Chapter 1: No More
THE STORY THAT IS TO COME
« “It is extremely pitiful. We, who were once so hot, eventually ended up in a relationship which is far from warm – not quite lukewarm nor cold, but of a temperature only ambiguous enough to sting.” »
- From the day we broke up.
There was a strange habit to the man.
It was the habit of speaking in formal language to anyone, not caring for the other person’s age or the relationship between them, whenever he felt emotional.
“A person’s heart is truly deceitful, you know. While it does not belong to me, I long to own it, yet in reality, when I do get my hands on it, it starts to whiter like a plucked flower.”
The Olympic Road was rather quiet past rush hour. The woman had finished a warlike deadline and was heading home with the boyfriend who she had not seen in a while. The man sitting on the passenger seat had been silent the whole time until he finally started spouting some non-sensical talk. Which was, as well, in formal language.
The woman turned off the radio that had been soothing the silence within the car until he opened his mouth. Then, she averted her eyes and quietly watched him. Sensing there was a boring speech to come, she let out a soft sigh.
The following were the man’s words.
“Of course, it does seem plausible at that moment, while the flower is still stuck on the ground, to think of something – of making an ornament or setting up a bouquet. Then what can you do. If on the moment one has it in one’s hands, the flower that was once lively and the heart that was once warm both soon dry up and die.”
The expressionless woman took her gaze back and spoke dryly.
“What you trying to say?”
“I am saying that you and I are like this.”
As soon as she finished talking, the man cut in.
The woman thought for a moment, frowning.
‘What is he plotting again this time?’
The man smelled the stench of her displeasure but, being tactless as he was, did not mind at all as he continued to not look at the woman who glared at him.
“It often happens in the movies. The moment of meeting one’s destined love. Time slows down and the whole world turns black and white, except for the subjects of the fated love. ‘Oh, oh my God. Is what I’m seeing even human? I beg for her to be mine!!!’ They babble this sort of nonsense and even feel that it is romantic. It is extremely deplorable.”
The car being driven by the woman was already entering a small alleyway.
“Still I admit, love has the power to turn anyone into a fool. Since I felt like that too when I first met you. The problem is that this power never lasts too long, you know. It differs from one individual to the other but, eventually, the high wears off and the moment the rose-colored lenses of love come off is when all hell breaks loose.”
Strangely, it seemed as though the man was almost excited.
At such image, the sensation that the man sitting by her side was a stranger started to set within the woman. It felt as if the boyfriend she loved had disappeared.
“Alright. Why don’t you stop with this pompous language? Enough of your grease.”
“Look at this. The language you found so endearing annoys you to death, the adorable image of them eating now looks like a pig, their cute charming feels only like bothersome nagging. There is no more vivacity when staring into each other’s eyes, holding hands is sweaty and gross, kissing turned into nothing more than a habit.”
The woman’s voice came out sharp as she could not take it anymore.
“Why are you saying these things? What answer to you want? Should I just keep sighing until you’re done?”
The man, who had been staring only forward before, finally turned his eyes towards the woman. An expression of full conviction. His gaze did not waver.
“It is extremely pitiful. We, who were once so hot, eventually ended up in a relationship which is far from warm – not quite lukewarm nor cold, but of a temperature only ambiguous enough to sting.”
The time the two of them had been together.
Thrill became familiarity, familiarity became comfort, comfort became boredom, boredom became annoyance, and once again there is little time left until it becomes hate.
By the end of the man’s words, the car came to an abrupt halt.
They had arrived at their destination.
At that moment, living in the same neighborhood turned from the best dating scenario to the worst breakup situation.
“When we were at our peak, we could not understand other people who did not get over the period of ennui and broke up. But we are no different. Should I say it honestly? Our situation is even more serious. We are so tired of each other that we cannot even bother to try and become hot again, are we not?”
“Just skip to the ending. My head hurts.”
The woman searched inside her purse and pulled out some headache medicine.
“Now we shall break up due to the same reason as them.”
The woman gave no answer. She only grasped the pill case firmly.
Upon glancing at the woman’s state, the man carried on speaking.
“Do not force yourself to cry.”
The woman pushed two tablets in with water.
“You couldn’t make me cry.”
As if the first two were not enough, the woman swallowed one more pill as she answered, without any water.
“We will stop fronting over who will be the first to say goodbye, and each go our own separate way now. Lastly, I will whistle that tune you used to like. We will get out of the car heading opposite directions, and when you cannot hear that melancholic whistle anymore, then we shall be definitely over.”
With her headache blasting, the woman slowly lowered her head to rest on the steering wheel and did not move.
The man closed his mouth firmly shut as well and did not say any more strange things.
“You bloody romanticist······.”
Came the woman’s voice in a whisper.
How much time passes.
The woman said as she raised her head and slowly took out the ring on her fourth finger.
That ring was a gift from the man for their first anniversary, when they swore their eternal love to each other.
“Get out. Go your way like you said.”
The man tried to say something before closing his mouth and opened the car door.
On a whim–
As the man left the car and went his way, the woman simply watched his retreating backside.
The time the two of them had been together.
Love is a clown changing its mask many times who had ample time to play with those two, but a simple “Take care” was enough to make 5 years disappear, words too short to settle such a period of time.
As such, she could do nothing but watch his back through the car window, because if she were to go out after him, grab his hand roughly and turn him around, the moment their gazes met, she would see nothing but conviction in his steady eyes. She knew in her heart that the memories of their moments together, falling as tears from her eyes, would not be able to change his mind.
She would not be able to read his thoughts by simply looking into his eyes, either, because even five years together gave them little psychic abilities. Even that was useless in that moment.
A quiet street at night. The sound of a whistle was heard even if you tried not to listen.
Whether it was cold or dispirited, sad or delighted, it was unclear as the woman mumbled to herself with a chuckle.
“This whistle······ I’m speechless.”
The woman used to love this sound that came from the man’s puckered lips. The man sometimes used to whistle it to her when they were sleeping together after a long day. Nestled in his arms listening to it, pecking those round lips, she could forget about all the rest of the world. Those magical moments were there were only them, leaning on each other······.
She could still hear the sound of the whistle as the man walked in a slow pace, and so hurried to press the button on the car radio to get herself out of their memories.
A sound like a dial-up tone flowed out of the speakers and the woman leaned her body back on the seat, covering her face with both hands.
“Why, for God’s sake······.”
I’ve forgotten the meaning of ‘I love you’
I love you I love you
Time flows right through people’s hands.
The time from the moment since parting with him ran by in a flash, but his final words still spun over her ears.
The man’s goodbye had been spat out without any grace.
Those were his words for their last moment together. That final farewell.
Endlessly romantic while still infinitely selfish.
After he left, the woman would often go back to the past, some days, some months, visiting the memories when the man and she were still together.
But in the present, it was sad, of course, and naturally she could not escape the restraint of boring daily life. Or rather, she was passing her days busier and busier. As if to punish herself for missing her ex-boyfriend even now. And since the break-up, the woman’s sleeping disorder had come back after five years to make her life increasingly more tormenting.
