Flash fiction: Her story. His story

Her story

     I squeal and roll my body from side to side.

     “Shhhshh! not too loud,” you say, kneading the various parts of my foot.

     Certain reflexology points hurt like crazy, others are pee-generating ticklish.  Endorphins! That’s what you say you are trying to release. The body’s natural pain reliever.

     “Feel better?” you ask.

     I nod sheepishly.  Now I wished I hadn’t ridicule your foot reflexology idea.

     I look at you. You are studying my feet. “Your feet are really small. What shoe size are you? Kid’s size?”  I throw the pillow at you and dive to rub it against your face. “No! I am a UK size 4-half,” I protest.

     “Yup! Definitely kid’s size,” you wink, flinging the cushion away.

     You start rubbing the sides of my foot, along the Achilles heel and anklebone and down to my toes. Your touch is warm. You squeeze the sides of my big toe, rolling it between your fingers. A fuzzy, woozy, tingling sensation shoots up my leg. All the way up my thighs.

     My pulse races and I breathe sharply. A soft moan escapes my lips.

     You look up, startle.

     Our eyes meet. I lower mine and quickly look to my side. I feel the urge to say what I had been wanting to say to you but I hesitate.  You put my foot down slowly and run your hand across your shaven chin.  You stand up and stretch.  “Want some tea?” you ask, walking briskly to the kitchen before I could answer.   

 

His story  

    John looked longingly at Liny’s feet.  His breath quickened. He needed to touch them, feel the curve of her heel and softness of her arch. “Have you heard of foot reflexology? Perhaps it could release some endorphins to alleviate your pain.”

     Liny raised her eyebrows. “That quack thing?” she laughed. John felt his face turned red. She looked at him and grinned, “I mean, I have never tried it but yeah, go ahead.”

     The red banner announcing today’s marathon lay crumpled on the floor. Beaten like Liny who sprawled on the sofa with legs propped up on John’s lap.  She had grabbed the banner off the railings and wrapped it around her shoulders to run a victory lap.  That was before her legs buckled.

     Liny looked gorgeous even as she lay in this unceremonious position.  Her tangled hair covered with sweat along the braids. Her red lipstick smudged down the sides of her jaw. 

     John held her right foot firmly with both hands and massaged all the way from the toes to the heel.  He stiffened as she squealed and rolled from side to side in ticklish laughter.  Perhaps he was doing this all wrong. It was not meant to be ticklish. But then again, he was new at this foot reflexology thing.

     He studied Liny’s foot. “Your feet are really small. What shoe size are you? Kid’s size?” he remarked, looking up at her.  A pillow hit him, knocking the wind out of him. Before he could recover, he felt her lunged forward to rub it against his face.  “No! I am a UK size 4-half,” she yelled. He pulled the pillow away and winked. “Yup! Definitely kid’s size,” he teased.

     He asked her to calm down. He ran his thumbs down the side of her foot. His instructor had told him in jest during the last class — “If you want to arouse your partner, you should massage her heel along her Achilles tendon and press the hollow under her anklebone.”

     John jumped as Liny moaned. Oh my God, it worked!  He smiled inwardly and moved his hands to her big toe. He felt her quiver as he caressed the pad of her toe between his fingers.

     Suddenly, she jerked her foot. He looked up and saw her staring at him. She opened her mouth to say something but stopped. He knew he had crossed the line between workmates.  He let go of her foot and looked away, hoping that she would not catch the yearning in his eyes.

     He stood up and pretended to stretch. “Want some tea?” he asked as he rushed to the kitchen.

 

 

The meet-up

I am not sure who was the one with the itchy fingers (or was it idle minds? or both?) that started this whole meet-up thing.  With social media, the world has shrunk to a click. Click “Yes” to a friend request and you get to see A Day In A Life version of someone whom you have not heard from since you left school/ broke up/ remove your braces/ whatever.

Today, I had coffee with the ex-boyfriend and the woman he had cheated on me left me to marry.  

I won’t have agreed to meet, had it not been for this intense curiosity on my part to see what she looks like. What was it that she had that I hadn’t? In a twisted kind of way, I needed to see that one flaw in her; that one glaringly obvious shortfall that would correct this perception of perfection which has so plagued my insecurity for the last 35 years.

From the phone chats that preceded this meet-up, I was certain that the ex-boyfriend harbored same for my husband. He wanted to see what was it that my husband had that he hadn’t. And I knew that in the same twisted kind of way, he was trying to provoke me into giving him the pleasure of knowing that one flaw that my husband had; that glaringly obvious shortfall that will have the ex-boyfriend looking all dandy.

So at the last minute, I  decided to leave my husband at home because I knew it would be unfair on him. I do not want him to be collateral damage in a pissing match that could erupt between me and the ex-boyfriend (I am super competitive, don’t judge).

