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I Won’t Go Home Just Yet

  • onSeptember 29, 2020
  • byBaik Sou Linne
2020 Hyundae Munhak Award Anthology
Tr. Slin Jung
2019

 

 

*The title is derived from a line by the character Mechthild Großmann in Pina Bausch’s performance Walzer: “A little more wine, and one more cigarette, but I won't go home just yet.” See Jochen Schmidt, Tanzen gegen die Angst. Pina Bausch., trans. Lee Jun-seo et al. (Eulyoo, 2005), 15.

 

“On Sundays, you’ll mow the lawn.”

“And you’ll buy beer and meat for the barbecue.”

 

 

Their conversation took place in a car on a gridlocked road, over a medley of children’s songs. They would fantasize about life in one of the single-family houses near their condo complex, the home with the red roof that she liked best. Discussing the house had become one of the only ways Heeju would talk to her husband, with whom at some point she’d started to have less to talk about. She’d first spotted the house not long after moving into the condo last spring, when she went to the kindergarten for the first time to drop off their eldest. No one had forced her to take a detour through the neighborhood of luxury houses in the area, but she went that way every time. Strolling past the perfectly trimmed gardens and the fancy porches of the two-story houses had become one of her greatest joys ever since having a second child had practically chained her to her home.

 

 

“Mommy, are we moving?” asked their eldest, pausing mid-sing-along.

“No, later.”

Their second child slept soundly in the car seat behind her husband, clutching tightly onto a rice cracker. They were returning from a visit to the zoo.

“Later when?”

“I don’t know. When do you think, Honey?” she asked with a laugh. She turned to her husband in the driver’s seat.

If they wanted to move into a house like that sooner, maybe she would have been better off not quitting her job. But then she remembered that hiring a nanny would cost them almost as much as she might have made at work, so going back to work would have been nothing more than selfishness. She’d had two miscarriages after their first child, so her husband had wanted her to quit anyway. And more experienced mothers had drilled into her how important it was for a mom to be there for school-aged children, too. Kids whose mothers went back to work were bullied, they said. No matter how hard a working mother tried, from rushing to pick up school supplies at the stationery store over lunch breaks to sprinting from the subway station to see her beloved child as soon as humanly possible, she would always feel guilty to her child and to her own mother for babysitting for her. She chose to quit her job when she became pregnant with her second.

“I’m gonna dance! Olé!”

Their eldest went back to singing along to the music.

“By the way, say hi to Hanna for me.”

Tomorrow would be her first time going out at night without the children. Hanna was holding an opening party for her restaurant and had invited all her friends. Heeju and Hanna were “BFFs.” They had been inseparable in university and had clearly defined roles in their friendship. Hanna would scout out famous restaurants and cafes from hair salon magazines, TV shows, or the internet, or make a list of theaters screening interesting movies, and it was Heeju’s job to make a schedule for visiting the places. The scope of their roles went beyond just eateries and films. They were faithful to their parts when they ordered food and even when they looked into travel destinations, without a single word of complaint between them. Hanna never ran out of things she wanted to do, and as for Heeju, she was always more comfortable with making choices within parameters set by someone else. They were happy with the balance. They met as freshmen studying the same major and always stuck together. They’d found work at different places after graduation, but even then, they would get together multiple times each year to travel to other cities like Gunsan or Tongyeong. Then Heeju got married, and Hanna took off to Italy to learn Western fine dining. She studied cooking and worked at a restaurant, then came back to Korea almost four years later. The last time Heeju had seen Hanna, she had just given birth to her eldest and gone back to work. She’d sworn to Hanna that she would raise her child in no time and then go visit her in Italy. It was a different time, a time when she hadn’t even dreamed about having another baby.

