TW: Mention of death
Words: approx. 6.4k
When he was ten, my brother got his arm badly broken by the elbow. It was during one bleak afternoon in the winter of 1934 when we were yawning out of boredom, stuck inside our room as our father had strictly grounded us. All he had given us was a pile of new books that we definitely had no interest in, especially when we could clearly hear the happy shrieks of the kids in the neighborhood as they played together in Lamia’s yard.
They were having too much fun, making ugly snowmen that faced our window out of everyone else’s. Taeyong told me it was because they missed us and were calling us down. But I still do think it was nothing but the mean intention of my childhood friends to rile us up while we were rotting inside the wooden walls of our bedroom.
That afternoon, the happiness of our playmates had probably started to crawl under Taeyong’s skin. He slammed down the newspaper he was pretending to read (because of course, he wanted to appear smart before me), and snapped his head at me. I was sitting on my desk, wrapping a red tape around a wooden ball when his fiery eyes met mine.
We were siblings for seven years at that time. I could read his eyes more than my father could. That was my age when it all went down. I knew instantly what was happening inside his brain. He wanted to go outside.
But...I didn’t. Disobeying father came with consequences. I wasn’t keen on losing my Christmas present due to some impulsive rule-breaking frenzy. I shook my head and went back to the ball.
But he sighed incredulously, “You’re getting more like a girl every single day, Dasom!”
With that, I had no option but to join him. So off we tied the laces of our cleaned boots. While I understood that having been stuck with me for almost a week now, Taeyong desperately needed a change of scenery, but his difficult ideas were hard to put up with. The older he grew, the wilder his ideas got. I was to keep up with him, unless I wanted to be labelled a girl. Which I am, by the way.
The plan was to climb straight down or even jump, because the snow will catch us, avoid all the windows, hop over the fence, run across the street, and meet our friends. Lastly, most importantly, get back before lunch.
The window-sill was cleared. My brother had always dreamt of wearing glittering military badges on a green army suit, he was pursuing that dream ever since he saw our father in one of those uniforms. It was no surprise that he could basically climb everything. While I, who only had a brother to play with growing up, forced myself to climb hideous trees to be deemed worthy of being his playmate. Taeyong didn’t want a sister when I was still in my mother’s belly. A brother was all he wanted. So he demanded that I be one. My hair was short. I wore pants and dirty shoes. Played the games he wanted. In return, he loved me.
The accident that commenced afterwards is still a blur to me. I watched with horror in my eyes when Taeyong slipped and landed on our back yard, groaning with the pain in his elbow. I was so stupid that I...I jumped right after him through that window. It didn’t end well for me.
While Taeyong grew up and earned all the badges in his army suit, I had to be content with staying at home, reading, writing, and watching movies in a box so little that it began to reflect my world. Taeyong got away with some plasters and some days in bed while I...I was left with a crutch and a leg that didn’t function at all.
My world became little. Possibilities were narrowed down, not that they weren’t already so little since I was born a girl. Sewing, knitting, cooking, writing, gardening, cleaning and baking...it hit me like a thousand bricks when my world of sunshine transformed into a melancholic monochrome when I rolled into the icy street that afternoon and my father’s car drove right over my knee.
Every little crack of my bones would still ring in my ears when I think about that day. There isn’t a word that will comfort me, even today. It has been roughly thirteen years. I have a room to myself now in the same house. Our old bedroom has been renovated and it is a library I usually find myself in every afternoon. Taeyong doesn’t live with us. My brother is married now and a little baby is on the way.
Every detail of that afternoon is etched on my mind. But it all fogs up when it comes to the accident. My father’s driver was instantly fired that day but that didn’t fix my bones. My brother tried all these thirteen years to make up for what he prefers to address as ‘what he had done to me’ but no matter how angry I am about my disabled leg at times, Taeyong’s name never crosses my mind. It isn’t his fault. Nor is it the driver’s. It’s just how fate played out for me and I blame no one.
One of these days, I will want to set fire to the world. But other days, I’m calm and quiet, retreating to the books that never get old. My hair still doesn’t grow any longer, only barely touching my shoulders.
Taeyong remained by my side for a couple weeks after the accident, even when his arm healed. But soon, just like the natural course of seasons, he began playing with our friends while I stayed in bed, crying because even pretending to be a boy didn’t flourish as I had expected.
“Dad said that...you can never play with us now,” he whispered to me one night. “It’s all my fault. Now you’ll become gray, Dasom.”
“Gray?” I asked, gulping at the sound of it.
“Yes,” he said, “Gray.”
Taeyong tried to bring dolls and other toys I could play with inside my room but the only problem was that I had never learned how to do that. It was always either swimming in the pond or running across the big yards, climbing trees and hide-and-seek. Dolls did me no good. I was still lonely, fearing everyday that the color of my skin was becoming gray.
It only dawned on me a year later that it was much deeper than that. Becoming gray was becoming old. Taeyong was eleven and I was eight soon, but it seemed the opposite. I was growing much faster than the rest of the kids were when it came to mental development. Perhaps it was the books that I read, perhaps it was the time I spent staring into the distance, thinking about the miseries of other lives, of how others probably have it worse. I was doing all that when I was eight.
I was truly graying.
With knowledge, with despair, with regret.
I’m still graying. I fear that one day, my soul will become black.
