Stickman Ah Gong and

Stickman Ashley smiled up at me.

Sitting in a pile of Ah Gong’s clothes, I unwrapped the cassette and clicked it into his

vintage cassette deck. After a few seconds of static, the aged recording commenced,

crackling with a comforting static.


This is for my beautiful granddaughter, Ashley. I hope you grow up to be a kind, polite, smart young

lady. Okay? Ah Gong’s slightly muffled voice rang through. It almost felt like he was in the

room with me.

Okay! My younger self chirped. I could picture her stubby fingers wrapped around a

crayon, drawing whatever her heart desired.

You want to show how you sing? Ah Gong asked.


My eyelids met as I sank into a pile of Ah Gong’s clothes, taking in the sweet memory.

As Ah Gong sang along with me, our voices blended together. The simple tune of the

Alphabet Song brought a light feeling to my chest, as if I’d forgotten Ah Gong was now


Collecting myself, I quickly patted the spot of moisture that had leaked out of my eyelids

and onto Ah Gong’s white tank top. I got up and crawled across his bed to reach the

closet, where I had left the tin.


I slid the closet door open and was met with the sight of Ah Gong’s cluttered belongings.

Something was off. My tin. It was gone. It wasn’t there.

My eyes darted around the room. I only had a day and a half left. I had to find the tin. I

had to remember Ah Gong.

A silvery glint beneath a stack of newspapers caught my eye. Please be the tin—a spark

seemed to light within me—please be the tin.

I picked the shiny object up.

3. The lighter

The lighter was a gift from my grandmother for their 18th anniversary. Its rectangular

exterior was complete with a smooth matte grey topcoat. Engraved into its body was the

number 18. The age she had met Ah Gong.

Ah Gong had done it too many times. One smooth action of withdrawing a white and

orange roll and sticking it between his lips while clicking the lighter. He would bring the

flame up to his lips, where his cigarette would already be waiting.

I clicked the metallic flint wheel and watched the scarlet flame dance about. My finger

lifted from the wheel and I watched the lively flame flicker away, leaving nothing but the

faint scent of lighter fluid. Going, going, gone.

I held the lighter and the cassette in my palms pathetically. Without the tin, what use

would these objects be? Orion wouldn’t accept it, and I would forget Ah Gong anyway.


The all-too-familiar voice halted my pulse.

I turned. Ah Gong’s spirit sat on his bed, a gentle smile gracing his wrinkled, freckled

face. A tinge of sadness lingered in his eyes. My eyes widened.

Shaking, I knelt by his feet. His translucent fingers passed through the red of my cheeks




as he tried to wipe my tears away. He drew back, his eyebrows creased, the way they do

when he was sad, or about to cry.

“I got very little time. I’m sorry.” Woven into each simple word was pain.

“What should I do?” I choked out my quivering words. “Without the tin, I’ll fail and you...

you’ll be gone. I miss you so much already, Ah Gong. I can’t forget you.”

He concentrated his melancholic gaze on me. I could sense his thoughts spiralling

through his mind, trying to piece together the right words.

My desperation to cling on to my memories sent a crushing ache to my chest. How could

I leave it behind? His broken English, mixed scent of cologne and cigarette smoke, his

loving smile and of course, all the times we’ve spent together? How could I let the biggest

part of my fourteen years of existence go?

“And... I’m sorry I have to go,” his voice trailed off. “Trust yourself. Remember what I

say? Some things 命 中 注 定 . If fate wants it to happen, it will happen. No need to use

objects replace me. I just want you to be happy. You happy, I also happy, okay? I love you,


“I love you too, Ah Gong,” I lifted my head to see him one last time, but I was too late.

Ah Gong had vanished.

I was alone once more. I closed my eyes and let the silence take hold of my thoughts.

The sudden shrill ringing of my phone shot me back into reality. When I saw my mother’s

contact name on the screen, I knew it was time.

There was a tinge of calmness in her voice. “The final ceremony starts soon. Come down

now okay?”

I walked up to my mother, who sat at a nearby table.

“So how?” came her awkward question. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” My voice trembled.


“I... I want to say sorry. I never tell you my feelings... ‘cos I must be strong for you. I want

to support you. I know how much you miss Ah Gong.”

I nodded, but all I could produce was, “That’s alright. I’m sorry I was rude.”

“The final ceremony is starting soon.” She changed the subject deftly. I supposed she

was ready to let go. She’d always been. Now it was my turn. But I couldn’t. I just couldn’t

accept it.Nodding and turning to pay my final respects, I saw Orion standing where he

stood before, staring thoughtfully at the casket’s glossy finish. I walked up to him.


As I approached, he shifted his gaze to meet mine. A curious expression was plastered on

his bony face. After all, the tin I was supposed to be holding was now gone.

My empty hands felt heavy.

This was it. The end of the five days’ worth of decisions was seconds away. I glanced at

the picture of Ah Gong placed by the casket. Every memory I had with him raced along

the folds of my mind. In a few hours, this face would trigger nothing. Anything that

could’ve helped me remember him was now gone, and my Ah Gong would be a mere

fragment of my past.

“I… I lost the tin, so I couldn’t do exactly what you asked.” My speech steadied as I

spoke. “I’m okay with giving up my memories. It’s only fair. We... We made a deal and I

won’t go back on my word because—”

Orion only smiled. “Ashley. You handled this task well. The true purpose of this task was

to have you consider which memories of your grandfather truly mattered to you. The

Judgement Panel has assessed your process of collecting these objects and has decided to

allow you to retain all memories of your grandfather.”