The restaurant was small but charming. The first thing she felt when she stepped inside was the warmth. Then the aroma. Savory and sweet. The interior was dim and already bustling. Some of the faces were familiar, while others she only knew by name. But because they were all close friends of Hanna’s who had gathered for the shared purpose of congratulating her, they had little trouble switching gears from awkward to friendly. Dressed in a mermaid gown and bright red lipstick, Hanna stood in the crowd looking more like a hostess at a dinner party than a chef. Which, of course, wasn’t inaccurate. Hanna recognized Heeju and beamed, pulling her into a hug. “Thanks for coming.”

A woman who introduced herself as Hanna’s old coworker leaned over and said, “Isn’t the food amazing?”

“It really is.”

From the carpaccio with truffle mayonnaise to the tagliolini with tremella mushroom, everything was flawless.

“Hanna is a force of nature,” someone else at her table said, taking a sip of wine. “We never said so out loud, but we were all worried when she quit her job without a backup plan.”

It had been too long since Heeju had eaten so well, and the hue of the wine was tempting. But she didn’t forget that she had a baby to breastfeed, and so picked up a glass of water instead.

 

Just when the plates started to empty, Hanna joked, “By the way, I’m married to cooking now, so I expect my gift money in the box on the counter. You’re going to feel guilty all the way home if you don’t pay as much as I did at your weddings.” Everyone burst into laughter. Hanna was always good at being honest without making it sound antagonizing, and that was something Heeju appreciated about her. She looked out the large window framed elegantly by curving ivory curtains and gazed into the darkness that had settled quickly on the world. It filled her to the brim with joy. She was proud of her friend for studying cooking in a foreign country and for achieving her goal of starting a beautiful restaurant of her own.

The conversation drifted toward the topic of real estate, about what areas were going to rise and how condo prices fell in another area. This wasn’t what she’d left her kids at home for. She remembered earlier how the baby started sobbing hysterically when she got ready to leave. Her husband would be taking care of them, but the baby had gasped for breath, wailing as if being abandoned. The guilt pained her. Deciding to excuse herself early, she looked around to find Hanna when the door opened and a man stepped inside.

The man was in tidy business casual attire. He had a trim, agile build with no hint of fat and carried a luscious bouquet of roses. The blooms were an unusual shade of light violet.

 

 

“Congratulations,” he said, immediately making his way to Hanna and placing the bouquet in her arms. In the blink of an eye, the roses were put in the most prominent vase on the wooden console by the counter. Hanna warmed up food for him, and he sat across the table saying hello and diving into the conversation. Heeju had never met this friend of Hanna’s or heard his name before. He must have been about twenty-six, twenty-eight at most.

“Oh, this is the friend I was talking about,” Hanna said, gesturing to Heeju, “the one who named this restaurant.” All eyes fell on her. “The name of the restaurant comes up in a movie we watched together back in university. I completely forgot about it, but when I told Heeju about wanting to study cooking and opening a restaurant, she said I should name it ‘Café Müller.’”

Heeju gave an awkward smile. She’d never been bad at socializing, but it was as if spending the past ten months with no one but her children had drained her of all social skills. That was when the man spoke.

“I thought so. Do you dance too?”

“No, not at all.”

“That’s a shame.”

“What’s a shame?” It was like the stranger had suddenly pushed into something personal. She’d retorted more sharply than she’d intended. Some wounds never healed; they just stayed hidden until even the smallest of provocations brought them bouncing back to the surface.

“I just meant to say that you look like you have the right build for dance. I’m sorry if I offended you,” the man said, genuinely apologetic. Now it was her turn to be sorry.

“Don’t take it personally, Heeju,” Hanna said warmly. “It comes with his job.”

As a child, Heeju had gone to the hair salon with her mother and spotted a ballet lesson taking place in the building across the street. She had always admired ballet, but because her parents had never given her permission, she never even got the chance to try. Hanna knew that full well and tried to smooth things over with humor while putting a gentle hand on her shoulder.

 

“I’m sorry,” the man said, coming up to her as she walked out of the bathroom. “I must have offended you. I want to apologize.”

“It’s all right. No harm done. Are you a dancer?”

