The Man Who Became a Flamingo (3)
Oh Han Ki. Novelist. Analrealist
Translated by Archana Madhavan
The name’s Winchester. Winchester Rifle. Call me the Hound. That’s what everyone else does. Humans gave me that nickname ’cause my barrel’s long like the head of a Greyhound.
That’s right, you mop-handle sonovabitch. I’m talking to you. You’re the one who started bothering me a few days ago, dincha. Huh? You’re a flamingo? And you think I’m a flamingo too? You off spouting that bullshit again? You’re saying that I can talk to you through telepathy ’cause I’m a flamingo? That’s your proof? You’re crazy. Fucking crazy. Here’s a little something you don’t know: I’ve always been able to talk to humans. And only to the crazy ones. So that proves you’re crazy.
Flamingo, huh. Pink bird with the long neck. I’ve seen ’em a few times when I was taken hunting in the swamps of Mexico. Strange beasts, they are. Tough flesh, foul-smelling. And you’re saying you’re one of ’em? And that I am too? You fucking with me, kid? Lord Almighty.
The continent I’m from is wide, expansive. Nothing but earth as far as the eye could see. So why am I here now? Why was I brought to this tiny little country? Why am I trapped in this dirty little reservoir next to this vacation cottage? Not by any will of mine, but because of humans. I’ve been passive my whole life. Not even coming here—packed away in some nasty-smelling box with some creepy old Indian artifact like an antique—was by any desire of mine. I’ve been tempted to put a bullet in all of y’all to my will plenty of times. Humanity would be full-on extinct if I had my way.
Hey kid, so you said you’re coming to rescue me? You said you’re looking for me? You said you need me? Now that you mention it, I do see the black bottom of your boat drifting in my direction.
Are you also the one who threw this fellow down here and scared the bejesus out of me? Who is this ugly bastard? Who? A fortune-teller? He figured out that you’re a flamingo so you killed him? Are you on crack or something? Wake the fuck up. Say what? You’re saying he knew my fate? And that I’m a flamingo? Hey, George. Load me up. I gotta put a bullet in these two.
Apologies. I was kinda harsh there, wasn’t I? I’m over a hundred years old, you know. Hope you understand that the older I get, the shorter my fuse. You’ll understand once you get older. Save me, please. Pull me out of this dirty little puddle. As fast as you can. I can’t breathe. Take pity on me. The only thing under the sky that I was ever afraid of was myself, and here I am, miserable and rusting away. My whole body itches. I want to see the sunset like I used to before. I want to touch beautiful women. I want to forge bonds with rough men.
Well, thanks for understanding where I’m coming from. I’ll try not to worry and hang tight, like you say. Hey, I know this is a tall order, but would you be able to help me go back in time? I’m nothing but spoiled goods now. I can’t catch any bad guys or take any hostages. Even if I get away from this reservoir and all it’s rotting fish, I’d only be an antique or a kid’s toy in this country. Pull me out before I become an exhibit in some museum.
Here. Over here. A little more to the left. You’re right above me now. Okay, stop right there. That’s right. I see the bottom of the boat floating right above me.
If you can get me out of here, I’ll reward you handsomely. Do you have anyone you hate so much that you want to kill them? I bet you do. There’s a reason you looked for me. Everyone who wants me has a grudge on someone. Who? The Osprey? That thing with wings that’s absolutely no match for me? You have yourself a deal. Heck, I’ve even taken a condor down with a single shot.
That’s right, over here. Move the net a little to your right. A little more. I’m right here. Right here, trapped against that goddamn fortune-teller and this rock. A bit more!
Now that I think about it, I’m right pissed. Why the hell am I like this? Why am I sounding all pathetic? Who brought me here? I was in the western prairies of America, so why the hell was I brought to this place? Are there Indians here? Are there cowboys and sheriffs? Goddammit. Nothing but crazy bastards who think they’re flamingos and fortune-telling quacks. They’d sober straight up if they got a little taste of blood. Sorry, sorry. I got pissed again. Let this old geezer off easy, will ya.
