Kang Shin-jae 

Born in Seoul in 1924, Kang Shin-jae published her first short stories, "Face" and "Chong-sun," in 1949, with the recommendation of the novelist Kim Tong-ni. Her early works date from the time of the Korean War, and already show a remarkable degree of emotional and literary maturity. Since then she has published more than thirty novels as well as numerous short stories. The story "The Young Zelkova Tree" dates from 1960. She is most highly esteemed as a writer of short stories, a literary form which she herself considers capable of the highest perfection.  
Her plots are mostly love stories, where the course of love is often complicated by a love triangle or by some external factor. In many of her works the Korean War looms in the background as a source of suffering, but she remains far from the harsh social realism that has so strongly characterized much modern Korean fiction. Instead, she concentrates on portrayals of the inner, psychological evolution of her principal characters, which are mainly women.  
In many of her works, the central female character is shown suffering pain, alienation, and even death, in the course of an unhappy love relationship. Much of this suffering derives ultimately from the social pressures under which women must live, so that Kang's work constitutes a quite radical denunciation of the inhumanity of modern society.  
In earlier works we find many depictions of the effect of social pressures on women, but later she also began to depict more clearly the way in which the same forces reduce male Koreans to passive helplessness. Even there, the narrative voice frequently depicts events from the woman's point of view, as if to say that even in the midst of pain, women remain more actively perceptive of the truth than men.  
Kang's narrative style is allusive, and her work has often been praised for its poetic qualities, the way she uses foreign words and sensory stimuli to evoke an atmosphere that mirrors the inner state of the main character. She is thus able to leave much of the task of understanding what her characters are feeling to the reader, without lengthy explications.  

The Young Zelkova Tree 


  ... Brother... He was my brother...  
  For me, this word was the very representation of absurdity  
  and all things illogical, and I was the thing hopelessly  
  entangled in its deadly web, hopelessly...  

He is always enveloped in the smell of soap. No, I'm wrong. That isn't entirely true. I can't really say "always." It is when he comes home from school, runs into the bathroom, and comes out having battled and tussled with the water that he gives off the smell of soap. Even as I sit motionless in front of my desk with my back turned to him, I can feel him coming toward me. I can anticipate beforehand what mood he's in, and even tell what kind of expression he's wearing on his face.  
Marching into my room in the T-shirt he's just changed into, as he throws himself into the armchair, or else leans against the window sill with his elbow, he turns to me and smiles.  
"What are you doing?" he asks.  
It is on these occasions that he smells of soap, and it is then that I realize that my saddest and most painful hour has arrived.  
As the sweet, fragrant scent of soap starts to fill the air around us, I feel a tingling sensation start to bubble up inside and slowly diffuse through my whole body. Oh, I want to tell him so...  
"What are you doing?"  
As he throws that question in my lap, he always opens his eyes a little wider as a matter of course, and gazes into my face. That gaze... I have often wondered what it could be doing. Perhaps it's urging me to be just that little bit more jovial, or possibly, its purpose is no more than the mere expression of his uncontrollable mirth.  
At these moments, something compels me to stare back into his eyes, despite the turmoil inside me as I focus all my available resources in an effort to stem the flood of grief and unmitigated agony.  
I want to know... I want to know what he sees when he looks at me. I throw myself yet again at the mercy of this query. Day and night, time after time, like timeless waves crashing into a timeless rock, this inquiry hurtles into me again and again. But each time I fail hopelessly in getting the answer. I cannot read the meaning in his eyes and so yet again, I can feel my pain and sadness turn into something heavier and slowly sink to the bottom of my breast.  
But the very next moment, I realize that I must bring myself down to that position where no embarrassment or awkwardness exist式that of his younger sister.  
"Oh, are you back?" I respond in as bright a tone as possible, sensing this is what he wants most. I also know that it would be cruel and ignoble of me, were I to act awkwardly here.  
As if relieved with my reply, he gives himself a big stretch.  
"Yeah, I'm tired out! You couldn't get me something to eat, could you?"  
"Oh, you're impossible! I was only just getting myself into the rhythm of this English composition homework..." I stand and walk away from the desk pretending to moan.  
"Really? Let me have a look. I'll tell you if you could make it as a writer!"  
"No, don't!" I hide the notebook under a pile of other books and come downstairs. Opening the door of the refrigerator, I take out a frosted bottle of Coca-Cola, together with some crackers and cheese.  
As I arrange these on a plate, I am overwhelmed with a sense of joy式a "secret" joy, hidden and unknowable. Why does he always come into my room to ask for something to eat, especially when he passes in front of the refrigerator on his way? Even the laziest of dogs would have no trouble opening the fridge door, and if he really did want someone else to fetch it for him, he would do better asking someone in the kitchen. Besides, anything would be better than asking me to do it. I mean... I grumble, moan, and I make him wait ages for his snack, and what's more, no one could be as clumsy as I am, spilling, and sometimes even tipping the whole thing over on the floor. Come to think of it, I really am very clumsy at doing things like this, no matter how much I try.  
