100 Word Stories is a weekly series featuring flash fiction by Mackerel and photographs by Daniel Tan.
15 October 2019
No one else coils like me, restoring your life even as you lay your weary head, comforted by my cool gel memory foam.
I remember. Everything.
My contour zones caress the ache from your limbs, gently draw fatigue and free will from your flailing bones. My springs are concentrated along your spinal area, giving you support, regulating your body temperature, lulling you deeper into my patented dream state.
You may think that I am conforming to your natural curves, but you are bending your will to me. This is your natural posture, supine, a succulent siesta for my seething silence.
4 Oct 2019
The sun had never made it to the top of the clouds before. There was always one more bank to ascend, one more cumulus peak to scale. Often, it would be time to head back down, even if the summit, and its infinite vista of space was just a little while away.
Today was different.
Today was vast, a relief. For once, it wasn’t the brutal ravage of earth but the joy of a softer dreaming, an ocean of black pinpricked by stars.
What could the sun become, high above the clouds? Where could it go, slipped from its fatal mooring?
26 Sept 2019
His elephant, shrunk to the size of a carry-on suitcase, waits around the corner.
Parking lots for elephants have become scarce in the city, though the temple maintains a space for full-sized elephants who haven't evolved to include shrink-tech in their DNA sequencing.
No amount of prayers can cajole an unwieldy elephant, so understandably, temple authorities do not welcome such large transport appendages. Most people are airborne these days anyway, so the streets are easily navigable.
An elephant is a contemplative mode of transport, lumbering like some pantheon of history; spectacle of what we can never be, our portable futures.
18 Sept 2019
And it’s Grandpa’s turn to bowl at the local Super(market) Bowl. His face is a mask of concentration as he rolls up to the line, aided by his helper, Ning, who oiled his wheels last night.
Grandpa is rolling a medium coconut down the canned food and condiments aisle. He’s going to try to take down a school of sardine cans.
The coconut is checked before he makes his shot in case it is too old and has dried out.
Winners will compete in the island-wide final, fighting for the grand prize of a turkey stuffed with ten dollar bills.
Lonely as a cloud
9 Sept 2019
The cloud was attracted to the wisps of smoke from the man. It came lower to investigate, breaking from a larger, low-hanging mass that was beginning to darken.
Because the cloud was small, it had resisted growing heavy with water. It kept itself light, delaying its own demise. But these young clouds, barely able to shape themselves into fluff, carried no sunlight or sea breeze in them. These were heavy with something darker.
The cloud hesitated, wondering what kind of cruel rain would fall from these clouds. Then it rose into a sky burning from the lights of the city.
2 Sept 2019
The dazzling density of the colours reminded him of a dessert he once had in a Korean bingsu shop, pulling him from his Xbox. They felt surreal, something from a holiday, not pasted over his city.
Even as he stuck his phone between the potted plants along the common corridor, it struck him that he never took photographs any more of... scenes. Photos were always functional; meals never posted, selfies where people filled the frame so he could never remember where he was.
Better to take the sunset before it disappears. The sky here changes as quickly as the country.
22 August 2019
She hides in the most obvious places; somewhere in the outstretched cardboard wings of Emmanuel Minimart.
There are spaces between the shelves where she can crawl into, snuggling next to bags of potato chips and overflowing baskets of onions, stifling an urge to sneeze or giggle within the security of her crawl space.
God sits with her in these moments, a cool presence, a breeze finding a way to soothe her on warm afternoons. Eventually, everyone gets tired of the game and she goes home for tea with her grandma.
The minimart is open 24hrs anyway; God with us, always.
15 Aug 2019
"There she goes…"
"There she goes again."
"Racing through my screen."
"And I just can't reframe,”
“Do you know her name?”
"Does it matter, though?
We’re a pair of swivelling fools, tools
for some higher power that towers over
our narrow angles. Don’t tangle yourself with
human affairs, no point in caring if she’s in trouble
or has stumbled; our memory doesn’t last forever,
if they ever do press record, Lord, why worry about
what happens beyond the frame? If you ask me,
it’s all the same; like unfinished rhymes, people
walk in and out of life all the time."
Break (Orchard Road, 2019)
4 Aug 2019
Lunch break amongst the elements:
A beer umbrella upturned for dramatic tension.
Another umbrella stuffed with necessary tools, slotted into shade above power-breaker boxes.
A laminated news article that authenticates his place on the street.
Plastic bottles, cardboard boxes, his styrofoam lunch box of economy rice.
The long chains of small wooden balls that splay like snakes at rest.
A crazy-haired caricature from a fellow street impresario.
Because all performance is art and all art is performance, he watches us like some mad monk; a devotee with a neck of steel swinging beads from the shape of prayer into passion.
27 July 2019
It’s been many years since he last had a passenger and even then, he was barely trying.
Two tipsy Australians begged for a joyride around the CBD on a Sunday. As he peddled down gleaming boulevards of steel and glass, he couldn’t stop thinking how this was once the sea; here was a kampung, there, the field where he used to play football.
