Love So Divine (Short Story)
Published in The Big Ugly Review
I have an eight hour stopover in Seoul but my wife is checked through to Heathrow with the rest of the baggage. I have the clothes I stand up in, a ticket, a passport, and a small overnight bag. I’m adrift. Anything could happen.
At the Korean Airlines transit lounge a charming lady in a long beige coat motions me to sit down on a hard couch. Her mouth is a rosebud which perfectly matches her red hat. She reads to me from a card.
-Please wait here. The hotel bus will arrive shortly.
She gently places a sticker saying “Transit Passenger.” on my coat and pats it into place with a white gloved hand.
I wait, and every time I catch her eye the rosebud becomes a polite smile.
When the bus comes I am the only passenger. The driver’s haircut is geometric and he talks continuously to an earpiece and narrows his eyes at the road. I can’t understand a word he says. He wears a black suit with a white shirt and black tie, like a secret service agent. I wonder if I’m being taken for questioning. It’s either dawn or dusk and the sky is the color of aluminum. The bus sweeps down a concrete flyover, out of the airport, between boxy mid rise buildings covered in neon signs. They might be for noodles, insurance, or whisky. It doesn’t make much difference to me. As the sky darkens more of them start to appear.
The hotel looks like it was built to three quarter scale. It stands on its own in a severe, unlandscaped lot with a fence around it, like an upended shoebox. The receptionist is also wearing the secret service uniform, although he’s older and balding. Strands of black hair are meticulously combed across his shiny scalp. He reads from a card.
- Breakfast at four o’clock, sir. I will call to awake you.
He holds the card in two hands in front of him and smiles, obviously pleased with his pronunciation.
The room has two single beds and a television. It makes me feel large and awkward. I have a shower and walk naked around the room, wearing a pair of plastic sandals that are too small for my feet. There is a long horizontal mirror above the dressing table. I can see my penis and torso but nothing else. I could be anybody.
I don’t know what time it is. I turn down the bed and lie down on the sheets, still damp. I flick through the channels. There is news in Korean, several Korean soaps, and some American soaps dubbed into Korean. I consider masturbating but decide I don’t feel like it.
Men who commit suicide do this. They check into anonymous hotels, masturbate, and then blow their brains out. Or slit their wrists in the bath or take pills or jump out of the window. I could do that. Although in my case the options are limited. No gun, no pills. A sealed second floor window. There is always the bath and a broken drinking glass. It sounds painful. And then some poor bastard would have to clean up the mess. There are special companies for that now in America. I wonder if they have them here. I turn the TV off.
I sleep but what I’m really doing is running to catch the same plane over and over again. I wake up unrefreshed and start to worry about the baggage. There’s nothing worse than arriving somewhere and your baggage doesn’t turn up, it’s in Bangkok or Dubai or Munich. Then it appears on your doorstep a week later covered in tape and stickers and somebody’s been digging through it. I hope it won’t happen to my wife. The room seems to be slowly shrinking in on me.
The sky outside is starting to lighten. I check my watch and get up and have another shower and go downstairs to the dining room. I push a plastic sausage and plastic egg around a plate and look at plastic flowers on empty tables. I saw her off in Sydney, my wife. A huge box sliding on a conveyor belt through some plastic curtains, that was it. Be careful with that one, I said to the men in blue overalls, that’s my wife. We’ll look after her, one of them said. Don’t worry.
My wife died, I tell the smiling receptionist as I slide the key card across the counter. In Sydney. A cerebral hemorrhage. I’m taking her home.
He selects another card and clears his throat.
- Thank you sir. Shuttle bus this way.
The neon signs are starting to blink off as I look out of the bus window. The secret service driver is still talking to his earpiece. Am I the only one here, is this all some elaborate setup? Could I be stuck in this airport-hotel loop for eternity, with the secret service driver and the smiling receptionist and the charming lady who sticks stickers on your coat? Maybe I’m dead as well. Is this the afterlife?
The airport shops are full of bottles: cognac and perfume and ginseng like fat ladies’ legs. People are trying to smoke themselves to death in a glass box lounge. I stand for half an hour looking at bowls of plastic noodles in a restaurant but can’t make myself hungry.
They make you take your shoes off going through the metal detector. There are slip on sandals but again they are too small. I imagine wearing a pair of plastic fried eggs on my feet as I shuffle through security.
A tray of airline food sits in front of me in my cramped seat, opened but untouched. I sip some water. The movie is Korean. Gyu-sik is a handsome but serious theological student. His roommate is fat and funny and always getting into trouble. They are both sent to a country parish as young curates assisting an aging priest. Gyu-sik meets Bong-hee, a beautiful Korean American girl. Gradually, they fall in love. But Bong-hee feels out of place in rural Korea. And of course Gyu-sik is about to be ordained as a priest. In an emotional scene, they deny the love they so obviously feel for each other. Bong-hee decides to return to America and Gyu-sik resumes his studies with renewed fervor. Their Korean voices on the headphones hypnotize me as I follow their story on subtitles. The voice of the captain breaks through the soundtrack. We will shortly be arriving in London Heathrow. He goes into some unnecessary details but I’m not interested. Gyu-sik is under pressure, torn between faith and desire. He rushes from the church where his ordination ceremony is about to take place, and paces outside. Bong-hee has rushed back to the village from the airport, just in the nick of time. They run into each other’s arms.
In the final scene, they both stand on a cliff top overlooking a lake and Gyu-sik flings his cassock over the edge. It flutters in slow motion like a huge bat before settling on the water’s surface. Gyu-sik and Bong-hee kiss and embrace, the music wells up and the sun sets over the lake.
I find myself staring at the credits as they roll down the screen. The man next to me is crying. He takes off his glasses and dabs his eyes and blows his nose on his napkin.
Nearly home. I think of my wife in the baggage hold, freezing in her wooden crate. I can’t feel anything yet, just my total and utter exhaustion.