Born in Seoul in 1930, Seo Gi-won attended Seoul National University and later worked as an editorialist for the Jungang Ilbo before becoming President of the Korea Broadcasting System. He is mainly noted for a number of short stories and novels illustrating the moral and spiritual confusion of the years after the Korean War. He began to publish short stories in the mid-1950s and was awarded the Hyundai Munhak Literary Prize for New Writers in 1960, followed by the Dongin Literary Award in 1961.
Most of his early work depicted vividly the disillusionment and search for a recovery that young people underwent in the post-war period. So also wrote a number of critical essays, and an article which he published in 1969 was one of the first to establish post-war literature as a significant part of modern Korean writing.
Later work, such as the stories in the collection Marok yeoljon (Lives of Marok, 1972) or the novel Yijobaekja Mariasang(Porcelain Virgin from the Yi Dynasty, 1979) are set in a historical past, which clearly mirrors the present in many ways. In particular, the latter work, one of his most significant, portrays the life of Korea's early Catholic community in the late 18th-early 19th century, faced with the challenge of breaking with the past in order to advance toward a new and better future. Another similar work depicted the struggles of ordinary people at the time of the Donghak Revolution of 1894.
Throughout his work, in various ways, S╡o insists on the need for ordinary people to overcome the hardships of the past in order to confront the political and economical challenge of the present and become masters of their own future.
The Uncharted Map
It was during the summer of last year, when he had absolutely no place to turn following his discharge, that Hy╡ongnam accidentally ran into Sangd╡ok, his closest buddy from the army. They had spent a little over a year's time together in the same company. The commander of the company was a man who had made captain in six years. The company commander joined the army immediately after the Liberation in 1945 as an enlisted man.
He loved to give disciplinary talks to his men, and his favorite admonition had to do with the arrangement of individual bedding. "Well, men, when I was an enlisted man, we used to arrange and stack our bedding neat and trim just like laying brand new bricks fresh out of the factory. But look at yours式it's disgraceful!" He always wound up his speech by saying, "Well, this may look like a small thing, but this is the way you mold your characteristics (meaning character), understand?" They say that an upstart usually despises the poor more than an ordinary man does, and true enough, this guy was really trying to make slaves out of enlisted men.
Under the leadership of this man, Corporal Hy╡ongnam, an ex-art student, and Corporal Pak Sangd╡ok, an ex-law student, became close friends. Somehow they survived the severest battles while the company commander (who used to boast that the enemy bullets evaded him) was killed in action. Their platoon was almost completely wiped out, and the company had to be commanded by a stuttering noncommissioned officer. Sangd╡ok had been discharged from the army about half a year before Hy╡ongnam. When leaving, Sangd╡ok had said to Hy╡ongnam that he should look him up if he should ever be pressed for a place to sleep in Seoul. On a piece of paper he wrote down his address in Seoul and he went so far as to draw the ground plan of the Korean style house, and pointing out with a red grease pencil a small room by the front gate, he said, "You can have this room anytime and as long as you wish." Then he added, "You know, I am a lucky man. This house used to belong to that guy's concubine. My own was bombed and nothing is left. That guy used to hold the title to this house, but now that both he and the concubine are dead, it became mine. Not bad, eh?" It was Sangd╡ok's habit to call his own father "That guy." He looked so casual when he spoke these words, which tickled Hy╡ongnam so much that he could not help but laugh heartily. Paradoxically, Hy╡ongnam sensed the apparently disrespectful appellation. And he liked Sangd╡ok all the more for that.
By and by Hy╡ongnam's time in the army was up. Dressed in a blue uniform issued to discharged enlisted men, he was loaded on a truck with others and driven into Seoul, passing through Ch'╡ongnyangni, and was finally unloaded by the East Gate. The moment he set his feet on the hard pavememt, the past three years of his life receded into the foggy background of his memory. It was as though army life had been the content of a story he had heard from his mother when he was a mere toddler. It was hard to remember the army as a piece of reality he had just experienced. He was dizzy and the bustling main street just inside the East Gate looked so foreign to him. First he decided to look up his aunt who was supposed to be living somewhere in the Y╡ongd╡ungp'o area, but it dawned on him that it was impossible to locate the house with the kind of address he had in his memobook. Then he thought of looking up some of his former classmates, but he knew very well that he couldn't look up any of them in his present condition式not too far from that of a beggar. Of course what Sangd╡ok had said was in the back of his mind all along, and somehow he knew that Sangd╡ok's would be the place where he would finally wind up, but he was saving this, as it were, as a last resort ; he wanted to explore other possibilities before he had to fall back on that. This was why he didn't make a beeline to Sangd╡ok's house. Then he ran into him on the street. They embraced each other before shaking hands. Then in a mocking manner Sangd╡ok gestured as if to strangle Hy╡ongnam, saying, "You SOB, whyn't you come to my place right away? Let's go now! You don't have to tell me, your looks tell me enough about your condition." To this Hy╡ongnam answered with a simle, but tears flowed from his eyes.
