A Lost Battle

Her own teeth grinding sound woke her up. She moved her jaws and some saliva brought on the mild sweet taste. Her eyes gradually opened to the daylight piecing through the treetop. It’s only just after ten, she checked her phone, no messages. This is normal for an unwanted waste of space. She tried to get up from the hardwood park bench. Her neck and back were aching. The fucking methadone knocked me out again, she cussed. Her eyes met with a pair of doll eyes belong to a toddler with curly hair. Her face suddenly got slapped by a little thick palm. Boo the toddler uttered covering the doll eyes with two tiny chubby hands. The hands ran down from the doll eyes to the nose, on to the lips, smearing the dribbles all over the face and the giggling doll eyes never left her face. Boo the little monkey called out again with upmost enthusiasm. She covered her eyes and called out peek-a-boo to the curly hair. This caused more giggles rippled out on the playground. The retiree moved in fast and took the hand of the doll eyes, pulling away from her. She saw the retiree’s cautious fake smile. She gave back a fake smile and started walking out the playground.

That was all too familiar to her. She knew she was clean and tidy these days. So, she could not have been mistaken to be a homeless outcast. Then why the fuck people still gave her the look. Yes, that look, the fucking not sure what to do look. She thought it was the dole recipient depressing aura that she was wearing. Everywhere she went, people stayed away. She saw through people. She knew she was not dumb, on the contrary, she was street smart. She ran the phone for her mum’s strip party business in 6th grade. She had an adventurous life by stripping and travelling. If it wasn’t for the heroin addiction, she would still be having a good life.

She got on a bus without destination. Her daily luxury was the $2.50 flat rate pensioner’s travel. She leaned her head to the window looking out to a world she once belonged. Watching the school children waiting at the bus stop mucking around, she imagined her baby will be one of them, being well adjusted to this world. She was in two minds of getting the custody back. She had remained clean for almost two years so she had a good chance to regain the full custody. It had been a numb and lonely two years. She visited her local chemist daily to get her methadone doses. She was drugged up to her eye ball every day. The only difference between methadone and heroin was she felt low all the time. She kept fighting for the chance of being with her baby again. Now when the fighting was almost over, she felt the dread of not being able to dash across the finishing line. She felt so tired, so drained and so incapable of looking after herself left alone her child. The fear of letting her baby down again tormented her day and night. She was waiting to be judged as an incompetent mother and sentenced to a lonely low life, a constant living hell.

She got off the bus and walked towards the scenic cliff walk. The blank state of her mind led her all the way to the cliff top where tourists were posing and taking selfies.

“Breaking news today, a Sydney ex high paid escort killed herself by jumping the Gap in front of a group of Japanese tourists close to noon. It is reported she has been fighting to regain the custody of her six-year old son who is under the foster care system. Cassandra reporting from the Nine Network.”

Three BFF

Julie sat, blank faced in silence, staring at the Japanese style crane wall papers. Behind her, the gathering meal was being served. The service staff was pushing the food carts. The sound of the wheels rolling across the wooden floor intersected with the footsteps of funeral guests.

“Jules…Jules…Julie” Megan called out and placed her hand on Julie’s bonny shoulder. She was startled and broke out a cold sweat. She instantly stood up and turned around. The crane wallpaper flew out of her vision and Megan’s sleep deprived face gradually came into focus.

“Oh M!” she slummed herself into Megan’s full busted chest. “I am so glad that you are here. Oh my God! I need you. I can’t believe Bella is gone.” She sobbed uncontrollably, vibrating through her skin and bone frame.

“I am sorry I missed the whole service. I got here as soon as I could. I think I am still in shock that she is gone.” Megan gently pressed Julie’s head on her shoulder and comforted her with gentle patting on her back.

They stayed standing until she stopped crying. Megan took her hand and walked towards the courtyard. “Tell me Jules, everything you know about what happened to Bella.”

They stood by the fence. Julie started chewing on her already bare nails. “Oh M, it’s a tragedy. I saw her last Sunday. We went to check out the new doggy grooming parlour in Westfield. And she missed the knitting class on Tuesday. I called and called.” Tears ran from her red swollen eyes.

