Moments Not Resolved


My husband accidentally strangled me when we were both sleeping. The next morning he found me breathless on our small bed. Autumn wind chilled the room, unforgiving yet refreshing. Friday, already people were planning how to spend the long Chung Yueng Festival weekend. The city was gaining a crude sense of excitement. And I was dead.

My feelings for him were long extinct, I thought. But once again I was trapped by images of him, and images of us together, naked like ah gentle gifts--I washis and he was mine. The brute of infatuation; skin tightened, yearning to be touched. Listening to his voice when he talked to the police and my boss on the phone, I discovered the structure of more and more heart beats, frequent, interrupted. But when I pressed my hand on that embittered thing, there was no motion.

His bicycle clicked, clicked, clicked all the way to his office in Central while my body was being removed from our apartment on Hollywood Road. All of a sudden it struck me that it mattered little I was wearing my favourite silk scarf we bought from Cambodia a few years ago on our honeymoon; miniature elephants marching around my neck. What mattered was it really pained to see someone I thought I loved leaving for work like nothing had happened on the morning of my brand-new departure. If he shed any tears, I would like to have them magnified and kept in a bell jar for display like corpses of rare animals.

I wandered in our apartment for a few minutes, shadow-less, before the guest in black came and picked me up. For the first time I noticed a crack on the ceiling above our wedding bed; its shape was a lightning bolt. Books on the bookcase tilted towards the windows where the sunlight summoned; some book-pages became petals of lemon-yellow sunflowers, glowing on the dusty edges. I'd swear I saw my doppelganger in the oval-shaped mirror in the cramped living room, at least for a split second. Perhaps my profile tickled the mirror until it blurted out the memory of my face.

Death, be not proud. I mouthed Donne's words when the black guest materialised before me. He had no chariot that one could ride, no raven with feathers cursed by Athena, no scythe made of stainless steel, no company of horse-faced guardians of the Chinese Purgatory, and he certainly wasn't a beautiful woman as men would sometimes fantasise. With modern attire and sleek hair Death stood next to the said mirror; on that glassy surface there was a distinctive reflection of emptiness and otherworldliness combined. I had a strange feeling that he did not anticipate me to speak first; it was as if my measured calmness undermined his authority and displeased him.

He stared at me for a good minute, and only spoke when my eyes could no longer stand the deliberate fierceness of his and shifted an inch from his pale thin face, the epitome of malnutrition and deficiency of passion. What language he spoke in I could not possibly recognise. It must be something universal and powerful--nothing was lost in translation--for I found myself involuntarily nodding when his speech came to an end. He was to manipulate time, space, law of physics; and let me relive moments in my life that were supposed to be dramatic, traumatic. These moments would fit in my world like lost past-scented pieces in a wooden jigsaw puzzle and make me complete. He said I must resolve one of the moments before he could take me to 'the next level of existence'. The point of all this, at that point, was steamingly unclear. But who was I to bargain when I knew not what's going to happen?

First it was a small butterfly, wings patterned like multiple peacocks' eyes, struggling in the tiny and lonely cup of my hands. There were butterflies, melting, on my fingernails too; I could not rescue them from disappearing and no one else cared. The sky was ribbon blue for celebration, white clouds dotted sea waves. Two o'clock in the afternoon, my father's alcoholic eyes were not on me. I set the butterfly free, leaving none of its traces in my palms. I ran from one tree to another, ran in the grass, odour of green, distracting myself from the absence of my father's attention. I thought of wolves and caterpillars from fairy-tales. I thought of a hole that might lead me to an underworld. Then with feeble legs I ran back to my father. The woman whose bare breasts my father was sniffing was not my mother. The browness of the nipples. He played piano on her stomach and made her roar with laughter that was choking my ears.

They saw me and they became silhouettes evaporating into two nearby trees, both had extensive branches and gigantic roots. Now I remembered that afternoon, and why my father smiled scantily to me in my childhood before he and my mother died in a car crash. Did I or did I not want to resolve the sad relationship with my father? Death asked.

My voice was about to make an answer but I was already being brought to a second oppressive scene. Mr Leung was droning on and on about the history of Hong Kong, and the exact location of the five stars in the corner of a red Chinese flag, and then he burst forth in a sing-song manner which shocked quite a handful of sleepy students sitting at the back: 'Hong Kong citizens are matches in matchboxes/ We pact tightly we are united/ Together let's burn everything/ And move to another planet'. Then he asked me to repeat what he had just said. I stood up, and at that moment the whole class behind me screamed and laughed. There was a large patch of red on my white Summer uniform spanning the length of my small hips. That moment stilled with complexities of embarrassment, hatred, dazzling self-loathing.

All junior faces then turned into a big nocturnal moon hanging over a balcony, the stage prop we had for Romeo and Juliet. Now I remembered the odyssey of riding on a bus and walking in a wet market to buy some ginger for my uncle after school. The red patch was there the whole time, not buried nor extinguished in my memory. With implacable shame I cried till I fell asleep that night. Did I or did I not want to erase that moment of redness in the classroom? Death asked.

Sometimes I liked to imagine, the buses I was sitting in, flew over the Victoria Harbour, and landed nowhere. I was about to tell this to Death but the next second I was already back in my apartment on Hollywood road, watching my husband preparing dinner for us one last time in the kitchen: pasta with tomato sauce and meat balls. I was remembering how five years ago, when he pushed me onto his bed, I knew the moment had come for us to experience beyond word portrayal of limbs overlapping, lips overlapping, muscles overlapping, mass of flesh overlapping, possibly also love. If minds were maps, I thought he was a skilled cartographer. But what's wrong with us five years later? I watched him and found no love. Hush! Perhaps no man had been able to wrap me in perpetual happiness, glad-coloured wine. Abruptly at that moment I thought I was the only person who could end the great void.

Night breeze touched the windowsills and I shivered. I remembered digging my hands into the box of old clothes in the spare room and taking out that elephant scarf. Did I or did I not want my husband to know he did not strangle me? Death asked.

      Tammy Ho Lai-ming 2007