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FICTION

The Youngest Parents with the Oldest Child

  • onApril 26, 2015
  • Vol.27 Spring 2015
  • byKim Ae-ran
The Youngest Parents with the Oldest Child
Tr. Chi-Young Kim
2011
354pp.

 

Prologue

 

My mother and father were seventeen when they had me.
I turned seventeen this year.
I have no idea if I will live to see eighteen or nineteen.
That isn’t something I can decide.
All I can be sure of is: there isn’t a lot of time.

Children grow bigger and bigger.
And I grow older and older.
An hour in someone else’s life is like a day in mine.
And a month in someone else’s life is like a year in mine.
Now I’m older than my father.

My father sees his future eighty-year-old face in mine.
I see my future thirty-four-year-old face in his.
Distant future and unlived past gaze at each other.
And we ask:
Is seventeen the right age to become a parent?
Is thirty-four the right age to lose a child?

My father asks me what I would want to be if I were reborn.
I respond loudly, Dad, I want to be you.
He asks why him when there are better people.
I say quietly, shyly, Dad, I want to be reborn as you and father me
To know what you feel.
My father cries.

This is the story of the youngest parents and the oldest child.

  

 

Chapter One

 

When it’s windy, flashcards create a small whirlwind inside me. Words are written on them, words with reduced body mass, like a fish dried in sea wind for a long time. I trace the names of objects, names I pronounced for the first time when I was young. This is snow, that’s night, over there is a tree, the ground is beneath my feet. You are you. Everything around me I learned first from its sound and then by copying the letters over and over again. Sometimes, even now, I’m surprised I know the names.

I picked up all kinds of words all day long when I was young. “Mom, what’s this? What’s that?” I chirped, throwing everything into disarray. Each name was clear and light and didn’t stick to the object. Even though I had heard it the day before and the day before that, I kept asking as though it was the first time. When I lifted my finger to point at something, words with unfamiliar sounds fell out of my family’s mouths. My questions moved something, the way a wind chime danced in the breeze. I liked asking, “What is this?” I liked that better than actually learning the names of those objects.

Rain is rain. Day is day. Summer is summer. I’ve learned a lot of words in my lifetime. Some words I use often and some I don’t. Certain words are rooted in the earth and others flit about like the seeds of a plant. When someone called summer by its name, I thought I could grab it. I kept asking what it was, believing that I could. Ground? Tree? You? This and that overlapped and shook according to the breeze from my mouth. When I pronounced it as “that,” it reverberated as “that,” spreading out in concentric circles, which sometimes felt as though it was as large as my whole world.

Now I know almost all the words I need in life. The important thing is to gauge the width of the words, reducing their mass. When you utter the word “wind,” it’s to imagine a thousand directions from which wind blows, not simply the four directions of a compass. When you say “betrayal,” it’s to follow along the lengthening shadow of a cross under the setting sun. When you call someone “you,” it’s to understand their depth, the flat part that’s hidden like a snow-covered crevice. But that has to be one of the hardest things in the world, because the wind keeps blowing and I have never been young. That must be how words feel.

When I conversed with the world for the first time, it was in an agrarian mountain village, graced with clear water. In that place where a stream divided into several strands before they circled the village and ran into one, I learned my name and started to toddle. I began to babble, and three years later I started making simple sentences. During that time my parents lived with my maternal grandparents. The villagers usually raised or made everything they needed, so the words I learned would have had to do with our life, the way my cousin, who grew up in front of the TV, uttered “LG” as his first word. My slowness to speak worried my mother for a while. Concerned that I had some kind of problem, she asked her parents for advice. My father, on the other hand, claimed that kids were the cutest when they couldn’t speak and then he calmly went to work. The Daeho Tourism District was being constructed nearby, where my father labored. My grandfather, who had a head for numbers, built a structure in their front garden for the workers that would swarm in from other towns. It was a drafty house with concrete walls and a slate roof. A total of four families could live in that small straight building. One of those rooms was for our family—a teenaged couple who still looked like kids and their newborn. The kitchen was in name only and the room was ridiculously small, but my parents say they didn’t complain at all because it was free rent and my grandparents paid for their living expenses.

