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Please Don't Talk to Me by bbangduksi. A shy woman is hiding behind a tipsy man holding a bottle of soju.

Please Don't Talk to Me

20

Chapter 20

17

Knock, knock.

 

“Is Dongju Choi here by any chance?”

 

I looked up.

 

A woman with long brown hair and a pale, slender face stood at the security office window. She wore a brown coat over her slim frame. My gaze shifted from her face to the monitor, where I quickly typed a message.

 

No, he’s not here.

 

“Ah, I see. Sorry, but do you happen to know where he is?”

 

The name ‘Dongju’ echoed in my ears. Something told me she knew him quite well.

 

I believe he’s on campus.

 

“He’s not in the department office. Are you in contact with him? I’ve been trying to reach him. It’s kind of urgent.”

 

I hesitated, unsure who this woman was and why she was so desperately looking for Dongju. As I toyed with the keyboard, she added, “Sorry, I’ve asked too much. I apologize for bothering you.”

 

She caught a falling strand of her hair and bowed her head slightly. Then, slinging her bag over her shoulder, she walked toward the main gate, her hair swinging with each step.

 

I watched her leave, mulling over the connection between the urgent matter, the absent Dongju, and the unusual sight of him at the art museum. A single question formed in my mind.

 

What happened to him?

 

***

 

-Dongju, have you thought about what I said?

 

-Send me her address.

 

-You’re going to see her?

 

-Yeah.

 

-Good. When are you coming?

 

-Stay out of it. I’ll talk to her alone.

 

-Fine.

 

Dongju received his mom’s address in a message from Soo-young. He hadn’t planned on actually visiting her. But after the day Soo-young showed up at his place, the museum trip, and a rainy day conversation, Dongju decided he needed to see his mom at least once.

 

His mom hoped to stay connected with Dongju because he was family. Now, regardless of his wishes, she was attempting to meddle in his life. Trust between them had already shattered, leaving nothing but a shared, discomforting sense of guilt. Yet, they continued to mirror each other, each interaction adding layer upon layer of hurt. What drove her to behave this way?

 

Dongju rang the bell.

 

With a clank, the door swung open.

 

Stepping inside, he found his mother, Kyung-hee, sitting in the living room. Her gaze locked onto him as he entered.

 

“You’re here.”

 

In the two years since he last saw her, Kyung-hee had changed dramatically. Her once youthful face now showed the ravages of time, like a tree starved of moisture. Gray hairs had taken over, leaving her entire head a silvery white. It seemed more like a decade had passed rather than just two years.

 

Dongju hesitated for a moment at the sight of his mother, but he steeled himself. Turning to Soo-young, who was lingering near the intercom, he said, “I told you to stay out of this.”

 

“She’s not feeling well. It might be better if I stay,” Soo-young replied.

 

“I’m here now, so you can go.”

 

“Still, shouldn’t someone who knows about her condition be here?”

 

“You mean you?”

 

“Well, I took her to the hospital.”

 

Soo-young and Kyung-hee exchanged glances.

 

Dongju’s eyebrows twitched. “Are you out of your mind?”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Who takes their ex’s mother to the hospital?”

 

“I did it without involving you.”

 

He hadn’t even talked to his mom yet, and already he felt suffocated. However, he knew there was something more important than arguing with Soo-young. He brushed past her and settled on the sofa.

 

Overhearing their conversation, Kyung-hee spoke calmly. “Shall I get you something to drink?”

 

Ignoring the offer, Dongju said to her, “It seems like you think I’m throwing a tantrum. That’s why I came.”

 

“You must be feeling guilty,” Kyung-hee said.

 

“If that’s not the case, you wouldn’t insist on paying my tuition if I refuse, right? You just think I’m being childish.”

 

“Well, just look at your life.”

 

“Why do you care how I live? You never cared about how Dad lived.”

 

Kyung-hee chuckled like the air was seeping out of her lungs. “I knew you would say that.”

 

Dongju felt something twist inside him. His mother seemed unnervingly calm, almost shameless.

 

How could she be so confident? Was it because it was all in the past now? Well… there was no reason for her to feel sorry for Dongju or to bow her head to him. They were both equally guilty.

 

“Quit bothering with tuition. If I skip school, that’s the end of it,” Dongju said.

 

“Do you think I’m doing this because of the damn school?”

 

“Then why?”

 

“To see you. Look, after not reaching out for so long, here you are on your own.”

 

“You think calling me here like this is the best way? What do you even want to talk about?”

