Genre: amnesia au
(Yun, you aren’t the first person I’ve loved with all my life.)
The first time they met, Min had been beating a man up with the heeled end of her stiletto.
Yun watched from a distance for a few moments, admiring the view, enjoying how the eve-teaser was getting what he deserved. Very rarely did she get a chance to witness something as extraordinary as this. Especially since her arrival to a big city like Seoul where women were hassled all the time but said nothing and did nothing. For once, Yun thought happily, someone is fighting back. She appreciated it. But soon her senses returned and she stepped in, as any restaurant manager should.
“Ma’am, please, I’m sorry for his behaviour but I think you should sto–”
“Why’re you apologizing for him?!” Min, a nameless feisty customer at the time, had stormed. “The only one apologizing should be this–this bastard!” She hissed, pressing her heel into the back of the man’s head. He whimpered from the floor, muttering remorseful things that made no sense.
“Ma’am,” Yun tried one more time, putting a hand on the tall woman’s frilled shoulder. “I am sorry for your inconvenience. But please calm down. Such filth is not worthy of your time.” The eyes that turned to her were wide with surprise. But also pretty and brown in their hue. Sunlight and synthetic light mixed and fought its way to their irises. Anyone could drown in them had the opportunity presented itself.
“Please,” Yun attempted a smile, using her customer-friendly tone from the trainee days. “Calm yourself?”
The young woman dropped her shoe, slipping her foot back into it. It was such an elegant motion, Yun had to strain her face from showing pleasure at the sight of it. Pretty lace and delicate wrists filled her sight when the customer tucked a strand of hair back into its place, visibly calmer. “Right…” the woman said. “O-of course…”
The first time they met, Min was nothing short of a goddess. And although she wasn’t Min yet, not for a few more encounters, Yun decided to keep her eyes peeled for the next time she visited.
(Yun, you brought me happiness. I didn’t know it existed.)
It was easy to like Min. Everybody is drawn to beautiful people and Min was breath-taking. Her lovely eyes, her milky skin, her midnight hair, her graceful fingers. Perhaps everyone she knew liked her. Perhaps everyone who’d met her could say they’d fallen for her at least once.
Yun was not immune.
It was not to say that she hated men. Men were a permanent fixture in her life, sometimes at the forefront and some other times hidden in background. She understood what men were and how their minds functioned. And she didn’t despise them for it.
But she’d always liked women better, had always been attracted to their softness and their sensual perfection. Ever since her teenage years she’d desired their complexity, she’d preferred their intellect, she’d held a lot of respect and wonder for them. For her own kind.
And Min was a diamond.
The image of her in that corner booth every morning, the way she concentrated on the newspaper as she sipped her tea, the way she always ordered the same thing and left a tip for the waitresses, the way she slightly bowed her head in Yun’s direction ever since the eve-teaser incident. Everything was tantalizing. Everything about her demanded worship.
For many weeks this was the extent of their exchange. Lunch time would come and go, bringing Min and her fragrant white blouses with it. They nodded to each other, they shared pleasantries, they smiled in each other’s direction. That would be all, and that would be enough for Yun to carry home within her glimmering chest.
Then, on a night like every other night before it, Min uncharacteristically arrived at closing time and offered to walk home with Yun.
To have someone so beautiful and intelligent choose her had been unthinkable. She could only follow silently, watching the other’s back, studying her perfectly curved waist, noticing her smooth calves below the hem of her skirt. Yun’s face burnt from the perfection before her.
They bowed to each other when they parted.
(Yun, you were a stain on my heart. If I tried washing it, I hurt.)
On empty days they met to fill up the spaces with each other.
“What sort of books do you read?” Yun asked once as they sat sunbathing at the north bank. Min had been surprised at the comment, to which the other gestured with her chin. “You bag always looks heavy,” she giggled. “You’re either carrying rocks in there, or it’s a really interesting book you need to carry everywhere you go.”
Min blushed. “Oh… you caught me,” she grinned down at her lap before turning to fish the large tome out of her bag. A Memory of Light was printed in large letters at the front of the book. Yun frowned at it, interest piqued. She tilted her head, reached out for the thing. It seemed to be the final volume in a very long series. She flipped through the pages, randomly stopping somewhere in the middle of one to read a line out loud.