How quickly we accept each new version of the city, how easily we forget old roads.
No longer certain of the maps, the backs of our hands. And that’s why he cycles alone, for himself; to remember.
08 July 2019
Hello, my love.
Yes, I’m well. You?
How are the kids?
Hahahah. I did! Ramesh looked so happy at his birthday party.
I know he’s asking for his iPad. I think I’ve found one and should be able to get it next week. Please tell him to be patient.
No. No off day today. Boss asked a few of us to help with a project. I’m just on a short break now. So I can text with you 😊
No, not so dangerous.
It’s too difficult for you to understand.
Yes, I’m very tired.
Only a few more months. Insha-Allah.
LOVE IS THIS
28 June 2019
Stealing away for a kiss when no one’s looking.
Feeling giddy with delight when hands touch.
Saying yes to a lifetime of kissing and feeling giddy.
Black coffee and toast for breakfast.
Dinners in front of the television.
Always being in the beige.
Working two jobs when he’s been laid off.
Making facial scrub from baking soda because the kids need new shoes.
Smiling over black coffee and toast as the rest chomp on chicken drumsticks.
Learning how to cook.
Changing her TENA Lady’s every four hours.
Kissing a stranger each morning.
19 June 2019
At first glance, the image hints at loneliness, a self against an unprepossessing backdrop.
It is the squares that are the subject matter.
Squares are everywhere in the city. They proliferate like disciples from some geometric school of design that trafficked in singular shapes.
But even these squares need space to breathe. To be. To allow their shapes to become. And no one comments on these gaps, often filled with shadows and silhouettes.
Passing by, waving in the breeze, they enter the city’s squares, linger a moment, and then are gone.
Only the squares remain.
A Potty Story
13 June 2019
Here he is, lounging like a lugubrious landlord. The lord of Loo D’Ville waits for his tenants.
He has set up shop in this prime location, fronting a row of vintage shophouses in the heart of the city. Like a row of studio apartments, this strip of squats offers temporary occupancy.
He gives them a chance to leave behind a piece of themselves, marking the spot with rumble and scent. This territory is portable, ready to be disemboweled, flushing the scene so that nothing is left behind.
All is forgotten, wiped away like a crap shoot or a migrant colony.
The Tiger’s Tale
5 June 2019
I was brave. No one ever said otherwise.
Sure, I was decked in tacky stripes of orange and red, like some kind of children’s sweet, but I never lost the growl on my face. That slight smirk of superiority. Not even when they sliced my head off, sawing and searching for the secret of my bravery; my beating heart.
But they found nothing; nothing they could take, anyway.
So leave me be, like a broken Roman bust, for history to remind that here was a tiger that kept his tail up, even when he lost his head.
Have An Ice-Cream Sandwich
22 May 2019
Singapore’s Department of Statistics*: “…the proportion of residents aged 65 years and over has increased from 8.7% in 2008 to 13.7% in 2018. There are now fewer working-age adults to support each resident aged 65 years and over as indicated by the falling resident old-age support ratio from 7.6 in 2008 to 4.8 in 2018.”
And even so, many aged over 65 care for an elderly someone else; a father, mother, disabled sibling, blind aunt, lover, spouse.
Some choose to continue working. Some don’t get to choose. Some keep asking for help.
Here, have an ice-cream sandwich; you’ll feel better.
15 May 2019
degrees is the best tilt for life. Everyone knows this.
The pitch to apprehend a screen, the slouch that announces a perfect poise between sloth and silence.
Even the chairs balance upwards, leaning attentively in to listen, like a surprisingly good first date. All the chairs do this, it is how they practice their third languages at night, chattering in a kinship of plastic legs and yellow spines.
Nothing obtuse about it; this is the gradient at which magic unlocks, while older men, oblivious, nurse their beers and guts, spending hours drinking towards the only angle that offers them transcendence.
9 May 2019
The photo is kind, almost serene, though the red brick glowing behind echoes a portent of the bloodshed to come.
Her designated driver has no name, compelled to be nothing more than an automaton for a few hours, working the wheel and braking at the appropriate times, then cleaning the stains before waking the next day to the aftertaste of petrol and silence.
She was one of the last of her kind, debt collectors from the other side, trapped in steel and coiled springs, her engine beating like a bloodless heart, calculating the distance to her next reaping.
1 May 2019
Self-starting individual must demonstrate an ability to wield multiple cleaning appliances at once. Willing to work large neighbourhoods painted in complementary (though butt ugly) colours. Supervision comes in the form of surprise video calls by the estate manager. Working hours are determined by the rise and fall of shutters in the mama shop downstairs. The job occasions being asked to clear immovable objects like bunk beds and refrigerators. One may also be asked to moonlight on weekends as a painter or a prata man. The applicant must understand, above all, that it is never a job, but the job.
