I will always remember summer nights as when my little sister Goosie and I would open the windows and listen to the silvery crik-crik-crik of the crickets and the rustling trees. One evening Goosie was unusually reflective, and at length she said,
“Teacher An was married today!”
I nodded. “You were at the wedding, weren’t you?”
“Yes. But…Teacher was crying!”
I shrugged. “Sad to leave her family?”
Goosie mused over this. Then a new thought struck her:
“Oh, Big Sister! Then do I have to leave you when I marry, too?”
I was thunderstruck, but quite splendidly I replied:
“We shall whisper secrets through the windows at night, and the trees and crickets will deliver our words to each other, so we will never be apart.”
“Ohh,” Goosie said, reassured, and snuggled back into her pillow. “You’re so wise.”
I wanted to be a botanist, while Goosie loved crickets. I couldn’t understand the way she stroked the shiny black insects as if they were newborn puppies, but I loved them for her sake.
“The sound of crickets and sighing trees will be our bond. As long as they live, we’ll never be completely apart.”
We both laughed then, and held on to each other as we fell asleep.
Soon after, Goosie fell in love with a boy named Giwon, a red-cheeked boy of few words. In a very short time they became the most famous couple in elementary school. Kids would squeal after them:
Who likes who?
Giwon likes Goosie,
Look at those two!
I felt amused and jealous at the bond I couldn’t share. Premature hormones, I sniffed. What do these kiddos know about love? Yet when we transferred to another school, and Goosie cried bitterly, I felt some real pain in their parting. That night, she whispered, “Will I ever meet Giwon again?”
“Don’t worry,” I said robustly. Having never had any boyfriends or even any memorable girl friends, I had no regrets about a fresh new start. “You’ll meet him again, I’m sure.”
And to my surprise, I was right. Three years later, when Goosie had advanced to sixth grade, we were visiting our grandparents for Korean New Year when we ran into someone very familiar.
“Giwon!” Goosie cried out, in astonishment.
It was Giwon, indeed. He had grown much taller, but his eyes now had a calmly surprised look, like the black surface of a lake when a bird has flown over it.
“Goosie?” he asked in disbelief.
Being a tactful sister, I said, “I have to help Grandmamma with supper. I’ll pick you up in half an hour, Goose.”
“Okay!” Goosie’s firm, puckered lips lifted, and she beamed with irrepressible joy.
For a half-hour of intense curiosity, I chopped potatoes, imagining a thousand different scenarios. Just as I had finished sliding the potatoes into the soup, I heard a knock. I wiped my hands and threw open the door.
“Why, Goosie—! You’re already back? I said I’d pick you up.”
I was shocked at her reply.
“No need,” was the weary, broken response, extremely different from the joyous laugh with which she had last spoken to me, “no need, no need,” and her little step toiled sadly into her darkened room. She shut the door.
“Goosie, darling? Whatever is the matter?” I stood outside her door.
“Go away, please, Big Sister.” Then the sad voice relented, and Goosie peeked out of the door. “I’ll tell you later: not now, please.”
Night came. Slowly Goosie undressed, slowly and tiredly as if drained of all strength. Her thin shoulders dropped and she dragged her feet. I heard a discreet sniff.
“Oh, Big Sister…it’s so strange!” She stopped. “One moment we were talking, and everything was so nice and comfortable, and then he suddenly leaned forward and…kissed me!”
“But,” I said, puzzled, “you’ve always liked him, haven’t you?”
“I suppose so,” she said, mournfully. “But – it felt – wrong, somehow. He wasn’t kissing me right. When it was over, he gave me this awful smile and…I…felt terrible then. And then – right after he had kissed me, another boy from our school was walking by and he yelled that old song,
Who’s kissing who?
“Then he cried, ‘Hey, Giwon! Why are you kissing that girl? Didn’t you give Yejin chocolates and confess your love to her this morning?”
Goosie turned abruptly to the wall and pinched her pillow with cold fingers, again and again.
“Oh, Goosie!” I said, and hugged her tight.
Goosie was silent for a long time. I thought she had fallen asleep, but then she said, softly, “We won’t have our crickets, shall we?”
“They die so easily…and besides, you aren’t going to plant your trees.”
It was true. I knew our dreams wouldn’t come true. I was in middle school, and I had already given up. But I didn’t say so. I just hugged Goosie even tighter and said, “Don’t reject your crickets just because there aren’t any trees. I wish I hadn’t stopped believing in my trees, either.”
“Then will you still plant your trees?”
“I don’t know. Yes. I will.” But my voice had no conviction in it, and she turned to me, her eyes blazing fiercely in the dark, and said passionately,
“You’d better tell me the truth! Are you going to give up on your trees or not?”
“Goosie, are you crying?”
“Of course not.”
I looked at her. She was.
“No,” I promised her, softly, “I’ll never give up on my trees. Or you.”
Goosie looked up at the ceiling, tears twinkling in her eyes, and gave a great gulp. She pulled her sleeve across her face and sighed. Then she turned to me, and hugged me back at last. In her usual warm, loving voice she said dreamily,
“Then I’ll keep my crickets, and they’ll watch over your trees…”
I smiled tenderly at her and brushed her cheek with my hand.
“Goodnight, little Goosie,” I said. “I love you very, very much.”