The Naked Tree 



The next day and the day after, Ock Hui-do's seat remained empty. The days without him dragged on endlessly, and I suffered from the despair that I might never again have the painful joy of meeting his uniquely good natured eyes, eyes without a tinge of stupidity. 
I had come across Tae-su that morning. 
"Have you found out where Mr. Ock lives?" 
To my relief, he nodded his head vaguely without launching into his usual chatter. 
Every American soldier who came that day seemed to find some fault, big or small, with their portraits. I sent each portrait back to the painters, even the ones I could have talked the soldiers into accepting if I had put in a little effort. 
"Miss Lee, what's wrong with you today? Do you want to see me and my family in a row, smothered by these rayon cloths with mongrel faces on them because we can't afford to buy the ingredients for rice cake soup for the holiday?" 
Of course, it was Cash, the one with the dirtiest mouth, who had the most rejected portraits. He raised his voice, looping one of the rejected scarves around his neck and pretending to yank it. The other painters began to grumble along with him. Ignoring their protests, I lifted up a corner of the grey curtain that was drawn over the display window. 
It was snowing outside. The fluttering snowflakes sometimes hit the window, but they didn't touch the cheek that I pressed against it. It was only natural because between me and the snow flurries was the window, albeit thin, but for a while I was anxiously hoping that the flakes would touch my cheek, hoping to be swept away by the joy of snowy days. 
"Miss Lee, a customer!" Chin called out. 
I returned to my desk and took the photo, asking the color of the eyes, hair and the clothes, and recording the delivery date. I stifled a cry, a cry for help. I was afraid I would go crazy because of this boring work. 
The painters were whispering with one another. 
"She was crying behind the curtain." 
"What did you expect? Pushing a girl around like that? Tsk, tsk." 
"As if you were not part of it." 
Why were they so nice, so terribly nice at times? I couldn't put up with anything today. 
Tae-su stood waiting for me, shoulders hunched as the large snowflakes fell around him. I ran toward him. My empty lunch box clattered in the shapeless postman-like bag I carried, slung from my shoulder. I dashed up to him and caught his arm with my hand. He tottered a little and smiled gloomily. I slid, hanging from his arm, giggling for no apparent reason. 
I knew I couldn't subdue the tickling ecstasy that I felt right now, just as I had not been able to free myself from the depression I had felt all day. 
"Did anything interesting happen today?" he asked, brightening a little. I shrugged and licked the flakes with my stretched-out tongue. 
"You were frowning all day." 
"Was I?" 
"What a fickle girl!" 
Instead of answering, I clung to him more closely. What a blessing it was to have someone waiting in the snow! I gazed at the dazzling dance of the snow caught in the headlights of the passing military trucks. 
I could see glittering slices of past moments, twirling around. Just slices, unconnected, with no emotional strings attached, so I could enjoy them freely. The mysterious harmony of the bright sunlight on the lush green leaves I spotted when I accidentally tilted my head back on the way to school...My father in his traditional black serge overcoat, and my elegant mother, clad brightly in a pale blue silk overcoat, walking a few steps behind him whenever they went out together... A tray full of row after row of fat dumplings prepared on the last day of the year. Hyok and Wook in their first custom-made Western suits, so handsome I barely recognized them... My mother's belongings that she and I had both loved dearly. The white otter-skin collar, the thick gold ring she always kept on her finger... The purple paulownia flowers dropping into the middle yard on a bright day... 
I was puzzled by the thickness of the stack of postcards hidden inside me, but I was joyous. I looked at them like a child looking at pictures. I was not so stupid as to try to piece them together to make a story. 
"We should get something for the patient, shouldn't we?" 
I was jolted back to reality when Tae-su stopped in front of a vendor. The woman was polishing small, firm red apples with a cloth. I picked the prettiest ones and dropped them into what had once been an old cement bag. I kept finding pretty ones, and the bag grew heavy before Tae-su paid for them. As we walked, I felt such a strong desire to bite into the firm red flesh of an apple that the roots of my teeth tickled. I handed one to Tae-se and bit into one myself. Crunch, crunch. That tart flavor, the pleasure of biting into the crisp flesh. I ate several in a row. 
"You eat too many cold foods," Tae-se remarked as he took the bag from me and shifted it into his other hand. He wrapped his arm around my waist and said, "Don't you want to have a little boy who crunches apples, a boy who has red cheeks?" 
"Who do you think that boy will look like?" I realized it was the most preposterous response. 
 "What are you talking about?" 
I pretended to be genuinely surprised, but I felt sorry for Tae-su. Nothing was wrong with a red-cheeked boy, but it would take so long to have a baby. It was so far in the future. Five, ten years. With a war raging just over the hill, how absurd it was to stand in the middle of a bleak street dreaming of a future five or ten years away! 
I wouldn't be able to lead such a slow-paced life. I wanted to jump the tracks of everyday life and live a bold life in the fast lane. 
Tae-su removed his arm from my waist as if he were snubbed and walked in silence. After passing several streetcar stations, he asked, 
"Shall we take a trolley or shall we walk?" 
"Where does Mr. Ock live?" 
"Some place called Yonji-dong, I think." 
"Are you good at finding houses?" 
"I've been to that house several times. It turns out he's staying in the house of a friend who took refuge in the south." 
When we arrived at the next station, an empty trolley came to a halt, and we stepped aboard. We got off at Chongno 4-ga and Tae-su walked briskly ahead. As we turned into an alley, he stopped, looking around. It seemed we were almost there. 
I was gradually enveloped by some kind of heat. It was an urgent longing, so urgent that I couldn't wait five or ten years for the red-cheeked boy. I was being chased by a longing, a longing like self-abandonment. 
Finally Tae-su stopped at a low tile-roofed house and held his flashlight up to read the nameplate. It didn't say Ock Hui-do. 
 "This is the house. I've come several times before, but never at night." 
We shook the gate a couple of times, and a girl, who was almost the same height as me, removed the bolt and peeped out. Smaller children spilled out after her, making a fuss. By the way the children behaved, it seemed they rarely had visitors. The inner quarters were closed off with shutters. Only the outer quarters were lit and not very brightly. 
"It's Tae-su. Is Mr. Ock in?" 
"Oh, Tae-su? What brings you here?" 
"I came with Kyong-a. Are you very ill?" 
"No, only a little. Come in. It's cold outside." 
We spoke through the sliding paper door, removing our coats and shaking off the snow. After a rustling sound of straightening-up in the room, the door opened quietly. A woman I thought must be Ock's wife looked out. The children surrounded us with curious eyes, talking and giggling among themselves. 
"Come in, please," said the wife. 
"Come in, although it's messy," said Ock. He was leaning against the wall on a mat spread out on the warmest part of the floor. His wife took our coats politely and hung them on the wall. 
 "It's just a cold. And you came all the way in this snow. Thank you, anyway." 
Ock burst into a fit of coughing before he could finish. His wife placed her hand on his back, and as soon as he stopped, she brought a porcelain ashtray to his mouth so that he could spit out the phlegm. He seemed to have the flu that was going around. 
 "How's your brother these days?" 
 "Well, he keeps busy." 
"We're so preoccupied with our own lives that we can't seem to find time to have a drink together." 
"My brother says the same thing." 
While they exchanged dull pleasantries, Ock's wife handed each of the children an apple and sent them to the other room. Then she peeled some apples, cut them up, and arranged them on a plate. I studied every move she made. 
She was wearing a dark pleated skirt and a man's khaki winter jacket, which somehow seemed to accentuate her delicate neck and face. Her neck was long and slender, and I caught a glimpse of her freshly washed undershirt inside her baggy jacket. I kicked myself for being drawn to her, but her white, slender neck didn't look as if it could bear anyone's hatred. 
For a long time I chewed the piece of apple she handed me. She hadn't spoken a word. She had sent her children to the other room and offered me the apple with her eyes alone. Her eyes and her gestures were rich with expression. I began to grow angry. I couldn't imagine her nagging her husband. 
The pristine undershirt, peeking out from the drab, loose winter jacket. Why did her long neck and delicate face have to resemble the Modigliani women I liked so much? Frustrated and anxious, I shifted my sitting position, biting my lips nervously, for I couldn't define my feelings toward her. 
"The floor must be too cold. Oh, dear." Embarrassed, she put her hand under my knee to check the temperature of the floor. 
"Ah, come over here," said Ock Hui-do, lifting one side of his mat. 
I moved next to him, put my hand under his mat, and looked at him. He smiled slightly when our eyes met. I smiled good-naturedly, copying him. 
"Kyong-a has been worried because you haven't been coming to work. Today she fretted so much about coming to see you that I showed her the way to your house." 
"Thank you." 
"It is the busy season now. I had no idea business was so good. They hassle her all the time and she's grown quite irritable. I hope you get better soon." 
 "I'm almost completely recovered. I need a few more days at most." 
"Were you very sick?" I addressed him for the first time that night. 
"I think it was the cold and exhaustion. I hadn't been sick for a long time. I'm almost recovered. I hope the cough stops, though." 
He stopped to cough again. Without thinking, I was about to put the porcelain ashtray up his mouth and rub his back, but of course his wife was already doing it. 
How I wished I could do that for him! When his coughing fit subsided, Ock leaned against the wall in exhaustion, and the children opened the sliding door and took turns peeking in. It must have been time for us to leave. 
At last the youngest child flung open the sliding door and entered. He felt the apple bag with his hand. He was a friendly-looking boy. I pulled the boy gently to my lap and gave him an apple, then lightly pressed my nose onto his clean, soft hair. He had a nice smell. The child chomped the apple vigorously. I grew glum. The nice smell and the chomping sounds were refreshing, and yet depressing at the same time. I embraced him tightly in order not to show my tears. The healthy boy finished the skin first and began working on the flesh. When the seeds were revealed, I felt like bursting into a wail. 
"We should go," I pushed the boy aside roughly and got to my knees. 
"Why, can't you stay longer?" 
"My mother is waiting for me," I blurted, surprising myself. 
"What a baby! Do you miss your mother already?" Tae-su teased, winking at me, and playfully stabbed my cheek with his finger. He helped me into my coat and wrapped my scarf securely around my head. He didn't forget to arrange my bang, as before. 
I had to endure the generous smiles of Ock and his wife, for they seemed to find us really cute. An insult would have been easier to put up with. I stamped my feet as I put on my shoes at the stone entryway, but I was still furious. Even when the children spilled out from the other room, saying goodbye loudly, I remained silent. 
At the dark middle gate, the wife's rough but warm hand grabbed mine. "Thank you for coming. You've been so helpful to our children's father." 
I shook off her hand, jumped over the threshold, and grabbed hold of Tae-su's arm. 
The snow had stopped, and the clear sky was lit by cold stars. A brusque gust of wind tossed the snow on the ground into the sky. Snowflakes crept into my sleeves and skirt. I was cold. As we walked, my teeth chattered. 
The trees along the street, towering like huge skeletons, trembled, wailing in the blast. The wind grew stronger, howling like a fierce animal. Tae-su took off his jacket and placed it over my coat. Still, I shook uncontrollably. I was afraid that I might be blown away like the snow, so I held tight to his waist. Still, I trembled. 
"Let's share your jacket," I said. 
"I'm all right. It's not that cold." 
"What's the matter? Maybe you're getting sick?" 
We clung to each other, the jacket over our heads. There was nobody and no light in the street, as if we were left all alone after the end of the world, and only the snow churned skyward in the desolate street. Tae-su massaged me, as if he truly expected to thaw me out. The light of a police box spilled out to the street in the distance. We let go of each other near the police box and grabbed hold of each other as we walked on. 
"Please walk me home. I don't think I can make it by myself." 
"Don't worry. Pull yourself together." 
 He kept rubbing my body, as if I were freezing to death, and said, "Don't be so quiet. Say something." 
"Are you afraid that I might lose consciousness?" 
"No, of course not. But perhaps you can forget about how cold you are." 
"Mr. Ock's wife is a beauty." 
"She's all right." 
Our conversation stopped again. The old palace wall on one side was endless, and the trees inside howled like hungry animals. After a long while, Tae-su started again. 
"Say something." 
It was funny that he seemed so anxious. 
"Shall I sing?" 
"If you want." 

