Hongdae, 4:23 am


No matter how hard you look, you can’t find a place to get rid of the broken, blood-stained skateboard still clenched in your hand: it seems like nowhere’s safe, there’s people around even this late, passed out on the street, cleaning up, staggering out of bars, plus there’s the cameras that Emmett was going on about, claiming that they cover all of Seoul, you didn’t believe him before but you do see a lot of them now that it’s too late – really you never should have gone out with Emmett in the first place, but he skated and had the hook-up for weed (a rare thing in Korea for sure) and there was no one else to hang out with off base anyway besides redneck jarheads (all the Koreans always so cold when they realize you’re an American serviceman), so Emmett it was, drinking with him at some dumb club in Hongdae since you were afraid of the MPs tromping through bars in Itaewon looking for soldiers, hearing Emmett go on about what bullshit teaching English is and how prejudiced Korean people are, realizing that this little white kid always bragging about his black “homies” back in Brooklyn is only now getting a taste of racism and only a fraction of it at that, not like he has to be afraid of Korean cops shooting him dead over nothing even if people don’t want to sit next to him on the subway; maybe this is why you’re so touchy when one of those Korean hip-hop kids in baggy clothes like this is still 2004 comes up to you for no reason and calls you “my nigga,” you get all up in his face and you can tell he’s surprised, shocked even, like he thought it was a term of endearment he had the right to use, you think you should probably let him apologize but Emmett jumps up and smacks the kid and like some bullshit automatic reflex you get Emmett’s back instead of leaving it all be, then the Korean kid falls back and says something about how he’s getting his friends before running out, the two of you go right after him since you know what that means (it’s how they fight over here: not man to man but ten on one), you catch him around the corner from the club on his phone and smack him right across the head with your board, it splinters in two and he’s down on the ground not moving right, twitching, you realize Emmett’s already disappeared (typical), so you also split, running through the small, busy lanes until you’re far enough away, still clutching the board, unsure where to drop it, you’re afraid it could be used as evidence, you keep wandering for what must be an hour, past the endless drunken crowds shouting and stumbling and heaving, they all look pretty blurry to you – you realize you had a lot tonight too, soju and beer and shot shots shots shots shots (that fucking Lil Jon song blaring in the club, it worked alright) – you walk until you start to feel nauseous and find a little park at the edge of the neighborhood, just a concrete square with some trees, slump over on a bench exhausted, peering out at the signs in Korean with their characters so neatly slotted in straight lines and definite boxes, you feel you could fit right in among them, Korean jail won’t be too different from the army or being back home anyway, what does going to jail fucking matter, life is nothing but a series of boxes to be trapped in so you may as well stop running.

You jerk awake a couple hours later, head clear. The sun’s barely come up. The police haven’t come for you. You check your phone. Two hours have passed. The trains are running again. You get up and head back to base, the broken board left behind you and an inexplicable feeling of disappointment lingering in your mind.

~ fin ~

Aaron Fox-Lerner was born in Los Angeles and currently lives in Beijing. His fiction has appeared in Thuglit, Crime Factory, Grimdark, The Puritan, and other publications.