Since I have now seen what I have gone to see and he has not seen what he had come to see, I am all smug. Because for me, having that unfair mental edge is everything. LOL

 

Flash fiction: The second best

sdr

as i sat by the window
and watched the day unfold,
a quiet voice asked
   if he would always be second best.

hugging myself tightly around the knees,
i continued staring at the changing light.
not wanting to acknowledge the question.
nor eager to weigh an answer.

why do you ask? i sighed,

     finally.

          not particularly ready for the truth

your eyes are dead.
your heart is cold, said he

i daren’t face the voice behind
i daren’t see the hurt in his eyes

hugging myself tightly around the knees,
i continued staring at the layered hues.
not wanting to acknowledge the answers.
nor eager to face the truth.

Flash fiction – Dear One,

5_edit

Dear One,

There are a couple of things going on in my life at the moment which I am not too happy about.

There have been times, one too many of late, where I catch myself sighing in despair and numbed by indecision.

I hear you when you say that I am passively living my life. I hear you when you say that I am living a lie. I hear you when you say that you feel sad for me.

Because I feel all of that too.

As I wandered in the fields of my dream, I see another me who is living the kind of life I wished for but daren’t pursue. The moment I stretched out my hand to touch that other me, it evaporated, leaving neither a trace nor a scent of what could have been.

Tomorrow, I will dream again. It’s the same dream but with a tweak here and there,  twisted and embellished by time to suit whatever my sub-conscious wished to perceive.

I hear myself telling you that you should try to walk in my shoes. I hear myself telling you that I wish things were different. I hear myself telling you that I feel tired and restless. I hear myself telling you that I love you.

 

Flash Fiction – Killing two birds with a stone

     The air-conditioner cranked loudly, blowing warm and cold air in cycles.  This office smelt musty, like rotting carpet.  On one side of the wall was an imposing oil painting of E.H, the company’s founder.  Three work cubicles crammed into the office space flanked by two large glass cabinets full of golf trophies.     

     On the production floor below, metal cutters screeched, grinders rasped and compressors hissed.

     Someone was walking up the perforated metal stairs; the sharp clacking sounds from the metal tips typical of expensive shoes echoed up to the top floor. 

     My coworker, Qian, cleared his throat.  I checked my watch. 11.45AM.

     The door opened and the Accountant strolled in with a cup of coffee.   She looked up, startled. 

     She made a sharp turn and walked out again, hollering at someone to hurry up before re-entering.

     “Hi.  I didn’t know you were coming.  Traffic jam,” she fretted.  I shrugged. 

     Excuses.  It would be a cold day in Hell before the city roads were free of  roadworks and traffic jams. 

     “Is E.H working today? It is 11.47AM,” I asked icily, looking pointedly at my watch and making sure that I stated the time loud and clear. 

     She stared meekly at the direction of the door. 

     E.H entered the meeting room with an exaggerated swagger. 

     “Hello sweetie,” he said with a wink.  I flinched as he tickled my palm with his index finger.  Then, he gave me a knowing smile as though we were sharing a private joke.  I pretended not to notice.

     “Good to see you, buddy,” he bellowed, slapping Qian on the back. 

     “Thanks for the stock tip the other day.  Made shitloads,” he continued. 

     I spied Qian mouthed something frantically. 

     “The big boss has asked me to introduce you to Lilly Tan.  She is his new Fixer for our investee companies, although I don’t see the point because she is managing his small personal stuff,” Qian said pompously, vigorously rubbing the arms of the sofa with his hands.

     E.H wagged his finger at me, “Sweetie, you should meet my wife.  She is driving me crazy with her endless renov–, “

     “Thank you, I am sure I will meet your wife sometime soon. For your information, I am not the Fixer. I am the new Managing Partner of the Fund,” I cut in.

     “She’s your new Boss, eh? A lady boss! She’s gonna put you under her thumb.” E.H laughed at Qian and made a show of pressing his thumb on the table.

     “We are going to reorganize all the real estate assets in our portfolio companies. All the factories, the offices and warehousing facilities. Some of these will be put into a Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) for public listing.  I am sending an Associate here soon to compile a list of all landed assets in this company.” I announced firmly, noting the sneer on Qian’s face.

     “Hey, Qian. Maybe we can get rid of those retail lots we bought by injecting into this Trust, eh?” E.H growled. 

     I glanced at Qian.  He looked away.  

     “Hmm.. retail spaces. You mean, the ones you bought with Qian?” I fished, feigning surprise. So the rumours around the office water cooler were true after all. That there were conflicts of interest between Qian and this portfolio company.

     “Qian told you about it?” E.H looked at me in disbelief and then, at Qian.

     “My friend, REITs are con-jobs…only the managers make money.  I won’t be too happy if I were you.  Mark my words, your shareholding in this company will be majorly diluted.” Qian laughed nervously, his unsmiling eyes glinted dangerously at me. 

     I drummed my fingers on the table impatiently and stood up to leave. 

     “Well, we won’t know for sure if there will be a dilution as yet.” I said casually.

     Qian jumped and pointed at me accusingly, “What do you mean by no dilution? This…this factory and this land are the most valuable assets in this company.”

