Bluebeard’s First Wife

Ha Seong-nan

Artwork by Lee Wan Xiang

The wardrobe was so heavy the three movers struggled for a long time outside the front door, sweating and catching their breath. I hovered by the entrance, afraid they might chip the corners. All I could do was cry, “up,” “down,” “left,” and “right,” which pretty much summed up my English. But whenever the wardrobe tilted or came dangerously close to scraping the doorway, Korean sprang from my mouth. “Josim haseyo!”

After repeated maneuvers to get it in the house, my twelve-foot-wide Paulownia wardrobe that had made the long journey from Incheon’s port to Wellington, New Zealand, finally occupied one side of our bedroom.

The move took half the day, since there were more things shipped from my parents’ house than I’d thought. After the men brought in the last box filled with knickknacks like my old journals and high school yearbook, I sat hugging my knees on the corner of our bed and gazed at the wardrobe.

I could almost smell the morning air from back home. I could even hear the wind sweeping through the forest. Whenever I heard the wind, lines from a poem I’d read as a child would come to me.

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

My heart swelled. I’d brought the Paulownia tree, which had stood on the hill behind my childhood home, across thousands of miles to our bedroom in this foreign land.

My father, who had been an elementary school teacher, had planted the sapling on the hill behind our house when I’d been born. The Paulownia grows fast and is used to make furniture and musical instruments because the wood doesn’t split or warp, but Father wanted to turn it into a wardrobe for me when I got married. The forest behind our home was full of chestnut trees; in order to easily find the Paulownia among the chestnuts, he even had a plaque made. On it was written my name, as well as the date the sapling was planted.

The life of my tree was nearly cut short. If things had gone according to plan, I would have married at the early age of twenty-two, before I graduated from university. But as the wedding day approached, both my fiancé and I changed our minds. His short height, which had made him appear only sweet, suddenly struck me as unsightly, and his field of study—astronomy—which seemed to guarantee he’d stay wholesome and romantic, felt all at once like an awfully impractical choice. The wedding gifts our families had exchanged were returned, and all ties were severed. I never heard about him again. And the tree, whose life should have ended when I was twenty-two, was allowed to grow for another ten years before it was chopped down to become a twelve-foot-wide wardrobe. Just as Mother said, a wardrobe was best at twelve feet. The wood grain flowing like a quiet stream in the light, pumpkin-colored timber was lovely. Not a blemish was to be found anywhere.

I still remember the moment it was cut down. It resisted stubbornly as the chainsaw dug its teeth into the trunk. The saw spun in place, bending as though it would snap. Woodchips sprayed in all directions. The whine of the saw was deafening, and the air was heavy with the smell of sap. When the thirteen-meter tree, which had grown uninterruptedly for thirty-one years, began to tip over, the people laughed and cried: “Timber!”

Inside the wardrobe beneath the hanging space sat three large drawers. Because they were new, they didn’t slide out smoothly. I placed my journals and yearbook my mother had been storing for me in the drawers. To be honest, when I first arrived at the Wellington International Airport, I felt both nervous and excited. Staring about like some country bumpkin, I’d hurried after Jason so that I wouldn’t lose him. But these drawers will open easily soon enough. By then, this foreign land will have become our children’s home.

Jason, who had come home late, seemed stupefied by the wardrobe that took up an entire side of our bedroom. “This is what you’ve been waiting for?”

You couldn’t exactly say the bulky, pumpkin-colored wardrobe complemented the white wooden house. As I picked up the clothes he tossed onto the bed, I launched into an explanation about the Paulownia.

“The first tree you cut down is called a modong. When it re-sprouts from the stump, it’s called a jadong. When it re-sprouts again, it’s called a sondong. Sondong Paulownia is the best, in terms of quality. I’m going to watch over that tree, and make a wardrobe for our daughter out of the jadong and one for our granddaughter out of the sondong.”

