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  • Excerpt from Man in the Mirror
  • Kim Kyung-uk (bio)
    Translated by Bruce (bio) and Ju-Chan Fulton (bio)


There's something more than serendipity at work in our lives, I think. Otherwise, how can I explain it? It was the first anniversary of my husband's death, and I'd just visited his grave at the cemetery and was waiting at Yongmun Station for the train back to Seoul when I spotted a man whose profile looked exactly like my husband's. You—that man—were at the far end of the platform, wearing a black suit and black tie. One step after another my feet were lured toward you, until your profile became clear, at which point they froze. The straight nose, the thick lower lip covering the upper lip, the deft line of the chin, the dimple on the impassive face—yes, that was my husband! I jerked my head away, afraid of eye contact, but your familiar face only grew sharper in my mind.

I kept stealing glances at you in the compartment, and before I knew it the train was pulling into Hapchŏng Station. Along the way I'd followed your lead, exiting temporarily while the car disgorged, getting back on with the new passengers. At Hapchŏng Station you threaded your way through the crowds with me chasing after. It was all so unreal—I felt like I was emerging from a daydream, a chill of sorrow running up and down my spine.

Which is why I followed you. The more of those familiar features I discovered from a few steps away, the deeper the [End Page 61] grief that pierced my heart anew with the realization that the owner of those features no longer existed. The sense of loss was overwhelming, as when my husband had appeared from the far end of the incinerator barely a handful of ash. Even so, seized by the false hope that maybe, just maybe, my husband had made a circuit of the universe and would be there at my doorstep once I got home, I kept following you. Out from Hapchŏng Station—and I couldn't remember the last time I'd been there—and through a jumble of alleys full of studios, chophouses, and wine bars, following you the way I used to tail my husband out of mischief if I happened to see him on his way home from work.

It was at the beauty parlor that I finally snapped out of it. You marched right in, and one of the stylists gave you a nod that struck me as more than you might expect for a drop-in customer. Hmm, she knows him.

You disappeared from my line of sight and then reappeared with no jacket and tie and approached a customer in one of the chairs, who was already in her smock and flipping through a magazine. Chatting with the woman in the mirror, you set to work on her hair, managing her tresses like a florist fashioning a bouquet.

A young woman emerged from the salon with a key attached to a stick bearing the name of the salon. "Are you here for styling, ma'am?" she said from the top of the steps.

"Oh—yes." What are you doing? I'd meant to say no.

I followed her in and she wrapped me in a smock and sat me down in the chair next to you. And every time that familiar face came into the mirror I flinched, but every time my eyes returned to the mirror. Just as the more that something dreadful builds inside me, the more I'm drawn toward the source.

My heartbeat quickened. There it was, so close I could touch it, the face of my husband who even when we had sex seemed off in another world and who tried the best he could to conceal a blunder behind a practiced smile. [End Page 62]

I flipped through a fashion magazine in my lap, but I was just going through the motions—the photos didn't register, much less the words. All of me was tuned in to you. My eyes had...


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pp. 61-72
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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