He walks with a limp. He had ventured too far into a yard, unaware it was guarded ferociously by a golden dog with loud yaps and vicious teeth. He had gotten his prize though, a rare Korean pear: gold and smooth and sweeter than anything he had tasted in years. He ate it right then and there, while wrapping his ankle with the last of his spare T-shirt he had ripped up. He didn’t need to wash the fruit, he had nothing cleaner, and they never used pesticides for backyard fruit anyway; they were too precious.

He walks throughout the night and half the next day until eventually the pear is nothing but crap on the road and his stomach is complaining. But he’s in luck: he could hear noises up ahead. He had walked far enough to reach the next village, busier than the last.

He follows the noise. Something spicy is in the air. Something warm. He walks through a crowd of people, maneuvering his way into the market. Old ladies sit by stalls or on well-worn mats on the ground, hawking their backyard vegetables or fresh-off-the-boat fish on ice. Middle-aged women, well past the prime of their lives, gossip and glare at him when he lingers too long. Young couples blushingly hold hands and feed each other pieces of rice cakes and sips of steaming broth. With his dirty clothes and unwashed hair, he sticks out like a sore thumb, but no one gives him a second glance. The crowd moves around him, avoiding his person naturally, like how a stream parts for a rock.

He passes all of it. His mouth pools with drool until he swallows with difficulty. He no longer feels any pain in his ankle, only the pain in his stomach.

The vibrant red of the spicy rice cakes with cabbage and eggs, the steam from the fish cakes in savory broth, the smell of seasoned chicken feet, the blackened intestines from the blood sausages. The livers and gizzards and meat and bones. His head grows woozy from the smells, the cacophony of sounds buzzing in his ears until all he knows is black.

He wakes up to a freezing shower of water. It floods his nose and mouth. He coughs violently and shivers. He looks up, blurry, too weak to stand. He feels paralyzed.

“Get up,” a voice demands, hoarse and accented. It sounds strange and grating to his ears. An old grandmother stands over his prone body, glaring at him with sharp eyes. She holds a basin full of water.

She dumps the basin of water onto his crotch. He sits up with a gasp.

The grandmother turns, satisfied. She drops the basin with a loud thump. Her back is hunched over, like all the grandmothers, from the years of work in the fields and the hours spent over large basins making precious kimchi and other banchan for their families.

“Who the hell are you, grandma?” he asks.

Quick as a flash, her withered hand picks up the discarded basin and throws it at his head, without even looking back. He barely dodges it; it scrapes against his head.

“Talk to me with respect. I saved your worthless life.”

He doesn’t have anything to say to that so he watches her move, collecting green vegetable after vegetable into the palm of her hands.

He looks around; he’s in the yard of an old house. The screen doors have holes, the porch is dusty, but the roof is bright blue—it’s been newly repaired. He looks down. He’s completely soaked, but he hasn’t felt this clean since the last time it had rained.

He hears the sound of sizzling. He looks over at the grandma, who has started a fire and put an old pan on top of it. He watches as she drops the fresh vegetables, whole, into the pan and pour something liquid all over it.

Soon, she walks over to him, leaning against the edge of the porch to do so, and, without looking at him, drops a steaming plate in front of him.

Pancakes, with scallions, cabbage, and whole pieces of squid. He doesn’t have any manners, so he digs in with his hands.

She throws a pair of chopsticks at him. One hits him on the cheek. He flinches and glares at her.

“Are you a beast? Eat like a human,” she demands.

He rubs his cheeks but he collects the chopsticks and, with shaky skill, he continues eating.

She clicks her tongue at him. “Look at you. You can’t even use them right.” But he ignores her.

If he were capable of it, he’d cry from happiness. The flour is too heavy for his stomach and the oil too greasy, but the cabbage is crunchy, the scallion spicy, and the squid chewy.

This is what they must mean, he thinks, when they say food tastes like honey.

He inhales too much food, coughs, but keeps going. Another plate is placed in front of him, this time the edges are a little burnt, but he greedily shoves them into his mouth.

Chewing, his cheeks puffed like a newborn baby, he looks up at the grandma, who is taking out huge king-sized cabbages to make kimchi. He stares at her, looks at the falling leaves from the trees, and the holes in the screen doors. He looks back at her, her withered, skillful hands staining red from the spicy paste, her gray hair, and her old, hunched-over back.

“Hey Grandma,” he says, with his mouth full, “I’ll fix your screen doors for you if you let me stay for the winter.”

She doesn’t turn around. Her hands keep moving. “Do whatever you want,” she says.

He goes back to eating.

Helena Pak’s short story “Paper Doors” won second prize in 2015 in the Third Annual School of Visual Arts Writing Program Contest. She is a senior majoring in Screenwriting. When not dedicating herself to writing, she spends her time lip-synching to pop songs (badly).