- onNovember 15, 2014
- Vol.24 Summer 2014
- byKang Young-sook
Tr. Kim Boram 2015
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 ring—the phone with the broken cord that someone had brought to use as decoration—and 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 chips—no 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 boredom back in the days when she’d worked at the youth vocational training center.
“At night, when I got out of work, I’d be terrified to walk back home because of a rumor that there was a man who kidnapped the smart girls and ate them. One day he appeared and he did try to eat me. I told him to hurry up, before I got cold.”
At the punch line, the boys, who had been pretending not to pay attention, would clutch their heads and yell, “Stop lying Rina! God, that’s the most boring story ever!” Rina made the boys stay inside and listen to her. So the boys began going to the bathroom indoors.
“Rina, your stories are boring as shit. I think my head’s gonna explode. Please stop! Jesus, I hate this fucking shithole of a dump.” When Rina ignored them and continued with her stories, they began to fight with each other. Rina would throw whatever was in her reach at them.
“OK, fine, I was making that one up. I’m really sorry, kids.” But no matter how hard Rina tried to apologize and console them, they would punch each other until all the anger and frustration was punched out.
One of the boys was a thumbsucker. He would whimper in his sleep, especially after he’d been in a fight. He made sucking noises on his thumb. Rina crawled up to him and tried to pull his thumb out of his mouth. He was a big kid who acted like a baby sometimes. No matter how much she scolded him, his hand would always instinctively move toward his mouth. One night, Rina lay down next to him and put her nipple in his mouth. He seemed to relax for a second, then woke up in a fury.
It began to snow even more often. The helicopters kept coming, but by now, the people knew they cried wolf, and didn’t bother opening the sacks. Then, one day, they heard shouts from outside. “Come out, everyone, come on out! Food!”
It was indeed—this time, the sacks were full of cookies, candies, sausages, and cheese. Everything looked fresh. The people tied rope around the sacks and dragged them into their half-destroyed houses. They put all of the food on their tables, one by one, evaluated the quality of each item, sampled them all, ate until they were full, then ate more. Rina sat on her bed and ate what the boys fed her. She couldn’t taste the sweetness, and her tears refused to stop flowing. The canned fruit salad was the most popular item. Fruit, and what’s more, fruit that looked like actual fruit. The welcome and gratitude expressed by the people that day would have moved even the most indifferent of gods. Perhaps that was why the snow finally stopped that night.
Rina was ill for a few days. It would have been nice if they’d saved her some food, but despite their promises, the people ate until you could see the bottoms of the sacks. Then they suffered because they were unable to relieve themselves. Rina didn’t want to open her eyes or lift a finger. Everyone asked her if she was sick. Rina didn’t feel like answering, so she shot back “Who the hell isn’t sick around here?” and turned around to face the wall.
She woke up in the middle of the night from the noise of wailing sirens. Her clothes were drenched in sweat and chills ran down her spine. She wrapped herself in a quilt and went outside. The snow had been packed so tightly that she slipped on it several times. The entire industrial complex was covered in white snow. The snowmen with their electronic chip faces were walking somewhere. Rina followed them. She wandered the grounds in pursuit of the sirens ringing in her ears and it was only around dawn, her body blue from the cold, that she returned to her sleeping, half-destroyed house.
Kang Young-sook (b. 1967) is the author of three novels, Rina (2006), The Writing Club (2010), and Sad and Delightful Teletubby Girl (2013), and five short story collections, including Shaken (2002) and Gray Literature (2016). Rina was published in English by Dalkey Archive Press in 2015 and The Writing Club in Japanese by Gendaikikakushitsu in 2017. Kang participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2009 and the Daesan-Berkeley Writer-in-Residence Program in 2014.