CAAMFest 36, May 10-24

March Lit: Excerpt from SHELTER by Jung Yun

March 7, 2016

Jung Yun's powerful debut, Shelter, chronicles a family trying to deal with the aftermath of a terrible tragedy, while also coming to terms with the unspoken violence and pain of their past. The book is a portrait of how trauma is passed through families intergenerationally. We are excited to bring you the full first chapter of the book.

-- Karissa Chen, Fiction and Poetry Editor


ONE

The boy is standing in the doorway again. He’s smiling, which hardly seems right. A smile means he’s not sick. He didn’t have a bad dream. He didn’t wet the bed. None of the things he usually says when he enters the room uninvited. Kyung nudges his wife, who turns over with a grunt, face-first into her pillow. He sighs and sits up, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” he asks. “What’s the matter?”

Ethan, still smiling, takes a step forward, holding a remote control in his outstretched palm. “Battery,” he says, pronouncing the word “buttery.”

“You want batteries now?”

He nods. “To watch cartoons.”

The curtains in the bedroom are open. The sky outside, a pale silvery blue. It’s early still. Too early to be thinking about batteries, but Kyung resists the urge to say so out loud. At this hour, he doesn’t trust himself to do it nicely. He kicks off the sheets, grazing Gillian’s leg as he gets out of bed.

“Five minutes,” she says. “I’ll be up in five.”

The night-lights flicker as they make their way downstairs, past floorboards that creak and sigh under their weight. Kyung finds a dusty package of batteries that he doesn’t remember buying. He swaps out the old for the new and hands the remote back to Ethan.

“You want some breakfast now?”

Ethan climbs onto the sofa and turns on the TV. “Okay,” he says, flipping from one channel to the next.

The boy always agrees to eat and then doesn’t. If given the choice, he’d probably subsist on a diet of grapes, popcorn, and cheese. The kitchen is down to the dregs of the week’s groceries. A spotted brown banana. A cup of cereal dust. Half a cup of almost-expired milk. Not much to work with, but enough. Kyung slices the banana into the cereal with the edge of a spoon, making a face with the pieces because Ethan is more likely to eat something when it smiles. As he tosses the peel into the trash, he notices the calendar pinned to the wall. There’s a circle around today’s date. Inside the thick red ring is a single word that disappoints him. Gertie. Weekends are best when there’s nothing to do and no one to see. A visit from Gertie is the exact opposite of nothing.

“Did your mom mention someone was coming over today?” he asks, depositing the bowl of cereal in Ethan’s lap.

“She said I have to clean my room.”

“I need to go talk to her for a minute. Will you be okay here by yourself ?”

“Dad, shhhhh.” Ethan points at the screen as a bright blue train speeds past. “I’m missing Thomas.”

Upstairs, Gillian is making the bed. The realtor is coming at ten, she says, confirming what he hoped wasn’t true. He wishes she’d mentioned this the night before, but he knows why she didn’t. Selling the house is her idea, not his. Kyung glances at the ornate paisley comforter, the expertly arranged pillows and bolsters, piled high like a soft hill. He wants to climb back into them, to pull the sheets over his head and wake up to a day that isn’t this one.

“I’m not canceling again,” she says.

“I didn’t ask you to.”

“But I can see it on your face.”

What she actually sees is surprise—surprise that Gertie would agree to another meeting with them. At his insistence, Gillian canceled their last three. It was dishonest of her to plan it this way, but he realizes he gave her no choice.

“Come on,” she says, taking his hand. “We have a lot to do before she gets here.”

They eat their breakfast standing up—a stack of dry toast on a paper towel. Kyung searches for something  to  moisten  the stale bread, but finds only a thin pat of butter, flecked with crumbs, and a jar of crystallized honey. He misses the pancakes and omelets that Gillian used to make before Ethan was born, the lazy meals they shared after waking up at noon. These days, breakfast is what they consume in large, distracted bites while attending to other things. Gillian is leaning over the counter, reading him the to-do list on her computer. Sweep floors, clean up laundry room, vacuum carpets, take out trash. It seems odd to go through so much trouble for a realtor, he thinks, someone they’re paying for a service. Gertie Trudeau is supposedly the best in town. She should be able  to  price  the  house  whether they do these things or not.

“What about the garbage disposal?” he asks.

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t you think I should fix it?”

“We’ll just tell her the sink’s clogged. It’s more important for everything to look clean.”

“I think I’ll try to fix it,” he says, because trying is his only means of protest.

Gillian puts on her shoes and opens the door to the garage. “Fine,” she says, in a tone that suggests just the opposite. “I guess I’ll start with the trash, then.”

Kyung has never fixed a garbage disposal before. He has only a vague idea of how it works—blades, motor, plumbing, pipes. He’s not handy like some of the other men in the neighborhood, the ones with toolboxes as big as furniture, always borrowing and lending the contents as if they were books. Kyung isn’t friendly enough with any of them to ask for help, although he sometimes wishes he could. The sink is half-full with foul gray dishwater—it has been for days. He’s not sure what to do about it except plunge his hand into the murk. An inch shy of elbow-deep, he finally touches the bottom. There’s a thick layer of grease in the chamber, solid like wax.

“Well, no wonder it’s clogged,” he shouts.

From the garage, a muffled “What?”

“I said ‘no wonder it’s clogged.’ ”

Gillian doesn’t respond. He’s about to remind her that cooking oil settles in the blades, but his wife is a selective listener. If she didn’t hear him the first time, she’s not likely to hear him now. He loosens the edge of something with his fingertips and removes a jagged shard of congealed fat. The air suddenly smells like rotten meat, the remains of a thousand family dinners. He feels an urge to gag that he traps with his fist and then a tug on the hem of his shirt.

“What are you doing?”

Ethan is standing behind him, still dressed in his pajamas. Around his waist is a tool belt with multicolored loops, most of which are empty. From the original set, the only pieces that remain are a bright yellow hammer and a miniature tape measure.

“I’m trying to fix the garbage disposal.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“Things just break sometimes. Have you cleaned your room yet?”

“I can fix it with you.” Ethan gets up on his tiptoes and bangs away on the chipped Formica.

Kyung pinches the bridge of his nose, massaging the dull rings of pain around his eyes. Every time the cheap plastic hammer hits the counter, he feels a little worse. “Stop,” he says, placing his wet hand over Ethan’s. “Please stop.”

Although he barely raised his voice, Ethan’s lower lip starts to tremble and his crusty brown eyes well with tears. Kyung doesn’t understand why his son is like this, so quick to cry. He’s not the source of it, and Gillian, who comes from a family of policemen, hasn’t cried once in the half decade he’s known her.

