Amber Issue 1 - Feb 21
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ISSUE 01 | February 2021
Wen-yi Lee | Kimberley Chia | Christian Yeo
Cover & Title Art
This collection copyright © Amber: The Teenage Chapbook
Individual works © respective authors
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
the terracotta warriors
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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
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;
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,
its lines rise and cascade
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,
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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—
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
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—
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
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
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
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
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
Megan had had her earphones in, and she’d removed them only to laugh and reply, halfjokingly,
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
The shouting fades, and now her mother is addressing her. Begrudgingly, Megan takes her
“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.”
“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?
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
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
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,
Just as Megan catches a whiff of it, it disappears, leaving her to wonder if she’d imagined
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
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 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 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 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
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 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 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
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 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, 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 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 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