Fiction, Jia-An Lee, Malaysia

THE PENDULUM SWINGS EAST by Jia-An Lee

I replay fragments of the last conversation between our two quiet hearts, across the space of ten lifetimes, over the telephone on this blood-red night:  

“Two thousand nine hundred miles is a distance I’m unable to comprehend. It’s the kind of distance that makes me feel like walking through a kaleidoscope of shapes and colors and like I’m always breathing a little below the surface of the ocean’s salt waters.”  

“The moon is about two hundred and forty thousand miles away from where we stand. Does it matter?”  

“I don’t know if it does and I don’t know what drives this long, ageless search. Maybe that’s why I’m always anxious about the other side.”  

“If you look under the soles of your feet once in awhile, you’ll understand the distance that you’ve travelled  and why you’ve been brought here.”  

“The other side of the door, the wall, the tunnel, the ocean, the moon, myself, and the paper.”  

“The sun is crawling over my horizon now and solar rays are breaking through the windows. The sun makes me believe that nothing could possibly exist on the other side when this place is so full of light.”  

I turn our conversation over and over in my head until I can no longer remember the sound of your voice. The telephone in the living room stopped ringing two years ago. Only the pendulum persists with its steady swing from east to west.  

The glaring problem between us is the pendulum.  

The pendulum is a permanent occupant of the empty second floor bedroom. In this room there is a single window that overlooks the 1900 hour setting sun and, a few feet before this window, is where the pendulum stands. When the sun sets, her burning rays cast a silent spell over the swinging pendulum and the empty bedroom. The silent spell carries with it everything that you want to say to me, but cannot, because the atoms and matters that fill the space between us are too vast and numerous. 

I replay our last conversation tonight because the pendulum, swinging east, transmits your thoughts to me again. With my left ear pressed to the floorboards, where I can best hear through the pendulum, you say:  

I think of you again because the tides from the ocean pushed a Triton’s trumpet shell to my feet, soaked in salt water. I pick up the shell and know that someone wants me to know you’re still somewhere out there, calling for me and always listening out for me.  

(the pendulum swings west and returns east again) Over on the other side maybe?  

I stare at the hypnotic swing of the pendulum and wonder about the anonymous figure who put the first swing into motion lightyears ago. The pendulum is the glaring problem between us because it maintains the balance in the distance between us. Your voice, travelling to me from an unknown place to the sunlight and then, the pendulum (swinging east!), takes me to an edge I cannot see. At this edge, I want to use all the force in these hands to stop the motion of the pendulum and to destroy the gravity that pulls it from east to west to east to west ad infinitum.  

But I never do because I’m always waiting for the sound of your voice.  

One day, you’ll ask me why I’m not where you are and I’ll be afraid of telling you the truth. 

The truth is a multifaceted hall of mirrors because the truth is:  

. . . that whenever a thunderstorm bursts through the sky, I think of all the missing objects in the world that are trapped under forgotten and flooded basements.  

. . . that I can never understand why there are people who don’t look twice before crossing a road. 

. . . that we’re confronted almost daily with yet another reason why the center escapes us.  

. . . that I’ve been digging a hole in the backyard for the past six months, waiting for a buried explanation to turn up again.  

. . . that you once spent an exorbitant amount of time dreaming of Saturn’s ring and wanting to run across it towards a sunrise you’ve never encountered on this earth before.  

The truth is that I’ve lost the exit again, disappeared into a language that shows me only the places where you were, but never where you are. 

It’s been weeks now since the night sky’s last appearance, so today I sit in the backyard by myself, watching and waiting for the 1900 hour sunset to sink below the horizon.  

The sun crawls further down . . . down . . . down . . . until the sky is bathed in a melancholy black-blue. Then I run.  

I run and I don’t stop till I’m on the second floor bedroom, with my left ear pressed against the floorboards. I wait amidst the silence and feel a slight tug at the rope circled round my right ankle. Something must be happening tonight.  

(the pendulum swings east) A red barbet flying low yesterday fell into a shallow puddle of water by the road. I watched it struggle momentarily, wings hitting and beating the air, before flying off into the sky again. But before she disappeared, the red barbet whispered a secret to me. She said, trapped again. Somebody is trapped. I’m telling you that somebody is trapped.  

I lie still and the rope circling my right ankle starts to feel too heavy. It feels heavy with all the secrets and truths that I could never tell you. Like, how the rope begins at the base of the pendulum, reaching outwards till it twines itself round and round this ankle. Like, how my entire world is the sound of your voice finding me from the other end of the world. Like, how everything I’ve known for the past two years can be measured by the rope-length distance between the pendulum on the second floor bedroom and my own two feet. Like, how I’m not where you are because I am trapped by everything that I know.  

The red barbet struggled and I wished so desperately. I wish we were both braver, I wish we were both opening a box full of magic, I wish we were both crossing a road towards each other at the same time and I wish we were both looking at the same moon every time that we cried. I wish _  

I peel myself off the floor and sit up straight. Why are you making wishes so fervently now? Nobody hears your wishes except the pendulum, the sun, and myself. 

The night looks at my face from the open window and I return her stare. I search for the moon that you said is two hundred and forty thousand miles away from where we stand, but nothing enters my gaze. I stare so hard till I’m no longer sitting in my own body, till I’m no longer breathing, till my blood stops traveling from vein to vein to vein.  

A tug.  

I push myself back onto the floorboard and wait for the pendulum to move east. 

_rusted by now. I can still feel it living there sometimes, but maybe one day_  

The night is winking conspiratorially at me now. I blink twice slowly. Blink . . . blink . . . After all, I’m left speechless by what you know. How could you know, when you’ve been leaping through countless space and time and when you’re so far away?  

Because this is the other truth left unspoken: a rope of incalculable length binds me to the pendulum but there is a knife, rusted and untouched, hidden beneath the floorboards of the second floor bedroom.



Jia-An is from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and an MA Authorial Illustration graduate from Falmouth University with a background in literature. She is likely to be found weaving dream-tales because of her fascination with cyclical narratives, the eerie writings of Silvina Ocampo and the way that broken mirrors have of inspiring tales.