Shin Kyo◢ng-suk was born in 1963 and made her debut as a writer of fiction in 1985. Her first full-length novel, Kyo◢ul Uhwa(The Winter Anecdote)was published in 1991 and coincided with the beginning of the so-called 'civilian government era' when the election of Kim Yo◢ng-sam as president marked the end of the long series of military dictator-presidents. This meant that many writers no longer felt obliged to take up political and social injustice as their principal topics in writing. As a result, the inauguration of the civilian government saw a rapid diversification of literary themes and styles. Shin Kyo◢ng-suk benefitted from this trend immensely, and she also gave it an enormous boost. Other major works published since then include Kip'u◢n su◢lpu◢m(Deep Sorrow, 1995) and Naega orecho◢ne chipu◢l ttonasu◢lttae(When I left my home a long time ago, 1996). The quality of her work was rapidly recognized and she received the Hangook Ilbo Literature Prize in 1993 for P'unggu◢mi ittu◢n chari(The place where the harmonium was, 1993), the Award for Modern Literature in 1995, and for Waettan pang(The Isolated Room, 1994) she won the Manhae Literature Prize in 1996.
The haunting lyricism and the romantic anguish of her stories fulfill a long-suppressed yearning for them in the Korean psyche. She is an ultra-feminine author, whose central concern is unfulfilled or unreciprocated love. In her stories love is almost always accompanied by pain, whether because the object of love is in love with someone else, or because the love in question is ethically unpermissible. Shin makes this stale subject fresh and poignant by suffusing her stories with the acuteness of her characters' pain and the intimate details of their daily life.
Where the Harmonium Was
"This is something that happened in a zoo. A peacock lived from its early days close to a giant tortoise with only a fence of wire net between them. Because of their completely different languages and shapes it was inconceivable that they could ever have a close relationship.
Time passed and the cock grew old enough to find a mate. It should have spread out its tail to attract a peahen but it showed no inclination to do so. The extraordinary thing was that it was displaying its splendid tail only in front of the tortoise. All its life it loved the tortoise with a love that could never be requited.
...A duck's perception is at its height within the first 12 to 17 hours from the moment of hatching. It retains the impression gained in these hours for the rest of its life."
From Park Shiryong, Animal Behavoiur
The road entering the village. Spring had just come, and here and there, it was really beautiful. The hills were green. . . and among the green, pink azaleas. . . and between them. . . splashes of yellow forsythia. . . it was indeed splendid. Now and again I would be cheered up at such views only to feel miserable the next moment. When you saw something beautiful, you used to say, you felt sad. Probably this spirit of yours must have come over me. While staring at the wild cherry blossoms, thin white patches on the green spring hills, my make-up went all smudged.
There, just over there, I could see my home but instead of going straight to it, I walked round the village once. It looked empty. . . even then unable to go home. . . I was loitering on when I heard the birds. I looked up at a poplar tree. Could they be husband and wife? A pair of magpies were building a nest. . . a nest. . . assiduously working indeed. I watched them for a long time, the two of them busily carrying up leaves and twigs, taking it in turns.
When I decided to come here, believe me, I had no intention of writing a letter like this. As you know, I had already made up my mind to go away with you.
"Le's get on the plane," you said. When you came up with the decision to go away with me, I was too dazzled. Is this a dream? I thought. . . It must be. . . how could such a thing happen to me?. . . Not to someone else, but to me. . . it must be a dream, I said.
"Sin? It may be. The sin of wanting to live my own life in the way I choose."
While I was in a daze, thinking it a dream, you said, "Let them call it a sin if they want to" and actually began to go ahead with practical measures. How could such a brilliant thing happen to me? During the two years that I had known you I had been going to pieces, and so it was unbelievable that such a brilliant thing was happening. Even after I had cleared up my job at the sports centre, I could not believe it was not all a dream, so I demanded assurance from you again and again, ending up each time in tears. . .
When I set out to visit this place, I assure you, I wasn't intending to compose a letter like this. How could l? When you said, "Let's make a start anyway, and then see," I wanted to offer you my life - this life of mine. Before we went away, I wanted to take leave of my parents who do not know anything about our relationship. That was why I came. Once I had boarded a plane with you, I doubted whether I would see them again in their life time.
The first thing I did when I got off the train was to wash my hands at a tap inside the station. When I was leaving my country home for the first time, some fifteen or sixteen years ago, after finishing high school, I had washed my hands at that same tap. Since then each time I came back or left I did the same. It had become a habit. . . no exception this time. Unawares, I found myself standing at the spot. Suddenly a voice inside me asked. "Why do you do this every time you come or go?" I had no answer. Was it because I was thinking that by washing my hands before entering the village I could forget all that had happened in the city? Or before leaving the countryside what had happened there? Well, It's simply a habit formed by routine.
When I got home that day I realized that I had taken my wristwatch off and left it by the tap. The yellow watch you gave me. On my wrist, it used to give a dazzling flash when it caught the sun. The glass through which the fingers pointing the hours, the minutes and the seconds shone brightly had your initials inscribed on it.
How can I explain to you these waves that have risen in my heart? I am not at all sure whether they are of the kind that can be explained. But you are there not knowing, so I must do whatever I can to tell you about my feelings. You may never understand them. Even so, I must try as hard as I can式I am painfully aware that I owe you this. If, through my inadequate expression, you still resent me for what I am thinking even after you have read this through. . . then what must I do?
The river. . . river, always. . . always flows and it is a natural thing but in my case, for some reason, my decision to flow with the river came only after pouring out water from the depth within me. Sorry, that's not right. I ought never to say such things. All I ask of you is to understand that whatever I do there remains an ineradicable pain. . . no, I don't mean that either.
That woman. . . I must tell you about her.
I had been loitering outside for such a long time but when I went in the house was actually empty. . . completely empty. Have you ever experienced sitting on the verandah of a house that is completely empty and staring at the gate式I mean hoping someone will come through that open gate and walk briskly into the yard?
The yard was filled with spring sunshine. A quail fluttered down and alighted on top of the grapevine by the gate. After posing in an attitude of bafflement for a few moments it took wing, again with a flutter, and drew a line in the air as it disappeared. It was weird. As my eyes, following the bird, turned to the gate again some very familiar feelings rose from within, piercing through a certain thickness. I narrowed my eyes and stared hard at the gate with its peeling blue paint. I remembered once, whenever it was, there had occured exactly the same scene as this which had pierced my life. I had heard that a patch of bamboos had been asphalted over and one spring, a few years later, a bamboo shoot poked out thought the thick crust of asphalt. My mind was similarly stirred.