Sangd╡ok's house was much larger than Hy╡ongnam had imagined. Although delapidated in many ways, still it was a sturdylooking wooden house. One of the rooms and the roof over the front gate had been shelled and left unrepaired ; this was one of the things that Sangd╡ok had overlooked in his explanation of the floor plan. That was not the only unexpected thing, however. Sangd╡ok was living with a girl. Sangd╡ok introduced her Hy╡ongnam as Ch'oe Yunju but he always addressed her as Madam Ch'oe. Then Sangd╡ok told Hy╡ongnam how he had met her.
One Sunday last winter Sangd╡ok had gone out to see a movie. In front of the movie house there stood a girl with a suitcase, blankly watching the signboard. She wasn't exactly tall, but the brown overcoat was very becoming to her svelte body式that was Yunju. Sangd╡ok had ventured to invite her to the movie by accosting her : "Will you join me in seeing this movie?" The girl, who had looked rather gloomy up to that time, beamed happily all of a sudden at the invitation and gave him an emphatic "Yes!" like a school child. She looked to be twenty-one or two, and the elegance of her apparel told him that she was of a good family. Thus, believing that she was too good a find to lose, Sangd╡ok had invited her to his house after the movie. But this time she made no answers. She just kept biting her lower lip.
"I know I am rude, but I cannot help asking you."
"No, no, it's not that. If the invitation is for me to live with you for good, I might consider’" she said and blushed. By nature Sangd╡ok was not a man to be easily startled, but at this he had to gasp for breath.
She had been driven out of her home, she told him. She was going down to Pusan to look up one of her friends, but on the way to the railroad station she was attracted to the French movie, and she was having a debate with her pocketbook about whether she had enough money to spare when she was invited in by Sangd╡ok. She also told him that she was not too keen on the idea of visiting this friend in Pusan.
"Well, I am an orphan myself and I have no relatives to speak of. This house is all I have in the world, and the job I have now is not a steady one and doesn't pay much. But if you think you can put up with this kind of life, I don't see why we can't live together," Sangd╡ok had said, and this was how he and Yunju had gotten together. Although Sangd╡ok had not asked why she had been driven out of her house, she said he guessed that it was a love affair. Then added, with self-scorning laughter, "I wouldn't be surprised if she was kicked out by a man after living with him for a few months. These broads are all like that, aren't they?"
But Hy╡ongnam could not despise Yunju. He had always hated this kind of illicit union, but somehow he could not picture her as one of those illicit partners. Maybe the first impression she made on him had something to do with it. Whenever she was spoken to, she looked at you fully, her big, round, long-lashed eyes wide open, and those eye looked so clear and innocent that somehow you were made to face your own squalor. He liked her, but he never forgot to treat her as a lady and the wife of a friend.
Of course other things occupied his mind too. Whatever meagre income Sangd╡ok had from his three-days-a-week teaching job at an unaccredited middle school was by no means enough to support this family. So Hy╡ongnam felt that he had to earn his own bread at least, but with his background as a sometime art student it was almost impossible to land a decent job. After two months of heartbreaking search he thought he was lucky when a movie house gave him a job drawing signboards. It wasn't the large one you see in front of a movie house that he was supposed to draw, but the small poster-size one you come across around the corner of main streets ; he was to draw eight of them a month, four different scenes at the price of five thousand won each.
So the living-room of the house became his workshop. A large canvas now leaned against the wall : a cowboy was kissing a blonde girl against the background of green meadows ; on the floor by the foot of the canvas were several palettes made of plywood, and on them were some paint brushes and paint of various colors, which sometimes dripped onto the floor. Now Hy╡ongnam was dissatisfied with the fingers of the blonde girl that rested on the shoulder of the cowboy. So he picked up a fine brush and soaked it in paint. Then he recalled what the manager of the movie house told him over and over : "The secret of movie signboard drawing is to make it as sexy as you can, understand!" While he was working, Yunju sat around, closing and opening the windows to control the heat and gas from the open charcoal burner.
On the days he didn't teach Sangd╡ok didn't get up till almost noon, and then it was his routine to have lunch and go out to a go house downtown to play go games. Hy╡ongnam's work kept him at home all the time, and thus he spent more time than Sangd╡ok with Yunju. He didn't think it particularly pleasant, nor was it especially burdensome to him psychologically. He wasn't exactly a sociable type and was a very bad conversationalist. Besides, he treated her as the wife of a friend and tried to draw a strict line there. When he had first been introduced to her, he addressed her as Mrs式. She had burst out laughing, and Sangd╡ok had said, "What the hell do you mean by that? Our relationship is nothing of the sort. Call her Miss Ch'oe.§ From then on he had avoided the use of direct address, and somehow he managed to carry on a conversation without having to refer to her directly.
After a while the bulk of their living expenses was earned by Hy╡ongnam's drawings, but it made Hy╡ongnam feel good because he felt that it was a chance to pay back his indebtedness for Sangd╡ok's friendshop and hospitality. Sangd╡ok's offhand manner about this pleased Hy╡ongnam, too ; Sangd╡ok was not the kind of man who would worry over a little monetary help from a friend and feel indebted to him. And especially he liked the way Yunju took in the whole arrangement ; she never took a shallow, adulating posture toward him because of the new financial arrangement. He was grateful to them for this, and he thought he should be discreet all the more not to convey patronizing attitude toward them.