My grandmother had six children: five sons and a daughter. Once I asked, “Mom, you said Grandmother and Grandfather never got along. So why do they have so many children?” My mother explained in embarrassment, “I know, right? I was curious about that, too, so I asked your grandmother. Well, they did it once in a blue moon and each time she got pregnant.” My mother was the baby of the family. Her childhood nickname was Princess Fuck. Since she grew up around foul-mouthed men, she threw out curse words at every opportunity in a way that was at odds with her pretty face. When I imagine a small girl wandering around the village, cursing adorably, I feel close to her. My mother’s still feisty, but she must have toned down her vocabulary when she understood that all the problems in the world couldn’t be solved by saying “fuck.” She must have realized that when she became pregnant and was kicked out of school, when my father was severely beaten up by my five uncles, when she had to listen to the younger customers at the restaurant complain about the smallest details and create a fuss, and when she stared at the hospital bills she couldn’t pay no matter how hard she thought about it.

From the very beginning, my grandfather didn’t like his son-in-law. The biggest reason was that my father, still wet behind the ears, had gone and made another kid who was wet behind the ears. The second reason was that he didn’t have the ability to make a living as the head of our little household, even though that came with the territory for a seventeen-year-old high school student. When the two first met, my grandfather launched into a grumpy interrogation. “So what are you good at?” This was after a serious hurricane of tears and fighting had landed in the house from the news of my mother’s pregnancy.

Kneeling before him, my father was unsure of what to say. “Father, I’m good at taekwondo.”

My grandfather let out a grunt of disapproval. It was true that my father had gotten into the largest athletic high school in the province with his talent in taekwondo, but that skill wasn’t very useful in life.

My father, made anxious by my grandfather’s silence, added, “Would you like to see?” He gripped his fist into a tight ball, and anyone who saw him then would have been forgiven for thinking that he was trying to strike my grandfather.

My grandfather involuntarily flinched before calmly asking, “So are you saying your fist is a money maker?”

“Um, well, when I graduate I’ll look for work at a small taekwondo studio…” My father trailed off, knowing full well that he couldn’t return to school.

My grandfather hadn’t expected an impressive answer. So he decided to give him another shot. “And what else are you good at?”

Many thoughts flew through my father’s head. ‘I’m good at Street Fighter.’ But if he uttered that, his new father-in-law might punch him in the face. ‘I’m good at talking back to the teacher.’ But that didn’t seem to be the kind of answer his father-in-law was waiting for. ‘What am I good at?’ After a few moments of agony, he ended up saying to his father-in-law, who was glaring holes into him, “I’m not sure, Father.”

And then he realized, ‘Oh, I’m good at giving up.’

After his son-in-law left, my grandfather made a bitter remark. “He can’t do anything well. Other than breeding at a young age.”

My grandmother, who lost her deference toward her husband as she grew older, quietly grumbled, “Well, that’s a talent, too.”

My mother, her flattened bangs secured to one side by a hairpin or two in the style of the day, sat primly nearby without speaking.

My grandfather looked away, as though more disappointed in his daughter’s taste than her actions. “If a man doesn’t have money he should at least have bravado. I don’t know. He’s such a simpleton.”

But my grandfather had failed to realize something about my father. He was a simpleton, yes, but he was a rash and adventurous simpleton, which is the most dangerous kind. That explained why he got into a fistfight with the officiant on the day of his wedding and hung out with his friends that night, abandoning his wife as if she were the jilted bride in Midang’s poem Jilmajae. That also explained why, after he dabbled disastrously in a variety of things on the foolish recommendation of his friends, he helped me with homework about our family’s motto by telling me that ours was “Trust Between Friends.” That saying was framed and hanging in our house. He’d bought it from the old man in the Bulguksa temple souvenir shop during a trip with his buddies. My mother made fun of him for that motto. Others might shake their heads in dismay, thinking that she was treating her husband with contempt, but it was a natural impulse for a woman who had a shaky grasp of foreign-sounding Confucian teachings on the importance of relationships.

My grandfather urged my father to finish school. Since it was obvious he would now be kicked out of his athletic high school, my grandfather advised him to enroll in a nearby high school that had space and at least get his diploma. My grandfather promised he would talk to the principal on his behalf. But rumors and gossip traveled at lightning speed in our small town and no school would let him in. They all insisted that allowing in a student like that would damage the school’s discipline and dignity. My grandfather, who prided himself on being a village leader, was humiliated. He ended up pushing his son-in-law into construction. He said that a man had to go to work. He intended for my father to take some responsibility as the head of his household and realize how difficult life was. It was less a serious suggestion than a calculated decision to make this boy who dared touch his daughter suffer for a few months. My grandfather never forgot to lecture my father about studying at night for the high school equivalency exam. My father, whose family was not well off, heeded his father-in-law’s advice.