I’d rather die than live like I am right now. But I can’t die. I was born with the ability to kill people but can’t die myself. If you ask me what I would do if I had the ability to do what I wanted, who knows, maybe I’d write poetry like you. I’ve heard you reading poetry, saying such-and-such about flamingos. It’s not half bad. Obviously no where near as good as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” which the cowboys would read aloud, looking off into the horizon. To be honest, your poetry has its limits.
Writing a masterpiece is easy. Just think about it. I am iron. I am iron. Anyone can become genius-poet if they become iron. Look. I can fake-write a poem too. Want to hear my poem?
I hate the sunset
’Cause I can’t see it
Flushing blushing ash tree
Hang on, poetry isn’t what’s important right now. That’s right. The net’s on its way down. Here. There we go. You found me at last. Smart boy. Don’t worry. The net’s got me. Pull me up to land, quickly now.
Humans are mistaken about one thing. I’m not completely senile just yet. I’m ready to shoot down and kill everything, at any moment.
Hey kid, have you ever tasted blood? Have you ever seen a dying Indian, blood gushing out of him?
Oh, I see some sunlight now. I feel a breeze. I feel the filthy water staining my body evaporating. Here we go, now get me out of this goddamn net.
Ah, it’s been a while since I’ve felt human hands on me. But why are your hands so cold? You’re saying it’s ’cause you’re not human? You’re still spouting that flamingo bullshit? You’re fuckin’ giving me goosebumps on my barrel.
So refreshing. Now that I’m out of that dirty water, the world doesn’t seem half bad. It’s been a while since I’ve ridden a boat. I remember sailing down the Rio Grande in the same boat as some stinking Indians. A sandstorm had been blowing far off in Mexico. I spilled some blood in during that sandstorm.
Now that I’m out of the water, my head’s getting clearer. Now I remember. The bitch who dumped me here used me to masturbate. I was her faithful pet dog, sliding in and out of her genitals. Day after day, she squeezed me into her squelching hole. It was humiliating. I saw the world, then I saw the inside of her body. She cried as she used me. She cursed the world, cursed her family, cursed her lover, cursed herself. Every day, she made a huge commotion, then took her antidepressants and slept like the dead. I was afraid she’d died for real and even started talking to her. Die, bitch. Come on, get up. I’ll kill you on the spot since you want it so bad.
It was a matter of timing. It was a foregone conclusion that the bitch was going to commit suicide. I sowed my bullet inside her womb. Die, bitch. After that, I was dumped in this place, along with her powdered bones. Her fat mother threw us out secretly in the night. Her remains dissolved away in no time. Maybe I should have said goodbye? I regret it. After all, she pleasured herself with me. Two years have passed already. No one’s looked for me until now. You’re the first one to talk to me.
A former master. The contour of a former friend. An illusion that’s bound to vanish.
In fact, I have never thought of you humans as my master. You are servants satisfying my desire. Slaves.
I remember it precisely. 689. The exact number of humans I’ve killed.
In the hundred-plus years I’ve been alive, I’ve killed and killed and killed again, and I’m the one who keeps on living. A tale as tiresome as the alphabet. The folks I killed show up in my dreams. Thank you, they say. Thank you for killing me. Can you kill me again? Thank you. Thank you so much. A ditch. A mute person.
This is the dock. Why aren’t you here? A man to handle me. A man to caress me. A man to lick me, to suck me down. A man’s man. If you wanted, I would kill you. Please kill me. Lord. Hey kid, do you want to be that man by any chance?
My wish is to die. The only things I’m afraid of are fire and molten metal. The thing that’s flowing through our bodies. Something that’s not blood.
Lord, but wasn’t I God’s own weapon? Wielded to punish the innate sins of man? Or a forbidden instrument created by weaklings in order to defy Divine Providence?
Who can I kill here?
By the way, what are those houses over there? The vacation cottages you’re running, you say? Cottages? Like an inn where travelers can stay?
Where are you taking me, kid? Rest at the inn for a bit, you say? No thanks. I’m done resting. Use me right now. Didn’t you say you wanted to hunt down the Osprey? Pull my trigger right in front of his heart. I’ll show you a taste of the Osprey’s sour blood. I’ve waited far too long. My body is burning up. Please, cool me down.