 

“What else would a mother and son talk about? We eat, talk about school, about your dead father…”

 

“Ha,” Dongju scoffed.

 

Kyung-hee’s face tightened slightly.

 

“Are we really supposed to talk about that?” Dongju asked. “What is this, a drama?”

 

“What do you mean? I really do miss him.”

 

Dongju shook his head. “Then miss him on your own. I can’t.”

 

His demeanor was the same as always. He looked down on Kyung-hee, his tone suggesting a distance between them, his expression cold…

 

Though she expected it, facing that same expression from two years ago made Kyung-hee choke up. “Why can’t you? Does it hurt? Is it because you feel disgusted by wanting to see your father after you left him? Because you feel like you caused his death?”

 

Dongju gritted his teeth. He hadn’t thought he would hear such direct words, especially not from his mother.

 

“Yes,” he replied tersely.

 

“That doesn’t make any sense. How could he have died because of you? Do you really think that? Why do you feel guilty? Why would you rather stay stuck there instead of trying to get out of it?”

 

A feeble laugh escaped Dongju’s lips.

 

Kyung-hee looked at him with a stern expression.

 

“Mom, is that what you keep telling yourself? That he didn’t die because of me? Does thatmake sense? ‘It was just a difficult situation, it wasn’t my fault…’ Is that what you’ve been telling yourself for two years?”

 

“Yes…”

 

“You can live like that, but I can’t.”

 

“Why not? Why do you live with a sense of guilt you don’t need to feel?”

 

“Why wouldn’t I feel it? I left, and so did you.” Dongju paused to breathe before continuing, “Dad loved us the most. He endured everything for us. What did he have left after we left him? And yet you say there’s no need to feel guilty? How can you say that?!”

 

Dongju slammed his fist on the table.

 

Kyung-hee’s voice shook as she spoke. “Why do you think I left your father?”

 

“I understand you had your reasons. But do you think Dad would have left you just because things were hard?”

 

“Was it just hard? Is that all you think it was?”

 

“Are you saying it was worse than that?”

 

“I was wondering how you saw me. While you idolize your dad for sacrificing everything for us until his last breath, what do you think of me?”

 

“…Is that really important?”

 

“Yes, it is. You won’t even look at me because of it. How bad do you think those times were? What if it involved being hit by objects he threw?”

 

Kyung-hee’s voice became more agitated.

 

Dongju asked, incredulous, “What are you talking about?”

 

“What do you think your father was like when you weren’t around? Have you ever imagined that?”

 

Dongju straightened up. After a moment’s thought, he scoffed. “Dad throwing things? That doesn’t add up. Why are you taking it this far? Isn’t it enough to justify it to yourself? Do you want me to feel sorry for you too?”

 

“Watch it,” Soo-young, who had been listening, interjected.

 

Dongju shot Soo-young a silencing glance.

 

“You haven’t heard your mom’s side,” Soo-young said. “You don’t know what she endured with your dad, how she’s coped since he passed.”

 

“What do I need to know? What’s so mysterious that only I’m unaware of? I at least know the kind of man my dad was.”

 

“Are you sure you know everything?”

 

“Stop pretending you know something I don’t…”

 

“I probably know more about what happened while you were gone.”

 

“Okay, then tell me. Dad threw things? At Mom? Why?”

 

Dongju turned to Kyung-hee. They locked eyes intensely for a moment before Kyung-hee slowly reached for a glass of water in front of her. She took a sip, her hand trembling as she set the glass back down.

 

“After you left, your father started drinking—something he hadn’t done before. It began with a little because he was struggling, but then it got worse. He drank incessantly. He’d scream for more alcohol, throwing whatever he could get his hands on. If I didn’t get him more, he’d buy bottles from the convenience store and drink them right there. Sometimes he’d pass out and be brought back by the cops, or I’d have to drag him home. And when he sobered up, he’d cry, apologize, and beg for forgiveness.”

 

“What are you saying?! Enough is enough… now…”

 

“I’m not finished!”

 

A heavy silence filled the room.

 

Kyung-hee continued, “Once, your father threw a cup, and it hit my forehead. Blood poured out like a faucet. That seemed to bring him back to his senses. Suddenly, he said he was leaving. I crawled over to hold him, but he pushed me away and ran outside. I was still bleeding when I went out looking for him, then I fainted. When I came to, I was in hospital. Your father was sitting next to me, looking dazed. But after that, he kept trying to leave. I’d bring him back, and he’d leave again. One time…”

 

Kyung-hee frowned as if remembering that moment.

