It was on the fifth day of clearing my dead father's possessions that I chanced upon one of his journalsthe edges of its cover bug-eaten and rotting, the lined-paper a mellow, milky shadeand flipping through it randomly, my eyes fell on one particular passage that mentioned my mother's miscarriage in 1974.
The passage was stark, brief, and because it was written in traditional Chinese, took me a long while to read:
Sent Lee Ching to the K.K. Women's Hospital today. She had a great deal of pain this morning, and was kept in observation for several hours. The doctor told us the baby had died inside her. He didn't say from what, or why. He told us that he would perform a simple procedure to remove the baby. It wouldn't hurt too much, he said. We let him. Then he gave some painkillers for Lee Ching and she slept soundly, thankfully. He told me, later on, it was a boy. My son.
I told this to my older brother Tommy, who had just broken up with Eric, his boyfriend of three years, and moved back home, taking up the same room he had before he left, a room that we had previously used to store boxes and cartons of my father's books, magazines and newspaper cuttings. My father had worked as a copy editor in the Chinese division of the local newspapers; he held on to this job for a good twenty-nine years before his retirement two years ago. He was a hoarder, as my mother used to nag, and over the years, we had to put up with the growing number of things he liked to keep and store. The small storeroom in our four-room flat piled up and spilled out in no time and we had to move some of his stuff to a corner of the living room. And now with him gone, and my brother distracted and heartbroken from his failed relationship, I was left with the task of clearing out my father's leftovers.
'Did you know we almost had an older brother, a gor-gor?' I said, as we sat down for dinner that night. My brother had prepared fried rice with eggs and luncheon meat; he used to cook meals for Eric when they were together. I didn't ask him about the break-up; it was still too early to talk about it, the hurt was still fresh.
'What? What do you mean, almost?' Tommy asked, looking up from the Chinese newspaper he was reading, curiosity spreading like wild fire across his puzzled face. He adjusted his spectacles, pushing it back. Like my father, my brother wore spectacles; he had been wearing them since he was in secondary school, something that grew out of his late-night reading on the bed, under the covers and in bad light. He was always reading when he was a kid, and my father bought him every book he wanted, openly delighted by the fact that his sonhis favouritewas a fervent reader, an intellectual, just like him. Even when Tommy came out to him about his relationship with Eric and the ensuring period of cold-war fighting and long-drawn silences that resulted, he remained my father's favourite.
'I came across one of Pa's journals this morning while I was throwing out his things, and I read something he wrote. I'm not bluffing you; we really had an older brother. But he died in a miscarriage,' I said, scooping up the rest of the fried rice from my plate. My brother brought his eyebrows together in a deep furrow.
'I will show it to you,' I said, going into my room, and brought out the journal. Pointing out the passage to Tommy, he read it and shook his head in stupefied amusement.
'Can you believe it? An older brother, a brother we never knew existed…' Tommy said, reading further, flipping the page, digging into the unknown past. He went into one of his strange spells, wrapping himself with a thick shroud of quietude and concentration that blocked out everything else around him. It was something he did more often these days.
'Why did you think Pa and Ma hid it from us?' I asked, trying to break the uncomfortable spell.
He turned to me, pausing his finger at a sentence, and said, 'I don't know. I guess they must have their reasons for not telling us.' He returned to the page and left me to clear the dirty plates from the dining table.
Whatever reasons my parents had for not telling us about this death in the family, they had taken it to their graves; my mother died shortly after I graduated, and I only had hazy, vague memories of her, slippery like eels. But even so, I was so driven by a strong, overpowering need to know, to find out more about this missing strand of my family past, that I decided to read all of my father's journals.
'Did you know Pa was very anxious about the baby before he was born, that he had strange dreams way before Ma's miscarriage?' Tommy said, bursting into my room one afternoon.
Before Tommy moved back, a month before my father's death from prostate cancer, I used to see him only once in a long while, on my father's birthday, or for reunion dinners before the lunar new year. Once, he brought Eric home for the reunion dinner, and the open hostility shown by my father towards Eric over the course of the dinner deterred my brother from inviting him back for other family gatherings. Now with him back in the house, I could hardly move about without bumping into him, and sometimes when he wanted to find me or talk to me, he would barge into my room without knocking on the door. I told myself to bear with it; he was still going through a tough phase in his life, he deserved more patience from me. So I put up with his erratic intrusions and kept up the cordial balance of our new living arrangements.
