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from the February 2019 issue

The Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta

In this first installment of Sang Young Park's novella, a filmmaker enlists to earn money for an independent film and finds himself caught up in an even more personal project. Read the second installment here

Listen to Sang Young Park read "The Tears of an Unknown Artist, or Zaytun Pasta" in the original Korean.


It started off as another quiet, boring day. I sat in the rundown office of a queer film production company in the Jongno district, going around the usual illegal downloading sites and typing in “desiring sleeping muscle boy” in search windows.

Posting no. 701045 on your company website is in violation of the copyright of the work Desiring the Sleeping Muscle Boy. Please take measures to delete this posting immediately.

I was in charge of this movie, if it could really be called a movie; it really was just a video of a couple of muscled young guys having sex. The working title had been closer to the film’s true point—Eating Out the Sleeping Muscle Boy—but the Korea Media Rating Board had nixed it. The boy-next-door aw-shucks hotness of the two stars made it a big hit on the file-sharing platforms popular with gays. I sat there day after day in the moldy smell of that Jongno office, clicking “REPORT THIS POST” on files infringing on our copyright. To think I almost killed myself graduating from film school for this, I used to think once upon a time. But I was on the other side of thirty before I knew it, with only sheer gratitude for having a job that paid a regular salary.

3 p.m., an unexpected call from Mija.

Mija has a big voice and a forthright personality (like me), so naturally we both fought a lot in college before ending up friends. She produced what was both my graduation project and first full-length feature. When the film was finished, she declared that I was an asshole and she wasn’t going to take it anymore and abandoned me to work for a multiplex franchise, rising quickly through the ranks to mid-level manager in record time thanks to her bulldozer personality. Mija was one of my drinking buddies and one of my last few real connections in the film industry. She laid down her concerns in her usual prevaricating yet rapid-fire delivery.

Her company’s multiplex branch in the city of P— just outside of Seoul wasn’t doing well, so they were doing a retrospective on a film director I’ll call K. This K hadn’t been feted much during his lifetime, but his innovative cinematography and modernist characterization were being posthumously lauded by the critics. They were going to show K’s most famous work Lovers that day, followed by a Q&A with hipster film director Daniel Oh. The moderator they had hired had pulled out four hours before the event, and Mija said the first replacement that came to mind was her most artistic and least busy friend, me.

You’ll be saving my life if you come.

Forget it. I’m a nobody.

What are you talking about? You’re a film director. A film festival finalist.

A finalist six years ago. I hadn’t been a “film director” since that first and last feature-length film of mine had disappeared from the face of the earth. She must’ve been desperate.

Don’t be an idiot, Mija. I can’t. I’ve never even seen a movie by K.

You can see the stupid film when you’re here. I’ll give you your questions. You just have to bullshit through it like you always do when you’re on stage.

You know how much I hate Director Oh. I won’t go.

I know you hate him. But that’s why I’m on my knees right now. Please.

When I was making my film, it was Mija who had filled out the mountain of paperwork that allowed me to get funding from the Korean Film Council. It was also Mija who had submitted my movie to every independent film festival in the country. Mija, sensing my hesitation, went for the kill.

I’ll give you free movie ticket exchange coupons. Twenty of them!


Fine. Thirty free coupons. I’ll even invite you to the after-party. And bring some friends. This retrospective is turning out to be a disaster.


Like all the other major redevelopment projects in Korea, P— City was antiseptic and free of pedestrians. Wangsha waved his hand as I walked down the straight line of a street towards him and the multiplex. Wangsha was the only friend who had accepted my sudden movie invitation. Like always, he wore tight tracksuit pants and a muscle shirt. He must’ve come from Pilates. A year ago, he declared his intention to become a flight attendant and quit his job at the National Agricultural Co-op. He has been unemployed since. He took classes in flight attendant preparation and foreign languages and applied to every foreign carrier but failed to secure a spot, perhaps because of his relatively advanced age, which would be mid-thirties. Now he was addicted to Pilates and basically lived in a Pilates center, which was nearby P—. His face looked gaunter than when I saw him last. He even had a beard. Quite a departure from the well-groomed Wangsha I’d been used to.

Thanks for coming. What’s up with your face? You look exhausted.

Yeah. I’m trying out for Qatar Airways so I’m losing weight. They like the lean and sharp look there.

Wangsha looked at his watch and grabbed my hand. We were late. We ran into the theater.

