Our Senses Do Not Perceive Certain Objects

by Elaine Chiew

A cylinder canister, wrapped in paper like a silver Christmas cracker, carroty top sparkling with ribbons and spangled stars, is lobbed through the cafe door, where it rolls and rolls, clinking, rattling and two people heading out the door with mugs of hot chocolate and café lattes hop over it like hurdling low-jumps, and the woman with the curly red hair holding the hot chocolate thinks what an unusual Christmas cracker and if she picks it up and asks her male companion to pull will it jitterbug in between their hands and deliver a paper crown and a pack of dwarf cards, and this same moment, an elderly lady with arthritis pushes her padded sofa back too vehemently and the leg of the sofa catches the cracker and sends it spiraling further into the dark bowels of the cafe, and three people standing in queue for their coffees, one with his Financial Times tucked under his arm to scan for stock prices, his worry spreading like a stain across his armpit, one with a bobbing Chihuahua in a shopping bag gazing out at the world of bustling morning and chilly breaths—oh, beloved little Manoloblahnikjimmychoo, and yet another pointing at the last almond croissant on the platter behind the display glass—one almond croissant won’t screw up the Atkins diet, see the rolling cracker, see but do not perceive, and the cracker rolls and rolls and makes a little tinkly sound as it skips over a crack in the tiles, and a man sitting with a bowler hat who had served in the Middle East, and lives in fear of rolling canisters, pauses in mid-speech, no cracker should make a sound like that, like metal, and his ear frightens his heart and his mind, so that in one instinctual movement, his ear hears his mouth shout, Duck, and his mind is unable to recognize that voice as his own, and his female friend sitting opposite him, with her witty repartee, says, Quack, but, before the cracker finally rolls to a stop underneath the coffee counter, where it explodes, their eyes catch those of the three standing in queue, and in that briefest of moments, the same words storm their minds, Iwillneverforgetyou.

Elaine P. Chiew currently lives in Hong Kong. Her short stories have won the Bridport Prize (2008), Camera Obscura’s Bridge-the-Gap competition, shortlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize, and been selected by Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web (2008), Wigleaf’s Top 50 Microfiction (2008), Storysouth’s Million Writer’s Award (Top Ten Winner, 2006) and the Per Contra Prize (Top Ten Winner, 2008), among others. Her stories have appeared in various journals such as Front Porch, killauthor, African Online, Pedestal, Hobart, Alimentum and Storyglossia. She has a short story collection and a novel currently out in submission.

From where did you get the idea for this story and its title? I actually wrote this a while back, when it seemed that ordinary objects like bags left unattended, bottles of liquid, and a child’s pair of scissors in carry-on luggage began to take on ominous portent, and everyday travel became a hassle became what we now live with. I wrote this piece in tandem with another piece about a British citizen held at Guantanamo Bay on slim suspicion of terrorist activities. There was a lot of anti-American sentiment in Britain over the Iraq war and over Guantanamo Bay, and I thought about how fear engenders disproportionate actions. I thought about where this fear sits, snugly in the gap or fulcrum between our senses and our perception, and how tenuous and intangible it is, but how very real.

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