“It’s okay,” he says quietly. “But it only takes one person to fix a garbage disposal. Maybe there’s something upstairs that you can fix? Or outside, with Mom?”

Kyung watches carefully, waiting for the threat of tears to pass. He’s grateful when Ethan slips the hammer back into its loop and runs off to his room. The banging resumes almost immediately, still annoying and persistent, but less so with distance. He turns his attention back to the sink, throwing lumps of grease in the trash until the pileup resembles a tumor, opaque and misshapen and thick like jelly. After scraping the chamber clean, he runs hot water from the tap, hoping to see some improvement, but the water level doesn’t drop. Instead, the surface shimmers with a slick, oily residue in which he catches his reflection. He looks disappointed, as he often does on weekends when a minor household task unravels into something that resembles work. He imagines the rest of his day wasted on this project—driving to the hardware store for a new tool, disassembling things that he shouldn’t, searching the Internet for a clue. Nothing in his house works anymore, which is part of the problem.

By the time the realtor arrives, Kyung has completed exactly zero tasks on the to-do list. The garbage disposal, still broken, might even count as minus one. He watches from the window as Gertie rolls up in a silver Mercedes, sleek and recently washed. She parks in the driveway and surveys the lawn before ringing the bell, wrinkling her nose at the weedy flower beds. She looks different from her photographs, the ones posted on every other bus and billboard in town. Older, he thinks, and heavier too. When he greets her in the foyer, he notices that her teeth have been whitened, and she’s wearing diamond solitaires the size of erasers on her ring finger, in her ears, and around her neck. He distrusts her immediately, the way she screams sales.

“Pleased to meet you,” she says, shaking his hand as if pumping water from a well. “I’m glad we could finally make this happen.”

Gillian and Ethan join them in the foyer. They’ve both changed clothes. A pair of blue denim shorts and a button-down shirt for him. A yellow sundress for her, dotted with orange flowers. Kyung is still wearing the T-shirt and shorts he slept in. His feet are callused and bare, outlined with dirt from the sandals he wore the day before.

“Now, who is this precious little boy?” Gertie asks.

Ethan steps backward, hiding behind Gillian’s leg.

“Say hello to Mrs. Trudeau,” Kyung says.

Ethan extends his small hand to her, which she takes between her thumb and forefinger.

“How old are you?” she asks.

“Four,” he whispers, retreating behind Gillian again. She makes no effort to stop him, which they’ve discussed in the past. The boy is shy because they coddle him.

“What a gorgeous child,” Gertie says agreeably. “Biracial children are always so beautiful. The best of both parents, I think. You two are what? Chinese and Irish?”

“Korean,” he corrects.

Gertie quickly depletes her reserves of small talk and asks for a tour, which they start in the living room. Gillian takes the lead and tries to point out the nicer features of the house, describing even the smallest things too cheerfully, as if the person she needs to convince is herself. Kyung brings up the rear, occasionally stealing a peek over Gertie’s shoulder as she jots down notes in a leather-bound legal pad. The brick fireplace in the living room receives a check-plus, along with the bay window, the wood floors, and the size of the adjoining dining room. The kitchen appliances, the worn carpets on the second floor, and the water stains in the bathroom all receive a check-minus. Pantry and garage, check-plus. Wet basement and old boiler, check-minus. He isn’t insulted so much as impressed by the skill and speed with which she catalogs the good and bad. Gertie sees dollars, not disappointment, which is exactly what he needs right now.

After the tour, they sit down at the kitchen table while Gertie removes a manila folder from her briefcase. The label on the tab reads mcfadden—Gillian’s last name, not his.

“I pulled up some sales data on comparable houses in the neighborhood.” She flips through a few sheets of paper, frowning as if she left something behind at the office. “Of course, you know the market’s down right now.”

Under the table, Gillian taps nervously on Kyung’s leg. Get to the point, he thinks. Get to the point already.

“I’d say your biggest selling point is the neighborhood. The taxes are a little high here, but you’re in an excellent school district, and the commute to Boston is pretty reasonable. As for the house . . .”

He wants to cut her off and tell her about their plans. They had so many of them—a new kitchen, a sunroom, replacement windows, and a deck—but what does it matter now? It’s obvious they couldn’t afford to do any of it. That’s the hesitation he hears in her voice.

“. . . the house could use a fair amount of remodeling. And that boiler will have to be replaced soon, which won’t be cheap. Ah, here it is.” Gertie pulls out a piece of paper from the bottom of the stack and adjusts her reading glasses. “I’d probably suggest a list price of three hundred and sixty-five thousand dollars. Maybe you could go as high as three ninety if you’re not in a hurry to move, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that route.”

It doesn’t matter what she would or wouldn’t recommend. Even the higher price is less than what they hoped for, less than what they owe. Kyung forgets himself for a moment and rests his forehead in his hands. This is exactly why he put off the meeting for so long.

“I’m sorry. Is that not what you expected to hear?”

He can’t quite bring himself to answer the question. Although he knew Gertie wouldn’t be able to save them, at the very least, he thought she might throw them a rope.

Gillian sends Ethan into the living room and tells him to turn on the TV. “Can we be completely honest with you?” she asks.

“If you expect me to sell your house, you shouldn’t be anything but.”

“Well”—she picks at a line of dirt under her nail—“we’re kind of embarrassed about this, but you might as well know . . . my husband and I refinanced at the height of the market and took cash out against our mortgage, so we actually owe the bank about four hundred and eighty thousand for this place.”

The books and Web sites that Gillian always asks him to read refer to this state as “underwater” or “upside down”—terms he actively dislikes. It’s bad enough that everything in the house keeps breaking. He doesn’t need to imagine himself drowning too.

“So it’s a short sale,” Gertie says. Her expression gives away nothing. “They’re much more common these days. The trick is getting your bank to take a loss on the difference between what you owe them and what you can sell for.”

Her matter-of-fact tone should encourage him, but it doesn’t. He already knows their bank won’t agree to a loss unless they fall behind on their payments. By some sort of miracle, they haven’t yet, although they’re behind on everything else. Gertie fails to mention that a short sale would be disastrous to their credit rating, almost as bad as a foreclosure. No one would be willing to lend to them for years. Kyung can’t stand the idea of being reduced to a renter at his age, asking a landlord for permission to paint a room or hang up some shelves. He was raised to believe that owning a home meant something. Losing a home like this—that would mean something too.