‘Crazy, I’m going crazy. I’m so late.’
The woman ran inside the building carrying a bag stuffed to the brim, anxiety looming over her back. When she entered the studio, the shooting was already in progress. The woman greeted the others naturally, hoping they would not notice her late arrival.
“Good morning everyone!”
“Yes, good morning.”
After shortly exchanging some excited greetings with the staff, she got herself a seat by the table in the back of the studio and drowned her nerves in a cup of coffee.
She worked as a reporter, and today she had an interview with a singer who was having a comeback.
‘The question sheet is here······ The recorder······ as well······ Nothing missing?’
The woman set up the table carefully for the interview. In this hectic manner, the day started well.
“You worked hard, everyone.”
The star of today’s interview had finished the shoot, greeting and shaking hands with the staff. Then her job was starting.
“Good morning. You looked good in the shooting. I’m sure you’ll do good in the interview as well.”
“Yes, I’ll do my best.”
He was smiling brightly.
“Then, shall we start now?”
She took her computer and recorder, and calmly begun the questionnaire.
The singer releasing his new album assumed a serious demeanor throughout the interview. The visible passion and dedication he showed for his self-composed piece seemed to remind her of someone else. After a good while conversing about the album, she shifted the subject to ask about his daily life.
“This might sound like an obvious question, but what do you usually do after finishing your schedule?”
“Let me see. Is it okay if it’s something boring?”
“Yes, anything is fine.”
“Hm······ First thing when I put in the lock-code and open the door, there is Roo wagging her tail like crazy at me.”
“Ah, she’s the dog. Of the family. A Dachshund. A very charming kid. Other than Roo, sometimes my sister or mom is awake too, but I finish the radio show and get home at around two and a half in the morning so usually everyone else is already asleep.”
He spoke with large hand gestures and many facial expressions as he recalled his end of day.
“Isn’t it a bit depressing, that there’s only the dog?”
She asked playfully as if to make the mood a bit lighter.
“Ha ha, maybe it is. But it’s alright. Cause there’s still other welcoming things.”
“What else then?”
“When I arrive at home, I’m bored and just lay in bed for a while. But Roo thinks that me lying there means I want to play, so she always jumps all over my back. She steps on my shoulders and back like a massage. You can’t buy a massage like that. Then I light up an aromatic candle and put my gramophone to warm up.”
Her typing sped up.
“Aromatic candles and a gramophone······. These are some sophisticated hobbies.”
“Is that so. I like the gloomy and warm atmosphere. To me, lighting up the candles and turning on the record player is a ritual that affirms ‘this day has ended as well’.’’
“Then when you listen to the music, your day is finished?”
“No. I still have to wash up. Firstly, I run the water in the tub. I like to take half-body baths. I purchased a lot of Dead Sea bath salts through the internet, but I think I was scammed. Anyway, turning on the gramophone and filling the bathtub is a moment when everything falls into place.”
The dog, the scented candles, the record player, and the half-body bathing. There was not a moment when she did not think how much of a romanticist he was. That someone came to mind once again, and she couldn’t speak for a moment.
“Scented candles, gramophone, Dead Sea salt bathing······. You wouldn’t happen to sprinkle roses in your bathtub as well, would you?”
She joked with an awkward chuckle.
“Ha ha, it’s weird to explain it step by step but this really is my daily routine. Let’s talk sophisticated, then? I enjoy old music from the time of the analog record player. Music for fancy people, like Julie London, James Brown, Donny Hathaway.”
The woman giggled one more time. She thought the man’s speech and expression were cute.
“What do you think about while taking your bath?”
“Hm······ I think about loneliness. It’s a little past two and a half in the morning, then it’s too late to start a conversation with anyone, so I lament that.”
The woman pitied him a little for that.
“Is this what superstar sadness is like?”
“Ha ha, this question is wrong in two points. I am not a superstar and loneliness is not a sorrow for me. Rather, I would say I enjoy loneliness.”
“You enjoy loneliness?”
She kept her eyes fixed on the monitor as she continued to type, and the man’s eyes were also turned away.
“Being alone, I don’t see it as something that simply disappears once you take care of it. It’s just like a shadow that follows you through life, see. Still, some days I feel the need of a pat on the shoulder, and since the things I told you before comfort me greatly, I am going through a healthy loneliness.”
At this clear answer the woman stopped typing and stared at him, their gazes crossing.
Eyes of unwavering conviction.
For a moment, his face seemed to overlap with that of someone.
So, was that it? She wanted to know more of what loneliness was for them.
“A healthy loneliness, you say. It sure is an interesting way to put it.”
“You think so? I think this type of thing is necessary. A way of consoling yourself that only you know. On some days you feel lonely, on some days you’re exhausted, and in others you feel stupid, pathetic even. Of course, there are many happy days too. The important thing is, while the remaining days of our lives seem to stretch out to no end, you need something that can always soothe your emotions. Whether my days are happy or sad, I don’t single them out. As my mixed-up emotions slowly settle down, it’s like the overall image of my feelings that day even out. I might enjoy these dramatic things, but I’d prefer if the beginning and the ending are balanced, you know. Anything could work for you too, journalist-nim. It does not have to be as complicated as me. In whatever way, if you arrange to end your every day similarly, it will ease your mind.”
She had to stop to think for a moment.
Because he answered that question so sincerely that she wanted to give back a question in proper weight. At this point, she had long realized they could speak honestly with no reservations. Therefore, she decided to talk about herself.
“I sympathize with what you said about having something to balance your emotions. Could you please recommend one of your songs for people like me? On a day when we feel lonely and tired, or a day we feel stupid and pathetic, a song that is good to listen to in this kind of day.”
“If you’re lonely and exhausted and having a hard day······. There is a tune you’d like in this situation. It’s also related to our conversation. Among my songs there is ‘End of a Day’, please consider listening to it. It would be a great honor to me if someone listened to this song while finishing their day.”
At last, the man brought the interview to an end with his recommended song, but she was only more curious. As a journalist, she had met hundreds of people before, but no interview had ever picked her personal curiosity like this. The more the man talked, the more he showed what a surprising person he was, one she wanted to know more of.
The woman came back home after finishing organizing the interview manuscript, past midnight in a café near the shooting set. Entirely afflicted by the sleep disorder in the aftermath of the break-up, she only wanted to collapse. Her tired body spread out on the bed, staring mindlessly at the ceiling, she suddenly remembered the man’s words.
‘On some days you feel lonely, on some days you’re exhausted, and in others you feel stupid, pathetic even.’
Just like her story.
Be it while eating or taking a walk, the woman felt truly lonely when the person who would laugh at funny stories or be angry at injustice with her was not by her side. Sometimes she could not even pretend to hold it together and felt like a fool for letting her loved one go. The woman had also been feeling tired several times during the day.
‘You need something that can always soothe your emotions. In whatever way, if you arrange to end your every day similarly, it will ease your mind.’
Just like the man said, she was in need of something to neutralize her complexly tangled emotions.
