Jeong-eun Hwang Savage Alice E ng l i s h
Savage Alice (야만적인 앨리스) Munhakdongne Publishing corp. / 2013 / 36 p. / ISBN 9788954622745 For further information, please visit: http://library.klti.or.kr/node/772
This sample translation was produced with support from LTI Korea. Please contact the LTI Korea Library for further information. firstname.lastname@example.org
Savage Alice Written by Hwang Jeong-eun
The dog stirs in its cage. The dog is probably wet. Even though there’s a tin roof over it, the cage is built so close to the ground that some of the rainwater would have gotten into the cage. The dog is probably looking through the mesh floor of the cage at the rainwater flowing below. Maybe it is thinking that the cage is flowing off somewhere in the currents. Is the dog nervous? Alicia pulls his cold blanket up to his nose and looks up at the ceiling. He listens to the sound of rain that dims and then hits the trailer hard as it sweeps by. What about the rain? Does the rain also stink? The water that evaporates from deep inside the water tank of the sewage treatment plant to become clouds and then fall over Gomo-ri smells like filth. It will be, for instance, yellow. The rain will be yellow. It will smell yellow. The pup that comes from the dog soaked in yellow rain will also be yellow. When the time comes, the adults at Alicia’s will eat it. Their bodies will also be yellow. How yellow. How yellow. What about people who come from a yellow person? Will they be yellow? As yellow as the dog and as yellow as its pup? Alicia makes plans to lure the righteous girl who ripped his little brother’s notebook and rip her into pieces. He wants to sneak up behind her and push her off some place. He could push her but that sort of thing is not so gratifying. Alicia wants that girl to never forget what happened to her. Not as an accident, but an effect brought on by a cause that she will remember very clearly and never forget. Tomorrow, Alicia will follow her. He will lure her by promising her a bowl of noodles. They will leave the school, walk past the tailor’s, the
bicycle store, and the fabric shop and turn into a narrow alley by the fire hydrant. In the alley, the girl will be ripped. Alicia will do it himself. He will be sure to do it the first chance he gets. You must be ripped the same way. He will also lead that bastard and the other bastard and that bitch who touched his little brother into the alley and rip them all to shreds. He will rip them to pieces so small they can’t be put back together again, and bury them all in that alley. And in the end, he’ll bury his little brother, too. Alicia hates that bastard most of all. He’s so weak that it’s repulsive. He’s a retard and a shit. He once came home with shit in his pants. He wanted to take a dump during class, but he couldn’t manage to raise his hand and ask for permission so he just shit in his pants. The smell wafted across the classroom from where he sat, and the children pinched their noses as they turned to look at him, and the teacher banished him to a corner of the classroom as punishment for soiling his pants. He sat on his own shit until school was over, and then came home. Alicia’s mother stripped him down in the front yard and washed the crusty shit off his ass with the hose they used to clean the dog cage. The high pressure of the water was painful and the boy fled to a corner of the yard where she chased him with the water hose and laughed. The retarded son of a bitch just sat there and went in his pants? You’re the only retard in the world who would do that, she jeered. She didn’t seem to mean much more by it than to make fun of him, but it started up again in the evening. Whatever was bothering her had her drag him out into the yard again to shove and yank and yell at him. She was sometimes like that, and when she was like that, she would not stop. When she’s like that, she’s not so much a person as she is a state. Like heated steel, she becomes hot and strong, changing even the temperature around her. This is fucked-up-ness. As it persists and accelerates, its context evaporates and turns into a fuckedup state that can only be call fucked-up-ness. Alicia and his little brother become exposed to this fucked-up-ness. The old man and their neighbors in Gomo-ri all know this. Because they are aware, they want to be unaware, and because they want to be unaware, they eventually
become unaware. Alicia may be able to explain her fucked-up-ness. Based on what he’s heard from her or his old man, Alicia may be able to say this: She so very wanted to study, but she could not, and she grew up with more than her fair share of abuse from the head of the household and was sent to the kitchen of a restaurant when she had grown up, and had her wages snatched each month by her father. When she fought to keep her wages for the first time, she was stripped, chased out of the house, and had to stand in the snow. She’s troubled because she cannot get over it. What a load of crap. Get lost, Alicia, who wants to justify her behavior. When she is like that, she does it because she wants to. In such moments, she is as transparent and simple as a drop of rain. She hits because she wants to. Because she hits, she wants to hit, and because she wants to hit, the hitting accelerates. It’s not that she cannot control herself; she doesn’t want to. Because it’s bothersome and embarrassing to build up a sense of morality that she must not hit, she gives up on the whole business and concentrates on hitting.
She would have been cold. The night she had to stand naked in the snow, she would have been cold. She would have been wearing her underwear. Because she’s a girl, they would have left that much on. Her skinny feet are planted in the snow. Her toes, buried in the snow, are red, and the tops of her feet are blue. Her ankles and thighs are so cold they almost feel warm. Her lips pressed against her fist are plum-colored and her black hair is wet with snow and clinging to her head. To hide herself from any passers-by, she goes around to the back of the house and leans against the chimney. She is in so much pain she stops all thoughts, clears her head, and looks up at the stars and moon that stud the cold night sky. She does not think of anything. She endures the cold for a few hours and then sneaks into the house. Her brothers, sisters, and
father are asleep. She looks down at the small head of her mother poking out from under the blanket. She takes an especially long look at her. Her father’s beating are so frequent and common that it is no longer new or curious. He wants to be this way, and he will continue to act this way whenever he wants to until he eventually dies. But she’s curious about her mother. Why doesn’t Mother do anything about it? Why didn’t she even check on me? Why didn’t she try to get me back inside? I was so fucking cold I wanted to die. Why is she sleeping with a look on her face like she didn’t even wonder about me? In the warm air that smells like old bedding, the smell of humans sleeping, and leftover noodle soup the family had for dinner, a fucking bitch germinates very quietly. The fucking bitch looks down at Mother sleeping so comfortably next to Father. The fucking bitch’s mother is a small, quiet person. She learned sewing in Japan and returned a good seamstress, and is an obedient woman who does not say or do anything violent. She had white, frail skin like noble people and does not behave badly. One could say she’s as innocent and pure as an egg. If you asked ten people, nine would say she was a kind person. She does not steal, argue, or raise her voice. She is hardworking, and humble to the point of having little presence wherever she goes, and laughs when others do. She seemed the most happy and peaceful when she’s peaceful and happy. She’s most peaceful and happy when she makes soup with the beef or peasant meat wrapped in newspaper that the head of the household brings home after a day of enjoying himself with the courtesans, and eats with the entire family gathered. She is full and peaceful. She is the original fucking bitch who begot fucking bitch no. 2.
