The Dreamer's Dictionary

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Melanie Wong


The Dreamer’s Dictionary is a brief foray into the

minds of dreamers – the things we see and feel and hope for and don’t know how to process. From the perspective of multiple individuals, take a peek at their thoughts and their little corners of the world.

A written collection by Melanie Wong Designed by Elby Chai

The Dreamer’s Dictionary










































107 U







124 Y




The Dreamer’s Dictionary

Aa abashed (adj.) Thank you for coming, you say, and clear your

throat. Public speaking is not your friend, but it must become an ally in moments like these. This project has been very close to my heart. Your support means everything.

When they clap and you finish and smile and your shoulders settle back into their comfort zone, you wonder if this is what purpose and accomplishment and ambition feel like. You wonder how it is so unending for others when it only trickles in on good days for you, when the sun hits right, when the harmonies taste like bliss on your tongue. Maybe this is why your parents told you to choose a more stable job, something steady, not the ebb and flow of your thoughts on paper.

Thank you for coming



absent (adj.) Some days are better than others. Some days, you speak and laugh and whine, you walk home, and you feel grounded. You lift the pencil and you bleed colours. Other days, you make a mockery of existence. Each step wills you closer to being unmade, coming undone, unravelled and spun into something that is you, but not quite. In the quiet spaces between the night and dawn, you breathe and stitch yourself back together.

Melanie Wong

abyss (n.) Your train takes 45 minutes to get to Central. 45 minutes of the 2020 American election debates, of tense

standoffs between countries and lifestyles and beliefs, of suffering and burning, of he says, she says. You close the app. When you gazed into the abyss, did the abyss gaze back?


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

assess (v.) Walker assesses… Walker examines… Walker engages with – You pause to eat an M&M. Engage with. Two words. Anything to bring the word count up.

Walker engages with the concept of ‘Svayambh’…

accumulation (n.) It starts like a wave. Small, at first. You walk through the tunnel with your headphones in, as usual, but the rain is loud overhead and the voices echoing off the tunnel walls ring in your ears. Each breath feels tight, stolen, but you reach the end of the tunnel and breathe, feeling the crawling across your shoulders recede to be replaced by the bitter tang of irritation on your tongue. It counts, you insist, a muted anger simmering at yourself that you cannot dismiss. It’s the small victories.

acquiesce (v.) You train yourself in front of a mirror, feeling stupid. “No.” “No, thank you,” you rectify, feeling vaguely insulting. Sell yourself, your tutors always say. No client will invest in your work out of the goodness of their hearts. Being a pushover, you muse, is an integral part of your identity. “No,” you repeat, stubborn.



addendum (n.) “It’s fine,” your friend insists, gesturing broadly at your piece. “Better than fine. Stop worrying.” I can’t, you don’t say. “I could still fix this bit.” “Why?” But it falls on deaf ears. You open the program again and listen to the bridge.

“Your tutor won’t care if this one section is a donut when the entire

“I care,” you answer waspishly, snatching the headphones back. “Go, go, get out of here. It’s late. I have four hours to fix this.” She leaves, rolling her eyes, but not before dropping a choc-chip muffin in your lap. You fix the hole, then add an extra bit. It’s not perfect, but it’s as close to perfect as you’ll get.

Melanie Wong

“There’s a hole in it,” you muse. “Something’s missing. Here.” She squints, then grabs the headphones.

piece is a three-tiered wedding cake,” she scoffs. You wince.

almost (adv.) There is an old Greek myth about a man named Tantalus, who

adulthood (n.) Growing up is all fun and games until you realise that being an adult is just saying, “We should meet up!” until you die.

was so vile and disrespectful to the gods that he was sentenced to the Fields of Punishment in the afterlife, to be surrounded by water and standing beneath a fruit tree, unable to eat or drink for eternity. You were Tantalus (reaching, reaching) and she was your forbidden fruit.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

ardent (adj.) “I love you, most ardently,” Mr Darcy says. Keira Knightly looks fucking exquisite. The rain is all you can hear.

This, you think, is what it must be like – to feel a growing sense of something beautiful from watching a story that someone has chosen to tell. You trace the dips and lines as the dawn light falls like a shroud across the landscape, the English countryside a dimly lit stage for the shadow of two lovers. A moment; a liminal space, captured in film, that remains untouched.



hey thanks for today you really made my day

awhile (adv.)

There is something infuriating

For all your certainties in how you

about trying to find a word and being unable to that cannot match any other sense of frustration known to mankind. You ponder and wonder and wander through the shelves in your mind, plucking out words as quickly as you discard them. It may come to you mid-conversation; it may come to you in a dream; it may not come to you at all. So you sit mulishly and type “___” before continuing your thought.

Melanie Wong

arduous (adj.)

feel about him and the motions and how quickly you knew them, it takes an absurdly long amount of time for you to finally lean over and kiss him.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

Bb Bacchus (n.) Sometimes, you think the Ancient Greeks might have been onto something. The female followers of the Greek god Dionysus, of Bacchus, were called the maenads. They were also called mad women because they had crazy, drunk, dance parties full of debauchery to worship their god and also may have killed people and animals while they were doing that. They sound fucking awesome and kind of terrifying. You look around at the festival from your position behind the bar. Someone is double parked with double blacks while his friend stamps on empty cans. A girl is swaying on someone’s shoulders. You think that this may be a modern-day Bacchanalia. Bacchus would be proud.



backspace (n.) hey thanks for today you really made my day

Melanie Wong


I love I love y I lo it’s ok! :) anytime



The Dreamer’s Dictionary

bastard (n.) Everyone talks about shower thoughts as if they are great,

philosophical truths, reinvented from the days of Aristotle, but as the steam curls around you, all you can reinvent is your words to that racist asshole on the footpath.

I would try to see things from your perspective, you say to Racist Asshole. But I don’t think I could actually stick my head that far up your ass. It’s a real shame that you’re taking up so much space and resources because there are plenty of people who would actually be using them to make the world less like the dystopic novel of your dreams. You are a racist piece of scum whose only achievement in life has been to parrot the narrow-minded arrogance of Australian politicians during the White Australia Policy. You pause. Too wordy.

beg (v.) Please,you say, give me a chance. We can make it work, you don’t say. I love you, you don’t say. I’m sorry, you don’t say. You wish you could do more than plead and grovel and cry. The room is quiet. You can barely hear the hum of the refrigerator in the corner. In the corridor outside, someone closes the door to their apartment.

“I’m sorry”, he says, and it feels like the end of a roller coaster, predictable but still so unexpected, jarring and sudden as it steals the breath from your lungs.


You look him in the eye and he finally meets you as you are. “Me too.”

beguile (v.)


Muses are wonderful things,you think. The poets and artists of old

knew what they were doing when they latched onto a face, or hands, or temptation embodied in dark eyes, and created symphonies and statues and epic poetry. Sometimes, you hate to be that predictable. You live and write and live and write but when the day is over and you run out of lives, you go to her and trace the edges of her outline and breathe her to life, all ink and paper and living touch.

Melanie Wong

better (adj. and adv.) “Hey,” he greets, concerned, caring. It makes your skin crawl.

“You look good today. Are you feeling better?”

Better is a funny word. You look at your best friend, all encouraging

smiles and good intentions, and think of the night spent lying on your bed, apathetic, unwilling and unable to move for anything. You think about the exhaustion lining your bones and the sleepless face of the moon at 2am. You think about the same playlists on repeat, an endless harmony to the sound of your own breathing.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

beware (v.) “It’s been awhile,” everyone says. “How have you been?” “Good,” you say, then amend. “Busy.” “I heard you got a new job!” “Aren’t you already interning?” “You’re not still at the café, are you?” You nod and smile and hope they don’t keep asking you because it becomes genuinely hard not to just list everything on your resume and be done with it. It’s productive, you want to say. It’s better than staying home and lying on your bed all day. You can’t remember when this became a networking event, but everyone in the industry is like this, you suppose. This is not news. One of your friends raises an eyebrow. “Don’t take too much stuff on. You’ll burnout.” The big ‘B’ word that marks the death of your career, you know. But from the ashes of the flames rises the phoenix too, and you’ve never been particularly fond of self-preservation.

block (n. and v.) You sit at your desk, a cup of tea cooling beside you. You sit on the

lawn, looking, watching, waiting. You sit in the café, listening, the sound of radio pop fading in and out of your consciousness, pieces of conversation falling on your ears, unbidden.


Your page is blank, and your mind is quiet.


breathing (v.)

broken (adj.)

You inhale.

It was the slip of your fingers, a moment when you were jarred from a daze back into the now.

C# minor. C# augmented. Your fingers brush against each white and black key, teasing a melody into existence. G# minor. F# major.

The pedal feels heavy under your foot, an incessant beat that follows a second slower, a moment after your fingers.

It’s stupid. So, so stupid, but you look at the mug on the floor and the teabag spilled across the tiles and start bawling. What is it about Tuesdays, you think, when you’re sweeping up the ceramic remains and depositing them into the bin, that feels extra awful? Maybe it was the trackworks. Or the expensive coffee you treated yourself to that actually tasted like ass. Or the guy who was manspreading all over the bloody bus seat even in peak hour.

Melanie Wong

You sit at the piano and play into the quiet and let the notes find what they cannot find in your words, in your voice, even late at night when everyone else in the world is asleep.

When you look down, the mug is cracked.

You don’t know, but you sit at your dining table for a long while after.

You exhale and are heard.

burn (n. and v.) He touches you and you can do nothing but burn.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

canvas (n.)


For someone so pale, you find a surprising number of freckles scattered like stars across his skin, decorating the bridge of his nose, his fingers, the smooth, unmarred skin on the inside of his arms.

You chart the map of his body with your brush and your pencils and imagine that with each moment stolen for you, for your eyes only, colours would adorn his skin, gently pressed into existence like flowers on a page. It is fast and it is sudden; you know all of this, he knows all of this, but you close your eyes and jump anyway because sometimes it is worth it all, despite the ending.



catalyst (n.)

All it takes is words, and you unravel at each other’s fingertips. Not a touch, or a look, but the words inside your head.

The sign is gone.

Melanie Wong

catharsis (n.)

You walk forward, your shoes slipping on the loose stones and leaves as the path slopes downward, towards wild bush. ‘Trail close – fire danger’ had stood in the middle of the track a week ago, two weeks ago, two months ago, a scarecrow surrounded by smoke. Now, the path stands clear, open, tinged with black, charcoal lumps, the last burnt embers hissing as the rain hit them. You breathe in clean, smooth air, and pick your way carefully through the trees.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

Chernobyl (n.) You watch the miniseries on the plane,

between episodes of fear and panic and the disaster hits. Your best friend looks up from over your shoulder.

“It’s all grown back now,” she comments. it was empty until it was overgrown.”

cease (v.) “2020 is gonna be a good year,”

When you land, you google ‘Chernobyl’ and amounts of photos and links. The environ the ghost towns of Pripyat and Chernobyl frogs and moose running wild through the untouched by human activity.

your friend had insisted, all optimi- You look at the rusted, abandoned ferris sm and smiles and determination. vines curling around the seats, adornments He was wearing a shirt with colour letter that the old inhabitants of Pripyat will on it, for probably the first time since you’d met a year ago. “I’m There are plagues of locusts and plagues of gonna make 2020 my bitch.” humans were the plague also?).

You have long since avoided the new year’s habit of saying ‘this will be a good year’ based on the fact that it rarely ever turns out that way and you only ever seem to realise this in retrospect. The fires have burnt themselves out and the droughts have been appeased but the death toll rises in its thousands and you wonder if this will be a good year for anybody.


“Fucking year of the rat,” your dad grumbles. “Year of the rat is always bad fortune. Every time. First global financial crisis, now virus and recession.” You are the least superstitious person ever, yet you cannot help but agree. Fucking year of the rat.


cold (adj.) It’s 19 degrees today. You pack your bag for uni. dozing on and off not-knowing before the her sketch and peers “After the humans left,

wheel and imagine the from the earth; a love never read. pestilence (but maybe

When you walk onto the train, bundled in a jumper and jeans, you feel a bit stupid, surrounded by people still wearing t-shirts and tank tops. You surreptitiously roll your sleeves up, then regret it when the aircon blasts directly onto your head. You unroll your sleeves. Sue me, you think.

Melanie Wong

are surprised by the -ment has changed in but there are bison and towns and forests,

Drink bottle. Snack. Laptop. Charger. Second snack. Umbrella. Jumper.

When you finally get to Central and walk to class, you see three people wearing parkas and feel better about yourself.



You don’t think you ever saw her crack.

You watched as she moved out of home, as she lost her job, as she broke up with him, and all she ever did was keep walking.

You would be arguing, and you would scream and cry and wait for her to say something, anything, to yell back, to defend herself. But the most she ever said was ‘sorry’.

You don’t think you ever saw her crack.

composure (n.) the old adage about lines and love and hate is true. The things that make you live and breathe and hold yourself together start to make the world feel too big, and you feel much too small.

Hate may be a strong word,but

corrode (n.)

The Dreamer’s Dictionary


covet (v.) You’ve always harboured a strange fascination for dragons. You were that weird kid who went to the same corner of Borders every time you went to the shops with your mum and pulled out the bright red Dragonlogy book, complete with pop-up flaps and scaly textures.

It didn’t matter if it was a dragon in Harry Potter or Percy Jackson or the iconic Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke. There were Chinese dragons and Nordic dragons and Smaug and every single dragon was a hoarder.

Melanie Wong

Gold, treasure, knowledge… all closely guarded by ancient creatures you weren’t wholly convinced were fiction. If you were a dragon living for hundreds of years, you’d probably choose something to protect too.

You wonder what would have caught your attention in this wide, unforgiving world.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

dare (v. and n.) Truth. What superpower do you wish you had? Truth.


What’s the most embarrassing encounter you’ve ever had with someone? Truth.

Who would you rather be quarantined with, yourTruth. Truth. Truth.



dastardly (adj.) “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” He parries. Once. Twice. Each clash of sword is marked by a burst of orchestral music. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

“HELLO. MY NAME IS INIGO MONTOYA. You killed my father. Prepare to –!”