The woman got her tired body up on her feet to pull out from the corner of the dresser some aromatic candles she had once received as a gift and ran the water on the bathtub she usually did not care for. While the water poured she perched herself on the edge of the tub and, having no person or dog who could do massages, giggled while massaging her own calf.
‘I don’t have a gramophone though.’
Thinking for only a moment on whether this would be too much, she searched for a song on her cellphone.
‘End of a Day······ Got it.’
She hit play on the song the man suggested today, and the sound of his voice and piano resonated in the bathroom. Somehow, she had the feeling she was not alone anymore. She undressed of her robe in relaxed movements and checked the water temperature.
Lukewarm, but a little on the hotter side.
She hesitated for a brief moment and slowly, from her toes, dipped into the bathtub.
You are my pride
Early in the morning, the woman woke up by herself.
Perhaps it was because last night she completed her end of a day as the interviewed singer had told her. Although she had been suffering from insomnia since the break-up, that night she had had a sweet sleep.
‘Pretty good idea. Was it really the ritual to finish the day?’
What a refreshing and welcoming morning it was. In addition, it was also her first day off in a while.
Wishing to spend the morning at her own leisure, the woman kept rolling around the bed for some ten minutes.
‘I’m hungry. How long since I had a real breakfast?’
Having stretched and gotten up, the woman headed to the kitchen and opened the fridge. However, since she did not often have meals at home, the refrigerator was in a similar situation to her empty stomach. Yet, today’s morning was too refreshing to eat delivery food.
‘I’ll have cereal. That’s enough.’
While softly pouring the cereal into the bowl, the woman thought carefully on how she would spend such gold-precious day off. She only had a few days in a year to take care of herself like this, so she had to spend her time wisely.
‘How about I finally clean up the house?’
The woman was exhausted physically and mentally, for sure. What she needed when she felt like that was to get some fresh air out of her daily life. And since cleaning emptied her mind, organizing the house was the perfect thing to do. She turned the piled-up laundry in the washing machine while washing the dishes, changed the bedding and even cleaned the bathroom. She was so engrossed in her cleaning that her forehead was sweating when she finally started organizing her study.
After a while, she was staring pleased at a neatly cleaned desk. Since she was at it, she began organizing the desk drawers as well and reached for the last one.
Why did she have to.
She had created the perfect holiday but was so absorbed in finishing it that she opened the forbidden drawer. Oh my, it was already too late. Her body was faster than her mind.
The traces of him remained too strongly in that place.
And these traces, as if envious of her perfect day, of her who seemed to try to erase him, were getting ready to swallow her up whole.
‘······So this is where I put it.’
In that drawer was a picture she took smiling with the man who broke up with her, a music box that he gifted her, a bunch of useless decorations they brought from a trip to South America, all the evidence of the love he once felt for her was left there, intact.
He was there.
The woman, now staring blankly at those objects that had lost the meaning of their existence, began to move her hands as she made up her mind. Trying to assure herself that there was not a bit of attachment left in those, she grabbed his remains at random and threw them to the trashcan. In the middle of it, the blue envelope of a letter caught her eye. That was one of the love letters he used to write. His letters could make even the most boring days more romantic. She hesitated on whether to throw out this letter for a while, but her hands were spreading it open before she knew it.
To my dear
It’s been a while.
We used to exchange letters very often, but now that there’s SNS and such, and we can communicate easily with each other without having to leave such long messages, hasn’t the world become so comfortable?
I think we got a little rusty at this, but how about it?
Writing long letters like this can tickle your brain a little, right?
How are you doing?
We see each other every day but I wanted to ask this for once.
Because I keep wondering whether you’re fine
The fire of my curiosity spreads endlessly and puts me in a fever.
So please answer quickly.
Gather every moment of your everyday into droplets and rain it over me.
My dear, please calm down my fever.
Of course, it’s nice to suffer from this happy fever,
But time with you, who drenches me icy and tender, is always welcome.
Even though we value each other,
No matter whether you accept it in or not, we will also hurt each other without meaning to.
By the way, have the wounds I gave you not healed yet?
I’m sorry if that’s the case. If I didn’t notice. Then please show them to me now.
Don’t feel ashamed of these wounds I gave you, because I’m the only one who can remedy them.
Every person who loves will be like that.
They hurt when they see each other’s scars.
But I still hope you are not covering your scars so I won’t be sad.
Even that is part of us, evidence of our memories and love.
If you’re still embarrassed of showing me all your wounds, then please just hug me tightly.
Even if I don’t see your scars, I want to feel them through your skin to know you entirely, and I believe so do you.
We have been together for a long time and we will spend even more together.
Please reply. Tell me that your heart is the same as mine.
I want to exchange ‘I love you’s with you at length.
That’s right. I love you.
And to quote that poem you once read to me,
I need you.
I sent this together because the lyrics are just like my feelings.
Tomorrow, let’s hold hands and listen to this song.
The woman read his letter and looked out of the window.
The sun of her perfect off-day had cowardly hidden away, and the moon of a gloomy night stuck its head out from behind a dark cloud.
‘You bloody romanticist.’
Actually, she did like this side of the man.
Among the countless charms this man had, his romantic image of a man who did not live in reality was the brightest of all.
“Don’t force yourself to cry.”
It was like she could hear his words.
She was crying.
I saw you take it harder than me and cried like a child
One day, the man, who had been enjoying his time by himself after breaking up with the woman, felt suddenly lonely. As if it was the first time he had ever been alone. Sleeping, eating, or breathing alone gave him a heart-piercing terror. He earned for someone to hold his hand.
Of course, it was not the first time the man had seen loneliness in his life. He welcomed the occasional solitude with open arms, and thus was quite embarrassed by this blatant loneliness that wished for someone else like never before. What was worrying is that it seemed this loneliness might not pass with time, might never fade away completely and stay locked within his heart. In reality, the agony of being alone crashed around aimlessly inside as it cut at his heart. The man never could have imagined he would face such a brutal loneliness.
He needed the right kind of person.
Not someone to chat idly over drinks, but a person he could confide his childhood stories to.
Someone who was not loose-tongued, nor too quiet.
Someone who did not disregard his touches but did not hang off him all the time.
Someone who did not stress over language formality.
Someone who, in the heat of the sun and the cold of the snow, could be smart as the wind.
Someone who bowed above the ankles but still below the knees.
He needed that kind of person.
He hesitated for a moment as he searched through his contacts. The woman’s number still remained there. He wondered whether to press the call button and stopped himself. They left each other for their best, so now he could not just call her to ease his loneliness. A love nurtured from the breast of loneliness knows no fulfillment. He thought to himself how he would prefer to die of loneliness than birth an ungrateful love.
The woman always listened to music before going to sleep. And so, from time to time, he used to whistle her a song. The man settled for appeasing his loneliness with the woman’s old habit. When he turned on a song, one he had first heard around the time of their break-up, her face appeared dimly to him. How could someone he had spent years together with be this distant and faint, after only a few months?
She was already being erased from him.
