The Diving Sun (Ember of Love) by Therese Young Kim
The Ember of Love - Meditation in the Sun
|Dear My Distinguished Web Guests: |
It has been nine months since the Coronavirus pandemic took us the prisoners of epic tragedy around the world, which feels more like nine years. But time rushes by as always and we are here like homecoming heroes from a war that is still raging. It makes us wonder what it is to have a normal life in the way we used to live, like breathing the air without thinking of it, or enjoy the sun shine on our bare faces, or walk around without distancing the strangers.
A staggering number of deaths have occurred every day, patients dying all alone, separated from their loved ones. Feelings of pain and grief are universal while it can be self-healing with passage of time, as the memory of love ripens as years go by. I know because I was there once, albeit a long time ago, under different circumstances.
When the sun is golden, I, like a sunflower, would breeze out of my cluttered apartment for the day. After fussing over the breakfast, I would check the email, make a call or two before getting dressed. Then I would pack my oversized laptop in my wheeled luggage with padded layers to protect from the bumpy Manhattan sidewalks, together with a small bag stuffed with my leggings for a gym visit.
My laptop holds the world of my poetry, stories, and a novel, ‘Nayoung’s Journey,’ that were written years ago and still being edited or rewritten on and off. Some were conceived while I was roaming around, listening to the rhythm and cadence of the city crowd and the melodious sounds of foreign languages brushing by my ear.
Therese in the Sunlight by Konrad Monroe
After some forty-five minutes I arrive at my familiar sidewalk in Midtown behind the ivory-colored sidewall of a fashion store. The sunlight so toasty-warm, beaming down from above the skyscrapers before cascading onto this sidewall of a fashion store, I come to a full stop to embrace the sunlight whole and complete. I lift my face toward the sky with eyes closed, as if ready for a sun-kiss.
I know I will be heading for a fast-food restaurant around the corner, where the lunch crowd will thin out by 2:30, leaving me a quiet space to sit down with my laptop over lunch, together with few remaining customers sitting like monks in prayer, solemnly staring at their smartphones well after lunch.
As I bask in the sun with my luggage close by me, I see the sea of egg-yolk-pink reflected from the sun hitting my closed eyelids. I listen to the footsteps of the pedestrians passing me, or to their singsong chatting.
In the sun, I remember my last visit with my umma (mamma) in my old country, S. Korea, when she was dying from a prolonged illness. She had been hospitalized for a few weeks before they announced they had done all they could and sent mamma home as she wished. We knew what it meant, but no one talked about it, except for surrounding her with love and care. The night before, a priest was called in for a prayer. As her pain turned worse, a priest was called in for a prayer and she was given a strong doze of a painkiller, which enabled her sleep through the night like an angel.
The gentle rays of the early morning sun filled up the room where I was sitting at the foot of my umma, listening to her deep regular breathing as if she were making up for all those sleepless nights of pain. Despite the damaged liver beyond repair, her delicate features still retained the elegance of a quiet beauty, like the chrysanthemum in the late autumn field.
Married at 20, she and papa lived for the love and sacrifice for their seven children, and now mama was dying at seventy-four years of age, my beloved umma! Who is this martyr of love, who had given me the freedom to leave the cocoon she and papa had built, in search of my selfish dreams in the West. But she waited with her undying trust for me, to be with her in her last moment that came all too soon.
I remember her being sick when I was nine-years old. I don’t remember why she was sick but determined to heal her I climbed up a cherry tree in the garden and picked the sweet dark berries and brought mamma a bowl of wild cherries. I’m not sure if mamma ate them, perhaps a few, but she was up soon and busy around the house, lighting up my spirit again and warming up the entire house with her loving energy. Gripped by a regret that I no longer believed I can cure mamma with cherries, all I could do is to be there and hang onto mamma’s dear life!
Her breathing now starts to quicken, eyelids gently rippling over her closed eyes, as if the painkiller is starting to wane, stirring her up. I start to panic, terrified that she might get attacked by the unbearable pain again. Gripped by fear I whisper like a prayer, “Umma— if you’re going to suffer in pain again, please, gently fly away to heaven like a butterfly, umma—”
To my utter surprise, as if she had heard my plea and trusted my words, she slightly raised her feeble hands giving one long sigh and dropped them to her sides. Then her breathing stopped in the speed of light gone, into the stillness of air, into the silence of time frozen, her face draped in the veil of tenderness and peace divine. In that stillness, her spirit seemed to be floating away like a butterfly invisible.
