Where Would You Like to Go?

Translated by: 
Jamie Chang

Joint LTIK/ALR Essay Competition

Kim's short stories, 'The Youngest Parents with the Oldest Child''A Dignified Existence' and 'Where Would You Like to Go?' will be the focus of our forthcoming essay competition, in partnership with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. Visit our Essay Competition page for more.

It looked just like the sky a war-worn solider dreaming of his happy childhood might imagine. This radiance felt like a curtain I had taken down from someone’s home and hung in my own. The pretty ‘present’ hanging before me seemed like a happy past or a future to come, but whichever it was, it didn’t feel like mine.

My cousin’s house was in the Old Town, a bit outside the tourist area. Dragging my suitcase with one hand and holding my phone in the other, I followed the map app to her house. There was hardly anyone out. I couldn’t tell if it was because everyone had gone on holiday, or because it was after sunset. About two blocks off a four-lane street, I turned left and recognised the building I’d seen in the photographs she’d sent me. An old stone building with a conical roof on one side. Plants grew lush around it, and the layers of time and moss on the cream-coloured wall made the house look ashen. I double-checked the address at the door and keyed in the code. A digital beep unlocked a stale darkness. I opened the door and stepped inside.

I unpacked and slept long hours for several days under the Scottish sky that rained and cleared up several times a day. My chest slowly expanding and falling, I slept like a child learning to breathe for the first time.

I adjusted to life in ‘Dan and Suyeon’s House’ in the absence of Dan and Suyeon. I felt less alone than I had in Korea. Before Dokyeong died, I hadn’t been aware of the sounds I made around the house. They had mingled with the sounds he made, so I’d never noticed. After his death, I realised I made a lot of noise when I dragged my feet across the floor, used water, or slammed the door. I made the most noise when I was talking or thinking. The intended recipient gone, the uninspired, everyday words I said hung around my lips with nowhere to go. Our inside jokes, our banter, the intimacy and insults exchanged in our bed. The nagging that seemed it would go on forever. The worries and encouragements. The words floated around the house all day long. Like a bird crashing headfirst into a window-pane and killing itself, the words collided with his absence and fell to the floor every time. Only then would I remember, as if realising it for the first time, Oh, he’s not here anymore.


I was making kimchi that day. I’d laid out sheets of newspaper on the living room floor, and was reading my notes on ‘How to Make Radish Kimchi’. Like someone studying for an exam, I went over the recipe I’d inherited from my mother. I’d been hunched over on the spare bed in her hospital room as she dictated her instructions. I remember looking up at her as I’d done when I was a child because of the height difference between the spare cot and her hospital bed. Before I was fully grown – that is, at least until middle school – I was used to looking up at her like that. There was a time in my life when each time I looked at someone’s face, I saw the sky, too. There was a height difference in the world that made children grow. But once my mother passed away, the blue sky seemed like a foreshadowing of a place where people older than me were destined to go. It was as if I’d spent all of my childhood preparing myself for this time difference between parents and children that can never be narrowed. But I thought this only applied to people who were older. I believed it didn’t happen to people my age or younger, at least not for a while.

After I got married, I occasionally imitated Mum’s cooking. My own tasted different every time. It was good sometimes, and awful most of the time. I got pretty good at noodle soup with fish broth, but that was because I made it often for Dokyeong, who liked noodles. I managed beef radish soup and marinated bulgogi, but I never dared kimchi. It seemed like a big, difficult thing only mothers could do. But that day, for some reason, I wanted to try it. It was a spring day and I felt like trying something new, perhaps in light of our long discussion and ultimate decision to have a baby. I boiled sticky rice down to paste, ground dried pepper and onions, and chopped garlic and chives as I waited for Dokyeong to come home. Five bundles of fresh young radish sat in a pile next to the cutting board. I was almost done with the sauce when the phone rang. I was going to ignore it because my hands weren’t free and I didn’t recognise the number, but the call came three times in a row, and I finally had to pull off one rubber glove and pick up.

That was also the day you stopped smoking: cold turkey.


I don’t have a clear memory of what happened after that. When I think back on those days, scenes recede in random order and get cut off. Even when I wasn’t feeling emotional, tears streamed like the discharge from an infection down my stony face. I was sitting blankly by the shrine during the wake when my three-year-old nephew waddled toward me. He was my younger sister’s boy. He looked at me with a grim expression on his face. Then he, a child who couldn’t speak yet, put his cookie in my hand.

In the waiting room at the crematorium, my mother-in-law said in anger, ‘Not a single person from that family came to the funeral. Dokyeong died trying to save their boy. We’re not blaming them for anything. We’re not asking for their gratitude. No, we don’t share a single drop of blood, but isn’t it just plain good manners to pay your respects?’ She beat her chest.

‘I heard he had no parents,’ said my brother-in-law, who had spoken to people from the school who’d come to the wake.

‘How about grandparents? Relatives? Someone must have raised him. Shouldn’t at least one of them come to look at my Dokyeong’s face?’

‘It was just him and his sister. Two kids living on their own. She’s sick, too. She had to quit school....’

She tried to protest, but gave up. ‘If you couldn’t pull him out, why didn’t you save yourself! Dokyeong, my youngest.... My poor, sweet child. How do I go on without you? My baby. . . .’ she wept.


Three days later, I came home to the bowls and utensils I’d scattered across the living room to make kimchi. A white film of mould had formed on the sauce, and the radish was wilted and black. The house smelled musty and sour. I stared at the ingredients for a while and then went straight into the bedroom. I lay facing your side of the bed, looked at the dip in the pillow in the shape of your head, and closed my eyes.


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