When I come back with the the tray, he is looking out of the window at the rambler rose with the side of his face turned toward me. Sitting there, deep in his reverie, I detect a strangely calm and tranquil look in his eyes式a look that he doesn't show when he's near me. His face, with its strong contours and darkish complexion is very appealing from this angle and there is something about the way he looks when he is in private meditation that attracts me with its fascinating charm.  
His well-sculptured head is as handsome as Apollo's must have been, and a few strands of his wavy hair lie intertwined over his forehead.  
"I hear that curly-haired people are violent by nature," I told him once.  
"No, that's not true, really Suk-hui, that's not right..." he protested in earnest, when all I was doing was poking fun at him...  
After having a rest in my room as usual, he picked himself up from his seat.  
"Shall we play tennis?"  
"Oh, okay."  
"Ah, I just remembered, I thought you said you were taking mid-term exams from tomorrow."  
"Oh that, well... It doesn't really matter."  
Frankly I couldn't have cared less about them. I pulled out a drawer, and took out a pair of white shorts and an orange-colored shirt.  
"You know you'll fail with that kind of attitude..."  
Even as he said this, he went out of the room to get the racquets.  
The sun was shedding its fiery light, but a somewhat chilly wind could be felt from time to time blowing through the fresh greenness of the leaves. We walked to the wall at the foot of the hill, and slipped into the yard opposite. I've heard that this neighboring estate used to be a part of the land held by the old royal family. The couple of old tile-roofed houses that sat in this estate were so far off that they were almost out of sight, leaving this side of the grounds a big empty space.  
Whatever motivated the people living in those houses, they certainly swept and polished that piece of land.  
"What a complete waste... It would make a first class tennis court. How about it?" I said one day sitting on the stone wall.  
He wasn't very enthusiastic at first, but later he walked over to the house and talked it over with the owners. The next day, we took some chalk and a few days after that, we leveled the land and installed a net, making a complete tennis court out of the piece of land.  
The owner, a grand old thing, wasn't quite happy with how far we had gone, and protested as if anything could have been done about it, but he soon gave up. The next thing you know, he would come out supported by his walking stick and watch us play.  
I have always found it difficult to read the expression on an old face, but it was especially difficult with him. To spell it out, it was a face which seemed as if it was laughing one moment and marveling the next at this curious game that unfolded itself in front of his eyes. And also at the same time, he looked as if he were a million miles away floating around in his own little world, somewhere beyond the sky.  
Once or twice, at seeing my masterly skill at jumping over the wall, he opened his mouth as if to speak, but closed it again without saying anything. Possibly, it was because I didn't look as if I'd pay attention to him, whatever he said. Anyhow, that place was an excellent place to while away our time.  
A student of physics, my tennis companion often seemed pressed with his work, but he wasn't a feeble-minded milksop who would shriek away at the very mention of the word "sport."  
I had been playing tennis before I came here, but the sudden improvement in my play is mainly due to him. One couldn't imagine my gratification when I realized just how much better he was than the coach I'd been learning from in the country.  
I don't think I can really fall for anyone who is dull-headed, but at the same time, I'm not attracted by those that profess total separation from all physical activity. I think sport, in some of its aspects, shows without doubt the very joy of living reflected in itself. The refreshing sweetness of the air as I run round the court in pursuit of the ball is like nothing else.  
But today, I really couldn't put racquet to ball. The only thing admirable on the court was his usual skill in pulling me along at my own pace, erratic as it was.  
"Phew! I'm certainly not with it today, am I..."  
"Oh, that's all right, I don't mind... I think it'd be a good idea to arrange a match with Chi-su soon, don't you think so?"  
As the sky was turning a deep yellow, we picked the balls up and walked down to the mineral water spring. The icy water, flowing out of a crack in the rock, made our teeth numb with its coldness, and had a bitterish flavor.  
We made water dippers out of our hands and drank to our hearts' content, all the time holding our nostrils closed. A willow spread its graceful pea green leaves over the rock, and an anonymous tree, covered in bright red flowers, was also spreading its branches over us.  
We had always thought that in these surroundings, it wasn't quite right for us to drink in such a rowdy manner, but still we continued.  
"Drink up, they say it has medicinal qualities. Who knows, you might even benefit from some of its effects."  
"What for?"  
"What for? Well, for a start it might even make you a little better at tennis."  
It was a spring where we would never fail to stir up some racket or another.  
But today, we were surprised to find a gourd dipper placed on the edge of the rock. No doubt the old man had put it there.  
"We'll have to be better behaved when we drink here from now on."  
"Yes, the guardian spirit of the mountain is watching over us."  