This news rendered me speechless. I could only stare back at Orion, whose calm, amused

smile brought joy more immense than ever. He stuck a hand out, expecting a handshake.

I didn’t take the hint. Instead, I threw my arms out and around him, suffocating him in a

hug. He definitely didn’t expect it, but he didn’t seem to mind.

“I wish you all the best,” he said, giving me an affirmative nod before he dissolved before

my eyes.

As Orion’s warm presence faded, I joined my relatives as the final ceremony commenced.

My thoughts muffled the chanting in the background as I held on tight to my memories

of Ah Gong—as I would for the rest of my life.



Emmy Kwan

funerals are pretty compared to deaths

grim reaper set his tent at our doorstep

waiting for the moment to seize and escort

away our grandmother for judgement day.

funerals are pretty compared to deaths

it comes as a phone call with no pretext.

dead silence in the car, emotions complex

inside the tears of my mother, grief expressed.

funerals are expensive compared to

life’s first breath; in a cot, a cradle

thinking life is a made-up novel;

casket decorated with baby breaths.

funerals follow templates, facades

of normalcy, for stability.

lilting laughter floating, bittersweet

mangoes arriving, served in between

service. piano keys blur black and white, grey

behind a shield of short tears, willing

to flow. but what do i grieve about

for a woman lost in her senile years.

it’s a love unspoken, guaranteed but

shallow. it’s emotions complex, of

choking bittersweet pity and resent.

its piano keys, black and white, clear clarity.

funerals follow templates, facades

kept for normalcy. but emotions are

flowing, halting, scaly, black silk rivers

unkept, unwoven; quivering mirrors.


3 a.m.

Silvia Suseno

too late at night we are

perched in front of a washing machine

you are giddy with boyish glee about how it spins.

the whirling colors,

the clink of zippers,

the soap glistening and churning.

on the linoleum tiles,

under the terrible fluorescence,

it is all so brand new.

after, the room is dark

and the city lights

spill out at our fingertips,

and there you are,

whispering partly to yourself

and partly to me,

the brightness of life engulfs me, wholly,

the whole world disappears and bursts

into existence at the same time.

in the breathless joy of this quiet pause,

flight of fancy sort of fatal flaw,

hesitantly, perfectly, it astounds me.


walking, unmoored.

Tang Sumi

after “on walking” by aisha r.

left in the moon-soaked night, the city turns to

ink. a change but not a reversal. a spectre made solid.

silhouettes seep in through glass but not, i think, as

dark as your eyes, or the way i get caught on the sweep

of your collarbone. my storefront-sign heart stutters,

lingers, leaves an echo of held hands in murky water.

you speak in a effusive colour, like smoke curling through

my fingers, and my neon-muted heart stumbles down

the road between loving and leaving. i run. call us colour.

call us good. call us the rippling puddle laid to rest.

for all the good this does not do us, i swallow up my helpless

heart and call out. words spill from my hands and never

reach you, somewhere i can’t follow, somewhere my

toes edge over the borders. i stumble in or wander within,

lost in the fumbling surety of being together.

in the watercolour-drenched night the streetlamps

mourn but we do not, silence a comfort, miles stretching out

in front of us.



Tang Sumi

after “conceptual art” by arthur yap

left behind, we carve out the empty

spaces of ourselves, emotional

inertia filling in the afterimages

of other pictures. imprinted in us

are the presences we misheard

as promises. we define ourselves

around the nothingness of staying,

the imprecise science of disappearing.

this is what we are: impressions of here

and gone again, faded ink shaking

dust off aching air. this is what we are:

almost enough, almost our own.


heart’s content


i always have something crawling under my skin. yesterday

it was millipedes, half-dead from being run over by cyclists

too engrossed in their playlists to hear the crunch of a million

legs. today it is the shaking, trembling urge to leave the closet

in a darkened house while being stalked by an axe murderer,

and tomorrow it will be the sick, sinking puddle of regret

spreading like vomit into a carpet that has seen it all too many

times before

and the day after it will be the blood off a blade, preoccupied

with squashing me under it's sharp, terrible heel, because after

all i have offered myself up

like a lamb to slaughter, and wasn't it then just a matter of time? it's

not homicide when it's deserved. when you ask for it. that's the whole

problem, you see,

i am not scared of dying. i am terrified

of being killed.

it's all the same to me,

the way my bones tremble, thrumming with my heartbeat like a fullbody

earthquake, itching with the ghost of a thousand fractures

and bleeding me dry

from the inside out. it's all the same, how i agree with everything you

say and then drain the corruption from my wounds afterwards,

because this disease

has no vaccination, no cure, no hope. the edema in my heart throbs

incessantly, and i cannot reason with it anymore; all i can do is give up

and if i don't shut up about it you know why— you know it's because i

am dying and it's terminal. you know it's because i have no choice,

that this abscess is begging to be opened, and all it contains is pain. i

speak only because i have come to fear silence, more so than the heavy,

deliberate footsteps on the floorboards and scrapes of metal on the door,

for even hell is preferable to limbo

and i want so badly to be laid to rest.