Of course he didn’t understand any of this. Jason had lived in New Zealand since the tenth grade. When I explained everything again, slowly this time, Jason waved his hands in the air, drew his lips together in a small circle, and enunciated, “No thanks.”

I wasn’t sure if “no thanks” referred to children or the wardrobe, but either way, he didn’t seem fond of the wardrobe.



I followed Jason to a restaurant, gazing at the back of his head. His hair was neatly combed, not a single strand out of place. From the back, he looked like a stranger. Did he not like children? All of a sudden, I realized I hardly knew him. But there were probably even more things he didn’t know about me.

We had met 
three thousand feet in the air. About 90 percent of the passengers en route to Jeju Island had been honeymooners. Those traveling to the island for different reasons occupied the few remaining seats in the back. Although it was a clear day, there was a lot of turbulence. Every time the airplane rattled, the brides in the front shrieked.

I was gazing out the window when someone said, “Aren’t you even a little scared?”

Nothing felt real when I looked at the flat roofs of houses below, or the mountain peaks that didn’t seem much taller than the cars crawling like ants. Without bothering to turn my head, I said, “I don’t have a husband to impress.”

He chuckled. Shortly after, he asked, “Did you drop something?”

I checked the floor under the seats, but there was nothing. Only then did I look at him. There was a greenish shadow on his face from shaving, like the end of a daikon radish. He laughed again.

“I meant the ground outside. You’ve been staring out that window since takeoff.”

Our families wished for us to marry as soon as possible. I was past the age where I could take all the time I wanted to get to know someone, but he was three years younger than me. It wasn’t late for a man to marry at twenty-nine, but his family hurried the proceedings along just the same, if not more, than my family. Once our parents met, we held a lunch reception at a hotel where we exchanged engagement rings in the presence of family and close friends. Everything happened so quickly. And unlike ten years before, there was no time to change my mind.

My mother, who had just returned from selecting an auspicious date for the wedding, glanced toward the living room where my father sat, and said a man’s heart was impossible to understand, even after a lifetime together. After doling out some more advice, she said, “I wonder if a twelve-foot-wide wardrobe will fit in your New Zealand bedroom.”

My friends teased me when they learned I was marrying a man who was not only three years younger than me, but also a citizen of New Zealand.

“Immigration is hard work. No matter what happens, make sure you sit tight for two years.”

What they meant was that I could always get a divorce once I had the citizenship in hand. We clinked our beer glasses together and cheered: “To a brand new life!”

He was different from the men I’d known, those who would slip their arms around my shoulders or take me to dim lounges with partitioned booths. He had escorted me home late one night when I’d had too much to drink. After coming into my apartment where I lived alone, he left promptly once he’d finished his coffee. I knew he was trying to be honorable, waiting until we were married. I found his old-fashioned behavior charming, and respected him for it.

Out of the three months I’d known Jason, we ended up spending only a month and half together, since he headed back to New Zealand after the wedding date was set. We talked on the phone for over an hour every day, and I discussed the wedding preparations with his parents. When Jason would be having dinner on the other side of the world, I’d drive to the industrial complex on the outskirts of Seoul. The manager of the furniture factory took me onto the site to show me the Paulownia wood that had gone through two cycles of the soaking bath and drying process to prevent warping. The smell of lacquer was so strong my eyes stung. As I was leaving, I reminded him once more that I needed the wardrobe on time.

Jason flew back to Seoul the day before our wedding. When he’d kept delaying his return date, his parents had called the pharmacy more frequently. They made small talk, asking if I’d eaten lunch or if there were many customers, but I knew they were checking to see if the wedding preparations were going smoothly. They seemed a little uneasy. Because there wasn’t enough time for a fitting, Jason’s suit was a little big in the waist and had to be taken in with pins, which created wrinkles in the seat of his pants. The teachers my father had worked with in the past came by shuttle bus. Those from my hometown came on the same bus, but they kept talking throughout the ceremony so that the officiant had to stop four times to tell them to be quiet.

