[44th Translation Awards] Commendation Awards: 'Downpour'

2013-11-19 : 18:53

Written by Son Bomi
The following is an excerpt from the translation by Andrew Krebsbach.

Commendation award winner Andrew Krebsbach 
Author Son Bo-mi
Son Bo-mi’s “Downpour’’ is among the collection of stories in her book, “Bringing Them the Lindy Hop”

Her husband worked as a salesman at an electronics shop until one day, while wandering the empty mall, he suddenly fell. Because he'd always been a bit of a clown and enjoyed being the center of attention, his colleagues thought he was pulling a prank. That meant the time it took for him to reach a hospital and receive proper treatment was slightly delayed―even if only a minute or two―the very thought of which upset her to the point of tears.

Fortunately, he was diagnosed with only a small concussion and the doctor said that after a few more simple tests and a week or so of solid rest, there should be nothing to worry about. Her husband looked remarkably at ease in the hospital; he actually said he had never been better. She was a receptionist at a small trading company, and each day after work she went directly to the hospital to help ensure he was getting a proper rest.

After a few days he expressed his desire to leave, and on the evening of the fifth day she brought him home. The next day, watching her husband back to his own jokes and cheerfully leaving for work, she felt a mix of feelings revive. That evening she left work early to prepare dinner. As she thought back over their married life she sank into a kind of regret and was seized by the vague hope that in the future something would change. They had a little money saved. Perhaps her husband could use it to attend college. After graduating he would be able to get a better job than his current one. They'd also be able to have a child. She wanted a boy….

Though she was somewhat excited all evening, from time to time she felt an ominous sense of foreboding. But she made nothing of it. That's why she didn't notice the signs―that just that day her husband had more than once knocked over the decorative aromatic candle, hadn't used chopsticks, had dropped his spoon, and had let his water cup slip more than twice―that gave rise to the principal event of this story. Didn't, or simply pretended not to. After that evening she felt at once content and anxious, enthralled by the sensation of floating above the clouds. It wasn't until the morning four days later, when her husband said to her on the verge of tears, "Honey, I can't see a thing," that for the first time she was able to come back to the ground.

When they returned to the hospital, one doctor began by saying, "There's no indication of any direct abnormality in the eyeball," and proceeded to deliver the diagnosis in cold technical language; another went with a more figurative approach, explaining, "If we can flick on the right switch his sight will return." What both stories had in common was an unwavering hope. That was the impetus for the three surgical procedures he underwent over the next two years. They were forced to move to a meaner, smaller residence to offset the medical fees for the final procedure and eventually fell into debt. The day her husband received his third―and final―surgery, she sat in the waiting room as if expecting an important visitor and was feeling somewhat weighed down. She repeatedly wiped her nose with the sleeve of her worn sweater.

At some point she began browsing through the magazines strewn about the room, as if the act of reading would somehow conceal the shabbiness of her sweater. Unfortunately, almost none of the magazines caught her interest. In one, she found it impossible to stay focused on even a single letter. It may have been her mental state, or that the waiting room's magazines―some about golf or tennis, others related to classical music, ballet, or lifestyle―were simply far removed from her conventional taste, but in truth that judgment would be unfair. Every magazine
in the room was seriously dated. The hospital's director deemed magazine purchases frivolous and had put an end to it years earlier. The only one that sparked a slight interest was a professional blues music magazine called BlueShoe. (The magazine was first published in the US in the '90s; in Korea, the publication spanned a total of eight issues from 1994 to 1995, when it was cancelled due to poor profits. The issue she read was from summer 1995.) Although she wasn't even aware blues was a genre and the name brought little to mind but a sultry erotic dance, the blues lyrics she read that day in BlueShoe remained with her for a long time. "Don't leave me here. Help me defy gravity and soar. I'm not a fancy woman."
Some time later a resident informed her that the procedure was complete and asked her to please follow for a more detailed briefing from the surgeon. After cramming the magazine into her bag, she walked slowly through the narrow corridor after the resident.

Making their way through the rain, they arrived at the Gourmet Restaurant. The couple never cancelled their reservations; they were simply running a bit late. They dined there on the last Friday of every month. Mister Chang, the restaurant's owner, handed them each a small towel to dry off as he said, "It's really pouring out there. They say a typhoon's heading this way." A while later, he brought a small bowl of pickled olives and a bottle of wine to their table. The couple was discussing the tired topic of whether to bring home their son from junior boarding school but dropped it as soon as Mister Chang approached. He was in his late forties and, as far as they knew, unmarried. His regulars had given him the nickname, "Mister Chang."

As Mister Chang poured the wine, he remarked casually but politely, "It sounds like your child is somewhere far away."

"Haven't we told you? Our son is attending middle school with the cream of the crop. At the boarding school. He's in his second year," the wife answered.

"You must miss him."

"Very much. He'll be coming home this vacation."

People thought of them as a perfect match. The husband was in his early forties and didn't look a day younger, but despite that and his tired appearance, he had prominent features and a look that radiated confidence. The wife was five years his junior. She wasn't a typical beauty, but her face brought to mind a fine mahogany desk densely packed with books and with expensive, freshly polished hinges, or a small but elegant tea table. As owner, Mister Chang had developed discerning eyes and a certain curiosity, and so he noticed what she'd meant by, "this vacation."
But he also knew from professional experience not to press the matter further.

The couple remained absorbed in conversation long past the restaurant's closing time. It happened often. The man moved with agitated gestures and every now and then she wrung her napkin with both hands. After sending the staff home for the night, Mister Chang approached the couple and refilled their water glasses. Only then did they realize they were the only ones left.

"It's gotten late, our sincere apologies. We'll be leaving shortly."

"Please, it's no trouble. Can I get you anything else?"

Mister Chang smiled as he waited for their response.

"Since there's no one else here, how about having a drink with us?" the man asked.
After hesitating a moment, Mister Chang answered.

"I'll have to pass on the drink, but since business hours are over I'd be happy to sit with you."

He sat beside them. She spoke first.

"Last night I was up late watching a TV show alone at the house. He was out late
drinking with his fellow professors." Then she lowered her voice as if about to disclose an impressive secret and added, "He recently received tenure." The man let out an embarrassed laugh.

"Anyways, a famous actress came on yesterday… What was her name? She recently starred in a film… The one about the thief who stole letters from the post office, do you remember it, dear?"

He shrugged his shoulders in response.

"She's a divorcée, you know. She said her child has difficulties focusing. I mean ADHD, her eight-year-old child."

“It's become so common these days," he replied.

"Do stories like that worry you?" Mister Chang asked.

"What do you mean?" she asked back.

"If that were my child, what would I do? That sort of thing."

"Actually, no. Our son has never given us cause to worry. He's an excellent student and an all-around great kid," the man said as he stared at his wife.

Without responding, she turned to Mister Chang with a flippant air and asked, "How
about starting with marriage first?"

"I'm a person with too many worries."

The woman laughed and replied, "You've no need for such thoughts. You're clever. If you get married and have a baby, I'm sure it will be bright, too."