I know your type. You’re one of the
Korean brides plucked by GIs near the
Demilitarized Zone and brought to America.
Some of the men have made good husbands,
like those married to the women I teach
English to here in Ohio. You’ve been
divorced, though, and hustled men for a
living. Now you’re on trial, making it
necessary for me to translate. May the Year
of the Snake, 1977, prove lucky for you.
The judge swears me in. “Do you swear to
interpret in a language that the witness will
understand, and then back to English, so
help you God?”
As I look at you, my aunt’s face, her widow’s
peak as distinct as yours, floats into my
mind. She worked in a wine house, selling
wine and more to men paying her price. As
a child, I visited her and saw them. The air
smelled of something sweet but upsetting.
You hold your chin up, your lips plump and
red, what people used to call “the mouth of a
cat that just ate a mouse.” Your hair’s
bleached blond and permed. I’ve no makeup
on my face and my hair’s in a schoolmarm's
bun, my breasts swilling with milk for my
baby girl, whom I’ll nurse during the recess
the judge promised.
"You will not be offended by the language we
may use?” the attorneys asked before I was
led to the courtroom.
"No,” I said, wondering how bad it would get.
The prosecuting attorney plants himself
"Miss Chin, how long have you worked in the
Ho-ho Massage Parlor?”
“Three years,” I translate.
“Miss Chin, have you met Mr. James
Callahan?” The lawyer gestures toward a
man in a suit standing below the podium, his
hands a fig leaf.
“Ne,” you say and snap your gum. The bailiff
hands you Kleenex and makes you remove
“Yes,” I interpret. This job’s a piece of
cake. I relax my back muscles.
“Miss Chin, how many times had Mr.
Callahan used your massage service before
“Set, ne bon.”
“Three or four times.”
“On June nineteenth at the Ho-ho Massage
Parlor, did you say to Mr. Callahan, 'Want a
My head X-rays itself in search of a
translation. Nothing comes up. It scans
again. A — blow — job. The eyes of the
judge, lawyers, and jury turn on me. I’ve
lived away too long from my motherland to
have picked up that vocabulary in my native
language. Even while I lived there, which
was until my graduation from a Catholic
college, I don’t recall wandering into that
area of vocabulary. I don’t mean to sound
holier than thou.
A smile steals across your eyes, telling me
you know enough English to understand what
the lawyer is asking. Why then am I here?
Have you claimed not to speak English in
order to manipulate a favorable ruling?
I use twenty words to describe the two
spoken by the prosecuting attorney.
You answer with "Nae ddong gumong bbol-a-
ra.” Tell jerk kiss my ass.
The jurors swing their glances from your
breasts, testing the limits of your orange knit
top, to mine under my gray suit. I can’t
translate that, but I must. I’ve taken the
oath. If you did indeed offer a blow job, and,
if Mr. Callahan didn’t want it, why didn’t he
just walk away? Why did he report it, drag
you here, and put me and the court through
this? He holds his face like a yoga
instructor. Shouldn’t funds being spent on a
court proceeding like this go to solving real
crimes, like rape and murder?
I wish you weren’t guilty. I wish my aunt
hadn’t been a wine house woman.
"No, sir,” I say.
I’ll go to jail. I won’t be able to nurse my
"Miss Chin, have you seen the penis of
So Mr. Fig Leaf is an undercover agent.
"Yom-byong-hol-nom.” Tell dick-head go to
I think a moment. You’ve used several
words. I must try to match the length.
"No, certainly not, sir."
"Miss Chin, did your mouth come in contact
with Officer Callahan's penis?"
“Gae-nom!” Son of a bitch!
I feel hyperventilation tightening my chest.
“Of course not, sir."
After the war ended, as a six-year-old, I saw
a whole platoon of women like you waltz
along the downtown streets near the DMZ,
where my mother ran a sweater shop. Their
hips played hide-and-seek with the street
lights, dresses looking painted on them,
every ample curve and dimple up for sale.
On the arms of foreign soldiers, they jangled
their GI-bought bracelets and batted
mascara-laden lashes asking for more gold
Shoe shine boys yelled after the GIs.
“Yankee, shoe shine. Number One shoe
shine.” The white, and some black, soldiers
smiled at them and spoke a language that
sounded like gibberish: “Sholla, sholla.”
One of you shouted to your fellow Yankee
princesses. "Looks like our boyfriends will
work us hard tonight. Expect to sweat a
The lilac perfume you left behind made me
dizzy with longing—I wanted to grow up just
like you, earrings blinking like stars.
"All rise," the bailiff calls. The collective
shuffling of shoes against the marble floor
sounds like a church processional.
The judge marches in, and the gavel knocks.
The jury foreman reads the verdict. "The jury
finds Miss Chin not guilty."
When I shake your hand, you don’t thank
me. You shove a fresh stick of gum into your
mouth and strut away.
Milk lets down in my breasts. I mouth a
wish: May you not be caught selling blow
jobs again. If you are, may you run into
another translator as sloppy as I.
Korean born writer Maija Rhee
Devine has published her fiction,
non-fiction, and poetry in numerous
literary journals and an anthology
including Boulevard, Michigan
Quarterly Review, North American
Review, and The Kenyon Review.
Her first novel manuscript, The
Voice of Heaven, about a South
Korean family's perilous journey
through life imbued with Confucian
morals and values, is with an agent
in New York.