- Single Mother
It had been raining for days. It seemed as if the whole world was soaked, unable to budge. She could not prepare a shed to shelter the chickens from the rain. To avoid being pelted by another drop, they kept huddling under the apricot tree. Ah, that apricot tree. Until the flowers on the tree blossomed and the green fruit ripened, until she harvested the fruit and made "plum wine," Chŏng-ok did not realize that it was actually an apricot tree. She knew she needed green plums to make wine, so she plucked green fruit and poured soju over it. As long as the fruit was green and soaked in alcohol, she figured it would all turn into the same thing. After she had gone into town to buy some soju for the basket of "plums" she had filled to the brim, Chŏng-ok later heard that her friend Sun-ah had come over with her husband and after looking around, grabbed their bellies and laughed heartily. Having bought three one-liter bottles of soju, a set of summer clothes for each child, a hair band for her second daughter, who had developed a strange habit of squinting upward due to her long hair covering her eyes, and 1000-wŏn worth of plums, Chŏng-ok took the once-daily bus home, where her second daughter told her what happened:
"Mom, Chu-ri's mom said that these plums aren't plums." Chŏng-ok first handed her the hair band. The second [End Page 73] daughter resolved to say nothing more after she saw that the hair band was black, rather than the pink she had wanted.
"Then what did she say they were?"
The child stuck out her lips like a carp and wouldn't make a peep. But I bought three bottles just to ferment this fruit. More than anything, Chŏng-ok was humiliated that the couple knew she ignorantly tried to make plum wine with "non" plums, and her face began turning red in blotches. As soon as her daughter sealed her lips, Chŏng-ok promptly pounced on her and snatched the hair band.
"Well, then, what did she say they were?"
"I'm not telling."
"Are you going to snub your mom too?"
"If you change the hair band to pink, then I'll tell you."
"Forget it. The hair band? Fine, here's the hair band!"
Chŏng-ok broke the 1000–wŏn hair band right then and there. Pretending not to notice the tears that instantly welled up in her daughter's eyes, Chŏng-ok, with her three-year-old on her back, dashed off to Sun-ah's house, which sat on top of a hill.
"Hey Sun-ah, why did you have to go and shame me in front of my daughter, huh?"
Since Sun-ah and her husband were naturally gentle people, they merely gazed at Chŏng-ok, who was huffing and puffing like a gorilla. Sun-ah's husband then brought out a bottle of their homemade wine, placed it in front of Chŏng-ok, and as he calmly sat down, said, "Now, how about taking a look and seeing for yourself the difference between our plum wine and the plum wine you were about to make."
Chŏng-ok, fuming in vain, hastily guzzled one glass after another, and ended up drunk. She staggered home. The instant she arrived, her young ones began crying and making a fuss. The first child turned her back to her mother, sighing heavily as if the world was ending, while the second child beat her little fists—kong kong—against her mother's sunken chest, bitterly exclaiming that [End Page 74] if Mom acts like this who can we trust and how can we survive? Whenever she thought of that day, Chŏng-ok would shudder and the corners of her mouth would twitch, a symptom that only appeared after that incident.
Every time the wind blew, the apricot tree would shiver, and large drops of rain would splatter...