That spring, Jin-gyeong resolved to go study in New York, even though it meant risking a breakup with me. Since she failed to tell me she was going to study abroad until after she had received an offer of admission, I had no way of stopping her, so I said goodbye, remarking half in jest and half in earnest, “That’s great! After all, there’s so much you don’t know that you’re in need of a lifelong education.” But the moment Jin-gyeong passed through immigration on her way out, it became clear that without her my life had no meaning at all. Still, I held out for a few months. Then, once I finally received mail from her after a long silence, I could not take it anymore. The message went rambling on about all the Korean men she was meeting at school and at church. A week later, when Jin-gyeong returned home to her Korean boarding house in Flushing and found me sitting at the kitchen table talking with the landlady about the impeachment of Korea’s president, she screamed as if she was going to faint. It was the happiest scream I ever heard. Hearing that scream, I felt certain that she was going to be my wife. Within three months of going to live in New York, Jin-gyeong had changed from being an ambitious, cold-hearted woman to being a sweet creature longing for human touch. So my most beautiful summer vacation began. We rented a car and set off away from New York. Southward, ever southward, without stopping!
We went to visit my Aunt Pam in Sebastian, a small coastal town in Florida, mainly because we were in a somewhat abnormal state, a kind of trance, one might call it, a boundlessly positive state, feeling able to accept anything the world might throw at us. Otherwise, I would never have thought of driving a hired car all the way to Florida during that short vacation. Apart from sleeping in a motel at night, I drove almost nonstop for two whole days. I took Highway 95 and drove down the east coast of the United States. During the more than twenty hours of driving we talked a great deal. Without that time, we would not be where we are now. All the time I was driving, I even felt grateful that Aunt Pam lived in Florida, not in New Jersey or Maryland, close to New York. Her husband Paul said I was crazy when he heard we got there in only two days, driving from New York, but Aunt Pam just laughed and was glad. “These two are so crazy about each other, they’d be capable of going all the way to Patagonia, let alone Florida, talking all the while,” she chided Paul. The day before I left, my mother had said that since it was hard to get to the U.S., once I was there I should visit Florida and see how Pamela was doing. At that time, I had no thought of seeing my aunt, so I asked sarcastically if she thought that the United States was the size of Gyeongsang Province and got a talking-to from her. For a while after I came back from America, every time we met, Mother would tease me: “I don’t dare think of going to Florida. Gyeongsang-do is good enough for me, so please offer me a trip down there.”
When it came to settling scores, Aunt Pam deserved to be considered Mother’s equal; she was the youngest daughter of seven siblings in my maternal family. Mother used to say she was a strange child because, although her real name was Cha Jeong-sin, once she was in high school she adopted the name Pamela for herself. My mother, who was her second eldest sister and had once been like a natural adversary to my aunt, used to say, clicking her tongue: “Ever since his middle school days Kim Young-sam put on his desk a sign saying “Future President,” so in the same manner your aunt’s hope since middle school was to become the wife of some American guy.” When I reminded her, “After all, Auntie’s dream came true,” she replied, “Why only her dream? Kim Young-sam’s came true, and mine, too.” So I asked her what her dream had been and she said it was to be a good wife and wise mother. Did I really have to ask whether Mother had achieved that dream? When I openly expressed my doubts, Mother hit me on the back. So, if she was really a good wife and wise mother, Mother was a good wife and wise mother with a firm hand.
We stayed with Aunt Pam for two days and drank a lot of different kinds of wine. Paul had built a wine cellar in the basement with refrigeration and ventilation, and he bought wine by the case every year. When Paul said that since he had bought the cellarful of wine, he was going to drink it all before he died, Aunt Pam asked if he meant he was going to keep drinking wine until the day he died. The two of them were all the time bickering like that. Aunt Pam said that by drinking as much as we could, we young folk would be helping them get rid of it, and piled this and that kind of wine on the table every night, opened one bottle after another and urged us to taste the different kinds. Paul complained that he would have no wine left for himself, but following Auntie’s orders he brought wine up from the cellar, took one sip, then left the table. At first, I thought it was his way of being considerate and giving us some quality time to spend recounting old stories. However, every time we opened a new bottle, Auntie freely told us things she had never told anyone, although she was seeing us for the first time. We learned that before she left for the States Auntie had acted in a movie, and also that Paul had been operated on for pancreatic cancer that spring. Word of his pancreatic cancer was unexpected enough, but that she had been a movie star in her youth was really astonishing. When I asked what kind of movie it was, it turned out to have been the last movie of a director I had heard about, who died relatively young, in his early forties.
