He was fifty-four years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. He died. He wasn’t young enough to have required a specific cause of death, or young enough to cause great sadness. Only a vague sadness existed about death itself. He died at fifty-four years of age, and he had no one who would be sad about his death. There was no one who would remember him. Because he had already died he couldn’t even claim ownership over such people. Death meant losing all things, people, oneself, and any ownership over time and space. I found that tragically sad. He died at fifty-four years of age, and I felt no sadness. I found that tragically sad.
And then I wake.
I can’t write a single sentence. Still, I don’t think I’ve yet lost the least bit of my ability to form a sentence. I have no problem writing, “I can’t write a single sentence.” Therefore, the previous sentence is a lie. I cannot stand lies. What I cannot stand is starting with the sentence, “I can’t write a single sentence.” I sat at my desk for a long time, trying not to write that I couldn’t write a single sentence as my first sentence. Several times I wrote that I couldn’t write a single sentence as my first sentence and several times I erased it. I fell asleep after and had a dream, and in that dream I read a book that started with the sentence that said he was fifty-four years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. In order to remember the sentences in that book—because I knew I was dreaming—I read the sentences over and over again, struggling desperately to memorize them. But even in my dream, I knew the instant I awoke, the instant the page of my dream was covered up, the sentences I had memorized would vanish. The sentences in my dream were wonderful, reminiscent of Peter Handke. The fifty-four-year-old protagonist behaved like the characters in Peter Handke’s novels. Even in my dream, I knew I had not been able to write a single sentence for a long time. That’s why I didn’t want to lose the sentences, even though they could have looked like poor imitations of Peter Handke’s. Even in my dream, I didn’t know if I had written them, or if someone else had. Still, I wanted to make them mine. I wanted to claim ownership over them. Even in my dream they were wonderful, but I knew they had no power. Still, I wanted to make those sentences completely mine. I wanted to make each comma mine. Even in my dream, I knew I was just dreaming. I tried to tear the page, but it didn’t tear. I once dreamt that I had died many times. I struggled desperately to tear the page, but it didn’t tear. Because I had died many times already, if I struggled desperately, I could die. The text stubbornly insisted on staying on the page. No. The text stayed the same. Every last comma stayed the same. No. The page stubbornly insisted on the text. Even though I tore off the text, it didn’t tear off. The day was brightening. Even in my dream, I could sense the dawn. At first, I sat down between the text, and then I filled in all the gaps between the text without leaving any space, and in the end I could feel that dawn was coming—dawn which overpowers all sentences. I didn’t die in my dream. I didn’t even grow tired. I simply struggled desperately to repeat the meaningless action of tearing the page again and again. I tore it, but it didn’t tear. I gripped the nonexistent page. I memorized the nonexistent sentences. The nonexistent characters repeated their nonexistent actions. And then I woke from my sleep. A few sentences lingered, but they weren’t the ones from my dream. I found that sad. But not tragically sad. I didn’t even know when and where and how I could use the expression “tragically.”
And so I start to write by borrowing the sentences from the dream. But all of a sudden, I feel that I won’t be able to finish the piece if I can’t find the sentences that had vanished the instant I awoke. But I’ve never found anything I’ve lost in a dream or anything that vanished into a dream. He was fifty-four years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. And then in the next sentence he died. According to my dim memory, he was not an assembly technician or a soccer player, a Korean or an Austrian. I like Peter Handke’s novels, but I have never thought to copy his sentences. I haven’t been able to write a single sentence for a long time. That’s a lie. I wrote many sentences but erased them all. But there are times you must write more than a single sentence, even though they may be lies. Like now. I still can’t write a single sentence. But I don’t think I’ve yet lost the least bit of my ability to form a sentence. I have no problems writing that I can’t write a single sentence. It’s invasive. It’s insidious. It’s invisible. It’s indelible. It’s inaccurate. It’s inadequate. It’s incoherent. It’s inchoate. There are many adjectives like these. I think about the sentences I had written easily until now. I had written so easily. Words. Sentences. Pieces. Thinking that I want to cry right now, I repeat the sentence, “I can’t write a single sentence.” I think I should renounce such sentimentalism for wanting to cry, but I also think how nice it would be if I could just cry and write any sentence. Are tears a part of the body? What kind of ownership can you claim over tears? I don’t cry. I write. I don’t write. I cry. They’re all lies.
