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Respectable

" . . . that's respectable," B was saying sarcastically into the phone as I hung up on him. It wasn't because I didn't like him, or that I couldn't take any more of his belittling. It was because I could hear Team Leader Sohn's voice drifting toward me over three rows of desks and several clusters of office machinery. That guy shouting, "Yes, sir!" and running over to him is me-I'm an intern here at Moon Communications. I've been an intern here for four months. Even now, I still think

it's respectable. And I've been really good at doing this stuff for four months. There are eight interns total, all working to outdo each other. The pay isn't much to speak of, but I make enough to drive here and back. There's so much work to do that I have to stay up almost all night every night, but after the six-month training period, one intern will be chosen as a full-time employee. And the rest? Well, that's it for them. The personnel manager told us to "Think of this as good experience," but I definitely don't want to be one of the ones left behind.

The seven other interns are desperate too. It drives me crazy. [End Page 193] I can't let my guard down for a minute. And there are two girls in the group who have famously high scores on the TOEIC English test. Needless to say, it's intense, and the atmosphere is positively suffocating. Four of the interns are so-so and one's an idiot, but they're just as intense as the rest of us. You can never just say, "Oh well," and try to blame it on someone else if things go wrong. The fact is that that's just how life is, so

what can you do? Even I, I who made a name for myself as the singer of the rock group "Sam's Son" in college, can't do anything about it. All I can do is look things up, make copies, file, make phone calls, do research, and fetch coffee all day long. Yesterday I went and stood in for the department manager during his civilian defense training. Is that any sort of thing for a rock star to do? But it's respectable, respectable. Of course B, the drummer, was laughing so hard he cried.

Did you call me, sir?

Yeah, I thought you might be good at this sort of thing. Team Leader Sohn smiled at me. To make a long story short, I want to run this program, but it won't work. And . . . I want you to get it to work for me. Inwardly, I breathe a sigh of relief. Team Leader Sohn has such a bullish look about him that it always makes it hard to look him in the face. On top of that, the atmosphere was especially ominous that day because he was choosing his team for the big presentation competition.

This is

an old video game, from the looks of it. That's right, it is an old video game. Well, you need to download an emulator first, sir. An emulator? It would take a while to explain it to you, sir. I searched the Internet and simply found a MAME emulator, simply installed it, and [End Page 194] ran Team Leader Sohn's simple program. It worked. Simple.

This is

what is it sir? It's Raccoon World, of course. Raccoon World, sir? Yup, Raccoon World. Sure enough, jangly, manic music started blaring from the computer, and a jangly, manic little raccoon appeared in the corner of the screen. Team Leader Sohn smiled with a look on his face that said, "See?" and immediately got into the game. The game consisted of moving the raccoon across platforms and up ladders, picking up fruit, and avoiding these bug-like things that chased you. You died if you fell on an upturned tack. It was completely pointless.

What do you think? Well, . . . I don't really know, sir. Is that right? Yes, sir. This is what I did for fun in middle school. Back then, some arcades even had to have ten Raccoon World machines in a row because it was so popular. I'm telling you, kids would line up to play it. You, me, it didn't matter what you had to do; everyone was completely obsessed with that Raccoon.

Those were good times.

How could they have been? I thought. But, if it was a time when middle schoolers were that tight with a raccoon, it couldn't have been that bad. I thought about that as I replied to Team Leader Sohn's question, "So, do you wanna try it too?" with, "No, I'm okay, sir. I don't know how it was in the past, but I've never heard of an intern being pals with a raccoon in this day and age. That's all I'm saying. Really."

I'm disappointed in you.

Excuse me? His response caught me off-guard and I nearly [End Page 195] jumped. Disappointed? What do you mean, sir? Well, I thought for sure that you'd like Raccoon World. You've always got your face glued to your monitor and you have the hands of a compulsive gamer, but I guess I had you pegged wrong. I'm sorry, sir, I said apologetically as I got up to leave. The walk back to my seat past those three rows of desks felt like an epic journey across three mountain ranges. How was I supposed to know that the Team Leader would like Raccoon World so much? Office life is such a bitch!

