Warning: Implicit drug sex, hints of drug abuse, childhood trauma, disassociation, memory tripping, early 20s dude rockers are the worst, ask me because I know. Language.
Summary: For all the lost love.
Author’s note: Title from Shakespeare’s play. Stories within story. Fictions within fiction. There are two love stories and a plot twist. Non-linear timeline. Switch back and forth between stories, memories, and realities. Keep your mind open and don’t do drugs. Happy Valentine kids. This fic is not directly influenced by but rather inspired from Sherlock BBC’s The Abominable Bride. [Ghost. They are the shadows that define our every sunny day.]
Thanks to Mikey-doh for the comments and suggestion for the ending. I would remain unfinished without your finish touch. So this is dedicated to you. My youth wouldn’t be the same without you.
The fifteen minutes phone ring wakes him up. “Do I have a home line, oh my god?” He mumbles while putting his feet on the cold ground and dragging his body to the living room to pick up the phone. “Hi, this is Lee Seunghoon.” He slaps his face before speaking just to give an impression that he is up, out and about, and not totally sleeping in until 3 pm on a weekday. “Oh, hi nurse Kim, of course I remember you. Yes, I do have an appointment on February 10… oh is it today? At 2:30 pm, right.” He quickly thinks of a reason to give the kind woman who calls him half an hour after the appointment to confront him instead of making the same effort, just half an hour earlier. But again, even if it’s actually her business, it’s not her business, to call every damn patient’s house and remind them of their own commitments and responsibilities.
“Yes, I deeply apologize, something important came up and I had left my phone home all day, that’s why I missed all your calls.” He reaches his cellphone on top of the coffee table and glances at total seventeen missed calls. Good number. “I just literally walked into the door when I hear my home phone ring. You caught me there.” Seunghoon makes a giggling sound with the same dull and sleepy expression on his face. “Can we redo my appointment, nurse Kim? No, it’s really okay for me, I’m really okay. It can totally wait a few days. No, I really don’t mind. In fact, I insist.” He ends the woman’s pressure of him showing up right at that moment with a stern voice. When he hears the deep sigh from the other line, Seunghoon knows he wins. He hangs up the phone, look at his three-days night gown and around at the unusual untidy living room filled with to-go food and pizza boxes, and wonders how this happens.
Lee Seunghoon is a twenty-nine year old lecturer, with a master in Literature and Psychology, who already gave up on the idea of pursuing a doctorate because the reality of job scarcity didn’t convince him that another five years of student loans was worth it. He teaches three introductory courses for the Literature department and two selective courses in a community college a year, making barely enough money to rent a one bedroom apartment, feed his rescued cat, and can afford a beer every other weekend or two eat-out dinners every month if he’s so inclined. The students taking his class often told him how “chill” and “understanding” he is, which he doesn’t know what to tell them aside than “I’ve been your age once.” (Really, he could go on and tell them about what that means. But the younger folks deserve much better than dealing with simultaneously tuition hike and their teacher telling bad jokes during class, so he forwent the sentiment.) His side job/hobby is writing for columns and decorating the private website where he would put up his poems and short stories for free. He attempted to publish his novels a few years back but the effort didn’t go anywhere because he refused to change anything that the editors suggested. He has therapist appointment once every three weeks, part of the university health insurance package. He’d call his mom in the hospital once every two weeks and write down everything she said into his notebook so he can show them to his shrink in their meetings. His old best friend, Jinwoo, recently got in contact with him through email and asks to meet up, to which he agreed.
“I have been following your works you put online, mate,” Jinwoo said, “and I think it’s time to reconnect. After all, we had been friends for most of our lives.” Jinwoo was surprisingly polite about the invitation given the situation under which they stopped talking, even with its obvious guilt-tripping undertone. Seunghoon realized he actually missed this guy a lot. Somehow he managed to forget the fact that he cut all ties with his friends and acquaintances a few years back and moved to another neighborhood of the city where the risk of running into them remains subsequently lower than five percent at all times.
