By: Thu Huong Nguyen (Amber)

It is, at most, twelve at night. The heat got to her face after roaming through her entire body, leaving the pale shade of her skin a notch pinker. The sound of the commonly-busy street in front of her apartment has now become dead, as if it was engulfed by the midnight falling mercilessly onto her shoulders. Her eyes wandering endlessly, further than the sky bounding the limit of a lifetime. Without any expression – and with her back leaning against the wall on her bed, to the right of the balcony – she sighs as though the stars are bothering her, and she wants them to be gone. Music is softly playing through the speakers on the table to her left side – a lo-fi electronica song with the hint of a summer’s ending. The night is too luminous, inviting her to stay awake – as though to ease her ever-growing fear of a nonsensical, vivid end – to these hazy nights, and to something much larger than what she can bare.

Within the turning of the inevitable, it is – so she thought – the right time to reminisce the past few years of her life. With the floodlights all shining brightly, she would frequently hold her breath and count to twenty. The internal motion would, in turn, calm her racing heart just enough for her to start the solo she had been performing smoothly for over a year on that very same stage. An eleven-minute musical number starring a twenty-year-old beauty from England – a foreign land with a polished accent – captivated the audience more than it should have. Therefore, ‘the belle’ – as they adoringly, whilst making the word sounded so mediocre by the way they pronounced it, called her – got to herself three main performances in the unoriginal play of a princess falling for a tragic love story. Typical Broadway in the typical weekend nights, she lived a typical life of a trapped soul – not touchable nor savable, wandering around the same place: same house, same bars, same streets, and same restaurants, at the same time. A fixed mechanism of a rusting train running right on schedule every day – and it bored her to death from deep within.

Luckily – yet more ironically – time seems to stop for a while at this exact moment, as she thinks of her. A too-young-for-her-age and mediocre-looking woman of twenty-six. Not unlike the script she had acted out more than thirty times, she fell – this time sincerely – for the eyes abnormally dazzling. They met once in her usual café, not with their sights, but rather with their hearings. The word ‘belle’ came up as natural as ever from the tip of a native tongue startled her. She turned around only to be dazed by the hypnotising light reflected in those emerald orbs – complimented by the rays of golden sunlight that is much more than what her ‘life’ revolved around. Three full minutes passed in a blink of an eye, but neither of their eyes closed in front of the image of the other. ‘Belle’ – it sounded again, pulling her out of the warm and tingling sensation that was – at the time – much unusual for her. It wasn’t merely her name the pretty mouth was calling. It was her. She was calling out to her. A four-letter word was what the person spelt out, and that same word was what she heard. Though, every magnificent and exquisite things are known to be short-lived. This one was no different. It ended abruptly after five weeks of roaming through a different life together under the gaslights with a truck, the sight of overflowing garnet, and the sound of sirens. Leaning against the balcony one summer night, with everything familiar turning into illusory enemies, she held her breath again, wasting exactly fifty seconds before almost passing out.

So she went back to the inevitable. Where she is right now is where she is meant to be from the beginning. Waiting for sunrise to come follow, a tranquil moment before this calm and cleansing night ends. The mixing of emotions into a huge mess, interleaving with numbness was distant to her until now. She was herself, but no longer herself. Wasting a huge amount of time for something that she can never keep – she feels the urge to make up for all the work she has left unattended – the style of living that would constantly drive her mad. Not that she isn’t mad, now that everything has fallen back to their fixed places. ‘Now’ is just a more gentle, more subtle madness, sugar-coated with the sound of the old wooden clock ticking away every second. From behind the mask of this kind summer night, a hand will be reaching out to firmly place its grab around her neck. She won’t fight it, naturally. The strange acceptance to what needs to be done does not come from a friend; it comes from a foe. And whether or not the fear is real, nothing really matters in the end. With the internal struggle that is tearing her will apart, she quietly sits and observes the turning of time, while the soothing voice of fate whispers something bitter – yet inaudible – into her ears within nine seconds – before Belsomra kicks in.