I was probably about six or seven. It was the year my youngest brother was born, so I must have been seven. I sat on the edge of the verandah hoping some one would come through the open gate. From the eagerness with which I was waiting, I guess it must have been for my mother. At that very moment that woman appeared. When she stepped through the gate, the rubber shoe dangling from my toe dropped. As if borne by the late spring sunlight that filled the yard, she was fabulous. I had never seen, until then, a woman with such a milk-white face. I was young and had never once been outside the village. All the women that I had seen had been tough and irascible people with hands chafed from hard work. They wore sweat-soaked cloths on their heads; some of them were brutishly peeling the skin from the fish to be put on the sacrificial tables, sweat running down between the lines of their faces; others pouring excrement into pits before planting out marrows or transplanting peppers, under a scorching sun; there were those picking the swarming grubs from the bean paste jar not a bit bothered; some carried on their backs loads of brushwood they had raked together in the hills; women who when they had bitten into a green caterpillar while eating perilla leaves, just pushed it down their throats; those going to work carrying a basket with some rice wine for the break, together with a short hoe and bean cakes; women beating their naughty kids with the stick with which they had been poking the kitchen fire; some wore rubber shoes caked with yellow mud; some mumbled in their sleep no sooner than their backs had touched the floor; some carried scars on their legs from the leeches in the water-filled paddies, while some had chafed skin all the year round, regardless of the season... These were the womenfolk that I had known. So it was no wonder that my eyes popped out at the sight of the milky whiteness of this woman.
She came close to me and as she touched my shoulder, she said, "Child, can you show me where the vegetable plot is?" In no time she had fetched a basket from the kitchen and stood beside me again. Fascinated by her air of luxury, I poked my toes into my shoes and walked toward the small gate that led to the vegetable plot as she followed. She gave off a faint fragrance which I had never smelt before. With her every movement it drifted away from her, little by little, and it seeped through me. How giddy it made me! On the way to the vegetable patch we passed the woman from Jangso◢ng carrying water from the well on her head. She went as far as to lower the jar to the ground to stare at us with a contemptuous, hostile look.
The lady went through the cabbages, picking up the smaller ones and putting them in her basket. She pulled up some spring onions too from the patch at the edge of the plot. Like a newly-wed bride, she was wearing a silk jacket so that when she picked the cabbages she was as pretty as the cabbage leaves or as pretty as the spring onions when she was picking them. Even the yellow butterfly, the master of the plot, looked different when it settled on her head, as if it had put on new wings. After being in the vegetable plot her white rubber shoes were smeared with mud but she did not seem to think that it mattered. She held my hand as she led me through the side gate into the house.
On her return, the first thing she did was to make some kimchi. Not knowing what was going on, I stayed beside her doing small jobs for her. I pared the ginger, helped to pound the garlic and when she was rinsing out the salted cabbage by the well, I even drew water for her. Obviously not used to such work, she was clumsy at such things as slicing and shredding the radish which my mother would do in a jiffy even while keeping an eye on other things. The sound mother made on the chopping board, chomp, chomp, chomp...was light and cheerful but she went cho..mph,cho...mph...
The is how she entered out house, coming through the gate with peeling blue paint, the same gate that my mother had walked out of and gone clean away, even leaving behind her youngest child, then only a hundred days old. After making kimchi, which was hard work for her, she prepared the meal table and brought it but none of us dared to pick up our spoons and chopsticks. It was because of our big brother who sat at the top end of the room with glaring eyes. I had missed my lunch so I was eager to pick up my spoon when I met his fierce eyes. Weakly I put it down.
"Please eat!" She spoke to us pleadingly but she could not defuse his arrogant dignity. With a cigarette in his mouth, my father just stared out into the garden that had gone dark, beyond my brother who sat with his mouth firmly set. When the infant in the cradle began to cry, my brother opened his mouth as if to challenge my father and commanded us, "Follow me out, all of you!" He had just begun at a junior high school. With his hair shaved off he looked like the boss of some gangsters. We left the baby crying loudly as if his breath would snuff out as any moment, the woman, at her wits' end, rubbing her hands, and our father puffing out cigarette smoke, and were led out by our little boss to the bridge in the village. He stood the three of us in a row, took his position in front of us and said solemnly: "Listen to me carefully, all of you. From today, you will obey me, and if you don't I'll give you hell. This woman that has come to our place today is a devil. Therefore you are not to eat anything she cooks, or answer any of her calls or wear any clothes she has washed."
"But why, brother?" asked my other brother, a year older than me, as he tugged at the clothes of his elder. "I'm starving, brother." A gurgling sound came from his stomach and his voice was choked in tears. I felt exactly the same. Besides, she was so beautiful. Our big brother exploded in anger. "It's the only way to bring our mother back, that's why!" he began to pace up and down before us and suddenly came to a dead stop in front of me. My heart lost a beat.
"Especially you...Just keep on dancing round her like you did today, and you'll see! Can you live without our mother?"
I flopped on the ground and burst into tears. I had been conscious of it, some thing that made me breathless and weighed heavily on my heart. Now my brother had shown me exactly what it was. I grasped the true meaning of that disapproving look on the woman from Jangso◢ng's face when she saw me leading the woman to the vegetable plot and the faint scent that had not only been pleasant but caused my head to spin.
The woman who came to our house on that spring day, lived there for about ten days and went away式the thought of her rose poking through me like that bamboo shoot, as I sat on the verandah and stared at the gate on the day I came here, painfully stirring roots.
I have picked up the pen again after a very long time. You were here yesterday. It was so unexpected. How did you find out that I was here? I have never once told you about this place. Because I had intended to stay only for a day or two, I had thought there was no need to explain where I was going.
Again and again, I thought that it would be an impossible task to make you understand what I was feeling. It could be because I am not used to explaining things in writing or maybe because I was doing it against my own inclination as you mercilessly pointed out yesterday...one I had put the pen down I could not write any more.
Shortly before you came, I was in the cow shed with my father giving him a hand with the cow's delivery. The old vegetable plot that the woman had asked me to show her when she first arrived, where she had moved about lighter than a butterfly as she pulled out the pale green cabbages, the faint fragrance wafting from her - is the site of a cow shed now. My father, pleased that it had been an easy birth, stroked the cow. Besides it was a male calf. I left him to deal with the umbilical cord and returned to find you standing there in the yard. At first I thought it was a phantom...for how could you be there? It's an illusion..so much so that I did nothing but stare at you until father came up. All the while I was with you I had wished so much to present you to my father. That cherished dream had come true at last but all I did was to hurriedly drag you out of the gate as if to hide a deserter. Ah, that brief encounter between you and him!
When we sat facing each other in a tea-house in the town, you upbraided me. You so earnestly desired me, you said, but I was treating our relationship as no more than a trivial love affair. I protested, saying that it was not so. If not, why would I try to break my promise, you asked. I attempted to explain at least some of my thoughts and feelings, the complicated, seething contents of my heart - the heart stirred up by the thought of that woman. As I had expected, your expression showed that you could not make head or tail of what I was talking about. Not only have I no ability to convey to you my mind in writing but obviously none by speech either. And yet I had believed that we understood each other so well that I could tell what you were thinking from the mere blinking of your eyelashes.
