His shirt is creased, untucked.
His hair is messy. His shoes are scuffed.
It matters not.
He has power in this place.
He looks around the empty restaurant.
It’s small. Squalid. Cheap.
All he can smell is pepper paste. Store bought kochujang.
Floral wallpaper lines the room. It is peeling at the seams.
The patterns are a faded brown. The ink has smeared, has sweat.
The flowers once were white.
He counts the three small tables. Four chairs and a broken stool.
A TV depicts the countryside and kimchi in stone pots.
He doesn’t like it.
He glares into the screen until it fizzes only static, scowls till it succumbs to a silent, lifeless grey.
No more TV for anyone.
He licks his lips.
She has not seen him yet.
Through the service window, he watches as she works.
She is old.
Hair cut short and neat. Pierced but empty ears. No makeup. No mask. Only oil from her kitchen, glistening in the acne scars that mar her upper cheeks.
She works because she has to. It’s all that she has left.
He raps his knuckles on the table.
She scurries from the kitchen. There is excitement in her eyes.
Not because she has a customer.
She is excited to see him.
She smiles with her lips. She bows.
He tells her what he wants.
She smiles with her teeth. She loves it when he speaks her language.
He gives a soft smirk back.
She scuttles off to cook.
A gas stove clicks, a flame ignites. Water fills a pot. The refrigerator opens. Plastic tubs with pre-chopped fillings are stacked along a bench.
The tubs are set aside. Fresh ingredients are laid out along a cutting board.
She prepares them just for him.
Reaching out for the chopstick box at the end of the table, he stops.
The box is made of pine.
It reminds him of the forest. It makes him feel unwell.
He flicks the lid off with a wince and snatches out a set.
She returns to him with bowl in hand, presenting it with pride.
He looks at her, then at the food. He looks at her again.
She slinks back to the kitchen.
It is quiet.
He knows she is not working.
She wants to watch him eat.
The meal is adequate. Irrelevant. It is not why he has come.
He stands, walking to the service window that leads into her kitchen.
She wrings her hands with his approach.
He lays his thanks upon the counter – a folded note.
He slides it in towards her.
She tries to take it.
He holds it still.
She looks at him. Her eyes grow wider.
He lifts his free hand to the counter, places it on hers.
There is a tweak of static to his touch.
Her hand is cold.
He sits, admiring the cement outside the convenience store.
It is greased with spit and spillage, stained with drunken fun.
On the plastic table he sets four beers, cigarettes and gum.
He plans to only smoke two cigarettes per can.
He watches people, gauging them as they pass.
Some catch his attention, but none ever enough to move him from his seat.
He’s drained. Run down. Flat. This is not a night for risk.
The fourth beer sticks the landing. He takes a third smoke to celebrate.
He wonders what time it is.
He does not check.
The restaurant lights turn off. The front door opens.
She exits, locking the door behind her.
He puts out his cigarette and unwraps a piece of gum.
She sees him from across the street.
He watches her walk away.
Their footsteps punctuate the quiet.
Streetlights flicker as he passes. Current crackles in the globes.
She reaches her apartment block.
He waits by the gate.
She types the code into the keypad and walks into the building.
She does not close the door.
It is a dusty stairwell with an elevator. The doors are already shut.
He watches the numbers rising, stopping on the eleventh floor.
He spits his gum out on the ground.
Depleted as he is, he opts to take the stairs.
He’s at his best when empty.
It amplifies the thrill.
A stark fluorescent light watches over the eleventh floor.
It dims with his arrival.
One door in the hallway has been left ajar.
He approaches it.
She sits at the end of her bed. Waiting.
The room is cold and messy. Crumpled clothes cover the floor.
The sink is stacked with dishes. The smell alludes to rot.
Curtains are drawn across the window, sheets strewn across the bed.
She breathes a shallow breath.
He closes the door behind him.
She rises to her feet.
The aching in her eyes is all the more apparent.
Her pain flows free within these walls.
Here, she is unpredictable.
He kisses her.
She kisses back. She’s hungry. Hollow.
He feeds his fingers into her hair, drawing her deeper in.
Her eyes close. She sighs. She slides her tongue into his mouth.
The lamp above them flickers as they fall onto her bed.
It pops. The room goes dark.
She does not seem to notice.
She sits upon him, her legs around his hips.
Her movements are slow. Mechanical.
She knows what she wants.
He surges up against her, squeezes her shoulders tight. Skin sinks into skin, her breasts press to his chest. She is warm, wilting, whirring like a battery yielding its final charge.
This is what he came for.
This is what he seeks.
He wakes during the night.
She sits on the ground beyond the bed. She weeps.
He thinks to comfort her, but doesn’t.
He listens to her cry until he falls asleep.
Come morning, she is gone.
He walks around the room, prodding at her possessions. On the ground beyond the bed he finds a photo frame face down.
He picks it up.
She’s happy in the photo. She has her arms around a man.
It doesn’t interest him in the slightest.
There is breakfast on the kitchen bench. Kimchi and steamed rice.
There is a note beside it.
He doesn’t read it. He never does.
He presses a finger into the rice.