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Fiction From the June 2012 issue: The Queer Issue III


Tree of Lips

입술나무

“What’s wrong with this kid?”

It wasn’t a real question. The teacher wasn’t expecting an answer, and even if she were, no one could have answered it. Ran raised her head, with no intention of bowing down, and gave her response by stealing a glance at the homeroom teacher's face.

“What happened?”

“What did you do to make your pretty teacher so upset?”

Ran hated it, this humiliation. She knew it would happen sooner or later, but she couldn’t stand the thought of having to deal with this new teacher for an entire year.

Ran saw it coming when the teacher told her she was conducting a survey of everyone’s home life—What does your father do? When did they get divorced? Why did your mother leave? Have you seen your mother since then?—picking at the scabs on wounds that had not yet healed. The teacher stroked her hand, pretending to be her friend, and gave her a look that said she knew all about it, but that only made it more nauseating. The previous year’s homeroom teacher had ignored Ran, but at least she hadn’t made that obnoxious face.

With her hands shoved deep in the pockets of her oversized jeans, Ran scuffed the floor of the office with her slippers. Her small fists were as hard as rocks.

“The students are performing a dance for this year’s sports day, but she refuses to wear the outfit. We’re already short on students, so if even one sits out, her class won’t be able to perform. She was doing well in practice, but now she says she won’t wear the outfit.”

A red skirt, so red that it hurt her eyes to look at it, dangled from the teacher’s hand. Ran turned her face away, as if the red might splash on her.

“Why doesn’t she like it? All the other girls think her class got the nicest costumes. They’re so envious. My, but that’s a pretty color!”

One of the teachers took the skirt and turned it this way and that. Then she held it up to Ran’s waist. 

“See? Pretty . . .”

Ran slapped the teacher’s hands away, and the skirt fell to the floor. The teacher’s face turned bright red.

“Where are your manners? How dare you slap your teacher!”

The teachers surrounded Ran.

“I said I don’t want to wear it! You can’t make me!”

Her voice was so loud that they took a startled step back. Ran glared at them as if she might attack at any moment.

“How dare you yell at us like that! No one said you have to wear it everyday. Only for sports day. Are you one of our students or not?”

“I don’t have to come to this school! I’ll drop out!”

Ran’s fists, which had been shoved inside her pockets, were suddenly aimed at the teachers. A male teacher who had just walked into the office squared his shoulders and rushed over.

“How dare you! You better bring your father to the office tomorrow!”

“No!” Ran did not back down an inch. Instead, she yelled even louder.

“Silence! How dare you talk back to us!” The vice principal shouted from behind his desk. He was holding a long stick like a spear. The female teachers slunk back to their seats. Ran stared at him as he glared at her.

“Stop your whining, and bring your father to school tomorrow!”

The vice principal pointed the stick at Ran and spoke like a judge delivering his final verdict. But instead of answering, Ran bent down and picked up the red skirt from the floor.

Riiiiip!

The red skirt with its weak stitches came apart in her hands. The teachers watched speechlessly as she used every ounce of her strength to rip the skirt to shreds. She threw the torn fabric on the floor and ran.

The vice principal came out from behind his desk, but Ran was long gone. Her footsteps had already turned the corner at the end of the hallway and were headed toward the schoolyard. She heard him shout, but she never looked back.

She wasn’t lying when she told them she would sooner quit school than have to wear it. Ran pictured the torn skirt. It felt like the red was still sticking to her. She rubbed her hands against her pants over and over and gasped for air as she ran. She wanted to tear up everything that was red. Soon, her feet were carrying her beneath a red stoplight.

*

Dad was crazy. He was born that way. Maybe his mother was cursed by a ghost, or his mother’s mother or his mother’s grandfather had incurred the wrath of some dead spirit, and that curse stuck to Dad, and he was born crazy. And she was the daughter of that crazy dad.

“You’re home early.”

When Ran opened the door, she thought she would be greeted only by the humming of the computer she had left on that morning, but her dad, who had left the house wearing a suit, was standing in front of the stove in sweats. He smiled bashfully, the same smile as when he tried on different shades of lipstick at the store and said, Isn’t it pretty? She couldn’t stand that smile. He was crazy. And she was the daughter of that crazy dad. She tossed her bag on the floor.

“Ran, come sit down. I made that fondue you like so much. It’ll be ready as soon as the cheese melts.”

He started humming some nameless tune from between his red lips. She didn’t know what song it was, but she hated it as long as her father was the one singing it. It wasn’t that he couldn’t sing, but he always pitched his voice high and warbled like a woman. When Ran was younger, she was amazed by his ability to mimic the female singers on TV. But not anymore. Now she knew it was because her dad was crazy.

“You didn’t go to work?” she asked.

“I’m changing jobs. The people there don’t appreciate me. I told them, ‘You think this is the only place that’ll hire me? I quit!’ Pretty brave, huh?”

His humming grew louder as the pot of fondue reached a simmer. His thin body, so thin that it was best described as willowy, swayed. Ran watched him for a moment and then went to the bathroom and slammed the door. Outside, his womanly voice grew even louder. He probably left the pot boiling and started mincing around the living room, like an aging pop star playing to the audience.

Ran went to the sink and turned the water up high to drown out his voice. The water shot loudly out of the tap and struck the sides of the sink. But the fake pop star’s soft voice managed to swim its way through the rough current. She turned on the hot water tap as well. Steam hissed out, and hot water gurgled over the sides of the sink. But that voice had a tenacious hold on life.

“Dad! My homeroom teacher wants you to call her!”

“What? Did you get in trouble at school again?”       

The lonely star paused in her performance. Her voice through the thin wooden door sounded half-worried and half-disappointed. But Ran knew that as long as she did not answer, his worries would grow inside his crazy head and he would not be able to focus on his crazy performance. She turned off the gushing taps. It was hard being the daughter of a crazy dad.

*

Beep! The clever door hid nothing, even in the middle of the night. It always told her when her father was coming or going. She opened her eyes and looked at the clock. Two a.m. Should she get up? She hesitated. But her body was already halfway out of bed. She had to talk to him. She opened the door. A red blob like a clot of blood was tiptoeing through the darkness. She was not surprised.

“I want to live with Mom.”

The red blob straightened up; two long arms reached up and pulled at its long, loose hair. The wig dropped to the floor.

“You’re . . . leaving me?”

“You left me first, Dad. The same way you left Mom.”

Even in the dark, the red of that precariously short skirt looked like it was about to cough up congealed blood. She shut the door and crawled back under the covers. She closed her eyes and pictured a red mass dried black like a scab.

The first time she saw her father wearing the skirt, she thought it was for fun. Back before she could remember, for reasons she did not know, her mother had left her father and her. Her mother did not say a word to little Ran, and her father, likewise, had nothing to say. The shock of not having a mother must have hit her eventually, but she had no memory of it. Whenever she cried for her mother, her father took the red skirt that her mother had left behind from out of the closet and wore it to make Ran laugh. Ran would giggle until she fell asleep, and when she awoke, her mother was still gone, but in her mother’s place, wearing her mother’s clothes, was her father.

After she started elementary school, she learned that the other dads didn’t cheer their children up that way. Still, she thought he did it to make up for her lack of a mother, and she tried hard to smile. Then, one night, she found out that he sometimes left the house wearing red lipstick and a red skirt. And that he wandered the streets at night before creeping back into the house after Ran was asleep.