'Yes, I knew. I read his journals before you did,' I said, a trace of irritation in my voice. 'Remember, he was a first-time father, of course he had every right to be worried.'
'Yeah, but what about the dreams he had?' my brother interjected impatiently, as if I hadn't heard him properly. 'He had this weird dream about the baby being held up by some invisible strings and moving about as if it were a puppet on a stage. Did you remember this, what he had written?'
I nodded. 'You know Pa, he was always a worrier, worrying about everything, small or big. It was only a bad dream he had.'
Tommy sat on my bed, clutching my father's journal in his hands, and shook his head, uttering with sarcastic emphasis, 'For a writer, you don't have much of an imagination, do you? Only a bad dream? Come on, it was more than that.'
I didn't argue with him. One thing that I had learnt about my brother as we were growing up was that once he was convinced of somethingan idea, a theory or a gut-feelhe would stick to it, come hell or high water, defending it to the very end. It was best to leave him alone, to his convictions, to his own devices. He was stubborn and mule-headed, but not without a tenacious sense of purpose and perseverance.
In most things, this character trait worked well for him, but when it came to his relationship, it proved to be more problematic, even fatalistic. He could only see things in a certain wayhis wayand anything else was secondary, less worthy for his consideration. He only saw and believed what he wanted to see and believe. So when Eric came clean to him about his one-time infidelity while on an overseas work trip, my older brother refused to accept his remorse or apologies and pleas of forgiveness and reconciliation, and simply concluded that Eric would always be what he was: a cheater.
And so, in blind-sided obstinacy and a mad rush of fury, he filled several bags with his clothes and toiletries, put the house key in the letterbox and left Eric, a day after the confession.
My father's old journals came at a time when I was going through a long writing drought, with my story ideas running dry and empty. Nothing I wrote during this period made any sense to me, and I had to kill a few short stories off in their infancy, out of grinding frustration. A writer's block, I told myself, you will soon get over it. But six months on, I was still stuck, with only the crappy openings for a few stories, mostly only three to four hundred words long, and nothing more to keep the stories going. I rewrote and edited these openings so many times that I could memorise all of it. Then one night, in a murderous rage, I deleted every one of these half-fucked stories and stopped writing completely. I locked my laptop in my desk drawer and hid away the key. For a while, I felt lost, despondent, starving for a purpose; this was during the trying period when my father told us, Tommy and I, about his cancer, and everything took a spin. Nothing remained the same. Writing became the farthest thing from my mind; it was still there, no doubt, like a leech sucking my blood quietly, but I ignored it numbly, dismissing its presence. And now, reading through these journalsso far, I had discovered nineteen of them, hidden in several dusty boxes in the storeroom and the earliest journal that I had found dated back to 1973, the year that my parents were marriedI became suddenly aware of the possibility, and potential, of writing a story based on my father's life, and a hitherto-unknown dead older brother. It was almost impossible to keep me from writing a story that I knew I had to write.
The first time I met Eric was when Tommy brought him home one evening four years ago. Tommy wanted to pick up some winter jackets that he had left in his old room; the couple was planning a two-week holiday in Paris and Barcelona at the end of November. I was writing in my room when I heard loud muffled voices coming from the living room. As I was introduced to Eric, I could see, from the corner of my eye, my father picking up his newspapers and cup of jasmine tea, peering knowingly above the black spectacles that hung loosely on the bridge of his nose. He stood up, headed for his room and closed the door with a loud thud. He never came out after that. Eric and I exchanged pleasantries while Tommy went into his room, searching for his jackets. Eric wore his smile casually, like the loose-fitting T-shirt he had on, and possessed a sunny, eager-to-please disposition. I warmed up to him effortlessly. I offered him a can of Pepsi while we chatted about their travel itinerary, museums they would be visiting, the authentic Parisian food that Tommy wanted to try'your brother is quite a foodie, he has already mapped out the restaurants that we die-die have to visit while we're in Paris'and famous sites like La Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi architecture in Barcelona. When they were leaving, Eric shook my hand firmly and told me he would buy back something special for me and my father. I refused politely, but thanked him nonetheless. My brother then took a furtive glance at my father's closed door, shouted, 'Pa, we're going off!' and hearing no reply, sighed and left.
That night, after dinner, I saw my father taking out his blue-cover journal and started writing in it. I sat down at the dining table, wanting to talk to him about my brother and Eric, but he dismissed me with a hard glare. I always thought of my father's reticence as an innate, indivisible part of his strict upbringing, the inflexible ways and ideas of the old, but over time I began to see it as an inevitable offshoot from his quiet, introvert personality, something he nurtured and cultivated with careful effort and attention, like the bonsai plants he kept. In a strange way, Tommy was more like my father than I was.