“Johnny called me Wednesday morning and told me Bella is gone. She jumped the Gap Tuesday night and the police search team found her body down the cliff. M, she is gone, it’s too much for her. She couldn’t do it anymore.” She sobbed and hung onto Megan for comfort.

Megan was trying to absorb what Julie told her. In her mind, Bella’s bright smile and the images of her and her adorable companion dog were playing screen by screen. ‘Bella jumped the Gap’ was an unconceivable idea, let alone a piece of news that she was never prepared to receive. A surge of anger came up from her stomach to the throat. She let out a low grunt which was out of her cool calm and collected character.

“I need a stiff drink, Jules, would you care for one too?”

“I suppose it will do me good. Get me a White Russian please M.”

Megan left Julie and walked straight to the bar where the funeral guests huddled and chatted in low voices. Megan ordered two White Russians and waited at the far side of the bar where just behind the screen that shielded her from the rest of the crowd. She finally cupped her hands on her face and started to weep, then it turned into wailing. She felt a piece of her heart was stabbed and twisted by a serrated knife. She could barely breathe with nose all congested and head pounding.

The curse

My feet are numb and my hands slowly come into focus. I am seeing stiffened crooked fingers. I don’t have arthritis. I use my thumbs to run over my fingertips. The sticky and slimy texture send chills to my rib cage. I feel I need to pee desperately. My body starts shivering in convulsions with the sensation of rain slapping on me.

Shhhh-tik-tik-tik…Shhhh-tik-tik-tik…The sound of the lawn sprinkler draws me to an awakening state. Relying on the moonlight, I find myself standing in my backyard soaked in my pyjamas. It is July, in the middle of Winter, Sydney’s temperature drops to 4°C. I raise my hands in front of my eyes. I see red stain trickling down to my elbows. “Aaaaah!” I let out a shriek.

The garden light comes on. The next thing I can make out is that I slump into my father’s arms shaking uncontrollably.

“Katie! Katie! Sweetheart, shh…shh…You are home safe darling.”

“Daddy, do you see the blood? I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” I am sobbing in fear and hyperventilating. I stare at my own hands which aren’t my hands.

“Darling, you are having nightmares again. That’s all. Shh…shh…You are safe.”

“It’s not a nightmare Daddy. I was standing on the lawn. I saw myself with gnarled fingers just like the curse. It is real Daddy. They are coming for me to repay the lives I took.”

“Baby, it’s untrue. They are just bluffing. There is no proof for it. It’s some kind of dark magic or spell they cast on you. You are innocent. You are my angel. There is no way you took any life. You hear me Katie? That is a lie!”

Scarecrow

This is a story about a scarecrow and a farm helper. 

The scarecrow was hand crafted by a farmer couple living in a village surrounded by rice paddies. They carefully created her with the late summer hay, natural dyed clothes, straw plaited hair, bamboo knitted hat and brown marble eyes. She was as beautiful as a china doll. 

The love the farmer couple poured into her made her the most precious scarecrow in the land. In return, she faithfully watched over the rice paddies throughout the seasons. She also watched the farmer couple tilling their land, planting and harvesting crops together. She saw them sharing teas, meals and sweets under the shady dancing willow. Oh how she wished she could understand their smile and the way they looked at each other. She felt empty and sad because of her hollow heart.  

In harvest seasons, the farmer couple hired a farm helper, an orphan boy from a village upstream. He had a good name on the land for hardworking, respectful and honest. Harvest was coming in a week. The helper returned to help preparing for the tools, clearing the barns and storehouse. 

The helper knew the scarecrow very well. They spent meal time, rest breaks and any free time the helper had together. The helper shared his daily happening with the scarecrow. Sometimes he told her his longing to know his parents and his sadness of being alone. The helper also played the harmonica especially at sunset to the scarecrow. The nostalgia sound of the harmonica saddened the scarecrow but she was without speech so she could not express her feelings to him. 

Every time the helper left the farm after the harvest season, he grew silent and gloomy because he missed the scarecrow terribly. He went on to work on other farms helping with building, feeding and minding cattle, training farm dogs or anything would make him a living. He read and played his harmonica in his spare time to help ease the pain of missing the scarecrow. He would also pass by the farmer couple’s property regularly to see if they had any small jobs for him to do so he could be with the scarecrow besides the spring and autumn harvests. 