—sunset on venus—

Tang Sumi

if you walk on the surface of venus, you can see the sun setting forever. i think about

it, sometimes, you and i on dusty plains walking hand in hand, stubborn against the

atmosphere weighing down on us. venus is not kind to us, all 460 million square

kilometres of her, but we close our eyes and make her so. trip and fall into my arms,

weightless in the moment, and we will skid down the insurmountable horizon. venus

whisks us up but not away, flush against starlight leaning down to catch a glimpse of you.

reach out, darling. brush your fingers against the shudder of lethal beauty. the void of

space dances before my eyes, but i take your hand and breathe against the inevitability

of it. this is, for all intents and purposes, heaven, just you and i chasing the sunset across

barren plains. pretending we can hold it there forever, trapped in the eternal state of



it’s hard to keep a white dress clean

rui ho

buy a white dress for the confessional. knee-length, no

higher. your mother scolds you for trying to

tuck the fabric under your knees for prayer. it’s so hard

to keep a white dress clean, she says,

eye-whites gleaming cold

and pale under the lights. think of the work you’re giving me,

she says, teeth bared—

white flashes—

scraped clean of blood.

prayer can’t save your knees now, red-scabbed and white-scarred

from kneeling for hours without protection.

buy a white dress for the baptism. buy a white dress

thin enough to flutter butterfly-delicate

around you, the wings of a forsaken angel stripped

of stiff feathers and holy light. you get in

the water and it spreads out around you like sea foam.

your father pushes you under

and the mermaid drowns

your penance: the water in your lungs.

you peel off your dress to find white handprints against your skin.

buy a white dress for the sermon. lichtenburg

figures sprawl eerie white down

your lightning-rod spine, forming every word

you heard the pastor say, cut into you

like an age-old prayer. you are struck down, cast out, fallen from the

stillness of heaven—now the only thing

moving under your skin is quilled fear.

buy a white dress for the funeral. strappy white heels

—platforms, not stilettos—

inch their way across a white-mold floor.

someone with your face is laid out

in an ivory casket, a casket spray of bone-white

lilies and roses arranged across it.

one by one you

let fall your flowers:

your parents bring admiring carnations,

a pale pink blush high on the furled petals, but

you hold a crimson rose, a lone spot of

grief for the innocence that fills the room. it doesn’t matter

either way—everything bleeds to white atop the casket.


kindness sown among the meek is harvested

in crisis

rui ho

when all this is over, the world will remember —

the poems written by trembling hands

by the light of the flickering overhead lamp,

because it’s the only light

you have in your apartment

and you

can’t go out to replace it;

the groceries left outside your door

by a neighbour who

thought of you before they left the store;

the way the air feels cleaner

than it has in years.

(fear a living thing in your throat, asphyxiate

on the uncertainty — “who lives who dies”

coming to you live at nine o’clock

sharp — curse your gods for

being useless, an

impossible figurehead, an unreachable dream

of golden gaiety and monstrous mansions.

prayer is a lost cause

with no one around to listen.)

(power is rarely the right tool for survival anyway.)


Today Is A Good Day To Die

Isabelle Lim

Today is a good day to die.

Megan wakes up to her iPhone alarm: the one that sounds like a tinkle of wind chimes

instead of a nuclear warning alert. The numbers on her home screen read “6:15am”. The

sky is a dark, solemn grey instead of oil black. The streetlamps are still on. In the distance,

Megan can see little rectangles of yellow light in other buildings.

She changes into her uniform: an ugly, starched pinafore with a dark green skirt. Prefect

tie—slip-on, dead knot never untied. As expected, no one is awake yet. An empty plate

sits on the counter, and Megan puts it in the sink, taking care that the plastic doesn’t clunk

too loudly against the stainless steel. She makes herself a bowl of cereal, only to realise

that there’s no more Lucky Charms. Just plain Weetabix. She eats it anyway.

Later on the bus, Megan puts her earphones in. Some lo-fi track she doesn’t quite

recognise kicks in, and she leans her head against the cool glass window. Today, she got a

seat in the bus. Maybe that means today will be better. Then again, she thinks, maybe she

needs to stop attaching meaning to things without any.

Today is a good day to die.

When Mrs. Lee calls for the Chemistry homework and Megan doesn’t hand it in, she

doesn’t get called out. Hui Ying side-eyes her, and once, Megan would have cared. She

doesn’t now.

At the end of the period, Mrs. Lee calls her outside the classroom.

“Are you okay, Megan?” she asks, voice softening in sympathy. “I know it’s been hard for

you and your family lately, but I just wanted to check in with you.”

“I’m fine,” Megan says. It feels like that’s her most-said phrase of the year. When Mrs. Lee

continues to eye her with doubt, she smiles mechanically. “Really. I’m okay.”

Mrs. Lee nods, the smile on her face still doubtful, and walks off. The Chemistry

homework goes unmentioned. Megan probably won’t have to submit it.

For the rest of the day, the teachers don’t mention anything. Even Mr. Khoo, who always

calls on her to do algebraic sums on the whiteboard, doesn’t today. Her hair is definitely

against school regulation, grown past her shoulders and untied, but no one mentions it.

All her homework is incomplete, but no one mentions it. In the pockets of silence as the

class works, Megan looks up and catches every single teacher staring at her the way they

would an injured puppy.

She hates it, but she supposes if it gets her out of doing homework, she’ll take it.

Today is a good day to die.

The sun is setting when Megan arrives home, sweaty from the walk from the bus stop.


“I’m home,” she announces to no one in particular.

In the living room, Dad is watching some Chinese drama on Channel U. All the men are

in suits, surrounding a girl in a red dress. He doesn’t acknowledge her presence. Mom is

nowhere to be seen. Before she can process it, Megan asks, out of habit, “Is Mel having

dinner at home?”

She internally curses herself the moment the question leaves her mouth.