“An alternative to selling now is renting this place out until the market picks back up. You could easily get twenty-five hundred a month, maybe even as much as three thousand.” Gertie turns to him. “Would you have somewhere else to go if I found you a good tenant? I actually know of a couple. They’re relocating to the area and want to get acclimated for a year before they buy.”

They do have a place to go, a place that makes sense financially, but it would wreck him to exercise the option, to explain why he had to. His parents live three miles away, just past the conservation land that separates their neighborhood from his own. As Gillian keeps pointing out, they have plenty of space, they could live there rent-free, and it’s what his parents wanted all along—to spend more time with their grandson. He just can’t imagine living any closer to them than he already does.

“Kyung’s parents own a six-bedroom up the hill,” Gillian says.

“Marlboro Heights.” Gertie is impressed. “Well, this will be perfect, then. I’ll call my clients and schedule a showing the next time they’re in town.”

The  conversation  is  moving  ahead  without  him.  Kyung hasn’t even committed to the idea of renting yet, and already, Gertie and Gillian are making plans.

“How do you know these people will even want to rent our house? What if they don’t like it?”

“What’s not to like?” Gertie stands up and walks to the kitchen window. “Second to Marlboro Heights, this is the best neighborhood in town. And look at this view. Trees as far as the eye can see.”

Their backyard abuts twenty-six acres of pine and spruce. The locals on both sides of the conservation land refer to it as the “green wall.” It was the feature Gillian fell in love with when they first started house hunting, that sense of being surrounded. The three-bedroom colonial was at the top of their price range, but he could tell how much she wanted it, and he wanted it for her. Now their decision is ruining them. He shakes his head and glances at Gertie, who hasn’t said a word since she turned toward the window. Her eyebrows are angled sharply into a frown, and her mouth is open as if she means to speak, but can’t.

“Is something wrong with the yard?” he asks.

Slowly, she lifts her finger and taps on the glass. “I think that woman out there—I think she might be naked.”

Kyung and Gillian gather around the window, craning to see what she does. Their backyard is empty except for the swing set and clothesline. The neighbors’ yards too—all empty. He looks out toward the overgrown field of weeds and wildflowers where their property line ends and the conservation land begins. Kyung’s eyesight isn’t what it used to be, but when he squints, he thinks he can see someone wading through the tall grass.

“Is she actually naked?” he asks.

Gillian leans in closer, fogging the glass with her breath. “Jesus, Kyung. I think that’s Mae.”

He narrows his eyes, trying to sharpen the blur of lines and colors coming at them. The woman’s hair is black like his, but with the sun parked behind a cloud, he can’t make out her face. It’s not her, he thinks. She’s limping. Mae doesn’t have a limp.

“You two know this person?” Gertie asks.

“I think it might be Kyung’s mother.”

He continues staring as the woman approaches, holding one hand over her breasts, and the other over her privates. Neither hand can obscure what Kyung realizes is not an optical illusion, not some crude misunderstanding of distance and light. His mother is completely naked.

“I’m sorry,” he says. “I don’t understand. . . .” Half of him wants to tear out of the house, but the other half wants to salvage the meeting by making up excuses. “She hasn’t been well lately. She’s . . . forgetful, I guess you’d call it.”

“My mother had Alzheimer’s too,” Gertie says. “It’s a sad way of losing someone. Why don’t I leave you two alone now?” She collects her papers and puts them back in the folder. “When I hear from my clients, I’ll give you a call.”

Kyung restrains himself, clutching the back of his chair as Gillian tries to show her out, but Gertie stops just before she reaches the door.

“I know you probably hate the idea of renters in here. Most people in your situation do, but it might not be the worst thing in the world to spend more time with your parents right now. I wish I had.”

Mae is fifty-six years old. She doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. She doesn’t have anything. But Kyung doesn’t bother to correct her because dementia is the only reasonable explanation for what she’s done. As soon as Gertie leaves, he runs out the back door toward the field, the same way he did when he saw Ethan turning blue at a neighbor’s birthday party. He was choking on a piece of candy, a thumb-sized chocolate that he wasn’t supposed to eat. Kyung was terrified at first, and angry later. Now he feels the full force of both. He rips a beach towel from the clothesline, and a plastic pin snaps off and hits him in the face, missing his eye by almost nothing.

The grassy field comes up to his knees, littered with things that he never noticed from a distance. Everywhere he steps, there’s broken glass and pieces of metal and thick patches of thistle that sting and scrape his legs. Even if the ground were free of obstacles, he wouldn’t look up. He can’t. His mother is so conservative, so timid about her body. She’s never even worn a bathing suit. He doesn’t understand how that woman became this one. As they meet near the middle of the field, Kyung turns his head and hugs her with the towel, covering the parts of her that he doesn’t want to see.

“What?” he shouts. But his thoughts are too scattered to finish the question. “Why?

Mae’s face is filthy. Her skin is covered with dark brown streaks. He worries that it’s excrement, a possibility no stranger than wandering naked from her house to his.

“Where are your clothes?”

Mae’s expression doesn’t change, not even when he shouts the question just inches from her ear.

“Help,” she says, followed by something in Korean—so low, he can barely make out the words.

“English. Speak English. I can’t understand you.”

“Help,” she repeats.

“I’m trying to.” He pulls the towel around her tighter, embarrassed by the sight of Mae so diminished, wrapped in hot pink sea horses and neon green stripes. “Where’s Dad? Can we call him to come get you? Can he bring you some clothes?”

“Aboji ga dachi shuh suh.”

“What? What are you saying?”

“Aboji ga dachi shuh suh.”

Korean is no longer the language he speaks with his parents. They retired it from use years ago, when Kyung was just a child. Like a dog, he sometimes recognizes the sounds of certain words, but doesn’t always grasp their meaning. Aboji ga . . . your father? Dachi shuh suh . . . hurt me? Your father hurt me? The air catches in his lungs as the question forms a statement, and suddenly everything forgotten is familiar again. He turns Mae’s face toward his, gently lifting her chin until he notices the bruises. Two in the center of her throat. Eight more fanning out on the sides of her neck. Fingerprints. When he backs away, the towel slides off her shoulders and falls to the ground, but Mae doesn’t reach for it or even cover herself with her hands. She just stands there, trembling as he takes in everything that he missed before. The scratches on her arms and breasts. The bloody patches where her pubic hair has been ripped out. Bruises everywhere. Bruises again.

Behind him, the kitchen door squeaks open and bangs shut. “Is she all right, Kyung? What’s going on?”

