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  • The Cheerful Night Road
  • Gong Sun Ok (bio)
    Translated by Jane Suh (bio)

I was sick of the rain. It had been beating down for so long. The monsoons had started a week ago and it had been raining ever since. The house reeked of dampness.

Can't get over youCan't get over my love for youI wanna fly,Fly far awayI wanna hear you breatheCan't sleep 'cause of youI wanna fly,Fly into the nightCan't sleep 'cause of you

I think of my first love whenever it rains, and when I think of my first love my heart aches. I hope the rains end early this year.

"And now a request from the head nurse at S Hospital, 'Plantain' by Su and Jin."

We need to live grand like fireworksWe need to stand tall, each coming day [End Page 171]       Like grass in the open fieldsWe need to love them to their faces      Not hate them to their backs . . . .

"And next it's Yi Un-mi with 'Not Yet Thirty'."

My days drift away like wisps of smokeI used to be full of memories-I thought youth would be mine forever,      But my youth is leaving me too

I'm sure the radio will be blaring songs by Cho Yong-p'il, Yun To-hyŏn, Su and Jin, and Yi Ŭn-mi until the end of time. People live and die but the radio is forever. My mother has just entered her sixties but during the past rainy week, her grasp on reality has gone downhill fast. The dampness permeating the house hurts her inside and out.

"Hey you-your father went off and left me, you know."

I first noticed the signs of dementia four days after Father's funeral. That's when Mum started feeling sad that her husband had gone off and left her. It wasn't until she kept repeating the same line for an entire month that I realized something wasn't right. Barely twenty-one years old and stuck at home with a senile mother-and I had few options. I had gone to nursing school with the sole desire to get a job away from home. But as soon as I finished school, Father passed away. One by one my big brothers and my sister went off to live their own lives and here I was back at home . . . just me and Mum.

"There are two hospitals in town, you know," my brother had said to me. "And a dental office and an herbal medicine clinic too!" my sister chimed in. My brothers were buried in debt and my sister was a divorced single mother. My brothers jointly took out a loan and one of them became a florist. He went bankrupt after a typhoon destroyed his greenhouse, and the other brother went down as well trying to pay back the loan. [End Page 172]

Sheltered by an umbrella, I went out to our yard to pick some mallow leaves. Mum's voice followed me out: "Hey you-it hurts, you know? Here and here and here. . . ."

Ten leaves were plenty. It would be difficult to find ten good ones, and those ten would still be tough to chew.

"Hey-do you think your father really went off and left me?"

Should I forget about the leaves? Whenever I see the flowering mallow plants, a surge of fear washes over me. Compared with the joy I felt when I gathered the soft, delicate leaves of the mallows I'd planted and added them to the toenjang soup, hopelessness overwhelmed me with the realization that my once flowering mallows were now tough and dry. Gee, that's right-I've only used them twice in soup since I planted them. I wasn't feeling helpless because of the soup. I had been oblivious to the fact that my mallows were flowering-what had I been doing in that time? When I finally remembered to tend to them, they had already blossomed, wilted, decomposed beyond recognition and died. I didn't realize this until I plopped myself down next to where...


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pp. 171-190
Launched on MUSE
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