The intervention

Chap. Chap. Genny slathered her lips with the little moisture left in her tongue. Her throat had dried out before she’d passed out. And though awake now, she still felt too dizzy to stand up and walk to the kitchen sink. She extended a weak left arm to the bottled water on the table over her head. It’d been standing there where she left it three nights ago, when she returned from Michael’s new apartment. Though she’d gotten the house, the furniture, and the friendly neighbourhood, he’d somehow come out of the divorce far more satisfied than she.

The bottle toppled from the table, plopping on the floor beside her. Luckily, the cap was still on. Twisting it open she drank like she’d never seen the flavourless liquid before. As the insides of her parched throat gulped the water, she remained lying on the floor, her body turned sideways, propped up by her right arm.

When she’d had her fill, she set the bottle down, careful not to tip it over. Then turned around and fell asleep.

Beyond her glass windows, the sun went down again. As the light faded away, it glinted on the dining table china, the framed photos she’d forgotten to dust off, and the wall art her three-year-old had done at school. Darkness engulfed them all.

She hadn’t noticed the sun rise that morning. Or the day before that. She hadn’t heard the cockatoos cawing on her roof, or observed the wintry breeze lashing the surface of the lake across the street.

It’s amazing what a bottle of whisky could do. The stench of stale alcohol had masked the smell from rain water dribbling down her garden soil. She slept peacefully—oblivious to the world revolving around her, forgetting the pain of losing her family, ignoring the aftermath of that drunken accident. The corpse of her bloody child no longer haunted her dreams. Gone were the shrieks and wails of her younger self. Tires screeched no more. Michael’s arm wasn’t round her shoulders anymore. And they weren’t the couple pretending to move on.

No more. Of any of that bullshit. Only sleep.

That’s all she had now.

Knock.

Knock.

Knock.

It didn’t stop until Genny forced herself to sit up. Suffocating darkness pressed around her.

She opened the door to a bright full moon above.

And below, a puppy walked into her life, bringing along a flood of light.

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From the sidelines

Richard watched as Miles emerged from the shower rooms. Dripping in cold water, he shivered ever so slightly as he stepped on to the water’s edge and dipped his toes in the pool.

It was a warm day. It was his first big race.

Richard had observed him long enough to know that though a little thinner for his age, Miles had enough muscle strength to power through with powerful stokes. His height was only an added advantage.

Miles was now talking to his coach, signing intently to advice. Richard flinched at the sight of the coach. He hated every bit of alpha-ness that that emitted from him. He was a bad influence on Miles, Richard thought. But he had no right to say anything. After all, when it came to swimming, he was a mere spectator.

And that’s what he did for the next fifteen minutes. As the swimmers took their lanes, Richard was on the sidelines, unknown to the rest of the world, his eyes focussed on Miles’ flexed arms and ready-to-pounce feet. When the whistle blew, he took a sharp breath almost hurting his nostrils. It had begun.

The next few minutes were a blur. Richard heard yells of sadness mangled with cries of jubilation. People had crowded in front of him, blocking his view of the pool. The announcer overhead managed to make his voice louder than the rest of the din. “And it’s Miles who takes home the first place!”

Richard had never loved anyone more. Or been prouder.

The crowd suddenly split to let through a dripping athlete. Miles knelt down so he was level with his father’s wheelchair.

“Thanks, Dad,” and he hugged the once-Olympic swimmer.

Eternal fear

“But why can’t I, Dad?”

James stared into the imploring eyes of his ten-year-old. Those blue piercing eyes he’d inherited from Lisa.

James hardened his look, “Because your mother’s afraid for you.”

“But—”

James took a step closer and his son stopped protesting immediately, shoving his hands behind his back where James knew he was twisting his fingers—an anxiety coping mechanism James had instilled in him. “This conversation is over, young man. Now go to your room, and I’ll call you when it’s time for dinner.”

Rick looked so small and sad walking away with his head hanging low. But James stood stern until his son had left the room.

‘But why?’ Rick’s unfinished sentence hung over his head like a knife about to drop.

He wanted to know the answer himself. They still had a few good years before they had to worry about Rick being peer pressured into alcohol or cigarettes. Why wouldn’t his mother let him be be a normal kid and play with the others after school?

“Just the thought of it makes me uneasy, James,” she’d told him when he wondered aloud. Thrusting the empty plates in the sink, she’d turned to him before he could reply. “Let’s not talk about this anymore, ok?” And she’d opened the recently-closed bottle and poured herself another glass of wine.

But, honey. If we block out all his chances of making friends, he’ll never learn to socialise.

James wasn’t brave enough to voice his thoughts. Not when she was almost drowning her third drink.

Lisa wasn’t an alcoholic. But ever since they’d moved out here, she’d been growing increasingly insecure. She wouldn’t speak to the neighbours, even though they’d made countless efforts to be inclusive. At least she still had work to look forward to, James had assured himself. The only good thing about his sudden transfer was that Lisa’s company had a local branch as well.


“A black boy was running around with a gun—inside a school! I just saw in the news.”

Lisa took a deep breath trying to calm herself. She didn’t need her mother to remind her what she’d already seen and heard three hours ago. She never missed news like this.