As ill luck would have it, Sangd╡ok lost his job ; the school where he taught was closed down. He was only a part-time teacher working for three hundred won an hour, and it wasn't a steady position to begin with, but the incident must have been a hard blow to Sangd╡ok, for he repeated angrily over and over that he would never become a lousy school teacher again.
The new school year had already started and it was too late to look for another teaching position, but Sangd╡ok seemed to have no intention of looking for a job. In other words, Hy╡ongnam became the sole bread winner of the house. The situation was a very delicate one, and one bad move on Hy╡ongnam's part could have aroused misunderstandings and troubles between the friends. So he said by way of encouraging his friend, "Well, take a good long rest first. Never look for a job in a hurry, they say. A good one will turn up all by itself in a little while." And the go games became Sangd╡ok's only occupation. Otherwise, he just wasted his time. He bought a book entitled The Outline of Go , but after skimming a few pages he threw it in the closet never to open it again. That evening, too, he came home late.
He pushed open the front gate singing some degenerate beggar's tune in an obviously drunken falsetto. Then Hy╡ongnam recalled that when they were in the army and Sangd╡ok got drunk he used to sing out the melodies of symphonies or concertos at the top of his voice. What a change!
"Madam Ch'oe, can I have some water to wash my hands? You know that SOB bugged me by first telling me to take black stones and then to have a two-stone head start. So I was upset and lost four straight games!" he said, and holding up his open palms for Hy╡ongnam and Yunju to see he added, "Look at my hands. They are really dirty." According to his theory the hands of the guy that held the black stones in, got dirtier than those of the one who held the white stones. Of course he seldom came home with his hands clean. Sangd╡ok's excuse was that he liked to play the game with people who played better than he did式("That's the only way you can get better in this game.")
Anyway Sangd╡ok was very drunk that day. Lying on the floor of the bedroom, he bellowed :
"Thanks to 'that guy' I have a roof over my head, but what good is a house with holes all over? Hey, Hy╡ongnam, how about selling this off to have a rousing good time for a few days? How's that idea grab you, eh?"
Hy╡ongnam was used to Sangd╡ok's drunkenness from the army days, so he didn't take him seriously, but merely answered with a grin. But somehow he felt that Sangd╡ok was implying something, and it discomforted him. Again controlling himself, he tried to shrug it off by saying, "Lay off, man, Miss Ch'oe is laughing at you." And then giving a playful eye to Yunju for a moment, he tried to calm him down as he would humor a fretful child. Yunju's eyes were smiling but not her mouth, and she gave a long gaze at Sangd╡ok first, then looked away and faced the wall. In her cold profile Hy╡ongnam could definitely sense a feeling of contempt for Sangd╡ok. And this in turn, for some unaccountable reason, gave Hy╡ongnam a vague feeling akin to hope. It was a pleasing feeling, which embarrassing, if it had been known to others. But it passed away quickly because Sangd╡ok bellowed again.
"Hey, Hy╡ongnam, I know you waste money too. I know you shacked up last night in an unmentionable place after a few shots of cheap hooch. You know it isn't good for your health, and besides, how are you going to make your four hundred thousands that way?"
So Hy╡ongnam had to play along as usual. "Okay. As soon as I make my pile I'll get the hell out of this place, don't worry. Wait till I make my first one hundred thousand. Then I'll build me a cardboard frame house."
"If you want to get out, get out! Don't think I'll starve if you do. You think I'd care if you built a palace? Ha, ha, ha," said Sangd╡ok, his eyes glaring as though he were very angry, but his laughter showed that he was only pretending. Hy╡ongnam laughted out loud too. The hearty laugh made them both feel good and dispelled all possibilities of vexed feelings. Hy╡ongnam knew well that he shouldn't plume himself on the fact that he was supporting the family for the time being.
But the strange feeling persisted. He could now definitely tell that Yunju was backing away from Sangd╡ok ; moreover, it was obvious that she was making a creeping approach to Hy╡ongnam.
One objective evidence for this was that, without knowing when it began, he started addressing her as Miss Ch'oe and it came very natural to him. Of course, he still hesitated sometimes, but it wasn't because he lacked the self-confidence of addressing her in this fashion. But rather, in an occasional unguarded moment when he unwittingly faced her glossy, faintly bloodshot, and in a way very sexy eyes, he was forced to imagine her in bed with Sangd╡ok the night before, and then he lost his voice.