Despite Mija’s fears, the theater was packed. Mija whispered to me that fans of a male idol singer rumored to be sleeping with hipster director Oh had bought out the seats in bulk. We walked towards our seats up front. Director Oh, the star of today’s Q&A, was already standing there. We were meeting each other for the first time since the Diversity Film Festival five or six years back. Our entries had been neck-and-neck until the end where Oh’s film won. His film was released by a major distributor and adored by critics. Oh went on to make a mainstream tearjerker exploiting the story of social minorities and it bombed most satisfyingly. I thought I would never hear from him again until he changed his name to Daniel Oh and resurfaced as a social media star, remaking his image as an artsy hipster by posting sentimental pictures about nothing and Tweets blathering on about nothing. Unlike the neat, shiny profile pic he used on his accounts, Oh looked much older and drained compared to six years ago. 

He nodded in greeting. Long time no see, Director Park.

No kidding. Haven’t seen you in a while. I heard I was talking to “Daniel” so I thought the Q&A was with some idol kid. No idea it was you. (Of course I knew it was him.) It’s a fake name, right? Or should I say pseudonym?

A fortuneteller told me my name was getting in the way of my success. I changed it to something more auspicious.

The fortuneteller named him Daniel? Did this fortuneteller study the Four Pillars of Fortunetelling in New Jersey or something? Everyone in the film world knew he had a chip on his shoulder about his old-fashioned real name. What a joke. His bullshitting hasn’t changed at all. Mija told us the movie was about to start and practically pushed us into our seats. Oh surreptitiously glanced at all the people staring at him and sat down in the middle of the front row and crossed his legs. Wangsha and I ran away to a couple of corner seats at the very back.

I whispered to Wangsha, That asshole is the “fake fag” I told you about.

Wangsha raised an eyebrow. The movie began.


The actors’ faces shone on the dim black-and-white screen. Wangsha looked as if he were totally immersed in the film as he craned his neck in the seat next to mine. His posture was usually perfect, so it was weird seeing him in such an awkward position. Nothing much happened half an hour into the movie. One meaningless line followed another. Was this the “modernism” critics liked to blabber on about? So fucking boring. I had no idea what questions I was supposed to ask about this thing. I should’ve just said no and done overtime at work. But it was too late. I kept nodding off like a sick chicken. Wangsha jabbed my side with his elbow.

You’re snoring.

I slunk in my seat and leaned on his shoulder. Wangsha sighed and leaned back so I could lay my head down on him more comfortably. Wangsha used to lend me his shoulder and thigh often because I suffered from insomnia. There was a hint of Chanel Bleu. It was his current favorite scent. I was the one who nicknamed him “King Chanel”—Wangsha for short—because even in our unit in the military, he always put on Chanel perfume. Was that really ten years ago? We never would’ve thought back then that we’d have this relationship in our thirties. The characters in the film were spooning in a dark attic room. A tiny beam of light leaked through the beams of the shoddily made roof. The actress covered her eyes with her hand. Light dropped on her fingertips. I stretched my hand toward the screen and looked at my short fingernails. Wangsha raised his hand and gripped it tight.

This scene, this touch, was something I knew all too well.


We were lying in our barracks made of shipping containers, at the Zaytun Division in Iraq.

We were in the same night watch shift and had returned to the barracks in the morning, drunk on alcohol we’d hidden. We were the only ones there. We had embraced each other as soon as we entered, kissed, lay down on the bedding, and intertwined our fingers together. The black paper stuck on the windows slightly fluttered with every pass of the electric fan, and tiny slivers of light seeped through cracks in the windowsill. Through the light I could see Wangsha’s wet lips, his narrow nose that expelled deep breaths, the droplets of sweat on his eyebrows, and my face reflected in his eyes. It was quiet as anything in the desert that morning except for the sound of our breathing filling the barracks. Through barely open eyelids, we stared at each other’s faces as we came at the same time. We spooned on the narrow bed and caught our breath. A tiny shaft of light from the windowsill pierced my eyes. I raised a hand to block it. Wangsha grasped my hand. We lay there for a while, hand in hand.

Wangsha had been the first to let go.

This isn’t what I wanted.

When I heard him say this, I realized that this was very much what I had wanted. I thought, This is what I had wanted to do. This is what I had wanted all along, what I had hoped for so badly. Always, from the beginning. Always.


I went to Iraq to make a queer film the likes of which the world had never seen. 