Fine. Okay, fine. I’ll do it your way. I was getting too worked up. It’s been so long since I’ve been outdoors, the air sent my blood boiling. I’ll leave my fate in your hands. Do it your way. After all, you’re the one who saved me. You’re the one who set me free.
I’ll tell you a secret. There’s a bullet loaded up in me. There was one left after I killed that crazy bitch. I’ll give you a chance to shoot that bullet. One single shot. Consider it an honor.
By the way, you’re really getting on my nerves, calling me a flamingo. Goddammit. What kind of bullshit are you spouting, saying that I turned into a flamingo here? Wait, you’re saying I’ve always been a flamingo? Flamingo. Cut out your crazy shit. Might as well be a flamingo hunter.
Ah, so this your room, is it? Seems comfortable enough. Has a slight animal scent to it too. Makes my mouth water. Hang on, where are you putting me? Hey, you son of a bitch, why the hell are you putting me in the closet? Please, I beg you. Pull my trigger. Why are you putting me away in a dark place again? I can’t breathe.
Son of a bitch. If I could kill someone on my own, you’d be a corpse right now. There would be a hot lead bullet puncturing your heart right now.
Ah, I got mad again. Sorry. I apologize, I swear. Forget everything I just said. Please. Don’t leave me in the dark. It’s so stuffy. Don’t close the door.
I am iron. I killed a mouse soon after I was born. The mouse’s blood was sweet. That memory is still so vivid. Hey, did you know? That an alien’s favorite flower is the cosmos.
Sitting at my desk, I gaze out the window. I see the reservoir and the grassland. Over them, I see the nest that’s good at memorizing names. A flamingo is standing on top of the nest that has put off writing a diary. An unfamiliar flamingo. The flamingo’s long shadow stretches alongside it. Some time passes. Now the flamingo’s shadow is gone.
In order to forget you, I become something other than myself. Through writing. As I write, I turn into DB. I put myself in DB’s father’s shoes. I write a novel with the Osprey as the main character. I disguise myself as Winchester the Hound. I stick in characters from my imagination and add reality to it. I write predicting the future while recalling the past. I may have even mixed in some of those things in what I’m writing now, without knowing it myself. Nevertheless, I cannot avoid you. In the end, all of my writing is about you. I start missing you again. When I think I’ll go crazy missing you, I take out my notebook and draw a nest.
a nest where you’re not there, no matter how much I miss you
a nest that pretends to be a human, a nest that’s forgotten its first love
a nest as bright as the spring sun, a nest that meows, a nest that builds an ice castle
a nest that transcribes Guillermo Rosales
a nest that dreams of being chased by monsters every night
a blood-soaked nest, a meaningless nest
a nest born from the crescent moon and tides
a nest that likes to hold its breath
If literature has meaning, then this writing is not literature. If it is literature to record meaninglessness, then this is not literature. Because it does not have meaning nor does it have meaninglessness.
On lonely nights, DB and I walk over to the nest that’s getting ready to be married. DB is afraid that if we ever stop going to the nest that’s vanished into thin air, she will lose her father forever.
I don’t even know who I am. The cows dominate me. I do what the cows say. I think what the cows think. I have this delusion that my voice, my thoughts have all disappeared. I can’t do anything myself, DB babbles.
If you flip the calendar, a wind will blow from the west.
Nights are a space of difficulty. And these aren’t my words. They are the words I heard from a flamingo who was grooming his feathers, over by the nest that was rearing eighteen ducklings last night. Nights are confusing.
Nobody knows this, but you know this is fate.
A boy’s voice comes out of DB’s lips. I think of a sick boy lying in bed, moving his lips ever so slightly.
I regret not writing that sentence
When I cry, my stomach feels full
The cows whisper in DB’s ear.
I’m worried. If Dad comes looking for me, I need to look like me. What do I do? I’ve gotten taller and gained a lot of weight. What if Dad doesn’t recognize me?
DB worries a lot.
Am I just going to end up forgetting Dad? Is Dad just going to end up forgetting me? I feel like I’ll turn into someone else if I don’t hold your hand, DB says and grips my hand tightly.
It’s not that he’ll forget, he just might not remember, I appease DB.
But DB still looks uneasy. DB trembles as though she is afraid. DB says she wants to hear my voice. She says she has a hunch that the cows will disappear if they follow my voice, and then her father might reappear. Not having any idea what to say, I ask DB to ask me whatever she’s curious about.
