Ingénue

By: Deborah Wong

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                is eyes were blood shot watching me at the verge of tearing up. I grabbed those postcards as David insisted feeding them to the paper shredder. “Don’t you know they’re like my family? They’re my saving grace when you were away.” Yes, there was a new discovery of subtle intimacy in these 17cm x 12cm, postmarked and slightly crippled by-the-edge. “I love staring at them for hours and pledged to write two thousand words a day.”

           

            He then called me the sickest joke of this century.

 

            David and I often had verbal intercourse to spit at one another. He knew my indecent taste; my constant craving of velvet, laces and silk as I pushed him to the brink of gripping sheets. After each bedroom activity, he’d craved for spicy pork noodles. The following day, he would laugh at every commercial on the TV screen and commented the LRT and Monorail billboards with profanities.   

            “Blame the Assignment, baby.” His smelled like citrus and chilli; must be the chicken rice he had for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  

 

            At the Art Gallery, David kissed me inexorably in front of his curator Mommy-zilla and her company of Guan Yin’s Militants. Like Shakespeare on his suicidal commotion, he thought I had planned to elope (with a halo on my head) when a French-Vietnamese expressionist tried to be friendly with me.     

            “Fear is here to conquer, baby. I hardly have a chance to stand out.” He said, while driving along the Sprint Expressway with scissors, a terracotta brick and bundle of newspapers stacked under his feet. His hand brushed mine, tickling my skin drawing a heart shaped in bereavement. It might seem that the ‘Assignment’ was the real killer in our relationship. Suddenly, he stepped on the accelerator going from 75 to 78 and then 80kmph. We were about to shoot to the sky when he said: “FEAR is Fire Everything And Run; fire everything and run.”   

   

            He stood by the sliding door asking for a woman’s worth. “You have one? It’s in you the moment you were born.” Three in the morning, I was awoken by the crickets’ house warming party; David had stopped strumming his guitar. He’d changed his MacBook’s screen to Mount Rushmore in 3D and deleted the photo we took last summer at the Niagara Falls. At seven, I made breakfast and reminiscing of our first hello at the Catholic Youth Convention.   

 

            Before the ‘Assignment’ episodes, David claimed that our Maker is summoning him and so he started surfing the Malaysia-Singapore Jesuit website. He downloaded online Theology Studies brochures from every university. Two days after he quitted his job at PricewaterhouseCooper, he applied for a visa at the US Embassy. “It’ll be a great East Side trip, church hopping from The Bronx to Manhattan to Staten Island.” I was persuading him not to make any abrupt decision. “Baby, if theatre is not for me, then priesthood is the best solution to nurse depression.” He insisted I should be the sole owner to all the priests he’d ever corresponded, whether through phone calls, letters and e-mails.

 

            He signed up for a one week bible retreat at Bentong, in the state of Pahang. I spent that week catching up on Asian literature, cooking and watching gangster’s films. Four days before the retreat ends, he showed up at the door. “No one’s allowed to talk. Four stalls to do shit business and two rows of rusted showerheads; I’m like entering a Hollywood gay prison.” He took a deep breath and held my shoulder. “Their meal comprises of non-Halal meat and artificial soy based products. And most of all, I miss you, I need you, baby.” We didn’t leave the bed for the next four days.

 

            One fine day, David came home waltzing across the living room and shouted: “I got my first ‘Assignment’”. The day after that, he often dreamt of setting fire to an archbishop’s vestment because the woman he loved will be marrying an Adonis priest. He would visit Ace hardware the next day for hours and then came home empty-handed.

 

            That afternoon, I left to go to the tailor for my cheongsam alteration. Aunty Mei-Lin, the seamstress greeted me with a motherly hug and pinched my cheek. We walked to the nearby hawker beverage stall, situated under the Angsana tree with a few plastic tables, stools and chairs. The patrons greeted Aunty Mei-Lin the moment they saw her. The temperature was much lower compared to last year’s monsoon season. She circled her hands around the glass, shivering. I wrapped my thick shawl over her neck and evened it on her bony figure.   