As Gillian approaches, his mother buries herself in his arms and starts to cry, but it’s like no cry he’s ever heard before. She wails, long and low, like a wounded animal that any decent man would have the sense to kill.

 

One of the paramedics asks if Mae speaks English. Kyung insists that she does—she’s fluent, he tells them—but she keeps screaming at all of them in Korean. Twice, she lurches up to a sitting position on the gurney and rips the oxygen mask off her face. When the paramedics try to strap her down, she fights them both, throwing punches as if she’s gone wild. Kyung has never seen his mother act like this before. She’s not the type to resist. He rests his hand on her shoulder, startled by the temperature of her skin, which is burning hot.

The female paramedic covers Mae with a thin, crackly sheet that looks like tinfoil. “Don’t touch her,” she warns. “She has frostbite.”

“But it’s June. And it was warm this morning.”

“But it was raining last night,” she snaps. “Those blisters forming around her ankles? That’s trench foot. She was probably out in the woods since yesterday.”

The woman doesn’t try to hide that she blames Kyung for what happened. He bristles at this, the idea that he’s somehow responsible, or irresponsible.

“My father did this. She told me, right before I called you. She said, ‘Your father hurt me.’ ”

The woman glances at her partner as he prepares an IV line. When he finishes inserting the needle into Mae’s arm, he knocks on the sliding glass door that separates them from the driver.

“Ten-sixteen,” he says. “Call it in.”

The driver nods and picks up his radio.

Mae tries to say something, but it’s muffled by the seal of her oxygen mask. Kyung leans down beside her ear. “Everything’s going to be fine.”

He’s told this lie so many times in the past, but something about it feels different now. He’s no longer a small child or a sullen teenager, lifting himself up to play a part. He’s a thirty-six-year-old man with a promise to keep. Kyung was a freshman in college when he threatened to kill his father if he ever raised a hand to Mae again. Even though his voice cracked as he said the words out loud, even though he fully expected to become the object of the beating instead of the observer, the threat was surprisingly effective. Jin started going to counseling once a week. He became a regular at prayer group and Bible study. For eighteen years, he lived like a changed man—not a loving or caring man, but the absence of rage was change enough. Still, Kyung couldn’t rule out the possibility that a day like this would come, and now, of course, it has. Why it started again, why it happened with such a different, demented kind of violence—he can’t even begin to understand. His father was always a hitter. Open hand or closed fist. An occasional kick to the ribs or back. But the patches of pubic hair ripped out by their roots—this is something new. He shakes his head, trying to rid himself of the image. He can’t imagine what his mother did to deserve such a beating, but that was always the point. She didn’t deserve any of them.

Mae falls asleep during their last few minutes in the ambulance, despite a stretch of potholed road that jolts Kyung’s spine. As he sees the hospital approaching in the window, he’s tempted to ask the driver to circle the block. That’s what he used to do with Ethan, who had colic as a baby. The car was one of the few places where he could sleep, so Kyung often drove around the neighborhood, over and over again, to soothe Ethan’s frayed nerves and his. It always felt like a shame to wake him at the end of the ride. Despite everything that’s happened, Mae appears peaceful for the first time since he saw her in the field, a peace that ends as soon as the ambulance stops and the paramedics fling open the doors.

Suddenly, people are coming at them like locusts. Everyone is talking over each other—the doctors, the nurses, the paramedics. Mae is screaming again, banging her head against the gurney with such force, a nurse has to hold her down. Kyung assumes he’ll be allowed to go into the exam room with her, but a doctor waves him off.

“Check in over there,” he says.

Kyung watches as they wheel Mae away, struggling against her restraints like a psych patient. He should be with her, he thinks. He feels terrible for being so impatient in the field, barking questions in her ear while she was asking for help.

At the front desk, a dough-faced woman hands him some forms to fill out and asks for Mae’s insurance card.

“Insurance?”

“Yes, does she have any?”

He isn’t sure what bothers him more—the fact that she’s asking now, or the fact that he doesn’t know.

“I think so.”

“Any idea who she’s covered by?”

“No.”

“Fine,” she sighs. “Just do the best you can.”

Kyung fills out the top section of the cover sheet—Mae’s name, address, telephone number, and birth date. He’s not sure about the answers to anything else, so he slides the clipboard across the counter.

The woman scans the form and tries to slide it back. “You missed a bunch.”

“I can’t fill out the rest.”

“You don’t know if your mother has any preexisting conditions?”

“No . . . we’re not really that close.”

The woman lifts and lowers her eyebrows. “Okay, then. The police are waiting to talk to you. I think they’re around the corner.”

“They’re here already?”

“The paramedics called ahead.”

Of the three men standing beside the soda machine, Kyung recognizes two of them: Connie, Gillian’s father. And Tim, her brother. Both appear to be off duty, dressed in T-shirts and jeans as if they were interrupted mid-barbecue. Their faces are angled toward a small television set hanging from the ceiling that’s tuned to a Red Sox game. Kyung approaches slowly, then slower still until he comes to a stop and takes a deep breath. He didn’t ask Gillian to call her family. He wishes she hadn’t.

“Connie,” he finally says.

His father-in-law turns around. “What’s going on? Is she all right?”

Kyung nods, but he’s not convinced.

“This is Officer Lentz. He’s here to take your statement.”

He looks at the third man’s face, alarmed by the roundness of it, the absence of stubble or wear. “How old are you?” he asks. He blurts out the question before he realizes what an insult it levies.

“Twenty-nine.”

Lentz emphasizes the word “nine,” which Kyung assumes people mistake for “five.”

“Matt’s a good guy. He knows what he’s doing.” Tim rests a protective hand on Lentz’s shoulder.

“So what happened?” Connie asks. “Gilly called in a fit about your mom getting beaten up.”

Kyung nods again, staring at the checkered tile floor. This is too much to say in front of his in-laws, too much history that he’s guarded from people like them.

Connie seems to sense this because he steps toward him, lowering his head to look Kyung in the eye. “She said you men- tioned something about your father before the ambulance arrived? He’s done this kind of thing before?”

Connie’s eyes are blue, blue like Gillian’s. For the first time, Kyung sees something resembling kindness in them. Not suspicion, like the day she brought him home to meet the family. Or apathy, like every other Christmas and Thanksgiving since. Being married to his daughter wasn’t enough to earn this man’s affection, but being a victim somehow is.

“It used to be pretty regular. A long time ago.” Kyung pauses. “My mother told me he did this to her—when she came to the house today, she said so.”