She thought he wore the skirt for her benefit, but it turned out he liked it. Later she figured out that her mother had left because of her father’s skirt. And that the other kids called men like that “perverts.” She stopped laughing when her father wore it in front of her. He stopped his antics, but more and more often, he turned into a red blob that crept through the house late at night. She would bump into him on her way to the bathroom, and he would blush and say, It’s Dad. Her father never offered any explanation, and Ran never asked for one.

As her breasts began to bud, Ran started to hate the fact that he was different from the other fathers. She was afraid they might see him on the street and call him a pervert. She wanted to tell him to stop, but what if he couldn’t? She hated knowing she might lose him to a worthless red skirt. Things between Ran and her father slowly stiffened, like a blackish scab growing over a gaping wound. And more and more, her father became that red skirt.

*

Dad spent the morning on the phone. He called the school to talk to her teacher and flipped through his address book, calling people he had not talked to in a long time. He stuck a bowl of rice in front of Ran, who had no intention of going to school, and did not say a word.

After breakfast, Ran sat at the computer until it was almost noon. When her father knocked on the door, she assumed he was calling her to the table for lunch, but instead he was holding two small bags.

“Get dressed,” he said. “I’m taking you to your mother.”

*

What did Mom look like? Dad kept photos of her in an album, but Ran had not looked at them in a long time. She missed her mother, of course, but her longing for her, who had cut off all contact with Ran and her father as cleanly as slicing a radish in two, had gradually turned into disappointment and then hurt. As she wondered whether her mother could have cured her father of his habit of wearing the red skirt by staying by his side, her feelings turned from simple hurt to resentment. If not for the skirt, she preferred living with her father. If her mother could leave the person she loved over a skirt, then she could leave Ran as well. It didn’t matter that she’d given birth to her. She hated her mother for being so cold. And she hated her father for creating the situation.

“Do you want an egg?” her father asked as she stared out the train window. A man in a uniform was pushing a cart filled with snacks. Hardboiled eggs were clustered together in red mesh bags. Was Dad really hungry for eggs? Or did he want that red netting that held them together so prettily?

“No.” Ran’s voice squeaked like a broken guitar string.

Her father’s face fell, the same way it had when Ran told him he had left her and not the other way around. He bought a soda and a carton of milk, but he did not drink either of them, nor did he offer one to her. He just kept squeezing the carton.

*

Why did Dad wear women’s clothes? Just the thought of him putting on a skirt and makeup and pointy shoes and walking down the street seemed risky and dangerous, so why would he keep stepping out into the night dressed like that? Sometimes she thought her father was prettier than a real woman, but at the same time, the sharp angles of his male body showed through the clothes and looked terrible. Did he really have to wear those clothes? Was it that he wanted to be a woman? Or that he did not want to be a man? Or was it possible that pointy shoes and a dangerously short red skirt really were comfortable?

Ran sat on a bench in a town office in Gangneung and watched her father talk to the woman behind the counter. They had been on the road for several days, and her father’s cotton slacks were badly wrinkled. His face, rough with stubble from not shaving, looked like a plucked hedgehog.

“Ran, let’s go.”

Did he have to wear women’s clothing? Could Dad really not live without wearing women’s clothing?

“Dad . . .”

“Yes?”

Holding an address written on a slip of paper, her father looked more confident than he had in days. She wanted to ask him, Can’t you live without wearing women’s clothing? I wish you could just be a dad, an ordinary dad like the other dads.

“Never mind.”

Ran ignored his look of curiosity and walked ahead of him.

*

Each time the bus swayed, the woman’s thin skirt fluttered. Though no one was looking very kindly upon the woman, who did not look like a nice girl, none stared as intensely at her thin skirt as Dad did. He had been staring at her since the bus terminal. She couldn’t tell whether he was staring at the woman or the azalea-colored skirt she wore, but he was so distracted by it that if she, or rather, if that hot pink skirt had boarded a different bus, he might have followed her onto it blindly. Did he even remember where they were going? Or had they already missed their stop? Ran wished she could grab her father’s gaze and stick it somewhere else.

“Dad?”

Ran’s father stared blankly ahead before turning to look at her.

“What is it?”

“How old are you?”

“What?”

“How old are you, Dad?”

His eyes widened.

“Thirty-nine.”

“And Mom?”

“Thirty-seven. Two years younger than me.”

“Then how old am I?”

He gazed down at her quietly. He looked like he was trying to figure out what she was up to. He wasn’t crazy. Dad wasn’t crazy. He was definitely not crazy.

“You’re a sixth grader, so that means you're eleven.”

Ran nodded. He wasn’t crazy. The bus rattled along. He stopped staring at the woman’s skirt. He was not crazy.

*

 “Honey?” When her father called through the gate, Ran had no idea who he was addressing. “Honey, Ran is here.” It was not until her name was placed next to that word that she realized the person who would come through the gate was her own mother, and she felt a sudden urge to run away. If this had been a movie, Ran would have shoved past her father and burst through the gate, crying out “Mama!” But this was reality.

Lies. They were all lies. How could she cry and call out that name when she didn’t even remember her mother’s face?

“Honey?” her father called out a little louder.

A door creaked open just inside the gate, and they heard the sound of feet being shoved into loose slippers. The slippers shuffled closer and closer. Ran took a step back and squeezed the straps of her backpack.

“What is it?”

Ran relaxed. It was not her mother.

“Isn’t this where Hwang Yeon-jeong lives?” Her father asked, hesitating after each word.

“Who are you?”

A huge sack of flesh who was not her mother looked them up and down and scratched his head. Each time his hand moved, white flakes rose up from his shaggy hair. Ran plugged her nose. A nasty smell crawled up from below his hideously sagging belly.

*

As Ran and her father entered the house, the smelly hunk of flesh turned off the television. Then he shoved aside some blankets on the floor with a  foot with unclipped toenails. Only after her father sat in the corner did Ran sit behind him, shielding herself with her small bag. The man set an ashtray between them and kept stealing glances at Ran.

Let’s see you try, she thought, as she debated where she could hit that smelly flesh with her bag and kill him. Pulling a pack of cigarettes out from beneath the blankets, the man explained that Ran’s mother worked in a sashimi restaurant on the beach and that she would be back any minute to make his dinner before returning to work. When he had smoked the cigarette down to the butt, he stared at her father’s tired face and shrugged.

“She told me all about you.”

“Oh?” said Ran’s father.

It frustrated Ran to see her father sitting so primly and politely. What did Mom tell him? The man narrowed his eyes like a cat and smirked.

“If that’s how you want to live, that’s your business. I was born in Seoul and spent my twenties there, so I know how city people are. I’m not one of these thick-headed rubes who’ve been stuck in the country their whole lives.”

The man’s voice grew sharper.

“But to tell you the truth, you disgust me. To think that a fellow man—you are a man, right?”

He pointed his cigarette at her father. Dad’s face stiffened. But it wasn’t stiff with anger but rather white with fear, like he’d been suddenly plunged into ice water.

“You’re an embarrassment to your fellow man. What you do is none of my business, but we’re still connected to each other since we shared the same wife, right?”

He chuckled as though something funny had just occurred to him.

“If you were born with a dick, then why do you live that way? You’re pretty, so I bet you got a lot of attention when you were in the military. But if you think you’re a woman just because someone did something to you back then… let it go. That was all just for fun.”