The afternoon was hectic as usual, but this time I was summoned by the personnel manager. I responded with a forceful, "Yes, sir!" as usual, and went running. Jealous glares came flying at me like arrows striking my back. It was those two girls with the high TOEIC scores. Hmph, they don't even know why he wants me.

Look here, just what do you think you're doing?

The manager asked the question as though he already knew the answer, but there was absolutely no way of knowing what I had done wrong. What do you mean? Team Leader Sohn, that's what I mean. I looked over at Team Leader Sohn and, oh crap, he was still obsessed with that raccoon game. Were you the one who opened that program for him? But I didn't . . . it's not that, it's . . . emulator, MAME . . . several words came to mind, but how, was I supposed, to explain, something like that, to someone over fifty? And the manager already had a look on his face that told me he wouldn't believe anything I said. It's been three hours already. In that time, he's scarfed down two bags of vegetable crackers and three bags of potato chips. He's showing all the symptoms. What symptoms?

Of Raccoon Rabies.

Excuse me? He's already been bitten. In America, they dump [End Page 196] anywhere from two hundred million to a billion dollars a year into trying to wipe out the disease. They even had to crop-dust the entire state of Ohio with an oral vaccine. Anyway, this is going to be a huge pain in the neck. The Raccoon in my department! Even if you didn't know what it was, you should have at least consulted me before you unleashed the Great Raccoon. Don't you think?

I'm in big trouble if it's going to be like this. Because it wasn't even my fault. And Raccoon World Rabies? What in the world is that? Listen closely. A long time ago, raccoons were just animals that stole from farmer's storehouses. Now, they steal things here and there from corporations. The only thing more dangerous than a spy is a raccoon. What the hell do they teach you kids in college? Raccoons are the biggest threat to all industry, the biggest threat to all mankind. Got it?

Yes.

Be careful from now on, because I'm telling you, they are deceptively cute. He chucked me under the chin condescendingly as if to say, "Strike three, you're out," and I was really pissed off. What the hell kind of company was this anyway? But all I could manage was a reflexive sigh. Rustle rustle. Team Leader Sohn was in the middle of tossing back his third bag of vegetable crackers.

What a Shame

It's just such a shame. He was such a good worker. The manager kept up a steady stream of laments as I formatted Team Leader Sohn's computer. We had to do this, the same way they sprayed all of Ohio with that vaccine. This was already the third time I'd formatted it. He wasn't kidding around about this.

Team Leader Sohn left the company yesterday. It had only been [End Page 197] two weeks since it happened. The official word was that it was because of his failed presentation; only the manager and I knew that the real reason was Raccoon Rabies. Have you ever heard of a more pitiful reason for getting fired?

If you think this all sounds strange, well, obviously, it was. Very strange. That game swallowed Team Leader Sohn's life whole, and he suddenly gained a lot of weight too. Of course, gaining weight when you never stop eating is to be expected, but if you asked me what about the stripe around his eyes? I'd be at a complete loss. And there was no doubt that the area around Team Leader Sohn's eyes was covered with dark marks that looked like liver spots. If you saw him from far away, it looked like a perfectly symmetrical stripe. Wait, it's just like

a raccoon, can't you see?

people whispered. Of course, the marks could have come from playing video games too much-how could that possibly happen? After a while, people started avoiding Team Leader Sohn. The liver spots got darker as the days passed, and he became more and more like a raccoon with each passing day. Isn't there a cure? Nope. It's just such a shame. The manager's replies were always overly simplistic, and for that simple reason the Team Leader became a complete pariah.

I was Team Leader Sohn's only companion. Without fail, he would call for me immediately after our team meetings, which he was no longer invited to. I would shout, "Yes, sir," and scurry off, but doing so only meant that I would have to listen to a story so ridiculous it would make you go blind. And of course, the only thing he ever talked about anymore was Raccoon World.

Watch closely, this is Stage Twenty-three. Look, a big gap opens [End Page 198] up here when this ladder comes down, and there's one long platform at the end there, see? I can jump across to there, but I don't know what to do after that. If I jump from there to the next platform, I'll fall onto that tack for sure. I completely forgot how to get across this part. But I'm telling you I definitely did it back then. It's just . . .

Why did you call me, sir?

Ah, yes, because I thought that you, at least, would know how to do this.

What makes you think that I would know how to do that, sir?