Three-brother-stars in the darkening evening sky 
The song seemed so pathetic because of my hoarse voice that I stopped singing. Not only the three brothers but numerous other stars, densely spaced, shone from the moon-less sky. 
"Do you know what a light year is?" I asked. 
"Who wouldn't know?" 
"Tell me about it." 
"Well, uh, the light year sounds like a time unit but it is a unit of distance. Light can circle the earth seven and a half times a second, and one light year means the distance the light travels in a year, not a day or two, mind you." 
"I know that much." 
"Then why did you ask?" 
"I meant, can you understand that kind of distance? Can you grasp what it means? Millions, billions of light years. Can you even imagine that?" 
"What are you talking about?" 
"You asked me to say something. I'm just overwhelmed by the fact that the three-brother-stars are so far away." 
"You could call it infinity, I guess." 
I caught sight of my house with its disfigured corner. We had already arrived at my alley. I stopped walking and took in a deep breath. I withdrew my body from the warm jacket and stood straight. 
"We're here? Which is your house?" 
"Go now," I ordered firmly. 
"Which house is it? Don't I deserve some hot tea?" 
"My house is a long way from here. Now go." 
"You asked me to walk you home. Are you shooing away the person who accompanied you in this cold? This is too much." 
"Please go now," I demanded more loudly now. 
I was cold, but not cold enough to make my teeth chatter, and my grave determination to be alone from that point on made me strong. 
Tae-su was about to turn to go, but said dull-wittedly, "I'll stand here to watch you go." 
"I said go now," I shouted, stomping my feet. 
Puzzled, he muttered, "Damn," and turned away. He disappeared around the corner without looking back. When I could no longer hear his footsteps, I boldly faced my house. The large Korean-style structure, with its missing eave, looked like a great legendary bird that had lost a wing. Having given up flying, it lay like a useless monster. I was so frightened that my hair stood on end, but felt I was right not to share my fright with other people yet. I dashed up the long alley as if I were charging toward something. Only when my body bumped into the gate did I stop. I shook the gate with my whole body until it hurt. 
"Mother, Mother," I cried. 
"I'm coming, I'm coming. What's the fuss?" My mother's low voice answered, a voice without longing or welcome, and as always her dragging footsteps approached and the gate squeaked open. I grabbed my mother's hand. Her rough hand, neither cold nor warm, never returned my squeeze, yet I still hoped. 
The gusts of wind had swept the snow from the middle yard to the bottom of the stone wall, making a large mound. The paulownia tree swayed as if exhausted, its limbs drooping to the ground. The snow must have fallen here also. It was almost midnight, but my mother must have forgotten all about me. 
"I'm late today. What time is it?" 
"I don't know." 
"It was a terrible wind. I was almost swept away by it." 
My mother didn't respond, but trudged to the kitchen like a shadow and began to set out food on a tray. Standing at the stepping stone by the entrance, I stood awkwardly, looking up at the sky and at the snow-covered yard. 
'My mother is waiting for me. My mother is waiting for me.' 
'What a baby.' 
My mother came out with a tray. It was only then, as I was taking off my snow-covered shoes, that I noticed the light was on in my room. Taken aback, I rushed inside, not bothering to shake off the snow from my clothes, and flung open the door. 
The guitar lay on the floor. Several photo albums were scattered around open, with photos spilling out to the floor, and in one corner a-judo uniform lay in a pile. I instinctively sensed body heat radiating from the uniform. 
So this was why my mother didn't have to wait for her daughter. Clutching the judo uniform to her bosom, looking at the pictures, plucking the guitar... I couldn't suppress the feeling that surged in my throat. Was it pity or rage? 
My mother slowly entered the room, shoulders bent, holding the tray in her hand. 
"You were in here before, weren't you?" My voice was shrill. "I've told you a million times. Don't come into this room. I told you never come in here by yourself." 
My mother smiled strangely. 
"Why were you in here? I told you not to enter. I told you never to come into this room by yourself." 
"I was sitting in my room and I heard the guitar. It sounded like Wook playing." 
"That was the wind. I walked home through that storm and nearly froze to death. It was not the guitar." 
I stressed each word in the sentence. I had to suppress the impulse to pick up the guitar and smash it to pieces on the floor. 
"It was not this damned guitar." 
I swung the guitar over my head. 
"No, no," my mother's voice rang with metallic urgency, suddenly twenty years younger. She charged toward me to win back the guitar. I shivered with the impulse to smash it, turning round and round and holding it high above my head. My mother attacked me. She was not a shadow any more. She was a healthy, passionate woman with a strong throbbing pulse once more. 
Finally my mother grabbed hold of the neck of the guitar, scratching my arm. I desperately pulled it away, holding one side, and when she yanked it, I was thrown to the floor. Still, I didn't let go. 
It was a desperate fight, the guitar wedged between us, as we rolled around like lunatics, panting like a pair of winded animals. I finally lost hold of the guitar and stood up, panting and gasping. My mother had won. The long-awaited attempt to sever our ties with the past went up in smoke. 
When the guitar and judo uniform were returned to their proper places and the photo albums occupied their corner of the bookshelf once more, the room was no different from other times. We sat down to the dinner tray as if nothing had happened and began to slurp the kimchi soup, now cool. 
"There was a letter," my mother said, with a grotesque movement of her mouth, in a tone as dull as usual. 
"From who?" 
"I think it's form your uncle's family in Pusan." 
My mother took the letter from the wardrobe drawer after she finished her slow, unappetizing meal. It was from Mal. Mal was the only cousin who was younger than me. How proud I had felt when she first called me "Older Sister." 

My Dear older sister Kyong-a 
It is almost four months since you left Pusan. How are you? I miss you. You are so far away and so close to the front line that I'm afraid for you. Aren't you afraid of the war? Oh, I hope your mother is well, too. Did she make her delicious winter kimchi this year? Our kimchi is terrible this year. My brothers say it is because our aunt didn't help make it. If her hand had swished through the spice mixture. it would have been different, they say. I agree. But my mother blames the weather. She says kimchi can't possibly stay tangy in this warm weather. 
I'm not writing to talk about kimchi. I hesitated several times, but I had to write. Remember when my father went to Seoul? I heard my parents whispering late into the night. My father thought he should take your mother to a doctor, and my mother said it would take a shaman to exorcise her, not doctors. He mentioned something about a mental hospital. I was so shocked. Then they talked about you. That you're leading a tainted life, so it will be impossible to marry you off to a good family. 
Older Sister, I'm afraid. Why do these things happen to a happy family? I can't believe it. My brother Jin will go to Seoul soon. Please come back with him. Even if you have led a tainted life, I understand. I realize it's because you didn't want any help from my family. Older Sister, don't worry. Take our help. We are family. My mother and father also feel it is their duty to help your family. We're doing very well economically. They say everything is going really well. 
Older sister, I miss you. Please come back to Pusan. And let us be happy like before. 

I wanted to talk to somebody, so I answered the letter promptly. 

Mal, we had an amazing storm tonight. I saw the spectacle of snow twirling up from the ground into the sky. On a night like this I'll bet the kimchi wouldn't spoil even in Pusan. 
My darling Mal, I just can't understand why you worry about us. My mother is very healthy. She looks ten years older because she refuses to put in her dentures but she's as strong as a person twenty years younger than her age. 

I stopped to massage my aching shoulder and back, and continued. 

This evening I arm wrestled with my mother, but I lost. I was so bored, that's why I asked her to do it for fun, but I lost. I'll bet you can't believe it, but it's true. As I said before, your aunt is stronger than many young people. If anything has changed, it is that she won't put in her dentures. As you remember, my mother was very particular about her appearance. She tried very hard to look pretty and young for her husband and sons, but she won't do it for me. But what can I do? My father's three-year mourning period hasn't come to an end, so it's only normal. 

Am I tainted? I think your father is going senile. I've just become a little more careful about my appearance, that's all. Your father doesn't seem to understand the fact that girls grow up to be women. 
Mal, I haven't even thought of independence or anything like that, even vaguely. I guess I'm shameless. It's simply that I like Seoul and I find my own house comfortable. That's all. So whatever Cousin Jin says, I'll stay here. I know he's busy, so tell him he doesn't have to visit us. 
I'll close now. Goodbye. 

