Story by Lee Su Min
The Dead has Risen
The Spirits are Alive
You could open the door when you have clothes on.
Charmaine was in the bathroom having her shower when George rang the doorbell. He said he was coming at 7 o’clock but he turned up an hour earlier.
Something must be up. Charmaine told herself.
Outside the door, George was in his office attire, in a state. He was panting as though being pursued by a large Alsatian. Naturally Charmaine took him in.
“I just heard something ...” he was talking as he walked in, not taking off his shoes.
“Excuse me George, your shoes,” Charmaine tried to remind him.
“What?” completely distracted he said.
“This is a graveyard! You want me to take off my shoes?!”
“What are you talking about? You are in my house now!”
“Oh my God! You didn’t know?!” George was almost hysterical.
“Calm down. What is it that I am supposed to know and do not know?” Charmaine said, still in her towel.
“Last night I was at a party, and I found out some very useful information,” he said.
“So you’ve come here to discharge it now …” Charmaine continued for George.
“Err, … yes, no, YES!”
“This entire Providence Hill used to be a graveyard and apparently the bodies are not even properly exhumed.” George dropped a bomb shell.
“Are you trying to say that this place is haunted?” Charmaine came to the conclusion for George.
“So, you already know about it?” he seemed to be surprised.
“No, I have no evidence of it. I have been living here for so long. I can swear under oath that this place is clean.” Charmaine put her hands on her chest.
“Ghosts are an endangered species. I am sure that they are almost extinct by now.” Charmaine advised George.
“No, something smells fishy. I am sure that the rumour is true.” George insisted.
Charmaine saw this dress hanging in the showcase all the time. It was made of red flowers sewn all over the piece of material underneath it. Looking at it Charmaine could see that it fitted her very well.
This dress has been here since December and there were still no takers to date. Perhaps it was too expensive.
Today Charmaine felt a compulsion to go into the shop. The red dress on the mannequin was too attractive. She walked around the shop, hoping to find the price tag.
Before Charmaine could do anything, a salesperson came by. He stood next to her,
“Excuse me, ma’am,” startled, she turned around.
“You don’t scare me like this, what is it you want?” naturally Charmaine said.
“No, I am asking you what is it you want?” salesman said.
“Can I help you?” he refused to budge.
“Yes, you can stand around and watch me,” her mood turned sour. And she said,
“Are you trying to ask me to leave?”
“No ma’am it is not our policy to send away customers,” the salesman said politely.
Charmaine was put at ease immediately. And so she said to him,
“You could let me try that if you don’t mind,” pointing to the red dress.
“Yes of course,” “but I know that it won’t fit you,” he said.
“Ok then we take the risk,” Charmaine told him.
Charmaine used her hand to grab at the dress, making the dress fall off the rack. She could see that the salesman was shocked. But he allowed her to continue to rummage at the dress causing the entire section with the other clothes on the rack to fall off.
The salesman was not perturbed. He bent down and picked up two pieces. And then he put them back again.
“Ma’am, if you try on this piece, you might find that it suits you,” he said, holding another dress right in front of her.
Charmaine was already in a very foul mood, so naturally she declined his request. But she was not finished yet, so that she took the red piece from him, and then she examined herself in front of the full length mirror. She looked perfect!
“There must be a reason for the salesman to be standing here watching me like that,” Charmaine told herself. She looked at him and he smiled at her refusing to budge. His accent was unmistakably Filipino. Charmaine has nothing against Filipinas and in fact she thought that they were very nice people.
Before she left, Charmain promised the salesman that she would go back again.
Charmaine knew where she could get the money from. There was this drawer at the dining room. It was a bureau. She had opened it before and she found seven-hundred-dollars inside. Cash. She was suspicious of it at first. But after several days when she opened it again she found that it was untouched. So she was overjoyed. Charmaine knew that the money was meant for her.
Actually apart from the money, food and fruits have found their way onto the dining table as well. They ranged from deep fried prawns to a less delicious version of just plain pork chop. Yup Charmaine got food regularly on the dining table. She has not the foggiest idea where they came from. But she knew that they came from outside. This was an old bungalow old enough to be a preserved site.