I leaf through my notebook. Notes have been written down without method. They don’t contain an inciting incident. The houseplant froze to death inside the house. After you died I didn’t water your plant. Winter came and the heater broke. I didn’t know the name of the plant. It was a plant with many large green leaves. The green leaves gradually turned yellow from the edges. The plant was dying. But before it withered to death, it froze to death. I was upset that I wasn’t the one who had killed it. The cold had killed it. The water froze inside the house. The cold was severe. There’s a line from Choi Hayeon’s poetry that I’ve memorized like a mantra: Freeze to death, freeze to death. I cannot remember what comes before or after that line. I wanted to kill the plant without laying a hand on it. Its hold on life was tenacious. It survived without water for nearly two months. And then it froze to death before it could wither to death. While I was rummaging through a box, I found an electric pad. It had a 110-volt plug. It was an object I couldn’t use. The weather was warming up. When I drank ice water I didn’t wither to death or freeze to death.
This is what was written in the notebook. On the back of the page, “freeze to death, freeze to death” filled the entire page. I decide to think of the person from my dream who died at fifty-four as the same person who died and left behind the houseplant. And then I fail. I want to show something and I also don’t want to show anything. I want to reveal something and I also don’t want to reveal anything. I want to show something with something that doesn’t show, and I want to show something with something that doesn’t show. I feel I’ve been depleted. But I don’t exactly know what it means to be depleted. It feels wrong to write certain words carelessly. But I’ve always written everything so carelessly. It’s impossible to write anything if you don’t write carelessly. It feels wrong to write all words carelessly. I am not to be trusted. I am always lying. I, who am lying that I am lying, am not to be trusted. Even now I am lying. It’s because I can’t write anything. I can go on forever, saying that I can’t write anything. I have the ability to repeat repeatedly. It’s an ability I want to discard.
And then I wake.
Winter, I can feel the cold even indoors. The temperature is below zero. People start to trickle into the room. I smell coffee. Someone strikes up a conversation. Today is the last day of the colloquium. There is a hike planned for tomorrow. The name of the river is Hantan. Lament. I’m told we’ll be able to see birds and wild animals. If we’re unlucky the ice may crack and our feet may get wet, and if we’re lucky, we may see an eagle. It’s hard to tell what is unlucky and what is lucky just by listening to the description. I once heard a story of how the daughter of a distant relative who had moved to the United States several decades ago had her dog snatched away by an eagle. I also heard that in the same neighborhood, there lived a woman whose newborn baby was snatched away by an eagle. When I relate these tales, the person I’m talking to says that Korean eagles are smaller and that on the hike tomorrow, no one is likely to have a dog or newborn baby. I smell coffee. Even though I’m not drinking coffee, I can anticipate the aftertaste. It’s sweet and bitter. People take their seats. The presenter walks up to the front. People applaud. Equations fill up the blackboard. Set theory. Forcing. Zermelo-Fraenkel. I don’t understand most of what the presenter is saying. The name Zermelo makes me think of “cello” and “Portobelo.” I’ve seen a cello before and I’ve never been to Portobelo. The back view of the person sitting in front of me comes into sight. His short hair is sprinkled with premature gray. He was probably in his mid-fifties. I twist my head a little and study his profile. I know who he is. The presenter reads out another equation. Bored because I can’t understand anything the presenter is saying, I decide to study the person sitting in front of me. He is a scholar. From what I’ve heard, he has written and translated many books. I look around the room. I end up making eye contact with someone. A person I don’t know. About half the people at the colloquium are familiar and about half are unfamiliar. It may not be exactly half. And there are those I know who don’t know me. They are a part of the half I’m not certain is exactly half. Most of the people have their eyes fixed on the blackboard and are focused on what the presenter is saying. I lean back against my chair and start to study in earnest the man in front of me. From what I’ve heard, he is probably in his mid-fifties. On the chair to his left is his bag and on the chair to his right is his trench coat. No one is sitting on either side of him. He is wearing a white dress shirt. The collar is clean. What I can see is clean, at the very least. He is wearing black corduroy pants. I can’t see his shoes, because his chair is blocking my view. He is focused on what the presenter is saying. He looks that way, at the very least. A discussion paper, Monami ballpoint pen, and a pair of glasses are on his desk. He is wearing glasses. In other words, he has two pairs of glasses. He is wearing a tweed jacket over his white shirt. They are scholarly clothes. I don’t exactly know what kind of clothes are scholarly. But it seems likely that he’ll look like a scholar wherever he happens to be. He takes off his glasses and puts on the ones that were on his desk. One pair is probably for nearsightedness and the other is probably for reading. The presenter uses sentences that are composed of English nouns and Korean postpositions, English verbs and Korean suffixes. I start to take down the presenter’s words in my mind and then stop. I can’t make the equations correspond to the sentences. The cuffs of the scholar’s tweed jacket are lightly worn. He is writing something on the blank discussion paper with the Monami pen. I can’t make out the text. All of a sudden, I’m curious about his age. He was probably in his mid-fifties. He may not be fifty-four. His mind is most likely sound and his body doesn’t appear to be rotting away. He removes his glasses and doesn’t put on the other pair. On his desk are two pairs of glasses. He lowers his head as though he’s bending over his desk and then straightens and brings the discussion paper close to his eyes. He brings the paper right up to his face. His bag and trench coat stay at either side of him. Different equations are written on the blackboard. The paper in his hand shakes. It could be because of the hot air coming from the heater and it could be because his hand is shaking. If he has a hand tremor, the paper isn’t shaking too much. I want to give him my eyes.
