Nicky was a beautiful child. Her hair was uneven and dark, her eyes sad and cruel. Grief, it seemed, had taken to her looks. Being around her made me meditative like reading a great existentialist novel. She was rail-thin and on her pale skin I counted ten tattoos of various sizes and designs. I studied them to figure out what she did. An artist, I guessed. What was her art? A mandala inked between the breasts. Does that mean she’s spiritual? Holy? I liked her tattoos. They made her seem as though she had been around; seen and done things.
I found her in a bar at Boat Quay drinking alone one night. Told me right off the top that
she’d just come from the abortion clinic. I told her I’d just come from the courtroom, and we had both lost something and we’d make a perfect pair.
“Two scotch on the rocks,” she said to the bartender.
“I like that drink,” I told her.
“I know,” she said.
When the drinks came she lifted her glass and scooped the large ice cubes into her mouth
with her tongue. She chewed the ice without expression.
We ordered a couple, sat and talked about everything and nothing.
Then she said, “I want to get to know the real you. Let’s take a walk around the cemetery.”
“Cemetery?” I didn’t have anywhere to go so I agreed.
It was interesting. She was interesting.
We left the bar and under the sunshine I hailed down a taxi. We got out at Choa Chu Kang
Cemetery. There wasn’t anybody about. We had the whole place to ourselves.
“Look,” she said, pointing at one of the stones. “A young girl.”
“1991 to 1997,” I said.
She didn’t say anything and went on ahead, stepping on wild flowers and weeds. Then she hollered, “I found an old one! I found an old one!”
I hurried over to her. “1921 to 1999,” I said. Then I pointed to the one beside. “1965 to
“Stop reading the numbers out,” she said. “What’s wrong with you?”
“What year were you born?” she asked.
“1990,” she said.
We walked around some more, looking at the little cement houses and the faces on them.
We looked at the names and the dates. This was like walking through an art gallery with a
permanent exhibition. We didn’t say much to each other but a lot was understood, appreciated. It was a good afternoon.
“I’m tired now,” she said. “Let’s go.”
We left the cemetery holding hands. It was almost evening. Out on the main road with few
cars passing she lit a cigarette and turned to me. “Look,” she said. “I like you. Let’s find a place to rest.” So we rented this cheap room and we stayed inside for three days and three nights.
Nicky was different, very different from my former wife. I told her, “Let’s get married.”
But she said that if we did and something bad were to happen, it would make both of us very bitter. I told her I agreed and getting married was a very silly idea and we left it at that.
It was nearly dark in the room with the window shades drawn all the way down and with
the sun setting fast outside. We had canned beans from the convenience store for dinner. I switched on the bedside lamp and I saw her standing at the window peeping out through a tiny hole in the shades. She had been drinking, she couldn’t stop drinking. She was drunk all the time, I realised.
She went into the toilet and I could hear her do whatever she was doing in there. When
she came out, she was holding a bottle of scotch by the neck. “Death with its wings and claws are coming for you,” she said. “It’s coming for you.”
I laughed outright. I drained my beer, then rolled a cigarette.
She put down the bottle on the table, picked up her clothing on the floor and slowly began
to dress. “Yessss, baby. It’s here to deliver. I can smell it coming in the air.”
I looked at her wearing that red chiffon dress, then I stared into her eyes on that soft and
pleasant face. “You’re drunk,” I said.
“Have I ever told you I’m mad? That’s what people tell me.”
“We all have secrets,” I said. “Come here. Come over here and lie beside me.”
She wiggled over and spread herself in bed. She nested her head on my chest. I stroked her rough hair and felt the loose strains tickling my nose. Then she farted.
“That’s a loud one.”
“It’s the beans,” she said. “You had the beans too. Why don’t you fart?”
“Baby, some people just don’t have it in them.”
“People have intestines, stomachs, mouths, nose, teeth, knees, fingers, fingernails, nipples, hair, eyes, brain, sexual organs, skin and all those pores…don’t you think it’s beautiful that we’re made to have all these things?”
“Sure, we are.”
“All those souls with their long-dead bodies, they’re jealous of us…” She gripped my hand. “Don’t you think?”
“Sure, they are.” I finished my cigarette.
“You must be brave, baby,” she said, moving her head and peeking at me with nearly-
closed eyes. “You must be brave when it comes for you.”
“I’m brave,” I said. “I’m tough as hell.”
She listened to my heartbeat: it went slow and sang a soft but blunt rhythm, just enough to
take the edge off, enough to drown out any ongoing thoughts. She shut her eyes.
“You’re beautiful,” I said softly.
We fell asleep on our inner spring mattress, within these cardboard thin walls. We snored
together, we dreamed together.