One night she was hungry for Hokkien Mee, so she wrote on a piece of paper “Hokkien Mee” and left it on the dining table. Tomorrow when the caterers come to clean away the dishes they would see this and perhaps they would bring this dish here for me the next time, Charmain thought to herself.
Tonight, Charmaine grabbed at the chicken drumsticks and ate them up. Life was not supposed to be perfect like this. She knew that one day she would have to pay for all these free foods. But for now she decided to let things be.
Her provider has the key to the front door so that if she wanted to stop him from coming in she would have to change the lock. She had no means to call the locksmith.
In Real Time
Elsie was the girl who looked after this place. She came to live here three years ago after she answered a recruitment notice in the newspapers and was interviewed by Mr Seow.
You could call her a caretaker if you liked. Fact was that Elsie swept the floor and polished the ornaments. There were lots of copper and silver in the cabinet. You could see them from outside as they were inside a glass cabinet.
“Over here!” Charmaine shouted, she saw some broken glass on the floor.
Elsie continued to tidy up the room, ignoring Charmaine as though she was invisible, it meant that Elsie didn’t hear her. Charmaine wanted to stop Elsie from sweeping but was afraid of quarrelling with her. She looked so busy. Her hair was tied in a bun and she had this piece of cloth that wiped everything. And the speed with which she did everything!
Elsie usually did this when Charmaine was having her meal. Charmaine holding her fork and spoon, with the morsels in her mouth her words sounded muffled and weak.
After dinner Charmaine usually went up to her room. She had a room to herself. The other one was occupied by Jacintha her half-sister.
Charmaine came to live in this house as it has always been her abode.
Charmaine usually slept on the bed without actually falling asleep. Usually she slept in the day. She was a night person and she preferred to move around at night. The atmosphere was quiet and she could do things without disturbing anybody. She liked to change into her white dress as it was frilly and the reason why she particularly liked this dress was because her parents put her in a frilly frock soon after she was born.
No, she didn’t live alone. Jacintha lived next door and they operated as though they were two trains running on the same track, each having its own timetable. Jacintha was Charmaine’s half-sister and related to her because they shared the same mother.
The Spirits are Alive
No one came to visit Charmaine and Jacintha except David Seow. Mr Seow was almost ninety and he tottered about as though he was going to collapse at any moment, and it was a strain to watch him going about the house. He ignored them as though they were invisible, and as he walked around the house, he would pick up one or two books, flipped through the pages and then put them back on the shelves.
After some deliberation, Mr Seow would sit on the large sofa chair right in the middle of the hall, next to the television. The television was not meant for watching. As if it were, it would be placed in front of the sofa. You couldn’t really catch what was going on the screen, as you have to turn your head sideways. Charmaine never bothered to turn on the television as it did not interest her much. The world did not revolve around her, so that she did not depend on the current affairs to conduct herself.
She was just a regular ancient figure.
Living alone was difficult and painful. You needed to turn on the lights yourself, you needed to put the clothes in the washing machine and sun them yourself, and you couldn’t make the toilet dirty because you would be the person who would have to clean it up subsequently.
Yes, Jacintha and Charmaine still kept in touch even after Mary their mother passed. They were half-sisters not because their Dad married twice, as was usually the case, but were so related because Mom Mary remarried after divorcing her first husband.
Jacintha was older than Charmaine, so you could guess that Charmaine was the product of Mary’s second marriage. It was assumed that Mary was also properly married the second time, as she never did divulge the details of her second marriage nor showed him any evidence of her betrayal to David Seow. He looked very much the same now, according to the photograph on the wall.
Charmaine’s family was small. David Seow never bought her any presents throughout her life, but he always gave Charmaine one of those bear hugs, which was more than sufficient. Mom never hugged her.
No, they need not dress for dinner.
Neither Jacintha nor Charmaine made any special effort to go down in the day. They just appeared at the dining table at 7:00 p.m. precisely as the wall clock chimed. And then one of them would start the meal without further reference to the other.
If one of them was done she would leave the dining table and proceeded upstairs, back to where she came from.
And then Elsie would come in the next morning to remove the used plates and unfinished food.
When you have a step-sister and one of your parents have another family you would always be wondering if you had been treated fairly. Charmaine never saw Jacintha nor met with her during the time that Mom was alive.
Jacintha Chin was tall, slim and beautiful. The only thing Charmaine liked about her was the fact that she was flat chested, as that made her less attractive.
