By Isabelle Lim
Today is a good day to die.
Megan wakes up to her iPhone alarm: the one that sounds like a tinkle of wind chimes instead of a nuclear warning alert. The numbers on her home screen read “6:15am”. The sky is a dark, solemn grey instead of oil black. The streetlamps are still on. In the distance, Megan can see little rectangles of yellow light in other buildings.
She changes into her uniform: an ugly, starched pinafore with a dark green skirt. Prefect tie—slip-on, dead knot never untied. As expected, no one is awake yet. An empty plate sits on the counter, and Megan puts it in the sink, taking care that the plastic doesn’t clunk too loudly against the stainless steel. She makes herself a bowl of cereal, only to realise that there’s no more Lucky Charms. Just plain Weetabix. She eats it anyway.
Later on the bus, Megan puts her earphones in. Some lo-fi track she doesn’t quite recognise kicks in, and she leans her head against the cool glass window. Today, she got a seat in the bus. Maybe that means today will be better. Then again, she thinks, maybe she needs to stop attaching meaning to things without any.
Today is a good day to die.
When Mrs. Lee calls for the Chemistry homework and Megan doesn’t hand it in, she doesn’t get called out. Hui Ying side-eyes her, and once, Megan would have cared. She doesn’t now.
At the end of the period, Mrs. Lee calls her outside the classroom.
“Are you okay, Megan?” she asks, voice softening in sympathy. “I know it’s been hard for you and your family lately, but I just wanted to check in with you.”
“I’m fine,” Megan says. It feels like that’s her most-said phrase of the year. When Mrs. Lee continues to eye her with doubt, she smiles mechanically. “Really. I’m okay.”
Mrs. Lee nods, the smile on her face still doubtful, and walks off. The Chemistry homework goes unmentioned. Megan probably won’t have to submit it.
For the rest of the day, the teachers don’t mention anything. Even Mr. Khoo, who always calls on her to do algebraic sums on the whiteboard, doesn’t today. Her hair is definitely against school regulation, grown past her shoulders and untied, but no one mentions it. All her homework is incomplete, but no one mentions it. In the pockets of silence as the class works, Megan looks up and catches every single teacher staring at her the way they would an injured puppy.
She hates it, but she supposes if it gets her out of doing homework, she’ll take it.
Today is a good day to die.
The sun is setting when Megan arrives home, sweaty from the walk from the bus stop. “I’m home,” she announces to no one in particular.
In the living room, Dad is watching some Chinese drama on Channel U. All the men are in suits, surrounding a girl in a red dress. He doesn’t acknowledge her presence. Mom is nowhere to be seen. Before she can process it, Megan asks, out of habit, “Is Mel having dinner at home?”
She internally curses herself the moment the question leaves her mouth.
Her father remains motionless for a moment, then turns to her, face pale, mouth pressed into a hard line. The TV plays in the background. Oh, a man is shouting. Her father stares at her, eyes empty but so full at the same time. His eczema has gotten worse, Megan notices. On the table, there’s a can of beer. Her father doesn’t like alcohol.
Before he can open his mouth, Megan bolts to her room. She stuffs her earphones in the moment the door is closed.
At 10pm, after trying her hardest to finish Mrs. Lee’s chemistry equations worksheet as the numbers swim before her eyes Megan makes two plates of scrambled eggs. She eats one, and leaves the other on a plate on the counter. Dad is still in the living room. Now, it’s a new drama: a doctor consoles a couple as they mourn the loss of their child. Megan stares at the screen from behind the sofa, eyes scorching.
Megan will wake up the next day and undergo the same routine. She will cling onto an inconsequential sign of hope that the day will be better, and sometimes it will be. Sometimes, Mom will be in the kitchen instead of cooped up in her room. Sometimes, they’ll ask her about her day at school and genuinely want to know about it. Sometimes. Rare times. Most of the time, it is this same routine. Rinse and repeat.
A couple weeks before the accident, Mel had burst into Megan’s room, bright and sprightly despite a late lecture. “Who do you think,” she’d asked, smiling, “is the glue of our family?”