“But why did Mom never tell us that?”
“Even now, if I go out anywhere, women young and old all leer at me. If I’m in a women-only group it gets really oppressive. After all, ever since we were children, your mother has been fretting about not being able to kill me. Still, luckily you’re not like your mother.”
“I’m really shocked. To think you were a film star . . . Well, that’s one thing, and then you say it’s lucky I’m not like Mom. She would beat you up.”
“Does she still go around boasting of her fists?”
I knew full well that my mother’s family all had the gift of the gab, but the way one word after another came pouring out . . . I admired the way that such a person could willingly forfeit opportunities for chattering in Korean and choose to become an American’s wife to fulfill her middle-school dream. Later, Jin-gyeong insisted that she had sent me that e-mail because she missed chatting with a close friend about minor things that had happened while she was away and that she had absolutely not written about all those men to provoke my jealousy. However, when she found me sitting at the table in her boarding house a week or so later, she had been deeply moved and then, seeing Aunt Pam and me competing to demolish my mother, she decided to marry me. For, if a conflict between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law were to arise, this man would not get things wrong and take his mother’s side. You could call it her own one-sided guess before ever having a taste of Mother’s fist. Joking aside, it is true that all the tales told by Aunt Pam that day and the next evening had a big influence on our marriage.
“I really wondered whose face would be the last I’d see at the moment of death. What would it look like? Don’t babies in the womb have the same thought? If I go outside, what will the face of the person I see first look like? Questions like that must arise when you’re rolling around in amniotic fluid.”
“I presume only for babies that are like you.”
“Stop prattling. Anyway, in that case, I can tell those babies in the womb. Why, fetuses are all the time listening. They like you to say ‘I love you,’ they hate you to say ‘I hate you.’ I will tell them this. The most important thing is getting out of there in good health, and then, once you’re out, like it or not, there’ll be a face you see for the first time. Whose face? Your mother’s. And when that mother is dying, your face will probably be the last she sees. It seems life is fair like that. I mean, so long as your mother’s life does not have too much pain and too many tears. So, if the last face you see at the moment of death is not the face of a person you’ve loved for your whole life, then no matter what kind of life that person lived, you cannot help but say that his or her life has been unfortunate. So marry without reservation, then have babies. That’s all I want to say.”
“What about all those other things you’ve been saying?”
“You want me to kill you?”
Two years later, my wife and I used an annual vacation to returnto New York, and since we both were definitely secreting fewer pheromones, we had no energy left to rent a car and go speeding down to Florida. After all, the U.S. is not Gyeongsang Province, is it? Instead, I took a roundtrip flight to Sebastian alone, interrupting a busy schedule; if I said it was only to drink wine, everyone would treat me as an out-and-out alcoholic, as my Mom, who heard me, said. But so what? It’s true. One year after our visit, we heard that Paul’s cancer had recurred. Aunt Pam called Mom, who reported that she was crying as she said that the whites of Paul’s eyes had turned yellow. When I reached the white house in Sebastian, Aunt Pam grabbed my hand, led me down to the wine cellar and showed me the remaining boxes of wine. “Life is so short,” she sighed, “one person is born and can’t finish this much wine before he dies.” On that day, I had been intending to drink all the remaining wine but, judging by the amount left in the cellar, if I had done so my life would really have been shortened. That evening, as we sat on chairs in the portico with its stone pillars, which I learned had been a decisive factor when they bought the house, looking up at the night sky as we drank the wine, my aunt, somewhat drunken, suddenly rose from her seat and began to recite in the resonant voice of an actress: “O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark, the vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant.” One might have thought she was reciting a prologue to a very long and amazing story. Actually, it was part of T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”.