Gripped by a guilt for what I had said, I held her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze for her forgiveness. Why had I not asked her to stay one more day, one more week, or promise her I would take care of her if she woke up? But would I? Could I? Her hand in mine felt silky warm, almost fiery warm like the last spark of a dying ember that would stay forever warm for me.
Through her warm hand in mine, she seemed to tell me not to fear, for she is in comfort and peace in another world where pain is no more. In that stillness, she was telling me that I have only one life to live, so I should never stop pursuing my dreams till I find a place in the world she has never visited, however a humble one it may be, as her brave child, her beloved one…. I knelt and started to pray for mama.
After a three-day wake surrounded by the family, friends and relatives, mamma was buried in the sunny side of a hillside cemetery. I then left my grieving papa, brothers, and sisters, to return to my job in America, fall in love, get married and divorced, all in the span of twenty-five years that followed, while papa and three brothers passed one after another to join mamma in heaven.
Standing in the sun with a fresh sense of guilt for my selfish solitary existence, I close my eyes tight against the sun, which intensifies its warm rays onto my face, consoling me, like mamma’s warm hand in mine. Some seven minutes gone and feeling deliciously inebriated by the sun, I open my eyes and start rolling away my trunk for a warm cup of coffee and a paper plate of eggplant parmesan or a fluffy grilled cheese sandwich. After lunch, I will open my laptop and start a silent discourse with my heroine, Nayoung.
Today I must tell Nayoung about mamma, not about her death, but about the maiden girl called Chinju (Pearl), whose life was paved by courage and resilience while she was persevering through the most brutal Japanese annexation and the tragic Korean War. I must tell her story, for it is the only way to help Nayoung reclaim her lost American dream by remembering her roots and mamma’s ember of love.
My Distinguished Web Visitors, we all have stories of pain, grief and love, each as unique as the other, regardless of nationality, color of skin, rich or poor, which is the beauty of one life we have on this planet. It is why we should persevere through these tragic times, doing what we can to build better future together where kindness and humanity reigns!
GLORIOUS NEW YEAR TO YOU AND YOUR LOVED ONES!
December 2020 © Therese Young Kim
To Be Beautiful Again
The store is bright with florescent light, showering shelves of designer perfumes, cosmetics, medicines, toiletries and whatnot.
An elderly couple walk in. The frail, stooped man appears to be in his early nineties as he walks clinging onto the arm of the foot-taller woman in her late seventies. She is a blonde with her hair teased up like a cotton candy. Remnants of certain contours suggest she was once stunning, although her face has sagged into ample pouches around her chin and neck. Heavy swirls of rouge and uneven purple lipstick appear to have been applied in poor light.
The woman’s leopard hat projects a slightly decadent chic. Her black-leather boots have two-inch heels and creep tightly over her thick calves, revealing the lumpy knees below her tight buttery- leather black skirt.
The man’s over sized overcoat suggests he has shrunken considerably over the years as he stands before the sales counter with his lady, who is looking up at the sales clerk with a great anticipation. They seem glued to one another, straining up the neck rather painfully.
”What d’you want, ma’am?” asks the sales clerk, peering down the couple.
”I want a Lancôme lipstick!”
The sales clerk considers the woman’s purple lips and then pulls a tube of lipstick from the Lancôme section, removing the cap and holding up the exposed stick between her red-enameled fingertips.
“Is this the color you want, Ma’am?”
The woman narrows her eyes, and nearly sniffs the lipstick.
Looking exasperated by having stood for a considerable moment on his unsteady legs, the man turns his thin neck painfully toward his lady, as if he were dying to know the lipstick is the color she wants.
”HOU-nee, eez this leap-stick what you wan--?” From such a frail looking man, the voice sounds surprisingly loud.
Ignoring his question, the woman continues staring at the lipstick, seemingly suspended in indecision or in a reverie of some kind. The old man waits patiently in silence like a loyal dog, as if all that mattered in his remaining life was to find his lady the perfect lipstick.
