Hearts of the Morning Calm
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by Galen Kindley
Description: Since 2333 BC, long before the Western world was new, antiquity's name for Korea was Chosun?Land of the Morning Calm.
In the fall of 1978, a small traditional jewelry shop in modern steel-and-glass Seoul, Korea, becomes Destiny's playground. Fate capriciously induces an American military officer to browse the store and, in so doing, meet an intriguing and lovely Asian woman.
Foolishly, but helplessly, Jason and Young fall in love. Their chance encounter and reluctant commitment initiates a tangled and haunting journey. For Jason, it is one of discovery not just of the woman he loves but her country and her people. Young seems too modern to be bound by the role assigned women in traditional Korean culture, so he dares to dream of taking her home to Alabama.
But what does a woman do when her heart is torn between the man she loves and the family and traditions she honors?
eBook Publisher: Zumaya Publications/Zumaya Embraces, 2010 2010
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [470 KB]
Reading time: 271-380 min.
His sole remaining photograph had aged gracefully. The left edge was slightly tattered. A long-ago corner-crease was barely perceptible. The once-white border was only now turning a mature shade of ivory. Even the old colors remained--New England-autumn bright. Seemingly, the remarkable snapshot was inoculated against the bacteria of time and touch.
Saunders held the picture with both hands, and again marveled at the stunning landscape. In the background, dark saw-toothed mountaintops sliced sharply across a cloudless horizon. Closer in, afternoon sunlight reflected from a wide river in a thousand silver sparkles. The bright water flowed slowly across the paper, finally disappearing through a narrow gap in rocky, precipitous cliffs. In the left foreground, two gigantic statues were, like the lost city of Petra, carved into the reddish-brown rock of a vertical cliff face.
The panoramic scope, nature's magnificent touches and man's bold artwork were a breathtaking display. Even so, the picture would never be considered a landscape. A single, powerful presence made it an accidental portrait.
At the far left stood an apparently reluctant unintended subject--a young Asian woman. Without effort, she muted and subdued her dramatic surroundings. A simple white blouse accentuated her short black hair. Faded tapered jeans emphasized her long legs. There was a supple, almost athletic look about her. She was attractive, but not striking, yet she was absolutely compelling.
Saunders knew the woman's commanding presence stemmed from her character. She possessed in full measure the gifts of strength, grace and compassion. They radiated from her like powerful searchlights, guiding, comforting, redeeming.
Leaning his considerable bulk toward the large bedroom window, he squinted and adjusted his bifocals. Gray December twilight seeped through the rain-streaked glass. Tilting the photo to catch the diluted light, he tried again to capture the woman, to grasp her elusive multi-stream essence, as on a hundred previous occasions. She faced the photographer, chin raised, head tilted, leaning against a metal railing, the sparkling river hundreds of feet below. In contrast to the nonchalant pose, her earnest expression was almost humorous. Saunders shook his head in warm bemusement--no matter time or distance, she remained what she was, very much like her nurturing Asia, a wonderful, contradictory enigma, an elegant, intricate, delicate paradox.
With a rueful half-smile, he turned the photograph over. On the back was a promise, its faded characters carefully and methodically doled out by a steady hand. It was a melancholy pledge, sufficient to bind a wound but not stay the bleeding. Feeling like an emotional Peeping Tom, he was nonetheless compelled to read the words. The simple phrases brought her to life, illuminated her humanity and, without fail, moved him. They'd never met, but he'd all too easily fallen under her spell. Secretly, he wished the pledge were for him.
Remember my promise--
I will hold you in my heart, always.
You will never be far from me.
We will be together.
He thought the message was oddly mixed. The inscription didn't close with "love," but love was clearly present. The promise held strong commitment and connectivity, but hauntingly--in absentia. Most interesting was the final, equivocally clear sentence. Did it mean "together" in some future reality, or was it tied to the preceding phrase, and meant metaphorically? No one would ever know.
Saunders gazed wistfully across his sick friend's bed and through the window at the storm-enraged breakers and the coastal gloom.
"It's really amazing. We've looked at her, thought about her, talked about her, every day for months. But, even after all that, the more I focus on her, think I know her, the more she becomes..." He hesitated, searching for a word, finally settling on, "...obscure."
"Yeah, she..." A retching cough strangled Wilson's sentence, forcing him partially upright. The spasm passed. Grimacing, he eased back against the pillows. "She was like that," he finished weakly.
