You were in Pusan.
When you flew in, the port was hidden by cloud. You
couldn't see the city at all, only the tops of mountains. The man to the right of you, a
Korean, said, "Ha! That's smog. Smog! Not so pretty now, huh? Smog! Ha-ha! Ha-ha!
Smog!" He went on laughing to himself as he picked up his paper again and read some
more. You were still working for that investment bank, were there to find out why a
container ship was behind schedule. You had been told it would probably be necessary to
make an example of someone, that you should determine who.
And when you landed, it was drizzling, grey. The whole
city was grey. Built of concrete and iron, built for budding. You couldn't see very far
down the streets in that rain that was almost a mist. Through the haze the odd red or
green punched neons, traffic lights, trash-can fires. But that was all. On the way
from the airport to the hotel and the next morning from the hotel to the office, you
became completely disoriented. You tried to follow your route on the map your girlfriend
had given you but it was useless. You didn't know where you were.
At the office you spent a day going over the numbers,
over the tonnage of materials brought in, over the daily costs of delay, over the
percentage of the ship complete. The day after that you visited the ship itself. The fog
had not cleared and when you stood near the command tower, you could not see the end of
that unfinished deck. About halfway down it dissolved into a skeleton of girders which
then itself dissolved into the mist. As if the mist were acid, as if the mist had halted
And when you took the man off the job he yelled in
Korean. In front of everyone he yelled at you in Korean. His face turned red, he was
stocky, his stomach bulged against his belt, he threw back his shoulders, pointed his
And you grew furious at him because he did not
understand. This had nothing to do with him. Did he think he was playing a game here, that
some conception of fairness applied? You picked up a phone to call security but he stormed
out of the room. As you opened your mouth to say something to the others in the room,
something about not caring, he opened the door again, yelled one last thing, and was gone.
You remember thinking how puffy he looked as he stuck his torso through that gap, how the
arms of his glasses splayed outwards as they ran back to his ears, remember wondering if
it was the salty Korean diet that made him that way. It was only natural. You hadn't
understood a word he had said.
But when you left the building, when you got in that
black car that somehow ferried you from the office to the hotel in Haeundae Beach, you
noticed you were shaking.
And as you shaved before dinner, looked in the mirror,
you grew angry at him again, angry at him for making you feel that way, for making you
feel ashamed that you did not feel ashamed. "I mean, what the fuck does he
think?" you said, waving your wet razor at your own face, half-hidden in lather.
"He can have the benefits without the liability?" "Screw him," you
The local office people took you to a vegetarian
restaurant. "I don't really like vegetarian," you said but the meal was actually
quite satisfying. Everything was fried and you had a lot of soju.
And when you got back to the hotel, the carpet outside
your room was wet.
You had no way of knowing it was because he had been
there. No way of knowing he had been too ashamed to go home to his wife and so had
wandered in the rain for hours before finally sitting outside your door hoping to appeal
to you. No way of knowing he had only just given up, only just decided that what he was
doing was ridiculous, only just taken the stairs down as you took the elevator up. You
fumbled with the card lock momentarily. As you closed the door behind you, the smell of
the wet carpet was overpowering.
You are in Pusan.
You sit on the edge of your bed, drunk. You want to
lie down but you can't, you feel sick when you do. Somehow your eyes find the clock. It is
only 10 P.M., your girlfriend will just be getting in to work. She is a graphic designer.
You pick up the phone, you call her on the company calling card.
"Hey babe!" she says, happy to hear from
you. "So how is it? How's it going?"
You open your mouth but you don't know what to say.
You think you may want absolution so you tell her what happened today, leaving out the
part about the wet carpet, the part you don't know. But when she gives it to you, tells
you you did what you had to do, you realize that wasn't it at all. You didn't want her to
tell you you did the right thing, you didn't care if she thought you did the right thing
or not because you already knew you did, you just wanted her to say, "I know what
But of course, she can't say that, will never say
that. And if she ever could then you could no longer be with her. Then you would both be
tired. Then she would be a better friend, but a worse lover.
You haven't been listening to what she's been saying.
You have been thinking. But as you open your mouth to say, "Listen, do you think I
should be doing something else? Something I enjoyed a little more?" you decipher the
sounds she has been making.
She has been telling you how she finally used that spa
certificate you gave her for her birthday, the one you could afford to buy because last
year's bonus was so huge it paid off your college debt. She has been telling you how she
went there for the full day and how they pampered her and how they rejuvenated her and how
she felt so good afterwards, like a new woman afterwards.
