translated by Dafna Zur
CAN YOU SMELL the petrol?’ Mina asked him. Eugene tilted his end.
‘I’m not sure, but something’s off.’
‘C’mon, we’ve been eating these bars for ages.’
‘This one doesn’t taste right. I’m telling you, it stinks of petrol.’ She was already washing her mouth out. Eugene put the remainder of the ice-cream bar in his mouth. ‘Are you nuts?!’ she cried. He ignored her, swirling it around with his tongue, trying to detect the smell. He then spat out the mouthful.
‘You’re right. It does smell like petrol.’
It all began when the International Monetary Fund seized control of South Korea like an occupying army. The football team were hopeless, the economy desperate and the entire nation felt as if it were on its last legs. It was at this time that Eugene and his wife liked to buy their favourite brand of ice-cream bars at the supermarket. They came in a box the size of a bound volume of the Holy Bible, and containing twenty-four individually wrapped bars. Each bar was roughly half the size of a mobile phone: slightly too large for one clean gulp, yet not big enough to eat in two bites. One had to carefully peel the wrapping halfway, stick the bar in one’s mouth, wait for the chocolaty aroma to take over and only then swallow the other half.
Around that same time, confectionery companies scrambled to change their packaging in an attempt to lend their products a classier feel and hike up their prices. Perhaps it was because the entire nation was practically bankrupt that even trivial luxuries like these brought Eugene and Mina great pleasure. The couple would choose an ice-cream box from the freezer section, throw it in the trolley, pay for it hurriedly and head home. Upon arrival, they would place the box in their own freezer for a while, since the ice cream might have melted on the way, and then they would indulge in one bar each. They stripped their ice cream of its wrapper and revelled in the happiness that overwhelmed them. The subtle excitement aroused by the chocolate, combined with the sensuous cold of the cream, melted them slowly and completely.
Their 750-square-foot flat had been built in the mid-eighties. The hallway leading to their flat was always booby trapped with tricycles left outside by neighbours. The front door opened up to a vestibule that was too narrow for two. To the right of the living room was a kitchen with a small sink, where black soot and grease soiled the grout between the tiles. Mina would occasionally attempt to scrub the filth with special detergent, but it seemed to have been there too long. The dirt refused to come off. To make things worse, some tiles were beginning to crack.
‘It’s because the building’s crooked,’ grumbled the next-door neighbour. ‘Even the bathroom door won’t close properly.’
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