The neighbours are at it again, Old Mr. Chow and his wife, feet in rubber gumboots, wading around what looks like gonna be a koi pond, creating a ring of grey coping stones around the edge. They’re doing it all wrong, not mortaring the stones to keep them stable. Last week, they installed the pond filter to create a cascading waterfall and messed that up too. I know something about maintaining koi in my day, and lemme tell you, you have to position the pond liner right up against the filter or over time, the pounding waterfall will collapse the pond.
Parked in front of my upstairs window, I watch them at it for hours. That Mrs. Chow gets tired easy, and Mr. Chow makes her sit down, takes off her boots, massages her feet. When she nags him, he laughs. Only reason I know their name’s Chow is because Sally, my daughter, works for the zoning commission and she says the Chows got permission for their pond cos of money contributions to the mayor’s campaign and now she bets they think they’re special. During the excavations, even their son turned up, snappily dressed and standing in the garden laying out plans with the pond contractor, his words floating up through my window, anything to honour the parental units, but there’s no irony in the tone. The boy just as gullible as the parental units, ready to get fleeced.
It’s dark now. The Chows have gone back inside. The pond is a disaster area. They’ve left all their equipment outside. If it rains, that’ll teach ‘em. I hear the key being inserted into the lock downstairs, Sally’s tread. The tap running. The fridge’s breath and hiss. Sally starting to prepare dinner. Her finally shouting up the stairs, Dad! Some days, I let her call more than once. Some days, even though I operate the stairlift just fine on my own, I wait to see if she’ll come up. But she never does.
Elaine Chiew is a fiction writer and visual arts researcher. She is a two-time winner of The Bridport Prize, amidst other prizes and shortlistings. Her debut short story collection, The Heartsick Diaspora, will be coming out with Myriad Editions (U.K.) and Penguin South East Asia. She is also the compiler and editor of Cooked Up: Food Fiction From Around the World (New Internationalist, 2015), and has had numerous stories in anthologies and journals. She also writes flash fiction (Best Small Fictions 2019, Wigleaf Top 50, Pushcart nominations). In October 2017, she was the Writer-in-Residence at Singapore’s premier School of the Arts. She received an M.A. in Asian Art Histories from Goldsmiths, University of London in 2017. In addition to writing freelance on Asian visual arts for magazines like ArtReview Asia, she also blogs about contemporary Asian writers at AsianBooksBlog and the visual arts on her blog, Invisible Flâneuse.