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[Audiobook] The Things We Eat in Summer

  • onJuly 3, 2021
  • Vol.52 Summer 2021
  • bySong Ji Hyun
Jaeum & Moeum (Summer, 2020)
Tr. Slin Jung
2020

 

1

When Auntie called and said she was going on a trip to Europe next month, I was lying in my bed at the Human Gosiwon. I was lucky enough to have a window in my crammed little unit, and I could see the “man Go” part of “Human Gosiwon” printed on it in reverse. I was only at a gosiwon because my rent had expired and I needed someplace to stay before I found a new place, but the word gosiwon had a real impact on my life. Friends and acquaintances kept treating me to food or drinks. On those days, I would tiptoe back into the gosiwon halls at dawn, breathing a sigh of relief in knowing this was only temporary. On those days, I wanted to grab anyone I saw and ask, What do you think? This is just a temporary arrangement for all of us here, right, fellow HUMAN?

It made me a little sad, though, that about the only places I could afford weren’t much better than Human Gosiwon. So one day, I just lounged around on my bed, staring at the back of the “man Go” on my window. Not “Mango” but “man Go,” of all things. The window must have been unimaginably thin, because the AC had no effect. I do want to go somewhere out of here. But where is ‘here’ even? The gosiwon? Seoul?

That was when Auntie phoned me and said with no lead-up, “Honey, I want you to look after the shop while I’m gone.”

“How do you expect me to look after it?” I replied.

“Just open and close the shutters every day at the right times.”

“What if people ask me how to knit and stuff?”

“They’re all old hands. You can leave ’em alone to knit and chat.”

“I’ll think about it.”

Thinking about it on my own just gave me a headache, so I gave my old high school classmate B a call. He lived a little far away, so I waited alone at the pub for a while. The food wasn’t great, and neither was the interior, but the chilled mugs they used kept me coming back. I was munching on cuttlefish with beer when B finally showed up in a suit. The first thing he did was give me a scolding for the cuttlefish.

“Do you even think about the markup?”

“Yeah, but it’s not like I’d eat it at home.”

B thought about it intently before replying, “That’s true.”

Ironically, B ended up getting an order of assorted fritters. That’s a decent choice too, I thought, munching on my cuttlefish slice. Now that I think about it, how do people decide between all these decent choices? Making a choice means something gets chosen. Right now, even the side dishes for beer are getting chosen, while I’m still sitting here waiting to be picked. Just like my cuttlefish. People choose fritters and jjigae because they’re cost-efficient and mainstream, but the only people who order cuttlefish are the ones who don’t think about how much cheaper it is to buy at the store. So the cuttlefish is the story of my life, huh?

That was when B asked, “So what’s the occasion, calling on a weekday?”

“Eh. Nothing much.”

“Be honest, you didn’t even know it was a weekday.”

“Yeah, basically.”

He gave me a sidelong look and said, “Shit, forgot to order beer.” I raised my voice through the din to place his order, then turned to ask, “So what’s the occasion, coming out in a suit on a weekday?”

“Job interview.”

“What?”

“This guy I know said there’s a job opening for a designer at his office.”

“What about that stuff you were doing?”

“. . . I can always go back to that later.”

“Damn it, stop trying to act all cool and serious like that.”

We had a good laugh, and raised a toast for luck. But part of me wanted him to fail so he could keep going with his old project. I tried to drink away those feelings so B wouldn’t know, and before I knew it, I was as drunk as ever, being held back by B as I tried to dance in front of a nearby taffy stand. Then there was nothing.

 

2

So was my favorite conjunction. Somehow it seemed to make every sentence make sense. Even when listening to a boring conversation, just saying, So, and rewording what the other person said would make you look engaged. And that was why B knew that any time I used that tactic, I’d lost interest in whatever he was saying. He knew too many of my embarrassing secrets. Which is why you have to die for my honor, I’d joked once. More than once, actually, although I didn’t resent him in the slightest. There were other people I did want to kill. I dreamed often about killing someone and ruining my life. In my nightmares, I always made small, stupid mistakes that killed people. There wasn’t any resentment or hate. And because I didn’t want to ruin my life over something so small, I would always hide the body. But the truth would eventually come to light. Then I would wake up and let the relief crash over my body, knowing my life wasn’t ruined after all . . . Then again, was it really not ruined? Anyway . . .

