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Manoa 14.2 (2002-2003) 65-75
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from Clay Walls
[Three Open Pledges from the Declaration of Independence]
The sky was just turning light as Chun pulled and Haesu pushed the crate of apples up Temple Street. They had invested in a wagon for their new business. Haesu had assured Chun that no risk was involved. If the business failed, she would sell the wagon to some child in the neighborhood.
At Sunset Boulevard Chun said, "This is as far as we go."
By the time they had finished stacking the apples, the sun had risen and shone obliquely on the skins. Haesu had polished each apple the night before. They now glowed a magnificent red. She selected one for its elongated shape, skillfully cut it into a floret, then set it atop the pyramid of apples. She stood back to examine her handiwork. "Ibuji?" she said, asking Chun to confirm that it was beautiful.
He nodded. "It looks like a lotus."
His poetic reference took her by surprise. Her look made Chun blush.
"Cigarettes," he blurted and dashed across the street to a drugstore.
How strange he is, Haesu thought. They have been married several months and he was as much a stranger to her as when she first learned she was betrothed to him. Her parents had arranged it; she never wanted him. She had begged them to reconsider, reminding them that his family was socially beneath theirs. They would not listen. They would never go back on their word; they could not. Chun had asked his American missionary employer to act as matchmaker and Haesu's parents could not refuse the esteemed foreign dignitary. When Chun had to leave Korea, Haesu was sent to California to marry him, committed for life to a man she did not love.
Haesu took a lemon from the pocket of her apron and cut it open. She squeezed the juice over the cut apple to keep the white from darkening.
The lotus was a Buddhist symbol of purity, a flower that bloomed even when rooted in stagnant water. Her family were Buddhists before their conversion to Christianity. So were Chun's.
He can't forget, Haesu told herself, he still thinks of home.
She looked up as a streetcar passed. A Chinese woman sitting at a window seat was staring at her.
She'll think I'm part of the American scene, Haesu thought. She couldn't help the smile that came to her face.
It was meeting night. While Clara and Mr. Yim were in the parlor unfolding wooden chairs and setting them in rows, Haesu and Chun were in their room soothing their weary bodies.
"Oooh, nothing feels as good as this," Haesu murmured, playing her toes in a warm solution of epsom salt. Chun had been soaking in a tub of hot water and now threw himself on the bed. [End Page 65]
"You can't go to sleep," Haesu warned. "The meeting will start soon. You'll have to attend. What will everyone think?"
"They'll think I'm unpatriotic."
"Min Chang Mo is going to be the speaker. He was in Kyonggi Province after the March First Incident."
"I'm tired," Chun said, adjusting the pillow under his head.
"Who isn't?" Haesu said, adding more hot water to the pan.
It had taken them several weeks to learn that if they were to make a profit, they would have to push their wagon from one place to another. In the early morning they were at Temple and Sunset selling apples to workers leaving for work. At midmorning, they moved on to Grand Avenue to catch the shoppers at lunch. In the afternoon, they made stops in residential districts on their way home. As the day wore on, the apples showed signs of ageing and were sold at reduced prices to children returning home from school.
"If only we didn't have to walk so much," Haesu said. "If only we had a car or truck."
"It takes money. Lots of money," Chun said.
"We could drive around Bunker Hill...