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  • Blooms of Mold
  • Ha Seong-nan (bio)
    Translated by Janet Hong (bio)

From the fifth floor, the playground looks like a small pond because of all the rain that has collected there. The heavy downpour from two days before has created muddy puddles that refuse to dry up. There are pools of rainwater everywhere-under the opposite end of the seesaw that the woman straddles, even under the monkey bars that the child hangs from.

The woman is shelling beans. Every time the shells are twisted open, speckled kidney beans peep out, nestled neatly in a row. The smell of tender greens is strong on her fingers. If a bean pops out of the shell onto the sand, the woman reaches to pick it up, raising her bottom in the air. Her end of the seesaw rises up to find its balance point.

The child's entire weight hangs from his right hand that is gripping the monkey bar. He is catching his breath before swinging from the third bar to the fourth. If he wants to land safely on dry ground without getting his feet wet, he has no choice but to go all the way across. His pants are slipping down and his shirt, pulled out by his right arm, rides up to reveal a blinding patch of ivory skin.

The woman is sitting with her back toward the man. From his vantage point all he can see is her hunched frame and her plastic container on the sand. Soon the container is brimming with beans. [End Page 171] So are you planning to cook rice with beans tonight? The man tosses the question in her direction but she doesn't respond. His voice doesn't reach her. How can anyone ever forget that taste? Nothing beats the way it crunches between your teeth. Could I have some? Standing by the balcony window, the man keeps smacking his lips. He can imagine it all-everything from the texture of the downy fuzz that covers the shells down to the very fibers that get stuck in your thumbnails from snapping open the beans. Luckily the woman still hasn't noticed the man who's been watching her all this while. She is entirely absorbed in snapping beans. She is deep in concentration, like a student solving a math problem. The child still hasn't crossed the monkey bars. With his teeth clenched, he continues to hang onto the bar.

The man takes out a little notepad from his back pocket. It is completely bent from having been pressed against his rear end. Bits of food have dried between the pages; they stick together when he tries to turn them.

Bean shells, seesaw, monkey bars, boy, puddles.

The man writes down a few words that will help him recall the woman. Later, the shells she chucks will become the only clue in identifying her garbage bag from all the others. The man doesn't know what suite she lives in. Luckily there's only one apartment building, but with ninety families living inside.

On the news that morning, the weather person gave the forecast in a yellow raincoat while holding up a yellow umbrella. A low pressure system was moving in and continuing to develop across the western coast and all of Kyŏnggi Province. Scattered spring showers were expected all week. The forecaster remembered to add that this early summer heat wave in April was the result of El Niño. If the heat and humidity continue, the man's work will become more difficult.

The man wakes to the sound of a woman shrieking. It's a little past two in the morning. Glass shatters and crashes to the ground. Frantic footsteps echo throughout the apartment. The woman-a [End Page 172] young woman's voice-keeps screaming at the top of her lungs, but he can't make out her words. The man's wardrobe and stereo system are placed against the wall; this wall is all that separates his room from suite 507. The man gets up from his bed, walks over to the wardrobe and puts his ear to it. The front door of 507...