     He waved his arms wildly and glared at me darkly,  “Unless..Oh don’t tell me..  you are planning to relocate this factory to some remote area and sell this prime land.”

     E.H glowered at me. He arched his back and puffed his chest out. 

     “Nobody is going to touch any of my company’s assets. This factory and all the land around here was bought by my grandfather with his hard-earned money,” he snarled, pushing his face mere inches away from mine and jabbing me at my breast. 

    I swung my arm at him. He grabbed my shoulders and frog-marched me out of the office. I screamed as loud as I could and turned to elbow and knee him at the balls, but he was too strong for me. He lifted me up and dropped me on the doormat outside. The metal stairs shuddered as the office door slammed.

     I picked myself up and tucked my blouse back into my tailored pants. Once in my car, I dug my hand into my pocket and gingerly switched off the recording device. I closed my eyes tightly as I half-slammed the car door against my calf. That would do. A big ugly bruise here and another there. Sufficient evidence to threaten E.H for physical violence and keep Qian on a leash.

     I looked around at the land surrounding the factory and smiled.  Qian was right. This land is the most valuable asset in this company.  Five acres of land right in the middle of the City.  Relocate the business. Sell the land. I pumped my fist. It is always important to close the first deal in any new job, fast. 

Flash fiction – The Attic

     “What time are we going up to the attic?” I asked over breakfast.

     “Huh?” Percival regarded me suspiciously.

     “Don’t play stupid. You promised.” I shot my boyfriend the look

     “I was drunk. It is unfair to hold a drunk man to a promise.”

      “Wasn’t it you who said that a promise is a promise, no matter what?” I smiled.

     He lowered his eyes and stared at his fingers for a long time. Finally, he walked to one of the drawers and took out a bunch of keys. He chose the one with a small porcelain rose and walked up to the attic.

     He flicked the light switch.

     I gasped.

     A sepia photo of a lady in a heavily embroidered baju panjang stared at me.  Her white hair was gathered in a bun at the top of her head and clasped with hairpins of sparkling gems.  

     A chill pricked my neck.

     I saw the resemblance rightaway…the prominent jaw, the high hairline and the V-shaped dip at the centre of the broad forehead.

     Below the photo was a rich brown teak mantelpiece. On it stood an exquisite jade green Straits Chinese jar.  It had a phoenix and a pink peony on the front. On its lid was a crouching qilin, the mystical hooved chimera creature regarded as the Chinese unicorn.

     I touched the jar. It was cold.  

     Percival cleared his throat and said, “my mum sleeps in there.”

     I pulled my hand back and looked around the room. An antique writing desk stood to my right. It was made of mahogany with designs from the Edwardian era. I gently slid the roll-top. Inside were dried-up watercolour half-pans and sable brushes, sketches of flowers and unfinished artwork. I ran my fingers along the textured grains of cold-pressed paper.  An ache tugged my heart.  I closed the roll-top and stepped away.

     I turned at the smiling photo and ornate jar, clasped my hands and bowed deeply.

     Percival stood at the door. He looked sad and distant. I took his hand and led him out, gently closing the door behind us.

**

     “Percival showed me his mum’s resting place.”  I squinted for Bibi’s reaction as I squeezed lemons over anchovy fillets.

     Instead, the housekeeper continued prodding the pork roast in the oven, pretending not to hear me.

     “He looks like her,” I continued, noting her silence.

     She closed the oven door and lifted her arms backwards to stretch her back. Then, she opened the cupboards in quick succession.

     “What are you looking for?” I asked.

     She turned to look at me quizzically. “I forgot.”

     I laughed.

     “So are you going to tell me something about her?” I stuck my tongue markedly inside my right cheek.

     She sighed. “I think it’s better if Sir talks to you about his mother.”

     “I thought you were her primary care-giver?”

     “Yes. But I still think it’s only proper that you hear it from Sir,” she answered. 

     I looked at her wistfully.  “I have a feeling he doesn’t want to talk about her.” 

     She knitted her brows in a pained look and walked out of the kitchen.

     “Hey, where are you going? You haven’t answered my question!” I shouted.

     “Ask him yourself,” she waved the back of her hand at me impatiently, like she was swapping flies.

     Then, she stopped, half-turned her head to my direction. “Her name was Rosemary.”

**

     Last night I dreamt of Rosemary Fredericks, again.

     Her eyes were bulging in horror. There was blood spouting from all parts of her body.  She was screaming and struggling as giant tendrils engulfed her body. Then, she grabbed me and pulled me down with her.  

     I jolted as my shoulder was shaken violently.  Percival was peering anxiously at me.  I could not move my arms and legs. My lips were parched. My body bathed in cold sweat.  This was freaking me out. Same nightmare in two nights.

**

     Today was Bibi’s day off.  I opened the drawer to look for the key with the porcelain rose token. It was not there.

     I went into Percival’s study to look for it.

     “C’mon Rosemary, you have to help me here. Show me the attic key, please,” I muttered under my breath, as I tried the drawers at Percival’s desk. 

