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Please Don't Talk to Me by bbangduksi. A shy woman is hiding behind a tipsy man holding a bottle of soju.

Please Don't Talk to Me

10

Chapter 10

27

It was snowing. It seemed to have started the night before. I walked to the security office, my footsteps crunching with each stride. The roof was thickly covered, with white sheets seeming to cascade off the edges. When I reached the door, I brushed the snow off the handle with my sleeve and pushed it open.

 

“…!”

 

It was like touching a red-hot iron; I jerked my hand back in shock, almost gasping but catching the sound in my throat. It wasn’t until I’d stepped back that I noticed Dongju in the corner. His gaze was vacant as he stared at me. Scattered around him were several soju bottles with red caps and a few with labels in indecipherable English.

 

Dongju blinked slowly. “Is it seven…?”

 

I stepped into the office. The coldness of the floor bit at my feet. I turned on the boiler and walked over to the desk, kicking aside a few empty bottles. How many had he drunk since the morning? If he was this wasted now, he must have started at dawn. I sat down, pretending not to care.

 

The room was thick with the smell of alcohol. I booted up the computer as usual.

 

Dongju’s words slurred as he spoke. “Does it smell in here?”

 

“…”

 

“It’ll probably be like this all day.”

 

He sighed deeply. It seemed he was drinking straight from the bottle today instead of using a glass.

 

The sound of a bottle rolling across the floor echoed in the small room.

 

Dongju’s voice cracked as he said, “I have… a really great plan. I absolutely must not drink tomorrow. Absolutely not. So today, I’m soaking myself in it… from my neck to my toes, totally drenched… so I won’t touch a drop tomorrow. If I can even move my fingers, I’ll end up drinking again… so I have to completely numb myself…”

 

He chuckled intermittently as he spoke, his words tangling and slurring more than usual. He was exceptionally drunk today. Normally, even after a few drinks, he didn’t seem any different from his sober self.

 

Today was different. It was like something had happened.

 

Dongju rambled on, his words spilling out uncontrollably. “You ever had a drink? If you ever plan to start, take my advice. At first, it makes you nauseous. But the more you drink… if you stop, it feels wrong. It’s like being hungry without eating. The kind of hunger only alcohol can satisfy. And every time you drink, you end up like me… a walking liquor tank. Not drinking feels like… um… Ever tried holding your breath? When you hold it to the absolute limit, you get dizzy, desperate… ‘I’d kill my own parents just to breathe’ kinda desperate. That’s how it is with alcohol.”

 

I rested my hands on the keyboard, glancing at Dongju, unsure of what to do next. He was pouring his heart out, and ignoring him felt wrong. But sitting silently wasn’t easy either; if I looked like I was listening, he’d expect a response I wasn’t prepared to give. Interrupting seemed just as improper. The best course seemed to be to simply listen quietly. Maybe if I remained silent, he wouldn’t notice my presence and would speak freely.

 

I quietly lifted my hands from the keyboard.

 

“I think about it a dozen times a day. No, it’s like breathing. Should I quit drinking? Should I really give it up? Maybe I should be locked away, my hands and feet tied, whatever it takes to stop. Or maybe I could cut off a finger every time I drink. If I don’t have any fingers to hold a bottle, I can’t drink, right?”

 

The computer screen went black.

 

I heard Dongju breathing slowly and shallowly, almost as if he’d forgotten I was there.

 

“But then… what’s the point of quitting? Maybe it’s better just to live like this, intermittently… cutting through time, cutting through memories… Why try to live life more completely? Why try to live more clearly…?”

 

Suddenly, he laughed—a laugh that sounded almost like sobbing. The chuckle lingered for a while.

 

“Ah… that’s funny… Woogi, have you ever imagined winning the lottery? Buying a house and a car if you win… It’s just like that. It’s not like I can quit anyway. What’s the use of worrying about it?”

 

Dongju paused for a moment, then resumed in a lower voice.

 

“It’s like a bear dragging a chicken by the head. Your conscience screams at you. You shouldn’t drink, you said you wouldn’t… But reason is just like a chicken’s head being dragged along. The alcohol is the bear. No, the mind is obsessed with alcohol… the brain cells broken by alcohol are the bear… Reason has no…”

 

At that moment, a loud thud sounded from outside.

 

***

 

Dongju knew it was laughable, speaking to the back of someone who didn’t respond. Yet, he couldn’t help it. The words that spilled from his mouth would typically draw curses or scorn for bragging about his drinking habits. Aware of such reactions, it was hard to even begin speaking—fear of sarcasm and contempt silenced him before he could start.

 

But there were moments, like today, when you knew the type of reaction you’d get yet still felt compelled to reach out and share your thoughts. That’s why Dongju was here, in a place where someone would listen without responding. It was actually a cowardly choice. He wanted to express thoughts that might draw derision but was unwilling to face the scorn.

