Fiction / October 2018 (Issue 41: Writing Singapore)

The Venus Fly Trap

by Nerisa del Carmen Guevara

I. The Garden

In 1963, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew planted a Mempat tree (Cratoxylum formosum) at Farrer Circus. This was the beginning of the great plan to make a City within a Garden. After 50 years, in 2013, he planted a Rain Tree (Albizia saman) at Holland Park.

The first tree grew strong and lush, in the middle of a roundabout till road projects took over in 1971.

The last tree planted by Mr. Lee was the Sea Teak tree in Bukit Merah in 2014. In an article in Channel News Asia, this: Grassroots Leader for the Tanglin-Cairnhill GRC Anthony Teo, described the event: "It was a very great day. It was the first tree with electronic technology and Mr Lee Kuan Yew just pressed the button and the water just flowed over the trees."

My mother was a gardener. She filled up our home with exotic things. Bermuda grass. Golden dwarf coconuts. Rare Roses. African Violets. In the middle of a newly developed subdivision where all trees and grasses were pulled out for expansion and neatly staked to outline new lots, our house was cool in the shade of strong trees and well-hedged high walls, well out of sight from our neighbours whose Bermuda grass lawns were drying out in the summer sun.

She particularly loved Vandas. They were orchids that required so much care. Stiff green spines that grew turgid purple blooms. They were kept under nets by some, but Mother kept them net-less, firmly stapled on driftwood in the shadowy part of the backyard. They had no scent, but their large waxy petals jutted out with such incredible spotted imaginations that their view from a distance was enough for pleasure. My mother was like that, distant, and probably beautiful in her younger years. Warmth, she had none of that. Gardeners were believed to have cool hands, and so her hands were, and her demeanour too, very cool, almost like moss on the fern root orchid poles. Plants were there, all around us, keeping my mother and father from conversation, from me, from the life outside the walls of our house.

I was off to Singapore with Jane and Melissa, to try my luck along with the many copy editors on Tanjong Pagar. As I packed all my clothes into the tight cube of my parents' old luggage, I thought, finally. Finally.

Outside, Mother wasted her time in the dappled shade tracking muddy bedroom slippers over the floor with the maids following, quietly mopping up. Father sat smoking in the round adult swing by the gate, swinging by the Iba tree, pushing off higher and higher in this cylindrical steel seclusion for hours, without a word. The luggage made tracks on the soft garden earth away from everything familiar.


II. The Blackberry

A slip of a woman with a penchant for lime-green skirt suits, tapped the narrow face of her bracelet watch with her thin index finger every so lightly to make the point that I am late. She does this without even a glance up from her ornately carved wooden table. My smaller desk faced hers; the rejected manuscripts lie thickly on it like dead leaves. It is my job to send her regrets.

Every day we sit in this room with two large east facing windows typing away. Wooden floors waxed to the hilt. The sun streams in in large sheets cutting our seated figures at the hip. We look like we are barely there. Maybe we are.

I know nothing about her. She, likewise. We work, and so, we work well together. She sits in her pastels, like stiff fondant. I am in my usual stiffness of denim and polyester. I do my best to blend into brick. She talks to other fondant ladies and liquorice men. I take down appointments, notes, syllables, and swipe out by six.

The sun set gold at 7:09 pm on the busy street of Tanjong Pagar. The Blackberry was just a few steps over, through a narrow wooden stairway over a Cantonese KTV Bar. The walls were a cheap black paint that gave them the appearance of the cracked insides of a lacquer bowl. It was Pride, and the place was packed full with women. 

"You look beautiful, Amy," my ex-girlfriend said as we sat down to eat Japanese. But in a Goth way." 

I looked into her eyes and sighed, in a Goth way, and smiled. 

She laughed. Sadness in the eyes is hard to cure. Ice doesn't work, cool cucumbers, cold spoons, slick creams. Sadness seeps deep in the irises boring holes straight into the soul.

"I do miss being able to laugh"—I did laugh a lot for a while. Someone made me laugh online—I said, gently lifting a small piece of tuna into my mouth, chewing the taste of the deep ocean I so missed, imagining the deep blue currents. I missed being beside the ocean. I missed being with someone beside the ocean. I had broken off a tryst. I grabbed the glass of water in front of me and started gulping it down, suddenly thirsty. "But you have been busy, right? You have kept sane?" She flipped a heavy curl from her boyish head. She held my hand. It was still warm with love for me. She pressed into my palm gently. She did not take her hand away.