What I had picked up from my father was the habit of writing, though it was only in my early twenties that I decided to try my hand at it. I quit my first job as a service engineer with a telecommunication companyI had earned a diploma in Mechatronics from a local polytechnic with above-average grades and absolutely no interestand took up a four-year part-time English Literature course at a tertiary institution. My father kept his thoughts about this to himself. He paid for the first two years of my studies while I, through sporadic writing assignments for little-known art magazines and copywriting on a temporary basis with an event cum marketing communication outfit, managed to pay off the rest of my studies with all of my earnings. Through his contacts in the newspapers, I would get a few writing jobs from the lifestyle editor of the English broadsheet, though after a while, this income source petered out after a series of articles that I'd written was ruthlessly commented upon and heavily edited by the editor. We never discussed this, but I knew my father must have heard something. After this incident, I refused to take up any more writing assignment from my father's contacts.
My father often brought back work from the office and during the evenings, he would be sitting at the dining table with a thick red pen and a ruler, making changes on the drafts of Chinese articles and features. When he had gone through a few rounds, he would read aloud the final edited piece, and if he was pleased with the changes, he would fax it back to the office and call up a colleague to submit it on his behalf. Once, en route to the kitchen for a drink, I picked up a piece on the changing socio-political policies of China, riddled with red circles, scratch-outs and neat blocks of Chinese characters, and found myself stuck after reading the third line. I had to skip one word out of three, and even then, the meaning of each sentence or phrase still eluded me completely.
I once read somewhere that the language of the heart is the language that one thinks, feels, read, analyses and dreams with, so it is with the English language for me; it has been the default heart-language that I live and work with, for as long as I can remember. While my father never tried to force Tommy and me to use the Chinese language while we were growing up, he would, however, keep a tight rein on his usage of it in his daily life through the Chinese newspapers, books and TV shows. He never once talked to us or replied anything in English, though he understood it sufficiently to know what we were saying to him. His heart was a full Chinese heart, while for us it was a divided one, split with warring loyalties and factions.
As I started reading my father's journals, I couldn't help but wonder how much I knew of my father, and how well I knew him through the Chinese language, the lingua franca of his heart.
I heard Eric's voice from behind closed door when I came back from a day of writing at the public library. His pair of red-and-blue streaked New Balance shoes was worn at the soles and looked badly in need of a wash. He was a competitive tennis player and played whenever he had the opportunity; he tried to coach Tommy but after a few training sessions, my brother lost the initial interest and enthusiasm. From constantly playing in the sun, Eric acquired a perpetual dark tan on his arms and legs, and a lighter tone around his eyes from wearing his Oakley shades. He can never sit still, Tommy told me once.
I cleared my throat deliberately when I entered the flat and the heated voices died away. Only Eric looked at me when I came in; Tommy was staring out the glass windowpanes, hands crossed at his chest. Eric threw me a slight awkward smile and I acknowledged it with a shrug. He moved away from the sofa where my brother was sitting, and seemed lost in what he should be doing next.
I removed my shoes and put it in the cabinet beside the front door, feeling two pairs of eyes watching my every move. I glanced over at Tommy again; beside him on the sofa lay my father's journal. Hanging just above him was the family portrait that had been taken right after my graduation, my parents wearing pursed-lipped smiles and stiffly-styled hair; this held a certain pride for my father who found it gratifying to have two university graduates in the family as he only had up to primary four school education. He was the one who wanted the family portrait taken in the first place. Four months later, my mother died from a car accident. I made a mental note to take down the portrait and stow it away in the storeroom. My father's eyes seemed to be surveying the room, attentive to the scene before him.
I was about to head for my room, eyes lowered to the floor, when my brother suddenly said, 'Haven't we quarrelled enough about this?'
Eric glared at Tommy and levelled his eyes on me, a look of incredulity on his face. His lips parted slightly, as if about to say something, then he shut them, his jaw bones moving in disgruntling motions.
'Why are you doing this?' Eric finally asked, and for a brief moment, I thought this was directed at me. I couldn't move a step forward or back. The air tightened in the room; the words hung like a noxious fume, unavoidable and suffocating.