I talked about the food that woman cooked, and the middle-aged woman whose eyes brimmed with tears as she took my aerobic training at the sports centre where I used to work. The more I talked the more upset you became, the colour of your face changing to red and from red to blue.
Then the pain of having to watch your eyes becoming tearful. It was that pain that made me drink so wildly. There were some slices of cucumber to go with it but I gulped it down with virtually no food, my face turning white. That I think of our relationship as some kind of scandalous sexual affair?式How could you say that?
Yesterday, you and I were like a dog and a cat in the same house. It is because they have different ways of understanding each other that they get into scuffles. When a dog lifts its forelegs, I am told, it means to say "Let's play together," but for a cat it is seen as a warning signal for an attack. When a cat lays its ears back it means to warn you that it is in a belligerent mood, and so you touch him he will scratch you, while for a dog it is a gesture of willingness to obey. It is no wonder then that between the two creatures misunderstandings arise. You and I were just like that. You clawed at my heart shouting "Why this sudden loftiness?" while I inflicted on you savage bites calling you "An egoist who tries to squash all other feelings except your own."You gave me the departure date and left, saying that you trusted me to come back in time for that. Your face looked uncertain as you got on the early morning train. When I returned, I saw my father sitting on the verandah. He must have gathered something from the way I had hurriedly dragged you out of the house as if running away. As he looked at me his expression was extremely contorted. I sat beside him prepared to take anything he might say but he did not speak. After a while as he walked away into the room, what he mumbled weakly was, "Do you know, that calf is blind with open eyes."
A short while ago, mother set off for a house of mourning. The person who has died is the woman from Jomchon.
"She has chosen a warm day to go after having such a cold time all through her life."Mother clicked her tongue as she looked out on the spring sunshine. When I heard who had died there was a lurch in my heart. Memories...they are strange things. Stuff that had remained wrapped up in heavy black cloth...how suddenly it becomes so vivid. In my memory, that woman from Jomchon was weeping as she skipped. I had not realized that she was still alive. She lived at the other end of the village. I used to go there often with my mother to spend an evening with her. In those days she was skipping with a limp in her leg.
"You shouldn't be doing this with your bad leg." Mother tried to stop her but in vain. I knew what my mother and other village women said about her. One day, she was carrying on her head a sacrificial table laid out with food when she met up with a cyclist coming from the opposite direction. Attempting to dodge him, she fell off a bridge and hurt her leg. Because of this she was unable to go about for a couple of years and her husband fell for another woman. The woman from Jomchon, who had become fat during her confinement, took to skipping with her painful leg, weeping as she did so. Her skipping rope was two lengths of straw rope intertwined.
That city where you are now. When I worked as the aerobics instructor at the sports centre, one day a middle-aged woman joined my evening class. Ah, I think I have told you about her, the one who collapsed and broke down and started wailing during her first lesson? But I refrained from telling your the further detail that she cried out loudly, saying her husband had begun to stay away from home. After that she often broke down and cried in the middle of the class.
Yesterday, I had a phone call from the young woman, would you believe it? The husband has left home for good, she tells me. He is going to divorce his wife and live with her. She even sounded proud! On hearing of the death of the woman from Jomchon the thought of that woman's aerobics...together with her skipping swept through my heart...why...
I dont't know when her skipping came to an end. All I knew was that since those days she had lived alone and now has died an old woman.
If you were like yesterday, you would stare hard into my face and say, "What have these women got to do with you? However amazing a past they may have had, it is theirs, not yours. As they are, it is not even particularly remarkable, so why do you keep looking into it? Only the life that you have earned yourself is important. Most people try to ward off and get away from the past but you don't. It is odd, I must say. Young as you are, you doggedly try to push yourself back into it..."
There is something that I didn't dare to tell you yesterday. It is like pulling down the two of us together from somewhere and chucking us into a pit. By all means I had to guard myself from telling you this. It was this that made me go on the rampage at the tavern. I kicked you, pummelled your chest and stomped on you...all this to fight back the words on the verge of slipping out of my lips.
You sat throughout it all pale, my darling. To have told you this must be the same thing as admitting, as you would put it, that I regard our relationship as no more than a trivial love affair. That's why I could not tell you.
Even now...must I...tell you..this? I keep asking myself this question. Once I have it out, you may hate me. For love to change to hatred takes but a moment. For you as well as me, would you not agree? these two feelings have existed at the same time in our hearts like the two side of a hill and we have delicately kept to the side of love so far. I fear that what I am about to say may turn your mind over to the other side.
Darling, please forgive me for saying this. If I don't, nothing I say to you will ever make sense. The woman who caused the woman from Jomchon to live alone, the young girl who made the middle-aged woman choose the tearful aerobics...and how long ago was it?... here... yes, at our own house...my father's mistress who came here and lived here for a time and went away...please forgive me...am I not precisely one of those women?
Don't think badly of me. The fact is that I loved her, maybe the first love I had ever felt for another human being since my birth. The images she left gave me my dreams.
At school, at the beginning of each term the form teacher used to hand out cards to be filled in式the personal information card. There was a section asking about my hopes for the future. Hopes for the future? I used to stare blankly at that box, with my brother's ball pen poised in my hand...to become like her was indeed my hope for the future. How to summarize and itemize all the things she had brought into our house and left behind式it was an agony. So I sat there looking blankly at the paper for a long time. I could never find the right words to describe them. I ended up by doing what other children did. I put down sometimes a bank clerk, other times a teacher or a ballerina, but each time the hope expressed in these words referred to her.
During the ten days of her stay in our house, she won the hearts of all our family including the hundred-day old crying baby, except for my eldest brother.
The first fabulous change to come from the touch of her hand was the baby's cradle. Mother had laid father's old underwear at the bottom of it. She removed it and put in its place, wherever she had go it from, a chicken-yellow mattress with hazy little flowers. My image of a baby cradle that had worn-out underwear and a baby crying in it, changed into the cheerful colour of chicks with dry, clean nappies beside it. She did not leave the baby to cry. She managed him very well at first with his fretting over the bottle that had replaced his mother's breast. Without hesitation she popped her nipple into his mouth and as soon as he was beginning to notice it was empty, gently slipped the bottle between his lips. Contentedly he sucked it, while his hand rested on her breast, his little fingers wriggling. Strapped on her back he smiled brightly, and carrying him in this way, she cooked all sorts of things. To be sure her chopping was clumsy but she created food that tasted vastly different from that of my mother, the skillful chopper. Even her way of cooking rice was different. Mother's rice was always the same式rice mixed with barley. Mother boiled the barley beforehand. In that way cooking time would be saved. She would boil several days's barley all at once and keep it for a few days using a bit each day. Working in the paddy as well as the dry fields as she was, and having a baby on top of it all, she had to save time wherever she could, even in boiling barley. She would put a layer of the pre-boiled barley at the bottom of the pot and some rice on one side, and when it was cooked mix them together. She kept my father's bowl and my eldest brother's separate from the rest and put larger portions of rice in them.