Where’s your hometown?
I don’t have one. I want one.
Who was your first love?
A sweet girl with a sad look on her face
What’s your favorite novel?
Story of the Eye by George Bataille.
The music teacher, that son of a bitch, hit me with a recorder.
When was the last time you cried?
When I was fifteen. At the movies.
I like animals. But I’m also scared of them. Keep it to yourself.
Jacques Tati’s Mon Oncle.
Everyone is disappointed in me, but I’ve never been disappointed.
I am oats.
What do you dislike the most?
What are you most afraid of?
When do you feel the loneliest?
All the time.
Who do you hate the most?
I don’t hate anyone. Other people hate me.
We talk nonstop, exchanging questions and answers.
DB, do you hear your Dad’s voice? I ask DB from time to time.
I have nothing to say. I can only go diving.
Dad hasn’t shown up yet! DB says with a sharp cry and shakes her head.
The color of dawn.
Do you dream?
All the time.
Did you wait for me?
I start answering DB’s questions again. When we arrive at the reservoir, DB says she is afraid and grips my hand with all her strength. The reservoir looks dark and bottomless. DB’s hand is both cold and hot.
We pass the reservoir and the grassland and head toward the diabetic nest. DB is looking up at the fog-cloaked night sky.
One, two, three.
DB counts invisible stars. I tell her the fog is too thick to see any stars. DB insists she sees them.
I see the stars, I lie.
DB starts to count them again.
One, two, three.
I count them too.
We pass through the grassland and head to the vicinity of the scrawny nest. We go past the walls, toward the barbed wire fence. I crook my neck and look for you on the opposite side of the wall. But there are no flamingos today. And there is no trace of you.
I just realized that the tape measures are blue crabs.
The Korean War seemed to have a big influence on young John Fowles.
You guys are ostriches. Because you’re long-necked ostriches.
The nest with sharp corners looms above us. For a while, we stare up at the nest jinxed by the color blue. Suddenly, DB says she is dizzy. She breaks out in a cold sweat. She collapses on the ground.
I used to be able to hear Dad’s voice if I got this close to the nuclear power plant in the past, but I can’t anymore. Dad’s not here. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t recognize me.
DB weeps. I hold DB and try to comfort her.
Ask me anything you want, DB.
I usually do my thinking in the morning.
Are you a writer?
Do you write stories?
I ate a hamburger but I’m not a bellboy.
Excuse me, do you have a jar of honey here?
What do you write then?
I keep a diary. Sometimes poetry.
I am inspired by my novel and I write.
What is it about?
I am a rhombus, sadness is a potato flower.
Why do you write?
You should try writing too. Then you’ll keep on writing, I answer.
DB stops crying and says she wants to write too. I tell her it isn’t hard. DB asks me to buy her a notebook. I nod. Excited, DB starts to talk. DB goes back to being a chatterbox. She becomes a babbler. Those goddamn cows. She becomes a cursing fiend. She becomes a magician. She becomes a ventriloquist. She becomes a pig and then a deer. DB pretends to be dead. DB, you scared me.
I talk to DB nonstop in order to calm her down. This time, DB talks about herself. About the purple pen that she loves. About the baby elephant that she sometimes dreams about. About the sadness she feels from a four-leaf clover. About the radio that DB’s father loved dearly, second only to DB. We keep talking. Not long after DB gets better, she pretends she’s dead again.
In the end, we don’t make it to the nest that endlessly nags. I carry DB’s limp body back to the flamingo brain. I lay DB down on the bed. DB is out like a light. DB is swimming in the fluids of the flamingo brain. With every breath, she floats up and then sinks back down. Aluminum. Mailman.
I sit at my desk and, as I stare out at the nest that is addicted to gambling, I write down all the things that come to my mind.
—ginkgo tree doesn’t grow
—Call Jackson Pollock
—I hear someone calling me
—Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos
Suddenly, my whole body begins to itch. I stand in front of the mirror. I scratch myself all over. In the mirror, a red-colored being is flapping his wings.
Who the heck are you? I ask. To myself. Or perhaps to someone else.
