every perfect summer’s eating me alive

time is trickling away into millions of colours, and it’s been a year since i’ve held a conversation so close, in the palm of my hand. i hope you can’t tell that i’m pacing back and forth, counting the seconds for my right leg to step forward to support my trembling left one.

i’m waiting for the train to duck into its maze of underground tunnels. when the trains screech offensively on the track, i’m leaning closer, prying up the skin around my nails into sunken craters, whispering to you in its din.

summer as a video game start sequence that i can’t shake: i’ve never been inherently good at video games. the dock is the starting place, and i have yet to leave. i run my character to the edge of the map, trying to explore the town and its inhabitants, waiting for a quest that will send me bound for stolen summer. a villager passes me a map. she tells me where the bed and breakfasts are, where i can pay someone to build me a home, where i can customise my outfits. for the rest of the day, i wander around and discover that the merchants around town have big dreams. they ask me if i want to buy their cool rocks from another land. they share their dreams. some of them want to become geologists, some want to collect mushrooms. i want to tell them that this morning i ate my dreams for breakfast, before i trudged back to the edge of the wooden decked quay, legs swinging over the wide expanse of water in a kind of flying freedom, dreamless.

summer as a stagnant phase of reliving: tell me, they say my ancestors used to be happy, but what do i do? the girl i loved at fourteen knows only my name, and life hasn’t changed very much since i emerged into the baked asphalt, screaming and kicking. i’m afraid that it will remain that way till the morning when the sun pats the horizon and settles down into its guard post. nothing really changes anymore around here. only the coffee shops, who keep running out of business, and the friends who keep trying to leave, their lives in their hands. they will catch the next plane out of here while the city contorts to fill their places.

summer as an image of drowning: at nine years old i watched Life of Pi and maybe the saltwater got to me before the movie ended, because i had already tumbled down the stairs, into the screaming water. for a few months i awoke gasping for air as a boat threw itself apart, Pi staring down at the image of his loved ones. in my dreams, whirlpools take the form of black holes, i’m starstruck before the cold hits. then comes the forever floating, hobbling on sidewalks, trying to catch my reflection in convex mirrors. not to check for my expression, but to check if i am still rooted, feet planted to the earth in mock defiance of everything that has ever tried to drown me.

“and then what?” you ask.

the smell of the sea is in my hair. i think i’ve been at the start too long to leave.

Giselle Chiew is a writer from Singapore. Her works are forthcoming or appear in the hearth magazine, Antinarrative Zine and Yuzu Press. She tweets: @whyisgis.

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