The officiant, whom Jason and I had never met before, spoke about the groom who was currently studying at the Victoria University of Wellington and the bride who, after having graduated from a regional school of pharmacy, was now a fulltime staff member at a large pharmacy in Jongno. He exaggerated our credentials. I glanced at my father, but he nodded fervently at the end of every sentence, as though confirming what the officiant said. The message went on a little long.

Jason’s Korean name was Hyogyeong, but he seemed more used to his English name. He would drive his yellow sports car to the university in the morning and return late. He didn’t have to worry about making a living. His parents sent us more than enough to cover his tuition and our living expenses.

While Jason was gone, I would clean the house and take a nap. I flipped through the Korean newspaper, but unlike Australia, there weren’t many Korean immigrants in New Zealand, perhaps less than a thousand altogether. My in-laws would have given me a car of my own had I asked, but because the steering wheel was on the right side of the vehicle, I needed to learn to drive all over again. Once I had nearly rammed Jason’s car into our fence.

The house was full of light, because the living room ceiling was two stories high. I would lean back on the sofa and gaze out the window at the distant city skyline until sunset. When I used to sit behind the glass counter at the Jongno pharmacy, sunlight would stream into the store. The other pharmacists and I would nod off in the warmth as we waited for customers.

Jason’s study was at the end of the hallway from the master bedroom. After returning home late, he would hurry through dinner and shut himself up in his room. I fell asleep alone in the master bedroom, which contained only a bed and the wardrobe. The bed was large and cushiony. When my eyes snapped open in the middle of the night, I would hear the wind. Then I’d whisper to myself the lines from the poem whose ending I couldn’t remember:

Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you:
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.

Every morning, Jason shaved before breakfast. He used an old-fashioned straight razor, like one I had seen a long time ago when I’d followed my father to the barbershop. After lathering his face, Jason puffed his cheeks, angled the razor, and scraped it down to his chin.

“What is it?” He seemed annoyed I was watching him shave.

“I was thinking about getting a dog . . . ”

Instead of answering, he turned on the tap and rinsed the razor vigorously. I watched his face in the mirror. Was he going to say “no thanks” again? He jutted out his bluish chin, examining it in the mirror, and mumbled, “Didn’t I tell you? I can’t stand dogs.”

That was the end of it. This time too, I didn’t prod. I didn’t ask why he didn’t like dogs. As he changed out of his pajamas, he glanced over at me. “Just hold on until the summer break. We’ll go to Lake Wakatipu then.”

It was Chang, Jason’s friend from the university, who later told me Jason disliked dogs, because they tended to shed and get hair on his clothes.

Chang was Chinese and four years younger than Jason. He had a slight build and a bright and cheerful personality, unlike Jason. I didn’t know the details, but it seemed they were carrying out a research project together. Sometimes, over coffee, they talked about things I couldn’t understand.

Soon there were more days where it was the three of us. Chang helped with the cooking, as well as the dishes. He talked slowly, so that I’d understand. He even knew how to speak a little Korean, though he frequently stumbled over words.

Thanks to Chang, our dinners became jovial and lighthearted. I began to look forward to the days Chang would be coming. After dinner, they would disappear into Jason’s study at the end of the hall.  

“Should I make some coffee or cut some fruit?”

Whenever I would offer to bring in refreshments, Jason would draw his lips together and say, “No thanks.” And as if he’d just remembered, he would add, “Don’t wait up. We’ve got a lot of work to do tonight.”

A few days after I’d arrived in New Zealand, Jason had said I was free to do whatever I wanted, except disturb him when he was working in his study. As he had requested, I avoided his study, even when I went to get a drink of water in the middle of the night or stepped out onto the balcony. At the end of the hall I could see the outline of light around the door; the sound of low laughter drifted out.

Slowly I adjusted to my new life. When Jason spent the night at the lab, I would have an early supper and go out for a stroll. I walked among subtropical trees that kept their leaves all year round. In the evening, the temperature dropped rapidly. I became ill with fever, but didn’t make a fuss. The medicine cabinet was full of pills, with which I would prepare a prescription for myself.

