Jill Chan


I was born deaf. For me, the whole world is a silent movie. All my experiences are bright and inventive. A shadow is a mystery beyond all else. Touching someone's hand is a deep erotic expression. Kissing is as intense as eating.

When I was a child, I was so lonely in my world of silence, of deadness, of attenuated discussions in my mind. There was no relation like sound, they tell me.

That's why I turned to writing. I talk with the words I write sometimes. This may sound strange. Maybe I should say: I consider the words I write as a method of thinking through, as conversation, as fantasy, as delight, as suspense, as terrible instances as intense as danger or love.

It is indeed lonely.

I began to think of the things I am missing: Music—They say music is like a waterfall of sound, luscious, magical sounds. Poetry—like a cavalcade of horses trotting, or something even beauty couldn't capture. Nature—little nervous sounds; big rushes; slow, importune moments; striking levelling sounds; rustles and chirping.

Last night, I walked under the sky. The moon was full and aching. The night revelling in silence. I suddenly felt something like an accident hit me. There is much beauty in my life—beauty that not many could experience. A pure silence that stretches my soul in increments.

It's a different experience.

I blame myself sometimes. I'd think that God must be punishing me. God who is all good, all knowing, all present.

Is any part of me accepting this sad silence?

The little hope in me answers in the silence like a light, a star. I stretch out both my arms and turn and face myself.


I cut myself while chopping vegetables this morning. I didn't even feel any pain. Nor was there blood. After two minutes, the wound closed up by itself.

Now that we're in heaven, it seems fair that we couldn't get hurt. We couldn't even die anymore.

Not that I want to die.

I've been living by myself for two months. I thought that I'd be lonely. On the contrary, I relish the alone times.

I could go walking any time I want. I could read any time I want. Eat anything I want. Ring up anyone any time I want.

One person has more freedom than two. That's what I thought before. That's what I think now.

It's not loneliness I'm afraid of. It's how I would be happy to be alone too much.

Cutting myself chopping vegetables is just the beginning. To be honest, I wanted to show someone, to tell someone who cared about how clumsy I was chopping vegetables.

Of course, I have friends. But it's different if there's a lover in the house. A man in the house.

After breakfast, I sat down on the couch and looked at the aquarium. The three goldfishes are swimming happily (I imagine), with eyes looking like they're filled with seeing. The angelfish seems lonely being the only fish of its kind there. The carps are wiggling their bodies and opening and closing their mouths.

Do they care that they're there in the aquarium? Do they mind that they're kind of caught and have no freedom? But they beautify the living room. They are cared for.

Every morning, I go to look at the fishes feeling so happy that they're there.

Sometimes we look at each other (I imagine) and smile. Do fishes smile? Maybe they talk in some otherworldly voice we can't hear. Something like sonar.

Maybe they shout. Maybe they cry when they're happy. And laugh when they're sad.

I just feel sad that they're alone in there. I want to hug them if I could.

Someone rang me today. A friend of a friend. We talked for fifteen minutes.

I don't know. But I'm used to it. Used to being alone. I don't want the water suddenly barging in, drowning me in my own home.

How readily I keep to myself and breathe.


A friend said to me, ”Why don't you write about me and my husband, our love story?”

I told her that it's not how I write.

I usually start from the beginning, whatever that beginning is.

Her story must begin somewhere. But usually, life goes on in different strains and dimensions. Not unlike a story. But a story is simplified and exaggerated.

I didn't want to interview her because I'd love to write from the start and end somewhere where sadness unsettles, where joy settles.

A life doesn't start at being born. It doesn't start at being loved. Where does it end? There's only a pause, then another, then another. Never the end. Never an ending.

So my friend's story remains unwritten. But it has already been relayed and unwritten so many times in all of love. In all of a story.

This Morning

I cut myself shaving this morning. I'm not sure if it was an accident. These days I sleep through everything awful and beautiful. Big and small things.

My bed is hard. My back aches. I've been in this prison for five years. I killed my children in a fit of anger. My wife slept with my best friend. I just exploded.

It's easy to take life for granted in prison.

Each day seems the same. I'll never leave this prison. My plan is to kill myself on my birthday. Is that a good plan? It's twenty days from now. I counted. Each minute that passes by is dead to me.

When I cut myself this morning, one thing kept me alive: the sound of drops of water falling into the tin cup in the sink. The sound was beautiful, poignant. It woke me. It tore me apart. I stopped to listen to this drip-drop sound and fell in love with its music. It's like my heart was outside me.

It was not quite so dead. There were variations but mechanical in some ways, too. If I died, I couldn't listen or hear anything like that again.

It's funny what things we notice when we're dead. Or maybe God was saying something to me. Maybe He's saying it still every time I listen to the water drops fall and fall and fall...

Jill Chan is working on her forthcoming collections, Alone and Other Flash Fiction, and Silence, a book of poetry. Her work has been published in Poetry New Zealand, Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction, Takahe, JAAM, Snorkel, Otoliths, Broadsheet, Brief, and many other magazines. She is the author of nine books.
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