No. I want to make his sight mine. I can see the blackboard, paper, text, sentences, faces, ice, and eagle. I can see them much too well. I want to give him my eyes. He’ll be able to use my eyes to see something much better, much finer, much greater. I assume that he is fifty-four years old with a sound mind but a body that is rotting away. I could perhaps study him and write about a concrete death. But what was a concrete death? And why did I always require someone’s death?
The presentation ends. Applause. The next presenter walks up to the front. Applause. I open up the discussion paper. Written on it is the title “Alain Badiou’s Set-Theoretical Ontology.” Alain Badiou is a name I know. But knowing his name doesn’t explain set-theoretical ontology. The scholar sitting in front of me is still peering at the paper before his eyes. It is literally before his eyes. I want to give him my eyes. Beside the chalkboard is a window. It starts to snow. Someone coughs. The aftertaste of the coffee that I didn’t drink lingers on my tongue. It’s bitter and sweet. Quietly I push back my chair and get to my feet, and quietly I open the door and step out into the hallway. The aftertaste of the cigarette that I didn’t yet smoke lingers on my tongue. It’s bitter and powerless. How do I exist?
If I can’t write a single sentence, it doesn’t matter if I don’t exist. Even if I can’t be read, it was good enough if I could write. I read, at the very least. But if I can’t write a single sentence, I can’t read. Even I. When I open the glass door, the cold air travels from the tips of my fingers to the inside of my head. Am I sensing the cold or am I thinking of it? The outside air is cold. Is it true that the outside air is cold? Is the truth that is connected to sensation actually true? I take out a cigarette and light it. The snow is falling. I touch the car keys inside my pocket and press a button. A light blinks from the parking lot far away. I press the button again. The headlights blink again. The snow is piling up on top of the car. There is a hike planned for tomorrow. Would the river be frozen enough? The snow is piling up even on top of the cigarette ash. I decide to walk around the building. I want to leave my footprints in the snow. I want to see the white snow pile up on top of the white snow, on top of the footprints. On top of the layers of time. I pass the small flowerbed and when I round the corner, I hear someone’s voice. It’s the voices of two people.
“So it slipped?”
I toss my cigarette to the ground. The snow falls on top of the cigarette butt.
“My inside is not my inside.”
The snow falls.
“You mean it’s still blocked?”
I round the corner. Two people look at me. I don’t recognize them. They are probably the building caretakers or people from the county office. One person flicks away the cigarette he’d been holding and the other person continues to talk on his cell phone.
“The snow will stop in the evening . . .”
The person who flicked away the cigarette says to the person on the phone, “Do you know how bitter I am?”
The person who is holding the phone continues to talk on the phone. “It should be OK . . .”
I step on my cigarette butt. I grind it out. The snow will cover it. The person who flicked away the cigarette looks at me. I turn my head and walk toward the entrance. Glass door. Hallway. Fluorescent lights. “. . . that the one is not . . .” Faintly, I hear the voice of the presenter. The aftertaste of the cigarette that I smoked is bitter and sweet. “ . . . what mathematics can’t explain, would poetry be able to explain . . .” I enter the room.
