Sky Kong Kong the Pogo Stick
- onApril 20, 2015
- Vol.27 Spring 2015
- byKim Ae-ran
- Run, Pop, Run!
A long time ago, there was an old street lamp that stood in front of our, or rather the landlord’s house. Our place sat on the roof of the building so the lamp looked right down at us, especially into the window of the room that my brother and I shared. In those days, the tops of me and my brother’s heads were always soaked in a pool of yellow light.
No one knew the age of the lamp. We only knew that it stood there for a very long time, way before I was born, with its neck stretched out and shoulders hunched forward. Always alone, like the very first Homo sapiens to stand on two feet on the African plain.
The lamp was there since long ago so it knew everything. From the time of the sunset to the angle of the descending moon, the names we muttered with triviality long passed down to us, the things we said about love, as well as the beauty of a grand cathedral and the songs of the Sand Pebbles—there was nothing that the lamp didn’t know.
Unfortunately, the only thing the lamp knew how to do was to switch on and off. This it did very faithfully and diligently. The lamp knew that every once in a while it could actually create a miracle. The moment it turned itself on was probably when the world blinked very quickly. Something occurred in that brief moment that no one knew, that escaped everyone’s notice. Like when the kinds of things you don’t believe happen or have happened on the lips of those close to you. Like our first brief kiss from long ago.
The days when we didn’t have anything, we needed the street lamp when we didn’t have anything except night and day. It turned with the earth and blink, switched itself off; and then turned again before another blink, switching itself on. I used to sit by the window with my elbows on the windowsill. One hand propping up my chin, I dreamed about the rotation of the lamp drawing a circle bigger than the earth. The width of a circle drawn by the fingertip of the lamp and the circumference of the earth and people who live between the two circles. I could see a pterosaur perched atop the street lamp shade and a Cro-Magnon man peeing under the lamp light, his gigantic penis sticking out from his loincloth. Everyone—including a monkey climbing up the lamp as he licked his fingers and picked at a swarm of drake flies as well as a sniveling straggler from a defeated Maori tribe clutching the lamp pole—materialized and quickly disappeared. I saw an aye-aye scurrying around the corner and thought the alleys were a perfect place to vanish.
We were living in a prefabricated house in a small town. The owner built it on the rooftop of his building without any city inspection and rented it out. His building sat on high ground so we could see almost everything from the windows of our house. Curvy wrinkles of winding corners and meandering roads layered the town. People disappeared into and reappeared from the wrinkles many times throughout the day. The three of us—my father, my brother, and me—lived in that little plastic box overlooking the town.
One day, my father said, “I heard that you can get taller if you play with Sky Kong Kong, the pogo stick.”
I could’ve cared less about getting taller but sure wanted Sky Kong Kong. He looked into my eyes brimming with excitement. “I’ll get you one if you show me your pee pee.”
“Show you what?” I turned pale.
“Your pee pee.”
My brother was reading a newspaper when he muttered, “Hey, Father, there’s an astronaut who came back from space a little taller.”
My father ignored him and waited for my reply. I mulled over what was more precious to me between my pee pee or Sky Kong Kong. I thought very hard about it but I couldn’t decide which one of the two was more important to me.
“You don’t want to?”
My little guy shriveled up instantly, feeling the chill. I thought about my age, my dreams, and faces of those who loved me. But a small voice kept whispering inside my head that it would be for the best if I bear it for a few seconds.
“You mean, right now?”
My father nodded while my brother mumbled again, “It says here that he’s a Russian astronaut and that his crooked spine got straightened out in space’s zero-gravity.”
With a trembling hand, I unzipped my pants. Out came my underwear with Robot Taekwon-V1 holding his arm upright and his hand made into a fist, as if he was just about to take off. My father smiled at me encouragingly. I took a deep breath and was about to pull down my underwear when my brother turned a page, making a rustling sound, and asked, “By the way, Father, is it normal for a man’s spine to be completely straight?”