When Alicia’s “fucking bitch” hits Alicia’s little brother, Alicia summons up all the “fuck” he can muster and turns into a warrior. The fucking warrior charges. He charges and charges. Fuck, there is no defeat for him.
That’s a lie. With no time for defeat, he waits for the moment to pass.
The night will be over soon. 5
Sleep, says Alicia.
A dog lies on the paddy ridge. This dog does not look like the dogs raised in Alicia’s old man’s cage. It’s small and its legs are short. Its hair is longer, curly and knotty. The dog has been there for some time and was not swept away in the rain last night. The stomach soaked in the rain is a little bloated. The dog looks bored and peaceful. It’s lying on its side with its tongue sticking out a little. If not for the dark red puddle under its chin, it would look like the dog is taking a nap. Alicia’s family steps over the dog as they walk along the paddy ridge. Father, Mother, Alicia, and his brother. They walk single file down the narrow, muddy path that sticks to their shoes. The old man walks at the head of the line. Dressed snappily in a jacket and slacks. He had rushed his family since morning to get ready and head out. On his small, round head sits a hunting cap he only wears when he’s traveling far. He doesn’t talk about himself without being asked, but when asked, he speaks excitedly. He was a war survivor. He grew up as the son of a farmer, and then joined the refugees going to the south from the north. Everyone was dead or lost except for his aunt, an uncle’s wife. He
walked with all his strength to not lose her, who tried to get rid of him every chance she got. He walked on with his eyes firmly fixed on his aunt who wouldn’t even give him enough to eat, but was separated from her in a forest fire. He scrambled up the mountain, running from the flames that kept sweeping uphill. When he got to the top, he was alone. When the flames were about to catch up with him, he swept the leaves and branches off the ground around him, and lay down in the circle of bare earth he made. The flames engulfed the leaves and branches surrounding the circle, and he survived. He walked to the south on his own and wandered, begging for food until he became a servant in Gomo-ri. Back then, there were still people living in Gomo-ri. The Nam family who employed him as a servant then no longer live in Gomo-ri. Their old house has long crumbled and gone. The family moved to the city and experienced all sorts of failures, and now own a large barbecue place they bought with the money that remained. The old man periodically pays them a visit, eats barbecue there, and comes home. Periodically, he also brings his family for barbecue. The old man says they are family. They are no different from my family. At a time when the war made it hard for everyone to put food on the table, they fed me, gave me a place to sleep, and work to do. It’s the polite, right thing to visit them every now and then. Alicia’s mother follows behind the old man, followed by Alicia and Alicia’s little brother. Alicia’s mother is wearing a green coat and lipstick. She follows her husband from the edge of the paddies to the bus stop. They wait for the bus under a tree that’s shed all its leaves. Gomo-ri villagers also waiting for the bus approach the couple. She asks the old man how the new house is coming along, and glances at his wife who is sitting primly on the bench with her small mouth tight. Before the first frost… The bus arrives before the old man gets to the end of the sentence, and the family gets on the bus. The bus is empty and they have their pick of seats. Alicia sits next to his little brother, and their parents sit in the row in front of them.
Without a word, they lurch as the bus takes them away. Alicia stares at the heads of the people sitting in front of him. The back of people’s heads sure look peculiar. - Hey, brother, Alicia’s brother whispers. - Are we having barbecue today? -… - I said, are we having barbecue today? - You like barbecue? - You don’t? - None for me, thanks. - Are we going to that place? -… - I don’t like meat at that place. -… - It smells. -… - It smells like killing cows. -… - I think they kill them in the kitchen right before they bring them out. It smells like blood and piss and cow shit. -… - Like the smell of a cow dying. - There is no such thing. - Why not? - You ever smelled it for real, brat? They arrive at the barbecue place at around noon. It’s across the street, and that is its name. It
really says “Across The Street” on the store sign. A woman in a rabbit fur vest comes out to greet them, but frowns when she sees who they are. The owner of Across The Street, she tepidly greets her former servant’s family. I trust everyone in your family is well, the old man inquires politely with his hunting cap in his hands. Alicia steps onto the sticky wooden floor of the restaurant that’s been soaking up barbecue grease for years, and watches the former servant and master greet one another. The restaurant looks like an old-fashioned house with a large indoor deck and heavy floor tables. While Alicia and his family sit quietly and straighten out the cups, napkin holder, and the spoon and chopsticks box, the restaurant staff come and go without much to do and not many customers, and leave the four of them alone for a while. Finally, a sullen woman with a northern accent brings them wet napkins and takes their order. The old man asks for two orders of beef seasoned with just salt and pepper and then grills them. He sits cross-legged on the floor and rocks back and forth with his hands grabbing his feet as he waits for the meat to cook. He wipes the sweat off his forehead with the wet napkin he used to wipe his face and neck as he turns the meat over and eats meat and rice wrapped in lettuce and sesame leaves. He eats voraciously and loudly as though it is far more delicious than any food he eats at home. When there are just a few pieces left, he raises his hand to summon the owner – Miss! – and the woman sighs. Filthy cunt, Alicia’s mother whispers and the old man asks indifferently for more food. Barbecue, rice, and soup. He chews and swallows until his clothes and skin are saturated with the smell of grilling meat.