“Where should we meet up?” is the first text he sends to Jinwoo after seven years. He finally unblocks Jinwoo’s number on his phone and it really makes him feel weird to look at the messages from Jinwoo, the last one dated at 2009. The instant reply from the guy is quite telling of how much Jinwoo means his invitation. He doesn’t take time to act new. “Where do you think?”
“Do you really want to do that, asshole?” Seunghoon takes a few second to consider his language.
“Worst scenario, write a fucking novel and get over it.” Jinwoo replies. “Come visit the place that made you run for your life.”
“You bet your ass I did.”
“What did? You wrote a novel or you got over it?”
“Both. I will see you on Friday.”
Today, let’s talk about my favorite topic. Let’s talk about him.
Amongst every skies ever made in the entire history of universe, he is my favorite sky. He is that of a summer noon; the sun is too bright and the ocean too loud, naked toes slipping on hot sand, pulled away by the rippling and sparkling of the estuary. He brings that of a fall breeze, touching one’s skin with light stroke of wind like drawing a very gentle painting with water color brush. He carries that of the spring snow, melting in fingers and disappearing within moments like an inevitable ending; the traces of its existence dry up and vanish bits by bits leaving us no other choice but to witness and never to hold back. He is that of a winter night, cold winds crying loneliness outside the broken windows, dreaming of the warmth from lovers’ breath and their intertwined hands, touched foreheads, locked bodies. He is love poems to my ear and sweet colors to my eyes. Without him, I wouldn’t know of all the sensations that human in love usually feel.
From “The Roofless House” – Lee Seunghoon.
Grand Prize Winner of Competitive Writings for Middle School Students, 2002. Category: Fairy tales.
A few days later, Seunghoon carefully takes the first step into the familiar neighborhood. One right turn after the intersection and he can see the place right away. Jinwoo is sitting right outside the coffee shop, in a table that never existed back then when they used to frequent this spot. He waves at Jinwoo but the guy doesn’t even look up from his phone.
“What are you reading? I waved at you for like ten minutes.” Seunghoon complains as soon as he approaches. This clearly isn’t how you say hello to a once-best friend after years of absence, but he goes ahead because he’s Lee Seunghoon, and if Kim Jinwoo is who he knew, the guy wouldn’t even blink at this.
“Hi there. I didn’t see you.” Jinwoo smiles while putting his phone aside. “Was just reading this thing." Seunghoon takes a quick glance at the screen and makes a face. “You weren’t kidding about following my blog.”
“Hello, Seunghoon. How are you?” Jinwoo turns his phone upside down and looks Seunghoon straight in the eyes. “It’s been a while.”
“I’m… good.” Seunghoon says, amazed at himself of how convincing that sounds. “I’m actually really good, hyung. How have you been?”
“Making it do.” Jinwoo shrugs without breaking eye contact. The sparkles in his eyes haven’t gone out – not all of them. Seunghoon takes a minute to look up and down at his best man. Kim Jinwoo, at one point, was the only connection he had with this world, looks like he participated well in social life. He looks almost like a stranger with his brown hair, cut and gelled neatly to the side, showing parts of faded-shaven scalp underneath. In casual white T-shirt and a checked cardigan, matched with dark brown chinos and nude loafers, he is identical to the countless off-work male office workers Seunghoon passes by on a weekend. They could have met and totally missed each other without a second thought.
“Look at you.” Jinwoo gently laughs. “Your hair is black now? Wearing buttoned shirt with blazer and khakis? You really look like a writer, boring and all.”
“Life has been unkind to us, hasn’t it?” Seunghoon only smiles. A waitress brings their order up. “Earl grey, tea bag style.” Jinwoo says upon seeing Seunghoon’s raised eyebrow. “I ordered for both of us.”