     Something caught my eye as I was leaving the study.  

     A piece of paper peeped from behind a photo frame which was face-side down on the side table. I turned it over and peered at the photo. It was an old black and white photo of Rosemary with a toddler on her lap. I tugged at the piece of paper.  The cardboard backing gave way, causing the glass front to slip and shatter on the floor.

     Damn!     

     My phone rang.

     Unknown number. Must be some cold caller.

     I let it ring.

     A text message beeped.

     “What are you doing in my study? Get out now!”

     Damn! I forgot the CCTV. 

     I called Percival.  “No! I will not leave until you tell me exactly what happened to your mother. Nobody wants to tell me anything.”

     “What do you want to know about her?” he replied

     “I dreamt of her twice this week. TWICE!  I WANT TO KNOW HOW SHE DIED,” I yelled.

     After a long silence, he said quietly, “You don’t have to shout at me.  You are very rude. 
 I will asked Bibi to tell you everything you want to know about mum.”

**

     The newspaper cutting was dated 20 April 2009. Eight years ago.

Socialite dies in freak accident

BY CATHERINE YEW 

20 APRIL 2009

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20:  The body of reclusive socialite Rosemary Fredericks, 72, was found yesterday lying in a pool of blood with a broken neck in her rose garden. According to house staff who had requested anonymity, Mrs Fredericks was trimming her prized white roses when her pet dog, a Golden Retriever called Matt, chased a stray cat and crashed into the wooden plant support structure; causing it to topple and collapse onto Mrs Fredericks.

Mrs Fredericks who was believed to be recovering from breast cancer, died on the spot.

     I closed my eyes and breathed sharply. 

     Taken away without a goodbye.

     Is that why she looked distressed in my dreams?

     Is her soul wandering aimlessly in the garden?

     “It was Sir’s idea to have that plant support structure,” Bibi said.

     “Who? Percival? Is that why he blames himself?”

     She nodded.

     I looked out to the front yard. “What happened to the rose garden?” 

     “Sir took a machete and slashed everything to the ground.”

###

Flash Fiction – Dog’s breakfast

     I looked at the dish in front of me, “it looks dead.” 

     Mike snorted, “Of course, it’s dead! What are you expecting it to do? Moo?”

     I shifted the overcooked vegetables around in my plate and gingerly lifted the steak on its side. It slipped off my fork and flipped over with a thud, revealing uneven leathery dry spots on the underside. Freezer burn

     Mike cleared his throat and hissed, “Can you please stop playing with your food and eat? People are watching us.”  

     I smiled mischievously at my co-worker. I tilted my head slightly to glance over my shoulder to see if people were indeed watching us.

     The place was dimly lit although it was early afternoon. Streaks of sunshine streamed intermittently through gaps in the heavy brocade curtains.

     There was one other booth that was occupied. Three men in suits, huddled over a large blueprint.

     I shook my head. I can’t see how this restaurant was going to last till the end of the year. Best to turn this old place into one of those artisanal-whatver joints which are fashionable with hipsters now. 

     “I hope you are not going to do what I think you are planning to do,” he said in a low voice, pointing his finger at the no-camera sign painted on the side of the booth.

     “Hey, can you please hold up your napkin in front of you for abit? Pretend that you are wiping your mouth,” I chuckled. 

     “We are going to be thrown out of this restaurant for this,” he protested, obediently holding up the napkin which I was going to use as a diffuser.

     I angled my small mirror against Mike’s napkin to bounce off some soft light.  I took a couple of quick shots on my smartphone before bringing it down to my lap to review. 

     “Satisfied?” Mike huffed. 

     I nodded.

     “I like you, yunno.  You are not like my husband, so grumpy whenever I want to take photos of my food,” I said sweetly. 

     I raked the garnishes off the top of my main course and made sawing motions as I sliced off a small bite.  I held it up to my nose, closed my eyes and inhaled deeply.  Then, I put it into my mouth and swirled it around my tongue.

     “This is so good,” I moaned theatrically,  “like hav —.”

     Mike coughed lightly. I opened my eyes and nearly choked on my food.

     The young chef was grinning at me. “Is everything alright, Madame?”

     “Yes, yes,” I said hurriedly, scratching my brain for a “politically correct” compliment. 

     “This…” I pointed at my dish repeatedly, “wasn’t what I expected.” 

     He looked at me anxiously.

     I stared at my dish as if to find the right words. “It’s …hmm.. interesting!” I decided, finally, in a measured tone.

     He gave a slight bow and said, “Thank you for your kind support,” before hi-fiving his way back to the kitchen.

     Mike looked at me and started laughing. “You are a bloody soft Aunty person underneath, ain’t you?”

     “No, I’m not!”

     “C’mon, say that you will give this place another chance.”

     I shook my head.

     “That bad, eh?”