So we sat there and took a long break. We were ever so well behaved... He leaned forward and scooped out some water with the dipper, and put it against my lips. He was wearing an unfamiliar face, deeply engrossed in some private thought, and it was carrying an expression so private so personal... It was one of those that he never shared with me.  
I just took a sip and looked up at his face. He drank the rest slowly and deliberately. As he was replacing the gourd dipper, I thought I saw for an instant fiery emotion shroud and blanket his face. He didn't answer my look. I was suddenly swept away into utter confusion. But even in that state of the amalgam and hodgepodge of feeling, I was aware of something strong and distinct... It was joy.  
I threw my racquet onto my shoulder and walked toward the wall.  
... Brother... He was my brother...  
For me, this word was the very representation of absurdity and all things illogical, and I was the thing hopelessly entangled in its deadly web, hopelessly...  
I jumped down from the wall which was taller than I was, and without casting back a glance, walked on through the garden. I was barefoot with my shoes in my hands. The bristly and yet soft texture of the grass was so exciting that I did not want to miss the sensation of walking on it wearing anything on my feet.  
He likes to joke... If he were with me now, I bet he'd start teasing me. I remember once when we were walking side by side.  
"Shall I fit a pair of soles on your feet? Then you could go around everywhere without your shoes on!"  
"You know, walking on grass barefoot always makes me feel as if I'm back home... No rather, it makes me feel as if I've finally come back to my Self..."  
I would mumble a few words like this, but later that day, I would become all mixed up inside, all of a sudden. So nowadays, I just keep my mouth closed like a stubborn old woman.  
When I arrive at the terrace all sulky式seeing the purple rug laid across the wide room, the weighty pieces of furniture placed here and there, and the stillness floating around them, and when the fragrance of peonies in full bloom, the scent of lilac, and the smell of freshly hewn grass combine to produce that intoxicating aroma式I feel the painful reality of my position slowly float toward me in this purplish air. I cannot help but just stand there flustered and frustrated as I open my eyes to the bitter irony of my situation. Were those fleeting moments of cheerfulness and joy, in fact, my grief and agony disguised?  
Brother and sister...  
Younger sister...  
I hate these terms because they only invoke fear and aversion within me. The joy and happiness I have been feeling are definitely not allowable within these categorizations.  
The irony that I experience in this purple-tinted air would be tinged with that little bit of sadness, and I would soon lose the courage to remain standing by his side. No doubt he would crack a few jokes blinking his ebony-colored eyes and tell me in unspoken words to laugh and be merrier. Indeed isn't this all he can do for me?  
The strength of the elation that I'd felt earlier today had, I think, plunged me that much deeper into a sense of tragedy. I just stood in front of the house, dumbfounded, and then slowly walked up onto the polished wooden floor of the house, puffing my cheeks out a little. The shiny wooden floor became marked by my footsteps, but funnily enough, I got a strange thrill seeing it dirtied.  
I had washed myself and I was changing. I threw down a glance through the window.  
He was sitting on a bench underneath the wisteria vine, supporting his chin, looking into the bay tree forest. In the way he was directing his gaze, there was something which made him look awfully lonely.  
Could it be that he was suffering from the same torment as I was? But then I was suddenly pushed by a streak of cruelty. Ha, but what use is there? What can be done...  
I didn't turn on the lights. I placed myself in a spot where I couldn't be seen from the outside, and watched him placidly.  
It was only after darkness had blanketed the surroundings that he stood up from the bench. He looked up at my window and froze. He was there for some time before he finally disappeared out of sight.  
I didn't turn on the light. Nor did I go downstairs for supper. Instead, I picked up the coffee cup that he'd sipped from and carefully, so carefully put it to my lips... Just as he had put the gourd dipper to his lips earlier.  
What term would be the most appropriate in referring to "him?" It is my fate to call him "brother."  
It was late winter of the year before last, when ice and snow had sugared over the houses of Seoul making them glitter like grated ice candy, that Monsieur Yi brought me (perhaps it would be better to say "dragged" me) here. Mother introduced "him" like this.  
"Suk-hui, this is going to be your brother from now on. Say hello, he's called Hyon-gyu."  
I stood on the vivid purple carpet and inspected his face.  
"Do you know he's known as the genius of the college of Liberal Arts and Science at the University? Come to think of it, our Suk-hui, too, has quite a reputation of being a very accomplished young lady back home... Only, I think she's lost her feet a bit coming to a place like Seoul. Try to get on well together, won't you?"  
Mother's voice was soft and light, but her eyes appeared full of misgiving. I began to study the young man's eyes alertly.  
He was wearing a brown V-neck pullover over a lighter colored shirt. In those thick eyebrows of his and the look on his forehead, he gave the impression of being a little overbearing, but his eyes were cool and refreshing to observe, in that there was a sharpness and a generosity in them: the sort of generosity that comes out of confidence.  