Lentz is taking notes with a small blue pencil, the stubby kind used by golfers. Kyung watches the lead leave a neat trail across the page. Every letter is perfectly slanted and looped; it looks like a woman’s handwriting, or a young girl’s. He wonders if Lentz has ever been assigned to anything more serious than a bike theft.

“That seems like enough to go talk to him, don’t you think?” Connie asks. “Mind if we come along?”

Although he phrased it in the form of a question, it’s obvi- ous that Connie expects the younger man to defer to him, which he does.

“I want to go too.”

The three men look at Kyung, then at each other.

“That’s probably not such a good idea,” Tim says. “Maybe you should wait—”

Connie swings his arm in front of Tim’s chest like a barricade. “It’s okay if he wants to come. Someone does this to a guy’s mother, he has the right.” He doesn’t bother to consult Lentz about this. He simply starts walking toward the exit. “Just promise me you’ll stay out of the way.”

What he promises to do and what he thinks he’ll do are two different things. Kyung is convinced that when he sees Jin, he’ll go straight for the old man’s throat, pressing his thumbs into the hollow until someone pries him off. Connie and Tim might respect him more for the effort, although the McFaddens are the kind of men who always seem ready to fight, which ensures that they never have to. Kyung doesn’t feel comfortable around them, making their presence today even odder. He reminds himself that Gillian couldn’t have known any of this was going to happen when she called. It’s not her fault that he’s sitting in the back of Connie’s Suburban, following Lentz’s squad car up the hill toward Marlboro Heights.

“I keep forgetting,” Tim says. “What’s your dad teach again?”

“Engineering. Mechanical engineering.”

“College professor ought to know better than to hit a woman, don’t you think?”

Tim turns around in the passenger seat, his expression a cross between menacing and sly. He’s a hulk of a man, even taller and thicker than Connie. The question was probably his dumb idea of a trick. Kyung is a college professor too. Tim wants to hear him say the right thing.

“Everyone,” he answers.

“Everyone what?”

“I think everyone should know better.”

The main road into Marlboro Heights is a wide, neatly landscaped street. The houses along this stretch are the cheapest in the neighborhood because of their proximity to traffic. Still, Tim whistles at the sprawling Victorians with their chemical-green lawns and tall, leafy shade trees. It occurs to Kyung that his in-laws have never visited his parents’ house before. They were invited once, shortly after he and Gillian eloped, but they declined the invitation, which was never extended again. Under different circumstances, he would have been proud to bring them here. Mae and Jin live near the top of the hill in a stunning Queen Anne, built in the 1860s and restored to ornate, expensive perfection.

When they pull into the horseshoe driveway, Tim leans out his open window, taking it all in. “This doesn’t look like a college professor’s house.”

“My father still earns money from his patents.”

“His what?”

“He invents things.”

“Never mind all that.” Connie turns around in his seat. “Remember what you promised. You’re going to keep your head in there, right?”

Kyung feels like a bullet sitting in a chamber. Compressed and powerful, ready to inflict damage. Sending his father to jail isn’t the same thing as killing him, but it’s close. Close enough.

“I’ll be fine.”

Lentz is waiting for them on the doorstep. As they walk up the flagstone path, Kyung notices that all the drapes have been pulled shut. Lentz picks up the brass knocker and raps the handle against the door. When no one answers, Connie pounds on it with his fist.

“I guess he took off,” Lentz says. “No cars in the driveway.”

Kyung lifts a flowerpot filled with marigolds and removes a spare key from the draining dish. His father is smart, smart enough to park the Lincoln a few blocks away to give the appearance that no one is home. That would explain the drapes. He tries to offer the key to Lentz, who steps away as if it’s a grenade.

“We can’t use that. We’ll have to come back later.”

“Hold on, hold on,” Connie says. “You ever let yourself in with that key before?”

“A couple of times. Why?”

“And your parents didn’t mind, did they? Didn’t complain?”

“No. They told me where to find it.”

Connie turns to Lentz. “It’s not illegal entry if he had prior consent. I say we go in.”

“Come on, Connie. That’s a stretch. You know how much trouble we’d get into—how much trouble I’d get into if I had to explain this to someone?”

Their conversation is beginning to frustrate him. Kyung doesn’t care about illegal entry or prior consent. All he knows is that his father is hiding somewhere inside, and he wants to see Jin’s face when he realizes the police have come for him, that his own son brought them here for him. This is reason enough to go in. He turns the knob clockwise, surprised to find no resistance. Before Lentz can tell him not to, he pushes the door open, and the conversation behind him stops midsentence. In the entryway, the antique console that usually holds flowers and mail has been tipped over onto its side. One of its legs is broken, lying a few feet away like a junky dowel. There’s paper everywhere, loose sheets that look like bills, and pages from books that have been torn out of their bindings.

“Je-sus,” Tim says under his breath.

“Mr. Cho?” Connie shouts. “Police.”

The three of them push past Kyung, their need for a reason to enter apparently satisfied by the damage now in plain sight. He follows them in, careful to walk around the broken house- plants and figurines in the entryway, if only to examine how methodically his father destroyed all of the things his mother loved. Above the staircase is a long stretch of wall where the family photographs used to hang. Most of the frames have been thrown to the floor and stepped on. There’s glass everywhere; the photos have been torn into pieces like old receipts. Kyung stares at the ruined faces, the fragments of eyes and ears and lips pursed tight. The photos were originals, the only evidence left to document his childhood or birth. Gillian occasionally nagged him to get reprints, but he always assumed they’d be his to inherit one day. He can’t imagine a more intentional insult from his father than the black-and-white scraps scattered across the stairs, tossed like makeshift confetti.

When he joins the others in the living room, the air smells thick with stale smoke. Connie is standing next to the bookcases, studying the damage as if searching for clues about the kind of family his daughter married into. A half-dozen empty liquor bottles are strewn around the room, and the paintings above the fireplace—paintings that Jin took such pride in collecting—are lying in the corner. The canvases have been kicked in, their peaceful seascapes damaged beyond repair.

“Classy,” Tim says, picking up a crystal decanter filled with tobacco-colored liquid and floating stubs of cigars. “Your dad likes to drink, I’m guessing.”

“No, not anymore. Not like he used to. The bar is just for guests.”

“Looks to me like he went on a bender.” He puts the decanter down and motions toward an empty bottle of cognac on the end table.

Tim’s explanation should make sense, but it doesn’t. Nothing in this room makes sense. The volume of chaos is too much for one person, especially a man pushing sixty.

“Does it always get this crazy?” Lentz asks.