You're a good friend of the Great Raccoon, aren't you?

No sir, we're not close. We're not close at all.

That's disappointing.

Again, why are you disappointed, sir? There isn't anyone who would possibly know that.

Really? That's such a shame.

It was always such a shame, or something like that. Finally, I started avoiding him too. But then again, if I still wanted to have the kind of conversation I used to have with Team Leader Sohn, there were always the manager's summons. Everyone likes to say, "Yes, sir," and hurry away importantly, but when it's "What did Team Leader Sohn just say?" as he sits too close to you with his hand caressing your thigh-that's the kind of thing that would drive anyone crazy. At the time I didn't know what everyone else already suspected-that the personnel manager is gay.

Even though they cover it up

the whole world is in ruins. If there are people who turn into raccoons, then there are also homos who oversee corporate personnel departments, and there are rock singers who are so afraid of personnel's rules that they sit still to get their thighs stroked. There can't be anything worse than that. [End Page 199]

The stress ultimately led to my downfall. I blacked out last night at Team Leader Sohn's going-away party and when I came to, I was lying on the cold, foul-smelling floor of a subway station. That was the first time I ever blacked out and had memory lapses, and it was also the first time I'd ever slept in a subway station. There were a few groups of homeless people lying near me, and the shutters at both ends of the passageway were locked tight.

I leaned up against a chilly wall and tried to collect my thoughts. I remembered everything up to the second bar we went to, and I remember being put in charge of making sure that Team Leader Sohn got home safely as everyone parted ways. The Team Leader lives in Inchon, which is why I came all the way out here, and I think I remember going to a sidewalk bar nearby to have another round of soju. Then my memory cuts off. I don't remember a thing. I looked around, but Team Leader Sohn was nowhere to be seen.

Hey you, are you alright?

Startled, I turned to see an unfamiliar older man staring at me. He was a homeless man in his mid-forties who looked like he was just trying to stick his nose in my business. Oh, um, yes. I lowered my head and blushed. Youth is really grand, for sure. I mean, to look that healthy after drinkin' so much? You know, I'll bet you your wallet's safe. Go 'head, check it. Startled again, I quickly shoved my hand into the inner pocket of my suit jacket. Just like he said, my wallet was there, safe and sound.

Don't you worry. We'd never lay a hand on anyone who came in with the Great Raccoon.

Did you say raccoon?

Didn't ya know? That's who brought you here yesterday.

Oh, I see . . . Would you happen to know where he went?

Well, since he's a raccoon and all, he probably went underground. [End Page 200]

Did you say underground?

Yeah, underground. You know, down there in those tunnels where the trains go back and forth?

Wait. But he's really a human being . . .

I know. But seems he's nearly all raccoon now. When you get that far, you gotta live underground, see?

I'm not sure I understand you.

Our friend wouldn't happen to be stuck on Stage Twenty-three, would he now?

How did you know that?

I'm right, aren't I? That's when they all become raccoons.

I was under the impression that it was a disease.

Raccoon Rabies? That's just a story they made up.

Why would they do that?

Look here, the world's a much different place than you think it is.

Then what kind of place is it?

Stage Twenty-three. That's what this world is really called.

Don't Say a Word

Not a word. Listen, I slept in the subway station yesterday. Ha ha, what were you doing there? It was a peaceful night at the fishing hole. Luckily, I didn't have anyone else with me that day, so B and I were free to talk about almost anything. It had been a long time since we'd seen each other, and an even longer time since we'd been fishing. The sinker didn't budge for a long time.

So that's what happened.

So that's what happened. B nodded. Now that I think about it, it does seem awfully strange. That's why I'm so worried about it. Well, this is something we'll really have to think about. B pulled out a cigarette and puffed on it with the air of someone who was getting [End Page 201] ready to do some deep thinking. I tossed the cigarette I'd been smoking away and started to roll more paste bait. The sinker still hadn't moved at all; it looked exactly like a giant nail that had been pounded into the water's surface.

It'll probably rust like that,

rust right up. B and I had been friends for so long that if we were made of metal, we'd have rusted. He was two years older than me, but we became friends somehow anyway. We met during my first year in college. We were at orientation, and some professor or staff person got up and was going on and on about something or other. I don't know why, but everything irritated me back then. So naturally, and since he wasn't saying anything important, well, anyway, I stood up and shouted

Shut up, you son of a bitch!