So we can both rest at peace, leave me and go
Chapter 5: Juliette
THE STORY THAT HAS PASSED
He recited in a low voice.
And he noticed, for the first time in his life, what a pretty sound the word ‘love’ is. »
- From the day we met.
Five years ago, on a late spring day.
The man was taking a walk by the Han river with his dog.
‘We haven’t gone for a walk in so long, why this now?’
The clear sky had changed its face abruptly and soon the raindrops began to fall. Having left home in light clothes, he was taken aback by the sudden downpour. He looked around for a place to buy an umbrella, but it had been a while since he last passed a convenience store.
“It’s true that people can’t live purely in our own will. The world has its own temper. I should‘ve finished the manuscript at home.”
In order to shelter from the shower, the man picked up his dog and ran to a nearby tented bench. Fortunately, they did not get very wet in the rain. He lowered the trembling dog onto his lap and petted her slowly.
“Uh? Don’t you also think going out was useless, Dani? We’re going back home to play with toys, alright. We come out because we are feeling bad but then we both get all drenched.”
He playfully rubbed his face on the dog’s snout, and the dog sniffed around and buried her face in the man’s lap. It was not so much as a storm, but the warm spring rain was growing little by little.
“Aren’t those legs so short?”
That was the first time he heard the woman’s voice in his life.
An unexpected situation. The appearance of an unpredictable subject.
The man startled at this abrupt question from a woman he had never seen before.
“I’m speaking of the dog. What breed is it?”
“Ah······ She’s a Welsh Corgi.”
“Woah, how old?”
“Just turned six months. She’s still a baby.”
A conversation with a strange woman.
She looked unaffected, while he was still as disconcerted as before.
“Right······. You’re going out even though it’s raining, and you didn’t bring an umbrella, and she’s not even wearing a leash?”
“Ah, it’s because it’s the first time I’m raising a dog.”
The woman’s clever comment had him speechless.
The man was so embarrassed that he wanted to leave his seat but the woman had started petting the dog like it was nothing, and now his dog was just playfully nibbling at this stranger’s hand with her itchy growing teeth.
"Look at you. You’re not a shy one, uh. You’re a people person. Very different from your owner, right?"
“Right? Ha ha.”
He let out the world’s most awkward laugh.
“So, what should I call—?”
“Ah, it’s Dani. Dan.”
“No, you. What’s the name of your owner, Dan-ah?”
She kept on playing with Dani. Smiling brightly all the while.
Dani, tail wiggling, left his lap and followed her. Not seeming to care for the falling rain, she and Dani ran a little further away, while the man stayed seated on the bench just staring at that scene. The scene of a strange woman holding a little white umbrella under the rain, playing with his dog, laughing.
In that moment, the world faded in front of his eyes and everything seemed to lose its light. Except for her, the only one shining brightly.
She hugged a rain-wet Dani and came back to the tent, speaking to him with her voice still breathy.
“You can’t leave because you don’t have an umbrella, right? I have one. I’ll take you home. Where do you live?”
"Ah······ Just over······ there.”
The man pointed his arm towards the apartment complex behind the park.
“Really? I also live over there. What a coincidence. Let’s go.”
The moment their eyes met with her gentle smile, he felt once again that the world stopped.
She continued smiling gently, as if she did not care that the man was stiff as a rock.
“I like it when it rains. It’s cooling, you know. Don’t you think it’s comforting to sit still and listen to the rain sound?”
The two shared the umbrella and walked slowly in the rainy street.
The woman hugged Dani and talked the whole time, but the man could not utter a word other than his awkward laughs here and there. Not a thing she said came through his ears.
The rain-soaked tip of her hair tickling his arm slightly.
The slight musky scent in the air.
The breathy, thin and cute voice that spoke in a soft tone. He did not have the mind to put aside all these fascinating sensorial stimuli and pay attention to the conversation.
For only a brief moment their shoulders met.
Under the tiny umbrella patted over by the spring rain, three hearts were beating, and the sound of his heart was the biggest and fastest among them.
“Really? It’s really close, uh. I live in the building across the street. See you next time. Dani too, see ya!"
Without a second thought, she turned around to walk away, and he mumbled at her back.
“······ Thank you······.”
She suddenly turned, speaking.
It seemed that she had sharp ears.
As the man listened to the loud sound of his own heart, he had a silly thought at random. Then, he hurried into his home and clutched at his still pounding chest.
“Dan, did you see that?”
Dani tilted her head. He cuddled the rain-dripping Dani into his arms tightly.
“You little brat, you brought me Juliet as Hyangdan brought Chunhyang, just like your name."
Dani had no interest in what her owner had to say. She was busy just biting and licking the man’s hands. Honestly, how could this tiny thing understand the delight of such a burning emotion? The man was not the kind of person who hid from day and hated people. And it was also not that he had never dated before or had problems with women. But there was simply no doubt the moment that he saw her.
A day when the world was gloomy and temperamental.
That was the day he and she met for the first time.
Please open your heart
I'll give you my soul
The man was a writer.
Not a famous one, but a small writer with a burning passion and his own distinct world.
But just like any other artist, the man had been gifted with an emotional spirit that swung between opposite poles hundreds and thousands of times a day, to the point where he was so tired he had been considering putting the pen aside. The truth is that he had been used to going through these intensely swaying emotions for his whole life, and this was the hidden reason for why he had not written a piece that satisfied him in so many years. He was being tormented by his ever-decreasing confidence and endless self-loathing.
To a man like that, the house should have been a place to rest, but even that had long ago turned into a swamp of pressure and frustration.
Struggling in a chronic depression, the man eventually turned to escapism from reality. To the furthest place possible from his own home, a country halfway across the world. Before departure, he was taking Dani on an apology walk for being away for so long when he met her as if by destiny, and since that day the two had spent much time together in a very short period. And as if mocking his current slump, the man even began to write great things. She was a blessing.
“I like you. I’m really into you.”
It was the third day the man and the woman met. His hasty and clumsy confession.
“······ Are you for real? Liking me? We barely know each other yet. ”
The man had fallen for her at first sight, the first one to fall in love.
Ever the impulsive decision maker, the man was caught up in his emotions. Is there a mistake as deadly as putting one’s own feelings before the other’s? The woman rejected the young man’s confession, and he was stupidly wounded. However, the man’s heart was already in too deep to let the woman go like that.
Just as he was slowly approaching her to make up for his error and unwind their misunderstanding, another issue came to afflict the man. The departure date for the trip he planned to escape reality was coming close. He might have not won over her heart yet, but it was harsher than anything to the man to have to be as distant from her as physically possible, and he chastised himself for buying that ticket. He thought of cancelling the trip, but he did not want to repeat the same mistake. He decided to take his time and think deeply into his heart. Were he to still feel the same as now after spending time by himself, he would then confess again. Boarding alone in the airplane to South America, he looked deep into his heart and asked himself:
‘Could I really be deluded like she said? Am I getting too ahead of myself? Or could it be that I’m looking for any person to love because I’m bored?’