It was true that Hy╡ongnam had resumed going to whore houses lately, but to blame it all on Yunju was ridiculous. While in the army he and Sangd╡ok used to visit one of those crummy frontline bawdy houses about once a month for the purpose of what they called "excretion." Therefore, there couldn't be anything new in this now, but for some reason Hy╡ongnam liked to think that his desire was provoked by Yunju. Sangd╡ok did not visit those places any longer ; he had no need for them. He envied Sangd╡ok in this respect. He thought Sangd╡ok was right in pointing out that his visiting of whore houses was the result of the bravado gathered on the strength of cheap hooch. By now he was thoroughly disgusted with himself, with the whoring, with the mechanical bodily movement, and with the empty feeling he experienced on the way home from one of those places. On these nights, not being able to sleep, he felt a strong urge to abuse himself, which ended with a dragging down of color reproductions of European masters from the bookshelf.
It was almost an unbearable pain to see the works of Braque or Rouault. Though he did not wish to see them, his hand mercilessly turned over the leaves of the book to see the bright color reproductions of the masters. What happened to his ambition as a student in the College of Fine Arts, and his desire to create, and all those intoxicatingly beautiful images? What filled his mind now were the shrill sounds of mortar shell explosions, the shrieking of dying soldiers, the naked bodies of women, tawdry and loud movie poster drawings in primary colors式all these intermingled chaotically and tortured him. He now opened the Klee collection. "The Sun and the Moon." The delicate white hands of the moon were turned the other way, while the setting sun was trying to help the moon rise higher and higher.
"In bed already?" a man's voice was heard outside the room. Startled, Hy╡ongnam pushed the book to the corner of the room, closeing it hurriedly. The sliding door opened, and in the dark frame of the opening Sangd╡ok's grinning face appeared. Over his stocky shoulder Hy╡ongnam could see the frail crescent looking like a lone fish swimming in a dark blue acquarium.
Giving a quick glance at the book in the corner, Sangd╡ok said, "I see what you are up against. Listen! Why don't you sleep with Madam Ch'oe? Just once a week will solve your problem. That's just about the right frequency for your health. I am more or less tired of her, but just to keep you company I'll pick Saturday nights. You settle on Sunday nights, all right? And quit going to whore houses. Those places aren't healthy."
So it was a proposal for joint ownership of Yunju.
"What the hell you talking about?" protested Hy╡ongnam, embarrassed and upset.
"Don't tell me you have already forgotten that we took turns with one girl in Ch'unch'╡on! Nothing to get upset about." "Miss Ch'oe is different from those girls!" "Girls are girls, what's the difference? She is nothing to me. I'm not going to live with her all my life. I thought I was doing you a favor by this offer."
In a way it made sense, Hy╡ongnam thought. Still, he knew he should turn down the offer resolutely. But instead, in spite of himself the words he actually uttered after a few moments were, "But would Miss Ch'oe agree to it?"
"You are too naive and you overrate her. Just do as I tell you. She is not in a position to refuse you, and I know that all women have nothing but the instinct to love."
For some reason Sangd╡ok was quite eager to talk him into accepting the offer. "Maybe Sangd╡ok is right, I may be a sentimental bastard overrating Yunju," thought Hy╡ongnam. But as the image of Yunju's face loomed large in his mind, he began to pant. "Would she accept me? Of course she would refuse! She would even angrily strike my cheeks! It would be a terrific scene though. For it would disprove Sangd╡ok's theory! But then she might accept me. What then?" His head became foggy with all sorts of delusions. But at the same time he was conscious of a vague but passionate desire writhing like a beast within him.
At last it was the first Sunday night after the incident. It passed midnight, but Sangd╡ok was not home yet. Recently, Sangd╡ok often stayed out all night playing go. But tonight it seemed to Hy╡ongnam that Sangd╡ok was living up to his offer. And Hy╡ongnam knew well that he would go into her bedroom sooner or later. So he walked over and went into the room, opening the sliding door noiselessly.
She was sound asleep. He could smell her body odor, and it seemed like that of a woman with whom he had slept all his life. He turned on the light. She made a faint and sleepy smile for a moment, and while he was still standing there rigidly with his hands in his pockets, she exclaimed, "Get out!" Then after a pause she added, "You might try to use force. But then I know you are not the type." She looked so pale, and Hy╡ongnam was conscious that his body temperature was dropping. A chill ran down his spine. He was so happy to face her refusal ; it was almost an intoxicating kind of happiness. It took a tremendous effort on his part to keep himself from crying out "I love you, Miss Ch'oe! I love you all the more for that!"
"I knew you would say that," he said instead.
"Why did you come in then?"
He kept silent.
"Anyway I'll have to discuss this with him (Sangd╡ok). I thought you two were friends, but I don't know now. Anyway I think I have the right to confess this to him. Now get out!" Her voice was hoarse like an old woman's.
Looking straight into her eyes, he backed out slowly, turning off the light on his way out. And he said to himself over and over, "Hey, Sangd╡ok, I won! You lost!"
Sangd╡ok's theory was wrong, and his own sentiment was vindicated. But he could not help that this feeling of triumph was adding fuel to his burning desire for Yunju.
The next morning, Sangd╡ok came early, and his expression did not hide his curiosity about the outcome of the night before. Yunju asked him into her room right away, and Hy╡ongnam knew what she was up to. After a while Sangd╡ok's hoarse voice said, "Hey, Hy╡ongnam, come in here a moment."