Who the heck are you? I ask. To you. Or perhaps to someone else.
Who the heck are you? Someone asks. To me. Or perhaps to someone else.
Who the heck are you? DB asks.
Startled, I stop flapping my wings and turn around. DB is sitting up on the bed and looking at me.
Yuri Olesha, Jean Genet,
William Borroughs, Édouard Levé
Yuri Olesha. Last night, I read one of your stories. It was called “Love.” I loved your stories, but I might not be able to read them anymore. If I end up forgetting human language, that’ll be the end of your stories. That might be for the better. Because the more I read your writing, the more I want to steal it.
Not too long ago, I re-read The Thief’s Journal by Jean Genet. When I was younger, I used to think that because I was a rather ordinary person, I wouldn’t be able to understand this novel. I thought I would be able to understand it now, albeit, I’m not a thief or a homosexual. But in a day, I realized I was mistaken. I can’t understand anything. Obviously, I can’t understand anything. Because I’m a flamingo.
At twelve that night, my old lady bailed me out and met me at the door with some goof balls. Goof balls help a little.
I pull out a few sentences from page 91 of Junky by William Burroughs. In this passage, the narrator’s wife, who hadn’t been mentioned before, makes a sudden appearance. When had the narrator gotten married? Had I forgotten? It made me curious, but now I flipped through the earlier pages. After that part, the wife continues to show up. There are even kids that show up at the end of the novel. Near the end of the book, the wife eventually leaves the narrator.
When I was young, I thought Life A User’s Manual would teach me how to live and Suicide A User’s Manual how to die.
That’s the first sentence Autoportrait by Édouard Levé. Aside from this one, all the other sentences are boring. I don’t care much for Édouard Levé. I don’t care much for William Borroughs or Jean Genet either. Or Yuri Olesha. I only care for myself.
Goodbye, Yuri Olesha.
My twenty-fifth flamingo.
DB is gazing at the flock of flamingos. DB says it is her first time at a zoo and her first time seeing flamingos. She says she is fascinated that such a beautiful pink color exists in this world. Looking at you, I nod. You’re looking back at me, too, slightly separated from the rest of the flock.
I am a flamingo, I say, without taking my eyes off you.
I hear my human voice. This is the first time I’ve told people about myself out loud. I tell other people about my true nature without disguise. DB stares at me. She stares at the flamingos and then back at me. She stares back and forth, at me and the flamingos. DB’s eyes go wide.
You’re not a flamingo, DB says in a shaking voice.
I am a flamingo. I am a human turning into a flamingo.
DB shakes her head at my words.
You look like a person.
Looks like this is hard for her to accept.
Like you said, I’m not a person and I’m not a cow either. I am a flamingo, I say.
I hear flamingos just like you hear the cows, I add.
I am a flamingo.
My voice is louder. The first time it was hard, this time it’s easy. DB stares at me strangely.
Come to me? I say to you.
You tilt your head.
It’s all right.
I beckon to you. Hesitating, you walk slowly toward me. DB lets out a cry.
I am in love, I say softly, gazing at you.
With that flamingo? DB asks, pointing at you.
I nod. DB stares fixedly at us.
You come close enough for me to touch but, noticing DB, take a startled step backward. Yellow rumor. Picnic bus.
Don’t be afraid. You can come to me, I say.
You hesitate for a moment and then, making an effort to keep your long neck steady, you take a step forward. DB is so surprised she can only stare at you with her mouth hanging open. You put your face close to DB’s. Frightened, DB steps backward and falls on her rear. You tap your beak against the wire mesh as if in warning. Still on the ground, DB lets out a shriek. It’s a praying mantis, she says. It’s going to bite you.
I went to sleep and woke up and my fingernails are longer.
Drip drip drip drip. It’s raining. Mom laughed.
In the room, there’s a man like a ghost.
The cows keep blabbering.
Hey kid, you have to eat rice if you want to get taller, not hamburgers.
Mom said she was sad we didn’t have a family photo.
The cows’ voices frighten you and you step back. I hug the cow—I mean, DB.
You seem to like something that’s too natural.
Edanko said to me, Try doing a handstand.
Now that I think about it, I was an escalator.
It was cold so I took off my bathing suit. My name is Doonks.