Megan had had her earphones in, and she’d removed them only to laugh and reply, half-jokingly, “Me, obviously.”
She’d been wrong.
Today is a good day to die.
Megan remembers July 28th (or, as she refers to it in her head, That Day) in some detail. Some of it is blurry, but otherwise, everything else is fresh in her head.
She’d been in Ms Chang’s class—second period—when she’d been called out of the classroom and told to pack her things as fast as she could. Hui Ying had tsked under her breath, and Megan had shot her a glare as she stood up hastily. “Your mother will come pick you up as soon as possible,” the admin lady had told her as she ushered her down the staircase.
“Why?” Megan had asked, frantically trying to zip her bag as she moved. “What’s going on?”
“Your sister’s been in an accident.”
Megan’s notebook clattered down the stairs, and the sound echoed.
Your sister’s been in an accident.
From there, it’s a blur. Her mother, known for her careful driving, went over the speed limit to KK Hospital. When they’d gotten there, her dad was already in the waiting room, clad in his white work shirt and pacing, black shoes clacking against the hospital tile. Everything had smelt like antiseptic, Megan worrying her hands as she tried not to have a meltdown in the waiting room. A paramedic had approached her parents, and she’d only been able to catch “reckless driver”, “crash”, “punctured lung”, but that was enough.
The doctors had come out, heads hung, and her mother had sunk to her knees in the middle of the room, tears sliding down her face. Megan had stood, in shock, the air-conditioning draft ice cold through the thin material of her uniform.
The funeral was two days later. That was a month ago, but the coldness from the funeral hall seemed to have extended past it, permeating her life even now.
A little detail: on That Day, it was sunny. If Megan remembered this, perhaps she would be more hopeful, attached her own meaning to the good weather: that God brought her sister back with blue skies, birds chirping in Mel’s wake.
Unfortunately, Megan doesn’t remember.
Mom and Dad are shouting when Megan reaches home. She feels it from outside, sees the shadow of two people from under the door, and she turns up the volume in her earphones.
The first month after Mel’s funeral, they’d existed in thick and heavy silence, an ever-present storm cloud above their heads. But now, two months after, the cloud is rumbling, splitting with lightning. The thunder follows, always warning of a storm but never actually raining. Just dark grey skies and flash-bangs of light. Megan can’t decide which version she hates more.
They’re fighting in the living room. With her music up, Megan can barely hear what they’re saying. Mom is shouting in Cantonese, and Dad is responding in English, his arms crossed in front of his chest. He’s in the same singlet and shorts he was in yesterday. Mom is waving her hands at Dad, index finger like an arrow. Perhaps his crossed arms act more like a shield than a gesture of anger. The TV sings happily in the background, currently playing some Japanese variety show where everyone is laughing. Megan doesn’t want to stay. She attempts to tear past them to her room, but suddenly the attention turns to her.
The shouting fades, and now her mother is addressing her. Begrudgingly, Megan takes her earphones out.
“How was school today?”
When she turns, both her parents are staring at her, leftover flames in their irises. Her mother’s voice is sharp as a blade, and anything said with it sounds like an accusation.
The same, she wants to say. The same as it’s been for months, so pretty miserable, actually. But you wouldn’t know. You’ve been in your room pretending the world doesn’t exist. “Fine.”
“Don’t lie, I saw the parents’ group chat. Got project, right?”
If you knew, why’d you ask? “Oh, yeah.” They’d been assigned some project to create a poster about atoms. Mrs. Lee had said that the Top 3 posters would earn their respective makers a lollipop, and suddenly everyone in class was raring to go for Chupa Chups.
“Have you done it yet?”
“No.” I don’t want to. It’s not like they’d call me out for it anyway. “Going to do now.”
“You better.” A threat, but at the same time, as much of a dismissal as any. Megan trudges to her room, slamming the door, and the heated argument resumes, albeit in whispers now instead of shouts.
Megan plans on plugging her earphones in and lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. Either way, in an attempt to make herself believe that she’s actually doing the work, she opens the poster-making website Mrs. Lee had recommended, staring listlessly at the colourful templates and the fancy fonts.