“Never,” Kyung says, and this is the part that’s beginning to worry him. He knows his father is capable of hitting a woman. And taking a bat or a broom to his mother’s antiques, he can imagine this too. But what bothers Kyung is that his father isn’t the type of person to destroy his own things. The painting of Nauset Beach on Cape Cod—the one torn out of its frame and lying on the floor—it was one of Jin’s most prized possessions. He shakes his head, unable to sort through the mismatch between what he knows and what he sees.

“I don’t think my father could have done all this,” he says quietly. “I think, maybe—they were robbed.”

Connie is the first to pick up on the panic in Kyung’s voice, the first to understand they might not be alone. He lifts the back of his shirt and removes a gun from his waistband while Tim quickly does the same. For a moment, Lentz seems as startled as Kyung is to realize they’ve been wearing holsters under their clothes, but he follows their lead and draws his weapon. Connie puts a finger to his mouth and points three times—at the staircase, the hallway, and the front door. Suddenly, Kyung feels someone grabbing his shirt and pushing him toward the entryway against his will. With one quick shove, he lands against the porch rail, flung out into the daylight like a drunk at a bar. He turns to see Tim running up the stairs as the front door clicks shut.

He wonders if he’s supposed to do something—use the radio in Lentz’s car to call for backup, or ask the neighbors to call 911. His only point of reference is movies, bad ones that frighten him nonetheless. He expects to hear gunfire or see a chase across the lawn, but minutes pass, and nothing happens. The neighborhood is the same rich kind of quiet it always is, punctuated by birdsong and little else. A woman jogs by with two children in a running stroller, the littler of whom offers Kyung a wave that he doesn’t return. Occasionally, a car drives by at a respectful, residential speed. The longer nothing happens, the more he begins to accept the possibility that everything is fine, or will be soon enough. The people responsible for the robbery are probably long gone by now, and his father probably went to the police station to report what they’d lost. He’s comforted by this theory, the safety of it, even though it doesn’t begin to explain what happened to his mother.

Kyung circles the porch, looking into windows that offer no view of the rooms inside. He should have known something was wrong when he saw the drapes. Mae’s only hobby is making the house look nice. Her philosophy is to let the neighbors see. All her work over the years—the antiques and art and books arranged just so—he can’t believe how much of it has been de- stroyed. Something about the damage almost seems personal, as if the people who robbed them knew exactly what his mother valued most.

As he walks around to the front of the house, the door opens and Tim appears with Marina, his parents’ housekeeper. She’s the last person he expected to see, wrapped from head to toe in a bedsheet, clutching the ends together with her fists. The flowery green print is thin, thin enough to notice that she’s naked underneath. Kyung understands what this means. Two naked women, both brutalized. Marina’s left eye is swollen shut and the bridge of her nose is as thick as a pipe. Her long brown hair is ratty, electrified. He’s about to say something to her—what, he doesn’t know—but Tim locks his jaw and shakes his head violently. Not now. Marina passes Kyung without saying a word, her expression glassy, stunned by the light. Jin follows a few steps behind, supported by Lentz, who struggles to stay upright under his weight.

Kyung isn’t prepared for the sight of his father so bloodied. He’s imagined it a thousand times—the twin black eyes, the split lip, the bruises turning an angry shade of purple—but not like this.

“What happened? How did this happen to you?”

“My glasses,” Jin says, pulling on the hem of Kyung’s shirt. “I can’t see.”

“Later. Tell me what happened.”

“I can’t see.”

He wants his father to stop touching him and answer the question, but Jin keeps reaching for him in a panic. “All right. All right. I’ll get them for you. Where are they?”

“In the bathroom upstairs. I have extras.”

Kyung turns toward the door and runs into Connie, who sends him backwards with a shove to the chest.

“Where the hell are you going?”

“He said he left his glasses in the house.” “

I’ll send someone in to get them later.”

“But he can’t see.”

Connie pushes him again, harder this time. “Forget the glasses. There’s a body in there.”

 

The name of the deceased is Lyndell Perry. “Dell” for short. Lentz removes two photographs of him from an envelope and hands them to Kyung. The first is a mug shot, faxed by the Georgia state correctional system. The second is a photo snapped in his parents’ bathroom, where Lentz says he died of an over- dose, probably heroin or meth. Kyung studies the pictures carefully, certain that he’s never seen the man before, but not certain if he’s looking at the same man. The Dell Perry pictured in the mug shot is young and vaguely handsome, with short black hair, pale eyes, and cheekbones that slice toward his temples. The hollowed-out man sitting on the toilet, leaning against the wall with a belt cinched around his arm—he looks like someone else.

“You sure?” Lentz asks. “You’ve never seen him before?”

Kyung shakes his head.

“Maybe he did odd jobs for your parents? Painting, maybe? Or moving some furniture around?”

“I don’t think so. My mother uses a decorator for things like that.”

“Then what about this guy?”

Lentz hands him another mug shot, this one taken by the State of North Carolina. The man in the photo appears to be a relative of the first. He has the same face, but older and thicker, with less hair and more neck.

“I’ve never seen him either. Why are you asking?”

“They work together sometimes. They’re brothers, actually, but this kind of robbery—it’s more along the lines of the older brother’s MO.”

“What were they in prison for?” Lentz doesn’t respond.

“Come on. I’ve been here for hours and no one will tell me anything. I can’t even get in to see my mother.”

The population of the hospital’s waiting room has tripled since Kyung returned from his parents’ house. The police are everywhere. Some are in uniform, but most are off duty, wearing their shields around their necks like oversized pendants. The crime rate in Marlboro is low, almost nonexistent. Occasionally, a car goes missing or some college students throw a party that gets out of hand, but what happened to his parents is different, a fact that everyone in the room seems to understand. Kyung wouldn’t mind being surrounded by the police if they were actually being helpful, but none of them appear to be doing anything, not even Connie, who keeps moving around from person to person, talking to everyone but clearly avoiding him.

Lentz leans in and motions toward the picture of the first man. He lowers his voice to a whisper. “This one’s been in and out for drug possession, breaking and entering, and robbery. His older brother here, Nathan, his sheet is about twice as long. Assault with a deadly weapon, robbery, armed robbery . . . He was in Walpole for six years and then jumped parole back in February. We were lucky the state police had an APB out for him.”

Kyung studies the photos again. Dell and Nathan Perry. White trash names if he ever heard them, probably from some country backwater down South. He doesn’t understand how they ended up in Marlboro, in a neighborhood so wealthy that driving an older-model car feels like a crime.

“What was this one on parole for?” Lentz pretends not to hear the question.

“What was he on parole for?” Kyung repeats, loud enough to turn heads this time.