 

“One time, he got into a fight outside and was beaten almost to death. I got a call from the hospital and rushed to the emergency room. The sight of him… I sat beside your father, holding his hand tightly, and asked, ‘Is it because of me that you keep leaving?’ He nodded. ‘Because you’re afraid you’ll hurt me again?’ And he nodded again. So I asked, ‘If I leave, will you stay home?’ After some time, he nodded in agreement…”

 

Kyung-hee’s lips quivered. Tears fell one by one. She covered her mouth and began to sob. Her forehead turned red. Between sobs, she managed to say, “I left the hospital and went straight to your grandmother’s. That was the last time I saw your father.”

 

Blue veins stood out on Dongju’s forehead.

 

In a cold voice, he said, “You expect me to believe that? It’s not even believable.”

 

Dongju’s eyes darted between Kyung-hee and Soo-young. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. This was madness. His father, who hadn’t raised his voice at his son for almost twenty years.

 

The image of his dad flashed through Dongju’s mind. The man had always prioritized Dongju and his mom. He never allowed any harm to come to his family. He took on the hardest tasks and solved them with the greatest wisdom. His father was the standard by which Dongju measured life.

 

Yet, that man had thrown things and left the house? Ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous…

 

“How could you talk about Dad like that?” Dongju said, his voice full of disdain. “Are you just making things up now that he’s not here?”

 

“Making things up?” Kyung-hee shot back. “Do you want to see the emergency room records? Or should we go to the police station? Should I bring witnesses? I have more than enough proof that your father did these things!”

 

Kyung-hee stood up abruptly and walked to the bedroom. She returned shortly with a stack of papers, which she threw in front of Dongju. Dongju picked up one of them.

 

Hospital Admission Record for Alcohol-related Illness

 

Dongju’s eyes moved to ‘Patient Name.’

 

Patient Name: Myung-hwan Choi

 

His eyes darted around the page. He picked up another.

 

Prescription for Alcohol Dependence

 

Name: Myung-hwan Choi

 

And another.

 

Transfer Record for Patient with Alcohol Dependence

 

And another.

 

Statement Record for Domestic Violence Incident Involving an Alcohol-Dependent Patient

 

Dongju’s hands trembled as he held the papers. The gravity of the documents silenced the doubting voices in his mind.

 

“I know how I must have looked to you,” said Kyung-hee. “Suggesting a divorce to your already struggling father… I may not have been perfect, but I wasn’t that bad. He was your father, but he was also my husband. Are you suggesting I lied about my husband being an alcoholic? How could you say such a thing!”

 

Dongju felt as if someone was squeezing his heart. Stammering, he said, “Why… why are you only saying this now…?”

 

“Did you ever listen? You blocked my number, avoided meeting me, ignored my letters, my emails—everything. If you’d just given me a chance, I could’ve explained!”

 

“You could have told me at the funeral.”

 

“At the funeral? Ha… Haha…” Kyung-hee gave a bitter laugh. “What were your first words to me there? With those piercing eyes… ‘Stop crying. Dad would be disgusted if he saw you. I’m not going to cry either.’”

 

Dongju was speechless.

 

“How could I say anything after that? I couldn’t even breathe…”

 

Kyung-hee pounded her chest with her clenched fists. She looked at Dongju with red-rimmed eyes.

 

“I didn’t care what others thought—those strangers saying I abandoned my husband. It didn’t matter. But you… I thought my own son would understand, or at least sense why your mother had to leave. That she suffered too! But you… you turned your back on me first…”

 

Collapsing to the floor, Kyung-hee clawed at the wooden planks as if reliving a fresh agony. Dongju only realized then that what he held was a knife, and he had made his mother bleed.

 

It was too late. Dongju’s breath hitched, choked with emotion.

 

“Still… if forgetting everything makes you feel better… then maybe ignorance is bliss… I thought it mattered more that you live well. But to see you drowning in alcohol, giving up like someone resigned to their fate… Should I just watch? Is that right? What did I do to deserve being ignored, treated as if I should be killed? I can’t live like this… I have to find my son… I have to save him…”

 

Kyung-hee’s sobs filled the room, a haunting echo of pain and despair. Dongju stared blankly ahead, the papers crumpling in his tight grip. They felt intensely real, yet everything else seemed like a distant nightmare.

 

In the black reflection on the TV screen, Dongju stared back at the real Dongju Choi. He sat numbly like that for a long time.

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