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  • The Strawberry Field
  • Shin Kyung Sook (bio)
    Translated by Gabriel Sylvian (bio)

I'm forgetting everything about my life. The amnesia is progressing now inside me. I went to give my lecture today, and sweated bullets for more than half an hour in class. Some dead poet. I wrote a dissertation on his literary world, yet I spent the whole day trying to remember his name, and with it, endless writings and episodes stored in my brain-all lost. Suddenly my once formidable associative functions and imaginative powers were unavailable to my memory-all gone, together with the name. That name-I must have seen it a thousand, ten thousand times.

What was the title of the book of poems you dropped under the desk, Yu, the day I discovered you?

Even that memory's gone. My students were looking at me. Their stares cut right through to the hollow of my being. I think my amnesia was worsening even at that moment. My forehead oozing sweat. You seem unwell. How about just stopping the class now. Startled, amnesic eye. . . . My eyes.

I got a surprise telephone call from a man yesterday afternoon. I was pouring some Yaksan germanium spring water into a kettle for tea. A silence welled up inside me when I heard his voice. It [End Page 11] was a silence I've experienced at other times, when watching a sudden flurry of snow in April, or when examining old knife marks I once carved into an old table. Had twelve years really gone by? He said he'd seen me two days before at the Hoam Art Hall, at a concert called "Thirty Years of the Folk Song." I'd been sitting in the audience, he said, holding hands with a little girl. A little girl? No, but I'd been at the concert that day. The man was connecting with me again after twelve years. I never imagined he would phone me again. Still holding the water bottle in midair, I just listened to the sound of the man's voice. Then the silence gave way to a feeling of emptiness. Although we hadn't spoken in twelve years, I didn't feel estranged from him at all. He said that after I stood him up at the Open Space in the Forest, he'd donned work gloves, learned auto mechanics, and was now operating a car repair shop, selling gas and washing cars. His life was nothing to brag about, he said, but he never missed a Pak Ŭn-ok or Chŏng T'ae-ch'un concert. Whom had he seen? He asked me if the girl by my side was my daughter. "No, I was alone." The man fell silent for a while at my answer. After a few moments, he told me four years had passed before he'd stopped wondering about that unkept appointment twelve years ago, about why he'd never received a call or a word of explanation. The reason he'd taken the trouble to find my phone number and call me, he said, was because I'd seemed so peaceful at the concert. He wanted to tell me he'd be able to forget me now. He told me that when he'd seen my face, fair with no makeup, and wrinkles beginning to set in the corners of my eyes, my eyes were even more beautiful than they'd been when I was twenty-three. He paused again, then continued. Someday if you see me alone in some subway station or at a tourist attraction, or maybe at a hospital or gas station, I hope your eyes still look as beautiful. That's my hope. Although I'm no longer a part of your life, my heart hasn't changed. Now I'll forget about you.

That day, the singer said, "Some people say a song is just a song; don't preach to your listeners. Other people think songs [End Page 12] should say something about society. Which is right? I still can't decide."

Now, a day after the phone call, I want to tell the man's story. Actually, I've wanted...