The entire assembly dissolved into a sea of laughter, and the disastrous event ended. At the end of the day, someone came looking for me. Who's the "son of a bitch"? Who said that? When several kids singled me out with their eyes, he approached me. Wanna start a band with me?

That was B.

After that, we became a fairly well-known band around campus. We were called "Sam's Son," but to the students, of course, we were better known as that "Shut up, you son of a bitch!" band, Sam's Son. Wow, they swear a lot so they must be worth watching. B always burst out laughing as he watched the kids going crazy and cursing at our shows. Those were good times. Back then, all you had to do was use foul language and you were a rocker. You didn't even really have to know how to play an instrument. If you just wailed on the [End Page 202] drums or the guitar, people would go nuts. Looking back, it all seems like a dream.

Maybe it was because he was a philosophy major, but B was the kind of guy who always had something profound to say about everything. He knew a hell of a lot more than I did, to say the least, and he had had more diverse life experiences. I was the only male student in the school majoring in home economics, and as far as I was concerned, everything about B was completely admirable. I found out in the fall of our second year that B had taken the college entrance exam three years in a row before he got in and was two years older than me, which meant that the foundation of our friendship was different because, as he was older, I would have to be more deferential to him. But by then we were already too close.

Like a hook and sinker,

we went everywhere together. We drank together, met girls together, performed together, and went fishing together. Naturally, we graduated together, and only our plans to keep playing music together differed-I had to finish my tour of duty in the army. Strangely, I had a much more positive outlook on things after I got out of the army. My irritability melted away like snow, and I was transforming into a model student getting ready to join the professional ranks. Hey, this isn't the time to sit around playing music, you know. I jumped to attention.

And so, that's how it happened.

I see. B nodded again. And that was the end of it. The reality of the situation was that we broke up the band, and I became an intern at this company. I was sorry then, but nothing more, and I'm sorry now, and nothing more. Since then, it's always B who calls to see how I'm doing, not me, and going fishing today was B's idea, not mine. As for me-all I can do now is babble on and on about a raccoon. [End Page 203]

Here's what I think.

B finally pulled himself out of his thoughts long enough to speak The long nail stuck into the water's surface suddenly turned back into an overturned sinker, but I didn't put any effort into it or try to pull in the line. After all, this is a world where human beings become raccoons. Who cares if a sinker turns into a nail, or a nail turns back into a sinker again?

I want to say it's probably the "problem of pleasure."

The problem of pleasure?

You know, the raccoon.

That sounds complicated.

It's just that, well, I think you've reached that stage in your life. You're standing on the threshold of Stage One right now and you're realizing for the first time just how much the world hates raccoons. The way I see it, you have two options. You can run away like a raccoon, or you can simply renounce the Great Raccoon. It sounds like your Team Leader was probably hiding the Great Raccoon for his whole life. It must have been really hard for him.

Hiding it?

Naturally, at first. But as he passed through the stages, he started to miss it subconsciously. And that's when it suddenly turned up. He probably thought he'd cleared the trap of the upturned thumbtack but now, no matter what anyone says, he's become an honored raccoon.

My head is spinning. I don't even know which way is up anymore. Then how did the raccoons become mankind's enemy?

Let me give it to you simply. Think about an agrarian society, for example. Everyone is out working hard in the fields, but one little [End Page 204] raccoon shows up. Oh my god, it's a raccoon! someone shouts, and all the work is interrupted. Aw, c'mere you cute, cute, happy lil' guy!

Wait, they spoke English in agrarian times?

No, listen, that's just how it would have sounded. Because initially, raccoons gave people that kind of pleasure. After an hour or two, the raccoon would have completely drained those people of their souls. How do you think the team leader of that first field team felt? He must have wanted to kill that raccoon. That first team leader's hatred has been cultivated over a long, long period of time. And voilà, now we're in a late capitalist industrial society. Now the world has a firm grip on guys like that old field's team leader.

I had no idea something like that ever happened.