This woman did not pre-boil the barley. She would soak it well in water beforehand, then rubbed it in a stone mortar and cooked it with rice adjusting the fire high and low according to the need, and taking time. The result was perfectly cooked rice.
Out of the ten days she stayed at our house, one day she produced rice with sorghum in place of barley, and another day soup with dumplings stuffed with meat and vegetables, just the right size to pop into your mouth.
Even now I remember it all so vividly. It was as if she had come to our house just to cook. Using sticky rice, whiter and more glutinous than ordinary rice, she produced dumplings, and made pancakes with azealea petals over a small stove brought out into the yard.
All that my mother could do with sticky rice was to steam it into rice-cakes. One day this woman made sticky rice-cake with sliced jujubes and chestnuts in it. I learned for the first time that sticky rice could taste so good.
Once she rolled out dough on the laundry slab and produced bowls of handmade noodle soup. I can see even now, laid on the top of the bowl, the beautiful garnish of fern shoots and yellow and white stripes of fried eggs, so different from the mushy lumps of flour mother used to make式not just the flavour, but the style!
During those ten days, I envied my brothers for the packed lunches they took to school. The boxes prepared by mother had been quite unremarkable. Mostly the side dish was black beans cooked in soy sauce, so much so that even my taciturn brother would grumble, "It's goat's droppings again." At other times, it was salted radish or cucumber and very occasionally steamed egg.
The art of her cooking showed most brilliantly in the packed lunches for my brothers. The idea of a packed lunch had been until then some rice with one kind of side dish. She overturned it. She would chop up carrot, cucumber and onion, fry them with the rice, pack it into the box and cover it with fried egg. Sometimes she would mix ground rice with green beans, red kidney beans and black beans, steam it into bean-cakes, and fill one half of the lunch box with this and the other half with plain rice. At other times she asked father to get some beef, dressed and fried it, then fried some spinach, scrambled some eggs and put these three things over the packed rice. A flower-bed式it made me think of a flower-bed.
One day, she had asked me what my eldest brother liked best for his lunch and I told her rice-balls. Next day she cooked the rice mixed with beans and pressed it into balls, the size of a mouthful. To prevent bits of rice sticking to your hands as you ate them she wrapped each one in perilla leaves, and packed them in the box. My brother still refusing to eat anything she cooked, would just pretend to pick up the spoon at family meal times in fear of provoking father's anger, but for his lunch, he would take it to school only to bring it back untouched. On that particular day, he turned back on his way to school, thew the lunch box on the verandah and ran away, probably because he knew that it would be too hard to resist the temptation to eat it.
When father came home in the night after drinking, she put out ox-blood soup, known to be good for a hang-over, the following morning. She must have been to the town during the night to get some blood of a freshly-slaughtered cow. The bowl of soup with thick slices of congealed blood was generously sprinkled with slices of spring onion. The pancakes of savory leaves, the dishes of dressed water parsley and mugwort that she made for us. . . ah, how vividly I remember the arrowroot dumplings. When memories of these dishes come back to me with such a strong feeling, I wonder whether it had not been her cooking that made father love her. A woman who garnished the noodle soup and my mother who did not. I must stop now. My father is calling me from outside. He wants me to go to the cow shed with him.
As I pick up my pen again I feel a dark despair. My first intention was to explain my feeling, but now I feel as though I shall never finish this. Four more days to go before the day of our original promise. Three days have gone since you were here. Even though I told you that I would not appear before you, at some moments I feel as if I am already there with you. So will you really be gone from the country after four days? Will you leave even if I do not join you? The idea of leaving was so that you could be with me. Your two children, your wife and your forty years' life式to leave it all. What happened between you and me is something that can happen only in a movie. I was overwhelmed by your decision, that's why I so readily agreed to go. Compared to what you were leaving behind, I thought, mine. . . was nothing. Even when I came here I was afraid lest you changed your mind, not because I doubted you but because your choice was harder than mine. And now look, now I am saying I cannot go and you are waiting with the date fixed!
For the last three days, after putting down my pen at my father's call from outside, while I have not been able to add a line to what I had written, I have tended the blind calf. Because mother had to go to the house of mourning every day as soon as she was up, it naturally became my job.
For my mother, the woman from Jomchon was a pitiable woman who had lived a cold life. She does not say this in words but I guess the reason for her close association with her despite a large age gap between them was that she understood, through her own experience of those ten days, the pain and hardship she had suffered.
It is the burial today, so father has gone over there too. After putting the blind calf's lips to its mother's teat I went to the brookside and saw, across the railway, the old woman departing. . . her funeral bier. . . white in the distance. When I first arrived, spring had only just come but as I turned my gaze to the hills opposite, toward which the funeral procession was heading, I noticed the pale green had turned darker and the late rhododendrons in full bloom were ablaze. . . so red they were. . .
The cow in the shed seems to be unaware that her calf is blind. When he drops the teat and is unable to recover it, but fumbles about her belly with his mouth, she gives him a kick on his buttock with her hind leg as if to say "Stop playing the baby!" I suppose the calf himself would not know that he is blind for from the moment of his birth the world must have been pitch dark, and he must think it is normal.
But he is very sensitive to the sounds and movements his mother makes. When she shifts, he shifts too, and when she stands up he with some effort gets on his legs. His unseeing eyes are so beautiful and clear that I feel like rinsing out my eyes with them. After washing them out I would only see darkness before me and would not know you even when you came to see me. . .
I cannot write any more today. In this state of mind how can I write and try to explain the reasons why I shall not see you again!
. . . To become like that woman. . . this dream of mine was born not simply because she had laid a yellow mattress in the baby's cradle, or because she had the delicacy to serve bean sprouts with bean jelly. It is because she noticed me amongst my brothers. A girl in a family with three elder boys is bound to be ignored. It is different when they grow up but when young they are all alike. When I was born, according to my mother, my father treated the villagers with makkoli wine. He had been pleased that in a family of boys only, a girl was born to be an ornament. But soon my existance was slighted inside as well as outside of the house.
I don't mean that my parents particularly ill-treated me or anything like that. They just let me be. They took no notice of me if I cried in the backyard; fretted for a pair of shoes like those of the girl in the house opposite, with the toes trimmed with bright colours; or my wish not to wear a sweater handed down from my brother.
