The Re­union

The Iowa Review - - NEWS - Janet kim ha

On nights when the north wind blew, flocks of opa­line helium bal­loons swarmed over from be­yond the barbed wire of the 38th par­al­lel. The Lumpen would watch from his hut in the field. Once in a while, one of them cov­ered over the moon as it sailed on. It looked to the Lumpen more like a birth than an eclipse. A bun­dle bloom­ing from the kindly cres­cent rift. At day­break the Lumpen would climb the hill to for­age for what the bal­loons had brought. He looked for patches of the slope that were speck­led with un­nat­u­ral color. The ashen white of the la­tex shreds and, among them, the leaflets. Painted gar­ishly to catch the eye. Aban­don your Yan­kee-rid­den land. Free­dom, rights, jobs guar­an­teed for South Korean of­fi­cers de­fect­ing to Py­ongyang. Come, into the sweet em­brace of our mer­ci­ful Gen­eral. Long live the Supreme Leader of our race, the avatar of benev­o­lence, Kim Jong-un. Dew rolled off the painted sheets and into his sleeves as the Lumpen gath­ered them in his palm. The dew on the florid paint was as limpid as glass beads. The first time he went chas­ing the bal­loons, the Lumpen read each leaflet. He spent half a day on the hill. He squinted through the tes­ti­monies of South Korean de­fec­tors liv­ing like tsars in the same palace as Kim Jong-un. In the end he shrugged. He brushed the seat of his pants with the leaflets and felt sorry for the bal­loons that mar­tyred them­selves to carry the man­dates, so lost on the likes of him. He took the wad over to the po­lice sta­tion, where he was well pleased to learn that the pay for a hun­dred sheets was two boxes of in­stant noo­dles in­stead of one. He shook the hand of the soft-hearted of­fi­cer who would round his num­bers up for years to come. The dirty Reds, they never do quit, said the of­fi­cer. No com­plaints, said the Lumpen. One morn­ing, in a harvest field of bro­ken bal­loons, the Lumpen found a leaflet made into a small pouch and tied shut with a piece of red thread. He placed it in his palm and felt through the stiff en­ve­lope. The con­tents, nu­mer­ous and weight­less, rat­tled within. He fin­gered the folds that formed the en­clo­sure. If he were to fum­ble with the thread there on the hill, he thought, the in­sides may scat­ter on the ground and be hope­lessly gone. He put the pouch in his shirt pocket and car­ried on with his glean­ing. There were enough leaflets that day, he would re­mem­ber in later years, to ex­change for three boxes of noo­dles. You can’t live on

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