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  • Like in a French Film
  • Seo Jang-won (bio)
    Translated by Paige Aniyah Morris (bio)

When I got home from work, I found Yujae sitting hunched on the floor like a big cat. He was cradling one foot in his hands, intently studying the bottom.

I touched his back. "Still not out?"

Yujae looked up glumly at me and said, "Yeah."

I took off my socks and tossed them in the laundry basket by the door. Then I peeled off my coat, shrugged out of my shirt and jeans, and threw them on the chair I used exclusively as a clothing rack. Yujae turned his back to me and examined his foot again. A couple nights ago when I got home, he had asked me to take a look at it.

"I stepped on a splinter."

We lived in an old villa with these hardwood floors that had been popular around the time the house was built. Now and then, little slivers of wood broke off from the floorboards. Yujae thought he might have stepped on one. But there were no splinters in his foot from what I could tell.

"I don't see anything," I said.

I didn't think much of it then. Yujae got all worked up, insisting that it was a very tiny splinter. He'd felt a pain in his right foot when he stepped on it and was sure the splinter had dug into his skin.

"Shouldn't you go to the hospital, then?"

"I can't. You know how dangerous the hospitals are these days." [End Page 55]

Of course, the danger he was referring to was COVID-19. Yujae had been making a big fuss about the virus for a while now, how many lives it had taken and how many more still it would claim. I was sick of hearing about it, so I told him if he was fine not going to the hospital, he should just leave his foot alone, but that only got him talking about how dangerous it was to leave a splinter in. If he left it, the skin around the splinter could necrotize and if that happened, he might have to get a chunk of his foot cut out. He looked up some awful images on Google to show me.

We'd been having the same conversation for two days straight. Last night, Yujae complained it had gotten so much worse that he tried two methods he'd found online to get rid of the splinter—first placing a thin potato slice on the affected area, and then sprinkling baking soda on the skin where the splinter had gone in. Neither method worked. That night, he'd taken the little blade he used to trim his eyebrows and cut into the skin on the sole of his foot. Now I wondered whether he was starting to show early signs of Ekbom Syndrome. I'd learned about it from a Google search earlier that day—it was a kind of paranoia where a person believed there were parasitic insects living under their skin. But Yujae was only claiming to have stepped on a splinter, and slivers of wood were known to break off from the floors in our apartment, so it was possible that somehow a little splinter I couldn't see was in fact lodged inside his foot.

"Let's see here."

I sat down facing Yujae and took his foot in my hands. The wound he'd made was shaped like a cross, blood pooling in the lines. I was surprised he'd done that to himself, cut so deep into the skin.

"I think the splinter might have gone deeper in," he said.

"Quit it." I set his foot back down. "The splinter's not the issue here."

Yujae nodded agreeably, said he was done for today but determined to try again tomorrow. In the meantime, blood dripped from his foot. He didn't seem to notice. He stood up in a daze and went to look for a Band-Aid. In his obsession with getting the [End Page 56] splinter out, it seemed like he'd forgotten the pain, the blood. I...


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pp. 55-62
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