The year that Hannah disappeared, the first frost came early,
killing everything in the garden. It took the cantaloupe and the
tomatoes; the leaves of lettuce turned brittle and snapped. Even
the kale withered and died. In front, the wine-colored roses froze,
powdered gray with the cold, like silk flowers in an attic covered
with dust. My father and I had planted the garden over several
weekends, and tended it carefully. Then it had overgrown itself,
the tomatoes winding themselves up the wall of our house and
stretching out to span the distance to the fence. After the frost
we'd left it all winter without trimming anything back. Now we
stood on the lawn, surveying the ruin, tracking damp patches of
ground wherever we stepped.
"We're selling the house," my father said, blowing warm air on his hands.
"That makes sense," I said, but it felt suddenly difficult to breathe. My parents had told me they were going back to Korea, so I'd known selling our house was a possibility, but I hadn't expected it.
"We're going to have to clean this up," my father said, gesturing at the garden.
"It's cold," I said. "Let's go inside."
He nodded. The tendons in his neck were taut. His breath steamed slowly around his face. Everything was inside out, or at least the cold had turned the insides of things visible. The green tomatoes were now gray and translucent, their skins puckered at the stems, still hanging from their frozen vines. "We want you to find Hannah," he said.
"When are you leaving?" I asked.
"As soon as possible," my father said.
"I want to go with you."
My father shook his head. "Find your sister," he said. He had blamed me after the initial panic, when we discovered that Hannah hadn't been abducted or killed, but had simply left without telling us, without leaving us a way to contact her. I was her older sister, living in the same city. He thought I should have seen it coming.
When I moved back home for the summer, my father grilled me about her. He wanted to know everything about the months prior to her departure: what she had looked like, what she had said. What I had noticed: why I hadn't noticed more. He was already sick then, but didn't know it yet. I wonder if Hannah would have been able to pick up and leave like that if she had known. Inside, we made tea and sat at our kitchen table, waiting for my mother to come down. My father's hands relaxed on the table, his fingers eased into a slight curl around his mug. They looked fragile against the smooth blue ceramic, his veins raised thick and soft. For a moment I wanted to cover his hands with mine, even though they had always looked like that.
Growing up, Hannah and I worried we'd inherit those veins, huge and tinged blue. It was true that my father's body had pulled into itself in the last couple of years so that his bones protruded, but his eyes were still sharp and discerning, and his hands were the same hands that had built this table, the same hands that refused to let anything go.
"I want to go with you when you go to Korea," I said.
My father grimaced. "It's more important that you find Hannah. You need to bring her home."
"I can't do that."
"She's your only sister."
"She's a brat."
My mother's footsteps sounded down the stairs, and together we looked toward the hallway. My father tilted his head and called out, "We're in the kitchen!" He leaned forward and took my hand in his. It was warm. He whispered, "Don't upset her."
One word about Hannah was enough to make my mother dissolve into tears for at least an hour. "Dissolve" was not too strong a word. When my mother wept, the whole world vanished. My father and I ceased to exist, and even Hannah's shadowy figure was obscured. This could happen anywhere, at any time - even in public. At first I wondered how my mother could sustain such anxiety, how one body could hold it all. Then I realized it was a question of density.
Excerpted from Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung. Copyright © 2012 by Catherine Chung. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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