Fall 2017 Fiction

“The Radish” – Kim Um Ji

The Radish

By Kim Um Ji
Translated by Ji Won Park

“You’re a nobody. A nobody. What good are you, you chunk of radish? Actually, that’s an insult to radishes. At least you can chop up a radish and pickle it. Do you have any use at all? You give me the shivers,” his wife said as she hugged herself and shook in a display of utter disgust.

Yeong-cheol Kim, with his face fallen, barely squeaked, “Why would you have to use me anywhere?”

“What’s that, punk? What are you muttering on about? You, you…”

She stormed out in a fit of animal shrieks. Precisely three months after the exchange, Yeong-cheol was left stripped of everything except a desktop computer, which had been his only contribution to the household items. He shipped the computer to his younger brother’s, where he was moving in, and embarked on a trip. In a motel somewhere on Ganghwa Island, he dreamt that he had turned into a radish, and his wife cut up his appendages into bite-sized pieces.

“Do you think I’m incompetent, too?” he asked his younger brother.

“No, it’s not like that,” he replied.

“But it is like that, isn’t it?” Yeong-cheol persisted.

“Come on, brother. Let’s just have dinner.”

But Yeong-cheol was in no mood for food, and so he hooked up his computer while his brother, his wife, and their child ate.

He spent most of his time on his computer—behavior which remained constant throughout the days before and after the divorce. He didn’t work on anything in particular. He usually played baduk. The case could be made that it was all that he ever played. In fact, he played baduk with remarkable drive. With a cigarette in his mouth, he would focus on a match for five hours straight. Once it ended, he’d spare one bathroom trip. And then, hungry or not, he’d begin another five-hour match.

Come have dinner: His brother’s scripted line. Yeong-cheol knew that he only said it out of obligation because whenever they ate together the tension in the family was palpable. Yeong-cheol studied the face of his sister-in-law to read her emotions. His younger brother did the same for both his wife and Yeong-cheol.

“Why don’t you go home?” Yeong-cheol’s nephew, who had just turned five, asked during such a dinner. He had a talent for bringing up the elephant in the room. The three adults paused, chewing together in silence while thinking of something to say in response. But no one ended up speaking, so the kid turned to his sausage again as though he hadn’t been that curious in the first place. Why don’t I go home? Yeong-cheol asked himself. Because I don’t have a home. Simplicity was convenient. His simple way of thinking helped in life sometimes. It helped during the divorce, too.

*

Whatever question his wife asked, Yeong-cheol muttered the same response: Well, um…I’m not sure. He by no means disliked his wife’s company. Quite the contrary, he loved her. In his defense, monotony was simply his way of loving her, of communicating love. He was never irritated by his wife.

His wife felt otherwise.

“So what the hell do you wanna have for dinner?” she asked him every evening when he came home from work. Yeong-cheol lost his appetite whenever he was home, whereas the only thing his wife could ever think about was what to cook. Her top agenda each day was the business of eating. She hated eating alone after her husband left for work and hated eating with him even more. She called her mom for advice. “Mom, nothing tastes good these days. You know I always used to be able to make a feast out of any dish, but I must’ve lost all my taste buds since marrying Yeong-cheol. What do I do?” Her mom recommended pickles and marinated crab.

Her parents had never appreciated Yeong-cheol. He was older by eight years, yet not really that much better off financially. Though he hadn’t made any preparations for marriage, he guessed taking the leap wouldn’t be so bad since he was at that age already. His wife’s family provided the 600-square-foot apartment where Yeong-cheol and his wife stayed until their divorce.

Yeong-cheol’s wife was constantly eyeing him with an intense curiosity. Why is that man so meek? Doesn’t he hold any grudges? Why doesn’t he ever get angry—or is it that he doesn’t even know how? And what about pleasure? For that matter, why does he come home so punctually after he leaves the office? Does he dislike the dishes I make? Why does he leave so much untouched at every meal? I wonder if his servings were always so small… And why doesn’t he look me in the eyes? He must’ve forgotten entirely about sex. And what about kids? Doesn’t he want any? What does he even want out of this marriage? Some of these questions she felt enterprising enough to ask out loud and others she didn’t. Namely, the ones concerning eye contact, sex, and children. Eye contact, sex and children bothered her the most after their meals.