“I am.”

He had a smooth, fresh-shaven jawline and carried himself with the confidence typical of a man in his twenties. She sensed the faint hint of cologne on his body. From up close, the man looked even younger. Then he said a few more things to her. As they spoke, the confident young man kept looking down shyly. It made him look boyish. Wanting to reassure him that she had no hard feelings, she let him pour her some wine and drank. The man smiled, and she smiled too, blushing because of the alcohol.

Her mornings always started the same way. The baby would wake her with a fuss, so she would go through the breastfeeding routine and wake up her husband and then their eldest to get ready for kindergarten. While the baby listened to “Baby Shark,” she would quickly change her eldest and prepare boiled eggs or sweet potatoes for breakfast and the baby would climb up the plastic toddler slide or bang on the TV cabinet or get into some other adorable mischief. Everything up to sending off her husband and eldest was a long, singular ritual that took place quickly and mechanically, so it was only long after saying goodbye at the door and breastfeeding the baby that she realized that she had spent the previous evening not at home but at Café Müller. It was only two glasses, and she had pumped out milk overnight and tossed it, but wine was still wine. She only calmed down when an older friend with a school-aged child texted to say she had been forced to breastfeed her own child after drinking too, but that it hadn’t hurt the child.

I bet he had no idea that I was carrying a breast pump in my purse.

She remembered going to the bathroom to use the pump and how the man had spoken to her the moment she stepped outside. She laughed. After laying the sleeping baby down and eating a quick lunch, she cleaned the house. She took out the breast pump from her bag and looked up the man online. He was even younger than she’d thought, and even more famous than she’d expected. A ballerino who performed contemporary dance. She saw phrases like “Korea’s first,” “youngest,” and “domestic premiere.” The baby woke up again and started crying.

“There, there, Mommy’s right here,” she said, putting down her phone and wiping off the baby’s sweat.

 

It was time to pick up her eldest, so she put on the baby carrier and strapped the baby in, and then stepped outside. It was three in the afternoon, and the springtime air was gentle and clear. Honey-hued sunlight dripped over the back of her hand and the baby’s backside. The baby happily babbled on. But the placid, unchanging landscape grew distorted when she walked by the alley with the red-roofed house. Trucks lined the curb and workmen hung about the property. Were the owners moving? Luscious climbing roses in full bloom grew on one side of the house’s brick fence, half-covered by the trucks. She paused and peered into the yard. The house did look a little empty, like the family was moving out. Between the hustling workmen, she spotted the chestnut tree in the garden with its swing still hanging from the branches. What she wouldn’t give to live in a house like this! It was her dream home. She went back into her imagination, to the middle-aged life with her children that she always fantasized about. They could hang two swings from the tree, and the children would come home after school and ride them side-by-side. Mom, if I roll on the ground and then go up into the air, my tummy tickles, they would say with a giggle. In the summer, they could buy charcoal and have a barbecue, just like her husband said. On the weekends he would wash the car in the garage, and she would hook up a hose to the garden faucet to water the roses. Sometimes she would invite Hanna over; she almost never saw her friends after having children. With her eldest, she’d gone back to work and at least been able to meet friends working downtown over lunch breaks. But she could barely remember the last time she’d gone out for a fancy evening for hours at a time with them. Last night’s excursion was a surprising pick-me-up. Even going to the toilet with the sleeping eight-kilogram baby still strapped into the carrier in front of her was bearable. She’d always thought that accepting her stage in life and the role she had to play was more mature than agonizing over the things she couldn’t have. She was grateful and happy enough for the fact that she’d made many fun memories to look back on with Hanna while she was still single. Like watching ballet performance DVDs together in the dark media room in the central library basement.