Apart from that they were not very different. Their habits were the same – they used the fork and spoon rather than the chopsticks, and they both drank water from the tap. Mom had promised them that they would never get poisoned by drinking water from the tap.
Their tastes in clothes were similar, they liked the loose fitting flared dresses without the sash to make them look thinner than they should. And they liked the court shoes so that they need not bother about having to have their toe-nails painted. Apart from that they both liked earrings.
Charmaine was shorter than Jacintha, and she suspected that it had a lot to do with the genes. David Seow was short but not shorter than Mary. Dad was also very dark skinned. Charmaine always wondered if he were overheated by the sun, or if it were just his skin pigmentation. No one knew and she never dared ask.
Charmaine saw George again. She could see his skeleton, shaped like a dinosaur. He was older now so his frame was slightly bent and his legs were also crocked making him look awkward. Charmaine stood from a distance and she stared at him. His eyes did not look at her so maybe he could not see her.
Tonight, George sat opposite Charmaine. Charmaine started eating first for it has never been the habit for all of them to be eating together. He picked at the pickles. And then the sweet and sour pork. Charmaine let him eat. And she noticed that he also liked the chicken curry. She kept quiet, waited for him to say something.
Charmaine was in her pyjamas and so she decided not to draw George’s attention to her. Once David Seow went to the television, she walked up the stairs to go back to her room. As she entered, the radio was playing, “perfect situations must go wrong,”. Charmaine let the atmosphere created by the song to dominate the entire night.
The leaves in the garden were creeping up the trellis so that the place was looking more habitable again. Charmaine was going into the garden more often nowadays as she became more mobile after the Hokkien Mee, for reasons unknown. The sky was also getting darker earlier than usual. She marvelled at the speed with which the sun set. It turned crimson red and then within seconds it turned purple blue.
As she stood outside on the balcony she saw that George’s white car was no longer in the porch. Charmaine was unhappy that he left so soon. He could have waited for David Seow to come up to see her first before leaving the scene.
Charmaine became incensed and so she went down again.
She saw George with a beer can. At first she was surprised that he was still in the house, then she took the beer can away and threw it on the floor spilling the entire place with beer. Dad gave a loud cry and walked to the television to turn it off. It was only then that Charmaine realised that neither one of them could not see that she was there.
Charmaine wanted to turn on the lights, but she never knew where the switch was, so that she almost slipped over the beer. But thank God she didn’t bleed. She went to the backyard to pick up a broom and started to sweep the floor. There was no dustpan so that she swept the pieces randomly from one corner to another. Charmaine was not very good at that and after a while she gave up.
She remembered that the radio was turned on upstairs, so she quickly left the chore and went upstairs again. No, there wasn’t a radio broadcasting fee and she wasn’t concerned about that.
Charmaine had just changed out of her clothes to bathe and the doorbell rang. It must have been George as only he knew that she lived there. She went down in her towel.
“Listen, you have to move,”
“Why?” Charmaine asked, using her left hand to hold the towel.
“They found you,”
“Nobody came last night,” she said. She forgot that he was here.
George held out a certificate. It said:
Certificate of Title: Volume 419 Folio 157 Land Lot No: Mk2-2343N
Charmaine stared at it, unable to comprehend. Charmaine has lived here for more than three years.
“Shall I pack my things tonight?” she asked George. Even though she only had my three pieces of clothes, the towel and the radio.
George was not satisfied. He stood at the threshold. Charmaine moved away to let him come in. He did not bother to take off his shoes, and as he walked in he brought traces of mud. This time she knew where the mop was. Once he left I will mop the floor, Charmaine told myself.
In Real Time
Elsie gave George his regular brew with milk and sugar and let him sit there until he was satisfied. Usually he took fifteen minutes to finish his coffee. Elsie always gave him his usual cup with the pattern of a house and a man standing next to the house. Once he finished his coffee he stood up to leave. Elsie was relieved that he offered no other conversation.
If Elsie had fallen for George, you could not blame her. Any good looking man would attract some sort of admiration from the opposite sex.
Elsie always made sure that the front door was opened before 7:00 p.m. when George would arrive in his white car. And she would turn on the television without delay so that George could enjoy the news whilst having his dinner.
