girl on parade of killers
We stop somewhere outside of Seoul, somewhere south of Daewoo. I get out and find a bathroom and stop to smoke before getting back in the little bread-loaf shaped van taking us to Busan. It’s a giant parking lot with giant buses clumsily stretched out wrong-way, across the faded parking spaces. Old people stroll around nodding their heads, stretching and squatting in their windbreaker suits and oversized visors. Vendors are selling everything—candy, booze, shirts, toys, visors. Deep, sad voices sing out of old, cracked and dirty radios behind a wall of um-pa-polka synthesizer, a stringy voice stuttering staccato crescendos with intervals of clashing cymbals.
I’m standing there, hungover and smoking a cigarette, trying to reason why I shouldn’t murder the tour guide. He is animated next to me, explaining why he is a genius. Brian keeps trying to speak Korean but his Korean sucks. His story sucks. His worn-out fuckboy persona sucks and grates on what little nerves I have left. He explains that his Korean is in a different dialect, with a half-drunken smirk. He takes his shirt off, pulling it over his back. I hate him.
A younger fellow from the Netherlands keeps pulling his shirt up and looking at his waist line. He shakes his head and looks off like someone told him something he didn’t want to hear, like a kid trying to remember a multiplication problem. I ask him what’s wrong.
“What’s your problem?” I ask.
“I think I am wearing two pair of pants,” he says back, slippery accent, confused, still working it out.
“I sleep in one pair and put on other this morning.” His reply is simple. People laugh. We look through squinted eyes. We slap our knees, the ice breaking. Later in the night he would black out and take a cab from Busan to Seoul. He would wake up early Saturday morning somewhere in between.
Brian laughs the hardest—obscene, forced—and then rambles about how his father is some kind of bowling champion back in Ottawa. He wears a giant ring that has something to do with bowling. His crumbled shirt is draped over the back of his neck. I wonder when we quit being men. He would be easy to murder.
The landscape blurs by as different radio stations fade in and out. It reminds me of home and Eastern Kentucky, with its trees and hills. When I was a child I would imagine rolling down them; gaining momentum until my little boy body became an unstoppable force that no one could hurt. But now I am somewhere in my thirties and fumbling through my life and riding in a skinny rusted out van on the other side of the world. Brian blathers on about his overall success in life; his exploits, his conquests. We roll our eyes and graciously laugh out loud through sharp, clenched teeth.
The beach is crowded in Busan. There are dirty children rushing around, young families, shy Korean girls with parasols, slightly feminine Korean men, covering their mouths when they speak. Balloons and noise. In the distance, speed boats spin over the waves, cutting across the choppy waters that spurt foam in their wake. It is bright on the beach and it reeks of fish. Everyone is a little drunk. Ancient men dressed in military garb slide in and out of the crowd. A little kid tells me they were Marines and they were on parade earlier.
They hide their eyes behind fake Ray-bans. Their skin is elephant leather and their expressions are deadly and resigned. I’m stupid enough to want to know what they know. I want to look in their head, to stretch out their memories, so thin, that I can look at my own life through theirs. I want this sun to shine through their thoughts, like bloody, splintered stained glass.
We drink on the street, watching another parade dance by. Brian has a young woman on his knee. Her hair is dyed two different colors and she wore high heels to the beach. A man wearing a bird costume pauses, dancing in front of me and wraps a yellow strip of crepe paper around my neck. In broken English, he says it is tradition.
A girl walks up to me and asks my name. I tell her my name.
The man dressed as a bird says I am very handsome. I say thanks.
She says she is from South Africa.
The man asks my name and I wave him off.
The girl walks away from me. She is clamoring through the parade, throwing her arms up—panic—screaming at me to take a picture. It will be a meaningless picture of a girl I met once on the street. She is desperately tapping one of the dancers on the shoulder, but they won’t acknowledge her. The girl is walking backward through the parade, throwing her arms out repeatedly like some terrifying puppet controlled by an angry child. I imagine how my hands would feel on Brian’s tanned neck before I hold the camera up and scream that I am going to take the picture.
“I’m going to take the picture!” I scream over the drums and voices. I do and then she disappears. She was beautiful that way.
John Duncan received an MFA from the University of Kentucky and is currently working through his PhD at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction and non-fiction have been featured in the anthology Feel It with Your Eyes, Habitat Magazine, and Enizagam where he was 2017 runner-up in the Enizagam Literary Contest in fiction.