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
My aunt told me that she had read this poem to Paul, when he was holding out day by day by the sheer power of narcotics. As she said that, she added that she was absolutely not someone whose dream had come true. My aunt’s dream had not been to become an “American guy’s wife.” My aunt’s dream was simple. It was to die while looking into the face of a loved one. However, all the people she loved had died before her. I looked at my aunt’s face, ravaged by far, far, far too much pain and far, far, far too many tears. The poem that my aunt read to the sick Paul was a poem that the director who had originally made the movie she starred in had asked her to read. First he died, and then the baby in her belly breathed its last without knowing that there was light in the world and not only darkness. And finally Paul had met his end. Now Aunt Pam had no face left to look at as she lay dying. Like a baby realizing the moment it’s born that it will never have a mother’s face in its life, when Paul breathed his last, she felt desolate and pitiful, as though she had been orphaned.
“You know the Buddhist teaching that suffering and illusion give birth to reincarnation?”
After telling about Paul’s last moments, my aunt asked me. I nodded. I knew about the Eightfold Path as well.
“Paul believed that implicitly; it must be true since it’s something the Buddha said, right?”
“Why? Was my uncle a Buddhist?”
“Before he died, he was a sort of Buddhist.”
“A sort of Buddhist?”
“Before he died, Paul kept saying we should go to Seogwipo. Yet he could not so much as go to the next room in the hospital by himself. I asked why, but he simply said we should go and see how big a city it is, what the people look like, look at the shape of the terrain, and explore the overall feel of the city, so that he might be reborn there. Yes, reborn. He would live once again. So I looked around and there was a book that I used to read. A Buddhist book written by a monk from Cambodia. He had completely misunderstood one sentence in the book, ‘suffering and illusion give birth to reincarnation.’ He thought that he himself had a lot of suffering and illusion, so he felt sure he would be reborn; from that day on, he would be a Buddhist believer — that’s how it was, for him. I was ready to tell him that life in this body passes just once; we can’t live twice in this body; we live once in this life, then we are dead forever — that’s what I was about to say but I could not spit out the words. Your eyes show that you’re also the sort of person who can never say things that people do not like to hear, even if they’re true. So instead I said: That’s what the Buddha says. Right. You have a lot of suffering and many illusions, you’ll surely be born again. I’ll be waiting for you, so go on, be born again. Funny, isn’t it? Then Paul said that he will surely be born again. He’ll be born again with a young, healthy body and have sex with me. Oh my God! What will he do if he alone is born again with a young, healthy body? While I’m a withered old hag.”
“But why on earth did he think he would be reborn in Seogwipo?”
“When you came here from New York the year before last, driving for ten hours a day with your future wife, it awakened old memories; I told Paul about them afterwards. You see, after making that movie, when it was already showing in the cinemas, one day I met the director at a Chungmuro coffee shop, and suddenly he grabbed my hand and said that there was a place we should go to. So I followed him and went to Seogwipo on Jeju Island. Yes, it was an elopement. Nowadays, we would probably run away to somewhere like Patagonia or Macedonia, but in those times we could not travel overseas, so we went as far as we could go. We spent more than three months looking at the sea from 136-2 Jeongbang-dong, Seogwipo. It was a house with a galvanized tin roof; the rain made a really nice sound. In April, when we first set up house, it was mi then it gradually rose up the scale, until by July it was at sol. If his wife had not arrived bringing their child with her, it might even have reached ti. For those three months, every night I lay in the director’s arms listening to the rain. I had no regrets, bearing neither grudge nor resentment; I would not have minded if his wife had killed me, but she merely took her husband gently by the hand and led him away.
“After a meal with the wife and child and the director in a Chinese restaurant that the two of us had often eaten in, we parted, and it was such a peaceful farewell, I was like an innkeeper seeing off a family that had come on vacation and was returning home. It was even sadder because I grew up being beaten by my sisters. I felt she was not treating me as a human being. As I watched him leave with his family I waved like crazy, then went back to the Seogwipo house alone and cried my eyes out, feeling that I was the only person left in the world. It was only later that I learned he was already very sick then. Somehow, his eyes looked like a deer’s; he was timid and attentive to what people thought, yet he found the courage to run away to Seogwipo. That was all because he knew he did not have long to live. In that case he shouldn’t have given me so much affection.”