“The Empress will follow where you go, she said. So she will, Mat said. As I’ll follow where she goes, I suppose. I hope that doesn’t lead us in too many circles.” Yun chuckled and nodded her approval. “This sounds interesting~”
“I really enjoy fantasy novels,” Min explained, looking fondly at the book in the other’s hold. “They let me travel to another reality. Another universe, somewhere away from here.”
“Why do you want to leave this world?”
“Hmm…” she took a moment, as if gathering her thoughts. “It’s not like we have horrible lives here, or anything. And in fact they face a lot of trouble in these books,” she clarified. “The kind of trouble I probably wouldn’t survive myself… it’s not like an escape for me. But you know,” she turned and grabbed hold of Yun’s arm. “When I’m reading these stories, I forget this world. I forget everything else and I start existing somewhere else. In someone else’s story. I become another person. Even if it’s for little while.”
The other bit her lip. “But wouldn’t you be disappointed every time you return? To this reality?”
“Ah…” Min blushed. “There are things I like about this reality, too.” Their fingers entwined then. It was a simple enough connection to feel but to perceive it… it seemed to weigh more than Yun would’ve imagined. Her eyes trailed to their hands, one cupping the other. One holding the other like a cocoon, a shield. One completing the other.
She moved so her other palm could join the hold, to strengthen it and keep it together forever. But as soon as she shifted, the book fell from her lap and onto the grass. It tumbled a few feet along the slope and the two women squealed and laughed as they ran to retrieve it.
In the light of the late afternoon, Min’s hair shone a strange shade of dark blue. Yun reached out to touch it, and when she did the other turned to her and grinned.
“Should we go?” she asked.
(Yun, you were the sun in my sky. It was cloudy that night.)
This story would’ve been like any story, and for a while it was. This story was about them meeting at the local swimming pool to cool off in the summer heat. This story was about Min swimming as gracefully as a swan while Yun looked on from the sides with just her feet submerged. This story was about Min creeping up on Yun underwater and yanking her in by her ankles. This story was about laughter and happiness and secret kisses on the backs of knees.
For a while this was their story. For a while they spent their free time sitting under gingko trees, discussing the future. For a while they went out on dates to the drama theatre and held hands in the dark. For a while they made out under heavy blankets until one complained of a crick in the neck and another giggled and pecked the ache away. For a while their story was about dressing up in each other’s clothes and make-up experiments that ended with Min falling over to her side in peals of laughter. For a while their story was tangled legs and quivering thighs and simpering voices. For a while it was forceful fingers and wet sighs and mischievous bites. For a while they were together and as close as they could be.
For Yun it was like being in paradise, because she had imagined her future many times in the past. A woman like her, with her proclivities, could easily find someone new to be with every night. She only had to hang out in the right places and search in the right corners. But she’d never imagined finding a soul mate. Someone she could love with all her might. Someone she could pour her soul into adoring. Someone she could make room for in her heart and not worry about locking the door behind them. Someone as perfect and goofy and wise as Min.
Because Yun didn’t know love. She didn’t understand it. She wasn’t sure of the science behind it, what dimensions it existed in, and what sort of energy one needed to exert in order to sustain it. She had never received any rational explanations about it, only heard of it in stories and song lyrics. But when Min held her by her sides and guided her through the steps, showed her which direction to turn and what signals to stop at… when Min placed love as a physical entity in the cup of Yun’s palms, then she knew. Then her education was complete.
And then one day her phone rang.
“Ma’am, I’m calling from Central Police Station. I’m calling because you were the only contact available on the phone we found. Do you know a young lady by the name of C. Min?”
“Yes…” she’d uttered fearfully.
“We saw your friend wandering aimlessly through the streets last night. Brought her into the station, in case she was hurt. She didn’t know where or who she was, ma’am. Is this common for her?”
“N-no,” Yun frowned. “No, that’s definitely not like her.”
(Yun, you were the only thing worth remembering. And I forgot.)
She’d been sitting huddled in the police headquarters on a rickety chair. She had no shoes on and her clothes looked a little worn. One of the officers had put his hi-vis jacket around her shoulders. She seemed confused, tired. She looked lost.
“Min ah,” Yun called to her. Every other time she’d done so the other woman had turned to her with several variants of grins, silly to blinding. Sometimes Yun simply called Min’s name out to see those wide eyes turn to her in happiness and recognition.
“Min ah,” she called again now and there was still no response.
