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FICTION

A Contrived World

  • onNovember 11, 2014
  • Vol.19 Spring 2013
  • byJung Young Moon
A Contrived World
2011
294pp.

As I lay alone in bed that night, I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought of the hippie who did nothing and lived on dead raccoons and deer. The hippie was someone I didn’t know, and I hadn’t lived in such a way, but he felt so close and familiar to me. Perhaps it was because I, having had to go hungry for many days, for reasons different from those of the hippie, mostly because I didn’t have an appetite or any kind of desire, of course, had a very good understanding of hunger.

And the story about the hippie conformed to one of the images I had of hippies, and that night, I became lost in thought like someone slightly insane, and made up a somewhat preposterous story about him (with the intention of making up a somewhat preposterous story), and in his way of life there was a certain form of life I sought. I fleshed out the story about the hippie who lived for a period of time without doing anything, living on dead raccoons and deer, and came up with the following story (I’m getting off track again, but that’s because it doesn’t matter where this novel is headed, which is because this novel doesn’t seek to say anything.). What I want is a novel in which one story stems and breaks away from another story, and all the stories become mixed up together, creating a mishmash.

For the hippie who had no choice but to be very poor because he did nothing, every day was a perfect day for doing nothing, and fortunately, only such days continued. But he was always hungry, even though there was nothing he had done, since he did nothing, and always felt unhappy that he was always hungry even though he hadn’t even worked hard at anything. But he didn’t want to make the mistake of blaming someone else for his hunger, so he blamed his hunger on his stomach, which always made him aware that he was hungry. Twice a day, morning and evening, he went out to the road and collected dead raccoons and deer, which was the most important daily task for him, who had nothing else to do, and almost the only daily task.

Sometimes he collected flattened raccoons and deer, over which cars had passed after they were already dead. The hippie, who liked soup, usually made stew and soup with the raccoons and deer. Flattened raccoons and deer, however, did not taste different in particular; they tasted only like raccoons and deer, and did not taste like something that had been flattened, or have a flat taste to them, though such a taste would be difficult to describe. The hippie shared the meat of the dead raccoons and deer with an old dog that lived with him, and the dog, which had to share in its master’s poverty, had to appease its hunger, eating with its master the meat of the raccoons and deer that had died, hit by cars. It was the dog that moved the hippie, who was always lazy, and knew that there was an infinitely indulgent pleasure in laziness and indulged in the pleasure without trying to break away from it, and was so used to hunger that he was undaunted by any kind of hunger, to go in search of something to eat. He thought he shouldn’t let the dog go hungry, even if he himself went hungry. The dog, in human years, was older than the hippie, and so the hippie thought that he was responsible for providing for the two of them. The hippie, sick of eating raccoons and deer, once fished out a frog that was floating dead on a nearby pond, still looking fresh, and ate it, but the dog did not eat the frog. He thought about the reason why, and came to the conclusion that it was because the dog did not know what a frog tasted like, and did all he could to feed the dog the frog so that the dog may learn what a frog, which he savored, tasted like, but the dog did all it could to resist.

During the day, the hippie spent most of his time sitting on a chair on the porch, waiting for the sound of a car coming to a sudden stop, but the road was far enough that he couldn’t hear the sound very well. The dog mostly sat still beside its master, waiting for him to feed it, not having much energy for anything else. Dogs, by nature, have a keener sense of hearing than humans do, but the dog, which could hear almost no sound, being old and hard of hearing, had a poorer sense of hearing than the hippie did, and was of no help at all. The dog, sitting beside him, pricked its ears now and then, not because it heard something, but because it wanted to see if it could hear anything, or if it hadn’t mistaken a sound for something else. Still, when they sat on the porch, they pricked their ears, and what they heard were sounds other than the sound of a car coming to a sudden stop. The hippie, passing long days because he had nothing else to do, looked at the weeds covering up his house, feeling bitter and even betrayed, rather than proud, that they thrived even though he hadn’t done anything to help.

Anyway, when he was spending time on the porch, his eyes were always gazing at something. They were directed towards something that looked like a broken fence, nearly all covered up in weeds, beyond the weeds surrounding his house, and when he started looking at something in particular, he rarely ever took his eyes off it. Staring at the broken fence, he was half out of his wits, and befitting someone half out of his wits, his eyes were half out of focus. The dog, feeling weary and in despair that the hippie wasn’t looking at it but only at the fence, barked to let the hippie know that there were other things worth looking at besides the fence, and the hippie slowly turned his eyes away to look at the dog, and then continued to look at the fence or at the nest of some kind of a bird on a branch of a tree in the woods beyond the fence, like someone who had set out on a new task. There was no telling what he thought about while looking at the fence or the bird’s nest, but thinking only thoughts not worth thinking, he may have admired himself for thinking only such thoughts, and felt he didn’t want to trade his life for anyone else’s, even though he didn’t feel that his life was more satisfying than anyone else’s.

No other animals came to the region with changes in seasons, so no other animals were found dead on the road even when seasons changed. In any given season, only deer and raccoons were found dead on the road. So the hippie couldn’t tell if the seasons had changed through the dead animals on the road, but he did sense changes in the seasons in his own unique way, by taking a bath every two months in spring and fall, once every month in summer, and just once in winter. In other words, he let it sink in that the seasons had changed by taking a different number of baths each season. In winter, when it was very cold, he was unable to think that the cold was nothing compared to hunger, but he felt it was too much trouble even to make a fire in the house, and trained his body to exhibit amazing adaptability, and adapted to the cold.

