Rina by Kang Young-sook

Winter brought unrelenting blizzards that turned the ashen landscape into a dream-like winter wonderland. When the snow was particularly heavy, they couldn’t even leave their houses, the front doors having vanished. The people with pulmonary problems had the worst of these winters. Mornings were spent shoveling snow and clearing roads. If they stopped to rest for even a moment, the snow would catch up with them. The world became lighter and brighter and the people became crazier.

     “I love the industrial complex forever. I’ll bury my bones here!” they would yell as they floundered in the snow. There was so much snow that some people started to show serious signs of oxygen deficiency. It was here that Rina received two gifts that would haunt her for the rest of her life: acute sensitivity to sunlight in both her skin and eyes. Nowhere outdoors was safe for her, so she would sit at home and curse like a sailor, tears streaming from her eyes.

     Winter seemed like it would never end. They were isolated time and again by the snow. No one was able to leave the industrial complex. Everyone slept late, except for one old man who woke up early every morning to quietly clear away the snow that had piled up overnight. He seemed to be the only sane, living one among them. But sometimes even he looked like a corpse. The snow blocked the roads and the people from the west side had no way of bringing food over. Without any money to bet, and nothing other than money to bet, they staked their sick, diseased lives. They dealt cards and sat quietly, each person looking down at his or her own hand. It would get so quiet that even the mice that had accidentally crept in would tiptoe along the walls. No one said it out loud, but they were all secretly waiting for the phone to ringthe phone with the broken cord that someone had brought to use as decorationand they hoped that help would be on the other end of the line.

     One day, like a miracle, a helicopter flew over the industrial complex. In a quiet so deep you could hear the snow falling, the helicopter was deafening. They all ran outside, yipping for joy at the thought of eating as many canned goods as they wanted. The helicopter dropped off a few sacks and flew away. Everyone ran over to look. They were chock full of black electronic chipsno soft bread, no canned meat. The first ones to rush up to the sacks felt their pride had been wounded. They tried eating the chips, but ending up spitting them out.

     The kids made a snowman and positioned it in front of the houses. They made the snowman’s eyes, nose, and mouth out of the black chips so that Rina woke up in the morning to a snowman covered in electronic chips guarding over her. The kids built more snowmen every day. As long as there were chips, and as long as it kept on snowing, they made more and more replicas each day.

     After that day, the helicopters came regularly. The people followed them around the first few times, but the sacks never held anything useful, and they gave up after a while. It was always mysterious-looking machine parts. The industrial complex had become a dump for trash that was difficult to dispose of elsewhere. The people shook their fists and cursed at the helicopters.

     “If you keep mocking us like this, we’ll get you!”

     Trapped inside her half-destroyed house, Rina spent her days singing to herself in a low voice. The four boys had by now turned into surly looking teenagers with pimply foreheads. They sat around reading books or looking at fliers they had found in the city. The dilapidated industrial complex was so boring that these hot-blooded young men were on the verge of going insane. Sometimes, Rina would entertain them with stories of her own b...

Kang Young-sook has published three novels and five short story collections. Her novel Rina was published by Dalkey Archive Press in 2015, and has also been published in Japanese. She was a visiting scholar at Hosei University in Japan in 2007, and participated in the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa in 2009 and the Daesan-UC Berkeley Writer in Residence Program in 2014.