“Don’t worry about them. They’re not worth it. Kids are just a burden. A burden, I tell you. Think of them like STDs, a side-effect of sex,” her friend had told her.

“How can you say that when you have one?” she asked. Her friend had a baby daughter just a little more than three months old. Not only that, she had a warm, tender husband and a respectable job. Two jobs, actually. She carved wood and painted on people. Yeong-cheol’s wife had envied her sculpture-tattooist friend ever since high school.

“Can I work as your assistant? I feel so lonely at home by myself,” she pleaded to her friend.

Her friend flatly rejected, saying, “People don’t simply choose to start working out of their loneliness.”

“Then when do people choose to work?”

“When they need the money,” her friend replied. She was adamant and sounded absolutely certain of being right.

“You need money?” she asked, sealing the rejection. Yeong-cheol’s wife didn’t need any money because Yeong-cheol’s paychecks were deposited straight into her account. They didn’t really amount to much, but she wasn’t desperate to save or invest.

“Grow up a little before having a kid. If you keep a clean house and support Yeong-cheol, he’ll love you every night.” Her friend’s advice offended her immensely.

What is she, my mom? My older sister? My aunt? Who exactly does she think she is? Who is she to tell me to keep a clean house? she thought.

By the time Yeong-cheol returned from work, she was downright angry.

“Does she think she’s superior because I don’t work? Tell me.” Arrows now targeted Yeong-cheol.

“I’m not sure,” he muttered, eyes fixed to the rice bowl.

“What’s that? I can’t hear you. Talk louder. Louder. Your throat hurt when you talk or something? Got a problem with your vocal cords?” She grabbed Yeong-cheol by the chin, and as she did a few grains of rice fell from of his mouth. In her frustration, she picked up them up and shoved them back into his mouth, then burst into tears.

Judging that telling her not to cry wouldn’t have stopped her tears, Yeong-cheol resumed his meal without acknowledging them. The roasted mackerel smelled funny. The rice was undercooked. His wife was sad. The kimchi was bland. Among it all, Yeong-cheol drank water whenever he felt a lump in his throat. His wife, meanwhile, continued sobbing, having given up on eating altogether.

That night in the bedroom, his wife said, “I should adopt a dog.”

There was determination in her voice, as if she had given the matter thorough consideration. Yeong-cheol pictured having a dog, and his imagination failed him. He had never had a pet.

“What breed should I get?” she asked while lying on her side and facing the wall.

“I don’t know,” Yeong-cheol replied lying on his back. He had no strong preference.

“Want me to quiz you on something?” his wife suddenly offered, still staring at the wall.

This terrified Yeong-cheol beyond measure. He wasn’t ever known to have any answers.

“Do you know what the pattern of our wallpaper is?”

Yeong-cheol’s general lack of knowledge concerning the house was the most notable among all of his failures. And the trivia question was about the stupid wall, of all things in the house! Yeong-cheol struggled in vain to make out the pattern on the ceiling but the ceiling was too high and the room was too dark.

“Well…”

He felt cornered.

“Then I’ll make it a multiple-choice question,” she said. “(A) dots arranged diagonally, (B) dots arranged horizontally, (C) dots arranged vertically or (D) a plain silk wallpaper.”

Yeong-cheol tried to visualize each of the choices. A few dots gathered before his eyes, then dispersed. But since he didn’t have a favorite letter, he couldn’t make a guess.

“Wait,” he said. “Please. Wait just a minute.” He hadn’t made this plea to his wife in a while; he was often late to dates back in school.

“(B) horizontal dots. I think they were horizontal…” he said. His hands were sweating.

“Yup.”

His wife turned around and rubbed her cheeks against his chest. Yeong-cheol was relieved that his wife still had a cute side. He felt that he could live with her for a long, long time. His wife, for her part, was pleasantly surprised that he had gotten the right answer.