'Don't fucking ask such a stupid question!' my brother said, his voice breaking up. 'Why, why? Ask yourself that. Don't act like you don't know the answer to what you have done!'
'Can you calm down and just listen?' Eric said, gritting his teeth.
My brother shot up from the sofa and brushed his way past Eric who tried to hold his arm. He shook it off; Eric tried to touch him again. 'I'm just so fucking tired of hearing all this nonsense,' Tommy muttered to me as he went into his room, locking the door behind him.
I gripped the straps on my sling bag and shook my head. Eric closed his eyes and took in an audible breath. There was nothing he could do, now that my brother was acting this way.
When Eric left the flat, I knocked on Tommy's door. I could hear him getting up from his bed and moving across the room. 'Can't you just hear him out and listen to what he has to say? Why must you be so stubborn like…' I hesitated, and then said, 'like Pa?'
My sudden outburst caught me by surprise. Tommy stared at me like I was a stuttering idiot. He moved back into his room, switched on the portable fan and plopped himself down on his bed.
'Just stay out of it. I don't want to hear anything more,' he said, glaring at me. I ventured into his room and sat on the rotary chair beside his study table. Bills and bank account statements were scattered all over his table.
'Did you know Ma went through a long depression after the miscarriage?' Tommy said. 'Pa wrote it in his journal.'
'Yes, I read about it,' I replied. The doctor said it was post-natal depression. My mother never recovered from it, according to what my father had written. He detailed every sign and action from my mother in his journals, and it was a painstaking, exacting account. 'Hey, are you alright? Don't tell me…'
Tommy cut me off swiftly: 'Don't be crazy! I'm okay la.'
'Just making sure. Anyway Pa had a hard time dealing with what was happening too,' I said.
Tommy straightened up on his bed, and cracked his knuckles. He put his hand on the journal lying on the bedcover.
'Why did you think they decided to have us after the miscarriage?' he asked.
'Pa said they just wanted to try again, to get over the whole incident,' I said. 'It's in the later journals.' Tommy was born three years after our dead older brother, and for me, two years after Tommy.
'I still don't understand why they didn't tell us about this,' he said. Nothing was written in the journals to answer the question. I searched the pages thoroughly, reading each passage, translating the language in my heart, but nothing came up. But I remembered coming across a passage that struck me like a blow out of nowhere. It was written in November 1977, a month before Tommy was born.
Lee Ching just woke up from a bad dream. I heard her shouts coming from the bedroom. She was gripping her stomach when I came in, the tendons jumping in her skin. She was soaked all over, and she looked frightened, scared out of her wits in fact. I held her and she began to cry on my chest, mumbling nonsensical words, something about not wanting to live anymore if the baby inside her was taken away again. She cried inconsolably. I held her to me; she felt like a dying bird struggling to free herself from me. I don't know how long I stayed with her, but her body slowly softened and her breaths became more even. I left her to her fitful sleep; I can see her eyes darting around under the lids. The sky is slowly lightening outside the window; it's getting brighter. I better finish this up. I got a long day ahead.
'I don't know. Pa never said anything in his journals.' I said.
'And how many of Pa's journals have you found?' he asked.
'Quite a few. Not sure whether I have everything he had written, but I can pass you those that I've found.'
'Okay, when you are done with them,' he said. 'Isn't it strange that we only found out about this when Pa and Ma are gone? I mean, what can we do with what we know now? It seems quite pointless, don't you think?'
'Maybe. But still, it's important to know,' I said, getting up to leave. 'Maybe we need to know so that we can lay everything to rest. Like a kind of closure, or something.'
'Ha, spoken like a true-blue writer.' I looked at Tommy, and then we laughed.
It took me another week and a half to clear out my father's stuff from the house. Among the things I kept were the journals, his favourite fountain pen, an old wedding picture taken in a studio, and a light cream short-sleeved shirt that he wore to my graduation. I donated the rest, mostly his books and clothes, to the Salvation Army. His bedroom echoed like an empty shell as I closed the door and locked it. I kept his journals in a plastic box under my study desk; my father's journals had become, strangely enough, objects of obsession for me and Tommy. We were never without a copy in our hands when we were in the house, and it reminded me of a time during our childhood when my father brought us the entire series of The Hardy Boys adventures, and we would spend every available second devouring these books. Now, over dinner, we would read them, pausing occasionally to highlight something interesting or mumble a non sequitur. We never talked about our father's death, or Tommy's break-up, or what we would do next. On some nights, I could hear him talking on his mobile, and guessing from his agitated tone, I knew it was Eric on the line. They were still going at it, trying to come to some form of reconciliation, and I could sense Tommy backing down, becoming less resistant. But still he showed no signs of wanting to move back with Eric. All he wanted to talk about were my dead parents' past lives; about his own life, he kept a tight lid.