The independent film scene was swept up in a queer film wave when I was in college. I watched every queer flick that opened in Korea out of my natural-born duty as a queer, but I was disappointed each time. The films were melodramatic or transparently political, and far from the realities of real gay men (in other words, from myself). It was almost enough to make me homophobic.

I decided to use my disgust as creative energy to become something completely different. I was going to make a 100 percent pure queer movie that did not flaunt my queerness like a medal or consume it through the objectification of melodrama. What really lit the flame of my ambition was the young Spanish director EL, who wrote his first full-length feature script at nineteen, produced the film by twenty-three, and thrillingly debuted at Cannes the next year. I was a twenty-two-year-old undergrad and dazzled by the magic of his success story. Determined to be the EL of the East, I decided to take a leave of absence from school and make a film that would stun the world and get me into Cannes. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with a script that would turn this world around; I only managed to turn my stomach. Like so many failed film students before me, I ended up running away into my military conscription duties instead, vowing that I’d return someday as the hot new thing debuting at Cannes.

I jumped to volunteer for Iraq as soon as the deployment option was announced around the end of my year as private first-class. I needed the money. A six-month tour would come with twelve million won in cash. I thought I could easily film two short films on that, or even—with a little help—one full-length feature. Blinded by hope, I applied for the selection process without telling anyone (I didn’t want to jinx it) and got in.

We were trained at Gwangju in Gyeonggi Province for a month before deployment. “Zaytun,” the name of the deployment division, meant “olive,” a symbol of peace and renewal. I was to become a guard for the base or work in village reconstruction projects, contributing to said peace and renewal. But I had a feeling that it was going to be more of a glorified labor camp, and it didn’t take too long to prove me right.

My posting at the Zaytun Division was a unit that painted murals.

Like everything else in the military, it all happened because of a random comment by an officer. A colonel took one look at the large bomb-shelter wall surrounding the Zaytun Base grounds and said, “That wall looks a little empty.” His words threw the entire division into a frenzy. Our platoon leader ordered any serviceman who had majored in art to paint a mural. There was a base-wide effort to secure soldiers with visual art backgrounds among the new arrivals. This turned out only three out of the 200 soldiers, which prompted a widening of parameters to include any arts major, bringing the unit headcount to a grand total of five.

The troop’s first project took four full days. I’m calling it a project now, but we were basically thrown five colors and told to finish a mural that covered the entire wall in five days. The three visual arts majors talked it over and it took only half a minute to decide on a landscape that would appeal to taste-challenged middle-aged Korean men like our colonel. C was a western painting major and he drew the underlying sketch. A, an industrial design major, decided the color, and animation major C colored in the mural. Me and a tall soldier, who was older than us by a year, were in charge of mixing the paints into new colors. We learned then that five colors were all you needed to create almost every color in the world. We came up with what was clearly a rushed homage to Bob Ross. But our strategy seemed to have worked as the colonel seemed pleased enough. In fact, he was so impressed with our initiative that he decided to make us into a permanent unit. The purpose of the Zaytun Division was to help in reconstruction efforts in the cities of Iraq devastated by the war, and murals were a good way to showcase such efforts. That’s how our mural-painting subdivision became an offshoot of the guards.

All of the mural painters were privates, and everyone was twenty-two years old except the older one. The art-school privates, like most twenty-two-year-old heterosexual males, went on and on about their totally boring lives. I was completely uninterested in their freshman sexual hijinks, but I had to get along with them whether I liked them or not. So I talked about my own short but sweet sexual exploits, albeit with the genders switched out. While we worked on forcing this artificial camaraderie, the tall and older private kept his mouth firmly shut. His shoulders were wide and his body taut with slim muscles, his face slightly menacing with his slightly protruding brow; he looked more like a physical education or martial arts student than an arts student. His age also made us careful around him. He had the rare family name of Wang. I couldn’t help asking him about it.

Hey Wang-hyoung, are you Chinese?

Yup. I’m Korean-Chinese.


No. I wouldn’t be here if I were.

There were other odd things about him, aside from that sense of humor, and the one that stood out for me was his scent. He was obsessed with being clean. He always showered as soon as he got back to the barracks. In the shower he washed his underwear with the same citrus-scented body wash he used on his body, as if he hated to give off any body odor whatsoever. If that wasn’t enough, he sprayed every corner of his naked body with deodorant, in the grave manner of a funeral director dispensing an arduous but necessary ritual. Once when he went to spin his washing in the spin dryer, I took a peek at his metal perfume bottle shaped like a water bottle. CHANEL ALLURE HOMME SPORT. I had no idea Chanel made men’s stuff. Seeing how even his deodorant was Chanel, I figured he was a big Chanel fan. I christened him “Wang Chanel” and let it be known throughout the subdivision.