“It was rape, okay? Jesus, be quiet.” Lentz collects his pho- tos and walks away, disappearing down the corridor.

Kyung knew the answer before he heard it. He knew the minute he saw Marina leaving the house. As she walked down the front steps, the wind lifted a corner of the bedsheet and he caught a glimpse of her bare skin. There were rope burns around her ankles. He could guess what the ropes were for. Marina is young and pretty—a nice Bosnian girl with a figure that’s hard not to notice. Usually, she cleans for his parents on Tuesdays and Fridays. It’s Saturday now. He wonders how long they were trapped in that house together, and his chest begins to tighten. He wants to know what they did to his mother. He does, but he doesn’t.

Across the room, Gillian appears, her long red hair looking even wilder than usual. She seems harried, as if she sped the entire way and left the headlights on in the parking lot. She tries to squeeze into the waiting area, but three officers form a wall to block her from entering. Before Kyung can get up, his father-in-law pushes the men aside and leads her through the crowd, depositing her in the empty seat next to Kyung.

“Where’s the kid?” Connie asks.

“I finally got a neighbor to watch him.” She takes Kyung’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “Tim told me everything on the phone. I’m so sorry,” she says. “I’m so, so sorry.”

“You shouldn’t be here right now, Gilly. Neither of you, really. Maybe you should both head home for the night.”

“Dad,” Gillian snaps. “We’ll decide whether to stay or go.”

Kyung has seen this a thousand times. Connie pushing, Gillian pushing back. Tim could never get away with it, but Gillian always does, probably because she’s a girl, the baby of the family. Connie returns to a huddle of older officers, most of whom are standing with their arms crossed or their hands in their pockets as if they’re waiting for something. Waiting for what? he wonders.

“Who’s looking after Ethan?”

“Marianne.”

He pictures all the women in their neighborhood, unable to match the name with a face. “Which one is she?”

“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. What do you need right now?”

A gun comes to mind, not that he’d know what to do with it. “I couldn’t even tell you.”

“I’m so sorry,” she repeats, rubbing circles into his back. She wasn’t supposed to be here. He told her to stay home with Ethan, but now that she’s sitting beside him, Kyung doesn’t mind. Gillian knows he’s not a talker; he never has been. She doesn’t press him for details or ask any unnecessary questions. She just reaches into her book bag and hands him a bottle of water. Then she opens one for herself. He wonders if she’ll of- fer him a cookie or granola bar next because this is who she is now, the type of woman who carries snacks in her bag. They sit like this for several minutes, looking around the room but not speaking to each other. Kyung studies the elderly couple wedged in the corner, shaded by the canopy of a potted palm. The husband is dressed in pajamas and a robe, sucking oxygen from a portable tank while his wife flips through a Readers Digest. No one has spoken to them since they checked in. The construction worker too. He’s been waiting even longer, holding a melting bag of ice against his bloody thumb.

In high school, Kyung spent most of his spare time in hospitals, doing internships or community service. He liked watching the doctors race through the halls, so competent and professional, motivated by purpose. It never occurred to him that he’d be anything other than a doctor when he grew up, an idea he was quickly disabused of after dropping out of med school. Now hospitals make him nervous. He dislikes their antiseptic smell and sickly desert color palettes. And the whispering—so much whispering—like the walls will collapse if the sound level rises above a murmur. Occasionally, Kyung overhears something about the mayor or next year’s union contract. But mostly, the conversation is about his parents—what happened, what the cops think happened, what will probably happen next. He learns that Jin has multiple broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder, and a concussion. Marina is in surgery—for what, he doesn’t know. The cops refer to the men who did this as animals and degenerates. They say the dead guy is lucky that he’s dead. Only once does he hear any mention of his mother. That poor fucking woman, someone says, which sends Kyung’s eyes straight to the ceiling, to an old water stain blooming on the paint. It feels like the roof is about to fall on top of him.

When Gillian finishes her water, she removes a textbook from her bag, a huge brick of a book called Educational Psychology. A fringe of Post-its lines the pages she marked—so thick and colorful, it seems like she marked everything. He’s surprised that she brought it, but she brings it everywhere these days, squeezing in a few pages of reading whenever she can. Gillian is studying for her master’s degree in school counseling, usually a class or two every semester. The plan is for her to go back to work when Ethan starts kindergarten, to finally start making some money like she used to. Kyung covers his eyes, overwhelmed by the thought of ever having a plan again. It feels like they’ll never leave this waiting room. For the rest of their lives, they’ll always be here.

“What’s the matter? Do you not want me to read right now?”

“I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“I never told you.” He wonders if this will be enough, if the nature of his sin is so obvious that she won’t need more than this to understand.

“We don’t have to talk about that right now.” She closes her book anyway. “It makes sense, though.”

“What does?”

Gillian shrugs. “I thought it was kind of strange—how you never wanted to spend time with your parents. And then when we had to, you’d get so stressed out.” She stares at her book, running her hand over the shiny cover. “Some school counselor I’m going to be. I had no idea your dad used to hit you.”

Kyung jerks his head at her. “I didn’t say he hit me.”

“Honey, it’s okay. You don’t have to—”

“No. Listen. He never hit me, not even once. He only hit my mother.”

“But that’s not common. You know that, right?” Gillian shakes her head. “I’m sorry. Let’s, let’s just talk about this when you’re ready.”

Kyung doesn’t know if he’ll ever be ready. He wants to discuss it now, and then never again. “My father didn’t hit me. It probably would have been better if he did.”

“That’s awful. Why would you even say that?”

Because it’s worse to listen to someone in pain, he thinks. Because hearing a beating and not being able to do anything about it are their own form of punishment. This is the truthful answer, the one Kyung knows he should give, but he doesn’t like the damage it implies.

“I always thought that if my mother didn’t do certain things, if she behaved better, like me, then he wouldn’t have a reason to.” He glances at Gillian, at the perfect O her mouth makes when she doesn’t know what to say. “I don’t think that now. I used to, though.”

Gillian sits back in her seat, leaning her head against the wall. He can see the wheels spinning, the way she’s reconciling everything she knew about him with what she knows now. There was a reason why he didn’t want a big wedding, why he hates family gatherings, why he threatened to move when his parents bought a house so close to their own. He’s tempted to tell her not to apply her little textbook lessons to him, but her arguments would probably make more sense than his denials. He waits for her to continue where they left off. Instead, she places her hand on top of his, not quite holding it, just resting it there as she would on a table or chair.

“What?” he asks. “I know you want to say something, so just say it.”

