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Midnight Prayers -- flash by Minha Kyun

After midnight when the windows of the village start to dim, the old woman tucks her young grandson into bed, whispering the words of love through his tangled hair, as every other mother does to their child. If her son, the father of her grandson, weren't working in Seoul, the woman wouldn’t be looking at the boy who has become so slender and pale under the moonlight. Eclipse is high above the Geumjeong Mountain and the sky empties of clouds. She can only hear the sound of the wind whistling.

Like every other morning, before her grandson wakes up, she goes to work picking up paper boxes and cans thrown on the street or tailing after the plastics fluttering through the road. Cars never miss a single stack of leaves, clusters of them swirl around her and glide past, the petioles scratching her ears. She stops next to a tree that makes a canopy over her. Of course, even the Nuti Tree can’t stop the summer and the heat of the sun leaking through the fronds. She trails her fingers to her temple as if it would all stop, the fog from the road, the smell of cigarettes, the honking that jabs into her.


In the late evening, she walks to the nearest flower shop to the hospital and buys a lily, her grandson’s favorite flower. He said it reminded him of a bird that flew above his school’s field two weeks ago before he caught the mysterious flu he couldn’t recover up until this day. She slides the door open and finds him sleeping. After turning off the light and putting the lily into the vase, she strokes his head–at least for as long as the sun stays up.


When the dusk comes, the old woman looks out the window. At the foot of the mountain, on the Road of Hyeol, cars slow down and buses stop with no one getting off. She finally knows it’s time to climb up to the place where her day ends, Beomeosa Temple standing on Geumjeong Mountain. The temple is where mothers and the desperate ones in the village go. Through the empty street with flickering street lamps and the road surrounded by trunks of pine trees, she can only hear her heavy breath. Among the bushes, fireflies shimmer, reminding her of one night she had with her grandson.


“Halmoni, there are fairies in your backyard!” He dashed through the grass, trying to chase the fireflies.


“Yunho, this is a bug that lives in an area with clean air so it’s hard to see it in Seoul. Will you come to Busan to see me and this bug?” She asked.


“Yes, I’ll visit every month.”


She reaches the apex and through the temple’s entrance she sees a giwa monastery and a candle burning in it, the shadows of the Buddhist monks kneeling down facing the Sakyamuni Buddha. If Yunho had come along, he would’ve asked her if the thing was made by an elf.


She walks towards the monastery, past a bell that appears fissured with cracks. The bell’s copper surface has turned green and the zephyr from the mountain eroded it During the day, the dongjas wipe them with a towel stained in brown, as if it could peel off the years that have already settled. The dongjas brush down the stone floors and collect the fallen leaves, but like the fragrant candles she smells on each visit, it comes back every night, a recurring dream. Fire glowing behind the doors, the dark figure, the old woman’s shadow casting among the stars’, her hands reaching out towards the sky, her wishes that were hushed by the others.


“Shhhh,” if anyone whispered their wishes out loud, the Buddhists shushed each other. Only the silence and the crackling of the candles were allowed.


In this village, the Buddhists and the old woman stay awake, even after the mothers have gone to their house, praying as long as the night lasts. She prays for hours, not even noticing the birds flitting through the sky and the sun rising behind them. She believed that the boy’s sickness and suffering could all end because of her dedication. She thinks the nights she prayed ushered in another dawn for the boy to wake up in. There’s a whole grove growing in her dream and the city slumbers under her murmured prayers. Still, behind the hanji door of the monastery, their silhouettes never ripple.



 

Minha Kyun is a 10th grader from South Korea, attending Magee Highschool in Canada. Her poems are based on the things she experienced from living in different countries. She enjoys reading and taking short walks around her village. Her previous works have been published in Cathartic Magazine, The Borderline, and Arasi.



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