It is the season’s first snowfall, and despite her love for the delicate ice blossoms, Yoon-hee feels worry first and foremost. Cold weather always hits Yoon-shik so hard, and he still hasn’t gotten over the persistent coughs of his last cold. He’s doing better, but not well enough for Father to continue their lessons – which also means no lessons for Yoon-hee. So the snow, lovely to the eyes and the heart, cannot be welcomed wholeheartedly.
Yet – it’s beautiful. She holds out a hand and watches the flakes land in her palm and vanish in its warmth. Pretty soon, she has a little puddle in the center, filling the creases to form the Chinese character for person, ‘in’ (人). She closes her palm, erasing a futile dream.
A soft creak accompanied by a brief stream of yellow light as a door opens and closes, and suddenly her father’s warm hand is on her shoulder. She marvels once again how that warm touch could ask questions so clearly without the need for words.
Child, what are you thinking?
Or perhaps she already knows the question because he always asks her – through his eyes and his affection – of everything that crosses her mind, allowing her to open up to him and him only in ways that she’s never been able to connect with anyone else.
“Father, would snow be as beautiful if it came every day?”
But don’t you think sunlight is beautiful? How about butterflies? Mother’s smile? Yoon-shik’s laugh?
Yoon-hee nods yes, yes, yes. Snow, too, would always be beautiful, but she’d never wish for it to come every day; it would still be beautiful but nowhere near as special. Special makes the heart flutter and dance.
Her father gives a deep, throaty laugh, the kind that he reserves only for his curious daughter, and tousles her hair a bit, coming to rest his hand on the top of her head like a hat. My beautiful dreamer, my daughter.
But his voice is a bit sad, heavy with thoughts that he doesn’t express.
For an extended moment, he doesn’t respond; she doesn’t know if he’s lost in his thoughts or finding the right words to say. And when he finally does speak, he tells her about a little boy, the son of an up-and-coming court official, whose name is already well-known within the social circles for his exceptional intellect. A boy like that, with the right father and the right circumstances, will come into his full potential to live a life of higher aspirations. Unlike…
His hand gently pats her head.
Yoon-hee doesn’t understand why her father sounds so melancholy so she tries in her own way to cheer him up. She tilts her head back to give him her sunniest smile. “And you will be happy, Father, if I marry a boy like that, won’t you?”
For a fleeting second, she thinks she sees his face seems to crumble, but now he’s smiling down at her, the same as ever. He places his hands on her shoulders and steers her towards the room she shares with Yoon-shik. Dusk has come and gone, and it’s time for her to go to bed.
She turns around to say goodbye and notices that her father is dressed in traveling clothes, wearing darker colors than usual. “Father, where are you going?”
To help build a world where you can be happy.
“But I am happy.”
He glances up at the falling snow; it doesn’t look like it’ll continue for much longer. This is unfortunate, he knows how much Yoon-hee loves snow. But it’s only the first snowfall; there will be much more snow before the season lets up.
Tomorrow… tomorrow, I think we’ll continue Yoon-shik’s lessons.
As expected, Yoon-hee’s face lights up and she sends her father off with a smile and a wave. She waves and waves until the gate has closed behind him and he’s swallowed up by the still of the night.
Inside the room, Yoon-shik is already bundled up in his blankets. Always a light sleeper, he opens his eyes groggily as she lays her own blankets. “Is it cold outside?”
She gives him a light pat on the head. “No, it’s snowing but it’s not cold. I think tomorrow will be warm. Father thinks so, too. He says you’ll have your lessons.”
Yoon-shik grunts and mumbles, “Lucky you,” before turning to his side and letting out a soft sigh followed by a snore.
Yoon-hee sits still, listening to Yoon-shik’s low snores and watching the light of the candle flicker and twist. It’s a quiet night but her heart is pounding a little louder than usual. She places her hand over her heart and feels it beat for a few minutes. Her senses are on full alert and she thinks that perhaps she won’t be able to sleep tonight.
But when she lies down after blowing out the light, the darkness weighs down on her eyelids, and her brother’s breathing becomes a lullaby.
She falls fast into a dreamless sleep.