So, I went back to my hometown to move out of the Human Gosiwon and get an early start learning about running Auntie’s knitting shop.

 

 

3

The knitting shop was a tiny space in a long alleyway in the traditional market. To the left was the Original Oxhead Gukbap and to the right was the Classic Duvet Store. The gukbap place had good food and the duvet place had tacky blankets. The bad thing about the gukbap place was that they had a pig’s head in a basin at the entrance. Even setting aside the ridiculousness (a pig’s head at an oxhead gukbap restaurant?), the vague half-smile on the dead pig didn’t exactly whet the appetite. But one spoonful of the gukbap brought the appetite right back, and by that point the pig’s head didn’t matter so much. The duvet shop’s customers were mostly people who did business at the markets, so Auntie had one of their bright green ruffled summer blankets and a purple microfiber blanket with big flower patterns—which I pulled over myself as I thought, This is only temporary. One day I’ll have a place of my own with a stack of tasteful linens . . .

The second I arrived at the markets, she took me around for introductions. Of course she’s my daughter. I raised her, you know. She’s in a band. She even has an album. What was it called? Anyway, it’s on YouTube. I’d trail after her, bowing to all the faces, repeating, I’m not that big on YouTube, but you can find me on Melon, but please, you don’t have to look for me. Please, you don’t really need my autograph. And that was how my autograph ended up on the walls of the banchan store, the fishmonger’s store, and the shoe store.

As we made the rounds, Auntie bought mackerel, soybean sprouts, and tiny chilge crab stir-fry. I had to plead with her not to buy me shoes, because everything there was either behind the times or too far ahead. Auntie decided to close up shop early and have dinner together. Steamed kimchi and mackerel, stir-fried soybean sprouts, and stir-fried chilge crabs.

“You used to love chilge,” Auntie said.

“I did?”

“You asked me to pack it for lunch every day.”

That was true. She’d put it once in my lunchbox, and my classmates had gone wild. They’d never seen such tiny crabs, and couldn’t believe that you had to chew it whole. So I’d asked for chilge again and again, but eventually it wasn’t such hot news anymore, and I never liked the stuff to begin with. I forgot to mention that to Auntie.

As I sat by the store entrance talking about chilge, Auntie tidied up inside. Three of the walls were lined from floor to ceiling with bundles of yarn in every color. In the middle was a large raised platform for sitting or lying down. A small low table had been placed there, and was home to a platter of Auntie’s various needles, sewing shears, and a ledger. I flipped through the ledger and asked, “So I have to order yarn and stuff for you while you’re gone?”

“People buy everything online these days,” she replied.

“Then what do they buy here?”

“They shop here once in a while too.”

Auntie gave a haphazard sweep of the store with a small vacuum cleaner, and once the loose threads were gone, taught me how to close up shop and bring down the shutters. It was decorated with little holes cut in the shape of birds.

“I like this design.”

“I got it done recently.”

“People actually try to steal yarn?”

“It puts my mind at ease.”

 

4

Auntie mixed up an assortment of spices and put it into the funny-looking electric steamer with the mackerel.

“You bought another one?”

“You can do so much with it! Just take a look at the booklet, Dear.”

I picked up the black hardcover instruction manual. The dishes pictured inside were something else, I had to admit, but you needed an oven for pretty much all of those dishes. “Why didn’t you just get an air fryer?” I asked, looking up from the manual.

That set Auntie’s mood on edge. Over dinner, I told her how great the steamed mackerel was, and how she could close the knitting shop and start a home-style Korean restaurant instead, although I didn’t mention that the steamer would take twenty-five minutes per dish and drive all the customers away hungry and impatient.