The contours of his body seemed to show a neat propriety, but at the same time seemed to expose a tough and stubborn character underneath. Only, the lines around the chin and the neck seemed sensitive and very delicate.  
He looks normal enough, I thought式height, shoulder-breadth, and hmmm... He does seem to have that certain quality suggestive of a genius... All the time, I was giving marks out of a hundred. But then, I wasn't so stupid as to judge the merits of someone on his outer appearance only.  
As I pierced his eyes with my look, a corner of his mouth twitched a little, like someone a little overcome by a sudden flash in his eyes. He seemed a little embarrassed but at the same time looked as if he was squeezing out a bitter smile against his will. Was it because he could look right through me? I suddenly feared that I was being probed under a detailed examination.  
But at length, the tone in which he greeted me was simple in the extreme.  
"Hello, I'm very happy that you came. The house has been feeling very empty recently..." he said as he took me by the hand.  
This only suggested that he looked on me as a child, probably did so out of respect for Mother's feelings.  
All so predictably, a great flood of relief and satisfaction could be seen surging over Mother's face, and I began to have some idea of the kind of connection that had been forged between this young man and my mother. It was an unnatural mother-and-son relationship which obliged both parties to respect and venerate each other in every small detail, triviality, of everyday life.  
Monsieur Yi seemed broad-minded enough, and appeared to take an easy-come easy-go attitude in all aspects of his daily dealings, so that while all this was going on, he just stood there with a broad grin on his face, urging me to rest, saying how tired I must be.  
Anyway, what is important is that from then on, "he" has been able to call me by my name without any inhibition. Sometimes, he would even call out, "Hey, Suk!"  
He has been very cordial and hospitable to me: sometimes even too much so, which pained me a lot. The fact that he had started to come into my room to ask for something to eat, or to ask me to put some medicine on his hands or somewhere, was a very significant change, and a very valuable one for me.  
Be that as it may, I couldn't bring myself to call him brother, no matter how much I tried. At first, it was because of the awkwardness arising from unfamiliarity, but later it was for another reason... This was many times harder than calling Monsieur Yi "Father." I'm not sure if I am a stubborn bigoted ass, or worse still, someone who's lost control because of bashfulness. Which could I be I wonder...  
However, it appeared that Hyon-gyu and Mother recognized my peculiar predicament, and would phrase their questions in such a way that I would not have to struggle and twist trying to avoid that which I felt so abashed to say. In this context, the only person that did put me into impossible positions from time to time was Monsieur Yi himself.  
I think in the little over a year that I've been here, I've changed in many ways. I have learned to make the most of my looks, I've also grown a little taller and my skin seems to have become a little whiter. Last year, I was even voted "Miss E High School," and played queen for a whole day. I had feared that perhaps my bust would be too shallow and I, more than anyone else, was startled to find myself winning and by such a big margin as well! Mother was so excited she didn't know what to do, and Monsieur Yi bought me an incredibly expensive watch, but "he" didn't say much: not even a joke. All he did was utter a word of congratulation, but even that, very shyly. Seeing him like this, I got a great sense of satisfaction. I felt good.  
I think my character has also undergone change. The girl who used to have so many friends and who used to sing such a lot, has become, I think, I a little more impetuous and a little more aggressive since moving here. I think I can at last begin to understand what is known so simply as "the joy of life."  
The atmosphere in this house is very cozy and pleasing. Also, because of the unusual circumstances which bound my mother with Monsieur Yi, there is that slight tinge of the romantic fused.  
S district in which we live is far from the hustle and bustle of the city center, and the way the creeping ivy式which according to Monsieur Yi was already thriving when he came式covers the whole of this brick house has a very comforting effect, giving me a sort of solace that I had never experienced before. What's more, he is always kind and polite to Mother, and Monsieur Yi would express his great satisfaction whenever I looked healthy and happy.  
Monsieur Yi was a tutor in economics at some university, and was a plump and good-natured man. The reason I call him "Monsieur" even though he had no connections with France is because he reminded me of a piteous father I once saw in a French film. Monsieur Yi is not pitiful. Indeed, he's very happy. But it is exactly this perennial munificence that seemed so vulnerable. I fear that with just one slight mistake, he might tumble down into utter misery and degradation.  
In the tragedy of someone like Goethe's Werther, there is a poignant beauty in the pain he suffers, but I have only fear as to what Monsieur Yi's sadness would be like. I can only see wretchedness... It was indeed fortunate that my mother was able to come and stand by his side.  
Mother spent most of her time indoors, but she seemed happy enough. Her gentle tone of voice, so characteristic of her, had, I think, grown even gentler. Only, it seemed she was suffering from guilt at the actual greatness of her bliss itself, and in consequence would not go out very often and even strained herself not to laugh too loudly. But she was always in pleasant clothes and also indulged in a little bit of vanity with a little make-up on her face. This pleased me.  
