CW: pregnancy loss
If the year had gone as planned, Alexa and Ling Yi would have been best friends. Who the fuck names a cat Alexa, I’d asked, and you shrugged. She came that way, another thing left behind by those fleeing the city in droves. Her original owners had gone back to Lisbon. We bounced around the idea of changing her name; I wasn’t keen on having a cat named after an artificial intelligence system, but upon some googling it turned out Alexa had its roots in Greek origins. It meant protector of mankind, and I liked that, I liked that a lot.
You prefaced her with apology. I’d wanted a dog, but we didn’t have the space, and soon wouldn’t have the energy either. I was starfished on the bed for the fourth day in a row when you clicked the door open, whispered your contrition, and slipped me the kitten. At that point, she was the size of my palm, and Ling Yi the size of eye shit. I was still at the stage of pretending she didn’t exist, but the kitten made things real. They’d grow up together, ready-made best friends. Don’t get mad, you said, it’s bad for the baby. That was the weekend we sat down and mapped out potential names. My mother didn’t name me till birth, superstition dictating that naming the unborn earmarked it for the machinations of evil spirits. When I mentioned this, you laughed, and said, here, we believe in speaking things into being. Manifesting your reality.
In February, murmurs of the virus began telegramming from back home, across oceans, too far away to take seriously. We both agreed on that. In March, you turned the lock on our door, making a game of it.
Isn’t it part of your culture anyway, you said, a confinement period.
That’s after the birth, silly.
And then you can’t shower or anything, right?
Good thing she’ll be born in the fall, when people like you don’t shower every day.
She didn’t make it to the fall, but we didn’t realise this until May. Alexa was getting so big. Our windows faced the backside of another building, so we only got one square patch of sunlight which fell between the back of the couch and the wall. All our plants were gathered in that square, on the floor, but Alexa pushed them out and liquified herself across the entirety of the space. If I rearranged the plants in her absence, she’d retaliate by batting the pots over. In this way, four perfectly good hoyas were murdered, and we gave up on our home jungle completely. Good practice, you told me, but for what you didn’t say.
The ambulance sirens were starting to drive me crazy. You were tracking the news obsessively, something I had no interest in, but the wails felt intrusive, they echoed painfully in my cranium. I wanted to run towards the source of the sound, scream at it to shut the fuck up, but we weren’t leaving the house. Whenever the wailing started, I’d twitch towards the door, and Alexa would sit on my torso, her fur pooling on my chest and spilling onto the bed. Is this a cat or a breadloaf, I wanted to know, you’re feeding her too much. I want to go to the market. I want to go for yoga. I want to see my friends. This is no way to live. Come on. The furthest we’d gotten was the front door, where brown bags of produce appeared magically every Monday and Thursday. Is she kicking, you replied. You were getting so paranoid. No, I said, I haven’t made her legs yet. Now let me out.
You didn’t find it funny. Every corner of our 15-square-foot apartment stunk of Lysol, and Alexa buried her face in my armpit whenever you scrubbed, as if my musty bodily fluids were preferable to the smell of sanitisation. This can’t be good for the cat, I said, or the baby. I feel drunk on bleach all the time. You’re going to kill us all.
You didn’t find that funny either.
When my body vacated itself of its temporary tenant, I resisted saying I told you so. Instead, I lobbed the cat at you, said, go comfort your dad, he’s having a hard time. You stared at me for too long. You can be so horrible, you finally said, but instead of leaving, we sat at opposite ends of the room, you, letting your face crumple, and me, pinching at my empty folds of belly fat. Maybe we shouldn’t have named her so early, you murmured, and I said, yes.
That summer, everyone lost someone. No one was guaranteed. Better this, than for Ling Yi to have arrived only to make a straight U-turn back to hell. I marked a little X on our wall calendar for the day we’d have celebrated her birthday. Her 100th day red egg ceremony. The end of my confinement. X X X X X. Enough, you said. X X X X X. You’re driving me crazy, you said, please. Please. But I couldn’t stop. X X X —
— and then nothing. The door hung open, just a crack. A slice of fluorescent light yawned towards me on the floor. So this was hell, too. I climbed over the sofa and curled into the square of sunlight. The skin on my neck was starting to burn. Yes, I thought, yes. Alexa landed on my body with a thud, spreading herself out. Let me be, I whispered, and she returned, no.
Jemimah Wei is a writer and host, based in Singapore and New York. She’s a Singapore National Arts Council Scholar and was recently named a 2020 Felipe De Alba Fellow at Columbia University. Her work has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Literary magazine, JMWW Journal, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, and époque press, amongst others. She is a columnist for No Contact magazine, and is presently at work on a novel and several television projects. You can find her on Twitter at @jemmawei.
Photography by: Leonardo Iheme