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Reese Kwon

Christine Jiyoung Yi Ingram

She lied and lied and lied to Ian, she never really knew why she did it, until one day, too late, she did. Here was her father’s fresh-dug grave; here was all this stupid grief. Clods dropped and she cried her stupid tears. A burial: what was the point of it? In antiquity—so she’d read, in Vico, during her senior year at Princeton—people left their dead out on the streets and birds flocked to pick the flesh until the bones were clean. That seemed, after all, more daughterly. It was over a year and a half since she last had seen her father. Exhibits, so busy, these days, these people, she’d explained. Her father said he understood and sent his love to Ian, who now stood at her side and held her hand.

So at last she understood her lies. She was more than scared: she was ashamed. Because, what a rift there was between the bewildered scholarship girl she once was and the unconcerned woman she was pretending to be. The Christine Ingram-née-Christine Jiyoung Yi whom Ian knew was smarter, funnier, sarcastic and urbane, a pundit on High Renaissance art, a fabric snob, born to sneer: an altogether superior creature, this glossed-up Christine. She wasn’t her, though. Not then, not ever.

Maybe she had thought it integral to their love. To play the part of this potential, cashmere-wrapped Venere di Urbino-cum-duchessa self, and so, more and more, to become her shamming role. They first met in Florence, two Americans far from home. As she fell, she fell for Ian, of course she did, but she also fell for the person he believed she was. It was like one of the bedtime stories her father told her, nights in their one-bedroom Los Angeles apartment, his voice rising to outtalk neighbors’ televisions:

Jiyoung, this is a tale about a woman who was really a crane. A man married a woman and they were very much in love, but also very poor. They were so poor that, one day, the husband came home from his job and told his wife that unless they could come up with a way to make more money, he didn’t know how they would make it through the winter. The wife nodded and said, Husband, I will think of something. From that night on, every night, when he walked in the door, she handed him a shimmering silk brocade and said, Sell this in the village tomorrow. The husband did as he was told and so they lived.

But the woman was no woman but only a crane who long ago saw the man and, to get him to love her, transformed herself into a human. To weave those silks, she plucked her own feathers. Each day of this made her increasingly ill, until she strained to pull herself out of bed. Finally, one morning, the husband only pretended to go to work then turned back to see for himself what his long-necked wife was doing. He had so many questions: where did the silk come from, anyway? Why was his wife so sick? He opened the door to his house and gasped: there, in front of him, was a crane, tugging a white feather from her bleeding body. Startled, the crane looked up, and with a great beating of her white wings, rose and flew past him through the open door, flurrying bloodied feathers and crying, Goodbye, dear husband, goodbye! And he never saw her again.

After he told the tale, Christine’s father explained that it was Korean in origin, but that was what he said about every story, so she had figured it might well be Japanese, but then, some time during her second year of studying Italian, she came across the story in a collection of Umbrian folklore, so it could be anything, Korean, Japanese, or Italian, who knew.

Whichever it had been, now the story was hers: I am a crane and not a human. I am not like you, Ian, though I have tried to be; I am only me.


Reese Kwon was selected this year as one of Narrative Magazine’s “Best New Writers,” and also received a scholarship from Bread Loaf as well as fellowships from the Norman Mailer Writers’ Colony, Hedgebrook, and the Napa Valley Writers’ Conference. Kwon's fiction and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Small Spiral Notebook and Narrative. Kwon is a graduate of the MFA program at Brooklyn College and won the Himan Brown award for fiction and worked with Michael Cunningham; before that, Kwon received the Wallace Prize for fiction at Yale University.

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