(Mel had always been good at these kinds of projects. One time, they’d stayed up until 2am glueing paper together for Megan’s art project, Mel’s K-Pop-filled playlist blaring in the background. Bum bum ba ra, ba bum ba ra bum bum ba ra, I wish you were here…)
For old times’ sake, Megan puts that song on. She doesn’t understand the Korean, but she can pick out English phrases here and there. The song, objectively, is good. She can see why Mel liked it. As she drifts off, the hook plays in her ears.
After all these years, I wish you were, wish you were here.
Here’s the thing about this story: Megan will not experience something implicitly special to drag her out of her slump. She will not have a fateful meeting with some old, sagely soul in a park to talk about life and death and leave feeling Enlightened and Spiritually Healed. Things simply don’t happen that way, and most of the time (unless you’re very, very lucky), they never will.
However, things do get better for Megan. Perhaps not significantly, or immediately, but they do. And that’s all we can really hope for, isn’t it?
When Mom and Dad seat her down at the table, she knows what’s coming. After days upon weeks upon months of fighting then silence then fighting some more, how could she not know? Dad looks so weary—the stubble on his chin shows he obviously hasn’t shaved in ages. Mom just looks tired. Frail. This is the first time since That Day that Megan has seen her parents be in the same room and not look like they want to tear each other to pieces, and everything is quiet, the world seemingly holding its breath. Love turns to hate turns to nothing at all, negative space in an empty room.
However, being prepared for the news doesn’t reduce the impact of it when it comes.
“We’re getting a divorce.”
Mel knows, from a movie she watched a long time ago, that only 5% of married couples survive the loss of a child. She also knows that Singapore has high divorce rates—that some years, the number of divorces in Singapore eclipsed the number of marriages. Put those together, and she doesn’t know how she could’ve fathomed that her parents, an extraordinarily ordinary couple, would’ve weathered the storm.
Dad is saying something, but she can’t hear it. Her ears feel like they’ve been filled with water then soldered shut, and all she can hear is the blood throbbing in her veins. Shouldn’t she be crying? That’s an appropriate response. But her eyes are dry. Why? Heartbeat. Heartbeat.
When her parents dismiss her, telling her to think about who she wants to live with, she leaves the living room. Walking, thankfully, is made up of the same mechanism over and over again: one foot in front of the other. If it hadn’t been that way, Megan thinks she would have fallen, knees buckling, onto the living room tiles.
She collapses onto her bed, watching the fan blades rotate.
Who do you want to live with?, her parents had asked, eyebrows knit. When she hadn’t responded for five minutes, silence permeated with silence, they’d asked her to think about it. Who do you want to live with?
Here’s the funny thing: Megan’s first thought is that she doesn’t want to live with either of them. The punchline: Megan’s second thought is that she doesn’t want to live at all.
Of all things the world can give her after everything it has taken from her, Megan does not expect it to be a confession. She is further taken by surprise when the confessor in question is Kieran Teoh. One lunch period, she pretends not to see his friends snickering as he leads her from the canteen to the semi-hidden area behind the toilets.
“I like you,” he says, looking right at her. She opts to turn her gaze to the floor. “I have for a while. It’s okay if you don’t feel the same, I just wanted you to know.” Hesitant pause. “Do you want to go out with me some time?”
Before That Day, and before the announcement her parents have just dumped on her, Megan would have almost definitely said yes. Kieran is Class Monitor, good at Chemistry (unlike Megan), and is in the school soccer team. While the friends he keeps are questionable, Kieran keeps them in check for the most part. Before That Day, Megan had liked Kieran, too.
Megan doesn’t look up. Everything in her wants to say yes. Kieran is genuinely one of the nicest boys she knows, always helping her out with Chemistry over Skype. It really wouldn’t hurt.
But is it really about what doesn’t hurt, or what eventually will, even if it doesn’t now?
(Mel’s first relationship happened in Sec. 4. His name was Ting En, and they’d dated for nine months—pretty long for a secondary school relationship. Megan had met him once, and she’d watched him watch Mel exist with stars in his eyes. According to Mel, he’d brought her out for ice cream every week. The one time they spent Valentines’ Day together, Mel came home with a bouquet of lilacs.