But, however, I have an unanticipated anguish. My feelings toward Hyon-gyu are always weighing me down. Sometimes, when the distress becomes too strong to bear, I wish that I had never come here in the first place. But this wish doesn't last long. What if I die and never see him again in my life? I shudder at the thought. It didn't matter if nothing came to alter the situation. I was the happiest girl in the world by the mere fact that I had met him... and how could I ever exchange with anything else the exhilaration that I feel, simply breathing next to him? But it is also true that I am always under a shadow of anxiety and misery... To tell you the truth, my sentiments change by the minute.  
The fact that Monsieur Yi is traveling abroad these days seems to have lessened the weight of that burden on my shoulders a little. No longer am I obliged to feign happiness to please him every morning, or go downstairs to the dining room at the regular prearranged times.  
"Please Mum, just turn a blind eye to it until he returns could you? You know how I hate being bound up in schedules... I'll eat when I want to, that's all right isn't it?" I negotiated as soon as Monsieur Yi had left. But I knew only too well that the real reason behind this reluctance to go down to have regular meals was the fear I'd soon be afraid to meet Hyon-gyu face-to-face. So it appeared that he was the only companion Mother had at the supper table.  

As the well-mannered young man accompanies Mother at the supper table, I gaze out blankly through the window at the falling sun. The little hamlets here and there composed of tiny dots that were once houses, the reflections on the lakes in the forest, and a winding river, all come, rather blurred into my sight. Depending on the time of day and the weather, that river might show itself as clearly as a flashlight would in the dark, or else, become milky and blurred beyond recognition as if inside a thick, opaque envelope of fog. At about the time when the sky turns into a mellow gray from a purplish blue, the river merges itself with the warm gray clouds into one evanescent mass.  
And here I was again, as usual, looking into the dark waters of the river and pressing myself to find a way to free myself from this sticky web of entanglement. I wasn't in a position where I could leave myself at the mercy of those capricious propensities of my mind, and at the same time, I couldn't help holding contradictory inclinations as to the very nature of these propensities.  
I don't feel guilty about being in love with Hyon-gyu, but taking into consideration the nature of the affinity between Monsieur Yi and Mother, that sort of a betrayal would almost certainly spell the utter destruction of all four of us. The harsh and dangerous sound of the word "destruction" makes me shiver...  

Before I had come here, I was staying at my grandparents'式that is to say my mother's parents' house in the country. Even up until three or four years ago, Mother was able to stay with us as well, but when she went, it left just the three of us式my grandparents and me.  
There was companionship it is true式we had many hands working for us, and also guard dogs in the orchard, among them my favorite, Pok-dong, but I was always pursued and engulfed by emptiness. As a matter of fact, after Mother left us for Seoul, I had to endure great pain inside me. This was funny, because all the time she was with us, I wasn't exactly overwhelmed with a feeling of security and contentment.  
It had pained me every time I looked at her, still young and beautiful, just wasting her life away with us. On her lap was always a fine piece of cloth or some woolen thread, making something for me, and words of concern for my well-being never left her lips, but strangely, I found all this very irritating. I even felt hostility toward her sometimes. I wanted to tell her that she didn't have to do all those things for me, but just live the life she wanted式to live for her own sake and not for mine. She should, I thought, get angry sometimes and scold us, as the other mothers did. And it was the same thing with my grandparents. They too were, I think, too gentle to me.  
I can't remember when this lifeless shadow-like existence of my mother's had started. As far as I can reach back in time式the time we had to come down to my grandparents because of the war, that is, about ten years, and even before that when I was entering elementary school in Seoul式I was aware of something similar.  
Concerning "Father," I know absolutely nothing. Someone once explained to me long ago that he'd died, but I remember I had the feeling this wasn't wasn't quite true. After the war, I was told again, this time by my grandmother.  
"Your father has passed away..."  
There was something in the tone of voice that told me, this time it was for real. As I have figured it out, Mother and "Father" were probably separated when I was very young and somehow never got together again.  
Anyway, all that I am sure about my father is that I have no knowledge of him, and hold no emotions for him. This surname of mine "Yun" is the only thing I've inherited from him, but even that... I can't help feeling it's just another surname and a common one at that.  
I don't know what had happened to tie Monsieur Yi to my mother, nor what drove him to visit her at the orchard.  
That day, I remember, I was straddling over a branch of the apple tree, munching an apple, when a slightly plump gentleman I'd never seen before was walking in our direction. He seemed to be hesitating a bit as he stopped outside the front gate, but then, seeming to muster up a little courage, he took off his hat and walked in.  
I dropped an apple seed when he was about to pass beneath the tree. He stoped and looked up. But as if in total confusion, I remember, he didn't even smile. Later, as we were formally introduced to each other, it was plain that he'd forgotten everything about that little informal welcome he had received earlier that day.  