After dinner, I lay down on the living room floor with a full stomach. Auntie kept trying to go and do the dishes, so I told her to leave it so I could do it later. She finally laid down beside me. There was nothing good on TV, so I handed the remote over. She picked the home shopping channel. The host and guest were applying foundation on their faces.

“You want one?” Auntie asked, her back turned.

I replied, “Nah, it’s trendy to not wear makeup these days.”

“What kind of trend is that? You should dress up more.”

“Why, because I’m not pretty enough already?”

“. . . You’re older.”

“Obviously. I’m past thirty.”

“I wish you could look like a baby forever.”

I hugged Auntie from behind and buried my face in her back. “Say, Auntie? Maybe I should just stay here with you instead of going back to Seoul.”

“Gross,” Auntie joked. “What about that music career of yours?”

Silence fell, forcing us to listen quietly to the home shopping host.

 

5

The next thing I knew, I was lying under a layer of blankets. They must have come from the duvet store next door. I didn’t care for the design, but they were fluffy and pleasantly soft. Rising to my feet, I opened the living room curtains. The balcony was packed with unfamiliar plants. One of the trees had grown all the way to the ceiling. Why does Auntie have to raise so many things? We had a dog, too, when I was young. A Maltese with the unoriginal name “Chorong.” She was sensitive and barked at the slightest noise. It was a different time, back when no one really cared how you treated dogs. I don’t think we took very good care of Chorong. She suffered from a uterine infection before she died.

The kitchen was neat and tidy. On the dining table I found a 10,000-won bill and a note saying, “You owe me for doing the dishes.” I folded the note in half and put it into my wallet with the bill. After quickly washing my face and brushing my teeth, I stepped outside. It was hot. What do I do with ten thousand won on a scorching day? I found myself walking towards my old schools. My elementary school was right next to my junior high school, but my high school was a little far. So I headed for the elementary and junior high schools.

B sent a text message saying, “I start work next week.” I replied, “You’re buying dinner right?” He asked when I would come back to Seoul. I angrily wrote, “I’m not,” but stopped short of sending the text. I didn’t know why I was so mad. Fuming, I eventually reached the elementary school’s athletic field. Across the way were the horizontal bars. I put my phone and wallet on the ground and hung from one. That was what we used to do, back in the day—chin-ups for the boys and endurance hanging for the girls. Back then, it wasn’t hard at all. I’d hung on until I broke the class record. Now, though, my hands kept slipping before I could even get tired. Were my palms too sweaty, or was my grip no longer strong? I turned, pulled my legs onto the bar, and hung upside-down with my knees. It was easy. Amidst the upside-down world, I spotted an upside-down sign that read “Youth Mall.” I climbed down, picked up my phone and wallet, and walked off the field.

The first floor of the mall was home to Always Spring Leather Artisans, the 102 Salon, and a corn dog place just called The Corn Dog Place. I went to the 102 Salon to look at the candles. The shapes were surprisingly creative. My favorite was the one shaped like a pair of hands clasped in prayer. In one corner of the store was a schedule for one-off educational workshops, all of which were scheduled during the day. I gave the owner a bow and left the store. I considered Always Spring Leather Artisans before turning to The Corn Dog Place. It was 2,500 for the Original Corn Dog, 3,000 for the Chili Dog, and 4,000 for the Big Corn Dog. Affordable. The man who seemed to be the owner looked about my age.

“One Original, please.”

“Sure, let me just fry it up for you one more time.”

He picked up one of the sausages from the display and flipped it around and around in the fryer, brows furrowed in concentration. Once he was finished, he asked, “Would you like sugar rolled on?”

“No thank you.”

Rolling sugar onto a corn dog was a little funny. I laughed a little. Who even does that? The man carefully squeezed ketchup and mustard from bottles with narrow mouths onto the corn dog before handing it to me. As I turned, he shouted, “Would you like a stamp card?”