Melanie Wong

He flicks his wrist with each parry. Blood runs from multiple wounds but he doesn’t seem to notice anymore.

“Hey!” You look up from your pillow fort and your sister does not look happy. “Are you watching a movie? Is that why the internet is slow? You know that uses up the Wi-Fi, right?” Your sister arches an eyebrow from your doorway, and you pause the movie slowly, dread personified in the form of an eight-year-old. “No…?” “Stop using up the internet!” She closes the door with a loud thump. You wait until you hear the sound of her chair scraping across the floor, then press play.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

dear (adj.)

decide (v.)

You’ve always liked cleaning,if for

It goes like this:

nothing else than to hold things you don’t normally hold and remember why you kept them.

“Where do you want to go eat?” “I don’t mind. You?”

A snow globe, a diary, a forgotten tin box. Some building blocks, some toys you bought and that old picture book you forgot.

“I don’t mind either!” “Don’t make me choose!”

It takes you back to a time when “What cuisine?” you made a home for yourself in a forest called Nowhere and the little “…Asian?” treehouse rose taller than the canopies. A time where you tamed “Japanese, Chinese, Viet.” the bears and fed the crows and felt safe in that place where “Japanese.” nobody goes. “Anything specific like ramen or a You put those medals of childhood bit of everything?” back in their container and slide the chest under the bed. “…bit of everything?” You sigh. “Fucking finally.”



delicate (adj.) You wonder who first created music. Who took one sound and strung it together with another sound, like fairy lights, to create something that sounded beautiful? Was it a poor copy of birdsong, of the cicadas’ drawl on a summer night? Who first picked up a piece of wood carved just so and created? You listen on the train and listen in your bed and the minutes climb higher as outside, the world closes in on itself. But you lie alone and hear the strum of chords melt into smooth, electronic beats and wonder at how this life was created.

Melanie Wong

die (v.) If being alive were easy, then everyone would do it. If you could reach out, (hoping, hoping), They didn’t tell you

you would. But it fades into nothing.

it would feel like this. Like muted colours like bubble wrap like dawn, overcast.

It’s no wonder they keep trying.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

distant (adj.) Day 8 in iso! Tap.

Day 19 of social distancing: bake-off. Tap.

Day idk anymore: someone’s mother has four sons… Tap. You tap until there’s none left to tap then start scrolling again, because that’s all your hands seem to know how to do in this strange limbo. You had thought that you might thrive, being an introvert and all, in this forced house arrest but you realise there is a small but important difference between wanting to stay at home and being forced to stay at home. You want, more than anything, to be yourself (again).

Check in on your friends and family! It’s okay to not be productive during a pandemic. 10 tips for self-care during isolation. You can’t say you mind having to stay home; it’s the least you can do. Every single artist you follow on Instagram is creating some sort of wholesome, beautifully crafted advice. Your friend replies to your message and you swipe the notification away, another discarded piece of scrap paper in an overflowing bin.


D It starts slow, creeping like vines across your shoulders, a familiar sort of fear, unrelenting. You try every trick in the book – make the bed, change your clothes, put your makeup on, do exercise, make yourself a schedule and stick to it. It doesn’t work anymore, in this unexpected hell they threw you all into, but you tried. Sometimes, the minutes seem lost, blurring into one another like shades. But you are hopelessly, unwittingly alive nonetheless, so maybe they are not lost at all.

Melanie Wong

dream (n.)

In the secret unbidden parts of your heart, you hoped, despite

everything. 24

The Dreamer’s Dictionary

effervescent (adj.) One of the first times you ever saw this word was in Year 8 chemistry. The second time was, you think, in a young adult fantasy/romance fiction book (not like that is a distinction that needs to be made – the description fits almost all YA fiction). The first time constituted of many bubbles and excited yelling. You remember your posh, British science teacher saying ‘effervescence’ and watching the acid hiss. The second time made you confused. “She was effervescent.” You had a ridiculous image of a cartoon person hiccupping bubbles like they’d eaten soap until you Googled the word properly. When you can hug your family again, you think, when you can eat in a restaurant with your friends again and go out without thinking twice again, you’ll feel pretty damn effervescent.



ending (n.) the sound of your tutor interrogating your classmates about opinions no one was willing to give in class and definitely unwilling to give on Zoom. There’s a blessed pause as your tutor takes a sip of water; you switch from the tutorial PowerPoint to with zero shame.

Melanie Wong

On one side of the desk, the sound of Harry Styles is on shuffle from your phone.On the other side, one earphone is tucked into your ear,

Beside you, your phone buzzes.

when will this class finish !?!?

i’ve been on reddit for the last hour

Disregarding your best friend’s stunning proclivity for procrastination and, clearly, dedication to knowledge, you think there’s nothing that feels quite so frustratingly dragged out than an afternoon tutorial while it’s 28º outside. After you zone out for another ten minutes, the call, blessedly, ends. You go downstairs and treat yourself to a brownie. At least you went to class.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

ephemeral (adj.) It was a beautiful thing. A field of flowers. The reflection of the clouds on the lake. A sip of tea cooled to the right temperature. Perfectly carved stone steps in the forest. Symmetrical windows lined across sandstone walls. A plant hanging over a wooden veranda.

ether (n.)

The glint of sunlight on the water. The not-yet evaporated dew clinging to the leaves. The colour of the sky right before the sun dips below the horizon. Amber honey dripping, sticky, from the spoon. The feeling of grass, green and soft beneath your feet. Rays of sun stealing through the foliage above. It was a beautiful thing.

You sit at your desk with an empty notepad and silence in your ears.

You tap at the table, an uneven, unsteady beat that mocks the flows of rhythm and harmony that usually permeate your studio. You think about the ether and the quintessence of being and a primordial deity and the unruly thoughts of your mind that cannot be pinned down by earth, fire or burnished steel.

euphoria (adj.) You stare at the finished pages, glassy and sharp and smelling of new. You find your work scattered among the article between page six and eight and wonder if it’s silly to copy it and stick it on your wall. Then, you hit yourself, because it’s your blood work and your bloody wall and you’ll display it like a lion’s head if you bloody well want to. You flick between page six and eight again and the colours wave at you, fresh and new and exactly as you imagined, and beam when someone from the year above compliments your work. You take three copies home.



everything (pronoun.) When you were a kid, there was nothing you wanted more than to travel the world and go on grand adventures in grand places, from Beijing to Budapest to Boston.You’d explore a place till you got bored

and then hop on the next flight to somewhere. Since you were six, you didn’t care much for the logistics of finances. You thought that people who wanted to settle down with a family and a white-picket-fencelifestyle were probably the most boring people on the planet. Imagine! Staying in the same place forever, going to work, going home, rinse and repeat.

Perhaps it’s a strange realisation to come to when you haven’t physically seen someone who isn’t your mother for the last month and can’t remember the last time you went out for something other than exercise or groceries. But in the middle of your — for lack of a better term — daily state-approved walk around the neighbourhood, you walk past a literal white-picket fence around a gorgeous brick house. There’s a dog kennel next to the front door and a kid’s bike in the driveway. It’s quiet, because most houses are in this neighbourhood, but there are several pairs of well-worn shoes outside the door.

Melanie Wong

But you’re 20 now and in the throes of social distancing, having traversed to some parts of the globe and gone on some grand adventures, you’ve realised that there is a certain something about that white-picket-fence-lifestyle.

You don’t think you’ll ever get that want-to-leave-every-so-often feeling out of your blood. Hell, last week you were mourning the loss of your spontaneous, if long-awaited, trip to Russia, because nothing screams adventure like piroski and vodka, apparently. Still, you think there’s something beautiful and settled about opening the white gate, toeing your shoes off and walking into a warm home, greeted by a wagging tail or a hug and a kiss or a yell to join in communal Mario Kart.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary



fall (v.) You apply again. It’s the fifth time

The first semester of university is vivid and raw and still hurts. They pushed you all into the deep end and you never came up for enough air because you kept swimming and swimming until your lungs ached and you were crying in the middle of Central tunnel, the frustration of not being enough never so painfully felt.

You leapt at every opportunity until you forgot your friends and family and yourself, until your mum took you aside and gently suggested, maybe not a creative degree, how about law?

Melanie Wong

this week but you’ll be damned if you hit the weekend without covering all your bases. There are two rejection emails in your inbox saying “Thank you for applying to the internship program” and “Thank you but no”, in more or less words, but you didn’t cry your way through first semester to stop when someone waves a bureaucratic hand and says no. (Other times though, consent matters, kids.)

You knew she hadn’t meant for it to kick you while you were down but the road to hell is paved with good intentions and it hurt like a bitch anyway. Two weeks later, you know it’s worth it when you get that first email reading, “We are pleased…” For all your falls and scrapes in life, scattered on your skin like stamps in a passport, you’re pretty damn pleased too.


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filter (n. and v.) There’s really not much to do with your time.

You sit and roll around on his carpet for a while because you literally have nothing better to do. When he finally finishes his game, you’ve looked at the clock and discovered that it is long past dinner time.

You’ve exhausted every avenue of procrastination possible, from Candy Crush (a horrifying world to return to) to TV shows (there are approximately 89 hours “Wanna get takeout?” of Friends, which is almost 3 days straight) to reading (you He takes his phone out for cannot, for the life of you, focus UberEats and there is a brief but on anything other than fiction, intense discussion about the no matter how good Sapiens is) dinner option for the night. to stupid TikToks. (Vine is still better. You don’t make the rules.) Thai wins, and the chicken shop sulks in the corner. When you realise you’ve spent literally the entire day on your While you both wait on the couch, bed, it’s time to take action. the TV showing some anxietyinducing Masterchef contestant You drag yourself to your cooking frantically, you try to housemate’s room, hearing the catch your housemate’s passive intense sound of some video face on a stupid Instagram filter. game being played aggressively, When the filter latches onto his and knock twice for courtesy face and he becomes a cyclops before letting yourself in. for two seconds, you laugh so hard you snort because you are a He’s got a stupid gamer’s chair mature adult. and a light-up keyboard and also looks like he hasn’t moved for the last 12 hours, so you feel a bit “Are you five?” He scowls at the camera, and you take the photo. better about yourself. “Hey. What are you doing?” “Give me 10 minutes.”


“Let me live,” you say, and go answer the door.


first (adj.) First, they don’t believe you.

They laugh and yell mockingly and wait for the joke to slide off their shoulders.

“What’s the reasoning?” “Not enough evidence.” “Fuck!”

“Hey, don’t joke about that,” one of them says, smiling on the screen, albeit guiltily. “It’s not funny.”

Beside you, she is still quiet, but the set of her shoulders is less rigid. You didn’t know if this call was going to make it better or worse, but now you’re glad you went with your gut.

They look at you, your voice low, then look at her, her fingers clutching the fabric of her pants, stiff and unyielding. “You can’t be serious. No fucking way is Pell out of prison,” he starts, voice tinny and uneasy through the video call, then fierce. “No fucking way.” But you are close, the four of you, and you have stood together through worse things. The three of you look at her, then press on gently.

You take her hand and squeeze and feel something scared inside you uncoil when she squeezes back.

Melanie Wong

Then they tense when your faces remain serious. She is quiet beside you. Seething. Raging. At them? At the injustice? You don’t know, but you don’t know “One walking free doesn’t mean all of them will,” another voice pipes how to find out either. up from the screen, his voice deep, reassuring. “Don’t lose hope.” “Why would I joke?”

For the rest of the night, you talk about the hobbies you’ve picked up, about what you did in the garden, about what you cooked for dinner. When the call ends, you feel a surge of gratefulness for the four of you together. But first, they didn’t believe you. Why would they want to?


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

flinch (v.) When you were younger, you learnt that someone could die if they were hit hard enough on the temple. You can’t remember who told you – it was probably some knock-off cop show on the Hong Kong television channel your parents subscribed to, but you remembered it for a long time. Maybe you were a bit messed up in the head or maybe you were just thinking like any other woman does but whenever you were in a situation talking about self-defence (which happened more often than it should have), your first focus points were the throat and the temple. Don’t bother just punching the chest, the instructor said. You might have scared yourself sometimes, but you’d heard the stories before, and it was better to be safe than sorry. Even now, when you think about someone else touching your temple, you feel yourself tense, your body taut in anticipation. If nothing else, you think with a weird sense of detachment, you’d hate to be another statistic, another counted body on the headlines.

You couldn’t give less of a f*ck about anyone’s thoughts and prayers. 33


flux (n.) For the first time in a long while, you want to turn the news off.

Melanie Wong

Over 200 deaths. Thousands of cases. Lockdown. Shut down. Over ten thousand deaths. Isolate. New cases. Flights are cancelled. Wash your hands. A million cases. 1.5 metres. 150,000 deaths.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

But you’re a journalist and it has been ingrained in you since Day 1 of university that the news cycle will always be an integral part of your life. So, you watch, and you wait, as the world crumbles and tries to build itself up again. In pieces, in increments, in whatever ways it knows how. The clouds clear for the Himalayas. The waters clear for the dolphins. The streets clear and the buildings clear until what is central becomes less so and the people are nestled in their little homes, wherever they may be. 35


Melanie Wong It is almost surreal, you think, that this is what 2020 has become. Been reduced to, some would say, and there is a surreal quality about being afraid to go outside that mimics the dystopian stories the world so loves. Before, they thought that 2020 might have flying cars and AI, that humanity might have exceeded expectations and reached further than they ever had (or should have). Then, they were scared of technology and digging too deep and men with too much power taking control of their lives piece by piece.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

garnish (n. and v.) You have never been an avid Masterchef fan (unlike your sister, who religiously watches every episode of every season). Still, every once in a while, you’ll look up their recipes and be bothered to make some thing substantial. Today is not one of those days.

Today is an instant noodle day. When you’re feeling particularly lazy, you shove the noodles in the hot water, add seasoning and eat it straight out of the pot. A standard instant noodle meal means you at least put the noodles in a bowl before you eat them. Today, though.