For the moment, his heart, out of answers, wondered whether this was love, and decided that the desire, longing, curiosity for her that spread through his body were clearly love.
He recited in a low voice.
And he noticed, for the first time in his life, what a pretty sound the word ‘love’ is. As if this was a serious matter, the man savored the word ‘love’ several times, and covered himself with the blanket while giggling silly.
‘I should sleep. Time goes by faster when you sleep, right?’
The man willed sleep to come while wishing for time to pass faster, with the heart of a child looking forward to the day of a picnic. The destination of that picnic was not the other side of Earth where he was headed to. Ironically, it was the very place he had wanted to escape from. It was his home, his neighborhood, his country. Because after he met her, the place that used to be a swamp of frustration to the man had turned into an amusement park full of joy and excitement.
Because that was the place where she was.
In the noisy airplane, the man shut his ears with earphones and closed his eyes.
The only medicine is you, I can’t live if I lose you
Like any other couple, their first meeting was destiny,
and they were already in crisis before love even started to burn.
And still, it had only been in a little over half a day.
It was also all a misunderstanding due to the man’s rushed heart, which was a little ridiculous, looking back at it.
It was the day the man finished his trip to South America and came back.
‘Why can’t I contact her?’
The man had his face buried on a pillow and was tearing at his hair. He kept looking back wondering if he had done something wrong to her.
“Woah! You’re going to South America? Where in it? You’re going alone? Or with a friend?”
“Yeah, I’m going for the first time······ To a couple popular places. To cool down my head. I’m going alone.”
“South America······ I’m jealous. I’d really like to go there! It seems like everything is so hot and passionate there!”
She hummed as she did a little excited dance with her shoulders. Looking at the woman, the man thought the heat would suit her well, but he was a little hurt over her nonchalant response to his absence. What would she say if she knew the meaning this trip had to the man?
“So, when are you coming back?”
“In around three weeks, I think.”
“Have a good trip. Take care of your body and don’t forget to bring a gift!”
The man’s memories could not have been mistaken. Physical distance and a twelve-hour difference had not become an obstacle between them both. Whenever he sent a message, she replied right away. Sometimes, she was the one to contact him first. This attitude from the woman left the man reassured to enjoy his trip. She stopped contacting him on the day he arrived back to South Korea from South America.
Let me know when you’re at the airport. I just got myself a car. I’ll pick you up to practice my driving!
That was the last message she had sent.
‘She clearly said she would come pick me up······.’
As she requested, the man called the woman when arriving at the airport, but he could only hear the dial tone ring instead of the woman’s voice. Just in case she had left her phone at home, the man waited at the airport for three or four hours, but she never showed up in the end.
The man stomped away by himself.
The house was quiet.
Usually, Dani would be making a fuss to welcome him, but Dani too had gone with her.
“Who is Dani going to stay with while you’re away?”
“I’m thinking of asking a friend or my mom.”
“But she’s still a baby, is it okay to change her environment so suddenly?”
“I’ve also been worrying about that······.”
“Leave her to me. It’s the same neighborhood, it’ll be like going for a walk. Won’t Dani be comfortable with me?”
“Hey, how would I make it up to you?”
“If you want to make it up, buy me some booze! Beer!”
It was always pleasant and fun to talk on the phone with her. Even the thought of it had him smiling automatically. But now, it was only stifling to recall the times she had made him laugh.
‘Should I look for her?’
She lived in the building across the street. He had never been to the woman’s place before, but that was his best bet at finding her. The man hesitated briefly before putting on his shoes and leaving his home. He whistled a tune to soothe his anxious heart. He reached the building she lived in before the end of the song, but it did not help at all.
‘I’m really an idiot.’
The man did not even know the woman’s apartment number. It was a thoughtless action. He was about to turn back with a downcast smile when he heard a familiar sound.
It was Dan. It was definitely Dani’s bark.
They had lived together for months and even not having heard it in almost 3 weeks, it was not a sound he could forget.
Woof! Woof! Woof!
The man followed Dani’s barks and stood in front of a door. He hesitated for a moment and rung the doorbell. Dani’s voice grew louder. The short 10 seconds of ringing the bell felt like the longest in the man’s life. There was no sign of life inside the house, and he carefully turned the doorknob.
“Are you awake? Do you feel okay? You’re obviously not okay. I was really worried, you know.”
“Am I in the hospital?”
“Yeah, you have the flu. You gotta go to the doctor when you’re sick. Why did you just stay at home?”
Two hours before.
Opening the door carefully, the man walked into the woman’s home for the first time. As Dani welcomed him, the man picked her up in his arms, and at the end of his field of vision appeared the woman, lying down on the living room sofa. The woman seemed to be sleeping, so the man tried calling her name a few times. Something was off. He approached her, still motionless, to wake her up. Up until that moment, he still felt like arguing with her a little. But the moment he held the woman’s shoulder, the reason why she did not contact him or answered his call became clear. She was burning up with fever.
“The flu? But the weather isn’t cold······ Why would I catch this all of sudden?”
The man sitting by the hospital bed passed her a warm cup of barley tea as he answered.
“Who knows. Your fever went up to almost 40°C. Let me see. The fever went down a little.”
The man lifted his hand and carefully placed it on her forehead. The woman felt a hot flush up her cheeks at that moment. It was a completely different sort of heat from what was creeping up her skin from the cold, more like a hot flower blooming deep inside of her.
“Seems like it’s lower than before, but you’re still hot. Go, drink some of this.”
She accepted the cup with an awkward expression.
“Thank you. But how did you know where I live?”
“Ah! Dani let me know.”
She looked curious as to what the man was talking about. The woman’s round eyes were so cute that they made him smile.
“Either way, how can a woman leave her door unlocked? You could have been in trouble.”
“Sorry. You must’ve been worried that I stopped contacting you so suddenly. I was supposed to pick you up. By the way, where is Dani?”
She spoke with a lost tone, like this whole situation was too much to take in at once.
“She’s alright. Dani is with a neighbor. Just rest well for now. I’ll take Dani home and come back.”
The moment the man got up from the bed and turned his body, the woman grabbed his sleeve.
“······ What is it?”
“Don’t go. I’ll probably fall asleep soon, so can’t you stay at least until then?”
There was silence for a moment, and the man went back to sit by her side without a word.
Watching as she slowly drifted back into sleep with light taps to her hand, the man let out a faint chuckle, a laugh he could not hold from escaping.
‘I’m such a fool.’
The man gave the sleeping woman’s hand one last pat before laying it inside the blanket and got up quietly.
How much time passed.
The woman opened her eyes, her flushed cheeks growing redder because of the fever.
‘What was I even saying earlier?’
She buried further into the blankets in embarrassment. Upon calming down and turning her head around, she spotted a piece of paper sitting on the table. It was too long for a note, and too short for a letter. It looked like it was hastily scribbled on a ripped notebook page. Likely a message left by the man.
