Truth be told, I’m a liar. That’s a lie. Or a truth. I don’t know.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema / Unsplash

By Natalie Chan

There’s a giant window in the back of my grandmother’s kitchen. I stare out of it to the splashing of water against cups against wrinkled hands, and I wave to the jogger that faces the park. She ignores me. I continue washing. 

Because somewhere down the line I gained consciousness, and somewhere down the line, my parents taught me how to talk, I’ll sit on the lowermost staircase and think about a billion everythings: how bitter my coffee was this morning, the fact that my bedsheets are still unwashed, the feeling of grass as it tickles the bottom of my foot. 

I’ve always wondered why people wanted to travel down the infinite stream of potential. A line of every possibility that creates another that creates another that leads to nothing. An alternate universe where wizards exist. An alternate universe where you didn’t fail your math test. An alternate universe where you’re happy. I’ll sit on my stairwell with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, half-eaten (the bread was too soggy, time had gotten to it before I could’ve,) and now what? Picture a world where you’re happy. Okay. Today. Tomorrow. Next month. Ten years ago. Wrong. Okay. Okay. Now what? 

People tell me the weirdest things in passing. Or, well, it would be more accurate to say that people tell me a lot of things. And everyone I’ve met I’ve met in passing. So. Yes. Strange. Once, in 3rd grade, I spilled a bowl of chicken noodle soup all over myself in the school cafeteria. I had no sympathy for it. Not many regrets. The noodles weren’t good. The soup wasn’t salted. Someone who’s name I can’t remember offered me a bite of theirs. When I said no, they said we couldn’t be friends anymore. I can’t remember their name or their face or the flavour of their noodles, but I remember being in love and feeling my heart stop. 

The woman with the blue sweatshirt jogs by the window. Her headphones are too big for her. The skies are too big for her. She doesn’t wave back. I place my palm on the window and watch the rivulets of tap water roll down the glass. The trees are split apart by a finger’s width. Everything is split apart by a finger’s width. I’m flat-palmed against the window and my fingers are too stubby to fit on my hands. Picture a world where you’re happy. Okay. The woman continues running like she knows she’ll live past tomorrow. Okay. That has to be close. 

we often leave behind memories as if they’re curses to our being. like a fortune teller hidden behind curtains I was prophesised to live. when i was born i imagine i hadn’t cried a bit. i was grown like that. 

Last modified: 20 April 2021, 10:39 p.m.

I never thought I’d live past 25. Frankly, I don’t see any reason why I’d need to. My life is a dartboard of milestones that I’ve been shooting at blindfolded. The darts are unlimited but so is my patience. Win the lottery. Miss. Gamble your left ear. Miss. Graduate high school. Miss. The game ends when the bar shuts down and the kitchen is on fire and I get a new bowl of soup. 

And it’s like that. 

I called someone at 12 a.m. and I was 12 and that was 12 too many. I laid on my left side because my chest hurt and I couldn’t feel anything beyond the surface cavity. There was a garden being tended to in the licks between the fleshy palpitations of the heart. If it’s there. I tore out the roots and they pricked the tender pads of my fingers while I was swallowing the flowers whole. So anyways, 12 too much. Or little. Anyways. 

Someone asked me if I knew what I was living for. Yes. Okay. My middle school graduation is in 5 days and 8 hours and 32 minutes. Yes. Okay. There’s a clock in this room- Wait no, okay. First, there’s a room. It’s empty. Except a chair. There’s a chair. Yes. Okay. There’s a clock in this room and it counts down to the next milestone, but also, in this world I’m tall enough to reach its hands and hold them in mine and kiss their knuckles. Yes. Okay. The bar is on fire. The phone call ends. 

Truth be told, I’m a liar. That’s a lie. Or a truth. I don’t know. 

If I’m 50, I’ll get a piece of paper mailed to my kitchen that says: “Congratulations! You made it!” Or: “Please end this. Please end it.” Or: “Your free trial period has expired.” Anyhow, I won’t be happy, because the last time I was happy, I still didn’t know how to spell. Whatever. Equivalent exchange. But I’ll say I am. I’ll look at the certificate and my nose will be bleeding. Wow, I’ll say. I’m glad this was a positive experience. I’m happy that you won. Apple. A-P-P-L-E. 

I’ll be dissatisfied. My heart will ache to burst out of my chest and direct a four-act stage play about my disappointment where I kill my father and fuck the duke, or something. But I’ll play my own little games because I’m a court jester and when no one’s watching me, God can be my only witness and I can do no wrong. Yes. I’m happy that you won. Like a lie. The god-honouring part of me will say that I can improve, and that I can repent, and honestly, is witchcraft even all that bad? 

The part of me that wants to have rockin’ sex with God’s dad in the heavenly masses of the universe will say something like this: This game is rigged. I fucked god. I am god. I’m losing because luck, or discrimination, or womanhood, or something. I’m losing because I want to. And because I’m only living till 25 and I love everything, which essentially

means I love nothing, I’ll tell myself that I’m okay and trample all of the thoughts that are actually mine and plant some pretty flowers on the top. Maybe chrysantemum. Do you like that? Do you think you’d like that? Okay. Roses. The white ones. 

your hands smoothing over the mattress 

where I once laid, 

sound asleep. 

Silent as the dead. 

Last modified: 11 March 2021; 2:30 a.m. 

I barely even know who I’m putting up this show for anymore. There’s no mask. I’m not actively pretending that I’m a good person. My heart is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and look what you’ve done, now I need to plant some new flowers. Daisies would be nice, probably. 

I’ve never felt a love so overwhelming that it crawled into my skin and kissed me from the inside out. I loved the chicken tenders I ordered for RM 4.99 yesterday. I loved the way my bag strap felt against my shoulder. I love, but never enough to stop me from playing. I’m hitting something this time. Just one more. The bar is still on fire behind me. 

An old man passes by the window and this time I don’t wave. I dry off the plate with a paper towel and leave it on the drying rack, where it drips leftover dish soap onto uncleaned spoons. The sunlight filters in and my hands are stinging from the soap and the scraps of peeled chicken skin and the wave that landed me nowhere. He nuzzles his dog on the nose because he’s seventy, at least, and he’s already gotten his certificate, so fuck it, what does he have to lose? There’s only one milestone left for him, and god damn it, gramps, the bar shut down 20 years ago already. The dog barks at him because it’s a dog. Picture love. I scoff and the dog wags its tail and I prick my finger on another thorn. I don’t know. But this is probably pretty close

do u want dinner tonight 



love u 

i want chicken noodle soup
sent 1:46 a.m. 

I don’t believe in God. I believe in incense and karma and the way grass tickles the bottom of my foot. But the only God I know is me and she’s too mean to me. These flowers aren’t pretty anymore. I’m not pretty anymore. 

I guess I’m glad that I’m a court jester with no audience. My lies are always louder than my conscience, and my thoughts are always louder than my conscience and frankly, I think my conscience is tired. Maybe today I’ll tell myself that I should be kind to everyone and tomorrow I’ll tell a stray cat to fuck off. Maybe today I’ll tell myself that I’ve found a life worth living. I’ll hit the bullseye and I’ll die. Instantly. Knocked out like a baby on adderall. 

Picture a world where you’re happy. Yeah. Okay. Apple. A-P-P-L-E. Yeah. Okay. There it is. One of the small mercies of the universe. 


Natalie Chan is an artist and writer living out of Subang Jaya in Malaysia. Having previously been published in Aster Lit, New Constellations Magazine, and the Paper Crane anthology, among others, she believes that creation is ultimately the best way to sustain her existence.