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  • Young Hearts Never Grow Old
  • Kim Kyung-uk (bio)
    Translated by Deborah Elizabeth Ann Smith (bio)

Jolted by the throbbing sound of machinery, the boy opened his eyes, awakening from a sleep where nothing sweet or pleasant had alleviated the cold, barren dreamscape. It was nonsense to call the waking world the opposite of dreams—the dream may have been cold, but the reality was even colder. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes with dirty, blistered fingers and had a look in the stove. Inside this stove, which he’d fashioned from an oil drum, the blackened firewood had burned almost completely down, so he fetched more from the store he kept in a paint can and arranged it on top of the dying embers. After making sure that the fire caught in the new kindling, he turned to look in the direction of the sofa. So far his grandfather’s eyes had remained tightly closed. The stove kindling, and his grandfather—every time he opened his eyes, the boy checked to make sure that the cold hadn’t finally snuffed the life out of them. There were times when he looked to the kindling first and others when his grandfather took precedence, but not once did he omit either one.

He went out into the living room, his breath escaping in a great yawn. Something flickered on the far side of the rime-encrusted balcony window, and when he wiped away the icy crystals, the shape of a moving van appeared, its extending platform conveying household effects down to the ground. He stared glumly out of the [End Page 87] window before returning to the living room. From the short-legged table that stood behind the door, he took up a pencil and drew a picture on some sketch paper. Each line made a crisp sound as it appeared—the boy’s second-favorite sound in all the world. Wings spread, gliding pterosaurs assumed various poses. He narrowed his eyes and studied the winged creatures of the Mesozoic-Cretaceous; there was something missing. He pencilled in clouds above the heads of the pterodactyls. It looked good. Again, he cast an appraising eye over the picture. This time he drew cumulus clouds behind their tails. It looked even better. Turning the paper over, he began to copy out some characters, but as he was writing the second character the pencil lead snapped. He inserted the pencil into a sharpener, which was shaped like a steam train, but the stub just rotated uselessly, so he took it out and sharpened it with a razor blade. He gathered up the shavings carefully and put them into a can before he finished writing the character. Ornithocheirus. After rolling the sketch paper into a scroll, he tied it up with a piece of red yarn, knotting it into a bow.

When someone knocked on the door, the boy emerged promptly from the living room as if he had been expecting a visitor, holding the rolled-up sketch paper in his hand. He stood in front of the mirror that hung on the front of the tall shoe cupboard. Begrimed with age, the mirror was cloudy, as though made not of glass but of something only semi-translucent. After smoothing his dishevelled hair with saliva-dampened fingers, he opened the door.

A young woman stood before him; the woman from 504. She was alone. A shadow played over the boy’s face.

- Your grandfather?

- He’s sleeping.

- Still?

- Shall I wake him?

- No. I just came to bring this.

The woman set the apple crate down and pushed it in through the door. She glared inside over the boy’s head and he found [End Page 88] himself unable to draw back from her sharp gaze. Staring fixedly at the boy, her lips twitched as though she were about to speak, then she pressed them together firmly and turned to go. The boy fingered the sketch paper concealed behind his back.

A little while later, the boy dashed out of the apartment at the sound of a vehicle, clattering down the dank stairwell and trampling through the sacks of rubbish strewn everywhere in the...


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pp. 87-110
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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