When you come see me
Wear as little clothes as possible
If there’s one millimeter between you and me – shorten it, a single T-shirt is unbearable to me
Might it be too cold
Crawl into my clothes
Into the warmth of my flesh and
The scent of my breath and
Listen to the sound of my pounding heart
After I, feverish in love, infect you with my illness,
I pass it on and you will be warmer
So that again you will pass it on, and I’ll be even hotter
Come into my clothes and be infected with love’s fever
And then infect me
Only ever infect me
“You weren’t meant to see that yet······.”
Started by the sudden voice, she hid the paper behind her back. The man was opening the door and entering the hospital room.
“I’m sorry! I thought it was a note for me.”
“It’s true that I wrote it for you. But I wanted to give it to you in a bit better timing, in nice handwriting. My writing is awful.”
Silence once more.
Then, both fell into a fit of laughter.
“You like listening to music, right? I picked a song for us to listen to together, so rest a little more while we listen.”
She nodded and put out her left hand for the man to hold.
I'm always waiting for what you have to tell
Chapter 8: Alarm Clock
THE STORY THAT WAS SET FREE
« Even without meaning to, you already are too distant. Rather, I should’ve been by your side more. I should’ve thought better. I should’ve been more sensible and patient than that. I should’ve given you a proper goodbye. »
- From the day I missed you.
Looking back at it, those were precious times.
After breaking up, more memories with the man came back often. It might have been due to the remains of him she came across some days ago. She realized that there was something still tied inside her chest, and although she did not know precisely what that was,
the material that held that knot was her resent towards him, the longing and disillusion for the time they spent together for all those years, and a distrust of love.
‘The deadline. Right, the deadline is just around the corner.’
The woman held onto reality in order to ignore the frustration holding her heart back every moment. While immersed in work, her falttering heart tended to find a sort of stable track. Again, another night of finishing a war-like deadline and going back home, she inhaled a cup of coffee and walked past the closed curtains because she could not stand to see the light. It was raining outside of the window. The lump in her heart, forgotten for a brief moment, called out in agony again.
What was that?
For all her resentiment and pride, that was something she could not believe. What could that be? The woman took a sip of coffee. The bitter taste filled her mouth. While taking another sip, she took a look down the rain-soaked alley through the window. What a pretty little street. On rainy days like today, a street they had walked under the same umbrella, and on sunny days, a street they had walked with Dani running before them. And at times, when they could not overcome their sorrows, a street they walked separately. It was a street where the two of them alone cherished the time spent. The place her gaze followed the street to, ironically, was his home.
In an instant, the strings tied inside of her chest snapped, and the knot hiding its true color burst out with a ‘pop’.
That was love.
She still loved him.
And the last conversation she shared with him ressounded inside her mind by its own will.
‘The moment the rose-colored lenses of love come off is when all hell breaks loose.’
His words were not wrong. He broke up because his rose-colored lenses fell off, and right after parting she became busy hating him under the shadow of losing her love. Now she was starting to see things as they were, and the doors of hell opened. She was still loving him. She struggled to hold down the feelings that were flowing out, but they had already burst out, and were growing in full bloom. Now there was no turning back.
‘Look at this. The language you found so endearing annoys you to death, the adorable image of them eating now looks like a pig, their cute charming feels only like bothersome nagging. There is no more vivacity when staring into each other’s eyes, holding hands is sweaty and gross, kissing turned into nothing more than a habit.’
The break-up night was deeply ingrained into her memory, the vivid sound of the words he said on that night tearing at her chest repeatedly. No longer able to stand looking at the blurry image of his home, she shut the blinds and sat down. Then, when she was so exhausted she could cry no longer, the woman went to bed. Tomorrow was another day and while telling herself hat she must now sleep and prepare for tomorrow, she set up her alarm and hoped that this was all a dream. That when she woke up tomorrow morning, she would be able to greet him like nothing had happened. And wished that she could tell him with a laugh that she had a weird dream, an impossible dream where the two of them broke up.
Greedy as it may be,
Eat together even if he jokes that she looks like a pig,
And hold his hand just because she can, even without wanting to,
And look into each other’s eyes even if it’s lifeless,
And listen to his charming words even if they sound like nagging,
Kiss him, even if it just feels like habit······
She wanted him by her side like it used to be.
Like a flower that falls as a little raindrop brushes by
You say those words like it’s nothing to you
Recently, the man had taken to drinking more frequently.
He was struggling through a hangover after trying to drown his longing. Whoever broke up first, how much time has passed since, none of these things mattered anymore. What mattered was that the two people who used to be ‘us’ had become just ‘someones’. After the break-up, the man and the woman had perfectly returned to the relationship they had before meeting each other 5 years ago. At least, that was how it felt like to him.
Then, what was this longing that came over him?
That longing was not a reminiscent of love that had not yet oxidized. It was an unexpected loneliness and regretfulness towards her, as well as nostalgia over who he used to be, back when he loved her so passionately. From time to time, when the man became flooded with this longing, all he wanted was to walk up to the woman right away and lament over how he wants his old self back. But as the man did not want to hurt her with his selfish behavior or cause any more misunderstandings, he instead opened his diary, like usual.
And so he thought of her, who had become his reason to hold a pen for so many years.
Even without meaning to, we are already distant.
I only came to understand you too late
And worse yet, it turned into a relationship where we are barely more than strangers.
I always had a feeling about the day we would break up.
I thought that would be the day the sky would break in half.
I thought the ground would give out under my feet.
I thought that, trapped inside the rip of the sky,
holed up into the ground,
I would miss you for the rest of my life.
I thought that, even when you didn’t love me anymore
I’d hold onto my resentment and regret for the rest of my life.
worry very much.
To not think of the time you and I spent together anymore,
I even tried to hate those memories.
I ripped apart a book I got from you, innocent, page by page, in vain
And I tried throwing away all the gifts I hadn’t given you.
But all I could manage was to hide them behind the mirror.
And despite all that, my attachment remains,
Even the ring that was too troublesome to wear while we were together is now stuck on my finger.
do the very best I can.
Even without meaning to, you already are too distant.
Rather, I should’ve been by your side more. I should’ve thought better.
I should’ve been more sensible and patient than that.
I should’ve let you be the one to say goodbye.
regret it very much.
The writing man carelessly tossed the pen onto the desk. In all certainty, he did not love her anymore. But what was this feeling he could not let go of, like he was being dragged down into quicksand? — the more you struggle, the deeper you fall into darkness.
In the silence of his home, the same song had been playing for days.
I’ll still apologize for what I'm not responsible for
Such as the ocean returns to stillness after a sweeping storm, the woman’s seemingly non-stop shaking heart, too, quieted down. She could not know when that would abruptly change again, but for now, she was alright. He was, slow and surely, being erased from her.
However, if there was one thing that had not changed, was that she was still suffering from a worsening headache and insomnia ever since he left. After she finished organizing the manuscript for the upcoming interview next month, the woman, busy as ever, got a cup of coffee for takeout from the cafe in front of her company as usual.
‘I should stop drinking coffee, it’d be better for my insomnia······.’
