(Based on actual experiences of, November, 2010)
Walking about and around in the nearing gray-dark, Staff Sergeant Gordon Wayne passed several South Korean soldiers sitting in chairs roughly, at an outside table drinking beer. Someone was playing the jukebox inside the small bamboo-walled bar, on the island called Yeonpyeong; in the daylight you can see North Korea from its shores.
“Hey, Staff Sergeant Wayne,” said Corporal Yang, “where you heading?”
“Nowhere in particular, just walking about.”
Gordon sat in an empty chair at an empty table next to the several soldiers, Yang joined him. It was near twilight; other than the conversation of the six soldiers left at the table, and the sound of the sea hitting the shore and the jukebox playing, it was a chilled near silent night, in November, of 2010. Gordon leaned his elbows on the small wooden table.
“Tomorrow I leave,” Gordon said. “I got my new orders a week ago.”
“Yes, I know, I heard you had gotten them from Kim,” said Yang.
Yang laughed and spoke Korean to the waitress standing in the doorway; she leaned forward and smiled at Gordon, who had turned about.
“He doesn’t speak Korean,” Yang said. “He says he’s leaving and not telling Kim the exact day, which is tomorrow.”
“Where’s Kim?” the waitress asked Yang.
“Maybe at home, waiting for him, who knows?”
“No,” said Gordon. “She told me she’s going to Seoul this afternoon.”
Yang couldn’t stand Gordon most of the time; he had won the heart of his girlfriend in less than a month.
Kim was very slim, an attractive tall Korean-Chinese woman of twenty-seven years old. Yang gave out a loud laugh—with a bad scent of some sort. “I guess you did pick up some Korean while in Seoul,” he commented.
“Why did she leave me for you?” Yang asked.
“She said you were like the pigeons.”
Yang laughed again, “Get serious,” he said, “let’s go find her and ask her.”
They both stood up walked own by the shoreline, there were boats in the harbor, the water pushed softly against the shore—sucked and bubbled under, with white foam.
“In the morning we’ll see North Korea from here, it’s less than eight miles away,” said Yang.
They walked up and down the water’s edge, the phosphorescent lights of the bar, and the light of the moon, guided them—they past a few sailors walking about, zigzagging, as if drunk.
“All night they’ll walk these shores drinking,” said Yang, as if searching for something to say.
“I’ve heard it stated, it would be easy for the North to hit this island if they wanted to and what could the thirteen-hundred inhabitants, civilians and soldiers and sailors alike, do?” said Gordon.
“Nothing,” said Yang “but I don’t believe they will.”
“I suppose not, it would cause a kind of ripple effect, one with a long tail of fear, in the minds of Seoul, and its neighbors, if not allies.”
Gordon had taken a bottle of rice wine with him from the bar handed it to yang.
“Listen, Gordon. You’ve got the devotion from a beautiful Korean woman, why don’t you take her serious?” asked Yang.
“I know she’s lovely—but you can take her and all that loveliness and row it out into the Yellow Sea for all I care. I’m headed for the War Afghanistan tomorrow.”
Standing barefoot, his toes now in the cold water of the sea, Gordon stepped in a foot deeper—forward.
“Yang!” he bellowed. “Come in, it’s cold, but great,” and drank a gulp of his rice wine down.
Gordon looked at Yang’s face, it was a round face, not square like his, some silver rimmed teeth, not pure ivory looking like his and straight, then Yang said, “Give me the wine, I think you’ve been drunk for a week—haven’t you?”
“You talk silly,” said Gordon, remotely.
“What are you going to do?” asked Yang, Gordon up to his knees in water.
“I’m thinking about a girl I met in Minnesota.”
“Come on back before you lose your balance and get yourself drowned.
“I’ll leave this island alive, don’t worry.”
“Did she tell you that you acted like a sitting-duck?”
“You mean Pigeon, don’t you?”
He reached out for the bottle of rice wine—he had forgotten he had given it to Yang, so he had to turnabout and walk back to the beach. He grabbed the wine bottle from Yang’s hands and swallowed a big gulp.
