He knew it was snowing before he looked out the window. It was a peculiar talent of his— not unlike that of senior citizens who came out to the local parks beating their shoulders and bending their backs— that he could foretell certain meteorological phenomena. For some reason, it worked particularly well with snow. The night before an impending snowfall, he would feel a stirring shudder go up his limbs. It must have been something in the air, something inherent that could not be seen— only felt through skin and bone— that seemed to whisper of frost and whiteness. It must be snowing, Junwoo thought as he swung his legs over the side of his bed.
But the view from his room was something else indeed. He drew back the curtains and immediately felt the chill from the surface of the window as light flooded his eyes. He blinked a few times and looked over the landscape, which was just as white and deafening as he had expected. A series of rooftops stretched into the distance, each a homely, cheerful square cushioned with a blanket of snow. The roads, too, were yet untouched and pure, sunlight dancing over the whiteness.
Junwoo grinned smugly, recounting what a good deal this apartment had been and how glad he was that he had gotten such a good price for a room so high up, with this charming view. The windows were spacious and wide, opening up to a pleasant residential area on the northern tip of Seoul. So much better than that trash dorm with trash students, he thought. The daily commute he had to make to the university, riding the bustling Green Line every morning, was more than worth it for him. Sure, the architecture was old and he was certain something must be crumbling apart somewhere, but on the surface, all was clean, solid, and honest.
But he had no time to stand and ruminate; it was already well past ten in the morning, and Sol would be ringing the door any moment now. Junwoo turned his back to the picturesque town and glanced around the room. It was not visibly messy. Oh, Junwoo thought, but what did it matter?
He brushed his teeth, anxiously looking at his clock, suddenly very aware of the magnitude of the situation. They had made plans for today weeks ago. They had gone back and forth considering the different options— take a walk along Hangang (now frozen over), cross over to Bukchon to take pictures, or simply eat out at some overpriced Italian restaurant on the south side— before Junwoo cautiously suggested relaxing at his own apartment. Seoul was an enticing place for new lovers, but the dry, harsh February was enough to keep most people indoors. She had simply cocked her head, smiled, and said yes. She would come over. They would watch a movie. And that was today.
Junwoo looked into the mirror as he rinsed his mouth out. This damn bed head; his hair always ended up crooked. He wet his hands and raised them to smooth over his hair, then paused dumbly— what did it matter how his hair looked? It did not.
The doorbell rang as he chuckled to himself for being so foolish. He then darted out of the bathroom, coughed a little to clear his voice, and opened the door to let Sol in. She was breathless and pink from the cold, brushing snow off her winter coat with her pale fingers.
“It’s so cold, you can’t imagine,” she said, handing him her cane. “Feel how cold I am.” She reached forward and found his face, to which she pressed her frozen hand. This was what she liked— the softness of his cheeks against the hard, sloping line of his jaw, which was very firm and comforting to the touch.
“You’re right, it’s really cold,” Junwoo said, smiling. She was a plump, elegant creature, round face framed by silken black hair that gathered wonderfully into curls at her shoulders. Her wide lips and button nose were cute, but not sought after by any conventional standard. Junwoo, however, who liked to distance himself from such conventional standards, found something impossibly alluring in her bare-faced loveliness. And then there were her monolidded eyes— those milky, otherworldly eyes, spaced off into the distance as if she was, in that very moment, peering into another realm. Sol Jung was beautiful and blind.
“It’s warm in here, though, isn’t it?” Junwoo asked, guiding her by her wrist to the couch. “Here, sit down. Do you want anything to drink?”
“Hot tea?” Sol asked, smiling in the general direction of his voice as she shed her puffy vest and thick cardigan with her characteristic slow movements. She dressed a decade behind the times, and he enjoyed that. Modern culture was a virus, it seemed to him, that carried trends like infections into the minds of thoughtless citizens. If Sol could see the people on the streets, he thought, she would understand how I feel about them: how hollow and identical they are, obsessive in their bandwagon.
“Hot tea coming up,” Junwoo replied. Then a mischievous glint took over his eyes— “what if I wasn’t Junwoo at all, huh? What if I’m actually some serial killer with a similar voice?”