I stopped writing. It was late. The night would usher in an empty tomorrow, so empty that nothing could fill it. I wished there were no tomorrow. 
The wind continued shaking the weak spots in the old house, the corrugated iron shutters, the doors, and windows. My mother finished with cleaning up and slammed the sliding door shut. 
"It sounds like an attack, tsk, tsk," she muttered as she went to her room. 
Tonight's storm really did sound like a war. I wished the angry waves of war would surge over us, cutting today from tomorrow, rampaging mercilessly, reducing people to misery. A violent pleasure swept through me, and I laughed like a witch. I also trembled with the fright that the war would rush over me. If only I could avoid that blind devil again. 
The two wishes, forever contradictory, lived in me always, plunging me into a frenzy every once in a while. Soon I would be cut in two. I felt a physical pain that really seemed to sever me into two. I paced around the room to forget the pain, taking my memory back to the time when the pain had begun. 
Our refugee life, quite comfortable at my uncle's house... No, it was before then. The bleak moments as we fled Seoul... No, it was not then, either. Back at Christmas time, when I packed my bundles, unpacked, and packed again without telling my mother, not knowing whether we should flee... No, it was not then. Further back, after Seoul was re-taken by the UN forces, the empty house and the yellow ginkgo leaves in the back yard, the vivid blinding yellow, the yellow against the cobalt blue sky, the yellow streaming down endlessly, my eyes still hurt with the yellow... No, it was not then, either. Then it was before then, before, before... 
But I stopped my memory from running further back. Why had those old ginkgo trees been so miserably yellow? Why had I looked up at those leaves, thinking that I wanted to die and then, that I wanted to live? I was still uncertain about that when my memory stopped and melted into the yellow. 