That's right. The reason why that woman is so deeply imprinted within me is because she gave me recognition, just as you did on the first day I met you. Out of all those women waiting in the bus queue, soaked by an unexpected downpour of rain, you recognized me as the one suffering from a cold. As you held an umbrella over my head, you said, "Please, don't think I am a habitual womanizer. It's just that I can see you have a bad cold."
For some reason that woman used to brush her teeth whenever she had a spare minute. Doing it after every meal was a matter-of-fact routine. When my eldest brother locked himself in his room and refused to come out; when at his instigation my second brother said to her, "Aunt, you've come from a drinking house, haven't you?" and when my third brother who had just started school then cried as if his breath would give out in the middle of the night, his legs stretched out and screaming "Bring back my mother. . . " At such times she would lavishly dip her brush into the white tooth power and brush her teeth for a long time. Also, when urged by my big brother, I followed her around and pinched the baby strapped on her back to make him cry. . .
Once I saw her dipping her brush into the tooth power, in the middle of hanging out white nappies she had just rinsed. I was sitting at the edge of the verandah as I blankly stared at her. Suddenly an urge to brush my own teeth like she did came to me. I picked up my toothbrush and put some powder on it. I had thought she was just brushing her teeth, but no, she had been crying. Her eyes were already red. As if shy to have been found crying, she came over to me and said, "Hold the brush in your right hand," as she removed it from my left hand and put it into my right. I popped it into my mouth and moved it in any odd way and she took my hand in hers and directed it to show me how to brush my teeth properly, turning it in a circular movement. "In this way, you don't hurt your gums," she said. I didn't know what gums were at that time. What carved that moment in my memory was a tear drop that fell on my hand at the same moment as she said "gums."
I have just read through what I have written so far. My head feels as if it will burst with confusion. What is this that I am doing to you now? Am I just eagerly making excuses for my change of mind? If not, why am I so flustered? All sorts of thoughts are so jumbled up that I don't know how to carry on with this. Besides, I am not even sure whether my memories are correct.
During the last two years, while I was with you I never once thought of returning to this village. Was that mere chance? No, I don't think it was. I was afraid of the faces that I would have to see here. I was conscious that my love for you had no honour. As you would put it, am I trying to say that I see our relationship as immoral and so I must seek an honourable love and must forget about you式is that what I am doing? In fact, it is as simple as that but I am putting it in such a complicated way式is that what it is?
That. . . woman. . . why did she. . . have to leave?
"I trust you."Out of all the words she spoke to father, this is the only one I remember. While she trusted my father, her beloved, which is what you are to me, why did she slip out of the house as if she was running away? Was it because of my mother? She went away a day after mother had briefly called. It was not as if mother made a scene with her or anything like that. Mother came in and all that she did was to take the baby off the back of the woman.
Was it because my mother was very tired? Or was this mother's way of enduring? Without a word, she just held her baby and suckled him. On her breast swollen as if to burst, blue veins bulged and they subsided after the baby had sucked vigorously for a long time. On a spring day, with sunlight pouring down, mother sitting on the edge of the verandah suckling her baby, and that woman standing beside her endlessly staring at the ground. . .
Mother wrapped the baby, that had fallen asleep while sucking, in his blanket, laid him on the floor, and came to me squatting in the back room. I am not quite sure whether I was holding in my hand a piece of rice-cake that that woman had given me. As I think about the scene, tears rise to my eyes. Mother undid the front of my jacket where the buttons had been put through the wrong holes, did them up again, picked up my shoes and shook off the bits of soil inside, blankly looked into my eyes, and then went away. It all took less than half an hour.
That was all that happened and the next day the woman left. It was after she had done all her work, finishing off with sweeping up the backyard. I was wearing round my neck a string of threaded persimmon flowers. She came to me and took my hands in hers.
"Lunch is ready in the room, and your baby brother has just fallen asleep. When he wakes up feel his nappy with your hand, and if it is wet, change it for him at once, won't you. . . And when your father asks for me, just tell him you don't know where I am. Tell him you don't know when I went out, do you understand?" I found her changed into the blouse and skirt she had worn when she first came. Lightly powdered, her face was even milkier. The faint fragrance that had made me giddy on her first day wafted from her. I had not smelt it since my fall from the cupboard where, afraid of my big brother, I had taken refuge.
One day, she read me a story book. It was so funny at one point that I was laughing my head off when he came into the room. He glared at me, slammed the door and went out. The thought of the torment I would get from him in the evening scared me, so I hid in the wall cupboard in a spare room. The cupboard was halfway up the wall and to reach it I had to climb a few steps on a steep narrow ladder. I fell asleep there without any supper and unconscious of my whereabouts, I turned over in my sleep and tumbled out onto the floor. At the thud of my fall, she was the one who came running. She slapped my bottom hard and said, "You silly girl, I thought you had run away."She was almost in tears. All because of me. While other members of the family, including my father, not caring whether I was home or not, had gone to sleep, she had sat on the verandah until then. It was then that I knew that my brother's words "She's a devil" were all wrong.
The giddiness caused by her appearance had long been gone. And now again, giving off the same fragrance, she went out through the blue painted gate. As I had sat on the verandah watching her open the gate and come in to the house on her first day, now, sitting in the same spot I watched her walk out. The sunlight was as bright as it had been before. I felt as if I would burst into tears and hoped that father would come home quickly.
At that moment my eyes caught sight of the toothbrush holder with her yellow brush in it. Standing on my toes I got it down and ran out. Of the two roads going out of the village, the main road and the quieter one along the embankment where the Irrigation Board building was, she was walking on the latter.
I ran like mad and stopped just behind her. I thought she would have heard my running footsteps but, with one end of her skirt held tightly in her hand, she would not turn round. I ran up closer and tugged at her skirt. Only then did she look back. Ah, the smudged face that I saw before me. Her tears had messed up her make-up, and her face looked terrible. When I thrust forward the toothbrush she almost smiled. Instead of taking it she held my hand firmly. Then she looked deep into my eyes.
"Don't. . . don't become. . . like me. . . whatever you do. . . "She released a deep sigh and pushed me backwards. "Run home quickly, your brother might. . . wake up."
Today, it rains. . . silky. . . spring rain. . . it makes me look out again and again. . . ears. . . makes me strain my ears. I've just come back after rambling around in that rain with my father through the fields, hills and along the streams. We followed the range of hills up and down, one after another. Along the dark green hill tops, mugwort was in bloom and already the dogwood too. They were delicately quivering in the fine rain. As the rain was so light we did not bother to put up our umbrellas but by the time we turned homeward my hair and father's shoulders were quite wet.
We had gone out to shoot birds. As we didn't hit any I should say we had been chasing them around. I've only just discovered that my father goes hunting every afternoon into the fields and hills with a shotgun on his shoulder. According to mother, it has become a habit over the past two years. No wonder I didn't know, as I haven't been home for two years.