And then I wake.
There was no dream. Maybe I can’t remember it. When I go down to the cafeteria, most of the people have already finished their breakfast. Someone shouts, “Gather in front of the entrance in half an hour!” Someone approaches and greets me. I look around the cafeteria and spot the scholar I’d wanted to give my eyes to the day before. He has on the tweed jacket. He is wiping his mouth. Today I don’t want to give him my eyes. There are still things I want to see. I just don’t know what they are. I once saw a movie where a person had blindly gone to a big city to find the woman who had appeared repeatedly in his dreams. Since there were more women in a big city, which had a higher population, he said there was a greater chance that the woman from his dreams would also be there. He is right. He may never meet the woman. But he has a very small chance. I don’t know what I want to see. But while I have my two eyes, I have a very small chance that I will get to see what I want to see. While I drink coffee and chew bread, I think of the things I haven’t yet seen. It’s impossible to think about the things you haven’t yet seen. It’s also impossible to see the things you haven’t yet seen. Someone trips over someone else’s hiking stick. A glass cup shatters. While I listen to the glass hit the ground and shatter, I think that I’ve seen a glass shatter before. No, that must not be right. I have never worn glasses before.
There is a shovel in the trunk of my car. While I wait for the bus, I wonder if I should get the shovel from the trunk. I had buried a dog with it. The noun “dog” is doglike. I am never going to get a dog again. I am afraid of the hike. It’s because I feel that I will see the corpse of a wild animal. That’s why I’m thinking of getting the shovel. I want to bury the animal’s corpse in ice. But the odds of seeing an animal’s corpse on the hike aren’t great. Someone else may see it before me. Anyhow, I wonder if I should get the shovel. I might be able to use it as a hiking stick. But rather than using it to bury the animal’s corpse in ice, I want to bury the shovel I had used to bury the dog. By the time the ice melts I won’t be there. Even when the ice melts, revealing the corpse and the shovel, I won’t be there to see. I’m relieved the dog is dead. A dead dog can’t die again. Because the dog has already died, I can’t even claim ownership over the nonexistent dog. I want to renounce my ownership over the shovel now. But the bus arrives. The people board in single file. The name of the river is Hantan. It’s my first time going to Hantan River.
We walk along the river for a long time. We arrive at the spot where the river is frozen solid. People go down to the river. The snow, which had fallen the day before, is piled on the ice. I didn’t bring a stick. I should have brought the shovel. I want to bury the snow under the ice. I want to bury my eyes under the ice. Two people are walking in front of me. One is a mathematician who had been one of the presenters the day before. They exchange a few words. I can’t hear what they’re saying. I am wearing running shoes. I already feel as though my toes are frozen. The sunlight is blinding. Because of the blinding light, I shade my eyes with a hand. I am sleepy. “There aren’t many papers coming out of Korea . . .” I overhear what he says. I wonder how there could be such words that make you think of nothing.
“Don’t you have proper shoes?” someone asks from behind.
I look back. He had been the third presenter. He is a novelist. Instead of listening to my response, he turns to the side and takes a picture. I look down at his hiking boots. I think that it’s the first time I’m seeing hiking boots up close. The sunlight is as blinding as ever. A granite outcropping appears. The snow-covered granite rocks look like colossal mushrooms or flying saucers. I have never seen colossal mushrooms or flying saucers. But even if I were to see gigantic mushrooms or flying saucers, I wouldn’t think that they looked like granite rocks. I don’t have proper shoes. I think of a riddle that makes you think of similar-looking objects. “They say these are igneous rocks . . .” Again, I overhear what he says. Because I want to hear what comes next, I quickly move my feet. And then I fall. Several people turn to look, and several of them burst into laughter.
“Don’t you have proper shoes?”