Later, putting together the story I heard from my mother, who called Aunt Pam “that crazy girl,” and the story told by my aunt, who called my mother “a sister like Cinderella’s cruel stepmother who was worse than her ugly daughter,” I realized it was Mom who took Aunt Pam to the obstetrician. She went bravely as far as the hospital gates, then clung to a telephone pole swearing she would never go inside, leaving her sister at a loss. Mom said it was the first and last time that she did not hit her disobedient sister. She said she sat kneeling on the ground, begging and begging my aunt. Then Aunt Pam also knelt down and begged. It makes me feel sad when I imagine the scene of the two sisters kneeling at the foot of a telephone pole in front of a maternity clinic imploring one another. Finally, after holding out for a long while, my aunt relented and Mom led her into the clinic. Aunt Pam could never forgive my grandfather, my mother, and all the rest of the family who had aided and abetted them. My aunt got a job in a bank and doggedly saved money for a few years, all the while rejecting many suitors just like Penelope in the Odyssey, before finally receiving an invitation to work in the United States through the introduction of a broker. It was then that Cha Jeong-sin became Pamela Cha. On becoming Pamela Cha, she broke completely with her past. And for a long time my aunt never visited Korea, and at first did not even contact her family there. Even when Grandfather died, she just said she would pray for him in Florida.
“That crazy girl said she would pray in Florida, ha!”
That was something I heard my mother say.
“Whose fault was it that I married an American, even saying that it had been my dream?”
That was something I heard Aunt Pam say.
Last summer, after coming to Korea and spending a month on Jeju Island, my aunt told me that she had found a house she liked in Yerae-dong near Seogwipo’s Jungmun Tourism Complex. In the autumn she sold the house in Florida and returned home permanently to Korea. “That woman’s whims are going to be the bane of my life,” my mother grumbled as she and the other family members went down to Seogwipo one after another and helped her settle in. When I called my aunt from time to time, I could hear everyone singing noisily, all drunk. At such times I had to shout desperately into the phone. “Please let me talk to my mother! Tell her to come home!” My aunt said she seemed to be living a second life. It certainly seemed like that, judging from her voice. My aunt’s return home could be considered a success. Once the news had been transmitted in the course of meeting old acquaintances, the information that my aunt had returned to Korea even appeared in movie magazines. The seasons changed, winter passed. Sometimes I wondered if the winter was colder in Seogwipo or in Sebastian, but beyond that I could not give much attention to her. My wife had a second baby, and I was promoted to section chief. As soon as I passed thirty-five, my life, which had been running along peacefully like a carousel, began to speed up like a roller coaster. One such day, my aunt called me and asked why I had not come to visit her in Seogwipo. After I had been down there with my wife in the autumn of the previous year, I only made three or four calls during the winter. However, my aunt’s voice seemed to be so subdued that instead of saying I would go or was too busy to go, I asked if there was anything wrong.
“There’s nothing wrong. I’m having a great time here every night with Paul,” Aunt replied.
“If you put it like that, it makes it sound as though something extraordinary is happening. What the hell do you mean? Having a great time with your deceased husband?”
“Umm. Well, there’s something only I know. I’ll show you when you come down. By the way, can you come down next Saturday? Someone is supposed to come to see me, but I feel a little bit awkward to meet that person alone.”
“Hey, why are you talking like this, Auntie? Who is it that’s coming? I’m sorry. I’ll go down sometime soon.”
“You know him very well ... Why, back in the old days, movie director Jeong . . .”
“Auntie! Is Seogwipo some kind of heavenly paradise?”
“That’s what I mean . . . Why don’t you come down to this wonderful place? Come down next Saturday. I’ll never be able to meet director Jeong on my own.”
