I was beginning to get very tired of sitting secluded in South Korea and having nothing to do and was considering in my own mind (as well as I could, for the hot day made me feel very sleepy and stupid), whether the pleasure of going down to a gathering hosted by my co-worker in the apartment three floors below was worth the trouble of getting up to go downstairs to find out when he texted me: You’re late to the COVID date. So, down, down, down I went where, inside the door, someone handed me a tin can that said DRINK ME on the label, so I opened it, drank it, sat on the far side of the room beside a young man with a big nose and floppy ears who said: “Ten, there are ten of us here.” Ten? Is that all there were? Foreign and alone. Around I looked: three women plump-drunk on the couch beside the stairs, one swaying beside them trying to get a hula hoop to agree with her hips, while the owner of the place cooked bacon, sending it around the room on a plate-filled assembly line of hands, two men tweedle-dee and tweedle-dumbing around the counter, a curly-haired, handsome-faced man in a chair, and my floppy companion who passed the bacon along to me. He was right: ten. Then he said, “One more and this is illegal.” So I asked, “Eleven is illegal?” And he said, “Yeah, the government just announced it.” Then he laughed—it was a contagious laugh, so contagious that it passed around the room faster than bacon on a plate, infecting each of the party-goers until it circled back to him like a wave at a football game though by the time it got there he wasn’t laughing anymore but crying. “Are you alright?” I asked, but he said nothing, only continued to cry, and when I looked up and around for help, the room was tumbling into more despair, tears popping out of eyes like newborns, unspooling down cheeks, tripping over lip-corners, crashing together at chin points and falling, falling, falling onto the wood floor. It wasn’t just crying; it was weeping, bawling. The hula hoop lay on the ground, while the woman who had been using it sat cross-legged in the center, hands over her face, eyeliner-soaked tears leaking between her fingers while the three women on the couch held each other like widows and the two men in the corner seized with sobs, wrenching at the bottoms of their shirts like distressed toddlers beside the curly-haired man who was pulling out his hair in sweet little handfuls. The whole place smelled of burnt bacon. The bottoms of my feet felt warm, and I looked down to watch as tear after tear hurtled toward another and another like friends reuniting after a flood except that they were the flood, crashing over and into each other as I curled my legs up onto the couch to avoid them and it all began to rise. Beers were cast asea, tipping, mixing, turning the salty tears bubbly and brown. By the time I realized the danger of the situation, it had reached the bottom of the cushion where I sat (a couple feet high now) and so I stepped down to make my way across the room but the man beside me grabbed my arm, pressing his big nose into it, letting his warm tears and snot gush over my skin, trailing down onto my hand that I ripped out of his grasp before wading my way across to the door, holding up my shorts with one hand while with the other I snatched my sandals up from the floating graveyard of footwear. There, I tried to open the door, but it was weighed shut by all of the tears and instead, I turned and tried to think of something to say that might make everyone feel better. But before I could think of something, anything, the water had reached my nipples, my neckline, my chin, and finally above my head. Somehow, then, though we were all totally submerged, I could see that everyone continued to cry and they moaned like a sonar signal, like grieving dolphins, vibrating all around, drowning out my thoughts for the little time I had left until things got much, much worse.
Benjamin Davis is a recovering fintech journalist, folklore addict, and author of The King of FU. His work can be found or is upcoming in Hobart Pulp, Maudlin House, Star 82 Review, 5×5, Cease, Cows, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere.