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Tree of Lips

“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.