The Moving Fortress by Hwang Sun-Won

Chunt’ae proposed to Kwŏn that they divide the potatoes the next day. The other two asked for a share. Sure, no problem.

     Chunt’ae’s eyes felt like they were popping out of their sockets. All he wanted was to lie down. He felt languid, and his head was spinning. The lady innkeeper brought water and he took his medicine. For want of an appetite he had skipped lunch, and taking the medicine on an empty stomach nauseated him. He felt uneasy not drinking with the others, but the more important consideration was eating, which he needed to do to restore his energy, so he asked the innkeeper to cook some rice porridge.

     Alarmed, the men asked if he was sick. He seemed to have picked up a bad cold, he responded. Then he leaned back against the wall.

     The three men returned to their drinks. They liked to put away several rounds of makkŏlli and then, suitably tipsy, lighten up the conversation. Now they were swapping yarns about farm life. So-and-so had sold out to someone in town and would have to rent land starting this year, but he thought it was the smart thing to do when you add up all the expenses of farming your own land, and the price you get for your grain is too low and you end up in the hole. And would the fertilizer be provided on time this year, and they hoped to high heaven that godawful useless Yongsŏng wouldn’t get dumped on them, because it was no damn good no matter what the officials said, and weren’t they just shelling out money in vain, plus there weren’t enough farmhands—so-and-so had gone in the army, and this other fellow got discharged and ran off to the city . . .

     The innkeeper returned with a huge bowl filled with porridge. Chunt’ae could not finish a fourth of it, and even that small amount he ate out of a sense of duty.

     By now the other men were wisecracking and mimicking rustics similar to themselves, telling a rerun of a story Chunt’ae had heard at another drinking session with the locals. A backwoods fellow was about to begin a meal at his in-laws’. The dinner table was brought in, and after his first quick spoonful of rice he kept peeking under the table. When his father-in-law asked what he was doing, he said his spoonful of rice had disappeared so fast he was trying to figure out where it went. That’s what happens the first time backwoods chumps eat a bowl of nice glossy rice without the barley, millet, and other stuff. By poking fun at farmers like themselves, maybe they were trying to dispel their anxiety that they might turn out like the chump.

     With enough porridge in his stomach to make it back home, Chunt’ae paid, over the protests of the innkeeper, then left. As always these days, the warm air of daytime had chilled as evening set in. He didn’t mind the cold air, though it probably wasn’t doing him much good.

     At home he spread out his bedding and lay down, only partially undressed. His knees stung and throbbed, and he felt his consciousness slowly bubbling away. And then something was grabbing and tugging on him. It didn’t seem as dark—was it dawn already? No, it was the moon shining on the paper pane of the window. He didn’t feel as feverish and his body felt lighter. He closed his eyes again.

     Hands grasped his hand, the hands that had pulled at him in his dream just now. Those hands placed his on a vast expanse of skin. Her body was large, her breasts especially so. They began near her shoulders, and when she lay down they projected from her chest.

He tried to remove his hands from hers but she held them tightly and began rubbing her huge breasts with them. After a while she gently released his hands so they could move by themselves. But instead they slid off her. Again she took his hands and massaged her breasts with them. Again she released his hands. Feebly he pulled them back. The woman groped at his crotch.

     “You’re not even alive,” she spat, gasping from the heat of her passion. “You’re dead meat, a carcass!”

 

     “I wasn’t going to tell anyone. But it’s not just in my mind—something’s happening to him.”

     “I wish you’d told me earlier.”

     “Me and my bravado. Anyway, I have to go back.”

     “Good idea.”

     “Could you go with me?”

     “I was thinking the same thing.” Sŏngho was ready to take a day off from the brick-making operation he’d set up in a distant residential district.

     “Thanks, really. I was prepared to go by myself.”

     “No need to thank me.”

     “Could we go now? I don’t want to wait.”

     “All right. It’s a good thing I didn’t leave yet—you almost missed me.” The previous afternoon Sŏngho had gone to see Myŏngsuk, who had yet to rally from her relapse. He had bought bellflower and cassiotora seeds on the way home and had planted them that morning.

     Asking the family next door to look after Yŏngi, he changed out of his work clothes. Disentangling himself from the girl, he and Chiyŏn hurried down the hill from Starland Village. At Seoul Station they were fortunate to catch a train on the Changhang line immediately. Their compartment was not crowded.

     “Thanks to you, I get to see Kunsan for the first time. Are you going to show me around?” Sŏngho ventured as the train pulled out. He had noticed how depressed Chiyŏn was.

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