They’re words I would rather not hear. I stand up awkwardly and brush off the snow. I was thirty-three years old with a sound mind and a body that was rotting away. Or was it the opposite? With a rotten mind and a sound body. No. With a sound mind and a sound body. No. The instant I slipped and fell, the word “trunk” came to mind. Was there a shovel in the trunk? Did I bury a dog with the shovel? Did the dog die? Did I have a dog? I start to walk again. The people have been quietly walking along the river for some time. The river grows narrower and a tent appears. A pair of hiking boots is sitting outside the tent. I want to steal them and run away. But I will slip and fall before I can run away. Is it before I steal the hiking boots that I slip and fall, or after I steal them? A craggy rock façade appears. I know the noun that describes this kind of topography. But I can’t remember it. Can you still call knowledge you can’t remember knowledge? Suddenly a dot appears in the sky. I gaze up at the sky through my fingers. The dot moves horizontally. It’s an eagle. People cheer. Someone takes out a pair of binoculars. It’s not the scholar. Come to think of it, he isn’t there. He probably didn’t bring any winter clothes. He would not have considered going on a hike in a tweed jacket and trench coat. He probably didn’t bring proper shoes either. I didn’t bring the shovel. The dot that had been moving horizontally surges up all of a sudden. The eagle’s shadow becomes a small stain and soils the eyes. I feel that I’ll be able to write a piece based on today’s memory. But there’s not much I’ve seen. I should have brought the shovel. I want to write about death. I want to see an animal’s corpse with my own eyes and write about death, based on that. What would it be like to see a human corpse? But thinking that I want to see a human corpse for my petty writing feels immoral. But this also goes for the animal’s corpse. I’m confused. I don’t know what I should write and what I shouldn’t write. I don’t know how I should write and how I shouldn’t write. But for a long time I couldn’t write a single sentence. I want to write anything, whether it’s about someone’s corpse, my shameful memory, your cruel childhood, his difficult illness, someone’s amnesia, my thinking that is to blame, your denial, or his death. If only I could write a single sentence. If only I could start a sentence that wasn’t that I couldn’t write a single sentence. I saw many deaths. But I can’t write concretely about their deaths. Not that I haven’t tried. It was the same with the dog’s death. They and the dog died abstractly. And they lingered as sentences that had been written easily. The eagle’s shadow grows smaller. I look up. But I can’t see anything, because the sun is blinding. And then I slip and fall again.
“Don’t you have proper shoes?” someone asks.
It’s the third time I’m hearing the question. Why do people ask about something they can see? I didn’t come with proper shoes. I don’t know what proper shoes are anymore. The question whether I have proper shoes sounds like the question whether I can write a proper sentence. It’s my inferiority complex. I take out a pack of cigarettes. The person who asked me the question asks for a cigarette. I say that it’s my last one and I ask him if he would like to smoke it instead of me. He laughs awkwardly and refuses. He looks at the pack that is filled with cigarettes. This time he doesn’t ask about what he sees. And then he leaves. He walks ahead. Someone standing at the head shouts that the ice isn’t frozen solid and that we should climb onto the riverbank. Hurriedly, the people climb up. It’s called a columnar jointing. The craggy rock façade from earlier is called a columnar jointing. My mind lights up for a moment. But the dictionary definition of a columnar jointing won’t be a craggy rock façade. There is a limit to my ability to express things. So it’s only natural that I can’t write a single sentence. I grow ashamed. I take out my phone and run my dictionary app and type in “columnar jointing.” “Jointing refers to a fracture in rock . . .” A fracture in rock . . . I hear the sound of ice cracking. For a moment, I think that I’ve seen ice crack before. And for a moment, I don’t think of anything. It’s not that I don’t—I can’t think of anything. I feel the cold. This time the sensation is faster than my thinking. But it’s my mind that organizes the sensation. I look down. My left foot is under the ice. While I was looking for the dictionary definition of “columnar jointing,” most of the people had climbed onto the riverbank. They don’t seem to have heard me fall into the river. I look back. There is no one. The people move further away. I pull my foot out. It’s frightening and cold. No. There is no sensation. The cold burrows into my body like needles. I wasn’t wearing proper shoes. I was thirty-three years old with a mind and body I wasn’t sure were sound or rotting away, and my left foot was freezing up. I want to cut off my left foot and bury it under the ice. Because the river flowed under the ice, my cut-off left foot will flow down with the current of the river. I didn’t bring the shovel. But did I bury the dog? At the very least, I buried the dog in the sentences I wrote easily. The people move further away. A bare tree branch under the ice looks like a blood vessel. Before my right foot also falls into the river, I climb onto the riverbank. I remove my improper shoe and my sock. My foot is blue and red and white. I need to go back before my foot freezes. How long is the walk back? What will I see when I pass the columnar jointing and granite rocks again? Fracture. It’s a strange word.