“Gordon!” said yang—
“Let’s get out of here, it bothers me.”
“I go on duty at midnight,” Yang said.
“Then I’ll drink the rest of the wine, you sure shouldn’t get drunk then!”
“I have never been drunk on guard duty,” Yang answered.
Gordon muttered something—
“What is it…? What did you say?”
“I was calling on the devil to strike this damn island, so I’d not have to go to Afghanistan.” Gordon repeated and took another gulp of the rice wine, now only half full.
“Go on, Devil,” the Sergeant said. “Strike us!”
“I never slept with Kim you know,” Yang told Gordon.
“Come on, don’t lie.”
“Let’s go back to the bar,” said Yang, as Gordon handed him the bottle.
“I have not told you a lie, I’m not drunk, I never slept with Kim,” Yang shouted at Gordon.
A soldier by the bar said to his comrades, “Look at them, a drunken pair!”
Another soldier at the table commented, “That’s Yang, he’s got guard duty shortly, he’s drank too much.”
A third soldier said, “They don’t look happy!”
The fourth soldier said, “Come on, let’s get some rice wine and get out of here, they’ll bring too much attention.”
“I’ve got to go,” said yang.
“No. Let’s drink the rest of the wine and talk.”
“Okay, but let’s get a second bottle then.”
“That sounds good,” said Gordon.
The waitress handed a second bottle to yang.
“You open it,” said Yang to the young waitress. The cork popped and flew someplace in the dark. And they both drank.
“I kind of wish you’d stay on the island Gordon, we could soldier together.”
“No. We wouldn’t be any good together—we like the same girl.”
“I wonder if I’ll be afraid.”
“Who knows until you’re actually in the line of fire, maybe it’ll be fun seeing all the artillery and men in action in Afghanistan. The island here is like Seoul!”
“Yes,” said Gordon, “perhaps you’re right—why worry about it. I was just feeling funny for some odd reason.”
“You mean like a premonition or something like that?” said Yang.
“Yaw,” said Gordon, “something like that.”
“You’re not that kind,” said Yang, adding, “We both are different than the others.”
“I suppose so, but I still feel odd, if not queasy.”
They both drank the rest of the wine, emptied the bottle. By the time they woke up, the sky was beginning to lighten— the two bottles were in the sand, facing the sky.
That morning Gordon caught his plane to Seoul, and onto Afghanistan, as Yang walked himself to his Headquarters, to turn himself into the Commanding Officer for missing Guard Duty. Halfway down a gravel road was a blast, then several of them, jumping over a fence, running through an open field, sand spouting up from all around—from rockets that were launched from North Korea to the island of Yeonpyeong—he could hear a missile coming in, there was a dead look to his eyes, he thought of Kim, why—what stopped her from marrying him. And he heard the missile nearing, instead of curling up in the sand, or trying to bury himself in the dirt, or leave out of the field, getting away, he relaxed un-tightening his nerves (‘Easy does it,’ he murmured)—thus, holding himself together. His eyes got wide; he saw the rocket now, the edge of his lips dried up. It was ugly to look at—he was ugly to look at, after the rocket hit.
I doubt Gordon ever knew what happened. He never wrote Yang or Kim. It wasn’t just love, the reason he avoid writing, although just love would be enough. Kim loved Gordon— God-knows how much, but he was a soldier, a career soldier and he had to ask himself the questions: did he have time for liking, taking, waiting, gentleness, making her happy, not afraid, and not frightening her. He, Staff Sergeant Gordon Wayne, could get whatever he wanted, because of something in him—perhaps it never lasted though, and maybe in time he’d lose it for Kim (as he had for everyone else).
No: 641 (12-24-2010)
Note: Yeonpyeong, is an Island in the Yellow Sea, 2.71 square miles, population in 2010, was 1300, belonging to south Korea. It is 7.5 miles from North Korea; it was shelled by North Korea on November, 23, 2010. Four people were killed, and eighteen wounded. This short story, “Night before Yeonpyeong,” is a work of fiction.