He went into the room, but he found an unexpected scene there. Sangd╡ok looked very angry at Yunju, while she was entreating him with her eyes.
"Now listen, Madam Ch'oe," he was harshly saying to Yunju, "Hy╡ongnam is the only friend I have. You might say we are one person. If you humiliate him, it's the same as humiliating me. If you could understand this, I don't think you could stick to an old-fashioned notion and refuse him." As he went on like this Yunju looked down to hide her face. Sangd╡ok was angrily glaring at Yunju. But in his cruel eyes, Hy╡ongnam could easily detect Hy╡ongnam's triumph. It was clear that Sangd╡ok was feeling satisfaction and superiority in the fact that Yunju had refused Hy╡ongnam and moreover in the fact that she lost no time in discussing with him. Hy╡ongnam wanted to cry out "You bastard! You made that offer knowing all along that it would turn out like this just to humiliate me!" But he knew that to say it out loud in front of Yunju would be wrong. So instead he said, "All right, it was my mistake. Let's drop this subject." He could see now that behind the guise of Sangd╡ok's large-hearted laughter and bravado there was the real Sangd╡ok, infinitely puny and petty. He thought he could pity Sangd╡ok for that. Sangd╡ok was now threatening to throw Yunju out of the house if she intended to keep on refusing Hy╡ongnam. Yunju said nothing.
"O Kay, Sangd╡ok, that's enough. I was in the wrong, and I admit it. Let's forget it," said Hy╡ongnam. He thought that by now Yunju might be disgusted with Sangd╡ok, and for some reason he liked to think that both he and Yunju had been victimized by Sangd╡ok, and that they were now forming, through a tacit understanding, a joint front against him.
Ever since this incident Hy╡ongnam patiently waited for possible changes in Yunju's attitude. But nothing really happened, and she was the same as ever. It might be that in her mind the humiliation she received from Sangd╡ok had been offset by what she inflicted upon Hy╡ongnam, thereby achieving a certain emotional balance within herself. Besides, she might have reasoned that if she was not in the position to leave the house at once, she would gain nothing by displaying her discomfort. And Hy╡ongnam became sympathetic and drawn toward her all the more for that. To him it was a feat that not all women could perform. He concluded that it was not so much a cold-hearted calculation as a natural intelligence that was at the root of her attitude.
Sangd╡ok became lazier than ever before. Every morning he got up around noon. This particular morning, too, he came out of his room around noontime with a swollen face from oversleeping, scratching his mushy hair. Yunju set up the wash basin filled with hot water for him. Of course it was part of the routine, but for some reason her service for Sangd╡ok got on Hy╡ongnam's nerves this morning. And the way Sangd╡ok washed his face and pimpled neck, splashing water all over the place, his overbearing attitude as though he were naturally entitled to being waited on by Yunju, was disgusting to Hy╡ongnam. To him Sangd╡ok's behavior seemed to say triumphantly "Now remember, Yunju is mine." To him, Sangd╡ok looked very funy and petty. At these moments Sangd╡ok seemed to have completely forgotten that he had to borrow pocket money about twice a week. Sometimes, when he saw Sangd╡ok going out to the go club with nothing but a pack of cigarettes saying, "I practically live there, and they don't charge me anything any longer. Surely, I have contributed enough money to buy a house," it only seemed to him that Sangd╡ok was putting up a bold front. Thus Sangd╡ok disgusted him, but at the same time he looked pitiful to him.
A few days later Hy╡ongnam drew his monthly pay. Setting aside ten thousand won for pigments and other material, he gave the rest to Sangd╡ok to use for the house. By so doing he thought he was giving Sangd╡ok a chance to manage his pocket money without begging every time.
"What's the idea of giving me the money?" said Sangd╡ok, eyeing the bundle with displeasure. Up to that time, the routine had been that whenever Yunju needed money to buy rice, fuel, and other commodities, she asked Sangd╡ok for money, and Sangd╡ok in his turn asked Hy╡ongnam. "You can give it to Madam Ch'oe, can't you?" he added.
"Yech, but what's difference? Maybe you have misunderstood me."
"There's nothing to misunderstand. We all know that you earned the money. Then he added, "Besides, it's the wrong way. Madam Ch'oe is not my wife, and I've told you so many times. So from now on you can give her the money yourself."
To this Hy╡ongnam had many objections, but he merely said, "Alright, let it be so." He could hate Sangd╡ok for that, but more than anything else the whole situation was very saddening. Why did he have to support them breaking his back drawing movie posters? In order to repay his former debt? All right, he could stretch a point and gladly work for them. But he was in no way obliged to live under this kind of strained feelings. Was it his love for Yunju that bound him to this house? He could find no ready answers. He handed the money to Yunju as Sangd╡ok had told him, saying, "Please try to get by this month with this. Sangd╡ok's pocket money has to come out of it, too."
She dropped her eyes to the old newspaper that wrapped the money. It was the social news section with some sensational headlines. "I thought I would give it to Sangd╡ok, but I just now thought to give it to you. I think it will make no difference," he added.