She went up to the other and knelt before her. The obvious instinct was to reach out and hold hands reassuringly but Min looked so fragile, so breakable. Yun didn’t dare touch her. When their eyes met she searched for any trace of perception but there was none.
“Who… are you, miss?” Min asked with a slight tilt of her head.
“A friend,” Yun replied helplessly, even when her head was shrieking in alarm. “I’m a friend. Come, let’s get you home.”
“Ma’am,” the policeman signing them out suggested. “I think it’ll be good to take her to a doctor. She may have suffered a head injury. Or… uhm,” he flushed before he could finish. “She may have been uhh… attacked–”
“Thank you,” Yun cut him off angrily. “I’ll take it from here.”
But there was nothing to take. Many tests and surveillance inspections later it was revealed that Min had been walking back home from work that night when she’d simply lost her memory of… everything. She remembered neither her own name, nor how old she was or where she lived. When they asked her where her hometown was, she shook her head. She remembered nothing about her parents or her elder brother, who Yun had called and had a long chat with the night she brought Min home.
“Who’re you talking to?” the other had asked.
“Ah… is that someone you know, miss?”
The doctors were stumped as to what had happened. There were no lesions on her head to suggest brain damage. Her motor skills worked perfectly fine, just as they had before. She’d been tested to check if she’d been sexually harassed, but nothing was found. She was totally unharmed and yet… and yet nothing explained her state of amnesia.
Once her scan was done, Min sat carelessly swinging her legs off the machine. Yun leaned against a wall in the waiting room, hoping the doctors would give her some closure.
“There is no medication necessary, the patient hasn’t suffered a concussion. We can suggest a few mental exercises to help her regain her memory but,” one of the specialists wiped his brow nervously. “I’m sorry we don’t know how to help. Perhaps she just needs rest.”
In the middle of all this Yun had completely overlooked the fact that Min’s condition had left her blank about who Yun was to her, and what they meant to each other. But a few nights later, when she was lying in bed next to the other’s peacefully sleeping frame, it hit her suddenly. And she realized that the space between their bodies was now much wider than a few centimetres. It was probably as cavernous as a lifetime of memories.
She curled away from the other that night, feeling physically erased from Min’s head.
(Yun, you… who are you?)
She tried to teach Min everything all over again. From writing the alphabet to making ramyun. From explaining how the trains only run till eleven at night to opening a can of banana milk. From phoning an ambulance in case of an emergency to ironing creases out of cotton pants. Some things came naturally to Min, like the task had been programmed into her mind. Some others became arduous feats to accomplish.
And through it all Yun discovered something very fascinating–Min remembered all the dialogues from her favourite fantasy novels. She could recite entire scenes and describe the clothes down to the colours and patterns. Somehow her mind had retained these odd bits of information while everything else had been jettisoned.
“Do you remember any songs? Any favourite tunes?” Yun had dug for clues.
“N–I don’t know…” Min shook her head. Sometimes she was frustrated with herself, but it was very rare. The old Min would’ve pouted, thrown a tantrum and given up a thousand times by now. But the new Min was calm as a lake. As if she had accepted her absurd condition and the fact that it couldn’t be reversed. Perhaps having a blank slate in her head gave her some sort of peace she couldn’t afford earlier.
Yun quit her job at the restaurant so she could devote all her time to the other. But they would go back there often, and she would order Min’s choice of dessert every visit hoping it would re-ignite some kind of spark in her head. They walked on the same paths they had several times. They sat at their favourite tables in their favourite cafes. They drove out to the swimming pool on every sunny day they got.
But Min couldn’t swim anymore, she didn’t remember how. She didn’t recognize the cafes or their menus. She picked at the desserts and shook her head politely when Yun inquired if something was wrong.
They lazed under the gingko trees and held hands as they passed by the drama theatre. They sat under heavy blankets with Min’s preferred blend of coffee steaming in their hands. They did everything Yun could think of, and when nothing worked she worried about ignoring something important; worried that she was starting to forget, too.
“Min ah,” she tried with an encouraging smile. “Remember how we met here? You remember that day? When you were hitting that man with your heel?” she giggled.
Min blinked at the spot Yun pointed at. “I… don’t like wearing heels, though…” she mumbled.
Every day around Min, teaching her, reminding her, every day spent bringing her memory back was a failure. Because on each of these days Min held Yun in her sights like nothing more than a kind stranger, and she felt like she was wilting farther away from existence.