As the local self-government rule was established, the county aimed to create a large-scale tourist attraction under the motto, “Daeho, a fun loving city.” The most important project was to enlarge the stream and build an eco-tourist attraction that would allow sightseeing from a boat. Eventually my parents’ village and a few other ri would disappear. My father went to work with the itinerant laborers living in our house. At work he was teased but beloved. Everyone called him Han the Married Man. The village elders patted him on the shoulder, saying, “It’s okay, it’s okay, around here anyone who gets married is an adult,” and chortled, “The Chois got a free son-in-law!” In the beginning, my father was satisfied with construction work. He enjoyed the lively, earthy talk of the men, he was now respectable in his in-laws’ eyes, and he liked that his boundless teenage energy was tamped down. He thought this was a good thing; he had wanted to quit his sport because he was tired of being beaten by his teachers. Ever since he was thrown into reality and did adult work, he wanted to climb up the hill, rip open his shirt, and roar: “This is real life!” But it took less than three days for my father to realize how hard physical labor was, to keenly feel how arduous and backbreaking it was to use one’s hands to survive.

My father learned about my mother’s pregnancy near the intercity bus terminal in town, in a café frequented by middle and high school students. My mother had gone there on a few group dates. Once, she was in hot water at school after a biker gang member she met on a blind date drove his motorcycle to her school and circled the yard five times, doing wheelies, and shouted, “Mi-ra! I love you!” three times before disappearing with a roar, a giant dust cloud growing behind him. After that incident, all the Mi-ras in the school—Kim Mi-ra, Park Mi-ra, and Choi Mi-ra, my mother—were called to the teacher’s office one by one for questioning. The group dates usually moved from the café to a karaoke room. My mother observed with interest how the boys who awkwardly didn’t say a word in the café became extroverted at karaoke. The boys from agricultural or industrial high schools would shove all the tables to one side and dance vigorously to the songs of Seo Taiji or Deux. The lyrics rang out in the dark, dank room: “Time will never stop. Yo!” or “Now I have to be brave to get you.” A girl would sing the first few measures of a sweet duet before furtively putting the mike down on the table. Then the boy who liked her would grab the mike and sing after her. The boys fell in love first with my mother’s face and then with her voice. Many times, after she put down the mike, several hands pounced on it at the same time. Although our area had a total of five high schools, including the general and vocational schools, few boys captured her heart. From my mother’s perspective, the agricultural and industrial boys were more outgoing and spent more money than the college-bound boys, but she was also attracted to the college-bound boys’ untouchable self-regard. My father was the first athletic high school boy she’d met. And it wasn’t on a group or blind date, but by chance at an unexpected place. Anyway, from my mother’s perspective, my father had attractive characteristics of both kinds of students. He had the self-esteem of a person whose small talent had been acknowledged, but he gave off a subtle sense of inferiority and naiveté derived from the fact that this talent lay in a sport.

The café was fairly empty. Neither my mother nor my father was in their school uniforms. My father was wondering why she was wearing a proud expression. He was worried that she would tell him they needed to break up again. Plus, this café made him feel uncomfortable. He couldn’t understand why girls would come to a place like this and just talk for over two hours with a single beverage in hand. My father looked at my mother. Mi-ra, whom he hadn’t seen in some time, had suddenly matured. Each time my mother took a sip of lemonade and licked her lips, my father licked his dry lips, too. Eventually she opened her mouth. “Dae-su, come here.”

“Why?”

“Just come here.”

My father leaned forward. My mother, one hand covering her mouth, whispered something in his ear. The fuzz on his earlobe stood on end. Not really concentrating on what she was saying, he focused only on her soft breath, grinning despite himself. But soon enough his face turned pale and he raised his voice. “Why did you wait so long to tell me?”

Everyone in the café turned to look at him.

“What the hell? Why are you yelling? I hate people who yell!” she snapped, even louder than my father.

My father, who had gotten in trouble a few months ago for writing down on an aptitude test: “Hobbies—compromise. Special ability—compromise,” quickly apologized to his girlfriend. “Sorry, sorry.”

The two put their seventeen-year-old heads together and brainstormed for a solution. But there was no easy solution. Around them a few teens were arrogantly and quietly chain smoking. Eyes downcast, my father toyed with a small parasol planted in his parfait. “Mi-ra, I—” he started, launching into how he was nothing much, that he could never be a good father, that he was too poor, that he was afraid of disappointing people, that now that he thought about it there were people in his family who’d had cancer. He rambled on, illogical and incoherent.