Those guys started exterminating the raccoons. I mean, it's the same as when they wiped out all the Indians. That vaccine that they sprayed over the entire state of Ohio wasn't really a vaccine, it was a poison used to kill all the raccoons. Why? Because there was never any Raccoon Rabies to begin with. That was an ingenious strategy, too, because on the other side, there were the people who were trying to protect the raccoons. As an endangered species, that is.

And why was that?

Well, at first, people thought raccoons were very rare and unusual. A raccoon was something you could only see at the zoo, and a nocturnal raccoon was something you might only see once in a lifetime. Then, of course, it was thought that if you managed to meet a raccoon somehow, you most certainly wouldn't be allowed to touch it.

Human beings are pretty scary, huh?

You're going to have to make a decision soon too. I mean, about this "problem of pleasure" thing. [End Page 205]

Sorry for dumping all this on you.

Don't worry about it. The truth is, it's something I've thought about a lot. I was going to talk to you about it even if you hadn't brought it up.

Talk to me about what?

Well, actually, I want to become a raccoon.

That won't be too hard for you?

I guess I'll have to be on the run at first, but I've thought about it, and executing my plan will be surprisingly simple. All I'll need is an emulator to execute Raccoon World. Anyway, I think that the raccoon is the only thing God sent down to earth for the sake of mankind. That's the only thing I know for sure.

I guess we'll be living pretty different lives from now on then.

You lonely?

Yeah, I'm lonely.

Well, don't forget that there are raccoons out there.

Okay, thanks.

The sinker started bobbing. I grabbed the fishing pole and leaned into it. At the end of the line was a small young carp. After I took the hook out of its mouth, I silently dropped the little bugger into the net. Splat. The little guy flopped around violently, just like a person at the beginning of Stage One.

That's when we saw that strange body of light

floating gently above the acacia grove across from the fishing hole. It was definitely some sort of flying object, and was held aloft like it was filled with a giant balloon. The whole thing was enveloped in a flashing, semi-circle of blue vapor. It was stunning.

What the . . . is that . . . it looks like a UFO, just like in the movies! [End Page 206]

As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the thing crossed over the reservoir and stopped directly above us. It was huge. The enormous machine was breathing slowly and heavily, just like a living being. Aaaah! we screamed, just like in the movies.

We watched as the UFO seemed to heave, and a small hole opened up in its center. A bright beam of light, different from the flashing lights in the surrounding vapor, shot straight down through the hole, and the instant we felt the pillar of light reach the ground the ship shifted with a giant roar. When we came to, the UFO had already disappeared.

And then we saw it. No more than five, six meters in front of us. Something was standing right where that pillar of light had touched the ground. It stood in a daze for a moment, and then it waddled over to stand in front of our lit lantern.

It was a raccoon.

Congratulations!

Congratulations! Click here! One hundred and fifty lucky winners! For one day only, we'll read your animal horoscope for free. Right here at EnjoyMall.com. Enter your date of birth now. Thank you very much! The patron animal for your birthday, April 27th, is, yes, it's the Raccoon! Your mascot is just like you-the cute and mischievous Raccoon. Why don't we read your fortune, you little Raccoon? Click here!

You are a very social person with a wide circle of acquaintances. You have lots of friends of all ages, don't you? Like you, your friends are very talented, and you get along well with the pleasure-seeking Monkey. The Pegasus, who doesn't get caught up in trivial matters, is also a good counterpart for you, Raccoon. Steer clear of the Ram [End Page 207] and the baby Deer, however. The Ram, who holds his morality very dear, will always scold you, and of course the innocent, guileless Fawn will have a difficult time getting along with the likes of you.

You value experience and accomplishments, Raccoon. So it's no surprise that you're the type that's big on antiques and objects with some history. You also possess the special ability to take other people's stories and tell them as though they were your own. And that person who can discuss a movie they've never seen in more detail and with more animation than someone who's actually seen it? That's you, Raccoon.

You cope with change very well. Of course, that's one of the Raccoon's distinguishing traits. You can adapt easily to any situation, you're up for anything, and you tend to be rewarded more than other people. But when forced to make a choice between two harmful situations, you won't budge, not for anything. You always have specific places you're partial to, and when you order, it's always, "I'll have the usual." You like good food, which goes hand in hand with the Raccoon's tendency to place great importance on experience and accomplishments.