Today is an egg day. You figure you deserve it after your productive morning (you went on a walk and changed into your day pyjamas) so you put the noodles aside, set the timer for six minutes and wait. The apartment is quiet — autumn


always seems to be. There are no cicadas, less cockatoos overhead, and the sound of leaves falling onto pavement can barely be heard from the fourth floor. When the timer goes off, jarring, you dunk the egg in cold water and pour the hot water onto the seasoned noodles. You think of winter school days when warm instant noodles were the best wakeup call and think that you should call your mother. You’re impatient, so you shed the egg of its shell and carefully cut it open, warm, gooey yolk running slightly into the soup. You put the bowl on your table with a pair of chopsticks, a spoon and a sprinkling of shallot. Perfect.


G “It’s fine, someone’s gonna s be bankrupt soon…” she say usly titio rep sur ng nci gla y, del sni ney. at your dwindling pile of mo r.” late her off ford “Just buy Ox

go (v.)


Your cousin rolls, her fing crossed. Five.

…chance. “One, two, three, four, five pass you ‘Advance to Pall Mall. If !” Yes go, collect $200.’

six… “One, two, three, four, five, for se pau You Oxford Street.” dramatic effect. “I’ll take


Melanie Wong

swears. Opposite you, your cousin your into d car en You tuck the gre and ties per pro of ss growing ma ckers fork over $300. His sister sni beside you. “Your turn.” nt of “Fuck you, what’s the poi Street d Bon and having Regent !?” ford Ox got ’ve when you “Just go!” Eleven. The dice roll once, twice. e dog Your cousin counts, his littl way the all , hitting each board tile you Are g!? kin up to… “Free par to serious? I just need Strand ” se! hou a ld bui the His sister grins and takes ting pou his g orin dice, ign and posturing.

are When the game ends, you your and y, ngl risi urp uns pt, bankru and red cousin has all the green, light blue cards. y,” “It’s a stupid game anywa wl. sco you back. His sister pats you on the ?” nks Dri y. “It’s oka


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

Goliath (pronoun.) You were born in the year of the dragon. When you were twelve, you realised that there was such a thing as invisible illnesses, ailments of the mind, things that you could not control any more than you could control physical illnesses. When you were 15, you felt the first stirrings of something in your mind. This way lies madness, and you followed the sign. When you were 18, your friends and family scattered across the world, you lay on the floor in the silence and couldn’t remember what it felt like before. When you were 21, you were well and truly down the rabbit hole but you greeted it like an old friend, because you had attended too many funerals of the people you used to be that it was almost easier to just go where the path took you. When you are 24, you sit and breathe. It took David five stones to kill Goliath, but it takes you five thousand days to understand that fire cannot kill a dragon.



green (adj.)

Melanie Wong


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

The In Between

growing (adj.) The Before People say that puberty does something to your brain so that the memories of the before, of that simpler time before your body revolts against itself, are blurred. The before of this, too, felt blurred. You never knew if it was because nothing much happened in your life — school, music, sport — or if you genuinely cannot remember what it feels like to live without that something hanging on your shoulder, draped over the planes of your back like a coat. It was happier, you assume, less numb, less days where opening your eyes felt like Atlas with the weight of the world, more days where you lived and breathed and simply were. Perhaps you saw more — felt, touched, smelt, heard the world in different ways from the safe(r) confines you created for yourself, boxed, neatly shelved in your mind. Living was like breathing and breathing the easiest necessity of all.


For some people, it’s a roller coaster ride. Up and down, curved, unexpected, uncontrolled, but tangible enough to hold down, to unbind yourself. For some people, it sticks like mud, like seeing a swamp and stepping into it anyway because the swamp is all you see, your chin grazing the surface, barely, until you make it to the other side, a mess but alive. For some people, it doesn’t register until the fog is too thick to wade out of, obscuring all the things your therapist taught you, the things you taught yourself, the little quirks of life you used to ground yourself in reality. Sometimes it doesn’t even register until you see the faint outlines of the path again, and you think, oh. I made it.

The After Sometimes it clicks with a moment, a movement, a lurch. But most of the time it ebbs like the tide, rushing in and out until the waves have receded and the beach is clear. Most of the time, you stitch yourself back together, seam by seam, the ends of the fabric frayed and worn. Once in a while, someone swoops in, fingers deft as they add a stitch. Once in a while, it helps.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

halcyon (adj. and n.) The first time you ever wrote a book, you were six and it was about penguins.

You completely forgot about its existence until you were spring cleaning a stack of old bits and bobs in the corner of your parents’ living room and you found a sloppily bound stack of blue cardboard, complete with a title page, a dedication page and a thank you note. If it were anyone else, it’d be adorable. Because it’s you, it’s fucking mortifying. When you carefully fold open the creasing pages, you find printed and pasted photos of all sorts of penguins – adèlie, emperor, gentoo, macaroni. There are fun facts. There are drawings. You think you had a Happy Feet phase and maybe that’s why you did dance for ten years.


It’s sort of sweet that six-year-old you dedicated the five-page book to your family and you know that sentiment is the only reason the book is still here; it’s certainly not been kept for its quality. You put the book back in its corner and for a moment, you almost wish you were six again, making penguin books, dancing in the living room, pretending to be a chef then a doctor then a teacher depending on the day of the week. You think you peaked at six.


harpy (n.)

In the old myths, there was a seer named


He was punished, as they always are, for one thing or another and he lived for a time blind and unable to eat, for winged humanoid harpies would defile his food. And his crime, though varied in diffe rent texts, was for revealing the future to humankind. People always used to ask stupid ques tions at highschool parties, like ‘if you could know how you would die, would you choose to find out?’ or ‘wha t if we knew the exact date and time of our deaths?’ Funnily enough, most of them revolved around your imm inent death, and you wondered what it was about hum ans that had them so fascinated with their own demise. When you were little, maybe even yest erday, you hated the uncertainty of what came next. You made sure to plan for every detail, Plan A, Plan B, Plan C if all else fails. You did personality quizzes and care er quizzes to imagine your future. You had a 10-y ear plan for ever y result. But now, you think you would hate to see the future, this future, and know it will not change.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

hearth (n.) A playlist for rainy days:

01. Coffee by beabadoobee, 02. Places We Won’t Walk by Bruno Major, 03. Je te laisserai des mots by Patrick Watson, 04. Sister, I by Jesse Merchant, 05. Cayendo by Frank Ocean, 06. Your Dog Loves You ( feat. Crush) by Colde, 07. Remember Me by UMI, 08. Two Slow Dancers by Mitski, 09. Be the Song by Foy Vance, 10. Promise by Ben Howard, 11. Director’s Cut by cehryl, 12. Mean It by Gracie Abrams 45


hemlock (n.)

It may have been from your early addiction to Merlin or that your bedtime stories at the age of eight generally consisted of ancient history lessons, but every once in a while, you think about hemlock and wonder if anybody uses it nowadays since there still doesn’t seem to be a cure. Hemlock. Conium maculatum. 100mg and you might be twitching on the floor. You wonder, as you lie exhausted but infuriatingly awake at 4am, if the people who sentenced Socrates to death

ever regretted it, ever regretted shutting off a mind that kept asking why and how and what and shaped aeons of thinking after him. You wonder how humans first discovered that hemlock could be used to kill. Trial and error, naturally, you muse, and then wonder what the first human eating a hallucinogen would have thought.

Melanie Wong

You’ve always been curious about strange plants and old wives’ tales, stories that don’t quite make sense in the reality you know.

It seems almost strange that some parts of nature exist to upend your mind and make you fall down rabbit holes. Drink me, eat me, they say, and their colours are alluring like flowers. You wonder if that’s what happened to Alice. When you fall asleep, finally, it is to the sound of birdsong.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

host (n. and v.) You hate hosting. It is a fervent, passionate disagreement with your state of being and one that, despite your acknowledgement of its existence, you seem to dismiss every time.

“Hey, is everything okay?” You look up to find it’s an old acquaintance of yours, someone who was fairly sweet and unassuming and a bit odd and alone, and you added to the guest list because you thought it’d be nice to catch up. Also, no drama. “It’s fine,” you say, and the lie is so blatantly untrue that even she looks concerned.

Whether it’s your birthday or the annual Christmas bash or a movie “Are you sure? I know hosting isn’t night, you think it must be your really your thing…” she trails off, introvert senses tingling at uncomfortable, but you can hardly someone else in your space. fault her for it and you’re now so This, coupled with the fact that people generally walk all over you, sedate from mulled wine that you almost take pity on her. “Thanks means that you’re most likely for offering to host anyway. Otherfrantically tidying as other party revellers socialise, or that you are wise we wouldn’t have been able to have this at all.” in a corner nursing many glasses of whatever alcohol you can find, You both pause and observe the not necessarily in that order. room for a brief second. It seems like a picture from the past; the Today, you are too exhausted to same cliques mingling, but weardeal with Option 1 at the present ing fitted slacks and blouses and moment, so you sit with your sparkling dresses instead of the mulled wine in an anxious, mulish knee-length grey monstrosity silence as Christmas music plays you’d all worn in high school. in the middle of July. “It’s fine,” you repeat, resigned, and she sits on the pouffe next to you. Misery makes strange bedfellows, but you think you don’t mind her particular presence when she pokes and prods into the corners of your life.



+* hunt (n. and v.)

You can’t remember when you first started looking for another job, but you think the number of tabs you’ve got open is fairly indicative that this has been an extended process. From one tab to the next, one resumé shifted slightly for this application, a new cover letter. A letter of reference, commendation, working with children check. You attach it all and hope that it combines into the sum of who you are, what you are worth to these nameless, faceless people with the power to tell you that it means nothing but thank you for trying anyway. A for effort. You have become so immune to, “Unfortunately, you did not succeed in your application”, that it is almost familiar — routine.

Melanie Wong

You scroll through with varying degrees of glazed interest. Right click. Open in new tab. You open Jora. Right click. Open in new tab. Bookmark all tabs. New tab.

Your heart trembles as you flicker between documents and tabs. You have somehow Pavlov’d yourself into irrational, frenzied anxiety whenever you see a job listing that looks probable and you wonder if this is normal, if all job-hunters feel like this or if it is just you and the thoughts in your head. On a good day, you think that it was worth it, the sleepless nights and tears and fighting. On the other days, you are living like poor Icarus, chasing after the sun.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

i (pronoun.) I am a kind person. I am a writer. I am growing. I am doing what I love. I am a musician. I am wiser today than I was yesterday. I am determined and unrelenting.


I am an artist. I am looking to the future. I am trying my best. I am struggling. I am alive. I am proud of myself.

I am.


I am.

I am. - Sylvia Plath


記 得 吃 飯 I

incessant (adj.) She was always singing.

You unpack your cutlery and crockery from their cardboard box, finding neat spaces for them in the quiet cupboards. There is a thump from the apartment above, the only noise to punctuate the silence of your first night out of home in this little run-down place that you’d fought tooth and nail to get.

You have never told your friends this, but you don’t actually know all the words to Mr Brightside or Fergalicious. You know all the words to half of Anita Mui’s discography, or Kelly Chen’s, or maybe Jacky Cheung’s. But you don’t have any of their CDs and even if you found their music on Spotify, you wouldn’t be able to understand the majority of the song names. You never were great at reading.

You almost wish, despite the reason you moved out in the first place, that your mother was here, singing as she helped you unpack the endless dishes and plates and chopsticks. It is like the hum of a refrigerator, and you don’t know it is there until it is gone. When the apartment has become too dark for you to see anything except the windows, glowing from the streetlamps, you haul yourself off the sofa and shuffle into the kitchen again, peeking through the drawers and boxes for anything vaguely edible. You have almost resigned yourself to pizza when you open the fridge and find a Tupperware box with a note. 記得吃飯!

Melanie Wong

Remember to eat!

Your aunt once looked at you in surprise, because you knew every single word and melody of some obscure ‘70s Canto-pop song, and asked you how you knew it. You jerked your head towards your mother, who was belting in the microphone of your uncle’s karaoke machine. Understanding had melted across your aunt’s face and that was the end of that conversation.

You abandon the kitchen box to splay half-heartedly on the sofa, the dying afternoon light painting it golden. Someone on your floor closes their door with a laugh and the murmur of conversation through the wall makes you feel suddenly, inexplicably, alone.

Remember to eat!

It is a box of rice with tomato, egg and beef. When the box of leftovers is in the microwave, you take your phone out. She picks up on the second ring. “Hi, Ma.”


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

ineffable (adj.) The roads in St Helens are quiet.

home, and watch as the sun dips behind the curve in the road until the mosquitos start to bite.

When you’re all bundled back into Dusk falls later here, further south the car and the cold melts around from the equator, and the sky is you in earnest, you look at the still tinged orange at 9pm. You sit photos on your sister’s camera. drowsily, your head resting against the cool window as the rental car “I could live here,” you say absently, hums steadily, only sounds of the clicking through the array of barely engine lulling you towards sleep. lit images. Your sister looks aghast. “2km then turn right,” your brother “Here!? It’s so boring though. says from the front, but beside Nothing ever happens.” you, your sister is staring through the windscreen, eyes wide with You hum. “Exactly. It’s perfect.” awe at the colours. Your sister shrugs, muttering, “Can we stop and take a photo?” “Grandma,” under her breath as you sit back against the cold, There are no other cars on the road, glass window. so Dad pulls over onto a little grassy patch next to the lake. You step out of the car, shivering slightly, and pull out your phone, ignoring your sister’s big, clunky DSLR.

inimitable (adj.)

They say that art is just imitation.

The water shimmers silver beside you and you lean against the car door, the rhythmic rush of water breaking open the dusk. You let your gaze linger on the fading countryside, the sky clear of any clouds, and feel settled for the first time in the entire trip. The four of you stand there on a random road in St Helens, a thousand kilometres away from


Fake it till you make it is in every artist’s repertoire, whether you write or paint or play, and when that fails too, well, some call it being a copycat, some call it being inspired. It may be true, you muse, that there is no such thing as creating an original work. Iterations and reiterations of the same piece under a different name, a different


Yo ar or im

medium, and they call that art. A half-created thought at midnight and they call that art too. But you know that there are some things that cannot be imitated any more than humans are imitations of each other. You know the songs that make you feel a something in your chest, like the very essence of you is about to lift itself into the air around you and manifest. The melodies that ring true and comfortable and familiar even when you listen to them for the first time. You know the words that nestle themselves into the corners of your mind, tempting and teasing until they’ve been remembered, cherished like a precious thing.

irk (v.) As a rule, you don’t get angry easily. You don’t know if you’ve ever properly gotten angry. You like to do the ‘kill them with kindness’ thing and the non-confrontational thing. The same cannot be said for your two best friends, but friendship is all about balance, after all. But this.

