Expectations

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“His universe entered mine, everything exploded – boom! – cooled rapidly. You were born.” It was a story my mum often repeated and I would jerk whenever she shrieked ‘boom’. Her voice was thin, scratchy, even jarring at times. I couldn’t blame her – we often got into trouble on the streets. We would obey only if she were to shout and this took a toll on her vocal cords.

There are few siblings, none I could recognise now. We moved away from one another, at first to different streets then to different cities, our lives expanding to fill whatever time we had. I wonder how they are doing and hope that they are suffering in a ditch somewhere. Maybe sibling rivalry is genetic.

I would have been happy on the cushion, thoughts on my distant kin, when my pet wanders in, demanding attention. He brings along an offering, something moist and rich, a treat he knows I would enjoy. I sigh and turn away. He gets the signal and gives me a massage. Where else to find an ideal slave, one who doesn’t require cash or chains? I would love to get a few more.

Life would have been simpler, had this slave not attempt to breed. Look at my family, how we suffered. My dad left for a vixen, my mum had to scrimp. My brother did the same as my dad. My sister suffered the same as my mum. Is this a law of entanglement? Must I pay for my pet’s desire to duplicate?

Everything is fine, really, even when that baby poops out. For months, I’ve greater freedom to saunter along the streets, attracting gazes the way stars are drawn to a black hole. For months more, I’ve another slave to attend to my needs, a creature who would massage me so softly I would purr in delight. One day – everything happens on that one day – I return to find a plastic fir tree where my cushion used to be. There are boxes everywhere. They really shouldn’t have.

It’s my birthday, yes, but there should be a limit. How are they going to top this next year? Here’s a multitude, slim and flat, red and green, tied with ribbons, scattered with glitter. Am I in this? There are only two possibilities: yes or no. Am I in another, awake or asleep?

I slink about, delighted with newfound toys. I am, at once, liquid and solid. I am, at once, wave and particle. I expand to fill each container with every fibre of my being. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent, lazing in one box then another. I must have fallen asleep in the metallic container, so cold and good for my aching bones.

Someone tugs my tail – that is no good reason to pull anyone’s tail – I flash. My bite is worse than my mreow. I left three groves across the baby’s arm. There, warning served.

I run around in circles, exhausting the rage of having my personal space violated. This exercise, thankfully, is calming me down. Some may think that I’m chasing dust motes while others think that I’m portending the future. What I’m doing is simply playing the piano of superstrings. I imagine a few yarn balls, unravelling, and I would dance around, every tap of my footstep corresponding to a musical note. I would have been happy to do this for fifteen more minutes when my pet totters forward on two stilt-legs.

He has my basket – what is it that I smell? Catnip? – and is ready to apologise for his offspring’s misdeed. I slink forward and rub my back against his leg, expecting a scratch. He scoops me into the rattan container and I settle down for a nap.

I awake to find myself shivering, vision blurred, barred. There are other creatures across my cell, mangy, unloved things. Is this a betrayal? Why, my slave, why? Your offspring was at fault. I existed first. Wasn’t I enough? Now, this, why, my slave?

I wonder how my mum is, if she would welcome me back with open paws. In another world, my pet would have remained single, earning moolah for my pedicures, offering massages, rushing home from work, existing just to serve.

In another world, I would be surrounded by a lover next to the fireplace, a furry condensate. I would write different types of verse – a multiverse, I say, recording my many virtues – but this is the world I live in and that is the approach of my next pet. He will serve me well and this world will be my better world.

About the Author: 
Tan Xiang Yeow’s poems have appeared in Hawai’i Review, Singpowrimo, Asingbol and elsewhere. In 2014, he co-edited Red Pulse II (Ethos Books), a collection centred on a sunny island set in the sea. He has received writing prizes from National Poetry Festival and National Arts Council of Singapore.