Her father remains motionless for a moment, then turns to her, face pale, mouth pressed

into a hard line. The TV plays in the background. Oh, a man is shouting. Her father stares

at her, eyes empty but so full at the same time. His eczema has gotten worse, Megan

notices. On the table, there’s a can of beer. Her father doesn’t like alcohol.

Before he can open his mouth, Megan bolts to her room. She stuffs her earphones in the

moment the door is closed.

At 10pm, after trying her hardest to finish Mrs. Lee’s chemistry equations worksheet as

the numbers swim before her eyes Megan makes two plates of scrambled eggs. She eats

one, and leaves the other on a plate on the counter. Dad is still in the living room. Now,

it’s a new drama: a doctor consoles a couple as they mourn the loss of their child. Megan

stares at the screen from behind the sofa, eyes scorching.

Megan will wake up the next day and undergo the same routine. She will cling onto

an inconsequential sign of hope that the day will be better, and sometimes it will be.

Sometimes, Mom will be in the kitchen instead of cooped up in her room. Sometimes,

they’ll ask her about her day at school and genuinely want to know about it. Sometimes.

Rare times. Most of the time, it is this same routine. Rinse and repeat.

A couple weeks before the accident, Mel had burst into Megan’s room, bright and

sprightly despite a late lecture. “Who do you think,” she’d asked, smiling, “is the glue of

our family?”

Megan had had her earphones in, and she’d removed them only to laugh and reply, halfjokingly,

“Me, obviously.”

Today is a good day to die.



She’d been wrong.

Megan remembers July 28th (or, as she refers to it in her head, That Day) in some detail.

Some of it is blurry, but otherwise, everything else is fresh in her head.

She’d been in Ms Chang’s class—second period—when she’d been called out of the

classroom and told to pack her things as fast as she could. Hui Ying had tsked under her

breath, and Megan had shot her a glare as she stood up hastily. “Your mother will come

pick you up as soon as possible,” the admin lady had told her as she ushered her down the


“Why?” Megan had asked, frantically trying to zip her bag as she moved. “What’s going


“Your sister’s been in an accident.”

Megan’s notebook clattered down the stairs, and the sound echoed.

Your sister’s been in an accident.

From there it was a blur. Her mother, known for her careful driving, went over the speed

limit to KK Hospital. When they’d gotten there, her dad was already in the waiting room,

clad in his white work shirt and pacing, black shoes clacking against the hospital tile.

Everything had smelt like antiseptic, Megan worrying her hands as she tried not to have a

meltdown in the waiting room. A paramedic had approached her parents, and she’d only

been able to catch “reckless driver”, “crash”, “punctured lung”, but that was enough.

The doctors had come out, heads hung, and her mother had sunk to her knees in the

middle of the room, tears sliding down her face. Megan had stood, in shock, the air-conditioning

draft ice cold through the thin material of her uniform.

The funeral was two days later. That was a month ago, but the coldness from the funeral

hall seemed to have extended past it, permeating her life even now.

A little detail: on That Day, it was sunny. If Megan remembered this, perhaps she would

be more hopeful, attached her own meaning to the good weather: that God brought her

sister back with blue skies, birds chirping in Mel’s wake.

Unfortunately, Megan doesn’t remember.

Mom and Dad are shouting when Megan reaches home. She feels it from outside, sees

the shadow of two people from under the door, and she turns up the volume in her earphones.



The first month after Mel’s funeral, they’d existed in thick and heavy silence, an ever-present

storm cloud above their heads. But now, two months after, the cloud is rumbling,

splitting with lightning. The thunder follows, always warning of a storm but never actually

raining. Just dark grey skies and flash-bangs of light. Megan can’t decide which version

she hates more.

They’re fighting in the living room. With her music up, Megan can barely hear what

they’re saying. Mom is shouting in Cantonese, and Dad is responding in English, his arms

crossed in front of his chest. He’s in the same singlet and shorts he was in yesterday.

Mom is waving her hands at Dad, index finger like an arrow. Perhaps his crossed arms

act more like a shield than a gesture of anger. The TV sings happily in the background,

currently playing some Japanese variety show where everyone is laughing. Megan doesn’t

want to stay. She attempts to tear past them to her room, but suddenly the attention turns

to her.

“Megan Chua.”


The shouting fades, and now her mother is addressing her. Begrudgingly, Megan takes her

earphones out.


“How was school today?”

When she turns, both her parents are staring at her, leftover flames in their irises. Her

mother’s voice is sharp as a blade, and anything said with it sounds like an accusation.

The same, she wants to say. The same as it’s been for months, so pretty miserable, actually. But you

wouldn’t know. You’ve been in your room pretending the world doesn’t exist. “Fine.”

“Got homework?”

Yes. “No.”

“Don’t lie, I saw the parents’ group chat. Got project, right?”

If you knew, why’d you ask? “Oh, yeah.” They’d been assigned some project to create a

poster about atoms. Mrs. Lee had said that the Top 3 posters would earn their respective

makers a lollipop, and suddenly everyone in class was raring to go for Chupa Chups.

“Have you done it yet?”

“No.” I don’t want to. It’s not like they’d call me out for it anyway. “Going to do now.”

“You better.” A threat, but at the same time, as much of a dismissal as any. Megan trudges

to her room, slamming the door, and the heated argument resumes, albeit in whispers

now instead of shouts.