 

            She fished out a handkerchief from her eco-friendly pouch and wiped her tears that were about to drip. “The murderer is still out there.” She looked me in the eye with her intimidated expression. “This world shouldn’t have a place for such a heartless prick. My boy should attend my funeral not another way round.” I wrapped her hands and that white flower hairclip on her head spelled tears.

 

            I submitted a non-fiction based on Aunty Mei-Lin’s story for the next issue of A Minor Literary Journal – Where No Great Stories Left Unattended. The only way was to dedicate this piece to her, if only I could bring her son back to life, like I’ve written in one of the scenes:-

 

            “In the bowl of snow white, jade green and prosperity red, he’s enjoying tangyuan with his mother under the rattling ceiling fan. They angle pinkies as a promise, a habit since he was a child. Raindrops are taping on the roof. She watches him opening the cupboard; fingers were brushing along his AX and LV suits. He has in his mind the luxurious funeral service and the best mortician when the cow-head horse-face comes to claim his mother.”

 

            Two weeks later, the editor-in-chief replied with a ‘Yes’ and capped the word ACCEPTANCE at the e-mail subject line. I felt bad for David. He’d missed another opportunity of sharing my victorious moment.

 

            “It’s ‘Assignment Impossible’ this time, baby. I’m not allowed to reveal much. One thing for sure, I’m reviving Bonnie & Clyde this year.”

 

            He’d left for The Actors Studio when I was about to tell him I’d finished composing a song with no spoken lyrics. I would like to sing this in my next performance at Cassandra’s Café. I needed him to name the song title. He called me during mid-day and said: “Da Vinci’s Queen Amidala.”    

 

            A day after that, David baked me a cake and piped “Please Take Me Away” with buttercream icing. It gave me goosebumps instead. I looked at those cracks on the cake for quite some time; my mind had drifted to the most organic volcano larva that was about to burst, at the same time imagined the screaming and reaching for the fire extinguisher. But David-Ain’t-A-Goliath had done some nip & tuck to the cake by slipping applewood smoked bacon between each crack.

 

            “A cake is a cake, don’t play smart and put meat inside.”  

            “Too bad, you’ll be missing Cannabis brownies.” He said mischievously.

            “Like you used to put weed inside the Carbonara sauce.”

            “Go Amsterdam! Long live Netherlands.” He punched his fist in the air.

 

…..

 

             On 17th November, the dream of me sighting an overhead crooked rainbow along Jalan Ampang towards the embassy row was on my mind. David finished the plate of steamed wild pepper leaves with allumette carrots and soy sauce before leaving me for another ‘Assignment’.

 

             Dinner was on the table when David reached home at eight. Instead, he whipped up some chicken breasts, hardboiled eggs and baby spinach from the fridge. He didn’t even wait for me to finish shower, and he’d forgotten to overload his plate with satay sauce. Later, he refused to elaborate on his Singapore trip, but said this to me when I walked to the closet. “Hi, stranger; surprise to see you here again.” I played along and said the same. He only raised his eyebrows.  

 

            I then threw my book on the floor and walked into the shower when he did so. His body soaked like raining chicken with clothes on. I pulled him to me. “I hate your guts. I’m wondering when the monster will return my boyfriend to me.” My head snuggled up his chest. His limbs were flimsy and pronouncing murkiness. I closed my eyes and memorised every beat of his fragile egoistic heart. Afraid to show him my tears, his vendetta pupils were crossing the rabbit and tortoise race ahead of me. “I can’t take this anymore. I will have to leave if I needed to.”

            “I wish you would leave me first.” He whispered.

            “Then how come your arms around me are still so tight?”

            His breathing muscles were expanding and contracting, in motion.

            That night, our lips were locked. His fingers were insatiably outlining my skin. We exchanged bodily scents and shielding each other from the grisly cold. However, I was inevitably disturbed by his sudden withdrawal when my body was overdue with beading sweats. “I need to get ready for tomorrow’s assignment, baby. I hope you will understand.”

 

            Watching him left, I felt like a discarded puppet.  