With the dawn of the year 1952, I turned 21 years old. On New Year's morning I sat down to a breakfast tray that held only kimchi soup and rice. I had pleaded with my mother to make some dumplings for New Year's for several days, but she had only answered vaguely. In the end, she failed me. 
I dumped the rice into the sour kimchi soup and tried to spoon some into my mouth, but it was not easy. An unappeased desire was lodged in my throat. 
 "You could have made some dumplings. White rice cake may have been too much, but..." 
My mother chewed slowly, finishing the same amount of food as usual and then muttered as if to herself, "What's so important about New Year's? What nonsense! You're not a baby any more!" 
The hot lump in my throat lurched up. I tugged at the end of my mother's skirt as she rose slowly with the tray in her hand. 
"Mother, we're still alive. Living things change. We can prove that we're alive by changing." 
"Why? We're still alive this way." 
"Change gives life. Mother, I'm starving for life. If only you had changed the rice into dumplings... It would have been easy for you to do. Can't you understand that such simple, easy things might give your daughter life?" 
Mother's dull eyes were unfocused, and I couldn't tell if they were gazing down at me or at the wardrobe behind me. It occurred to me that she was simply waiting for me to let go of her skirt. I also realized how obstinately my wish had been rejected and how powerless I was in the face of that rejection. 
I let go of her skirt, muttering weakly, "I am not asking you to do it all the time. Just sometimes, Mother, just sometimes..." 
But my mother had already gone down to the kitchen with the tray. The sound of the aluminum bowls clattering and water running drifted out of the kitchen. 
It was my first day off in a long while. I mopped the floor and polished the mother-of-pearl wardrobe with a rag. I paid special attention to the long-life herb, the deer, and the cranes inlaid on the wardrobe. These symbols of longevity glistened mysteriously when I was finished. 
However hard I polished my ancestors' dreams, my own desires could not be satisfied. On the grey wall I hung a cola company's calendar that I'd gotten from some Yankee. Having just slid down a ski slope, a healthy-looking couple was quenching their thirst with a cola. The vivid colors of their skiwear caught my eye. I began to feel an uncontrollable longing for the colors. My longing had been suppressed, dormant for a long time, but now it flared up like an inflammable material meeting a flame. 
I flung open the wardrobe door and began rummaging through the clothes. White, grey, at best, jade; that's all there was. Finally I found the Korean dress I had worn for New Year's two years before. The deep orange skirt and the rainbow-striped blouse with the deep orange cuffs seemed so new that if I just ironed out the folds, they could be transformed into a dazzling New Year's dress. The rainbow-striped sleeves excited me. 
My heart raced, and I took out a white rayon slip and a pair of my mother's thick cotton socks before going into the room across the hall. Having plugged in the electric iron, I carefully ironed the brocade skirt as if caressing it. I took a long time to do the skirt and blouse, enjoying the elegant sheen so typical of the silk fabric, appreciating its soft, light texture. 
I took off my navy blue pants and grey sweater and kicked them across the room before I put on the white slip, the skirt, and the blouse. Perhaps I could have used a bit of makeup, but except for that, everything was perfect. I stood in front of the large mirror that reflected the whole length of my body. 
I lowered myself to the floor gently in a deep dignified bow. 
My father had grinned broadly and said, "Now she looks like a lady, dear. It's about time for us to look for a son-in-law, don't you agree?" 
"Daddy, don't tease. Please," I spread out my hands in front of me, playing the baby. 
My father looked at me and then at my mother, who sat elegantly next to him, and said in feigned ignorance, "Dear, why is she behaving this way? Do you know why?" 
My brothers grinned and teased, "I'll bet she will dance around to get the New Year's bow money from her father-in-law even after she's married. Tsk, tsk, Father, it won't work. Let's not be too hasty about marrying her off. Look how she gets when she hears she's not ready to be married yet. So she wants to get married, eh?" 
After I had gotten enough bow money, I had come back to my room, taken off the confining Korean dress, and changed into comfortable clothes more fitting a tomboy. 
I had forgotten all about that pretty outfit. The me I saw in the mirror didn't look like my contemporary self. It was the "me" from two years before. I felt distant, and because I had been so pretty then, I was even a little jealous. 
I stole out of the house. The wind on those days before Small Cold, the 23rd division of the 24 part lunar calendar, was so bitterly cold it hurt. However, the skirt of my Korean outfit billowed in the wind like a winged dress. I floated along lightly, almost unconscious of my weight. 
The Utopia tea room was not busy. Johann Strauss's "Waltz of spring" was playing at just the right volume. In the far corner I saw Tae-su raise his hand. I felt like a butterfly as I approached him. 
"How could you keep me waiting for so long? My eyes nearly popped out looking for you." 
Nevertheless, he was grinning. I sat down cautiously, pulling the back flap of my skirt carefully to the front. He kept smiling and looking at my gorgeous dress, but he didn't tease or praise me as I had expected. 
"I've been waiting for two hours. Even a cat can pretend to be embarrassed, so how about pretending to be sorry? You're one shameless girl." 
I was not sorry at all, so I smiled just a little, looking up at the familiar landscape on the wall. It had been Tae-su's idea to meet today, and I had never said yes, so there was no reason for me to feel sorry. I hadn't come of my own free will. Perhaps the winged New Year's dress had flown me there. 
The day before Tae-su had been excited about the coming year. 
"How about meeting somewhere tomorrow?" 
"What do you mean why? Tomorrow is 1952. Tomorrow is next year. It's a holiday, too. Let's meet somewhere. We can figure out something fun to do then. All right? Come to that place, Utopia. Ten o'clock. The earlier we meet, the better." 
I hadn't thought about whether I would be seeing him or not. The next year he was talking about seemed so far away. It didn't seem like the next day but like some time in the future that had nothing to do with me. 
"I was all dressed in my New Year's dress, but I didn't have anywhere to go." 
"What? I asked for an apology and this is what I get?" 
Tae-su snatched my frozen hand but released it gently. The waitress came with the coffee, then opened the cast iron stove, and gave the red coal briquette a poke or two before closing the damper and walking away. The stove sizzled and the surface turned a rosy red. 
My body gradually thawed. My flesh, covered with goose bumps under my clothes, grew warm as my blood began to circulate, and the coffee warmed my lips and throat. The coffee was very flavorful. I didn't dislike sitting opposite Tae-su. 
"Hey, waitress, can I have some matches?" He called to the counter, snapping his fingers and forefinger. He pulled the thin tape from the new Lucky Strikes. 
"Why can't you buy a lighter? They're everywhere." 
"You don't know what you're talking about. I go around without a lighter or matches, with only cigarettes, so I'm dying for a smoke, I'm a nervous wreck. Then, if I find someone lighting a cigarette, I bow and ask for a light. That first drag is the best in the world. Besides, it's an excuse for flirting with the waitresses in tea rooms." 
"Have you ever been slapped on the cheek when you asked an old man for a light?" 
"Not yet." 
He breathed out smoke rings into the air. He was one year older today, but he was as frivolous as ever. He still had the air of a naughty boy who had sneaked into a closet to smoke his father's cigarettes. I doubted if he could really appreciate the taste of a cigarette. I probably knew more than he did about different brands. I recalled my father's elegant smoking. I had yet to meet anyone who smoked with the dignity of my father. 
In the summer, he used to lean back in the wicker chair with the north window wide open, smoking his pipe, as if he didn't have a thought or a worry in his mind. Actually, it was difficult to tell whether he was deep in thought or simply worry-free. 
Ock Hui-do smoked elegantly enough, although not nearly as nicely as my father. When Ock smoked, one could get a glimpse of a heartache too deep for words. The painters loved smoking as much as anybody, but they clung to it desperately, creating an impression of poverty. Because of this unexpected image of my father, I began to dislike Tae-su. Dressed in a grown-up outfit, I wanted to sit across from a man of more experience. 
"Where shall we go? Do you have any interesting ideas?" he asked. 
"I don't care where we go." 
"Let's go to the movies, have lunch, then wander around. That's all I can come up with." 
He yawned widely. I wanted to yawn along with him. 
"Isn't there something more intimate we could do?" He added. 
"I don't mean anything particular. I just want to feel contented. I miss the feeling of loving someone and being loved by someone. We don't have that between us." 
"That's only natural. We're not in love, you know." 
"Don't tease me, please." 
His silly expression was transformed into the innocence of a boy. I gazed at him in silence. Perhaps he was more sensitive than he looked. The anxiety and anguish on his brow grew. Perhaps it was because of my gaze. I couldn't look away, however, and his discontent was infectious. My heart ached terribly. But my pain was not for Tae-su. 
I was thinking of Ock Hui-do. His wife with the white slender neck and their five children. The youngest one, with the nice smell, so healthy. I couldn't endure the passionate longing and frustration I felt. I played with the long tie on the front of my silky dress, rolling and unrolling it over and over again. 
"Let's go somewhere, anywhere." I stood up, making an effort to relax my contorted face. 
He hastily picked up his cigarettes and gloves, looking a little regretful. From the way he didn't even bother to wink at the waitress, I could tell he must have been quite serious. 
We went to see "Homecoming" at the Sudo Theater. I didn't care for the movie much, but I felt as if we had been driven out of the theater when it ended. The street was filled with a sense of bleakness. We peered into several eateries, trying to find a place to have lunch. My feet were numb from the cold floor of the unheated theater. 
"How about some Western food?" 
"No, I'd like to sit comfortably on a heated ondol floor." 
"Because your majesty is wearing a hanbok, eh?" 
"Right. Imagine me sitting on a chair, taking off my rubber shoes and lifting up my feet in their cotton stockings to warm them at the stove. You wouldn't like that." 
"Well, I don't think I would dislike it." 
My feet were frozen, almost to the point of total numbness. At times they slipped out of my rubber shoes, touching the asphalt. Not many restaurants were open on New Year's Day. 
After a lot of wandering, we finally found a place with a warm ondol floor, although it was not very clean. A waitress brought in the tea, which looked like murky dishwater. I tucked my feet under the floor cushion and massaged them. 
"What would you like?" 
"As it's New Year's, I think I'll have the rice cake and dumpling soup," I said. 
"Me, too." 
The skins of the dumplings were thick, with the corners still uncooked, so that I could taste the raw wheat flour. I pushed them to one corner and ate a few slices of rice cake, then stopped altogether. 
Tae-su ate voraciously. He looked miserable eating the bad food with such relish. It made me sad. Was it because I knew so well what it meant to eat solely to fill one's stomach? I gazed at him eating, wondering if he knew the food tasted terrible. 
"How was it?" 
"Fine, I was hungry. Why didn't you finish yours?" 
"I wasn't that hungry. Do you always eat with such an appetite?" 
"Sure. What would you do with a man who's picky?" 
"I heard the dumplings Hwanghae-do people make are as big as a person's foot." I laughed, surprised at my own words. 
"It is true that our sticky rice cakes or crescent rice cakes are bigger than those in Seoul, but that's because we are simple and down-to-earth. You know, it's the people who make the food, the same way the slick Seoul people spread out an array of side dishes just to please the eye when there's not much to eat. But why do you have to compare my hometown's food to a person's foot?" 
He pretended to be offended, but he made sense. And what about the women of Kaesong, so neat and charming? I wanted to brag. About Kaesong women, about my mother. 
"Have you ever tried Kaesong food, real Kaesong food?" 
"Well, I'm not a connoisseur. I just eat to fill my stomach. I never thought about where certain dishes originated. Are you from Kaesong?" 