I didn’t expect to become that close to Wangsha at first. I was a little intimidated by his height, his wide shoulders, and his abnormally long limbs. Plus I was a bit attracted to him. I tried not to let it show, but sexual tension, like food in a warm meal tray nearing the end of a meal, tends to give off more smell with time. I tried to keep it concealed and kept my distance from him as much as possible, but I still caught myself staring at him, and there were times our eyes met and I quickly looked away. Wangsha was also a bit cold and distant with me. Of course, he was like that with everyone.

Our duties primarily consisted of going around the reconstructed schools of Erbil and painting murals on their walls. The citizens of Erbil seemed to have positive impressions of the Zaytun Division. Like the American GIs during the Korean War, we carried provisions with us to give to children. The kids came running out before our cars were even parked. We had about fifteen Special Forces personnel protecting us as we painted. Interaction with the children was loosely regulated. Because of the wall of heavily armed Special Forces guys between them and us, we basically had to toss our provisions for the kids on the other side to catch. Wangsha, always expressionless when he was with us, would greet the children with the biggest smile, so big you could see, like, thirty of his teeth. I couldn’t help staring at his smile. Wangsha, despite how it pissed off the Special Forces guys, couldn’t help saying hello to the kids and asking their names in English, and sometimes he would squeeze their hands or pat their heads when our guards weren’t looking. It made me wonder if he had a kid in Korea. The kids recognized him as an ally and followed him around as we worked. He liked to teach them Korean pop songs. He had brought an MP3 player from Korea, from which flowed songs by Deuce, Turbo, So Chan Hui, and Chae Jung An. And from that unspeakably dry desert came forth the singing of Wangsha and the children. Sometimes, Wangsha would get so into it that he danced for them. He was a virtual K-pop encyclopedia and knew the lyrics and choreography to every song. I have never seen anyone love music and dancing more than Wangsha, and I doubt I ever will. If Confucius is right in saying that real success means knowing how to really enjoy something, Wangsha should’ve been a star. I didn’t know then that liking something was one thing and being good at it was another. And that becoming successful at it was yet another thing.

Wangsha played with the children while the other subdivision members waited for the paint to dry, engaging in their usual blather. C, the western painting major, said he was going to drop out of art school and open an Italian restaurant. He exposed his rather overblown ambition to become rich, saying he wanted to grow the restaurant into a chain. B wanted to study in the US and become an animator for Pixar. I wasn’t crazy enough to tell them about my dream to film a queer movie and enter Cannes, so I made up something about using the deployment money for college tuition.

News of the Erbil mural-painting soldiers spread like wildfire. A whole lot of schools put in mural requests, and what started out as two murals a week got out of hand. We still had to do our original guard duties within the regulation three-shift cycle, so all our spare time was spent going into town for the murals. None of us slept more than four hours a night. We were only given about four days per mural and soon it was impossible to come up with a new picture every time. We decided to create a set of characters that we could draw quickly no matter when and where. The fight started when we were trying to choose the characters. B had chosen a Pokémon character and Wangsha said it was plagiarism, that we were better off coming up with new, Korean-style characters. C, the western painting major, agreed with Wangsha. B and I argued that Pokémon characters were easy to copy from and the Iraqi kids loved them, so what was the big deal? Wangsha complained that there was no point in doing any of this mural painting if we weren’t going to express originality. I started grumbling.

Why the hell are we talking about originality? None of us came to Iraq to do art.

What do you think art is? This is art. We’re communicating something to the Iraqi children. Movie people like you don’t get it, movies aren’t a pure art form.

Uh, excuse you? And what kind of pure and exalted art did you do before coming here?

Modern dance.

Modern dance? Did you crawl on the floor and say you’re a dog? Wear black clothes and say you’re a black dot? Take a dump on stage? I bet you’re famous for that shit, literally. For “communicating something” and “real art.”

Wangsha threw a punch at my face. I grabbed his collar and our bodies were soon entangled on the floor. The other soldiers in our unit pulled us apart. The argument, complete with hand-to-hand combat, came to an end as we decided on a shitty compromise that everybody hated, of mixing original characters and Pokémons.

