Fiction Issue 4

“I Already Know the Answer, But” – Bak Solmay and Yi SangWoo

I Already Know the Answer, But 

Bak Solmay. A writer. Has published EulI Want to Write One Hundred Lines, Then What Do We Call, and The Time of a City. Recently she’s been thinking often about Bolaño, as well as “Move forward and expand by degrees.”
Yi SangWoo. Yi SangWoo. Analrealist.
Translated by Paige Aniyah Morris

          “As always, Nicolas Cage is the best,” Tomo Teriyama—a third-year student in Class 5 at Horiuchi Middle School in Okinawa Prefecture—bragged as he elbowed his best friend Chieko Satetsu in the side. Teriyama thought of himself as black, his mother an Afro-American Atlanta native—and a distant relative of Toni Braxton—who had attended a spiritualism festival in Strasbourg, where she met Nicolas Cage and fell in love with him overnight, after which Teriyama believed he had been put up for adoption and sent to live as far away as possible in a place with such beautiful landscapes, one couldn’t help but recall them, however vaguely. “Shut up, Teriyama.” “Chieko. Have you ever smoked a cigarette?” “We’re in the middle of class. Please, just shut up, Teriyama.” Sitting around the dining table in a villa with a view of the beach where once every three years or so, an American soldier’s body washes up but other people’s bodies wash up more often, guests had come from all over and sat together eating broiled fish, and she tried to tell her dad Teriyama was weird, but he was showing off the Krav Maga moves he’d learned from these mail-order DVDs to the guests, and they were saying “Amazing,” “You’re amazing, Mr. Satetsu,” “The food’s delicious, Mr. Satetsu,” “See you later, Mr. Satetsu.” For one more glass of free beer, shamelessly needy guests in Hawaiian shirts came from near and far, and what’s worse was they weren’t even recording names in the guestbook, and in the middle of the crowd of these guests they were seeing for the first time, there were some wearing a military uniform who looked like they’d already died, but they raised an empty glass of beer and cheered. “Chieko!” her dad called her and chopped her in the uvula with his hand like he’d learned from the DVDs while giving her a vicious look, and Chieko let out this coughing shriek and dropped to her knees and murmured as she was on the verge of crying. I’m going to kill everyone, kill yourselves all! “He was raised by lunatics, so please go along with it.” That night, in Chieko’s dream, her grandmother, wearing a jade-green Adidas t-shirt, came looking for her, tucked Chieko’s bangs behind her ears and whispered to her. In the end, Teriyama and Chieko were kicked out and sent to the hallway, where they stood side by side watching clouds outside the window, watching the window-wide light shine beneath their sneakers, and though they were entrenched in the earthy smell of the flower pot on the windowsill, or the sounds of shoes going up and down the stairs at the end of the hallway, they were well and truly bored, and so they experienced the world of the hallway distantly, as an escape from class time, very much like a surfer slipping into the depths of the waves at Nirai Beach, and Teriyama—lips murmuring excitedly—grabbed both of Chieko’s shoulders and shouted, “Chieko! You saw that, too, right?” “Yeah. I saw them too.” The two of them locked eyes and, with a concentration sharp enough to pierce the universe, shared a fleeting image that swept through their minds at the exact same time. “Mel Gibson is probably my grandfather.” “What?” “Mel Gibson gave birth to Nicolas Cage, and Nicolas Cage gave birth to me.” “I don’t know for sure, but aren’t Mel Gibson and Nicolas Cage around the same age?” “No—you think so?” “Obviously. Calm down for once, Teriyama.” After Chieko comforted Teriyama, whose tears began streaming down his face, she took a moment to catch her own breath. Then she said, “Listen, Teriyama. There was a murder in Okinawa. I don’t know why, but the killer’s face was revealed to us.” Teriyama covered his mouth with both hands as though he couldn’t believe it, then suddenly blew into his hands, mimicking the sound of a trumpet. “What are you doing, Teriyama?” “I don’t know.” Teriyama closed his eyes and resumed the trumpet sounds for a while, and they had such a strange and pleasant melody that Chieko also closed her eyes and savored Teriyama’s performance. We’re still middle schoolers, so we go around wearing uniforms for half the day and can’t even begin to guess at what kind of people we’ll turn out to be. But passing through each of the countless people in the world, every last one of us, the people we are now will be transformed into every person we come across in ways we can’t even estimate. And someday, when we look back on this hallway, we might look at this simple world of a straight line that resembles number one from so many different angles we once couldn’t even imagine, and no matter how shameful we feel or how much we smile or how much we spew our guts out in disgust, I hope we can down a highball then! Teriyama ended his Charlie Parker standard performance and lowered his hands. “Hey, Chieko. When class is over, let’s go for a bike ride.” “Sounds good.” “We’re gonna catch the Okinawa killer.” They both nodded as the bell rang, announcing break time.