“Right.” He chuckles. “This place doesn’t serve no good drinks nor food…”
“But the people turned out to not be that great after all.” Jinwoo continues his thought. They clink their tea cups.
“Here’s to the old days.”
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It started with a dare. A few hangouts to a strange coffee shop, that was all it took.
Lee Seunghoon was on his way to the coffee shop where “all the cool kids in town hang,” the words Jinwoo – the slightly older friend that had been in the same class with Seunghoon since elementary - breathed effortlessly while pulling his hand harder than he could ever imagined the tiny guy was capable of. “It is chic, I’m telling you.” Kim Jinwoo back then still had the pink ombre hair at the end of his tiny hairtail, punk rock aesthetic as he always described himself, in Metallica T-shirt and ripped jeans (the non-skinny type that makes you look 200% shorter. And Jinwoo didn’t have that much to spare. Seunghoon never actually told him that.) The reason why Jinwoo was so devoted to bring Seunghoon to this coffee shop was clear, Seunghoon better know why, and it was not because Jinwoo had chewed his ears off. “You gotta meet this rock band that played in our campus’ festival the other day. I found the band. I was the one who found them and brought them to perform.”
“I didn’t even see them.” Seunghoon shrugged. “You know I ain’t about that life anymore. I’m not, like,” he sneaked a glance at Jinwoo’s outfit, then chuckled, “punk like you are.”
“They are not a punk band, Seunghoney.” Jinwoo kept going without realizing Seunghoon’s subtle mock. He probably did, but he wouldn’t care either way. He knew better than taking Seunghoon’s rude remarks seriously – the Capricorn guy always thinks his jokes are special and witty, but the Virgo in Jinwoo takes pride in the fact that he never loses his cool in front of everyone. “They are alternative metal. But I didn’t expect much from a ballad listener like you are.”
Seunghoon decided to give in, “okay, here’s two dollars for all the shit you know that I don’t. Amaze me.” Jinwoo mischievously smiled at him as he stopped in front of a torn-up wooden door that tried really hard to look like one. The yellowish brown color indicated through faded paint, intended to enhance the color of natural wood, clearly failed to do its part; the bizarre-looking oxidized metal bar which already turned to the ugly green color integrated into the door didn’t really look medically approved to touch. On top of the door, the sign of the coffee shop said “Magnum opus.” The word,Magnum opus, how prideful so, painted by red paint on an old plastic white board (which already turned yellow – the resemblance of wrongly applied communism-inspired dictatorship is uncanny). Seunghoon almost froze at the disastrous nature of the scene. “Jinwoo what the hideous fuck” was basically the only thing Seunghoon could sputter at the moment. “Oh but it hides treasure inside.” Jinwoo said as he took out his handkerchief and carefully cover the door knob before pushing in. Seunghoon didn’t trust him one bit, but he rolled his eyes and followed suit.
When Seunghoon and Jinwoo settled for earl grey tea – the tea bag type, because according to Jinwoo, “this place doesn’t serve no good drinks nor food, but the people in it make up for everything,” there was virtually nobody that Jinwoo promised there. Seunghoon took a look around and readjusted his expectation. It wasn’t quite bad, the green couches were comfy, accompanied by colorful pillows, which all in all didn’t look so bad under the permanently dim yellow atmosphere coming from the only light bulb in the whole place. He wasn’t quite sure if that’s the concept they going for, but it worked. When things are ugly beyond repair, just turn off the light. “That’s how you were able to date incoherent messes, hyung. You just pretend they don’t have any faults by either not let them speak or put a bag over their heads.” Jinwoo looked at Seunghoon with hurtful eyes but Seunghoon didn’t even feel remotely guilty.
“Where is the band???” Seunghoon asked. “I can’t believe I let you waste my time like this?” Jinwoo turned his head away to hide his frustration when Seunghoon wouldn’t be able to comprehend just how much he missed by not meeting the band.
“Screw you, Seunghoon.”