Alicia’s little brother asks if he keeps going there because Father has no siblings and he’s lonely. Alicia’s mother says he goes there to become more cheerful. - It’s revenge. It kills that bitch. It kills her to accept the fact that she must wait tables for a former servant who’s returned as a customer. It makes her uncomfortable and bitter. Her face
crumbles because she can’t say to his face, You used to be a servant who wasn’t even allowed to set foot on the porch, that shriveled bitch. Your father goes there to see that. There could be no other reason for him to go spend money at a store run by the people who used to be his masters, who made him sleep in a shed no better than a stable, fed him leftovers and gave him hand-me-downs, and looked down on him. If that’s the reason, then he’s just a damn retard. As his masters belittled him, he must have fed his desires to be well-off. He thought to himself, You’ll see. He pushed himself and pushed himself to get the means to buy a house and land. He built up the will to become someone who can hold his head up high. To get back at the people who looked down on him for being an orphan and a servant. That’s why he keeps going there. He insists on going so he can go back and be belittled again, says Alicia’s mother. - That hit the spot, says the old man. In Gomo-ri, there’s a puddle called the Gomo-ri Puddle. It used to be a small puddle, but the water and fish that flowed in from a nearby outdoor fishing pond turned it in to a fishing spot. Everyone including Alicia’s old man who knew about the Gomo-ri Puddle fished there instead of going to the outdoor fishing pond where they had to pay for a spot. When the weather was nice, the old man picked up his fishing rod and headed down to the puddle with Alicia carrying a bag full of food and other odds and ends. To get to the Gomo-ri Puddle, they had to go far down toward the edge of Gomo-ri and then walk through a thicket of overgrown bushes off the path. Alicia’s old father walked briskly as young men do whenever he walked down this path. When he finally arrived at the puddle, he opened up his favorite fishing stool and settled down on the edge of the puddle with his line cast in the dirty, foamy water. He sat motionless like other fishermen spread out around the edge of the puddle staring at the
water, and energetically reeled the line in when the float moved. The fish thrown on the ground writhed about so hard that one could feel the strong force of the notochord that ran along its firm, clean flesh. It was usually Alicia’s job to pick it up and put it in the pail. When Alicia shrank, repulsed and afraid as the fish thrashed hard in his hands, his father guffawed as though it was funny. Before he returned home, he released most of the fish he’d caught. He never said much at all when he was at home, but turned into a confident, talkative person when he was down by the puddle. - You know something? Once, leisurely, he’d told this story. All lives are precious. Everyone’s life has the same value, you know? Long ago, when my brothers and my family were all alive, my father had an older brother. My uncle. He was a big guy. The village goon. When the commies came to our village, they saw this big guy and gave him a title and an armband. He wasn’t the sharpest tool, just a big guy with a lot of energy who didn’t know what being a commie meant, but he was happy they gave him an armband. He would strut around the village wearing it. You can imagine just how much it went to his head, going from the damn village goon to someone who gets to walk around the village with other men his size and boss people around. He never imagined the ROK Army would come up from the south. He had no idea he would end up being chased. When the ROK Army came, he fled with the commies. After that, my uncle’s mother – my grandmother – heard rumors that he died somewhere, was captured with the commies he fled with, executed by firing squads, and buried in a ditch somewhere. So she set out with her gardening hoe to find her son. She dug everywhere, day and night, and given the times, you can imagine the number of bodies buried out in the woods and fields. There were bodies everywhere that were so sloppily buried in shallow graves that she could dig them up with a hoe, you understand? So she became the “hoe grandmother.” That was her nickname. She would dig and dig and dig day and night until word got around that she’d lost her mind, and when she came across a body, she would look at it closely to see
if it was her son, and if it wasn’t she would apologize – I’m sorry, I’m sorry – and then bury it again. So why did she go to all the trouble? I shouldn’t talk about him this way, seeing that he’s my uncle and all, but a fucking goon who went around the village stabbing neighbors with bamboo spears is still a precious, valuable person to his mother. You understand? I’ve lived this long, and this is what I’ve learned. People. People like you and me and your mother – we’re all precious and deserve sympathy. There is no life that was born and raised in this world that isn’t precious.
- You understand? He said in his hushed, impassioned voice and ceremoniously held his pail upside-down over the puddle. The fish, their mouths ripped from the fish hook, spilled back into the puddle along with the water in the pail opaque with blood. Alicia stood behind the fishing stool and watched the old man. He kept two or three fish for himself, gutted them right there and dried them in the sun before taking them home. At home, the old man took the fish that was dried half a day in the sun, and fried or grilled it himself. No one wanted so much as a bite of that fish that smelled like filthy water. You understand? He said this as if it was something only he knew, and this was his habit, but Alicia thinks that he is ignorant. If you’ve ripped its mouth, you should eat it or kill it. Alicia can’t trust someone who goes on about the value of life as he rips the fish’s mouths and sets them free.
Alicia gazes into the Gomo-ri night.
The path unlit by streetlight is unexpectedly bright. The alleys in a village with so few people and even fewer walking by are bright under the moonlight. In the cracks of broken bricks on the ground, dandelions reach for the moon. Tonight, the wind is blowing in a different direction and the air is clear of the subtle stench of the sewage treatment plant for the first time in a while. The construction site where the sewage treatment plant is being expanded, the dogs in their cages, and the vicinity of the old man’s house close to completion are all steeped in the night. It is calm and still. The workers, tired from their day-long labor of building the house, are gathered and asleep in one of the three trailers. Alicia and Alicia’s little brother are also in bed. The light is still on in the trailer the old man and his second wife occupy. The old man is watching the midnight news on TV. A bank has gone bankrupt from managing their capital in an inefficient and unethical way. A secondary bank, the bank had always been known as a large, solid corporation and was open for business like any other day until the day before it went bankrupt. Someone deposited ten million won the day before it went bankrupt. Others deposited two hundred thousand, or two million, or four million. Someone deposited the last installment of a fifteen-year installment-plan savings account. None were able to get any answers from the bank teller. They say some people withdrew all of their money right before the bank went bankrupt, but most did not see it coming. The country was buzzing all day with this news. People banging on the door of the bank with its security shutters down and hanging around the bank looking like all hope was lost appeared on the screen in the morning, afternoon, and the evening, crying, pleading, and raging. Alicia’s old man guffaws. Look at all that fuss, he says and laughs innocently without the slightest gravity or ill-will. They’re acting like that now because they can’t withdraw their money. The bank has all their money and they can’t get it back, you see. The old man’s second wife sits by him, gnawing on the night.
