On A Cleanse For Transcendence

Ephemeral.

I love the word for a couple of reasons. One, it sounds like a type of mineral. Probably one that’s in a dark teal shade with hints of rose pompadour. Two, it reminds me of the word “cerulean” – also another favourite word of mine. Three, as the word is tipped from the edge of your tongue and out of your lips, it’s almost rhythmic. Lastly, it serves as a reminder of the way of life; all things cease to exist until it has reached its purpose.

We go through life assuming that things, feelings and people become our property. We hold them tightly in the palm of our hand, not even exhaling a single breath for fear of losing them in the split-second. According to my experiences – which mainly consist of losses – the process of attachment is a sickness that has no cure. Until the numbing pain lets you wade yourself out of it.

“The art of letting go”. I often see book titles, articles and self-help captions with this phrase. Art is beautiful as it immitates life and vice versa. But letting go is just as surreal as art; it is almost inconcievable. You cannot replicate “the art of letting go” but instead struggle to achieve it the best way you can, the best way you know how. As smart as the human mind it is, it is also flawed in many ways. The brain is capable of learning tasks and languages in a short span of time, but it’s baffling how emotions overrides rationality, how spur-of-the-moment actions can lead to life-long scars.

Ephemeral. “This too shall pass” is another quote that floats around the Internet a lot. Whether it rests as captions on people’s photos or framed quotes in living rooms, I’d like to believe that this saying is somehow true to a certain extent. It may not the depict the road ahead – jagged with flints and broken glass – but this moment will soon be fleeting. Just like all things in life.

Everything ceases to exist once it has reached its purpose. Even pain.

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Death Is Hello

Last night, I died in my dream.

The familiar city lights remained but there was a thick mist that almost blinded me. I felt an emptiness. Like something was abruptly taken away from me. Right then and there, I saw my soul leave my body. In a fraction of a second, the vessel that I’ve used for twenty six years laid limp on the floor. Like a tattered rug. There I was, floating aimlessly, yet striding behind an unknown silhouette that paced the same street over and over again.

I woke up, expecting to feel all sorts of sadness and fright. But I was calm. I dunked my face in cold water and drank my black coffee. It’s day 1. I’m ready for my new skin.

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Autumn Sonnet

Leaves fell from their trees as the fast wind gushed through the backyard. Flakes of salmon pink, flame red and sunshine yellow kept the trunks warm. The skies whisper the secrets of winter but I didn’t want Autumn to depart before we did.

The retreat house wasn’t how I pictured it. When the office manager informed us of the Christmas getaway slash office retreat, much wasn’t disclosed. Upon arrival, my eyes adjusted to the plethora of hue. The trees swayed gracefully to the cool winds. Birds chirping and the delicate sounds of the lake could be heard from a distance. Fortunately, the planned activities weren’t mandatory, so I opted to rest in my quarters for most of the day. The smell of scones and hot tea were the only motivation to put my slippers on and exit my room temporarily. Tonight marks our final stay at this paradisal abode before the city takes us back in its soul-sucking embrace. I decided to take a late evening walk.

It was 10:30pm and the strong winds died down. I walked through three flights of stairs to the courtyard and hopped on a bicycle to the lake. It was only a fifteen minute walk from the cabin but I opted to shorten the trip by ten minutes. The lamp posts were dim but perfect enough to view the clear water. The distant, snowy mountains were visible under the subtle rays of the moon. As I got off my bike, a silhouette came into view; LG was sat on a bench. He looked slightly surprised but broke into a smile right away.

“Sssh,” he whispered. His hair gently bobbed to the evening wind, eyes illuminated by the lamp posts. Even in the dark, his skin was perfect and I could smell his zesty cologne from where I stood. His sharp cheekbones and contoured jawline brought Greek gods to shame. Thanks to a quick current and sudden sneeze, I shook off the swoon.