"Hunting " is an exaggeration. There is an echo of something primeval in that big word. Nowadays hunting does not always mean killing animals but to me it has a resonance of the primeval past.
My facy takes me back to the times when tribes or clans lived a communal life. I can visualize a scene. At the foot of a hill or in the middle of a plain式there is no road, or rather, anywhere is road式stand dozens of huts made of mud and straw with an ever-blazing pillar of fire in front of each hut. At the thought of fire I am carried further by my imagination. Each hut is occupied by a family式husband and wife and many kids, closely knit together. All of them are almost bare with suntanned skin, never white. Their hair is black, glossy and thick. Their muscles are as round as airtight balls so that when they walk they bounce as if kicked.
They go hunting all together. The larger the number of the family the better for encircling the animals. At such times, I imagine, the women would wish to have many more children.
The game they caught thus in a pack as strong as mountains式a boar or a badger or sometimes a bear式are brought home and roasted on the fires in front of their huts.
After talking in this way, I feel shy to call the little venture I've had with my father 'hunting.' Let me change it to 'shooting birds."
It was not that I had intended to go with him. I happened to see him passing the window. He was dressed in a peculiar fashion.
He was wearing a chestnut brown angular cap of fluffy wollen material, a brown cardigan over a black crew-neck shirt, a loose pair of corduroy trousers in ivory with a belt tightly round his waist, and knee-length boots. In the clear spring light, I thought, he looked like a hunter. The shotgun he took off the wall of the shed and slung over his shoulder gave the perfect finishing touch. His kit thus complete, he went out of the gate. It was then that I came out of my room. As first I followed him childishly as I put my feet into his footprints. The shadows of father and daughter walked in parallel to one side of us.
Until the wind rose, father looked quite handsome. When it blew, his ivory trousers clung to his body. I stopped my game of following in his footprints. Was there really a body inside his trousers? They looked incredibly loose, I thought. When my footsteps stopped he turned and waited until I came close.
How he has shrunk. Beneath his woolen cap, the hair on his nape was white. Below his ears lustreless flesh hung loose in folds, with numerous dark spots. A scream burst out from deep within me, a scream that could be aimed at you, or maybe at life itself. Overwhelmed by compassion, I thrust my hands into his trouser pockets. At the sudden pull from behind, he lost his balance and tilted back on to me. The thinness of the hip bones that I could feel from inside his pockets!
Today father did not bag as much as a sparrow in the fields, or in the woods or by the river. From behind a tree as he stood close against it, he aimed at some careless wood pigeons but it was all misses. Each time he looked at me with a grin. He would have liked to show me how smartly he could hit the target but it did now work out.
Talking of hunting brings a memory of what you once told me. It was about the life of some African natives. Their ancestors were horse riders. They used to gallop through the forest, hunting and bartering their catches, bringing up their children in this fashion.
The forest became roads, . . . the roads became farmland. The men lost their hunting ground. But they continue to produce hand-made hunting tools. While the womenfolk rise before dawn, go into the plantations and work all day, sweat pouring down their faces, to provide food for the family, the men go out at dawn in groups to the desert, carrying their spears, bows and arrows. They spend all day just walking around on the plains, only to come back in the evening. No animals to charge with battle cries, or rival tribes to fight and spill their blood, but unable to quit the habits of their forefathers, they spend all day in the desert looking at the horizon.
When you had finished, I said, "Is it true?" as I smiled incredulously. Now I feel a sort of kinship with them式why is it? If I now said I could see my father amongst them, a group of men standing around all day amidst their own murmuring and droning, coming home with hollow hearts and a blood-red sunset behind them. . . you would. . . laugh.
The hour of our promise comes after tonight. Will you really go? If you do, what am I enduring this for? Once you have gone, all my endurance will have been for absolutely nothing. I have been mumbling to myself all day. Every time my mind was on the verge of change, I whispered again and again that all that passed between you and me was wrong. Suddenly I was running a fever. I said I must go to you and even started packing. Perhaps you were coming to take me away with you式I kept looking out at the gate.
This night has come after a hard day's endurance. The last train has gone. What time is the earliest one in the morning? I am trying to work it out. Tonight. . . it frightens me.
"Eat wild cherries and you" l have something to weep over,"Mother used to say as she threw away the cherries I brought home. Is this what she meant? Is it the cherries I ate behind her back that is making me weep now?
My father really loved that woman. When she came in after finishing the washing-up from supper, he used to put cream on her hands. I don't know why I remember this with particular vividness. The way their hands clutched with such naturalness was as if I was seeing them in a dream. The luminous look on his face as he took the cream from the jar and spread it over her hand式I have never seen anything like it before or after.
Hands. . . those hands. When they were together, I seem to remember, they always held each other's hands. These scenes join up into that one vivid picture of his putting cream on. Some may say holding each other's hands is nothing much. I don't remember ever holding my father's hands tightly.
Your hands. I really liked them. Do you remember me saying once when you were driving, as I put my hand on yours, "I love your hands?"
You wore your wedding ring always. Each time my eyes caught it a pain darted through my heart but you didn't seem to be aware that you had it on. It was there as if it was a part of you.
Even so there were times I was swept away by unbearable sorrow about you. When this happened I would grab hold of your hand until the sorrow subsided. I had received from you something dearer than a ring, I thought. Even if I were to be buried in it, and should die because I received it from you. . . it was all that mattered to me. . . that is how I used to comfort myself.
. . . I shouldn't have come here. This village makes me think about myself. To look into one's insides! I hate it. I am exhausted. As if I had made a promise to that woman when I gave her her toothbrush on the day she left, and the time has come for me to keep that promise. . . I could never have thought like this in the city where you are.
If she hadn't gone as she did, what would have become of us. . . my mother and my siblings? Without her leaving us could we have lived in as much peace and comfort as we do? If I hadn't come, I would never have thought of this.
After she left, my father took to drink for a long time. He threw up anywhere and at any time, it was never possible to keep him in an upright position. I believe that the brightest time of his life, whether in the past or the present, was when he had her.
But my beloved, I have an uncomfortable train of thought flowing in my heart that love is not the whole of one's life. If I hadn't come here, it could be different but as it is I am quite troubled and intimidated by this discomfort. I shouldn't have come, that's all I can say. My longing for you makes me very sore as if I have taken caustic acid.
Now. . . just at this moment. . . the hour of our promise has passed. Momentarily an intense heat surged up in my heart as if smouldering charcoal had been put on it. I am quite familiar with this upsurge. While I was in love with you my day would start with it and end with it, so it is rather an intimate feeling like an old friend.
The happiness of the moment of seeing you, my shyness with the desire to feel your face, the longing for you when you are away and the embarrassment of not being able proudly to talk about you to friends that made me blush. . . these are all included in that upsurge.
Even though I am so used to it, the present bout is not likely to subside soon because it involves the task of breaking down a certain world.