One day the farmer offered the helper a cook position because his wife had fallen ill of a female problem which caused her to be weak and lethargic. The helper gladly accepted the offer and became the cook of the house. He not only performed diligently as the cook but also managed the housekeeping of the farm. He spent his free time to help the farmer in the fields. Whenever he stopped to wipe off his sweat, he would look up at the scarecrow with a big grin brighter than the morning sun. The farmers and the helper became great friends beyond the master and helper relationship. 

Every Spring and Autumn, the helper lovingly strengthened and repaired the scarecrow using new hays. He made her different straw hats that matched the new outfits he sewed her. The scarecrow always looked the best and remained the most victorious against all the birds to protect the farmers’ rice crop.  

The helper and the scarecrow faithfully served their duties for the farm and the land. They lived simply and adored each other in every way they could make happen. If not for the scarecrow, the helper would had been a lone farmhand. If it were not for the helper, the scarecrow would have been sadly watched over a land, eventually weather worn and devoured by birds. 

 

Part Of Me

I sit in the same chair with both hands tucked underneath my thighs. This is the last of the ten free sessions I am eligible for the calendar year. I don’t anticipate hearing anything new from Dr. Weber. She is going to give me a non-progressing Progress Report. Well, to be more accurate, it will be a regressing Progress Report.

I am acutely aware that my Achromatopsia is getting worse. In no time I will only see black, white and grey.  I am a race case. The ophthalmologist could not diagnose me as Achromatopsia positive because I was not born with this condition. From two years ago, I have been gradually losing my vision ability to see colours. On my medical report, my condition was referred to ‘Undetermined Achromatopsia’, and I was referred to Dr. Weber, a clinical Psychologist for further assessment.

Dr. Weber conducted DSM-IVR assessment and she did not give me any mental illness diagnosis. She recommended me to receive psychological counselling to help improve my coping with losing my colour vision. I have been seeing Dr. Weber for more than 2 years. Personally, I don’t think it is helping with my Achromatopsia. I keep attending the psychological counselling sessions as I get ten free sessions annually which are fully funded by public health Medicare, and I enjoy talking to Dr Weber. Every time after I see her, I feel ok with losing my colour vision. I am grateful that I was not Achromatopsia from birth. I know the full spectrum of colours. I remember the rainbow and the distinctive colours of four seasons. It is in the middle of Autumn now. When I look at the fallen leaves, I see a cluster of yellow-orange-red. They are less vibrant than what I am used to. But they are still pretty. It is more like water colour impressionist painting. It gives a mesmerising illusion feel.

“Sage, thank you for waiting. I apologise for the wait. Please come in and make yourself comfortable as usual.” Dr. Weber is wearing an A-line dress with a scarf hung on her shoulder. The prints look like Japanese maple tree which I find fitting for the season. I always admire her sense of style, elegant and calming.

“It’s ok. I was just daydreaming anyway.” I sink myself in the apple green beanbag with my legs stretching to a V shape. I feel comfortable and in a relaxed mood.

“This is the last free session we have this calendar. I will do a year review with you. First though, tell me about your life since I saw you five weeks ago.” Dr. Weber sits facing me, sideway to her cream fabric oversized lounge chair situated next to the 3-seater matching couch.

“uhm…I had a good month I suppose. Nothing is sticking out in particularly at work, home or dating, haha, the absence of dating I should clarify.” I share with her in a cheeky way.

“You look relaxed and carry a sense of fun it seems.” She smiles showing her pearly white teeth, with a visible gap between the two middle top teeth. I think that makes her cute although she is in her 50s.

“What about your colour vision?” She carries on.

“I still can see colours. They are just more blurry and meshing together. It’s like looking at impressionist paintings. I don’t mind really. it kinda makes me more arty.” I give her a big grin.

“At the last session, you shared with me that you saw colours but they were mixing with grey and black. Is that still the case in the last weeks?” Dr. Weber asks while making reference to her notes on her tablet.

“Yea, last month was rough with project deadline to meet at work, and I hadn’t gotten laid for ages. So, I was as grumpy as shit. It might be lack of sleep which worsen my colour vision. I don’t know really. The grey and black seemed to disappear after the Easter break. To be honest, I feel after a good night sleep, my colour vision has better focus. I can tell the colours distinctively.”