“Oh, you’ll have to do. I thought an orgy with the band was an option at first.” He replied with a sarcastic tone. Jinwoo pinched Seunghoon’s waist as hard as he could and only let go when the younger screamed on top of his lungs – which didn’t disturb the coffee shop one bit, obviously, since nobody was there.
“Isn’t it funny? This place hasn’t change at all.” Seunghoon makes a comment after looking around for a bit. “There is nobody ever. I wonder how they make money off such a hideous place.”
“You’d be surprised.” Jinwoo circles his tea cup in his palms.
“Too ugly is a kind of beauty. And you know that.”
“Right.” Seunghoon lowers his head and looked at his cup. See, he finishes it anyway, even when the bland tea bag smells like it has been in the cupboard for decades. Over the table, Jinwoo mindlessly taps the side of his empty cup without saying anything.
One week after the last visit, Seunghoon went back to the coffee shop on his own. He found himself settling down on the corner of the couch right next to the piano. He took a look around the toom. It wasn’t so bad once you’re used to the atmosphere. Not the color or anything at sight, of course, everything is a bad mixture of shapes, lights and colors – just the fact that this tiny place managed to be so out of touch with the rest of the city, where they proudly presented the hideous, ugly furniture to customers without apologies. It was never a good thing to show your bad angle to your lover, but in reality, you will eventually do. Too close a thing, it loses its vanity. But only distance and death remains eternally vain – we all know that. Plus, there was always nobody.
He lay back on the couch and put his right shoulder against one of the piano’s legs. For such a poor state, this place is still a musical coffee shop, as told by a very passionate Jinwoo the last time. They had all kinds of musical instruments and even a small stage for people to perform if they’re so inclined. They didn’t hire bands or organize performances during weekends like other places; but musicians of all sorts, especially the young and broke, would gather round here after performances for hours. Some practically lived here (you just never really saw them, they all hid somewhere in the back).
Lee Seunghoon’s relationship with music was rather complicated. His dad was supposedly a musical genius but his mother spent fortunes on him just to get him to play an instrument. The poor woman was too stubborn – she missed her husband so badly that she wanted to reconstruct a musical genius on her own. Seunghoon failed her in every way he could; he inherited nothing from his dad, neither the music nor the drawing talent. The world’s most beloved man of his world’s most beloved woman could compose a song in ten minutes with lyrics sound like love poems to the ears, he played all the music instruments in the book, from piano to guitar to drum and even flute. The paintings he did were all sold to some famous vintage galleries elsewhere that Seunghoon didn’t know of – he didn’t need to, because his mother would tell the stories over and over again every day. He didn’t inherit the extraordinarily short-lived lifespan either: by the time he became a senior in college, he had managed to outlive him. Seunghoon inherited nothing from that man, except for his look. Same extraordinary height, broad but slightly stooped shoulders, which easily makes him look smaller than he actually is, a bony face with high cheekbones and those unmistakable single eyelids. If he wouldn’t have a different hairstyle (which his mother didn’t approve of at first), the resemblance is uncanny. And that makes it all the more painful.
He opened his notebook that he never went anywhere without, and started to write. Writing, far less a talent and a much underrated art form; nonetheless, the only thing that makes life easier for him. Writing was the only thing he’s been good at. He probably got it from his mother, whose fascination with literature was only second to her obsession with the late husband. She was always extremely eloquent, that was, when she wasn’t busy commiserating. Seunghoon grew up listening to not fairy tales but the bed time stories his mother told about his father. But the stories always changed, and Seunghoon wasn’t sure if they were meant to be different every time, or that Mrs. Lee just spoke out loud her own fictions using his father’s name. But he never asked anyway, because those stories were marvelous, and Mrs. Lee’s storytelling kept him hooked even when he knew the ending. And that’s something.
