Dismay wrangles its way through her stomach and into a soft groan.
Eun-seong's grandmother pointedly ignores her as she places the banchan on the table, the bowls clattering like beads across her mother's dresser. It's the smell, really. It makes her nose wrinkle, her throat clench up - the kimchi is too pungent, the spice nipping at her tastebuds.
But this is how they eat, when grandmother comes over.
She sips at the soup instead, chews the spongy fish cake that sinks to the bottom of the bowl. She's always liked fish cake; it soaks in extra soup, seeping out when she bites through. Her little fingers grasp for a piece of bean sprout but a stern noise causes her to stop in her tracks.
Her father gestures to the chopsticks, lying to her right. She breathes out heavily, picking up the unwieldy tools. As she attempts to grasp it, the conversation fades with her focus, bits and pieces washing over her. How quickly she's growing, how the job search is going, how Soyoung's birthday is fast approaching - "Everyone will be so happy to see you," her grandmother says, her mouth a kind line.
4-year old Eun-seong smiles back, her baby teeth shining.
"Appa," she says, softly in the supermarket. Her father looks at her, his eyes quickly glancing to the left, then the right as he places a tin of canned meat into the cart. She finds it funny, how fast his pupils move; she wonders how fast they can really go.
"When's Ma coming home?"
It's been a week since her mother left for business - she does this often, and if Eun-seong was able to do math, she'd know that more time was spent out of the house than in. Her father, a freelance writer, found most of his duties relegated to the house. He didn't seem to mind, at least not when she helped him cut vegetables with her special turquoise knife, or measured the right spoonfuls of sugar into the bowl.
Most days, when Ma was due to come back soon, her dad would purchase some fruit, or some chocolate, or something she hadn't seen before to mix into a cake, or decorate the tops of tarts. But there was none of that today - just some cans, a few vegetables sitting next to her in the carriage, a tiny carton of eggs that's too high up for her to reach. She waves a leek to get his attention.
He smiles. "Actually, we're going to her on Friday."
Eun-seong's first vacation is spent on the shores of the Fifty-Fifth resort, her toes touching the water as she shrieks in glee. Her mother is nearby, finishing a last-minute message as she leans on her husband's shoulder, her fingers typing rapidly on a keyboard. Grandmother lifts her up, kisses her on the cheek, then sets her back down into the water. "My beautiful girl."
As the sun sets, her mother carries her onto a boat, which sails out into the vast waters. "Are you ready? Look, to your left!"
Her eyes widen, her jaw drops as an entire world sinks into the depths. She doesn't know why, but she starts crying. Her mother's embrace, comforting as it is, does nothing to allay the tears.
They travel a lot, for a family who isn't rich, but isn't poor. Eun-seong gets dehydrated on a trip to the Fifty-seventh, and has to ride on her father's back for the remainder of the hike up the volcano. She almost smashes a small pumpkin in the Fifty-sixth, her Aranica Petros princess costume billowing in the light breeze, and her parents need to whisk her away lest jumping spiders lie in wait (she doesn't touch pumpkin for the next fifteen years, thoughts of squirming legs and toxic fangs making her nauseous). They take a picture of her perched between two gigantic tusks of an elephant, and she smiles as wide as she can.
"Smile less wide, you look so scary!" her mother laughs.
Eun-seong does not know what that means.
When she returns home, they have a meal late into the night, the preparations the same as always. Her eyes are heavy when the soup is finally placed in front of her, and she refuses to touch the pickled apples, the pickled cucumbers, the tastes that make her mouth hurt. It's late, all she wants to do is go to bed. She takes a small bite however, as she hears a huff out of her grandmother's mouth - but just the smallest one, shards of spice dancing. She makes her distaste known, but it's muted, stifled as she takes another bite.