Oh Jung-hee’s “The Bronze Mirror,” published in 1982, received the Dong-in Literary Award in the following year. It’s a story about an elderly couple living with the memory of their only son who died some 20 years earlier. Over the course of a summer afternoon, they talk about death lurking just on the other side of life.
“Put that away. I said put it away. You, naughty girl, I’m going to tell your mother.”
The girl jumped around the yard like a ball and flicked the mirror this way and that. Frightened, the old woman went into the living room. The light from the mirror flashed past the animal figures left out to dry on the living room floor and quickly clung to the old woman’s face. The light exposed her face covered with wrinkles, like a crumpled sheet of aluminum foil.
“Hey, please go away. Stop it.”
The old woman nearly pleaded with the girl, but the child giggled like a little devil, perhaps finding the old woman’s sudden fear amusing, and didn’t stop playing with the mirror.
The light reflected off the mirror darted to the ceiling and then to the walls before coming to rest on a glass. Amid the silence that settled together with the fading light outside, only the dentures in the water shone brightly as if wanting to say something.
“저리 비켜~ 저리 치우라니까. 이 망할 계집애야, 네 엄마한테 이를테다“
“일러나, 찔러라, 콕콕 찔러라”
아이는 마당에서 공처럼 뛰어다니며 거울을 비췄다.
아내는 겁에 질려 마루로 올라왔다.
거울 빛은 마루턱에 늘어서 하얗고 단단하게 말라가는 짐승들을 지나
재빠르게 아내의 얼굴에 달라붙었다.
구겼다 편 은박지처럼
빈틈없이 주름살 진 얼굴이 환히 드러났다.
아내가 우는 소리를 내며 아이에게 애원했으나
아이는 아내의 돌연한 공포가 재미있는지 작은 악마처럼 깔깔거리며
거울을 거두지 않았다.
거울 빛의 반사가 잠시,
천장으로 벽으로 재빠르게 움직이다가
마침내 유리컵에 머물고
밖의 빛으로 어둑신하게 가라않은 정적 속에서
물 속에 담긴 틀니만이 홀로 무언가 말하려는 듯
밝고 명석하게 반짝거렸다.
Interview by literature critic Jeon So-yeong
That last scene is rather meaningful. The child was out in the yard, the world of light, while the old woman came into the room representing the world of darkness. The old woman was afraid of the mirror that the girl was playing with, because the quick, darting light appeared to symbolize the girl’s youthful vitality. The old woman in the dark room is like a dull bronze mirror that lost its sheen from being buried in the ground for so long. The author made the old woman realize where she stood in life through the medium of a child’s mirror.
Oh Jung-hee (Born on Nov. 9, 1947 in Seoul)
: Debuted by publishing “The Toyshop Woman” on Joongang Ilbo in 1968
Won Germany’s 16th Liberaturpreis Award in 2003
Published “Chinatown” in 1979