Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe

Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe is an accidental teacher by trade and an artist and writer by otherwise. Her birthplace in the Midwest was a conservative start to a life of wander. She’s recently settled down and commutes between Sweden and South Dakota. Her artwork and publications can be found at www.jhakijhaki.com

 

The Professors (May, 2014. Issue 43.)

The rush of hot after such a rush of cold was not such a rush at all, as her face certainly showed. Her face only told the space between it and home. It was starchy white, as it always was in the coldest, darkest months, and somehow did not stand out so much against the drooping Korean expressions on her either side.

To her left and right, in an obedient line, the stern, aged faces cooked. They stewed slowly above cloudy swirls in the hottest pool (of several pools) of the bathhouse—the jjimjilbang. They were completely nude, save a curiously wrapped head towel, as custom and recipe dictates.

Her towel was wrong.

They sometimes smiled through the steam but never spoke. She never saw the smiles and wouldn’t have known the words unspoken. Her face never smiled first or back. Her face only stood, in the line, obediently. And it stood out only enough to whisper, I am not from here. This is not my home.

And no one minded.

No one convinced her to go to the bathhouse. No one nudged her swollen ankles, one by one, down the four tiled stairs into the pool. No one put their hands, one for each of her bony shoulders and pressed, lowering her stiffness with the care and consistency of glass elevator. No one bent her knees, dipping her pale butt cheeks until they flattened upon the third step, and then a little bit over the step, like two melted, underwater candles. No one leaned her rigid shoulders or her knotted blades against the second step. No one held her hand, nor guided it across the stair’s engravings. No one pointed to the glittering gold chinks sparkling here and there underwater, like the paths of miniature wild fires, suddenly, but not completely extinguished despite the watery depths they crawled beneath.

Nobody nestled her between two warm, tenderized Korean bodies. No one told her they were tired Korean professors, officemates, from the Social Science department at Seoul National University. No one mentioned they were gentle souls, trying to save the world. Exhausted from the effort.

But it was between them, in the hot tank, she snuggled. And their souls shuddered despite the heat. No one told them her name was Carly. It was not important. They were accustomed to nameless suffering.

Professor One, without words, reached behind herself for her crimson cloth. It was appropriately rough, for removing the skin of old. She scrubbed, not herself, with pressure, wise and precise, minding the Westerner’s probably unaccustomed skin. She scrubbed eleven circles, circles small and traveling, from Carly’s top left shoulder dimple, to her lower right barely poking, and very feminine, iliac crest before she replaced the cloth to the ledge of the tiled floor that was their backrest.

Professor Two took her turn. She reached behind herself for the same crimson cloth. She drowned the crimson cloth, twisted out a ribbon of sultry water, and dipped again. Instead of scrubbing, she used the rinsed cloth to lift Carly’s drooping head, with one warm flutter of her wrist beneath Carly’s clenched chin she brought Carly’s eyes to hers. The Professor held contact. Two green, with a dash of cinnamon, eyes opened to two stark mahogany. Two wise mahogany eyes peered into and through the dead cinnamon greenery. The green eyes closed. The mahogany hurt.

Professor Two scrubbed from the lower left. From the ridge of Carly’s neglected hip to the adorable and underappreciated dimple of her right shoulder. She scrubbed hard, then she scrubbed harder. She ignored the rosy cries of the unaccustomed skin. Carly’s young and sagging breasts flopped in small, helpless circles. From right to left.

The Legendary