“Mom, we’re in the Virgin Islands. That won’t happen here.” Not when over 70 percent of the people were black.

“But, dear, I was so scared,” trembled the voice from California. “I know it’s only for a year, and you’ll be back home soon. But I can’t sleep at night knowing what these people are capable of.”

“Mom. I gotta go. My boss is calling me right now. Talk later.”

Lisa hadn’t slept well since they’d moved from Pasadena a month ago. She didn’t need her mother blowing into an already raging fire.


“Harding?”

“Yes,” affirmed James.

“That’s right,” replied Lisa.

“I’m Estelle, the nurse at Markson Junior High. There’s been a small incident, and we’ve admitted your son at the Lifeline Childcare Hospital. Can you come right away, please?”

Lisa arrived panting and flustered, just as James was asking for directions. Estelle assured them all was well, and insisted they meet Dr. Peterson before seeing Rick. When they entered his room, the doctor was reading Agatha Christie.

A Marple mystery, classic. James would smile when he recalled the incident hours later.

Peterson offered them water and explained what had happened.

Two boys had gotten into a brawl in class and Rick had tried to intervene. In the action that followed, one small fist had shoved Rick and he’d fallen against a desk, bruising his arms. The other kid had raised the alarm and insisted on bringing him to the hospital in case Rick had hurt his head.

He hadn’t, the doctor assured the nervous couple.

Tears streamed down Lisa’s eyes. James was shaking.

“Was it a black kid?” Lisa spurt out at the doctor harshly. “The one who pushed my son?”

“Lisa—!” James wrapped an arm around her, trying to pacify her, shocked at the outburst.

The doctor was shocked too. After all, he hadn’t expected her to display such hatred. At least not when he was black himself.

But he remained calm. Retaliation made no sense in this case. Instead, he replied cooly, “In fact, no. The boy who saved your son is black, though.”

He picked up his book again. “Make of that what you will.” And continued reading.

The companion

In that town of men
there lived this boy
slim and pale
though worthy of Yale
he was nice to everyone
family though he had none
walked his dog all arvo
a black spaniel so bravo
came from a slaughterhouse
became more like a spouse
bounding eagerly through the town
bearing his name tag like a crown
such was the dog’s devotion
to the boy whose only motion
was to share his milk and cookie
in rearing though he was a rookie
knew that two packs on supermarket haul
was the secret to a life without a brawl
the talk of town they remained for long
the lovable guide dog and its blind boy

Tell me a story

“Oh, I thought you’d forgotten!”

“How can I, mom? I just got 20 per cent off of bread on Mother’s Day sale.”

My mother thought I’d forgotten about Mother’s Day because I didn’t wish her on Sunday. It came up when I mentioned it, with the flyaway tone it deserves, in a conversation two days later.

Every street corner has a flyer or a billboard reminding us about this celebratory day. Everywhere I look, there’re roses and pinkish red ribbons cajoling people to splurge, guilting them into buying things their mothers may never even enjoy.

But that’s just the tradition of Mother’s Day. Each year during this time, storefronts and in-stores promote maternity, maternal thankfulness, love, and forever gratitude.

What a story, huh?

Storytelling is now an unmistakeable chapter in marketing books. Almost every marketer I know understands its value, speaks about it, and in public forums vouches for it. But this “trend” came about only in the last three to five years. Before that, no one spoke as much about the great tactic that’s storytelling and its role in marketing and sales.

And yet, for years, we’ve been falling prey to some of the most wonderful storytelling the retail industry has ever divulged.

Yes, I’m saying Mother’s Day is a story. And a well-said one too.

In most of Asia, children live with their parents until they get married or go off to work in a different city. However, in most of the western world, children move out of their parents’ far sooner—sometimes as early as fifteen years. That is an excellent market for the Mother’s Day story. You know how it goes: the child takes one day off from their personal life to meet with their mother, praise her, thank her, and show her how much they love her. It’s the perfect story—with the right blend of care- and guilt-inducing narrative, the story can survive generations, as we see it has. The best part? As the Asian culture adapted to westernisation, more Asian children experience it too.

In a sense, the grand narrative of being there for your mother, at least one day of the year, has become such a relatable matter for so many of us that we give in to without second thoughts.

With today’s tech growth, we don’t need one day of the year to bond with our mother. Heck, I moved to Australia a month ago, and I still call my mom twice every day. I don’t always want to—when you’re talking to your mom that often, you run out of things to talk about much sooner than you’d imagine—but I still make time to call her. She would freak out otherwise, but it’s also a nice way to acknowledge her and what she means to me.

I’m not the only one either. A lot of people I know have regular interactions with their parents. But even they follow Mother’s Day ritual because it’s just so baked into our minds, and—gosh what would people think about them if they don’t?

That’s how compelling this story is. It’s so haunting that you can’t get away from it without going through with it. And like a vicious cycle, as people fuelled the tradition every year, we’ve ended up with a generation of mothers who’re accustomed to expecting the $100 wine bottle (which they know was on sale for $89.95) as proof of their children’s love.

As a marketer, I appreciate the mastery of the storytelling. But as a child, it just makes me a monster who’s so obsessed with work that she couldn’t even send her mother a card on Mother’s Day.

Oh, well.