When the man said the words “did something,” he repeatedly slapped the side of his fist with his palm. But Ran was too shocked by the word “dick” to figure out what the gesture meant. She looked up at her father. He held his arm up to protect her.

“Let’s change the subject. My daughter is listening.”

“Too embarrassed to talk about it front of your daughter? If you’re so embarrassed by it, why do you do it?”

The man’s eyes glinted with hostility.

“Ran, it’s time to go,” her father said. “We’ll come back when your mother is home.”

The strain in his voice made her stand up in a hurry.

“Just a minute.” The man stopped them before they could reach the door. “You think you can ignore me? You think because a healthy young guy like me sits around the house that you don’t have to listen to me?

Her father did not turn around. But Ran did, her backpack clenched in her fists.

“You going to hit me with your bag? I guess you don’t care that your dad’s a pervert? You like having a pervert for a dad?”

Ran wanted to scream, No, I don’t, I hate my pervert dad! She looked up at her father with tear-filled eyes. He hung his head and said nothing. 

“My dad is not a pervert!” she said between tears.

“Oh, he’s not? Then what do you call a guy who wears a skirt and flirts with other men every night?”

She wished she were blind so she couldn’t see the man mincing around, mimicking her father in a skirt. Before she could say anything, her father’s hand made a small fist and struck the man in the face. But the punch sounded as weak as a twig snapping and only left the barest red mark, as if he had scratched him with his fingernails.

“Son of a bitch,” the man said, stroking his cheek.

Ran wanted to grab her father’s hand and run away, but the fat man was more nimble than he looked. He lifted one leg high and kicked her father in the ribs.

Her father fell to the floor, clutching his ribs, but the man kept kicking him.

“This is how you’re supposed to fight. Like this.” As the man’s fists and feet rained down, Ran’s father covered his face and curled into a ball.

“Stop it!” Ran swung at the man with her backpack. But the bag was wrenched all too easily from her grasp and flung into the corner, followed by Ran.

She screamed and clutched her head. Her father looked up at her only to be kicked in the face. Blood spewed from his lips.

“Pervert!”

“Dad!”

As the man’s kicks grew harder, her father’s tightly curled body went limp. When the man’s foot was red with the blood flowing from his face, he finally stopped to catch his breath. He put his hands on his hips and surveyed the blood-spattered room.

Red. She hated the color red. As the man kicked her father in the stomach again, he weakly opened his eyes and reached out to Ran. His face was so bloody that it looked like he was wearing his favorite red skirt over his head. Ran took a step back. She pictured him mincing around in red lipstick and a wig. Pictured him holding his head high even while surrounded by her classmates as they pointed, Pervert, pervert!

“Ran . . .”

No. She would rather die than be a pervert’s daughter.

He stretched his bloody arm toward her, but the man stomped on it. She ran out the door and through the gate. Her father’s screams grew louder. Dirty pervert. The man’s voice stayed on her heels. Ran plugged her ears. Dad was not a pervert. She was not the daughter of a pervert. He wasn’t crazy. As Ran shut her eyes and ran, the setting sun hung red overhead.

*

An ambulance screamed past where Ran sat huddled on the ground. The neighborhood was abuzz with rumors about what had happened and who the blood-covered person was. But Ran plugged her ears, kept her head down, and said nothing. She didn’t listen to a word they said. She did not look up even when one of the neighbors tapped her on the shoulder and asked, “Whose child is this?” She kept her head down even as her bloodied father was carried out, the ambulance sped off, and the smelly man yelled, “What are you all looking at?” When the noisy people were gone and she was alone in the dark, she finally raised her head. She carefully scanned the alley, fearful that someone would know she had a pervert for a father. Just then, a shadow loomed out of the darkness.

“You’ve gotten so big.”         

“Mom!”

She threw herself into her mother’s arms. At last, she had found her mother.

*

So that’s what Mom looks like. Ran scrutinized her mother’s face. After bringing Ran to the emergency room and handing her a carton of chocolate milk, her mother had fallen silent. She wanted to show her mother how much she had grown, but her mother kept glancing around the hallway and would not look at her.

Mom was thinner than she thought she would be. She thought about how she used to look in the mirror and search for her mother’s face in her own, wondering which feature resembled hers the most, but now she saw that they did not look alike. Maybe she had her fingers? Or her toes? Ran took a sip of milk and peeked at her mother’s clasped hands and her mud-caked shoes. She would live with her mother now. She didn’t have to worry anymore about people knowing she had a pervert for a father.

Since her mother lived with the smelly man, she would have to live with that smell as well, but that was okay. At least he would not be the kind of father who wore a red skirt and red lipstick and wandered the streets every night in search of other men.

Ran felt like she had been tiptoeing across a sheet of ice and had suddenly found firm land to walk on. She could not stop staring up at her mother. She now had a mother to live with and a new father. As she sipped the sweet milk, she felt alive again.

“So your dad quit his job?” her mother asked.

“Yes.”

“He wasn’t fired?”

Ran was surprised by the question. Come to think of it, he had no reason to quit. Just recently, they had been planning to go to Jeju Island for summer vacation. But it didn’t matter anymore. Ran crumpled up her worries and threw them away.

“Mom, where will I go to school now?”

She would have to listen to her teachers and not make trouble. She could do that since she no longer had a pervert dad. Even if they told her to wear a red skirt for sports day, she would wear it without complaining.

But her mother didn’t answer. Ran set the milk down.

“Mom?”

Only then did her mother look down at Ran. Her eyes were frighteningly hollow.

“You can’t live with me.”

“Why not? I’ll be good. I won’t get in trouble in school anymore. I promise.”

But her mother’s face was turning darker.

“Are you worried about money?” Ran pleaded. “I won’t cost you anything. I’ll get a part-time job!”

Ran’s eyes filled with tears. But instead of wiping them away, her mother stared into space.

“I’ll be good,” Ran clung to her mother’s arm and begged.

 

“You . . .” Mom’s heavy voice slowly rolled in with the waves. “You’re not my child.”

Ran couldn’t breathe.

“I don’t know who you are. The day your father brought you home, I left.”

Ran let go of her mother’s arm. As she backed away, she accidentally knocked over the milk. The carton coughed dark chocolate milk onto the floor. It looked like congealed blood. The blackened, congealed blood that was inside Ran’s body.

*

The emergency room was empty. A young doctor who looked like a college student explained that her father needed to be transferred to a bigger hospital. All they could do was take X-rays, but they couldn’t be sure of other injuries. Her mother looked at Ran as if to say, He’s your father. It’s up to you now. Instead of answering her mother. she stared at her father's bruised and swollen face. He was no longer covered in red like his skirt, but dark clots of blood still clung to his skin. 

Her father could not answer. Maybe no one knew the answer. Not Ran. Not the mother who wasn’t a mother. Not the smelly hunk of flesh. Not the coworkers who had driven her father away. The woman who was not her mother offered to let her spend the night at her house. But Ran said no. She was her father’s daughter, not her mother’s.

*

“Ran . . .” She heard her father’s voice in her sleep. But she did not open her eyes. Nor did she lift her head. She didn’t want to hear him say he was sorry or promise not to wear the red skirt—she was the one who owed him an apology, but she was too sorry even to say the word and could not look him in the eyes. Though it pained him to move, he stroked her back as she lay beside him with her eyes closed. Why did he bring her there? Why didn’t he tell her she wasn’t his real daughter in the first place? She grumbled to herself in hurt and regret.