The sky was dark and cloudy. Something sinister was brewing. But that has nothing to do with the sky. It was regarding the state of affairs at the Providence Hill.
Mr Seow, Elsie, Jacintha and Charmaine were going to have to leave.
Elsie was concerned about the chattels, the picture of Mr Seow on the wall, as well as the silverware and glass objects inside the cabinet. Apart from that, the books were also Jacintha’s property.
She couldn’t lug them around, and even with a large suitcase she couldn’t manage. She needed a mover. But she couldn’t engage one as Mr Seow had not given any idea where they were going to.
George had never seen Jacintha. He was always here for a short while. Once he saw that Charmaine had eaten he would use his hand phone to get his driver to come around to pick him up. I think they call it Grab nowadays, or was it Uber?
The Spirits are Alive
Charmaine has made up her mind to buy the red dress.
So that she went ahead and took the money from the bureau and then she put it carefully inside her wallet.
The salesman was not surprised that Charmaine came back for the purchase.
And so after the purchase Charmaine was waiting for a chance to wear it. She looked at the calendar in the wall. The Chinese New Year was around the corner and traditionally this was the day where people wore that colour. She tried it on in front of the only full-length mirror in the house, just putting it in front of her body.
And then Charmaine saw George again. George came up to the room to look for her.
His face was gaunt, his cheeks sunken, she had no idea if it were due to fair wear and tear. The entire image was that of a very broken man. Charmaine let him stand there behind her. She knew that he could not see her. And she wondered if he could see the dress she was holding.
Quietly she moved away. Charmaine threw the red dress onto the bed and she went in to take a shower. Minutes later she was refreshed again. Charmaine took the bottle of Estee Lauder “Pleasures” moisturiser she found on the bed and applied some on herself. She was quite satisfied that when she came out, George had left.
Charmaine sat on the sofa next to the bed. The radio station was using the same announcer. She was quite used to her by now. Her songs were modern nostalgia and the lyrics were clear so that it was easy to follow. Charmaine took a long time to find out that her favourite song was “Everybody Loves Somebody Somehow” an oldie.
If she wanted company Charmaine would look for Jacintha. Jacintha was just next door.
Knock, knock. Jacintha opened the door.
“It’s you again, what do you want?” very unfriendly.
“I want to know if you are ready to move,” Charmaine asked.
“Of course not,” Jacintha replied, and then she asked,
“Have you found accommodation?”
“No,” “I am hoping that we would still be staying together,” Charmaine said.
“That’s for sure,” Jacintha said.
“Then two rooms?” Charmaine asked.
“Yup,” and then promptly Jacintha closed the door on her.
“It is ok to talk about yesterday today. But please do not complain about what I did to you three years ago,” George said to Charmaine this morning. She let him finish what he wanted to say all at one go without interrupting.
Again, today George asked Charmaine to move out.
Charmaine had no reason to stay except that she had nowhere else to move to. She stood firm, telling George that it was all a pack of lies. How could this house be a graveyard?! They had a roof, a garden, dilapidated it may be, as well as a garage, for George to park his car every time he came by.
Minutes later Charmaine heard George’s car zoom out of the garage.
Immediately she went in to change back into her pyjamas to prepare for another sleepless night. She could see that the moon was right in the middle of the sky. With no clouds she was sure that it was not going to rain tonight. Charmaine didn’t know how to call the weatherman, so she was basically using the clouds to read the forecast.
She dreaded the thought of changing location. She was told that for herself someone born in the year of the rat, she must enter her house from the north, meaning that the front door must face west. She has ascertained that her current abode faces west, so that the windows on the opposite side of the door got the morning sun.
The weather outside looked good, so that Charmaine took her steps out gingerly. She guessed she wasn’t concentrating so that she tripped over a beer can and fell flat onto the ground, her knee blead as though someone had used a knife to scratch at it.
Charmaine did not feel any pain, only the sight of blood frightened her. Quickly she made her way back to the house and went into the toilet, found some antiseptic lotion and she used it to clean the wound, then she covered the area with a plaster. They have transparent plasters to conceal the ugliness of the bandage.
Charmaine laughed at her own carelessness and was glad that no one saw her. As she was having her dinner – Hokkien Mee tonight – Charmaine thought of Jacintha. She was not at the dining table.
