Desiree Lim is pursuing an M.A. in Philosophy and English Literature
at the University of Edinburgh. Her work has appeared in the Quarterly
Literary Review Singapore and Ceriph.
The photograph on the dresser told me
you were your father's double. First-born son,
they wept at your arrival, took you home
to be dressed. Drove to the best kindergarten,
taught you to speed a bicycle. You raced
with mechanical dinosaurs; read Roald Dahl
on stormy afternoons, watched cartoons
with a Milo mug. Safe from influenza,
you grew up happy. Met girls in McDonald's,
joined the school band. Hated your haircut,
plucked a second-hand guitar, slept fitfully
in a crowded bunk. Held my hand, led me to
your parents' bedroom. It was nearly dawn;
we couldn't wake your sister. There they were
with eighties hair, matching smiles; engaged,
legitimate. All we could only dream of being.
Uncle Steve, forty-five.
always in yellow, ironed chinos.
Skilled at karaoke,
bad with jokes.
One wife, a teacher.
A son, Chris, I bickered with
but secretly loved.
He was poor, Dad said
despite the Mercedes.
They sold their house,
moved to a three-room flat.
Respectable, Mum agreed,
slipping off her shoes.
He killed himself
in September, flightless pigeon
plummeting past windows.
Chris found his body
after football; pushing, shoving
through the commotion.
Uncle Pete, fifty-one.
Woolly eyebrows, shy smile:
He'd stabbed his girlfriend,
Dad confided, then slashed himself.
Always the quiet ones
who explode, then get released
for good behaviour.
They become pastors
with neat haircuts,
strengthened by remorse.
Help their friends
move furniture, puffing with strain;
gently kiss their daughters.
Die from cancer
a decade later.
Churchgoers gathered round
his bedside, tear-stained women
wringing their hands.
At least he'd gone to Heaven.
Uncle Rob, fifty-nine.
Rotund, sportive, a fixture
in framed photographs.
Went on holidays,
butterfly parks; led us
in his blue sedan.
He dreamt of retiring
in Australia; every day,
a game of golf.
Stopped breathing after
a week in hospital.
Be quiet, they said,
the service's starting.
In my mother's dress, I cried
for his jaundiced cheeks,
Those seaside vacations,
road-trips spent fishing.
They circled the light in swarms,
dank planets revolving
around the swaying bulb.
Not understanding their reflections,
they died in a red bowl, dive-bombing
its watery depths.
As they floated on their backs,
we brought dinner
to the wooden table.
My mother, furrowed with exhaustion.
Father, loudly chewing our leftovers.
The spoon sank further in.
On television, a girl wept.
The sun retreating, neighbours wrapped up
a badminton game.
Sternly, they asked why I hadn't eaten
the boiled fish, crooked vegetables.
I wished they understood.
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