YEW LEONG LEE
Yew Leong Lee (b. 1977) is a Singaporean writer and video artist who
has lived in the United States, France and China. He is the author of
three hypertexts. The print version of one of them, "Gross Domestic
Happiness", won the 2003 James Assatly Memorial Prize for Fiction at
Brown University, where he graduated with Honors in Art-Semiotics.
He also holds an MFA in Creative Writing (fiction) from The New
School, and has studied with Robert Coover, Mary Gaitskill, Michael
Hofmann, Dale Peck and David Leavitt. His nonfiction has appeared in
the Lives Column of The New York Times Magazine, his fiction in H.O.W.
Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), Cha and Chaise
Magazine, and his poetry in DIAGRAM, Fuselit (forthcoming), NTH-
POSITION, QLRS, Lianhe Zaobao, and Journeys: Words, Home, and
Nation: An Anthology of Singapore Poetry.
The New Madame Bovary
for years i kept away from sitcoms, dramadies...
didn't need plot
recently a man came into my life and switched on the TV
and now it is too late to ask of this drama, "stop."
During French Class
We learnt nothing all day during French class. Flora broke down again
trying to tell us the story of her life—in French. (Yes, it was
tragic. She knew so few verbs her life became Zen-like.) As for the
ongoing saga centering upon Nathalie and Gerard, the twin protagonists
in our very own soap-opera style PANORAMA: Elementary Series French
textbook, we were simply left to wonder if they were going to uproot
themselves from Marseilles and move to Vernon in the cliff-hanging
conclusion. Just as we were never to know what became of Margot, hotly
pursued by three "difficult" men, never to know if she'd opt for
spinsterhood instead. I suppose it was deemed that we had no more use
for them after we'd observed the workings of Le Passé Composé in their
dialogues. Fingering an actual picture of Jacques, which accompanied
what we'd been led to believe as his first person account of his
average day, I tried to discern Jacques' real essence. (I don't
believe his real name is Jacques, in any case. He looks more like a
Pierre to me.) The Jacques who submits his photograph to a textbook
that's disseminated all over the world! Telling all the world what an
average day is like for him! He is considerate, to be sure. His
sentences are short and clipped so we understand him perfectly. In the
mug shot we have of him, he is almost smiling. Who are these people
anyway? Why have they infiltrated our textbooks? I demanded of the
professor. Why they get paid for it of course, he said. I might have
known. Afterwards, out drinking with classroom acquaintances, I made
sure to know each of them better, asking several questions I came up
with on my own.
They have been veering past each other for a long time now. It always
takes a while for him, moving from one end of the corridor at a speed
of x meters per second to bump into her, traversing from the other end
at a speed of y meters per second—where x equals y equals the lowest
number in the set of values posited in the handbook of social mores—on
which occasion both of them will exclaim together, 'What a surprise!'
A glove was the impetus. She didn't have a handkerchief so she dropped
her glove instead. Ei ei, miss, you dropped your glove! Their eyes
caught. A grain of something drifted into his nostril, causing him to
sneeze. Damnit! I knew I should have brought out my handkerchief!
When they first started sleeping together, they quarreled over which
side of the bed they would sleep on. Both of them wanted the left
side. I'm left-handed and you're not, he pointed out. If I should fall
off the bed, my left hand would readily support the fall. She pointed
out that the left side of the bed was against the wall, which was
plain to see. Still he persisted. We could move the bed so that the
right side would be against the wall, said he. That way you won't fall
out of the bed. She was adamant. No, I want the left side of the bed.
He wouldn't concede. In the end, they came up with an ingenious
compromise: He would get the left side of the bed, but she would sleep
with her head at his feet so that she would be on the left side of the
bed as well. The only problem: she was right-handed. She kept falling
off the bed.
They took ballroom dancing lessons together. He often stepped on her
toes. She would retaliate by biting his ear. Ow! She'd go. Ow! He'd
go. In strict three quarter time. When the dance instructor told them
to imagine a Mona Lisa on their partner's shoulder and to stare at it,
she could no longer bite his ear. The imaginary Mona Lisa was in her
way. Ow! She'd go, all by herself on the dance floor. She felt very
embarrassed. She found a new way to retaliate. During karate practice
she would manhandle his crotch. Keep off, he would hiss. Keep off, or
else! He was forced to go for her breasts. After a few sessions like
this, the karate instructor told them to tone down their diet of
Given her habit of falling off the bed, he would sometimes wake to see
her sprawled on the floor. Dream, dream, dream, when I want you, in my
arms, when I want you. Someone had left the radio on! She was not a
pretty sight stretched out like that. The more he stared at her the more
alienated from her he became. At last he got out of bed, took a piece
of chalk and traced her outline against wood. Oddly satisfied by this,
he fell back to sleep. In his sleep, he dreamt of her in his arms.
She liked to put Oreo cookies in her cereal. Makes it murky, she said.
She couldn't stop. She was addicted to Oreo cookies. She kept
crumbling Oreo cookies into her cereal. She stabbed her spoon into the
bowl and made a muddy mess. She stabbed and she stabbed until milk
overflowed and spilled onto the tablecloth. Look at yourself, just
look at yourself! He cried. She made an O with her mouth in mock
dismay. He flicked a piece of scrambled egg right into it.
You know, said she one day, Literature is full of bored housewives.
Anna Karenina for one, and then Madame Bovary. He pointed out that
Madame Bovary was created before Anna Karenina. I am talking about the
fictional characters as they appear chronologically in my thoughts,
said she. Well, I am talking about the fictional characters as they
appear chronologically in the literary world, said he. We are not
arguing then, said she. Feeling pleased with herself, she went on to
point out that she too was getting bored, and moreover felt like a
housewife at times even though she was in fact a supermodel. We're not
even married and you seldom stay at home, countered he. Still, she
maintained, someone should write a story about me. Someone has written
a story about you! said he. I mean the fictional kind, not the
biographical kind! said she. I'm sure I could make a decent literary
protagonist. He sighed and went back to his crossword puzzle.
He had just come back from his day. Honey, where are you? He wanted to
tell her what had happened on his way back home. An old man had gotten
off the bus, forgetfully leaving behind his Teletubby. A few
passengers had shouted out of the window to get him to turn back but
the old man didn't hear anything. He had gotten off the bus with the
Teletubby; he had run after the old man to restore it to him. The
moment he climbed back onto the bus, all the passengers cheered. He
had felt good about himself, as he had never felt for a long long
while. He wanted to tell her that maybe life had settled down too much
around him. He wanted to tell her that maybe melodrama was the
solution. As he was thinking about this, he noticed a scant but
visible trail of blood leading up to her bedroom.
Dream, dream, dream, when I want you... Still, the radio was singing.
Mona Lisa gazed at them from the wall. The sky stretched taut outside.
The wind rapped its knuckles on the window. All of a sudden, the moon
swooped under a cloud and the night was over.
He wonders if it's going to rain or shine.
Let me be your weather girl, she coos.
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