The Impossible Fairy Tale
- onDecember 20, 2017
- Vol.38 Winter 2017
- byHan Yujoo
- The Impossible Fairy Tale
Tr. Janet Hong 2017
Surprisingly, the key inside the Child’s pocket might remain undetected. If she is interrogated as to why she is in possession of an unfamiliar key, she has rehearsed several answers: her homeroom teacher sent her to make an extra copy of the classroom key; the class monitor must keep the extra key; she found the key on the street. But the Child must first provide an excuse for something else. An excuse for why her spoon and chopsticks haven’t been used when the lunch containers are completely empty; licked clean. And she does. She manages to invent an excuse on the spot. An excuse that is quite plausible. When she relays her few words, as clearly as she can, she is let off more easily than she expected. Nothing happens today. Not yet. When evening comes, she will be left alone at home. Then she will be able to breathe easy. But until then she must hide. She goes into her room, with her head bowed. But she must not bow her head too much, or raise her head too much. She must not tread too heavily, or too lightly. She must not draw too much attention; she must draw a moderate amount of attention. From the opposite room, she hears the ticking of the wall clock.
A wall clock also hangs in the Child’s room. Next to her bed is an alarm clock. She can distinguish the busy ticking of the second hand of all the different clocks. Time is passing. She hopes that time will pass quickly, that time will burn out at the fastest possible speed. She is twelve years old; she stopped growing before she turned twelve. She has never gone hungry. But the grains of rice that she has forced down have not become blood and bone, no one knows where they went. The Child will grow no more. Probably. Her face has already fallen. To the bottom, to the pit. Her face sinks and falls, over and over again. The top corners of most of her books and notebooks are torn. She habitually eats paper. Without being aware of it, she tears the paper into little pieces and puts them in her mouth. Paper tastes like paper. She can’t sense the taste of paper. Even though paper simply tastes like paper and only paper, she doesn’t know how much of the tasteless paper scraps she has swallowed. All that is certain is that she has grown up on paper, and that she has already finished growing. The torn corners that are perilously missing give evidence to that end. That is probably why she sometimes looks like a paper doll. Like a paper doll, though she is half-plant or half-animal, with the face of an herbivore. But she isn’t seen. No one sees her. The children don’t know her name or they don’t care to know it. She is crumpled up like a piece of paper. Her fingernails and toenails grow very slowly, but even before these slow-growing nails have a chance to grow out, they are cut short, so short the flesh underneath becomes exposed. She sometimes wishes that mice or ants would eat her nail clippings, just like in the old stories, and transform into her image, and then appear before her. The Child hopes that many children, many who look like her, will become her and take her place. She hopes that these children who appear in the old stories, in fairy tales, will wear her clothes for her. Then she would be able to hide herself. She would not have to grow darker. She would be able to disappear forever. She never cries. If she cries, crying becomes the reason she can’t disappear, and if she doesn’t cry, not crying becomes the reason she can’t disappear. The reason why one scar buds on top of another. The Child, who had grown up floundering between these two states, ultimately forgets how to cry. She waits for the mice, for the ants. After setting aside everything that is beautiful, she waits for the mice and ants. Things that are beautiful are useless. You can’t forget anything with them. You can’t heal anything. The Child has never seen anything beautiful. She has never understood what people call “beautiful.” While her nails are being painfully clipped, she opens her eyes wide and wordlessly accepts this punishment. The mice and ants flee and disappear before they can even come to her, as though the Child’s hands are a trap. Her fingertips hurt so much that she can’t write. In any case, she records nothing about herself. No trace must be left. She must disappear instantly, as though she has never existed, not even for an instant. She, too, writes in her journal. But she records nothing. Nothing about herself. Every time the journal is returned to her, she learns how to camouflage more and more words with other words. Cheek with leaf, bruise with wind, blister with light breeze, fingernail with butterfly, curse with song, calf muscle with stick, tongue with ice cream, palm with moon, hair with stars, sigh with whistling, grip with tree branch, shoe heel with footprint, glass shard with sky, spine with dog, thigh with cat, stick with streetlight, crying with bird, pain with bright colors. When I opened the window, a light breeze blew in. I wanted ice cream, so I went to the store. There was dew on the green leaves. I saw the yellow cat’s family. It was strange that their eyes were green.
The Child’s journal is filled with the most beautiful words; the mice and ants have been erased and are nowhere to be found. Nothing has been transformed and nothing looks familiar.
I looked up into the sky on my way home from the after-school academy and saw many stars. I could even identify some constellations. The moon was very large and very round. But it appeared more red than yellow. Because the sky was black, the stars were more visible. The constellations were scattered everywhere. I learned how to find the Big Dipper.
Every time the Child gets her journal back, there is the same comment. No concrete story. But she doesn’t know how to write a concrete story. No, even if she knows how, she must not write that kind of story. Although there is no concreteness in her story, she herself is concrete. But most of all, what is concrete is her sense of pain.
I saw a white butterfly. Butterflies don’t leave any footprints. It seems that spring is here.