This is the last straw. “Die!” Your tissue-wielding hand zeroes in on the fifth (fifth!?) mosquito in your room in the last hour. There is no water in your room, no plants and it’s fucking autumn. Where are these little bloodsuckers coming from?

ou know that rt imitates life r maybe life mitates art...

Melanie Wong



“Are you okay?”

You look up to your best friend hovering in your doorway, mug in hand, eyeing the wadded-up tissue in your hand dubiously. You glare at him. “How do you feel about pet spiders?”

...but in the end they remain just that — an imitation, rendered in the like-ness, but never the fullness, of the original.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

jam (n. and v.) Raspberry. Apricot. Strawberry. Lemon curd.

hem of her screaming child. You blink at her. It’s a lovely gift. For a family, maybe. Is everyone in the neighbourhood this nice? You take the pack and smile. “Thank you so much,” you reply, your brain struggling to kickstart at such an early hour. It’s bloody lockdown and this woman is still up and about at 7am. Amazing. “I’ve just bought some bread from down the road, so it’s perfect.”

“It’s no problem.” She waves a hand, looking like she’s ready to sit down for a nice, long chat. She Marmalade. means well, you know, but that doesn’t stop you from frantically wishing that she would leave so you can sleep. You think she might see the desperation in your eyes, or You wonder why it is that people the way your body hides behind choose to give a six pack of jam to someone as a present; it seems the door, because she smiles knowingly. “Let us know if you a ridiculous amount of jam for one need anything, okay? We’re just person. The little jars stand in a across the hall.” row, six glasses with neat golden lids and a complementary wooden “Will do,” you say, one hand on spoon. They’re the type to have the door as she steps away. come from a Myer hamper at Christmas time, except it is May. “Thanks again!”


“I thought it would be a nice welcome present, considering things like dietary requirements, you know,” your new neighbour gushes, still holding out the jams towards you. There is the sound of a lived-in home through the open door opposite you, but the woman appears to barely notice the may-


When she’s shushing her child again and your door is firmly closed, you set out the little jars on your countertop in colour order and flop back onto your bed. You’re a bit hungry but the call of sleep is stronger, and the jam will still be there when you awake. And possibly for the next six months.


jilted (n.) he tears across the field, almost Atticus is three when you first bring him home and he is afraid running into multiple other dogs and people around him, and of small dogs.

then brings back the ball before you can blink. His feet rest a little funny when he sits, pointed outwards like a ballerina in first position. When you get home, you eat dinner while ignoring his puppy eyes and cuddle with him afterwards, watching Queer Eye together. When he rests his head against your leg, you can’t imagine ever leaving him behind without breaking your own heart.

Melanie Wong

He’s energetic for a greyhound – that’s what they told you at the rescue shelter and that’s what you find when you take him home and he jumps around the apartment for 20 minutes nonstop before settling down like a proper couch potato. He’s also the biggest glutton you’ve ever met. You feed him twice a day as instructed but you think he’d eat three meals a day if he could, plus elevenses, as well as second breakfast plus afternoon tea, plus supper. He’s still thin as a stick though, so you’re not stingy when you give him treats. When you met him, he was a bit shy, a bit adorable, and a bit left behind. His foster parents had to move away for some reason or other, but you can’t imagine anyone leaving him behind without breaking their own heart. The first time you take him to the dog park, he gets more of a kick from playing with the humans than the other dogs because the humans give cuddles and some of the little dogs bark at him. You throw him a ball and watch as


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

Jormungandr (pronoun.) Everyone knows Thor these days; hammer wielding, Chris Hemsworth Thor; lightning god Thor; noble (and inhumanly attractive) Thor. In the original story, he may have been inhumanly attractive. He was certainly noble enough, if not a bit brawny over brainy, and he definitely was both lightning and hammer wielding.

Chris Hemsworth plays him well in Marvel – you are the last person to hate on Hemsworth’s Thor. In the Marvel universe, Thor fights the Destroyer, Loki, evil Elves, AI, his sister and Thanos; his list of enemies is interminable. You are no stranger to the Marvel stories and would probably die to defend them but Ragnarok, you think, cannot be complete without the Midgard serpent, the ouroboros who is so great that it can grasp its own tail. Only once it releases its tail will Ragnarok begin, they say, this symbol of the things that cannot be changed in the future (fate, if you will) and perhaps Odin was the Allfather and a seer in his own right but even wise Odin cannot escape his destined end. If it’s you, it’s you, your mother always said, and when you look around at the world in all its indiscriminate fancies, you think that she is right. Whether it’s the Moirai or Siming or Shai, if it’s you, it’s you. and people around him, and then brings back the ball before you can blink. His feet rest a little funny when he sits, pointed outwards like a ballerina in first position. When you get home, you eat dinner while ignoring his puppy eyes and cuddle with him afterwards, watching Queer Eye together. When he rests his head against your leg, you can’t imagine ever leaving him behind without breaking your own heart.






jury (n .)

You wo n in divi der what it i ne judg s that m e thing, surely ment. Beca akes human u

Melanie Wong

do s believ se wonde e r if the gs do not pla surely it is a hum y will b y losses t u g an -of-wa e judg when t ed r and t h never hen asked ey die. You w for their vict . ories a ouldn’t nd know. You’ve You ar e a self -confe believ sse et more t hat there is r d agnostic a han yo nd can e u would incarnation not in Blac o k Pant r b a Heav e lieve in her. O might en an t h n e Ance be so stral P y that ex a grain of tr me days, yo lane ut u is and hu t in every cu h in these fa think there iths an lture a manity cr d . believ e in an You underst oss time and beliefs d blam and th but on e temp space e and ot talk to tation more t her days, it some to se ha point o n anything e ems like a sa higher pow er f divin fety bla lse. Yo e judg each o ement u wonder wh nket ther he is whe a re any n you a t the way. ll judg e


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

kamikaze (adj. and n.) Humans are capable of terrible things.


There are things you learn about as facts in history class that don’t become real, that don’t transform from numbers into human lives and stories, until you read their names and the letters they sent to their families and the photos they kept pressed to their chests even as hell became a mortal thing; numbers and words that mean nothing now. 7000 naval personnel. 420,000 casualties. 2 million civilian deaths. 3800 pilots. You watch on your little TV screen as the monochrome film of explosives scatters across the screen, grey and black and white and so very far away, and think of the shaking of the earth, the whistling sound of bombs falling through the air like a meteor shower. You think about broken people melding into the debris of broken homes and the shells of families wandering among the shells of artillery and wonder if there is any redemption in war.

You live in a world far removed from bomb shelters, from cowering in the dark for hours until your legs are numb and the games you play with your siblings can no longer ward off the stench of smoke and dust drifting through the cracks. You live in a world where the monsters no longer find you in the night, wearing the faces of your neighbours and your countrymen and maybe that uncle who sells eggs on the side of your street every Monday. You live in a world where sometimes winning still feels like losing and the people tell their stories to prevent history from repeating itself. It does anyway, but there is something about human resilience that speaks of standing up each time and building something beautiful again.


Sometimes, you think it might be strange that your ancestors fought to kill or escape or overthrow your friends’ ancestors. Kettle or pot, you’ve all been there before, but it doesn’t feel like it matters anymore.


Kerb K

kerb (n.) You’re lucky you only ever got tested on a kerbside stop once, because you will never pass again. You pull up at the train station, hitting the kerb with your left tire before twisting the wheel. An old lady sitting by the bus stop looks scandalised. You pretend you don’t see.

“Do you need to check your tires?” “Why?” You fiddle with the stereo until you find a radio station that’s playing music. Your roommate stares at you. “Because you keep ramming them into kerbs like there’s no tomorrow?” “…is that bad?” You pull away from the station, driving back towards the apartment. You don’t even honk when someone cuts in front of you, which you count as a personal achievement.

“I actively try not to die,” you respond absentmindedly. “Masterchef tonight?” She sighs. “Of course.”

Melanie Wong

Five seconds later, your roommate slides into the passenger seat. She peers out of the window.

“How are you even alive!?”


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

kernel (n.)


micro ur w

“Why does kernel sound the same as co-lo-nel?” your cousin asks,

“What!?” She’s staring at you in betrayal. “But you’re an adult.” six years old and full of inquisitive “Doesn’t mean I know everything,” you shrug and watch as a plainenergy. Curiosity killed the cat, tive little scowl paints her face. you want to say, but can’t bring yourself to ruin the kid’s day. “English is stupid,” she declares, stomping her foot, and you can’t “I don’t know,” you reply, because help but agree. Stupid indeed. you don’t.

kettle (n.)

You don’t have any friends or close relatives in America, but

you remember once when you were 13 and had a Tumblr friend, a pen pal, who lived in Texas. You’ve never really gotten over the image of everyone in Texas riding horses to school like cowboys so you can forgive her for thinking you hopped around in a kangaroo’s pouch like a joey.


tea, definitely

im making a mug of tea rn

the kettle is so slow -_-


You waited patiently by the kettle as the little dots appeared under your pen pal’s username. Just as your phone buzzed, steam obscured your vision and you shifted your glasses, pouring the hot water onto the teabag.

are you a tea or coffee person?


You had looked at the message and scrambled to open it, the sound of rain pounding on the tin roof loud in the kitchen.

why don’t you just use the microwave You blinked.


microwave owave ur water K


just microwave ur water?

Needless to say, the friendship did not last.

water king (n.)

They fought in battles wearing metal-plated armour and rode on steeds bred specially to serve the crown. They organised peace treaties and declarations of war and, in moments of peace, they made sure their peoples were safe. Alive.

They were poisoned in their rooms and betrayed by their band of brothers and even when they knelt in submission, praying to whatever god they believed in, and their rivals put that gun to their heads and pulled the trigger, they were still there.

The rulers of old swung swords and then guns and then pressed buttons that fought wars more easily than ten thousand men could hope to achieve. They were born onto a throne, decapitated, made anew with statues and cries of liberation.

King, emperor, majesty, president, trillionaire. They pulled different masks over their heads, picking up the pieces of before to build their own lands; different, shiny and new – a new world. When they looked down at us all from their thrones, there was nothing about their lands that ever screamed ‘promised’.

Melanie Wong

The monarchs of old wore crowns and capes.

microwave ur water 60

The Dreamer’s Dictionary

last (adj. and v.) You were five when you ran your first 50m sprint. The Athletics Carnival would become your favourite school carnival by far (swimming was too much of a hassle and cross country required stamina that was, at least for you, non-existent) but in that first sprint, you hated athletics. “On your marks,” the teacher started. “Get set…go!”


L You took off down the grassy track, a little yellow and green blur. For a second, you twisted your head to see all the other kids behind you and felt victory closing in. Then, a gust of wind blew your hat off. In the fifteen years since that moment, you will not understand what possessed you to stop running, pick up your hat, and watch every other kid beat you. What you do remember is crying into your mum’s arms about your bitter defeat and the beginnings of a life-long competitive streak.

When you were in high school, ANZAC Day assembly marked the start of every Term 2.

Melanie Wong

lest (conjunction.) Everybody would shuffle into the hall, chatter rising like a cloud to fill the space, until the principal stepped up to the lectern and cleared her throat and you all quietened, as if we were cicadas on a cool evening. Someone would come up to recite ‘The Ode’ and you would all stand up while a trumpeter played The Last Post, and then Rouse. You’d all stand there in silence and the teachers would glare at the ones who would fidget, and whisper, and giggle. It seems strange, now that you are no longer in high school, that you do not hear The Last Post every ANZAC Day. You never knew quite how you felt about it when you were younger, but now you think you are just sad.

Lest we forget, they say, and you think of boys younger than you, getting shot down on the beach. Lest we forget, they say, and you think of war sent across the seas. Lest we forget, they say, and you think of all the names that have already been forgotten.



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list (n. and v.) What to wear: Nondescript clothing that covers identifying marks Goggles and mask

What to bri ng:

Tied up hair


Heat resistant gloves


Emergency contacts written down



ID Washcloth Bandages and first aid su pplies Protest sig ns

ring: Do not b ry Jewelle

Ear plugs A friend

t lenses Contac isabling ithout d irplane w e n o Cell ph ing on a data, go ce/Touch ID mobile Fa isabling mode, d be want to u don’t o y g in Anyth d with arreste


+ Los =

For as long as you could remember, there was a woman named Mrs Tubbs. She was an old family friend — there are photos of her holding you as a child, a newborn infant looking pink and squishy and like every other baby in the world — and she taught music to you and your siblings. Piano, flute, saxophone, violin; they lined her studio like trophies, scattering her memories and genius across the room. When your brother was clanking on the piano and you were allowed to sit in before your flute lesson, you only ever saw one photo of her, young and on the lacrosse team of 1954. Her house always had a strange, musky scent to it. She lived alone, if living alone meant having three fat cats to dote on, and one of your earliest, distinct memories of her was of her spreading butter (lots of it) onto a piece of toast for you because you were hungry and your mum hadn’t arrived to pick you up from your flute lesson yet. She smelt like cigarette smoke and cat, her nails and lips always painted red, and you couldn’t recall her ever talking about a Mr Tubbs or any baby Tubbs. She sent you a Christmas and birthday card every year when you stopped


taking lessons, which is more than your actual extended family ever did, and tucked away $20 notes into those cards (your mum always made you call and thank her). You went and showed her your school report card every year and she’d smile at the comments and say, “That’s my girl”, until you would squirm and smile, seven years old and full of pride.

When you hit 18, she gave you a hand-crocheted blanket, boasting different pastel hues. She started telling you to just call her Edith, but that felt as weird as calling your parents by their given names so she remained Mrs Tubbs, living in that little white house by the sea, until one day her brother called and said she was gone. It was cancer, he’d said, and there was nothing anyone could have done. You tried to remember the last time you’d visited her; when you couldn’t, you hated yourself a little bit. You never found out what happened to her fat cats, but when your mum told you that Mrs Tubbs was gone, you curled up with the crocheted blanket and lay on the sofa for a long, long time.

