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  • Christmas Specials
  • Kim Ae-ran (bio)
    Translated by Jamie Chang (bio)

It's the quietest night of the year. One in the morning, when the dimming streetlights are barely visible and people outside start to vanish like magic—Seoul is as silent as a defunct musical greeting card. The man in fake Adidas sweatpants stares up at the sky, a bag of ramen tucked under his armpit. Several electric lines stretch on like staves against clouds hanging low in the sky. A snowflake falls and melts on his face. Snowflakes make their way across the staves like notes heading for the bass clef. The yellow snowflakes seem warm to the touch as they reflect light from the streetlamp.

He hurries on, hands thrust into his pockets. All the small grocery stores in his neighborhood were closed, so he had to walk all the way to the convenience store. He strides down the street back to his apartment with a pack of smokes and a bag of ramen, the change in his pocket jingling as merrily as the Salvation Army bell.

"I wonder how she is."

He's suddenly reminded of her face, perhaps by the thousands of snowflakes, reminiscent of his own sperm, falling from the sky. Tonight, multitudes of babies will be conceived all over the world. He's disappointed in himself for thinking about his ex on Christmas. The thought, like a musical greeting card pressed too often in anticipation and dead by the time it reaches the recipient, [End Page 225] is heavily laden with the premonition of failure. He mumbles quietly, the way he did when he asked her in a very roundabout way if she would like to sleep with him, and then beat himself up over it: "Why am I so predictable?"

He turns a corner in the alley and glances at the neighborhood inn. On the white, upright signboard, "INN" is printed in red. The name of the inn is "INN," as if to say, "What else do you call an inn?" "INN" is a three-story building crawling with fake vines and always decorated with a Christmas tree in the lobby. The tacky Christmas lights perennially blinking, dolefully trying to convey holiday spirit, are blinking especially hard today as if to turn actual Christmas into a lie. He knows what sort of place this inn is although he's never been inside. It doesn't take an especially active imagination to figure that out. Inns are all predictable from Seoul to Jeju Island—the architecture, the frequenters, the activities. However, predictable things always have a certain magical allure. One is compelled to confirm their unsettling predictability many times over until one is fully convinced that they are, indeed, predictable. He walked past this place every day, each time vowing not to stare, and never failing to stare. Then, afraid someone might be staring at him staring, he would hurry on.

He doesn't think of the inn as a lewd place. He sometimes looks up at motel or inn windows and feels envy, which comes from the insecurity of knowing none of those rooms is his. He's been sharing a room with his sister for the past few years because of money problems in the family. Some people find it indecent that two grown siblings of the opposite sex are sharing a room. The living arrangement has its inconveniences, but his younger sister manages to turn potentially awkward situations into jokes, sometimes even pretending it was all his fault. He called her shameless at first, but later discovered she was trying to make the best of an [End Page 226] uncomfortable situation by concealing her discomfort behind this so-called shamelessness—a wise remedy. But when he fell in love, he wished for the first time that he had a room of his own—not just for sex, but for small talk and hanging out all day without having to sneak out the back like people checking out of an inn.

It's not as if he never made love in his room. The smallest sound would startle him and his lover, as if someone was about to walk in on...


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pp. 225-246
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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