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An illustration of a woman sitting on the floor in front of an open refrigerator, shielding her eyes. long, red tendrils are emerging from a bottle in the fridge and blooming into large, aggressive red flowers beside the woman

‘Cái t lnh (The fridge)’, Jill Tran ( / @jillgoeschill)

Translated from the Vietnamese: Read the original version here.
Bản dịch từ tiếng Việt: Đọc câu chuyện gốc ở đây.

They ask me: how come your eyes are so red. Red. So red.

You seem to be extremely sad when you live here. Hanoi is a city that, if you live here for a long time, you will see reach its utmost level of banality.

Utmost banality. I am not exaggerating. It means it has some of the things other cities do: an August cinema, a park, a lake, a church with carton-thin walls, some cafes for foreign visitors nestling next to silk shops, a cluster of cafes for youngsters, a stretch of hotels and hostels for tourists. Overall, the number of people and cars still flow in and out steadily, without sudden spike or sink. Some cinemas have frozen in a soulless state: regardless of whether there are visitors or not, they remain looming figures, with pitch dark interiors and film panels scattered at the front gates. On certain days of the week, when I pass by all of these things, I still diligently scan them to see if there has been any change that entertains my eyes, but find nothing.

This is what makes me sit motionless and dazed in the small La Place cafe.

I can only look on as the guard leads the motorbikes one by one into the parking lot. This causes my chest to congest and my eyes to glaze over: from here, I cannot see behind that thick foliage, as all the roofs blur into one another.

But things do not stop there. The other day, they have resumed building barricades around the only church in this city. This only makes the church more hideous: from afar, it looks like a building made from grey cartons, glued and squashed to the background sky. However, this is only one of many reasons for me to realise a greater horror: I have sat here, for fifteen years, always in a despondent mood due to unfolding ghastly things—the parking lot expands and the small plot in front of the church becomes devoid of morose youngsters who, alarmed at their outré sorrow, would linger in front of the church’s entrance, peering through its oppressive doors as if to question what people are doing inside that dark nook, where anyone who has ever stepped foot out of this tiny land understands that the place does not console people one bit, and that every weekend throngs of people would disappear into it only to see despair casting cobwebs everywhere.

Then out of the blue, they ask me today, why your eyes are so red.

I had not realised that my eyes were becoming red. They must be so red, as red as two raw and bloody balls of beef, and the heat from that crimson colour must have stood out so greatly from my powder-white face that it prompted people to comment.

Hanoi is a city that, if you live here for a long time, you will see reach its utmost level of banality.

This evening I finished a solo routine: I woke up at five in the afternoon. I changed, combed my unruly hair, and put on a shirt a friend gave me. I went to the carton church area, mingled among the crowd of youngsters, and ordered a cup of coffee. I looked up at the sky narrowed by the foliage of the trees sprouting around the church. Evening came so quickly, the sky turning black in the blink of an eye, like a cloud of smoke squirted out and congealed across the sky. As I was looking up at the sky, the group of youths sitting next to me turned and said, your eyes are bizarrely red.

After my coffee, I pass by a French cultural institute, where I see a bustling crowd; I make a few rounds to wait until people have thinned out, only then am I willing to park my motorbike to see the exhibition inside. Upon entering, I am immediately saddened: if, just a moment ago, the camera flash and the jostling mob had rendered this place gaudy and ludicrous, then when they are gone, all that is left are painfully hideous artworks, utterly tedious—one is made from rubber gloves attached to a spinning pivot, with two tiny conical hats fixed underneath. Glancing to the side, I catch another work made from banana leaves, like a small raft. On the wall was a collage of a tree, with branches sprouting faces of all different colours around the world. Such an unsubtle way for them to punch the two terms Vit Nam into a definitive mould while flaunting their languid spirit of cultural exchange. Suddenly, I realise that they are trying to dilute me with these trivia. It feels like this was their plan, to gather in a meeting, thinking that they were spicing up the city, only to pour more melancholy into my mind.


My interest in seeing anything else begins to fade. Before buying some DVD films, I first leave to get some bánh mì. Then a pack of coffee and a can of condensed milk. Since I will have work to do inside the house for a whole week. Then I head to buy some DVDs. They still do not have the films I am looking for. I switch my search to music, but can only choose one CD before going back.

As I hastily make my exit from the DVD shop, the guard there suddenly lets out an astonishing scream: such red eyes you have!