Once the puppy made his appearance into their lives, more pleasant surprises were underway. He was a brown mutt and he couldn’t claim a fancy lineage, but his wife was happy that he was free. Even though he’s a mutt, he’s cute, they both thought. When he arrived he was just over three weeks old.

“What should we name him?” she asked him.

“Well…”

It was a difficult problem. His wife folded a yellow blanket twice and placed the puppy on top. The three-week-old puppy seemed closer to a fluff ball than to a living thing. It was winter and the pup snuggling in the blanket went well with the season. Yeong-cheol suddenly craved wine, though he wasn’t much of a drinker. It was so definite and intense that he suggested, “How about we decide on the name over a drink?”

Her eyes glowed. “I’d like that,” she said.

No sooner had he left than he returned with a $39 wine bottle and two $12 wine glasses. His speed impressed her once again. Has he always liked wine so much? she wondered.

“I’ll name him Yeong-cheol,” she said after four full glasses of wine. “You are Yeong-cheol Kim.” She pressed his nose with her index finger. “And the little guy is Yeong-cheol Dog.” She pointed at the puppy with the same finger.

“Ha, ha,” he laughed in short bursts. So short that he might as well have been coughing.

“Doggy Yeong-cheol, come on. There, there.” His wife called the puppy over with open arms. Yeong-cheol coughed out his laughter once again, and she actually thought he must have a cold. Does he have a throat problem? Yeah, it seems like a bad cough, but what kind of weakling has a cold all year? she thought. Yeong-cheol laughed his coughing laugh from one season to the next. The puppy often played cute tricks like extending a paw when asked for a shake and playing fetch. When Yeong-cheol came home from work, the puppy followed his feet around because he liked Yeong-cheol’s socks. There was a mutual feeling of respect between Yeong-cheol and the puppy.

His wife called the puppy “Yeong-cheol.” Yeong-cheol, however, didn’t give him any particular name. Instead he got his attention by clapping his hands or waving treats in the air. The couple ate, slept, and walked with the puppy. Sometimes they even showered with him. And on the rare occasions when they had sex, he could be spotted leisurely walking by. Life with the pet was great. For one, the frequency of his wife’s temper tantrums noticeably decreased. However, the happiness didn’t last long; it ended precisely when Yeong-cheol became unemployed.

Yeong-cheol himself wasn’t aware of the reason he was fired. He wanted explain to his wife that some terminations happen without warning. That not all terminations merit a legitimate cause. But he knew better than anyone else that such excuses weren’t the kind of explanations his wife wanted. Instead, she spoke about some administrative failure and potential employment opportunities.

“Well…I’m not sure about that,” he said.

She began to pull out her hair and stamped her feet. Telling her to stop pulling wouldn’t have stopped her, so he kept quiet and sprinkled bits of dog treats on the floor. Yeong-cheol the dog hurriedly licked the floor, which irritated his wife so much that she kicked him in the stomach.

“Give me a plan. Stop saying you don’t know and give me something!” she yelled.

The scared dog scurried under the table and hid, and Yeong-cheol wished he could do the same.

Yeong-cheol usually hid in the small room, where an LED monitor, a wireless keyboard, an empty PC tower, hangers, and an old wardrobe were kept. He played baduk in a corner of the room alongside clothes that were now off season. He played until dust collected on his shoulders and his wife no longer bothered him about food. She ate just as well by herself.

Before long, she became an assistant to her sculptor-tattooist friend, running trivial errands. Although the tasks were only small and menial, she found them rewarding. Not much changed between the couple, except for the source of their income. Yeong-cheol continued to talk minimally, never blew up, and still left his rice mostly untouched. His wife continued to worry about the diner menu, still continued calling up her friend and her mom, and still referred to the puppy by her husband’s name. “Hey, Yeong-cheol, you’re just a dog. Why are you so passionate about baduk?” she would vent to the puppy. “Hey, Yeong-cheol, what are you planning to do on Chuseok? Stay at home like a loser?” she kept asking.