Jacintha was thin framed very small sized and a 35. Charmaine always marvelled at the way she put herself together – a black cardigan and a pair of back sandals with dark red nail polish.
Whenever she did not appear at the dining table, it meant that she was sick, or that she was having one of her moods again. Charmaine could hear Jacintha blowing her nose loudly which often made her wonder if she had enough tissue paper to take care of all that mucus.
In Real Time
Elsie always used a wet cloth to clean the shrine. She would dap some Dettol and rinse the cloth under tap water leaving half of it dry. It gave the entire place a sanitised smell as though she was in a hospital.
She found some plaster tore open and a bottle of antiseptic lotion on the table and was wondering where it came from. Nevertheless, she brought them to the dustbin to dispose of them.
Afterwards she went to the shelf and got herself a can of beer. It always quenched her thirst. But now they didn’t look the same. She found three bottles missing so that she started counting them again. And then finally she was satisfied that someone had come in and taken the three missing bottles. There was no other explanation to it except that George had taken it.
“Mr Seow will be back later,” Elsie told herself. And she quickly went up to the switch box to turn on the lights – one at a time – until the last one was on. Then quietly she went to the refrigerator to get herself a yoghurt. There were only two left, and she realised that she had to go to the supermarket tomorrow.
Elsie was the only one who stayed here apart from Mr Seow. This was not her home originally. In the beginning she was a little uncomfortable here, but she knew of no other relations apart from Mr Seow after her parents passed away and he offered her this abode.
The world was as it should be – lonely. Elsie was coming to her fourth year, and she quite cherished the comfort of tranquil existence. No noise from the traffic outside and no one to come in here to order her around. Her previous job at the supermarket was tough. The supermarket was always swamping with people. She was the main cashier and often having to account for the shortfalls made by the other staff.
Mr Seow did not disturb her. Though his room was untidy at times, he never expected Elsie to clean it up. Whenever he ate at home, he always brought his dishes to the sink at the back to wash up, before retiring back into his own room.
Elsie has no complaints about this place, except that Gemma barked somewhat too often. When the dog did so, Elsie often thought that there were other people in the house. She would get up to survey the situation, but that no one was there, which was very frustrating. This happened usually at dinner time when George was here.
Mr Seow was a middle-aged man with no immediate family. He occupied the room downstairs, and no one was allowed to go in unless it was a Sunday. Elsie didn’t know why Sunday, but she guessed it has something to do with the fact that on Sunday Mr Seow usually went out.
Apart from Mr Seow Elsie had no other boss. And so, Elsie attended to Mr Seow with trepidation and a kind of assiduousness that was quite uncommon.
There was no one to evaluate Elise’s job performance. And Mr Seow wasn’t doing it either. Elsie did her chores at her own whims and fancy, depending on how she felt. She took no money from Mr Seow so she wasn’t a salaried worker. Occasionally Mr Seow would put some money on the bureau and Elsie took it as money for the groceries and other household expenditure.
In the way when Mr Seow was not in, apart from looking after the premises Elsie would look after Gemma the dog. Gemma was a silky terrier, a bitch and was adopted by Mr Seow.
After the freshening up, Elsie distinctly looked better. Even she herself was surprised at how presentable she could be. Then she went into the garage to take out an umbrella and walked out to the main road to catch herself a taxi.
Traffic was not heavy in this area, and she waited for quite some time before the taxi came.
It was not easy to understand why dogs barked - what they saw and what they perceived about the environment. But when they barked, it was a clear sign that someone else was there, although sometimes it could be for no apparent reason.
Minutes later Elsie heard George coming in. You couldn’t mistake him for anyone else as he always announced his arrival with a loud hello. Elsie didn’t object to George’s arrival except that whenever he was here he talked to himself. She couldn’t say if he also behaved likewise when he was outside.
Elsie was not a detective, neither was she an inquisitive person by nature. Gemma did not bark when George arrived – he was a regular guest – but the dog started to bark regularly at 7:00 p.m. when food was placed on the shrine. It was meant for the gods.
Elsie took the dish away when she was satisfied that the gods have had a feast.
It has been raining heavily so that Elsie wasn’t able to walk Gemma. She opened the black door hoping that he will do his business outside at the fence. But instead of which he peed at the door frame. The door frame was already half rotten with pieces of wood peeling off.
