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FICTION

I’m a Joke

  • onJanuary 5, 2017
  • Vol.34 Winter 2016
  • byKim Junghyuk
I’m a Joke
2016
244pp.

Mission Control, do you copy?

All I want is to die. I should’ve brought the suicide pill with me. I’m not kidding this time. Open a door and a simple death awaits me. Flip a switch and I can die easily. This might sound like a joke, but given a choice, I’d rather hang myself. I want to die as I feel gravity pulling on me. I don’t want to meet my end in the empty confines of space. I thought my claustrophobia had gotten better, but a faint fear pierces my skin and rises again. What is the last thing I can do? With the main computer on the fritz, an exploration is out of the question. I can’t transmit any new information to Mission Control, either. All I can do is to keep talking. Talking would be fun if at least I knew for sure that my words would reach somewhere . . . Back on earth, I’d try my best to remember the names of stars as I gazed at them, but out here it all feels meaningless. We attach names to stars we can see, but I don’t feel that’s a decision to be made lightly. Names shouldn’t be given out so easily. There are far more stars that haven’t got names. If we were to name every star, the list of names would be bigger than earth. We could fill earth to the brim with just the names of the stars in the universe. There’s something else I miss, besides gravity. I want to get wet in rain. I want to run in the rain. I’ll stop whining now and gather my strength. The cabin has sufficient oxygen for now. I’ll go as far as I can. I can’t make it to earth anyway, so I’ll try to make it to the farthest point I can.

pp. 46–47

 

Shall I tell you a story about a guy who had only one goal in life? Sounds funny, right? When you have only one goal in life you have to cherish it like you cherish your own body. This guy would wake up every day with his goal, fall asleep with it, make love to it. Who knows he might even have made a human-shaped doll and christened it Goal? His goal was to become an astronaut. That was the only thing he wanted to be since childhood. Always an astronaut, no matter what. His father had wanted to become an astronaut too but failed, and his uncle was a former astronaut. So the brothers had seen their share of success and failure. The father wanted his son to achieve the dream he could not, and the uncle wanted him to follow him into a glamorous profession. So he naturally set his sights on becoming an astronaut. The probability of success? He thought it was fifty-fifty since he’d grown up with examples of success and failure. He wanted to succeed at any cost.

He planned everything in a calm and orderly way. He volunteered for the air force and became a pilot. After getting discharged, he joined a private aerospace R&D facility. His plan was slowly falling into place. But just when he thought everything was moving forward, he suffered a serious setback. One day he had an attack of claustrophobia. To become an astronaut, you have to undergo a battery of training sessions and among them he found the “space rescue ball” session the hardest. The ball was an escape pod, windowless and dark, in which you had to stay crouched for twenty minutes. The ball only had a zipper. The mere thought it of makes you shudder, doesn’t it? I got trapped inside a sleeping bag once when I was a kid. I’d slipped into it while playing with my big sister and as I was turning around, I got stuck. It was so dark as I fumbled around for the zipper. My sister thought I was kidding and held on to the zipper firmly to prevent me from opening it. If you’ve never experienced something like that, you won’t understand how scary it was. I started having a phobia about zippers from then on. I started imagining that someone was pulling up the zipper of my room from outside. Just seeing the zippers of my pants gives me that feeling. Sometimes it feels like my dick is in the same boat as me. How suffocated he must feel inside my pants. I imagine myself turning into a hard dick. I’m trapped inside a secret room that can’t be opened from the inside. If no one opens the zipper, I can’t ever stick my head out. Flushed red and sweating profusely, I shout, “Hey! Let me out of here. From the sounds I hear, I can tell there are many pretty women outside. Can’t I go out just for a bit? I’m about to burst. For God’s sake, open the door!” Then I feel I’m lucky he can’t open the zipper from inside.

The guy bore his claustrophobia. He grit his teeth. Bravo! He held on to the zipper firmly and won. He endured it all to achieve his goal. He had one hope. Have you by any chance heard that claustrophobia can be cured in outer space? It’s true, apparently. You would think you’d be scared in the vast expanse of space but they say you feel a release and all your fears vanish. Blaise Pascal once said, “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.” Some philosopher said he felt the urge to kill himself when he thought about the boundlessness of space. Do you know what astronauts say to that? “People talk like that because they’ve never been to space. When you’re in space, your brain opens up. All horizons disappear, all borders are removed.” The guy decided to trust the astronauts. He endured and waited for the day he would go into space. The key to everything was there above earth, and all his suffering would vanish if he were only to fly to the sky. Sounds like a religious cult, doesn’t it? May all the glory of the universe pour down on you like gold coins!

