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April Wheeler


by Jowell Tan


Where am I? The void between life and death. The light at the end is flickering, not as bright nor as strong as I'd hoped it would be.

---

I am in a living room, 1995. The lights are off, but illumination comes from the seven candles burning atop a birthday cake. Chocolate, my favourite. On the other end of the table I see my family - My father, face half obscured by a camera as he rolls off shot after shot after shot. My mother saying, “Make a wish!” 

I close my eyes, breathe in, and I wish.

---

I am in the family car, 2003. We're on our way home from school, after a disastrous Results Day. My father whistles along to the radio, trying to defuse the tension. My mother eyes me through the rear-view mirror as she speaks about my poor showing at the exams. I'm in the backseat, looking out the window as the view changes in blurs, buildings and emptiness rotating shifts to fill up my vision.

Is this what we pay your tuition for? She asks. Is this because of your sports? Should we pull you out of your after-school activities? I reply in monosyllables to her questions, silence to her sentences. I have no words for her, to her babbling and her opinions and her incessant need to hear me speak. Soon enough she runs out of things to say, and only the radio sounds fill up the interior space. 

I look out the window, speeding through each second of life.

---

I am in Jacob's bedroom, 2008. We've been planning this for weeks, and today is the day. Today is my birthday, and tonight Jacob will be my first.

We dim the lights and undress. Naked we move onto his bed, single-sized and barely able to contain the both of us. We kiss with our eyes closed, our hands caressing every part of each other. He puts the condom on. He lowers himself into me. It feels strange and awkward, a foreigner asserting himself within the borders of my body. Where once it was empty it is now unbearably full. His hips thrust back and forth against me. He makes these strange noises that sound nothing like human speech, more like the language of animals and savages.

Eventually, he quietens down. With one final thrust, he comes. “Did you..?” “Yes, I did. It was good, love,” I lie. “Okay. Good, good..” He lifts himself off me and lies on his side. Not long after, his rhythmic snoring begins, the measured pulse of his snorts and inhalations. I lie there in the half-darkened room, bare, unfulfilled, and begin to cry. 

I look up at the ceiling, shadows playing with shape and size, the unbearable hum of disappointment whirring up. 

---

I am in the bathroom, 2013. I'm naked in front of the mirror, still. Unmoving. My eyes examine my body - my freckled face, my small chest, my bony knees. My mind examines my life - My shortcomings, my failures, my unfulfilled wishes. 

These next few moments, I remember as clear as day. I move with robotic precision. I act without regret, only clarity as I make these decisions on my own volition:

I pick up my father's shaver, a straight razer. I remove the blade from its casing. Its silver surface shines in the fluorescent overhead light. I hold it between my fingers, edge facing out. I slowly, gingerly, slice across the underside of my wrist. I change hands, and do the same to the other wrist. 

The blades makes a quiet pinging sound as I drop it into the sink. I watch the blood from my wrists spill out on the floor in a steady stream of glistening red. I look up in the mirror. I smile my second real smile. The only real other smile I remember was when I was seven, and it was my birthday, and I made a wish that my life would be without disappointment, and I had really wanted it to come true. But it didn't. And here we are. 

I look at my reflection, my sadness draining out of me with the blood, flowing down my arms, onto the floor, into the abyss.

---

I wonder, what is the afterlife like? I wonder, if I have another chance at life, will I remember all the notes I took down during this one and apply them to the next one?

I wonder, what's going to happen next?
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