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FICTION

The Last Event

  • onNovember 11, 2014
  • Vol.15 Spring 2012
  • byYoo Eunsil
The Last Event
2010
208pp.

Song

I like the age spots on my grandpa’s face. They put me at ease. Looking at them even helps me digest. Back when I was in second grade, I liked to pretend my grandpa’s wrinkly forehead was a treasure map.

 

My grandpa is seventy-nine years old.

“Seventy-nine is a good age to die,” he says out of habit.

Last year he said,

“Seventy-eight is a good age to die.”

And the year before he said,

“Seventy-seven is a good age to die.”

He always says this. The first time I heard him say this, I felt uncomfortable and worried that he really might die any minute. But now that I hear it all the time, it doesn’t bother me anymore. These days, I’ve grown used to it, just like I’ve grown used to the sound of his snoring.

My grandpa and I share the smallest room in our house near the front door. My mom and dad use the master bedroom and my older sister uses the middle room across from my parents’.

Mom often tells Grandpa, “You really should take the middle room. There isn’t enough room right now for you and Youngwook both.” But he always refuses her offers. He tells her that he’s quite happy with the front room.

I like our room too. I imagine it would be suffocating in that middle room, directly facing my parents’ bedroom. Plus, I like to sleep right up against Grandpa in that little space of ours.

“Doesn’t Grandpa’s bad breath or stinky feet bother you?” my sister asks. I tell her I don’t mind, though. I have a sinus infection so I can’t really smell anything anyway.

She asks again, “Grandpa snores and grinds his teeth – doesn’t that bother you?” But again, it doesn’t. I fall asleep the minute my head touches my pillow, so I wouldn’t even notice if someone kidnaps me in my sleep.

These days, Mom sometimes apologizes, “I’m sorry, we should have given you your own room now that you’re in sixth grade.” But she really shouldn’t feel sorry for me. I like sharing a room with Grandpa. In fact, I can’t even imagine having to live separately from him, although I do, sometimes, dream about living far, far away from my dad.

My dad thinks I’m pathetic, and sometimes even calls me “an idiot” or a “good-for-nothing.” He says I’m never going to be able to make enough money to feed myself because I’m not good in school, nor am I particularly good at anything else. I can never get used to hearing that from him. It makes me feel like I’m shriveling up, like a sad, deflated balloon.

But I know Grandpa feels differently about me. He thinks I’m worth something, and trusts that I will be able to make a good living when I grow up.

“You’re good kid, you know. You really get us old folks. That’s your gift. You know your stuffy nose? You can’t smell us musty old people so you never make a face when you’re around us! If you ever work at a nursing home, you’d be everyone’s favorite.”

When Grandpa tells me these things, I can feel myself swelling up inside. I start dreaming of growing up to be someone who is needed in the world. Mom says she’s going to get my sinus infection cleared up before I go on to middle school, but no matter what, I’m not going to let her. It may be a bit uncomfortable now, but my infection will help me achieve my dreams.

My goal is to go into social work specializing in senior care. My grandpa and I even searched on the Internet and found that there is a real job market in the field. I like spending time with the elderly. I remember, even when I was very little, I liked going to the senior citizen’s center more than going to preschool. Even now, before falling asleep, I rub my grandpa’s forehead because it helps me relax. And if it’s not his forehead, I at least have to rub my toes on his. I’m not sure how I’m going to get married later. When I get married, I know I’ll have to share a bed with my wife, but I just don’t think I would be able to part with Grandpa.

I once told him about this concern, but he just scoffed at me.

“Don’t you worry. You’re not even going to look back once you start sleeping in the same bed as your wife!”

Since I’m not married I don’t know what it’s like to sleep with a wife, but I’m sure that whatever happens, I will always be thinking of my grandpa. On the other hand, I’m sure I will be quick to forget about my dad.

Dad doesn’t like Grandpa. He doesn’t even offer the most basic pleasantries to Grandpa like “Good morning” or “Did you eat?” Then, when Dad gets angry, he will start to nitpick at all the things that Grandpa had done wrong in the past. Dad says some really terrible things. Last year, he yelled,

“Father, I can’t stand looking at your face!”

And Grandpa started to cry. It was just as unbearable for me to look at Dad’s face too, so I took a deep breath and yelled the same thing back at him.

“Dad, I can’t stan’ looking at your face!”

“What did you just say? You can’t stan’… what?”

Dad sneered at me.

“It’s not stan’ it’s stand, you dumb kid. And if you can’t stand my face you can get the hell out of my house!”

Dad was about to throw the TV remote at me so I swiftly ducked into my room. I hated being called a dumb kid by him. It felt like he had slashed me somewhere deep in my heart.

“Youngwook, I’m sorry. It’s all my fault,” Grandpa said, as he gently patted my back.

“Why?”

“I used to say that to your dad when he was a kid. You know, calling him a dumb kid.”

Grandpa’s lips quivered.

“Really?”

“And… I used to throw things too.”

Grandpa started to bite his nails.

“Really? You did, Grandpa?”

It was hard to believe. Grandpa was the one who healed my wounds from Dad’s scarring words, but to think that Grandpa was the reason Dad acted this way… It made me wonder: Then, would I later inflict the same wounds on my own son, leaving behind scars that my dad would have to heal? The more I thought, the more tangled my thoughts became. My mind was spinning in circles.

“I told you to get out! Why the hell are you still in your room?”

