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  • Run, Dad!
  • Kim Aeran (bio)
    Translated by Kevin O'Rourke (bio)

I cried a lot when I was a fetus. I cried because I was scared of the tiny darkness within my seed-small womb. I was diminutive; I had miniscule wrinkles, a small, rapidly beating heart and a body that didn't know what language was. I'm talking about a time without yesterdays or tomorrows.

I came like something in the mail, my arrival announced by mom, a parcel of flesh without language. Mom gave birth to me in a semi-basement room where summer sunlight rough as sandpaper shone relentlessly. She flailed around with only a shirt to cover her. And with no hand to hold onto, she simply grabbed a scissors. Outside the window she could see the feet of people walking by. Every time she felt she wanted to die, she stabbed the floor with the scissors. This went on for hours. In the end, she didn't kill herself; instead she cut my umbilical cord. Here I was, newly arrived in the world, and I couldn't hear mom's heart beating. The silence made me think I was deaf!

The first light I saw as a newborn was window-sized. I knew it existed outside of me.

I don't remember where my dad was. He was always someplace else, or he was late, or he didn't come at all. Mom and I held onto each other, heart against rapidly beating heart. Mom, naked, looked down at my solemn face and wiped it several times with her big hand. I liked my mom, but I didn't know how to tell her; I just frowned all [End Page 227] the time. I discovered that mom laughed a lot when my face puckered with wrinkles. I think I concluded that love was not so much two people laughing together as one looking funny to the other.

Mom fell asleep and I was left on my own. The world was quiet; the sunlight lay over there on the floor like a polite "Dear John" letter, the first unpleasant note I received in this world. I had no pockets. So I clenched my fists.

When I picture dad, it's always against the same background: he's running resolutely somewhere. He's wearing luminous pink shorts and has thin, hairy legs, and he's running straight-backed with a high knee action. He looks like a referee who's enforcing rules no one cares about. So he cuts a comical figure. I guess he's been running for twenty years, his posture and face always the same: a laughing red countenance sporting a row of yellow teeth like a bad painting someone stuck on him.

It's not just dad, though. Everyone playing the exercise game looks funny. It embarrasses me when I see middle-aged men in the park bouncing their bellies off the trunks of pine trees, or middle-aged women clapping their hands as they walk. They're always so serious about what they're doing and so enthusiastic. As if getting healthy entails looking more and more ridiculous.

I've never really seen dad running, but as far as I'm concerned he's been running all his life. I may have gotten this idea from something mom told me long ago. When she first told me this story, she had a washboard stuck in the V between her legs. She was scrubbing laundry in a welter of soapy suds and breathing so hard she looked very angry.

Mom says dad never ran to her. He wasn't the kind of man to come running: not when she said they should break up, not when she said she missed him, not even when I was born. People called him a gentleman; mom thought he was a fool. If mom made up her [End Page 228] mind to wait for him on a certain day, he'd show up the next. And when he arrived late, he looked haggard. She always had a joke to greet her diffident lover—with his inevitable late-schoolboy look. He made no excuses, used no big...