“Oh, I better fear for my life, then,” Sol hit back with her own sarcasm, laughing. “But there’s no way I would mistake someone else for you. I can see you, too. In the inflection of your jokes, and— and the exact curves of your shoulders. And the sound of your footsteps— I’m in love with that,” she said, and as Junwoo poured the tea, he looked over his shoulder at her; her mismatched outfit and her aimless eyes. The unconcerned tilt of her head.
No seeing girl would say that. Sol was like an antithesis—Junwoo marveled—to everything he despised about the people of his nation, to that spirit he couldn’t quite describe that seemed to run in everyone’s veins. No; he knew he was loved for his essence, the superficialities stripped away, and enjoyed the sense that their relationship had transcended the level of their peers’. He knew no one else would ever love him for his sounds and touches like she did, and sighed in that exquisite love, from which Sol could hear the way he was looking at her. Yes, he loved her. She could see that much.
“You’ll like this,” Junwoo said, setting the tea down in front of her and bringing her hand to the mug. “It’s what they used to drink in the 80’s.”
“You’re like an old man,” Sol giggled. “You know people these days just buy pre-packaged tea, right?”
“Well, none of that stuff here.”
“People have to learn how to take things slow sometimes, you know?” Junwoo said. “Not everything has to be so quick, quick, quick. I like that about you; you know how to take your time. You’re just different from everybody else.”
“I don’t think everyone thinks like that—”
“No, they do,” Junwoo stated. “Seoul people are all about efficiency.” They had both grown up in the city, but he thought he knew more about it.
“Maybe,” Sol mused. “So, what movie are we watching? You said you had something good.”
“You ever watched Pulp Fiction?”
“Ah,” she said, drawing out the syllable, “I’ve heard of him.”
“Right. Well, I wanted to watch it with you.”
“Okay, let’s do it,” she said, placing her complete trust in him. Junwoo stood up to slide the DVD into the player— he had rented it out a couple days in advance— and closed the curtains to shut out the light before sitting down. He put his arm around Sol as the movie started. Having studied diligently throughout high school and university, they both spoke a good amount of English, but without the aid of subtitles, Sol was left slightly lost in the indirect and often vulgar slang of the thoroughly American movie. It was not far into the film when the scene exploded into a mess of shouting and shooting between the characters.
“Who just died?” asked Sol, slightly frantic.
“The guy that tried to double-cross their boss, you see, they shot him—”
“What’re they doing now? Where are they?”
“Wait,” Junwoo said, “I’ll explain everything.” And as the movie seemed to quiet down a little, so did his voice, softening into the dimmer tone she adored. “It looks like they’re heading into… a bar of sorts. They’re meeting someone. Oh, I see, they’re seeing their boss at this… secretive location.” And on he continued, occasionally whispering into her ear, tenderly breathing life into the scenes painted before him in technicolor.
“She’s really pretty,” Junwoo said as the screen showed the heroine for the first time.
“Who’s the actress?”
“Tell me more. What she looks like.”
“I mean, she’s got short black hair, some lipstick… she’s pretty.”
“But what does pretty mean to you?” Sol pressed. “Uma Thurman, her eyes. I want to know what her eyes look like.”
“Well, I don’t know… just imagine a generically attractive actress,” Junwoo said.
“She’s got big eyes, hasn’t she?” Sol was no longer paying any attention to the movie at all. Junwoo glanced at her, and irritably grabbed the remote to pause the film.
“I mean, I guess so. Why?”
“I just— just wanted to know,” Sol said, and turned her face away. In that moment, Junwoo learned that people turned their faces away not just to avoid eye contact, but to avoid the intensity of confronting someone at all.
“Come on, you were acting all obsessed.”
“What is it?”
“Well,” Sol said, facing straight ahead of her, “I don’t think my eyes are pretty.”
“What?” Junwoo’s eyebrows twisted in confusion.
“You heard me. I always hear people say my eyes would be so much prettier if they were bigger. You know, double eyelid surgery. All my friends with eyes like mine have gotten it,” Sol said, her voice small but sure.
“But Sol, you don’t— you don’t know what your eyes look like.”