On my way back, I saw our house from a distance. Arched windows and floral-patterned linen curtains I had put up myself, the wind chimes I had hung outside the window. Everything was picture perfect, exactly what I had dreamed of, but like the village I had seen from high up in the airplane, it all seemed unreal.

When I came back from my walks, I would write my friends and family back home. On one postcard a steamship cruised the waters of Lake Wakatipu, which I had yet to see in person. Another showed a panoramic view of the Auckland waterfront, crowded with hundreds of yachts. I wrote about our white two-story wooden house. I wrote about the trees that didn’t lose their leaves all year round. I also wrote July was a winter month in New Zealand, and that you could get over two thousand hours of sunshine a year. I wrote all sorts of information I’d copied from travel brochures.

I always ended with these words: “Make sure you come for a visit. This place is heaven on earth. And don’t forget to bring your sunglasses and sunscreen—you’ll need them!”

Even after I’d written everything I wanted to say, I found myself gripping the pen. I didn’t write that our white house felt unnatural, like a dollhouse, even though it was spacious and full of light. If I did, all my friends would say: “Count your blessings. My husband barely makes anything and the kids are always whining. You’re lucky you get to live in a palace and don’t have to work like the rest of us. You better tough it out, no matter how hard it gets!”

I grew familiar with the streets around our house. Auckland was an hour away by plane. I bought a map and learned which bus to take to the airport. One day, as soon as Jason’s car disappeared down the street, I stepped out of the house in jeans and a sweater.

Once in Auckland, I spread open my map and cut across the Queen Elizabeth Square. Many of the streets were bumpy and steep. It was warm enough for short sleeves. I walked slowly between the towering trees. The sunlight couldn’t penetrate the canopy of leaves and branches high above. The forest behind my parents’ house didn’t hold a candle to this forest. I could tell these trees were at least a hundred years old.

Around two in the afternoon, I walked toward the Victorian-style restaurants and boutiques lining the streets of Parnell Village. After a simple meal on the patio, I was about to spread open the map to plan my route to my next stop when someone bumped into my arm, knocking my map to the ground.

It was Chang. Not having noticed me, he ran across the street. I was about to call out to him when he ran into a side street where a man stood waiting. It was Jason.

Late next morning, Jason came home. Scruffy and unshaven, he looked exhausted. I didn’t mention Auckland; I didn’t ask what he and Chang had been doing there. I knew he wouldn’t tell me anyway.

When summer break came, I didn’t mention the trip to Lake Wakatipu. I no longer waited up for Jason. In the end, he was the one who remembered the promised trip. But it was only when we arrived at the airport that I realized the trip wasn’t meant for us two, for there was Chang again. As if nothing were the matter, I handed my luggage over to Chang.

Like old friends, we strolled around the Queenstown Mall together. To my surprise, Chang and I had similar tastes. Chang watched patiently as I tried on over ten outfits, and helped me pick one out, and we even bought matching visors. We boarded a steamship known as the “Lady of the Lake” and cruised the waters of Lake Wakatipu, which I had only seen on postcards until then. Chang told me it was the third largest lake in New Zealand. I could see why the Maori would call it “Greenstone Lake.” We stepped out onto the deck and stood leaning against the railing, but Jason didn’t emerge once from the cabin.

“Jason! Come join us!” I called to him. “Look at the color of this water!”

Chang poked me in the side. Speaking slowly, he explained that Jason had a fear of water. He had gotten swept up in the tide at the age of five and nearly drowned; after that he never went near water again. It was a big deal he was able to set foot on a boat. In fact, Jason’s courage was to be praised.

I looked straight into Chang’s eyes and muttered in Korean, “Do you even know Jason’s real name? It’s Hyogyeong. Choi Hyogyeong.”




