I hadn’t planned to write a sequel to Bird and Fish, until a fan sent an e-mail that said, I want to know what happened after the airport goodbye. A year later, I had her answer. Come breathe in their love story.
It’s Christmas time in NYC. Wendy is driving back home to eastern Queens. Jae Won is flying much further east.
From Sea and Sky, Chapter One: Live Well and Never Die
Hyun Jae Won was oblivious to all of Wings of Korea Airline’s amenities. His artist’s eyes took in the grays, blacks and whites of the terminal and likened them to Asian charcoal sketches, with flowing lines to symbolize flight. The slender forty-six-year-old with biceps so hard they stretched the black silk sleeves above his elbows, sat motionless on one of a row of plastic and metal chairs. Even now, with Wendy well on her way home, he could feel her hand on his arm sending shock waves through them both. As if the movement could conjure her, he placed his own palm on his upper arm pretending it covered hers.
A little girl with two raven pony tails above her ears sat across from him reading a Korean story book aloud. The book’s cover showed a silvery fish jumping over a rainbow. Jae smiled at his recollection. Wendy called him Fishman. It was just after she saw his drawing of a wriggling carp. He should have told her how much he appreciated the nickname. It reminded him of his university days when his fellow art students dubbed him Iksookimia after the long thin fish.
His knee began to twitch. Without his permission, his foot bounced on its front pad making his left leg pump up and down as if electro-shocked. Jae was just two or three heartbeats away from sprinting through the airline’s automatic glass doors, commandeering a yellow cab and ordering its driver to, “follow that car!”
His cab would bounce over the slushy remnants of last week’s snow, pull up in front of Wendy’s little Christmas chalet of a house where he’d jump out and drag her and her daughter back. Back where? The dream ended there.
The minhwa artist crossed his legs to keep from shaking. He was heading 6,871 miles further east than Wendy. The exhausting eighteen-hour flight would last six times longer than their pre-dawn love-making. Jae Won used the time to etch her into his memory. Soon he would paint her portrait in his first real artist’s studio in Seoul.
“Will the passengers boarding Wings of Korea Airlines flight 812 please….”
Amid the charcoal and chalk decor of the plane’s chilly interior and the travelers’ dark winter clothing, one passenger caught stewardess Moon Geun-Yong’s observant eye. Seat Q22 occupant had full tawny lips and strong jaw with a slicked back pony tail. The man in the black silk shirt paid no heed to the airplane’s over-active air conditioning. He was as slender as the passengers who flanked him but the young woman assumed his broad shoulders meant he was a Korean-American. She guessed he was in his late 4o’s and noted no wedding pongee. He could be an acceptable match for her divorced sister. She left him lost in what seemed to be a beloved recollection hoping to learn his 411 later.
Hyun Jae Won refused the stewardess’ offers of juice or tea. If he didn’t eat or drink it away, he could enjoy the silky remnant of lip gloss left by the New York goodbye kiss of the ever- disconcerting, driving-him-to-distraction and rescuing him from despair; Wendy Dale.
The middle-school teacher had stumbled into his store the afternoon she learned she had cancer. It’s a phenomenon of the twenty first century that we’re alerted to our most personal life-details not only in the privacy of our own homes, but also at supermarkets, on trains, or, in Wendy’s case, in a paint store. Holding the cell phone that cavalierly notified her of her malignancy, the usually graceful woman began to list like a ship as she asked him for a glass of water. He transferred her attention by massaging the soft under part of her thumb while instructing her to concentrate on her breathing. The next time his hands caressed that sensitive pressure point was the morning they made love in her parents’ county house. Wendy warned him, “if we have sex, we’ll reduce all our memories to lust.” She was right. After years of casual romps with liberated university students, local party girls and even a failed marriage, Jae knew the only woman he ever made love to was Wendy. He looked forward to filling the next 16 hours with flashbacks of that morning.
The artist leaned forward to remove his wallet from his back pocket. Behind five crisp fifty dollar bills and 200,000 rumpled Korean won was a half postcard sized water color portrait of a red-haired woman with a serene smile and closed eyes. Stewardess Moon hit her shin bone on the beverage cart as she backed-up three steps to catch a glimpse at what had the seat Q22 man mesmerized.
“Yep poi yuh.” The stewardess took note of the subject’s pretty face, “eul shim?” (is she sleeping?)
He answered in English to halt the conversation. “She’s dreaming.”