So the following Saturday I went down to Yerae-dong with my wife and son. The house was a two-story villa built for foreigners, with a view of the sea, located to one side of the village, lacking nothing, but the architectural style that exists in the notions of local builders really offended the eyes. In front of the entrance hall four stone pillars were set like a Greek temple, so that from a distance it looked like a community hall painted white.
“What’s that, Greek Ionesco-style stone columns?”
I pointed to the roughly finished cement stone pillars. Bounded by the stone pillars was an iron table covered with a white tablecloth, holding a vase of daffodils and a basket of fruit, and some iron chairs.
“Surely Ionesco, as you say, is the name of a French dramatist? If you’re talking about stone pillars, you mean Ionian.”
Jin-gyeong scolded me. By now she had gotten used to our family’s way of talking.
“You came to the Sebastian house, so you know how much Paul loved this kind of portico. His life’s dream was to sit beneath it, drinking wine, reading magazines, and dozing. He never even imagined that he would fall ill as soon as he bought a house in Florida with a fine portico. Really we never can tell. We can’t see beyond the tip of our nose. Do you remember all that wine? I sold it back to the wine shop, a whole truckful. I kept just one case and sold all the rest.”
It was a 1984 Dominus Estate wine with a sketch on the label by the American artist Larry Rivers. Nineteen eighty-four was the year when Aunt Pam and Paul married. To commemorate it, Paul bought a case of that year’s wine. All through the winter, every time she felt lonely, Auntie would drink the wine, sitting under the portico looking out at the Washington palm tree in the garden. Since it would be too hard to drink a whole bottle, she would prepare two glasses, one for Paul, one for her, like that. That was what she had meant by having a great time with Paul. It was a way of letting go of Paul completely. Now there were only two bottles left. When we went down, Aunt uncorked one of them. While my aunt read the vintage information Paul had written on a scrap of paper, my wife and I enjoyed the wine.
“Winter precipitation was slightly low at 35.68 inches, but it went down to 25 inches in November and December. Temperatures were moderate in May, June, and August, but July and September were so hot that there were twenty days at above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. In July it was six days, and in September it was eight. That only makes fourteen days, so where did the other six days come from? I don’t know. The harvest began on September 2, 1984, and ended on September 12, 1984.”
As I listened to my aunt reading out information about the weather in Napa Valley in 1984, haltingly translating it into Korean, it seemed that the hot summer sunshine of that year was sliding intact down my throat. My aunt said that in that year she had been so beautiful that people could not look at her straight. I would have to ask my mother about it before I could judge whether it was true or not, but perhaps because I was drinking rare, expensive vintage wine beneath exotic stone pillars, Ionesco-style or Ionian-style or whatever, it was the first time in my life that my aunt’s boasting sounded true. As for my aunt in her youth, I had often seen a photo of her sitting between my mother and grandmother, leaning forward and saying something, taken at Gimpo Airport just before she boarded the plane for the United States, and in it she was wearing a pink hairpin like Donald Duck’s girlfriend, Daisy Duck, and had her lips pouting forward, but I still felt I knew how beautiful my aunt had been.
After finishing the bottle between the three of us, my aunt and I sat watching our child playing with his mother, spraying water from a hose in the garden. The child was now four years old. A small rainbow appeared and disappeared above the water he was spraying. As I prepared to draw the cork of the last bottle, my aunt caught my hand.
“You want to enjoy it all alone?”
“No, I’m putting it aside for someone else.”
“You’ve given up drinking alone, then?”
My aunt laughed, saying I was funny. If it had not been Aunt Pam, it was a joke that I would never have made, but my aunt laughed. That’s why I like her.
“No more crying. I promise you.”
“What about getting a dog? The garden’s big, the house too.”
“Well, I only want one that says funny things like you, and suddenly goes flying off to New York, not otherwise.”
“A dog you have because the house is big doesn’t need to be like me,” I wailed.
“If I get one it has to be the best kind.”
“A dog to keep you company can be any kind of dog. And now, please send Uncle Paul away. Surely you haven’t come to Seogwipo because he said he’s going to be born again here?”
“What do you think? Does it look like that?”