But maybe he did not want to lose Ran, who had become so much a part of him that they were now inseparable, even if she was not his to begin with. Everyone else must have told him that he shouldn’t keep her, but he did not want to let her go. Maybe when he held her hand as she learned to walk, and turned himself into a mother for motherless Ran, he felt a comfort that could not be replaced by anything. Maybe it was like his red skirt. No one understood and no one approved, but to him, Ran was his most beautiful and precious thing. To him, Ran was another kind of red skirt, something that could never be taken away from him. 

*

“Dad! Over here!”

Ran waved. Her father, holding a bouquet, nudged his way through the crowd at her middle-school graduation. 

“Sorry I’m late. Traffic was heavy.”

He wiped the sweat from his brow. The back of his hand came away smudged with white, as if he were wearing face powder.

“This is my dad.”

“How do you do, Sir?”

Two short-haired girls in sweats, looking more like boys than girls, bowed to her father.

“These must be your friends?”

 “Yeah. She takes tae kwon do, and she takes boxing. They look the part, don’t they?”

Ran jokingly patted her friends on the head, and the boxer poked Ran in the ribs with her fist. Though they were only play fighting, the punch landed with a solid thump. Ran giggled and clutched her side. Her father watched as Ran and her friends played around, punching and kicking like boys. He handed her the red bouquet. Ever since that day four years ago, whenever Ran saw something red, she pictured her father’s battered face. And she would feel a wave of remorse at having once been ashamed of him.

“Congratulations, Daughter.”

As she took the flowers, her father pulled her into a hug. She had grown tall and was strong from taking tae kwon do all through middle school; her arms around her father were firm. Ran whispered to herself, Thank you, Dad.

“Let’s have lunch. Would you ladies like to join us?”

“No, thank you. Our parents are waiting,” the boxer said and bowed. Her smile was surprisingly delicate. The two girls waved good-bye and disappeared into the crowd.

“You must be starving.”

He pushed his way through the crowd. A woman in heavy makeup and a red skirt stood in the way, taking pictures. He glanced at her skirt and looked back at Ran. He grinned bashfully. Ran grinned back at him.

“Let’s hurry!” he said, and pushed past the woman.

Ran still didn’t like it when he wore the red skirt. But she no longer thought he was crazy. As she brushed past the woman, Ran studied her outfit. His birthday was coming up, and she would need to get him something. Over the past years, his once-straight shoulders had become stooped, and his eyes wrinkled when he smiled, but whenever he wore a red skirt, he came back to life like a flower wet with spring rain.

Her father put his arm around Ran. She slipped her arm around his slim waist. As they pushed through the busy crowd, their linked shoulders were stronger than anyone else’s. They became a part of each other, something no one would dare separate.

*

“Does this go to Gangneung?”

“Yes, get on.”

The bus driver looked at Ran. She was wearing sweats and carrying something long and covered in fabric on her back. Ran looked around for her seat. Then she set her bag and the long object on the seat next to her. She carefully stroked the handle of the wooden sword wrapped in a white cloth. She had borrowed it from her master from whom she had been learning tae kwon do and kendo for the last four years. Her master had reminded her over and over again that even though it was wood, it could be as fatal as a real sword depending on where you hit a person. Each time she looked at it, she imagined the glittering edge of a metal blade. And she pictured someone’s face covered in blood from that blade.

”Mom, over here.”

A little boy who looked like he was in the third or fourth grade led his mother to their seats and snuck a peek at Ran. She gave him a mischievous smile. He kept glancing back at her, as if trying to figure out from her short hair whether she was a boy or a girl.

She wasn’t planning to kill him. She was just going to even the score. She would have preferred that her father learn tae kwon do and get his own revenge, but he was more interested in wearing his red skirt than getting revenge or beating anyone up. So she was doing it for him. She was more than qualified. She was her father’s daughter.

Ran gripped the tightly wrapped handle of the sword. She pictured it splattered with the dirty blood of that stinky lump of flesh, and a shiver of excitement ran up her spine. Was this what Dad felt when he put on a red skirt and did his makeup? Ran looked out the window and smiled to herself.

If she hit him on the back of the neck with the sharp wooden sword, he could die. But she was only going to give back as good as he gave. Help him to correct his wrong ideas. Ran took a deep breath. The boy sitting in front of her looked back at her again. But this time, he smiled first. It was a pure smile from someone who did not care whether they were looking at a him or a her.

 That’s right. That’s what I’m going to teach him. She smiled back at the boy. Somewhere deep inside, she could feel the live red blood falling drop by drop. Red blood that flowed hot. Her revenge. A very fair one.

© Kim Bi. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2012 by Sora Kim-Russell and Eunjung Kwon-Lee. All rights reserved. 

- 뭐 이런 아이가 다 있어?

  그건 질문이 아니었다. 그럴 듯한 대답을 기다리는 물음도 아니었고, 누가 되었다고 하더라도 그런 질문에 대답할 수 있는 사람은 없었다. 란蘭은 숙일 생각도 없는 고개를 들어, 담임교사의 얼굴을 흘끗 올려보는 것으로 대답을 대신했다. 

- 무슨 일이에요.

- 넌 또 무슨 말썽을 부려서 예쁜 선생님을 속상하게 하니?

  싫다, 이런 쪽팔림. 언제나 당할 수밖에 없는 일이기는 하지만, 새 학년에 올라와 담임이 된 이 여자와는 정말 끔찍이도 싫었다. 

  가정조사를 한다며, 아빠는 뭐하시니, 언제 이혼 하셨니, 엄마는 왜 집을 나가신 거니, 그 이후로 엄마는 만나니, 딱지가 겨우 앉아있는 상처를 후벼 파는 그녀의 이야기를 들으며, 충분히 예상한 일이었다. 애써 친한 척 손을 끌어다가 만지작거리며 마치 모든 것 다 안다, 하는 인자한 얼굴이었지만, 그래서 더욱 역겹고 끔찍했다. 작년의 담임은 무관심하기는 했어도, 최소한 상처를 후벼 파며 뻔뻔스러운 얼굴을 하지는 않았는데.

  란은 힙합바지에 두 손을 푹 찔러 넣은 채, 실내화를 꺾어 신은 발로 교무실 바닥을 툭툭 찼다. 작은 주먹들이 돌멩이처럼 단단해졌다.

- 아, 이번 운동회에서 매스게임을 하는데, 글쎄 이 옷을 안 입겠다고 이 난리잖아요. 가뜩이나 아이들이 모자라 한 명이라도 빠지면 반 전체 아이들이 공연을 못할 지경인데, 지금까지 연습을 잘 해오다가 이까짓 옷 하나 못 입겠다고 저렇게 고집이니, 나 원.

  담임의 손에서 눈이 시리도록 빨간 치마가 털럭털럭 흔들렸다. 당장이라도 빨간 물이 이리저리 튈 것 같아, 란은 고개를 돌려버렸다.

- 아니, 왜? 이번에 그 반에서 맞춘 옷이 제일 예쁘다고 다른 반 여자아이들도 부러워서 난리들인데. 아유, 색깔 정말 예쁘네.

 교사들 중에 하나가 치마를 들고, 이리저리 들춰보더니, 란이의 허리춤에 치마를 가져다 댔다.