Sometimes Yeong-cheol heard his wife from the small room while playing baduk, and sometimes he didn’t. Either way, he never responded and she became used to the silence over time. Soon, things were so familiar that she no longer cried. Many days passed without so much as a teardrop.

The first crying fit in a long while broke out when the dog disappeared. She asked Yeong-cheol if he’d seen him. He couldn’t remember when he had last seen the dog; it could’ve been the day before or two days before that he had fed him snacks and dog food. He walked him, cleaned up his poop, and gave him a bath since his sole job had become taking care of the other Yeong-cheol when his wife was away at work.

“Well…” he started, falling deep in thought. Hard as he tried to recall, the only things he knew with certainty was that for the past two days he had played baduk and his wife had gone to work. The dog was nowhere to be found.

“You’re the only one who could possibly know. Try to remember,” she implored. She at once felt sorry for the dog and resented her husband. All things considered, though, she herself couldn’t recall when she had last seen the dog, so she couldn’t place the blame entirely on Yeong-cheol.

“Did you take him outside?” she asked, worried that he might’ve slid out through the door crack.

“Well…” he replied, and got to thinking once again. He had gone out to buy cigarettes at one point, but wasn’t sure if that was one or two days ago. Again, he could only remember that for the past two days he had played baduk with a cigarette in his mouth and that his wife had gone to work.

“Did you or did you not go outside?” she asked, exasperated.

“I don’t know, he said. “I’m trying my best to remember, but it’s just not there.”

“Then do you remember what color clothes he was wearing?” she now asked, hoping for an answer that she herself didn’t have.

All Yeong-cheol could do was to reassert his ignorance. He truly didn’t know.

“What in the world do you know? How can you be so incompetent? You’re a nobody. A nobody. What good are you, you chunk of radish? Actually, that’s an insult to radishes. At least you can chop up a radish and pickle it. Do you have any use at all? You give me the creeps,” his wife said as she hugged herself and shook in a display of utter disgust.

Yeong-cheol Kim, with his face fallen, barely squeaked: “Why would you have to use me anywhere?”

God knows how he mustered the courage to argue.

“What’s that, punk? What are you muttering on about? You, you…”

She stormed out of the apartment in a fit of animal cries, and he immediately followed after her straight but not before locking the door. While locking it, he thought, I got a knack for security; God knows why she thinks I’m useless. Just as his wife’s elevator reached the first floor, he called for an elevator down from the 13th floor.

His wife rushed to the playground, calling out Yeong-cheol, Yeong-cheol. The apartment residents thought that she had lost a child by that name. Human Yeong-cheol found his wife calling for the dog as she ran along the road that connected the playground near building 103 to another one near building 107. He grabbed her arm, at which she jerked back to see it was only her husband and sank to the ground. She began crying and yelped, “Where’d he go? Where?” Since telling her not to cry wouldn’t have  stopped, Yeong-cheol stood by her without saying a word. The sun was setting. There between 103 and 107, Yeong-cheol stood while his wife sat collapsed on the ground. She was no longer quite so young and neither was he. And the dog was still nowhere to be found.

“Where’d he go? Where?” she kept crying.

“Yeah, it’s strange,” he said softly, almost in a whisper. Meanwhile, the sun had set completely.

Where could the puppy have gone? Was he gone for good? It seemed like his wife had aged during the two hours of the search. Yeong-cheol told her to wait and brought two cans of Gatorade. His speed surprised her. She wondered if he had always liked Gatorade so much.

“You like Gatorade?” she asked.

“Well…” he said.

His reply made her want to splash Gatorade in his face, but she felt too drained. She told him that she was tired, to which he mechanically replied, “Yeah, this is tiring,” and downed the whole bottle.

“Are you really that tired?” she asked.

“Well…” he said. They were both tired.

“Let’s try a different town. You know, one where there are a lot of stray dogs,” he suggested at last.

His wife wanted to ask, “And just which town is that?” but experience had taught her that Yeong-cheol couldn’t possibly know. And even if he had known, there was no guarantee that he’d say so. At this point, vouching for his debt to her was a safer bet than expecting a clear solution from him.

