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Wine and Deign

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The knocking on her door is not warranted, not for — 10:21, Chakhee checks — the night. It’s not the angry knocking of her father, and it’s not the incessant knocking of her mother, and it’s not the impatient knocking of her landlord. She tries to gauge her best through the obstructed glass, determines a petite figure, and opens the door an increment.

“Can I help you?”

“Chakhee-ssi, it’s me,” Na Gongju says. “Did I disturb you?”

Chakhee swings the door open. “You didn’t disturb me,” she refutes, “Not at all. What are you doing here, though?”

Na Gongju fiddles with the strap of her ugly green purse. She looks sheepish. “I was here with Dali, but…”

Chakhee doesn’t have to follow her gaze to glance at her landlord’s house. “Ah,” she says, staccato. “I see.”

It only takes Gongju’s pitiful, floored eyes to move Chakhee. “Come in.” She makes way, shuffling out of her doorway. “Do you drink?”

+

At Do you drink? Gongju had expected something more plastic-chair-y, not so mahogany-desk’d. Chakhee has set upon her table a bottle of wine and a selection of imported biscuits.

“I don’t have cheese or anything,” she says, apologetic, “I still can’t afford that.”

Gongju only looks up in askance, and Chakhee must see something in her eyes, for she smiles and gestures to the seat opposite her. “Have a seat.”

Gongju does. The wine she is offered does not taste like anything she’d enjoy drinking, but Chakhee’s inquisitive company is quite enough. It’s been so long since she’s been amused by the plights of the rich.

“Gongju-ssi, is it always like this? Everytime I eat there are more dishes to wash. And by the time I finish washing those dishes, there are more because I eat again. It’s like a never-ending cycle.”

She holds her smile for another few seconds, then she asks, “Does this get your way?”

And Chakhee’s smile, too, falls amazingly. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, does this kind of talk amuse the company you usually keep?”

The plasticity of her expression only lasts so long. Downing her quarter-glass of wine, Chakhee says, “People like it when what they see aligns with what they believe.”

And Gongju counters, “Must you play up to that?”

“Must I not?”

Chakhee smiles at her once again, but she doesn’t bother with her charade. She’s already emptying the bottle. “I know it’s hard for you to sympathise with me,” she says. “It’s hard for me to sympathise with myself as well.”

Gongju takes another sip of the expensive wine. She doesn’t seem to like it, but she bears it. Perhaps a kindness: “I know I judge people inconsiderably,” she says, “I’m sure you have suffered hardships, Chakhee-ssi.”

Chakhee responds by sliding the biscuits over. Some truce to a shortly-dead argument.

+

“Do you think they’re well-suited?”

“Hm?”

Second bottle, first glass. Gongju has her legs curled underneath her on the sofa. Chakhee is sitting on the floor.

“Oppa and Kim Dali-ssi. Do you think they’re well-suited?”

“I don’t know,” Gongju mutters. “I didn’t like him when I first met him.”

“And now?”

She shrugs. Chakhee can’t see her, so she says, “He’s fine, I guess. Dali loves him, and he loves her, so there’s nothing more to it.”

Chakhee pushes herself so that her back is resting against the sofa, then bends her neck upwards, barely catching Gongju’s sight. “What do you think of Moohak oppa?”

“I don’t,” Gongju insists, craning her neck to Chakhee. “Why do you keep asking about him?”

“I don’t think about him either,” Chakhee divulges. “Why would I?”

Gongju leans forward, rests a heavy hand on Chakhee’s shoulder to reach the wine. “I don’t know. Why would you?”

“Abeoji expected me to,” she lists. “Everyone else expected me to, as well.”

“Arranged marriage,” Gongju seems to conclude. She fills her glass and leans back, then plucks a biscuit from the packet and leaves it on Chakhee’s unoccupied shoulder.

“It wasn’t. It was just…”

“Expected?”

Chakhee unhappily bites into the biscuit. “God, I don’t even know. Can you give me some more wine, unnie?”

“Who’s your unnie,” Gongju mumbles, handing Chakhee her own glass. She considers the floor, then slides down, and picks up Chakhee’s unfinished glass of wine from across the table to drink from herself.

Chakhee sips tentatively. “Is the wine good?”

“Hate it,” Gongju answers. “Biscuits are nice, though.”

Chakhee nods with enthusiasm, exclaiming wordlessly. “Unnie likes the chocolate-covered biscuits.”

“Yah,” Gongju shoves her shoulder but says nothing else. She pours herself more wine, hands now trembling. “Do you want more?”

Chakhee nods, lips pouted in what she thinks is adorable, but Gongju only seems to find irritating. Her glass of wine is handed to her roughly.

“To expectations,” she announces.

“That’s not right,” Gongju says, but drinks with her regardless.