My mother listened quietly. “Dae-su,” she called gently.

“Yeah?”

“There’s this bug that camouflages itself with bird shit so it won’t get eaten by a bird.”

“And?”

“That’s you.” 

[……]

Even after that my mother couldn’t make a definite decision. She vacillated several times every day between the pros and the cons. Time kept flowing by and I kept growing in the damp dark space. All around me was an unrelenting thumping. I heard that not with my ears but with my entire body. I tried to determine the true nature of this vibration that surrounded me, like a soldier in an underground bunker concentrating on cracking the Morse code. That code was: Pitpat…pitpat…pitpat…

Or it could be described as banging, like drums being struck far away, or like large footsteps. The rumbling seemed to be caused by a giant striding towards me. Each time I prepared to retreat like a reindeer sensitive to aftershocks. But at the same time I wanted to dance because my mother’s heartbeat overlaid mine, like music.

Boom thump thump. Boom thump thump. Boom boom thump. Boom thump.

The boom was my mother’s, the thump mine. The boom set the tone and the thump hit the off-beat. Tethered to the long umbilical cord, I concentrated on that sound. My mother’s heart floated above my head like a plump moon and spread beats all around, drop by drop, the way a tree blooms in green. The sound was both a bit, the smallest unit of data, and a musical beat. The bits and the beats were scattered around like leaflets, sending important messages throughout my body. It was a rhythm that would cause anyone to rise to action and it made me want to become something. The cells receiving their orders immediately rushed into action. My organs, greeting the beats pouring down from above, sprouted and stretched. My liver swelled and my kidney ripened and my bones formed. I grew rapidly. And in my dreams, I frequently met my mother’s dreams and had rambling conversations.

“Mom?”

“Yes?”

“Mom?”

“Yes.”

“I’m nervous. My heart is pounding. I feel like my heart’s in my throat. I feel like I’m going to die, but I can’t stop it.”

“Baby.”

“Yes?”

“It’s the same with me too. My heart keeps pounding. It pounds so much that it hurts but I can’t stop it.”

[……]

My mother knew that life was not born but forced out. She’d always known this, since she grew up in the country. All of the flowers, animals, and insects she’d seen had ripped through a shell smaller than itself before bursting out like a firecracker as though they had waited for a long time, as though they couldn’t wait any longer. Bursting out like laughter, like jeers, like applause. Boom! Boom! Their fully formed bodies made it hard to understand how those large wings and legs were packed inside when you looked at the shell left behind. In late spring, my mother gave birth to me after a difficult labor. Unusual for a premature baby, I burst out with ferocity, abruptly, confidently, ripping through the ancient and complicated family trees of Choi Mi-ra and Han Dae-su. And I instinctively felt that I had to cry very loudly in front of everyone to lessen the impact of that abruptness. But I didn’t know what crying was and I didn’t know how to cry. A hot and pliable energy came up from within. But I felt nauseated and dizzy; I couldn’t make any noise. No wonder, since I had been breathing through the umbilical cord and had to use my lungs for the first time. A precarious silence flowed in the delivery room. The doctor fluidly picked me up and slapped my bottom with his large hand. It was so painful I wanted to get angry but all I could do was burst into tears. If not I might get another slap; also, that was the only thing I could do right then.

“Good, good. Crying means you’re alive,” the heartless salt-and-pepper haired doctor soothed me. He brought me to my mom’s breast. I was introduced to my mother covered in all kinds of fluids. She must have been excited for this moment, but I was mortified that I was so dirty. Of course, like other newborns, I could barely see. But as soon as I was nestled against Mom and heard her heartbeat I relaxed. ‘Oh, I know this sound!’ My mother looked down seriously at her crumpled baby. Then she made a strange cracking noise: “A-reum, it’s your mom...” and then she started to bawl. She apparently didn’t know why she was crying. She told me later that all the emotions that a human could feel—sadness and happiness, pride and shame, relief and hurt, hollowness and satisfaction—came over her at once, and that she had never experienced such all-encompassing feelings. At that moment, her face didn’t look like how she would want to appear to the world. Her sobs were those of a woman who didn’t realize there was anyone else in the room. She simply disintegrated, like the rapid controlled-collapse of a high-rise building. I imagine a woman would cry like that only once or twice in her life: when her child is born and when her child dies. Listening to my mother’s animalistic keening, I felt relieved. I was born to people who cry the way I do, I thought. And I made my mother feel something. Even though I didn’t fully understand it, her tears gave me the belief that at least I wasn’t a completely worthless presence.