You are skilled at role-playing. You take on any role with ease, and you fully grasp each character's strong points. One of the Raccoon's greatest skills is its ability to take the tasks of each role it takes on and do them more efficiently. On the other hand, it's also easy for Raccoons to be seen as irresponsible. That's because of the Raccoon's signature absentmindedness. Absentmindedness is the Raccoon's tragic shortcoming. Of course, you yourself probably pay it no mind.

You also possess an unfounded self-confidence. You'd probably even say that your self-confidence comes from the fact that you're clearly the best of the twelve character signs. Overflowing with [End Page 208] confidence, always cheerful and positive, you never fail to put a smile on everyone's face. People think you're trustworthy since you're always the first to pipe up with, "I've got it!" "Yes, sir!" and "You can count on me!" but the truth is, a lot of times your offers don't go any further than that exclamation point.

Raccoons get plenty of compliments from their superiors. This is because you have an upbeat, can-do attitude and more than your fair share of charm. With your propensity for placing great value on "experience and accomplishments," it's no wonder that your superiors and older people take to you so quickly. And even when people see how irresponsible or obviously obsequious you are, you have such a rare charm that no one can ever stay angry with you for very long. It's because everyone knows that you don't do those things on purpose. The Raccoon's charm, which makes it impossible not to forgive them no matter what they do . . . it's the envy of all the other characters.

You've got mail.

It was from the personnel manager. The subject line read, "Congratulations!" and it went something like this.

I know it's a little late, but it looks like we're going to make the final decision on the permanent employee sometime tomorrow morning. How would you feel about getting together to talk this over? Around nine o'clock tonight. Meet me at Climax in the Mukyo district. Oh, and don't get too excited about the subject line. I just wrote it as a joke. Well, hope to see you then.

The manager's e-mail came with a virus. My computer froze as soon as I finished reading it and closed the window. I guess I'll have to re-format my hard drive. I lit a cigarette. I felt lonely. [End Page 209]

No matter how well they cover it up

people will always find out that our whole world lies in ruins.

And no matter how well it's covered up

you'll know that the raccoon is there in the end.

I'm so grateful

Thanks. For coming to meet me like this, I mean. The manager had arrived before me and was having a beer. It was a nondescript bar, not very bright and not very dark. What do you think of office life now that you've gotten a taste of it? the manager asked as he poured me a beer. It's great, I replied quickly.

Drink up.

I heard that you majored in home economics, of all things. Yes. Ahem, well, I started thinking that that's a very . . . fastidious major, don't you think? Yes, it is a fastidious major. Right, that's what I meant, I thought so too. Here,

drink up.

So, do you have any desire to work for us as a regular employee? To be honest, it would be great if they picked me. Good, good. A man's gotta have ambition, you know. Based on your performance, I'll try my hardest to help you out. What do you think about that? I'd be very grateful for anything you'd be willing to do for me. Good.

Drink up.

I'm not asking for anything that should be too difficult for you. It'd probably be easier if you just think about it as something that every young professional has to go through. You have to give [End Page 210] something to get something-that's the way of the world, you know. I'm just trying to make sure you know that this isn't that big a deal. Here,

drink up.

Is life really that special? That's how everyone lives their lives. The way I see it, you have a quick mind and a bright future ahead of you. And you're so young and healthy. If you just had someone behind you, supporting you, you'd have nothing to worry about. Here,

drink up. The manager kept offering me more to drink, and he tossed back quite a bit himself. I could feel the effects of the alcohol. As time passed, I could hear the manager's breath gradually growing thicker, like the yeast swelling in beer as it ferments. That, and the beating of his heart as the alcohol spread through his veins.

It was well after midnight when we left the bar. The manager hailed a taxi and told the driver where to go. Inside the cab, he grabbed my hand and caressed my thigh, and when the taxi dropped us off, we were on some highway I would never have been able to find, in a neighborhood that I would never know how to get to again. There was a big building on the side of the road with a bathhouse in the basement and a big sign at the entrance advertising that it was open twenty-four hours a day.

The bathhouse was completely empty. Actually, it looked like the kind of place where the customers end up sleeping in the lounge next to the dressing room. No, actually, it looked like it might be one of those bathhouses that certain people go to for a certain purpose. My mind stuck on that thought for a minute before it gave up on thought altogether. [End Page 211]

Just hang on a minute.