          But there are so many things we don’t know. Chieko and Teriyama don’t know that the clear and shining moment—and the white light that passes through them when they shut their eyes and grab hold of each other’s hands—will not come again, and so they are able to run for a long time. It’s like  once you’ve gotten used to ordering them, you can no longer buy the moment you drank highballs for the first time. Let’s continue on, then, and run toward the sea, toward some unknown place, and let’s imagine snakes or death could be waiting there and close our eyes.
         Killers don’t know, either. That some die repeatedly at the hands of the people they have killed. You know people read those books: Interviews with Killers, Killers of the Century, Serial Killers Speak, People Who’ve Seen Psychopaths. Among them are killers that have been killed several times while they’re dead too, and death didn’t stop it. But I’m not trying to say that the living and the dead are the same. However much a dead person suffered or was made to suffer, the dead and the living are not the same at all.
          Will the killer Chieko and Teriyama meet be killed by the people he’s repeatedly killed? Nobody knows the answer at this point, but they will follow the killer’s trail above all. Muddle on without knowing anything about the danger.
          They’re standing in an old house near Kadena surrounded by old, ruined clubs. Chieko: “What did you hear about that made you come here?” Teriyama: “Shh.” Chieko: “You know that saying, ‘the person who says shh hits below the belt and makes excuses all the time. Shh, shh, shh. I’ve heard people say that, and there’s somebody here. So we have to be stealthy, but it’s not like we can’t talk at all.” Teriyama: (sits on the ground.) Then Teriyama tries to say something but stops, and Chieko drags him around to the back of the house that was standing in front of Teriyama’s mouth. Teriyama is taller and stronger, but it feels good to be dragged, so he lets himself go limp and be pulled along. When they’d pressed their heads to the window, they saw a man with his arms raised wielding knives, and the two of them covered each other’s mouths at the same time, shut their eyes, and dropped to the ground beneath the window, trembling… They lay one atop the other and, long afterwards, opened their eyes and looked at each other in fear, each one hugging the other tight. It felt somehow like a face had floated gently through the sky and disappeared. It’s possible I had mistaken clouds for it, and it’s possible I had mistaken the dark clouds or the dark clouds that will bring about a storm for it, and it’s also possible I had mistaken your face, my face, or other people’s faces for it. They write on the palms of their hands. Chieko: “A face.” Teriyama: “I didn’t see it.” Chieko: “Really?” Teriyama: “Yeah.” Chieko: “An eye.” Teriyama: “I didn’t see it.” Chieko: “Did you see that?” Teriyama: “Nope.” They sneak away with more stealth than ants, the two of them a little goofy and good at running, making goofy ring ring sounds as they speed off on their bikes. Killers have good hearing like mice, killers can hear every sound, but the two of them were racing forward on their bikes, cutting through the sticky, heavy air, shrouded in a strange feeling, not sure exactly what it was they were seeing there, but it might’ve been a person who’d entered that nearly abandoned neighborhood on his own cutting through the air with a knife, no, no, that’s not possible, that was the killer, no, of course not, there’s no way that was the killer, maybe the thing you saw wasn’t a human before it became a killer, and there also was nothing but air in that empty house. They tear through the night, not resting until they reach the big road all the buses that smell like night time pass through and there are no vending machines here. Tonight, I long to see the vending machine’s glowing light, windy nights like this, they don’t want to go home, they are close to the sea but the nearest sea is dirty, but the sea that is pleasant because it is so dirty lacks the emerald glow, but the grains of sand is not as dirty as people say and it’s just an unpretty and unremarkable sea.

          Without washing, Chieko lies on the floor of the room and presses her fingers into her arms and then takes them off. Her arms are sticky, and when she presses them to her nose, they smell sour. On the ceiling, some face appears to be floating like a balloon or a cloud, vanishing and then appearing again, hovering, and just like in the dream, her grandmother wearing a jade-green Adidas t-shirt appears to her and speaks. Grandma, Grandma. What’d you say? What’d you say? Her grandmother moves her lips and mumbles something with a harsh look in her eyes, but Chieko can’t quite make out the words. The old woman approaches Chieko from the door of the room, passing her while she lies on the floor, and whispers. Remember all of this. Fix all of this in your mind several times. On your arms, on the walls, on paper, whatever you see, whatever you hear, whatever you don’t hear but realize. The grandma’s words, like commands, creeds, orders, any other orders, make deep impressions in Chieko’s mind, and Chieko blinks her eyes and falls into the sleep of someone who’s blacked out.

          “As always, Nicolas Cage is the best,” Tomo Teriyama—a third-year student in Class 5 at Horiuchi Middle School in Okinawa Prefecture—bragged as he elbowed his best friend Chieko Satetsu in the side, but Chieko has her arms folded and is deeply yet unpredictably entrenched in the frogs that are spread out wide, shooting up as if they are resuscitated through the rain that pivots upside down. Then she frowns and slaps Teriyama’s cheek, and

What’s

the

matter

with

you,

Chieko?