- Hey, says Alicia. Do you want me to tell you a story? -… - Hey. -… - There was the Neko. -… - The Neko was… -… - … a round-shaped living thing. Whether you look at it from the side, back, or front, the Neko was a round living thing. It lived for a long time, drifting without gills or anything. Naturally, it sometimes got hot or cold. Sometimes, it got flipped upside-down or something got stuck to it, or even had parts of it fall off. -… - In the heart of the Neko was a whale, but the Neko lost the whale like that a long time ago. - The whale? - And the Neko thought, Too bad. It was a magnificent animal. - Hey, brother. - What. - Neko means that thing. - What. - It means “cat.” - That neko and this Neko are different. - It’s a cat. - They’re different, brat. - So did Neko cry?
- What? - Did the Neko cry when it lost the whale? - It didn’t cry, but since it was a Neko, it said, Oh. And it kept drifting. - Oh. - Ohhhhh, it cried and kept drifting. And then one day, something cold got stuck to it, laid eggs, and left. - Ew. - The things that hatched from the eggs were furry and had fingernails and teeth, and most importantly, they were bipedal. - What’s bipedal? - It means they can stand up straight, brat. - Okay. - The small furry things started to roam the surface of the Neko. - Doing what? - Eating their fill, sleeping, and… - And? - Mating. - What’s mating? - Making babies. - Oh. - Yambo had Yamzi, Yamzi had Yammo, Yammo had Yamzo, Yamzo got together with Yampa and had Yammari, and Yammari and Yamniza had Yamyam. - Wow. - That’s a lot, isn’t it? - That’s a lot.
- So what do you think happened since there were a lot of them? - Um… - Since there were a lot of them, they may have poked themselves in the bellybuttons, right? - Why the bellybuttons? - Just by accident. When Yamniza poked itself in the bellybutton, Yamniza said, Oh, and then it died. - It died? - So the Yams found out that you die if you poke the bellybutton. -… -… -… - So the Yams lived on the Neko, sometimes killing each other by poking each other in the bellybutton. Eating the moss that grew on neko, busy being bipedal and mating. -… -… - And then what? - They ate moss, pooped, raised dogs. - There were dogs? - Went fishing, built houses, made money. The Yams made these things called clams that they exchanged like money. - Clams? - Clams. - Like the clams? - They looked like those clams, but they were made by the Yams so they must have been different. Anyway, they had these things called clams, and since they had them, they had to go
earn them. Naturally, they said things like How’s your clam situation? Pay me back my clams. I’m all out of clams. More clams. Clams is killing me. And then naturally, one of the Yams thought, What is clams? It was Yammari who first thought that. It put a clam on the ground, flipped it this way and that, and then crossed its arms and thought, What is this? What is this object that makes life so bothersome for the Yams? And so Yambo, Yamzi, Yampa, Yammari, and all of them got together to talk about this.
- The Yams cannot go on living like this. - Clams is bad. - Let’s bomb the clams factory. - What if the Neko blows up? - The Neko is not that weak. - But how do we make the clams factory blow up? - Press the bellybutton. - Does the factory have a bellybutton? - Doesn’t it? - No, no, it doesn’t. - Anyway, let’s go, Yams.
- The Yams who had vowed to take action were marching down to the clams factory in single file when it happened. They were crossing a square full of Yams when a Yam got hit by a car. - They have cars, too? - Yes, they have cars. A Yam got hit by a car and was seriously injured, and shiny clams burst from the Yam’s pocket and scattered on the ground. The Yams around them said, Oh, oh, oh, as they rushed to pick up the clams. It was a huge mess. There was even a Yam among those
marching down to the clams factory who secretly pocketed a clam that had rolled nearby. Yammari also picked up a clam, but as it ran its fingers over the clam in its pocket and looked at the other Yams, its face turned red. Hey! it cried. We are hopeless. Clams are not bad. Yams are bad. Yams have been bad to begin with. And Yammari pressed hard on its own bellybutton. - Yammari died? - And so Yammari was gone, and then Yambo was gone, and Yamzi was gone, and Yammo was gone, and Yampa was gone, and Yamniza was gone. - I thought Yamniza was already dead. - What? - Didn’t you say Yamniza died earlier? - This is Yamniza Jr. - Ah. - Yamniza Jr. was gone, and Yamyam was gone, and while all these Yams poked themselves in the bellybutton and died, there was a pandemonium in the square and during this pandemonium, the Neko was passing the brightest galaxy. - What’s a galaxy? - The universe. -… - The Milky Way. -… - It must have been splendid, don’t you think? Because it was the Milky Way? - Uh-huh. - It must have been awesome, don’t you think? Because it was the universe? - Uh-huh!
- So it’s not hard to imagine how the Yams must have reacted. With both hands full of clams, they watched with wonder as the bright lights of the galaxy spread over the Neko’s atmosphere. - Ooh. - While the Yams were so exited they could die, the Neko quietly flipped over. - What does that mean? - It means it died. - What, it died? - They all died. - Wow. -… - Wow.
His head feels numb where he was hit. The galaxy will be moving over Alicia’s head tonight as well. It will flow soundlessly over the steel box where Alicia and his little brother lie side by side. It sounds quiet only because it can’t be detected by human ears, but in fact, it’s probably flowing noisily, making a sound so deafening you can’t even imitate it. Just once, Alicia has seen the galaxy. It was after the sun had gone down, but there was still a glimmer and it was not yet completely dark. He was wandering the Gomo-ri fields when he happened to look up, and there it was. A stream of light that looked like red sand spilled across the sky was flowing over his head. It was blurry but real. It didn’t occur to him until later that he’d just seen a kind of galaxy, for he was busy looking up at it with his neck cocked back until his neck ached and his head spun. Massively and coldly overwhelmed, he simply saw without consciously looking. When he briefly looked down to shake off the
dizziness and then looked up again, the galaxy was gone. If what he read in the magazine he found at Gomi’s junkyard was
true, the galaxy was expanding. The things in it where
moving away from each other at an alarming speed. How far had they gone now? How much has
space – the part with no stars or anything – in the galaxy mushroomed?