(I learned that when someone looked into your eyes, it might not be love. It might be nothing at all. When someone held your hand, it might be nothing at all. That teacher was numb. I learnt to be numb as well.) I held on to her grip. I took advantage of the warmth, the safety. I closed my eyes. It was good that we could talk. She had always been a dear friend. She always will be. The sadness in her eyes did not diminish her quirky good looks.

We were happy before together. We were sad together now.

"As much as a writer can, I guess," I said. (I wish that I couldn't write the way I wrote. I wish that I could have the day without images in my head. I wanted to tell her I didn't want to feel anymore. To write was to feel so constantly.)

"I have met new friends. I am learning new things. The new things are tough. The teachers may be clumsy and end up being cruel sometimes. Sometimes they are delightful." 

I thought of my dear photographer daddy butch, Dan, standing on the lounge chair like a captain sailing her ship over a wave of dancing lesbians. Hand perched over her eyes, looking around, observing everyone; she took all images in through those spectacles of hers. I sat down beside her in the prow of this scene taking all images in as well.

Daddy Dan said, before we entered the scene, "I am here to watch. You go look around." 

"But I am here to watch as well. Let us watch together." 

"No. No. No." She waved me away, pointing to the crowd. "Go." 

I remember walking around with my beer. Everything was dark with a few scintillating lights. The butches were handsome, standing proud beside their prettily seated femmes. Other femmes were standing in their heels, buxom, flipping their tousled hair. Other butches were hunting, pacing about like lions. Femmes were open to the hunt, moving languidly around. No one could move through the crowd without touching. No one could breathe without breathing into each other. It was all so soft. It was all so hard. I made my way through the softness. Through the hardness. Bumping into shoulders. Rubbing against denim, cotton, lace. I was looking. Taking everything in.

My dress felt thinner over my body. I felt almost naked in my boots.

I closed my eyes sometimes, when I danced closely with someone I was interested in as not to be overwhelmed. I was held close from time to time. I could smell her heady musk around her nape. I'd look at her grinning. Happy eyes looking into my sad ones. Happy eyes looking around and checking everyone out. I danced with friends I hadn't seen in a long time. Tried to talk to them over the music and failed and smiled glad to have seen them. I loved the crush of people filling the room. She had to hold me close when the wave of bodies got too close to us, and we had to stop dancing. I liked that.

I looked out of the window of the restaurant. Blackberry would not look the same to me again.

Pride was exhilarating. The flirtations fluttered, and were lovely. Our kind filled the street. I felt free. Today, the street seemed uncomfortably empty for me. The banners were gone. A few bits of coloured crepe paper flit by with the last coloured life they had. 


III. The Lily Pad

Imagine a pond in the middle of the Garden. Deep and dark during the nights when I am taken to it. The things in it in shadow. Only her skin and my skin illuminated. With or without moonlight, we shine, in sweat, without shame. We swim in our own juices.

That is my mind running away with me. I do not know what she is thinking. She might not be thinking of anything at all. I think a lot, and in fine detail.

She seems to be a hungry mythical creature. The minotaur released from the labyrinth lead out by a red thread tied to my naked heel. I am sweet meat. One does not need to think while gnawing the sinews off a bone.

Because this is just not sex, because in the morning breathing softly beside me, transformed, she is still mythical. She is a woman god, the hunter Artemis. I stare at her biceps heavy on her white goose down pillows, the plain of her back under Egyptian cotton sheets. The morning moves its light through the large sliding doors and illuminates first the bed, then the dark armoire, then the table she made herself, wooden steps of a staircase she fused together and set on steel legs with blueprints laid crisply down, then the small kitchen for one near the door. 

Early mornings, she knows what she wants. She knows what she doesn't want, to be touched there and there. The river of her, I will never drink from. What makes her like me will never be acknowledged unless I want to be chastised. Fine with me, I think, and stretch my sore satisfaction, rest on my belly and lie still.

This chase is primordial. Butch hunter and sweet prey. A call. An agreement. She figures out what to wear. Plaid polo or black round neck. Takes a sweet bath. Puts on her boxers freshly pressed, warm against her mound. I figure out what to wear, killer heels or innocent flats, frilly dress or skintight jeans. I take a sweet bath. The sexy large car drives up. She waits. I run up to the gate. I have chosen the frilly dress, innocence. I get in the car.

