The Naked Tree
- onMarch 22, 2018
- Vol.39 Spring 2018
- byPark Wansuh
- The Naked Tree
Tr. Yu Young-nan 2011
In my heart, however, a nasty thought swirled. The war isn’t finished yet. It will continue for many, many years, and disaster will strike everybody equally. I just happened to receive my share earlier than others.
“You must be tired. Why don’t you go to bed?” I said to my uncle.
After spreading out a mat for him in my room, I lay down beside my mother for the first time in a long while. Still, we had little to talk about. My mother let out a low sigh.
“Did Uncle give you any money?” I asked.
“Yes. He said it was for our living expenses.”
“I don’t know. It’s over there. You can count it later.”
“Did he eat here?”
“What did you cook for him?”
“Nothing special. I just served what we usually eat.”
Had my mother, once such an expert hostess, become demented?
“What did he say about my job?”
“He complained that we’ll have a hard time marrying you off now that you’re working there.”
“Do you think so, too?”
I turned my back to her. My uncle’s cough filtered through the walls intermittently from the other room, as if he couldn’t fall asleep either. I couldn’t tell whether my mother was asleep or not as I couldn’t sense even her breathing.
The bleak wind set the shutters clattering, and the sliding door hummed. The wind swished through the house, making grotesque sounds here and there.
I pulled the quilt over my head.
Still, I could hear the wind, the wind that shook the haunted house, that rushed through the hole on top of the roof of the servants’ quarters, that trampled the broken tiles, that shuffled through the broken pieces of the rafters, that dislodged the clay underneath, that shook the loose wallpaper and spider webs, that stirred the piles of dirt. The sound of the wind rattled my eardrums mercilessly, even when I put my hands over my ears.
I couldn’t help but think of Ock Hui-do. He’s different from the others, he’s different from the others, I chanted. Perhaps I was attempting to knock on the door to a new life by repeating it.
A Christmas tree stood in the center of the arcade, and colored lights flashed on the Santa Claus and the four reindeer that pulled his sleigh. The arcade was bustling more than ever, packed with shoppers, and the Korean products section was in utter confusion. Housecoats and pajamas with embroidered dragons and peacocks on them sold like hotcakes, and the small flower baskets were gone in no time. The owners of the Korean products section enjoyed the unprecedented business, and the salesgirls in the American products section were indiscreet in their restlessness, making dates with GIs, talking about the coming parties, and bragging about the presents they would receive from America.
Outside the PX, the streets were as desolate as ever, weighed down by the dark, anxious atmosphere of a city so close to the front line. Nobody was stupid enough to be caught up in the spirit of a foreign holiday.
The portrait shop was doing a good business as well, and I kept busy with my work the whole day, but I made some stupid mistakes because my heart fluttered at intervals. I was fraught with anxiety. Mine was not like the others’ Christmas-season excitement, however, and my anxiety wasn’t solely due to the war or the darkness in the streets.
I had begun to think I was in love with Ock Hui-do. The thought was painful at times, sweet at others, and frightening once in a while. I couldn’t figure out exactly what my feelings were, but I couldn’t drive the idea out of my mind.
Tae-su bustled around on the heels of the sergeant who was installing the Christmas decorations. He would call out “Hi!” to me in English from unexpected places like the top of a ladder or the frame of a display window. Sometimes he winked at me, and he liked talking about silly things, his overall-clad behind perched on my desk in a friendly manner.
Copyright © 2011 by Cornell University.
Translation copyright © 1995 by Yu Young-nan.
Reprinted with permission from Cornell University.
Photo ⓒ NOH Suntag, reallyGood murder #BIK0404, 2008
Park Wansuh (1931~2011) was one of Korea’s most revered writers. She debuted at the age of forty and wrote over a hundred novels and short stories in a career that spanned almost forty years. She received several prestigious awards, including the Republic of Korea’s Geumgwan Order of Cultural Merit. Recently published translations of her books include Who Ate up All the Shinga? (Columbia University Press, 2009), Lonesome You (Dalkey Archive, 2013), and Was that Mountain Really There? (Kitaab, 2018).