Melanie Wong

+ st

lost (n.)



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lust (n. and v.) “Dude!” Your roommate barges into your room without knocking, again, and flops onto your carefully made bed. “We haven’t gone clubbing in so long. I can feel myself losing a piece of my soul.” “Mhm.” “My soul.” “Mhm.” She glares at you. “It’s like you don’t care that I haven’t hooked up with anyone since February.” “Mhm.” She throws a pillow in your face. “Hey!” “Then listen to me!” “You’re just being sad and horny again!” “At least pretend to care!” You swivel around in your seat, abandoning the article you were working on. It’s honestly a wonder you ever get anything done, living with this one.



“Fine. How can I help without breaking any laws and pissing off any of our neighbours?” She lights up. “So! You’re either going to love this or hate this–” “–definitely the latter–” “–but we should both get Tinder!” Melanie Wong

You groan. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic! Who’s going to want to hook up? Forget want, why would you break the law to hook up?” “It’s a bit of a grey area.” She hums thoughtfully, then pouts at you when you remain unmoved. She looks ridiculous. “Please? I’m going to do it anyway, but it’d be more fun if we made accounts together!” “This is not a good idea.” You sigh. She grins. “It’s not a bad one.”


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march (n. and v.) The crowds are stifling. You shuffle forward with the rest of them, riding the wave of anger and righteous fury. People ebb and flow with the sound of the speakers, their voices ricocheting off protest signs and statues and the wall of humans they face. The crowd starts walking and you do too, your glasses fogging up as you breathe through the face mask. In, out. In, out. No justice, no peace!

It has been too long since you stood in the throng of a protest as a participant rather than an observer; a grieving, angry soul instead of filming and writing the first draft of history in the making. You think it makes it – not better, not this situation – but easier, maybe, surrounded by thousands of people whose hearts beat like yours.

You are not white, but you are also not Indigenous. Hold yourself accountable, they yell, acknowYou move forward as one, this mass ledge your privilege, and you think that that’s what you all should’ve of human anger in the streets, have been doing in the first place, pressed hip to shoulder in the without their grief and devastation middle of a lockdown. But some and hope catalysing entire countries. things will stay even when the quarantine is over, and the number You never thought you were a bad of Indigenous Australians dying in person, but maybe you weren’t a good one either. You try to think jail is one of them. No justice, no peace, you think, and wonder how of a time when you really cared, actively, and can’t. You have many of these people will forget always been a passive person, about the 432 deaths by next but it has never tasted as much month. No justice, no peace, and you think of all the times you forgot like shame as it does today. The about it before and wonder, shame- shades here are darker, and they know your name by heart. fully, if you’ll forget it again, this time. You’re no stranger to growing Hold yourself accountable, they pains, but that doesn’t stop it from scream, and you think that you will. hurting every time.



Melanie Wong

maudlin (adj.) Your best friend always wanted to have children. You never really understood his fascination with having kids. The children you know are small, spoilt, bratty, and generally not a good time. One small cousin (why do they seem to stay aged five for a few years?) once shouted at a dog and you have never since forgiven him. Kids suck. They eat, they poop, they sleep, and when they get good at doing those things for a few years, puberty comes and makes

them monsters again. No, it is definitely not ideal. Besides, childbirth also does not sound ideal. Not that your friend would have to worry about that, the lucky tosser. There were a few years when you were younger where you contemplated the idea of having your own child. It seems almost wrong that you were barely grown out of being a child before you were thinking about having one, but maybe it was your friends talking about cute baby names or what tricks they would teach their kids or what family traditions they would


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want to pass down. For a second, you looked down and imagined a small, fragile, human life, swaddled in blankets and tucked into your arms. It was a brief period of time, this contemplation of having offspring. It probably didn’t last longer than an hour. You have always, you think, been a pessimistic child. When you were growing up, your parents spoke to you about running away from war, and poverty, and something that sounded like freedom but not quite. In retrospect, maybe it was a bad thing to tell a five-year-old. Maybe they just wanted you to survive.


But you grew up and you studied history and you studied the then and the now and realised that maybe one day it would stop getting ‘better’ before it got worse again. Maybe one day the war would outrun you and the earth would crumble and the leaders would preach something that sounded like freedom but not quite. No kids, you think in a voice that sounds like Edna Mode. But maybe dogs.


monologue (n.) Should I just start? Oh, okay. Dear Mum and Dad, There are lots of things I’ve never told you. (I don’t think I ever will.) I got a tattoo when I turned 18. (I have three more.) I have definitely been black out drunk while acting sober in front of you and I once went to family party after a three-day bender.

Melanie Wong

(Grandma didn’t say anything but she definitely noticed.) I went on a trip to Melbourne once when I told you I’d be staying at Nancy’s for a weekend. (You never noticed.) I’ve been on three different medications for four years and I’ve definitely had premarital sex (sorry). Actually, scratch that last. Too much?

Dear Mum and Dad,

I don’t tell you everything in my life.

In fact, I barely tell you anything.

I think that might be part of growing up.

But thanks for the cut-up fruit, and the extra jacket,

and texting ‘ok’ every time I asked you to pick me up,

and for bringing my favourite soup to my apartment.

I love you too.


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moon (n.) Humans have all sorts of stories about the moon. There are the rabbits on the moon, the cheese on the moon, moon cakes, lycanthropy, lunacy. You don’t know about the cheese or the rabbits (and you’re only 40% sure about the werewolves) but you will vouch for the lunacy until you go to retail worker hell (read: Boxing Day sales). Retail work is bad enough on a good day. People come in to try all the testers, or come in with their snotty kids who don’t know what personal space is and where exactly it starts and ends, or come in with an old product and, if you’re lucky, a receipt, and demand a refund or else. That’s fine. On most days, you’ll probably get one of them for every 20 customers. You will pick up as many shifts as necessary to make that bank and not complain a word about those customers. But the full moon shift? You would rather werewolves. Your friends all laugh at you but you know that on a full moon (god forbid a Thursday late-night shopping full moon), every Karen comes to talk to the manager, every kid knocks over a display and every single retail worker knows this. There is some truth in the way lunacy derives from lunaticus (of the moon – Latin) and you think there should be a rule closing all retail stores on full moons.


M A242

Cosmic Star UD/EB

Bright Star D


Melanie Wong


Dwindling Moon W


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name (n. and v.) You are a creative at heart, and you always will be, but the one thing that will never be easy is naming your work. It is tempting to label them ‘Untitled 1’, ‘Untitled 2’ and ‘Untitled 3’ but apparently this is not ‘socially acceptable’ and ‘names have power’, according to your high school teacher. Names may have power, but mortals’ names have faded into the soft press of dew on leaves, a sense, a feeling. No longer do they invoke the unimaginable and you cannot think that naming your work ‘Seaside’ will do anything to create the sound of waves for your reader. Title first, your teacher had said, but the tight confines of even a single word feel like too much sometimes. There is something suspenseful about the empty space before a work that feels like slipping away, some hard, uncovered part of your story clawing to the surface only after it has a beginning, middle and end. You never put a ribbon on the present before you wrap it, you think, and if you’d had the guts to tell your teacher before, you would have.


Nn Nn Nn



near (adj.,


The first thing you feel when you wake is surprise, because the edges of dawn are just creeping past the curtains and you rarely wake before ten o’clock in the morning. But you keep your eyes open, blinking slowly, and revel in the feeling of your body waking naturally with the glow of the sun. Despite the lightening room, you shiver under the doona and shuffle closer to the body next to you, warm under two shirts and a hoodie and fleece-lined track-pants. You laughed at him the night before, when he came out of the shower looking like a snowman, but you shift closer while he remains asleep and unknowing that you were wrong.



Outside, the sun continues to rise, bathing the room in a gold you never get to see, and you think it might be (might be) worth it to wake up this early every day just to see nature’s light show.

Melanie Wong

The morning is quiet.


Through the sheer curtains, you watch as the sunlight hits the side of the bed then slips across the mattress until it brushes the edge of his face. When the light falls over his eyes, slowly and blinding, like the gathering of a tempest,you hold your breath for a moment before he blinks awake and shifts to look lazily at you. “Morning.” You smile. “Good morning, love.”


never (adv.) People always say that ‘hate is a strong word’. But no one ever

talks about the finite, crushing end of never and the unfulfilled and unknowing of it.

When you were in high school, it came out of your mouth, unbidden, so many times. You said you would never smoke. You said you would never go sky diving. Never go on a 360-degree rollercoaster. Go on a pub crawl. Get into a fight. Try durian. At 22, you have done all those things (though you don’t remember some of them) and you wonder what the 16-year-old you would think if she met you today, different from what she imagined but still, you would like to think, something to aspire to. Working full-time. Contributing to your super. Going on spontaneous Maccas runs. (You are probably happiest with that one.) When you were in high school, people would say ‘never say never’, but you ignored them because there are some things you know you will never do. You will never knowingly hurt a dog. You will never let your fuel indicator light flash on without immediately going to the nearest petrol station. You will probably never buy a house. But your list of ‘nevers’ is long and convoluted and perhaps some of them can go under the ‘maybes’ list.

nothing (adj., adv. and pronoun)

Blank. The page has been like this for a week. Writer’s block has been a plague on your house before, and for much longer than a week too, but you do not think you have ever resorted to quoting Romeo and Juliet, which must mean that times are truly dire. No previous solution has cured the strange emptiness in your brain when greeted with a blinking cursor, or a blank page, or even a lined page. Your writing playlist has inspired nothing save a desire to have paid more attention during your primary school piano lessons. Nature strolls have left you only with sore legs. Even reading the works of others creates only a mimicry that you crumple and delete before it can linger for too long on the page. You have seen people and movies and stared for too long at strangers walking by but even the smallest, quirkiest moments will only be noted in your mind and fall, flat, on the page of your little notebook. You decide that if all else fails, you will try ASMR. A curse on your house, indeed.

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oasis (n.) When you blink your eyes open, the first thing you do is close them again. You must’ve left your curtains open again last night in your bonedeep exhaustion, because you see the first dredges of light spilling across your desk in streaks of gold.

Your eyes shift under your eyelids at the sudden brightness, dry and heavy and inexplicably awake. It can’t be more than 6:30am.

You shuffle under the sheets, burying yourself deeper into the warmth before you brave the light again, golden and perfect and gorgeous for your brief moment of consciousness.

You let yourself bask in it, this warm oasis in the middle of an endless night, until sleep pulls you back under.



oblivion (n.) At your most nihilistic, the push and pull of life washes over you like a wave.

Melanie Wong When you’re being especially dramatic about it, you press shuffle on some Tchaikovsky and put monochromatic filters on your photos and think of what it is to be known. To be unmade and reborn and still, known. Otherwise, you let the seconds pass you by. You sit there on the swinging chair of your parents’ back porch and think that you could sit there for the rest of your life, eyes glazed over the greenery; up and down, up and down. At your most spiritual, or as spiritual as an agnostic can get, you settle down with a book on mythology or religion or the natural history of the world and wonder at how this all came to be, from specks of dust and atoms in the dark to this living, breathing creature that you are, one of the millions and millions and billions that have found a consciousness and felt a distinct sense of ‘I’. It can be easy to forget about the massiveness of the world known and unknown, in the humdrum of life, but you find that middle line and try to stick to it like a tightrope.


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orbit (n. and v.) It is so easy. It takes almost no effort at all, you think, after that first moment.

That first spark of conversation, that first meeting of eyes and mouths and souls until you breathe and bleed the same, that first leap forward into a new unknown that could end in tragedy or some-thing like the feeling of clean air in your lungs after a long day. When the days start bleeding into weeks and months and you are wrapped in their embrace, in this little world of words that you have built between yourselves, the rest seems irrelevant — unimportant.

There is a before and there is an after and it is so easy to fall into the gaps. When you emerge on the other side, not quite victorious and bitter and there to pity, you remember that there were once others that used to lull you into that gentle meld of content, the ones that melted


into empty space after that first moment. The climax of the tragedy has already occurred; but after rain there are always flowers. You wait for them to grow. Now, after the aftermath, you wonder at how it was so easy to be pulled into their orbit and whether it will ever happen again.


otter (n.) Otters have been known, when sleeping, or eating, or floating in the water, to hold hands, to ensure that they do not drift away from their families.

Over the years, the memories of the holidays blurred together until they all seemed to happen in 2008, varying iterations of the same summer holiday. But you remember one holiday as distinctly the summer of 2009, because you and your cousin were snorkelling somewhere in the Great Barrier Reef, a few metres away from the boat, when you saw a green sea turtle followed

You saw the turtle first, gesturing and screaming as much as you could with the snorkel until your cousin also started wildly waving her limbs. The sea turtle floated by, the sunlight hitting the hard shell of the turtle near the surface of the water, and you watched as it blinked its dark eyes then swam further from the boat. For a second, you felt like you were in a David Attenborough documentary. You didn’t fully react again until your cousin yanked your arm and you were pulled backwards, out of the path of long, jellyfish tentacles that grazed off your cousin’s wetsuit before trailing away.

Melanie Wong

When you were younger, when you still had big, buck teeth and followed your cousin around everywhere like a smaller, weirder echo of her, your family would go on holidays with your cousin’s family, on a road-trip up the coast or on a flight to a sunny island or back to the motherland. It was a bit of a raucous situation, with five growing kids going through various stages of puberty and pre-teen angst, but it happened every year until the eldest child graduated, and then you are all stuck with extended gettogethers that could last up to twelve hours (more, if someone brought out cricket, cards, karaoke machine, and mahjong table).

almost immediately by a giant jellyfish with many, many tentacles.

