The line is the same distance away. The sun sets for the 2539th time since his journey began. The water is still the same shade of blue its always been. The water dripping from his eyes onto his cheeks identical to the water in the sea. The waves still make the same sound as they make contact with the hull of his boat. His heart still bears the weight of those he left behind. 

     The christmas-red boot warned a woman in her late 30’s that if she didn’t take her hand out immediately, her fore and ring fingers are going to be in immediate mortal peril. 

     Eddraine jerked her hand away just in time before the lid of the car mercilessly slammed down. She rubbed her fingers while mist curled around her mouth, glancing annoyedly at the boot.

     “Mom, let’s go!” 

     A boy no older than nine popped up, waving his hands towards the bustling entrance of the supermarket. The store was extremely crowded. 

     The tips of Eddraine’s lips twitched. 

     “I swear to god, Rony, if you buy 16 packets of candy like you did last time, I’m going to take away your power to shop for sweets. You hear me?” She waved her fingers threateningly as she stalked towards him. Crescent-moons glittered in the back of her eyes as she looked at her son. 

     Rony beamed, revealing two missing teeth in the front.  

     “I’wull try.” 

     He grabbed her hand and nudged her towards the door. She huffed an exasperated laugh, but allowed him to pull her into the swarming sea of bodies. 

      As they slowly wheeled their cart, winding their way through the crowd, a sudden glint of light caught Eddraine’s attention. Even from a distance, Eddraine could see that this sweet packet was different. 

     The packet wasn’t very appealing at all -- it was dull, vintage yellow, and even had green and red patterns of bathroom tiles printed on it. The candy inside was even worse -- it was a squishy inky black thing thickly powdered with a layer of sugar. But the sugar fortuitously managed to melt into slimy-sticky glue even in the middle of a freezing winter, plastering the candy together like one big bunch of mangled bubble gum. It stood out so much like a sore thumb that people subconsciously gave it a wide berth; making it the only full shelf in the entire store. Pieces of labels and plastic hung out everywhere. The rack looked like it was about to burst onto the next person walking by. 

     Eddraine’s brows furrowed. She had seen it somewhere before, somewhere old and buried in the corpses of past memories. 

     Something nagged at the back of her mind, like it was silently whispering the answer to her, but she couldn’t hear the sounds. 

     She turned back to look at Rony, who was weighing sugar tapes in one hand and pop tarts in the other. 

     “Just get both,” she said, distracted, then dragged Rony towards the direction of that sweet. 

     She knew this sweet. 

     It used to be her favorite; the favorite of many households before, but it did not make sense: how could it still be here after all these years? 

     It has to have been at least three decades already. 

     Her hands reached forward with a slight tremble and caressed the profile of the packet. 

     Despite the denial building up in Eddraine’s chest, she was correct. This was the exact same candy with the wrapping packet just a little different in colour that Eddraine’s mother would buy her every Christmas. 

      A small christmas tree blinking with bright, colourful lights would stand in the middle of a small, red rug. The dim room lit only by the tree would wash the entire house with a warm bronze. The smell of roasted herbs and chicken would float across the living room, its rich fragrance filled the air with tenderness. 

      Here, Eddraine’s mother would laugh heartily as she handed her daughter a packet wrapped in pretty paper. Little Edraine would giggle and unwrap the packet in glee. She tore the plastic off and reached for one ritualistic gummy. A wave of sweetness would sweep through Eddraine’s mouth like fireworks exploding as she bites into the beloved chewiness. 

     Her mother would watch from the side, gentleness overflowing in the hidden lines of her face. She soundlessly caressed the child’s head. 

     Love was a blanket that covered the pair of mother and daughter, shining especially bright that night. 

     Standing in the store, Eddraine relived these memories never so vividly before. 

     The kind face of a mother gazing down at her child overlapped with that of a wrinkled face. A pair of honeyed eyes that used to twinkle now dissolved into blurred pupils. Cherry-blossom lips that bloomed in a beautiful smile now thinned with wrinkles and old age. 

     A deep, indescribable throbbing welled up in Eddraine’s heart. 

     It has suddenly become so hard to breathe. 

     The ache for the woman that would return home as quietly as she can under the darkened sky because she didn’t want to wake her daughter; Where was she now? The ache for the woman that would travel to a convenience shop at midnight to buy a packet of candy even when the price was too expensive for her to afford; Where did she go? 

      She ached, so much, for the same woman that slept in a blue bed, translucent strings attached to her shriveled palm, supplying nutrients from food that she has forgotten how to eat, and would wake up every time Eddraine sat beside her bed, cradling her hand, and ask:

      ‘Have I seen you somewhere before?’

In that moment, the sadness that Eddraine had kept to herself during those solitary visits came crashing down in stifling pain, the overlapping memories sharpening that invisible knife that carved out her skin piece by piece.  

      She didn’t know long she stood there, but she resurfaced into reality when her son shook her shirt frenziedly. He was on the verge of tears and looked frightened. 

     “Mom! Mom! Your hand, bleeding!” 

     Eddraine numbly looked back at her still-outreached hand. 

     Only then did she realize that she had balled up her fists at some time which was now dripping a little red from the cut of her nails. The curved wound looked especially menacing in the store light. 

     She should pull herself together for her son. 

     Yes. Yes. She forced herself to breathe in. 

     “We should go back! Ask dad to treat it!” Rony cried out, abandoning his sweets. 

     With a twist, Eddraine decisively grabbed a pack of the black candy, gripping the packet firmly in her hands and walked out with her son without another word. 

     Behind, hundreds of tired eyes on the lonely rack stuffed full with candies smiled gently as they followed the backs of two disappearing figures fading away into the distance.

a thousand shades of red

BY melvina cheong