Ellie Ng explores the theme of ‘sense’ in a short prose piece.


The man is old. He is old and holding onto his last years, though sometimes he can’t quite figure out why exactly he’s trying to hold onto anything at all. The walls of his room are plain and unlively, they are marked by all those who have lived and died there before, and he is acutely aware of how much his wife would have hated their shade of unoffending, unenergetic blue. He doesn’t remember the nurse’s names, though he seems to feel himself brighten when the one with red hair comes in — maybe because the tray she brings always seems to have two hidden custard creams, though he only remembers this secret tradition of theirs after he discovers them under the soup bowl and after she is gone. His daughter visits when she can, but she’s busy and sometimes she walks in with his tray of food and he feels puzzled for the next hour as this nurse, unrecognisable out of uniform, sits and chats to him about small children and stressful jobs. There are days where he’ll lie in his bed and wonder what the point is. He’ll wonder at the up and down movement of his chest and the wind that sweeps through his lungs. He’ll wonder at the pills they make him take before sleep. He’ll wonder at the nurse who open his curtains in the morning because the stillness and darkness and tranquil oblivion of the night — the peace he feels — is the only thing he can make sense of. 

But on the third Sunday of every month he’s put in his rusty wheelchair and taken down three corridors, turning left, left, and then right, into a room with a glass ceiling, sun stained carpets, and lovely cream sofas that remind him of a house on a street that he can picture in glorious clarity — every new detail that fills his mind simultaneously fills his heart with warm blood and his chest with ache as memories of a young girl on his knee and a beautiful woman on the cream sofa next to him flood his soul. But the slow gathering storm in his lungs calms when he hears the first notes of the piano. He turns his head, and the young girl on his knee is at the majestic forte – except she’s grown taller and older, she has all her teeth when she smiles, and her fingers move with exuberant grace across the ivory keys. He closes his eyes and every sound is sweet as the melody swirls around him like a halo. The notes sew themselves onto the folds of his skin and dance through his veins until his mind is full of quavers, semiquavers, trebles, and breves which seem to heal him from the inside out. Suddenly he sees a man at a different piano, in that house on that street in the room with the cream sofas. The old man’s fingers start to move across the cold, polished bones of this ghostly piano he imagines and the notes he hears now are his own, the music born of him. 

In this he finds a new oblivion, a sweeter one that becomes a haven to find himself in instead of an abyss in which he grows lost. As this small, sweet infinity closes and as the music stops the man opens his eyes to the soft sound of clapping and takes the hand of the woman as she kisses his cheek and sinks into the sofa next to him. He looks at her eyes which are her mother’s and feels the recognition within his own. He pats her hand and asks about small children and stressful jobs and tells her he’s glad she found time to visit her old man. She laughs a laugh which is his and he one which is hers and a gratitude, one for the up and down movement of his chest and the wind that sweeps through his lungs, envelops him as the rare moment of shining lucidity makes life make sense. 

Ellie is a second year student from Hong Kong studying English Literature with hopes n’ dreams to have a career involving creative writing in the future. Inspired by the five senses, particularly hearing, she uses music and the image of the piano to explore the theme of ‘sense’.

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