It was a little past 1 in the morning. On a regular day such hour would have felt like the night was just starting, but after today everything felt overwhelming and exhausting to the woman. Perhaps she had been too absorved into her work. She had completely forgotten she had left the car at the automechanic in the morning. She had been driving it for 5 years with no big accidents, but she still had to take it for a check up from time to time. Had she not forgotten she did not have her car, she would have left work at around 11PM to take a bus back home.
‘I can’t do this. I’ll have to take a taxi······.’
The woman supposed that would be better. She drank so much coffee today that her hands were shaking, and while her mind might have been clear, her body was on the verge of a meltdown from fatigue. It was a dangerous state to be driving at such late hour of the night.
“To Shinsadong, please.”
Resting her body on the backseat of the cab, she felt comfortable for the first time in what seemed like ages. As she quietly closed her eyes, a voice she had heard before reached her ears. It was the radio. The voice of that singer she interviewed months ago, the accent and intonation so distinctive that she recognized it immediately.
‘Right. He said he is a radio host.’
Sometimes there are these days. A day that is tiring and overwhelming for no particular reason, a day when things that are usually easy just don’t work out, so it’s a day twice as irritating. In this sort of day, even if people around me try to cheer me up it doesn’t really comfort me. I just wish they’d listen to me and nod. Sometimes hearing these encouragements just feels like being pressured to get over my feelings.
The woman nodded at the man’s faint words.
Yeah, if somebody told me to just cheer up right now, I might get mad and pour coffee on their face or something. Of course that people trying to cheer me up is not a bad thing. But sometimes, rather than ‘cheer up’ I want to hear something that’s more like, ‘It’s alright, you can rest today, just leave the rest for tomorrow’, you know.
‘Good thing you can’t reach my coffee.’
With her eyes closed, she enjoyed an unexpected resting break. It was like the warm coffee scent and the man’s soft voice brought her comfort. The taxi cab drove down the silent roads and arrived at her home before she knew it. Still curious about the next words of the singer’s interrupted speech, the woman fumbled with her phone as she slowly walked into her home.
‘You can listen to the radio on your phone these days, right?’
The app downloaded quickly enough, and thankfully the radio was not over yet.
Anyways, to everybody who worked hard today, those who are tired for whatever reason and lost their strength.
I wanna let you know that you did well. ‘Let’s cheer up. Tomorrow will be better.’
I always wrap up by saying that but today I don’t want to.
It’s alright to only cheer up by tomorrow. No, it’s okay if it’s only after tomorrow too.
It’s alright to be sad for a while. Please come to me whenever. Because I’ll be here.
It’s alright to cheer up tomorrow, it’s alright to be sad for a while — those gentle comforting words of that man seemed to cheer her up more than any encouragement would
. When he said to always come to him, that he will be there, she thought that perhaps she could start listening to his radio more often.
The last song we’ll listen to is ‘By Tomorrow’. Come and rest again tomorrow.
The woman laid down on her bed and closed her eyes as she listened to the song on the radio.
It’s alright, it’s alright
The woman was edging away from the shadow of the break-up, as the man was also going on with daily life as usual. Even though his days of drinking had increased, unable to escape his guilty conscience and longing for his past self. The man was drinking with a friend that had been going out with him often as of lately. And as always, it came all of sudden.
“Senior······. To be frank, watching you with your girlfriend during all this time was very difficult for me. I couldn’t have said it, but when you told me you were tired after the honeymoon phase, I thought maybe you’d realize······. Couldn’t it be me? Is it not enough for me to be by your side?”
He was disconcerted. His loneliness grew day after day, but he was not certain that a new love would be able to free him from this loneliness and solitude. And in that moment, he was suddenly confessed to the least expected person. Not knowing how he should answer, the man only downed another shot.
“You don’t have to answer right away. It’s that I’m upset seeing you down lately, you know. I’m just trying to help.”
The man thought of how he must have had done something big in his past life to deserve so many people who love him. And all of those who loved him also seemed to feel responsible for his unhappiness. From that day on, the junior started to come by the man’s home office daily, to look after him by cooking or cleaning. At first, that attitude was awkward and annoying, but nevertheless, the man became gradually used to the non-stopping footsteps of his junior.
Eventually it was not uncomfortable to be alone with each other in the office anymore, and by the time the man had become closer his junior, they kissed. He was not sure if he really loved the junior. At one moment, their gazes crossed and they just embraced each other with no hesitation. Still, their relationship had not changed since that day.
One given night, the man had lit a candle as he waited for his friend, when suddenly the thought came to him that the candle reminded him of the junior. Then, he held the pen and slowly started writing.
Sounds the burning of the candle’s wood wick.
Wood wick candles always burn up so loudly.
In my dark and silent room, the frail flame of the candle and the pitiful crackling of the wood wick are all there is.
Is devotion, perhaps, that which fills the candle?
To be so willing to burn for me.
Such flimsy wick’s fire that ought not shine very long,
Speaks to me in an ardent voice.
‘Are you warm?’
I couldn’t lie and say I was warm, when it burned up so eagerly.
I couldn’t even embrace it, in fear my flesh would burn.
A child that willingly burned itself into black.
All this time, a poor child calling out to me.
A child who loved me.
I couldn’t so much as sigh in fear that I’d extinguish you.
While writing with the junior in his mind, the man reached his certain conclusion. He didn’t love the junior. What he felt was a mixture of gratefulness and sorriness and the fear of losing someone else — a feeling with a color quite different from love.
“Senior, have you been waiting? I came.”
“······ Starting tomorrow, you don’t need to come anymore.”
“You have your own life to take care of······. I can cook and clean up for myself. Don’t come here anymore.”
“······ Alright. But since I came today, let’s get something to eat together.”
The reply from the junior was calmer than the man expected and it stilled him as he thought that was rather fortunate. Then, the junior went back to eating without another word. That night. The man felt a sense of regret that contradicted his actions, and he slept with Dani in his arms and a troubled heart.
The next day, the junior came back to the man’s office at the exact same hour again. As if nothing had happened. When he saw the junior, the man was overcome with relief that he did not see coming, and their relationship remained unchanged.
It’s so hot within your embrace, that it feels like I might melt
Chapter 12: Diphylleia Grayi
¹ Partially derived from director Wang Kar Wai’s movie
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The seasons had changed and now it was distinctly spring. A warm spring shower was raining down.
The man had been staring vacantly out of the window when he suddenly started packing up.
“Where are you going?”
Asked the junior, hands wiping on the apron after finishing with the dinner’s dirty dishes.
“Ah······ I’ll spend some time in Jeju Island.”
“Jeju? Why this so suddenly?”
“Just ‘cause. I gotta do something there.”
The unknown island of Jeju.
An isolated place surrounded by water on all sides.
But not a lonely place.
The man went to visit Jeju from time to time. And he would go alone, leave his time and memories buried in that island and come back. The reason that place is not lonely must be because of all the past he has left scattered around there.
“Do you have good memories from there? For a guy who hates going out, you sure travel a lot.”