She would have written more but the pen slipped out of her fingers and in the feigning sunlight, she knew she wouldn't be able to get it out from under the bookshelf even if she tried her best. Dasom heaved a sigh. The moment she somehow carelessly drops her pen or diary was usually the end of her writing session for the day, since there was little hope or energy in her to pick the objects up. Sitting on the cushioned seat, she traced the glass of the window. Her fingers caressed the picture of the once beautiful yard they used to play in. It was all in the past but sitting here brought everything back to her, scooping the pain out of her heart and lathering it all over her body, a merciless reminder of how she would always be less than a functional human.
"Thought I'd find you here."
Her brother's unwanted intervention cut in and her thoughts dispersed. She scowled. "What do you want?"
"Your new tutor is waiting in your study," Taeyong relayed. "Also, I wanted to talk you out of your...strange craving for adventure."
"Good. Put it that way and I'm never going to listen to you," She closed her notepad and motioned him to hand her the walking aid. Taeyong didn't. He held it in his hand as he sat down beside her. Dasom sighed at the delay. "I need to go."
"Of course, you will. But spare me some minutes--"
"I meant, I need to go and see Do Kyungsoo and anything you say in hopes to convince me otherwise will fall on deaf ears."
Taeyong grew uneasy in his spot. Dasom knew it will most definitely hurt him if someone did not listen to him but this was not his army barrack. He was no officer inside this house. He was her brother and she his sister. No ranks came between them. But he was going to tighten his jaw and fist his hands and glare at her and get her into cancelling her trip. However, Dasom quickly took a hold of her walking aid and left him sitting there while the sun set behind him on the dead playgrounds they used to laugh in.
H-572, Carzon Temeraire
What bothers me day and night is that you have taken it as your life's only goal to rise above your brothers. I do not want to begin my letter in such a manner but reading your last letter has taken away the warm thoughts I wanted to discuss with you prior to opening it. Why must you take upon yourself such risks I will never understand. It is beyond my comprehension why my friend whom I hold so dear to my heart must run along thin ice to prove her worth? At this point I may only hope that you will reconsider your decision. It is your duty to contribute to your country in your own best way, you say, but have you calculated the probable consequences of stepping into a house that has never opened its gates for anyone else in the last ten years?
It is clear as day that you do not pay me any heed when I say you are complete as you are. There is not a single bone wrong in your body, there is not a single finger crooked in your hands. Do you not remember when I told you that these scars are not scars? They are the marks of a different life, beautiful in its own way. I hate that I have received your letter last morning yet I am still burning with rage as I write.
The sea is calm. However, it had morphed into an ugly villain last night. Days are identical, we have been sailing for a while. I received Lia's letter along with yours but the happiness I had gathered from hers was washed down by the anger I felt reading yours. The sea is as blue as ever so don't worry about me. The best I can wish for is to return home by Christmas. And all I hope for is that you, my dearest friend, do not jump into the flames only because you feel as if you have to prove something to the world. My best advice, in case you listen to me of course, is to not make the acquaintance of Doh Kyungsoo. Obviously, you already have heard the rumors. You've written about them too. So why are you pushing yourself towards the mouth of the dragon?
When I am calm and in a better mood, I will write to you another letter. I am waiting, rather impatiently, to punch your face. So you better reply quickly.
The yellow lamp began to flicker on the paper. Dasom was brought out of her thoughts only when the light went out completely. A noisy sigh resonated in the dimly lit room. Dasom fell back on her cushioned chair and heaved another big sigh. How disappointing that letter was, how truly disappointing. Dasom had been expecting so much from Sehun that she had forgotten how scared he was of the concept of her going outside to earn. She dropped the sheet of paper on her desk, digging her crooked nails on the edge to distract herself from the dissatisfaction of the two-day old letter.
As she waited for the laziness in her limb to dissolve so that she could fetch another light bulb from her drawer of light bulbs, moonlight splashed into her room through the open windows. It illuminated every corner of her sparkling room, her impeccably cleaned and labelled bookshelves, the gray medals from various writing competitions, the three dresses laid out on her bed, her half-filled suitcase, her silver comb, her walking aid. Dasom had been packing when the bells of a familiar bicycle had interrupted her. The slightly wet envelope was sitting in the living room for her. Sehun always used two envelopes just in case. Now, the joy of reading his words had been washed out completely by the disappointment ringing in his reply.
None of her family was happy with her decision. Doh Kyungsoo's past troubled them, but much to their dismay, it was exactly why Dasom had agreed to this assignment. Her family was never alright with anything she did anyway. Even though they had portrayed their disapproval of this project throughout the previous week, nothing had struck Dasom as much as Sehun's letter did. Sehun was always like that, terrified by the idea that she had a job. Men were all the same. Their don't do it's usually translated to "your place is in the kitchen" rather than "it's dangerous and I'm worried about you". Women must know better than to bite those excuses.
Dasom grabbed her crutch. She pushed against the hard rod with her palm to move herself. It came as natural as breathing to Dasom, to move in such a manner from one place to another. Her fully-grown, almost beautiful leg was unable to move itself. And that was fine, Sehun would tell her, no one is perfect. Even though throughout her little life, she had felt the ever-stretching flaw of her body in every space she existed in, her friend eased it for her. But it was still as clear as day, how things could be better, how less uglier she could be only if...only if...she'd usually stop thinking after that because blaming her brother brought her no peace either.
You're alright, She had been hearing so ever since forever, You're no different than I am, Sehun would say. She would nod, pretending to believe him so that he would stop convincing her. The more he said it, the more she could see the stark differences