Dad shouted. He had flung open the door open but just in time, Mom came to pull him back, gently closing the door behind her. Grandpa was still biting his nails nervously and rubbing my back as he said,

“Youngwook, don’t worry about what he said. He probably meant it for me.”

I have nowhere to go if I leave home. That’s why I just live with this. The same goes for my grandpa. He’s doesn’t even have a thousand dollars in his bank account; he is just as poor and helpless as I am.


[. . .]


Grandpa spoke often of Grandma Okja, and he kept coming up with excuses to send her more text messages. That was until she said something awful to him.

“Mr. Pyo, your voice sounds so young… like you were born in the year of liberation. But how come your face looks like your were born around the March 1st Movement?”

I heard that she said this as she chewed nonchalantly on her popped corn chips. I resent Grandma Okja for saying that to Grandpa. Even though what she said was true, it’s such a harsh truth for Grandpa to have to hear.

The reason that Grandpa looks so much older than his actual age is because of his wrinkles and age spots. His wrinkles are so deeply set, and his age spots are especially dark. His liver spots cover half his face, and if you look closely, you can tell that each spot is a different size and a different shade.

Grandpa calls his liver spots the “flowers of the afterlife.” He believes that the moment these “flowers” are in full bloom is the moment that the person is destined to die. I just think it’s strange that people have put names like “mushrooms” or “flowers” to these things that appear on people’s faces. It reminds me of mold and germs, even bugs, and makes me feel squeamish. It’s just as weird to hear people say that “the age spots have bloomed” or “the flowers of the afterlife have bloomed” on someone’s face.

Mom says that it looks like Grandpa’s age spots are climbing up his forehead, but I don’t think that’s really what’s happening. I think as he is balding and as his forehead grows ever wider, that we are able to see the age spots that were hiding under his hair. Grandpa suffers from hair loss, and his forehead grows wider with each passing day. When I was in first grade, his forehead only extended to the crown of his head, but these days, it reaches all the way to the back of his neck.

My sister says that looking at Grandpa’s age spots makes her lose her appetite. She says the flakes of dead skin cells hanging off the spots look like they are about to fall into the food on the table. Mom detests Grandpa’s age spots too. She seems disgusted by having to sit facing his forehead at the dinner table.

She once said, “I really try not to think so badly of it, but I just can’t get used to it. I’m just worried that he’s going to pick up on how uncomfortable they make me.”

But Grandpa has already picked up on it. He tries not to sit directly across from Mom when we’re eating. Sometimes he hurriedly finishes his meal before she even takes her seat. I don’t know what Dad thinks about Grandpa’s age spots, but I’m sure he doesn’t like them either. But then again, that might be just because he doesn’t like anything about Grandpa.

I, on the other hand, like Grandpa’s age spots. Seeing them puts me at ease, and they even help me digest my food better. When I was in second grade, I liked to imagine my grandpa’s wrinkly forehead as a treasure map. I would daydream that Grandpa was a magical being who was hiding a treasure map on his body, and the rest of the story goes that when his grandson grows up to be an admirable young man, the treasure map would be completed. Thinking back on it, the story itself is completely silly, but back then, it was more than enough to imagine my grandpa and me becoming rich and famous and to picture Dad groveling at our feet.

[. . .]


Actually, Grandpa hates his age spots. He’s already used up more than twenty bottles of special “liver spot lightening cream.” His complexion has noticeably brightened since using this lotion, but his age spots have not budged. In fact, now that the rest of his face is lighter, the dark spots are even more prominent. I once told him,

“Um, Grandpa, I don’t really think that cream is working.”

I couldn’t bear to tell him that the spots were actually looking even darker.

“Well, the bb-beauty consultant told me that the changes will show over time with consistent use. You know, I failed at a lot of things exactly because I quit too early, so this time, I’m really going to stick with it.”

Grandpa calls the lady who comes to sell makeup at the senior center the “beauty consultant.” She also sells Grandpa special shampoo for hair loss and all sorts of other health products. Grandpa firmly believes that if he follows the proper regimen as recommended by his beauty consultant, he will be able to keep up his 79-year-old appearance until he is ninety.

“Grandpa, but you already look like you’re ninety! Are you sure that lady isn’t a fraud?”

That’s what I really want to say to him, but I keep my mouth shut. It would be like rubbing salt on an open wound. I can’t tell my other family members about the lady either since Dad would be furious to know that Grandpa is being tricked out of his money again.

I think Grandpa really likes the beauty consultant lady. Even though he knows he can get the same products at a much cheaper price over the Internet, he always buys his things from her. That’s because any pretty woman with a hint of charm can have my grandpa wrapped around her finger. I’m a little embarrassed by how weak Grandpa is to pretty women. How should I put it, maybe it’s a little bit like he’s going through puberty again? In any case, I don’t think it’s very proper behavior for an elderly man like himself. For example, take the time that the Wonder Girls were on television: his face practically lit up!

He would say things like,

“I should just die and get it over with…I’m seventy-nine already.”

But only seconds later, he would start saying,

“Health supplements, vitamins, and facial creams… you have to maintain healthy skin. You know, women like men with good skin.”

And Grandpa will go off on talk like that. I wonder what he truly thinks. Does he really want to be popular with the ladies, or to just pass away soon? I guess it is possible for him to genuinely want both, since I, too, sometimes want to be popular with the girls, but other times, just want to disappear forever. 

 

 

* Translated by Mickey Yoon-Jung Hyun.