 

Truthfully, it took some effort to make friends with Hanna. It was February of the year she started university, just as the incoming freshmen attended orientation before classes began. That day, the red-faced and still-unfashionable high school graduates sat around the empty lecture hall together, looked up at their twenty-something upperclassmen, and learned to sign up for classes and learned about symposiums and introduced themselves. And on that day, she’d made up her mind to become friends with Hanna, who introduced herself as an art school graduate who’d practiced ballet until the previous year. Although Hanna had stopped dancing, she was still the first ballerina Heeju had ever seen. Hanna had hurt her leg in high school and was forced to switch to the humanities, taking an extra year before applying for university. But Heeju was surprised to learn that Hanna didn’t have many regrets about ballet or any grief about not being able to continue. “It’s a shame, yeah. But I don’t regret anything.” Heeju asked her how she could stand to watch performances after her career-ending injury, and Hanna replied, “I’ve spent my whole life doing ballet, so I never actually tried anything else. It’s nice that I can get out there and do everything I’ve always wanted to do.” They spent their early twenties as a unit. They’d gone on just one group date together, but the men from the nearby universities were boring. It was World Cup season, so the group got together at a pub to watch a game and immediately went their separate ways. After she got married, Heeju saw a TV show introduce a restaurant in Gunsan as one of the country’s top three jjamppong restaurants. She’d tapped her husband on the shoulder and said, “Honey, honey, I’ve been there before with Hanna.” Those were good times, she thought, watching her eldest spot her at the kindergarten entrance and run over. Her eldest had grown so much that a running hug into her legs was strong enough to push her back. “Sweetie, you’re going to knock me over,” she laughed, caressing the child’s head.

 

“I think they’re moving out,” she told her husband that night after putting the children to bed.

“Yeah?” he replied, taking a gulp of beer. When their eldest was just born, she’d cry or get angry at him for drinking without her. But now all she did was give him the side-eye. Did he think she had become more lenient? No. She’d simply learned that she didn’t have the energy to spend on complaining about something that wouldn’t change, so she was better off just letting it go if her husband—a salaried cosmetic surgeon at a franchise clinic—said he needed beer on days after finishing a grueling procedure. At least he was more of a family man than other husbands. Right after she gave birth, he had given her chest massages for mastitis and wrung out the rags so her wrists wouldn’t hurt. He would brush their eldest’s teeth before bed, and although the child always became more talkative on purpose when the toothbrush came out, her husband never once gave a scolding the way she did in the mornings. She took a seat next to him, picked at some of his potato chips, and unlocked her phone. Hanna had called, but she hadn’t noticed because she had been playing with the kids, feeding them dinner, and bathing them. It was late, so she decided to call back tomorrow. She put the phone on the table.

“It’s probably out of our price range, right? Should I check?”

“Do you want to?”

“Nah, let’s not.”

“Why not?”

“It’s obviously going to be too much for us.”

Her husband said playfully, “And that would be sad?”

She replied with a smile, “And that would be sad.”

 

She finally spoke with Hanna on a Monday, more than a week later. She’d wanted to call back right away, but it had slipped her mind as she wrestled with the children the morning after. Her eldest had thrown a fit and cried, demanding to wear an outfit that was already in the wash, and the baby had at some point pulled out all the picture books from the shelves and moved on to sucking a shoe in the entryway. One day led to another, so it was only after she’d put the children to bed and checked her missed messages at the end of the evening that she even remembered Hanna, and by then a week had gone by in the blink of an eye.

If she hadn’t remembered the night at Café Müller on her way to pick up her eldest on Monday afternoon, she might have contacted her even later. Tiny birds flitted over the upright trees. The weekend of rain had given way to clear, late-spring skies, and the air was as warm and soft as fresh Castella cakes out of her mother’s rice cooker. The postman leisurely passed by the alley on his motorbike, and when she walked by with her baby, some of the large dogs in the yards recognized her and greeted them with a gentle bark.

She finally reached the house with the red roof and heard an unfamiliar noise. It didn’t take long to learn what was happening. Chinese workmen exchanged incomprehensible words as they tore down the building.

This can’t be happening.