Then one day, I told Tommy about my plans, something that I had been mulling over, should he move back to Eric's, whether I should sublet the spare bedrooms for extra income or to sell the flat and move into a smaller place. Tommy had come into my room, and was fishing out another journal from the box. I had taken the initiative to paste a number label on each of the covers, arranging them in a chronological order; he was on the eighth journal, while I was almost done with the twelve. He looked at me, holding a solicitous expression.
'What makes you think I'm going back to him?' he said, and paused for a few seconds. 'Anyway we still have to work out a lot of issues before I will even consider going back to him.'
'Whatever it is, it's only a matter of time. I can't wait until then to decide what I want to do,' I said. 'I should start planning now, just in case.'
'Well, I should still be around, and I have no intention to move out yet. I don't think we should sell off the flat. It took Pa twenty-five years to pay off this flat, you know.'
We went through the other possibilities, other scenarios, but nothing was finalised or resolved at the end, so we left it at that. We would have to deal with it when we came round to it one day, I reminded myself.
'Why? Haven't you got enough to survive on now?' Tommy asked me suddenly. 'If not, I can give you some money first.'
'It's okay, I can still manage. I don't need a lot to survive,' I replied. 'I'm quite self-sufficient. Just as long as the freelance assignments keep coming in, I should be doing okay.'
'Well, don't be afraid to ask if you need any money. I'm not super-rich, but I'm sure I can spare a dollar or two.'
'A dollar or two? Damn, you so stingy lor,' I said, grinning cheekily.
'Take it or leave it. Lend you money still dare to complain.' He hit me on my shoulder with the journal, and chuckled.
What I left out or didn't tell my brother was that I had dropped a few writing jobs so that I could focus on writing my short story. Ever since I discovered the journals, I had been writing more regularly, and with greater intensity than before. The story grew and spread and took on a life of its own; it had grown out of the seed of my father's hidden life and became a different creature, embodying the real and imagined attributes of my father. I was caught up, seized by an urge to find out how the story would turn out eventually.
And as I still had some savings to last me out for at least the next three months, I wasn't worried too much about the money issue. I only hoped to complete the story by that time, so that I could take up the paying writing assignments again.
Apart from my parent's lives, as detailed by my father in his journals, Tommy and I also talked at length about the older brother we lost. We talked about him as if he had been a full living person before he died, not someone un-formed, buried in the womb. What we thought of our brother was influenced by what my father had written. In his journals, even years after the miscarriage and after we were born, he still brought up my dead brother from time to time. It was understandable as my mother carried the ghost of our dead brother with her all her life; she never did let him go. And so, in his kindness and love for my mother, my father had chosen to share her irreparable sadness and indulgence. He went as far as to shield us from it.
Taken from his journal, dated 21 April 1983:
I took the boys to the zoo together while Lee Ching rested at home. She couldn't get out of bed this morning, and she barely said a word. The boys raised such a ruckus, trying to stir her out of the bed. She screamed at them and then started to cry. The boys looked so confused that I quickly pulled them aside, told them not to disturb her, and to get ready to go out. They jumped in joy when I told them I was bringing them to the zoo. Before I left, I went in to check on Lee Ching. Her eyes were closed, and her lips were bleeding; she always chews on them when she is in a daze. I wiped her lips with a towel; she drew back from my touch. Finally, she said, looking at me, 'It's no use, it's no use. Nothing will change, nothing will.' I gave her some water to drink and afterwards she turned her back to me, shut in her own world. I gathered the boys and left the house. Whatever I felt, I tried not to show it on my face. But during the animal performance, Ah Seng looked at me and said, 'Pa, why are your eyes so red?' and I had to recompose myself. The boys were too young to know.
Ah Seng was my father's term of endearment for Tommy, whose Chinese name was Poh Lai Seng, the name that my father had wanted to give my dead brother. Tommy was the name my brother took on in his adolescence. My father mentioned it briefly when he wrote the entry on Tommy's birth; he didn't say whether my mother agreed or objected to this name. When Tommy read this, he expressed his surprise and disbelief.
'Imagine that, I was named after him,' he remarked. 'We share the same name.'
