Kay’s Work

Postscript’s short fiction contest: Third place

Grace Soo is the third place winner of Postcript's short fiction contest.
Grace Soo is the third place winner of Postcript's short fiction contest.
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In high school biology, my class experimented on the frog’s heart. Rana pipiens. Mrs. Mangan forced me to put the hook through a millimetre of heart muscle, tie it to a string and connect the string to a machine that drew squiggled lines on paper. The lower the lines curved down, the more force the heart beat with. If the lines went up and down faster to make narrower squiggles, the heart beat faster. The whole class watched the needle of the machine squiggle away. They ooh-ed and ahh-ed.

I could not take my eyes off the heart. The frog’s heart looked like a dark brownish-red cocktail onion, tugged upwards and out of the bloody body cavity. Suspended at an unnatural angle, the heart was begging to be allowed to fall back into its original place. The heart contracted from the base of its triangle, shuddering up and down as if it was tired. When my teacher added epinephrine to the heart, it began to convulse. The oohs and ahhs grew louder.

Turning the key in the door, my heart began to match that tiny frog’s heart. It began to convulse. The needle splintered.

I pushed the door open. Leeann had pulled all the curtains shut as usual. She hated the sun, because it bleached her paintings and her posters. I walked into the hallway of our apartment, but I kicked into a hard wood edge. Out of experience, my arm caught the stretched canvas as it started to fall. I switched on the lights.

I sat down on the sofa, Leeann’s sofa. When we moved to Singapore from Toronto, Leeann insisted on buying a white leather sofa. At the time, she was eleven. Wearing her favourite colours of red, yellow and orange, she sat on the display model in the store and refused to budge. I bought it because I—I did not know how to say “no” to her.

One day, about a week after the sofa arrived, my principal made me supervise detention for five 13-year-olds after I caught them spray painting the school wall with disgusting pictures. Throughout the detention, I looked forward to sitting on the sofa and watching some television with Leeann. But when I entered our apartment I thought I had walked into an exploded chemistry lab where pungent fumes dissolved respiratory alveoli into glowing goo. The entire thousand-dollar, genuine leather sofa was completely soaked in a myriad of colours. Leeann declared it her masterpiece. I did not know what to do other than try to smile. My colleague Siew Lip had a better idea.

“You should cane her. After you phoned yesterday, I thought, yes, you should cane her. I brought one of my canes for you today.” I tried to focus on the cane in the shadows of Siew Lip’s desk. The light brown rattan was slender and split several ways from the middle down to one end.

“This one, see. I’ve used it for a long time. It should hurt properly. It’ll leave a mark that will go away after, say, a week or so.”

Somehow it struck me as being a little barbaric, but I knew better than to say so in my exhaustion from scrubbing all night at the collateral damage: a rainbow mix of dye not only on the ceramic tiles but also on the once pristine white rock-stone walls. The day had barely started and I still had to hear what my students would say about Shakespeare.

“Aiyah, so boring leh, fail already lah.”

Siew Lip prodded me with the cane. “‘Spare the rod and spoil the child.’ You have to do it. You’ve never done it before, right? It does wonders. Do it.”

Riding the MRT train home that day, I thought about Siew Lip’s two daughters, Pek Yan and Pek Yong. When they asked for ice cream and Siew Lip said “no,” they shut up immediately. My daughter? She got two scoops of Swensen’s. Perhaps Siew Lip was right. I reached into my bag to pull out my novel to read. I found Siew Lip’s cane instead, snug in my bag.

Dinner that night was a silent affair. Ever since I announced that we were moving to Singapore conversation had died. We sat in the kitchen eating packet rice with steamed fish, sliced bittergourd with rice vermicelli and braised beancurd. Leeann pushed the rice around on the waxed brown paper with the disposable plastic spoon.

I decided to ask her the question I had been brooding over for the past day.

“Where did you get the leather dyes from?”

Leeann’s plastic spoon went in a wild curve and stopped. “Mike sent them to me.”

My plastic spoon split to sport an ugly crack from the base up into the curve of the handle. “I told you never to talk to him again.”

“Why can’t I talk to him? He’s my dad.”

“How did he send them to you?”

“Mike sent them by courier.”

“You gave him our address?”

“Yes.”

My plastic spoon shivered and split completely into two pieces. I went to my workbag. I thought of Mike, laughing in our bed with his lover, unafraid when I walked in. The court ruled him to be a negative influence and gave me complete custody of Leeann.

Mike laughed.

“Someday Leeann will come back to me. Before you know it, she will choose me.”

Before I knew it, bittergourd scattered all over the floor, and Leeann was crying.

“I hate you. I hate you. I’m going back to Toronto, I’m going to live with Mike. I hate this place. Why did you drag me here? I hate you.”

That night I used my hidden key to get into Leeann’s room. The equatorial nights were too warm for her so she had kicked all her blankets to the floor, as usual. I kneeled on the floor, staring at her arms and legs. Where my rage had licked her, I saw pink lines that had risen, just like the mountain ranges on those globes that the raspy salesperson at Toys R Us tried to sell me: “Good for your girl’s studies.” Red lines dragged across the peaks. Some peaks had split.

Twelve years later, today, Leeann was not in her room. She had scrawled across the glass coffee table with the lipstick from Siew Lip that she disliked.

“Kay, I’m gone to Toronto. Mike’s got me a nice apartment overlooking Yonge Street. I am happy with Sue and she’s going to live with me. Here, I’m a freak. You think so. You know that. Don’t look for me.”

The “D” in “Don’t” was exceptionally bumpy, as if Leeann had pressed the lipstick with extra force.

I rubbed the colours that Leeann had worked into the leather. What was she thinking when she was creating her masterpiece? I sat there, in the living room, on Leeann’s masterpiece.

Grace Soo, ConEd ’08

Grace Soo’s a concurrent education and psychology student who loves being a don. Soo said writing’s something she has engaged in sporadically throughout her life. She has dabbled in poetry and has made an effort to get involved in theatre, but says she has never really gotten into the Queen’s creative writing scene. Her writing changed focus several times over the years and she even considered scientific writing for a while. As for her writing style, Soo said her professors would describe it as “wordy.” For “Kay’s Work,” she wanted to explore writing about someone living in another country. Soo herself is from Singapore and moved to Canada almost five years ago. Some of her work was published in the 2005 Undergraduate Review including poems called “Xiang” and “Terminal.”

Soo will receive a $10 gift certificate from Novel Idea and a $5 gift certificate from Common Ground.

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