There is a pause. She says, "Were you about to
"No," you say, trying to sound surprised.
"Oh,"' she says, "it sounded like you
were about to say something." And you wonder how that could be because you're certain
you didn't make any sound at all.
"Anyway, listen, babe," she continues,
"I have to go I have a meeting but when you get back Mommy will make
baby feel all better she pwomises, OK?"
"OK," you say, chuckling. But you don't feel
any better after you hang up. Just like you didn't need her to tell you you did the right
thing, you also didn't need that. Mommies are for sick little boys. You aren't sick, you
aren't a little boy, you don't need sympathy. There is nothing tender loving care could do
for you right now, right now there is nothing even your real mother could do to make you
feel better. She wouldn't, couldn't, understand what it was like any more than your
The headspin subsiding but not gone, you turn on the
TV. There is a channel that shows only Go, twenty-four hours a day nothing but Go. This
really is a different place. You change into a bathrobe, you flip through some channels.
There is a channel that has some kind of beauty contest. You watch it for a few minutes
and realize it's actually a talent competition. You try to masturbate a little but it's no
good, you're not interested, it's not enough.
You turn out the lights. You get in bed. But you can't
sleep. The Korean girls in the talent competition keep coming to mind, you can't get the
Korean girls in the talent competition out of your head.
Then you remember the card. After he had told you he
was sending you to Pusan, after he had told you it might be necessary to make an example
of someone, your boss had looked around, had made sure there were no female employees
nearby, and had said,". . . and if you get bored, they have the best fucking hookers
in all of Korea there." Then he had taken out one of his business cards and written a
name on the back, the name of the concierge at the hotel to ask for, the one who'd
"take care of you." "Come on, Saswat," you'd said, "you know I
have a girlfriend!" "Yeah," he said, "I know," and tucked the
card in your breast pocket.
You turn on the light again. Naked, you find the suit
and pull out the card. You sit on the edge of the bed turning it over and over with your
fingertips. You study the printed name of your boss and the Korean name written on the
other side, written with a $1,200 pen. So many things run through your head. It's
not really any different than masturbating, is it? I wouldn't tell her I jerked off, would
I? At last you decide you'll call down and see how much it costs. Just out of curiosity.
And you can't believe how cheap it is. The high end is
less than a first-class dinner in Manhattan. Now you remind yourself you could send her
away. You could just see what she looks like and if you change your mind, you could just
send her away. You'd have to pay her, of course, but so what, you can afford it. The
Korean girls in the talent competition flash through your mind again. You tell him to send
up the best thing they have. You use that word, "best."
You turn the light off. You lie on the bed. You get up
and turn another light on, a less intense one, one that you imagine provides a romantic
glow. You put on a robe, take a breath mint. You look around the room and realize it's a
mess. In a panic because she might arrive any second, you tidy up. You throw your socks in
the closet, make the bed, straighten your papers and laptop on the desk. You want her to
like you, to see that you're not one of those guys, that this is will be
something special for her. Something unique. You don't want her to think you're an animal.
There is a knock at the door, a gentle little rap at
When you open it, it's not what you were expecting at
all. You were expecting a Penthouse Pet, a tall woman, young but not very young, heavily
made up, fake eyelashes, hair thinned from treatments, fit and sexy but with a hard, worn
look, with breasts that do not sag but that do hang down enough for there to be a thin
line of shadow beneath them against her ribs, with long, shapely legs that are hard and
have good muscle tone but the beginnings of which, from behind, can no longer be said to
be clearly distinct, with a taut stomach furrowed by two lines of muscle down its center
but that still bulges slightly outwards below the line of her hips, with her skin still
tight over her neck and jaw but that seems more pulled that way than pushed and is still
somehow loose enough to no longer be able to follow precisely the dips and rises of the
tendons in her throat. In short, someone you would want to fuck.
Instead the girl before you is not very tall nor
heavily made up. Her breasts are small and natural but still find the strength to resist
against the ribbed tube top she wears. It doesn't seem like she has ever exercised yet her
exposed stomach is completely flat, is lean, is smooth above it the gentle inverse
V of her rib cage disappears into her top leaving a tiny shadow where the material
bridges; at its bottom corners, just before it is channeled into her low-slung skirt by
her hips, the bones of her pelvis form two small bumps. The curves of her legs are newly
formed, have only recently grown upon the bone, are not yet done growing, have not yet
begun to die. Her black hair is fine and thick and lustrous and healthy. There is a white
band of reflected light across it on one side. You had forgotten what healthy hair looked
like. Around her large, Eurasian eyes and small mouth, on her brow, you can't see a single
wrinkle. Not one. Her skin closely follows the line of her jaw and then suddenly angles
down where it meets her throat, flows into three cords on either side of her neck, one
reaching for her shoulder, one touching the middle of her collarbone, one touching its
end, forming the hollow that her larynx grows up out of, back towards her jaw. And her
smell, her smell utterly obliterates that of the still damp carpet. Her smell is the only
smell in the world.
