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Story by SJ Han (Read author interview) November 8, 2021

Art by Lorena Turner

At dusk, I will look out my dusty dormitory window and see fields submerged in shadows. America will be quieter than I thought. In a still room, I will sometimes wander back to nights in Seoul, playing badminton with my father in an empty parking lot. I will recall skyscrapers puncturing the darkness with glass teeth, a hue of amber glossing my father’s freckled face. I will remember how the wind sweeps the tattered shuttlecock just out of my reach so often. How we rally over and over without even keeping score. Walking home, he will tell me that destiny is a strange thing, that it has to decide on two players and a court for every game of badminton ever played.


At dusk, I will be knocked down to the asphalt by strangers. Though the weight of my backpack is now absent from my shoulders, I will lie sprawled for what feels like hours before I get on my feet. The back of my head collecting soiled raindrops, I will understand just how ugly a city at night can be. I will remember nothing about my attackers except their coarse voices – they will have told me to go back to where I came from. I will later mull their advice in the shower. Webs of soap will descend along my flushed body. Eventually, I will decide to stay where I am, if nothing to spite those who want me gone.


At dusk, I will pack everything I own, though I am not going anywhere. It will be a sudden fit of curiosity. I will be able to fit all my belongings in two rolling suitcases, just as I did when I first came. I will find comfort in how compact my life is.


At dusk, I will meet the love of my life. She will be curious about Seoul, the dim lights on her face stirring as she gnaws on a whiskey-soaked ice cube. I will ask her about Alaska, my mind sketching snowy plains against a setting sun. When it’s time to leave, I will not be able to find my friend, and she will be unable to find hers. While I walk her home, I will be conscious of the handgun I now carry in my inner pocket, careful to hide its bulge. She will not notice; she will keep her eyes forward the whole time, though just once she will flinch at the sight of my shadow behind hers. My eyes will flit to the darkened patches on every block until she is at her front door and I am at mine. Returning to my apartment, I will count with both hands the years I’ve now spent in this city, then convert them into days, then hours. Distracted, I will not even notice that my green card has arrived in the mail, not until the next morning.


At dusk, I will alternate between remembering nothing and everything about home. She will be the one with the idea of indoors badminton on a rainy night. We will push the kitchen table against the wall, then draw a line on the floor with a scarf. We will tap the shuttlecock as lightly as possible with upside-down rackets. When she lands the game-winning putt, she will hold back a yelp and remind me that I will be solely responsible for putting everything back where it belongs.

She will be out cold by the time I curl up next to her. Drifting asleep, I will suddenly long for the sight of my father sprinting sideways with an outstretched arm. Somewhere in the darkness, I might swim towards him without knowing which direction to go, traversing a tepid sea where I neither sink nor float. Occasionally, I might barely feel something bristle past my fingertips, stiff but warm like a cone of feathers.

About the Author

SJ Han is a bilingual writer from Seoul and a recent graduate of Washington University in St. Louis. His work has appeared on HobartJellyfish ReviewThe Café Irreal, and Typishly.

About the Artist

Lorena Turner creates photography projects that draw from the areas of documentary, journalism and fine art. She selects image-making tools that best articulate her ideas. Lorena’s work is shown both nationally and internationally in venues as diverse as The Photographers’ Gallery in London, the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the Arc Light Theater in Hollywood and the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art. Her book, The Michael Jacksons, and ethnographic monograph on the American subculture of Michael Jackson impersonators, was published in 2014. Lorena received an MFA from the University of Oregon, studied sociology at The New School for Social Research in New York City, and teaches photojournalism and documentary storytelling in the Communication department at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California.

This story appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three

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