          Chieko wanted to yelp and run away and shout with all her might Teriyama is strange just as I expected like her father who, every night, opened the attic door and went inside to fumble with the American soldier’s corpse while singing a Kumiodori, the traditional Okinawan song, but

Chi            Chi

e        e

ko

e       e

Chi            Chi

          She limply moved her arms and legs and pressed her face to the window—wow, look at that, hi, aloha, bonjour, a ten-out-of-ten sliding, the teachers and students all crowded together to see as an airplane breezed through the sunlit math class, and like her grandmother, Chieko remembered Teriyama standing in front of the chalkboard and staring alone at crumbs of melon bread on the wood floors, and I wish those things really wouldn’t come to pass, but the more I pray whenever it occurs to me to pray, and the more I think about it, the more I feel like these things could happen, because it’s like the light turning around in my thoughts might not be a white light, but rather white thoughts tinted black so that the small parts of white that remained gave off the illusion that they were light, and in the midst of thinking that light is white, if I transcend blackness then an omen of misfortune becomes reality, “Sorry, Chieko, I think I’ve fallen into your dream,” Teriyama says, treading the earth with his feet. “No way,” Chieko says, shaking her head, “this would be your dream, Teriyama.” Teriyama asks: “Chieko, am I black?” “What are you talking about, Teriyama?” “If this were my dream I would be black, and after finding out I was black, I never once went off the rails and I HAVE A DREAM. Because I would go against almost all the riots and assert my belief in nonviolence.” “Teriyama.” “Yes.” “Mister Teriyama.” “Yes.” “Teriyama, sir?” “Yes. Go on.” “I went inside a building with a wide rectangular window and watched rectangular waves, sleek like glass, swell and slide to me, and it probably wasn’t an ID photo vending machine that holds the future in your face, but rather a beach vending machine containing pastel-toned bikinis.” Teriyama and Chieko turn their ears toward each other, and just like a TV turning on inside a TV, they wake from their sleep.

          Chieko puts up the hood of her raincoat and is heading down the stairs toward the beach when Teriyama comes riding up on his bike, hurtling forward as she greets him. “Today’s Saturday. Get me a cup of coffee, Chieko.” Since she didn’t let Teriyama come into her house, they sat beneath a parasol that fluttered like strands of Chieko’s hair in the afternoon when she squandered a fortune betting on horses and drank what might have been rain or coffee or tap water as they talked. “You’re already fucking dead, Teriyama. Why do you keep coming after me?” “I died but nothing has ended. I’m so scared, Chieko. I ride my bike, but however much I circle around Okinawa, I can’t cross the sea, and there are people like me who move along without leaving footprints, who fall from the control tower every day but don’t vanish, and they climb the control tower again and fall, climb back up and fall, and each time they do, their faces lose all expression, and they scare me so that I want to become a baseball player, but there are no baseball games being held on bikes.” “Teriyama, you came looking for me when I was working as a waitress, too, didn’t you? You came and watched that time I hiked up my skirt and had sex with Yoshimoto in the storage room, right?” Teriyama remembers the white plate. He remembers the cheap vase and the coffee stain that resembled katakana and the lone black person, like an animal, passing through a crowd of people strolling along the beach in school uniforms. Chieko shows him the knife scar on her stomach and says, “One day, my ex-husband beat down the door to the villa and came in with these men wearing Irezumi shirts, and here’s where they stabbed me and tore out my intestines.” Teriyama gets on his bike and rides circles around and around Chieko, crying. “I was circling around your house on my bike that day too, and through that square window, I watched you staring at the ceiling.” “Die, you useless punk.” “I’m already dead.” “Die again.” “Can you make me some spaghetti?” “Die.” “I thought about how much I’d like to have spaghetti with ground meatballs, with some vodka as a garnish, wipe out the sauce from the corners of my mouth with the filter of the cigarette I’d have been smoking and throw it in an ashtray, but I’m dead, so I don’t know who the man is, the man who was doing all this in my head.” “Teriyama, if you hadn’t died, would you have been able to shut up?” Teriyama shuts his mouth, and Chieko watches the overflowing rainwater and the round ripples of raindrops falling unroundly into the mug’s round mouth. “Teriyama, are you dead?” “Of course.” “Why’d you die?” “Well, the thing is …” Teriyama crosses his arms as he sits atop the bike, looking deep in thought. “Sorry. I forgot.” “You’re not Teriyama.” Chieko shoots up from her seat, and Teriyama asks, “What’s the matter with you, Chieko?” She shouts, pointing at the high, enormous waves that cast a queasy black shadow over the villa. “Teriyama doesn’t know how to ride a bike!” “You little—Are you an idiot? How did you not realize this until now?” Now that she really looks at him, this person who looked like Teriyama once and pretended to be him, she realizes the boy on the bike doesn’t look like Teriyama at all. As soon as he hustles in the direction of the sea and vanishes, the villa, the parasol, the coffee mugs, and the stomach scar all disappear in a flash, like a tablecloth that’s snatched away without moving the trays like a magic trick, and they completely vanished from the memories of Chieko, who woke up from her sleep like the glasses left trembling ever so slightly on the table.