When they broke up, Megan had asked why. It didn’t make sense: Ting En had looked at Mel like she’d personally hung the moon in the sky for him, and done everything in his power to make her happy. Mel had been happy. Except then, when Megan had asked for a reason, Mel had sighed, heavy. “I thought being in love could teach me how to love myself,” she whispered, small, words violet in the lamplight. “I was wrong.”
A sad ballad had played in the background, and Megan had chosen not to ask any more questions: not because she didn’t want the answers, but because Mel didn’t have them either.)
“I’m sorry,” Megan hears herself utter, eyes trained on her sneakers. She means it.
In front of her, Kieran hangs his head slightly, hair flopping in front of his eyes. Megan almost reaches out to fix them for him. “It’s alright. I understand. We’re still friends, right?”
Numb. “Yeah, if you want.”
Silence. When Megan looks up again, she is alone.
Sometimes, when it’s been an especially bad day, Megan goes into Mel’s room, despite Mel’s glaring un-presence. Now, feeling like she’s carrying the world on her back, Megan walks in one day and shuts the door.
They never really cleared it out—the typical grieving family thing to do. When she steps in, the air is musty. Mel’s table is practically overflowing with stacks of textbooks and lecture notes, and there’s a peeling poster of a Korean boy group on the wall. X1. The bed is still immaculately made, even though there’s a layer of dust on the flowery bed sheets. On the bedside table, there’s a lamp, a pair of tortoiseshell glasses, and a half-used bottle of primrose perfume.
The first month after Mel passed, Megan was in Mel’s room every day. She remembers it all so clearly: her, hunched on the ground in foetal position, screaming, “Why did you go?” She remembers crying, throat raw and cheeks crimson, nails scrambling for purchase on the wooden floor. “How could you leave?” The wooden floor was a barren desert landscape, and Megan was a lone traveller—pushing against ruthless sands and biting winds. Her heart aches in her chest—there’s a gaping void in her ribcage that refuses to be filled no matter what she pours into it.
Now, she doesn’t cry as much. She just sits on the floor (Mel never liked people on her bed, not even Megan), basking in a long-gone presence. Maybe she’s out of tears, or healing. Whatever it is, it has to count for something, right?
It might just be wishful thinking, but sometimes, Megan can imagine Mel there with her. If she squints her eyes or closes them entirely, she can imagine Mel at her study desk, or dancing around the room, humming a song under her breath. Sometimes, in her moments of weakness, Megan lets herself imagine Mel sliding her arms around Megan in a warm embrace, the way she used to before That Day. And Megan does not believe in ghosts, but she does believe in presences—and her sister, loud and sunny with an aura that would turn heads the moment she stepped into a room, had the strongest one Megan had ever encountered.
That Day took everything from her, and Megan feels like a seashell crushed underfoot, the tides taking parts of her out and away from the shore, never to be seen again.
When Megan doesn’t hand in the poster when it’s due Mrs. Lee does, in fact, reprimand her, calling her outside after class.
“Look, Megan,” she sighs, exasperated, running a hand through her hair. She’s gotten new highlights, Megan thinks. The blonde doesn’t suit her, but neither did the red from before. “I know things have been extremely hard for you and your family, but that doesn’t give you reason to stop trying or doing work. I’ve let you off the hook for months, but this really has to stop. You need to move on, so to speak.”
Megan didn’t realise there was an ultimatum for healing, but apparently there was now. You’d never understand, she wants to shout. You try losing your older sister! You try losing your best friend! Tell me, how would you move on from that?
Instead, she nods, the words seething at the back of her mouth like hot soup threatening to boil over.
“Tomorrow,” Mrs. Lee says, and she spins on her heel and walks away, leaving Megan standing, shoulders heavy. The wind blows and her prefect tie blows with it, whacking her in the arm.
One week after the funeral, Megan had been ushered to her mandatory session with Miss Avril, the school counsellor. “Take your time to heal and process everything, okay?” Miss Avril had told her. Megan had sat, rigid, in a pink bean bag chair (obviously some play at comfort) and Miss Avril had sat opposite her, peering at her like an experiment. “Healing and recovery is a non-linear process. Give yourself the time and space that you need.”