 

            Then dawn came and brought the rain along. I should have known when he sprinkled extra coffee powder on the latte art. “Try picturing a cupid without diapers.” I sunk into his bottom lip, biting tenderly and as ticklish as I could; with him I’d always placed my imagination into a wild harvesting chase. “You’re a bad, bad girl, and a sad, sad girl.” He said. I gasped when the ‘Assignment’ slipped from his hands; pages were flipping like a movie trailer. He grabbed it before I could read its content. “Sorry, P&C. I’ll tell you more when it’s over.”

 

            In the bedroom, I dabbed some concealer on his evasive dark eye circles. After that, I sat on the couch watching him putting on John Lennon’s sunglasses and gave his auburn brown hair some ruffling. He swung my hands like slow foxtrot into the ray of light, mesmerised by his green tea shampoo. I wondered is this a good thing that we didn’t stand ten inches apart. Would he be glad that I finally understood the rule of this game, like a public figure’s companion should?

 

            I looked on as he handed me a shellacked box that was relatively big for jewelleries. “I’ve arranged your postcards in alphabetical orders and had sealed them using cellophane tape and strong adhesive glue.” We paid serious attention to those crack lines that were comparable to an amateur’s masterpiece. I ran my fingers on one of the postcards. “It resembled to human’s physical, mental, emotion and spiritual torture and humiliation. People like us tend to analyse things in a different perspective. We’re more sensitive than others.”

            “I have to agree with you.” I said, nervously.

            "I have to go. Do me a favour. Please don’t forget me until I’m home."

 

            After he left, I was reading the last page of his ‘Assignment’. I tore it when he was asleep last night. I desperately needed to understand this man before we start burning each other again.

 

In the kitchen, I cut the rice paper and rolled them in the shape of loneliness. In-coming text messages and calls were pouring Monday blues. Doorbells that sounded like dreamland continued to invade. The cold floor seeped into my sole. The face of a familiar stranger became the mug shot through the door hole.

            “Hi, this is Clarence Nguyen in case you can’t remember.”

            “You’re the French-Vietnamese expressionist I met at the art gallery.”

            “Good memory.”

 

            I was meant to ask how he found me. Instead, he cut in and invited me for lunch at Loft 26 Solaris. I was driving along the Penchala Link, sort of lost my way. He was complaining of his acid influx stomach. His face turned into a Hulk.

 

            In the restaurant, he let me have the honour by ordering. He wondered why a Kelantanese cuisine didn’t serve bread and butter since it was a five-star Michelin rated. Though he did enjoyed the bowl of piping hot beef bone soup but he was taken aback when the Nasi Kerabu came.

 

            He stopped after a few swallows. “I don’t know the rice is in blue colour.”

            “It’s from butterfly-pea flower.”

            “The colour put me off.”

 

            For condiment, I suggested fried fish meat crackers served with sweet chilli sauce. But then he got high after drinking bottomless iced rose syrup and I had the whole bucket of fried item to myself. His conversation was about French delicacies and North African pastries. “I love buttermilk escargot with chilli padi. We should order rose syrup with evaporated milk.”

 

            I smiled briefly as he waved for the waitress.

            “My dad wants me to switch job. He said be a painter can’t bring much

             fortune and fame. What do you do for a living?”

            His eyes turned roller coaster the moment I mentioned my occupation.  

 

            That evening, I took the role of a couch potato. CNN was broadcasting a highway chase, while Marilyn Manson was featured on BIO. Outside the window, Patrick was honking for Maya’s attention. She lived next door, worked nearby the karaoke lounge and had a long silky ponytail. David had been asking cigarettes from her due to his ‘Assignment’ purpose. Each time she smokes, I tried my best not to inhale her menthol stick like she’d tried to get me addicted most of the time. She said to me last night. "Have you been playing hard to get, my dear?”

            I shook my head.

            “Men are hard to understand."

            “I thought so.”

            “They’ll treat you differently once they’d eaten you up.”