"No, but my mother's family is. My mother is an expert at cooking the most delicious food." I pushed my remaining dumplings around my bowl with a spoon and continued. "Kaesong dumplings look kind of funny. They have thin, chewy skins, made with dough worked long and hard. The filling, rich with the flavor of sesame oil, is stuffed to make fat, round dumplings. First, you make a crescent shape, then you bring the two ends together, and it looks like a person with a fat belly, holding his hands together behind his back. The rice cake soup is even better. It is called chorang-ttok. You roll the well-pounded rice powder into a thin log and then rub it with sesame oil. It is much thinner than the Seoul variety. It's pressed with a bamboo knife once, then cut further down, so it looks like a small silkworm cocoon or a figure 8..." 
I gestured, pretending to cut the rice cake. I felt like an art lover discussing an exquisite work of art. Tae-su didn't show much reaction, however, despite my enthusiasm. From the way he had devoured the terrible food, I would have expected his mouth to water, but he looked rather bored, even though he wore a grin on his face. 
"When will I have the honor to be invited to such a delicious feast? That's what I'm wondering." 
My enthusiasm dampened immediately. I pictured my grey mother and her sour kimchi soup. Would there ever be an invitation to the feast, and if so, when? I was the one who wondered more about that than Tae-su. 
"By the way you talk, my future mother-in-law must be an amazing cook. I expect I will enjoy fine food. And they say a mother-in-law loves her son-in-law the most." 
"Don't be silly. Crescent rice cakes that look like human feet are more your style." 
Tae-su's silly joke brought me back to reality and I felt nauseous at the sight of the cold dumpling soup in front of me. The girl cleared away the bowls and wiped the table clean. We stepped out onto the street again and wandered about in the bleak winter alley. 
There was nothing wondrous there, only the invisible cold, dry wind whipping black soot up from the grey sidewalk. Clark Gable's smirk on a movie poster, which flapped about with one corner unglued, was nothing new as we had just seen the movie. The unexpressive grey buildings had their windows shut tight, looking like so many match boxes, their only distinguishing features being wether they were horizontal or vertical. 
I should have stopped at some corner to say goodbye, but I hesitated. It was too light to go back. I couldn't envision myself walking home, gazing at my house in the daylight. One side of the roof gone, the gap on the ridge yawning like a hole leading to hell, the shattered roof tiles. Looking at them seemed as sacrilegious as picturing Confucius without a stitch of clothing on his body. 
My house must stand under the black sky in the dark. I would feel scared, almost awed, standing in front of it. The climax of my day was embedded in that very moment, and I couldn't change it. 
"How about going to my house? We can warm up there." 
Tae-su's low voice rescued me. I nodded deeply and followed him without speaking. His arms encircled my waist intimately. 
"Aren't you cold in this thin, pretty dress? You were shivering so much the other night." 
Perhaps he was waiting for me to shake again. But I didn't. 
"Do you want my jacket?" 
He wanted me to shiver. I shook my head, pulled away from him, and walked along, leaving a little distance between us. 
In a Hoehyon-dong alley, dotted with restaurants, Tae-su's room was in an old two-story Japanese building. It stood out because of the urologist's sign on the ground floor. He said he rented a room on the second floor. 
A narrow staircase led from a glass door on the street to the second floor, so Tae-su could reach his room without going into the clinic on the first floor. While he was opening the large lock. I gazed at the sign, "Hoehyou Urology Clinic." 
The four-and-a half tatami room was chilly. Tae-se hurriedly ignited the wood in the stove. I assumed he didn't need my help, so I sat on the window sill. Tae-su lit some paper and dropped it onto the thin pieces of wood, building a large fire. Then he began adding logs, warming up the room in no time. 
He whistled as if building a fire was his favorite pastime, and with a clang of the lid, it was done. He brushed the dirt off his hands and grinned. 
"Do you live here by yourself? I thought you lived with you brother's family." 
"I lived with his family before I went into the military, but after I was discharged and began working, I found this place for myself. I have nephews and nieces and I felt bad about taking up space in the home of my brother and his wife." 
"How many nephews and nieces do you have?" 
"Is that so? The same as the Ocks. Maybe Hwanghae-do people like having big families." 
"Five isn't so many. My sister-in-law's work is still in progress." 
"In what?" 
"The species preservation project. She's not even forty yet." 
"Do you think Mr. Ock is still in progress, too?" 
"Could be." 
I suppressed a deep sigh. My body adequately warmed now, I looked around the room. It was a simple room without personality. The grey walls displayed a single picture, the kind one would expect in a country barber shop; the rest was empty. Imagining Tae-su buying the landscape from a frame shop, I couldn't help but smile and the tension disappeared. 
"How do you like it? Cleaner than you expected?" 
"You must be disappointed, then. I cleaned up and even decorated in preparation for your visit." 
I smiled broadly, thinking that by decoration he must mean the picture. 
"Did you think I was living in a decent place?" 
"No. To be frank, I hadn't thought about where you lived." I told the truth. 
"Really? I thought women daydreamed about their boyfriends all the time. Don't you?" 
"Well, maybe you do." 
"What else can a young bachelor do when he's alone except think about women? If I say women, you might feel offended, but sometimes I picture the bedroom of a pure woman like you, and other times I imagine Diana Kim rolling around with a nigger." 
I gazed out the window at the approaching dusk. As the lights in the shops came on one by one, the passersby looked even colder. The torch on a peddler's cart began a pale dance, and a woman next to it began to collect the chewing gum that she had laid out for sale. 
It will get even darker soon. The distorted dark roof and the sharp thrill. I was measuring the darkness with the delicate sensitivity of an artist. 
"Are you angry because of what I've said? But believe me, I think of you all the time." 
As always, I didn't know what to say when Tae-su got serious. The conversation died and everything felt awkward. 
At the small desk next to the window, arranged in a pile according to size was a dictionary, an English magazine, and a photo album. I picked up the album and flipped through it quickly. He immediately came to sit next to me on the window sill. Undoubtedly he wanted to explain the photos to me. I would get to know him better. Know about his past, his friends, his family, all the unnecessary details of his history. I didn't want to bother to learn about any of that, so I turned the pages quickly, never giving him a chance to butt in. 
The cast iron stove glowed red from the heat, and the small room was stifling. I pressed a flushed cheek against the pane to cool it. One by one the lights were coming on. 
The darkness thickened visibly like water colors spreading across paper. 
"Kyong-a, you're so pretty today." 
He slowly turned my face toward his. He was trembling. He pulled me into his arms. I could feel the pounding of his heart against my cheek, but my eyes were glued to the outside, measuring the density of the darkness. His hot lips brushed my cheek, cool from the glass, and moved down to my mouth. He seemed anxious, as if he were searching for me in an almost rough way. My eyes remained fixed on the window, still measuring the density of the darkness outside. 
Nothing in my body opened to him. My heart beat quietly, never breaking its normal rhythm and my temperature didn't rise more than the stove had already raised it. 
He caressed earnestly, with growing impatience. I let him touch my body, but my eyes were glued to the outside. Without feeling anything particular, I could see everything clearly. He finally knelt down on the floor and buried his face in my skirt. 
"How can... Kyong-a, how can you..., "he wailed. 
He seemed to have finally begun to realize how meaningless and miserable a one-sided passion between a man and woman could be. 
I pulled my silk skirt toward me little by little from where it lay crumpled mercilessly in his arms. He looked even more pathetic with his face in my white rayon slip. After a while he turned on the light and lit a cigarette 
"Do you dislike me?" 
I was so shocked by his forlorn expression that I said emphatically, "No, no," even shaking my head. 
It was not a lie, but I was distressed because I knew I would have answered the same way if he asked to opposite question. He moved his lips as if trying to say something more, but he ended up simply taking a long draw on his cigarette. 
"Shall I make us dinner? You'll help me, won't you?" He asked, having regained his composure. 
He slid open the closed closet door. A folded mattress and bedding were stuffed on the shelf, and on the bottom shelf was a shabby array of cooking utensils and ingredients including a bottle of soy sauce. 
"I have to go." 
It was completely dark out now. The world was engulfed in a thick darkness. 
"Because your mother is waiting for you, right?" he responded wearily as he shut the closet door. 
He didn't attempt to make me stay. I picked my way down the steep stairs, and when I stepped out into the street, illuminated only by the light of the red cross over the entrance, I took a deep breath of the cold night air. 
"Goodbye. I had a nice time today," I said, as he followed me down. Then I walked away fast without waiting for a response. After a while, I looked back to make sure that he was not following me and began enjoying a slow walk, looking around. 
I passed a street permeated with cooking odors, not unpleasant. Then I came out to a brighter, more exciting street, lined with Western dressmaking shops and haberdasheries. I would have liked to linger to enjoy the sights, but I kept smelling something. 
It was the smell of kimchi soup. I could smell the sour stench even when I pinched my nose with my fingers. My anger at my mother and the misery I had felt that morning flared up inside me. 
Was my yearning for dumplings simply a matter of appetite? No, it was more urgent than appetite, like a thirsty tree's craving for sweet rain, or a burning desire for affection and tender love. How could she be so blind? My own mother? 
My hatred for her, suppressed so far because she was my own flesh and blood, surpassed the limit of my patience. Her unbelievable stinginess, her frightening obstinacy. No one had the right to hurt another human being that much. How could she be so tightfisted with her affection and tender love? 
I took several deep breaths to cool my seething fury. Suddenly a realization stoped me in my tracks. I remembered Tae-su's expression when he was kneeling on the floor. He must have been as miserable as I was when I didn't get dumplings on New Year's morning. 
Was that possible? What if he were as hurt as I had been? What difference could there be between his desperate sigh, "How can... Kyong-a, how can you..." and my plea, "Sometimes, just sometimes..." as I clung to my mother's skirt? 
I pressed my head against a display window where a mannequin in a pink spring coat was spinning. The pink coat rotated round and round. The mannequin kept turning without feeling dizzy, wearing a permanent smile. I was dizzy, my thoughts turning this way and that. I felt that the rotation of the pink coat must be preventing me from thinking. I closed my eyes. I saw that grey mother of mine and breathed in the odor of kimchi soup. 
The decision came easily. I retraced my steps. I felt like sobbing because of the sympathy I had for Tae-su. I wanted to give him everything I could. Why hadn't I realized it before? I told myself nobody should be as miserable as I was when I couldn't have those dumplings. I raced down the street lined with the western dressmaking shops and haberdasheries, and turned into the alley filled with eateries. 
While running, I tried to think of ways I could avoid another failure. How could I open myself to him? I recalled the moments he had looked attractive. I liked the recollection of his firm, manly jaw with its shadow of a beard. If I pressed my forehead against it, a miracle would happen to me, like a bud opening up in a warm breeze. Hadn't I once wished to press my forehead against his chin and listen to his heartbeat? That's what I would do first. I wouldn't worry about what came next. Tae-su would take care of the rest. 
I finally came to a halt at the urologist's sign. Tae-su's room was dark, and a large padlock hung on the glass door leading to the second floor. 