Her whole body still strives outwards, her lips, her
breasts, her thighs, her whole body has not yet decided to stop, to petrify, to crumble.
You have never seen anything so ripe in all your life. That is the word that comes to
You are surprised. This is not what you expected. You
desire her more than what you expected, certainly, but before the blood begins pounding in
your head, you crush your desire down, push it down and away in a little box. This girl
can't be more than sixteen, this girl is illegal. Illegal, that's what makes you control
your desire. Not "wrong," "illegal." Your eyes flicker over her
collarbone, you find yourself thinking how the hollows above it would cup sweat.
But you find yourself saying, "I think there's
been a mistake. Do you understand, 'mistake'? There's been a 'mistake'?"
"I speak English," she says without an
accent, without being able to help rolling her eyes slightly.
"Oh," you say. "Well, I think there's
been a mistake I asked for something else."
She shrugs her shoulders. "Fine," she says.
"They can send up someone else. No problem." Without another look at you, she
turns and heads off down the corridor. You watch her go, notice how tiny her ass is, how
even through her skirt the dimples on either side of it are visible, how the material
seems to be draped over bobbing stone. As she walks towards the elevator she begins to
play some game with the pattern on the rug, stepping on only certain colors, avoiding
others, almost toppling herself
You are shaking. She is so close to being yours. This
isn't some Catholic schoolgirl on a bus, this isn't some girl to look at and think,
"Damn, if only that were legal," and shake your head and not give it a second
thought because it is illegal and you don't want to take the risk and what would you,
could you, do anyway you are in public. This is a hooker. This time, in this case,
you only need to say the word and she can be yours. You could have your hands on her body,
your mouth on the back of her neck, on her nipples, your cock inside her as her inner
thighs rubbed against your pelvis, as her hands pressed down on your chest, as her upper
arms squeezed her firm little breasts together, as she tossed her hair to one side of her
head and looked down into your eyes and said with that tiny, pert little mouth in her
accentless English, "That's it. Fuck me." You look up and down the hall. It is
empty. "Wait a minute," you call out. And without a pause, without a lost step,
she turns and walks back to your room and walks through your door without even looking at
you. You find yourself thinking, "This probably isn't even illegal here anyway
the age of consent here is probably fifteen or sixteen she could even be seventeen
or eighteen." And you close the door behind you.
You want to devour her. You can't get enough of her in
your mouth her neck, her arms, her belly. You could eat her pussy for hours. With
your girlfriend you always did it out of fairness. She went down on you so you went down
on her or you wanted her to go down on you so you went down on her. You don't mind it
you know some guys who don't like to do it but do it anyway for the same reason you
do no, you don't mind it, but it never turned you on like this. All you can think
about is having her in your mouth. You make her lie back on the bed, spread her arms out
on the bed, and just let you pull her pussy to your mouth. Beneath your hands, the skin on
her thighs is so smooth it makes you think of fax paper. You can feel the calluses on your
palms scraping it as you hold her legs. You hear your stubble scratch against her right
leg. Worried you might hurt her, you push her legs farther open. The tendons on her inner
thighs flex out like little steel cables and where they end, where they push out the
farthest forming little cups of skin above and below, the mound of her pussy drops down
towards her ass. She has shaved herself completely bare, you hope that's what she's done,
and the slit between her legs is so delicate it looks like someone has cut her with a
scalpel. Carefully, gently, you pull the slit open with your fingertips revealing the
folds of tan flesh inside. You never noticed how clumsy your fingers were before, how
enormous, how ugly. Like a gorilla's, you find yourself thinking. You look at her spread
open like that for a second, like a sea creature, like an anemone in that moment it
reaches out to swallow a fish, and then you glance up her body. She isn't moving, she
stares at the ceiling, you can't see her face. Then you put your mouth on her. For a
second you are relieved to feel the odd piece of stubble pricking your lips. For a second
you wonder if your girlfriend would shave herself like this. And then you are lost.