I still cannot utter a word. Instead, I walk straight away with my head bowed. Now I am eating bánh mì with pa-tê and pickled green ​onions​. I recall that, just as I made it to the front of my studio, I could still hear my opposite neighbour exclaiming, what happened to your eyes, they are so red.

I shut the door and fastened the bolt. Leaning against the door, I stood still for a bit. Holding my breath, I looked into the big mirror besides me: my eyes, wide open, very wide open, pupils smaller and rounder than usual, or rather protruding more from behind my eyelids, blood vessels engorged and crawling all over my eyeballs. They are sticky and sanguine.

How ghastly. My eyes are now two balls of beef soaked in blood. But I was largely unaware of such a drastic change. They make me look like a flesh-eating demoness, my body wretched and pitiful. ​

Around eleven pm I make another cup of coffee. I want to write down what is happening inside my head. I search for my cigarette pack.

How ghastly. My eyes are now two balls of beef soaked in blood. They make me look like a flesh-eating demoness, my body wretched and pitiful. ​

How strange, I have turned the house upside down and still cannot find my cigarette pack anywhere. I have pulled open all of the drawers and looked into all of the bags, and still nothing. It is midnight and I cannot go out to buy cigarettes. My craving now borders on lunacy.

I cannot stop searching. Not until I crouch down to look under the wardrobe do I see the cigarette pack lying there. However, the real horror only seizes me when I open the pack: instead of cigarettes, inside, there are only two ghostly white eyeballs with scattered tobacco shreds stuck to them.

I recognise these glassy dull eyeballs. They used to be mine.

Someone must have taken my eyeballs and replaced them with two red meatballs a while ago. Why then could I not feel it. How can such absurdity possibly happen.

I suddenly remember that, last night, my best friend was here. We had watched a film together. After a while into the film, it was time for me to take my medicine. It only takes half an hour for the medicine to kick in and make me feel sleepy. I always doze off before my friend does whenever we watch films, and she will tell me the ending the next day. But this morning, she left while I was still asleep, so we did not get a chance to talk.

I begin to feel anxious about my eyes. Every fifteen minutes, I stand in front of the mirror to see if their crimson colour is abating. Bizarrely, it seems to only intensify with time, glaring brightly and making my head throb with indescribable pain.

By three in the morning, my only wish is to gouge my eyes out and soak them in cold water. They have gotten so hot my eye sockets feel as if they are on fire, while I feel like my body is running a high fever.

I fight the urge to look into the mirror in order to try and forget my red eyes. Around dawn, my headache subsides along with the redness, and I am able to sleep. I have placed my white eyeballs into the freezer. I need to keep them frozen to preserve their current state.

‘Mắt đỏ—phác thảo dựa trên cảm hứng từ truyện (Red eyes—sketch inspired by the story)’, Nhung Đinh (@pandatunx)


My friend suddenly disappears during those days. No one comes to visit me. My phone remains silent, no incoming text or call.

I continue living like this until the ninth day when all of a sudden there is a knock on the door. Not wanting my eyes to terrify anyone, I put on sunglasses before opening the door. At the entrance is my best friend. She looks quite cheerful, an unusual sight from her typical sombre state. She says, ‘I bring along a film, a very nice one, we can watch it later.’

I make her some coffee. Suddenly, she blurts out the question, ‘why are you wearing sunglasses indoors’, to which I respond, ‘sore eyes’. We sit together in the kitchen sipping our coffee and talk about anything and everything. When midnight comes, we begin watching the film that she brought. After a while, it is time for me to take my medicine. When I finish, she suddenly says, ‘I am craving cigarettes, hand me your pack.’ Curiously, I cannot find the cigarette pack that was lying on the table just a minute ago. I become irritated with my bad memory and my habit of leaving things around disorderly. I stand up to search, and my friend searches with me. But the pack remains elusive, as if it has automatically evaporated.

I start suspecting my friend; I feel that she is hiding something.

Out of nowhere, I am seized by a weird excitement—this resembles my last search for my cigarettes, which led to the discovery of my real eyes inside the empty pack. At that same moment, my pills start wielding their effects, and I cannot resist the wave of sleep. I collapse onto my bed; before falling into slumber, I manage to tell my friend to ‘go look under the wardrobe, I think it is there again.’ Then my eyelids shut and sleep takes over.