- 봐라, 정말 예쁘...

  휙, 란이는 자신의 허리춤에 치마를 가져다 대는 교사의 손을 뿌리쳤다. 치마를 들고 있던 그녀의 손이 새빨간 그것을 바닥에 떨어뜨리고 말았다. 내팽개쳐진 건 치마 한 장인데, 자신이 바닥에 드러누운 것처럼 그녀의 얼굴이 발갛게 달아오르고 있었다. 

- 너, 이게 무슨 버르장머리니? 선생님한테 이게 무슨 버르장머리야!

 교사들이 란이를 감쌌다. 

- 싫다고 했잖아요! 난 치마는 안 입는 다구요!

  얼마나 크게 소리를 질렀는지, 교사들도 흠칫 물러섰다. 당장이라도 그들을 향해 달려들 것처럼 란은 그들을 노려보고 있었다. 

- 아니, 얘가 지금 어디서 소리를 지르고 있어? 누가 널더러 매일 치마를 입으래? 운동회 날은 행사를 해야 하니까 입으라는 거 아니니? 넌 이 학교 학생 아냐?

 - 학교 안 다니면 되잖아요! 이 학교 안 다닌다고요!

  주머니에 찔러 넣었던 란이의 두 손이 어느새 그들을 향하고 있었다. 마침 교무실을 들어서던 남자 교사가 어깨를 활짝 펴며 성큼성큼 다가왔다.

- 뭐야, 너 도대체 그게 무슨 말버릇이야, 너 내일 당장 아빠 모셔와, 알았어!

- 씨... 싫어요, 싫단 말예요!

  그러나 란이의 목소리는 조금도 잦아들지 않았다. 오히려 더 커다랗게 외치고 있었다. 

- 조용히 못해! 어디 선생님한테 말대꾸야, 말대꾸가!

  기어이는 책상 너머에 있던 교감 선생님이 소리를 질렀다. 그의 손에는 창처럼 기다란 몽둥이가 들려 있었다. 여자 선생님들도 기가 눌려 슬금슬금 제 자리로 돌아갔다. 란이는 자신을 노려보고 있는 그를 봤다.

- 잔말 말고 너 내일 아버님 모셔와!

  교감 선생님은 몽둥이로 란이를 가리키며, 마지막 판결을 내리는 판사처럼 또박또박 말했다. 그러나 란이는 대답을 하는 대신, 허리를 숙여 바닥에 떨어져 있는 빨간 치마를 집어 들어서는 북북 찢기 시작했다.

- 익... 익...

 란이의 손길에, 허름하게 바느질이 되어 있던 빨간 치마는 힘없이 찢겨져 나갔다. 놀란 담임과 다른 교사들은 작은 몸집으로 온 힘을 다해 빨간 치마를 찢어내는 란이를 보고는 할 말을 잃었다. 란이는 마지막까지 치마를 갈기갈기 뜯어내서 바닥에 팽개치고는 교무실을 뛰쳐나가버렸다.

  남자교사가 그제야 책상을 돌아 따라 나갔지만, 란이의 모습은 이미 사라지고 없었다. 란이의 발걸음소리는 이미 교무실 복도 끝을 돌아 운동장으로 뛰어 나가고 있었다. 비명처럼 교사의 목소리가 들렸지만, 란이는 뒤돌아보지 않았다.

 여전히 그 빨간 치마를 입고 싶은 생각은 손톱만치도 없으며, 앞으로도 절대 입지 않을 것이며, 빨간 치마를 입느니, 차라리 학교를 그만두겠다, 하는 이야기도 거짓이 아니었으니까. 란이는 자신의 손에 북북 찢겨져 나가던 빨간 치마를 떠올렸다. 두 손에는 아직도 빨간 물이 묻어 있는 것 같았다. 숨을 헐떡거리며 달리면서도 란이는 두 손을 바지 단에 문질러 닦았다. 싫다, 빨간 것들은 모두 다 그렇게 갈기갈기 찢어버리고 말 테다. 란이의 발걸음은 어느새 빨간 신호등 밑을 지나가고 있었다.

 

  아빠는 미쳤다. 처음부터 아빠는 그렇게 세상에 태어난 것뿐이다. 아빠의 엄마가 귀신에게 저주를 받았거나, 아빠의 엄마의 엄마나, 아빠의 엄마의 할아버지가 죽은 귀신에게 원한을 사서 그것이 하필 아빠에게 저주로 들러붙어 아빠는 미쳐서 세상에 태어난 것뿐이다. 그리고 나는 그런 미친 아빠의 딸이다.

- 어서 와라, 오늘은 웬일로 일찍 왔네?

  문을 열면, 아침에 켜놓고 간 컴퓨터만 윙윙거리며 맞이할 줄 알았는데, 회사에 간다며 양복을 입고 나갔던 아빠는 트레이닝복 차림으로 가스레인지 앞에 서 있었다. 아빠의 빙긋 웃는 웃음이, 여러 가지 색깔의 립스틱을 보여주며, ‘예쁘지, 예쁘지?’ 했던 그 얼굴과 똑같았다. 아빠는 미쳤다. 그리고 나는 그런 미친 아빠의 딸이다. 란이는 메고 있던 가방을 던지듯 땅바닥에 내려놓았다.

- 란이야, 이리와 앉아라. 아빠가 우리 딸 좋아하는 퐁듀 만들고 있거든? 이제 치즈만 녹이면 된다, 잠깐 거기 앉아 있어.

  아빠의 유난히 빨간 입술에서는 제목을 알 수 없는 노래가 흘러나왔다. 어느 나라 노래인지 알 수는 없었지만, 그 노래가 무엇이든 간에 란이는 아빠가 부르는 것이면 뭐든지 다 싫었다. 아빠가 노래를 못해서가 아니라, 아빠는 노래를 할 때면 언제나 여자의 목소리를 만들어 가녀리게 흔들리듯 노래를 부르기 때문이었다. 어렸을 때에는 아빠가 TV 화면 속에 나오는 여자 가수들과 똑같은 목소리로, 똑같은 몸짓으로 노래를 하는 것이 그저 재미있고 신기했지만, 이젠 아니다. 아빠가 미쳤기 때문이라는 것을 잘 알고 있으니까.

- 회사는요?

- 응... 아빠 회사 옮길 거다. 사람들이 말이야, 아빠 능력도 못 알아보고 말이야. 그래서 아빠가 그만뒀어, 내버려둬라, 너희들 아니더라도 내 일할 데가 없는 줄 아느냐, 이렇게 멋지게 그만 뒀지. 잘했지, 그치, 그치?

  아빠의 흥얼거림은 부글부글 끓고 있는 퐁듀 냄비처럼 조금씩, 조금씩 커진다. 늘씬하다고 표현해도 좋을 만큼, 야윈 아빠의 몸은 허리를 흔들며 엉덩이를 씰룩이며 흥겹다. 란이는 그 모습을 물끄러미 지켜보다가, 아빠가 손가락을 들어 가리킨 식탁이 아니라, 화장실로 들어가 문을 쾅 걸어 잠갔다. 밖에서는 여자의 목소리로 노래를 부르는 아빠의 노래 소리가 점점 커졌다. 지금쯤 아빠는 끓고 있는 퐁듀 냄비를 그냥 그대로 내버려둔 채, 엉덩이를 흔들고 나긋나긋 거실을 돌아다니며, 마치 청중의 박수에 화답이라도 하는 연륜이 쌓인 가수처럼 혼자만의 공연公演을 하고 있을 것이다.