On some days when the air was fragrant with Min’s scent, and the wind would billow the curtains around the window frame. On days when the other washed her hair and let it hang free to dry, and the damp column of her neck would be inviting enough to cover with kisses. On those days, Yun’s heart would be in immense pain. Because they were no longer lovers. Theirs was a co-dependent existence now. Min couldn’t survive on her own, and Yun couldn’t breathe without Min. But on some days she felt like punching through walls and breaking everything in her sight. Some days she felt like kicking and screaming because she had to tie her heart up in a rope and lock it in a box so it wouldn’t act out its desires. Her chest hurt when she inhaled, and her temples pulsed when she blinked.
No matter how many times her head erased what they’d shared, her heart remembered. It rewrote over the cleaned words, dug the pencil deeper into her each go around.
Being together like this but not really together was the cruellest joke life could’ve played on Yun. It wore her thin and miserable. It drove her to the edge of agonizing rage.
She started disappearing, spending her nights in someone else’s bed.
(Yun, you have a big heart. It got too crowded.)
The blisters popped all over her body.
She studied them with practiced apathy. It had been a long time since this ugly infection had gripped her, and she had fought very hard to keep it at bay once before. But now that it was back she didn’t care. This was a regular thing. She was used to it by now. The burn of lewd stares on her skin sizzled like meat on a dirty skillet. Soon she’d be coated in her own pus and failure. It would coagulate and form a crust of dried blood that would leave silvery scars on her flesh when peeled off. But for now it simply seethed her raw.
She endured it, as always. She lived through the duration and watched bubbling lust hiss off her epidermis. And also as always, she wished Min would cradle her in welcoming arms, soothe her with a lullaby. She wished the other would fabricate a salve for the pain so it’d dissolve away and leave her unmarked but. But this was a fantasy, something that would never come true.
The perpetually incomplete wish manifested itself in the form of a hunger, deeply seated at the pit of her stomach. It gnawed her from the inside out. Like a lining of mucus being ripped open by acid. Her wants and needs all gathered in a throng of starvation within her cavity, unfed, unanswered. She started to rot. A living, breathing, thriving woman on the verge of extinction because the world looked at her and didn’t see what she wished they would see.
The last time she had been saved. Beaten, bruised, damaged she still managed to feel Min’s love. To feel their hearts beat next to each other as if in a heated argument. Through the gathered masses she recognized the gentler graze of her beautiful brown eyes. It slid onto places of her being she didn’t know had been hurting. It consoled her for the few moments they were together until Yun knew she had to say a wordless thank you.
Now when she came home from another night of meaninglessness, Min flicked her glance to her wounds once again. As she had before. Their gazes met for a long minute before Min acted like she’d never noticed her at all. Never in all this time. Never since they’d first met. Yun called to her. “Min ah,” she begged. “Min ah, please tell me you remember me.” She called for the other’s attention to return but she stayed adamantly deaf.
Yun screamed bloody murder. She stomped her feet and let her lungs be uprooted by the force of her loud breath. She begged she wailed she threatened she whimpered. But Min never looked back, hearing only the concealing silence. Soon her footsteps echoed through the halls of Yun’s brain before disappearing altogether.
Sheltering her eyes from the surrounding blaze of shame, she stood in the middle of her living room—being the laughing stock of her own life, being pointed at and made fun of, being treated like a second-rate thing because. Because.
“Why don’t you remember me,” she wept silently.
(Yun, your words had sharp edges. Just like blades.)
That morning they sat down at the table for breakfast, nothing out of the ordinary. Min thanked her host for the food and began eating quietly. She held herself with mismatched etiquette, dabbing at her lips after every sip of juice. She took care to not scrape her chopsticks against cutlery, and her elbows never hovered over the edge of the table. She cleaned her plate and neither insisted on a second serving, nor offered any to Yun. None of her previous ravenous gobbling or messy table habits were to be seen.
And this was when Yun finally realized that the person in front of her was not Min. She had been living with a stranger.
“You should go,” she placed her chopsticks down, where they landed with a loud clatter. “Pack your things and leave by the end of the day. I’ll help you with your bags if you like.”