Saunders nodded, leaned forward and returned the picture to the frail man, who placed it on the nightstand between the water glass and the pill jars. The wind-driven rain tapped louder against the cold single-pane window. In defiance, the fire popped twice; the wet wood sizzled. The scent of burning pine wandered about the room. The old Oregon coast house, like most of its day, was built with a fireplace in each bedroom. When the December rains sprinted in, cold and unrelenting, from their anonymous northern Pacific birthplace, a fire's warmth soothed primal fears, and the firelight dispatched the demons.
Saunders picked up a woolen afghan from the scuffed oak floor, shook it open and draped it across his knees. Settling back in the wicker chair, he looked briefly at a small faded print of a Parisian street corner hanging above Wilson's brass-frame bed. He noted absently that the glass was chipped and the plain wooden frame rather nicked and in need of replacement. Though it was one of Wilson's most valued possessions, its repair, like most chores in his recent life, would probably go uncompleted. Finishing the novel had been an exhausting trial. He had little energy--or now, time--for extras.
"So. Can you believe it's done?" Saunders asked, affectionately fingering the manuscript in his lap.
Wilson rolled his head listlessly toward the rain-streaked windowpane, looked out at a distorted, disturbed ocean, but didn't respond.
Saunders rubbed his chin and struggled with how to broach the next subject. They had covered this tender ground before. Wilson, the final authority on story line, consistently objected. Saunders, the vigilant editor, called it "full-circle information" and believed it was material readers would want. If Wilson could be persuaded, the novel could still be modified without postponing publication.
"Uh, Keith?" Leaning toward the bed, he tapped the manuscript with two fingers. "Look-it, just one thing. We oughta rethink the Korean Air Lines stuff." He hesitated, then added softly, "You know, the double-oh-seven incident."
"Christ, Bill, not again." Wilson looked wearily at the ceiling. "I'm a sick man here. How 'bout giving me a little peace on this, huh?"
"Hey, I'm just trying to improve it, make it better. I've got a...you know...a feel for this kinda thing. I do it for a living. It's why I get paid, remember?"
Wilson closed his eyes and grunted.
Undeterred, Saunders continued. "Listen, I just think it'd give the readers closure. I guarantee they're going to want to know what happened to her. To him. It just closes the loop, that's all."
"No." Wilson raised an emaciated hand, the skin almost translucent. "Why can't you get this? It's fiction...or mostly fiction." He picked up the photograph and, holding it toward Saunders, continued in a subdued, almost regretful tone. "I just used her as an example, a model. It's all made up, all, uh, make-believe. The people in there don't exist, not then...and certainly not now." He looked at the picture briefly, then placed it on the blanket near his side.
"Well, readers won't think so."
"Tough. Readers can think what the hell they want. It's my last book, and it's fiction. Period. Besides, that other stuff ain't germane! It happened years later, and's got nothin' to do with the story. And most important? Bill? You listening? Uh? Most important? I don't know the details. I don't want to know the details. I just plain don't want to think about it! So...no. Let it go."
Saunders sank back in his chair but looked up in time to catch Wilson's wicked smile.
"The only way you'll include KAL double-oh-seven is over my dead body." Wilson laughed loudly. The sound was bitterly sarcastic and surprisingly robust in the small, dim bedroom.
"I wish you wouldn't talk like that. Besides, you approve all the changes."
"Yeah? Well, I don't approve this one...again, and hopefully for the last time." Wilson pulled the blankets to his neck. "Always so goddamn cold anymore."
The rain slackened. The fire waned. The darkness intensified. The white ceramic table lamp, always on in Wilson's near-sleepless world, cast an unhealthy yellow glow. In the downstairs hallway, an antique wall clock slowly chimed five times, the sound muffled and weak. Saunders shifted his weight and placed both feet on the floor. The tan wicker chair squeaked loudly.
"You gotta go?"
"No." Saunders looked up quickly, ashamed he'd been thinking of an excuse to leave. He cleared his throat and said, a little too emphatically, "Not at all. You need something?"
Wilson answered softly, "Yeah, can you read me some? Just a little."
"Sure, Keith, happy to." He pause and smiled. "I'm in love with her, too. What part you want to hear?"
Wilson turned toward the window. The world was dissolving, sharp images fading to soft edges; only the rain was audible. A silent minute passed, then two. Saunders had seen these lapses before, though they were now more frequent, and their duration longer.
Finally, his voice weak from disease and encumbered with distant joy, Wilson said, "The front. Start at the beginning." Pausing, he closed his eyes. "The world was...new then, brighter, unspoiled. Things seemed...possible. The future wasn't the past. Start at the beginning."
Saunders ran his hand across the manuscript. Melancholy tried to press against him, but he pushed it aside. Wilson was correct. The beginning was bright. Possibility was reality. Opening the maroon cover, he turned to Chapter One, smiled at what he knew was there, and began to read.