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  • Sister Thief
  • Bae Suah (bio)
    Translated by Janet Hong* (bio)

The world I saw first was like a stage: a white paper cutout sun glittering on a pale two-dimensional sky, the wobbly silhouette of a tall poplar tree as if a child had drawn it, thick clouds of dust in the distance, and the colossal white ship moving slowly down the middle of a road.

White flowers and a long white sheet covered the ship. Each time it moved forward, the sheet billowed like laundry drying on a line. At first, I thought there were huge white birds covering the ship, flapping their wings at once. The ship was so enormous you couldn't see what was on top, but there were wheels hidden at the bottom, rolling laboriously over the asphalt. What pulled that ship forward were countless people, every one of them dressed in white. Their sweating faces were red as lumps of raw meat. The sun bore down; no shade could be found. An old veteran trailed after them, violently swinging his lone remaining arm. Slung sash-style over a shoulder was a large tin box, which flashed in the light. He spewed unintelligible words, spat loudly, and then cackled. A puppy was half-submerged in the black water of the stinking ditch. The world was white and red at once. Everything glinted, both bright and dark. [End Page 215]

It must have been the puppy I'd lost. Two nights ago when I woke suddenly, the frosted glass door was open, and I saw through the mosquito screen the fuzzy outline of murky shadows huddled under the dim porch light. I heard the night's secretive, ominous whispers. They said a thief had climbed the wall and stolen eggs and clothes from the laundry basket. As he was running away, he had dropped the chipped wrought iron mirror hanging on the porch post, the one my mother had brought from Japan. He had left sandy footprints all over the blue-tile floor.

And the puppy's gone, a voice had said.

The thief must have stolen the puppy.

As I fell back asleep, I remembered how I had lengthened the leash too much that afternoon and the puppy had fallen into the ditch. It didn't have a name. Someone had given it to me recently for my birthday. I didn't know where I'd come from, or where the puppy had come from. A hand pulled out the filthy puppy. Disoriented, it tottered drunkenly. It's going to die soon, a voice said. I was scared it would die. Like the way a paper boat floating in a washtub will eventually sink. Someone took the dirty puppy from me and grabbed hold of my hand.

The thief must have stolen the puppy.

When I woke the next morning, I was told it had all been a dream, that a thief hadn't come, that he hadn't stolen anything, that he hadn't dropped the chipped wrought iron mirror my mother had brought from Japan, that he hadn't left behind sandy footprints, that I hadn't woken in the middle of the night, that the frosted glass door leading to the porch hadn't been open, that I hadn't seen the murky shadows through the mosquito screen or heard the whispers about the thief, that the mirror had fallen and cracked on its own, that, yes, the puppy had disappeared on its own, because nothing bad actually happens after a mirror breaks, because what a mirror once reflected is never again reflected to the world, and the things guaranteed to happen remain simply promises; there is no thief, and thus no puppy, and the puppy lives [End Page 216] forever inside a mirror; therefore we will stay here and get on a bus someday, and words once spoken will come true.

I needed to fish out the puppy. Countless people, the countless people wearing identical white clothes and white towels on their heads, with red sweating faces, were using ropes to pull the ship. The one-armed soldier beat his tin box and sold ice pops made from cherry-red syrup...


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pp. 215-236
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