Finally, she flutters her eyelashes overloaded with black mascara, as if she got a solution, opens her thin purse, and fishes out the old tube of lipstick. In her trembling hand, she brings the tube’s purple nub near the tube in the clerk’s hand and firmly announces.
”I want ex - AC - tly the color of this one!”
”Ma’am, this is in fact almost ex - AC - tly the color, except that the company has changed your color a little over the years.”
The woman tips her head to the side. Her man leans and moans into her ear, ”HOU-nee, she tells it’s almost ex - AC - tly the same color!” He then watches her purple lips longingly, waiting for assent.
He waits. And he waits, aware that she is determined to remain beautiful. A glimmer of hope lights up his blue eyes as if he was assured that there will be one more night to cuddle and be cuddled, breath to breath.
(Published in ROSEBUD as a Gardner winner, Issue 40)
By Therese Young Kim
New York, NY
Copyright © 2014
Behind the Blinds
The autumn sun is sinking behind a jagged Manhattan skyline like a huge Halloween pumpkin bleeding into a plum-pink twilight. Standing with a cup of honeyed jasmine tea behind my window on the top floor of a ten-story redbrick building, browned with the time, I’m listening to the seamless procession of Chopin’s Preludes streaming from my CD player in. The music, so elegant, languorous, and suffused with the colors of French impressionist paintings, I feel I’m in heaven in my cluttered studio apartment.Behind the Blinds
Just when I drank up the bottom nectar of the sweet tea remaining in the cup, and the music changing into a waltz, I notice a man moving behind a window of the high-rise twice taller than my building—taller, but it looks one dimensional and artless on its modern façade. There is another building separating us, which is a story lower than mine with a quaint-looking water tank, which looks like a plank turret standing on one side of the roof. Diagonally behind that tank, I can only see him in fuzzy profile from a distance, but clearly enough to recognize the man’s physique.
His large picture window standing somewhat parallel to my smaller one, I remember seeing him a few times behind that window before. Built stocky, he has closely-knit thick eyebrows under a crown of dark bushy hair over massive shoulders ― massive, but not in an athletic way. I imagine he may have patches of mossy chest hair that extend to the back of his shoulders and upper arms.
I now see him slowly pacing around the room, his frame a bit hunched forward like a bear looking for prey, clasping and unclasping his hands as if consumed in some sort of dark scheme. As I feel his intensity spilling on me through that distance, I narrow my glare over him like a sly fox. Dressed in a pair of dark baggy slacks and a loose shirt without a tie, I presume he could be a divorce lawyer, an accountant, or a theatrical director.
Before I know, he stops pacing and bends over a large briefcase on the floor, and pulls out what looks like a brown folder. As if he were aware of being watched by someone over his shoulder, but not once looking out the window, he moves ever cautiously. If he did look in my direction, I don’t think he could detect my small frame snug behind my partly drawn flimsy curtain. After a bit of hesitation, he sticks the folder under his armpit and walks to an adjoining room, which appears to be a bedroom with its own window.
In that room, I notice a small figure seated in an armchair. By the brownish long wavy hair flowing over the side of the chair, it is a young woman. He now walks to her, bends over, and says something. The woman nods, gets up from her chair, and walks to the window. She rolls down a blind, walks to the living room, and rolls down that window’s blind as well.
Although I no longer see them behind those closed blinds, I know that she is not the tall lithesome blonde I used to see in that apartment over the past six months or so. Every once in a while I’d notice the lovely blonde when she was there. She used to move around the dinner table behind the window, entertaining guests, occasionally waving her bare arms while she talked to someone, just like in a silent movie. Whatever the occasion, the couple usually had about six people around the table under a large chandelier that glowed in multiple hues, reminding me of a small cruise boat floating on the Hudson River on summer nights. I wasn’t even aware he had blinds then, since no one ever rolled them down.
But tonight, there is a new lady in that apartment ― a shorter brunette with a fuller figure ― and the blinds are lowered as if all that had been going on with his blonde was to be obliterated by his new brunette, who hurled down the blinds, like the curtain failing at the end of a play. All I see now is the pale metallic sheen from the closed blinds, reflecting the frailty of the night, of the human psyche, mocking me and my Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu.