I declined and walked out of the Youth Mall, wondering what kind of a building it might have been before as I took a bite out of the corn dog. It tasted average, and not that great considering the heat. Could you even make a living like this? I wondered, but then again, it wasn’t my corn dog store. I kept on walking, all the way to my old high school while I was at it. On the way, I passed the store where I bought my first album. The sign was the same, but they didn’t seem to sell actual albums anymore. The old guitar class where I used to take lessons was gone, and I passed by the park where I had my first kiss, but although I remembered the kiss like it was yesterday, I just couldn’t remember who it was with. Around that point, I tossed the paper corn dog wrapper in a trash can and soon reached the school. There was a new building on the grounds. The long staircase that decorated the exterior looked impressive. I took a walk around the perimeter and went back home.

 

6

The next day, I went to the knitting shop with Auntie. She put a crochet hook into my hand and taught me to make a chain. “This is the first thing you have to learn,” she said, urging me to make a chain as long as I was tall, but it was harder than it looked. The yarn kept slipping no matter how hard I gripped, and the hook refused to budge out of the chain in spite of my efforts. I finally put down the hook and yarn and lay on my back on the sitting platform.

“You have to loosen up,” Auntie said, crocheting a dish scrubber.

“I did.”

“You have to loosen up if you want to loosen the yarn.”

“It’s not working.”

“You have to hold the yarn like you don’t mind if you lose your grip. That’ll make space in the weave for you, enough to get the hook through.”

I was silent.

“Holding it tighter isn’t going to help you keep your grip. Take it easier,” she said, yarn and hook continuing to dip and rise. Before long, she had a strawberry-shaped dish scrubber in hand. She made a few more before moving on to oranges and watermelons. I couldn’t believe how fast she was. “I have a display outside for these, you know. One thousand five hundred won each.”

“You make them to sell?”

“Why else would I make so many?”

Why else? If everything’s made to be sold, what does that say about things no one buys? If I was going to be born in this society anyway, I wish I’d been born able to make something that sells. But then again, maybe ability wasn’t the issue. It was more deep-rooted, like my insight, or my choices were what was wrong. My insight that led me to invest myself into things that didn’t sell, like a failing investor. The investor who knew what her problem was but still made the same mistake when given the same set of choices again.

“Do they sell?”

“More than you’d think.”

Auntie, I guessed, wasn’t like me. A customer arrived just then, so instead of continuing my struggle with the yarn, I walked out of the store. Just one block from the end of the markets was the Youth Mall from the other day. I suddenly wanted to see the corn dog shop owner, grimacing over his work. I wanted to try it again—the corn dog I doubted would sell. The corn dog that tasted exactly the way it looked.

 

When I brought the corn dogs back to the knitting store, Auntie complained that I had childish taste buds. She enjoyed the corn dog nonetheless. I bought the Chili Dog this time, which was a little better than the original—it had more character.

“You like it, Auntie?”

“Eh, I’m just eating it because you bought it. I’m not really fond of stuff like this.”

“Do you think it will sell?”

“Food like this is all about location.”

“I got it at the Youth Mall. You know where it is, right?”

“Bad location, then.”

“Even though it’s right in front of the elementary school?”

“How much for one dog?”

“Three thousand won.”

“Grade schoolers can’t afford that. The donut store across the way sells ten for one thousand.”

“It’s a lost cause, then.”

“Mhm.”

I tossed the wrapping paper into the trash. Afterwards, I gave the crochet hook one more try before giving up again.

 

7

B texted to say he was going to be on YouTube. His company posted videos online, and the employees each took turns featuring in them. B offered to promote my album. I shot back that there was no point promoting something from half a decade ago. He gave me a call.

“Aren’t you supposed to be working, B?”

“I’m on the rooftop having a smoke. What’re you up to?”

“Not much. Just at Auntie’s store.”

“I asked ‘what,’ not ‘where.’”

“Eating corn dogs and learning to knit.”

“You’re taking over her shop?”

“As if.”

“I don’t have any drinking buddies in Seoul now that you’re gone.”

“Oh, gross.”

“Another month before you come back, right?”

“Or maybe forever.”

“No way. I’ll come visit next weekend.”

“Don’t.”