     “How can you even think of serving meat with freezer burn? At least I won’t feel guilty when I sign the eviction letter. I’ll splash these photos over social media if they threaten to sue. Anyway —,” I sighed, reaching out for an empty doggy bag in my handbag, “the dog would be delighted to have this.” 

Flash fiction – The writing class

When Allen heard Mother yawned in bed, he ran to bring her breakfast which he’d made – pancakes slightly crusted at the edges and generously doused in warm maple syrup.

   “Class..what is wrong with Drew’s story?” You ask. Someone at the back mumbles.

   “I can’t hear you. C’mon we have been through this before.” You look around. “You should not start a story with …what?”

   “A wake up scene,” someone finally quips.

   “Yes, you have to start the story as close as possible to the action. Stop going round and round with I wake up. He wakes up. My mum wakes up, and stretches, and yawns…,” you shake your head and continue reading the student’s writing assignment out loud to the class.

He was hoping that Mother is in her good moods.  The piano lessons were getting tiresome.  Besides, he had promised Grandma that he would help in the garden. Allen hated working on the compost heap; but it was miles better than piano lessons.

   “Are these details really necessary?” You ask again. No answer. You walk quickly to the third row and flicks at an ear. Jason wakes up with a start.

Mother smiled when she saw the breakfast tray.  She was wearing her favourite nightshirt; the one with tiny bluebells.  She had let her hair loose, and it caught the glint of sunlight.   Allen thought how pretty Mother looked when she was not fussing over something.

He watched her intently as she put the pancake in her mouth.  She closed her eyes and chewed slowly.

“Lovely” Mother said, licking the syrup off her fingers.

Allen stared at the floor, tracing his toe along the crevice of a tile.

   You lift your arms in mock despair. “You! come out here and continue reading this.” You point to Vivian and wave the three-paged story at her. She continues to stare at the upright book in front of her. The boy sitting behind her stretches his foot and kicks her chair, causing the book to fall and reveal a handphone. 

“Is everything alright, dear?” Mother was looking at him.

Allen stiffened.

“I..I.. wa.. was.. won.. wonder.. ing.. whe.. whe.. ther.. I.. could.. could.. go.. to.. Gra.. andma’s.. to..to..day”

   Vivian deliberately reads the stammer in a singsong way.  Then she purrs:

“Take a deep breath, son.  Look at me and say it again slowly” 

   The boys at the back of the class thump their palms against their desks in appreciative glee.

“I was.. won..der..ing if I.. I.. couldgotoGrandma’stoday”

“What day is it?” Mother looked around the room and reached for her Blackberry.  “Nine messages from the office? What is going on?”

Mother’s face turned moody.  Allen shuffled out of Mother’s room and went to his, tears welling up in his eyes.

   “Class, has the story answered your 5Ws so far? Can you feel any tension in this story?” You rap the desk loudly for attention. The front row students nod hesitantly. 

Clacky was watching him from the shoebox.  Allen stretched across the bed and released the hatch which held the flap like a drop door.  The lizard crawled out slowly onto his hand.

“We are not going to Grandma’s today”, he cooed.

Allen brought out pancake crumbs from his pocket. The lizard flicked its tongue greedily.  Allen ran his finger along the lizard’s leathery back.  The lizard loved to be massaged this way because it always went clack! clack! clack!

   Vivian enunciates the words “loved to be massaged.”  The class erupts.  

How nice it is to be a lizard, Allen thought.  No piano lessons.

The thought of piano lessons jolted him.  He looked at the clock by his bedside. Another 15 minutes to go and that terrible woman would be here. Why? Why? Why? he cried as he punched the mattress and buried his face in the pillow.

Just then, he heard footsteps.  He put Clacky in his pocket, and propped his head on his elbow.

“What was it that you wanted to tell me, son?”  It was Mother.

“I hate piano lessons. Can I stop?” Allen was surprised how easily the words came out of his mouth.

   “Teacher, this is so boring. Can I stop?” Vivian wails. You wave at her to carry on. 

Mother looked at him strangely. “Nope! But I suggest you wash up and get ready for Miss Cheong”

Then she walked away.

“Oh.. and another thing”, she was back at his door, “Thanks for the pancakes. They were lovely. Be good!”  He heard her blow him a kiss and was gone.

   You look at the clock above the whiteboard. Five minutes to go before the end of the class. Six hours to the end of the school day. You wonder what had possessed you to accept this temporary teaching job. You should be at your desk, writing your novel. Not this. With these pubescent kids who don’t give a damn.

   “Teacher, can we do the skit instead, please..please?” a voice implores. 

   You look around the restless class. “Right. Can I have three volunteers: one to read and two to act as Allen and the piano teacher? Drew, you are the writer of this story. Please lead the skit.” 

   Drew stands up instantly. He picks Ben, and a girl who you know he fancies. She flashes a V sign as the class chant, “Mira, Mira.” 

   “Who is going to do what?” You ask. Drew says he will do the reading. He says he sucks at acting.

 

“Let’s start from the top.” Miss Cheong’s voice was frosty.