It was nothing Megan hadn’t heard before, but she nodded anyway. She stood to leave; the thirty minutes allocated to her by the school were up, and she’d been silent the whole time. Just as she opened the door, Miss Avril called after her. Megan turned. Miss Avril looked so earnest, like she genuinely wanted to help, and Megan felt slightly guilty for not being more cooperative. Was it really her fault, though?
“If anything,” Miss Avril said, smiling sadly, “be a little kinder to yourself.”
Megan muttered a soft, “thank you”, stepped out and closed the door behind her. The cloying Singapore heat hit her in the face like a frisbee.
(She does end up submitting the poster, if you’re wondering. It features mismatched fonts and diagrams taken directly off Google that clash horribly with the template colours—completely half-assed, and everyone who sees it knows it. Megan doesn’t get the lollipop, but it’s okay. Mrs. Lee only has the cola-flavoured ones, and Megan never liked those anyway.)
Megan doesn’t remember the eulogy she gave at Mel’s funeral. In a feat of sheer willpower (or trauma), she’d blocked out the whole event in its entirety. No one had videotaped it (for obvious reasons), and so she doesn’t know what she said up there, on that podium in the church hall in front of dozens of people who had known Mel, but never really Known her. However, if she had to guess, her speech probably went like this:
Herself, standing there in the black dress she hasn’t worn in years, slightly tight on her shoulders and armpits, looking out at the sea of people seated soberly in the pews.
“Mel was an amazing older sister,” Megan imagines herself starting: with the obvious, because she’s never been good with words. Past tense. And those are her only words for a minute, letting them rise like helium balloons to the church skylight. She continues when people start murmuring. “I love her so much.” Present tense.
She steps down from the podium.
That’s her brilliant eulogy. Eleven words, each holding a million more.
Remember Kieran? Well, here’s what happens the night of the confession: Megan pulls up her Whatsapp chat with him, attempting to draft some form of explanation to make up for her anticlimactic rejection earlier. He’s online. Maybe he’s watching her type. She chooses not to think about that possibility.
I’m sorry, she types, in the box. It’s not that I don’t like you back, but things are just really complicated with my family rn and
You really are nice, the second try reads. Anyone would want you. Tbh idk why I
I think that if something actually happened between us it wouldn’t be fair. Maybe we wouldn’t actually work, and in the end,
My sister’s first boyfriend loved her so much and she couldn’t handle it, ngl I’m not sure if I can either
I do like you, but I never expected you to like me back?? I guess that made it ok, because I knew it was impossible. The idea I have of you in my head isn’t real, and I’m sure your perception of me is the same. If we really got to know each other idk if we’d
Did you know my sister died? My parents are getting divorced too LMAO…… so yeah I think I’d go batshit crazy if I lost someone else
I think in another life things would be different. If my life wasn’t like this, and if I weren’t still
Kieran goes offline. Megan closes their chat.
In a couple weeks, she’ll see Kieran having lunch with Zoey Tan, his friends looking on and wolf-whistling unsubtly from another table. She won’t feel much of anything, even though something tells her that she should. It’s okay. First loves don’t last, anyway. But then again, nothing ever does.
Megan finds herself in Mel’s room again, and this time she falls asleep. She’s never slept in there before, but this time, when she does, she dreams of herself standing in a field of multi-coloured orchids. She’s dressed in all white, and her hair is tightly braided back.
Mel is in front of her, wearing the pastel purple dress she always loved, smiling at her. Her hair is loose, and she looks the same: always so bright, always so happy. When she says hello, she sounds the same too: her voice clear as a bell, although a bit high-pitched and shrill. Mel got that from Mom. Well, you can’t have everything. When Megan opens her mouth to speak, she realises she physically can’t, no matter how she tries. Mel starts prancing into the distance, and there’s nothing else Megan can do but follow her.
“Things are good here. I’m good!” Mel replies, turning back, grinning. It fades a little bit with her next words. “I miss you, though. I bet life is hard now that I’m not there. We all knew I was the glue holding everything, after all.”
