I saw the cat from no. 41: black as a cumulonimbus, but splashed with white like he’d dribbled milk down his chin. Seeing me, he rubbed against next door’s plants, reposed on the grass, and allowed some pets to sink into the stormcloud of his fur.
Today, he lurked under no. 1’s hedge. I lured him into the open, which hummed with electric petrichor, and carried him home, purring fur flopped in my arms (the heft of my shih tzu but twice the fluff), across a patchwork of parched nature strips, where he was for a moment my boy, my pretty kitty—until he leapt away.
Something arrives, respiring softly
By Jocelin Chan My aunt has come bearing presents. She gives me a jumper; ‘Lacoste,’ she says, ‘it’s the real deal.’ When I pull it over my head, inhale, I catch the scent of something that is familiar, long-lost and then the years cycle back, the moments elongate, that peculiar mothballed, worn scent of neglected laundry bears me across tropics and oceans and deposits me in the seaside house. Lolling inside and smelling the wind lift from the water, that clean, uninfected air that is scarce in a city that breathes with rotting lungs; inhale-exhale of a microscopic assassin borne by air. In the incubation box of the lift, sheets of cellophane wrap glowing numbers which masked workers replace by the hour, then pause to get a mechanical splurt of colourless disinfectant that lands in hands and is rubbed by paranoid palms.
Yet here, here, my grandfather dips soy sauce into fleshy yolks of abalone, and calls me “Whale”—he can’t pronounce my name. I lurk in the cloistered heat underground in the draped room of the domestic help and I always associate her with the Bangles’ “Eternal Flame”—close your eyes, give me your hand, darling and it is from here that she and I emerge to cycle the disproportionate green bike, and I sit clinging on the back wheel when we go to the supermarket, mouths and nostrils concealed with two strips of surgical cloth. When I fall solo off the monstrous green, the asphalt embosses under my skin.
Before my eyes, tropical fish cycle beneath bubbles as the pump labours to respire through the pneumonic-thick fluid: water in vitro. I watch the televised white-lace coffin procession, the white-lace flower floating atop a blood red pall. We are well known for our butterflies here, and a big dead one lies, black, spotted-blue, inside the shut, glass container where an unfocused photograph of a woman without colour resides, lit by red lights, eternal and electric, like the lamps that light the butcher at the wet market.
The first generation of K dramas flits through static, blocky televisions; we watch the soapie actors frown, weep, die, in one another’s arms… Later recall, on a CD, in the car, on the road, in a tunnelling abyss of gum trees, those puffed faces, sickly, drained of colour. We’re all clustered ’round the screen, save for one.
Asleep on the green leather massage chair a storey-and-a-half below, under a quilt of faded flowers, my granddad snoozes, belly round and content. At meals, the generation between us condemns his seafood and chastises his sauces.
I can sit in that once-forbidden chair when we return on the back of a white phone call, and we drape our heads in white hoods. I think particularly of the round face, made-up with the lips pinched, of an aunt whose honorific I barely recall, peering, solemn, from the hood’s white cover. I watch the paper money, edged in gold (which is immolated for his ashes), shrivel into dust motes that range the air and when we return to that seaside house, I am left with his purple alarm clock
We put surgical masks in envelopes and bear them out after lunch. It must have been very empty in the streets on our way home. I remember once, they culled hens— but that may have been another outbreak. Its gravity, when dispersed up and down the vertical space of the seaside house seems blurrier, a faded panoply of archival footage. Here, it was safe; the silver Lexus on the short driveway, the lurid yellow Crocs across the street. The last of the scent fades from my nose. My own scent, percolating from the heat of my blood, begins to soak through. I draw the jumper away, fold its sleeves inward.