Simon Tay


an excerpt from Middle and First

MY grandmother had a face like the moon when it is pale and full and you mustn’t point at it or you will lose your finger. She had thick, arched eyebrows, hooded eyes and red, red lipstick, like Joan Crawford in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. She wore talc and splashed on sweet perfume, but underneath it, she smelt of ash and acid. She spoke in a loud voice, hard and brittle like Bette Davis.

These are for real, these descriptions are the best I can muster short of giving you a photograph. Come to think of it, I don’t have any photographs of her. But I think to many of you, these descriptions only explain how old I am to think in terms of myths about the moon and old movie stars nobody knows now. So just remember what I said about Freddy Krueger.

But now I have told you about the first story about grandmother, you might be wondering where the blood and terror is. What is, you ask, the big deal about getting a pack of cigarettes in the dark? I wonder about these things too, now that I’ve grown up and while it is daylight. But when I think honestly about it, then, I was terrified.

Night after night from that time on, the scene would be replayed. She would ask and I would be unable to say, No. Night after night, I would try to calm myself by rational thought and then my nerve would break and it would be a mad sprint in the darkness. Each night I would come back down, panting, ashamed of my fears. She would always tell me not to run, even as she would have known that I could not help myself. Then she draws a cigarette from the pack with her long fingers, light it up and blow the smoke up to the bulb hanging over the centre of the living room, like a ghost.

Let me tell you about terror:

One night I woke suddenly. At first, I thought it was because I needed to go to the toilet. So I got out of my bed and headed off. I got out into the corridor, and then I heard it. Footsteps coming toward me. I turned and saw it coming towards me. It was white and floating. I didn’t know what it was but I knew it was this thing that had called me out of my bed, out of sleep, to meet it and let it satiate its appetite. I crouched and held my breath, near a cupboard, hoping it would pass without seeing me.

It came closer and I saw, in the pale moonlight, its awful face, round, wrinkled and pasty, and green. I screamed.

© Landmark Books

by Shubigi Rao
from Middle and First (2016)
published by Landmark Books