  란이는 그 목소리를 지워버리기라도 할 것처럼, 세면대로 다가가 물을 세차게 틀었다. 쏴아 쏟아지는 물줄기가 사나운 소리를 내며 흰 세면대에 부딪혔다. 그러나 가짜 가수의 나긋나긋한 목소리는 용케도 그 사나운 물소리 속에서 헤엄쳐 솟아올랐다. 란이는 온수 꼭지마저도 있는 힘껏 틀었다. 슈욱 하얗게 수증기를 내뿜으며 뜨거운 물이 세면대에 콸콸 흘러넘쳤다. 그러나 질긴 생명력을 가진 늙은 가수의 목소리는 끝까지 지지 않고 그 속에서 오롯이 일어섰다. 

- 아빠, 학교 담임이 아빠한테 전화해 달래!

- 뭐, 아빠를 왜? 너 또 학교에서 무슨 말썽부렸니?

  얇은 나무문 하나를 두고  공연을 중지한 쓸쓸한 중견 가수의 목소리가 들렸다. 그러나 란이는 대답하지 않았다. 그렇게 대답을 하지 않으면 근심을 키워 가는 아빠의 미친 머릿속이 더 이상 그런 미친 공연 같은 것은 하지 않으리라는 것을 잘 알고 있기 때문이었다. 그제야 란이는 콸콸 흘러넘치는 수도꼭지를 잠갔다. 미친 아빠의 딸로 사는 일은 참 힘겹다, 라고 생각하면서.

 

  삐비빅. 머리 좋은 현관문은 한밤중에도 그렇게 감추지 않고 누군가의 들고남을 표시한다. 란이는 눈을 떠 시계를 올려보았다. 새벽 2시. 일어날까. 란이는 잠시 망설였다. 그러나 란이의 몸은 이미 반쯤 일으켜져 있었다. 지금 이야기를 해야겠다. 란이는 잠옷 바지를 털며 일어났다. 그리고 벌컥 문을 열었다. 핏덩이 같은 붉은 덩어리가 발가락을 세워 어둠 속을 천천히 지나가다가 돌아봤다. 그러나 란이는 놀라지 않았다.

- 나, 엄마한테 갈래요.

  까치발을 디디며 어둠 속을 가로질러가던 붉은 덩어리가 곧게 펴졌다. 긴 팔을 천천히 올려 길게 늘어진 머리카락을 잡아당겼다. 가짜인 머리가 투둑 떨어졌다.

- 아빠를... 버리겠다는... 거니?

 - 아빠가... 날 버리는 거죠. 엄마를... 버렸던 것처럼.

 어둠 속에서도 너무 짧아 위태로워 보이는 치마의 빨간빛이 죽은 피처럼 새까맣게 죽어 있었다. 란이는 문을 닫고 방으로 들어와 이불 속으로 들어가 버렸다. 딱지처럼 어둠 속에 까맣게 말라붙어 있는 붉은 덩어리가 머릿속에 그려졌다.

 

  맨 처음 빨간 치마를 입은 아빠를 보는 일은 그냥 재미였다. 란이는 기억할 수 없는 시간들 속에서, 란이가 알 수 없는 이유 때문에, 엄마는 떠나버렸다. 엄마는 어린 란이에게 아무런 이야기도 하지 않았고, 아빠도 어린 란이에게 아무런 이야기 하지 않았다. 엄마가 없다는 사실이, 처음 얼마간은 뜨거운 물에 발을 데는 듯한 충격이었지만, 란이의 기억에는 그 충격의 그림자조차도 남아있지 않았다. 그저, 란이가 엄마를 찾으며 울 때면, 아빠는 마치 엄마의 자리를 대신하려는 것처럼 엄마가 옷장 속에 버려두고 간 빨간 치마를 꺼내어 어린 란이 앞에 입어 보이며 란이를 웃게 했다. 까르르 웃으며 잠이 들고, 다시 깨어나 눈을 뜬 란이 앞에 여전히 엄마는 없었지만, 엄마 옷을 입은 아빠가 대신 그 자리를 지키고 있었다.

  초등학교에 들어가고 다른 아이들을 만나며, 란이는 다른 아이의 아빠들이 그런 모습으로 아이들을 즐겁게 해주지 않는다는 것을 알았다. 그래서 그 이후로는, 그래, 우리 아빠는 내가 엄마가 없어서 엄마의 자리를 채워주려고 날 위해 저러시는 거야, 하고 생각했다. 그런데 어느 날 밤, 아빠가 가끔씩 그렇게 빨간 립스틱을 바르고 빨간 치마를 입고는 밖으로 나간다는 사실을 알게 되었다. 한동안 그렇게 밤거리를 돌아다니다가 란이가 잠들고 난 후에 아무도 모르게 벌레처럼 집으로 돌아온다는 사실을 란이는 알아버리고 말았다.

  아빠는 란이를 즐겁게 해주기 위해 빨간 치마를 입고 빨간 화장을 하는 줄 알았는데, 아니었다. 그리고 엄마가 집을 나간 이유도 아빠의 그 빨간 치마 때문이라는 것을 란이는 나중에서야 알 수 있었다. 그리고 다른 아이들은 그렇게 치마를 입은 남자들을 ‘변태새끼’라고 부른다는 것도. 아빠는 더 이상 란이 앞에 빨간 치마를 입고 빨간 립스틱을 바르고, 우스꽝스러운 몸짓을 보여주지 않았다. 그러나 그보다 훨씬 더 자주, 아빠는 붉은 덩어리가 되어, 어둠 속을 가로질러 슬며시 밖으로 나갔다 들어왔다. 그러다가 잠에서 부스스 깨어 화장실을 가는 란이와 마주쳤다. 아빠는 빨간 얼굴로 머쓱하게 ‘아빠야’ 하고 웃었지만, 란이는 웃지 않았다. 그리고 다음 날도, 그 다음 날도 아빠는 란이에게 아무런 설명도 하지 않았다. 란이도 아빠에게 아무 것도 묻지 않았다.

  그러나 란이의 가슴에 젖 몽우리가 생기기 시작하면서, 란이는 다른 아이들의 아빠들과는 다른 아빠가 싫었다. 혹시나 그렇게 길거리를 돌아다니다가 친구들의 눈에 띄어, ‘변태새끼’라는 이름으로 아이들의 입에 오르 내릴까봐 겁이 났다. 아빠 이제 빨간 치마는 그만 입으세요, 라고 이야기하고 싶었지만, 엄마를 버리고도 버리지 못한 빨간 치마를, 자신이 이야기해도 버리지 못하면 어쩌나 란이는 두려웠다. 아빠를 잃고 싶지 않은데, 그깟 빨간 치마 때문에 아빠를 잃을지도 모른다는 사실이 란이는 끔찍이도 싫었다. 그렇게 아빠와 란이의 사이는 벌어진 상처 위에 앉은 검붉은 딱지처럼 꾸득꾸득 굳어갔고, 란이는 아빠 앞에 자꾸 말을 잃었다. 그리고 아빠는 점점 빨간 치마가 되어갔다. 