When morning comes, my friend is already waiting for me in the kitchen. I tell her, ‘I had a terrible dream last night’, of that she asks, ‘about what’, to which I respond, ‘about you, clawing my eyes out’—my friend does not show any surprise, and asks me back in an indifferent tone, ‘is that so, perhaps we have been watching too many horror films.’ I say, ‘I dreamed that when I took my medicine and fell asleep, you stopped watching the film, and instead began to pry open my eyelids; you clawed out my eyes with your bare hands, blood spurting all over my face, then you thrust my eyes into the cigarette pack you found under the wardrobe last night, before throwing the pack with my eyes inside back under the wardrobe.’

My friend shows a tinge of curiosity, ‘if that is so, then your dream makes perfect sense, a continuation from last night almost. After I saw that you have dozed off, I did actually find the cigarette pack under the wardrobe; I was so delighted that I had to take a puff immediately; I then went to remove your sunglasses, but you suddenly grabbed my hands and smacked them away—you were asleep yet oddly awake, mumbling something while determined not to let me take your sunglasses off. I had to wrestle with you for a while before I was able to remove them. Then I realised your eyes must have hurt so much for you to have such a strong reaction. Hence, I opened your eyelids to check if your eyes were indeed too red.’

I ask her instantly, ‘did you see how red they were; how disgusting, like blood.’

My friend responds, ‘no, they looked normal to me—no crust, no leaking tears, and they were not red. I think you eyes have healed now, you should take the sunglasses off.’

I walk over to the mirror and remove the sunglasses to check, jolted to see that my eyes are still freakishly red, as if I were no longer a normal human. I start suspecting my friend; I feel that she is hiding something and her voice takes on a slightly different tone.

I return to the kitchen and say, ‘I think my dream last night actually happened. I saw what you did to me. You swapped my eyes, didn’t you.’

My friend starts to fidget, ‘what is happening to you; ever since you started taking the medicine you have begun harbouring twisted thoughts. How is it possible for me to gouge your eyes out and replace them with another bloody red pair. You need to stop taking those pills, I think they are doing you more harm than good.’

‘No, it must have been you who did it, for there is no one else who comes here and hangs out with me. Everyone in the street tells me that my eyes are too red, even my next door neighbour—ask any of them, they’ll tell you.’

I know she has been clawing people’ eyes out to bring here and has to find ways to freeze and preserve them. I will find the owners of these eyes and return them.

By now, my friend appears distressed and says, ‘before you went to see that doctor, I already had uneasy feelings about him. I think he has given you pills that make your brain even more strung out and cause hallucinations. Open your fridge and see; you have stacked your freezer full of cigarette packs. You always end up smoking all of them whenever I come, and I have to reach under the wardrobe to pull out the empty packs for you. I don’t understand how you are so obsessed with your eyes; you are paranoid about them being gouged out when you are asleep. You keep your sunglasses on during sleep, even at night. I am so exhausted with this story already. You need to stop overdosing yourself on those pills. I do not trust that doctor.’

She then turns and leaves.

I remain standing in the kitchen for a long time. Cautiously, I open the fridge and look into the freezer: where pack after pack of cigarettes had been neatly placed, there are now only empty ones. They have frozen solid like rectangular chunks of rock. I know she has lied to me—within these packs are normal eyeballs, belonging to who knows who. Only I know the truth that she has been insane for many years, and that she has sought treatment everywhere to no avail. ​ It is she who is obsessed with eyes. Every time she comes, she brings a new pair of eyeballs and tries to replace them with my own eyes when I sleep. And the strange thing is that all the eyes she has brought are of the same crimson colour, and all resemble one another down to the last tiny vein. I know she has been clawing people’ eyes out to bring here and has to find ways to freeze and preserve them. I will find the owners of these eyes and return them. Perhaps, before they came here, they were still normal eyes belonging to normal people, and my friend has somehow transformed them into these grotesque crimson balls that can only cause your hair to stand up at the back of your neck.

But she is right: I will stop taking the pills, starting tonight. I want my mind to return to clarity when I see her again, to see what she will try to do when I pretend to sleep. I will find ways to return these eyes to their rightful owners. I definitely will find them.

And I will ask her why it is only my eyes that retain their normal colour after she has gouged them out, where all the others turn into that bizarre shade of crimson red.

Read more from KYD’s Vietnam Showcase.