Come to think of it, there are so many things one must not go too close to in life. How much agony comes from these prohibitions.
I have been lying face down on the floor. Today's upsurge, I am well aware, is not likely to pass in this way but I have no other way. Will you really go?
I had been looking at the clock for an hour before. When the hour-finger pointed at 3p.m., it was as if I let go the cord between you and me that I had held tightly as if my life depended on it. The released end of the cord式is it flying towards the other end held by you over there? Are you standing there now looking at your watch?
For nearly a month now I haven't been able to write. Once the time of our promise was past I felt so weak I could not pick up the pen. That's not all. It was partly because this letter had lost its purpose. You had been the target and now my writing has become an aimless arrow. For the first few days when helplessly I had to see the happiness you gave me turn into pain, sorrow and futility, I lay in bed all the time as if paralysed. The thought that I should never see you again made me feel as if I had committed some terrible offence. I felt as if the whirlwind would rise up again in my heart. Never to be able to reverse it, even if I gave up the most valuable thing in my life. . . as if standing before a precipice, I was giddy. That desperation made me pick up the phone one day. Did you really leave? Have you really and truly left and gone?
Your wife answered the phone. It was a peaceful voice. Even as I asked for you, speaking your name with clear articulation, I was wondering if you really had gone. My heart was on fire. She must have had your daughter close by! I heard her say in a whisper, "Eunsun, can you go and tell daddy to take the phone.'I quietly put the receiver down. Darling, so your daughter's name is Eunsun. I repeated it several times. It makes me think of some tender plant. Wherever they had all been stored, tears came flowing down for a long time. Eunsun.
When I opened the door the persimon tree was covered in white flowers.
Going out suddenly I found the sun too dazzling. My knees went weak several times as I walked to the gate. A convalescing patient must feel like that, I suppose.
While I was lying indoors, the spring farm work had begun. In the paddies women with white cloths on their heads were sowing the rice seed. The tender mugwort that I had seen earlier had grown rank and flowers that had looked like paint on a palette had all been replaced by green leaves.
As I walked about I gained some calm, and on the way home I even thought about the spring flowers. Why were they in such a hurry to come out, even before the leaves, only to fall so soon? In a sunny spot in the alley two little girls were playing house as they pounded yellowish, fallen petals of magnolia that had once been like clusters of cloud. We saw it when it was in bloom, so we must see its fall.
Tanned by the sun my face is now quite dark. Knowing that there is a shortage of workers, I could no longer stay indoors, so I began to give my mother a hand and I have got the hang of it now. I don't do much式only preparing the snacks between meals and transplanting the seedlings of sweet potatoes.
The blind calf in the shed recognizes my footsteps and when I open the door he gets up on his feet. He is the closest acquaintance I have made since I came here. My father said, "When it turned out to be blind. . . I was troubled to know what to do at first. . . but he is doing fine. He feeds well and sleeps well, so he's quite plump. There will be no problem about it fetching the right price."I was quite put out by such a remark from father, who seems to regard him only as an animal. I am fond of that calf.
Mother says I should go back to the city before planting out the rice seedlings starts in earnest. She thinks I am having a hard time here. I have not made up my mind about what I ought to do. All I have done to regain my composure is to write this letter, off and on.
When I started writing it, I felt as though I was getting control of my life. Not aware of its difficulty, I believed that I could tell you all that happened and what was going on in my mind since I came here. Come to think of it, this time again I was not the one in control of my life. I have not even concluded this letter, yet you are there and I am here. I went to the stream where we do the washing. The idea is still unfamiliar to me. I looked at the bottom of the stream for a long time. . . still, for the first time. . . a breath. . . a deep breath. . . I am taking a deep breath for the first time in years.
There is no need to send this letter to you now. Nevertheless. . . the magpies. . . I must write about the magpies. The pair eagerly building a nest on my first day must have hatched three chicks. I went to the hillside plot to prepare holes for planting maize. On the way home I saw them. From a distance I could not see in much detail but it looked as if there was not one blind chick among the brood. When the mother brought them food the three of them fought, pushing each other aside as they opened their beaks wide. The insides of their mouths were red. . . crimson.
By the time the chicks are ready to fly, early summer. . . the summer will be here. The greenery over there that is now pale will be darkening. By that time, will the name Eunsun, the name of your daughter, have grown fainter in my heart? Adieu.
The Vacant House on the Plain
Entangled in ivy vines, the house stands amid the plain.
People passing through the plain look at the house feeling distrust. They don't understand why such a house is there. Small wonder everyone views with suspicion a house that surfaces unexpectedly in a stretch of paddies and fields. The house appears uninhabited. For a long time there were no signs of life. Shabby as it was, what was endearing was the white laced curtain hung up at the window. The weaving of the curtain is so elaborate one can almost see the quick movement of the weaver's hands. The house being vacant, passersby may take away the laced curtain, but it is never touched. To the house there seems to have been no front gate from the beginning. A stairway leading straight to the entrance looks steep. One, two, three, four . . . nine steps. The seasons come to visit the vacant house. In summer, the house is covered up with ivy leaves. Nobody seems to tend the leaves, yet, as if they have eaten something very green, the leaves clothe the house with such verdure that people who wish to enter the house turn back overwhelmed by the vigor of the dark-green foliage. The leaves grown fat out of the tenacious vines look each like green tongues as the wind traverses the plain. The vine threatens to wind around the neck of a person and roll her up if she approaches. Incidentally, the only area the fat vines and leaves can't enfold is the steep stairway leading to the entrance. The steep stairway, which has apparently long been unused, lies still and white, like a pathway leading quietly somewhere beyond the ivy vines. Who would believe it if one said that there was once happiness and song in this house uninhabited at present, a joy not many could believe in? Yet the winds of the plain know. That once there was joy in this house on the plain. There was a somewhat fairytale-like joy. When bored, people still talk among themselves about the woman and the man-about how shabby they looked when she and he first walked onto this plain-about their love.
A man and a woman, who couldn't become man and wife because they couldn't get a house to live in together, happened one day to pass through this plain. They were so poor they couldn't sustain their love in the cities. Sad and lost, they kept walking on and on, drifted onto this plain and stopped in front of this house. This vacant house attracted them strongly. First, they pushed the front door ajar, entered the living room and then tried the door to an adjoining room. Nobody stopped them. They slept there. Yet nothing happened. They brought quilts and tried living there. Still nothing happened. The woman cleaned the floor and changed the rusty faucet in the toilet. The man went up on the roof to fix the leak and looked all around. A series of fields, and at the far end of it his eyes could only make out the mountain range. The scenery, as if it knew they wanted to live there, looked upon him benignly. The man and the woman cried. They believed that the house was an ownerless roost their love had discovered. How on earth such good fortune had fallen to their lot was so beyond belief that they fingered one another's face. He went to a construction site far from the field to work by the day. She prepared lunch and took it to him in a wrapping cloth. Their wish was to be together, and as it was realized in the vacant house on the plain, they didn't want anymore from life. In the afternoon, she cooked dinner for him and, singing, waited for him. He used to return home with a glad heart as her song resounded afield. This was all of their life. Sometimes, though, holding his hands tight she trembled. Suspicious of these placid days, and for fear that something might happen to them and drive away their well-being in a flash. Then he said with his wrinkled face close to hers, we are people who have nothing more to lose. This plain is not reality. Our portion is to dream . . . Let's not worry.