LG tapped the space next to him and I reluctantly took the offer. It wasn’t until that moment that I felt completely small in his presence, like a nymph next to giant. In a way, I felt safe. Despite the considerable distance between us, I felt comforted by his shadow. “Why are we whispering?”, I asked. He pulled his thinking expression and out emerged the dimple that I was dreading to see. “I’m just paying attention to nature. It’s hard to do this in the city,” he sighed. “Also, it makes you listen inward.”

A piano piece was playing somewhere far off and I started to look around to find the source. Was it all in my head? Have I gone completely mental? LG realised he left the music on and quickly pressed the pause button on his phone. “Oops, sorry. That’s me!” Relief washed all over me. Of all the places to go completely cuckoo, here and now couldn’t be it.

“Ave Maria was playing. Do you fancy classical music?”, he asked. He was looking across the water and at the mountains but he clearly wanted to dismiss the silence.

I followed suit and looked ahead. “Yes, it’s Schubert’s piece isn’t it? Ellen’s Third Song.” I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I could picture how beautiful the evening was even in the dark; the trees reaching out to one another to form one massive embrace, the lake swaying to the hymns of the moon and the hidden sun gently stirring in its slumber. LG was suddenly silent so I broke away from my trance. He was looking right at me.

“I’m impressed. Not everyone knows that about Ave Maria. You’re a pianist, I presume?”

“I used to, until I was 9. It wasn’t my forte.” I shuddered at the flashback of my father looking down at me sternly as I failed to perfect The Entertainer for the seventh time. I did love playing the piano until my parents treated my lessons like military school. Since then, I never touched the piano. The very sight of piano keys was nauseating.

“Do you play too?”

He shook his head, “No. I have the heart to study and listen to the music, but never the prowess. My late mom was disappointed. I guess I’m a perfect match for my name.”

At work, I never got around to knowing his real name. Thanks to my gossping co-workers who tattled about like birds in summer, I finally referred to the fringed stranger as LG. I assumed that since he was using an LG phone, the nickname became a dead giveaway. For convenience and preference. It was a silly conclusion from my part yet completely possible. As much as my heart skipped a bit for a stranger who worked across the hall from my cubicle, I didn’t bother constructing better theories. In my head, we’ve had mutliple dates in libraries, art galleries, and hipster cafés. Yet here we are, talking for the first time. In complete darkness. Talking about odd nicknames.

He chuckled, “I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not named after a Korean corporation.” As he turned to face me, he moved closer and raised his left leg toward the bench. “E-L-E-G-Y. Most people pronounce it as ele-gih, when it’s actually eleh-ji. Elegy means “sad poem”.”

Embarassment washed over me as quick and painful as a stubbed toe. I buried my face in my gloved hands. Why do I even call myself a writer? Why do I even mention my published TIME article on my resume? It’s not like I’ve never read the word “elegy”. There must be a toilet somewhere as I need to be flushed down the sewers right away.

LG laughed as he tried to wrestle my palms away from my face. “My own father hates my name so he went with LG.” My face emerged, revealing flushed cheeks. ” Also,” he added, “It’s not like I go around telling people my real name. You’re the first in a long while.”

There was hurt in his eyes and I wish I had the courage to ask him about them. I never told him this but I often used the word “elegy” in my poems. It is truly beautiful as it is strong. Sadness holds a bottomless pit of inspiration to fuel one’s literary fires. To translate this influence into the written word is both redemption and a sacrifice in itself. Some say Autumn is the season where everything is in the process of death. I think Autumn is just the earth’s brave way of telling us to live the most out of life until our pulses rest. Even in death, there is hue. Even endings get a beginning.

We sat in silence for the next fifteen minutes, paying attention to the gentle harmony of the night. That was our first and last encounter. Upon returning to the city, he took a plane to Europe and never came back. I’d like to think that we both sat next to each other in the bus on the way back and that our third date was an afternoon tea offering at the fanciest restaurant in town. This led to poorer dates in the coming weeks but street food never tasted better until I had them with him. Maybe we even visited the retreat house every year to comemorate our anniversary – during Autumn, of course. Autumn is our season, the time we tied the knot, also the name of our first child. She played the piano beautifully and often mocked LG for his lack of talent. Her second name would be Sonnet because her being is a poem still being written, one that will be forever etched in mine. Just like Ellen’s Third Song, replaying memories is as good as making new ones with better endings.