She had her hair pulled severely into a bun.  She had plucked her eyebrows and they sat stoically on her face, above her eyes like two forbidding wire arches.

“NOOO! Wrong! Wrong!” she yelled.  Allen flinched as her ruler struck his knuckle. She shoved him aside, and bore down the keyboard furiously.

“You are such a waste of my time.  I have never taught anyone so STUPID!”

Allen could feel the sobs swelling up his chest to his throat.
….         No, I mustn’t cry.
       ….          She’ll laugh at me.
                 …        She’ll call me a cry baby.

 

   Drew stops reading abruptly and looks at you. “Can I change places with Ben, teacher? He reads, I act?” You shrug your shoulder. You wonder briefly over his change of heart. Drew runs to his desk, takes out his waterbottle and runs back to the front of the class. He takes a big gulp to calm his nerve and sets it on the table, with its lid open.

 

“Eeekkk!!!” Miss Cheong leapt and wiggled her body vigorously.

Allen stared and then, remembering Clacky, reached for his pocket. His heart sank.

He ran behind Miss Cheong and started patting her.

   You gesture at Drew to stop patting the giggly Mira all over.

   Now, you wish you had read the rest of Drew’s story before agreeing to this skit. The boy is clearly getting ahead of himself and taking advantage of the situation.

She jumped in fright, startled; and swung her hand at him.  He could hear Clacky squirming wildly in fear and panic.  He took a glass of water and splashed it down her back.

   Splash!

   “You shithead!” Mira screams. Water streaming down the back of her school uniform. She grabs Drew’s shirt and shoves. He stumbles onto the floor and curls up like a ball. She starts punching his back. You rush and pull Mira away. She spits at Drew.

   Ben raises his voice above the uproar and continues reading.

“You idiot!” she screamed as the lizard fell out of her dress and onto the floor.

“Idiot! Idiot! Idiot!” she chanted as she stamped her foot repeatedly on Clacky.

   “Mr Vincent!” The Headmistress is standing at the door. She looks as though she would combust. You follow her out meekly as Ben reads the final part of the story.

Allen looked at the floor and saw the mangled mess of his best friend.

“I… I.. ha…ha..hate… you”

“I… I.. ha…ha..hate… you”, she mocked. “I AM LEAVING.”

 

 

Flash fiction – The Mentor’s last stand

     “When the root is deep, there is no reason to fear the wind,” my mentor points to the tv screen.

     The tv is mounted awkwardly at the corner of the bar. It has its sound turned down; a ticker tape showing falling stock prices races across the screen. All the big companies on the stockmarket are flashing their stock prices in red. Each flash a cent down from the previous. But my mentor is calm. You can only get bargains when there is panic and fear, he reminds me.

     I draw circles in the condensed droplets impatiently. He reaches out for my flask to pour cold sake into my cup. 

     “You should take the warm drinks instead of chilled. Too much cold drink is bad for health,” he chides.

     “Surely that’s not why you want to see me for, Sir.”  I wave at the bartender to bring me a bowl of stewed daikon.

     “I have the same,” my mentor concurs, “and I would also like some yudofu. Would you like some yudofu? You used to love the hot tofu.” 

     My heart skips a beat. He remembers

     The bartender’s wife places an earthern pot in front of us and lifts the lid, releasing a thick head of briny steam. Inside the pot are four blocks of freshly made tofu bath in kombu stock. I lean forward to inhale the savoury umami flavour of the seaweed.

     My mentor scoops a tofu block and places it into my bowl. He pours soy sauce and some of his sake onto my tofu before topping it with grated ginger and chopped scallions. Carving a piece off my tofu with his spoon, he blows to cool it down slightly. He gestures me to open my mouth. The hot tofu slides in; its soft custardy texture wobbling on my tongue like creme caramel. He hands me my bowl, “Itadakimasu. Eat. We talk later”

     I steal a glance at my mentor. We had worked together for 24 years. He employed me when I was fresh out of university. He introduced me to the seedy side of global investment banking; taught me how to seduce an investor by playing to his own greed. No qualms. No conscience. No what-ifs. Every successful deal closed was a huge jump in our annual bonus pool. 

     He laughs abruptly. I find myself laughing too. Not that I know what he is laughing about. His laughter is infectious; it comes out as a guffaw more than a chuckle; an echo that rises all the way from the gut.

     He turns sharply and catches me looking at him. I blush. He retrieves a cigarette from the case, taps one end against the counter top before lighting up. A slight tilt of the head. A long slow inhale. A coy smile as warm nicotine races down to his lungs. Later, sharp rushes on exhaling before ashes are flicked impatiently readying for the next puff.

     “Let’s go out for a walk,” my mentor suggests, after we had washed down our meal with the one more flask of warm sake. Our third.

     Outside the moon hangs low in the hazy sky. Spring is here. It will soon become hot and humid. But tonight, it feels chilly. I shiver in my white linen shift dress. I untie the cashmere scarf around my neck and drape it over my shoulders. My mentor takes off his jacket and wraps me in it. I resist the urge to press his jacket against my face.