          He wasn’t the killer. His name was Richard Marx. Probably the son the American soldier had lost before he died and was washed up bloated on a beach in Okinawa every few years. This one American hadn’t been among the tens of thousands who had indulged in the rapes, but the citizens of Okinawa harbored a hatred for the American’s son in the backs of their minds, and this son of the American soldier—while on his way to the salon his mother, the Okinawan-born Michiko, ran all by herself—died. Would that have been a murder? Was Richard Marx murdered? In that case, who could the killer be? Whisper, whisper. Richard Marx was riding his bike, much like he had been doing at the time of his death, and had been wandering around inside the dreams of the Okinawan people who were whispering such things. The child, who could only ride around inside the dreams of the living, rode inside dreams no one remembered on a bike that made no sound, and he stayed inside the dreams of sunglasses-wearing tourists for so long that he grew familiar with many languages, and knowing full well that he could only wander around familiar dreams, he tried to go to Charles de Gaulle Airport in secret by hiding in the dreams of a French actor catching a return flight once his affair ended, but those who try to break away from Okinawa are the people who have already ended their dreams, and in the dreams of the Okinawans, the child rode a bicycle around the dream nations which no one had any need to remember while calling himself Richard Marx, king of dreams, or Richard Marx, king of boredom, this king who knew how to weave or fabricate people’s dreams and manipulate them using his imagination, and in order to see him or spend time with him or talk about him again, somebody in Okinawa only has to dream.
          The dream I had… it’s a recurring dream I’ve been having since I was a child, and in it, a loving couple breaks up on account of their families’ opposition, and it’s all very hazy and sad. The screen of the recurring dream is like a TV screen from the 80s, sort of blue-tinged and cloudy. It’s not that the woman lacks charm. She’s friendly, with the kind of attitude where she listens closely no matter what someone says, and the man sitting across her tells her the dream he had about a child riding a bike, and she agrees passionately with what he’s saying. She wears an awkward smile and says, “Right, right,” but she eventually grows bored, musing about when she should leave, thinking about her to-do list for the day, and a while later, she gets up from her seat. She offers to pay for the man’s coffee with a smile for no apparent reason. “Because I got to hear an interesting story,” she says.
          Even after a long time since Chieko woke up from her sleep, she tries to speak and think like the version of herself that remains in the dream, like a woman who had already grown up. Those times disappeared quickly, but some parts don’t vanish and instead linger strongly; even after graduating from middle school and becoming a high school student and getting even older, one moment she speaks as herself who is working as a cafeteria waitress, speaks as herself who grew old just like that, speaks as the Chieko who lives, constantly, all of the times she has not lived. She was chewing gum and smoking a cigarette with that expression on her face. With that same expression, she thinks of the Teriyama from her dream. Chieko thinks the Teriyama who had come to her riding a bike was the real Teriyama, and she can’t say the Teriyama from the dream is dead and the middle school student Teriyama from the dream is alive in a certain form, but if she can say so, Chieko thinks he must be alive in good shape somewhere. Chieko, who has an empty expression on her face like the one the older woman wore while she was talking, thinks that the Teriyama she will see soon died a few decades ago, yet he is not dead but alive somewhere, floating and existing in a wavering form. But the Chieko with the stomach scar, the Chieko who has worked as a waitress, the Chieko who has lain back in her chair beneath a parasol, looks at that Chieko from a distance and thinks other thoughts about Teriyama, her longtime friend who used to come see her almost every day, who was dead. Chieko tastes a moment of surging positive thoughts and strong will and happiness and thinks. Whatever explanations were offered for Teriyama’s situation, they didn’t seem unreasonable, whether she was told that he was alive or that he wasn’t alive or that he was wandering around, floating, going about his life and keeping up his strength, she naturally believed it and accepted whatever she heard. Anyway, the middle school student Teriyama’s existence has stayed as it is, and a highball, a highball, though Teriyama still hadn’t tasted one. Even if Teriyama comes riding up on his creaky bike in whatever form, I won’t feel sad or at a loss. How I’d managed to survive, how many times my knees hit or scraped the ground, how often my mouth split open—I wasn’t ashamed of these things, not to anyone, especially Teriyama. I felt nothing. I’m just here.
          Copying the older woman’s expression, Chieko momentarily had the strong sense that someone was watching her. She thought, Today, tomorrow, forever a waitress, and she can’t live like that woman in the dream, but she came to understand that somewhere, she must be living that way, and that everything is just the way it is, and then and there she felt the strange, startlingly clear feeling of the joy that was to come.

