“Sohla, eat with Yoonha tonight. I have plans.” Mother meets me in the lounge when I arrive home from work, passing by in the process of me coming in and her going, and I paste on my bright smile. She’s oblivious to what day of the week it is, let alone the date, so she’s at least one person who won’t acknowledge today. Thankfully.
“Something fun?” I ask and stop to adjust her collar of the coat she’s pulling on. Admiring her beauty even at her age. She’s not aged a day in the last decade and is still as pulled together as she was when I was a girl, when she’s dressed up like this. It’s easy to forget everything and bask in how happy she seems.
“Bridge with the girls. I shouldn’t be home too late. Yoonha is in the dining room already.” She pats me on the cheek with a loving smile. Elegantly dressed and poised as the picture of class and grace at all times, and I find it hard to sometimes associate her with the woman she is when no one’s looking.
She gets through her life by popping happy pills, and avoiding reality as much as she can, much like I do. The only difference is she has nothing in her life to distract her from long days, except us kids. She doesn’t work anymore as she retired so long ago, so her life of leisure means she spends her time yoyoing from manic bouts of activity and going out, with days endlessly in bed in a dark room and refusing to get up. She’s on a high lately which means a succession of social dates and coming home drunk after spending a fortune at whatever club or game she’s gone to.
I linger to watch her leave before I turn on my heel and wander slowly through our open plan and extravagant home to the formal dining area. Spotting Yoonie already set up with an array of dishes laid out before him. He’s picking at his food absentmindedly and seems way too serious and immersed in thought and I ready myself for what I expect to be coming. Bracing myself and pulling on the mask of indifference.
“Are you sulking or problem solving?” I jest as I slide into the seat opposite him, and instantly watch his face brighten up like a new dawning day with my presence. A complete change in his persona when I come home, as opposed to how he seems when I view him from afar. Yoonha has never really been the same since his father passed away. He carries so many sad emotions and they are way too obvious at times.
“Neither, just thinking….. How are you feeling?” he cautiously asks, and I tense, knowing that of all the people in this house, he’s the only one who would ask me that today of all days. Sometimes I feel like Yoonie is more of a walking diary of the disasters of my life than I am. He remembers everything and he carelessly always tries to pull it out of me.
“Same as every day, why would today be any different?” I brightly answer and lean back as Emily the housekeeper comes and lays my own dishes in front of me, the same as his, and ignore the way his eyes linger on my face as he tries to read me. I smile my thanks her way as she moves off.
“It’s okay to not be okay, you know. That’s what’s wrong with this god damn family. We all act like we’re fine and yet, none of us are. We’re dysfunctional as fuck.” I ignore his intense gaze and pick up my cutlery, eyeballing my food and making appropriate motions as though I’m eager to eat because I’m starving. The smell alone makes me realise I have no appetite.
“What’s with you today? Did your deal fall through? Work getting to you?” I dodge the conversation and adjust my fork to dig into my creamy pasta dish, ignoring what I know he’s dying to talk about. The wall goes up and he’ll never penetrate it. This is how I tackle all things.
I know the tone. The underlying quiver of emotion and the almost yearning need to talk about feelings. I know him too well and if I let him he’ll probe at things I don’t want to open up about and ruin my mood.
“So, today I gave Jyeon the approval file from accounting. It looks like his investment with Biotech might become a reality. He has a good eye. I think we’ll really see a long term return in them and bring funding to take OLO to another level.” I put the food in my mouth even though it tastes like ash when I’m feeling this way. My heart beating a little faster than normal because I want him to drop it and know he’s way more persistent than that.
“Did you go?” He disappoints me by being exactly that dog with a bone that I know he is.
“To Jyeon’s office? Of course, he’s been waiting four days for the risk report. I took it right away.” I feign ignorance and carry on swallowing even though it feels like razor blades in my throat. Unable to look his way and instead stare at my plate.
“The grave, Sohla.” Yoonha dives right to the sore point, and I pause with my fork midway to my mouth, unable to control the punch to my gut but refuse to look him in the eye. Hating him for being like this. He’s always the same. He can’t just let it go and let me move on. Same as his stupid brother, always living in the past and unable to stop.