Anyway, it’ll be splendid. It’ll be massive and beautiful. The parts where stars and cosmic dust are concentrated will look like locks of red hair, purple flowers, the head of a valiant steed, or yellow and blue pupils. It’s busily expanding right this moment. In the galaxy that’s expanded and expanded and the distance between the stars have become tremendously long, Alicia will be less than a speck. Alicia’s pain will also be nothing, less than a speck of dust.
That kind of galaxy is a dick. A galaxy where Alicia’s pain means nothing is in turn nothing to Alicia. - You asleep? Alicia asks his brother in the dark. Hey, you asleep? Like Alicia, his brother is probably lying with his head, back, stomach, and fingers swollen. Tonight, they lie under the covers radiating more heat than usual because they’ve been hit. The muscles hurt around his stomach where he’d been hit, so he’s likely taking shallow, constrained breaths through his chest instead. If he’d bitten his tongue hard when she’d slapped him, his tongue will taste salty and feel uncomfortable against his molars right now. It’s dark and he can’t see, but there is rubbish scattered all around where they lie – pieces of books and objects Alicia’s mother tore, crumpled, and hurled. If someone said this was nothing, that person would be a dick. If a galaxy appeared and said that, the galaxy would be a fucking dick.
- I just had a dream, Alicia’s mother said. Locks of hair clung to her sweaty temples. I had a
dream that a mosquito was whining somewhere, and it wouldn’t stop whining – eeeeeeee. It kept whining it was so fucking annoying, but I couldn’t find it anywhere. Just the fucking whining and tickling my nose. And then – guess what? – it landed on my calf. I slapped it but it wouldn’t get off. I slapped and slapped, but was stuck there, you see? And then it cried eeeeeeee again and dug into my skin. Eeeeeeee. Into my leg. Eeeeeeee, you see? So there was a hole in my leg now, and I looked inside, the mosquito in there was you and that little shit. I tried to dig you out with my finger, and you started eating my finger. Eeeeeeee, and you ate the whole finger, you see? Until there was just you left, you hear me? Just you two, huh? Would that piss me off or not, huh? - It would piss you off. - Then count. And Alicia and his brother began to count. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. And then they lost count. - Why aren’t you counting? She asks. I told you to count. Why don’t you count when I tell you to count? You can’t even count how many strokes? Did you forget? You’re a dumbass who doesn’t have the brains to count, so we gotta start over, right? It was all your fault for losing track, so we’ll start again from the beginning. Count. From the head down to the tailbone. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Ten one. Fuck. Ten two. Ten three four five six seven eight what comes next, huh? What comes next? Alicia’s mother tamed the animals. In her fucked-up state, as a fucking bitch, she tamed the animals she had from skull to tailbone. When she swung at the animal, she pulled her arm far past her shoulders and put all her weight into it. When she grabbed them by the shoulder, she dug into their collarbones with her thumb, punched them in the stomach when least expected, and when she repositioned them, she pulled them by the hair on their crowns. She pulled their ear, slapped them, hit them from the wrong angle and sprained her finger, let out a cry, fell to the ground, jumped right up, and went for the animal’s throat. The one who hit and the one
being hit both vomited during this time, and her black eyes became as small and dense as a steel marble. Sweat gathered in the slender chin, the jaws were clenched so tight it seemed about to be crushed, and the ears had blanched. His clothes soaked up her strokes until they were shiny, soft, and smelled like burning skin. Alicia’s old man was out there somewhere. While Alicia’s mother tamed her animals, he appeared a few times and tried to stop her. Don’t. Don’t do that to the kids. Then at some point he slipped away. He would return when it was quiet again. He would reek of alcohol and talk to himself, or fall asleep faster and deeper than Alicia and his brother. He did not confront the fucking bitch. He would have lost anyway. It is not that he is old and she is still young. It does not occur to him to confront her. The fucking bitch is stronger than anyone when she’s a fucking bitch. She is invincible. She said she could have gone places. But, she said as she shoves Alicia’s brother’s head with her finger. She stabs him in the forehead that’s shaped like a western pear because he was clamped and pulled out by the head when he was born, and says, They say this retard’s head tore me up down there. Do you know that pain? Do you know the pain of a mother, you retarded sons of bitches, answer me. My body is finished. Finished because of your unbelievable heads. First you, and then you, and now my uterus has been ruined. If my body hadn’t become like this, I would have left a long time ago. I would have gone some place better, richer, more exciting. I would have been treated better at a place like that, huh? Uterus, she says spitefully. She said she once had something called a uterus.
- A uterus. - It’s a place where babies grow. Gomi says women bleed there. He says the woman who used to live with the junkyard guy used to put a red piece of cloth in the kettle. - She said you have to boil it to stop the bleeding.
- I hear women’s bodies are like that, says Alicia. - Fuck. - Gross. - Horrible, Gomi adds and spins around. The pleated skirt covering the lower half of Gomi’s body flares up and sinks again. As though amazed, Gomi looks down at it and spins once more. And again and again, and he begins to cock his head back and spin around with his mouth hanging open. He turns clockwise and then counterclockwise, making the skirt wrap around in one direction like a morning glory and then unwrap in the other. The skirt smells like stale gasoline. Alicia puts down his magazine on his lap and tells Gomi to stop spinning or it will make him dizzy. Gomi says he is not dizzy. - If you keep your eye on one spot, you don’t get dizzy. And look, if I do this… like this… look, I’m floating. Floating. Look, look. Then Gomi collapses on the ground. He lies face down on the floor messy with knickknacks and catches his breath. Alicia reads an article on an indigenous tribe that was found somewhere in the Amazon. The tribe, which only had five members remaining, lived in a part of the Amazon that was so perilous to access that they were only recently discovered. The ones who found them in the jungle were researchers studying rare plants. The three photographs they took were published in the magazine. Their place of residence, a simple structure of sticks so that they can always abandon it and leave, seems to have no signs of fire. The members of the tribe who seem to have somewhat similar bone structures have red faces and eyes. The man who seems like the tribe leader is craning his neck toward the camera as though curious. His arm, half of which is outside the frame, is as thin and flat as a child’s. The author of the article concluded the story by expressing concern over infections or the possibility of the tribe’s complete annihilation from coming in contact with the outside world so suddenly. Alicia flips through the magazine and finds the date. It was published in the summer ten years ago. Is the tribe
still there? Are they still living somewhere in the Amazon? Are they still building and destroying simple houses of branches and leaves and still wandering the jungle? If theyâ€™ve been wiped out, where are their bones? Even if their faces were red, their bones must be white. Did the bones sink properly into the damp earth? What about the light bones that did not? Did the animals eat them? Did the monkeys and lizards eat them? Alicia flips the tenyear-old pages with his bruised hand. The bruises are yellow and red, as though the color rubbed off from the yellow and red hand that grabbed him. Gomi lies on his stomach and touches Aliciaâ€™s elbow. He puts his fingers on the three long finger marks, then pulls them away, and back. - Report it to the police, says Gomi. - Who? - Report it and make them pay. - Who? - Your mom. - If I report her, would she die? - She probably would die. - Okay. - Are you going to do it? - Yes, says Alicia as he turns the page. He reads the words that look shadowy and slanted in the evening light. Soon, the sun will go down completely and they will have to turn the light on in the room. The window is up too high and so narrow that itâ€™s already quite dark in the room. A fly buzzes in the light and vibrates its brown wings. Gomi lies on his back with his hands on his chest and stares up at the ceiling. - Or you could run away, says Gomi. - Where?