     “How is he?”

     “Look! what a perfect round moon.” I pull the front of the jacket tightly.

     “Why did you marry him?”

     “Is this why you want to meet me for? To ask me why I decided to throw down my last card?” 

     He stops suddenly and turns to me.

     What is there to tell? That I am tired of innuendos at work? Or that my on-off boyfriend had issued the ultimatum? Or..or.. that I am tired of waiting, of hoping…

     “I just reckoned it was time.” 

     My mentor grabs me around my waist. He tilts my face towards him with one hand while the other holds the small of my back. He caresses the side of my cheek and parts my lips gently.

    C’mon, let me hear you lie to me again.

   “Silly girl. Didn’t I tell you that I am trying to get a divorce?” he said

Flash fiction – An inconvenient time

   “Father wants to go home,” my sister announced flatly over the phone.

   I sat up; almost falling off as my lazy chair buckled and tilted from my sudden movement. “No he can’t.  He has a doctor’s appointment in two weeks’ time.  Besides, his wound after the surgery has yet to heal completely.”

   “But he insists on going.  He says that there is something he must do before Mother goes off on her holiday with her friends next week.”

   Oh bother! Mother and her holiday. Damn! 

   “What is it that is so important that it couldn’t wait?”  I said, a tad too loud.  The young man who was cleaning the swimming pool looked up and threw me a quizzical look.  I reddened.

   “I don’t know. I tried asking but he kept saying “you won’t understand”.  I can fly home with him this weekend but I can’t fly him back here in time for his next doctor’s appointment.  I have got an important dinner party to host.  This is most inconvenient.” My sister let out a big sob.

   I could instantly picture my sister at the other end, eyes welling in tears, smudging her carefully drawn mascara as they rolled down her taut face fashioned under the skillful hands of a popular plastic surgeon. 

    Same old, same old, I thought.  My sister is prone to dramatics to get herself out of looking after Father.

   My 78-year old father has been staying at my sister’s house in Kuala Lumpur for the last two weeks after his hip replacement operation.  After my eldest brother passed away unexpectedly, the responsibility of looking after our parents had fallen on the shoulders of my youngest sister and I.  More me than her.  Purely on logistics.  My parents’ house was a 10-minute drive from my condo compared to the three-hour flight time from my sister’s.

   “I am not free either.  I have an important conference to attend overseas next week.” I lied.  I had recently met a guy online and he had suggested that we meet up in Hong Kong for a no-strings-attached fun holiday to see if we clicked in real life.  It is going to be my first real date since my divorce three years ago. 

  I scrolled down my contact list on my phone and called my sister excitedly.  “Maybe we should call our beloved cousin Min up and ask him if he is free.” 

  “Don’t you think it’s unfair to impose on someone else?” My sister hissed

   “Nah. It’s ok. Cousins are also considered family.”  I heard my sister mumbled something to someone as I watched the pool guy power-hosed bits of algae along the ledge.  His thin wet shorts clinging to his sinewy thighs. I swore he wasn’t wearing any underwear.  He turned and caught me watching him. He chuckled as I quickly looked away.

   “I just spoke to Father.  He insists on staying home alone while Mother goes off for her holiday!  And he doesn’t want Cousin Min to accompany him at home.  Why is he being so stubborn?”

   I pinched my throbbing temple.  “Crazy old man! What if something happens to him at home? Can you imagine how irresponsible we will look?  This is madness.  Why can’t he just stay put at your house until Mother returns from her holiday?”

   “Can you send your maid to Father’s house to take care of him instead?  I mean, I am just thinking out loud here. I would have sent my maid back with Father, but yunno, I need her to help me with the party and all.”  Parties, parties, parties. My sister and her never-ending socialite parties.

   “No, I will not sent my maid over to look after Father.  She was the reason he slipped down the stairs, remember?  This is so inconvenient.  Why need to go home now?  Why at this time when everyone is so busy?  Do you think we can ask Mother to postpone her holiday to some other time?”  

    Yatie, my maid, has vowed to resign if I ever ask her to look after Father again.  It was not her fault, she argued, that he fell down the stairs.  She had asked him to wait at the landing while she rushed back up to collect his forgotten medicine.  But according to her, he decided to walk down on his own, missing a step and tumbling down the whole flight to the bottom.  According to Father, Yatie had deliberately rushed him down the stairs as she was anxious to answer her ringing handphone.  Fortunately for him, the floor at the bottom of the stairs was carpeted.

   “I have spoken to Mother,” my sister continued.  “She is as inconsiderate.  She said that her holiday had been planned since last year and if the old man insists on staying alone at home, we should just let him be.  Maybe it will teach him a lesson.”

   Frustration gripped my chest as the prospect of spending time with my new boyfriend dissipated.  “What the hell! Whatever happened to “in sickness and in health, till death do us part”?  Do you think we can persuade Cousin Min to take time off work and babysit Father?  We can pay him yunno.  I don’t think he earns much as a lowly clerk.  Maybe we can pay him alittle over his daily rate to babysit.”