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The First Morning

The alarm went off five times yet the contour on the bed didn’t stir. Blades of the 9:00am rays scattered through the sheets, outlining the window blinds. As though afraid of waking her, the clock’s ticking was unhurried. A cat sprawled on the kitchen top lazily stretched its body. Apart from the flash of ginger fur, the studio apartment was empty. All was still.

The bed creaked. Fingers pulled the sheets closer. There was heavy breathing and intervals of hushed sniffles. This was the first of many mornings where the door won’t open from the other side.

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Chow Mein Rice

The war has robbed me at least a decade of my life. If it weren’t for my passion for ramen, I would be discovered in the gutters, patiently waiting until my last breath expires. Though quaint, my diner is home to women and men of the night. I like to work against the tide which was why my opening hours are from 12 midnight until 5 in the morning. While the rest of the world is already tucked in bed, I cater to the few who are restless and seeking solace in a hot bowl of ramen.

It’s funny how you can easily get people to open up through inebriation or thorough meal satisfaction. Ferdinand Winter is one of my loyal customers and comes through the door 2am on the dot. Although he’s a nine-to-fiver, the writer in him stirs him at 2 in the morning for a quick inspiration run. When done in vain, he rests at my diner in the presence of his fond order, Chow Mein Rice. I’ve only ramen in my menu but customers are free to request for any dish as long as my kitchen has the ingredients.

The only son to parents who run a successful chain of retail stores, Ferdinand never shared their passion for it. While Mr. and Mrs. Winter take pleasure in waging wars with their competitors, their son worked in the newspaper business. Print is a dying medium, Mr. Winter would retort everytime Ferdinand would visit during weekends. You should be training to take over the empire. Mrs. Winter would nod in agreement and chime in, We’re not getting any younger too.

Ferdinand hated the word “empire”. It felt exclusive, selfish, and arrogant. Appetite was at a loss with every visit but the diner stood as his beacon of hope. As expected, the wooden doors would reveal his frustrated face at 2am. As soon as the aroma of the Chow Mein Rice wafted in the air, all worries are washed away. He lights up and so do I.

I didn’t get to attend college but I’m an avid reader myself. Camus and Kafka are personal favourites, while Fern held Fitzgerald and Wolfe dear to him. We’d exchange favourite passages, drop in a fact or two, and challenge each other to read a best-loved novel of the other with his every visit. After serving in the army, I spent most of my days in the library or visiting thrift stores. It was my Chow Mein Rice.

Fern often wondered about the scar that ran from the side of my forehead to my cheekbone. Every time he asked, my story was different. I got it when I was a child because I fell down the stairs. I slept with a woman when I was 21 and she slashed my face with a butter knife. Due to scented candle fascination, burning hot wax dripped on my face one fine day because why not? He’d roll his eyes and eventually gave up the query altogether. In the midst of cooking his order, I’d chuckle under my breath. War changes people. Every type of ghost, be it a person or a memory, wears you like a glove. Although the diner is my salvation, people like Fern can help mend unseen wounds.

“It’s tough holding on to a dream while spending most of one’s hours doing something else,” Fern sighed. He placed his spoon and fork on the top right side of the plate and drank the last of his coffee. It was almost 3:30am. The newspaper’s call time was at 7. Just as he was about to head home, I told him, “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer”. Camus is a friend, and so am I”. A gentle smile appeared on his lips, “Also, “Loneliness is and always has been the central and inevitable experience of every man”. The greatest people thrive in the thrills. I might as well pretend until it’s true”.

Fern waved goodbye and exited the diner. It will be 12 hours until I see my friend again. Until then, on I continue with the ramen cooking with a little bit of West Egg on the side.

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