Chang twisted his tongue this way and that, and burst into laughter, flashing his full and even set of teeth.

I drew my face close to Chang’s and grinned. “You idiot . . . you don’t even know how to say Hyogyeong . . . ”

Unable to understand, he shrugged and blurted, “What? What?”

Even at the hotel, I fell asleep alone. Chang and Jason returned from the bar late.

When we got home, I was busy for over a week, writing my family and friends. Jason, Chang, and me—everything was fine. I didn’t concern myself with them.

I bought a day pass and roamed about downtown Wellington on a trolleybus. I had lunch at a restaurant that caught my eye and went into a nursery to buy enough flower plants to nearly snap off my arms. At home I planted them along the fence until the security light came on.

I woke to the sound of fighting. I opened the bedroom door and stepped into the hallway. I heard something bounce off the floor, and Chang’s distraught voice over Jason’s whispers. It was the first time I was hearing them argue.

I ran down the hall and shoved open the door to the study. Jason was backed into a corner, blood trickling down one cheek. Empty beer bottles rolled on the floor. Drunk, Chang staggered back and forth, holding a fruit knife. Jason saw me and yelled, “Get out!”

Chang noticed me only then. He dropped the knife and sank to the floor. Jason yelled again. “Get out!”

I went back to the bedroom and shut the door. There was some more commotion and the thud of flesh hitting flesh. All grew quiet. The sound of weeping echoed into the hall.

The next morning when I stepped into the kitchen, Chang was making toast and freshly squeezed juice. Jason was in the bathroom. Chang grinned. As if reciting lines from a book, he stammered in his faltering Korean, “I’m sorry. I’m very sorry.”

The three of us sat at the table and chewed on scraps of toast. Every time he chewed, the wound on Jason’s cheek opened to reveal the raw red flesh underneath. I didn’t ask why they had fought. Instead, I announced I would be going on a three-day trip to Auckland. Jason suggested I book a tour, but I paid him no attention.

I didn’t need a map this time. Victoria Park, Albert Park, Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Domain, and the streets of Parnell Village where I had seen Jason and Chang—I roamed through them all. From time to time, someone would bump into me, but I didn’t mind. All this took three hours and twenty minutes. I walked east along the Hauraki Gulf from Waitemata Harbour, and saw hundreds of anchored yachts. The billowing wind-filled sails looked like fish bellies. When night fell, I dragged my swollen feet to the hotel and fell asleep in my clothes. I slept soundly for the first time in a long while.

When I came home from the trip, the flowers I had planted along the fence had withered. I turned on the sprinklers and watered the lawn for a long time. Judging from the coolness inside, it seemed Jason also hadn’t been home for the past few days.

I got the luggage I’d used on my honeymoon from the storage room and opened my wardrobe. The wardrobe still smelled new and several drawers were empty. I remember the moment the Paulownia tree fell. I pictured the disappointed faces of my parents.

My eyes flew open in the middle of the night, for I sensed someone was home; the hands on the clock pointed to 2:10 a.m. I headed to Jason’s study to tell him I was planning to return to Korea the next day or the day after that. The light was still on in Jason’s room. Rough, irregular breathing came from inside. I jerked open the door without knocking.

The first thing I saw was Chang bent over the desk and Jason standing directly behind him. Jason’s pants were down around his thighs. He cursed as soon as he saw me. Perhaps he was Korean after all, because in that moment, he swore in Korean.

There was no reason to be shocked. I closed the door softly, went back to the bedroom, and waited for Jason. He came to the room right away. I’d never seen him move so fast. I stared up at him, as if I were looking at a stranger. He was short of breath and the flush hadn’t left his face.

“Didn’t I tell you not to come in?”

I recalled how a gust of wind would shake the trees behind my parents’ house. Whenever we heard that rustling noise, my mother would say, “Storm’s coming.”

“I want to go home.”

