"The Goat Herding Woman" by Jon Kyongnin

Though the tap in the kitchen was dripping, there was not a single speck of water on the gleaming sink, and not even a cup left out to dry. It felt like the kitchen of someone who was away on a long trip.

     “It sure is quiet in the afternoon. What do you usually do? After you’ve done all the clearing up like this...”

     “Not muchI don’t do anything at all. There’s nothing I can do.” Jeongyeon said, and heaved a deep sigh like a wilted vegetable. “Even the baby is sound asleep, so when I’m sitting here alone it’s as if I’m waiting for something. If only someone would show upright now if someone could just come in and look around and just say, that’s enough now, give it up, and draw a full stop at the end of this repetition.”

     My gaze was lowered to below her chin.

     “I mean a complete, final finish,” she said.

     “But that would be death. If it wasn’t that, what else would come along and say that’s enough now, time to stop.”

     “Yeah, you’re right. But even so I wait. I don’t even feel like it would be death that came along. I’m just waiting.”

     “There’s no way to be rid of it. All we can do is make the repetition something trivial. We need some other important task to do. We weren’t put in this world just to do nauseating housework two, three times a day, making our eyes grow wide and fraying away our fingers.

 

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     “Anyway, you can’t know until you’ve lived together. Because you build each other’s dreams as you go along. I don’t even know myself . . . whether I should call it a dream or a dud. One thing’s for sure, my dream reeks of failure. If I suddenly disappear one day you can just think, ah, that untameable egoist has finally had her dream come true. . . . Jeongyeon, by the way . . .”

     Jeongyeon, who had once been an outrageous idealist, stared at me with a questioning look. I blinked a few times and began to speak. I have a habit of blinking to draw out time in awkward situations.

     “What would you do if someone asked you to look after their goat for a few days?”

     Excitement bubbled up in Jeongyeon’s eyes and her face became animated.

     “What are you talking about?”

     “You know, a goat. For three months now, some guy has kept calling asking me to look after his goat. He says it’s the soul of his late stepmother, that she came back as a goat.”

     Jeongyeon’s eyes grew distant.

     “It’s a strange story, huh? But it’s true. They really believe it. They say it came out from behind her tomb on the forty-ninth day after her death. Of course I don’t believe that. It must just be that the baby goat broke away from its herd and passed by the grave while the mourners were bowing down during the rites. The problem is that the widower adamantly believes that the goat is hi...

Jon Kyongnin is a writer. She made her literary debut with a short story that won the Dong-A Daily New Writer’s Contest in 1995. She is the author of the short story collections A Goatherd and Water Station, and the novels Nowhere Man and Minimal Love. She has received the Yi Sang Literary Award, and the Hyundae Munhak Award, among other prizes.