"I know why you are giving it to me. By giving it to me you are trying to imply that it's not for nothing you have supported us thus far, isn't it?" She said, enunciating each word very articulately.
"Miss Ch'oe! What are you saying?"
"You want to buy me with this money, don't you? With one third of this money at least." She now looked up and met his eyes squarely.
"You mustn't think so badly of yourself! Miss Ch'oe, you've completely misunderstood me."
"It may be too dear a bargain for you, but then it may be too cheap one (At this point Hy╡ongnam tried to interrupt her, but she kept on). Believe me, I have no illusion about what I am. All right, the contract is done! I'll take the money. I don't know if the price is too dear or too cheap. I am not in a position to haggle, ma I?" Saying so she made an effort to laugh with twitching lips.
"Ch'oe, I am in love with you! Don't you know that?"
She kept silent.
"I meant to tell you that for a long time."
"Nobody ever loved ma. Nor does anyone now."
"But I do!"
"Forget it. The only place love exists is in the movies. You saw the humiliating scene I had to go through because I once foolishly believed that Sangd╡ok loved and cared for me."
"I don't see why a young girl like you talks like an old woman!"
"You love me? Ha, ha, you make me laugh. But if you insist, let it be. I can't stop you from insisting. Anyway, I'll take the money and agree to accept your demands."
"Does this mean that you still love Sangd╡ok?"
"My, you are the jealous type, aren't you? Well, I love neither of you." Then she laughed hysterically.
"I see," groaned Hy╡ongnam, his face flushed. He was outraged ; she had not only mercilessly rejected his confession of love but also countered him with derisive laughter. He felt a strong urge to give her a good beating, but he controlled himself.
"The bargain is done. All right! That will make things simple enough from now on. Everything on a cash basis. Well, well, I'd better be careful with my calculation." She kept saying such things as her mouth twitched.
Hy╡ongngm waited for Sangd╡ok to spend the night out. Waited for was not the right expression ; rather, he vigilantly watched for the opportunity to prey upon her. It was no longer so much his desire for Yunju as the wish to prove his manhood by trampling on her. It became as obsession with him and he felt that unless he violated her he would be pinned on a dangerous pinnacle forever.
On the other hand there was a tiny voice in a corner of his mind that said it did not believe what she had said about cash dealing and so forth. The voice reasoned that Yunju was trying to draw Hy╡ongnam into this bargain herself, and by taking advantage of Hy╡ongnam, she was trying to get back at Sangd╡ok, whom she had loved. It could mean two birds with one stone for her, for by sharing the bed with two men, two close friends at that, she could have two revenges at the same time. For Sangd╡ok it was for the wronged love, and for Hy╡ongnam for money. According to this reasoning it was evident that Hy╡ongnam would be the one who would get the worst of the deal. What should he do then? His mind swayed ; should he treat her with absolute indifference under the guise of a gentleman? But at that moment Yunju's long, thin lips flashed in his mind's eye, and her sharp derisive remarks that she might be too dear for that kind of money rang in his ears, and he was instantly back on the dangerous pinnacle, where he felt he had no way out unless he conquered her. Now he felt that violating her was the only action left to him if he wanted to live his life with any sincerity.
But at the same time he had to smile grimly and bitterly, for he had to admit that all this reasoning and patchwork of logic was nothing compared with the simple desire to sleep with Yunju.
The chance arrived unexpectedly soon. But his resolution to treat her as an ordinary whore receded the moment he embraced her body. "I'm not buying you! I love you!" he muttered pantingly. She was emotionally inert. He eagerly hoped that in time she would respond with erotic excitement. But it was like self-abuse against a dummy. It was a humiliation that he had no way of revenging it.
A few days passed, and it was a nippy spring afternoon. Sangd╡ok had gone out to the go club. Hy╡ongnam, who had been reading the synopsis of a movie in his room, felt hungry. He knew Yunju was taking a nap in her room. For a moment he thought about waking her up and telling her to get lunch, but since he had never done that before he hesitated. But the little devil inside him was saying, "Wake her up and order her. You have the right to do so."
He came out of his room and stretched. The paper lattice window of Yunju's room was full of sunshine. Then he began to mentally draw her naked body as he had seen it a few nights before. The little devil inside him urged him to go ahead. He walked over to her room and opened the sliding door noisily saying, "Miss Ch'oe, I want you to give me my lunch."
Yunju, who had been asleep with her arms outstretched, asked with her eyes what he was up to, but around her mouth there was a scornful smile. "My, you are a bold one, aren't you? Ordering me around. It's not like you at all," she said coldly. Hy╡ongnam knew that now was the time to be firm.
"That was out of force of habit. From now on I am going to be different. I intend to act manly," he said.
"Manly? You've bought my body, but please don't act like an old-fashioned husband. It would have been different if you had come right out and said, 'You take my orders because I'm supporting you!'"
Hy╡ongnam could not help feeling some powerful emotion akin to the admiration that one felt in the presence of a noble lady who had all the right in the world to be proud. Was it the downy hair around her ears that made him unable to hate her? But he should not give in now, he thought. Be firm.