   “I have a situation here,” my sister snapped.  “The problem is that Father doesn’t want Cousin Min to be with him.  He doesn’t want anyone to be with him, except us.  He didn’t even want us to inform his sisters about his surgery, remember? All of them are not supposed to know, including Cousin Min.  This is so troublesome.”

   I slumped on my seat and inhaled sharply.  “Yes, I agree.  It is a most inconvenient situation at a most inconvenient time.  I still can’t understand why he can’t stay put at your house for the next two weeks until after the doctor’s appointment.  By then, either of us would be free to bring him home.”

   “I know right? What should we do? Are we going to let him stay alone at home and pray that nothing happens to him?”

   I shook my head.  No way am I going to let Father stay home alone, especially when he is recuperating from surgery.  I cannot risk him slipping and falling again.  “I still think that Mother should postpone her holiday to another date.  After all, you and I were the ones taking turns to look after Father in the hospital after surgery; sleeping upright on that uncomfortable chair and eating the tasteless hospital food.”

   “Oh God! I still can’t understand why we couldn’t get a suite.  After all, my husband is a somebody someone, a VVIP!” My sister wailed.

   I rolled my eyes.  “Ya. ya. ya. Tell me about it! I really think you should shoot a strongly worded complaint to the hospital.  But for now, how are we going to persuade Mother to sacrifice her holiday? Hey, maybe we can persuade the Doctor to tell Father that he can’t travel at all.”

   “But that would be lying. The Doctor would definitely not want to lie to Father.”

“Maybe I can get my ex-husband’s brother to write a doctor’s letter to Father, telling him that it is not possible to travel without aggravating his surgical wound.”  I laughed nervously.

   “Your brother-in-law?  I didn’t know you had a brother-in-law who is a doctor?

   “Technically he is a Laboratory Technician.  But he likes people to think he is a doctor. I am sure he can write a medical letter which looks very authentic, complete with the doctor’s official stamp.  I don’t mind paying him twenty Ringgit for that.” I grinned.

 

Flash Fiction – Then, the penny drops..

    I ordered chicken lasagna but the dish before me looked anything but. It had two rocket leaves curled up at the top, dusted in sprinklings of grated Parmesan cheese. Instead of tidy layers of pasta, bechamel sauce, cheeses and chicken ragu, my lasagna resembled a molehill with broken slabs of pasta piled on top of each other. 

    I glanced around. There was only one other customer. A young man with a tattoo on his biceps. He sat facing me at my 11 o’clock, nursing a hot pot of Earl Grey and reading a magazine. I hummed along to Misty Blue playing at the background.

    I sliced through the side of my lasagna with the tine of my fork and took a bite. For something that was a visual disaster, I must say it was surprisingly tasty. I positioned my phone in front of the lasagna, snapped a photo and whatsapped it over to you.

    “Enjoying a quiet lunch with some pasta and jazzy music,” I wrote, “what a treat!”

    “I am in a bar in Tokyo, having my lunch and enjoying jazz music too.” you wrote back.

    “Pray tell, is there a grey cat curled up somewhere on the cupboard, maybe?” 

    At that moment, my phone rang. You were laughing at the other end.

    “Just so you know I am not making this up, I am going to pass this phone to the bloke behind the counter.”

     I waited.

     The man behind the counter said that his name is Haruki.

     I giggled. The young man looked up from his magazine, scowling.

     “Did you hear what the man said?” you were back on the line.

     “Oh..c’mon..you don’t expect me to buy that, do you? You guys are probably rolling on the floor laughing at my expense.” I smirked. I had made the mistake of confessing to you that the only other guy who I had ever been totally head over heels infatuated with was Haruki Murakami, the renowned Japanese novelist.

     “Will you be back this weekend? I miss you.” 

     You sighed. “I can’t, babe. I have to tie some loose ends. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

     “Can I fly over instead?”

     “Not this time. I need you to hold the fort while I am away.” You sounded strangely muffled as though you had your hand over the mouthpiece. 

     Something inside me shifted; like the lasagna whose tidy middle portion had expanded during cooking and forced upwards like tectonic plates.  Because as you said goodbye, I swore I heard a high-pitched lady’s voice very close to you gushed, “Ikimashou ka?” – Shall we go?

 

Flash fiction – Awake in someone else’s dream

Isn’t that what the legend says?

If you can’t sleep at night, it’s because

you’re awake in someone else’s dream

           of course!

 

Is he thinking of me? you ask

Is he wide awake, too? you wonder

 

I stare at the ceiling,

grinning, then

           frowning.

If I don’t fall asleep soon,

I’ll look like crap in the morning.

 

Outside, the city lights are fading.

I count them,

            whispering..

he likes me, he likes me not,

      he likes me, he likes me not,

          he likes me, he likes me…hmm…

I look around and spy

four small red dots afar.

He likes me,

          oh my!