“Yes, I do! Haven’t we talked about this already? I see through touch. I know my eyes are different from all the pretty girls in class,” Sol said, now facing Junwoo. He realized that people faced others not just to make eye contact, but to make a point. “Besides, I hear what people say. They all tell me I would look so pretty with the surgery.” Upon hearing this, Junwoo was silent for a moment, seeing Sol with changed eyes, a jarring shock in the air.
“Sol, you’re beautiful. Don’t you see how insane it is that you would want plastic surgery? I mean… you can’t see faces at all. In— in the traditional sense,” he said, not quite wanting to believe that she was being serious.
“Well, you don’t have to judge me for wanting what everyone else wants,” Sol declared. But he did not want what everyone else wanted. He was above that. He thought Sol was above that.
“Look, I’m not a shallow guy. I’m into you as a person. What you look like couldn’t bother me less,” he continued. “And you see me as a person, too. You don’t have to listen to what other people say, because what they’re like— it doesn’t matter to us.”
“But it’s not about you,” Sol said with a quizzical expression. “It’s not about you at all. I don’t think you’re shallow. I just want to be pretty.”
“But you are.”
“Not like Uma Thurman.”
“You want to look like Uma Thurman?” Junwoo frowned.
“No, I just want to be pretty, like her.” Sol’s eyes stared blankly into the screen, where the beloved actress’s face was frozen into a titillating smile as she took a seat at a diner. The woman was pretty. Sol could see that much. In her world of darkness, the idea of beauty was yet forged out of steel and iron, gleaming and motionless. “So come on, describe her eyes for me. You’re so wonderful at telling me what things look like.”
“Well.” Junwoo reached over and unpaused the movie. “Her eyes look exactly like yours.”
“I’m not kidding. She may be white but she’s exquisite, because she’s got monolids just like yours. She’s charming that way,” Junwoo said stubbornly, and tried to shift his attention to the progression of the movie. “Ah, now they’re watching a dancing contest going on at the diner, and she looks interested.”
Junwoo did not know whether Sol had believed him about Uma Thurman’s eyes or whether she was just letting him move on from the topic, but he was glad the hysteria was over and done with. He wondered what her problem was, and no matter how hard he tried to let go of the conversation, he could not forget about the absurdity of his blind lover hating her own face.
“Oh, this is such a famous scene,” Junwoo said, trying to distract himself. “She gets him to dance with her, and it’s this twist competition, and neither of them give a single damn what anyone else thinks about them. It’s so pure, this… I wish you could see them dancing!”
“Are they good?”
“They’re, well, they’re so— free. And they look so happy. Just two people moving together, having a great time.”
“Hey,” Junwoo said suddenly, “why don’t I show you?”
“The dance. Come on,” he said impulsively, standing up and pushing the coffee table aside. He pulled Sol up, and she stood with a shaky apprehension.
“What?” She repeated, and Junwoo took both of her hands.
“Come on, dance, just follow how I’m leading you,” Junwoo said, suddenly insistent. He was powerfully seized by this idea of silliness, wanting badly to break away from sitting there stupidly like anyone else would do, just watching the fun happen on the screen.
“No, stop it, I don’t want to,” Sol said, stumbling uncomfortably.
“Just dance! Just let go and have fun, that’s all it is, why can’t you do that?” Junwoo had a hard grip on Sol, who was now trying to twist away, and he forced her arms into jerky movement.
“I don’t want to, Junwoo, let go—”
“It’s so easy if you’d just loosen up!” Junwoo nearly shouted into her face. “It’s the easiest thing in the world! I don’t want you to care how silly you look.”
“No, stop!” Sol finally yelled, wrenching herself away and nearly toppling into the wall before she steadied herself on two feet. She stood, visibly upset, until Junwoo snapped out of it, realizing what he had done.
“Oh god. I’m sorry, are you hurt?” Junwoo asked, rushing to her side.
“What’s with you?”
“I’m sorry. I just— I just wanted you to dance like they were doing in the movie.”
“Well, I can’t dance, okay?”