“Once I followed the dog into this new town,” he said. He referred to his pet familiarly as the dog. She didn’t like the generic reference.

“Did you just call Yeong-cheol ‘the dog?’ He has a name,” she said.

He turned into a radish in his dreams the whole week. Yet, being a no-good radish of a nobody made him happy.

The couple walked twenty minutes and found themselves somewhere two towns away, where indeed many stray dogs could be found. There were also many streetlights, alleys, roofs, and stairs. The shabby town was ready for redevelopment.

“By the way, do you know the way back home from here?” she asked, giving him a once-over. In her opinion, her husband was a man whose crowning achievement was nothing more than solitary baduk. Rather than a man, he was merely a creature, an organism.

Yeong-cheol grinned. “Of course.”

Has this guy ever been so positive about anything? Surprised, his wife studied his face, and yet it still inspired no reaction. Why did I ever want to marry this guy, she thought. A good-for-nothing nobody who can only say ‘of course’ only when doggy Yeong-cheol has disappeared.

Yeong-cheol led the way into an alley which was as narrow as a person and very steep. Between brick walls, they started calling out for their puppy. Yeong-cheol, Yeong-cheol. Each time they called the name, another dog appeared by a street lamp.

“So many street lamps in this town,” she noted.

Yeong-cheol smiled. “Yeah, that’s why I like coming here.”

His smile lacked context and she found herself taken aback. She was so confused that she couldn’t reprimand him and just continued to scream for her dog Yeong-cheol.

“I don’t think screaming the name is helping,” she said. “Let’s take a look at them one by one. A lot of them resemble our Yeong-cheol, like this one right here.”

In the direction that she had pointed there was a dog of the missing Yeong-cheol’s size and color laying next to a street lamp. Keeping a distance of about two meters from the dog, the Yeong-cheol groped in his pockets and found a coin. He held it close to his mouth and made a slurping sound as if the coin were a cookie, then dropped the coin on the ground. He had thought the act would attract the dog. It had the opposite effect. Scared by the coin’s clinking sound, the dog ran away into the darkness between two houses.

His wife also reacted sensitively to the clinking. “What the hell did you just do?” she yelled. She felt certain that Yeong-cheol chased the dog away on purpose. But she didn’t give up, since there were as many street lamps as there were roof tiles on the packed houses and there were at least a few dogs next to each street lamp. It wasn’t even that the dogs preferred being next to lamp posts; it was just that only the dogs near light sources were easily seen. There was no time to mourn over the dog that was chased away by the coin. Each dog had to be studied up close. To her dismay, however, all the dogs looked to be the same as her Yeong-cheol both in size and color. She speculated that each of them must either be her missing pet or his distant relative.

Yeong-cheol and his wife became one with the town’s roofs, the stairs, the alleys, the lamp posts, and the dogs. With their shoulders hunched, they went about on tiptoes while holding their breaths. An hour and a half later, Yeong-cheol succeeded in finding a dog that looked remarkably like their missing pet.

The length and shape of the nose, ears, and eyes were very much like those of their own Yeong-cheol. So were the warmth of the tummy and the softness of the paw pads. Yet Yeong-cheol’s wife couldn’t be absolutely certain that he was the one.

“Our Yeong-cheol was raised indoors. It won’t be pretty if we take accidentally in a stray, so look closely,” she warned.

Nodding, Yeong-cheol drew his phone closer to the dog, illuminating its face. The more he studied its face, the more confused he grew. At last, he sat staring blankly at his wife and the dog. His wife didn’t fare any better and did the same between Yeong-cheol and the dog in his arms. Her heart sank as she realized that she couldn’t quite remember her pet’s face. She had prided herself in loving him; in fact, she loved him even more than she did her husband. There was a mutual feeling of respect between her and her dog. Whenever she came home from work, he used to follow her feet around because he liked her socks.

“Does he have any defining features?” she asked. She herself didn’t know. “You were the one who washed and fed him every day.”

