Catherine Lim

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  • an excerpt from The Catherine Lim Collection

SELECTED PROSE

an excerpt from The Catherine Lim Collection

AH Cheng Peh’s second wife returned even before the seventh day, in fact on the very evening after her burial in the cemetery. The sackcloth cowls of the mourning were hardly removed when somebody saw her standing near the ancestral altar that held the portraits of two generations of forebears.

She was dressed as when alive – in a neat long-sleeved blouse with a row of jade ornaments for buttons, sarong and embroidered slippers. She stood there saying nothing and when the person who saw her quickly signalled to the others to come and look, she was gone.

She appeared once again that evening, to a different member in the household, and everyone wondered if they had been amiss in any part of the funeral arrangements, for this return could signify displeasure. They offered joss-sticks and prayers before the altar newly set up for her, and waited to see if she would return again on the seventh day.

The floor was strewn with ashes so that if she came, her footprints would show. Her bed was all in readiness with a clean bedsheet and pillow-cover, while on the altar were two lit candles and a pot of freshly cooked rice with a small empty bowl and a pair of delicate ivory chopsticks beside it. In the morning, the family did find footprints in the ash, there was a hollow in the pillow where the head had lain, and when the cover of the rice pot was lifted, it was found that the cooked rice had been disturbed a little at the edges with the tips of the chopsticks.

After the seventh day appearance, Ah Cheng Peh never came again, not even in dreams, to her family and relatives.

An old servant of ours, whose husband had died when she was quite young, said he too had returned on the seventh day. The level of the water in the glass left on the altar table was considerably lower, and the two fish left with the cooked rice bore the imprint of fingers.

© Marshall Cavendish

by Catherine Lim
from The Catherine Lim Collection (2010)
published by Marshall Cavendish International (Asia) Pte Ltd

 

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