You didn’t even look at each other – you didn’t need to – and swam back to the boat as fast as your flippers would take you. When you looked back, the turtle was already munching on the jellyfish. That night, you shared a bed with your cousin and almost said thanks, but then you felt a bit silly and just held her hand. Inside, you felt a little shaky and untethered, your cousin’s hair splashed across the pillows like tentacles. After a moment, she gripped your hand back, half-awake and warm, just in case you drifted away in her sleep.


paddle-pop (n.) The rainbow paddle-pops at your primary school were $1.50. This was a good 15 years ago and you’re sure the prices have since gone up at the little tuckshop in the corner of the playground but the last time you ate a rainbow paddle-pop was definitely more recent. Maybe last week. You don’t know what it is about rainbow ice cream that has never lost its appeal. You know it’s not actually rainbow flavoured. (You

were 12 when someone told you it was just caramel. It felt worse than when you found out Santa wasn’t real.) You can also almost never buy it in a tub anywhere, so unless you feel like forking out $5 for a measly scoop at the local ice cream parlour or buying a box of rainbow paddlepops at the nearest Woolies, you’re not getting any rainbow goodness. You’ve always been stingy at heart, so the latter it is. When you were seven, there was a nefarious trading circle, little second grade kids mingling in

loose crowds in a quieter section of the playground. Precious cargo passed hands, as they always do in nefarious trading circles. And yet, the coveted currency here wasn’t some illicit drug, or even money, but Little Pet Shop toys. You don’t remember much about your second-grade life, but the one thing you do remember is trading something for your prized Little Pet Shop, a little brown and white dog you named Toffee. You can’t remember what you got for him, but it was clearly a scam because you left the playground wailing, walking directly to the tuckshop lady and asking for a rainbow paddle-pop. Another time, you and your brother were playing a game in the playground (unsupervised) and it involved running and closed eyes (stupidly). Needless to say, you fell, bawled, declared your brother Satan incarnate, and had to be appeased with a rainbow paddle-pop.

Now, you sit on your couch at home and watch the news at 7 o’clock, hearing the jingle and settling yourself into the pillows. “The state government has announced that another lockdown may be imminent for NSW…” “Experts say that the nature of our shopping centres could be changed forever by the pandemic, with Australia retailers suffering their worst years…” “In unsettling news, the bubonic plague has been found in…” The television continues to drone in the background, the reporter’s expression grim under the studio lights as you leave your couch. When you sit back down, a single rainbow paddle-pop firmly in hand, you continue to listen as war and pestilence and unease rage across the screen. Don’t shoot the messenger, they say, but they can’t help blaming the media at the end of the day anyway.

passacaille (n.) There is a song that you listen to sometimes, when the sadness pulls you under, and it feels like a dance. Not a happy one, or a fierce one, but not a slow one either. It feels like sweeping across a ballroom, alone, quiet, and the air brushes against you like ghosts pressing their fingertips into your skin. In your mind’s eye, the rain falls like silver and the earth blooms, unrepentant. The music never stops. You do not know when the day fades to night but when you blink, the room is dark, flickering from light to shadow. The exhaustion is a familiar weight in your bones, sinking, but your eyes remain open because the weight may be heavy but the monsters at night are a greater burden to bear. When they come, with their teeth and their claws and their words, what can you do but lie there, until the essence of you bleeds out on the marble tiled floor?

petrichor (n.) You have always loved the smell of the rain. You never knew what it was, or that it had a name. You just opened the windows and inhaled, feeling the splash of rain on your face for a millisecond before leaning away, cold and alive. You told someone once, when you were on a bush walk somewhere and had left the path behind you to make your own, and they had given you the name of the smell. You forget who the person was or which bushwalk it was but you still remember the word. It rains now, loud and angry across the windowpanes of your little apartment. There is a bucket in the kitchen that thuds with every leak of rain, a dull noise that you doze to as you sit on the sofa, swathed in felt blankets and a hot water bottle at your feet. When your eyes open again, the sky is still overcast. The world looks the same but the rain pelts gentler now, a soft tapping against the glass like a visitor at your door, forming little puddles in the potholes on the road.

It is still afternoon, you think. You shed your blankets and plod to the window, pushing open the rusty latch with a sharp clunk. The rain is cold on your face, the wind whipping it onto your hair and your neck and your shirt until you are more wet than dry, dripping a pool onto your living room floor. The streets are empty on a Sunday afternoon, so you think, fuck it. You make it down to the ground floor of your apartment building, clad in thongs and pyjamas, and rush into the open entrance, the rain soaking you completely within seconds. You stand there for a moment, letting the water splatter against your glasses until you can’t see anymore, until your hands are pale and pruny and your skin is rising in goose bumps. You feel a bit stupid and cold but you are outside and it is raining and the air smells like something clean and familiar and nostalgic so you spin twice for good measure before you chatter your way back inside your apartment, ignoring the judgement of the little old lady who lives on the ground floor, eyeing you from her window.

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pigeon (n.) You are a grown, adult woman with a bank account, jobs, and a home, and every time you lock eyes with a pigeon you feel a frisson of dread. Birds were never your thing. They have sharp beaks and beady eyes and they like to shit on unsuspecting things (read: you). Some birds are beautiful and important to the ecosystem. Pigeons are not. You’ll grant them this. They are not the infuriating hell-spawn called ibises or the squawking seagulls that snatch your chips. But pigeons putter around in your path and sometimes on the road when you drive and every time a pigeon stands innocuously in the middle of the road as your deadly wheels approach, you lose five years of your lifespan. Their purpose expired when instant messaging became a thing and no matter how many people jump on the trend of vintage film cameras and vinyls, you don’t think anyone will be using homing pigeons anytime soon.




quaint (adj.)

For someone so idealistic and neurotically detail-oriented, it’s almost surprising that you don’t have a ten-year plan outlining your goals and next steps.

Melanie Wong

You do have a dream life though, something spawned from hours of MASH and watching a weird cartoon version of Heidi you have not been able to find since. You thought about living in Switzerland before you ever set foot into the country, rolling green hills over azure lakes, a picture-perfect cottage with lots of books. Maybe a cat. Certainly, lots of sunlight. If you were feeling adventurous, a goat or two. Realistically, you know that you a) do not speak French or German, b) have Swiss citizenship, and c) are not an early riser, as is required of a simple farm lifestyle. You are sure there are multiple more points to dissuade you from uprooting and moving to Switzerland, but you forget. You have been to Switzerland once in your life, when you were travelling around Europe by yourself. In between postcards to your parents from Munich and social media posts of Lake Lucerne, you found a pretty patch of grass by the Aare River and wonder what it would really be like, living by the mountainside a world away from everything you grew up with. On a whim, you pictured your home – a small, timber lodge, with a library and a sunroom and a kitchen filled with green. Some flowers hanging on the porch, green and lush in the summer and dusted by snow in the winter like icing sugar. Now, when you are back in the reality and shuffling to work and home and work and home, you wonder again at that unforgotten canvas in your mind, painting your mind in sweeping colours and warmth and something that tastes like home.


queue (n. and v.) As a personal rule, whenever you are a passenger in the car with someone (infrequent, now that you are an Adult), you play the alphabet game. It doesn’t matter how short the car ride is or how invested in the conversation you are. You will still make time to play the alphabet game (since, clearly, ‘spotto’ was not riveting enough). The rules are simple. Find a word in your surroundings beginning with each letter of the alphabet, in order. Most words are easy – ‘Bunnings’, ‘give’ way, ‘king’ street, ‘no’ right turn. But ‘q’. ‘Q’ is the worst. In the entirety of Sydney, there are maybe three suburbs that start with ‘q’, none of which are particularly close to you. Unless you are lucky enough to find a building with a ‘q’ at the beginning of its name, there is only one sign available.

Do not queue across intersections. The sign is not uncommon, but you feel a little like a lunatic when you peer past your friend’s head at roundabouts and intersections. You have a running tally in your head of how many times you’ve actually finished the game (going

on 236) and you may be an adult playing a child’s game but life is short and then you die and you’d much rather die having amused yourself in the idle hours between here and there.

quick (adj. and adv.) The fanning of the flames is always faster than you would expect. When the people first protest, they are dismissed as a passing phase. One day, two days, one week, maximum, and they will return to their office jobs and their mundane lives and the cycle continues, with nothing more than a blip in the radar. This time is different. The people do not stop. Rioters, looters, criminals; every moniker is applied to them and still they do not stop. When the people walked with placards, they were ignored. When they yelled with anger, they were held down. When they throw Molotov bombs like baseballs, they are met battle for battle, bullet for bullet, until the city is a waste ground and there are no more trenches to protect the people.

They came with their batons and their calls for damnation, the police and the politicians, the privileged ones and the ignorant. After the chanting and the sirens, there is a birdsong like a lament as the people stagger home to nurse their wounds, to rest for a moment before the cycle continues. There is no rest for the wicked and the ones in blue prowl the streets, their arsenals exposed to the harsh light of dawn. When the world fully wakes, the chanting starts again. It sounds like an anthem. Hong Kong, Israel, Brazil, America. They don’t give you a name, but you already know.

quotidian (adj.) There is something in the motions of daily living that cannot be so insignificant. There are beautiful words for it; people fought wars for it; people shape lives around it. Now, normal days take a different shape. Normal means average. Normal means not spectacular. Normal means unextraordinary, means routine, means boring. But there is a wonderful ordinary that speaks of peace, of better days, of living and not surviving.

The letter 'q' quotidian (adj.)

The Dreamer’s Dictionary

raze (v.)

Have you ever been angry before?

Furious. Full of so much rage that you could not help but let it burst from you, wild and fearful and indiscriminate. They say that the quiet ones are the scariest. Maybe that’s true. Maybe you are all smiles until you are suddenly not. But maybe you are red-hot fury, as easy to flare as you are to calm. You don’t know. You only know that she left,somewhere and sometime when you did not know until later, and you were full of so much rage and so much grief that you could not help but let it burst from you, wild and fearful and indiscriminate.



regret (v. and n.) When she dies, it feels like grief and relief and guilt all at once.

Knowing is almost easier than telling others. Your family trickle home to mourn alone, in dark, silent spaces that swallow the sounds of misery, until you sit alone on the couch, covered in a blanket you don’t remember getting. You have to make a phone call, late that night, and tell the rest of the extended family that she is gone. It has been one month of hellish upsand-downs; your aunt is no nonsense and pragmatic, but kind. You don’t know if that’s easier. She offers to tell the rest of the family for you and you accept, feeling like you’ve cheated on a test. It doesn’t matter.

Melanie Wong

Your first thought is oh. A lifetime’s worth of love and memory has blinked out of existence, has flatlined into nothing but paper photographs and a scent that is already fading from a room. Then you sag, tired and bone-weary, because the wait is finally over. Then, you think that you should have been able to wait forever if it meant she got up and smiled at you at the end.

You lose the seconds and minutes to the witching hour, tidying this and cleaning that and making notes and doing laundry. When you come back to yourself, when you feel the numbness bleed from disbelief into reality, you sit down on your bed and cry. You thought you had more time.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

rest (v. and n.) For the first time that day, the sky clears. The winters in Tokyo are colder than you are used to. In the mornings, your breath fogs like a cloud and your fingers numb in your pocket, tingling when you step into the warmth of the metro. The day has been dreary and rain-kissed, an anxious energy thrumming in your mind, but when you emerge from the little shopping alley in Harajuku, the last of the afternoon sun is peaking through the buildings. You make your way back towards the leafy green oasis in the middle of Harajuku that you had seen in the morning, past alleys and laneways of neat, concrete rows lined by pretty bushes and fenced homes. The gravel crunches beneath your feet as you slip through the gates into Meiji Jingu, down the winding path full of people walking in the opposite direction. You know you only have about half an hour to see the shrine, but you cannot help stopping and taking your camera out, capturing the explosive reds and oranges of leaves through the mist. When you reach the Shinto shrine, it is quiet, filled with the dredges of worshippers and tourists. Dusk is falling, even though it’s barely four o’clock, so you hurry towards the chouzuya. It is the first time you have seen one in real life and you hover, watching the older women in front of you ladle water onto their hands and rinse their mouths. You do the same, and wander into a courtyard full of pebbles. You see a little store, selling little tourist trinkets and wooden votive tablets that are hung around the camphor trees. The wood is smooth and light, dangling on a little piece of rope, and you buy one without thinking. When you’ve written your wish in dot points, your hands cramping and numb from the cold, you circle the tree near you to find an empty slot. There are hundreds of wishes on this tree alone, from hundreds of people from hundreds of countr-ies and walks of life. There are little



Melanie Wong

drawings on some – a smile, a love heart, a peace symbol – and some are in languages you can barely recognise. You choose a slot after seeing someone’s little drawing of a sun and take a photo for good measure – you know you will never remember what you wrote.

When you leave the shrine, trudging back up the long path, you breathe the cool, clean air, a forested haven amongst the organised chaos of the city. The sky is dark when you emerge, but you feel calm for the first time that day.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary





rottweiler (n.)


Her: Too skinny.

You: Any sort of working dog

You: Too skinny!?

is adorable. Her: Yes. Labrador?

Melanie Wong

It goes like this.

Her: But chihuahuas are so cute and fun-sized.

You: Hmm, almost. Rottweiler?

You: They’re too yappy!

Her: …yeah. Rottweiler.

Her: Pomeranians?

You: We have a winner.

You: Basic and shed a shit tonne.

The next week, you buy her


brother a rottweiler.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

run (v. and n.) The city has fallen.


It functions at half capacity now, this harbour city that had once been the urban epicentre of Asia. The people have been marching for years but their goal seems, all at once, further than it was when they began. You can’t recall when that happened. The sky is clear today, unblemished, smooth. It is barely morning but already the students around you are mobilised, poised before the newest battalion. You hear the policemen heckling a crowd near you, separated only by a side street, and tug your mask closer to your face, wishing you had the safety of a helmet.

* 95


It had been lost sometime in the night, or the morning, and you don’t remember how. You feel the


wind against your neck, drying the sweat there, a cool reprieve, the scent of smoke lingering in your nose.


Your bag hits your back with each step you take, a thump, thump, that echoes the sound of your heartbeat in your ears. A policeman shouts at you, his rifle pointed into the crowd, but his voice is stolen by the wind. Behind him, you hear a cry rising from the policemen, a dull roar over the ringing in your ears.

Melanie Wong

In the street beside you, there’s the sound of something like an explosion — the sound of canisters dropping onto the tarmac. You dart forward and see a student by the cornerstone, hands clasped before his face. You wonder if he is praying. You wonder if it is worth it, to pray now.