One day, the guy’s mother showed up. She had left home when he was young. He had a lot he wanted to ask her when they met. What was she thinking as she left? Did she look back? Did she regret her decision? Did she ever think of coming back? Did she take his picture with her? Where did she keep it? Did she get married again? Did her new husband treat her well . . .? He couldn’t ask her anything in the end, but he said knew everything as soon as he saw her face. The mother missed her son so much that she had her forehead tattooed. On her brow, the line “Son, I miss you.” was inscribed. He started to cry the second he saw her forehead. He was in tears as he looked at the tattoo that had dug into her skin like wrinkles.

He wrote the following in a letter to his mother. “The worlds we lived in were completely different, but a passage seems to have opened up in between them now. Please don’t block that passage off.” His mother wrote in her reply as follows. “Do you really have to ride on the space shuttle?” The son replied, “That was my only hope when you weren’t around.” The mother wrote back, “I’m here now.” The son replied again, “I can’t give it up now.” The mother wrote a long letter. To summarize, it went as follows: “I’m scared I’ll lose you again. I wish you’d stay beside me.” The son also wrote a long letter. To summarize, it went as follows: “I can’t do that, Mom. But don’t worry. It’s not that dangerous. I’ll write to you again on my return.” The mother didn’t know how to use a computer and so this entire exchange took place on paper. This meant they talked things out for a long time. The mother didn’t want her son to ride on the space shuttle, and the son wanted his mother to be happy for him, but maybe the two were glad because they were talking about these things for the first time.

The day the space shuttle was set to blast off, the mother went to the launch site. As she watched her son fly skywards, leaving behind giant flames, she kept muttering. You have to return. You’ve got to come back. What I heard in my dream won’t all be true. What you see in a dream is just that, a dream. What I saw—that you won’t be able to return, that you’ll have to live in space forever—it’ll all be only a dream, right? You’ve got to come back.

pp. 124–129

 

 

Mission Control, do you copy?

I always had a picture from outer space as my desktop wallpaper. Whenever I switched on my computer, I’d see a nebula or a planet, but now that I see them for real as I float about in space, I feel strange. Space feels like a huge computer. I’m inside the wallpaper. I’m just a tiny speck on it invisible to the naked eye. No, I won’t even look like a speck. I’ll be present but you won’t be able to say I’m there. The oxygen level has dropped to 1 percent. I should get into my spacesuit now. Shall I go outside? Maybe that’ll be an image more fitting my end.

I have a lot I want to say to my mother. She was opposed to me coming on this mission. She dreamed I would meet with an accident. I explained to her at length how safe space flights are, but now that I’ve ended up like this, I have nothing to say. Still, I felt happy, because I could meet her, even if it was only for a short while. I missed everything while I was living in a completely different world from hers. You have no idea how I wished there was a tiny door between our two worlds. For a brief moment, that door opened and I could experience a new world. Thank you, Mother. I didn’t know I’d be sending my last message to you from space where sound doesn’t even travel. I keep thinking of the time I visited you at home, Mother. Your dishes were all tasty and your stories were all interesting. Do you remember the game of darts we played? I was amazed at your skill. You hit the bullseye twice! I keep seeing you smiling innocently as you threw the darts. I’ll remember that face forever. I’m lucky I have a cheerful face to look forward to in the end. Mother you said you had something you wanted to change if you could go back in time. I didn’t ask what but I could guess. Is there anything I’d want to change? I know an accident will occur at the space station, so should I go back in time and not get on the shuttle? I have no regrets. Even if I were to go back, I think I’d make the same choice. Even if that road leads to death. I told you how much time and effort I put into getting to space, didn’t I? I don’t want to betray that time. I don’t regret it. Be happy, Mother. You can be happy now. 

 

p. 186–188

Translated by Agnel Joseph

Author's Profile

Kim Junghyuk is a writer, film critic, music columnist, and cartoonist. He has received the Dongin Literary Award and Lee Hyo-seok Literary Award. French editions of his books include Your Shadow Is a Monday (Les ombres du lundi), Zombies (Zombies, la descente aux enfers), Wandering Bus (Bus errant), and The Library of Musical Instruments (La bibliothèque des instruments de musique) published by Decrescenzo éditeurs. English editions of his books include The Library of Musical Instruments published by Dalkey Archive Press.