We live in a skyscraper. That evening, a man with a clipboard stops me from entering the elevator banks in the lobby and says to use the stairs.
“All four of the elevators are broken?” I ask in disbelief.
“A resident has tested positive, and we’re sterilizing the building.”
I stare at him. “But,” I sputter, “I live on the thirtieth floor—” That’s how my horror at the disease comes out.
“I’m very sorry,” he says brightly, as if it were his fault, and makes an apologetic gesture toward the stairway. His cheer is oddly reassuring. Later, I wonder if this is how the Korean Center for Disease Control trains its personnel to calm civilians.
I am met with a visible cloud of what I assume is disinfectant. It doesn’t smell like those noxious DDT clouds from childhood; this scent is subtle and floral, pleasant. Through the haze, genderless people in hazmat suits carrying fog-spewing machines pass by me in the stairway. I have stepped into a Korean dystopian novel.
One hazmat-person is resting on a landing. They look exhausted.
“Thank you,” I say, almost whispering it, terrified, grateful.
“Oh . . .” she says. (Her voice reveals it’s a she.) “No problem.”
Anton Hur is a Korean literary translator. He has won a PEN Translates award, a PEN/Heim grant, and several LTI Korea grants. He currently divides his time between Seoul and Songdo.