Jason spotted my luggage in the corner of the room. He licked his lips. He strode toward the wardrobe and took out my purse. He turned it upside down and shook. Out spilled my passport and bankbook, my lipstick and compact I hadn’t used for a long time, as well as several plane tickets to and from Auckland. He checked the dates and grimaced.

“Oh, I see what’s going on here. So you’ve known all along. Guess I was the fool, right? It must have killed you to keep it inside this long.”

I snatched at my passport, but Jason was faster. He ripped it in half and stuck my bankbook in his back pocket. “Who says you can leave? Maybe it was your choice to come here, but it’s up to me now. You expect me to sit here and let you ruin everything?”

“I don’t care. I want to go home.”

I was so dizzy I had trouble standing. Jason shoved me. I must have hit my head on the corner of the bed, because the ceiling bleached out and grew distant. I heard the gust of wind and the shaking leaves—the storm was coming.

When I regained consciousness, I was inside the wardrobe. I heard Jason and Chang’s footsteps. I pushed on the doors with all my strength, but it was no use. I peered through the keyhole and saw Chang pacing the hallway beyond the open bedroom door. He looked distraught. I knew they were talking about me. I strained my ears.

“What are you going to do with her? You’re not—you wouldn’t dare—”

“Shut up!”

Chang put a hand over his own mouth. “Oh my God, what are you going to do? What are you going to do?”

“We can’t let her go back to Korea. Then everything’s over.”

Chang started to cry. “I love you.”

I was more hungry than scared. I hugged my knees to my chest. I remembered I hadn’t eaten anything after coming back from Auckland. I thought long and hard about what I ever did wrong. I couldn’t die like this. I clenched my teeth. I got up and threw myself against the doors. But they wouldn’t budge. After all, it was a Paulownia wardrobe. I never thought my wardrobe would one day become my coffin.


I screamed as loudly as I could, but all I managed was a croak. There was no way my voice would reach the next house, which was over three hundred feet away. I scratched at the doors. My nails soon lifted away from the skin. This time, I groped through the clothes hanging above me and found a belt. I tried to pick the lock with the buckle, but it was pointless.

Jason flung a knife at the doors. I heard it quiver as it plunged into the wood. He prowled back and forth in front of the wardrobe.

“If you didn’t open the door, nothing would have happened! You brought this on yourself, you know that? How about this—why don’t we pretend all this never happened? Let’s go back to how we were. Promise me. Then I’ll let you out.”

I wanted to hurl curses at him, but my voice broke. I opened my mouth to try again, but I passed out instead.

When my eyes opened, my pajama pants were drenched. I had wet myself as I lost consciousness. My lips were cracked and peeling. I called out to Jason, but my tongue was coiled; it was impossible to form any words.

I lost all sense of time and place. I didn’t know how long I was trapped inside that wardrobe. Was it hours or days? After a long time, the doors opened. Jason swore, perhaps because of the smell. Chang grabbed me under the arms, and Jason my legs, and they pulled me out of the wardrobe. I sagged like a corpse.

Terrified, Chang stammered, “Oh my God, she’s dead!”

I had no energy to get up. I continued to lie there as if dead. Jason prodded my cheek and put his ear next to my nose. “No, she’s still alive. Let’s move her to the car. Go open the trunk.”

Chang hurried out. Jason went to the storage room, probably to look for a sack to put me in. I crawled to the bathroom. I saw Jason’s razor on the shelf. I hid it in my pant pocket.

Chang called Jason urgently from the entrance. “Hurry! I started the car!”

A sack big enough to fit a person isn’t easy to find. Jason, who had been rummaging in the storage room for a while, came back empty-handed. He covered me with one of the coats from the wardrobe. He tried to hoist me on his back, but it wasn’t easy. He grunted and dropped me onto the floor. This time, he grabbed me by the ankles and dragged me toward the living room. It hurt every time my spine went over the threshold, but I gritted my teeth.

