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Christmas Carol

by Kim Young Ha, translated by C. La Shure

Note: I translated this short story for the Korea Literature Translation Institute's 1st Korean Literature Translation Contest for New Translatorslast year. It was my first real venture into literary translation, and unfortunately I did not win. I did well, though (had there been a runner-up prize, I would have taken it), and I am planning on taking another shot at the contest this year. I have made revisions to the translation since I entered it in the contest.

“Don’t you think we should get together?”

Jeong-sik was the first to pick up the phone and suggest that they meet.

“So you saw the news. Did you get in touch with Jung-gweon? OK, then I’ll do it.”

Yeong-su hung up and carefully dialed Jung-gweon’s number. He couldn’t reach him—he wasn’t at home and his cell phone was turned off.

‘That idiot,’ Yeong-su thought. ‘Where could he have gone?’

Yeong-su tossed the phone on the couch and got up.

“Is something wrong?” his wife asked from the kitchen, her eyes narrowed. She sensed that something was going on.

“It’s nothing. We were just making plans for a year-end get together.”

“You guys shouldn’t drink so much, you know. If you're not careful you’ll drink yourself to death.”

She took the trash bag and walked toward the front door. “I'm going to take out the trash.”

While she was out, Yeong-su tried calling Jung-gweon again, but he couldn’t get through.

‘I wonder... could he have done it?’ Yeong-su thought, and called Jeong-sik again.

“Jeong-sik? I haven’t been able to reach Jung-gweon.”

The silence towered over the two men, glowering down at them like a totem pole. They were probably thinking the same thing. Surely it couldn’t be... no. Would he do something like that? No, of course not. It takes a truly twisted person to do something like that.

“OK, then, how about just the two of us meet? Sure, why not. Where should we meet? OK, that sounds good. What time? Four o’clock? That’s a bit early, isn’t it? OK, five o’clock. We can just talk for a little while and then have dinner. Alright. See you then.”

Yeong-su’s wife came back in from taking out the trash. She held in her hand a red envelope.

“This came for you.”

“What is it?”

“Well, it looks like a Christmas card. Are you expecting a Christmas card from someone?”

She brusquely tossed the card at Yeong-su, as if to say, ‘Well, now I’ve seen everything.’ Yet she couldn't stop thinking about that card even after she returned to the kitchen.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

Yeong-su stole a glance at the card. In the upper left-hand corner, in small letters, was written “Jin-suk.”

“Who is it from?” his wife asked.

“I’m not sure.”

Yeong-su tore the envelope open. Out popped Santa Claus as if he were spring-loaded, and at the same time an electronic melody began to play that sounded something like a music box. Be-Be-Be-Beep, Be-Be-Be-BeepíŽ “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”

“Merry Christmas, Yeong-su,” the card read. “It’s me, Jin-suk. It’s been a while since I’ve sent you a card like this, hasn’t it? Do you remember that Christmas, ten years ago?”

Yeong-su’s wife could finally stand it no longer and came back out into the living room. “What on earth is that card?”

Before Yeong-su could even begin to explain, his wife took the card. Her face turned as red as a brick.

“Jin-suk? That Jin-suk? Why is she sending you a card now? You two must be seeing each other. Did you see her? When? Hmm? You wanted me to see this card, didn't you? What, are you two playing house now? And what is this stupid music? Do you want me out of this house, is that it?”

Yeong-su didn’t say a word, silently waiting until her barrage of questions was finished. When she quieted down, Yeong-su spoke.

“That’s enough.”

“What’s enough? I haven’t even started yet!”

“I heard you. That’s enough.”

“Why?”

“Jin-suk... she’s dead.”

“Dead? When did she die? And how does a dead person send a card?”

“She died a few days ago,” Yeong-su said, and he showed her the newspaper that had been under the living room tea table.

“Korean resident of Germany meets violent death,” the headline read. “Police are investigating the murder of a Korean resident of Germany who had returned to Korea for a year-end visit. Her body was found on the 15th in an inn in Changcheon-dong, Seoul. The body was discovered by the owner of the inn, who entered the room at noon to investigate when the occupant showed no sign of leaving. Police are assuming it was a crime of passion or revenge, citing the facts that the victim’s wallet and valuables were left untouched and the victim was cruelly murdered with a sharp weapon. They are now conducting an investigation centered on those closest to the victim.”

Without taking her eyes off the newspaper, she asked, “It wasn’t you, was it?”

“Are you crazy?” Yeong-su was furious. “Suk-gyeong Lee, look at me! I said look at me!” Yeong-su screamed, his voice dry and rasping.

“If it wasn’t you, then fine.” His wife got up and went back to the kitchen.

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