Our story begins with a kid named Noah Anderson. I am sorry to say: he was nobody special. He was just a child of a politician and a prostitute.
A child knows that the teddy bear is not real, and yet he treats it as real, even bawling miserably when it rips. The enchanting aspect of a child is that of making the unreal a reality. This is a fortunate, youthful stage in life. Love is nullified by the absence of sex, and reality is nullified by stage play, treating the toy as real when it is not.
Seven days after I turned four, I missed a step and tumbled down the wooden stairs of my home. A sharp pain—I rubbed my forehead and saw blood dripping down my fingertips. The sensation dug its white-hot nails into my skull. Father appeared out of the living room to witness me crying my eyes out. Mother was summoned from her usual grand meetings and, when she arrived, Father went out to meet her. She came in through the doorway without taking her shoes off, took one glance at me, and handed a thick paper envelope to Father. He stared at her, lips slightly parted. She marched out of the house to her vehicle. My eyes trailed to the back of her red Holden driving away from us. I wondered what I was to her. Am I just a joke to her?—a burden?—a product to maintain the illusion of perfection in the public eye?
The golden torch launched upon the sleeping city; dawn broke over the mountain slopes. The rising sun, an aureate dome, radiated waves of heat, draining every last drop of moisture from my parched lips. Early summer: I dragged the most gorgeous dress from my elder sister’s closet–the one with those beautiful, vibrant colours. It would be the very first time I set foot in one of Mother’s meetings and the auntie Mother hired told me to dress in formal attire for the occasion. I popped on my mother’s old pendant necklace. The delicate silver chain hung around my neck with a row of five dainty cerulean gems at the front. Rummaging through Mother’s belongings, I flung out cosmetics, jewellery and whatever else caught my eye.
After wrapping myself in shimmering fastidious rubies I burst open the grand living room doors, unable to contain my excitement. “Look!” I shouted, “Look at me!”. My Mother and sister were sitting down on the sofa along with a guest. Mother gave a questioning glance at the auntie, and she nodded with a shameful look on her face. The visitor’s face turned pale. They all gaped at me absentminded, and I caught my sister’s face. Our glances met and I understood. Tears blurred my eyes.
Fixing my tie, I observed how the suit and blazer hung off my frame, as if they were tailored to a body other than my own. After the applause, flocks of sheep trotted out of the grand slaughterhouse. Huddling in a corner, I waited for the auntie to find me. Behind me the voices of Mother’s closest friends criticising her inadequate opening, rage lining their insults. Their polemics stood out among the other speakers and floated into my ears. When the men crept into the house, they went into our parlour and told Mother with genuine smiles on their faces how “The conference was a huge success!”. When Father inquired about the meeting, even the servants responded “Really intriguing!”, donning a false front of authenticity, acting as if the thoughts were of their own volition. These were the same servants who had bitterly complained about how boring political gatherings were on the way home.
We were all bound together by an invisible thread. But they became too immersed in their roles, and the façade became a reality.
Stage play: a work of drama. The characters fell for each other; the characters were destined to be with each other. Secluded from the intruding eyes of the audience, the actors would heal and stay true to themselves. Father’s genuine smile was accompanied by sincere eyes; Mother’s icy exterior melted. Instead of her usual indifferent, unresponsive demeanour towards him, Mother began acknowledging Father as a part of the family rather than merely just another actor. She brought him a snowy rabbit with a rose tied on its back. That was the first and last time she gave him something.
An acrid smell signalled her arrival. As I opened my eyes, white smoke greeted me. The telltale odour of her self-destructive habits—and yet I couldn’t help but feel relief at her presence. Relief placated me, the chronic tension plaguing my temples diminishing away. Crashing to the ground near her work desk, she was lighting a cigarette and holding a match when she died. It was a terribly depressing way to go. Albeit society rarely made judgments on how someone died. My eyes wandered to the rose by the frigid windowsill and I watched the vermillion petals fall to the ground.
Father gave it to her.
He was a prostitute. I never felt the closeness to him that a son ought to have for his father. His profession: a glass wall of separation. Night after night stumbling back home, long following the moon emerged from the gloomy clouds. After Mother’s funeral, the officials who usually pondered around her took her place. Every summer when I returned to the house for the holidays, I would frequently see Father sitting and listening to the crickets sing. I often found myself slipping into an… oddly sorrowful feeling. With the cry of these insects, it felt as though sadness crept into my heart. Father would remain still, as though he was contemplating his own loneliness.
From the corner of my left eye, I spotted a fluffy white fur ball. Her gift. Despite the blankets wrapped around me, I felt a chill run down my spine. A crawling sensation on my skin; a faint teeth grinding sound. Its bloody eyes bored into the back of my head, squeezing the air from my lungs with only a glance. A reflection. That cold, disinterested gaze. I saw her. Her image in the rabbit’s eyes. A surge of emotions–rage, resentment, regret–strangled me with its bare hands. Like a programmed robot, my hands reached out and gripped the fur on the back of its neck. Angst was a balloon rapidly expanding within my chest, pressing against my ribs, threatening to pop. I clenched my fingers together tighter, air wheezing, pulse throbbing. It stopped struggling.
With a sterile blade in hand, I cut an inch-long slit in the flesh above each of its hind legs. I tugged the skin towards the rabbit’s back and belly removing it from the entire leg. I placed it on my pillow and watched the blade draw a red line from its stomach to its neck. The blade glided across the skin–millimetres away from piercing the intestines– an elegant dragonfly on water. Firmly grabbing the skin, I yanked it off towards the head. Its fluffy white coat slipped off its body only to get stuck at the head. I gently pulled the Christmas cracker in half.
A peccant feeling: a wide hole burning through the curtain that had once sheltered my morality. It consumed me like wildfire.
Her beauty like the red petals; her temper like the vicious thorns. But now she is dead. I glared at the wilting flower by Father’s windowsill. A thought, piercing and bitter like the winter wind. It bounced from here to there, shuffling and rearranging the contents of my head around like rabbits on an arid lawn. The realisation slowly kicked in and like a fierce spear, it pierced through me: she didn’t initially dislike me. Rather, she was desperately trying to convince me that she was not someone I should rely on. Chained by the cruel dichotomy of denial and acceptance. She refused to accept others’ intimacy on a deeper level because she despised herself, projecting her own feelings of inadequacy onto everyone else. Although her beauty was revered by all around her, she never once saw it in herself. Drowning herself with thorns as if it could protect her from the rest of the world—but nothing could protect her from herself. I feel great pity for her.
From the corner of my right eye, I spotted a fluffy white fur ball.
Written by Vanessa Li and edited by Emma Ready. Published on 05/09/2022. Header image by Mabel Zhang.