Suddenly she taps you on the shoulder, taps you on the
shoulder as if you were in a line for a bus and she needed information. You look up at
her, one of your ape fingers still inside her. And she says, "If you want to fuck me
you should do it now you only have fifteen minutes left." You can't believe
it. You can't believe you have been doing what you have been doing for forty-five minutes.
You feel like you have only just begun. And you find yourself wondering how she has been
keeping track of time.
You don't really want to stop what you've been doing
but you feel that you should, that you didn't pay to make her feel good, that you should
get what you actually paid for. You only have to make a slight motion towards flipping her
over and she is immediately on her hands and knees, thrusting her shoulder blades and her
ass in the air, keeping her belly low. As you go to put yourself inside her from behind,
you follow the curved groove of her sunken spine with your eyes down to the small of her
back where it ends in a tiny, flat V of skin rising up like an arrowhead, its sides carved
out by the two hemispheres that began sloping up at her hips, its point the beginning of
the cleft of her ass small, round, taut as a balloon and again you are
overcome by the urge to put her in your mouth. Without realizing what you are doing you
find yourself licking her ass-hole. Tomorrow, on the plane, as you think back over the
experience, as you try to reconstruct every detail, you will suddenly remember your body
did this, and you will wonder where you were when it happened. There and then, on the
plane, as the stewardess asks you if you want beef or chicken, the thought of it will make
you ill. But here and now, in your hotel room, this thing you would never do makes you
want to cum. You push yourself inside her, grab her waist with your hands, your hands that
almost encompass her waist in their grip, and thrust in and out of her. The tip of your
cock pushes against the roof of her uterus and every time it does she lets out a little
squeal. You can't tell if it's from pain or pleasure but you think it's probably both. You
worry a little bit about breaking her, about crushing her rib cage as you squeeze her
little breasts that feel as firm as oranges, about snapping her arm as you pull her back
onto you, about suffocating her when after just five or six strokes you cum
and collapse on top of her.
But she is fine. She lets you lie on top of her for a
second, carefully pulls you out of her making sure the condom stays in place, wipes her
hand on the sheets, and squirms out from under you. You cannot move. You watch her dress.
She disappears into the bathroom for a minute to fix her hair and makeup but it doesn't
take long and when she is done, when you still haven't moved, she says, "I have to
You pull yourself up from the bed, out from under the
enormous weight crushing you to the bed, and, in a daze, give her her cash. It's less than
a quarter of what you had in your wallet for just one day's expenses.
She takes it without ceremony and puts it in her
purse. You are still naked. At the door, after she's opened it a crack, she turns and
says, "I'm sorry I reminded you about time they always do what you did and
forget about time and then get mad when they find out time is gone.
"Oh don't worry about it!" you say
congenially, you say wanting her to know you're not the same as the other men, that you'd
never get mad. She just nods and says, "If you want me again, ask for Jin," and
When you get back in bed you wish you felt worse about
this. You wish you felt terrible, in fact. But you don't. Instead you feel fucking
fantastic. Reborn. Your head is clear, you can actually feel the sheets touching your
As you drift off to sleep you realize the concierge
hadn't misunderstood, hadn't made a mistake at all. This must have been what Saswat was
talking about. The best fucking hookers. The two older men simply knew what you needed
better than you knew yourself.
The next day you buy your girlfriend a gift before you
leave, an antique necklace. You were going to get her something anyway, you just spend a
little more than you had originally planned.
You were in Pusan.
The example worked. The ship was finished on time. You
saved 25 million dollars. You were a hero. The ship's cartel took you and your boss
out to a restaurant that overlooked the entire city. At one point, as they served the nine
dozen Wellfleet oysters, Saswat leaned over and said quietly in your ear, "Welcome to
the club." You had been thinking about the man you fired, about whether he would ever
eat in a restaurant like this, drink wine like this wine, but when Saswat said that, you
stopped feeling guilty, alone. You at last felt like you had a companion, someone who
It was a clear night. Afterwards they took you to a
loud strip club, sent you to the Champagne Room with a girl named something-andy. The next
morning you had a vague memory of her blowing you there, but you couldn't be certain, you
were very drunk. And as you lay there that Saturday morning, your girlfriend's arm draped
over your chest, the sunlight diffused over both of you by the curtains, as you lay there
you thought about the last time you were that drunk, about Jin standing there outside your
door, about how she looked standing there outside your door, about how she smelled
standing there outside your door, how there was no other smell there, no other smell at