The first thing I saw as I stepped in to the PX was Ock Hui-do. I bounced across the arcade. Good things are so much better when you don't expect them. 
"Happy New Year!" 
"Happy New Year!" 
I greeted everyone I met as I crossed the PX, including the cleaning women and laborers. The painters were shaking hands with Ock Hui-do, as if they were meeting him for the first time. 
"I'm sorry. We didn't even go to see you while you were ill. Are you feeling better?" said Chin politely, who was usually quiet and gentle. 
"You must have been really sick. For the poor, getting sick is worst." 
"You've grown thin. You used to look so good. Tsk, tsk, have a cigarette." 
Kim and Cash were being very kind. They had ignored Ock until then. I wanted to be part of it, too. 
"Happy New Year!" I greeted each painter happily, for I really wanted to bless them. I turned to Ock Hui-do and repeated the greeting. Afterwards I added in a small voice. "Are you all right now?" 
"Yes, thanks to you," he answered, also in a low voice. And that satisfied me. 
"Miss Lee, you're much prettier now that you're a year older." 
"Miss Lee, you should get married this year. It's not good for a girl to work here too long." 
"Why? Are you afraid that Miss Lee will be whisked away by a mongrel?" 
Now, like Cash, all the painters called the Yankees mongrels. 
"Damn this miserable world! Korean boys get dragged off to war and the mongrels get all the pretty girls." 
"Hey, don't worry about them. If you don't want to lose your woman, you'd better draw those mongrels' pictures as fast as you can." 
"That's for sure. You finally said something right for a change." 
They smoked, joked around, then began to get their tools ready. I started sorting the photos. I had taken only one day off, but my hands didn't move as fast as before. It was satisfying to realize that Ock Hui-do was behind me, but I was queasy because I wasn't used to that kind of feeling. 
The Christmas tree, still clothed in its strips of gold and silver paper, sent out an endless display of red and blue winks. The transistor radios that the Yankees carried over their shoulders emitted "Puppy Love" in a hoarse voice. I didn't dislike the mood but wanted to believe I couldn't calm down because of it. 
At the candy counter in front of us, Diana's diamond glittered on her ring finger as she sold cookies to American soldiers and counted the dollars. Her hands were delicate and beautiful, as if they were meant for diamonds. 
Suddenly she placed her elbows on top of the display case and rested for a while, with her hands clutching her hair and covering part of her forehead. The red fingernails and the diamond, in the midst of her black hair, looked indescribably beautiful. I thought how beautiful she could be if only she thought of something besides money. 
Tae-su passed, carrying a screwdriver, a pair of pliers, and some other tools, He didn't greet me or wink; he acted as if nothing had happened. I didn't feel anything particular toward him, either. The time that I wanted to be more generous and charitable to him had already passed. He may have looked somewhat tired, but it seemed to have nothing to do with me. 
Ock coughed from time to time. His cough was not as bad as I had heard at his home, but sometimes he coughed for a long time. 
"For a cough, radish juice steeped in honey is the best. That is, if you can find real honey," Chin muttered out of pity for Ock. 
"Don't you kinow how expensive honey is? Why don't you drink water boiled with green onions and apricot pits?" 
"What a foolish thing to say! Where can you get apricot pits at this time of year? Where I'm from, people steep eggs in vinegar and drink it." 
The painters offered their remedies one by one. 
Cash, who had been quiet, stretched and said, "What strange cures! If they all worked, doctors would starve to death. At least you didn't recommend anything like a combination of dog shit and cow dung. Don't you agree. Mr. Ock? The best thing to do after an illness is to eat well. When there's no fat in your stomach, you get weak and the cough won't go away. At night you have cold sweats, you feel dizzy, and something in your belly seems to suck your voice in so you can't speak sometimes. Isn't that so, Mr. Ock?" 
"So now you're into fortune telling, eh?" 
"If you perform an examination, you are supposed to offer a prescription." 
"All right. Then in order to help Mr. Ock build his strength up and since we're all hungry, how about going out for some sollongtang soup with lots of delicious fat floating on top? How does that sound? We may have fallen on bad times and have no choice but to paint mongrels to make ends meet, but our hearts haven't dried up, have they?" 
"Hear, hear." 
They were all very kind today. 
"What about me? Can I go along too?" I asked, smiling. 
"Sure, but somebody has to watch the store. Miss Lee, can we bring some sweet rolls for you?" 
"All right. I'll watch the store, but be sure to bring lots of rolls." 
They scrambled out the door together. A group of Yankees passed by, sipping Cokes and chomping on hamburgers. I hated their glistening obesity. 
I called out to Misuk in the brassware section. "Doesn't it seem like something good is going to happen this year?" 
"Why?" she asked as she ran toward me. "Where did all the painters go?" 
"For lunch. They said they would bring back some rolls, so don't eat your lunch." 
"Really! How nice!" 
She sat right next to me. I put my arms around her shoulders and pressed my face into the nape of the neck. Several strands of the hair tickled my nose, and a pure human smell, not clouded by cosmetics, reached me. 
Breathing in the milky fragrance, a kind of a combination of wild flowers and newborn animals, I was filled with a longing for people, a longing so urgent that I grew sad. Inhaling her odor, I caressed the end of her long braids. 
"What kind of good things will happen, do you think?" she asked. 
"It's just a vague feeling." 
"I think everyone feels that way on New Year's." She sounded very grown-up. "If a woman marries an American legally, do people still call her a Yankee slut?" The direction of her conversation shifted suddenly. "I think I'll marry an American." 
Instead of giving her a response I snorted. 
"I mean it." 
She looked as if she were confessing a grave secret, when I simply wanted to relieve the fatigue of a long afternoon, breathing in her comforting smell of puppies and wild flowers. 
"You must have seen him. The PFC who comes to my shop every day for an hour or so. He wants me to marry him and go to America." 
"Do you like him?" 
"I'm not sure whether I like him or the idea of going to America." 
"Do you want to go to America that badly?" I was taken aback. 
"It doesn't have to be America. I simply want to leave this country. I'm sick and tired of war, evacuation, and starvation. I wish I never had to see these miserable things again." 
She pierced a piece of paper with the point of a pencil as she spoke, repeating the motion on ever-shrinking spaces. 
"It's so dirty, like sewage. Real sewage. So dirty and miserable," She murmured, wetting her dry lips with a flick of her tongue. 
"What is?" I asked, simply because it seemed rude to remain silent. 
"My house. It's a sewer. You probably couldn't even imagine it." 
I chuckled to myself behind her back, without asking why her house was a sewer. I couldn't resist laughing since she herself was fragrant, since she was fragrant in the midst of sewage, and because she only knew the smell of sewage, not her own fragrance. 
"Why are you laughing? I'm not joking. I'm trying to have a serious conversation." 
She had yet to discover that I was not the right person to talk to about serious things. 
"What's an international marriage like?" 
"You mean the process?" 
"No, the forms can take care of themselves. I mean what's it like in practice?" 
She stammered, but her piercing pencil grew swifter and surer. Her flushed cheeks looked so fresh it seemed they might emit a fruity fragrance at any time. 
"You'll find out after you get married." 
"Well, I want to know in advance. I can't figure out what the future with him will be like. I was just attracted to the idea of going to America, but I can't figure the rest out. I wish someone would guarantee our future together." 
It seemed like I was supposed to be that "someone" but I didn't have the slightest desire to be. 
"Everyone has some fears before marriage. That's why they made up the Four Pillars of Fortune and why they check people's horoscopes before they get married." 
I had been leaning comfortably on her shoulder, but now she yanked her head up and spoke in an uncharacteristically hysterical voice. "I don't mean that. This is totally different." 
At that moment the painters piled in, picking their teeth. Kim thew me a large bag of rolls, and Cash winked and said, "Miss Lee, we all pitched in for those rolls." 
"Now that our bellies are full, it's time we started drawing those damn mongrels again, right?" 
I handed a roll over to Misuk and stammered, "What can I say? the only thing I can guarantee is that if you marry him and have his child, it will be a mongrel. That's one thing for sure, I guess." 
I blurted that out, having heard the painters mentioning "mongrels" so often, but Misuk shuddered as if pierced by a sharp skewer. 
"How could you use such a word. That word is used for animals. I'm surprised at you." 
She dropped the roll she was eating and fled to her shop, her eyes brimming with tears. I followed her with some rolls, but she was so furious that she refused to look at them. 
The painters started working, but Ock Hui-do was staring at the grey curtain. I approached him. I couldn't tell whether his tired eyes were gazing at the curtain or at something behind it. He was engrossed in something anyway, something that had nothing to do with me. 
I paced around him and cleared my throat. He was immovable, like a rock. If only I could shift his focus toward me. Pacing around him, I straightened the painting tools and spread out scarves. Still, he didn't awaken form his reverie. Perhaps I would have to stand on my head on the tiled floor to get his attention. If I walked on my hands, sweeping the floor with my black hair, everyone, including Ock, would look at me. I could do that. You bet I could. I wished I could, but I simply sighed deeply, standing on my two feet. 
Misuk sat slouched forward, her forehead almost touching the display case. The parting in the middle of her black hair was straight and neat. I sighed again for Misuk. I was so distant from Ock Hui-do and from Misuk. They were not absorbed by distress, but dissolved into a time that didn't move forward; I was the only one who was swept away by the passage of the anxious seconds. Thinking that I was in a different time frame from theirs, I became as chilly and lonely, as if I were caught in a spring wind that blew only to spite the blooming flowers. 
A comical-looking GI was leaning over looking at the portraits on display, crunching popcorn noisily. 
"May I help you?" I asked, slipping back into my sales mode. 
The arcade grew busier as the afternoon customers arrived. Misuk and I had to speak to them in English, adapting our tongues to its peculiar twists and rolls. After some time I noticed Ock Hui-do had started painting. 
"I can't forget what you said this aftermoon." Misuk ran to me after the shutters had come down. 
"I'm sorry, I didn't realize that is was a curse word and that it is normally used for animals. I've heard it so often it didn't mean anything to me. When it comes to people, you say half-breeds, I guess." I apologized, stammering as we walked out onto the street together. 
"It's all the same whether it's a mongrel or a halfbreed. The important thing is the prediction that I will give birth to children." 
"Is that a prediction? It is only logical that married couples have children." 
"That's what I mean. That's why I'm afraid." 
"What do you mean?" 
I was irritated because I knew she was going to get into something complicated. I wanted to be free from everything that had nothing to do with me. I needed to think of my own affairs, swaying my drooping limbs gently and gazing up at the stars and the lights in the stores. Then I would get on with business of my life, plunging myself into the darkness and cold. 
"Where do you live? Don't you ride the bus? I walk home, you know." 
I pulled her frozen hand toward the bus stop in a friendly manner. If she walked home, I could always take another road. The important thing was making clear that we were merely heading in our separate directions. 
"Please, please talk with me for a while." She clung to me, her face puckered. 
"You should go home now. Isn't your mother waiting for you?" 
"Let her wait. Do you think I'm a child? Let's sit and talk in a tea room. It doesn't matter if I go home late." 
I had no choice but to sit with her in a shabby second-floor tea room. Perhaps because of the whipping wind, her normally pink cheeks had grown pale. My face, reflected in the black windowpane, looked very tired. I was afraid that she would exhaust me. I closed my eyes, leaning the side of my head against the window. A sweet drowsiness spread over my body. 
"Your coffee is getting cold." She hurried me without touching her own coffee. I covered the lukewarm cup with my hands, but I didn't know how to bring myself to drink that black liquid. 
"I don't think I'll go to America." 
"Why?" I was glad. 
"Because of what you said... because of the mongrel business." 
"Not mongrel again. Half-breed, I said. I don't expect prejudice against mixed blood is the same in America as it is here. Actually, America is made up of people of mixed blood." 
"It's not that. I'm not afraid of that. What you said this afternoon made me realize something, something that I had forgotten." 
"There is something other than going to America. I began to think of marriage in more concrete terms. About the process of having babies. It gives me the creeps thinking of doing it with that PFC." 
She frowned prettily, squeezing her eyebrows together. 
I was exhausted, and I didn't understand what she was talking about. 
"I want to go to America, but there' s something more important." 
"What's that?" I forced myself to ask. 
"The dream that the first contact between a man and woman will be lovely. I can't let that PFC ruin that dream." 
"You've been thinking those wild thoughts all day." 
"No, that thought flashed through my mind the moment you said mongrel. Actually, I was thinking of that all along but I covered it up stupidly on account of my dream of going to America. You lifted the veil for me." 
I smiled awkwardly, at a loss for words. Not knowing whether I had done a good deed or not, I just wanted to be free of her. 
"All day I was thinking of ways to escape from the sewer without going to America. I decided to have a talk with you." 
She gulped down the cold coffee as if drinking water, and her cheeks grew flushed. 
"Can I stay with you at your house?" She asked it as if she had finally gathered up enough courage. 
I turned toward the pane. The window didn't show any details of the dark back alley but my reflection. I pressed my foregead on the cold window pain and then my nose, distorting it. I shut my eyes and tried to devise a way to get out of an embarrassing answer, but I grew sick and tired of making silly excuses. I shook my head until the loose windowpane clattered. Drowsiness enveloped me like mist. 
"I'll pay for my board." Having moved next to me, she was whispering, blowing a warm breath into my ear, her arm draped around my back. Her unique body smell reached me. It was a shame that she didn't know she was so fragrant in the midst of the sewage. 
If the ground she was standing on was a sewer, what I was standing on was a terrible land parched by a long dry spell demon. How could I explain that to her? It would be easier to explain Korea's sijo poems in English. 
I really hated to feel burdened and distressed by other people's problems. I decided to ignore it. 
"Let's go now. Our mothers will be waiting for us." I stood up, pulling her hand. 
"Our mothers?" 
"Yes, your mother and my mother," I said nonchalantly. 
"You'll think about what I've just asked, won't you?" 
"Put on your scarf. It's cold outside." 
I wrapped my hair in my scarf, as if giving her a demonstration, pulling down several wisps of bangs over my forehead. 
"I'll pay for my board. I earn enough for that." 
"I'm rather hungry. All I had for lunch was a few rolls. Aren't you hungry?" 
Ahead of her, I climbed down the dark, steep stairs expertly. The street was cold, and I hated to be alone in the cold. I wanted to be more friendly just because it was cold, but decided I'd better not. She seemed to expect to hear a definite answer. I said firmly, "Goodbye." 
Walking alone, I sucked in my stomach, pulling my head into my coat collar. It was only then that I turned to look inside myself. My field of vision was as dark and narrow as that of a snail hiding inside its shell, but it was only there, inside that confined range, that I could feel at ease with the world around me. 