He went back without even spending the night, and it was from then that I was able to see Mother strolling about alone among the apple trees at night.  
Monsieur Yi came back once more, and not long after that Mother left for Seoul.  
One night, I was a little startled to hear Grandmother sobbing in the next room.  
"I he'd only come and married her earlier... she wouldn't have had to go through all that suffering."  
"Now, what are you talking about... then we would have lost having Suk-hui here with us..."  
"Well, that's called fate... Oh, I don't know. I don't know whose fault it all is... but I do think Kyong-ae had much to blame."  
It was a little funny to hear my grandparents calling my mother by her first name instead of the usual "the child's mother." It made me smile as I ruminated over what her young days must have been like.  
So, the grief at seeing my mother waste away was gone, and I even felt a certain contentment at seeing her become, as I thought, a little bit happier, but it was also true that I was desperately lonely without her.  
Day and night, something drove me to sing式when I was coming home from school, when I was underneath the white blossoms of the apple tree, and also when I was in the yard full of scarlet touch-me-nots.  
"My dear child, people'll laugh if you sing your head off like that, you know," Grandmother would tell me sometimes looking quite serious...  
When Monsieur Yi came in the late winter, the year before last, and insisted on taking me with him, it was I who was startled more than anyone. I could feel that my grandparents were somewhat hesitant, but they couldn't make a stand against the onslaught.  
"The most important thing is that her mother wants it. She never says it outright, but I can always see it in her eyes..."  
I was a bit tickled by this all-too-sincere attitude of his. My grandparents appeared as they'd been persuaded and if he'd have stopped speaking for a minute, they would have given him their answer, but here he was, as though thinking that they would hold on to me with their life...  
As he glanced at me, I nodded a little, whence he stopped and put a broad grin on his face and took out his handkerchief and wiped the sweat off his forehead.  
And this is how I came to be transferred to "E High School for Girls."  
Monsieur Yi and Mother are husband and wife.  
The reason I find it difficult to call him my father is, I think, mostly because I have never got into the habit of uttering that word. But this is not to say that I dislike him. As a matter of fact, I feel a sense of security (and even a sense of fatherly watchfulness) in him式something that I'd never been able to savor under Grandfather. But we are not related by blood.  
It is the same with Hyon-gyu. In that respect, he and I are total strangers式the fact that he is a twenty-one-year-old young man and I am a seventeen-year-old girl is the simple truth, nothing more, and nothing less. Why is it that I'm not allowed to accept this, so painfully obvious, fact?  
I don't want to give him away to anyone... Never. Nor do I want to offer myself to anyone else. All I know is that the convention which ties us together shouldn't be...  
Of course, I am hoping all the time that he's asking himself the same questions式the same things, perhaps not the same "pleasures" but at least the same "sufferings." So it is that anything, absolutely anything that has the slightest pertinence to this "mutual suffering" of ours式the slightest memory, the most insignificant fleet of change in his countenance, the tiniest of observations式are all vividly recorded and stored for posterity. Ah...! am I destined never to savor the sweetness of happiness...? Isn't happiness that thing whose sole reason for existence is for itself alone...? Its causa sui?  
The rich concentrated aroma of flowers comes flowing in, wrapped in the opaque darkness of the early evening air. I fall face-down on the bed and drown myself in passionate tears.  

"Suk-hui, I happened to pick this up..."  
One Sunday morning, when I went downstairs, Mother was waiting for me with these words, holding up an envelope.  
"What is it?"  
I went a little closer, and although it was a little embarrassing, I stretched out my hand and tried to get it from her.  
"Where did you manage to pick it up?"  
"Not so fast... Could you seat yourself for a minute?"  
Mother was pointing to the chair in front of me, trying to hide her obvious anxiety. I was hit by a wave of contempt, but I suppressed it and sat down as she ordered.  
Chi-su was Minister K's son, and lived in that estate at the other side of the hill式that comic place with its walls like the Great Wall of China. He was a simple, rather bulky-looking boy, who was attending medical school somewhere, and played tennis with Hyon-gyu once in a while.  
He crammed the jeep with his younger brothers and sisters式from kindergarten upwards式and would drive them back and forth from school, himself.  
I myself had received a couple of lifts in his jeep. Once I was with Hyon-gyu, so that I had no reason to refuse, and the other was when I was on my way home from town, and it would have been even more awkward if I had refused his offer.  
"I can't see the little ones today, where are they?"  
"If they can fit themselves into my schedule I cart them home, but when they can't, they have to come home by themselves. You know, it's just like a train..."  
It was not because this boy had written an unbecoming love letter that drew forth my cynicism. It was the slightly nonsensical attitude of Mother puffing this thing up out of all proportions that caused it.  
"That's funny, I wonder where it could have come from..."  
"I found it under the bench in the vine."  
"Oh, now I remember, so I'd left it there!"  