“Well…”

Yeong-cheol tried to recall the dog’s face, stomach, paws, and back, but no unique traits came to mind. His face fell.

“You fed him and even walked him here once!” she yelled. “How can you be so dumb as to not recognize our dog? How?”

Yeong-cheol wanted to explain that not all dogs have a defining feature, that there are dogs that look like Yeong-cheol in every conceivable way. But he knew better than anyone else that such excuses weren’t the kind of explanations that his wife wanted.

They crossed paths with four more dogs that looked like a clone of their Yeong-cheol, but they didn’t have the conviction to bring any of them home.

“Do you think one of them was our Yeong-cheol?” she asked him in bed that night.

“Well…” he said, facing the wall.

“What if he was really there and we didn’t bring him back?”

What if… Yeong-cheol repeated to himself.

“If I get depressed, you know that you’re 70% responsible?”

She glared fiercely at his back. Yeong-cheol was curious about the other 30%, but knew the question of attribution didn’t have a pleasant answer, so kept quiet, eyes fixed on the wall. Dots were arranged horizontally, vertically, and diagonally depending on the perspective. If you drew mental horizontal lines across the wall, the dots were indeed horizontal. But drawing vertical lines yielded vertical dots. And diagonal lines, diagonal dots.

He was reminded of the trivia question his wife asked a few years back.

“Want me to give you a fun problem?” he said, still looking at the wall.

“A problem, you say?” she asked spitefully.

“Yeah, a problem related to the house. It’s not hard.”

“Do I hear a dog barking? You, you are the biggest problem in this house. You!”

She pushed him in the back four times and his forehead hit the wall twice due to the unexpected force. It hurt, but he successfully held back from groaning and was proud of himself.

“Speaking of problems, let’s talk about us.”

She propped herself up on an elbow while Yeong-cheol kept his position facing the wall.

“Huh? Let’s talk.”

She shook his shoulders, bumping his head against the wall. He swallowed his pain once again.

“Hey you! You should leave with that prized computer of yours,” she said.

The statement didn’t register right away. Leave for where, and when? “Why with the computer?” he asked.

“That’s all you brought to this marriage, remember? This is my house, so you should take the damn computer and leave.” She spoke with deference for the first time in seven years, but her tone wasn’t as endearing as before.

“How much time will you give me?” he asked.

“How much you need? I’ll be generous.”

He asked for three months.

*

Yeong-cheol’s younger brother was easygoing about taking Yeong-cheol in, and the latter thanked his new benefactor profusely for such a favor.

“No worries, brother. Have you eaten yet?” his brother asked.

Yeong-cheol didn’t have much of an appetite. “I’ll be there in a week. I promise I won’t be a burden to your family,” he assured him, then left for Ganghwa Island. He planned to go fishing to his heart’s content for a week. Granted, he had never fished before. He never had a real hobby. For him, baduk was more than a mere hobby. He poured his soul into it every moment of every day. Now Yeong-cheol was devoid of a special talent, as well as a job. And now that his wife left him, he wouldn’t be having children either. That left fishing, the epitome of an old man’s hobby. He went into a guest house that also rented out fishing equipment and prepaid a week’s rent in full. He noticed that the guard dog in front of the guest house was a brown dog of mixed breed that bore an uncanny resemblance to the missing Yeong-cheol.

He didn’t catch any fish the whole week.

He turned into a radish in his dreams the whole week. Yet, being a no-good radish of a nobody made him happy.

“What does it mean to be happy?” his five-year-old nephew asked while watching TV. He had a habit of asking odd questions.

“You don’t know what happiness means?” he asked.

“Nope.”

Yeong-cheol wanted to tell him that, chances were, he was never going to find out. But he asked instead, “How did you feel when your dad brought home that cake yesterday?”

“I wanted to light the candles right away, blow ’em out, and eat it all up!” his nephew replied, flinging his arms around as if the thought alone were enough to excite him.