I stood absentmindedly at a trolley stop. The trolley hadn't come for a long time, but the number of people waiting didn't increase. I was so tired that I wanted to ride if only as for as Hwashin. I was completely exhausted, having drummed up sales amounting to almost 200 dollars that day. 
I suddenly realized that the most exhausted part of me was not my legs, but my mouth. After a day of repeating the same phrases over and over in my seventh grader's English, by evening my tongue was ready to go into fits. 
"How beautiful she is!" 
"May I help you?" 
Thinking back, I realized that I may not have spoken my mother tongue all day. I was extremely busy, Misuk and Tae-su didn't come to talk to me, and I didn't have time to talk to Ock Hui-do. All of a sudden I was seized with the compulsion to speak my own language. I moved next to a middle-aged man who was standing nearby, although it was not clear if he was waiting for the trolley. 
"How beautiful your wife is!" I muttered under my breath in Korean. 
"What's her eye color?" 
"What's her hair color?" 
Fortunately, he couldn't hear me because I kept my voice so low. Low as it was, it was the first Korean I had spoken that day. But even if it was Korean, it wasn't my own words. I felt I would go crazy if I didn't say something that conveyed my own feelings. If not in words, I wanted to express myself in a cry or even a gesture. 
The middle-aged man ambled toward the other side of the trolley strip. The trolley didn't come, and the number of people waiting for it didn't increase or decrease. I paced a while, then started walking. 
A boy working as a hawker at a gift shop for American soldiers had latched onto a black man. I stopped to listen to his sad English. 
"Hallo. Preese come, come, come. Rook, Rook. We have meny, meny, berry nice present." 
"I don't have money. You give yourself a present, okay?" 
The boy slammed down the brass ashtray and pipe he was hawking on the counter, and cried, "Damn it, you son-of-bitch!" 
It was in our own refreshing tongue. I felt much better and asked him, grinning, "Hey, little boy, have you sold a lot today?"  
This seemed like the first meaningful Korean I had used all day. Not waiting for his answer, I went on wearily, looking at the stores. 
Bamboo baskets, pipes, A-frame carriers, wooden baskets, jackets with flashy embroidery on both front and back, faded pajamas made of coarse fabric, a grandfather with a horsehair hat, a wooden farmer doll with a fertilizer carrier on his back. All the goods were supposed to be typical Korean products, but they looked strange and foreign to me. There was not much to sell, but you couldn't survive without selling what there was; that must be the mark of poverty. I passed the shops and stood in a dark corner. 
And then I ran. It wasn't simply because I was afraid. Something more urgent than fear had overcome me. I wanted to see the chimpanzee at the toy stall. I wanted to be with that pleasant friend caught in that frenzy of whisky drinking until he slowed down and returned to total emptiness. 
The toy stall was surrounded by spectators as usual, most of them adults. I felt better seeing other grown-ups who liked toys. Among the piles of cars, trains, dolls, airplanes, swords, and guns, the chimpanzee drew the most attention, but he didn't seem to generate any income for the vendor. Today he had a helper beside him. A wind-up black doll, with bulging eyes and white teeth, was waiting for his master's festival to begin, a pair of cymbals in his hands. 
The vendor yawned languidly, eyed the crowd with a sidelong glance, and stretched his dry wooden hand toward the chimpanzee, as if he were being forced to please the spectators. I held my breath like someone in a theater audience waiting for the opening gong. The vendor wound the screw on the back of the chimpanzee first, then he wound up the black doll, before setting them up side by side. They moved their shoulders rhythmically, one pouring and drinking whisky and the other clanging the cymbals. They were a becoming pair, for one poured and drank whisky faster and faster, while the other pounded the cymbals faster and faster. 
The onlookers swayed their bodies to the rhythm, laughing and laughing. I laughed so hard that tears flowed from the corners of my eyes. While the onlookers held their breath, the pair's movement slowed down. When they came to a complete halt, I felt the energy draining form my body, almost melting to the ground. I brushed away my tears, while the crowd moved away and newcomers arrived. I kept staring absentmindedly. Nothing crept into my empty brain. Suddenly I realized that I could stand without crumpling to the ground because I was being supported by somebody. The support was so expert, so comfortable. A sense of recognition flashed through me. 
"Let's go now," said Ock Hui-do. 
A pair of warm, good-natured eyes was looking down at me. Happiness surged through me, as if we were meeting after a long, long separation. Side by side we threaded our way through the crowd. 
"Do you still look at toys just like a child?" he asked. 
"What about you?" 
"Suddenly I had to see him. That drunkard...," he said softly. 
"Me, too. I ran all the way." 
"I did the same thing. Why? I wonder. I couldn't resist the urge." 
"Maybe we expected to see each other," I said. 
"What do you mean? We've just been together all day." 
As if showing that he had been really with me, he held my small hand. It thawed inside his thick, warm one, and his heat, his breath, his eyes conveyed an ecstatic joy almost as in a dream. 
"It's been a long time." 
I was thankful to see him there. He seemed to be a new person, different from the one I had been with the whole day. 
"We've always been together." He squeezed my hand. 
"What's the use of being together? We were so busy that we couldn't find a moment to talk. I was so lonely." 
"Pitiful girl," he said in a half-joking tone, grinning, but his words had a special power that stroked my heart. 
"Please, please don't make me a pitiful girl again," I spoke like a child, walking with my head against his shoulder. He didn't answer. 
After the glittering lights of the dressmaker, the haberdashery, the shoe shop, and the jewelry shop, came the dim Chinese bun shop and the dark hill that rose toward the cathedral. I looked up at him by the 30-watt light of the bun shop. Usually good-natured, bright, and calm, his eyes were now burning with a strange fever. 
Shocked, I shifted my glance. When I looked up at him again the next time, we had passed the brightness, and with the street lights behind, his face was shadowed, but his eyes were still burning. 
I held my breath. Throughout my body, I could feel that this rock-like man was trembling from deep inside. I was trembling also. My hand in his was feeling something completely new. For a minute, I felt a resistance to the new feeling. I tried to pull my hand from his, but he was much stronger than I expected. I couldn't help but sense his masculinity. 
My heart began to pound uncontrollably. I pressed on the left side of my chest with my free hand. My heart, suddenly transformed into a separate being, was about to jump from the ribs that confined it. He was dragging me. I missed some steps and lost my balance. He stopped abruptly and pressed against me firmly with all his weight. 
I could see and feel his fever close up. 
"Pitiful girl. You're trembling," he whispered in a shaky voice, which tickled my ear. 
I knew he was deeply frightened of something. And I was frightened of whatever he was frightened of. I waited for the frightening thing to happen. I felt his breath, hesitating a little. I tilted back my head and looked up at the cross on the roof of the cathedral before accepting his breath. Strangely, I remembered the phrase of the poem I had forgotten when I had stood at that spot. Before I knew it, I was reciting the poetry haltingly. 