The house had been perfectly fine before the weekend. Shaken by the sudden change, she looked over the brick fence with the baby still in her arms. An excavator had taken over the front gates and part of the fence had been torn down. As she stared in horror, she sensed movement behind her. A young Chinese workman was trying to get to the site. “Excuse me,” he said with a heavy accent and slid past her into the garden, his tall, trim and muscular back reminding her of the man she’d met at Café Müller.

Later, as she wiped saliva from her baby’s lips with a piece of gauze, she called Hanna.

“You don’t make it easy to reach you, huh?” Hanna grumbled. They exchanged pleasantries. 

Hanna went on to explain how she’d met the ballerino. “He went to my high school.” But for some reason the baby started fussing and Heeju couldn’t focus on the conversation. All she heard clearly was, “He said he felt really bad for offending you and sent tickets to his performance.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. I’m busy with the restaurant, so I’ll send both of them to you.” Then she added in her usual playful tone, “I didn’t tell him you were a mom, so don’t take your husband, okay?” She chortled.

“Hey, don’t say that,” Heeju replied, but she felt good. “Isn’t Auntie Hanna such a tease?” she asked her baby.

It reminded her of when they used to go clubbing together; when the clock hit midnight and Friday turned to Saturday, they would try to catch a cab outside the club. “Look at that guy, I bet he’s gonna talk to us before I count to ten,” they would joke, and quietly start a countdown.

“I can’t. Who’s going to watch the kids?”

“Just ask someone else to take care of them. You can’t be with them twenty-four-seven.”

She knew that Hanna had her best interests at heart. But Heeju had already quit her job to raise her kids—it would make her anxious not to pull off her new responsibilities perfectly, and she couldn’t explain that properly to Hanna.

 

 

“Isn’t it hard on you?”

“It’s okay.”

She would be filled with an indescribable joy when she looked down at her baby’s profiled face—grimacing with the effort of sucking—and when she looked at her sleeping eldest cling to the baby. But when the baby unrolled an entire roll of toilet paper or overturned the garbage can with a smile while she pacified her eldest’s demands for attention—on those occasions, she wanted to throw them both into the toilet and flush them down the drain, but because she couldn’t put words to those impulses, she simply said that she was okay.

“It’d be nice if you could go anyway. You love dance.”

 

On the way back from picking up her eldest, she passed in front of the house with the red roof again.

“Mommy, Mommy,” said her eldest, eyes wide with surprise. “Why are they breaking the house?”

“I don’t know.”

The young man from earlier cut an unmistakable figure among the workmen. His arms broke down the walls rhythmically and powerfully, young and fresh and chiseled to perfection.

 

“I got free tickets to a contemporary dance performance for next Friday. Want to go?”

Hanna had sent her a video of the young man’s performance at dinnertime, so she remembered to ask her husband after he came home from work.

“What about the kids?” he asked, watching the golf channel. The sink was still filled with dishes she hadn’t gotten to.

“Could we ask your mother?”

“Her arm’s been acting up recently. You know that.”

“I want to go, even if you don’t come,” she said. 

It was then she realized—to her shock—that she didn’t want her husband to come along.

“Again?”

She knew her husband didn’t intend to sound mean.

She sat next to him and stared at the unremarkable scenery of the golf course for a time. “They were tearing down the house.”

“Yeah?”

When she saw the house being torn down, all she had felt was surprise. But sadness and fear flooded into her the moment she spoke the words out loud.

“They’re tearing it down.”

“I’m sure they’ll build a new one.”

“How can you be so calm?”

“What do you mean, how?”

Scraping away fat from the bellies, thighs, and forearms of countless people each day exhausted him. He didn’t understand why she was so fixated on the house. Was it hormones again? He felt a pang of fatigue. When she rose from her seat without a word, he said, “Go watch the performance with your friends. I’ll take care of the kids.”

 

But she never ended up going to the performance. That Friday, her husband called at eleven to say that he was booked for an unexpected surgery that day and would come home late.