“My mother said that you’re someone who is more than capable of doing something of the sort.”
“You’re married now, too, so you’ll understand; we lived together as long as we could, didn’t we? So if I can live my life one more time, it will have to be with someone else, won’t it?”
“You mean you can’t be like Chunhyang?”
“I’m older than Chunhyang’s mother. I don’t have time to live as a devoted widow. I have no time to go messing about with chastity or faithfulness or whatever.”
If she could live her life over one more time, maybe my aunt would go back to 136-2 Jeongbang-dong, that tin-roofed house. The house where two lovers without a future spent three months. I asked her what had been so good about her life in that house, and my aunt replied that the sound of the rain had been good. The rain that, when they rented the house in April, had been at mi and by July had gone up to sol. That evening, on the way to Seogwipo with my aunt to meet “Director Jeong,” we stopped by that house. My aunt said the roof had been fixed and the house enlarged, but that the original shape of the house was not changed. She said everything else was alright, but it was a pity that the thin tin roof had been replaced with colored steel sheets. To my aunt, who had gone halfway round the world and spent half a lifetime away, and had now come back, it was a miracle that the house was still standing there at all. When I asked my aunt if it was true that the rain in April was tuned to mi but then went up the scale to sol in July, she looked up at the sky and seemed to think for a while, then nodded as she replied that yes, the sound of the rain changed. After that, she had never heard rain make such a sound. The sound of that rain she heard every night, as she lay with her head pillowed on Director Jeong’s arm, while she worried in case when day broke he might have vanished, sleeping briefly, then waking, sleeping again, then waking and looking into his face, then not being able to get back to sleep, lying motionless for fear of waking him. Still as vivid as rain that fell the previous day, yet it was a sound she would never hear again.
From there we walked to the Chinese restaurant called Deokseongwon. Aunt said that Director Jeong was waiting there. It was something that happened about two weeks ago. One night my aunt received a phone call, and when she answered the phone unthinkingly, a middle-aged man’s voice asked, “Is Mrs. Cha Jeong-sin there?” Hearing that voice, Aunt thought her heart had stopped. It was the voice of the dead director. She was sure. How could she have forgotten his voice? She was so surprised that she hung up and turned off the phone. The next morning she turned it back on and saw on the call list a number starting with 010. There was almost no possibility of it being the mobile number of someone in heaven. But she did not think of returning the call, simply waited all day for another call to come. The call came late at night. When she replied, once again she heard “Is Mrs. Cha Jeong-sin there?” That voice from the past. That voice my aunt had loved. “This is Cha Jeong-sin.” She choked up. “I am Jeong Ji-un, the son of the director Jeong Gil-seong. I saw you in Seogwipo once before, but I don’t expect you will remember. I saw in a magazine that you have come back to Korea.” Finally she realized that she was not completely crazy after all. My aunt recalled that last meal in a Chinese restaurant. The couple, their son, and my aunt, the four of them sitting down at a square table and eating spicy noodles. My aunt was feeling sorry for the wife, and was thinking about breaking up, at which tears came bursting out; she had bowed her head and eaten the noodles without knowing where they were going. My aunt still remembered that the husband and wife had talked about the health of a sick relative, as if they were simply having a meal out.
I’d heard a lot about the director called Jeong Ji-un. He made about four films, all of which had been well reviewed and box-office successes. Once I saw him being interviewed on a TV show introducing new movies. His eyes were large and his face looked sensitive, so that at first sight he seemed to be a delicate, artistic type. His voice was low and soft. I could guess the personal appeal of the man that my aunt had loved. He told my aunt that he was very fond of his father’s last work and really liked my aunt’s performance in it. So he wanted to meet her once, and added that he had some things to give her. When my aunt asked what kind of things, he explained that in going through his father’s materials he had found images and photos related to her. In order to record his father’s life objectively he had put all his films in order, and he wanted to give that to her. Finally, the place where they decided to meet was Deokseongwon, the Chinese restaurant where she ate with Director Jeong for the last time. It was about ten minutes’ walk from the house where the director and my aunt had lived to the restaurant. As we prepared to go in, my aunt grabbed my arm. She meant that she was nervous, we should wait a moment. After we had waited a while my aunt said she was okay and we went inside. As we went in and looked around, a man in his early forties sitting in one corner rose and greeted my aunt. As she approached him, Auntie greeted him with a dignified expression, but her voice was shaking. I also greeted him and we sat down together. After exchanging a few awkward greetings, he took out an envelope from his bag. Inside were videotapes and photos.