My family, who had been worried sick about the possibility of some mishap since my mother had been suffering from toxemia throughout her pregnancy, was overjoyed when they heard the word “son.” My grandmother collapsed to the ground and wiped her eyes. My grandfather and my father, who had never before touched each other, embraced. And like blades of grass that flattened in the breeze, the wailing that started from me went over to my mother, passed through my grandfather, and seeped into my father. They cried loudly even though they weren’t the ones who’d been born, as though they had heard once or twice that crying meant they were alive too, that even though they were alive, they wanted to live more. My father cried the loudest. After he held me for the first time with trembling hands, apologetic that he had been secretly praying, please don’t make me a father, he cried twice as loud and three times as long as anyone else, becoming the object of the nurses’ grumbles.

 

Chapter Two

 

I turned seventeen this year. People say it’s a miracle that I’ve lived this long. I think so, too. Not many in a situation like mine have lived past their seventeenth birthdays. But I tend to believe that the larger miracle exists in the ordinary. Living an ordinary life and dying at an ordinary age are the miracles. In my eyes, my mother and father were the miracles. My uncles and aunts were the miracles. Our next-door neighbors. The middle of the summer and the middle of the winter. Not me.

A few years ago, a neighbor came over and asked, “So you don’t know what caused it and there’s no treatment?”

“That’s correct,” my father said.

“That’s not a disease,” she said.

“I’m sorry?”

“That’s a message.” In her hands were a worn bible and a rosary.

“Ma’am,” my father said, “he’s not a message, he’s A-reum. His name is Han A-reum.”

At that moment I was embarrassed about my gentle, round name that was at odds with my appearance, but I was also proud; my father was all grown up. As a teenager, my father just bowed his head as though it was all his fault when people said things like that, but now he tried to protect our family from ignorant people. He still must have been upset; he came home drunk that night. In one hand he was holding a bag of cheap dumplings. It wasn’t the first time someone said something like that to us, so I don’t know why it set him off like that.

My father came into my room and lay down, using my weak legs as a pillow. He puffed out his cheeks and grinned. “A-reum, what song do you like?”

“Why?” I asked, my weak voice trembling.

“Just curious. I want to know what my son likes.”

With dim eyes, I looked over my glasses at my young father, my oh-so-young father, and smiled. To make him feel better, I made a joke. “I like anything that a pretty girl sings.”

My father hollered like he was insane. “Me toooooooo!” He sprang up and shouted, “Lee Hyori’s the bomb!”

I raised both arms high. My voice wasn’t as powerful as I wanted but I yelled as loud as I could. “Park Ji-yoon is the bomb!”

My father jumped up and down. “Uhm Junghwa’s the bomb!”

“Sung Yu Ri’s the bomb!”

“BoA’s the bomb!” He suddenly became quiet, like a distraught man. “But you know, as you get older you start liking sad songs. And the saddest song in the world is the song you listen to when you’re drunk. So when you’re grown up you have to listen to ballads when you’re drunk, okay?”

“Okay, Dad,” I said, grinning through my few remaining teeth. “Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“Are you sad right now?”

“Yeah.”

“Because of me?”

“Yeah.”

“What can I do for you?”

My father stared at me. I could tell he was thinking about something. He said quietly, “I don’t know what you can do, but I know what you shouldn’t.”

“What’s that?”

“You shouldn’t be sorry.”

“Why not?”

“It’s rare for someone to be sad for someone else.”

I was quiet.

“I’m happy that you’re the reason for my sadness.”

I didn’t say anything.

“So you should grow up and be someone’s sadness. And when you’re feeling sad, you should cry like a child.”

“Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“I’m already a child.”

“Right, that’s right.”

My seventeenth birthday present was a laptop. My parents bought it for me so that I could get on the internet from the hospital room. It was a clunky used laptop but I’d needed a computer, so as soon as I received that heavy thing, I hugged it tight as though it were a puppy. And to show my parents how much I loved it, I grinned like an idiot. It was perfect timing; there was something I’d wanted to do with the computer.