“What do you mean by telling the colours distinctively?” She probes.

“I mean I can tell the clear borders of colours. They are not like what I am seeing now with blurry outlines. I could tell when the blue sky finishes on the horizon. But now, it looks like the blue bleeds into the gold sunset. I don’t know how to describe it better.” I run my fingers from the top of my scalp to the back of my neck.  When my hair ends just before my neck, it reminds me that I had my shoulder length hair chopped off to a slick back cut.

“I understand now Sage. Would you like to tell me more about the day before Jason’s disappearance just after his solo painting exhibition opening? I believe this has crucial correlation with your colour vision impairment.” Dr. Weber moves her tablet to her lap. This usually means she is ready to tap on her tablet for some drop down box options or multiple choices selection. I know that because I work in the graphic design industry. I can tell by the way she taps her tablet.

“I don’t know what else I can tell you Dr. Weber. That day is like a grey cloud to me till today. One minute Jason was there with me sharing a joint to wind down from the exhibit opening night. It was an instant success. He sold five pieces of original work and a bunch of print copies on an anticipation of none. Then he told me he needed to duck out to the bottle shop for more grog. The next minute he was gone just like the fame of his painting. I waited and waited and waited. I thought he met up with friends, got pissed and stayed out for the night. He didn’t answer his mobile when I called nor responded to my messages on Messenger, WhatsApp or Instagram. I was so mad at him that I popped some Valium and was knocked out. I hate myself for it. I really do. I didn’t even think of the possibility of he was in danger. I just fucking assumed he was being an ass. Now he is gone. I hope he is still just being an ass rather than being murdered by some sicko.” I finish talking and I find myself pacing in the room instead of sitting on the beanbag.

“Sage, what do you think if you went out to look for Jason after realising he was not answering his phone?”

“I could go to the bottle shop and asked the owner where he headed after he bought the grog. But I don’t think that will mount to anything.” I am still pacing with my head down looking at my boots.

“What else could you do if you were not asleep?” Dr. Weber’s voice is levelled and assertive.

“I don’t think the police would do anything about it if I reported a missing person. I would sound like a drug affected lunatic.”

“Anything else you can think of that you could possibly do?”

“I could message his mates via Apps and I would probably find out he was not with them. But, how could I? I would be like a clinging fuck buddy. Oh God! I wish I was that clinging bitch.” My hands are on each side of my head with fingers digging into my scalp, still pacing.

“Sage, let me get you a glass of chill water, or coke? We can take a break if you’d like.” I can hear Dr. Weber moving towards the mini bar fridge in the far corner of the room.

“A mini coke please Dr. Weber.” I stop pacing and lie down on the 3-seagter couch. I feel a migraine is coming on. I lift one arm to block out the light.

The light is dimmed to a night light setting. I take the coke can Dr. Weber handing to me and roll it across my forehead. The icy cold feeling on my skin supresses the migraine.

“Let’s keep going Dr. Weber. I don’t want to be a quitter like all the other times. I know this is hitting a spot. I don’t want to let the migraine be an excuse. I know I need to press on.”

“Let’s do it Sage!” Dr. Weber sits back down at her lounge chair. “It seems to me that there was little difference you could make for preventing Jason from disappearance. I understand it to be a tragedy especially when there is no closure for you and people who love and care for Jason.”

“I know. It is only wishful thinking that I could save him. I love him although we were never officially dating. I have known him all my life. He was so goofy from day one in kindy, the only rosy cheek chubby Asian kid in the whole school. My Mum still looks over our photos in year books. He is like the son my parents weren’t able to have. To me, his disappearance took a chunk of me with him. I feel he took my keen eye for colours with him like the most brilliant part of me. Now I am losing the ability to see colours. I feel the certainty of him dying in some dungeon.” My head is throbbing and my scalp is feeling tender. I open the coke and take a couple sips.

“Tell me more about the certainty you feel relating to Jason is dying, how did you come to that sense or conclusion?”