"What do you mean 'Oh, now I remember!' You should be a little more prudent in your actions. Look for example at what you do after playing tennis. Your brother always seems to clear up after you."  
I only giggled in reply.  
"Don't you at least think it is being discourteous to the person who sent it? Well don't you think so?"  
"Yes, you're right, Mum," and I took the envelope from her hands.  
"Is it secret? Do you mind if I read it?"  
"No, I don't mind. If it was anything I wanted to hide, do you think I'd leave it lying around?"  
I was becoming a little indignant.  
"That's a relief... To tell you the truth, I'd already read it myself."  
"Oh, that's not very fair of you, Mum..."  
"The only thing I want to tell you Suk-hui is that anything, absolutely anything that bothers you in the least, don't just handle it by yourself but come and tell me at least the important parts and let's discuss it, okay? That's the way it is supposed to be you know..."  
As I stood listening, I became more and more depressed, and only wanted to leave that place as soon as possible.  
"You know I'm always on your side, Suk-hui, don't you?"  
"Sure, Mum."  
I gave this automatic reply and slowly walked out of the house. I wondered how much she would be on my side if I went and said, "I'm in love with your son!" How would she come to my aid then? This question was out of Mother's reach, and even that of Monsieur Yi.  
I crumpled up the letter in my pocket and walked down the sloping meadow, getting myself quite wet up to the knees because of the dew. I walked in a direction where I couldn't be seen, past the acacia grove, the barley field and the shrubbery.  
As I walked, I was thinking to myself of Hyon-gyu and just how much our standing with each other had deteriorated recently into a gloomy, pessimistic, all time low. I was avoiding him like the plague because I couldn't endure the pain as I had to part, joking, as if nothing existed between the two of us. So I would get angry with him for no reason and this would stop him talking to me.  
The birds were singing above and the sky was a deep blue式as blue as the sea, and would reveal itself through the leaves in small patches. Summer was ripening.  
The oak forest was concealing the direction where the swamp lay, so I sat down on the grass, and fell into a deep reverie.  
Shall I become a ballerina and sparkle like a gem on the stage? Although I'd never heed her, my instructor always reminded me that I should have ambition... If I did become a world-famous dancer, when he comes with his plain-looking wife to watch me, he would be sorry, wouldn't he?  
For a moment, this seemed a good idea, but it disappeared as easily as it had come式evanescent as a bubble on the surface of water.  
Then I'd think of being his servant, and nothing more. Giving him everything and expecting nothing in return, but even before sadness had a chance to enter my breast, a tear had already rolled onto my foot.  
I picked myself up to head back home. It was then that I heard leaves rustling behind my back, and a fine setter came out on a lead. At the other end of the lead was Chi-su. The warm gray shirt seemed to go well with his robust body. Behind him came running a little boy and girl, both about ten, playing with some pebbles that they'd presumably picked up on the way.  
Chi-su seemed to panic a little when he saw me, but presently walked toward me revealing his white teeth.  
"Good morning, are you out for a walk?"  
"Yes, I am. I was just on my way back."  
The children played and chattered between us. He gave the end of the lead to one of them and signaled them away.  
We walked side by side for a long time without uttering a single word. But passing the acacia grove, he suddenly shoved a question at me.  
"Did you get my letter?" seeming a little embarrassed as he said this.  
"Aren't you giving me a reply?"  
"Yes well, I didn't really know quite how to write it out..."  
he nodded his head before the end of my reply, out of embarrassment. I saw his ears flush with color. He spoke again.  
"But you know my feelings toward you...?"  
I told him that it was so. And I told him in the same breath that Hyon-gyu had wanted to play tennis with him, and would he come soon.  
"Yes, I'll be there soon..."  
He replied as if he'd recovered a source of energy that he had lost. He began to whistle, and whistled all the way up to the house.  
"Thank you very much, it was wonderful this morning," he said, no sign at all of any awkwardness, and flicked off an insect that was climbing up my shoulder.  
"Goodbye, and don't forget to practice! We've improved a lot..."  
He nodded, biting his lips as if submerged in some thought. I ran up the narrow steps and went straight to my room. I was whistling as Chi-su had done. I felt that I mustn't lose my strength. My elbows and skirt were still giving off the scent of the morning dew and fresh grass. I pushed open my half-closed door and marched in.  
There, to my surprise, I found Hyon-gyu. I wasn't startled only because of the fact that he didn't normally come into my room without me there, but because he looked angry.  
I was stoped so suddenly in my path, that I simply froze, not knowing what to do.  
"Where have you been?" he asked in a low, deliberate tone.  
I remained silent.  
"Did you leave that letter there on purpose so that I'd go and read it?" He came a step closer. My face was nearly touching his face.  
I said nothing.  
"Where have you been, I said!" I just closed my lips tighter. I felt contempt running through me. "See if I ever tell you," I thought.  