Megan plans on plugging her earphones in and lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Either

way, in an attempt to make herself believe that she’s actually doing the work, she opens

the poster-making website Mrs. Lee had recommended, staring listlessly at the colourful

templates and the fancy fonts.

(Mel had always been good at these kinds of projects. One time, they’d stayed up until

2am glueing paper together for Megan’s art project, Mel’s K-Pop-filled playlist blaring in

the background. Bum bum ba ra, ba bum ba ra bum bum ba ra, I wish you were here…)

For old times’ sake, Megan puts that song on. She doesn’t understand the Korean, but she

can pick out English phrases here and there. The song, objectively, is good. She can see

why Mel liked it. As she drifts off, the hook plays in her ears.

After all these years, I wish you were, wish you were here.

Here’s the thing about this story: Megan will not experience something implicitly special

to drag her out of her slump. She will not have a fateful meeting with some old, sagely

soul in a park to talk about life and death and leave feeling Enlightened and Spiritually

Healed. Things simply don’t happen that way, and most of the time (unless you’re very,

very lucky), they never will. However, things do get better for Megan. Perhaps not



significantly, or immediately, but they do. And that’s all we can really hope for, isn’t it?


When Mom and Dad seat her down at the table, she knows what’s coming. After days

upon weeks upon months of fighting then silence then fighting some more, how could

she not know? Dad looks so weary—the stubble on his chin shows he obviously hasn’t

shaved in ages. Mom just looks tired. Frail. This is the first time since That Day that

Megan has seen her parents be in the same room and not look like they want to tear each

other to pieces, and everything is quiet, the world seemingly holding its breath. Love turns

to hate turns to nothing at all, negative space in an empty room.

However, being prepared for the news doesn’t reduce the impact of it when it comes.

“We’re getting a divorce.”

Mel knows, from a movie she watched a long time ago, that only 5% of married couples

survive the loss of a child. She also knows that Singapore has high divorce rates — that

some years, the number of divorces in Singapore eclipsed the number of marriages. Put

those together, and she doesn’t know how she could’ve fathomed that her parents, an

extraordinarily ordinary couple, would’ve weathered the storm.

Dad is saying something, but she can’t hear it. Her ears feel like they’ve been filled

with water then soldered shut, and all she can hear is the blood throbbing in her veins.

Shouldn’t she be crying? That’s an appropriate response. But her eyes are dry. Why?

Heartbeat. Heartbeat.

When her parents dismiss her, telling her to think about who she wants to live with, she

leaves the living room. Walking, thankfully, is made up of the same mechanism over and

over again: one foot in front of the other. If it hadn’t been that way, Megan thinks she

would have fallen, knees buckling, onto the living room tiles.

She collapses onto her bed, watching the fan blades rotate.

Who do you want to live with?, her parents had asked, eyebrows knit. When she hadn’t

responded for five minutes, silence permeated with silence, they’d asked her to think

about it. Who do you want to live with?

Here’s the funny thing: Megan’s first thought is that she doesn’t want to live with either of

them. The punchline: Megan’s second thought is that she doesn’t want to live at all.

Of all things the world can give her after everything it has taken from her, Megan does

not expect it to be a confession. She is further taken by surprise when the confessor in

question is Kieran Teoh. One lunch period, she pretends not to see his friends snickering

as he leads her from the canteen to the semi-hidden area behind the toilets.


“I like you,” he says, looking right at her. She opts to turn her gaze to the floor. “I have



for a while. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same, I just wanted you to know.” Hesitant

pause. “Do you want to go out with me some time?”

Before That Day, and before the announcement her parents have just dumped on her,

Megan would have almost definitely said yes. Kieran is Class Monitor, good at Chemistry

(unlike Megan), and is in the school soccer team. While the friends he keeps are

questionable, Kieran keeps them in check for the most part. Before That Day, Megan had

liked Kieran, too.

Megan doesn’t look up. Everything in her wants to say yes. Kieran is genuinely one of

the nicest boys she knows, always helping her out with Chemistry over Skype. It really

wouldn’t hurt.

But is it really about what doesn’t hurt, or what eventually will, even if it doesn’t now?

(Mel’s first relationship happened in Sec. 4. His name was Ting En, and they’d dated

for nine months—pretty long for a secondary school relationship. Megan had met him

once, and she’d watched him watch Mel exist with stars in his eyes. According to Mel,

he’d brought her out for ice cream every week. The one time they spent Valentines’ Day

together, Mel came home with a bouquet of lilacs.

When they broke up, Megan had asked why. It didn’t make sense: Ting En had looked

at Mel like she’d personally hung the moon in the sky for him, and done everything in

his power to make her happy. Mel had been happy. Except then, when Megan had asked

for a reason, Mel had sighed, heavy. “I thought being in love could teach me how to love

myself,” she whispered, small, words violet in the lamplight. “I was wrong.”

A sad ballad had played in the background, and Megan had chosen not to ask any more

questions: not because she didn’t want the answers, but because Mel didn’t have them


“I’m sorry,” Megan hears herself utter, eyes trained on her sneakers. She means it.

In front of her, Kieran hangs his head slightly, hair flopping in front of his eyes. Megan

almost reaches out to fix them for him. “It’s alright. I understand. We’re still friends,


Numb. “Yeah, if you want.”

Silence. When Megan looks up again, she is alone.

Sometimes, when it’s been an especially bad day, Megan goes into Mel’s room, despite

Mel’s glaring un-presence. Now, feeling like she’s carrying the world on her back, Megan

walks in one day and shuts the door.