“I can’t see what I’m doing. I’ll never see what I’m doing. It’s sad, but I’ll never get to see how Uma Thurman dances with— with whoever that actor is, okay?” Sol snapped, half lashing out and half pitying herself.
“But you can. You just move about to the music, however you feel like. That’s what dancing is,” Junwoo said.
“You’re in your head. You’re living in your own world, that’s what it is.”
“The kind of world where Uma Thurman has eyes like mine!” She was on the verge of tears. “I know it was bullshit, Junwoo, you’re so full of that. You’re so full of that. You think making stuff up like that is going to make me feel better?”
“I wasn’t trying to—”
“I didn’t ask for fairyland from you. I didn’t ask for that,” Sol repeated, and Junwoo wondered how her sightless eyes could pierce so directly into his.
“I wasn’t trying to offend you.” Junwoo was unsure what words to choose. Sol seemed to glower for a minute in silence, then gave in.
“Forget it, let’s just finish the movie,” she replied in a flat voice. She walked unsteadily forward with her arm outstretched until her hand bumped the couch and she felt her way back to her seat.
But why must things be so shallow? That was Junwoo’s question. The film continued and they watched more love and more death unfold, but the entire time, he was simply turning over in his mind why people couldn’t simply see each other for who they were. By the time the credits rolled, not much of the plot remained in his brain.
“So did you like it as much as you thought you would?” Sol asked, breaking the silence. “The movie.”
“I don’t know,” Junwoo said, looking at her face. “I guess not.”
“Huh. Well, that’s a bummer.”
“It’s alright. It was about spending time with you anyway,” Junwoo said.
Junwoo leaned in close to her face. He looked into her eyes, those mysterious little universes. He had always liked that she didn’t wear dark glasses to cover her eyes. But what was this feeling that had now burrowed into the pit of his heart that made him hesitate there, quite still, gaze jumping from her eyes to lips to ears?
She felt the warmth of his breath, and sensing his proximity, closed her eyes.
He kissed her. That was simply the way things were supposed to be.
And yet there was nothing; nothing.
Junwoo broke away with a startled dismay, mind racing at this startling discovery of nothing, the poor hollowness he had been running away from so desperately.
Sol reached for her bag and pulled a small makeup pouch onto her lap. She unzipped it, felt through the contents for what she wanted, and pulled out a small lipstick. There was no mirror, of course, but she applied it perfectly.
“See— what I don’t get is—” Junwoo began, struggling to make one last effort to articulate himself.
“Why I bother. Right?” Sol asked, putting her lipstick back.
“I guess so.”
“I think you should take a real hard look at yourself,” Sol said, “and figure out why you really wanted to be with me.”
“What do you mean?” Junwoo asked, agitated. “Can you be more clear when you say stuff like that? Communication is imperative.”
“You still think you’re better than everyone else, don’t you,” Sol said, tilting her head. “You think you’re so different.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Junwoo said, “I don’t get you at all sometimes.” He stood up from the couch and went to the window, pushing open the curtains. The harsh brightness forced his eyes shut, and he blinked rapidly to be able to see, while Sol’s eyes remained empty and open, staring straight out into the sun. Junwoo felt his head cool down as he stared out into the town. But the snow on the ground was nothing like that of this morning— no pure, white expanses to be seen. No untouched surfaces. Chunks of snow had fallen off the roofs, and the snow on the roads were all blackened with grime and tire tracks, the snow on the pavement carved through with dozens of footprints.
“Is it still snowing?” Sol asked.
Junwoo turned back to regard Sol where she was still sitting, red lips now standing out against her pale face. Her eyes were the same as ever, seeming to shroud some kind of secret; a treasure, perhaps. And Junwoo knew now what he had been looking for in them— some sort of testament. One that did not exist.
She understood how things were. There were the familiar sensations around her: how her socks wrapped her feet quite snugly, how her hair drifted about her shoulders, and how the soft velvety surface of the couch pressed up against her. And there were the new things. The way Junwoo had kissed her— abruptly, almost inquisitive, a question rather than an answer. The way he had pulled away and exhaled. (There was nothing; nothing. She knew it too.) The way he had gone straight for the windows, and probably looked out, and probably saw that the snow was all messed up. She could see that much.