“I feel the gift I have for colour is always what Jason saw in me that attracted him. It is like a bond we have. He always said his passion for art in particular in painting was inspired by me from our young age. We used to spend hours in colouring, drawing and describing everything we saw in colour words. When we hit secondary school, we started to describing our feelings in colours. That’s what Jason’s paintings are about, an expression of moods, emotions and feelings through colour construction. I did it as a fun game. To him though, colour was like a world he lived in and breathed in. I feel haunted sometimes as if Jason is possessing me even he is not with me. I almost feel he is controlling my colour vision at times. I know I sound crazy. You told me I am not clinically insane. I can talk to you about these thoughts and feelings. But I will never share with others. There is no way they think I am normal. I shared with my Mum once and she thought I took some psychedelic drugs and tripped out.”

“Have you taken psychedelic drugs Sage?” Dr Weber asks.

“Nope. I only smoke dope when I am stressed or need to wind down from the natural high. I don’t drink either if you remember in our initial assessment Dr. Weber.”

“I do remember. It was more than 2 years ago. I want to be sure with my understanding of your condition. It wasn’t meant to come across as an offense.”

“I wasn’t offended, just to clarify, that’s all.”

“Sage, grief may cause us experience all kinds of difficult and unexpected emotions including the feeling of not be able to think straight. Grieving is a highly individual experience; there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and no ‘normal’ timetable for grieving. Jason was and is a big part of your life in friendship and intimate relationship. I commend you for seeking counselling to try to make sense of your condition and reality. I hope you find our sessions helpful and you get something out of it.”

“I do Dr. Webber. I feel I have an outlet to express myself. It’s not like I will go around to show my sad face every day to people around me. I am trying to move on and get better. I am thankful I can still see colours sometimes. To be honest, if I completely lost my ability to see colours, I am ok with it. In some way I know an important part of me is with him.”

“It seems to me you are at peace with it, is that the case Sage?”

“I wouldn’t say I am at peace with not seeing colours anymore. I used to love this colourful world, anything that is visually stimulating, I was in. Now, I suppose it is ok to see the world in a monochromatic way. C’est la Vie.”

“So, would you say you come to acceptance of your condition and this new reality?” Dr. Weber is looking straight into my eyes when she asks the question.

“I think I do. No! I know I do. I accept the world is lack of colours, even monochromatic since Jason has gone, and I am ok with it.” My eyes meet hers and my cheeks relax to a smile.

I walk out of Dr. Weber’s office. The Autumn chill air greets me. I wrap my scarf around my neck and look up, the elm tree sways in the late afternoon sun, shimmering its leaves like golden tassels. I imagine them to be burnt orange by now. Autumn is our favourite season for the pure joy of Autumn colour palette. I pick up a fallen leaf and blow it to the sky, whispering “Jason, this is for you. Tell me what colour is it in my dream tonight.”

My life in olfaction

My childhood school holidays were mostly spent on my maternal grandparent’s farm. My grandfather and uncles were farmers. They smoked home grown tobacco from handmade bamboo water pines. I loved the fresh tobacco sweet burning aroma on rainy Spring days. Children often sat on door threshold and listened to the elders’ conversation while eating seasonal fruits. Summer was hot and humid. Farmers laid out fresh cow manures on house front to dry them, then use them for household burning fuel. We, children got into trouble for throwing cow manures at each other playing war games. The simple, layback and carefree farm life set the tone for my adult life.

When school holidays finished, I returned to the overpopulated city living. Our nano flat was filled with a mix odour of beehive briquettes exhaust, stale cigarettes and cooking grease. I visited my grands town house on weekends. It had a completely different smell. The lounge room smelled grandpa’s Hongmei cigarette and roasted peanuts. In the courtyard, the kitchen was infused with Cantonese cooking spices – ginger, garlic and coriander. If I was lucky, great grandma would cook her signature dish – Steamed pork and grapefruit peel stir fry in dark soy. Its fragrance companying the boiled jasmine rice formed a cloud hovering in the kitchen to bring on my belly rumbles. The love for cooking ran in my father’s family. We learned cooking from helping out in the kitchen from a young age. Family meals brought the four generations together.

School years smelled paper pulp and ink print. Faded yellow books with jet black characters, it smelled wisdom and brighter future. I received floral scented letters from a not so secret admirer. He often included a pencil sketch of my backside with ponytail up high. But most passing notes between classmates had no smell unless was handed by an after lunch greasy hand, which would have smelled like peanut oil deep fried tofu.  School years gave me the resilience to cope with changes in friendship, authority and routine, to overcome disappointment and failure.

