A Photo of Jennifer
by Meiko Ko
The first sounds of the English language came from the Jennifer box, which was installed on the roof of every HDB flat in the Bedok region. Essentially these were little brown boxes, within which contained the Peninsula Rule. The Peninsula Rule states that all peninsulas behave like question marks, indicating the emotion of puzzlement, distrust, or a gentle defiance. At its core, the question mark is a lonely signal, meant to convey static about a second man, who usually dressed himself in indigo and had the ambition to inhabit the human tongue. As soon as he settled on a tongue, he would create a new map and declare that now is the time to register its provinces, and with a diagram in his hand draw in all areas of taste. Segregation became the norm, and the tongue formed boundaries overnight. But when Jennifer, a question mark that disputed time and tar, managed to escape the box in time and told him that she wasn’t born to be an English speaker, the Second Man replied that all accents must be harvested for the sake of the good earth, and planted a seed of suspicion deep in her mind. Hope is an invitation that comes only once, he said, and speaking in the atomic form is really the best hope I can give. I am only curing the unmathematical part of you, he said. Ever since, all question marks were put to sleep, and all house lizards were seen to shed their tails. Some Chinese dogs, scenting demise, were seen to follow the famous Brad Pitt dance in playgrounds. A sun failure in the Bedok region broke out, and some people began to riot over the Peninsular Rule, climbing up roofs to dismantle the Jennifer Box. Others called on Jennifer, pulling her long raven hair and tugging her peony cheongsam, turning her equipment into a mad paradox. Jennifer was put into obedience school for a few days, and fed with Ovaltine and carrot cakes. Spooked by the monotonous diet, her cheeks were a carmine blush as a serum of disillusion eventually emerged. She was convinced that all English words cause a minor storm. For days she watched the brown boxes burn on the streets, thinking about the blanks in sentences, watching men repair trees and engineer metaphors on sidewalks, until she heard the soft keys of heritage straightening her shoulders.
Meiko Ko is a Singaporean living in New York. She is working to become a writer and a prose poet, and she attends the Second Saturdays Reading Series every month. She still misses the rain in Singapore. This is her second publication.
cover image by Marc Nair