In the morning, she made bean stew. “Come eat,” she said. “I added carrots and beef.”
“I’m not hungry.”
“You know that five dollars you hid in your shoes?”
“I spent it on the stew.”
I got up and walked over to the breakfast nook table, sat down. She placed a spoon in my
hand. “Dig in.”
“Do you want some?” I asked.
“Maybe later, baby.”
I scooped the beans out of the red gravy, brought the spoon close to my nose and sniffed
it. It smelled rusty. I shoved them into my mouth, chewed and swallowed.
“Have more. Have more.” She refilled my bowl from the pot.
She came over and kissed me on the top of the head. “Make love to me tonight?”
I looked at her, nodded. She was the most beautiful woman I’d ever been with. I thought
of her and I as buying a new pair of shoes that I could never afford.
She slid into bed, rolled under the old covers. I watched her and put another mouthful of
beans into my mouth.
I finished the stew. I smoked a cigarette. She watched me from bed and I watched her
from the table. She had her red dress off. They were draped over the lamp giving the room a red marshy mood. I took off my thick clothes. I could feel chilled beads of sweat moving on my face.
With no place to go, I went over to her. I slipped under the covers. She moved her long fingers over me and caressed my tummy.
“How do you feel, baby?”
“Warm,” I said.
She asked me, “Do you believe in hell?”
“Do you believe we’ll be punished for our sins?”
“It depends,” I said. “I’ve slept on hardened benches, starved for weeks, got kicked in the
face, ridiculed, trampled on, spit on, left to die, and waited for years and years for something that isn’t there… Punishment? It doesn’t always require a sin.”
She sighed. “How do you feel, baby?”
“I’m feeling all right.”
“Are you ready?” she asked.
I clamped my knees against her hips. We moved. Her eyes were flat as if the pupils had
been removed. I turned her over on her hands and her knees. I broke sweat. Felt warm and graceful. I swallowed saliva, felt it cut my throat. My vision started to blur. I ignored it and went on and on. I was a tough guy. She screamed. “It’s okay,” I said, “everything is all right…” I dropped my head on the sheets, drool tracing down my chin. Slowly, I felt myself slipping off. I felt the right hand go soft, then the left leg. I crashed onto the floor. My head was spinning and I saw white spots appearing before my eyes. A sharp pain attacked my belly, like claws, ripping, churning and tangling up the tubes inside.
I blacked out.
I awakened in a strange room, in a strange bed. I looked around. There were nine others
packed with me in that small, dimly-lit room. It was freezing and the blankets were too thin. It was night-time. Everyone in there was asleep, or just staying quiet. I had a sudden yearning for sunlight. I tried to sit up but was too weak. I couldn’t be sure, but I think I let out a loud fart when I tried to lift my head. The room started to stink worse than shit.
“Nicky?” I said when I heard footsteps. A lady in a blue, figure-hugging uniform walked in, her arms draped lovingly around a thin red clipboard. There were several guys in there that woke up and I could tell they were masturbating under the sheets. An odd one started thumping his chest with a fist. “Uh, uh, uh, uh, uh…” he went.
Lady Blue smiled curiously at me. Then a man, I assumed was a doctor, came in. The
doctors here did not wear white coats or carry stethoscopes around their necks. He had a red clipboard like Lady Blue. I shifted my head to the side and couldn’t find any equipment that went, Beep, Beep, Beep. There were only beds.
“I feel okay,” I said to the doctor. “Can I leave?”
“We have to keep you here under observation for two weeks.”
“I want to leave.”
“I’m sorry. We’ve assessed you. And find that you pose a risk to yourself.”
“You can’t keep a man here against his will.”
“We can,” he said. “It’s the law.”
I tried to get out of the bed. Lady Blue standing beside pressed my shoulders down. “It’s
not a choice,” she said. “It’s a decision.”
“I’m not suicidal,” I said.
“We think you are,” said the man. “We think you still possess suicidal thoughts.”
“Having suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean you have to act on it.”
“It’s either you lie down, rest. Or we make you.”
“I need a cigarette,” I said.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Wait,” I said, “What about an extra blanket?”
Lady Blue said, “That we can do.”
I watched them leave, and afterwards I hummed a shapeless, nameless tune and soothed
myself to sleep. At least I’d have breakfast served in bed the next morning.
Marcus Ong is a Communications graduate based in Singapore. His fiction has been published by Momaya Press in their Annual Review 2016. He believes that a good chair is a necessity for any writer. Besides writing, he enjoys watching stand-up comedy, listening to rock n’ roll music, and memorising lines from the Blackadder TV series.