Perhaps some will tell you I am a liar. Perhaps they will say this memory is just mine alone, for there is only one picture of her. Only one. Taken the summer before her marriage. She is standing in a cradle of wind, the ends of her sleeves suspended in midair. Her shirt is the shade of ash. She is squinting as well; it must be the sun. Behind her, a fading gray. A cloudless sky that betrays nothing. Like the arms that hang limply at her sides. Like the mouth that has become one crease. Wisps of ebony hair caress her eyes. Her skin must smell of fresh lavender and dew.
            But I never knew who she was.

            I know this though: She was fifteen when she was married away. Indeed, she had been promised shortly after her birth, her family’s line already fading from a litter of daughters. She spent a single year with him in the town of P—, inside that terrible home with its endless halls, the hanji-papered walls, deep within the belly between its wings. She would move quietly through the maze of rooms, the newest mistress of this estate that could house an entire army of brightly robed sons. As she stepped carefully through the hallways, the maidservants would stop their sweeping, their fixing and perpetual polishing. They stood close to the walls and bowed deeply until she nodded. Yes, carry on.

            But for all this calmness, for all the elm wood chests filled with crimson silks, the balconies branching off to hidden rooms housing ancient scrolls consecrated with faint writing, for all this the paths still led to one place, the one body that possessed these territories, whose name was lord. He was the tiger’s shadow who stalked at night, hungry for her, whose footsteps chanted through the hallways, echoed in her room without a word, and she unwrapped herself before him.

            It was the first month of 1947. An awful coldness in the air that was no cooler than his skin.

            At night, her quarters were always dark; he preferred it this way. He preferred to steal underneath the umbrella of shadows to find her awake on her bedding, or if she seemed to be sleeping, to pull away the heavy blankets and feel the formless breasts rise involuntarily against his palms. She preferred the darkness too, though it was never enough to cease his hands, or keep him from moving his body until it lay on top her own, until it devoured her whole and she could feel him shudder, grimace. The delirious gaze that told her everything about him. And told her who she was. The darkness never enough to hide this.

            He would not stay with her to the morning. Not the first night. Not once. Never. Without a word, he slipped back into his robe and disappeared through the sliding door, the sight of him eventually erasing but not his smell, thick and without modesty, remaining on her no matter how hard she scrubbed, or what petals she pressed against her wrists. All this apparent in the dawn’s dimness when she awakened, the scent of him there, there, and there.

            After the second month in the house in P—, she could already feel it growing. The aching that woke her from slumber, from the center of a dream in which she could see her village still before her, the dogs padding along the main road, filling the afternoon with their short yelps, their wet snooping, and now the elder women are seated in small groups outside their doorways, smoking from reed pipes. They call out to her with their creaking voices, through their silver-studded teeth and plumes of breath, and soon the air is clanking. Somewhere, from beyond the village outskirts, there is the steady noise of a river growing louder. It’s a strong clamor, heavier than anything she has known. She looks up to see the mountains collapsing underneath the rushing water, entire forests being swept toward her upon the river’s rage. And when the current reaches her - it takes only a moment - she opens her eyes, and stumbles from her bedding to vomit into her wash bowl.

            When he hears of this, look how broadly he smiles. This man rewarding his handiwork with luminescent lips. He halts his undressing, places his hand atop her belly. Where is the lantern? There, he lights it to gaze upon the frail frame that will have to adjust if this child is to bear his kin.   

            If it is a boy, he tells her, there will be a great celebration. A boar will be slaughtered and roasted, an orchard will be harvested and its fruits set in pyramids upon silver plates. Gold will be melted down and formed into heavy rings, and plum wine will fill every cup for many nights. There will be much feasting, perhaps a family holiday. Birth portraits will be taken. 

             If it is a girl, well. She can have another child, and another. And do not despair if there are many girls, her daughters can help prepare for the celebration when it comes.


Hun Ohm is a writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has recently appeared in The Citron Review, Necessary Fiction, Literary Orphans, Bartleby Snopes, Gone Lawn and other publications.


Memories can be curious creatures, the way they fade or sharpen, shift into whatever shape they desire. Photographs are in a sense the very opposite - frozen moments, visceral yet physically unchanging. Still, there is often a fugue echoing between the two. How do photographs release memories, or mold them, perhaps even create new ones? And how do our memories disturb the story embedded within a photograph, and lead to the other tales just beyond the frame? The brief pieces in my “Photographic Memory” series endeavor to explore these phenomena.



Copyright 2009