And then I wake.
The sun seems to have set already. I grope along the wall and flick on the lights. My left foot prickles and stings. But I can stand the pain. In my dream, my left foot didn’t have to get cut off. I didn’t even fall into the river. I didn’t even see the eagle. I take out a fresh pair of socks and pull them on, and then pull on my still-damp shoe. I pack my things and slip out of the dorm. My left foot tingles. The people haven’t returned yet. It’s quiet. I take out my car keys and press a button. The lights blink. The unlocking of the doors sounds unusually loud. I load my luggage in the backseat and open the trunk. There is a shovel inside. There is dried-up dirt on the shovel. Did I really bury the dog? Deep inside the trunk is a can of beer. I take it out and shake it. I don’t hear any liquid inside. I forget the word “fracture.” I brush off the snow that is piled on top of the car and sit in the driver’s seat. I turn on the ignition. The car doesn’t start. I try again. It doesn’t start. The battery is probably dead. I walk back toward the dorm to look for the caretaker. When I press the bell on the counter, he appears shortly after. It’s the person I had seen the day before. But I can’t remember if he was the person who was talking on the phone or the person who was talking to the one who was talking on the phone. He glances at me and says before I say anything, “It’ll be difficult to go to Seoul. Because of the snow.”
Still, he starts my car with an object I don’t recognize.
“Don’t turn off the engine for about thirty minutes.”
I’m about to ask for the name of the object, but I stop. When the car starts, the radio comes on. Before I can even thank him, he’s already walking back to the building. I check the time. It’s 7:43. I can’t turn off the engine until 8:13. But there will be no need to turn off the engine before then. I pull out of the parking lot and proceed onto the road. All of a sudden, I feel as though I should have taken out the shovel and left it in the front passenger seat. But it’s too late. I feel a sense of foreboding. I may have to use the shovel to clear the snow. The snow is piled higher than I expected. There are snow embankments on both sides of the road. The road is icy. I slowly head toward the highway. A sign appears. If I turn left, it’s the Hantan River. All of a sudden, I recall the word “fracture.” It’s a strange word.
When I go back, I need to write. I don’t have to. But I want to. But I won’t. I want to write a piece that consists of a single sentence. The title of that piece will be “Fracture.” I’m lucky that it was my left foot that got wet. My wet left foot, wouldn’t have known exactly when or how much pressure I should apply to the brake pedal. But I don’t have enough driving experience to sense when the right time was or what the right amount was, especially on an icy road. But I have enough to sense that the word “fracture” was not appropriate as a title . . . Enough experience, that is . . . I decide to discard “Fracture.” Then how about “Don’t Turn off the Engine”? A story about how someone dies because she can’t turn off the car engine for thirty minutes. No. Why was I always trying to write someone’s death? On top of that, it’s not appropriate to have “Don’t Turn off the Engine” as the title of a story where someone is stuck in a car and ends up dying because she can’t turn off the engine. “Turn off the Engine” may be better. No. An ironic title like “Don’t Turn off the Engine” may be better.
I advance onto the four-lane highway. There aren’t many cars. The cars in front are moving slowly. It’s the same case with the oncoming traffic. The headlights are blinding at times. A traffic report comes on the radio. It doesn’t concern the area that I’m in. The report says that there was an accident on the Seoul Ring Expressway. It says that there is a stalled vehicle on Gangbyeon Expressway. It says there is major traffic all over Seoul due to the heavy snowfall. I decide to discard “Don’t Turn off the Engine.” My phone rings. It might be someone looking for me, since I vanished without any explanation. It could be someone else. It could be a scam artist. My phone is in the backseat. I stretch out my arm, but I can’t reach it. I undo my seatbelt and twist around, groping the backseat. But I can’t reach it. I give up. The seatbelt warning chime stops. My left foot hurts.