- Wherever, just run away. - Yeah, right. - Or ask for help. - Ask who? Alicia asks. - You have an older brother and a sister, comes the answer. Older brother and sister. They are the children of the first wife. The children of the woman who died young. Alicia thinks they are different people. Different from the old man or little brother. That’s probably because they look like the woman who died. They are bigger and have droopy eyes. Their mother must have looked like that, and they must take after their mother. No. Alicia hasn’t spoken with them very much before, and they’re as good as strangers. Gomi thinks about it and then says that there must be a burger place somewhere in that neighborhood. - Sure. - Then we’ll go for some burgers there and call them while we’re at it.
Alicia and Gomi pull out their money and count it on the floor. Alicia has coins and Gomi has more coins and bills. We can get burgers with this. Alicia waits for Gomi to comb his curly hair in front of the mirror, and they leave the house together. The junkyard man is separating glass from plastic in one corner of the junkyard. Alicia and Gomi race across the junkyard and leave the gates before he has a chance to stop them. It’s a small accomplishment, but it makes them excited and happy as though they’ve made it past an important step. Alicia’s brother, who’s been scratching the belly of a cat lying in sunlight with a wooden stick, tosses the stick and comes along. - He’s following us. - Brother, where are you going? - Go home.
- I want to come, too. They kick each other in the butt as they make their way out of Gomo-ri and reach the open field. Unnerved by the speed and sound of cars going by, they carefully walk single file down the shoulder of the street without a pavement. When they make it past the open field, looking like three feathers caught in the storm, they become rowdy again. Among the pedestrians, they yell or break into a sprint for no reason, walk when they run out of breath, and then take off again. They weave through the crowds like light, transparent things. It is fun to bump into people as they run, crawl through people’s legs, jump over their heads, and go through them like light. Brimming with courage, everything is going their way. They are more encouraged with every step they take. We’re calling this the Burger Trip. They name their journey. The Burger and Brother Trip. Because we’re meeting our brother and getting our burgers. They will fill their mouths full of a rich, savory taste. The mayonnaise will be savory, the bread will be sweet, the lettuce fresh, and the brother friendly. Alicia will tell his siblings everything. They will rage with Alicia and call the fucking bitch a damn fucking bitch. They will take in Alicia and his brother and provide them a safe place to sleep beside them. Alicia slips into a phone booth. He drops the coins in the slot and waits for the signal. - Shh. This is the moment the coin drops with a clink and Alicia’s half-sister appears to say, - Hello? -… - Hello? -… - Hello? - It’s me. - Who? - Me.
-… -… - What’s wrong? -… - Did father have a stroke? - No. -… -… - Is the house ready? -… -… -… - Why did you call? -… -… -… - What is it? -… - I said, what is it? Alicia feels like a retard. I’m a retard. I’m already a retard. This retard can’t manage a word. I’ll be a retard if I don’t say anything, and I’ll be a retard if I do say it. What would I say anyway? I have nothing to say. I came here pumped with the thought of telling them, but now that I’m here, all I have is that – the thought of telling them. I will tell her, I will tell her. I will tell her that thing. That thing. That thing that my sister knows. That thing and that thing that my sister does not want to know. That thing and that
thing and that thing. If I tell her, would she become friendlier? Would she be friendlier to me? If I tell her that thing, that thing. He is angry. He is so angry that tears spring to his eyes, but he can’t cry because then he’ll be even more of a retard. Alicia puts the receiver back on the cradle without a word and hangs up. - What did she say? - What did sister say? Alicia’s brother and Gomi ask behind him. Alicia turns the rest of the change in his hands and then picks up the receiver again. He drops the coins into the slot, waits a moment, and dials his older brother’s number. If he picks up, Alicia’s really going to say it this time. He’s going to tell him that he’s a fucking shit. He’s going to tell them that they’re dicks. As he listens to the phone ringing, he scratches the phone with a coin and glares at the flat, smooth buttons. His brother doesn’t pick up. Maybe it’s the wrong number. Alicia hangs up and steps out of the phone booth. The air is cold. Gomi and Alicia’s brother watch him nervously from a few steps away. Alicia could go looking for his older brother and sister. He’s been there once, so he could find his way there if he tried. The old man and mother had gone with him then, but he could find it on his own. He remembers which bus they took, and at which stop they’d gotten off. He has to get off at the bus stop, and go up the street with the big bakery, make a right at the kindergarten with a large, red slide shaped like a snail, and he’ll be at their house. There will be a black gate that makes your hands sticky if you touch it, the stairs, the veranda with the old flower pot, and the boiler will be making a hoarse sound as it runs on the outside wall next to the door with the opaque glass. His older brother will be there. He was there a few years ago, so he will still be there now. - Hey, brother. Beyond the concerned face of Alicia’s younger brother, store signs come on one by one. They
flicker, Cosmetics, Beer, Café, Eels, Barbecue, Karaoke, Eels, Designated Branch, Guitars, Guitars, Fuck, Guitars. It’s gotten dark. Alicia suddenly realized he’s in an unfamiliar place. There is nothing and no one. Alicia is the biggest retard of all the people on the street.