You wonder how much it hurts to be hit by a bullet.


sanity (n.) As the story goes, Alice fell down the rabbit hole.

She had a beautiful dream and met some strange creatures and woke up to a field of flowers.

When you were little and crawling around bushes in forests and parks, you fancied yourself a little Alice, chasing after white rabbits with pocket watches and waistcoats. Your dreams back then were fantastical and magical enough that it may not have been far from the truth. Now, you think that if you had really been Alice and spun that tale, you probably would have been locked up in an asylum. Now, you are older, and probably appreciate Tim Burton’s rendition of Alice in Wonderland a little bit more. That Alice is a bit lost, a bit proud, and a bit of a snotty teenager, but she keeps walking and going through doorways and choosing different forks on the road. You think that life has made you a little Wonderland in your dreams, because pulling yourself away from the dark corners of your mind is like falling down the rabbit hole. Except this time, you can’t leave until you’ve beheaded the queen and made sure two heads don’t grow back. Off with their heads, indeed.

serendipity (n.) When you met your first best friend, you were eight and had just laughed at a kid because they walked into a pole. The girl stomped over, indignant pain smeared across her face and pushed you into the mulch. You honestly thought that was pretty fair, and the rest was history.

When you met your second best friend, it was a stupid uni ice breaker in the first class of your first semester of your first year. You were freshfaced and nervous and felt like Hermione Granger walking into the world of magic with none of the knowledge but all of the thirst to prove yourself. Say a fun fact in pairs, the tutor had said. I play piano, you started. For 15 years. Is this showing off? You hope not. It’s just the truth. What if they think you’re a dick? Shit, he had said. Well, I play euphonium, I guess. What’s a euphonium, you asked, and the rest was history. When you met your third best friend, you were saddled with a new job, a new internship and a new subject. You were in a quiet corner of the building, headphones in, and clicked on a song. Apparently, your headphones weren’t in. When you’d barely stopped cringing at yourself and wondering if it was too late to change universities, someone plopped on the plastic chair in front of you, very seriously, and said, “I love that song.” And the rest was history. You don’t know if blood or water is thicker, but you know that there is some truth to the idea of a found family. You are lucky, you know, and you think that this life has been a series of happy accidents.

siren (n.) In your life, you have discovered that humans are fickle creatures. Give them a cause and they will fight for it. Give them an apple and they will chase it. But in the existence of now, your brethren seem to find it at once both too easy and too difficult to allow themselves to be happy.

You think of the politicians lining their own pockets with silver and gold and the trust of the people. Then you think of your uncle, older than you by much more than half, still counting his pennies like he did when he was young and running from one homeland to the next. First there was Eve and the forbidden fruit. Then, there was the siren on the shore. It always seems like humans need a reason to be tempted.


sleepless (n. and v.) Hindsight is a funny thing. It feels like when you were in high school and you couldn’t figure out that stupid maths problem, only for the answer to be ridiculously obvious once the teacher showed you the solution. Sometimes, you are kept awake by the strange, intimate details of your life. The things that you spend countless seconds rethinking and re-memorising in your head, little ingots of time that pass by slow like honey, are things that others probably do not remember, even when they were there. There was that day where you had an allergic reaction to something and swelled up like some monstrous, pink hive in the middle of maths class. Or when you were playing at home and


fell down the stairs and didn’t tell anyone, even though your mum asked what the noise was, and you nursed bruises for weeks. You’re still not sure why you didn’t say anything. You lie there in bed and consider the moments that brought you here, little jigsaw puzzles that still haven’t made a coherent picture yet. When you look at the clock, it is still only 3:23am. You turn over and rearrange the pillows into a fort around you, a dark little bubble of plush untouched by mortification. If you’re going to be awake, you might as well be comfortable.

soon (adv.)

11 minutes. “The next train to arrive on Platform 3 goes to Hornsby via Gordon – first stop…” 14 minutes. You’ve been standing on the platform for 5 minutes, watching the train’s ETA flicker between 11 and 14, indecisive, irritatingly so. You think that this is what purgatory must be like – waiting and waiting and waiting on the platform for a train that is never going to arrive.

You have always had a complicated relationship with words. In your


You have prepared for this. You have a dedicated folder of interview preparation notes and this is just one of many. But the words you spent memorising and rearranging in your mind float into unintelligible letters until it feels like you are repeating the same sentence over and over again; right-click synonyms is drawing up a blank.


talk (n. and v.) mind they flow, unrestrained, tumbling over each other like water over rocks. But when you stand in front of them, that panel of judge, jury and executioner, the words melt on your tongue.

When it’s over, you slouch again the wall and wipe your sweaty palms on the pressed slacks you ironed last night. The little reception area is small and cramped, so you thank the receptionist and take the stairs down to the first floor, two at a time in your heeled boots. When you get outside, you let your shoulders ease back and decide not to answer any more questions for the rest of the day.


tempest (n.)

The Dreamer’s Dictionary

The lightning always comes before the thunder. It was little things at first. Dishes left in different places, disagreements before the sun had fully risen, cold, empty bedsheets and cold hands, like clouds gathering before a storm. Then, the first sounds of thunder hit. Missed calls and missed conversations, an empty home fractured upon touching. Words sharpening into knives until you both stand there, an impossible gulf between you. One day, you both sit and talk and sheathe the knives until there is one step left between you, those heavy nights and wounded days, melting like wisps of clouds in the dawn. When you wake, the bedsheets are warm under two warm bodies.

terror (adj. and n.) When you wake, it is with a startling clarity. Your unconscious snaps into knowing without your consent, the last dredges of a dream clinging to the edges of your mind.


papery smooth and bumpy with veins, caught in the morning light. There is a scent like moisturiser – manufactured flowers – and the leather couch is worn underneath your legs.

You grasp at them.

“Good child,” a voice says. When you look up, there is only a blank, dead face.

You are young again. There is a hand in your hair, patting, petting, comforting. The skin is

You inhale sharply, try to, but the breath chokes in your body and you are standing on a cold tiled


thorn (n.) You split yourself right down the middle (boredom makes devils of us all) Just to see if you could. You split yourself right down the middle

Just so that they wouldn’t.

Melanie Wong

(it hurts, and hurts, and doesn’t stop)

floor, staring into the shrunken, waxen face of someone you used to hold. I miss you, you try to say, but the words get lost from your brain to your mouth and all you do is exist. It feels like a sin. The dead do not speak (they forget how), but sometimes they listen.


tomorrow (adv. and n.) You are on your daily walk around the block, going

through your to-do list, when you panic because you forget what day it is. It takes an inordinate amount of effort to remember that it is Tuesday (why did you think it was Friday?) and now, the monotonous drone of study and work and sitting at home has melded into a tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and you think it is so easy to slip through the cracks. Sometimes, you are the tree that falls in the forest and no one is here to hear it.

transient (n.) When you reach the clearing, even the birds fall silent.


You started the trip a bit late, you think – the sun is almost ready to dip beneath the mountains. The wind is gentle and biting where it touches your skin and you trudge forwards, careful to avoid the little white flowers that adorn the hidden path. The path unwinds into an open space, ringed by trees that are dusted red and gold. The stone steps are weathered and green now, after years of quiet, and you almost feel guilty for disturbing the peace. But you step forward anyway, grass crunching beneath your feet. When you stand on the dais, the memorial is faded white and grey before your eyes, etched lettering almost illegible. The legends do not do this justice – the isles of the blest, of Avalon, were born here. The druid days of pagan pilgrim-ages have become overgrown with vines and snowdrop blooms, but you still feel like this is a holy place, for reasons your mind or the air conjures. There are no knights of the roundtable here. Just empty chairs and moss-ridden trees.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

umbra (n.)

There are people preaching on the streets again. You don’t know which religion it is. You don’t particularly care. They all sound the same after a while.


The streets are still bright now, even at five o’clock, and you feel that strange dizziness of walking out of a dark cinema into daylight. Your friends are quiet beside you – you don’t think any of you know where to start. Finally, you speak. “So, looks like the world is going to go to shit in the next few years.”

“I cried twice,” your best friend offers helpfully. “Once when it showed the future of the world and then when the walruses died.” It’s all well and good, you think, for three Gen Z adults to feel the anxiety of a dying planet creeping up on them. It may not be ideal (your therapist definitely thinks it’s not), but it is normal, expected even. It is probably stranger to meet someone who is not nervously thinking about whether or not there will be a planet for them to survive on in 50 years. And yet.



“It doesn’t do anything if we just watch it and get depressed,” your other friend scoffs, walking angrily fast. You try to catch up. “None of the people who have power are going to watch it and cry and do something.”

Melanie Wong

Does it always feel like there are too many problems in the world to solve, you wonder. Did every generation before you feel the same, hearing of the world’s evils? Perhaps now, you concede, you just know more about them. Nature is cruel and kind in equal measure, but now, the scales have been tipped by a beast on two legs who preaches about false gods and superiority.



umbrella (n.) There are lots of lost things. Working in any sort of public space, people leave their things behind. A coffee with a colleague leaves a business card. A study session at the library leaves a USB. A dinner date leaves a lipstick mark. A cloudy day leaves an umbrella. When you worked your first job, it was at the local library. Local libraries are strange places these days. There are students huddled amongst the books typing on laptops and phones and tablets. In the children’s section, a mother hushes a toddler throwing a tantrum, books strewn behind him like a warpath. In the DVD section, a grand-father tilts his head to look at the titles. There is a crate called ‘Lost Property’ in the staffroom, which keeps growing and growing and never really empties (unless it gets too full and someone begrudgingly moves the items so that they are someone else’s problem). On a slow day, you might comb through the milk crate, looking at these lost things; a child’s hat; a drink bottle; an actual credit card; a box of USBs that clatter when you lift it. Before you can look through more, the sound of a bell summons you back to the front desk, smile in place. “How can I help you?” “Someone left this,” the mother says, handing you a small card while she juggles her child and a bag of books to the exit. When you turn it over, it is another library card, left on the check out machine. You breathe a sigh of relief, small in your mind, and go through the procedure of mailing it back to the borrower. This, at least, is something that can be returned. When you arrive at your next shift, there is another toy in the box of forgotten things.

unite (v.)

untethered (adj.)

The three of you stand there, at a stalemate. Your feet twitch, and they do too. “Puppies…go!” You throw the toy into the fray and the dogs snap into action, one big against one small against one poor rope toy. There is some yelping and paws hitting faces and your dad laughs himself stupid at the two until you crinkle the treats packet. The dogs pause. “Puppies…sit.” They sit, five feet away from you, the toy forgotten. In your hand, there are two pieces of liver treats. “Puppies…assemble!” There is a mad rush of dog and fur and human limbs. When the dust clears, your hands are very slobbery, and the dogs are bored of you once again.

The stars are mad tonight and Zepyhr is calling. It sounds like a swan song as the moon sets the night alight – a winter blaze – until the rain sweeps over the plains like a shadow. There is a hawthorn tree beside your window the faeries dance around the leaves at the witching hour. Somewhere, the blackbird sings softly, softly, a siren at dawn.

veins (n.) The park is quiet at this time of day. It is early,

and the streetlights blink out with no warning.

since you

It has been one week

not quite dawn,

Every once in a while, you hear the rapid beat of a jogger’s feet on the pavement, a little circle around the stone bench you have chosen to rest on, before the steps fade away, back into muted birdsong and the sound of your breathing.

Now, you think, the left each other. worst of it is surely over. You think your eyes were perpetually swollen, rubbed raw against tears that felt like sand and rough tissues (or whatever surface that was available). You moved from one embrace into another, sympathy and sadness like weights on their limbs, and yet amongst it all you still wondered whether she too felt careful arms soothing away her heartache. It will take time, you think, before you stop thinking of her after every thought and heartbeat. The stories are right, and they are wrong. At some points, you do feel like collapsing into soft bedding and never moving or raining fire and hell on her (vengeance!) or re-walking those familiar paths you had trodden together. You do not know if it is naïve or stubborn, pouring your lifeblood into some-thing you did not know (did you?) would end eventually. In this little corner of the world, the sun climbing and climbing, you think that you are tired of analysing. You have been loved and lost and felt the edges of yourself erased by her. In this little corner of the world, you think the edges are a little less blurred now.

vellichor (n.) In your mind, it looks a little like this. There is a shop on a hill, sloping downwards towards the sea. The sky is peerlessly blue, one of those picture-perfect spring days with a breeze rustling the trees and through the shop, interspersed with the sounds of traffic and voices. There are three tables outside, wooden chairs shaded by two umbrellas and a large jacaranda flowering lilac. The sound of a bell trills through the open doorway and the first thing you notice is the books on every surface of the shop. Books are lined along the walls, in stacks by the counter, tucked neatly into brown, wooden shelves, salvaged and transformed into coffee cup stands. There is a glass display of baked treats, from tarts to muffins to cookies and slices. The coffee machine in the corner is old and well-loved, the smell wafting throughout the bookshop, infused into the secondhand novels of the café partition and the old, creaking floorboards. There is a small archway before you reach an open room, split into different age groups of picture books and little chapter books, merging into the young adult section before expanding outwards, into fiction, crime fiction, fantasy fiction. There are biographies in a corner, a little display of familiar faces next to cooking books and art books and gardening books double the size of the novels. There are philosophy and politics books, pop culture and travel, all illuminated by small windows along the top edge of the wall. In a little nook, there are old manuscripts and CDs and vinyls, dusted from age and illuminated by a single, orange lightbulb. At the end of the room, a door opens into a courtyard scattered with plants, from succulents to ferns to potted orchids, all under a towering Canadian maple.

The dream is sweet and good and so far away, but when you wake, the scent of old books is still there.

vermicelli (n.) You were very young when you first remember walking into the restaurant. You may have been

three or six (those years blur), but there was a wooden lattice by the entrance and potted plants hung from the roof. The pathway leading to the door was red brick and uneven. You think you tripped more than once.