When I hung up, Auntie asked me who it was. She beamed when I told her it was B. Every time I mentioned him, she’d go on about how I should marry him. No matter how much I told her that wouldn’t happen, she would make plans to babysit her grandkids. Just thinking about having kids who looked like B gave me the shivers.

A figure outside picked up one of the dish scrubbers and asked how much they cost. I went outside and saw the corn dog guy holding a strawberry-shaped scrubber.

“One thousand five hundred won, please.”

He pulled out his wallet to pay in cash when he saw my face.

“Hey, you’re—that stamp card—”

He asked me if I was the owner, and I told him the shop belonged to my aunt. He just stood there with the scrubber in hands, so I invited him in. He surprised the other customers and Auntie by stepping in without another thought.

“You know him?” Auntie asked.

“The corn dog—”

Before I could finish, Auntie was already gushing at the man about how much she loved the corn dog. The man slowly looked around the shop. Without any lead-up, he asked how long it took to make one dish scrubber. When Auntie told him it didn’t take long if you knew the basics, he asked about lesson fees.

“No such thing! Just buy some yarn and I’ll teach you everything you need to know.”

The man bought some purple yarn and sat himself down. He also started with the chain pattern. It made me feel like I had to sit down to crochet, too. The man floundered a little, but quickly found his pace. At first Auntie told him to make a chain as long as he was tall, but because he was so tall, she quickly told him to make one that was my height. It wasn’t long before he had what she ordered. In the meantime, I also learned to keep a gentle grip. It was magical to see the hook weave effortlessly between the threads. So it’s all about keeping things loose, I thought with a nod, and laughed when I realized that was exactly the advice Auntie had given me.

“You’ve got a funny laugh,” he said. I looked at the ground sheepishly.

 

8

He visited Auntie’s shop many times after that. I dropped by his place for corn dogs every day. The man was three years my senior, and had worked at an office job in Seoul before he returned to his hometown to sell corn dogs. He firmly emphasized the word “return.” It turned out we’d gone to the same junior high school, but we were too far apart in age to have known each other, and didn’t have any friends outside our grades who might be mutual acquaintances. The man took to knitting like a fish to water, mastering the art of dish scrubber-crocheting in a matter of days. He was probably better at this than making corn dogs.

One day, I sat on a makeshift bench beside his counter with a corn dog in hand. “Wasn’t it scary? When you decided to return?” I asked, finding myself emphasizing the “return.”

“Returning wasn’t so scary,” he said, and softly added, “But the thought that I might never be able to return always was.”

I turned the words over in my mind as I munched on the corn dog. The sun shone overhead, and the Youth Mall was still deserted.

 

9

While I was cleaning out the closet, I dug out an old sweater Auntie had knitted for me when I was young.  She always pronounced “sweater” the old way, without the “w.” When I showed her the sweater after she came home from work, she said she’d have to make me a new “setter.” She told me she had to take my measurements, so I sat with my back turned. Auntie took a tape measure to my back, my shoulder, and waist, and my arms. The tape measure tickled my neck and I hunched my shoulders. Completely undisturbed, Auntie made note of the measurements on a notepad in big handwriting. Then she brought some green yarn from her room and began to knit. The sound of the knitting needles reminded me of the sound of footsteps in the snow.

“But really, Auntie. Sweaters at this time of year?”

“I want to do it now before I forget. And I haven’t taken your measurements in forever.”

I went back to cleaning out the closet. The stuff I used to wear at twenty had gone out of style, then circled right back to being trendy. Throwing out the Guess boot cut jeans was a little painful because it was just getting popular again. Things I thought would never return were roaring back into fashion. Thankfully, the short boleros weren’t part of that trend and I had no regrets about tossing them. Just as I got into the rhythm, the corn dog guy texted me. “Did you close up shop?” “Yes. Did you?” “No, come have a corn dog.” He then added, “It’s on the house.” I told Auntie I was going for a stroll.

 

It was a hot evening. This time, I walked through the market streets. I loved it best at this time of day. The sparkling lights made everything look tasty or useful to have. My second favorite time of day to be at the market was at dawn, when it was silent and people closed their shutters or put up their tents.

