- Heaven's Door
The first thing she did after learning her father might not last the night was fix her makeup. Off came the pink eyeshadow and blush that camouflaged her sallow complexion, on went an additional layer of B.B. cream, applied meticulously. And two shades of lipstick, pink and beige, to give her lips the most natural glow. She tried on one outfit after another, fussing and toiling and finally settling on a dress, a black velvet number she'd picked up some time ago thinking she'd don it for notable events—parties, galas, and the like. Of course the lights had to be on for all of this, the call from the sanatorium making her realize it was already midnight. And yet there she was, still in her work clothes, for she'd crawled onto her sofa and drifted off almost immediately after coming home for the day. Not from overwork and exhaustion—daycare work wasn't that challenging. Rather, it was a habit she'd developed after her father left for the sanatorium.
Dressed and made up, she grabbed a mug from the sink and filled it to the brim with barley tea. It was a hefty mug adorned with images of all sorts of fantastical creatures she imagined inhabiting the mythical realm of a Nordic folktale. She'd bought it calling to mind her long-entertained fantasy of traveling to Scandinavia to see the Northern Lights. She took her time over the tea, sip after leisurely sip, finishing only half the mug, enough to [End Page 29] quench her thirst. And under normal circumstances the amount left untouched would have gone to her father. At some point he'd taken to instructing her to sample whatever food or drink he was about to ingest, suspecting it might be laced with poison.
The woman flipped open her phone and eyed the buttons and then bit down gently on her lip: should she contact the rest of the family? She'd already called her mother and younger sister to inform them of the unfortunate development. Only two conversations but they felt like twenty, they'd drained her that much. Her mother, now the wife of another man, had sounded inattentive, as if hearing news of a stranger's household; her sister, now the resident of another country, had responded just as apathetically.
Trying to sidestep these upsetting conversations, the woman pressed the 2 button, thereby calling the second number she had on speed-dial, that of a taxi call center. This was a necessity occasioned by her father's griping: come nighttime he often complained of pain to the nightshift staff and she found herself having to pop in and out of the ER at odd hours. His mental health deteriorated first, his body quickly following suit. His lungs were the first to go, and after that his heart and kidneys.
Ten minutes later a text arrived from the taxi company: no vehicles in her vicinity at the moment. Available taxis at this time of night were of course quite the rarity, but this particular neighborhood, to which she had just relocated so hastily, seemed bereft of cabs. She swung her bag over her shoulder, draped her jacket over the opposite arm, and rushed out. She wandered anxiously for almost an hour before she was able to hail a cab. She climbed in only to be assaulted by pop songs from the 1970s and 80s pounding from the radio like a waterfall.
"Yŏngdŭngp'o, please?" she asked as she closed the door behind her.
"Where in Yŏngdŭngp'o?" asked the driver, whose voice was almost as loud as the radio. She could see him looking at her in the rear-view mirror. He wore a baseball cap pulled low enough to cover [End Page 30] almost half his face, making it look as if his head had been squished into it. The mop of hair sticking out from beneath was all white.
She gave him the name of the sanatorium.
"Where?" he shouted in reply, his voice even more clamorous.
"Sorry, would you...