Lifestyle & Culture

Weekend Reading: The Loved Ones

This multigenerational tale of inheritance and loss plays out in the Washington, D.C., area, where author Sonya Chung was born. Already known for Long for This World, Chung spins an elliptical tale of illicit love and costly reconciliations in The Loved Ones, published in October by Relegation Books. You can purchase it at local booksellers or online at Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

Holy Cross Hospital, Silver Spring, Maryland

1971

MANY TIMES she’d seen patients go under, as nurse assisting doctor; but this was her own first time. There was no question, at her age.

It’s not the sleeping but the waking that stretches on, endless. It begins pleasantly, a floating, thenlovedones3web dream and memory tumble in, flotsam and jetsam, shiny and broken . . .

Deep night, at the base of Jiri Mountain. She is holding her first child, baby boy, in her arms. Cold dirt floor, black silken sky through the window. Stars like diamonds. The child is tiny, and wet, and red. Come too early, far too early. Bleeding and pain, long pain, blinding blurring pain. This is not birth, she thought, this has to be death. The midwife is an angel of death; her husband the caretaker; this Quonset hut a gateway to the lower world. But then he wailed and wriggled, screamed at the stars; her heart wailed along, with joy, with relief. Her heart, her flesh. So tiny and red. He has his father’s cheeks and brow. Their baby boy, alive not dead, tiny and alive, come into the world. Life, only life! The window offers the infinite sky. Enormous, kind mountain. Down below, tangled bedsheets. She is wet and throbbing. Warm and wet and throbbing . . .

In the hospital bed she floats, waking, slowly waking. Thrashing, murmuring. Endlessly waking, still.

Deep night. Running, running. Stars shimmer then disappear, shimmer then disappear. Thin clouds glide westward. She keeps pace, gliding. Light on her feet. The moon glows white noise. In the pine grove, high on the ridge, he’d whispered to her. They plotted all summer—not with words, but glances, the tension of their bodies. She runs the whole way, a lithe girl, only just started her flow last spring.

Author Sonya Chung. / Photo by Robin Holland.

Author Sonya Chung. / Photo by Robin Holland.

She does not feel the autumn chill; breast thrumming with heat. She thinks of his small strong hands, intelligent eyes behind thick glasses. He is nineteen, a man; the landowner’s first son. He sees her as a woman, sees her; not just the tenant farmer’s little girl.

She arrives, giant pines rise up, reaching. Heaven above.

Breathing looking listening, in the dark, in the grove. Here he is; behind her now. She feels his bulge against the small of her back. Powerful sensation between her legs, a wetness, swirling, throbbing. The dark, sweet earth rising up beneath them, pulling them down, holding them up. Stars puncture the black sky above. Giant pines whisper, love whispers. Then his mouth, his hot breath, on her wetness, throbbing. This is death, she thinks, this is paradise, and she wants to die: surrenders, completely. Trembling, shuddering. His face now warm on her neck. He enters her, into the throbbing. Together now, they give up their breath, they die, they love, violently, perfectly, together. A war is on, but what does it matter, now, to them—North, South, Red, White—it is love that has invaded, conquered, taken possession.

She is waking, still waking, so long in waking. A tube twists, a needle digs into her vein. Fragments tumble then cease. Awoken.

A beige room. Blurry. A cold metal bar. A window. The buzz of yellow light. Eyes sticky, mouth dry. A face, lips moving. Arms holding it out to her, the swaddled bundle. The bundle is laid on her chest. Soon-mi shuts her eyes, wants to reach back to the grove, for the swirling and throbbing. But there is nothing. Where did it go. Her body is nothing, only a terrible ache and a tightness across her middle. This dry mouth, heavy head. The bundle moves, little elbows squirming. A girl, her daughter. Come too late, after everything; after too much. She is forty-three years old. Cut open in the middle. Where is her light-footed teeming body, her awakening soul. She looks down at the pink head and feels only loss, depletion; the end of love’s invasion.

—Sonya Chung

Excerpted from the novel The Loved Ones, published by Relegation Books in October.


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