by Sophia Park
The small window of the room brightened as the sun rose over the mountain next door. Even though the light had barely begun to hit the empty bed, the impatient rooster had already begun his piercing morning call to demand that his humans start their day. Down in the quiet sanctuary of the church, Su-jin had started her prayers. Her slightly hunched back was moving softly forward and then back as she confessed her innermost thoughts and desires to the Only One Who Knew It All. The comfortable rhythm that filled the room reflected the many years of prayer and service she had dedicated to the church. Though her husband was the pastor, she had somehow become the exemplary religious figure in their church. The sun’s rise picked up pace and introduced the other parts of the sanctuary to the day. The light traced the piano and the newly acquired electric organ. It dipped and swirled as it highlighted the patterns on the glass podium. As if an alarm that only she could hear went off, the rhythm of her prayer sped down as she moved to a barely audible whisper of repeated thank you, thank you, thank you. Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida, Gamsahapnida.
She moved on with her day by greeting the two cats running around the courtyard. They created an orange and white blur around her legs as they purred for their first meal of the day. Their morning menu was the leftover fish from her meal last night. Her slight stature with bowed legs and a wobbly walk betrayed her body’s ability to keep up with her mental desires. Though she complained of knee pain, she never let it actually bother her because it was better than the bout of cancer from five years ago. She continued on to the other animals. They all seemed particularly eager that morning for their meal. All four dogs were yelling, each in a different register. The chickens were the worst. They pecked each other while screaming nonsense. Unable to understand why they were so restless this morning, she moved more cautiously than normal and carefully removed the lock to enter the chicken pen. The impatient rooster stared at her as she placed the food in their bowl. Amused, she treated him with an equally strong glare. She alone held the key to the rooster’s heart, but even her enticing food never seemed like a fair exchange for his obedience. Obedience was not her objective today, not when she had such a long day ahead of her. She exited the pen.
As she made her way to the other side of the farm, she stopped by the green house to check on the drying peppers. The valleys of the peppers’ wrinkles were a beautiful deep red color that promised a deep spicy flavor that would be worth the wait. The two cats had silently followed her into the green house. As she scurried them out with a small broom, she noticed some peppers had fallen off of the plastic covering they were drying on. She gently placed them back into the mix of the other hundreds of peppers waiting for the sun to change their flavors as the days passed. She pushed on, as there were other plants and animals waiting for her.
Three goats stared at her from outside their little house. The goat compound was large. The inner space was for sleeping and evading the harsh winters. A fence that came up to her chest marked the outside space. Two large black containers were arbitrarily placed in the outside area because sometimes, every creature enjoys being alone. The female was purposefully marching around as her two small kids were tailing her at a distance barely enough to prevent tripping on each other. She paused thinking about how she had heard the pregnant female’s urgent cries two weeks ago in the middle of the night. She rushed over to assist the birthing but discovered she was powerless. It was up to the female goat’s given innate strength to push the new lives out of her. The kids were small but their fur was bright and shone with good health. What a wondrous sight it had been to witness. She gave thanks.
When she threw their food over the fence, she noticed that the male was missing. Normally, he was the first one stampeding his way towards her. After making sure there was enough food for the female and kids, she walked around the compound. She checked inside each of the containers, but he was nowhere to be seen. Last week, she noticed that he had figured out how to jump over the fence. She had assumed he was too shy to pursue his curiosity because he jumped right back whenever someone walked by him. She wondered if his courage finally got the better of him. She chuckled and told herself she would be wandering too. What fence had limited her fearlessness? Thinking about her granddaughter, she chuckled noting curiosity ran in the family. Hoping he would return soon, she continued with her day.
The sun had fully exposed itself and she decided it was time to eat. It was just herself so she pulled out some banchan and already-cooked rice instead of putting together a new meal. The solitude also meant she had to acquiesce to the lack of a hot, freshly prepared bowl of soup. She transferred a small, one-person sized amount of each banchan into a separate plate. Usually, she preferred a nice color-coordinated arrangement. Today, she placed them in the order of the containers in front of her. The bright red color of the kimchi was clashing with the slightly darker red of the pickled radishes. It would have to do just for today. Out of habit, she arranged the greens from the lightest to the darkest colors.