 

Even here, in the security office where he had stumbled in drunk, Dongju found it difficult to speak. It wasn’t that he lacked words; he was terrified of Woogi’s silent judgments. What would she think of him? To disguise his sincerity, he slurred his words more, making his speech sound like drunken nonsense. To make it seem like a joke.

 

Suddenly, there was a crashing sound from outside.

 

Snow from the roof poured down, knocking the monitor off the shelf. Dongju glanced out the window, then back inside.

 

For a moment, everything seemed frozen as if captured within a picture frame. Woogi remained motionless, not even turning toward the sound or the window. She was as still as a lifeless statue, her presence marked only by the occasional blink of her eyes, reflected in the darkened screen of the laptop that had been untouched for a while. She seemed detached, hearing nothing, thinking of nothing.

 

In that moment, the silence was palpable, like a single snowflake landing softly in a snowy field.

 

Dongju swallowed, feeling a surge of emotion rise in his throat.

 

His vision blurred, and tears began streaming down his cheeks.

 

People often say that everyone has the right to cry when sad, but in reality, even crying seems to require a certain standing. Someone who seemed worthless, like Dongju, was often blamed even for his tears. Crying is a means to share sadness and seek comfort, but Dongju felt he had no right to such expressions. Thus, he only cried when he was completely alone, deep in the night when even his shadow seemed to have deserted him.

 

But at times like this… when someone implicitly agrees not to see, hear, or think about Dongju… he wanted to do something he wasn’t qualified for.

 

Dongju felt a constriction within him suddenly snap. In that fleeting moment of relief, he dropped his head.

 

Deep furrows formed between his brows, like cuts from a knife. His lips trembled, and tears seeped from his closed eyes.

 

Hic… Hic…

 

Tears hit the floor with a distinct plop.

 

Dongju clenched his teeth. He took a short, deep breath, trying to stop the tears. He found his own desperate sobbing repulsive, detesting the sound that reached his ears and loathing the sight of himself, seemingly pleading for sympathy.

 

But the more he berated himself, the more bitterly the tears flowed.

 

Hic… Hic…

 

Tears welled up and fell in a continuous cycle, each bringing a salty, bitter taste up his throat.

 

Dongju curled up, fetal-like. Words he had buried, fearing they would uncontrollably stir him if remembered, now poured out like a breached dam.

 

“I’m sorry… so sorry it’s shameful even to say sorry… I did wrong… I regret it so much… I regret it to death… Why did I do that? Why did I do that back then… Don’t forget me… never forgive… I don’t forgive myself either… But still… I miss you so much… I’m so sorry… I prayed we wouldn’t even meet in dreams… but I really miss you… I’m sorry… I’m sorry for missing you…”

 

Dongju’s rough breathing mixed with his crying, his face smeared with tears and mucus.

 

One particular face was vivid in his mind, even through the veil of tears. He gasped as if his heart was being squeezed.

 

“Where were you… Hic…” he murmured as if that face was really before his eyes. “When I couldn’t remember… when no one could… Hic… Where were you…”

 

Dongju’s crying filled the office, desperate like an animal suffering from a fever.

 

Outside, the snowfall gradually lessened. The snow began to melt where the sunlight touched. Inside the office, the sound of crying gradually subsided.

 

Dongju blinked his slightly swollen eyes. He felt numb. No thoughts came to him. It felt as if many things had drained away with his tears, leaving a relieving emptiness in their wake.

 

He staggered to his feet, using the wall for support as he walked toward the door. Leaning against it, he cracked it open slightly, and a gust of cold air rushed in. The breeze felt strangely unfamiliar, reminiscent of the wind by the river just before spring arrives, carrying a hint of changed temperature and humidity.

 

For a moment, Dongju felt as if the past had let him go. He peered through the crack in the door. He thought about how, like the melting snow, this moment too would eventually pass.

 

Dongju turned his head to look at Woogi. Before the moment faded, Dongju felt there was something he had to say to her.

 

“I haven’t cried like this in two years,” he said, his voice steadier now. “I shouldn’t do this… I really shouldn’t. But after crying, it feels like a weight off my chest.”

 

Woogi remained as silent and immobile as ice.

 

“I couldn’t have cried in front of anyone else. But with you, Woogi… there’s no one else like you. So quiet. You stop whatever you’re doing, being careful to stay quiet for my sake. You don’t even look out the window if there’s a disturbance. You never show any surprise. It’s like you’re not even here…”

 

Dongju paused for a moment.

 

“Nobody does that. Nobody does that for just one person.”

 

He looked out the door, then turned back to Woogi.

 

“Thank you.”

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