Ju En Tan

Charlie watches mesmerised by the glint and shimmer of blood pooling into the ground, fading to darkness. Soon she would feel no more pain.

Her mind flashed back to their house in India, where she stood watching Zulu, her favourite of their housekeepers scrubbing out crimson Crayola from where Charlie had earlier – tried to make a strawberry-carpet pancake! She couldn’t help herself, that carpet always felt so deliciously fluffy. Zulu sang as she cleaned, “oh Cha-cha, Papa will be so cross when he returns from golf!” but Cha-cha didn’t care about Pa. She had watched, transfixed by the bobble and sway of Zulu’s bosom, bobble and sway like they did the day before when she scuffled with the stable boy out behind the house. Charlie had seen them, but then Zulu didn’t have her uniform on and pinned back tight against the trunk, he was clearly the victor and perhaps that explained how she always smelt faintly of pine.

Hazy winter light pierces the dark forest canopy looking as if an alien army were descending upon them. Charlie watches the single dandelion floret twisting a tango above her head, as he grunts and heaves close by clearing more soil from the shallow pit, digging ever deeper.

It was her sixteenth birthday that Jaime gave her a five-kilo bundle of pet piglet. This she named Salami and along with Oscar the Biblical Cat all four set out for a sunset picnic with a view of the sierra ranges.

“Did you know that in Vermont, a Yankee is someone who eats pie for breakfast?”

“Oh Jah-jah, what’s so bad about pie?”

“Apple pies are THE best pie for pie-fighting, pectins make them smoosh!”


When they were together everything else around them blurred indiscriminate and nothing penetrated their bubble, no Venus or Mars, no bravo or boo, no white only black and the echo of their silent comfort. That day Oscar fished from the river a feisty Xyliphius, which flipped and flopped even as its entrails oozed mahogany onto the grass. The sun sank into the delta and it was the most exceptional Xyli-lima bean stew she had ever tasted.

Behind Charlie the digging stops. Her breath is shallow. Footsteps trudge towards her, along with the scrape of a heavy shovel.   

Just three fortnights ago they were dancing foxtrot, she and Juliette, round a bonfire. It was to be a cozy graduation celebration just them both, but November in Quebec begged for a fire and since the dorm would be swamped with wilder celebrants they had to take it outside, 96.73 kilometers out.   And what didn’t they take outside! Setting up the karaoke machine and the sofa in the middle of the woods didn’t make for good acoustics but that hadn’t stopped them. Charlie hacked the melon in half, so swollen it was with the dark contents that gushed burgundy into the snow; Juliette chucked her mike mid-song and leapt back on the sofa. Melon-nog! They had cored away some rind to infuse it with a special concoction of cinnamon milk, whiskey and tawny port, but NO egg; this was after all –Melon-nog!

“Are you definitely going, Cha-cha? I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”

“Venice will sink in a few years, just as red-heads will soon be extinct!”

“But you’re not going to Venice.”


Snowflakes drifted their gentle subsonic descent.

“I’ll miss you more, c’mon let’s do a little Rod Stewart…”

“You’re in my heart you’re in my soul, you’ll be my breath when I grow old, you are my lover you’re my best friend, you’re in my soul… ~ “ they echoed throughout the woods.

Alpha reached down to tap Charlie’s shoulder, dropping his shovel when he sees the carnage on her thigh, ”woah Senorita, what smokes!” Even as he rushes to tourniquet her, she woozes a little more, “I… my shoe…the frog…I tried to stroke it. Fell.”

“And then you just spazzed out??! Great, antiquated source of sepsis for you AND you’ve contaminated the artifact. The others have gone back to the hotel, come on we’ll have to get help.” He piled her into the passenger seat of the Alfa-Romeo, throwing the rest of the tools in the back. As they speed away from the excavation site X-Ray Specs’ “Oh Bondage, Up Yours” cranks out of the stereo, Charlie’s lips crook into a little smile and she thinks, “Man, this really is the best song.”

Bio ~ Ju En Tan

Ju-En has lived in Newtown, Sydney for 9 years 9 months and 3 days. Most of that time was spent as a science/medical student at Sydney University but for an interval had the role of overseeing a genetically modified mouse colony. She played a lot of field hockey growing up in Singapore, where her family still lives.  Ju-En is muted in many ways and really likes looking at trees. She is now a Medical Doctor.

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