When Jason stopped to catch his breath, I mustered every last ounce of energy and sat up swinging the razor. Jason clasped his chin and backed away. I got up and ran blindly out the front door. My legs moved on their own accord, independently, like a squirming octopus had been chopped to pieces. The only thought in my head was to live. I swung the razor at Chang who was sitting in the driver’s seat. He quickly climbed out. I got behind the wheel and locked the doors. I gripped the steering wheel and slammed on the accelerator. Jason’s car sprang forward and headed straight for the fence. It upset me to run over the flowers I had tended.

I crashed into the fence and burst onto the road. For about ten minutes, I zigzagged along the road at top speed. I wasn’t used to driving with the steering wheel on the right side. Cars sounded their horns and kept their distance.

In the end, the yellow sports car leapt onto the sidewalk, hit a fire hydrant, and came to a stop. Water sprayed from the hydrant like a fountain. I heard the approaching sirens.

I was kept in the hospital for three days because of dehydration. Jason came to see me. He had a big scar on his chin. He said the whole thing had been a big misunderstanding, that they had been about to take me to the hospital. I didn’t divulge to the police what had actually happened. I had played my ace. Jason knew it, too. I was able to return to Korea.

Shortly after my return, Jason’s parents came to see me. They had known all along. Jason’s mother wept. “So he hasn’t changed . . . ”

Jason’s father, who seethed with anger, didn’t say a single word. Until Jason would marry a woman once more, he would receive no financial support from his parents. He had never earned a living on his own.



A year passed.

Every morning at seven-thirty, I get on the subway in Seoul, famous for its crowds, and go to work. There aren’t many pharmacies willing to take on new female pharmacists well past thirty. My friend owns the small pharmacy where I work now, but I’m merely filling in for her while she’s on maternity leave.

Whenever I find myself rocking back and forth on the packed subway, I wonder: If I hadn’t opened the door that night, would our marriage have carried on?

In the end, I couldn’t tell my parents the truth. I couldn’t tell my friends either. They would have said, “You were so close—why didn’t you hold on for another five months?” Our marriage had lasted nineteen months. Just as I had before marriage, I went back home once a month to visit my parents. On the hill behind our house, a new sprout was beginning to grow from the Paulownia stump.

The divorce became finalized during that time, and I spoke to Jason only once on the phone. He asked for my address in order to send me the wardrobe. He mentioned he’d grown a beard, that he’d had no choice but to cover up the nasty scar on his chin. Eventually, Jason will marry another woman in order to receive his parents’ help. His parents, too, won’t give up. These things will repeat themselves.

Exactly a month and a half later, the wardrobe arrived. The five movers struggled because of the narrow entrance and steep staircase, and demanded I pay extra. An older mover was eager to share his expertise. “There’s no way Paulownia wood is this heavy. I don’t know where you got this made, but I guarantee they pulled a switcheroo on you.”  

I had no energy to go to the factory to confirm what the mover said was true.

This time, I didn’t bother to tell them to be careful. There were already ugly gashes on the wardrobe, especially right above the keyhole where the knife had gone in, and inside were the scratches my fingernails had left and the deep gouges from the belt buckle. There was also a dark, discolored spot. Probably from when I’d wet myself. The drawers still didn’t slide out smoothly. In the top drawer were my journals and yearbook, just as I’d left them.

When the wardrobe was placed inside my room, there wasn’t enough space for even a single-size bed, so it had to be moved to another room. I thought then the wardrobe would have been better at eight feet.

By noon, the sun streams in through the pharmacy window. I would doze off, my arms folded on the glass counter filled with antibiotic ointments, mouthwashes, and birth control pills. Then the living room of a white wooden house brimming with light spreads before my eyes.

The trolleybus. Parnell Village lined with its quaint, Victorian-style restaurants and boutiques. The bumpy hills of Auckland. The Waitemata Harbour and the Hauraki Gulf, teeming with yachts. When these scenes sparkle outside the window of the pharmacy, I think long and hard, and wonder what on earth I ever did wrong.

translated from the Korean by Janet Hong