"Want to see my place?"


When I run my fingers on the hard shield of bone between her breasts and softly move my palm over the round of her, she pulls my hand away. Her hand wraps around my wrist, firmly, gently; she pulls my arm away, moves it in a small arc behind my back and pins me sweetly with her weight and fucks me hard.

I bite into the apple of her shoulder to stifle the pleasure. I prolong the falling into surrender. I jut my tongue into her mouth, into her hard smile. I cover her mouth with my kisses, straining ever forward refusing to lie still. The weight of her hips pushes down harder. I am sweetly torn apart. I fall into the pillows. She wins, this time.

Who watches whom more? Hunter or prey? She leaves me spent in bed. I pretend to be asleep. She rummages for her shirt in the sheets that swallowed us both whole. She pulls the cottony warmth over her head, and it snaps tightly around her lats. She flexes and stretches awake. She moves to her desk and works through her morning chores. The papers rustle in her strong hands that held me moments before. I close my eyes and imagine large snakes moving in the jungle. She moves loudly around the room she spends most of the time in by herself. I have disappeared from her attention. This pad of pleasure has seen many a pretty prey. I look around. In this soft padded haze, the bed is the largest thing, a soft mouth of an exotic flesh-eating flower. I am here, caught between large petals.

She saunters in her boxers. I watch her well-muscled rump and remember my legs resting on the hard plane of her glutes. I shiver and smile. I lie still.

More sounds. The loud swish of water on wine glasses. The clinking of plates.

Then the thick petal of a blanket is ripped off suddenly. My body feels the rush of a cold blue rainy morning. The soft hairs on my skin rise. Her hungry weight descends like a rolling storm. In the Garden, I run the distance of the grassy field in my mind. My body twitches, does not escape nor wants to.

I had slept over and arrived at home around five thirty in the afternoon. As soon as the door snapped its metal behind me, Mother's orders floated down for me from her room upstairs. Cook, she said. It was something I did on beef Fridays and, deep in my heart, I knew I needed to stew something badly. Smoothen the taste of the truth for her. (I gave myself permission to love. I have come home to tell.)

I began right away, still in the clothes I had worn the day before. My hair filled with intimate smells and little love knots. I began the riot of the marinade: Basi vinegar. Soy sauce. Meat to sit for a little less than six hours. I sliced the olives, the onions, the garlic, spooned the capers, uncanned the liver spread, sliced the red bell peppers, cleaned the potatoes. And set everything aside.

I took a bath, all steam and heat, and scrubbed away with an olive bar, smiling and scrubbing and sad, smiling and scrubbing and sad. This was to be my last day with my mother's love. It felt like death. The last supper. I would make it wonderful.

I hadn't been in a relationship with a woman in three years. I had taken that time to love my mother unconditionally, be loved by my mother, and listen to her dreams of babies and husbands. I believed with her in that single life where no one is gay or straight. I had let myself dream with her with honest hopes.

Tomorrow she will love me less. She will treat me with scorn. Three years of being a daughter will be lost to memory.

This meal will be good, special, keening, tilting between bliss and sadness.

She had decided to eat a little tonight, a saucerful, so that she could taste everything tomorrow, she said. I sat thoughtful. She sat at the head of the table, sat with a little rice warmed over and some left-over eggs and ampalaya. It was eight, after my bath, and in that strange hour I asked her to mix me coffee. (It was her ritual of love every morning. It was my daughter's right. She would not mix me coffee again.) She grumbled a bit about how it would keep me up for the night but made me a cup.

It was just a simple cup of instant coffee, but I could taste the eddying milk and sugar and coffee swirls like some great brown ocean of terrible sadness. I was a small daughter-boat swimming to a love on land never to see my mother's smile into my cup again.

At ten, with the meat resilient and intense, I began to sauté. Garlic and onions (Mother, love me.) Tomato sauce. (Mother, forgive me.) Added the liver spread, two tins. I stewed a prayer. The hope for understanding.

The meat was tender by twelve. (Mother was asleep, dreaming.) The potatoes tumbled into the pot with the peppers, capers and olives. I was to begin my descent from the rungs of motherly love as I climbed upstairs to sleep.