They never really cleared it out—the typical grieving family thing to do. When she steps

in, the air is musty. Mel’s table is practically overflowing with stacks of textbooks and

lecture notes, and there’s a peeling poster of a Korean boy group on the wall. X1. Thebed

is still immaculately made, even though there’s a layer of dust on the flowery bed sheets.


On the bedside table, there’s a lamp, a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, and a half-used bottle

of primrose perfume.

The first month after Mel passed, Megan was in Mel’s room every day. She remembers

it all so clearly: her, hunched on the ground in foetal position, screaming, “Why did you

go?” She remembers crying, throat raw and cheeks crimson, nails scrambling for purchase

on the wooden floor. “How could you leave?” The wooden floor was a barren desert

landscape, and Megan was a lone traveller—pushing against ruthless sands and biting

winds. Her heart aches in her chest—there’s a gaping void in her ribcage that refuses to be

filled no matter what she pours into it.

Now, she doesn’t cry as much. She just sits on the floor (Mel never liked people on her

bed, not even Megan), basking in a long-gone presence. Maybe she’s out of tears, or

healing. Whatever it is, it has to count for something, right?

It might just be wishful thinking, but sometimes, Megan can imagine Mel there with her.

If she squints her eyes or closes them entirely, she can imagine Mel at her study desk, or

dancing around the room, humming a song under her breath. Sometimes, in her moments

of weakness, Megan lets herself imagine Mel sliding her arms around Megan in a warm

embrace, the way she used to before That Day. And Megan does not believe in ghosts,

but she does believe in presences -- and her sister, loud and sunny with an aura that would

turn heads the moment she stepped into a room, had the strongest one Megan had ever


That Day took everything from her, and Megan feels like a seashell crushed underfoot,

the tides taking parts of her out and away from the shore, never to be seen again.

When Megan doesn’t hand in the poster when it’s due Mrs. Lee does, in fact, reprimand

her, calling her outside after class.


“Look, Megan,” she sighs, exasperated, running a hand through her hair. She’s gotten new

highlights, Megan thinks. The blonde doesn’t suit her, but neither did the red from before.

“I know things have been extremely hard for you and your family, but that doesn’t give

you reason to stop trying or doing work. I’ve let you off the hook for months, but this

really has to stop. You need to move on, so to speak.”

Megan didn’t realise there was an ultimatum for healing, but apparently there was now.

You’d never understand, she wants to shout. You try losing your older sister! You try losing your

best friend! Tell me, how would you move on from that?

Instead, she nods, the words seething at the back of her mouth like hot soup threatening

to boil over.

“Tomorrow,” Mrs. Lee says, and she spins on her heel and walks away, leaving Megan

standing, shoulders heavy. The wind blows and her prefect tie blows with it, whacking her

in the arm.



One week after the funeral, Megan had been ushered to her mandatory session with Miss

Avril, the school counsellor. “Take your time to heal and process everything, okay?” Miss

Avril had told her. Megan had sat, rigid, in a pink bean bag chair (obviously some play at

comfort) and Miss Avril had sat opposite her, peering at her like an experiment. “Healing

and recovery is a non-linear process. Give yourself the time and space that you need.”

It was nothing Megan hadn’t heard before, but she nodded anyway. She stood to leave;

the thirty minutes allocated to her by the school were up, and she’d been silent the whole

time. Just as she opened the door, Miss Avril called after her. Megan turned. Miss Avril

looked so earnest, like she genuinely wanted to help, and Megan felt slightly guilty for not

being more cooperative. Was it really her fault, though?

“If anything,” Miss Avril said, smiling sadly, “be a little kinder to yourself.”

Megan muttered a soft, “thank you”, stepped out and closed the door behind her. The

cloying Singapore heat hit her in the face like a frisbee.

(She does end up submitting the poster, if you’re wondering. It features mismatched fonts

and diagrams taken directly off Google that clash horribly with the template colours—

completely half-assed, and everyone who sees it knows it. Megan doesn’t get the lollipop,

but it’s okay. Mrs. Lee only has the cola-flavoured ones, and Megan never liked those



Megan doesn’t remember the eulogy she gave at Mel’s funeral. In a feat of sheer

willpower (or trauma), she’d blocked out the whole event in its entirety. No one had

videotaped it (for obvious reasons), and so she doesn’t know what she said up there, on

that podium in the church hall in front of dozens of people who had known Mel, but

never really Known her. However, if she had to guess, her speech probably went like this:

Herself, standing there in the black dress she hasn’t worn in years, slightly tight on her

shoulders and armpits, looking out at the sea of people seated soberly in the pews.

“Mel was an amazing older sister,” Megan imagines herself starting: with the obvious,

because she’s never been good with words. Past tense. And those are her only words for a

minute, letting them rise like helium balloons to the church skylight. She continues when

people start murmuring. “I love her so much.” Present tense.

She steps down from the podium.

That’s her brilliant eulogy. Eleven words, each holding a million more.


Remember Kieran? Well, here’s what happens the night of the confession: Megan pulls

up her Whatsapp chat with him, attempting to draft some form of explanation to make

up for her anticlimactic rejection earlier. He’s online. Maybe he’s watching her type. She

chooses not to think about that possibility. I’m sorry, she types, in the box. It’s not that I don’t

like you back, but things are just really complicated with my family rn and


You really are nice, the second try reads. Anyone would want you. Tbh idk why I

I think that if something actually happened between us it wouldn’t be fair. Maybe we wouldn’t actually

work, and in the end,

My sister’s first boyfriend loved her so much and she couldn’t handle it, ngl I’m not sure if I can either

I do like you, but I never expected you to like me back?? I guess that made it ok, because I knew it was

impossible. The idea I have of you in my head isn’t real, and I’m sure your perception of me is the same.