Love smelled like drugs and crimson blood from broken skin. I crawled back to the same destructive hurt over and over again like a lamb willingly fed itself to the slaughter. Although the scream remained silent, the brokenness was visible. There were momentarily scents of bouquet and intoxicating pleasure. The crashing was a vomit of putrid. Love made me blind and vulnerable. However, I would still give it all and love again anyway.

Work always smelled like strong coffee and fast burning cigarettes. It was probably more for social acceptance than productivity promotion. There was constantly compromise of quantity and quality. So, I adapted ways to get to an acceptable standard with least time input. Over my working life, I was blessed with variety of careers where I got to be with people from all walks of life. It reminds me of tasting pizzas in an authentic Italian family owned restaurant.

Baby smelled like blossom and life itself. Measuring his little feet in my palms was my favourite moment of all time. Lifting his chubby feet to my nose, I inhaled deep and images of lively moment flooded my mind, from new shoots on bare tree branches, freshly hatched chooks to blowing bubbles in a bright sunny day. He brought wholeness and joy to me. I grew into a selfless and forgiving person from motherhood.

Marriage smelled like fresh citrus at the beginning and turned into a bottle of sour wine at the end of the journey. We drank the portion when it was fresh and new, too impatient to wait for it to age properly and become extraordinary taste. It could have been ageless if we preserved it well at each stage of the development. We took for granted what we had and left it carelessly in malnourishment. When patience ran its course, I no longer could swallow its bitter bile, walked out all deflated with mouthful of tasteless disappointment. No matter how I tried to savour the crisp beginning, my taste buds were numb and coated in tar.

A new beginning smells like ocean mist and fresh cut grass. It is rejuvenating and invigorating. The image of a new home is like farm life where unvarnished timber furniture giving out a scent of nature; burning fireplace; spices infused home cooking; lilac, lavender sage and sandalwood permeated sleeping chamber. It takes me back to the wonderful childhood memory of a close-knit family with children running around the farmhouse.

 

 

 

After 15 years

She picked a table at the far corner of the café. From there she had a full view of the entrance while hiding herself away under the dim light. She sat slightly hunched over the small square wooden table, one hand trapped between her knees, the other restlessly tapping the table with her bare fingers. They hurt a little from nail biting, and the pain actually helped her to ease some panic and anxiety.

The waiter approached with a warm smile. “What would you like today, Mia? Long black or chai?”

“Long black. Thanks, Joe. Uhm… maybe not now. I am still waiting for someone, a bit rude to order first, I suppose?”

“No worries, I’ll come back when you are ready.” He winked, giving his usual million-dollar grin. However, for once she didn’t watch him as he moved off.

“Aiyaya, sorry, sir. I didn’t see you there. My apologies.”

She followed Joe’s voice and saw him. Pins and needles were piling up on the top of her skull. Blood was rushing to her brain. She had to hold on to the edge of the table with both hands to steady herself.

“Mia, sorry I am a bit late, was stuck in a meeting and I left my phone somewhere.” He reached for a kiss but then realised she was still sitting down. He sat opposite her. His hand slid towards hers but she didn’t stop gripping the corner of the table.  She looked up and their eyes met. His were aqua blue when he was happy, slate when he was in deep thought. Now they were almost hazel under the warm café lighting.

He smiled, showing his front teeth; there was a gap between the middle two. She used to think it lightened up his serious demeanour. “Mia, are you there?” he teased.

“Hey, you! I’m…I am glad you agreed to meet. And you haven’t changed a bit.” She relaxed a little into her chair having finally greeted him. Her fingers tried to tug her lose curls behind her ears.

“Would you like a Mocha? They make it just right here. You will be surprised.”

“As long as you are having a long black to keep me company.”

“Sure. I will call Joe over.” She was about to get up.

He grabbed both her hands and held them up to his nose. He smelled the ginger and cinnamon on her bare fingers and started to laugh uncontrollably. He used to call her badly bitten nails the circumcised fingers. When she flavoured the meat in curry cooking, she would swear her head off because the stinging sensation on her broken skin was unbearable. And yet being Mia, she would not wear gloves.

She knew exactly what he was laughing about but couldn’t pull away from his firm grip. She bellowed a laugh instead.