Mute, Megan nods. It’s not like Mel is wrong.
“Come on, why so shy?” Mel rolls her eyes. “Nothing has changed, what. We’re still sisters, just… separated.”
Isn’t that all the change in the world? Megan wants to ask. The words never make it out of her mouth, and Mel turns back again, back facing her.
“I hear what you think, sometimes, you know.”
That piques Megan’s interest. She quirks her eyebrows in confusion.
“Today is a good day to die. I don’t want to live.” Mel imitates Megan’s thoughts, exaggerating her accent and gestures, and Megan doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. “Siao! You think I wanted to die? Of course I didn’t! We all say things like that, oh, we wanna die, oh, things are so shit and you are so shit and oh maybe it would be better if you just stopped existing, but if you were in a situation where your life was on the line? Would you want to die then?”
The automatic answer is no, but Megan hesitates nonetheless. Mel spins around, marching up to Megan, grabbing her shoulders roughly.
“Today is a good day to die. Wake up! Every damn day is a good day to die! Every day, every second of our lives, we get closer to death. But what’s the point of thinking about that?” Mel forces Megan to meet her gaze. “Sure, every day is a good day to die. But in that same vein, every day is a good—no, great day, to live.”
Things have been so hard, Megan thinks. Things have been so, so hard. Mel can probably read all of that in her face, and she pulls Megan into a hug. Megan still cannot speak, but perhaps it’s for the best, because she knows she wouldn’t have been able to listen if she had. All she knows is that here, in this field of orchids, she never wants to leave.
Mel breaks away, and she smiles, tears in her eyes. Her entire being fizzles like an image from a faulty projector. Gently, she brushes tears from Megan’s face. “Take care, okay?” she whispers, softly. It feels like an embrace. “Your counsellor was right. Be good to yourself.”
Then, she distorts, her image dissolving to nothing, and Megan can’t shout, but if she could it would’ve sounded like, “Please don’t leave me a second time. Not again.”
But things don’t work that way. When Megan jolts awake to reality, she’s still on the floor, arms out in an embrace of nothing. When she wipes her eyes, she realises that her cheeks are hot and damp. A note of primrose perfume pokes through the musty room smell, barely noticeable.
Just as Megan catches a whiff of it, it disappears, leaving her to wonder if she’d imagined it all.
A small thing on dreams: scientifically, they are simply brain impulses that turn random images and thoughts in your head into some confusing narrative. Symbolically, they can be seen as omens, or messages from the Universe. People experiencing dreams about a loved one after their death is not uncommon.
Call the dream Megan had about Mel a mere product of her grief and subconscious. Call it a genuine message from Mel’s afterlife that she’s doing well. Call it what you want, but here’s a clue: the chances of a miracle are one in a million, one in a billion, even lower. However, no matter how skewed they are, they are never zero.
Today is a good day to die.
When Megan goes to school that morning, she thinks: about who she’s going to live with after the divorce gets finalised, about the Chemistry homework she hasn’t finished that Mrs. Lee will definitely be on her ass for, about Kieran and his new girlfriend. Pressing her head against the cool glass, music playing in her earphones, she exhales.
That intense dream last night—what was that about? It had felt so real. Mel had felt so tangible, alive. Damn. Megan can barely think. Today would, truly, be a lovely day to die.
But she managed to get a seat today. She woke up today and there was a box of Lucky Charms in the cupboard again, and the little marshmallows tasted like sugar, childhood and hope.
Choosing to believe that Mel can hear her, twirling around in her meadow of orchids, Megan amends her statement. It tastes odd and unfamiliar on her mind’s tongue, and she struggles to truly believe in it, but she tries anyway. For Mel.
Today is a good day.
Above her, the sunrise douses the sky in a baptism of fire, setting it ablaze in orange and gold.
Isabelle Lim is currently a Literary Arts student studying at the School Of The Arts. In her time as a writer, she has written everything from poetry and plays to research papers, though she prefers prose. Other than writing, she enjoys singing and browsing Pinterest or Stan Twitter. She also co-runs a poetry fundraiser with her friends! Check it out @thewritechoicesg on Instagram.
Image: @freestocks via Unsplash