Unspoken but Heard by Margaret Tang

The wind whispered, blowing sunset-coloured leaves across the street, urging me to cross and join the line of mourners entering the church. The wind blew harder and sent leaves falling from the trees like the tears falling from my eyes. I stood frozen by fear and guilt across the street from St. Jude’s Church – a modest sanctuary of brown brick at the edge of our campus in Lawrence, Kansas – in the same spot where Tiffany had stood frozen, seven years ago. I had brought her here after that trying day.

“Hundred pounds,” I said, pointing at the weighing scale under her feet.

“You’re much slimmer.”

I stepped on the scale. “Look! I’m a hundred and thirty pounds and two inches shorter.”

“I’m too fat,” she insisted.

I forced her to look at us in the mirror. “You’re not fat. You need to eat,” I said, handing her a home-made cookie from her mother’s care package.

“I am fat.”

I did not know what else to do, so I took her to St. Jude’s for her first mass. It would become our weekly ritual.

Her roommates often drove her to my door in tears. I could not stop the bullying – I was just ‘That Chink Resident Assistant’. I could only help by unlocking her door with the master key whenever her roommates locked her out.

One night, she telephoned me from the bed of some guy.

“Come join us.”

Her voice was uncharacteristically lascivious. I did not want to be judgemental but I should have told her that she was too fragile to play with the players.

A few days later, she had a major meltdown. Her parents flew in from Wisconsin several hours later and took her home. I never asked what happened to her or contacted her but I never stopped thinking about her or that night and what I should have done, could have done, instead of praying.

A woman walked towards me. I nearly bolted: her face was an older version of Tiffany’s.

“You must be Ling. Thank you for coming,” Tiffany’s mother said. ”You were very important to her. She survived freshman year because of you.”

“I’m sorry for your loss. She was a wonderful girl.” I struggled for comforting words to say but I could only think to ask, “Why is her funeral here and not in Wisconsin?”

“She wanted her it here so that you would come back to this church. She knew you’d lost your faith.”

“How?”

“From your blog. She discovered it years ago. She read every post. You really inspired her. Sometimes she got healthier, but—” Her voice cracked. “She thought you wrote some posts for her. Did you?”

“I did.”

“She showed me the one you wrote about the limitations of a parent’s love. She said you put into words what she could never express – that it wasn’t my fault.” Choking down her sobs, she continued, “It wasn’t your fault either. Come, she wanted to return the gift of faith that you’d given her.”

Hand in hand, we crossed the street.

***

Margaret TangMargaret M. Tang is a Singaporean short story writer. She won first prize in Diversity in Words 2016 and has had her work published in an anthology. “Unspoken but Heard” was first displayed in the exhibition “ArText” at National Library (Singapore) in 2016. All rights to this story reserved or copyright Margaret M Tang and NLB Singapore.