“Okay.”

She hung up. Still carrying the baby on her back, she went back to dishwashing. She wiped down the sink with a dry cloth, shook the water off the rubber gloves, then hung them from the handle of the overhead cabinet. She had fallen asleep without cleaning up last night, and the living room floor was littered with toy pots and silverware, and sketchbooks of unrecognizable figures in crayon. Colorful pieces of clay sat slowly drying on the plastic desk for toddlers. The shocking silence of the house was contrasted by the even more shocking mess.

As she picked up the things from the floor one by one and put them away in a tub, she sat on the sofa and looked at the living room wall. It hadn’t been long since they moved in, but the wallpaper was already yellowed and fading, the patterns endlessly going on and on and decorated in one corner by the children’s doodles. They reminded her of her own, the ones she and her brother used to draw on all the doors with marker, hidden away from their mother’s eyes. At least, they’d thought so, but her mother mysteriously—not so mysterious now that she herself was a mother—managed to find them all and scold them both. But she’d never been scolded to the point of tears. How old had her mother been then? With curled shoulder-length hair tied in the back, she would boil the laundry or clean the bathroom tiles with a sponge. She would look back and tell her, “Go play with your brother.” Whenever Heeju talked about her mother, Hanna would get jealous. Hanna’s mother had weighed her every morning, packed her low-sodium lunchboxes, and picked her up from the dance studio by car every night. “I was sick of all that attention,” Hanna said, shaking her head. She said she wanted a mother like Heeju’s—a little thoughtless and decently warm. “But my mom didn’t care about my life. She didn’t invest in my future like yours did,” Heeju had replied. Her mother had cleaned her room each day and made soup with seasonal vegetables. If Heeju had gotten sick, her mother had put off everything else to take her to the doctor; but she had let only her brother go to cram school, refused to let Heeju take an extra year to try for a better university, and when Heeju had her first child, asked her when she was going to quit her job.

As usual, the weekend went by in a flash.

Then Monday came again, and as always, she took the baby and went to pick up her eldest at the kindergarten. She wanted to take a different route so she wouldn’t see the collapsed house, but she became lost in thought for a moment and found herself back there again. And she saw it. The house, reduced to a skeleton with no windows or walls. With metal framing exposed to the air and the brick fence half-demolished and covered in dirty old rags, it was a complete mess. But the ruined house was beautiful in the light of May, like a stage stripped of all frills.

It must have been break time. The neighborhood was silent. The front gate was uncovered, left wide-open like an invitation someone had read and left. She paused for a moment, then like a woman possessed, stepped into the garden with the baby in her arms. The baby fussed in discomfort, but she gave a shush and a comforting pat.

She’d walked past the house and peered into the garden many times, but she had never set foot inside the property. When she stepped into the garden littered with iron bars, mounds of bricks, and haphazardly scattered tools, she was afraid. There was a faint but smoky scent in the air, like someone had burned something. But in one corner of the garden, she found the big chestnut tree where the swing used to hang, and the red climbing roses on the still-intact back fence.

 

 

She’d thought it was empty, but the man was there too. Not in the garden dotted with objects, but deep in the house, standing behind what was once a window but now an empty rectangular hole, eating alone while facing the garden. She almost screamed when she spotted him. Framed by the windowsill that he used as a table for his bowl of noodles, the man—wearing a sweat-drenched tank top—looked up.

Lost for words, they spent some time simply staring. He had a head full of curly hair that covered his forehead, making him look almost boyish—his eyes brimmed with both tyrannical intensity and innocence. She didn’t know if she wanted to run or stay.

The man stood up straight and faced her. She remembered his muscular back, clad in a white tank top that reminded her of a leotard, as he tore down the wall like a wild beast.

It’s just that you have a beautiful build. You’re really beautiful. I just wanted to tell you.

