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  • The Chef's Nail
  • Yun Ko-Eun (bio)
    Translated by Sean Lin Halbert (bio)

If only Chung hadn't misread "Chef's Mail" as "Chef's Nail," none of this would have happened in the first place. The whole thing began several months earlier, the moment she misread a shop sign. Chung looked at a sign in the distance that seemed to read "Chef's Nail" and then looked at her cellphone's memo again. She thought the advertisement to be made was for a restaurant, so when she saw the sign, she became confused about what type of business it was.

Chung wrote advertisement articles for a local newspaper. In just one day, she would see and read countless shop signs and company names. But "Chef's Nail?" … That was a new one. The impression it gave was more puzzling than unique or original. "Chef's Nail" wouldn't have been a bad name for a nail salon—but a restaurant? Chung didn't even want to think about it. If such a sign were hanging above a restaurant somewhere, it would be impossible for diners not to feel that something about the place was unsanitary. However, those words were actually nowhere to be found. The shop sign actually said "Chef's Mail," and it was an Italian restaurant. It was just a momentary mishap.

That momentary mishap, however, had been printed into five thousand copies and scattered around neighborhood shops, apartments, and residences. Somehow, Chung had even written "Chef's Nail" in the body of the article. This happened because [End Page 183] her mind had confused two concepts. "Mail" had transformed into "Nail," but no one had questioned the word before it was printed. Of course, it was Chung's responsibility, but others had been negligent, too. The company Chung worked at was one that would pass a draft even if the date written on it was November 37, 2010. Right after all the copies had been printed and distributed, the project manager finally discovered the mistake and called for Chung, as if desperately trying to find some anticonvulsant medication. At that moment, Chung was in front of the office door, clocking in at the fingerprint scanner. The fingerprint was the same one she'd had for the last three years, but now all of a sudden there was a message saying that the fingerprint recognition had failed. Please try again. Please try again. Prompted by the voice support, Chung tried again several times, but it still wouldn't read her fingerprint. She took out some hand lotion and applied it to her right index finger. Maybe her hands were dry.

"What on earth are you putting on? You're doing your makeup at a time like this?"

The project manager had emerged and stood squarely in front of Chung the moment her fingerprint was finally recognized. Behind the project manager were fifteen thousand stickers with the word "Mail" printed on them. Altogether, there were three places in the article where "Nail" had been printed. Chung took the stickers and went around to a hundred distribution sites. She also posted stickers on the papers that hadn't been distributed yet. Chung's fingerprints were slowly getting worn down. The already-printed mistake seemed as unsanitary as a fingernail in a restaurant dish. And the mistake that had already been distributed was as terrifying as a fingernail that had already reached a customer's mouth.

"When you attach these stickers, there are always people who peel them off to see what the original print was."

That's what Gwak said—a coworker who was working with Chung to paste stickers. Chung began to paste the stickers with more force. Gwak said that she was one of those people, and that [End Page 184] seeing the stickers only piqued her interest. Chung, however, was not that kind of person. Neither was she someone who often made this kind of mistake. She couldn't believe it, "Chef's Nail?" Chung tried consoling herself, saying it was only a small scratch on a nail. And she would have been right if only she hadn't accidentally boarded the wrong bus that...