He penned his first story when he turned fifteen, about a house that gave up its rooftop because it fell in love with the sky. But then the sky wound’t just give the house sunny days and chilling wind; there are also thunderbolts and snow storms and tornadoes. He won a literature competition for middle schoolers with it, and started to publish his works in local magazines and newspapers. The small fanbase that he got were smitten with, in their words, “dark but delightful reads,” “sharpened with realistic pain and traumas,” or “reads like a love story but really is all about human lives.” Seunghoon replied to none of the fan letters that were sent to him; he didn’t really care about people’s thoughts.
Plus, he never managed to get his mother read any of his works. She said she disliked fictions that read just like her diaries.
Let me tell you something. There is nothing more alienating to the truth than too much truth. Truth is, always, a must-have coherent idea that could make legible the nature of a certain event. Truth is never the complicated, entangled layers of incidents, despite them being there under the day light for people to see. It is always what’s underneath. Truth is never readily presented. Human don’t want the stories that write themselves. It has to be the process of digging down, picking, choosing, interpreting, and finally naming the most important piece of information as the Truth. As a whole, it is messy, reluctant, hard to breath, condescending, complex, heartbreaking, extraordinary, but present. That a person is dead and their whole reality just physically collapses on their feet, shattering the worlds carried on by the people left behind is never enough description for truth. Those are just factualities, or conditions of truth. ‘Why’ is the key question. A person vanishes and the despair that causes ain’t no truth – people need to know why. Why a person, with all the liveliness of their world, would waste it all on the uncommendable – is the truth, not the ways their ruined life marks the eternal sufferings for their loved ones. How they destroyed themself to that point – is the truth, never the pains they must have endured or those that their families would have to get used to.
Factualities are jokes, and truth usually is the worst of all. One thing is certain: they are not always realities.
Posted 1st January 2016 by LSH.
Categories: non fiction, uncategorized.
“How’s your mother doing anyway?” Jinwoo asks away while carefully eyeing Seunghoon’s facial expression. He knows too well the younger friend was never open to discuss the matter back then. “You seem to write a lot about her these days.”
“You really do read my stuff.” Seunghoon chuckles while sipping from his second cup of earl grey. Jinwoo just glares at him in the absence of a reply; he wants none of those pretentious laughs and polite answers. “Even hardcore fans of mine never venture into the uncategorized pieces. They’re there for the plots.”
“Seunghoonie, I’m not your reader. I’m your friend.”
“Everything is okay, right?”
“Why the rhetorical question, hyung?”
When Seunghoon looked up again, somebody else already occupied the piano seat. A guy, in his late teens at best, with tanned skin, bright eyes, and sharp eyebrows, was playing some unfamiliar slow melody. He got a toned body that can actually be complimented by casual baggy clothes. The whole look was completed with a funny looking partially bleached spiked hair. Seunghoon almost laughed at the image. He looked like a B-Boy trying to impress an audience who was into ballad. That can also be me, hello. Seunghoon silently thought in his head as he pretended not to look at the (amazingly hot and dazzlingly attractive) guy. One look, and he knew right away.
This guy ain’t it.
But he should have known that those we wanted to avoid always come back.
“What is this song, it sounds so familiar.” Jinwoo didn’t even try to hide his awe looking at the younger guy playing the piano. Seunghoon didn’t bother answering. He heard this song before, the last time he was here without telling Jinwoo. So he better not say anything now.
“Ask your friend, he knows.” The younger guy smiled at Jinwoo as he finished off at a fancy last note – Seunghoon slightly rolled his eyes; who still does that cheesy glissando in that chord progression? He was absolutely not impressed by the guy he whose name he didn’t even know, not when he – a stranger Seunghoon just met - had the audacity to look him straight in the eyes and whisper the name of the song really slowly as if realizing that Seunghoon was not the best evaluator of piano solo performances.
“It’s called bad day.” His nose all of a sudden got uncomfortably close to Seunghoon’s as he spoke. That should have thrown Seunghoon off, but the writer whose most hated thing in the world was his personal space being invaded was alarmingly calm.
