Beng Hong could visualise his eyes glimmering within the flame that leapt onto the joss sticks in her hand. After a few deep bows, she positioned them gingerly atop the cabinet, a deft movement that was second nature to her. There she stood, her face a taut mask of solemnity, soaking in the comforting scent. These days, the only company she had was the blank sea of her mind.

Someone was knocking at the door. It began sporadically, uncertainly, before growing in sharpness. Beng Hong hadn’t expected the children to arrive so early because of commitments at work. Sighing, she unlocked the door. Suddenly, she was unable to tear her gaze away from the face staring straight at her.  His eyes exuded that familiar twinkle, lips knitted into the perfunctory grin he always wore to Chinese New Year gatherings. The yellow vest and overalls hanging loosely from his shoulders, streaked with silver and dried cement. At the same time, it couldn’t be…

“Ah Pheow?” She breathed, desperately quelling the emotions welling up in her. This had to be one of her mind’s concoctions, woven from the remaining threads of the husband who was rapidly fading from her memory. There was no logical explanation for him to suddenly be resurrected from the grave. Why now, when her love for him had dulled into nothing but a stagnant river?

“Ah Hong, what’s wrong?” He lay a hand on her shoulder. At the corpse-like chill, Beng Hong shrunk away, shaking her head. She didn’t want this hologram of a husband intruding on her life, a reminder of the buckets of tears she had bawled over him.  Yet he seemed so real. Perspiration from another long day at work shone on his tanned skin. “Is it the kids?” Brushing past her, he slipped right through the gate.

He surveyed the living room. The weathered walls were now shrouded in pristine white, the flickering images of the analogue television crystallized into digital ones, the boxes of toys shoved onto the Salvation Army’s shelves. “Aren’t they home from kindergarten already?” Her heart was palpitating with the wild hope that he wouldn’t notice the makeshift cabinet altar. That he would realise this was the wrong house and leave. Consternation creased his brow. “Ah Hong, what happened?” 

Beng Hong didn’t want to tell him. What was the point of excavating the rubble of the past, unearthing the raw pain she had spent so long trying to wipe from her consciousness? But she had to. She had to get this ghost, this entity of nothingness out of her house before the children arrived. The realm of the dead could never possibly dissolve into that of the living.

Against the glare of his imploring eyes, she finally forced her trembling lips open. “Ah Pheow…you’ve been dead for fifteen years.” A blanket of silence descended over them. She could see Ah Pheow’s face collapsing into realisation, the echoes of her words reverberating in his mind, their impact slowly sinking in.

Hasel Soh (Class of 2022) is a Year 5 Film student, from the second batch of Literary Arts students. She enjoys exploring a wide range of forms in reading and writing projects, including short fiction, poetry with experimental form and creative non-fiction.