Don DeLillo, you are individual cargo.
I’m heading to a forest. I’m off to a cliff.
I saw some girls going to Masan. There were two of them and both were ugly.
Olivier is from Mars!
In my arms, words spill out of DB nonstop. Rice cake soup. Mixed Martial Arts. Gold-plating.
Don’t cry, DB.
I soothe DB. Reading my facial expression, you slip away, back into the flock.
She only did that because she doesn’t know you. That flamingo is considerate, like a hamburger. Bright, like water. Sad, like a circle. Hurting, like a cave. Warm, like rollerskates, I whisper to DB.
Soon, DB’s tears dry.
Come closer. The cows won’t hurt you.
This time I try to soothe you.
You hesitate. I grasp the fence and call out to you earnestly. You walk carefully toward me. The flamingos next to you glance sideways at you.
Closer, I say. Your long neck sways as you approach me.
Dance for me.
You slowly move your body. You move your feet as though you’re treading a shallow pool of water and are getting ready to fly into the sky. Your long legs and neck sway elegantly. You twirl in a circle. I can see a cool, gentle breeze. I see a photo of firecrackers bursting in a night sky. I see a car exploding and you running to me through the fire.
Isn’t it beautiful, DB? I ask.
DB nods and smiles shyly.
Julio Cortázar, you’re not in your right mind, either.
At some point, DB began humming along to your dance.
That night, I wrote about your dance.
Osprey tries to break into the flamingo’s brain whenever he gets the chance. He opens the door and causes a stir, trying to squeeze himself into it. He sinks his talon into its surface and makes small holes to peep inside. He writhes, wanting to tear apart DB’s tender skin with his sharp beak. Catching a whiff of DB’s scent, his tongue flicks in and out. In order to protect DB, I eventually abase myself to the Osprey.
We march from downtown to the hyperrealistic nest. We chant, blaming the foolish nest. I do as well. No one stops us.
As we walk, flamingos roam around us. Here and there, flamingos are interspersed among the humans. They watch us, smirkingly, as we chant in unison and march one after the other. Still, maybe because I am the only one who can see the flamingos, the others only look in front of them.
Why are you all here? I ask the flamingos.
They dart a quick glance at me, perhaps not hearing my words. They don’t seem to know that I am a flamingo. They might be wary because I have the body of a human. I suddenly feel lonely, recalling how I am trapped between being human and flamingo. I think it would be nice if you could escape the zoo and be by my side. I think it would be nice for us to talk, walking side-by-side on a warm, breezy day. I think it would be nice to feel your warmth. I think I would want to kiss you. I think I would want to seal your feather in my bookshelf and cherish it. I think it would be nice to see your eyes up close. I walk on, thinking it would be nice for you to be seen even in a tropical-diseased nest. I know. Loneliness is a human feeling. Loneliness is what prevents me from turning into a flamingo.
It is around the time I saw the nest that was blinded by jealousy and sleeping fitfully. Someone taps me on the shoulder. When I turn around, a male flamingo is standing there with a humorous look on his face. He has an exceptionally long beak. I meet his eyes. He nods at me. I nod back.
Can I help you? I ask.
The flamingo stretches, feigning innocence. Unfurling his wings, he blocks out the sky. At that time, I spot the Osprey at the head of the flock making his way toward me. The flamingo notices the Osprey’s look and quickly takes off into the sky. Following suit, the flamingos interspersed among the humans also take flight.
You don’t come to buy hamburgers these days, says the Osprey who has suddenly appeared.
Have you seen a little girl about this tall? he asks, approximating DB’s height with his hand.
I shake my head.
You haven’t seen a kid wandering around the nuclear power plant? he asks, eyes narrowed.
I said I had not.
You haven’t seen a young girl who likes hamburgers? That crazy little bitch who talks your ear off about nothing?
The Osprey reeks of bloody violence.
Hurry, fly away,
I tell the flamingos through telepathy. The flamingos circling the air disappear in an instant. Eventually I am able to give the Osprey the slip and make way into the flock.
We chant, resenting a hard nest. I do as well. No one stops us. But we no longer move forward, we linger by the nest that doesn’t fear death. When the sun begins to set, we all disperse in haste.