Lightly spoke the junior, hands still shaking around to dry. No, he was not going due to good memories or something to celebrate. He went there because it was a place with no memories at all. One should let memorable places remain beautiful, not soil it with a mess of memories and time.
“It should be three or four days at most. Only until Sunday maximum. I’ll let you know when I arrive. Don’t worry.”
Regarding him carefully, the junior felt that the man’s aura was heavier than usual, and spoke:
“Alright. Then, leave Dan in my care.”
“I was gonna ask you exactly that. Thank you.”
He took his luggage and headed to the airport.
The rain had stopped before he knew it.
At that moment, the woman was barely holding her eyes open.
The previous day, she had been up all night organizing her news reports and thus switched night for day. Since even with her passionate cramming through the night the manuscript had still not been completed, she woke up little by little, washed up, and gave a late start to her day. She had sat in front of the computer with the resolution of finishing the manuscript until eleven o’clock in the night, but of course it ended up completed much later than planned. Her initial plan of wrapping up early and catching a movie had been greedy.
‘Why am I like this. At least it’s all done now.’
She stretched out her stiff body after slaving away sitting in front of the computer for so long. Then, she put on her cardigan, grabbed her phone and earbuds and walked out of home. She stuffed in her earbuds as she walked in the direction of the Han river. It had been so long since she last took a night stroll. The woman relaxed with big breaths. It was getting a bit moist. The pleasant spring air flowed into her.
The man landed on Jeju in the last plane. The weather there was clear. As soon as he arrived, he rented a car and drove to watch the sea in the night of Aewol. It had been a while since he last drove around. It was a little awkward, after his body had been so used to the passenger seat for many years. The man drove slowly as he had no companion or plans to follow on this trip. A perfectly empty road in the late hour. The man turned on the radio as he thought some music could lift up his cold spirit. In the absence of any of the programs he used to listen to, he raised the volume of whatever was tuned in.
You’re a flower, turning transparent as it wets
The regret drenches through the white petals between us
Invisible, but not disappearing
At least it doesn’t hurt when I can’t see it
That seemed like a program which recited poems. Since he had only turned on the radio for his discomfort with silence, the man figured anything was good as long as it was not too noisy, and left the channel unchanged.
Same time, Seoul.
Thanks to the warm spring weather, quite a few people were out at the Han river despite the later hour. The woman sat down on a bench after her walk. She felt the spring air while listening to the radio she had come to follow at this time of the day for a while now.
There’s a flower named ‘Diphylleia Grayi’.
It’s a tiny white flower whose petals turn transparent when it gets wet from the rain or dew.
Incredible, right? A while ago I wanted to express the meaning of our lives as a flower,
I wanted a pretty or cool flower, but while looking for it, I came to learn about this dreamy flower.
‘It really is a dreamlike flower. If its petals turn invisible.
She sharpened her ears to his voice.
Throughout our lives, there are things so glaring that we can’t avoid them.
And there are also those which aren’t visible to the eye, but are always with us.
Like the petals of this flower.
He came back to her mind all at once. But it did not squeeze up her chest in pain like before. This time, the thought of him was even a little bearable. It was just stiffling, only a little suffocating. She was suddenly curious. What would he be doing now?
The man arrived in Aewol by night. He had parked on a spot where the sea was visible and was listening to the radio on maximum volume. The waves rolled back and forth in the dark ocean.
‘I can’t avoid you. ······ Even as our love got cold and we broke up, you’re still with me. That’s why I’m coming here······.’
To the man, Jeju Island was the place he came to leave behind his secrets. He came this far to lay the memories of the past five years with her into the sea. If the desire to go back to the island and regain those memories ever comes, they will already have been broken down and washed away by the waves, never to be fully found again. And as such these times and memories would remain fragmented, scattered somewhere on the island, scattered somewhere on the sand, and he would have to remember her bit by bit if he was to come back.
He was suddenly curious. What would she be doing now?
Life is drenched with emotion: we are dipped in each other’s colors, only to dry up again —
Isn’t that so? In fact, the world is fluctuating as it always does,
I think it’s only me who’s changed the most.
To understand and humbly accept this change.
I try to believe that this is the base for happiness.
Five years ago, the man and the women were so drenched in each other’s love, flowing so transparent as to forget the limit between one and the other; their pain and their love slowly dried up back to what it was before they were together. That beautiful era had passed and nothing that belonged to it existed anymore.¹
The man and the woman thought of how they wanted to be happy, and realized that for that to happen, it was time to let each other go.
Please listen to today’s final song, ‘Diphylleia Grayi’. Come and rest again tomorrow.
As if proof of fate, the two of them in different places and at the same time, decided to release each other, set free the warm love they once had. As the song played, the man and the woman shed tears to their definitive farewell, hugging each other close and unseen. Only then did they truly tell each other goodbye.
And they promised that when they remember each other from time to time, they will hurt just a little bit, and miss each other very, very much.
On the next day,
he went home with five years of time and memory drained out of him,
and she started an ordinary, although slightly disappointing day.
Chapter 13: Author’s Note
‘What is music to me?’
This question might seem a bit tiring, but it was once a big issue for me.
The first time I held a bass guitar was in middle school.
At that time, music was a fun thing to play with for me, but since I started my career as a singer, the two syllables of ‘music’ weighted on me heavier than anything in the world. For a long time I worried about it, a surge of shame coming over me as I thought ‘while I don’t understand the real meaning of music, I’m not really making it’.
‘The three basic elements of music: melody, harmony, and rhythm······.’
I wanted to know what music was to me beyond this dictionary definition. I spent a long time with this question hovering over my head, and carefully I arrived to the answer: ‘music is a story’.
A story that can be imagined, empathized, and identified with.
No matter what sort of story you sing, if the singer’s tale stirs up feelings inside of the listener, that’s how I know it’s good music. And the empathy and identity born from good music, in turn, draw out the most wonderful power within music. The power to expand your imagination.
‘What is the story before this song starts?’
‘What story will happen after this song ends?’
In music, the lines of start and end are ambiguous.
That’s why it has so much effect on the listeners. It creates curiosity.
So when I’m listening to good music, these emotions will spark up like I am the protagonist of that story, like that song is my world.
When I want to make good music, I’m ambitious, always fantasizing about the before and after as I write it. And by the time this turned into a habit, I wondered if it couldn’t be even more interesting to connect all these fantasies into one world.
If there was a single story that expanded through the ambiguous starts and ends of my songs, it could create more complex feelings; if I gave them context and characters, we could draw a clearer picture of it. I thought this could be another way of appreciating music.
I wrote this book with this ambition.
Not just to appease the imagination of the listener about the before and after of a song, but from the desire to retell it in a different color as the person who made it myself. (And thus I had to do with my disheveled writing skills.)
For the sake of my own imagination.
I wanted to try it.
If you know the songs presented throughout this book, I hope you’ll listen to them once more as you read······. And that it’ll feel different than before. Otherwise, I hope that you can feel it deeper than before.
Even though this is just a loose piece of writing, I hope that this book in its ambiguous genre as novel, lyrics, or essay, can become your own story with him and her and me.