 

  아빠는 아침 일어나자마자 내내 전화에 매달려 있었다. 학교에 전화를 넣어 담임과 이야기를 하는 것도 같았고, 작은 수첩을 찾아가며 오랫동안 연락을 하지 않았던 사람들과 전화를 하는 것도 같았다. 학교에는 갈 생각도 않고 식탁에 앉은 란이를 앞에 두고 밥을 떠주며, 아빠는 아무런 이야기도 하지 않았다.

  란이는 12시가 다 될 때까지 컴퓨터 앞에 앉아 있었다. 아빠가 방문을 두드리길래 점심을 먹어라, 하는 이야기인줄 알고 문을 열었는데, 아빠는 작은 가방 두 개와 함께 현관 앞에 나와 있었다. .

- 옷 입어라, 엄마한테 가자.

 

  엄마가 어떤 얼굴이었더라. 아빠는 엄마의 사진을 란이의 앨범에 끼워 놓았지만, 초등학교에 들어가고 나서 란이는 그 사진을 들여다보지 않았다. 엄마가 보고 싶기는 했지만, 무 자르듯 란이나 아빠에게 아무런 연락도 하지 않으면서, 엄마에 대한 그리움은 섭섭함으로, 섭섭함은 다시 속상함으로 변해갔다. 그리고 엄마가 곁에서 아빠를 도와준다면, 아빠의 습관 같은 것은, 고칠 수 있지 않았을까, 하는 생각을 떠올릴 수 있게 되면서, 엄마에 대한 감정은 단순한 속상함에서 원망으로 바뀌어 가고 있었다. 솔직히 아빠가 빨간 치마만 입지 않는다면, 란이는 엄마보다는 아빠와 살고 싶었다. 아무리 자신을 낳아준 엄마라고 하더라도 빨간 치마 하나 때문에 사랑하는 사람과 자식을 버릴 수 있는 사람이라면, 고집을 부리며 빨간 치마를 입지 않는 자기 자신마저도 언젠가 버리려고 할 테니 말이다. 밉다, 그렇게 냉정할 수 있는 엄마도. 그리고 그런 상황을 만든 아빠도.

- 계란 먹을래?

  창밖을 바라보는 란이에게 아빠는 물었다. 어느새 여러 가지 물건들을 터질 듯 담고 있는 수레 끝을 붙들고 말끔한 유니폼을 입은 아저씨가 란이를 내려 보고 있었다. 흘끗 삶은 계란을 보니, 빨간 비닐 망에 옹기종기 담겨있다. 아빠는 정말 계란이 먹고 싶은 걸까. 계란이 예쁘게 담겨있는 저 빨간 비닐 망을 갖고 싶은 걸까.

- 싫어요. 안 먹어요.

  란이의 목소리는 끊어진 기타 줄처럼 툭 퉁겨 올랐다. 아빠의 얼굴은, 내가 아빠를 버린 게 아니라, 아빠가 날 버리는 거예요, 하는 이야기를 들었을 때처럼, 칙칙하게 가라앉았다. 아빠는 음료수 하나와 과일 맛 우유하나를 집어 들고는 셈을 치렀다. 그러나 음료수를 따서 마시지도, 그렇다고 들고 있는 우유를 란이에게 내밀지도 않았다. 괜히 노란 우유가 담겨있는 플라스틱 용기를 꾹꾹 누르고 있었을 뿐. 

 

  아빠는 왜 여자 옷을 입을까. 치마를 입고 화장을 하고 뾰족구두를 신고 거리를 걷는 일은 생각만 해도 위태롭고 아슬아슬하기만 한데, 왜 또 다시 여자 옷을 입고 화장을 하고 밤길을 나서는 것일까. 아빠가 가끔 정말 여자보다 더 예쁘구나, 하는 느낌이 들기는 했지만, 그래도 여자 옷을 입고 있는 아빠의 모습은 어설프고 울퉁불퉁한 남자의 구석들이 여기저기 드러나 형편없고 끔찍해 보이는 게 사실인데, 아빠는 왜 굳이 그런 여자 옷을 입지 않으면 안 되는 것일까. 여자가 되고 싶은 걸까. 아니면 남자가 되기 싫은 걸까. 그것도 아니면 설마 뾰족구두에 아슬아슬한 빨간 치마가 정말 편안한 것일까.

  란이는 강릉에 어느 읍사무소의 딱딱한 소파 위에 앉아 창구의 명찰을 단 여자와 이야기를 하고 있는 아빠를 바라보았다. 벌써 며칠 째 입고 있는 아빠의 면바지는 엉덩이 부분이 흉하게 뭉개져 이리저리 주름이 가 있었다. 수염도 깍지 않은 까칠까칠한 얼굴은 털 뽑힌 고슴도치 같었다.

- 란이야, 가자.

여자 옷을 입지 않으면 안 되는 걸까. 아빠는 정말 여자 옷은 입지 않고 살 수 없는 걸까.

- 아빠...

- 왜?

  또 다른 종이쪽지를 손에 들고 있는 아빠의 얼굴은 어제보다 훨씬 단단해 보였다. 이야기하고 싶었다. 아빠, 여자 옷을 입지 않고 살수는 없어요? 난 아빠가 그냥 아빠였으면 좋겠는데, 다른 아이들의 아빠처럼 보통 아빠였으면 좋겠는데, 정말 여자 옷을 입지 않고는 살아갈 수 없는 거예요? 이렇게.

- 아니…

 란이는 아빠의 궁금한 턱 밑을 외면한 채 먼저 읍사무소 문을 나섰다.

 

  덜컹거리며 버스가 움직일 때마다 여자가 입고 있는 얇은 치마 자락은 바람에라도 흩날리는 것처럼 흔들렸다. 착한 여자처럼 보이지 않는 그녀를 고운 시선으로 보는 사람은 없었지만, 아빠만큼은 그 여자의 얇은 치마 자락에서 눈을 떼지 못하고 있었다. 아빠는 그 여자를 버스 터미널에서부터 계속 쳐다보고 있었다. 여자를 보고 있는 것인지, 여자가 입고 있는 진달래꽃 색깔의 치마를 바라보고 있는 것인지는 모르지만, 아빠는 그 여자가, 아니 그 진달래 색 치마가 다른 버스를 탔더라면, 그 버스에 무작정 올랐을지도 모를 만큼 정신없이 여자의 치마를 바라보고 있었다. 우리가 가야할 곳은 제대로 기억하고 있는 것일까. 이미 여러 정거장 우리가 내려야할 곳을 지나쳐 온 것은 아닐까. 란이는 여자의 치마에 흠뻑 취해있는 아빠의 눈길을 붙들어 어딘가 다른 곳에 메어 놓고 싶었다.

- 아빠?

  아빠는 한참이나 멍하다가 란이를 바라보았다.

- 왜?

- 아빠는 몇 살이에요?

- 뭐?

- 아빠 몇 살이냐고요?

  아빠의 두 눈이 동그래졌다.

- 서른아홉 살이지.

- 엄마는요?

- 서른일곱 되었지, 아마. 아빠보다 두 살이 어리니까.

- 그럼 나는요?

  아빠는 물끄러미 란이를 내려 봤다. 엉뚱한 질문을 해대는 란이의 심산을 이리저리 들여다보고 있는 눈빛이었다. 미치지 않았다. 아빠는 미치지 않았다. 절대, 절대, 아빠는 미치지 않았다.

- 초등학교 6학년이니까... 열 한 살이지?

