Mistakes settled in the warm, spicy clouds of their concrete room. Gochugaru clung to their nose hairs, every nasal gust reminding them it settled, too. He reminded her of himself with a gentle squeeze on her hand. She reminded him of herself by lying still. Perfectly.
The couple shared a bed for the first time in four months. The absence was not a choice. Different nationalities give different opportunities. Problems. And though their individual opportune problems sometimes aligned, after a set time their carriage, a perpetual pumpkin, expired along with their visas; and they, in rags, resumed their familiar hunt for a new magical alignment.
Tonight, they began a new together. South Korea. Each new together was different. But this different was different. It set the scene and stung like the gochugaru. And just as they would eventually learn that gochugaru was nothing more than chili powder, they would not eventually learn the details of this different sort of different.
There were a few moments, in the first moments of this together, that different waned. It stepped out long enough for him and her to remember their reunion and forget their distance in a sloppy sexual collage. And though the lovers acted as strangers, their parts were not foreign. And so, in the strangeness, and especially after, they held each other. And it was as it was. It was between different.
And then it was over. And he held only her hand. And she only lay. Perfectly still. Perfectly.
She lay so still, that she slept. He did not, and she did not know. She dreamt of tornadoes, as she sometimes did and always hated. He did not know of Ana’s tornadoes. He thought of the new home. He looked past the bump of his lover’s thickly blanketed hips and straight onto particulars. The thermostat. He noted the temperature of the room, blinking red. It was a perfectly normal 20° C. He had this fact, and he had her hand.
And in the early morning light it was not light that awakened her. It was not the dullness of his daydreams, either. It was the banging of a tight, leathered fist. And the screech of a tight, leathered throat. In a language they expected to hear only after breakfast, at the earliest; and somewhere outside their front gate, at the nearest.
“What is it?”
She ran straight from a tornado into the early morning assault.
“Well, it’s a lady at our door.”
He always had the facts.
“Yes. What should we do?”
He hadn’t helped her from the tornado, either.
“I suppose we should answer.”
“I suppose we should get dressed.”
She matched his tone, not accidentally.
And so they clothed their, once between different, bodies.
And she was glad they did.
They opened the door, failed to brace, and the leathered screamstress let herself in and straight to their bathroom. She cleared the 14-inch step up to the closet-sized palace with ease and familiarity. She straddled, then stepped over their thrice-used toilet, plucked a wad from the bin beside it and waved a crusty tissue in their face. It was their sexual reunion and she wagged it. They did not know why. They knew not to flush tissue in Korea. They did not know how to tell her they knew.
After several slow motion nods: Yes. We know. Ana showed the Korean woman a calendar and drew a picture of an airplane in the margin, complete with a smooth arrow to the date. Henrik only held up one finger. One day they’d stayed in this home. One night they’d slept in Korea. The Korean woman still screamed and scoffed; dug in their trash and pointed in their bowl. Her gestures were impressive and effective. Their gestures were not.
The leathered hand grabbed Ana’s soft wrist and nearly crushed it for it was much too small for the situation. And much too small for the size of Ana’s thick ankles, too which had no choice but to follow closely behind the old woman. He followed, too. Free as a bird.
Just outside their ground floor apartment, which was part of something of a penta-plex (they’d only just noticed) surrounded by a thick iron wall, the woman released Ana, fell to her knees and began clawing at the edges of a majestic manhole. In this spare moment while the woman distracted herself with the hole, Ana looked around. The Chinese-style complex, the heavily landscaped windows of their four elevated neighbors, the iron fortress walls, and the antique sewer cap were lovely.
Ana thought of a young couple discovering loveliness together. She thought of loveliness and felt only sadness. Henrik did not notice the architecture, which he would have corrected as Joseon style. And he did not notice her sadness, which he would have corrected as unnecessary. He only watched the woman’s efforts, wondering the tough lady’s diet and if he should change his.
With sadness and wonder standing tall, the durable senior, now in a compact squat, lifted the giant coin with her brown striated fingers, just enough to shove it aside with her brown striated feet, now sandled. She used the entirety of her short legs’ strength, plus a bit from her anchored arms, to complete the job in one long shove.
Now what. It occurred to Ana to turn to Henrik, the first time in a long time, for the answer. He only watched. She took his hand. He only stood still. Perfectly. She looked at him, to him, then for him. It wasn’t until his face added a rare expression that she joined his gaze at their hard-working third.
The small woman, somehow armed with a sturdy, two-foot branch, fished out a healthy serving of shit-covered condoms. From her squat above the hole, she waved the sex-feces flag at them. Back and forth. Back and forth.
They knew not to flush condoms. They did not know how to tell her they hadn’t used one.