An image of that moment came flashing back—the moment she’d come out of the bathroom at Hanna’s restaurant with the breast pump, when the man looked down shyly. It was like he was looking straight into her breast, the breast she would bring out at her child’s every call, sagging from the repetition of expansion and contraction and topped with sore nipples. She thought she’d forgotten, but she remembered what a face like that meant on a man.

She gazed fiercely as if to undress him. She imagined the rest of the body obscured by the window frame. She was confused and ashamed at feeling this sexual impulse for a strange man in such a dirty, dangerous place. After giving birth, she’d never felt any such impulse when her husband touched her. The afternoon sunlight spilled over the naked house, and the roof sizzled as if it were on fire.

The first—the youngest—domestic premiere—

He must have put his life on the line for his desires. In that moment, she realized that she’d never once demanded anything of anyone before. She’d pretended she was above it, that she’d matured earlier than others, but she realized that her entire life had been one massive act of resignation.

She took a deep breath. The smell of smoke mingled with the dizzying aroma of roses. She remembered things she’d forgotten. Drinking orange iced tea on the fourth floor of a café near the theater on a certain afternoon after watching the movie featuring Café Müller. The sparkling glass, the aromatic orange slice, the transparent pieces of ice clattering in the tea. The sky was clear and endless, and from their window seat, Hanna had said emphatically that what was in the movie wasn’t real love. “It’s not love. How do you even call it that?” Then what is love, really? she’d asked herself. The man looked down and slowly went back to his noodles, and the quiet stillness of the world around them was occasionally broken by a naked shadow. I don’t really know love. That still held true for her now.

When he returned home that evening, he was greeted by his eldest, who had been reading a picture book to the baby in a corner of the living room when the lock clicked open. As his child clung to his leg, he saw his wife sitting on the living room floor cleaning up the colorful blocks littered about her.

“I’m home.”

He’d felt guilty about not letting her go see the performance on Friday, so he brought fried chicken for the family. Their eldest leapt for joy and did a lap around the living room. The baby waddled over to the table in diapers, babbling in agreement.

“Everything all right today?” he asked, lifting up the baby, who had been trying to climb up the high chair.

“Yeah. Same as usual.”

Once he seated the baby, his wife had the eldest sit at the table and brought cups and plates from the cupboard. When he opened the box, the smell of salt and grease filled the house. Elated, their eldest began to explain to the baby, “This is the chicken, and this is the pickled radish.” The baby fussed for the fried chicken despite never having tasted it before. He held out a drumstick for their eldest, who grabbed it and took a big bite. His wife went to the fridge for pureed squash to pacify the baby. She didn’t say much, but he assumed that she must have been sulking.

“They finished tearing down the house,” he said, hoping to cheer her up from a weekend of low spirits. After the children were born, he would often come home tired only to find her complaining about trivial things and getting angry for no reason, but he did his best to be good to her.

“They’re going to rebuild it into something better,” he said, but she already knew that the house would be rebuilt.

“Yeah.”

But the new house would be nothing like the one she’d known. Nothing like the one she’d seen that afternoon.

“It doesn’t matter now,” she said, spooning the puree into the baby’s mouth. In that instant, she felt indescribable pain and joy balloon inside her. In that instant, the direction of their lives changed almost imperceptibly, but because her husband could not realize it, she simply took the cup her eldest held out to her without saying anything more. But the baby, who had grown more mature by learning in the span of a day that a mother could perfectly forget her child for even an instant, sensed the unfamiliar beauty in her face and burst into tears.

Author's Profile

Baik Sou Linne has authored the short story collections Falling in Paul and The Wretched Light, and the novel Dearly Beloved. She holds a PhD in French literature from Lumière University Lyon 2 and has translated Ágota Kristóf’s L’analphabète into Korean. She has received the Munhakdongne Young Writers’ Award, Moonji Literature Award, and Lee Haejo Literature Award. The Wretched Light has been translated into Japanese. “I Won’t Go Home Just Yet,” excerpted here, won the 2020 Hyundae Munhak Award.