 

            The following day, Patrick asked whether I’d be heading to Chinatown like usual. He was kind to offer me a lift, of course with Maya in the car. I thanked him and briefly mentioned I've ordered Kahlua braised ribs at Las Caritas. Out of the blue, he talked about the uncensored version of Desperado and El Mariachi. “Maya wants a Chihuahua for her birthday. But I’m allergic to furry animals. I don’t want to sneeze all the way to her legs. Last night, she gave me two options; either a Chihuahua or Solvil et Titus bracelet watch. My head is punching nails.”

            I briefly acknowledged.

            “What’s the best present you ever received from David?”

            “It came in the form of phrase.”

            “What’s that?”

            “We are over, baby.”

 

            I cleared part of the fridge by crushing up those leftover applewood smoked bacon, and then tossed them into the salad. I felt feather-light after throwing away David’s apple cider with lemon and marmalade sauce dressing. However, Patrick caught me red-handed at the residential garbage site. He had the chance of a lifetime lecturing me for wasting food. “Think of those African children and flood victims.”

 

            Before bedtime, I jumped on the weighing scale, feeling rather broken after reading David’s ‘Assignment’. When morning comes, the LaserJet cartridge was playing tricks on me; one of the pages churned out like a distorted aeroplane. I called for the printer service company. Their service personnel came half an hour later. He waited outside, while I put on my raven black housecoat. His name tag said ‘Sam’. I fetched him a glass of lukewarm sky juice. He possessed a pair of old man’s hands and manicured fingernails.

            “Your printer is fine, Miss.”

            “Are you sure?”

            “But it’s about time to get a new one, Miss. No point of repairing it. If the old one doesn’t go then the new will not come.”

            “…just like a relationship,” I muffled quietly.

            Later in the evening, I was typing fixatedly on my Singer’s typewriter when my mother called to remind me of this weekend’s birthday dinner at my grandma’s. I did not tell her about David.

            “Your granny wants to see your boyfriend.”

            “Tell her he’ll be busy with stage performance.”

            “You should join him – real-life couple on the stage.”

 

           At the corridor leading to the studio, I was beguiled by the flawless strumming of an acoustic guitar, while a woman was practising her contemporary dance solo on the stage. And then the loud whistling from the microphone channelled to me, without testing one, two and three. An oriental woman came on stage, lung belting voice in Arabic when I couldn’t spot David’s whereabouts.

 

            The young man continued to strum his guitar after the oriental woman left the stage and switched on the vintage amplifier that the catchphrase ‘Born to be Wild’. He then walked to me. “You seem to be lost.”

            “I’m looking for David.”

            “What can I do for you?” the oriental woman said. She had porcelain skin.

            “She’s here for David.”

            “You have to wait. He’s rehearsing at the back room. But not to worry, do take a seat.”

 

            The young man who identified himself as Kyle handed me a diluted juice in a party cup. He wore a grey long sleeve bathroom-rug sweater, tight leather pants and a fedora; his style was rather effeminate. There, David appeared with a broody man, holding his hand. David’s expression was stretching from the Straits to the Causeway when he saw me. But the man besides David waved me a robotic ‘Hi’.

            “What are you doing here?” he gritted his teeth.

            “Can I have a minute with you?”

            “No, I’m busy.”

            “Granny’s birthday dinner is this weekend. You’re invited.”

            He shrugged. “But with one condition, you have to surrender that missing page to me. You know it has become my bread and butter.”

 

            At the midnight observation level, my sentiment had sowed courage in baby steps. I’ve seen darkness in an abandoned field. I took the messy sheets to my bosom ‘til the sun comes up. The day might not be perfect but tears won’t fall forever. I put on the flare dress and my mother’s pearl necklace, embracing the ocean goddess in me that had teased the open shore over a cup of Affogato.B

 

Deborah Wong's poems have been featured in Poetry Quarterly, ditch, Mad Swirl, Vox Poetica, The Tower Journal, Red Fez, Inwood Indiana, Wish Poetry Press, Crack The Spine and elsewhere; online and in-print. She's one of the editorial board members of Eastlit for poetry submission. Her work 'Mirrors and Other Poems' were published by Banana Writers under Issue 10: May 2014. She picks 'It's All Over But The Crying' by Garbage as the story song. Tweet her @PetiteDeborah. 

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