You could say that because of the rain, all of them were cooped up in the house, so that something was brewing in the mist. George arrived at 7:00 p.m. as usual, with Gemma announcing the guest’s presence.
“Shall I take off my shoes?” George asked casually as he walked in with his shoes. There were traces of mud on where he walked. Elsie gasped at the dirt he brought in and she almost shouted a No out loud. But George didn’t listen to her. He brought a bouquet of flowers with him and he found empty vase by the sink, then he ripped off the wrapping paper and placed the flowers in the vase and turned on the tap to fill up some water. He took the vase and placed it on top of the shrine. The light was always on at the shrine. Elsie guess that whoever he was praying to, appreciated the flowers.
“Charmaine, if you could forgive me, today is the third anniversary of your death,”
“I am sure that Jacintha is in good hands now, the Lord has told me,”
There was complete silence as George spoke. We waited for him to continue …
“Since you died, my life has been in shakers, everything has gone down the drain, I am no longer the man that you used to know,”
“I stopped going to the office, and I stopped sailing, the activity that kept me alive,”
Mr Seow was at the dining table, and Elsie was laying out the dishes for him …
“If you can hear me, please come and take one stock of rose from the vase,” George was getting insane.
Elsie saw that George’s eyes were closed as he was fully concentrating. She went up to the vase and took one stem of rose away. And then she placed it on the dining table.
“I have not slept since the day you left,” George was still pleading with Charmaine. Charmaine was nowhere to be found.
And then his eyes opened, he saw the stem on the dining table where Mr Seow was having his dinner. George was overjoyed. He came up to Mr Seow and started sharing the meal with him. Mr Seow wanted to know how much George paid for the bouquet, so he asked him,
“How much did you spend?”
“… around eighty dollars,” George said.
“… and the flower girl was giving me a discount,” he lamented.
“How much money are you left with now?” Mr Seow asked George.
“Less than ten thousand dollars,” George replied.
“How are you going to carry on, the rental and all that,” Mr Seow asked him again.
“I don’t know, was hoping to strike the lottery,” George said.
“That is most unreliable,” Mr Seow concluded.
With that, Mr Seow took his dinner plate to the kitchen to wash and Elsie quickly moved in to clear away the rest of the dishes.
No one knew that George was talking to Charmaine. And no one knew that George was engaged to Jacintha before Jacintha died. Jacintha died of a broken heart. That’s what they all said. True. Charmaine was the one who knew it best. Jacintha was in love with George and that was how Charmaine was introduced to George. But when George saw Charmaine, he fell in love with her.
Charmaine was not particularly pretty, neither did she have a good figure. But it was the topics of conversation, the things that interested them both. They shared the same tastes in food, wine and paintings. And most of all they have the same sense of humour. They laughed at the same old silly jokes. And then they enjoyed the same music and read the same authors. It was love at first sight. George and Charmaine did not hesitate to exchange cell phone numbers before they parted company. And minutes later Charmaine received his text “let’s make it again next weekend,” on her WhatsApp.
Afterwards Charmaine broke the news to Jacintha:
“George and I slept,”
“George loves me and not you.”
Jacintha listened, then she saw the engagement ring on Charmaine’s finger, so that she knew that it was the truth. But of course, it could have been any other ring, bought from a flea market. But Jacintha believed her.
Once Jacintha started drinking there was no turning back. Charmaine saw the number of emptied wine bottles lined up outside her bedroom door. She knew that Jacintha needed her to break up with George. But she wanted George. George was hers since the day she met him. Charmaine didn’t want to be the loser.
In Real Time
George came today. Without the bouquet. Elsie heard George talking to himself again and remarked to Mr Seow that this man was going insane. Mr Seow ignored her comments and went about his own business. In the end, George left a note behind on the table to tell them that he wasn’t coming anymore:
“Dear Mr Seow and company, I have found another life …. I would be back again someday …. If all goes well …. The flower girl ….”
Wendy sold flowers to pass time, not as a means to earn a living. When George appeared, she could see that he needed money. George was good looking, and for an old maid, Wendy had to act fast. On his second time around at her shop, she asked him if he would want to move in with her.
“A small ceremony will do. I don’t need any guests,” was what she said to George.