  란이는 천천히 또렷하게 고개를 끄덕였다. 미치지 않았다. 아빠는 미치지 않았다. 버스는 덜컹거리며 또 다른 돌덩이를 밟고 지나갔다. 그리고 이번에는 아빠도 흔들리는 그 여자의 진달래 색 치마 같은 건 쳐다보고 있지 않았다. 아빠는 미치지 않았다.

 

  ‘여보’하고 아빠가 갈색 대문 안으로 지친 목소리를 들이밀었을 때, 란이는 그게 자신의 엄마를 가리키는 말이라는 사실을 까맣게 잊고 있었다. ‘여보, 란이 왔어요, 여보’ 하고 란이의 이름을 그 옆에 세워놓고 나서야 곧 대문을 열고 나올 사람이 바로 자신의 엄마라는 사실에 란이는 어디론가 도망쳐버리고 싶은 기분이었다. 영화 에서 보면 이런 상황에서 아빠보다 먼저 대문을 밀치고 들어가 ‘엄마’를 외쳐 부르거나, 마구 울부짖어야 하는 일이겠지만, 사실 란이는 그 어느 것도 탐탁치가 않않다.

거짓말이다. 그건 다 거짓말이다. 엄마의 얼굴이 기억나지 않는데, 어떻게 그 이름을 외쳐 부르고 울부짖을 수가 있을까.

- 여보, 여보?

  아빠의 목소리가 조금 더 커졌다. 그러자, 멀지 않은 대문 안에서 덜그럭 덜그럭 문이 열리는 소리가 들리고 누군가의 늘어진 슬리퍼가 꿰어지는 소리가 들렸다. 직직 슬리퍼가 방정맞은 소리를 내며 란이와 아빠가 서 있는 대문으로 다가왔다. 란이는 흠칫 놀라 물러섰다. 자신도 모르게 등에 맸던 가방을 잔뜩 움켜쥐었다.

- 뭐요?

  그러나 란이의 가방을 움켜쥔 손은 금세 스르르 풀어졌다.

- 저... 황... 연...정씨 댁... 아닌가요?

  그건 엄마가 아니었기 때문이었다.

- 뉘슈?

  엄마가 아닌 커다란 살덩어리가 아빠와 란이를 훑어보며 머리를 긁적였다. 손을 움직일 때마다 덥수룩한 그의 머리에서, 하얀 눈발이 일어섰다. 란이는 자신도 모르게 코를 막았다. 흉하게 늘어진 뱃살 밑에서 역겨운 냄새가 스멀스멀 올라왔기 때문이었다.

 

  란이와 아빠가 방에 들어서자, 냄새 나는 살덩어리인 그는 TV를 껐다. 그리고 바닥에 늘어져 있는 이불들을 발톱도 깍지 않은 맨 발로 스윽 스윽 구석에 밀어 놓았다. 란이는 아빠가 그 한 구석에 앉고 나서야, 아빠의 뒤쪽에 작은 가방을 방패삼아 조심스레 앉았다. 재떨이를 끌어다가 아빠 앞에 놓으며, 그는 흘끗흘끗 란이의 작은 몸을 흘끔거렸다.

  조금이라도 허튼 짓을 해봐라, 란이는 자신도 모르게 가방으로 그 냄새 나는 살덩어리의 어디를 가격하면 치명적일까 하는 생각을 떠올리고 있었다. 주섬주섬 이불 속 어딘 가에서 담배를 꺼내며 엄마는 바닷가 횟집에서 식당 일을 도와주고 있다고 했다. 저녁 즈음이나 되어야 밥을 차리러 집에 잠깐 들렀다가 다시 나가는데, 이제 올 시간이 되었다, 하며 벽에 달려 있는 시계를 흘끗 올려보았다. 담배 개피 하나를 다 태워나갈 무렵 건들건들 피곤한 아빠의 얼굴을 쳐다보던 그는 어깨를 으쓱하며 말을 꺼냈다.

- 내... 이야기는 들었수.

- 아, 예.

  가지런히 앉은 아빠의 다리는 너무 깍듯해서 답답했다. 무슨 이야기를 들었다는 것일까. 남자가 불빛 속에 고양이 같은 실눈을 뜨며 비웃음을 물고 입 꼬리를 올려 말을 이었다.

- 거... 댁이 사는 스타일이 그렇다면 내 뭐라 할 생각은 없수다. 나도 20대를 서울 한 복판에서 보낸 놈이라, 도시 사람들의 생리를 잘 알아요. 이렇게 시골 촌구석에 처박혀 산다고 답답하고 무식한 머릿속을 가지고 살지는 않는다 이 말씀이야.

  남자의 건들거리는 말투가 조금씩 짧아졌다.

- 근데, 나... 솔직히 창피해. 같은 남자로서... 형씨, 형씨 남자 맞지?

  남자는 담배를 쥐었던 손으로 대충 아무 구석이나 아빠를 가리키며 물었다. 아빠는 흘끗 그를 올려봤다. 그러나 그건 화나서 단단해지는 눈빛이 아니라, 얼음장 속에 빠져 갑자기 찬물에 발을 담근 사람처럼 하얗게 질린 눈빛이었다.

- 같은 남자로서, 난 쪽팔리다 이 말이요. 나... 형씨 하고는 아무 상관없는 사람이야. 그래도 같은 마누라를 품어본 인연 아니우? 훗...

  남자는 무슨 생각을 떠올리는지 피식 웃었다.

- 아, 좆 달고 태어나 왜 그렇게 살아, 응? 뭐 생긴 것도 반반하신 게 군대있을 때, 상사들에게 귀여움 깨나 받으셨을 것 같은데. 설마 그 때 그렇고 그런 일이 있어서 자기 자신을 여자로 생각한다거나 뭐 그런 거라면... 잊어버리쇼. 그건 그냥 장난이야, 장난.

  남자는 ‘그렇고 그런 일’ 이야기를 하며 한 손은 주먹을 쥐고, 다른 한 




Kim BiKim Bi

Kim Bi was born in 1971 in Gyeonggi-do, South Korea. From a young age, she questioned her gender identity, and in 2000, she was reborn as a woman through sex reassignment surgery. That same year, she shared the process of her surgery in a TV documentary in an effort to break down prejudice against transgender people in Korea. Her writing career began in 1997, when she published a short story, “His Age, Sixty-Four,” about older gay men, in the LGBT magazine Buddy. In 2007, she won a fiction award from the periodical Women’s Donga for her novel Plastic Woman. Her published works include Kim Bi: The Story of an Ugly Transgender (2000), The Likes of You and Me (2006), and Wear a Flower in Your Hair (2012). 

Translated from KoreanKorean by Sora Kim-RussellSora Kim-Russell and by Eunjung Kwon-LeeEunjung Kwon-Lee

Sora Kim-Russell's work has appeared in The American Reader, Asia Literary Review, Azalea: Journal of Korean Literature & Culture, New Writing from Korea, and Koreana: a Quarterly on Korean Art & Culture. Her translations include Gong Ji-young’s Our Happy Times (Short Books, 2014) and Shin Kyung-sook’s I’ll Be Right There (Other Press, 2014).

Eunjung Kwon-Lee is a freelance translator living in Seoul, South Korea. She currently translates the online newspaper Across the Border, by Rainbow Doe, and works for ILDA, Korean Feminist Journal.