25 April 2019
He has never been convinced by the “Just five minutes, Ah Tan” that turns into an hour every single time, while his appointment grows cold and the bags he is carrying weighs him down. Still, he waits as he has been waiting all these years, adding up all the minutes that spread out into a long menu of excuses, one that he has scoured for years.
He’s looking for something that will come quickly, affection that doesn’t take forever to be prepared, while he waits, as he always has, for his one true love.
TIME FOR CHIPS AND PEAS
10 April 2019
There once was a man named Caleb.
He never wore anything tailored.
The mind was his thing
For books made him ping
And games were his ultimate favourite.
“Now, Caleb,” said he;
To himself, not to you or to me.
“You must find the answer
To that tricky tricky number
Of the crossword that you cannot unsee!”
“Was it the south or was it the north?
Or somewhere else that day of the fourth?
This is the shore
And that is the moor…
Aha! It’s Costa Rica. Of course!”
Caleb was pleased.
He walked away happy
With a smile and with ease.
Another game played, another plot flayed,
It was now time for his chips and his peas.
3 April 2019
“Oi! How come the takings short again ah? Second time this week. Got use calculator or not?”
“What? Mental sums? Siao! You then mental ah!”
Frustrated, he squats in full view of the kopitiam across the grass patch, heedless of the camera and passers-by, one hand gluing the Bluetooth earpiece to his ear, the other gripping his phone, wishing he could throttle the voice at the other end. He longs for corded telephones so he could twist and vex the wire into the shape of his despair.
Instead, he squats, unable to stand against incompetence, legs heavy with disbelief.
27 March 2019
In this world, she is not destroyer, she is guardian, walking bright, empty boulevards for hours, keeping the hungry things inside darkness at bay.
In this world, she is stepping on concrete and celestial threads, the warp of eternity spinning out in fault lines of choice and consequence.
In this world, people don’t really see her. She may as well be invisible in her nondescript pink dress, her head down, mumbling.
In this world, she pictures home, millions of years in the distance, as she sweeps a sword before her, each broad arc humming like the sound of a prayer.
20 March 2019
This is my Uncle Tony. Everyone has an Uncle Tony. The last time he got into trouble was when he mouthed off to some Ah Beng. Told the guy to feed his scrawny girlfriend. She was so pale and skinny, she frightened him. He thought her legs would break in them heels.
He got a swollen lip for that.
But who would hit an old man?! That’s my Uncle Tony. He loves his cheesy curios and he loves telling people about them. He also loves his kopi-o kao. Wouldn’t trade it for any of that fancy latte or espresso shit.
6 March 2019
Dawn breaks with the sound of slippers shuffling down dormitory corridors. Slippers are floppy beings. We are soldiers on standby, scuffed to shine.
I’ve already clocked 10,000 steps and it isn’t even lunch!
He takes a nap but I stand guard, ready for a quick getaway in case the foreman comes around.
I’m soaked with mud from a sudden downpour, but his toes are warm and dry.
Finally, a bath!
I line up next to my family and we trade stories of dust and driftwood, resting our soles for another day.
28 Feb 2019
For $9.90, why not? It is the only way to experience the greater galaxy these days.
Smog is an eternal cloud that sits over the city, and if not for these darkstar umbrellas, it’s easy to forget there’s an entire phalanx of twinkling lights out there. Still, it takes patience and a certain nerve to look up and allow yourself to be lost in the depthless beyond.
It’s a pity (read the fine print!) that the micro-universe feature is only activated whenever it rains, which is rare these days. Under sunlight, it’s just gimmicky, something for couples to giggle over.
20 Feb 2019
Leaning forward in the ferry, something about how the sun glints off the dome of the mosque at the edge of the water catches his eye, reminds him for a second of the Sura Mosque in Dinajpur.
When he was young, he would listen with his mother from their doorway as the call to prayer rang beyond the famous terracotta carvings, of holy men and their exploits for distant kingdoms.
Clouds pass over and the shimmering light disappears.
His friends miss all this, deep in dreamless sleep, heading to build another empire, one that will never remember them in stone.
14 Feb 2019
The view from the top of the carousel is no different from the pack of suited skyscrapers behind; dizzying, panoramic, vast.
The harbour stretches below, carefully touristed to elate with all the right hashtags. Beyond, out of reach of the camera, lies the depthless sea. Lights from a thousand anchored ships, bereft of cargo, wait for a sea change.
High above, the pleasures of power last only until the attraction powers down, the elevators stop running and the windows lower their blinds one by one.
In the end, we’re always taken for a ride.
6 Feb 2019
It’s a strong coconut, this one.
Before either of them can taste the flesh, the juice has already transported them beyond the bench and through the curtain of lights that hang behind. They are lifted into the sky, the familiar out-of-body-experience due to the elevated levels of potassium and Cocoon™ coursing through their blood.
All over the city, people are floating above buildings, tethered to the thin plastic straws, bobbing up and down on a gentle post-dinner rush. It’s just a harmless pastime, a way to shoot the breeze, nobody has died from it yet, or so the papers say.
30 Jan 2019