“I guess I don’t understand, then. Your mom—the way you’re kind of mean to her sometimes.”

Kyung pulls his hand away. “Just shut up, Gillian.”

He’s never dismissed her like this before, not even as a joke. She isn’t the kind of woman to take that from anyone, which is what he liked about her in the beginning, what he likes about her still. He waits for a response, but the longer nothing happens, the more he begins to accept the fact that she’s given him a bye. When she opens her book again, he sits back in his seat, not certain if he feels terrible or relieved.

At half past six, a doctor appears in the waiting room. He’s an Indian man with dark skin and a full head of shock-white hair. Something about him is different from the others, the ones who wandered in to see what the commotion was about and then left. This one is searching. His eyes sweep the crowd slowly, stopping when they land on Kyung.

“Will you please come with me, Mr. Cho?”

The police back up to clear an aisle, their bodies parting like some strange, biblical sea. Kyung tries not to look at their faces as he and Gillian pass. All he feels in this gauntlet of men is pity. He realizes this is what everyone has been waiting for, the moment in which he learns how bad is bad. Near the end of the row, Connie takes a step forward, volunteering to join them, as if he’d ever thought twice about Mae or Jin in the past. Kyung squeezes Gillian’s hand, hopeful she knows him well enough to understand the message he’s trying to send. Keep him away from me.

“Should I come with?” he hears Connie ask.

“No. Not right now, Dad.” Gillian pats him gently on the chest, her voice lowered to minimize his embarrassment. “I’ll let you know.”

The doctor leads them into a break room and shuts the door behind him. Despite the tables and chairs, no one bothers to sit—Kyung has been sitting long enough. He and Gillian stand next to the window, which overlooks the hospital parking lot below, and just beyond it, the back end of a car dealership. The doctor leans awkwardly on the corner of the table, resting an expensive brown loafer on one of the chairs while he pages through his records. His name is long and unpronounceable, both first and last. Kyung studies the tag clipped to his white coat, trying to parse out the syllables. Ra-jen-dra-ku-mar Ba-nu-su-bra-man-i-am. He should know the name of the man who’s treating his parents, but as he listens to the doctor introduce himself, he still can’t make sense of what to call him.

“Your father’s in stable condition now. His CAT scans and vitals are all good, and we’ve injected an anesthetic into the area around his ribs, which seems to be making him more comfortable.”

“What about my mother?”

“She’s resting now. I suspect she’ll sleep through the night. Normally, I would have let the police talk to her before using that much sedative, but the physical exam was—challenging.”

“She’ll be all right though, won’t she?” Gillian asks.

The doctor nods, but Kyung doesn’t like the way his expression changes. People who work in emergency rooms are supposed to have a high tolerance for the worst kinds of injuries. The discomfort on the doctor’s face suggests that he’s still struggling with Mae’s.

“Physically, her injuries weren’t very severe. Mostly lacerations and bruises. A sprained ankle. All the same, I’d like to keep her here a few days for observation.”

There’s a clock above the water cooler, an old-fashioned one with black hands and a red line that sweeps through the seconds. Kyung has been at the hospital all afternoon. It was light when he arrived, and now the sky outside is turning a deep, ink-washed blue. The streetlights are all lit, their halos swimming with mosquitoes. Six hours, he thinks. Six hours and no one will confirm what he already knows.

“They raped her, didn’t they?”

The doctor lowers himself into a chair, settling into the molded plastic as if preparing for a longer conversation. “There’s evidence of that, yes.” He doesn’t look at Kyung as he says this. Instead, he stares at a scuff mark on the floor. “I’ve taken all the necessary precautions against STDs and HIV—antibiotics and antiretrovirals—but I opted against the morning-after pill since she’s postmenopausal. Like I said, she’ll recover from the cuts and bruises soon enough, but everything else . . . I think she’ll need quite a lot of counseling to work through.”

Kyung rests his forehead on the window, gently tapping his head against the glass. Postmenopausal, STDs, HIV, morning- after pill. These are words that don’t belong together in any sentence. He doesn’t understand what kind of people would rape a fifty-six-year-old woman. Even the word: “rape.” It rings and rings in his ears, and he can’t make it stop.

“Enough, Kyung. That’s enough.”

Gillian is digging her fingernails into his skin. The doctor is trying to pin back his arms.

“Do you hear me?” she shouts. “That’s enough.”

Kyung staggers back a step. There are prints all over the window, greasy prints from his fists and forehead that he doesn’t remember making. He has no idea how long he’s been banging on the glass, but the pain catches up with him quickly. He puts his hands out for balance, struggling to stay upright as pinpricks of light float through the room. The doctor eases him into a chair while Gillian slides a cup of water in front of him.

“You need to calm down, Kyung. That’s not helping anyone.”

He brings his fist down on the cup, smashing the paper flat and spraying water across the table. Gillian and the doctor jump back. She looks at him disapprovingly, straight down her nose, and wipes a stray drop from her cheek. Then she turns to the doctor as if Kyung is no longer there.

“What about Marina?” she asks.

“The housekeeper?”

“She’s stable now too. I meant to ask, does Miss Jancic have any family in the area? Anyone we can contact?”

“I don’t think so. I’ve never heard her talk about having relatives in the States. Why?”

“Well, she’s uninsured,” he says lightly. “Eventually, this will become a problem—not for me, but for the hospital. In the short term, my biggest concern is releasing her into someone’s care. She’ll need a fair amount of help while she’s recuperating.” The doctor runs his fingers through his hair. He looks exhausted, worn out behind the eyes. “In any event, why don’t you both go home for the evening? Everyone’s resting now. We’ll have more news tomorrow.”

“We can’t see his parents?” Gillian asks.

“No, not now. Mrs. Cho is heavily sedated, and Mr. Cho requested no visitors this evening. You understand.”

Kyung understands that his father doesn’t want to explain what happened, how he let it all happen. And for the first time, he realizes that he made a mistake when he found Mae in the field. She didn’t say, “Your father hurt me.” She said, “Your father is hurt.” Her loyalty to this man is insane. Even in that state, beaten and brutalized and reduced to nothing, she was trying to protect him, to save him. It should have been the other way around.

Contributor: 

Jung Yun

Jung Yun was born in Seoul, South Korea, and grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. After graduating from Vassar College and the University of Pennsylvania, she moved to New York City, where she worked for not-for-profit organizations such as Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts and the New York Public Library. In 2002, she relocated to Western Massachusetts to pursue her M.F.A. in creative writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she currently works as a faculty developer.

Comments