If we really got to know each other idk if we’d

Did you know my sister died? My parents are getting divorced too LMAO…… so yeah I think I’d go

batshit crazy if I lost someone else

I think in another life things would be different. If my life wasn’t like this, and if I weren’t still

Kieran goes offline. Megan closes their chat.

In a couple weeks, she’ll see Kieran having lunch with Zoey Tan, his friends looking on

and wolf-whistling unsubtly from another table. She won’t feel much of anything, even

though something tells her that she should. It’s okay. First loves don’t last, anyway. But

then again, nothing ever does.

Megan finds herself in Mel’s room again, and this time she falls asleep. She’s never slept

in there before, but this time, when she does, she dreams of herself standing in a field of

multi-coloured orchids. She’s dressed in all white, and her hair is tightly braided back.

Mel is in front of her, wearing the pastel purple dress she always loved, smiling at her.

Her hair is loose, and she looks the same: always so bright, always so happy. When she

says hello, she sounds the same too: her voice clear as a bell, although a bit high-pitched

and shrill. Mel got that from Mom. Well, you can’t have everything. When Megan opens

her mouth to speak, she realises she physically can’t, no matter how she tries. Mel starts

prancing into the distance, and there’s nothing else Megan can do but follow her.

“Things are good here. I’m good!” Mel replies, turning back, grinning. It fades a little bit

with her next words. “I miss you, though. I bet life is hard now that I’m not there. We all

knew I was the glue holding everything, after all.”

Mute, Megan nods. It’s not like Mel is wrong.

“Come on, why so shy?” Mel rolls her eyes. “Nothing has changed, what. We’re still

sisters, just… separated.”

Isn’t that all the change in the world? Megan wants to ask. The words never make it out of her

mouth, and Mel turns back again, back facing her.

“I hear what you think, sometimes, you know.”

That piques Megan’s interest. She quirks her eyebrows in confusion.

“Today is a good day to die. I don’t want to live.” Mel imitates Megan’s thoughts, exaggerating



her accent and gestures, and Megan doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Siao! You

think I wanted to die? Of course I didn’t! We all say things like that, oh, we wanna die, oh,

things are so shit and you are so shit and oh maybe it would be better if you just stopped

existing, but if you were in a situation where your life was on the line? Would you want to

die then?”

The automatic answer is no, but Megan hesitates nonetheless. Mel spins around, marching

up to Megan, grabbing her shoulders roughly.

“Today is a good day to die. Wake up! Every damn day is a good day to die! Every day, every

second of our lives, we get closer to death. But what’s the point of thinking about that?”

Mel forces Megan to meet her gaze. “Sure, every day is a good day to die. But in that same

vein, every day is a good—no, great day, to live.”

Things have been so hard, Megan thinks. Things have been so, so hard. Mel can probably

read all of that in her face, and she pulls Megan into a hug. Megan still cannot speak, but

perhaps it’s for the best, because she knows she wouldn’t have been able to listen if she

had. All she knows is that here, in this field of orchids, she never wants to leave.

Mel breaks away, and she smiles, tears in her eyes. Her entire being fizzles like an image

from a faulty projector. Gently, she brushes tears from Megan’s face. “Take care, okay?”

she whispers, softly. It feels like an embrace. “Your counsellor was right. Be good to


Then, she distorts, her image dissolving to nothing, and Megan can’t shout, but if she

could it would’ve sounded like, “Please don’t leave me a second time. Not again.”

But things don’t work that way. When Megan jolts awake to reality, she’s still on the floor,

arms out in an embrace of nothing. When she wipes her eyes, she realises that her cheeks

are hot and damp. A note of primrose perfume pokes through the musty room smell,

barely noticeable.

Just as Megan catches a whiff of it, it disappears, leaving her to wonder if she’d imagined

it all.

A small thing on dreams: scientifically, they are simply brain impulses that turn random

images and thoughts in your head into some confusing narrative. Symbolically, they can

be seen as omens, or messages from the Universe. People experiencing dreams about a

loved one after their death is not uncommon.

Call the dream Megan had about Mel a mere product of her grief and subconscious. Call

it a genuine message from Mel’s afterlife that she’s doing well. Call it what you want, but

here’s a clue: the chances of a miracle are one in a million, one in a billion, even lower.

However, no matter how skewed they are, they are never zero.

Today is a good day to die.




When Megan goes to school that morning, she thinks: about who she’s going to live with

after the divorce gets finalised, about the Chemistry homework she hasn’t finished that

Mrs. Lee will definitely be on her ass for, about Kieran and his new girlfriend. Pressing

her head against the cool glass, music playing in her earphones, she exhales.

That intense dream last night—what was that about? It had felt so real. Mel had felt so

tangible, alive. Damn. Megan can barely think. Today would, truly, be a lovely day to die.

But she managed to get a seat today. She woke up today and there was a box of Lucky

Charms in the cupboard again, and the little marshmallows tasted like sugar, childhood

and hope.

Choosing to believe that Mel can hear her, twirling around in her meadow of orchids,

Megan amends her statement. It tastes odd and unfamiliar on her mind’s tongue, and she

struggles to truly believe in it, but she tries anyway. For Mel.

Today is a good day.