She sat on the corner seat of the table. She whispered a prayer before starting her meal. Picking up her spoon, she considered where the goat might have gone. The farm was a mountain-locked peninsula with a river in the fourth direction. Maybe he was going through some type of goat mid-life crisis with the birth of the kids. She laughed at the thought of the goat having an existential crisis while climbing the mountains. At least it was the perfect place for such crises. The kimchi had fermented to just the right amount for her taste that day. She muttered a thank you.
The day moved quickly as she tended to the plants. The lettuce was growing in full force this season. Her neighbors and church visitors never failed to comment on their enormous size and always asked for her special formula. Nothing in particular, she would always say, but the soil on this farm is very good. Though full of rocks, the dark brown soil boasted its healthiness when she ran her fingers through it. Rows of garlic peaking through clear plastic, which helped retain their nutrients, grew obviously taller every day. She didn’t have to do much for them. The garlic knew what they were doing. For her age, she was considered very strong and healthy. However, when she had to kneel down to pull the ready garlic from their dirty dens, sometimes she felt her energy draining faster than in the past.
She could breathe up the mountains. Before her husband’s retirement from a large church downtown, she had lived in a small apartment. The church was very close, but everything else was too small. Her only respite was the small patch of plants she had nurtured on the apartment’s balcony. She had been provided with so much, yet the fermented guilt for not thinking that there was enough never fully vacated. The new place allowed her to spread out and occupy the space she desperately needed after a life of meticulous, difficult religious service. She walked around checking in on the farm’s growing life. She was thankful that she no longer lived in an apartment. She wouldn’t have the opportunity to worry about a missing goat. There would be no goat at all.
Around dinnertime, the sun slowly started to make its descent. She still did not see the goat. Slightly more concerned than she was in the morning, she selected a nice walking stick from the ground and started to walk out of the farm. The two cats reappeared at her side as she walked past the main entrance. The goat probably would not enjoy the noisy cars on the main road, but given his long absence she decided to give that direction a chance. Accompanied by the cats, both smelling a spot here and there like the dogs would, she allowed her walking stick to guide her downwards. The setting sun was hugging the top of the mountain in front of her. Had the goat purposely disappeared to the song of an especially beautiful evening?
She continued to walk down but her knees ached for her to stop. Sighing, she turned around. The cats followed her steps. Even though she had not made it too far down the mountain, the uphill was more of a challenge than anticipated. For her, the difficulty of the upward climb was proof of each of her passing years. She reached the house and looked over to see if the goat had returned. He was not there. Unsure of what to do, she decided to wait inside the house. Besides, her show was about to come on.
At ten to eight every night, she watched the daily drama that was on TV. She imagined that her daughter and granddaughter in America had joined her that night. They would have led the search party for the goat. Her granddaughter would make some strange comment about Korean society and how obviously it was the show’s protagonist’s mother-in-law who did it. Two church visitors had brought her fresh apples from their orchard. She peeled them adeptly with a knife and chopped them into smaller edible pieces. The apple crunched and the juice was sweet. Her granddaughter had taught her some strange saying from America about how an apple tells the doctor to go away. She chuckled.
The preview for the next night’s episode barely finished when she heard a strange thumping noise outside. A black flash swept by the window. She turned the lights on outside. She heard odd clicking noises coming from near the goats. When she walked over, she saw the male goat standing outside of the pen. His beady eyes stared with great concentration. He seemed to be shivering. Why was he just standing there? Did he want her help getting in? When she took one step closer, he quickly turned around and jumped over the fence.
He walked around inspecting whether anything had changed. She told him nothing had changed so he needn’t worry. As if he understood what she said, he looked over at her, snorted, and entered the covered area. She walked around to the gate where she found a stack of hay to perch on. The inspection was still in progress. He bumped into his partner. He eyed the leftover food. She noticed there were apple peels left next to their pen. She poured the peels into the eating area. He pounced on the peels. She watched him fondly as he ate enthusiastically. He reminded her of her daughter and granddaughter when they came back home. They ate like her cooking was the only food left in the world. She smiled. He was home. You can come and go, but try to come home. There are those who thoroughly miss you.
Sophia Park is an artist, science educator, and writer born in South Korea and currently living in New York City. She is a co-founder of A Ramen Quest, a ramen review blog.