Commedation Award: ’The Hole’
Authored by Yoon Sung-hee
Translated by Patricia Park
My parents had been married for thirty years before they left for their first-ever trip abroad. I spent the past month sending out all kinds of letters to radio stations, trying to get them an anniversary present.
The following was the winning story. Mom, who worked at a soup house, and Father, who worked at a tire factory, met when they were around twenty-two. Mom, who was having a one-sided love affair with Father, would slip extra pieces of meat in Father’s soup without her boss knowing. Because she placed the stewed meat at the bottom of the bowl before ladling in the broth, no one noticed. Not even Father. Each time he saw Mom’s hands, swollen from all the dishwashing, he thought of his childhood where he would play with a pig’s bladder, blown up like a soccer ball.
His body grew exhausted, just as he used to feel after a heavy bout of exercise, and he wished he could curl himself into a ball — two hands clenched between his legs —and go to sleep. One day, when Father was eating by himself and Mom was bringing over more cubes of pickled radish, he grabbed her hand. “Let’s sleep together.” Grandfather, who owned the factory, was against their marriage. It was because he didn’t like the mole under Mom’s eye. But my older brother was already squirming inside Mom’s belly.
After giving birth to a son, Mom grew more comfortable and she said to Grandfather, “Father! If you don’t like my beauty mark, then give me money for the surgery. I’ll go to the best hospital to have it removed.”
They told me that my brother, who had secured Mom’s position through his birth, was seven when he died. Four years later, I was born. Before she was pregnant with me, Mom had the following dream. My seven-year-old brother was sitting in the yard alone, playing a game of gong-gi. Mom flew out of the house in her bare feet, she was so shocked. What are you doing here.
My brother answered, I’ve been playing out here by myself these past three years. I’m so bored. Mom awoke from her dream. She also woke up Father, who was mid-snore. After hearing Mom recount what happened, Father said, “I guess this means we’ll have to have a second one.” That was how I was born. After reading all this, the host of the radio station added, “Your older brother was like your savior.” In any case, thanks to that brother, my parents won a five-day, four-night trip to Southeast Asia.
Mom started packing one week before the trip. The very first thing she put in the suitcase was a heating pad. Why that? I was about to ask, but Mom said, “I can’t sleep without this. You try getting old.” In addition to the heating pad, she also packed twenty ointment patches supposedly good for arthritis, one carton of Bacchus-D energy drinks, multi-vitamins, facial masks made from potato starch, an alarm clock, etc., etc. I told her more than once that she didn’t need an alarm clock, that the hotel would have a wake-up call, but it was of no use. Mom lost her temper.
“If I don’t speak English, how am I supposed to tell them what time they need to wake me up?”
She also packed seaweed and red pepper paste and cans of tuna for Father, who had a picky palate. Father slipped in five pouches of soju without Mom knowing. Mom borrowed the suitcase from Uncle, who had immigrated to Canada only to return just five years later completely bald. Uncle kept telling her not to forget the code to the suitcase’s combination lock. “It’s my birthday. April twenty-eighth. 0-4-2-8. Got it?”
Mom’s memory wasn’t all that great, but there was no way she could forget that date. Up until the day Uncle got married, Mom was the one who cooked his seaweed soup each year. Mom could forget her own birthday, but never her brother’s, as he was the one who carried the hopes of the entire family.
Patricia Park was born and raised in New York City, U.S. She received her B.A. with High Honors in English Literature from Swarthmore College and her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing at Boston University, where she studied under the novelist Ha Jin. She currently resides in Boston and is at work on a novel. She can be reached at email@example.com.
By Kwon Mee-yoo
Novelist Yoon Sung-hee was born in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, in 1973. Yoon graduated from Chongju University majoring in philosophy and the Seoul Institute of Arts majoring in creative writing.
She made her debut with “The House Made of Lego,” which won the Dong-A Ilbo Literary Contest in 1999. Her notable works include the short story collection “Hey You?” and the novel “Spectators.”
In her novels, Yoon looks past the lives of ordinary people such as bus drivers, watch repairmen and toll collectors and finds another world in them. Coincidence and miraculous lives mixed with sanguine humor and fairytale imagination create Yoon’s literary world.
Her works have won several literary awards, including the Contemporary Literature Award and the Yi Sang Literature Award and her short story “Page 198 in His Book” was adapted for the movie “Heartbreak Library” in 2008.
Most recently, she won the 11th Hwang Soon-won Literary Award with “Boomerang,” which deals with the irony between one’s own life and that life seen by others.
“Hole” was included in “A Cold,” a collection of 11 short stories by Yoon published in 2007. The works in “A Cold” mingles the tragic and the comic in Yoon’s signature literary style.
The book also includes short stories “The Unfinished Words,” winner of the Isu Literary Award in 2007, and “Sneeze,” a finalist for the Hwang Sun-won Literary Award in 2006.