'Technically, it wasn't his name. He wasn't even born, to have the name at all,' I said.
'Still, Pa and Ma wanted to name him that. Can you imagine? I'm living his life for him, even though he's dead.'
'You just took his name, that's all. You don't live his life. He had none to begin with. You live your own life,' I said.
'Well, who knows? It's hard to tell, these things. A man's name is his entire destiny, his only true inheritance from his parents.'
'Goodness, what destiny, what inheritance? What are you talking about?' I teased and rolled my eyes, clucking my tongue. 'I think you are going crazy from reading too much into it.'
'Look here,' Tommy moved his chair nearer to me and flipped open the journal, bringing his finger to some words on the page. 'Pa wrote this.'
All a man has in the end is his name, his good name, and all that the name promises. A man's life is his name fulfilled.
I read and reread these sentences; I didn't know how I could have missed it completely. I noted the date of this journal entry; it was written a week after Tommy was born. Somehow Tommy had latched onto these lines while I had overlooked it. I wondered how much I had unconsciously left out while I was reading through the journals; perhaps some obscure passages had slipped past me like blind spots.
'This is new to me. I don't recall reading this; maybe I'd read and forgotten it. But Pa could be right, maybe he is right,' I said. 'You know how it is with Pa. He is always so traditional about these things.'
'Yes, he is.'
My brother's expression softened into a kind of dolefulness, vague and faraway, as if his thoughts had set sail for some unknown lands. He looked the same, but something had shifted inside him. I didn't see it as much as felt it. It was subtle, elusive; the flickering of a thought, caught in a blink, and then it was no more. All I felt were the invisible waves, spreading and disappearing.
When both of us finally finished reading my father's journals, we had a discussion over what we should do with them. We put the carton on the dining table and stared at it for some time. I took up one of the journals, labelled 'eighteen,' and opened it to a random page. A silverfish came alive on the page and scurried across it. I closed the journal and crushed its tiny moving body. When I looked at it again, it had become a powdery exclamation mark on the page, suspended above a sentence.
We decided to split the journals between the two of us in the end; he would take ten of them and I'd keep nine. He kept the earlier half of my father's life, while I took the latter part of it. As for the fountain pen, wedding photograph and shirt, Tommy told me to keep it. 'Maybe you can find some inspiration from these items to write a story or something,' he said. I raised my eyebrows, but kept my lips sealed.
The day I completed the short story about my father and my eldest brother was the day Tommy moved out of the house, to move back with Eric. I heard Tommy opening the front door and when I went into the living room, I saw Eric sitting on the sofa, a look of contentment evident on his face. I smiled warmly and he said hi. We watched as my brother brought out his luggage and boxes of belongings and put them beside the front door, moving in and out of his room a few times. A stab of loneliness went deep into me as I glanced over at my brother's belongings.
'I'm just glad you guys managed to patch things up,' I said. 'After so many months, even I was starting to lose hope.'
Eric flashed a toothy smile and brought his hand to his hair, brushing it in a childlike manner. 'Two men living together, it never gets any easier, trust me. But at least we are trying.'
'I should know, I lived with him for twenty-over years before he moved out,' I said. 'I suffered big time, so I know how it is for you. My sympathy goes out to you now.' Eric let out a boisterous hoot, and I stumbled into his happiness, laughing along.
'I guess I will have to live with it then, no choice for me.'
'Hang in there. I wish you guys well, really,' I said.
'I hope so. Thanks.'
My brother brought out the last of his stuff and took a quick look around the living room. He picked up the carton box of my father's journals and told Eric to handle his luggage and boxes. Then he looked at me, and said, 'Remember to call if you need anything.'
'I will,' I said. 'Same for you. Call me if you need me.'
When they left, I went back to my room and took up the short story that I had written. I read through it once more and let everything sink in. The house was silent and a gentle breeze went through it, rousing the curtains and ruffling the shirts hanging on wiry clothes hangers. I tried to imagine the sound of footsteps and whispers floating in the air in the quiet flat, and the history of my family as we had once lived, between the walls, in-between the spaces. I thought about my mother, and my father, and the brother I lost even before I knew him.
I held the short story in my hand and searched my drawers for a lighter.
'For you, Pa.'
I brought the orange flame to the edge of the papers and watched it burn, the pages curling up into fistfuls of ashes. I let go when the flames bit my fingers. A sudden surge of breeze scattered the ashes of my short story to every corner of the flat.
Originally published in QLRS Vol. 8 No. 2 Apr 2009