“Pardon?” He asked why glaring back at the other’s eyebrows. Not the eyes, never the eyes when you have a showdown – the opponent would have this instant vulnerability because here you are looking at their face but disregarding their eyes like you are beyond them. It didn’t work with this guy.
“I said it’s the bad day.” He nonchalantly repeated; his squinted eyes glued on Seunghoon’s.
“A bad day you mean.” Seunghoon snorted. “Should be grammatically correct, even when you are being rude.”
“God, no.” The guy chuckled. “I mean that’s the title of the song. Bad Day.” How could a person say all of this and do all of that without removing their fucking head away from him was still a wonder to Seunghoon.
“Apparently not as famous to call it the Bad Day.”
“Arguing all you want, wouldn’t change the fact that you’re having one.” This kid’s head is still there, hanging right in front of him, and it pissed him the fuck off.
“Oh, love.” Seunghoon raised one of his eyebrows. “My bad day started way before the cute little atom, which would constitute your cute little ass in the far future, was given birth to by mother nature, and it will last way beyond the day the last atom on earth utter a piece of melody so uninteresting they would name it ‘Bad Day’. No worries though, I will have listened to them all.”
“You like my cute ass.” The younger guy grinned, showing his perfect white teeth. Seunghoon stood right up, threw some cash onto the table, and left without saying anything. “You said it yourself!” From behind, the tanned kid kept waving at him and yelling out. Seunghoon was fairly glad the coffee shop wasn’t the busiest spot in town.
“I actually don’t know this song.” Seunghoon pretended to drink his tea, ignoring the tanned boy’s stupid grin. He styled his hair different today and looked more presentable with a button shirt, black jeans, and a studded jacket.
“You guys met before?” Jinwoo asked in doubt. “I didn’t know that you guys met before.”
“Yes we did. I was playing the same piece the last time he was here.” Before Seunghoon could say anything, the tanned kid smiled widely. “You weren’t there though, Jinwoo hyung.” Thanks a lot, fucker was all Seunghoon mumbled inside his head while managed to make himself look as if he wasn’t involved in this situation in any way. Jinwoo’s glare let him know very well that he didn’t look convincing at all.
“So,” Seunghoon cleared his throat. “Am I supposed to know who this strange person is? I must have been sleeping on the day when they announce his importance to the world.” The guy still kept his grin on and that offended Seunghoon to no end. Come and let me smack that smile out of your (not so) ugly face, kid.
“In fact, you did.” Jinwoo gave him a side-eye as he proudly tapped the tanned kid on the back. “You weren’t there to witness Song Minho’s excellency and the performances they put on our show!”
So that’s Song Minho. Jinwoo could be exaggerating, but he never lied when it comes to hot guys. Seunghoon mindlessly took a look up and downthe Song Minho once again as he slightly approved the older guy’s good taste.
“Oh.” Minho exclaimed. “You like my cute ass.”
“Nah he don’t.” Before Seunghoon could say anything, Jinwoo stated loudly. “He doesn’t do dating. Like ever.” What’s with people trying to speak for Seunghoon today. But as usual, Seunghoon didn’t bother to correct. He stopped correcting people from a very long time ago – the act to him is repetitive and exhausting. And also useless. People are never interested in understanding – they only want the knowing part. And there is a stagnant difference between the two. See, ‘understanding’ implies the perception that posits the subject which needs understood at the center of this process – the understander would have to look at things from the perspective of the subject, while ‘knowing’ would turn the same subject into an object of inquiry – the knower extracts information through an investigation of the object, then tell the story. Funny, the knowing of that very difference, however, remains irrelevant in most people’s perception of truth.
Seunghoon never bothered to correct anything anymore. He just knows when things ain’t it.
Otherwise, mother’s bedtime stories would still be his most favorite.
+ + +