The Corn Dog Place was the only store on the first floor still open. The owner had his back turned as he tidied up his fridge.

“I’m here.”

“Oh. I just put everything away.”

“You’re the one who invited me over.”

“Oh. Right . . .”

He stood there awkwardly for a moment before packing away the rest of the ingredients in the fridge and saying, “Then let’s get dinner together.”

 

 

10

We had oxhead gukbap that evening. The man wondered if it wouldn’t be too hot for it, but I replied that once we’d eaten and stepped out of the restaurant, we’d feel refreshed. We only learned each other’s names over dinner. It was funny, I said, that when we learned we were from the same neighborhood, we’d asked other what schools we went to before we even introduced ourselves over oxhead gukbap, of all things. “It’s so Korean of us,” I said, and he laughed silently.

“You’ve got a funny laugh,” I said. He looked at the ground and laughed out loud this time. Once we’d sweated it out over the gukbap and stepped outside, the air felt pleasantly cool. When I asked him if he felt the same, he pulled out a handheld electric fan in place of an answer.

He didn’t live far from Auntie’s. We decided to walk through the markets. Partway through, we saw a sign for a fortuneteller and stopped to study it. It read: “Hyeonjin Fortunetelling (formerly Hyeonmo Fortunetelling): Naming, Marital Compatibility Fortunes.”

“You think the fortuneteller did a reading on her own business name and changed it?” I asked.

“I bet. I got my name from one of these places too.”

“Me too. I had three names.”

“Really?”

“The official register says I’m ‘Mihwa,’ but at home they called me ‘Mijeong.’ The fortuneteller gave me the name ‘Miju.’”

“Wow, Miju. I can’t picture you as a Mihwa. But they all have the character ‘mi,’ don’t they?”

“It’s ‘mi’ for ‘beautiful.’ I was born ugly, that’s why.”

Most people would say, “But you look beautiful now,” or something about how being ugly as a kid actually meant something good for the future, but he didn’t say a thing. He just kept walking, deep in thought.

“Your aunt says you’re a musician,” he said suddenly.

I hated having to explain this. “I used to be in a band. It didn’t work out.”

“Can I look you up and have a listen?”

“No need to ask for permission.”

“It would feel rude to not ask for it.”

“You won’t find my name. You have to look up the song titles.”

I gave him some of the titles.

“Miju, do you sing?”

“Yes.”

“We’re going to have weekly night market festivals starting the week after next. You should give the singing competition a shot,” he said with a grin that declared that he wasn’t being serious.

“Maybe I should. Is there a prize?”

“Coupons you can use at the night market.”

“If I win, I’ll buy you something.”

The stupid jokes went on until we reached a fork. He turned into the alleyway with the rice store, and I turned into the alleyway with the bar. We waved goodbye to each other. Once I was home, I got another text message from him. “Check your teeth, Miju.” I ran to the bathroom mirror and found one large chili flake stuck in my front tooth.

 

 

11

B getting a job coincided with a mutual friend’s birthday, so they held a big celebration for them both. I bought two leather card holders from Always Spring Leather Artisans and two praying-hands candles from the 102 Salon for them.

“Shame I can’t just give them corn dogs for presents,” I said as I told the man about my trip.

“Then here’s a present for you,” he said, handing me a corn dog.

 

12

Everyone else was running late, leaving me alone with B. I couldn’t get used to seeing him in a button-down shirt. When I asked if designers had to follow a dress code too, he said that he was just being cautious because he was new. I made fun of his midsummer slacks and long sleeves, and how he was getting old.

B looked me in the eye. “Did you gain weight?”

“Yep.”

“You look good.”

“Feasting on corn dogs every day.”

“Corn dogs?”

I told him about the new Youth Mall markets in the neighborhood and how I was friends with the corn dog guy.

B replied, “Making friends already? That’s just like you.”

He didn’t say anything to me again after that.