The stranger, who’d never once raised any questions so far made a strange face. One filled with curiosity. “But where will I go, miss? You’re the only person I know, there is no one else…”
“If only…” the other admitted a faint smile. She placed her palms flat on the table, as if giving up the reins of everything in her hold. “You can live with your brother. He’ll take better care of you than me. I’m… I have my own life to live and,” she waited, not wanting her last words to be vitriolic. “And so do you,” she settled. “It’ll be better for you to be with family. You’ll remember things easier.”
“I’m not sure what you mean, miss,” Min frowned a little. “But it seems there is no more place for me in your home,” she left the sentence hanging in the air, like a question.
“No,” Yun confirmed. And as brutal and cutting her admission of the truth was, it hurt her more than anyone to say it out loud like that. “You no longer mean anything to me. Just like I mean nothing to you.”
The other nodded slowly, absorbing this. She pushed her chair back to leave but then waited. “Why…” she began. “Why did you take me in? If I mean nothing to you, why didn’t you give me away from the start?”
Because I love you, Yun wanted to say, but that was not true anymore. “Because…” she tried, instead. “It was the right thing to do. As a good human being. It was what anyone should do for someone they think they can help. But now–” she shook her head. “I realize I could never help you. It’s not in my place.”
“You… seem sad,” Min tilted her head, reaching a hand out. And for a moment, for a split second her old self was back. Her eyes were once again the same shade of brown they’d been when Yun first looked into them. Her lips were troubled; her cheeks took on the same flush they’d had that afternoon at the restaurant. Her fingers nearly wrapped around the other’s wrist and as they advanced in the motion, Yun could tell their temperature was the same as it had been several times before. She nearly expected Min to open her mouth and whine, “Yun ah~! Don’t joke with me.”
But the words never came, and Yun shrunk away from all contact, clearing the table after herself. “No…” she hid her tears. “I’m just tired.”
(Yun you were a tourist in my life. You stayed a while, and then you were gone.)
“Won’t you come in?” M asked. “You came all the way here, at least meet Min before you go…”
Yun began shaking her head before he could finish his sentence. “I came to drop that off,” she gestured at the box of confectioneries from her restaurant. She’d started rebuilding her life, and slowly but surely the stacks of bricks on her walls were starting to align perfectly again. “They’re her favourites.”
M caressed the box in his hold for a moment before stepping out of the threshold and closing the door behind him. “Let’s talk for a bit,” he insisted before sitting down on the front steps. She remained standing, as if it would be rebellion enough against his suggestion. “What are you doing to yourself, Yun ah?” he inquired after her. “Why won’t you come back to her?”
Yun considered him a moment and then scoffed. Her life was like a zoo. People visited from time to time, took an interest in her, took pictures as if pulling out pieces of her for posterity, and then returned to their own lives. This had always been the case and she had grown accustomed enough to it that the cold steel bars keeping her inside had started to give her comfort in being alive. But then Min—
“Oppa?” a voice called from inside the house, and Yun’s heart bashed against her ribcage, ready to explode.
Min had stormed the gates, broken the cages and set barricades against anyone else who tried to so much as look inside Yun again. And Yun had been free to venture out of her captivity. Finally. At last she had the chance to live as she was meant to; to breathe and burn and set course as she wished.
But even an animal born in captivity can never truly be free, it cannot survive out of its boundaries. The wild destroys it. And Yun was only human.
“We would never have lasted, anyway,” she reasoned with M. And a part of her argued that she was lying, just making excuses. But she pushed the hope down into the bottom of her lungs and let it fester like an infection. “I would’ve grown bored; she would’ve gotten hurt. It was a disaster waiting to happen,” she shrugged.
“You know,” he mused aloud. “People often lie to themselves so it can be easier to live with the truth.”
Yun huffed. “Don’t be smart.”
The other grinned before he said in a sobering voice, “She’ll get better, you know? Just yesterday she remembered something from her days at school. I was shocked when she said it but she did. Someday her head will be back in its place again…” His tone wasn’t ominous, but hopeful. And yet his words were completely terrifying to the other. “One day she’ll wake up and ask for you. Ask where you are and why you aren’t with her anymore. You’ll have to come back, then…”
She took a deep breath. “We’ll see about it when that happens,” she nodded to him. It was a diplomatic answer but they both knew that once Yun left the front yard of this household, she would never look back again.
“Be safe then, Yun yah…” M said.
“Mm hmm,” she nodded. “And…” she began to add as an afterthought. Please take care of Min, she means the world to me. But no, she wanted to leave him on a positive note. “You too,” she spoke her last words to him and walked away.