When he was completely sick of raccoon and deer meat, he took his dog to an orchard nearby, and collected, with the permission of the owner, the fruits on the ground and ate them. The orchard owner didn’t like hippies, or people who lived in idleness, or dogs that lived in idleness, or hippies hanging around his orchard, but he disliked hippies only to the point where he didn’t mind hippies who lived in idleness coming to his orchard with dogs that lived in idleness and collecting the fruits on the ground. Perhaps the owner didn’t think that the fruits that had fallen to the ground, which could only be discarded anyway, were something he could in no way give to those who were poor because they were lazy. Or maybe he thought hippies were something akin to animals that ate fruits fallen to the orchard ground.

Most of the fruits that had fallen to the ground were bruised or rotten, and the hippie thought they tasted better than fresh fruits. He quibbled about the taste even though he was in no position to be quibble about the taste, for there was no law against quibbling about the taste just because you were in no position to quibble about the taste. Thinking that, he didn’t touch the fruits on the branches, saying to himself that he wouldn’t eat them even if he could. Sometimes the hippie, when he discovered a worm inside an apple while eating it, would wonder, how long has it been since I saw a worm in an apple like this? (It had been several days.) And eat the worm inside the fruit. Anyway, the fruits on the ground had fallen from the sky for sure, and the raccoons and deer hit by cars, as well as the frog floating on the pond, could, in a way, be deemed to have fallen from the sky, and so it could be deemed that he didn’t want anything aside from what had fallen naturally from the sky.

There was a river near the hippie’s house, and in the river lived fish that were ready and willing to be caught by people, and the hippie could have caught and eaten the fish, but he considered himself to be a sort of farmer, and tried not to covet the work of a fisherman. At any rate, fish were something you had to fish out of water, and could not be deemed as something that fell from the sky. Sometimes he took what naturally fell from the sky to a hippie friend of his who lived nearby, who was also poor thanks to his laziness, and there were several hippies in the area who lived without doing anything. They spent their time eating fruits and raccoons and deer and endlessly talking about what they were eating or other things.

Once, the old dog, which had to starve along with its master for several days because he failed to find dead raccoons and deer, was unable to bear the hunger, and went hunting on its own, dragging its old body, and came back with a field mouse that was still alive and shared it with its master. It was more likely that the old dog, which could scare a field mouse but would have had a hard time catching a nimble field mouse, being slow in movement, had gotten a sort of freebie, by catching a field mouse that was too old or injured, for instance, than that it had caught one that was in good shape. Maybe the dog, still having the strength to bark, at least, had bared the few bad teeth it had, threatening a snake that had caught the field mouse, even as it was a little scared of the snake, and the snake, feeling terribly wronged, had given up the field mouse in its mouth and disappeared. The hippie, eating the field mouse after eating nothing but raccoons and deer, savored the field mouse even more, and tried several times to get his dog to catch field mice, but the dog always returned empty-handed and made its master—and itself, too, perhaps—struggle with hunger, thinking about field mice. The hippie tried to teach the dog to hunt field mice and other little animals, but to no avail. The dog was too old, to the point where it couldn’t learn anything new, let alone hunting.

The lazy hippie, who usually ate raccoons and deer, and ate a frog and a field mouse once, prayed to God from time to time, saying that he would work for a living if He let him eat something other than raccoons and deer, such as pheasants or wild turkeys hit by cars. He said, however, that he wouldn’t work hard, only enough to barely eke out a living. God, who had at one time, for some reason, dropped manna from the sky to save a chosen people, but was quite indifferent to some people, did not answer the prayer. The hippie, the laziest in the world, prayed to God that his old dog wouldn’t starve, even if he himself did, but God did not answer that prayer, either. The hippie thought that working too hard at something did not look good, and could even be bad, so he used moderation even when it came to prayer.

The hippie lived for a time, eating raccoons and deer he no longer wanted to eat or even think about, and resenting God’s indifference, and making his old dog resent God’s indifference as well—the dog showed its resentment of God’s indifference by barking at the sky for no reason. The hippie, too, had friends who had once been close to him, and thinking that they would be happy if he got in touch with them, so though he wasn’t sure if he wanted to see them, he didn’t get in touch with any of them. He thought they would all be delighted to learn of his pitiful plight, so he did not want to bring delight to his friends, whom he didn’t want to see at all. As a result, there was no one after that who had any news of him. 

 

* Translated by Jung Yewon.

Author's Profile

Jung Young Moon graduated from Seoul National University with a degree in psychology. He made his literary debut in 1996 with the novel A Man Who Barely Exists. Among his works, Vaseline Buddha, A Most Ambiguous Sunday and Other Stories, A Chain of Dark Tales, and A Contrived World have appeared in English. He has won the Dongsuh Literary Award, the HMS (Hahn Moo-Sook) Literary Award, the Dongin Literary Award, and the Daesan Literary Award. He has participated in the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program in 2005. Jung is also an accomplished translator who has translated more than fifty books from English into Korean, including works by John Fowles, Raymond Carver, and Germaine Greer.