Above her, the sunrise douses the sky in a baptism of fire, setting it ablaze in orange and




Alice Shen

Alice Shen is a student just trying to make a mark in the world. As a writer, they try to

write about whatever inspires them at the moment. Aside from studying and writing,

Alice Shen is also a toxic FPS gamer. https://www.instagram.com/elit.shen/


Athena is a writer who mostly spends her time “writing” poetry — by that, she means

obsessing over the best possible word that distills her feelings into her phone screen.

When she’s not spending the night cramming metaphors due to insomnia, she’s probably

playing (or drawing) Pokémon.

Chua, Richelle Aubrey Ang

Richelle is a struggling Science student by day and a curiously coping confessionalist at

night. She takes inspiration from and often writes about family, love, and the teenager

spirit. In the future, she hopes to publish her own poetry collection.

claire lee

claire lee hibernates most of the time and listens to sentimental tunes when struck with

those late night blues, sometimes she writes what she feels to make sense of things or the

way she thinks. the teenage chapbook is the first publication she’s ever sent her work to.

Emmy Kwan

Emmy Kwan is a regular nineteen year old literature nerd from Singapore. She writes

mostly poems, but also short stories, and about anything and everything, from societal

disparity issues like gender inequality to mundane local life. In addition to writing, Emmy

does traditional and digital art, and aims to open a sticker shop (which you could visit on

Instagram @kwantalogue)

Gabrielle Kurniawan

Gabrielle is a seventeen-year-old student from Singapore who found her first loves when

she was first introduced to reading, bread, and God. She has been previously published in

the CAP 30 Years Commemorative Publication, Thir.st, and Blue Marble Review.


Isabelle Lim

Isabelle Lim is currently a Literary Arts student studying at the School Of The Arts. In

her time as a writer, she has written everything from poetry and plays to research papers,

though she prefers prose. Other than writing, she enjoys singing and browsing Pinterest

or Stan Twitter. She also co-runs a poetry fundraiser with her friends! Check it out

@thewritechoicesg on instagram.

Khoo Yi Xuan

Khoo Yi Xuan is a current Literary Arts student at School of the Arts, Singapore. Spirited

and enthusiastic, she loves seeing vitality in life and sometimes expresses this through her

writing. Her favourite book genres are Sci-Fi, Dystopian Fiction and Thriller. In her free

time, Yi Xuan enjoys binge-watching shows, reading and spending time with friends.

Kirtan Savith Kumar

Kirtan Savith Kumar is a student of the Humanities Programme at Hwa Chong

Institution, Singapore. With a passion for writing and research, Kirtan as an editor for

Cathartic Literary Magazine, Thistle Topics. He enjoys watching Bollywood movies on

rainy days, salt and vinegar chips and floral patterns.

Liang Li Yee

Li Yee is a human who spends her free time reading storybooks and playing rpg games.


riel is a student who only does homework while in queue for video game matches and

only writes poetry after a mental breakdown— the rest of their time is spent consuming/

creating visceral horror content, skating fast, and deliberating over which toilet to use

when out in public. they are also on instagram @aphelionics.

rochelle lee

rochelle lee is an aspiring writer from singapore. right from the very first badly-put short

story, writing became her comfort and her understanding. she writes both mood poetry

and prose but tends to love more of the former for when she’s thinking too much. she

regrets knowing she once published a story about evil clocks in the all in! snack fiction

anthology but is still very much thankful for the opportunity. she was also very sad to see

her favourite bookshop booksactually in tiong bahru go and will continue being sad until

further notice.


rui ho

rui is an aspiring writer who specialises in writing queer fluff and angst, and often

hyperfixates on incredibly specific topics. in their free time, they like to cry over ancient

chinese sword gays and struggle through learning multiple languages at once. otherwise,

they can be found on archive of our own (ao3) as ruiconteur.

Shaun Loh

Shaun Loh is a Year 6 student at Raffles Institution. His fiction and poetry works have

been published in school, national and international anthologies. He serves as the Editorin-Chief

of his school newspaper, Raffles Press.

Soh Yong Xiang

Yong Xiang is a student. He likes writing, going for walks and eating dim sum.

Silvia Suseno

Silvia Suseno, currently a student at Yale-NUS College, is a writer who aims, with the

cadence and nuance of each word, to capture the most fleeting moments and emotions.

She was involved in the pilot run of Project LIVEpress by Ethos Books, which

culminated in her poems published in the anthology Unhomed in 2016. In 2018, she was

a finalist in the Science Chronicles. She was also awarded the merit prize in the Edwin

Thumboo Prize 2020.

Tang Sumi

Tang Sumi is a Year 5 Film student at the School of the Arts and was previously a

Literary Arts student. Her poetry has been published in ZUBIR: A SOTA Literary Arts

Anthology, although she often prefers to pretend her writing prior to 2018 doesn’t exist.

The greatest discovery of her life was learning how to arrange words in a way that lets

you sink into an atmosphere of quiet yearning, a single suspended moment in everyday

life. She firmly believes that the pinnacle of reactions to your writing are incoherent

keysmashes and the sobbing emoji.

Tristan Tan

Tristan Tan is a student who likes to dabble in the realms of poetry and songwriting. An

emerging poet and a seasoned guitarist, Tristan sinks great amounts of thought into his

works to push the boundaries of his poems and songs alike. When not pondering the

intricacies of everyday life, he likes to put his time to good uses, such as bingeing sitcoms

on Netflix and procrastinating on project work.


© Amber: The Teenage Chapbook

Issue 1 | February 2021

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