Relief

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June 22, 2017 by The Citron Review

by Jiaying Lim

 

I would imagine my parents dead, or dying, from a head-on collision with a car with angry stoplights, mangling their bodies like crushing paper. Or they would spin out of control after hitting the road, skidding, a glowing, flaring ring where the tires previously burned. Blood would spurt out, crust, then congeal, a burgundy shade of finality.

I sat up on the couch. I stood up. I walked to the door. I turned around and walked back to the sofa.

(Would I be a worrier all my life?)

The policeman would walk up my doorstep, brushing aside the drooping vines over our door number, checking again against his ringed notebook for the correct address. His features would be grim, held tightly in place. He’d ring, and my dog would instantly start yipping. He would tell me the news, and my smile would falter with uncertainty, and then my features would rearrange themselves into disbelief and then fear, and perhaps I would faint. Likely I would faint.

I picked up the phone. I dialed: 9-6-4-2-. I stopped. I put the receiver down. I sat down.

Would I have to give a speech at the funeral? I was the oldest of us two. I was ten, which was pretty old compared to when I was seven but probably a little young generally. But still the oldest. Always the oldest. I would stand in the blinding sunlight, on a stool someone had procured, so that I could see over the podium. Or perhaps it would pour, like a tired cliché. I would astound, I think. I would create a speech of staggering eloquence and rich allusions to the poetry and literature my father liked and the ties to traditional culture my mother’s every action was so steeped in. Maybe I would mention the vacation we took last May. I would feel like crying the whole time, but I would hold it in because I knew I had to. My aunt would dab away tears, smudging away her lurid makeup. My little sister would sob, unable to do anything else. I would continue speaking, and I would be brave.

I picked up the phone. I dialed, my fingers on autopilot: 9-6-4-2-2-2-6-0.

(Would I remember this phone number all my life?)

“Hello!” I said, speaking through a sudden thick clot of tears, when they cheerily answered. “What time are you coming back later?”

“Hello, your papa and mama are driving back now; think we’ll be back by 9 p.m.” My father always sounded delighted when I called. He always answered.

(Would someone always answer?)

I lay on the adult blanket on their bed, careful not to move too much or mess it up. I spread my arms and legs across, rubbing against the soft down. Soon I would get a blanket like this, and it would be one of the best parts of being an adult. I propped my chin on the pillow and stared at the clock. The pair of stacked rectangles that formed the eight. The serpentine bends in a three-dimensional road formed the five. The zero was less an oval than a rectangle.

Where was I? Oh, the brilliant eulogy. I’d be marked after that, forever hollow at some parts, bruised at some, hardened at others. Once a fortnight or so, I would collapse dramatically in the weight of my grief.

8:55 p.m. Five minutes more. Five more minutes. They must be near the huge junction facing the fire station now.  

I closed my eyes. I sat up. I went to the bathroom, stared at myself in the mirror. I fiddled with my mother’s foundation, the spare, almost-invisible sheen she’d wear. I wondered why she didn’t  wear more.

8:59 p.m. I held my breath, watching. The figures on the clock were gray slate. The screen was not illuminated.

(If the clock stopped working, if time skidded to an abrupt halt, would I even know?)

I do not think I breathed between 9:00 p.m. and 9:05 p.m., when I heard my dog’s excited, futile scratching under the door, the click of the keys in the lock, the flicking of the light switch, the sighing, muffled murmurs of speech, the footsteps up the stairs, heavy and measured, followed by a pair of lighter ones.

I leaped off the blanket and onto the couch and assumed my usual pose and opened the nearest book, but all I saw was sweet relief flooding, breaking past the banks, flowing into the empty boulevards of my heart.

 

Jiaying Lim is currently based in Philadelphia, and was born and raised in Singapore. Her creative nonfiction has also been published in River Teeth, Full Grown People, Eunoia Review, and Quarterly Literary Review Singapore.

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