AUTUMN SONG

autumn strung out for all to caress—
leaves line the pavement, burning
carmine and freshly-cut
citrine, layers and layers flattened
on top of each other, the bottom-most stomped
into the pavement, so trodden into
that they turned
earth brown, dirt brown,
like the graves of things we buried in order
to move forward, fierce and
unrelenting.

 

PRAWN PEELING

You are fourteen. One of those things your mother said you had to learn. “Can’t
always rely on others to do it for you forever.” She grabs a prawn with her fingers and
drops it on your plate. “Give it a go.” Deconstructing the dead is easier than you’ve
ever imagined, though you can’t stand its eyes – those empty pools of black staring at
you and staring at nothing at the same time. Your uncle tells you to stick your fingers
in the centre of its calcium carbonate back and pull it open (crack crack crack); you’re
almost left feeling like a grave robber, prying off the top of the coffin. “It’s one of
those things that get easier with age and with practise. I promise,” he goes. You smile
back, and run to the toilet trying to scrub off what it left on your hands: a thick and
fishy stench, traces of the sea, traces of something once alive. You tell your mother
you’re running out of soap again.

You are seventeen. Another family dinner, and you forget that prawns had real bodies
too, all compartmentalised neatly only to be dismantled by supposedly higher order
beings. Your fingers are more nimble now. You know where exactly to strike, where
to lodge your fingertips into its frail pink shell – only to reveal a dark cord running
down its back, leaking viscous dark goop. “That’s its intestinal track,” your cousin
tells you. He’s in medical school; he’s used to being surrounded by cadavers all the
time, you figure. “Strange. I thought that was its spinal cord.” He holds the body from
the deep pink tail, and takes a look at it, before glancing over at you. “How could you
have never considered this?” You shrug and picture sentient beings larger than you
and larger than life itself splitting you open with a knife like a ripened apple, tugging
out your backbone with barely a shred of effort and prodding your heart with a freshly
washed fork. “What on earth is this? Why is it beating like that, gushing red and all?”
For a moment you swear you can hear them laugh.

You are nineteen. This is what you think of when the boy almost man you brought
home unzips his jacket and throws it on the floor – the removal of pink, crystalline
shells and the persistent stench left on your hands afterwards. You know the night will
end without either of you cracking the other open; the night will only end when the
hours give way to the light in the sky. He doesn’t pull off his shirt and you climb into
the bed next to this stranger; in the faint glow of the night growing beyond the
window, you wonder about the curl of his back, if it resembles the curvature of a half
moon, the prominence of all his bones underneath palepale skin, and where you
would pierce your fingers in if you had a chance. A thought hinges itself into the side
of your brain, what if we weren’t playing pretend? If only it was as easy to pry
yourself open before a mirror, inspect your insides, and watch your raw goop surge
out from your body. Oddly enough, the next morning leaves nothing lingering on your
hands. He offers to kiss you goodbye, but you shake your head. (Not in the morning,
you decide, not with all this light around us.) You then watch the boy almost man
leave without a trace. Soon enough, you find yourself looking out the window,
thinking of the blueblue sea from which the prawns hail.


Stephanie Yeap was born in Singapore and is now currently based in the UK. She enjoys iced coffee on warm days and learning the names of flowers. Her work has been previously published in the University of York’s Looking Glass Anthology.