My father ran an electrical repair shop, a tiny space about to explode with random parts and wires tangled and coiled with each other like intestines. Piles of defective electric housewares crowded the front of his shop. They all looked frustrated and mortified, like a drunkard in the police station waiting anxiously for his turn to fill out an investigation report. Inside, my father slouched on a stool and inspected machinery and tools through his smudged glasses. Like a man who has been doing just one thing for a very long time, his gaze was absentminded but very attentive. He had the same look when he looked into my mouth to check for cavities after I complained about a toothache. He spent his entire life fixing broken things and wore out his back and rear end along with his sight. But while he fixed trivial things and trivial problems, he wanted us to become important people instead. He knew that we were the kind of kids who doggedly carried our VCR, with a bootleg tape stuck inside, all the way to the next town because we couldn’t go to the only electrical repair shop nearby run by our father. In truth, we had never dreamed, not even once, that we’d actually become people who mattered.
But on that day, just for that brief moment when my brother talked about the Russian astronaut, I wanted to be someone special. I thought maybe my father’s bad back would straighten out neatly if I became someone important and sent him to space. Unfortunately, we’d have to wait too long for that day to come so I decided to become a funny person first before I became important. The day when he looked at my pee pee, he looked happier than he might have had he boarded the spaceship.
I was so excited when I finally got Sky Kong Kong that I dashed out of the house in my underwear. My bowl-shaped hair waving in the wind, I bounced on it to my heart’s content. I grabbed the handle with my two hands, hopped on the foothold, and jumped off the ground with all my might! With the elastic force of the spring, my earlier shame flew away into space.
I was so good at Sky Kong Kong that once I hopped on it, I rarely hopped off. Even when my father spanked me or my brother blabbered on about some nonsensical story, even when one of my favorite singers won a teen-star award, I stayed on my Sky Kong Kong. When the entire world was buzzing about the return of Halley’s Comet after seventy-six years, I was on my Sky Kong Kong, hopping quietly on the rooftop. With the world’s noise behind me, I felt alone but graceful on my Sky Kong Kong. When I was on it—how should I describe it—there was a “spirit” in my motion.
The town looked different each time I jumped up on my Sky Kong Kong. Kong, I jumped up and poof, the guy I saw a few seconds ago was gone and kong, I jumped up again and a school girl who wasn’t there earlier appeared. I liked these quick glimpses of a faraway place, the “vagueness,” so I jumped harder. It would be nice to disappear someday, up into the air, before my feet touched the ground. I closed my eyes and tried to stay longer in the air. I took a quick peek and blink, the street lamp winked at me. I fell on the concrete floor of the rooftop and as if finally getting a chance to use the line that I had been rehearsing for a very long time, I shouted out loud. “What the . . . ?”
When I wasn’t on my Sky Kong Kong, I was busy either spitting from the rooftop or gazing at the sky as I sat on the windowsill. The window had a screen with gaping holes like an over-ripe pomegranate in autumn. A green curtain unwashed for a very long time bristled in the air with a breeze. I buried my face in it and inhaled deeply. I liked the old warm smell of dust. The smell of dust—how should I describe it—made me feel as if I was living in a world that I never knew before, a world that I may have lived once but didn’t understand. In those days, I was smaller than I am now so the distance between me and the night sky was that much wider. Such a dark and deep sky made me want to stay as far away as possible even if it meant I’d become even that much smaller.
Translated by Kyong-Mi D. Kwon
1 A famous cartoon character who fights the evil masters of the earth with his martial arts skills and special powers.
Kim Ae-ran debuted in 2003 with “No Knocking in This House,” which won the Daesan Literary Award. She has authored four short story collections, most recently Summer Outside (2017), and one essay collection, A Good Name to Forget (2019). Her first novel, My Palpitating Life (2011), was adapted into the movie My Brilliant Life (2014). Kim received the 2014 Prix de Linapercu award for “I Go to the Convenience Store.” “Knife Marks,” the story excerpted here, received the 2008 Lee Hyoseok Award.