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a woman was lifted from

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Ma Il-young steps off of the airplane into Nice, France with a new name and nowhere to go. She takes his name; she's Park Il-young now. It's all she has left of him—his name and his dream. What a fucking cliche.

The Nice airport is a chaotic mess, just like Seoul's. Only difference here is that it matters that she doesn't speak French. Or English. It's a miracle she's made it this far. 

Il-young follows a group of Korean tourists out of the airport and onto a bus. One thing she had prepared for was the currency. She'd exchanged hers back in Korea—she brought so much money—and she hands the bus driver a few francs before taking her seat. She stares out the window. On the map, Nice and its airport are right by the coast. She wishes she could see the sea.


Il-young thinks, not for the first time, that she shouldn't be here.

A Korean-to-French book she'd picked up at a tourist store has barely helped at all. The hotel she's at is shit, which is good, because that means it's cheap, but that also means her room-neighbors are obnoxious as hell with no consequences. Almost makes her miss the days of beating the shit out of people. She hadn't delighted in it or anything. But she'd been good at it. And it would shut these people up.

She doesn't know if the cooking school he'd wanted to go to is even in Nice. All she can remember is France, his smile on his face when he'd talked about it, the way she'd pressed her hands into his and commanded him to leave, then begged him, and how stupidly noble he'd sounded when he told her no.

Park Seok-hyun. Stupid, noble, sweet, nice, stupid, dead. Beloved and dead. Like her family.

Il-young didn't kill Seok-hyun like she killed her mother. But she might as well have. Might as fucking well have.

Il-young wants, not for the first time, to go home. Not that she's got one anymore.

She finishes her tea and stands up from the little cafe table. Everything in Nice is exactly as she expected and nothing like she wanted. Too many white people. Too many odd glances when she walks by, too many frustrated looks when she stumbles through the prepared phrases on her notepad trying to say hello and order something to eat. 

Il-young pulls from her back pocket a tourist brochure she'd picked up at the airport a few days ago and opens it up to the map. She's been here for too long without having seen the ocean. And if she decides she wants to leave, she at least wants to see the ocean before she does it.

She walks for three hours. She's not in a hurry, is the thing. Keeps her eye on passing cars, gazes at the red brick buildings with their white windows, eavesdrops on French people and tourists alike without understanding a word. 

She takes a break when she reaches the statue of the man. He's white marble, completely naked, with one arm outstretched lazily as if to take the hand of another person. His lover, maybe. Or to shake the hand of an enemy. His platform keeps his feet dry while green men and horses are stationed in the water—this is a fountain, and tourists take pictures in front of it with immense enthusiasm. Il-young walks over the checkered ground slowly and takes a seat on the stone edge of the fountain. Coating the bottom of it, underneath the rippling clear water, are coins, hundreds or thousands of them, spread unevenly from people tossing them in. It's not unexpected. But the sunlight on the coins still makes her breath catch. Make a wish.

Il-young doesn't feel like parting with any of her coins for such a thing, but for a moment she imagines Seok-hyun standing next to her, smiling that dumb smile of his, poking her shoulder, cajoling until she capitulates and throws coins with him. 

A toddler bumps into Il-young's leg and the fantasy evaporates. She looks down at him. He's white, towheaded and brown-eyed, and he babbles something at her in French before his mother dashes over and scoops him up. She says something, too, but she doesn't have an angry or upset tone, so Il-young doesn't bother trying to speak to her and gets up to leave.

Over the sound of the fountain water gushing, Il-young can hear the ocean.

Down another street and around a corner is a beach access. Il-young walks down the stone steps and stops just before she gets to the sand. Someone bumps into her from behind, but she ignores their muttering and stays where she is, taking her shoes off.

The sand is warmer on her bare feet than she expected. She glides across the beach toward the sea with almost hypnotic purpose, past tourists in their swimsuits, on their beach chairs, under their beach umbrellas. The waves crash over her feet and soak the cuffs of her jeans, and then a bigger one slides forward and splashes up her calf. It's cold. She closes her eyes.

Time passes. She wanders up the rocky outcropping to her left, weaving her way around the squealing children playing there. At its edge sits a blonde woman reading a book, her face hidden from Il-young. Il-young walks around her to the edge of the rocks. It's only a meter drop into the water from the top of the rocks. Probably still shallow here, too, shallow enough to stand in. Il-young creeps closer until her toes curl around the edge of the rock. She looks down, and the green-blue-green of the water glitters back up at her.

"Ne saute pas! Tu vas te couper les pieds."

Il-young turns around.

The blonde woman has lifted her head, and Il-young can see now that she's Asian, probably Il-young's age or a little younger, with skin just a bit darker than Il-young's. Her blonde hair is dark at the roots, a brown so dark it's almost black. The book she's reading is in Korean—The Vegetarian by Han Kang. Il-young can't imagine having the luxury to be that picky about food.

"Je suis désolé. Je ne parle pas francais," Il-young says. In Korean, she says, "Do you speak Korean?"

"Yes!" the woman says. "Are you from Korea?"

"Yes," Il-young says. "Are you?"

"No," the woman says. "I'm Korean but French. I'm trying to get better at Korean. You'll talk with me for a bit?"

"Yeah, I'll talk to you," Il-young says.

She's not sure why she says it. But the woman coaxes Il-young to sit on the rocks next to her, asks a million questions in a minute or less. Il-young barely has time to answer any of them. Some are incomprehensible, anyway.

"I forgot!" the woman says, looking flustered as she interrupts herself. She holds out her hand. "Joon Sophie," the woman says.

"Park Il-young," Il-young says. She shakes her hand.

"You will bring a swimsuit next time," Sophie says. "Your jeans are wet!"

"I don't have one," Il-young says. 

"How long are you staying?" Sophie says. "You can borrow one of mine."

Il-young stares at Sophie. Sophie just smiles back, with perfect teeth and lips that gleam under her lip gloss. She looks nothing like Seok-hyun. She looks exactly like Seok-hyun.

"We should see a movie," Sophie says. "You can work on your French. Oui? A movie tomorrow? And then, euh, bronzerez?"

Sometimes Il-young thinks she was lifted from her world into a universe where everyone is nice for no reason. Seok-hyun and now Sophie. They're not real. Real people don't act like this.

"That sounds nice," Il-young says.

"Movie? Oui?" 

"Oui," Il-young says.

Sophie smiles.

Il-young can't quite bring herself to smile back. But it's a close thing. Real close.