“These are all mixed up. There are some photos that he took while he was making the movie, others he shot when he wasn’t. This one is on the set. I don’t know where this is.”
As soon as she saw it, my aunt spoke up. In the photo he was pointing at, my aunt in her early twenties, with bobbed hair, her hands stretched out on both sides with fists clenched, was seemingly charging toward the camera. In the next photograph she was sitting cross-legged at a low desk, her chin propped on one hand, her head turned and looking at the camera. My aunt in the photo was amazingly young, and her face was completely devoid of fear. Faces from the days when she still lived as Cha Jeong-sin, before she turned into Pamela Cha. Scraps of youth, not realizing that she was living the happiest days of her life, her head pillowed on her lover’s arm, passing the nights listening to the rain. Auntie looked closely at the pictures one by one. After a while, she spoke, taking off her glasses.
“I never dreamed I might see myself again as I was in my Seogwipo days. To think that I looked like this. I was really pretty. Now my nephew will believe how pretty I was.”
“She was a very beautiful woman in her youth. There are still a lot of people who talk about her,” he said, looking at me as if wondering how it was I did not know that, despite being her nephew.
“You see, my aunt’s beauty is very western; I graduated from the Korean department.”
He looked at me once again and suggested we eat. He picked up the menu and explained to my aunt about this and that dish. As he began to pay attention to her, Aunt moved her chair closer to his and they chose the food together.
“The Korean department will eat rice and kimchi?” My aunt addressed me.
“We also study a lot of Chinese characters in Korean department courses.”
While we were eating the various dishes, he talked about what happened from the moment they left the Chinese restaurant 27 years ago up to the death of Director Jeong in hospital. Then, going backward in time, my aunt talked about the days they had spent in Seogwipo and what had happened when she first met Director Jeong. Since his purpose was to collect data about his father, he recorded all of my aunt’s words, sometimes asking questions to check. By the time all the talking was over, I was full to bursting. But the two of them insisted that they had to eat spicy noodles. He asked the waiter to divide one serving into two.
“Back then, while I was eating the noodles, I kept looking at you, but you never lifted your head. All the time while I was eating, I could see nothing but the crown of your head, and I felt a kind of sorrow I could not explain. I felt so confused. Because I loved my mother. That was the first time that I felt I wanted to make something like a movie or a novel. As I looked at the crown of your head. I don’t know if the noodles will taste as they did then.”
On the way back to Yerae-dong after parting from him, Aunt Pam, who had happily shared the last bottle of Dominus with Director Jeong Ji-un, sat in the back seat and began to talk about how similar father and son were in their appearance, tone of voice and bearing; about how lucky she had been to have loved someone worth loving; about how she should watch the films of Director Jeong Ji-un right away. Then, since I made no reply, she fell asleep. While my aunt was muttering to herself, I was looking at the asphalt in the headlights, the road sometimes lit by streetlights, and the darkness beyond the lights. And I thought of the sea, the forests and the mountains somewhere out there in the darkness. And I thought of lakes, mist and clouds, and typhoons, showers, rain, the mi of April and the sol of July, and finally spicy noodles. Noodles, and Aunt’s voice saying, “That only makes fourteen days, so where did the other six days come from? I don’t know.” I imitated my aunt’s voice as I muttered to myself.
“That only makes fourteen days, so where did the other six days come from? I don’t know.”
Then, perhaps thinking I was talking to her, she spoke as if answering me.
“So how bright a future do Korean movies have?”
I do not know what the future of Korean movies will be, but I felt sure that the road ahead of us was bright. The night road followed the sea as it gently passed over black hills and led us toward the bright lights of Jungmun.