          Richard Marx frequented the places where he could hardly ride his bike due to the crowd, and he went to a graveyard of the nameplates this time. All these nameplates were stuck side by side, and there were times when the nameplates there would push and pull themselves in and out of the ground, forcing other stones to leave and take their place again. The Okinawan people got together and said they should name this place. They said they should fill a blank nameplate and name the place that is filled with nameplates. Call this a graveyard, a park, some other place, someone’s house, a hospital, a library, a museum—they should name places like this, they said. I rode that worn-out bike so much that I wondered why I’d died doing it, since it wasn’t like I loved bike riding all that much, but there were times while I was riding that it was hard to hear what people were talking about, and my signature is, well, the nameplate I will wear are dreams, not the bike, I mean, the bike’s not even second on my list of priorities, but anyway—in the dream with the bike and the foreign languages and in every dream, I come to a slow stop in order to hear the conversations people are holding with their hands raised, and I drink the coffee people give me. I thought when Okinawans got together, they all drink foamy tea or something. Some people who came running after me shouted, “Dumb bastard!” as they struck me hard on the head and then disappeared, and Richard Marx hops on his bike and takes off, racing until the end of the short-grassed wilderness came into view. Behind him, where he passed by, the nameplates switch places on their own, and my name and place and I, whose name changed three or four times, dozens of times, and I, who eventually swallowed and absorbed the name. Still, the people of Okinawa went, one by one, toward that wild grass field bearing handmade wooden nameplates they’d carefully wiped clean with hand towels. Some were talking quietly about which names would be good and what it would be best to call this place. The sun was vivid, and the clouds were so close as though they could be caught in your hand. Richard Marx rode off on his bike, trudging for quite a while through the field of wild grass and then racing, utterly exhausted, toward the sea, and there, the names of several people came to mind. The people in the dream, the people who’d seen the dream, the people I’d seen, if they want their names, I’d—no, the names I want—the names I remember—the names I wrote on the nameplates I received in my own hands and, keeping them in order, polished clean and diligently engraved with the names, and even though this is an unnameable place, the names that I remember, I 

          The rattling sliding door—Teriyama leers at it, turns the bowls around and around to examine them, putting on his kimono red like burning cigarette ashes flicked into the ashtray and wrapping his navy blue scarf, he flings open the shuddering door. He goes outside, opens a paper umbrella to catch the falling snow and starts walking over the dead leaves—Detroit, Hrubieszów, Plovdiv—buried under the snow, and when he steps on them lightly, it makes him eye the birds that scatter and fly away in a trance after which he gets cut by the sharp memory of the corner of the building, so he leans forward and gently brushes the snow off the paper umbrella. As he listens to the sound of the snow melting and running down like the left eye he wrenched out while he was drunk, his ankle gives out on the street blanketed in white, and so he lives on, fading. Like the people crossing over on a ferry, it’s not snowing as though there are ripples in the air, so the closer you get to the post office that has taken off toward the theater showing a movie in which it snows, everything is staggering awake like nothing has happened at all and thus flurries of snow are pouring down.
          Under the blue sky, the orphans of Yokosuka wear secondhand aviation jackets. The kids who ride motorbikes since they are little, the kids who play baseball in the junkyard, the kids who go diving at the naval port, the grains of sand, the teachers, the melon cream sodas they were drinking as they watched dogs chase after protestors, are like school uniforms that had been laid out in the villa. Summer is like a bike you don’t know how to ride. When I was crossing the bridge while reading a book from the 61st year of the Showa Era, no tears came to me, so I wanted to die. I thought of keeping pet goldfish, but I didn’t have a house. When I bumped shoulders with drunk people, I apologized. If the drunk people apologized to me, I thanked them. I went looking for the quarters of the black American lieutenant commander who loved his kotatsu and read Donald Barthelme and Junichiro Tanizaki. Sometimes, he would make the small windchimes hanging in the windowpane sway as he talked about that time he was stationed in Okinawa. We put on yukatas and went to watch the fireworks at the naval port together, and on the way back, he leaned on my shoulder and told me that Yokosuka and Okinawa are the dreams that share one body like Siamese twins and that all these dreams were cursed. Lieutenant Commander Nicholas McDonald had knelt and sat atop a kotatsu and committed seppuku. That was the day the lieutenant commander had seen a small blue frog in the alley. Luckily, he hadn’t stepped on it, so he put the frog on his palm but it disappeared. A suicide note was placed on top of the blanket that had been neatly tucked into the corners of the tatami mat, and I couldn’t read it because it had been written in French. So that I wouldn’t be disappointed, the Jewish staff sergeant refused to translate it and took the suicide note away. I repeated the word “disappointed” as I walked the roads that night. That was the 63rd year of the Showa era. I watched the geishas who had come out of a high-class Japanese restaurant cover their mouths with their sleeves and get into pink taxis. This was my two thousand and twenty-fifth future / heavy metal / upside-down falling rain / store sign hanging in the closed door of an arcade. I passed by children wearing school uniforms holding a huge school festival panel. I asked the students if they could house me at their school, and I cried myself to sleep in the storage room filled with horses and volleyballs. Autumn is like a boat burning at sea. The students who had put me up in their school in secret went to Tokyo after they graduated. Before they shed their uniforms, I went with them to the adult theater and ate curry with them in front of the school. I stole a collection of Tamura Ryuichi’s poetry and gave it to them, taught them how to decipher the wireless police radio codes, and told them the names of the dead dogs on the roads of Yokosuka. The friends who went to Tokyo hardly came back. I couldn’t be upset at that. I entered alleys where cats gathered and walked with them through the industrial complexes, sharing the food we found from trash bins. When night came, we slept crowded together at a construction site, and the cats weren’t disappointed with me, and I had no disappointment toward the cats. One day while the cats and I were napping, a friend found us in the alley where we were all asleep. We sat in the sunlit alley talking about the things we had done in Yokosuka together and smoked hemp my friend had rolled up. Around when the white backs of the cats sitting atop the fence became tinged blood-red, my friend told me about how he’d come out in college, and how he and his lover had lived together for half a year before breaking up. Against the backdrop of an enormous, anchored warship, encircled by cats, we kissed. The next day when he was set to return to Tokyo, I didn’t see him off. Though I don’t know why, for the first time since I’d been born, I prayed for someone else’s death. I prayed with all my heart that my friend would die an extremely terrible death, and as soon as the sun came up, I went off in search of the Maritime Self-Defense Forces. Winter is like a memory inside of a memory. I ended up knocking a bucket of water off the deck of a boat crossing the Indian Ocean. I was flowing along. I saw a helicopter taking off. When we finished our tasks, the colleague I shared a room with and I listened to old-time folk songs by female singers. When our night watch ended, I returned to the room, lay in bed, and tried to imagine someone I knew becoming a singer. While I was giving a senior officer head in the wheelhouse, I tried to imagine someone I knew sitting in a waiting room and thinking of me. Walking along the deck, following the trail of the water from the bucket I’d knocked over, I was getting old. Dolphins were soaring sleekly over the waves of the Indian Ocean. In the memories of the children I remembered, Chieko was a legendary singer of Naha, and I was dead for some reason. I think it would be nice if Teriyama could remember the Teriyama who folds up his post office umbrella, shakes off the snow, and walks into it.