"Behind the Blinds" was published in ROSEBUD #59 in 2015. It also appears at Tuck Magazine link: http://tuckmagazine.com/2017/04/05/fiction-8/)
By Therese Young Kim
New York, NY
Copyright © 2014
To the McDonald’s
It is noontime on a hot July weekday in midtown Manhattan. Cafés and delis bustle with lunchtime customers from nearby office buildings and from a construction site two blocks down. Car fumes and traffic noises mingle with warm summer haze hovering around a jagged skyline. About a dozen construction workers who spilled out onto the sidewalk with bags of sandwiches and cans of soda are sitting on the sidewalk against a building wall, legs outstretched, eating the lunch. In their dusty boots and soiled blue jeans and tee shirts, they’re in heaven, taking breaks in the secure ground level, away from the high scaffolding or the raised floors.
Just when I am about to turn the corner near Fleet Bank across the street, I hear someone yelling “Stop! Stop!” Quickly I turn and see a station wagon come to a sudden stop in the midst of backing from the curb. A little black boy in white shorts emerges from behind the rear tire of the station wagon and slumps onto the pavement. Immediately, one of the construction workers runs toward him. The boy looks no more than six years old.
“Are you hurt?” shouts the construction worker, and gently pulls the boy up by his arm from the pavement. The driver of the station wagon jumps out of his car, looking apprehensive.
“Are you okay?” the driver asks nervously as he approaches the boy.
The boy, looking surprised by the question, looks down his feet and shakes his spindly legs, one at a time, and gives an okay sign with two thumbs up, effortlessly, as if he had used that gesture many a time before. But then, his round brown eyes turn rounder realizing the attention showered by the two young white men who tower over him. Mystified by the child’s composure and calm, the driver keeps staring at him.
“Are you sure you’re okay?” he asks one more time, and, together with the construction worker, they turn the boy this way and that to check his legs. The boy winces with embarrassment and breaks into a peevish smile, revealing a couple of missing front teeth.
“I think he simply tripped over his sneakers,” says the construction worker. Relieved, the driver calls the boy a lucky boy, gets into to his car and drives off.
The construction worker remains and asks the boy where he was going. He points to the Fleet Bank across the street. The construction worker walks the boy across the street, into the bank, and speaks to a security guard. The guard leads the boy to a seating area, and the construction worker walks out of the bank and crosses back across the street. His fellow workers give him their thumbs-up, munching on their sandwich.
In the bank, an elderly black woman in gray cotton dress and a wide-brimmed straw hat walks from a teller’s window in a slow stride. She emanates an impression that she is not a stranger there. She used to come to the bank to cash her paychecks during the years she was working as an office cleaner in the area. Although retired for some time now, she still keeps her monthly routine visiting the bank to cash her modest pension and social security checks. She feels safer there than the uptown where she lives, especially with her grandson under her care while her daughter works during the day.
Checks cashed, she carefully stuffs the bank envelope into her brown handbag, slings it over her sloped shoulder, and clutches it to her chest. Satisfied with what she’s done, she narrows her eyes toward the seating area. The boy springs from the chair and runs toward her.
“Grandma! Grandma! Macdonal!” he calls out joyfully and points at the MacDonald across the street. Beaming with a smile, he stretches out his little arms and gives the woman a big hug, causing her pleasantly alarmed by this outburst of affection from the usually quiet boy. Unaware what had happened to her grandson while she was at the bank window, she slowly bends over and plants a kiss on his forehead.
“Yes, Davin boy, today IS your McDonald’s day!”
“Thank you, grandma!”
“You’re welcome, grandson!”
She gently takes hold of the boy’s hand and slowly heads to the door, her head getting heavy with an urgent disbursement to make for a new pair of sneakers for her grandson. It’s been a while since she had noticed the soles of his sneakers were eroding fast, causing him trip on the pavement. The boy, comforted by the assuring words of his grandmother, doesn’t say anything. Their hands locked together, the two walk quietly out of the bank, into the street and toward the yellow sign at McDonald’s with its smiling M.
("To the McDonald's" has been published in Tuck Magazine with a link: http://tuckmagazine.com/2017/04/05/fiction-8/)
By Therese Young Kim
New York, NY
Copyright © 2017