feature image credit: Aleksander Peca

The old man looked upon his dead wife in her casket. He could think now. The numbness in his mind had begun to fade away as he stared at the lifeless body in the box.

His eyes were crinkles of swelled skin, like two giant dumplings with a black pearl in the middle. No one could tell anymore what he was looking at, or if he was looking at all.

He had neatly combed to the side, slivers of white long strands on his head, what was left of his hair. Still, it failed to hide the raw pink of his skin, like a slaughtered chicken’s, watermarked by freckles and a crisscross of veins, dark blue, green and purple.

His earlobes dangled beside his cheek and shivered each time the rotating stand fan blew his way. You couldn’t help staring at the gooey trickles of bloody tears down his jowls and wonder what he might be feeling behind the ghastly grimace, a frozen look on his face since he stood up from the first row bench in the church to pay his last respects.

In his mind, he was looking at her as he did 40 years ago, when he first laid eyes on her and she was dancing on a bench in a park, glowing in the evening sun. Her dark brown curls waving about her face. Her golden skin; smooth, unlined, unmarked. Her lips, naked and thick.

Nobody would remember her the way he did. He saw in her the beauty that everyone missed. He knew all of her secrets and darkest fears. He saw her build her dreams, make them and break them. She bore his children, his temper and his rather eccentric sexual fetishes.

They shared a love like everyone else; Beautiful in the beginning, passionate, caring, understanding and then irritating but persevering, tolerant and finally ignorant.

They knew each other well and tried to purge each other’s faults. They stuck together through the worst and suppressed the nastiest thoughts they had of each other. If ever such thoughts gave way, they found ways to forgive and punish each other.

This was how they loved each other and no bond could be stronger.

One day, the once quiet Delia developed a habit of talking. She started one day in the car, on their way back from the doctor’s and she wouldn’t stop. She seemed to love the sound of her own voice chattering and he, who was used to the silence of his own thoughts, hated this new sound that punctured the air around him.

He began to lose his temper. He hated that she was talking, and even more the fact that she was talking at him instead of to him. There she was, snickering at no one and cocking her head. He thought she resembled a dog giving a warning growl. An Alsatian dog.

He felt himself blush in a rage and break out in a sweat, as he usually did when he was about to undergo a violent spell.

He felt compelled to hit her. He imagined it over and over in his head, smacking her straight and hard across the face. Still she was talking and talking. He was punching her now, breaking her nose and cutting his knuckles on her brow ridges. Still the ugly sound perpetuated, interrupting his thoughts, rendering them incomplete; a blur, a mess.

Every time he was going to complete them there was the sound again spitting into his face, each sound like a blotch of saliva splattering on his face, disgusting him, riling his temper.

He was distracted by a flickering light of the tank signaling the gas was low.

He had to stop at a gas station.

He looked at his wife, blathering away to herself. She wasn’t talking to him. That was obvious enough. And yet, there she was, very animatedly enjoying her own prattle, pausing and laughing at a response from a voice only she seemed to hear. Talking again, making expressions in her voice and in her face to an imaginary audience that adored her nattering as much as he was irked by it.

He studied the shape of her face, watched the way her jaws moved and her cheekbones rose and her eyes enlarged as she pronounced her words. He noticed her taut skin pasted over with a white powder that clouded the natural gold of her skin.

He missed her old skin. He was tired of the face she wore now these days. He never kissed her anymore since she started to wear this new face. He hated the way her face could stain his own.

Her new face could smear onto his shirts and left powdery marks on his own skin whenever she lay in his arms. He hated it, especially the way she quickly rushed to the bathroom after they had just made love. She had to fix her face. The one he hated, and yet he continued to draw it on, deeper and brighter everytime, almost as if specially to annoy him.

He thought to himself; what had happened to his dear old Delia? What had replaced her, this grotesque figure before him? Why does it try to speak and behave as if it were Delia when it had neither the grace nor the beauty of anything the likes of Delia?? Why does it sit beside him in the passenger seat and harangue him with that ugly nasal sound? Why does it roll its eyes like a beast of prey and move its jaws like chewing cud? Why won’t it stop the ugly sound that it makes?

They reach a petrol station and he pulls up at the pump. He gets out of the driver seat, leaving the engine running. As he makes for the counter, he turns his head around towards the car and sees it leaning a wrist out of the car window, dusting cigarette ash onto the floor.

A rage of disgust swirls him as he takes out his wallet to pay the for the fuel. When he goes back to the car to fill the tank, he hears a nasal sound starting up to assault his ears.
The noise just got louder and louder, inflecting tones up, down and looping around in different pitches without a care for his annoyance.

When he put the gas pump back in its holder, he left a trail dripping across the cement ground.

He walked away from the car and out of the station. It seemed he spied a little dog that looked like a pet he used to have by the drain across the road. He went to it.

She watched him back away from the car and go toward the dog from the side view mirror. Saw him kneel and beckon at it. She was still having her conversation with herself when she saw him look back and the car locked on auto. Her phone rang. She took a long puff at her cigarette and dusted it out the window as she answered her cell in her most lively animated voice. A scorching pain entered her mouth and ran a burning trail right into her lungs before spreading to her entire body from the inside. That was the last thing Delia felt.

The stray dog he was petting suddenly sprang out away from his arm, seconds before he heard a loud explosion. He turned his to look at the car and saw it blow up into a ball of fire with Delia still inside and then a great white light seared the corneas in his eyes.

The pain was blazing, his eyeballs were bursting as if being cooked in their sockets and shriveled into hard black marble filled with blood.

His hands flew up to shield his face, just after he casually let slip a mobile phone from his fingers, into the drain.

Blood never stopped oozing from his eyes since, and he was in a constant pain that turned his expression, a constant ghastly grin.

But if you looked close enough, there was no mistaking, it was a grin. A happy grin.

At last, he could hear the silence of his own thoughts again.

Aryka Tsi. A 19-year-old from some years back, who received writing inspiration on long bus rides from Kota Raya to Petaling Jaya. This story is one among the buried stash in her email drafts.

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