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  • Change of Life
  • Kim Hoon (bio)
    Translated by Jae Won Chung (bio)

On the days she visited my apartment, my older sister would pass the evening seated at a table in front of the balcony window. Around dusk she would become almost chatty. Well, not chatty exactly, but usually she seemed barely able to open her mouth. I read in a special issue of a women's magazine that around dusk, menopausal women get anxious for no reason. Maybe my sister's chattiness had something to do with that. What she talked about in the evenings was mostly gibberish. Like the wind or the dusk's red glow, her words were vague and elusive, as if spoken from far away. Maybe it's not so accurate to say that I heard her words; they just seemed to brush by me. I never knew how to respond to her.

—Hey, that plane looks just like a fish. Just look at those fins, my sister would say, as she looked out the balcony window at a plane being absorbed into the reddening sky over Kanghwa Island.

She continued to gaze at the plane, which had taken off from K'imp'o Airport. It appeared massive, like a shark, over the mouth of the river, until it eventually shrank to the size of a carp, receding into the thick glow of dusk.

—Hey, it looks just like a minnow. Look at its head shimmering. Like it's got a lamp on its tail? Come see.

She kept staring out the window with her back towards me. [End Page 83] While she was passing time at the window, I was at the kitchen sink preparing dinner.

—Hey, did you see how it just disappeared? Like it's sinking into the sky?

The mouth of the Han River was widening to an unfathomable breadth, and flocks of birds had gathered on the mudflats exposed by the evening ebb tide. Shadows of the mountain ranges receding towards the West Sea seemed to flicker in the gathering dusk. On a cloudless night, the evening glow would fill up the empty sky completely, so the glow seemed like its own emptiness, a fathomless void drawing me in. The slowly shrinking planes vanished into that thick glow, and the inbound ones, each a single speck, dripped out of it towards K'imp'o. Just as my sister liked to say, the sky beyond the balcony window sometimes resembled an aquarium, with various fish flying around inside.

—Hey, are there really people on that plane?

My sister continued to gaze at the sky until dusk had burnt itself out, and lights had come on in the town of K'imp'o across the river. I usually brought some wine or heated milk over to her at the table. She would lick daintily around the rim of the glass.

As she got older, my sister became increasingly fussy about what she ate. Even from an early age, she'd been revolted by the smell of meat cooking, and now that she was going through menopause, she refused kimchi stew with even a single morsel of pork. Even when I removed the meat before serving her, a sniff of the broth was all it took for her to catch on. She could hardly eat any meat or fish, or practically anything for that matter, now that she'd gotten older. In the spring, she would mince wild chives and shepherd's pouch together and put them over white rice with soy sauce and sesame salt. In the summer, she would dump her rice in water and eat it with individual servings of pickled shrimp or seasoned green laver. Another summer favorite was pickled cucumber slices dipped in hot pepper paste. The side dishes she enjoyed without any fuss were dried anchovies broiled in soy [End Page 84] sauce with peppers, white kimchi topped with minced parsley, and pan-fried lotus root.

Before his death two years ago, my sister's husband had been an executive at a steel manufacturing firm located in the free trade zone on the South Coast. He'd spent his whole life buried in work. As the head...


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pp. 83-123
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