When Alicia says they’re going back, Alicia’s little brother’s shoulder slouch with despair. What about the burgers? What about the burgers? When Alicia immediately turns around and starts walking away, the little brother cries, Ah! Hey, burgers. They head back to Gomo-ri. They walk along the darkened shoulder, past the open field, and then enter Gomo-ri. Alicia leads the way, followed by Gomi and the little brother. The dog is lying on the paddy ridge. Its stomach is so bloated its four short legs are reaching for the sky. - I’m hungry. -… - Hey, brother. -… - Hey. -… - I said I’m hungry, you bastard. Alicia turns around and looks at him. Under the streetlight, Alicia’s little brother hangs his head. There’s a white film of dust on his face, and tear streaks running down his cheeks. - I’m hungry. - What did you say? - You said we were gonna get burgers. - I asked you what you said. - We didn’t get to have burgers because of you.
- Whatever. - I’m still hungry. - Shut up, retard. -… - Get lost, retard. -… - Get lost. - I’m not a retard. - What? - I’m not a retard, you bastard, he cries and charges at Alicia, who sees his black head come at him like a fist. Without thinking, he pushes his head aside. The little brother totters at the impact and falls down. Alicia thinks he’s going to start crying, making an incredibly loud noise, but he gets right on his feet, and charges at him again. He swings his fists, tries to kick him in the shins, and then tries to knock him down with his head again. Even his scalp has turned red as he repeatedly tries to get close enough to hit him. Taken by surprise, Alicia pushes him and pushes him until he takes a punch in the stomach and wants to kill this little bastard. He’s resolved to kill him. He clenches his jaw, grabs the little brother coming at him, and rolls with him on the ground. You little shit, you little shit, he says as he swings his fists and kicks like the little shit did, but they’re too close together that they mostly end up hitting and kicking the air. When the little brother claws at Alicia and gives him a nasty scratch on the chin, Alicia puts his arms around him. He holds his little brother tight and laces his fingers so he can’t struggle anymore. The little brother lies on top of Alicia and tries to wiggle out, but eventually calms down. The little brother’s head, which is crushing Alicia’s chin and neck, smells like salt. Each time he inhales, Alicia feels him push against his stomach. After a few pushes like that, Alicia begins to feel his stomach turn empty and he’s
so deflated he cracks up. Like a few thousand folds of wrinkles in his stomach expanding and contracting, and then deflating as the air escapes through a hole in one of the wrinkles, it flutters and tickles. It’s not that funny, but a great big laughter ensues and they nearly die laughing. Gomi, who’s been standing by the side of the road watching them says, Let’s go, and starts 30
walking. Alicia’s little brother also gets up and holds his head up high. He brushes his hair back as if he’s fine, but Alicia can see that his ears and cheek are red, even in the dim streetlight. - Hey, Alicia calls him, but he walks on without responding. Does it hurt? Alicia puts his hand on his little brother’s head, and the little brother slaps it off. - Hey. -… - You wanna hear a story? -… - Hey. Alicia snickers as he follows him. They move out of the streetlight and into the darkness, and I lose sight of them, remaining alone in the night.
The old man’s house was finished before the first snow. There was a small entrance, and a simple structure of first, second, and third floors and the yard had no cobblestones or shrubs.
The dog cage is moved to one corner of the yard and their things are moved from the trailer into the new house. The old man’s fishing stool and TV, crates containing clothes, and other bundles are moved from the trailer into the new house. Alicia and Alicia’s little brother stand in the frosty yard and watch this process. Alicia stuffs his cold hands in his pockets and drags his heel around to draw an oval in the frost-covered ground in the yard. He fills the yard with his oval, and draws a huge tail fin before the oval is closed to make an animal that lives in the water. It’s a whale. It’s the whale that slipped away from the Neko. The whale that escaped from the Neko. He ignores his little brother who is trying not to look at what Alicia’s doing, and draws bold lines. Alicia’s old man goes around to all the rooms in all three floors of the house to check on the final touches. We will live on the first floor, the eldest and her husband will live on the second floor, and the second one and his wife will live on the third. Commuting will be a nuisance and the house will be far from the city, but if they put up with it for a few years, they will each get something out of it. The old man calls them. He briefly and proudly tells them that the house is ready and that they don’t need to bring anything because everything’s prepared, and eats his chicken stew. Alicia and his little brother also get a whole chicken each. Alicia stares at the boiled chicken in his bowl. He looks at the glowing pores that melted in the heat, the muscles yellow in the broth, and the neck that shrunk short and stiff. Alicia doesn’t want to eat it. Alicia’s mother must have tied the chicken legs together herself, pried open its stomach and filled it with sticky rice, ginseng, and dates, and sewed it neatly back together with big stitches. With the very hands that gripped Alicia by the throat and tore at his skin. When Alicia sits still without touching his food, she picks up the chicken and puts it in her own bowl. She piles his chicken on top of hers and eats it. She licks the meat clean off the bones and makes a neat pile next to her rice bowl. The dark and white bones look like a toy that is
meant to be put together – everything from the neck bone to the tailbone. Anyone could reconstruct the bone structure of a chicken using these bones if they wanted to. And Alicia thinks that the way she eats the flesh of an animal is somehow reflective of her fuckedupness. Alicia’s old man turns the TV on and watches the news while he digests the chicken stew. He’s watching the moment when a dictator who ruled a country somewhere in Africa for forty years is captured by the rebel army and is being killed. He’s dragged out of the manhole of a sewer where he escaped from the angry citizens and the rebel forces, and seems puzzled as the crowd surrounds him until he is shot. The people who were under his dictatorship take souvenir pictures next to his mangled body – his jaw dislocated, his arm bones sticking out, his spine broken and his abdomen twisted in a strange angle. The screen shows images of him right before his death again. When the citizens who’ve been cheering and dragging this bloody, naked corpse like a burlap sack smile at the camera, Alicia’s old man guffaws – Haha!