"You think I'm treating you as a wife? No. I give you orders because I'm the breadwinner of this house, as you say."
"Is that so? Now you are talking," she said. Then after a pause she added, "But something tells me that you are just putting all this on. However, even if you were right, let's draw a line in this business. I'm a woman and I'll put up with doing housework, but don't try to browbeat me into doing anything. I think sleeping with you for a few hours at night is enough for the kind of money you spend for me. Don't you agree?" To this Hy╡ongnam could make no retort. His face was flushed, and the more he tried to hide that from Yunju the redder it got, until even his facial muscles got distorted. He had to turn around and leave the room.
It became apparent to Hy╡ongnam that this time Yunju had not told Sangd╡ok of what had happened a rew nights before when Sangd╡ok spent the night out. So he himself confessed to Sangd╡ok. But unexpectedly Sangd╡ok did not show any dismay. On the contrary he looked very happy to hear about it and seemed to be truly congratulating his friend. And it was all very confusing to Hy╡ongnam. He could not figure out what sort of life they were leading in that house. Of course one thing he could be sure was that he was not gaining anything from that life.
But why couldn't he make a clean break of it? Was it Yunju's attraction? That couldn't be all it was. He admitted that it was partly Yunju that made him unable to leave ; but he was also aware that he was drawn to Sangd╡ok in a strange way in spite of all the shortcomings of his personality. Might be that he was simply drawn by the strange power of that sordid and grotesque life. If one could be allowed to coin a phrase, "a dismal contentment" would aptly express his feeling toward the life he led there. This might be the result of mixed feelings that he had lately toward Yunju ; he felt compassion for her, and she had become less and less talkative lately; but at the same time he derived pleasure from watching her cower and act as if she had rancor against something. What did this change in her behavior mean? Was she bearing a grudge against Sangd╡ok because he had not shown jealousy toward Hy╡ongnam? Hy╡ongnam did not want to believe this, for that would mean that Yunju still cared for Sangd╡ok. Then what? Was she experiencing despair? Was she just another young woman though she spoke and acted like an out-and-out realist who had no room for sentimentality? Hy╡ongnam then felt a strong compassion for her. He wanted to rescue her from this inhuman condition. Then he wondered why he hadn't thought of it before. If he could get her a job, that would settle everything, and that was easy enough. In the back of this idea, and therefore in the back of his mind, however, there was a happy and warm scene somewhere in a tiny but sweetly adorned room where he and Yunju were having supper together. And he knew it was impossible to be realized, and if it was impossible, there was no other way but to keep on living this way.
Spring was short-lived as usual. With the coming of summer the number of colorful parasols on the street increased. One day Yunju came to where Hy╡ongnam and Sangd╡ok sat together talking and asked them to refrain from making nightly visits to her room. "I'm not faking sickness or anything, because I'm well aware that by receiving you gentlemen, who take turns with such precision, I remain on your pay roll." Then after glancing at the two men, who sat rather embarrassedly, she gave out a low giggle.
Hy╡ongnam thought that she might be pregnant. It was her habit to notify them when she had monthly courses, but this time something in the way she said whose words told him that it was different. Sangd╡ok asked her if she was pregnant.
"No, but what if I were?"
"Well, I never thought of the possibility, but if you were, that would be something," said Sangd╡ok. Then after looking at Hy╡ongnam, who sat very rigidly, he said in a mocking tone as if to turn the whole thing into ridicule, "Let's have a family meeting, and I trust you all will let me have the honor of presiding." At this point Hy╡ongnam shouted. "Stop it, stop it!" but Sangd╡ok went on. "The first item on the agenda is the right of succession to this family ; that is to say whether or not to recognize the infant to which our Madam Ch'oe is going to give birth as the rightful heir to this house." His tone was completely theatrical by now.
"Stop it! This is a serious matter. You know damn well we cannot afford to have a baby under these circumstances," said Hy╡ongnam.
"Is it a motion? All right, there has been a proposal that we need no heirs in this house," Sangd╡ok went on in his mocking tone. Suddenly Yunju stood up. She glared fiercely at Sangd╡ok for a while, then turned around and began to cry, covering her eyes with her hands
"What's the matter? Is our Madam Ch'oe crying?" said Sangd╡ok still in his mocking tone.
Hy╡ongnam had never hated Sangd╡ok more than at this moment. He said, "Stop crying, Miss Ch'oe. You'd better leave the house before anything serious such as conceiving a child really happens. Leave the house. Why can't you do it? Go to a whore house, that would be infinitely better than this place. What attraction does this place have for you? Leave this and start living like a human being!"
"I know. I know that well enough, and don't preach to me!" she kept on crying. But her tears seemed neither those of sorrow nor those of rancor. It was a self-cleansing kind of crying in which she was purging whatever impure elements she had within her.
"Don't you see it now? Don't you understand it now?" repeated Hy╡ongnam, but he knew he was saying this more to himself than to Yunju. She left the room and went into the kitchen. It sounded like she was going to prepare supper.