“Hmmmmm. Did you get your out of office work done today? I passed by around mid-morning, and you were out.” I push it on again towards my mouth and eat it slowly, keeping my face calm and my mannerisms precise knowing he’s looking for any slight reaction. My tone level and my voice clear of anything but upbeat nonchalance. Never show a hint of weakness to anyone.
“Divorce him and start over, Sohla. This isn’t a life. He’s never there for you and now, today of all days, where the fuck is he?”
My cutlery clammers to my plate as I drop it with a spike of anger and throw a glare at Yoonie. Hating that he does this from time to time and never lets it go. Trying to count to ten before I say anything because I don’t want to fight with him of all people, but I don’t get why he makes this his problem every day of the week. He used to love his brother and idolise him to death, but now he barely spends time with him and is the first to criticise his life and choices.
“I don’t want to divorce him. We’re fine how we are, and I saw him today. I don’t need him here. He’s busy for our company, and it’s no more a special day than any other. Stay out of it Yoonie, you don’t understand our relationship.”
“Pfft.” He lets it out in aggravation, pulling a face that displays his anger and disbelief in my words. “Don’t I? I have lived here watching it all from my corner. You think I don’t see how miserable you are, and he never does anything to try and fix things between you. It’s always been him who pulled away and kept you at arm’s length. Are you going to waste your life on a husband that neither shares a bed, or a single meal with you? How is that an existence?”
“I’m not hungry anymore. Eat, you look thinner these days and you’re pale. I have a headache and I’m going to bed early.” I cut him off, making the decision that the best way to tackle Yoonie when he’s this way is to follow Jyeon’s example and leave. There’s a faint smell of whisky on his breath even at this distance and I know he’s not thinking clearly. He’s biased so it’s always Jyeon who is in the wrong.
He does this a lot too, just like his father did. When he can’t handle what’s going on in his head, he turns to booze and makes stupid mistakes. I love Yoonie with my whole heart, as a brother, but I can’t deal with him these days. He’s not that sweet puppy who used to listen to me anymore and I don’t want to mother him. I don’t have it in me to care about other’s deeply like I once did. It’s all weight and stress that I don’t need when I’m barely treading water myself.
“I’ll start over with you. We can make it work. We were always closer than you and Jyeon…he doesn’t love you, but I do. I’m not a kid anymore.” His words stop me in my tracks, and I mentally count to five and try and reel in my internal reaction. Breathing slowly as my hands start to tremble and I stop the impulse to yell at him that he still behaves like one.The wounding pain of knowing that, no, Jyeon doesn’t love me, and I’ve known it since forever, but I still don’t want to hear it. This isn’t the first time he’s said these words to me, and it angers me that despite telling him not to say it anymore, here we are again. I don’t want to hear them; I don’t want the burden of his feelings on top of me along with everything else I carry every day and I don’t need his reminder that his brother married me out of duty and never once felt more than resentme
“Stop thinking and go to bed.” I chastise myself loudly, wavering and push it all back down. Taking slow deep breaths and reminding myself that from time to time I feel this way. I get scared and I momentarily think the worst and yet he’s never yet done anything. He’s too upright and solid to hurt his family name or OLO with something dirty.Impulsively I pull out my cell and dial his number before I can stop myself, otherwise I might go crazy and imagine the worst and rip my brain to shreds with the fear of the unknown. It rings three times, and he picks up. Something that despite our years of strained interaction that he’ll always do. He never ignores my rare calls. No matter how mad he is at me. Texts, calls, emails… Jyeon always replies to me within minutes.“What is it, Sohla?” he sounds pissed off, his tone low and husky and I can tell he’s had a dri
I tap my nails on my desk in agitation as I watch the hands of the clock tick on and on in what feels like slow motion. It feels like this morning is dragging more than a month in a jailhouse, and neither Yoonha nor Jyeon has shown up for work at all yet. I’m listless, I can’t concentrate or focus and nothing I do is easing the tightly wound ball in my abdomen that I know is stress. It’s after ten, and I’m pissed at both of them for this impromptu AWOL behavior when we have so many things going on before lunch.I have a pile of documents six inches thick that need both of their signatures next to mine, and we’re supposed to have a strategy meeting with senior staff in under an hour. We run our own departments and we need to regularly bring one another up to speed. They never miss them and now, more than ever it’s important we stay on top of it with all the new investments these few months.I’ve resisted calling Jyeon to find ou