The barracks were unpleasant for a while. But whatever. We were too busy and didn’t have enough sleep. We didn’t have the wherewithal to care about awkward feelings. We got a new duty schedule a few days later and Wangsha and I were put in the same night-watch rotation. We had to dress in full gear and walk nine kilometers relying only on each other. We weren’t gnashing our teeth at each other or anything, but I wasn’t exactly looking forward to it, either.

That night, Wangsha and I walked the length of the bomb-shelter wall, weighed down by our gear. I was thinking of how standing night watch with a ghost would be less awkward when I caught the faint scent of something. A strong citrus smell. The desert is relentless with its sandstorms and little tornadoes, so we always wore a mask up to our eyes and a military-issue handkerchief over that. And the smell cut through that double-armor. How much perfume do you have to douse yourself with? It was biological warfare. I grumbled, Ah, perfume. I wasn’t saying it to Wangsha but Wangsha lowered his mask and spoke.

Sorry. I think my body stinks.

I told him he was surely the least stinky person on the face of the earth. Wangsha thanked me. I hadn’t meant it as a compliment.

But why Chanel? I didn’t even know they had perfume for men. Is Chanel a big deal?

It’s just Chanel. I like it. You know what it is just by the name. It could never be anything else.

Spraying on Chanel doesn’t make you Chanel, I wanted to say, but didn’t. I suddenly had a feeling. He might be on our side. There are lots of heterosexuals obsessed with perfume but there was something gay about the point he just made. Plus, he was a modern dance major. Just when I was sunk in this prejudice-dripping gay fantasy, a sandstorm began to blow. I turned my head to the opposite direction and closed my eyes. The wind died down. I put down my gun, took off the handkerchief, and shook it twice. It rained sand. Wangsha spat out the sand in his mouth on the ground. Then, he spoke.

Do you know what’s funny?

This better be actually funny. What?

I did perform as a black dot. At the Berlin Tanzolymp.

That’s so Korean of you.

Fuck you. And why did you drop the polite form and stop calling me “hyoung”?

Because I outrank you by fifteen days?


I’ll call you hyoung if you want.

Forget it. Just call me what you call me.

Wangsha the Chanel Fanatic it is.

Wangsha smiled half-assedly. When he did so, his cheekbones looked fit to burst. Adorable. I asked what made his geriatric ass volunteer for the Zaytun Division and he said he wanted to experience something new. That all he did before the military was practice dancing fourteen hours a day and enter every international dance competition he could. I got the feeling he’d had a lot more experience than most (poorer) twenty-somethings but didn’t say so. I asked him something else.

But why modern dance? It’s not the most popular thing to do.

Wangsha said he became an artist because of his father. His father had grown up poor and had a reverence for the arts typical of self-made men. He had not wanted his precious only son, born after seven years of marriage, to mortgage his entire life on material success. Wangsha received all kinds of arts education from the time he was young—music, art, golf, horseback-riding—but nothing took. Then, in middle school, he saw a modern dance performance that was like a call from God. He begged his father to let him take it and it opened a new door for him. His long limbs and excellent sense of rhythm were perfect for modern dance. Determined to become the Charles Wideman of the East, he practiced for fourteen hours every day. He did turn out to be talented because he got into an arts high school in Seoul despite having started late. But that’s when it all went wrong. His long limbs weren’t enough to take him to the next level, and by the time he learned this, there was only so much that his efforts could do for him; it was too late. And that wasn’t all. Wangsha had never wanted for anything growing up, his father being an executive at a chaebol conglomerate, but the astronomical lesson fees made him realize just how scary capitalism was. Like his fellow male upperclassmen in arts high school and art school, he worked hard to win an international arts competition that would exempt him from military conscription. Beginning in high school, he entered practically every international modern dance competition in the world but never got past the preliminary round. He started collecting perfume at airport duty-free shops and started spraying himself incessantly and brushing his teeth until his gums bled. He even became anorexic. After years of this, he ended up with a whole display case in his room full of perfume bottles. And right before he entered the military, he managed to make the finals of very prominent dance competitions in Greece and Germany. Determined to give it one last shot, he devoted even more time to practicing and lost more weight. But his work, “I Am Just a Small Dot in the World,” did not win. After all that time, money, and effort, he ended up as a conscript anyway.

I knew I wasn’t talented enough. I got as far as I did through sheer bloody-mindedness.

He sounded like he had experienced every hardship in the universe, and I did briefly think it was just the whining of a rich little boy who had no idea what it meant to fight for his survival. But I wasn’t so naïve as to not understand that everyone had their own unhappiness in life. I nodded and said something in consolation. Wangsha asked me why I got into film.