Hy╡ongnam and Sangd╡ok sat mutely together smoking cigarettes. After a while Yunju came back into the room and said, "I'd better be honest with you. That's right, I'm pregnant. There's a baby in here," and she pointed a finger at her lower belly. "What!" the two men cried out at the same time. Then Sangd╡ok got up and, pretending to punch her belly, said, "Where? In there? My baby is in there?" He said that in an excited tone, and his face lit up with a broad beaming smile.
"Who said it was your baby?" said Yunju, and at that moment, Sangd╡ok face turned white and his facial muscles began to twitch.
"How do you know it isn't mine?"
"It's not yours, nor anyone else's."
"Don't be foolish! Who's the father?" persisted Sangd╡ok.
"You've often seen a child walking between his parents holding their hands in each of his, haven't you? Well, if you two gentlemen hold the child's hands from both sides, what am I supposed to do? I can't very well hold its foot, can I?"
"You think I am not man enough to have a baby, is that it?"
"I didn't say that."
"Then what do you mean?"
"Don't you see?"
At this moment Hy╡ongnam, who had been sitting mutely, broke in, "What's the use of arguing now? Let's figure out a way to solve the problem."
"Solve the problem your eyes! We will have the baby!" said Sangd╡ok in a fierce tone.
"What?" shouted Hy╡ongnam.
"We will see who it takes after, you or me?"
But no sooner had he said this than Yunju sharply broke in. "What right do you two have in this? You have no right to tell me whether to hive birth or not to, understand!"
"Suit yourself," said Sangd╡ok, "but even if you had your own way, the result would be the same ; I know you will have the baby."
"What is this? Are you trying to have a say in this?" said Yunju and laughed out loud.
"Wait a minute. Sangd╡ok," said Hy╡ongnam, "You don't know what you are saying. What will Miss Ch'oe do with a baby?"
Then she turned on Hy╡ongnam and said. "And you, you sound like you have the money to take me to an abortion doctor," and she doubled up with laughter.
"What do you intend to do then?" asked Hy╡ongnam.
"I'll have the baby." she said proudly.
"You are mad." groaned Hy╡ongnam.
Just then, Sangd╡ok said, with his fists clenched, "The baby will look just like me, ha, ha, ha."
"Both of you are mad, stark raving mad!" said Hy╡ongnam.
Because of the setting sun the roof tiles of the house in front were giving off a deep indigo glare. "I am going to leave this house," said Yunju after a pause ; "The baby dose not wriggle yet, but I feel it, and the feeling is a rich, replete one. I have made up my mind ; I cannot let this baby become your toy also. Sangd╡ok, it's too early for you to be glad, because I am not doing this to please you. You have no right whatsoever over this baby." She said this slowly, articulating each word carefully. How could she go out and give birth to a child without even knowing who the father was, thought Hy╡ongnam. And he felt an urge to scream at Yunju to think it over, but she went on calmly : "The baby is mine. Of course I know one of you is the father, but I have no way of knowing which one, so it only amounts to saying that neither of you is the one. The only sure thing is that I will have the say-so in this." In her tone there was something like an obsession that went beyond all sense and logic.
"You mean you are leaving right away?" said Sangd╡ok menacingly.
"Why not?" countered Yunju.
"Think it over, Miss Ch'oe. Be discreet," said Hy╡ongnam. Yunju got up with a bored look and went into her room, arranging her loose hair.
"It's getting dark, you know!" shouted Sangd╡ok behind her back. But she did not answer. And her silence made Hy╡ongnam realize how painful he would feel when she had left the house for good. For some reason he had been optimistic that everying would come out all right in the end, but now it seemed that a catastrophe was imminent and all his hopes were shattered to pieces. All kinds of confused thoughts rushed to his head : "She's a fool. What does she want? She wants to have a baby? All right, let her have one in the house. I can father the child. In fact, it may very well be mine. At least I love Yunju more than Sangd╡ok does."
The light went on. Yunju came out of her room wearing a white blouse and a blue flared skirt. She was carrying a suitcase.
"I thought I would give you supper before leaving, but now that you are hurrying me out’" she said in a mock angry tone. Putting on her shoes, she gave a curtsy, lifting the flare of her skirt just a little as a ballerina would in answer to an encore applause. Then she turned around to go.
"What are you going to do with a fatherless child?" said Sangd╡ok with a distorted face.
"Thet's none of your business," said Yunju sharply, turning around.
"Listen, Miss Ch'oe" Hy╡ongnam broke in.
"Don't try to stop me. If I could be sure who the father was, I might have followed your advice. But you know how it is, niether of you is the father. Good-bye, gentlemen!" She turned around and started walking toward the gate. Her speech and action up to that moment was so perfect that Hy╡ongnam had no time to interrupt. Her last line, good-bye, gentlemen, hit him hard, giving him a hot lump in his throat.
"I don't care any more," said Sangd╡ok, and to Hy╡ongnam it sounded like the groan of a wounded beast. There was the sound of the front gate, opening and shutting.
"Miss Ch'oe, Miss Ch'oe!" Hy╡ongnam rushed after her without even putting on his shoes.