Whenever I got together with my friends, I became aware of the things that hadn’t changed—and the things that had—at the same time. For example, B was still terrible at raising his voice over the din to order beer, I ordered cuttlefish, and the birthday girl showed up with a stack of wedding invitations. She ordered a cola instead of liquor, and we blew out the candles three times—once for B getting a job, once for the birthday girl, and one last time for the birthday girl’s marriage and pregnancy.

We got one another caught up about our lives until it was my turn. I opened with my recent move back to our hometown and was immediately showered with worried looks. Another free dinner, I groaned inwardly. Time seemed to fly by, because a few conversations after the gift unveilings, it was time for me to catch my bus. When I announced I had to leave, the birthday girl also rose, saying she was tired because she was early on in her pregnancy. That was the signal for pretty much everyone to get to their feet and go home.

I ended up taking the subway with B halfway to the bus terminal because his place was on the way. B was still silent, and I thought of saying something but stopped myself again and again. We stood side by side with hands on the bars, like a pair of strangers. I glanced at his reflection through the window, but the glass was distorted and made it hard to read his face. When the person in front of us got up, he told me to take the seat.

Before he disembarked, he leaned down and asked, “You really don’t remember who your first kiss was with?”

It can’t be . . . B?

I couldn’t bring myself to ask. So I made my way back watching the YouTube video B was in. The corn dog guy texted again. “I heard your music,” he said. I regretted asking, “What did you think?” He replied, “I don’t think you should join the singing competition.” He really was an honest man.

 

13

B posted a picture of the candle and card holder on his social media account. I pressed “Like.”

 

14

It was almost time for Auntie’s trip. As the date drew near, I began to worry if she would be all right on her own. She made a point of buying a stomach-warmer belt that doubled as a secret pouch.

“You don’t need those anymore,” I said, explaining about European pickpockets and thieves. A Korean tourist was once dragged into an alley in Europe by a thug, I explained, and when the tourist stammered in English, “No money, no money,” the thug unfolded a scrunched-up piece of paper that said in Korean, “Hand over your stomach warmer.” Auntie gave a roar of laughter and kept on repeating “Hand over your stomach warmer” between guffaws. Worried I might have made her anxious, I quickly told her that I’d seen the story online. Which was probably true, because I didn’t know where I’d heard it.

Auntie brought a freshly-knit green sweater from her room.

“That was fast,” I said.

“I’m an old hand, that’s why.”

The fit was loose but comfortable.

“I heard lose-fit is all the rage these days.”

“You mean loose-fit?”

“Yeah, lose-fit.”

Could she really make it in Europe on her own? I wondered. It was so hot that I was wearing just my underwear and the sweater in front of the mirror. That was when Auntie handed me a green knit bag.

“You made this too?”

“Out of that old sweater you used to wear.”

“How?”

“What do you mean, ‘how?’ I just unfurled it and reused the yarn.”

“You can do that?”

“You can do that with anything that’s been knit. Just unfurl and reuse.”

I had no idea. Who knew you could change yarn into something totally different than before? I thought, pulling on the bag. Now I looked stupid, wearing the green sweater, green bag, and my underwear. What am I, Peter Pan? Auntie saw me laugh to myself and said, “Laughing at night like that makes you a silly goose, you know,” as she went to her room. What does that make you, laughing over the stomach warmer?

I heard the sound of English conversation practice from her room. So that’s what she’s been doing holed up in there, I thought, listening to her repeat sentences like, “Which way is . . .?” I decided to text the corn dog guy. “I think I’ll join the competition after all.” It wasn’t long before he replied, “Please, anything but that,” and left me rolling in laughter in nothing but a sweater and underwear. Auntie was about to go somewhere very far, and I had already come a long way. It’s like we’re never going to grow up.

 

 

Translated by Slin Jung


Song Ji Hyun debuted with the story “A Study on Punk-Rock Style Straw Design” which won the 2013 Dong-a Ilbo New Writer’s Contest. She has authored the short-story collection Like an Epilogue, So to Speak and the essay collection East Sea Life. She received the 2021 Hyundae Munhak Literary Award for the story “The Things We Eat in Summer,” which is carried here in full.