When I was alone, I usually read books. At first I followed along with the school curriculum, but later I read out of boredom. Books became a grandmother who told me great stories all night long, a teacher who imparted all the knowledge and information in the world, and a friend who shared his secrets and problems. Because I became sick at a young age, I couldn’t go out and play. Instead, I played sports with all the writers in the world. I played soccer in an imaginary playing field with Flaubert as the striker, Homer as the midfielder, and Shakespeare in the goal box. I played baseball in a stadium with Plato as the catcher and Aristotle pitching. The game usually went like this: Plato pointed toward the sky and Aristotle, chewing gum, nodded and pointed at the ground. And soon a change-up with a beautiful arc floated toward me from ancient times. I stupidly swung a bat taller than me and missed. Of course philosophical books were difficult and there are so many parts I still don’t understand, but I thought of them as a long, elegant poem. The parts that didn’t make sense would walk out toward me someday to say with a smile, “Hi, it’s me.” This would happen much later, the way important life lessons usually arrive. It was the same when I played tennis with poets, Go with playwrights, and volleyball with scientists. From them, I learned how to make my heart race without actually running.

I liked everything composed of paper and print no matter the genre or thickness, from illustrated guides of insects, plants, and marine life to collections of poetry that stomped all over my heart to social science books that made my mind feel as though it was slapped. Among them were odd, random books for beginners: Go’s First StepsWhat Is Golf, Beginning JapaneseBasics of Electrical EngineeringClassical Music for BeginnersEasy Feminism. I don’t know why I read them. I studied electrical engineering but changing a single light bulb made me slick with sweat. I memorized hiragana but have never been to Japan. I didn’t read for the love of knowledge but with the anxiety of someone who would be the sole survivor after the end of the world. Putting aside the fact that I was reading about golf when I’d never been out on the green, what use did the sole survivor of the human race have for feminism? If someone were to ask me, how in the world did a kid like you read all of that? I would say, if a person was by himself for a long time, he could do a surprising number of things. Not because he’s so determined, but because he suddenly realizes what he’d accumulated. Fiction was my favorite, from the oldest story of mankind to a brand-new debut novel from a young foreign author, from the most mainstream story to experimental works created by an author annoyed at the canon and only wrote them to say fuck you to older writers. And while I hung out with all the authors in the world, and books I didn’t have a chance to read—and maybe would never read—kept pouring out into the universe, I’d quietly become old. In my old age, I hung out with those books. My skin had turned brittle a while ago and my hair was falling out one by one. But that was just my outward appearance; I didn’t have the wisdom or experience of the elderly. My aging didn’t have layers of wrinkles and volume. My aging was a hollow process. So I was curious about the lives of people who lived longer than I. I wanted to know about the thoughts and problems of those who were younger. Thankfully, books, while they didn’t contain everything, had a lot.

Sometimes my mother asked, “A-reum, what are you reading?”

Through my sunken lips, I chirped like a bird, “Just essays, Mom. This writer’s mother died when he was seven and he suddenly went blind. But eight years later, one day, he could miraculously see.”

“It’s a novel?”

“No, a memoir. But he thought he might go blind again at any moment and rushed to the bookstore. And the first book he grabbed was called The Idiot.”

“Why? Is it a famous book?”

“It was to him, because when he was little, his father kept saying, you idiot, you idiot. Isn’t that funny?”

My mother smiled shyly. “I have a potty mouth, too.”

One day, my father asked, “A-reum, what are you reading?”

Wind whistled through my missing teeth as I replied, “A novel, Dad. A boy and his family are moving to America but the main character gets stranded because of a hurricane.”

“Yeah?”

“And so this boy is left in the middle of the Pacific with a tiger. At a certain point he says that despair was more frightening than the tiger. One day, when the tiger he was so afraid of disappears, he breaks down in tears.”

“What? That doesn’t even make sense.”

“No, it does. If you read it you understand why that is.”

“Yeah?”

“That’s what I’m saying,” I said in my trembling voice, blinking my gray eyelashes. “So Dad?”

“Yeah?”

“When you feel so alone, when this world feels like the vast, frightening Pacific...”

“Yeah?”

“I’ll be your tiger.”

My father didn’t say anything for a while. He stroked my head, murmuring, “A toothless tiger, huh?” 

 

For publication inquiries, please contact Joseph Lee / KL Management: josephlee705@gmail.com

Author's Profile

Kim Ae-ran has authored four short story collections, most recently Summer Outside (2017), and one essay collection, A Good Name to Forget (2019). Her first novel, My Palpitating Life (2011), was adapted into the movie My Brilliant Life (2014). Kim received the 2014 Prix de Linapercu award for the story “I Go to the Convenience Store.” Her debut work “No Knocking in This House,” excerpted here, won the 2003 Daesan Literary Award.