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Table for One (Working Title 3.1)

The Massachusetts Review presents the latest Working Titles e-book: TABLE FOR ONE by Yun Ko Eun, translated by Lizzie Buehler—available this week!


THE CUSTOMER COMES in alone. The owner is a bit slow-witted and asks, “How many in your party tonight?” This is a family-style barbecue restaurant, though, so you can’t say she’s that slow-witted. Two servings of pork belly, a bowl of rice, a bottle of soju. Nothing too unusual, but for a woman who came in alone at 7:00 p.m., it is sort of strange.

The woman drinks half a glass of soju for every three pork wraps, using both hands to have a quiet meal. Flipping meat with tongs, cutting it with scissors, grabbing it with chopsticks, putting it in her mouth with her hands—a typical way to eat. Even so, she feels uncomfortable, trapped by the gazes of those around her. The table, covered with one set of silverware, is like a boxing ring. The woman sits alone and faces the fluttering stares. The curious spectators throw a left hook, a right hook—the woman’s only way to defend herself is steadfast eating. Sometimes she, too, takes aim. In the empty space of the barbecue joint, several gazes collide and disappear like smoke.

The meat hardens into charcoal on the hot grill. At the rate the woman is eating, she won’t be able to finish her food.

More than half the order of the woman who came alone at 7:00 p.m. remains on the table. She probably asked for one extra serving of pork so that she could eat the first. At a barbecue restaurant selling only servings of two or more, one serving of the woman’s order is left to turn into charcoal. At 7:30, her meal ends. . . .

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