Alicia listens to the dog stir. The mother must be getting more anxious as the pups grow bigger. The pups have not been eaten yet when they should have been eaten by now, and this must make her so anxious that she may feel the urge to get rid of them by eating them herself. The dog scratches the cage with its claws. The walls are thick and the noise sounds distant. Alicia listens closely to the sound coming from outside. His little brother has fallen asleep. He can hear him breathing right next to him. It will be cold tonight. There must be frost coming down again on the whale he drew during the day. Alicia closes his eyes for a moment and sees it. The whale that’s just escaped from the Neko is swimming down into the deep ocean. He follows the whale. The bottom of the ocean is dark and even darker that he can’t see the whale very clearly even though he’s right behind it.
He follows the whale by looking for the white haze of its back and tail that flashes from time to time. He follows it down into the depths little by little, as the whale pushes its way through the waves and waves of water bending and straightening its long, heavy spine. Strangely, he is not affected by the enormous waves the whale creates with its fins, but feels the pressure of the heavy, dark water all around him as he swims down and down, his skin scratched by plankton fluttering like snow, debris, and white things floating in the water. Down, further down. When he gets to the bottom, where will he have reached? What will he have reached? It is quiet.
- Hey. -… - Hey. -… - You sleeping? The voice bounces back on the bare walls. The walls of the new house aren’t completely dry yet. Surrounded by walls softer and more resilient than the ones in the trailer or the house before, Alicia is now ready to engage with the “fuck.”
I had a dream, Alicia’s mother says.
It was a dream about a little village. A village famous for peach wine. The kids in the village were kidnapped. And you and that little shit were there. And lots and lots of other little shits besides you. Little people with little heads and little bodies all trapped in a small room. You were trapped in there without food or medicine. Sickening. Your black and dirty faces looked up at the window, blinking. You were alive, just alive. Sometimes, one of you died because you couldn’t get food, and then another died because you couldn’t get medicine. So what do you think you would have done? You and the little shits? You would have tried to escape, to get out of the room and try to survive, huh? You think it would have gone well? No, you got caught. And that little shit, too. And the other little shits. You each get taken away to different places so for months you don’t know what’s happened to each other. You don’t know if that little shit’s dead or alive. He doesn’t know either, if you’re dead or alive. The kids keep disappearing but the tourists keep coming to the village because the area is famous for peach wine. Tourist come in hoards. So they can drink the peach wine and live their miserable lives for a hundred, two hundred years. And it was one of those days, when there was a festival in the village. Booths were set up along the brook that ran through the village, colorful lanterns were hung, and people in old-fashioned shirts danced. People eating and drinking and dancing under red and yellow and blue paper lanterns having fun, fun! And on a day like that, a body is found. A part of a body, like a small foot. What do you think happened? The festival was cancelled, they searched the village, and the murderer was found. He appeared tied with a rope. The tourists gathered to see him. He was large man with white skin. He looked like a big chunk of bread clumsily molded to look like a person, and it turned out, this was you. Are you listening, you shit? That was you, get it? You looked around at the people gathered with a dopey look on your face. You pointed out the spot where you hid the children you buried. It was in the water. You put them in bags, tied them to ropes, and put them in the water. People pulled the bags out of the water by pulling on the ropes. The bags with bodies in them were
pulled out onto the riverbank. One bag per rope. Each holding feet, hands, or heads. Gosh, so many of them! And then finally, the largest bag was pulled out. Someone tore the bag to see what was in it. Water spilled out. The stuff in it also spilled out. They were torsos. Torsos without limbs. You recognized this body. It was the body you killed and the body that did not want to die. Who do you think it was? You open your mouth to call its name. Is your mouth open? I said, Is your mouth open! But just as you were about to say the person’s name, your tongue vanished. Your tongue vanished and your mouth shut. What are you going to do? What are you going to do now? In the village famous for peach wine, the police gave you, the murderer, a ruler and ordered you to measure the length of this body. And you did it. Because you’re a dope, huh? With amazing concentration, you measured the length of the body. And then you raised your index finger, and said – now repeat after me – Thirty-five centimeters from head to tailbone! Now, how do you think the dream ended, huh? How does it end?
I’m not a retard, says Alicia’s little brother. He stands in the middle of the junkyard with his hair tousled like a baby bird. Alicia looks at him. His face is white and his fists are red. He says over and over again that he is not a retard. He says he left evidence of it somewhere. Do you want to go see it? They go to see it. Alicia’s little brother leads, followed by Alicia and Gomi. They take the same path they took a few days ago out of Gomo-ri, across the open field, and the downtown area. Alicia’s little brother lead them deeper in to the heart of the town than their first trip did. The pass the telephone booth, the turnaround point of the first
trip, and go on for the length of about five bus stops, and make a right into an alley off a crowded sidewalk. Between a pizza chain and an electronics outlet, the alley is dark and damp. It smells like cheese and olives in an oven, cooled vegetable oil, heated lead, and wet mold. Alicia’s little brother stops, points at the bottom of a wall, and tells them to look. On the rain-stained cornerstone, there is his name. He’d scratched off one corner of the cornerstone laid in 1983 and carved in his name with something sharp and fine. Alicia and Gomi see his name on the stone. He says he’d come out here on his own. He says he walked along the shoulder alone and passed the open field. Alicia pictures this. It would have taken him about an hour. The trucks and buses racing down the road as wide and long as an airport runway would have driven past him with force that threatened to sweep him away. He would have needed a different kind of courage to walk past the crowds of people when he reached downtown, and after he’d arrived at this alley and carved his name, he would have retraced his steps. All alone. Like a small, lonely hero, he would have walked along the ten-lane freeway with his hands stuffed in his pockets. He tosses back the hair in his face and says he wasn’t the least bit afraid on his way here. - Do you get it now? I’m not a retard. - Okay. Alicia tells him that he is not a retard. If some shit calls you a retard, then that shit is bad and the real retard. The little brother listens to this and nods. He blushes and says, Okay. Now I’m gonna get a burger.