And so it happened, like in a fairy tale.
On the wedding night, with only the solemniser to witness the vows in the day, George told Wendy that she only condition for being his wife was that she must answer to the name Charmaine.
“My name is Wendy, not Charmaine.” Wendy said.
“And my name is Peter.” George said.
“Huh? I thought you said you were George?” Wendy asked.
“And I thought you were Charmaine.” George answered.
With that, George asked Wendy if she would go to a house with him, to meet with a lady by the name of Jacintha.
“And who is this Jacintha?” Wendy asked.
“Your sister. You can’t remember?” George said.
It was an old bungalow with only the two of them – Mr Seow and Elsie - naturally the entire place was rusty if not mouldy. You could smell the grass creeping up the walls and if you went closer, you might catch one or two worms.
Wendy fell in love with the house and her owner. She told herself that she would not give up anything else for this. In her mind she had decided that she wanted to live here with George. She would allow herself to be Charmaine.
When they were both upstairs, George picked up the red dress on the bed and told Wendy to put it on. She sensed that it was what he liked. It was expensive, and Wendy could see it.
When Wendy put on the red dress, it fitted her perfectly. The dress had red flowers sewn all over, and she was surprised that George found it for her.
“That’s a nice dress,” George said as he saw Wendy.
“Weather is so hot. And what perfume is that you are wearing? George commented.
“Pleasures by Estée Lauder.” Wendy replied. And then she walked down the stairs, George could hear her sandals making its way to the altar.
Downstairs at the dining room Mr Seow saw Wendy put the flowers in a vase and running some water over them and filling up the vase. He saw the Hokkien Mee which Elsie had bought and placed it on the dining table. Afterwards Wendy came to join them for dinner.
They sat there and waited for George to come down to join them.
Jacintha died of an overdose. She took sleeping pills with too much alcohol.
When the news of Jacintha’s death was broken to George, George was having a candle light dinner with Charmaine. It was Charmaine’s birthday. She wore a white dress with lots of frills as she was expecting George to propose that evening. George in fact did have an engagement ring hidden in his breast pocket. But a phone call came in.
“Hello, is this Mr George Tan?”
“Yes, this is he speaking, may I help you?”
“Do you know this lady by the name of Jacintha Chin?”
“Err, yes, but not very well,” George said.
“She just died, we called you because we found s suicide note with your telephone number on it,”
“Where is she now?” George asked.
“The police had taken over the scene, I think it best you left them alone,”
George prolonged the dinner party with Charmaine and made sure that if the police contacted her he would be in the know. They must end their investigation soon, he thought to himself.
And then he remembered the ring in his pocket. He took it out and gave it to Charmaine,
“Jacintha, would you marry me?” George said.
Charmaine, too eager to marry George, ignored the mistake.
Who cared if he called me Jacintha or Charmaine? It is I who would wear the ring. It is I whom he was engaged to. She didn’t know that Jacintha was dead.
You would think that Charmaine and George would end happily ever after now that Jacintha was out of the way. No, one day Charmaine corrected George when he called her Jacintha repeatedly.
“I think I must correct you once and for all. My name is Charmaine and I am not Jacintha,” Charmaine said.
“That was the condition upon which you married me!” George said.
“Says who?” Charmaine tried to argue.
George never told Charmaine about the phone call on the engagement night, and Charmaine had no means of knowing it. George had been too much. She tolerated it for too long. How could he be calling me Jacintha all the time? What was wrong with this man? Charmaine was so incensed by George that she ran out in the pouring rain.
Half an hour later, George received a telephone call from the police,
“Are you Mr George Tan?” the voice was solemn and clear.
“Yes?” George half expected the bad news. They all sounded alike.
“Your wife Charmaine had just net with an accident, am afraid that she didn’t make it,”
“We are very sorry, and we need you to go to the mortuary to identify the body,” the voice on the other side gave him a few seconds to register.
They said that after you died, you were reborn again. You came back as someone else, but that the past was erased from your memory and you couldn’t God damn remember whom you used to be.
If you believed in Buddhism, then the theory of reincarnation meant that Jacintha was reborn into Charmaine, then Charmaine into Wendy. But if you did not so believe, because you were a Christian, then George Tan was crazy.
Or was it entirely George in the making?
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