He suddenly lifted his arm, and there was a sharp noise on my cheek. I felt something burst into flames and instantly pools sprang up in my eyes, but he went out without giving another look in my direction.  
I turned my head toward the window and gazed out dumbfounded. I could see Chi-su walking along the forest path. The spot where he had flicked the insect off me seemed so close, I could reach it.  
A sudden swareness rushed through me like an electric current. I realized. I realized why Hyon-gyu had lost control of himself so completely... I felt as if my heart would burst open with the joy that was swelling up and expanding inside me... I threw myself on the bed and crouched up like a shrimp, legs on chest. I didn't want any of this to escape. I wanted to keep every drop of this raging torrent of elation that I could hear rushing through me.  

What am I to do?  
We took a walk in the woods at night.  
We held hands as we walked through the darkness.  
And I let him embrace me.  
What am I to do?  
The answer to this question seemed harder to get as time went on. The only thing that could be said with certainty was that I should stop seeing him at night.  
Coming home from school, I was told that Mother was waiting for me in the main room. I suddenly felt faint. Did she know anything?  
"Oh, are you back? But what's wrong with you, your face is almost blue! Are you ill?" Mother put her hand on my forehead.  
"You know, it's so hard to see you these days, what with your brother coming in so late, and you so busy that I can only see you by calling you like this..." Mother laughed a little as she spoke. It was a smile of innocence. She hadn't found out.  
"I got a letter today, and it looks as if I might have to go to America for some time... In fact, for about a year. If I do, I'll have to leave you by yourselves and... I did send many replies refusing the offer, but..." She turned away a little. "But, what do you think? Your brother has already said yes," she said, looking into my eyes.  
"It's fine by me as well," I answered.  
I was in a daze by this time with nothing but blackness in front of my eyes.  
"Oh, thank you! We'll discuss the details tomorrow. Shall I ask the old grandmother from our uncle's to come and stay? Hmmm, but even that seems a little useless..."  
It was true. She would be of no use either here or there... Then what was going to happen between me and Hyon-gyu without mother in the house? I felt the blood drain from my face at this thought. How was I to stop the might of my fate by merely refraining from seeing him at night?  
I couldn't get to sleep. It felt as if my whole nervous system was just one big wound, one that would bleed at the slightest touch.  
It got worse as time went on, and it soon became unbearable. I left Seoul saying I was going visiting my grandmother as an excuse.  
I told myself that I was never going to go back to school again. It looked to me that my mind would only be allowed to rest if I put an end to all my hopes, and made myself believe that my "life" as such, was finished... forever. It was painful... As painful as a knife carving flesh from my body, but what alternative was there left?  
Every day, I climbed the hill at the back of the house. At about an hour's distance, there was a nunnery. I wasn't very fond of temples, but walking a little further, there was a spot which particularly pleased me. It was a slope where wild roses lay about in bushes, and the refreshing greenness of the young trees would meet the wind face on.  
I would sit there with the wind in my face. Between the young zelkovas, the mellow scent of wild roses was spreading, diluted by the wind.  
I picked a white flower petal and placed it on the hem of my Turkish blue dress, and many more on top of that... many. But they were soon bleached by the brilliance of the sky above, and withered in the wind.  
I lifted my head, and the next moment, I was up on my feet... It was Hyon-gyu.  
He was walking up the steep slope. His mouth was firmly closed and his expression was rather like that time when he once got angry with me. No, it was rather a sad face than an angry one.  
He stopped a couple of yards in front of me. Suddenly, I felt as if I had been pushed into him. In fact, I was embracing the trunk of a young zelkova.  
"That's right Suk-hui, don't let go of that tree, just listen to me." He took a couple of steps back. There was something pathetic in his eyes.  
"You must go back and continue school... Forget everything and go to school. I've told Mother to lease the house out, and I've found somewhere to go. You can stay at Mother's friend's, Suk-hui, though we'll have to live apart, there's still a way for us... Suk-hui, can you understand?" He planted his feet firmly on the ground.  
I was shivering a little holding the trunk in my arms.  
"The things that happened between us... We know they're true and we'll never be able to forget it or deny it... We are parting so that we can be together again... Can you see? We still have a chance!"  
I wiped my face with my fist.  
"Can you see, Suk-hui?"  
I nodded to him. My eyes were welled up in tears. So my life wasn't over after all... I can carry on loving him.  
"Can you promise me that you'll come back? Tomorrow or the day after as soon as possible..."  
I nodded again.  
"Thank you, then I'd better be..." He forced a pained smile on his face, and turning around, ran down the steep slope of the hill.  
A wind blew into my face. I was laughing with the young zelkova tree in my arms.  
Tears were pouring down my face, but I was laughing... with laughter that was spreading and filling the blue void above.  
Ahh...! I can still love him...  

Translated by Shin Hyun-song