She didn't worry any more.
For a baby was born to them. Until the baby grew to be five years old, nobody evicted them from the house on the plain. As he worked hard and she, obedient, brought up the child, the vacant house on the plain, which was once so forlorn, now gleamed. She bought a vase and made a lace curtain and hung it up at the window. He was now an overseer at the construction site. He could make money without carrying sand or bricks on his back as he had done before. And the girl-child born to them was healthy. Her ruddy cheeks were sweet and plump, and her buttocks nicely rounded. Whenever she had the chance the child would ask them. Do you love me, Mother? Do you love me, Father? Responding to the child's playful question was one of their delights. They were thankful to the vacant house on the plain for giving them this happiness. And yet the vacant house seemed determined only to give them just that much happiness.
One day the woman went to the city with the child. She bought all the necesities on her list and returned to the house on the plain. Although it was early summer, the wind was blowing strangely. The woman was carrying heavy packages and the child was toddling along ahead of her. It was on arriving home and in front of the white steep stairway leading to the entrance. Up one step, the child turned around. She was perhaps tired after the rare outing, and her cheeks were pale. Even so she asked the woman playfully.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman answered yes. The child went up another step and asked again.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman answered yes. The child asked once more on the third step.
Mother, do you love me?
The packages in her hand were so heavy, but she answered cheerfully lest the child be disappointed. I have never met anyone more lovable than you. The daughter was pleased. She hopped every time she heard the woman's affirmation. At the fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth step the child with the pale face would turn back to ask the woman-
Mother, do you love me? You are the most lovable in the world . . . although the woman answered each time her overburdened arms gave her a tearing pain. She earnestly hoped that the child would stop questioning and open the door for her. Having climbed the ninth stair, however, the child before her asked again looking around.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman put down the packages with a thud. The ivy leaves roared in the wind. Yes, I love you! She felt strange. Very momentarily an uncontrollable power seemed to come over her. But there was no intention at all of pushing the child. Just to give her a little rap the woman extended her hand, and as soon as it touched her, the girl, as if she were enveloped by a whirlwind, rolled down the flight of nine stairs which had been mounted so strenuously. No! The woman ran after her, but the vacant house on the plain seemed determined to give them only so much happiness. White and dead the child shed no blood. Even at her last gasp she turned toward the woman asking. Mother, do you love me?
Time elapsed quietly.
Unable to overcome sorrow, it was a dreary time. The man comforted his wife, but she lost her laughter. He tried to be more affectionate, yet she always looked as if she were in a far-off place. She would think back on the incomprehensible power of that day. What was it? That uncontrollable power which penetrated her like a tongue. She was aging.. Each day she appeared a year older, thin and worn-out, her cheekbone jutting out. Now she looked like his older sister or mother. Nevertheless, they were given the chance to be happy once more. For even in that desolation another baby was born to them. Their love started to heal with the arrival of the newborn child. The woman put flowers in the vase again after the long break. The new arrival was once more a girl. The man comforted his wife saying the baby was the very picture of the first child and that the child was now reborn. She smiled at long last. And now she no longer looked at the faraway mountain. Her aging was slowly redressed, and she looked once more like the man's wife. She loved the baby. Perhaps more than the man. Her love for the child was so excessive as to cause him some concern, but he was more grateful for the fact that she had returned to her former self. The baby grew up in good health and reached the age of five. The man and wife wondered whether they should move to the city for the child. But they lacked confidence. Although a little better off than before, they were still poor. He suggested to her that they live here a little longer, saying that someday they would be able to go to the city and live there. She believed the man's word. Someday. For they had been given hope. Someday. The empty house on the plain must have been jealous of the hope they called "someday."
In the beginning she didn't know. Just holding the child's hand, she got on a bus bound for the city in order to buy some necessities as before. Because she only made the trip once a month, she always had too much to carry. It was early summer, and the wind blew strangely. Yet she didn't notice anything. Even forgot that it was the day that the first child died. It was on her arrival at the house on the plain and in front of the stairway that she realized the day of five years ago was being reenacted. The child, who had been following her, suddenly toddled forward. Reaching the stairway and setting a foot on the first step, the little girl asked, turning toward her.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman first put her bags down and then tried to clasp the child to her breast, saying hey, don't . . . The second child had never asked such a question. But the child coldly evaded the woman's embrace and asked again.
Mother, do you love me?
Climbing up after the child, the woman couldn't help but answer, yes, I do. She was in a cold sweat. What was happening? The child asked again on the second step.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman felt as if her knees would buckle beneath her. The nightmare of five years ago revived itself. She answered desperately. Yes, I do. The child asked once more on the third step.
Mother, do you love me?
The woman firmly pressed into her soles as she climbed up behind the child. Yes, I do. She called out for her husband in real earnest. Please help me. It was the ninth step. She calmed herself. The mistake of that day should never be committed again. It's the only way to overcome this crisis. Having climbed onto the ninth step with her pallid face, the little girl, as on that day of five years ago, looked over her shoulder at the mother.
Mother, do you love me?
Despite her firm resolution, the woman almost shivered. Yes, I do. I love you the most. Squarely facing her trembling mother in a distrustful manner, the girl asked again.
Mother, why did you push me?
When the husband came back from the construction site, the house on the plain was quite empty. Neither the wife nor the daughter could be found. Only the necessities that his wife and daughter had bought in the city lay scattered. The man waited for his wife and child for a very long time. Not eating, not going to the construction site, he waited for his wife more than for his child. Yet his wife didn't come back. Every night the ivy vines rolled the man up and then released him. After every night he grew thinner. It was one very windy night. He squatted down and heard the ivy leaves clamoring. Mother, do you love me? He covered his ears. Yes, I do . . . the woman's feeble answer, too, was heard. At dawn the man, pale with fright, stole out of the house on the plain. And he never returned.
The vacant house is still there on the plain. The ivy leaves shine fatter and greener day after day probably because they've eaten something no body knows. Poor as you are, if you happen someday to pass through the field and see the house, pass by. There was happiness and song for a while. Even if you are drawn by the white lace which the woman wove by hand and hung up at the window and you wish to enter and live there, take a step back-lest you hear every night through the fat ivy leaves and over the steep nine steps the low whisper-Mother, why did you push me?