The next day, there was nothing left, not an oily gravy dripping. The lunch was deliciously sad.

I stayed out all night.

There would be no coffee in the morning.


IV. The Gecko

"Are you OK, Amy?" She gets up.


Are you sure? She picks up my red platform sandals from the floor and moves to the bed. I have to meet a contractor for lunch. She flips me on my back and pulls on my heel and straps on one heavy sandal and my leg drops to the side of the bed. She offers me a sip of the cold instant coffee she had been nursing since the early morning. Get dressed.

She slaps my rump hard. I had been naked since last night. It was nearly lunch.

I get up on one wobbly sandaled foot. She slaps my rump again. She lays herself down on her bed and watches me pick up my clothes that she had thrown on the coffee table the night before. She slides her leg up at an angle and places her wrist on the polished surface of her knee like an emperor. The tattooed gecko on her thigh stares out as dispassionately as she does. This coloured gecko she designed herself, kept on a piece of paper for two years before she decided to get the tattoo. Why she got the tattoo, I don't know. She never said.

I stood on one wobbly foot. She watches without any sign of pleasure. But my breath quickens in this rush. My clothes feel cold on my cold skin. She stands up and puts on her jeans, her belt and her shoes. She is already by the door. She opens the door. I strap on the other shoe. She pulls me with her to the hot noon outside.

How do I teach her how to love?

I sit in the salon waiting for my turn. There are many of us in different stages of longing:

Bright simmering girl. Waiting for lush locks to shake as she drops something, (a pencil, a sheet of paper), she dreams she will swoop down like a halo-ed angel and rise up to the face of the One.

Housewife with Pomeranian. I can smell the desperation on her perfectly perfumed and powdered face. The mistress is younger, does not need highlights. Does not need professional make up. Does not need bronzer on her forehead because the sun touches her everywhere especially where her husband takes her. Exclusive resorts where only he is the member not her. The Pomeranian's small tongue licks her manicured hand as she stares into the mirror but not into the mirror. She has the look of horror on her face. Nobody is there to nudge out the terror of being alone.

Hair spa, perhaps? I have come in tousled and tangled. Unbathed. Still sighing over the sex.

How do I teach her how to love me?

Her scent is not on my fingers. None of the after-sex sticky musk. I rest my fingers on my lips looking thoughtful as I flip through an old glossy magazine. I smell no salt pool at noon.  


V. The Panther

The way a butch stands against the wall like she's forever in high school makes me look.

My first love, when we were both in the Sixth Grade, sauntered around all slouchy in her uniform carrying a book by Edgar Allan Poe. She had one-length hair parting like curtains over her forehead. Strands would poke at her pouty lips, and I'd have a little glimpse of her tongue as she brushed the strands aside with her fingers. 

She was pretty when she was pretty. Lashes long, eyes deep set like Jesus looking up to God on gold embossed prayer cards. But she sauntered, shoulders hunched over like a panther making her shoulder blades flex and clavicles seem like barracks ready for war. 

She was handsome when she was handsome. Her voice was deeper than the rest of us. She was protective, intelligent. Her smile was more like a sneer, her head would nod slowly, her right hand would move up to her small chin, a sharp gleam in her eye. She was spectator, an observer; always on the outside of Hello Kitty stickers and Care Bear cartoons.

She never liked what we girls liked. She was mysterious to me. Quiet. Leaning against the wall when she waited at the corridors in her loose shirt and faded jeans and sneakers holding Edgar Allan Poe. Wished she were waiting for me.


VI. The Apple

I am the apple of my mother's eye. So much the apple that she shines and shines my bottom a ruddy red when I do wrong. That was when I was a child. Perish the poison thought that I'd be lesbian. But here I am.

I love my mother, and when she spanks me, she loves me and I always want to be loved. One day, playing in the back garden, sticking moth orchids into my small mud pies, I dropped a pie over my small foot, and it rolled its sticky mess over my summer dress. 


"What did you say?" 


She grabbed me by my small wrist and foisted me on her knee, pulling down my frills, exposing my small bottom in front of the fruiting Chico bushes. Not given to emotions, she surprised me by spanking me so hard, and in rapid succession. 

