“Pugilist” – First Publication

Pugilist
by Tomson Tee

 

“Remember, it’s a bad moment, not a bad life,” said the anorexic girl.

I told her to go fuck herself. What the fuck did she know about moments in life? She throws a punch, I duck. I throw a punch, and suddenly it’s domestic violence.

The ref doesn’t blow the whistle, so I keep going. Prepared now, she weaves easily around my rhinoceros charge. I think for a second that maybe not eating all that food has done her some good. Made her a smaller target.

Then I remember when she was puking in our toilet. And how it smelled like a high school lab after a physio final.

Things were never easy, for her and me. Oh, what? You’ve heard this one before? Let me just give you the cliffnotes then.

We met. I told her jokes. Then she re-wrote the punchlines and hurled them right back at me. I thought she was the funniest girl I had ever met.

She dressed how I wanted. Ate how I wanted. Fucked how I wanted. Until I realized that the person I had fallen in love with was myself.

How embarrassing. I am my selfie-uploading generation. I scroll through my news-feed and hope to God that I’m at least a few steps ahead of them because I get less than 10 likes for every photo I post online.

But all of that is beside the point. You see what I’m doing? I can’t seem to stop talking about myself for some reason. It’s become a very real problem.

Anyway, there’s only so much one person can dress like another person. And joke like another person. And eat like another person, before – well;

Our relationship plateaued and she began throwing up. Filled with my antigens, her body had hit critical mass and began purging itself. For its own safety. Her safety.

At first, she’d try to hide it. She’d hold in the urge until bedtime, after all the conversation had dried up, when we would crawl into our symmetrically sexless bed. Garnished with matching nightstands and lampshades on either side.

She did her best, but her forced facade of insouciance would weigh heavy in the air, like the fallout of a bomb that had detonated over the course of an adult life.

I could feel the hawk-eyed gaze of her peripheral vision, waiting patiently till I whipped out whatever book I would be reading at the time that reminded myself of my own writing. Then she’d turn her lamp off and slip away, knowing that I would never go searching for her in the darkness.

Once she’d made it to the bathroom, she’d turn on the shower. She had always liked the sound of rain. She said it comforted her.

Oh wait, that was also me. Anyway–

I imagine her crying as she does it. As if the pieces of me physically hurt her as they are arduously ripped from the fibers of her person after years of cancerous malice.

That’s less like “crying” and more like “tear-ing up” I suppose. But what really separates the two? Context?

Over time it started to become too much of a bother to hide it. She was taking 3 showers a day, but somehow smelling worse and worse and worse. I was shallow, but I wasn’t an idiot.

Soon, she figured out that I knew. And I knew that she knew. And she knew that I knew that she knew. So she stopped trying to hide it altogether. Everything changed. Almost overnight, she had stopped eating entirely.

I screamed and I shouted. She wasn’t even trying to make this work. You can’t skip the DINNER part of date night and go straight to the movie.

More time passed, and she stopped leaving the house altogether. Our room began to reek of that locker room stench. Sweat, tears and a game you lost at the fourth quarter. None of which, I could fit into my picture-perfect life. I surrendered to her my side of the bed and started sleeping on the couch.

 

Great, I say, first we can’t go out for dinner, now we can’t go out PERIOD?

Go out if you want, she says back.

 

She had begun to speak only in sentence fragments. Conversing had begun to labor her. I’m guessing because the bulk of her vocabulary was mine as well. Did she even have parents?

 

Where are your parents??

She shrugs. Doesn’t even look up.

 

What about Lindsay? Or Jess, or Courtney? Can’t they take care of you?

This time, she doesn’t even gesture.

 

Alright, I say, I’m going to get drinks with Jimmy. I’ll be back late.

Again, nothing. I’m pissed. I know that she knows, but I decide to tell her anyway:

 

I’m leaving. Okay? I’m sick of this shit. You fucking disgust me.

I walk over to her.

 

HEY! FUCKING LISTEN TO ME!!!

I physically shake her, for emphasis. She flops over like a fish. Her eyes are closed. A fluid of alien coloration is dripping from the curves of what I THINK is a smile. Like ectoplasmic drool.

 

 

Maybe I’m exaggerating. Was she actually dead? I had no clue. I just left. I got in my car and drove and drove and drove and drove. And then I drove some more, only stopping for some drive-through. I felt like I hadn’t eaten in weeks.

 

End

 

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Born in Malaysia. Raised in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the San Francisco Bay Area, Tomson Tee is an award-winning filmmaker based in NYC. Tomson likes to spend his free time… well, he doesn’t really have any. He’s usually off finding ways to make his next project.

 

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.

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