Because of insomnia.

What does that have to do with film?

Nothing much. I couldn’t sleep at night, so I watched a lot of boring movies. I still couldn’t sleep, so I tried writing scripts that were even more boring than those art films and softcore porn. And now I don’t know how to do anything else.

You snore really well for an insomniac.

Iraq cured me. Maybe I was Iraqi in a former life.


We walked the desert without talking. At a much closer distance than before. I kept a half-step behind him. No matter how heavy our gear, his back was always ramrod-straight, his neck long and poised. The back of his head, half-covered by his cap, was perfectly round like a well-kept funeral mound. My eyes were fixed on it as we walked.

The sun began to rise. We finished our shift and went into the barracks together. Unlike the bright outdoors, the barracks were black as night. They’d stuck black paper on the windows so the night watch could sleep. We woke the next shift and went to the container next door for showers. The barracks were empty by the time we got back. We sat in our respective beds in our underwear, enjoying the air-conditioning and massaging our heavy legs. I prevented my eyes from sliding to Wangsha’s crotch by turning my head away. Wangsha spoke in an emotionless voice.

Actually, today’s the day my dad died.

I didn’t know he had passed. When?

I don’t know whether he’s alive or not. He went missing five years ago. We reported him missing today so today is the day he’s declared legally dead.

What happened?

He went to Saudi Arabia five years ago for a power plant project. It was supposed to be a six-month thing but it kept getting extended. Then we got a call. He’d disappeared. He left all his things in his apartment. His passport and everything. Everyone thinks he was kidnapped or had an accident. But I don’t think so. I think he’s in hiding.


I just got a feeling. He was going to get fired once he came back. The power plant business was good for a time. Then not so good. The whole Saudi Arabia post was really a step down. He was a pretty proud guy, so he would’ve chosen to disappear over being fired. That’s the kind of man he was. Proud, obsessed with honor. A middle-aged man who would rather run away than look pitiful. He also had this romantic notion or other about freedom. Like some men his age have. Pushing his only son into the arts was part of it. He kept telling me to live freely. But he confined me in the arts. That’s pretty sad. I don’t know enough about his life to tell you why he wanted freedom so much.

He had an affair with a Middle Eastern woman. That’s the only answer.

I hope that’s the case.

Sorry. Bad joke.

No, I really hope so. I hope he’s alive somewhere. After he disappeared, I looked into his bank account and found there was nothing there. I probably spent all of it on my dancing. And he probably got rid of some of it himself.

I see. Is that why you’re in Iraq?

Not really. It’s not like he disappeared here.


That bastard. I wonder if he’s really dead?

Wangsha stared at nothing as if he were waiting for a pot to boil. I didn’t know what to say so I said nothing. Wangsha’s eyes teared up. Unconsciously, I reached out to his bed and rubbed the tears away.

You OK?

Wangsha looked at me askance.


I coughed, embarrassed. Wangsha placed a hand on my shoulder.

Normally I want to kick the shit out of you. But you’re cute now and then.

My heart began to thud. Afraid he’d feel it through my shoulder, I maneuvered out of his grasp. Wangsha came and sat right next to me. He whispered, Could you keep a secret? I’ve liked you all this time. I’ve never felt like this before. Was he going to say some yaoi shit like that? I flushed, thinking of the possibilities. I kept my voice steady. What?

You wanna get drunk?

Wangsha left me behind to go to his locker as I briefly stopped breathing from disappointment. He brought back a liter-sized plastic bottle. Bulk soju, used in homemade wine-making.

I stole it from the last supply run.

I promised to keep it a secret, saying, Isn’t this enough for five people? I was still disappointed, but I wasn’t going to say no to my first taste of alcohol in three months, so I said,Wang-hyoung, I love you! in a very heterosexual way and hugged him. We grabbed those Pringles and Gosomi crackers that we never ran out of in the barracks and began to drink.

Drinking after three months of sobriety was fantastic. So fantastic that I drank enough to forget how fantastic it was. Wangsha, too. His face was red and had a stupid grin. He looked genuinely happy, and therefore, cute. The soju in the once full bottle began to dwindle. I kept feeling that I would burst into tears if I laughed too hard. Never had I felt my emotions shift by the second before. I wasn’t the only one who was really drunk. Wangsha, almost gone, hugged me. I hugged him back, hard. I don’t know who started to kiss whom.

© Sang Young Park. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2019 by Anton Hur. All rights reserved.

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