Yeong-cheol wanted to tell him, “That’s happiness,” but caught himself. He felt guilty about lying to children. But it occurred to him that the cake was enough to make little kids happy, so he was about to say, “That’s happiness.” Then again, the cake was far from what happiness meant to Yeong-cheol. In the end, he gave his nephew a pat on  the head and said, “You sure do like cake a lot, don’t you?”

Out of the blue, the boy placed both hands on his belly button and bowed. “Thank you,” he said respectfully.

Yeong-cheol kept patting his head. “Who taught you how to show respect?”

“No one,” he replied. “Who learns how to show respect?”

There were people who needed to learn to show respect: Yeong-cheol’s online baduk opponents. Their goodbyes were something along the lines of, Hey, you son of a bitch, is baduk all you do in life, poor bastard? Yeong-cheol couldn’t deny that the accusation because it was true. And it was only obvious that he should win every time, because baduk was really all he did in life. Those who repeatedly lost to him were thus prone to swearing before exiting the game.

“Hey, we have the same name,” a player wrote in the game chatroom. He proceeded to introduce himself using smiley emoticons. He was an eighteen-year-old who happened to be named Kim Yeong-cheol. The older Yeong-cheol, who only had baduk going for him, didn’t feel like going easy on his beginner opponent just because they shared his name. Though, it would’ve been fine to lose on purpose and boost the kid’s morale. Yeong-cheol seriously considered it at one point, but then concluded that doing so would be an insult to the younger Yeong-cheol and kept scoring win after win. After the first few matches, the younger Yeong-cheol hailed the older Yeong-cheol as a baduk master, still using smiley emoticons. After two hours of consecutive losses had gone by, however, young Yeong-cheol stopped typing in the chatroom. At the five-hour mark, he took to swearing.

“Are you satisfied now, asshole? Poor prick, playing baduk the whole day at your age. I’m fucking embarrassed that someone like you has my name,” he wrote.

Yeong-cheol was usually unaffected by the losers’ taunts. But that day, he wanted to say something in response.

“I also regret that we have the same name. I hope your future is different from my present,” he typed using two index fingers.

“Fucking bullshit,” the younger Yeong-cheol replied and quit the game.

Yeong-cheol cried that night, triggered by the following events.

He heard dogs barking at one another from outside. He thought one of them might be his missing pet, and so opened the window only to be greeted by sparse street lamps and not a single dog. The barks persisted, however. He stuck his head out the window and began imitating the barking. He could hear a dog barking in response from the distance. He wondered how his own barks translated in dog language. Then his heart sank as he realized that he didn’t remember the sound of his dog’s barking. It felt as though he had never heard the dog bark. Yet he had prided himself in loving that dog; in fact, he’d loved the pet more than he had his ex-wife. Thinking of all this made him feel bad for his ex-wife, so he called her up to apologize.

“Hello? What’s up?” she answered after three rings.

“Nothing much.”

Yeong-cheol panicked because she had picked up quicker than he’d anticipated. “Do you remember what Yeong-cheol’s barks sounded like?” he found himself asking.

“Why do you ask? Do random stray dogs remind you of Yeong-cheol?” she probed.

“Yeah, that too, and I couldn’t remember for the life of me how Yeong-cheol barked.”

“I felt that way too for a while. I know you’re sad, but make sure to get enough food and sleep,” she said. “Are you getting your daily calories?”

“Nothing tastes good these days. I don’t have much of an appetite when I eat alone, and I lose it even more when I eat with my brother’s family.”

She recommended pickles and marinated crab.

END
Originally published in Among Ways of Seeking the Future. November 2011
〈영철이〉  –《미래를 도모하는 방식 가운데》 中

 


 

김엄지사진2Kim Um Ji was born in 1988 in Seoul. Her first short story “A Pigpen” was appeared in Munhakgwa Sahoe [Literature & Society] in 2010. She has published a short story collection Among Ways of Seeking the Future and a novel Weekend, Commute, and Stroll: Dark and Rain. She is a member of a literary coterie “Mugachi [No Value].”

 

 

 

Featured image DSK_4697 by Doo Ho Kim is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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