The Impossible Fairy Tale

By Han Yujoo

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The Child’s eyes resemble the eyes of a fish. She doesn’t see Mia, who says she will buy a fountain pen when she grows up. The Child’s eyes reflect nothing, reveal nothing. She doesn’t see Mia saying to Inju, Do you know you can kill someone with a fountain pen? The Child’s eyes capture neither background nor foreground. Neither lucky nor unlucky, the Child is simply luckless. Pain begins to pulse from under her fingernails. Her nails are cut so short that the ten¬der flesh beneath the nail is exposed. Usually she forces the sting¬ing, burning pain aside by creating greater pain. But she can’t bite her nails. She stares blankly down at her desk. Because of the pain in her fingertips, it takes great effort to grip either ordinary pencil or mechanical pencil. Every time she’s able to forget the pain for a moment, time numbs, turning scarlet. That specific time must not be called “back then” because that time isn’t beautiful. And even if she were to think again, even if she were to try to think differently, that time isn’t beautiful. That time. Time. Time’s grime. During that time, even time itself is shrouded with gray dust.

In the future, the Child will not remember anything. No trace must be left. She feels as though someone is always behind her, watching. She must not catch their eye. The sound of the pipe doesn’t reach her ears. There are times a car engine sounds beauti¬ful. With the tip of her pencil, she blacks out the scribble she had made on her desk just a moment before. Her fingertips sting. She doesn’t use a mechanical pencil. She wasn’t given one. With a pen¬cil, she writes badly. She wrote badly from the time she learned to write. What had she scribbled on her desk just now? No one knows. It was all blacked out. She thinks today’s scribbles can become to¬morrow’s evidence. Plus she writes badly. She wishes she could be erased. But every time she tries to erase herself, she only grows darker. Every day, she grows darker. Enough for her body to gobble up her shadow. At school, she exists like a shadow. Or she has be¬come a shadow and is absent.

Once during a spelling test, she wrote knell instead of kneel. This was three or four years ago. Since that day, she doesn’t want to risk hearing the kneel of her mother’s anger. She knells and waits for her mother’s anger to fade. She must always knell and make herself very small, like a dust mote, a grain, some kind of vermin. But even though she must grow smaller, the Child has the habit of wearing several layers of clothing to make herself look bigger. When she wears multiple layers, she feels less pain. Even when she is alone, she can’t remove all of her clothing, because when she removes a layer, and then another, clothes that are red and blue persist. She could not be erased or grow dark, just as she could not remove her clothes—these clothes that cannot be removed, clothes that will follow her to the grave. Every day her blood vessels grow transparent. Protective coloration. The Child hears Mia say, If you drop the pen from high up at the right angle, the pointy tip will pierce right into the person’s head. Absentmindedly the Child thinks that rather than aiming the tip at someone’s head from high up, jabbing it firmly into the throat is easier and far more effective. Not want¬ing to find or be found, the Child doesn’t open her closed mouth. Nevertheless, she must find. She must be found.

Beginning on the first day of the new semester, March 2, 1998, it is the Child’s turn to be the class monitor for one week. On the next day, March 3, 1998, she is the first to arrive at school; she goes to the superintendent’s office and fetches the Grade 5, Section 3, classroom key. During the lunch break, she leaves her food in her desk and slips out of the school and goes to a locksmith shop. Ten minutes later two keys jingle inside the Child’s pocket. When school is dis¬missed, she goes back to the office and hangs the original key on its hook. There are sixty keys in the key storage cabinet. It occurs to her suddenly that she needs two months. No. She corrects herself; she needs more than two months. Because she must exclude Sundays. Because she must be trapped at home on days off. But more than any¬thing, one key is enough. If she can’t have all the keys, it is better to have just one. The superintendent sees the Child, who is standing idly in front of the cabinet. You, come over here. The Child flinches. The superintendent draws near and hands her a carton of coffee-flavored milk. To a child. She takes the milk and mumbles, Thank you. As she slips past the school gate, she mutters: Thank you, bless you, excuse you, screw you, fuck you. Thank you, bless you, excuse you, screw you, fuck you. The children, who are skipping their after-school academies, mash up the dirt on the playing field, and steal the ball from one another, over and over again.

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