The door slid open to reveal tables and tables lined up like a cafeteria. The chopsticks were bright green and the tea was poured from a thermos. Your parents always washed the bowls and cups and spoons and chopsticks until they were warm and dripping tea onto tissues. You always tried to help, passing along utensils to be cleaned and then passing them back to their owners. You and your sister always ordered the same thing: one phở tái each, no coriander, no chilli. The day came when you could finish the whole bowl by yourself and you thought that this was probably the peak of your life. Your parents always ordered bún chả. Whereas your noodles were flat, soaked in a beef broth that had been cooking for hours and decorated with beef slices, your parents’ noodles were thin, almost like spaghetti, garnished with pieces of fried pork chops and spring rolls and vegetables. The first time you tried it, your regular order was suddenly in danger of being replaced. The restaurant closed down three years ago. You have yet to find a place that tastes as good.


villain (n.) When you were a child, you read about heroes

fighting evil and defeating villainous antiheroes with tragic backstories. Protagonists were brave, loyal, brilliantly smart and determined to do justice. They had families (lost and found), friends, sidekicks, wise mentors, and flaws. At the end of the day, evil fell with remorse, with fear, with anger – it didn’t matter how, only that it did.

here be demons

Now, the villains are your own mind and the people you chose to care about, where you took a chance and it back-fired on you. There is an old adage that says when one door closes, another opens. When you get there, a sign is on the door. Here be demons, it says.


warm (adj.) Eating mangoes in the summer, sticky sweet like a child’s dreaming.



Hands on your waist, through the fabric of your shirt (I’m here, still).

A brush of cyclamen lining the spaces on your windowsills, the benchtop, the bookshelf, like love notes in the margins of your notebook. Sunlight filtered red through eyelids, your back pulled flush by gravity against the dark, damp earth.

Salted caramel tarts, gold-leafed and tinged with chocolate, melting against the roof of your mouth. The smell of baking bread when you walk past that age-old bakery on the corner of the street, two blocks away. A lapful of your best, doggy friend, fur soft and downy from a bath. A bunch of roses, blush pink and blooming, idle in springtime. The summer rains sweeping over plains like a shadow, the air clear and light when you breathe. Pulling over on the side of the road to sing or write that line stuck in your head, pinning down a shapeless cloud and turning it into something bittersweet.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

weregild (n.) You hold grudges longer than you remember them. Some might call it a character flaw. You just call it looking out for you and yours. In the old days (Germanic, apparently, but you still don’t know when that actually was), blood money was an easy solution for accidental or on-purpose death or injury, back when murder was more average than a sin and you could pay it back with coins instead of your life. You think that regardless of whether or not the money fell to your hands, the slight would remain etched into your mind. It seems almost callous now – take my money in exchange for your daughter’s life, your father’s life, your cousin’s life that I accidentally ended. Maybe, you muse, that’s why monarchs could kill lots of people without much consideration of the consequences. Now, it’s that one per cent up there who are doing the killing. Factories collapsing and evictions and trying to crawl your way up from the bottom while they kick you down, little demons sitting on your shoulder while you try to pluck them off, one by one (your kingdom will not come). One day, we’ll collect what’s due.


whine (n.)


One fine, sunny day, you visit your best friend and a baby is unceremoniously dumped onto your lap. She is house-sitting for her sister, you know, but this does not explain the child drooling on your hair. “Um.” “Sorry, sorry,” she cringes, gathering items haphazardly into a tote bag while pulling a pair of shoes on. “I need to go out and buy more baby food because my sister didn’t buy enough. Can you watch the kid for half an hour? Promise I’ll be back by then.” “Um.”

The door slams. You realise belatedly that she left her house keys on the bench. Lucky you’re there and she doesn’t have to rely on a seven-month-old to open the front door.

Melanie Wong

“Thank you so much!”

You have a staring contest with the child before he gurgles at you and more drool comes out. Gross. This is why you will not be spawning any drooling creatures anytime soon. When your hair is damp from water rather than drool and the baby has a little cloth held by Velcro around his neck, you plop him in front of the TV and put on a kids’ channel. You’re sure there are certain restrictions to television time for children, but you were roped into this gig (for free!!) literally ten minutes ago. This child will watch Bluey. Literally one minute into Bluey the baby loses interest and starts making baby noises at you. “What do you want?”


why (adv. and n.) There are some human instincts that just can’t be shaken, reminders that we were once predator and prey to the rest of the food chain, rather than just to each other; fight or flight; a newborn crying. But there are more mysteries in the universe than the human mind comprehends.

Sometimes, you get lost in the what and the who and the why and the how. There are days when the world is too small and claustrophobic, when you don’t know if you should choose left or right, yes or no, and every choice is the make or break. There are times when the world is too big and explosive, when you let fortune take you by the hand and spirit you somewhere new because life is short and keeps getting shorter. There were theorists and thinkers who lived for both and you can’t decide if it’s worth it, toeing the line between caring and cold ignorance. There are priests and nihilists and worshippers and atheists, this tug of power in a game of chance, but at the end of the day, you take a deep breath and steel yourself. Your bones crack and twist like rowan tied by red thread...

Melanie Wong you find those scattered pieces of yourself again (by the sea, between ivory piano keys, in the yellowing pages of an old diary) and forge them anew in something that tastes like peace.

X replaces a lot of things. At the same

time, it doesn’t seem to mean much.

X marks the spot.


Find x if y = mx + b.

Mark your responses with an ‘x’. X is a place marker, an inbetween and liminal thing.


xoxo (acronym) Goodbyes are difficult. The earliest, most distinct goodbye you can remember, the first one, was at preschool. You must admit that perhaps you have never been particularly fond of people, since your first reaction as a four-year-old being dumped next to other four-year-olds was to bawl and refuse to stay. It was not your proudest moment, you think, to pee on the teacher while she was holding you back from running through the gates after your mother. Sorry, Juliette. You are an adult now, and peeing on people to prevent goodbyes is frowned upon. When you said goodbye to your first ever best friend, you were nine. Some promises, you think, were made to be broken, and the one that starts with, “We’ll see each other soon”, is broken for the first time that day. Moving schools is difficult, but at the end of the day, you remember the goodbyes more than the anxiety-ridden first day. Your high school graduation was a surreal thing. Your parents were mainly relieved that their last child had finished school (done and dusted) and you were preoccupied with whether or not you would beat your siblings’ scores and number of awards (you didn’t). It took you a little while to realise that you wouldn’t see your friends every day anymore, or have a locker to put your stuff in between commitments, or have to go to the nurse’s office every January to give her a new Epipen because your old one had expired. By the time you realised, you were halfway to university. When you started working, you said hello and goodbye to people all the time. There was that one IT guy in the lift who always looked a bit frazzled in the mornings. A friend of a friend who is at the same wedding and is, unfortunately, your seat buddy. That one customer service lady who was very kind to you when you were on the verge of crying because of something you can’t remember anymore. Those are the only goodbyes that are less difficult. You wonder if it’s easier now because you’ve had more practice or if it’s because, unlike your nine-year-old self, a piece of you is not given to every person you say goodbye to.

xenophile (n.)

You don’t really remember, to be honest. There wasn’t a singular, explicit moment when you first thought, ah, yes, a racist. You remember some stupid kids saying, “Ching chong China!!” in first grade. Someone pulling at their eyes. Some girl in your dance class wrinkling their nose and ask, “Ew, what’s that?” when you opened your box of dumplings. Now they’re probably eating cheap dumplings at the local Chinese takeout place or buying fake designer clothes from China. There was this one kid who used to love Chinese things. Chinese food, Chinese clothing, Chinese stationery, Chinese, the language. She went to China for a year. She once spoke Chinese on stage at school and your mother said her Mandarin was better than yours (shut up, Mum. We’re Cantonese anyway). It was cool at first. Hey, this white kid is interested in my culture! And then she corrected you on how to use chopsticks. Or told you a story about the origins of the mooncake festival. Or told you that her mum also gave her a red packet for Chinese New Year. Or started dating, and all her partners were Chinese. There’s a fine line, you know, and she didn’t so much as cross it as leap over it, but sometimes it’s easier to ignore it than to try and fix it (they never listen anyway).

yesterday (adv. and n.) You construct your yesterdays carefully (maybe because yesterdays are so certain). Yesterday you rode a train across a bridge and the sky glinted off the water. Yesterday you met someone new and became friends. Yesterday you looked after yourself and had a bath. There was a time when your yesterdays blended into each other like a gradient of the passing season, sun up, sun down. Yesterday I did…

Yesterday I… Yesterday. It would be a wonderful thing if you never lived your yesterdays like that again.

yet (adv. and conj.) And yet.

And yet.

And yet.

young (adj.) You remember being young

(younger?) as a beautiful moment in time, suspended like clouds before the storm. You think that you might be glad you made mistakes and lied and ran from sirens – otherwise it may as well just have passed in a haze. You look at those old photos of yourself and old diary entries (yuck) and wonder how things that meant so much to you then and defined you at one point in time suddenly mean nothing at all.

There was that old diary with a lock on it, which anyone could have picked if they had the mind to. There was that light pink coat that made you feel like a doctor, walking around the ward and asking, “How are you feeling today?” There was that blue watch you had been given for your twelfth birthday, with little puppies and snowflakes all along the band. There was that stick of pencil eyeliner you used religiously, until it was just a little nub of a

thing and your skills at wielding it had grown exponentially into a preference for liquid eyeliner. There was a little purple lighter that you’d bought once on a whim that you never used for yourself (if only to light candles) but gave you friends in clubs where strangers used to lurk. There was that Swiss army knife you paid a pretty penny for in Switzerland that got immediately seized at customs because you were dumb (you cried).

There was a ring set with a red gemstone that your grandmother left for you, which you wore on a chain when you missed her most. The human heart is a fickle thing, and you wonder if a day will come where something will never fade into subconsciousness by mere virtue of your love or care or sentiment. You suppose you have time to figure that out.

yule (n.) Every year, on 1 November, Christmas seems to implode in every shopping centre, store or company. There are Christmas

trees and lights, you get emails from the fifty different subscriptions you accidentally clicked ‘yes’ to and there are Christmas carols when you do your grocery shopping. It feels like millions of Santa elves sprang into action at once, though you know it’s probably just underpaid hospitality and retail workers. Christmas in Australia has always felt confusing, even though you’ve lived here all your life. It seems strange that everyone invests in the snowy Christmas movies, listens to Frank Sinatra saying, “let it snow”, and buys Christmas cards with snowmen and reindeer on them when it’s 40 degrees outside. Your friends in the northern hemisphere are always very confused. One of them once asked, “So do you guys get…snow?” and you were so nonplussed that you could only reply, “…it’s summer.” You’re not sure if other southern hemisphere countries have Christmas cards with Santa surfing at

Bondi Beach or if it’s just a special brand of Australian cringe, but you still have enough dignity to say you have never willingly bought one of those cards (only involuntarily received). Christmas is marked by sweltering heat and summer storms. When you were in school, it was marked by the sound of cicadas after lunch, when everyone just wanted to watch a movie in class with the fans on. Now, it seems to be rooftop Christmas parties and a concerning amount of alcohol.

But Christmas dinner with family remains the same, with a turkey and crackers and (still) a concerning amount of alcohol. There are presents and maybe a few awkward swerves in conversation to avoid confrontational topics. There is a brief scrabble between the dogs about who gets that last cut of meat from the table. At the end of the night, it may not be snowing and beautiful and traditional, but it’s still Christmas.

The Dreamer’s Dictionary

zeitgeist (n.) Your entire life has been defined by multiple different career idealisations. The first time you understood

what a career was, you were five and you wanted to be a doctor (hooray, said your mother). This was probably because your older brother was studying to be a doctor. You looked at the images of medical textbooks like they were picture books, and you stole your brother’s stethoscope to use on your soft toys.

The next thing you wanted to be was a chef. You have no idea where this came from and it has not resurfaced since. Later, this morphed into wanting to own an ice cream truck. You have a distinct memory of telling someone you wanted to sell ice cream outside your brother’s hospital. You are not sure where this dream came from either. Next, it was a marine biologist when you were eleven. This was also oddly specific but spawned from primary school sick days watching David Attenborough’s Blue Planet.



Melanie Wong

You had all of it on DVD and would cycle through most of it on the couch in your living room, while your mother force-fed you Chinese herbal medicine. High school was a weird time (as it is for everyone. Right?) because the closer you got to choosing what to do, the less you knew about what you wanted to do. You thought of being a teacher for a while (never mind. Kids? No thanks. Teenagers? …they would probably bully you.) and then maybe an archaeologist (history! But dust allergies…) and then maybe a lawyer (you cry when you argue) and then maybe a psychologist. In the end, you hit your last year with a blank canvas and chose journalism on a whim. Stories were good. Why not? It feels less strange now that you realise everyone your age is the same. Some career lady at a talk once said that you would cycle through seventeen different careers. Maybe one day you will do that ice cream truck thing.


The Dreamer’s Dictionary

zenith (n.)

Sometimes, it feels like you peaked in high school. Certainly not appearance-wise (you don’t think anyone would peak during puberty, and if they did then you are very sorry), but back then, your brain was a sponge. There was a routine that allowed you to wake and learn and do sport or music or debating or whatever extracurricular activity was selected for you that particular term and you stuck to the routine. They put you on a shiny dais called ‘academically gifted’ or ‘music scholarship’ or ‘sports prodigy’ and when you inevitably broke, they didn’t help you down. There’s nothing like the sense of humour that comes from being a gifted-child-burnout, but you think it’s that sense of humour that lets you know, deep down, that the zenith is still to come.



zero (n. and v.) There are periods of your life that feel like one thing after another,

Melanie Wong

a repetitive motion of days and weeks and undulating movement. The highs explode, brilliant like fireworks, and the lows catch you by the ankle and drag you with them. There are times when you need to stop laughing to breathe and times when you feel that hollow space beneath your ribs expand and contract like a living thing. Even peace tastes bitter on your tongue, a wild animal trapped in a cage, unwilling and unreasonable. Then, you fall in love, and the world mellows. You still need to stop laughing to breathe, but sometimes the euphoria melts into something soft and giving, pliant after days of jagged edges. You still feel that hollow space beneath your ribs, but the claustrophobic silences ease into something quiet, something comfortable, and the days are marked by good mornings and good nights instead of passing by in shades. You write vows in your mind and cradle those moments close to your chest.


From the talented words of Melanie Wong Designed by Elby Chai


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