Fuck. That word in my head from the rough older girls in the school canteen who heard it said in a movie by a really cute boy. They said fuck all week, imitating his smile and swagger, pushing their faces into their pretty best friend's blushing cheeks, whispering, "Fuck me." They looked so different. Powerful. Flipping their hair like boys, slouching into a pounce. Jutting their pelvis out in a tough stance with arms in an arc, finger pointed yet crooked like a hook at the pretty best friend to come here. And she does, giggling. Three hard girls telling three soft girls to come here. "Fuck me." 


I love sitting on bare wooden seats. Smooth sanded wooden chairs. I place my bottom tensely on one when I work. Thin, filmy red skirt over hard wood. My bottom, appreciates this discomfort.

I never liked easy.

I remember walking out of the maze of rooms in a motel, slowly separating from her as she parted from me, at the lobby, blending into the crowd of market and churchgoers.

Before that, I was on the bed still naked under the sheets. She called to check out. Then a hollow male knock on the door. She walked to the anteroom to settle the bill. Comes back. Kisses me full on the mouth. Presses herself on top of me. Makes her last claim.

That was long ago. I do not remember what her name was.

I remember how dark it was. I could not see her. She did not want to be seen. I tried to touch her, and she held my hands down on the thin camphor smelling sheets. My clothes were peeled off by small hands. Petal by petal, I was shed. She never took her clothes off. I could feel the cold metal teeth of her zipper rub against my nakedness. That hard denim crotch. I could hear her moan. Sonorous, deep. I squealed in the darkness of this mystery. Scared and willing at the same time. I saw nothing. She was one with the darkness. 

The darkness grew hands and a stone butch body. She was languid and stiff in excruciatingly ecstatic waves. I couldn't see her face. She didn't want to be seen. She was pressed into the pillow, in her own pleasure. I was left to my pleasure staring at the dark ceiling, and in the dark, I felt free to moan, to feel all darkness inside me. Pure pain, and desire. 

"Fuck me."


VII. The Venus Fly Trap

"Very curly. Like a trap." Rica, the wax specialist in her pink scrubs, makes the talc snow over the forest of my pubes. She snips and snips till only a thick meadow remains.

"Brazilian or bikini?" 


"No landing strip, lightning bolt or initial?"

"All off."

I hold my breath and brace myself, and think this is what birth must feel like. The twelve oysters hanging heavily by their nacre lips on mermaid scales. Beauty.

The Cloud Forest at the Gardens by the Bay is a botanical dome covering a misty tower of shade plants and orchids from all over the world. It is a huge terrarium of eternal rainfall and mysterious mossy corners with the central heart of stalagmite and stalactite specimens from a crystal cave. At its peak is a cold pond. Thriving in the boggy, moist islands in the pond, Venus Fly Traps (Dionaea muscipula) with little green mouths and some with deeply red throats. Sunday and little children squealing and pointing at the clumps of Venus Fly Traps. Little children and their mothers. 

"Smile, Mommy." I make her stand beside the pond, make her raise her fingers in a peace sign like everyone else. I take a photo of her in a straw hat we bought at the souvenir shop. I had just brought her back with me, for a break, after Daddy's funeral in the Philippines. It was a quiet affair. He died in his sleep. He had spent the night swinging in the garden and just never came back inside to bed. We spent time going to the tourist spots. This was our last stop.

She leant over the railing and watched the smiling children reach for the nearest island with their small fingers, trying to provoke the Venus Fly Traps to open. "I had a best friend once." She said, out of the blue. "Her name was Nina. We were so close, but we knew it wasn't right. So we both decided not to be friends anymore. I married your father."

The Cloud Forest glass and steel enclosure was a favourite for the weekenders looking to escape the Singapore heat. We walked through the mist and took more photos. I posed in front of a cascade of orchids, lifted my fingers up in peace and smiled.

ImageNerisa del Carmen Guevara is a queer writer from the Philippines. She has received a Palanca Award for Poetry, a Silver Cup for Dance Solo in the April Spring Festival in Pyongyang, and a Catholic Mass Media Award. Guevara has an M.A. in English Studies from University of the Philippines, Diliman. She has performed at the 9th Philippine International Performance Art Festival and SIPA International Performance Art Festival 2017 and PERFORMATURA 2017. She is one of sixty featured Southeast Asian performance artists in the digital archives of Live Art Digital Agency, London.


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