          Teriyama received a letter, the words of which he didn’t know how to read, and so he folded it up and sent it sailing out the classroom window with a hurrah. During math time, Chieko got called up to stand at the chalkboard and solve a problem and almost got suspended from school for biting the chalk instead and starting a fire, but it’s okay, I still sit next to Teriyama, and when she lowered her voice and called Teriyama a pitiful, blockheaded bastard, Teriyama shouted, “No, don’t say those bad words!” and grabbed Chieko’s tongue then ran two laps around the classroom, which made Chieko return her voice to its normal tone to shout, “Let go of me! You stupid little punk!” Once, she copied a Krav Maga move she’d learned from her father, which had ended with Teriyama foaming at the mouth as he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance, but when the class ended, the two of them still went around looking for the killer. Chieko pedaled with all her strength while Teriyama gripped her shoulders, standing with his legs apart on the back of the bike and, with the feeling he had become another Teriyama, he said this: “Mr. Morrissey, I like the taste of this liquor.” There was a time when Chieko ran so fast that she arrived at tomorrow, and in the middle of the day, they went to a strip bar and met Chieko’s father, who was surprised and asked, Chieko, when did you return to Okinawa? To which Chieko said, What the heck? Why have you aged so much, you idiot, and simply passed him by, and Teriyama’s Teriyama, who didn’t know those facts, who didn’t know the woman wearing a polka-dot sundress while dragging a guitar on the floor, who couldn’t see anything, waved his hand in greeting but no one saw. The summer went by like that, as did the fall, and the winter doesn’t come in Okinawa, Okinawa is forever like the summer; on weekends when Teriyama and Chieko felt like they’d forever be middle school students, they wandered around the tropics of Naha underneath the pink-tinted clouds, wearing t-shirts with a stretched collar and flitting around at one speed, sometimes laughing “Ha ha!” and Teriyama stood on the backseat and wept as he saw the crows that were following them, maybe he was recalling the Nicolas Cage movie he had seen the night before, maybe Nicolas had climbed on top of a car singing “Love Me Tender” as he glared at Teriyama and shouted, “It’s true! You’re my son!” Ahead of Teriyama, who was crying without knowing why, Chieko kept arriving at tomorrow, and she thought of the words she’d heard from a girl who’d worn a Speedo swimsuit and frequented the swimming pool in Tokyo. “While I was backstroking, I saw my see-through self in the glass ceiling. That’s not all. Each time a graduation ceremony ends, there’s a kid who commits suicide without fail.” The vending machine in Oyama Park dispenses two drinks when it’s violently shaken, and Teriyama said, “Chieko, is there any chance I’m the killer?” Chieko chugged the drink, belching like her father, and set it down and asked, “What?” Teriyama: “I’m talking about in the dream, my skin is whitening, little by little.” Chieko: “Like Michael Jackson?” Teriyama: “Oh my god.” Teriyama stepped inside one of the payphone boxes and leaned against the wall, grabbed at his hair with one hand and shook his head, then picked up the receiver and ranted. Michael Jackson had also been killed. Poor Michael. Chieko, one day I might not even be able to dream. Outside the payphone box, from behind, Chieko sort of looked like an old black lady from Atlanta.

