- onNovember 10, 2014
- Vol.9 Autumn 2010
- byPark Bum Shin
One year has passed since Lee Jeok-yo, widely admired as a great poet, died. Lawyer Q decides to open the poet’s notes as dictated by his will, but hesitates after reading them in private. In the notes, Lee confesses shocking truths including his romantic feelings toward 17-year-old EunGyo and the murder of writer Seo Ji-woo, who wrote Heart. All the more disturbing is the fact that Lee ghostwrote all of Seo’s works, including Heart.
I’ve already reserved a ticket on a carriage headed for death.
My darling Han EunGyo, will you listen? Last night in my dreams, I stopped by a ticketing booth to reserve a ride to the other world. “If possible, I would like to get on that carriage within the year,” I said. The guy selling the ticket answered with a smile, “We’re backed up with a lot of passengers trying to leave.”
The agent’s face and ears were long, like a donkey’s. He was so funny-looking that I couldn’t help but laugh. “I can’t just issue you a ticket just because you want it. I’ll put you on the wait-list instead.” Listening to his explanation made me angry, briefly. I’d been living my whole life like this, and even here, I had to take a number and just sit around? “You can purchase some tools if you like. We have a variety of knives and guns. Nylon cord, denim cord, Our Mama’s jeogori strap, even a silk strap. And on the more inexpensive side, we have razor blades—doruko double-edged. But if you go this route, when it comes time for your trial, you cannot file an audit, revision or an appeal.” The ticket agent added, “Would you still like to use the tools?” I shook my head. “That’s fine. I can wait. Better to receive a formal trial.” I gave him a shrug, rather pleased with myself, and burst out laughing again. The agent’s ears were so long, they had fluttered in the wind.
“Why are you laughing?”
“You,” I tittered. “You look like a donkey.”
“The expression, ‘The pot calling the kettle black,’ we have it in this world too.” Looking back at me, the ticket agent laughed even louder. In any case, my name was put on the wait-list. Even if the wait was long, it was looking like I would get on the carriage before spring. I waited for the day I would get on the carriage and listened to the creaking of the world, the sounds of barking. I found myself laughing often. Much like the French poet Henri Michaux.
My boyhood was coming to an end. I’d sunk into a swamp. Barking came from several directions, in bursts. I was told, “If you’re not willing to bark, you won’t be able to understand those barks. So bark!” but I could not bring myself to do it.
A few years later, I arrived on much firmer ground. There I could hear something creaking ceaselessly—one creak after another. I heard it coming from everywhere. I wanted to make the sound, but you couldn’t do it by slapping your flesh together.
I wasn’t even able to sob. I thought to myself how I’d already become an adult.
The creaking hasn’t stopped, and it’s been twenty years. The sound was coming from every object. Slowly, the barking began sounding more severe. So I began to laugh. Now that I’d lost hope, my laughter was full of barking, even full of creaking, and like this, I fell into despair and found myself satisfied.
But the barking did not end. Nor did the creaking. My laughter could not be stopped. My laughter was occasionally accompanied by agony. To keep my heart satisfied, my laughter had to have many different kinds of sounds.
This terrible century, this is how it passed by. And time, it still passes……
—H. Michaux, “Creaking Sound”
Today, you brought me a bouquet of baby’s breath. Their white glimmer was visible through the screen as a faint outline. “Grandpa, look at these. When I look at baby’s breath, I think of the Milky Way.” “Milky Way? What do you mean?” I answered in a husky voice.
I sat on the bed in my library, you on a chair. We were separated by a screen woven with reed. Ten days ago, I’d put nails in the ceiling to hang it, blocking the view of the bed.“If you come across the screen, your Grandpa won’t see you ever again!” This is how I threatened you when you came to see me in the afternoon. You pouted your lips sullenly and said, “What? Don’t be so childish!” Since then, this was the third time we were meeting, separated by the screen.
I had a sickly appearance, and I could not have looked more hideous.
I was covered with liver spots, I’d lost patches of hair, my cheeks were swollen and my eyes were sunken, like pits. They said the cancer had reached the liver. I was diabetic and suffering from retinitis, not to mention kidney failure. Objects appeared vague to me. Only when the new glasses came could I make out letters. The doctors warned me that I would eventually lose sight in both eyes. I was about to go blind. Then I wouldn’t be able to see you. I wouldn’t even be able to write you a letter. But I firmly refused any treatment. “Please prescribe some painkillers. As for the illness, I have my own ways to treat it,” I told the doctor laughing. I self-medicated with alcohol. I drank every day. Of course, my health deteriorated rapidly. It actually made me happy, to see my body falling apart. This was because my own ‘execution’ had been my final announcement in life. Except, it pained me to think she had to see me in such an ugly state. How could I bear to show myself to you after turning into an abandoned house from sitting around day after day? Your light was more intense and luminous than all the sunshine in the world, and you would see me so clearly. “Grandpa, I’ll put it by your pillow. Look at them and think of me.” You pushed the flowers in the vase into my side of the screen. I took it and set it beside my head. The brushing of your hand sent a current of electricity deep into my chest. “Baby’s breath means bright spirits, promise and passionate joy.” I was going to tell you that white baby’s breath can also symbolize death, but I let it go. I didn’t want to sully your gesture of love. “Something funny happened in school today. Our teacher…” You went on, your voice like the clear warbling of a skylark. You talked about your school, your friends who were anxious about becoming juniors in high school, and about your younger siblings, your mother. I listened to you without a word. Do you know? That your words as they ring through my ears transform into the most beautiful song in the world?
* Translated by Jaewon E. Chung.