The Story of Sand
- onDecember 10, 2018
- Vol.42 Winter 2018
- byKim Soom
- The Story of Sand
Tr. Janet Hong 2006231pp.
Father came back from the desert. Dressed in a blue-striped suit, he looked like someone who had been trekking across the desert for five billion years—a period as old as Earth.
As Earth aged, rocks would have split and split again to become pebbles. Then those pebbles would have split and split again to become grains of sand. Ferried by the wind, those tiny grains of sand would have scattered to form deserts.
The blue stripes looked like they had been scored by a knife, or by time traveling at the speed of light.
Father’s forehead gave off a pale glow under the dim fluorescent light. Long bushy hair covered his ears. I had the vaguest suspicion a part of his body had crumbled away while he crossed the desert. That, most likely, was his ears. Ever since I was little, I believed the ears were the source of all fears. If you were to trudge across the endless desert, you had to overcome your fears, which meant it was necessary for the ears to first become dull.
Father brought with him a suitcase. The size of an apple crate, it had four black wheels and was like some animal that walked on four legs, like a goat or camel. The wheels were severely worn down. I knew my father hadn’t been the one to drag the suitcase here; stubbornly, it had rolled its own wheels after him.
Inside the suitcase were old, dingy clothes and a shovelful of sand. He stared blankly at the contents. In the end, he upturned the suitcase and poured the sand onto the floor. Terror settled over his features, as if he were standing on the edge of a 10-meter diving board. He removed his blue-striped suit, like a snake shedding its skin.
For a long time, he stood in his white undershirt, sky-blue underwear, and navy socks. He looked up and gazed blankly at me. He finally yawned, as if he had managed to suppress his fear, and lay down, using the suitcase as a pillow.
As soon as he fell asleep, Mother picked up the broom. She bent over like a sickle and swept up the sand. At first the sand seemed to submit to her sweeping, but it ballooned up. It formed an abstract, geometric pattern in the air and scattered.
Mother straightened her back and thrust up the broom. She swept busily at the air, but the sand persisted.
Father was forty-two years old the year he came back. He had left home at thirty-two. Ten years was by no means a short time, but he managed to return safely to us. It was then that he became an idiot.
To be honest, I have no memory of him before he left. Not his expression, not his smell, not his spirit, not his voice, not even his gestures. More than anything, he was a void, a kind of emptiness.
In my first art class, I had to draw his face. I filled the entire white sheet with yellow dots as small as grains of millet.
“Didn’t I tell you to draw your father?” the teacher asked.
“Inside the sand.”
Anyhow, it was only from the night he returned that he began to take shape in my mind.
While Father was gone, I didn’t miss him. He wasn’t someone I could miss. And not once did I imagine he would return one day to live with us. Mother never thought to tell us he would be coming back. She said instead, “If your father had to go somewhere for your sake, that place would be the desert.”
I took these words to mean Father shared the fate of camels, that he was forced to live in the hot, dry land. I had never even experienced war, but I was relieved my mother hadn’t said the battlefield.
Father left for the Middle East to work as a manual laborer, but Mother called that place the desert.
I maintained a fixed distance from Father. That distance equaled several steps, though I was not the one to create it. It simply formed on its own. In a stadium, a few steps are nothing. But in a room of about 140 square feet, they represented a great, rather grim distance.
Mother, Younger Sister, and Elder Brother each maintained a fixed distance from Father. Mother at two steps, Younger Sister at three, and Elder Brother at five.
Elder Brother was situated at the farthest point from Father. They stood far apart from each other, like the two legs of a compass spread as wide as possible to sketch a large circle.