          When he got off the bus, he saw the big Ferris wheel in the distance. He turned his back to the Ferris wheel and started walking, and as he walked and walked farther out, he came across a shop selling military uniforms, and walking past more shops after that one, he saw stores that sold home appliances and furniture that soldiers had traded, and it really seemed like he was in America. Several times, he tried to recite the various streets and sights in this place but the fine details of particular sections had vanished, and the intersections and the corners of alleys where some of the streets and houses met seemed to have splintered off. The building that once housed a bar in Naha where he’d drunk a highball was completely swept away in a storm one year, and they said they had opened their doors again after a few years, but his bicycle kept circling around his dreams without connecting any of his memories, and one day he woke up screaming but couldn’t grab hold of the voice that was calling him and fell right back to sleep.

          As Richard Marx passed by the graveyard of nameplates, he thinks he saw someone’s name in the midst of all those nameplates, a name he had written at some point, but then he suddenly whips around and breaks into a run. The landscape passes him like a fast-forward screen, and past the screen that speeds by faster and faster, he reaches some place with a massive desk on top of which he spreads out an enormous paper to write down people’s names: the names of the French actress and the other French actor with whom she’d had an affair, the names of several Korean girls, the names of numerous baseball players, Chinese names only Richard Marx could pronounce, the names of many, many Japanese people, and the names of even more Okinawan people—he tries to write them all down, but he doesn’t know where to write certain names, whose names should be written beneath other names, or anything like that, so he raises the pencil several times inwardly and goes mm-mm before he stops. Let’s call this place somewhere, okay, we’ll call this some kind of beach, right next to the hotel where the two French actors stayed. So let’s say the hotel is this-and-that and write its name next to it. Richard Marx tries to do what he can, but in the end, he doesn’t know whose name he should write and where, so he clears away the paper and straightens up the desk and takes off for someplace far away. Though he goes farther and farther still, he doesn’t—can’t—leave Okinawa and wanders about the dreams of the Okinawan people one after another, and he finds that people didn’t talk. Because they were so tight-lipped, because he couldn’t see their dreams, even though he washed out his eyes and rubbed them, shook his head, opened his eyes again, the people were too quiet, and if you’re trying to hear their silence, why are you washing your eyes? Sometimes you just need to do such things. The people really didn’t talk.
          Chieko stares blankly out of the window, chin propped up in her hand. She couldn’t remember anything about the grandmother. I couldn’t at all. Chieko, the middle school student, had become a high school student, a college student, a young woman, and above all, she had become the Chieko who lived this way, and someday she had naturally left Okinawa and become a metropolitan company worker, and when she got off work, she went to the indoor swimming pool. Floating on her back in the water, her heart at ease, she saw the ceiling lights whenever she blinked her eyes and knew the path she would take. She floated past one light to the next, then aligned the center of her body with the lights, and then she was going toward the far end of the pool, but when she blinked her eyes out of the blue, another person clearly appeared to her, embedded herself there and didn’t disappear, just like the grandmother in her childhood dream. She swam freestyle, and as she stretched her arms out farther and farther ahead of her body, moving forward in long strides, someone’s voice distinctively burrowed itself inside her ear. But Chieko, who had become someone who doesn’t always live like that, someone who wouldn’t—couldn’t—leave Okinawa, had sticky arms all day, and when evening came, a severe wind was blowing and she had to grasp onto her clothes and staggered home, but there was no way she would send any letters. It’s too much trouble. She had several dreams about some strange soldier who hadn’t fulfilled his duties, lost his way, or else he couldn’t find his way, and sometimes the house she was trying to find would clearly repeat itself again and again. It was as if something was telling her to go there.
          But for now, she is still a middle school student, and every day she and Teriyama ride the bike around, edging their way between the empty houses in the quiet neighborhood, and even if they arrive at tomorrow and the tomorrow after tomorrow at a faster rate, they still have so much time, so they quickly tossed it like bits of sausages to the dogs and cats that appear before them while they’re on the bike, but even so, time overflowed and slipped smoothly through the spaces between their fingers. They parked the bike in front of the payphone box, and sometimes the phones in them didn’t work, but like a ritual, Teriyama picked up the receiver and pretended to make a call, and one day, as he hung up the phone after playing around like that for as long as he wanted, and he heard a voice saying hold on a moment,  so pressed the phone to his ear again. When he listened, what he heard was a sound coming in from a distance—a trumpet sound. Teriyama hung up the phone again, leaning against the wall of the payphone box and covering his mouth with his hands, and his face crumpled as he gave a trumpet performance of the Charlie Parker standard. Chieko closed her eyes and, with a peaceful heart that never wavered, savored Teriyama’s performance. It was a good performance. Chieko opened her eyes and began to sing a song, her skill nearly at the level of Nina Simone. The two of them sang a song called “Summer Day.” Together, they performed—one of them providing the music, the other providing the song.