The manager wrapped me in a tight embrace from behind as I showered. It was odd, but I didn't feel a thing, and I decided to hang on for a minute, just like he said. The manager pawed my body for a while, then he carefully sat me down on a bath stool. His slick, clammy hands went to work on my penis, trying to make it erect. It was truly bizarre. Why did my penis, which I didn't think would get hard at all, suddenly get stiff? And why did "Stage Twenty-three" suddenly appear before my eyes right at that moment? Why didn't the world go step by step from Stage One?

It's lovely, the manager sighed as he stared at my erect penis. Then, after peeking his head around the partition to make sure no one was there, he got down on his knees between my legs. Just stay still. With that, the manager's mouth turned commanding, and started to suck. His right hand slowly reached down to stroke his own dick.

It was just a minute. I have no regrets. Looking back on my youth, I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I had a lot of competitors and it's hard to find a job. This is a crazy, mixed-up world. It was just a minute. Just a minute. It was just a minute. In just a minute, I'm going to jump over that gap-I'll jump across, and I'll land on that six-foot-long platform.

For a brief moment, I thought I saw white liquid spilling out of the manager's penis, then I thought I saw him rinse off his semen with the showerhead. I thought I felt him sigh again and press his hand into my shoulder, and I thought I heard him say, "Good work," with great feeling. Then, I thought I saw his tired-looking back as he left the bathhouse.

I sank down quietly onto the vast expanse of the bathhouse floor, [End Page 212] and started to pour the hottest water my skin could endure over my head. Inside that steaming stream of water, I suddenly felt that I was all alone, that I was lonely, and that I was starting to sob.

It was right then.

I felt a presence behind me. I turned in the steam that was thick as fog, and there stood the biggest raccoon I'd ever seen, holding a loofah in his hand. He was huge. The loofah was nice, too. It was olive-colored, and created a nice contrast to the raccoon's brown fur. The raccoon took care of everything for me inside that thick white cloud of steam, nodding at me with a sympathetic look in his eyes. I nodded too. The raccoon slowly pushed the bath chair towards me and said,

Sit.

The bathhouse at dawn was silent, and in that silence, I entrusted the scrubbing of my back to a giant raccoon with a calm heart, the way I would with a good friend. I hadn't had my back scrubbed in years, and the raccoon was very handy with the loofah. It was strange, but I started to feel better as my back was scrubbed clean. By the time the raccoon finished his final scrub, I felt relatively happy. I started to stand up, but the raccoon pressed a heavy hand to my shoulder.

Not yet.

What did he mean, not yet? I was suspicious, but I found out the reason soon enough. He wanted to soap me down. The raccoon lathered refreshing soap all over my squeaky clean, freshly scrubbed body. I had no idea I could feel this good. Let me tell you, it was such a fantastic performance that I felt like I was flying through the air in an airplane over the state of Ohio. Aah, I was overcome with [End Page 213] such deep gratitude that I nearly cried. Finally, a person like me is . . . I turned back to face him suddenly, but all I could do was say these trite words.

Thank you, oh Great Raccoon. [End Page 214]

Park Min-gyu

Park Min-gyu was born in 1968 in Ulsan, a metropolitan city in southeast South Korea, and graduated from Jungang University. His first novels, Chigu yongung chonsol (Legend of the world's superheroes) and Sammi syuposuta oe majimak paenkullob (The Sammi Superstars' last fan club), were both published in 2003 and earned him both the Munhak Dongne New Author Award and the Hankyorye Literary Prize in the same year. The short story "Komawo, kwayon neoguri-ya" (Raccoon world) was included in the 2005 Yi Sang Literary Award Collection. His most recent novel, Ping Pong, was published in 2006.

Jenny Wang Medina

Jenny Wang Medina is a doctoral student in modern Korean literature and culture at Columbia University. Her translation of Oh Jung-hee's The Bird was published by Telegram Books in 2007, and her most recent work, a translation of Ch'oe Yun's Mannikin, received the grand prize in the 2006 Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6500
Print ISSN
1939-6120
Pages
193-214
Launched on MUSE
2008-05-01
Open Access
No
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