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  • Mouthwatering
  • Kim Aeran
    Translated by Jamie Chang (bio)

The alarm goes off. In the dark, her cell phone blinks urgently like a signal she needs to start her day. Daily she reaches for this small disaster like a foreigner caught in a storm at night and washed up on strange shores the next morning. She gropes around and grabs the light. Blue light spills from between her fingers. She lies there still as a corpse with the phone in her outstretched hand. She looks like Superman right before he rockets off. Maybe this is why she raises her fist high above her head first thing every day. She twists her body. All her joints creak. She buries her face in her pillow and grumbles in despair. Her despair is always one and the same: I am tired. Out in the hall, someone’s morning paper hits the doormat. Hubae grunts.1 ‘I have to get to work an hour early today.’ There are piles of manuscript paper scattered around Hubae’s head. ‘I have to pay a 20,000-wŏn fine if I’m late.’ The pages contain standardized essays written by middle school students. Hubae grades one hundred and twenty 500-word essays every week for 1,000 wŏn a page. Hubae is still asleep, the pen in her hand. Hubae has red ink on her earlobe. She shuffles her sore limbs under the cover. ‘The flu?’ Outside, a motorcycle revs and takes off. She stretches and then quickly curls up in a ball, mumbling to herself [End Page 33] once again, I am so tired. She weighs her options. Should she sleep longer or not? If yes, for how much longer? A cab ride to work is 10,000 wŏn. ‘I could get an additional 10,000 wŏn’s sleep and consider it a late fee. Or I’ll just be late. Isn’t the extra sleep worth 20,000 wŏn? But what about all the other, better ways to spend 20,000 wŏn? I’ve never been late to work, so why not just this once? Perhaps consistent diligence is a way of saving up in case of future mistakes. Paying a fine, after all, is a way of buying absolution. A little feigned apology should do the trick. They all saw me working like a dog yesterday, didn’t they? But then who didn’t work like a dog yesterday? What if I run out of free “Indulgences” the moment I desperately need one? In the time I was mulling over this question, I could have had an extra five minutes of sleep!’ She tumbles down a deep gorge between therefores and buts, and disappears. Of course, she’s not willing to take a taxi to work. She knows that it isn’t determination but hesitation that gets her out of bed in the morning. In that moment of hesitation, she mistakenly believes that she has some control over her life. She snaps back to consciousness. She sits up like a madwoman, yelling, What time is it? It’s that universally hazy time in the morning between not-late-yet and may-be-late-soon—somewhere in that vicinity.

She goes into the bathroom. She sits on the toilet, happens to look down at her underwear, and is shocked. Her period. ‘It’s not time yet.’ She pulls off her panties beneath her nightgown, squats next to the faucet, and fills the basin with water. ‘It’s Sports Day.’ She has to run a relay today. She tried to get out of actively participating by volunteering to cheer, but she was told it was mandatory for everyone to compete in at least one competition. When the department head asked people to volunteer for the relay, she lowered her head as far as possible so no one would pick her. Nevertheless, someone raised his hand and said, “I would like to nominate Miss Pak.” He said he saw her bolting to the station to catch the last train at night, and she was fast. She is miserable as she waits for her underwear to soak in the water. Winning a [End...


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pp. 33-58
Launched on MUSE
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