I think about the time I went to Cheju Island. On the road while passing Mount Halla, I heard there were many incidents of cars hitting and killing deer. I drove along that road, hoping I would hit a deer. I drove by once, twice, three times. But I didn’t see a single deer. It was summer. When I rolled down the window, I could feel the sticky but cool wind. It was at an arboretum that I actually saw a deer, or something close to a deer. When I was passing by a golf course, I saw an elk. I watched from afar for some time, waiting for an elk to get hit by a golf ball. The elk soon vanished into the woods. I didn’t know what I’d wanted to see. I don’t know what exactly I’d wanted to see. It could have been me that I’d wanted to hit and kill with a car. It could have been me that I’d wanted a golf ball to hit, cracking my head open. It starts to snow. Snowflakes land on the windshield and melt right away. The windows fog up. I turn the heater on full blast. I feel sleepy. But I can’t fall asleep. It hasn’t been thirty minutes yet. It’s 7:59. Anxiously, I wait for it to become 8:00. Is a minute really this long? I need to go a lot further before I get to a gas station. There, I’ll eat something and sleep a little. I’ll have a dream where I hit and kill a deer. And with that dream, I’ll write a sentence. Once again, easily. Much too easily. A single, excessively easy sentence.
And then I wake.
I hear the siren from far away. I hurriedly scan the road ahead. I see the license plate of the car in front of me. 1477. When I add up the numbers, I get 19. The clock reads 8:00. On the radio a familiar tune is playing. I don’t know the name of the song. It seems I dozed off for about fifteen seconds. Because I was going slowly, the distance I traveled in fifteen seconds wasn’t great. The siren gets closer. It’s coming from behind. I wonder what’s wrong with the person who’s in the ambulance that’s speeding along the snow-covered road. I look back through the rearview mirror. The ambulance is growing closer. The cars behind me look like they’re not going to move out of the way. The snowscape I had seen at Hantan River comes to mind. Those kinds of landscapes are probably called snowscapes. The tent and a bare branch under the ice. The shadow of an eagle and a cigarette butt. The siren grows shrill. I look back again. The ambulance is getting closer. The cars behind me move sluggishly out of the way to let the ambulance pass. All of a sudden, I think of the word “snowscape” and the tent by the river with the hiking boots outside. Had those hiking boots also gotten wet in the river? Had the owner been trying to dry them? Or could it be that the owner was waiting for them to get wet? Something that isn’t wet yet is bound to get wet. Something that hasn’t died yet is bound to die. I step on the accelerator. The seatbelt warning starts to chime. The warning chime fills in the extremely short breaks in the siren. The chime grows shrill. The siren and the chime create a shocking consonance. My ears prickle. They prickle so much that I want to die. That’s a lie. I look back again. There are two cars between me and the ambulance. I think that I should definitely use “Don’t Turn off the Engine” as the title. I twist the steering wheel to the side. I don’t have enough driving experience to know how much I need to twist the steering wheel for it to be safe, especially on an icy road. As I twist the steering wheel, I think it would be a good idea to put on my seatbelt again. If the warning chime doesn’t stop soon, it’s to the point that I want to die. I feel as though I’ve seen the ambulance that is right behind me before. I can see its red lights even though I don’t look. The red siren fills my vision. Even the warning chime is red. During the day I saw a snowscape. Now at night, I’m seeing red. A snowflake that falls on the windshield melts redly. I want to write that speed in a sentence. I want to write about that redness in a sentence. How many snowflakes do you need to make a snow embankment? I should have given my eyes to anyone; it didn’t have to be just the scholar. I want to give my eyes to anyone. I should have taken out the shovel from the trunk. I should have used it to bury myself. But how could I, a dead person, bury myself? If I don’t bury myself, who will bury me? The warning chime starts to ding spasmodically. I don’t know what the warning chime is warning. It’s too late for warning. Faster and faster. The engine can’t turn off. My right foot looks for the brake. My right foot isn’t wet, but it’s too late. Slower and slower. The speed vanishes. I like the sentence that the speed vanishes. I will write that as my first sentence. Now that I’ve written my first sentence, I want to write the next sentence. But what am I seeing right now? The redness erases my sentence. I found that tragically sad. No. I shouldn’t use the past tense. Who will write my sentence if I’m dead? Who will write my nonexistent sentence if I’m dead? How does my nonexistent sentence exist if I’m dead? How will I bury my nonexistent sentences if I’m dead? Who will read my nonexistent sentences if I’m dead? Faster and faster. Slower and slower. The speed vanishes. It vanishes even before the sentences that have lost speed can exist. Faster or slower. All speeds are either one of the two. Louder and louder. Louder and louder. Louder and louder. The sound overpowers the speed. The redness grows closer. Everything is red.
“한탄” © Han Jujoo. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2014 by Janet Hong. All rights reserved.