          We remembered Sesoko Beach at Christmastime. The landscape was vivid like a new sports car that singled out the beam and thus was clear, bright red. We imagined someday drinking a highball, and in our imaginations, we lived forever, forgetting our middle school selves. “Nicolas Cage is the best!” While Teriyama waved his cap with a laugh as he headed home, he watched the street comedians on the way, and so he had left for Osaka to become a comedian, but he scrubbed his teacher’s rice bowls clean and did not live forever. “You might show up on Kohaku Uta Gassen or something!” the cartoonist who had cut off her phone on the day of her deadline and come to the cottage in Okinawa had said. “You’re a genius.” Chieko had become that woman’s assistant, but that didn’t last forever. One day, the day we heard the loud sound of an airplane, we stumbled upon each other at an outdoor ramen shop in Odaiba, but we didn’t recognize each other. And the day when the smell of piss somehow hadn’t left our noses, we stumbled upon each other in a bulgogi place in Myeongdong, but we didn’t recognize each other. Whenever someone, or almost everyone, asked, “Hey, Teriyama, why don’t you have a single friend?” he thought, one time out of a hundred, of the vending machine. When bothersome people got drunk and said, “Chieko, any guy is fine, so hook me up with any of them,” she thought, one time out of a hundred, of the payphone. We didn’t know we would end up this way, and the words of our teacher tipped over into our ears: “Everyone, tomorrow is your last day of school.” “Looks like we’re really high schoolers now.” “Of course, you idiot. Oh, god, how did this happen? Teriyama, I’m seriously worried for you.” “Why do we have to become high schoolers? Chieko, isn’t that impossible?” We separately walked past the playground, bright like our faces when we lay down, and returned to each of our homes alone, and we didn’t cry. Teriyama played back the movie in his uniform to tell Nicolas Cage, “Dad, I feel weird.” Nicolas Cage had just rolled his eyes and screamed like he always did. Chieko spread out her new high school uniform on the bed but didn’t try it on. Chieko, who had been crossing her arms and pouting, went out of her house, mumbling about her father as he’d told her to go run some errands and buy some meat and beer, that son of a bitch, that idiot, that man whore, and spotted Teriyama standing outside holding a firecracker in one hand. “What are you doing here, Teriyama?” Teriyama saw Chieko and put the firecracker in his mouth but he didn’t catch fire. “Hey, Chieko, I had a dream. The killer appeared and told me his location.” She saw some dust bunnies on the ground, and even though she didn’t know where they’d come from, she decided to walk with the lying Teriyama. “Don’t worry, if the killer appears, I’ll blast his skull off with this!” While Teriyama shouted, shaking the firecracker, Chieko noticed the moon that had appeared in the sky even as the clouds were still clearly visible. “Weird,” she yawned. There was a flower pot on the desk sitting out in the street, and as the rain fell, a sushi shop appeared along with the streetlights, and in front of that sushi shop was a place with just an empty wall remaining where there were flowers whose names she didn’t know in the flower pot on the desk, and cars from the supermarkets were passing and Teriyama spoke. The killer told me about people who are sleeping, people dreaming of snow, someone walking down the street in the falling snow who became deaf and blind and lost their time because of the sound of the snow and they melted away on the street, and speaking of that, the killer said it was like a floorplan for a building with twenty-seven stories, a floorplan for two thousand and seventeen elevators and three thousand and fifty-two bathrooms. He said it was like a thirteen-second play with five hundred and eighty-six characters, like a one-line poem comprised of seventeen languages blended together. If you keep walking or keep sitting somewhere, you can see a road, but it isn’t something that appears suddenly, and it must have existed for a long time, but it comes into sight in a certain way as though there’s something there, and for a long time, you end up watching down the road, and doing so, Chieko says she wants to go steal a cup of coffee from a cheap hotel, and Teriyama says he hates fusion jazz, but what if it’s hot when I start high school? Since I’m getting taller, won’t I be hot all the time? I hate that. You might swim faster. That seems useless, though. Seems like nothing good happens when you become a high schooler. Stuff like school festivals might be fun. They look at the road, and there are people heading to work on a bus, and  there are people turning their heads toward the window but closing their eyes to ignore the light, and so they think about the road they saw one day, but that road didn’t seem to be this road, an unlit road that had been rained on and was flowing with water, a road down which people disappeared. They hold up a cigarette, come out onto the veranda and remember the road they saw by coincidence one day, and that road didn’t seem to be this road because Teriyama and Chieko walk down past this road without a bike and don’t realize that this road where night is falling is extending and shifting, and that the darkness falling like a foul ball in the distance is a place full of nameplates engraved and forgotten, where the sound of impact grows smaller and lighter until it becomes a faint wavering.

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Yi SangWoo (Issue 4)

Yi SangWoo. Born in 1988. Studied Creative Writing at the Seoul Institute of the Arts, Yi made his debut when he was awarded the 2011 Munhakdongne New Writer in Fiction Prize for his short story “Mid-Autumn Moon Gazing” and has published collections of stories, Prism and warp.

 

 

Bak Solmay (Issue 4).jpg

Bak Solmay made her debut in 2009 when she won the 2009 Jaeumgwa Moeum New Writers’ Award. Since then, she has received the Moonji Literature Award and Kim Seungok Literary Award. Her publications include short story collections Then What Do We CallThe Color of Winter Snow, The Dog I Love, and full-length novels Eul, I Want to Write One Hundred Lines, The Time of a City, Slowly From the Head, and The Night of the International.

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