“Pleasure’s all mine.” I reach out and shake it briefly, my cold hands are like ice cubes compared to her warm velvet skin and despite having no reason, I instantly dislike her. There’s nothing obvious standing out, it’s just a feeling.“Oh, you’re so cold. Do you have indigestion? That can really mess with the circulation in your hands. I have some antacids in my bag if you’d like some.” She smiles widely, soft, sweet, and overly caring, and I shake my head, sensing this is an act to redeem herself to me. I didn’t eat today so my blood sugar is low and has nothing to do with acid if my body temperature is low. I’m so used to it that I don’t notice anymore.“I…”“You skipped breakfast, didn’t you? How many times have I told you not to do that?” Jyeon cuts in, his tone aggravated and stern and he eyes me with a furrowed brow before I can speak. Getting up,
“You just can’t help yourself, can you?” Jyeon throws the words my way as he walks to his desk and not back over here. Making it clear he’s not bothered about my presence and he’s no intention of talking to me. All warmth gone from his tone now she has too, and I get up, snatching the files, and march over to him instead. Tossing them on his desk with a show of aggravation and hating the change in him now we’re alone.“Did I interrupt your cozy little meeting? Might want to call Dee back and cancel the food you so thoughtfully ordered me, now the act is over.” I spit back and pick up his fountain pen from the holder before tossing it on top of the paperwork in a brisk manner.“I need those right now.” I order him, inwardly hostile and not sure why I’m feeling this way from the second I got up this morning. It’s like a growing storm in my belly that I can’t stop from expanding.“W
I stare absentmindedly ahead in the elevator as I travel down to the ground floor to go and meet Yoonha outside for lunch. It’s been a few days since his drunken confession, and two days of his AWOL childish behavior passed before he finally showed face to act like an adult once more. And like every other time, we never mentioned it again because this is what he does. Back into the swing of our ordinary lives, and it’s brushed under the table as though it never happened and became just another absurd ritual in my life.I’ve barely seen Jyeon all week as we’re all so swamped in work with three new company investments to launch by the end of the month that’s taking all our time. I’ve had an average of two hours sleep a night, missed so many meals from overtime, skipped lunch breaks that I’ve dropped a dress size. Hence my lunch date and making time to hang out with my little brother, forcing me to
He starts laughing at me waves his hand in my face as though I’m talking another language, and he isn’t interested in anything I have to say. He lifts his arm and waves it around to get the attention of fellow protestors, and I’m aware of some turning this way and pushing in slightly to form more of an arc facing our building instead of away. Eyes are coming my way, and some quiet down to listen.“She says it’s not their problem!” he yells out loud for them all to hear in a snarly tone and thumps his board on the ground so that I flinch. Many more of them follow suit and pound their boards too, creating a buzz of bangs and murmurs as their voices blend into one. I catch more security filing outside from the doors in my right line of vision and know that upstairs will have been notified of this going on by now.“Bullshit!” he leans into my face and spits it out, s
“Jyeon? Are you okay?” I reach up for his face to turn him to me, catching his jaw in my fingers and pulling him down. My insides are aching, and genuine fear is gripping my soul as I try to inspect him for wounds. My body shakes all over as adrenalin kicks in, and he pulls me with him away from the doors at speed.“Are you hurt? Did anything hit you? Are you cut anywhere?” Jyeon slices through my question with his own. Pulling me into the elevator and letting go of me before sliding his hands over my head, brushing back my hair, searching through my scalp with his fingertips, and frantically searching over my body and face, for any damage. His eyes narrow, and his breathing labors as he pulls my jacket open and skims every inch of my shoulders and neck, and face to see if I have even a tiny scratch. His warm, firm hands skim my skin, leaving a burning path wherever they touch, even through the fabric of my cloth