Maria, only you should be merciful to us. We were born of your blood.  
Who knows better than you how heartbreaking longing can be. 

I had no idea why I had to spoil that precious moment by doing such a silly thing. His breath didn't come closer. I felt regretful and relieved at the same time. We started walking again down the hill and around the corner. 
"Yes, very." 
"Today is Small Cold by the lunar calendar, isn't it?" 
"It's strange that Small Cold is always colder than Big Cold." 
"That's one of the tricks our ancestors played. They sneaked in Fall Begins in the middle of the hot spell. They figured they could alleviate the cold or heat by the use of language." 
We crossed the street again and passed an alley without speaking. 
"How far below zero do you think it is today?" 
"This morning they said it was minus 15." 
We regained our composure by exchanging such meaningless pleasantries. Finally we said goodbye politely, not having found the words that could connect the moment beside the cathedral to the present. 

There was a strange jeep parked in front of my house. A jeep in front of that haunted house was as inappropriate as a reality that suddenly jumped into a dream. I hesitated about going inside the house and was irritated by the fact that this unexpected visitor wouldn't leave me in peace, but it was minus 15 outside and I didn't want to suffer in the cold. The gate stood open, and on the entryway step was a pair of shiny military boots and another pair of shabby boots. My cousin Jin was visiting us. As I took off my shoes, I noticed the long rows of holes for lacing the boots. I felt sorry for Jin who had to put on and take off such boots. 
It was a good thing that I could feel sorry for him, if only a little. It made me more comfortable in facing him, something I had been worrying a lot about. 
Jin was sprawled on the warmest part of the floor, and a sergeant, apparently his driver, sat awkwardly on the colder side. 
"Do you always come home this late?" Jin spat with a disapproving air as he pulled himself up. 
"I'm rather late today." 
I was in the habit of acting subdued in front of him and I couldn't help it today as usual. The rows of holes on his boots weren't any help. His handsome face was pale, unlike a soldier's, and it still had its dignity and elegance. It wasn't simply because of his rank as lieutenant colonel; his unique dignity and refinement would have shone, even if he were thrown into a public bath. The so-called UN jacket, a shapeless winter coat that resembled a Chinese outfit, looked very good on him and didn't alter his appearance a bit. 
As I took off my coat and put my lunch box aside, I could feel Jin's twisted smile following me, so disdainful of others and yet so becoming to him. But how could I escape being imprisoned by his smile? 
I put my frozen hands under the quilt on which Jin was sitting and spoke to the sergeant first. 
"It's cold. Why don't you come sit here?" 
I felt closer to him sitting awkwardly in a corner than I did to my cousin. The sergeant pushed himself further away to indicate that my invitation was out of the question. 
"How do you like your work?" Jin asked me. 
"I like it well enough." 
Conversation died, and I was as ill at ease as the sergeant in the corner, although I was sitting in a comfortable position. 
Jin pulled out a Pall Mall, lit it and exhaled gracefully. The cigarette sent out a thin, bluish smoke. For no apparent reason it seemed extravagant. 
My mother must have given kimchi soup to this precious eldest son of my father's older brother, the one who ate only the most delicious foods, who slept on the softest mat, who thought only the most refined thoughts. Or had she given him soy bean stew, with shredded kimchi in it? I regretted missing his face when he sat down to such a meal, but it cheered me to no end to imagine him being served kimchi soup. 
"Shall I bring your dinner in?" asked my mother, sliding the door halfway open. 
"Yes, but did you feed Cousin Jin?" 
"No, he said he'd eaten already," she said in a bored voice. 
"Oh, I've eaten, too. I forgot for a moment." 
I hated the idea of lapping up kimchi soup in front of him. 
"How can you forget eating your dinner so quickly?" he asked, twisting his cigarette stub out. 
It sounded derisive, but what could I do? The more I thought about not feeding him kimchi soup, the more wronged I felt. It seemed unfair to have to skip a meal because of him, but it was better than drinking kimchi soup in front of a man who had such a lustrous sheen on his skin, as if he always had his fill of the most delicious food. 
After rejecting the meal, I felt even more awkward and crushed. I found myself slouching as clumsily as the sergeant on the other side of the room. 
"How can you live like this? Actually, I have been ordered to bring you back with me, by force if necessary." He smiled briefly, moving only the corners of his mouth. 
"You can't ," I retorted, looking him straight in the eye. 
"You don't have to be afraid." 
"Who's afraid? You always think everyone trembles in fear at the sight of you." 
"You haven't changed a bit." He smirked briefly. "My father thinks it's his duty to take care of your family since you've lost the head of your household. He's afraid that other relatives will criticize him later if he neglects his obligations. That's why he made Mal write a letter and asked me to come and see you. I know my father's hypocrisy only too well." 
"Why are you telling me this?" 
"Because you're so cold. You seem to think I'm as hypocritical as my father for coming here. I came willingly. I kind of wanted to see you and I was curious about this old house." His smile seemed more gentle than before. 
"I wish you and your father would leave us alone. We'll manage." 
"That won't do. My father doesn't care if Nan frequents dance halls or Min causes trouble with women. His only concern is your family in Seoul. I mean the only concern he expresses. It's getting embarrassing. In fact, everybody knows that we owe your family a lot, so you can understand my father's distress, can't you, Kyong-a?" 
I was suddenly afraid of where he was heading, but fortunately he must have been thinking of other things. He didn't delve any deeper. 
"But it's all a waste of energy," he muttered. 
"Yes, you're right. I won't go." 
"I don't mean that. I mean it wouldn't make any difference whether my father worries about what other people think or not. Even if you do become a Yankee slut because of your poverty, the relatives wouldn't blame us. It won't affect us. After the war, everyone will be busier and more selfish." 
Baffled, I watched his mouth, which was twisted in a cold snicker. 
"The concept of the family will shrink, too. Nobody will blame someone for not taking care of his niece. Forget about his authority as the head of the clan; people will have enough trouble disciplining their own children." 
He spoke carelessly, pulled out another Pall Mall, and lit it. The metallic gleam in his eyes took on a shade of sorrow. Was it because the smoke was in his eyes? He had said some cruel things, but he looked more distracted than I was. He eyed me indifferently for a long while. 
"Maybe in the future young people will be bolder in disregarding their family ties and breaking away from the bondage of convention. They'll take more responsibility for what they do, bravely and seriously. It will become the world of youth." 
He seemed to be engrossed in his own problems and telling his own story. He was still a bachelor because he couldn't overcome his parents' fierce objection to his first love's inferior family background. But I couldn't tell whether he was simply reminiscing or if he was truly in pain. When he finished his cigarette, the sorrow I thought I had seen was not there. His eyes were still cold and his perfectly handsome face was expressionless. I wondered what kind of woman could have wounded this cold and impenetrable man, but he looked so unshakable that nobody's curiosity could find its way inside him. His dignity and elegance weren't part of his character. Rather, he was hiding behind those qualities. 
I managed to ask, "What are you trying to say? How can I understand you if you speak in such an obscure way?" 
"It's simple. You're free. You don't have to pay attention to adults," he said matter-of-factly. 
I was suddenly furious. 
"Ha! What a waste of energy! It's more a waste of energy than what your father's trying to do. My dear cousin, so cultivated and cool, came all this way to make such a long speech. I've been free for a long time, long before you proclaimed it. Do you think there's anything I couldn't do because I had to think about family appearances? I'm only concerned with my problems. I live as I please and I'll keep living as I please, so don't worry. I won't accept your family's help with our living expenses any more. Do you think I don't know what your family is up to? You've mouthed all this nonsense because you hate to part with money. Good! I won't accept it. I make my own money." 
"Why are you so narrow-minded?" His low, chilly voice suppressed my fury. "Accept it. Your uncle is rich. You can even ask for more. Actually, we owe your family. Can't you read between the lines?" 
He stopped and seemed to concentrate on my mother's room. It was quiet. There wasn't a hint of human life there. 
"You don't understand. You have to free yourself from your mother and then from this old house." 
"What?" I was jolted by his remark. 
"First, free yourself from your mother." 
"What are you telling me to do?" 
"Your mother is already part of this old house. If she's most comfortable here, what can we do? But you're too young and too spirited to be part of this house. So don't bind yourself to any obligation." 
"Then what happens to my mother?" 
"Your mother is physically healthy." 
He reduced my mother's health to her body. I didn't like hearing him speak like that. 
"Anyway, she can take care of herself, and my father will contribute to the grocery bills. As I said before, your uncle is rich, and although I criticized him from time to time, he is a good man. He takes pride in keeping up appearances with his relatives. In other words, he is a good fellow representing the older generation. Lean on him. You and your mother can lean on him. Understand? You must come down to Pusan. You can continue your schooling and enjoy a life suitable for your age. Life can be a little brighter for you." 
He pronounced the word "brighter" with such a fascinating stress that my heart began to pound. My longing for light and joy wrenched its head up inside me. The sergeant, who was dozing awkwardly in the corner, suddenly sprawled out and began to snore. His limbs spread out comfortably, he fell into a sweet sleep, pleasing to look at. A genuine smile spread over Jin's lips for the first time. 
"That fellow, he must have been really exhausted." 
I tried to calm myself by flicking Jin's lighter on and off until my thumb hurt. He observed me at leisure, confident of the effect of his words, but I tried to put on the most bored expression I could muster. However, I was severely torn between the longing for a brighter life and the resignation that I might never escape from my situation. I knew that this feeling, this pain, was obviously meaningless. I would never become a new person through that pain. 
No matter what anyone said, I might never be free. Looking up in fright, as the war raged on, at the dark roof with one side shattered, hating my mother, eating kimchi soup; I might never be free from any of it. 
Once again I realized that layer after layer of chains bound me. Where had those chains come from? Sometimes I tried to trace them back to the beginning, but I always gave up. With Jin's help, perhaps I could get a glimpse of their origin. But I was afraid of looking at them. I hadn't forgotten about them. I was just avoiding them as deftly as possible. 
"The day after tomorrow when I head south, I'm taking you with me," he said in a bored but confident tone. "It looks like we are going to take someone along with us to help my mother with her chores. I heard that the sergeant's sister is quiet and nice, and I asked him to bring her along, so it's almost certain," he said, indicating the sergeant with his chin. 
As if his mission were through now, his thin lips pursed and his eyes shone with their characteristically selfish gleam, completely uninterested in anyone else's affairs. 
I kept flicking the lighter. The flame had long since been reduced to a putter of sparks. I pushed the lighter toward him, and blew on my thumb, red and swollen. 
"I'm not going." I said firmly. 
He didn't seem surprised, and he didn't try to talk me into going any more. He looked at his watch and told me to wake up the sergeant. It seemed that the slot of time he had set aside to pay attention to others had passed. 
The sergeant was snoring noisily. He had stretched out completely, his big feet rudely directed to his arrogant superior. He was so deep in sleep that he wouldn't even have noticed if somebody had carried him away, but I felt as if he were the only one alive in the whole house. 
"Let him sleep a little more, if you don't have to hurry," I suggested. 
"I guess so." 
Jin yawned languidly and pulled out his third cigarette. I struck a match for him. It was nice to look at the cigarette release a wisp of smoke between his delicate and yet masculine fingers. 
"Have you ever been in a battle where people actually killed each other " I asked contemptuously. 
"Of course, but I'm not on the front anymore." 
"Killing people and firing guns?" I showed my contempt more openly. 
"I hate war stories." 
He brushed aside my taunt in a matter-of-fact tone, but I was insistent. 
"Still, you must have retreated and fled once when Seoul fell into communist hands. Calling it a strategic retreat. Ha! I can't imagine you fleeing." I wanted to crush his arrogance with my derision. 
"Then how about imagining me charging into an enemy camp all alone, beheading tens of them? I'm sorry, but I'm not a noble hwarang warrior from the Shilla Kingdom or a righteous soldier from the Yi Dynasty." 
He avoided my disdain with cunning and skill. The conversation stopped. We held our breath, listening to the stillness that filled the old house. It was not that we couldn't hear the wind blowing; rather we were listening for a human movement. 
It seemed as if nobody lived there, nobody had ever lived there. Even if a goblin materialized to search the house with his sensitive nose, he wouldn't have been able to sniff a human scent in this house. The stillness lasted a long time before Jin broke it. 
"Are you planning to go crazy as well?" He spat out the words as he stuffed the lighter and gloves in his pocket. 
"Sergeant Kim!" he called sharply. 
The sergeant bounced up like a wound spring. As the two soldiers laced their boots, my mother stood silently at the edge of the wooden floor. I whispered to her that she should ask them to stay overnight to indicate her hospitality. Clearly Jin thought my mother had gone mad. I wanted to show him that she could be normal. However, she pretended not to hear me, accepted their bows wordlessly, and followed them to the gate with me. She gazed at the jeep until it turned at the end of the alley, then locked the gate and went into her room without a word. 
I was hungry. I was sad, thinking that I was still hungry for kimchi soup, and I couldn't pretend I was not. 
Are you planning to go crazy as well: Ha! I'm this hungry, so how can I go mad? Who does he think he is? Everyone knows the truth, no matter how he denied it. He fled at the beginning of the war, of course. He left us under that cruel, depraved rule. And now he pities uo for having to endure all that and suffer from the aftermath. Disgusting! Who does he think he is, idiot! He looks down on my family because it's made of women and ghosts. 
I tossed and turned on my mat, flinging one insult after another at him. But I didn't feel any better. 
Coward. Bastard. Deserter. Everyone knows it. 
I like the word deserter and felt much better for having said it. I could hear a cough from the other room. A shutter clattered a few times. Then a deep stillness without even a rustling encroached again. 
I knew I wouldn't go crazy. I knew I was intent on finding the joy of life, hidden deep in my heart. It lay deep inside, never losing its force, although it sometimes acted as if it were a separate entity, ignoring the fact that I had to pretend to live a dull life because I was not supposed to have any other choice. 
That was why I fell in love. What a blessing, what a salvation it was to have met Ock Hui-do. If I hadn't met him, I would have crumbled all to pieces, the perfect target for Jin's pity. 
I remembered an incident from my childhood. My father had loved me best. But because he was afraid that other people would criticize him for spoiling me, he somethimes acted with sudden severity, and at other times I was punished harshly for trivial things. I remembered he often argued with my mother because of that. 
One day, when I was in the first grade, I was punished for having bought sweets with the money left over after I bought my school supplies. I was locked in the attic in the outer quarters. The door was locked outside. I knew if I cried loudly enough, I would be forgiven, but I didn't cry. I put up with the fright, pressing down on my pounding heart. I began to notice that it was not really dark inside the attic. As my eyes got used to the darkness and began to discern the shapes around me, I was surprised to find that the things inside the closet were more interesting than things outside. If you brushed off the dust, the toys my brothers had played with were almost new and all of them were in working condition. I could become a driver, a pilot, or put on a military uniform. I did it all, but I grew tired soon. I was anxious because I felt I had to examine the piles of wondrous goods that had been forgotten by the other members of the family. 
A couple of times I dipped my finger into a honey jar and sucked it. Then I moved on to the books piled high in one corner. They looked fascinating but there wasn't enough light to read. At that very moment a beam of light miraculously streamed in. It was the afternoon sunlight, pouring through the gap between the west wall and the post at the corner the room. I shuffled through the musty books looking for one with pictures. That was how I first got to know Hans Christian Anderson. 
In that crowded attic a glittering and wonderful land of fantasy opened before me. I was a mermaid, a swan, a princess, all rolled into one. 
Then I heard my mother's shriek as she returned home. The attic door was flung open and I was embraced. 
"Oh, my, my, Kyong-a. Poor baby, you must have been scared to death. Did you cry?" She hugged me to her breast. Her heart was racing. 
"What a rigid man. He's so inflexible. How could he lock our precious Kyong-a in here? Something terrible could have happened. What if you fainted out of fright? It was a good thing that I came home early. For some reason I wanted to come home early. Now I see why." 
She fussed over me, pressing her cheek to mine and wiping my tear-less eyes. I sniffled a little. 
"Poor baby! Even your tears have all dried up. Where is that father of yours hiding?" 
I missed the chance to tell her that I had not been miserable at all, so I had to burst into tears just to go along with her. My father rushed to me from his hiding place, and gave me a spoonful of liquid medicine mixed with red powder. He said it was good for the nerves. 
I couldn't remember whether or not I swallowed the medicine, but I was proud to remember that I hadn't felt dejected during my confinement. 
No, I couldn't let myself become the object of anyone's pity. I began to appreciate myself. I couldn't let myself suffer from hunger. I bolted up and went to the kitchen, where I laid out a tray for myself quietly, so my mother wouldn't know. 

Translated by Yu Young-nan.