This piece of flash fiction — stories that are strictly 500 words or less — first appeared in 2010 at the travel and arts zine Border Hopping. Over the years I’ve written a number of prose poems inspired by life in Korea. I may consider publishing them here at the website. If you think that’s a terrible idea, let me know!
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Hyeon-mi fixed her hair into a tight bun. The cherry trees had bloomed the week before and blossoms were now falling from their branches, swirling around her in whirlpools of discarded petals. The wind that day was fierce.
She walked through a field sown with barley, taking care not to trample the shoots that were just beginning to show. Some distance from her a group of children could be seen flying kites. Hyeon-mi paused to watch them. The kites were fashioned to look like birds. They rose high, dove sharply, and then rose again, tumbled, circled, chased after and careened towards each other. Hyeon-mi could not tell if they were whipped about by the wind or by the boys who held their tethers.
The shouts of the children dimmed as the girl made her way across the field.
The creek that ran behind the barley field was sacred to Hyeon-mi, for it was a place where she could be alone. A long time she sat and watched the water flow over the stones. Blossoms pirouetted on the surface and were carried away with the current, or became trapped on thin reed stalks. Here Hyeon-mi could be alone, but not always alone. They too had sat like this once, watching the water. The creek was swollen with rain that day, it flowed noisily. His whispered breath had felt warm against her ear.
Hyeon-mi undid the bun and let her black hair fall about her face and shoulders. Her hands unfastened her shirt buttons, the clasp of her bra. There was something mechanical, independent of her own volition in these movements. As she removed her clothing Hyeon-mi felt like she was watching someone else undressing her.
It was sudden, and strange, and wonderful.
She bared her body to the sun, the sky, the wind and they enveloped her clear skin, small breasts, and incipient belly. The wind blew wild over the patch of hair that lifted in a slight dome at her pubis. Hyeon-mi looked on this body and thought it very beautiful.
Naked, she stepped among the rocks and stray blossoms. She was strong, graceful. Seventeen.
Naked, she bathed in the creek. The water flowed around her, past her. It hurried to the sea, indifferent to what this young girl desired.
Naked, she dreamed a little. A man was speaking, murmuring in confidential, reassuring tones. His hands flowed over her like water, but were like flames upon her limbs.
When Hyeon-mi awakened a crane was feeding in the water beside her. She was overwhelmed by an urge to take hold of this bird, to embrace it against her body. As she splashed into the creek the crane jerked up its head and took flight. Hyeon-mi watched it go. The voices of the children were carried back to her on the wind. They sounded like a pack of approaching animals.
She hurried, but was not yet fully dressed before a face peered down at her with boyish curiosity from the upper bank.