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    Loves Error

    I was climbing a tree without fear. The rough bark fragments were embedded in the palms of my hands. I stretched my undeveloped legs as far as they could go and firmly anchored them onto the branches. Just when I thought I had made it, the branch I grabbed onto broke. My arms flailed wildly, making a scraping sound against the tree trunk. I desperately clung to the tree with all my might. Chris’s voice calling out to me echoed in my ears.

    “Maxi, don’t move!

    Crying, I fell to the ground. My brother’s face came into view against the blue sky, then I blacked out. Twenty years ago, I blacked out like that, and today I woke up from a dream.

    Taking a deep breath, I became aware of reality. I sat up in the dark room. 4 AM. Suddenly, I missed Chris. I considered sending him a message with my phone, but instead, I pressed the call button. He was family; there was no need to be discreet.

    -Hey. What’s up?

    He sounded like he was driving.

    “Are you off work?”

    -Yeah. Another messed-up time zone today? How have you been?

    “I’ve been good. Did you finish work late?”

    -Just for today. Anyway, I was going to call you.

    “I mean, we haven’t talked in a while.”

    -Are you okay?

    “What.”

    -Just asking if everything’s okay. Is Jay still there?

    I remembered the view from Chris’s office to home in the autobahn. Passing through the Rhein Nekar region and onto the four-lane road towards Heilbronn, he always accelerated up to 180 kilometers per hour. Then, if he found cars not keeping up with his speed in the overtaking lane, he’d curse them as surely being Dutch. If the license plate said ‘NL’, he’d feel proud that he was right.

    -Maxie, why are you silent?

    “Don’t speed.”

    -You’re distracted again. Is Jay still there? Why isn’t that kid leaving?

    “He’s leaving. This Friday.”

    -Really? Are you okay?

    “Yeah, I’m good, I’ll send you next month’s schedule soon. See you then.”

    -Don’t forget to send it. By the way, Sylvia wants to know if you want anything to eat.

    “Tomato cream soup.”

    -Yeah, I was going to make it anyway since you like it. Let me know if you want anything else.

    “Okay, drive safely.”

    -Bye.

    After I got off the phone with Chris, I couldn’t sleep. I thought about going to the gym, but it was too early, and then I realized I had a car. I googled the ocean location I had marked on my flight from Shanghai. It was about an hour from here. I figured it wouldn’t be too bad.

    I changed my clothes and stepped out into the dark alleyway. I squeezed my body into the unfamiliar car that was parked in the underground parking lot. As the interior lights turned on, the alley brightened slightly. Silently, I drove the car as if escaping like a fugitive.

    The road was quiet. Occasionally, taxis passed by. By the time I got onto the highway, it was almost 5 am. Despite my own admonition not to speed, as if mocking my own words, I accelerated, wanting to see the sunrise.

    On my way to my destination, I found a small beach. It looked peaceful, which appealed to me. Unable to find a proper place to park, I ended up parking in a closed tavern parking lot, leaving a message and phone number apologizing for the inconvenience.

    A slight breeze blew in from the sea. I followed a roughly cemented path to the sandy beach. The beach wasn’t white, and there was trash everywhere. I looked around and saw that no one was around, so I lit a cigarette. Cupping my hands to shield the flame from the wind, I looked up. The sun was already rising.

    Perhaps because there were no overlapping images, memories with Han Jae-yi didn’t come to mind. The sea we used to visit wasn’t this lonely and cold, allowing me to fully enjoy my solitary time. The cigarette burned quickly.

    When I look back on human beings, I can say that I am a boring, uninteresting human being. While internally pondering various things, in the end, I was alone, merely enjoying the view of the sea.

    Chris once said something like that. He said it was really lucky that I was adopted into Germany, and if I had to adapt in another country, it would have been twice as hard. I agree with that opinion.

    Germans are straightforward and like manuals. They are people who need to tie knots accurately and leave records, even if it takes time, to satisfy their conscience. I fit well with all those characteristics, but especially with contemplation.

    In Heidelberg, there is a philosopher’s path where Goethe and Hegel walked. I love the path and have walked up it many times, and it’s a great place for contemplation. Sitting on a flat stone, when you look across the Neckar River, you can see a partially ruined castle. I liked the deliberately unrestored appearance better. In that idyllic village, Goethe had an affair with a married lover.

    Finding it ridiculous to have such thoughts, I put out the cigarette and turned back. I headed towards the tavern where I parked the car. As the shutters were being raised to start the business, I met eyes with the male owner. I apologized first and explained my situation. I had been briefly admiring the sea, and there was no suitable place to park. He glanced at me and gruffly said it was okay.

    “Well, it’s not like the ground is wearing out.”

    He said to himself as he changed the rusted tank water and turned on the oxygenator. Then he grabbed a red plastic bucket from inside the store and dumped the fish into the tank. Some of them dived helplessly to the bottom and didn’t move.

    “By any chance, do you serve breakfast?”

    It was an apology that came out unintentionally from me. The male owner glanced at me and then opened the door for me to come in. The hall smelled of fish.

    “What would you like to eat? Spicy stew?”

    Actually, I didn’t want to eat fish for two consecutive days, but I thought a stew wouldn’t be too bad. I nodded and took off my shoes. I climbed onto the raised floor with mats and took a seat at a table. Since it was a solo-run store, the male owner briskly went back and forth.

    After about 10 minutes, an outdoor burner and a small pot appeared on the table. There were quite a few well-fed fish. I ate the braised potatoes served as a side dish while waiting for the stew to boil.

    “Woo-il’s dad, is this sea bream dead? Oh, we have a guest.”

    A woman in her thirties, with a local dialect mixed in her speech, opened the door and came in. She seemed like the wife. Behind her, a boy who looked about six years old also came in.

    “Do you want me to make you a fried egg?”

    She asked me awkwardly as she looked at the table setting. I smiled and asked her to do so. She disappeared into the kitchen, and the little boy came over to the table and sat down. Playing with a dinosaur figure alone, he raised his hand to the table when he saw the dish his mom brought, saying, “Me too, I want some ham.”

    A soft-fried egg and pink ham made from flour dough were placed in front of me. They still sell this. It was the fake ham that I could have once a week when I was in the orphanage. I lowered the simmering stew and scooped some into an empty plate.

    “Would Woo-il like some breakfast, too? Come here.”

    She called the child over to the opposite table.

    “Tell him to eat here. You’re going to have a hard time cleaning up.”

    I pushed the ham dish in front of the little boy.

    “Do you know how to use chopsticks?”

    The kid nodded. He stared at me with wide eyes, then took a bite of ham with the stainless steel chopsticks I’d given him and popped it into his mouth. She brought a bowl half full of rice and set it in front of him.

    “Eat here with this handsome brother, Mom is going to go get some groceries. If you need anything, call your dad. I’ll be right back.”

    The child and I nodded at the same time. I was surprised that she could leave my five-year-old in the care of a stranger, albeit a customer, to go to the market. I tell myself that I must have made a good impression. The owner didn’t appear in the hall, so I didn’t know where he had gone.

    I had never done this before, so I didn’t know what to give him. He was holding a dinosaur figure and saying “kimchi…,” so I switched the plate of kimchi I hadn’t touched for a plate of bean sprouts. Luckily, he ate well on his own.

    That’s how we ate breakfast. My friend was just a kid, but it was nice to have someone to eat with. There was a lot of stew left, but I was full.

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