Af t erBeat i ng YourWi f e
Ki m Nam-cheon
Tr ans l at edbyJ ennyWangMedi na
After Beating Your Wife By Kim Nam-cheon Translated by Jenny Wang Medina
Originally published in Korean as Cheoreul Ttaerigo in Joseon Munhak, 1937 Translation ⓒ 2013 by Jenny Wang Medina
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and Literature Translation Institute of Korea. The original manuscripts to these translations were provided by Gongumadang of Korea Copyright Commission.
The National Library of Korea Cataloging-in-Publication Data Kim, Nam-cheon After beating your wife [electronic resource] = 처를 때리고 / [written by] Kim Nam-cheon ; translated by Jenny Wang Medina. -- Seoul : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2013 p. ISBN 978-89-93360-11-0 05810 : No price 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Kim Nam-cheon Kim Nam-cheon (1911-1953) was a prominent colonial period author and critic born in Seongcheon, Pyeongnam Province in 1911. His given name was Hyo-sik, but he is better known by his literary name, Nam-cheon. After graduating from Pyongyang High School in 1929, he attended Hosei University in Tokyo where he became a member of the socialist writers group KAPF (Korea Artista Proleta Federatio). In 1930, Kim began his writing career with a critical piece titled “A Reexamination of the Beginnings of the Film Movement.” Together with Korean writer Im Hwa, he advocated a Bolshevik Literary Movement and wrote the social issue novels Factory Newspaper (1931) and Factory Workers Association (1932), even participating in a strike at a rubber factory in Pyongyang. Some of his most representative works include the historical novel Great Currents (1939) and the short stories “After Beating Your Wife…” (1937), “Management” (1940), and “Barley” (1941). Many of Kim’s early works reflect his Marxist perspective and progressive writing style, but his works from the later years of the colonial period are marked by the anguish many intellectuals felt about the experience of forced political conversion under Japanese Imperialism. Immediately after liberation, Kim Nam-cheon worked with Im Hwa for the “Joseon Writers Alliance.” Kim, Im Hwa, and Park Heon-yeong are thought to have been executed in North Korea during a purge of intellectuals in 1953. “After Beating Your Wife…” appeared in the June 1937 issue of Joseon Munhak, and was the realization of a critical theory Kim Nam-cheon had espoused called “literature of denunciation.” In this story, the male protagonist, Nam-su, has been imprisoned for his political activities, and has difficulties returning to his life after his conversion and release. The argument that unfolds between Nam-su and his wife Jeong-sook follows a stream of consciousness style that expresses the husband and wife’s emotions and self-reflection in their own words.
After Beating Your Wife…
1. “Bitch.” That was the first thing out of Namsu’s mouth. It was close to midnight, and they were still fighting. That night, she’d parted ways with Junho sometime after eleven and had come home feeling strangely agitated. Her husband, who was coming back from a trip had come on the ten thirty train. He put his trunk in the room and sat down, still in his suit. He glanced up at Jeong-sook as she opened the door but didn’t say a word. After a while, he asked “Where were you?” It would have been good if she had been honest and said, “I had dinner with Junho and we went for a stroll,” but in spite of herself she found herself saying “I went to my sister’s house.”. Namsu heard this and couldn’t help but feel dissatisfied. “I know we don’t have much here, but it doesn’t seem right to leave it completely empty,” he'd said in a low voice, going up to the main room to lie down. For Jeong-sook, having dinner and going for a stroll with Junho wasn’t really worth hiding, but for some reason it became the first lie she'd ever told in her life, and she regretted it immediately. Thinking about how she’d felt while she was with him, she thought Junho wouldn’t tell Namsu about it either. Without another word, she'd gone down to the lower room and spread out her bedding. She was found out today when Namsu went out to meet Junho after dinner. Junho, who she'd been certain would never do such a thing, went ahead and told her husband about it. She really didn’t know why. But then since he’d told Namsu about it that meant they hadn’t done anything unseemly. He probably thought it would be better if he didn’t hide anything and laid it all out there like a big joke. Junho always called Namsu the “Absent-minded Professor” anyway. “While the Absent-minded Professor's away, I go for a stroll with his wife,” he'd probably chuckled. No, this is Junho we’re talking about. It would have been something like, “It’s like I’ve become her handbag. Anyway, you’d better be careful Professor. You’re right at that age when you want to sit back and start raising swallows.” Namsu wouldn’t be able to show his rage at that kind of joke, but he would have felt extremely disagreeable. She thought of Namsu’s face, grimacing like he’d just eaten phlegm but trying to look like he was smiling. How would you explain what happened that night to Namsu? That is, would you lie or tell the truth? In other words, it was a mistake to not discuss how much they would tell him. To the extent that they did discuss it, though, neither thought they’d done anything wrong. If they’d 4
recognized some wrongdoing and thought they needed to have a discussion about it, then they wouldn’t have even gone for a walk in the first place because they would’ve felt guilty about it. That evening’s stroll — Jeong-sook didn't know if it was only her, but she didn’t think it was simply a walk. Weren’t the lights beautiful, and when did they think the flowers would bloom, their conversation didn’t amount to much more than that, but she’d felt a heightened excitement that night. In any case, they were exposed by Junho himself, and it seemed like Namsu had only laughed at the time, but when he got home that night, he started picking on Jeong-sook. And that had turned into a fight. Now, Jeong-sook was rolling up her sleeves and turning on her husband. Why? Who cares if that’s what it was? What does it matter if I lied? It’s okay to have dinner and go for a walk but it’s not okay to lie? How can you be upset that I lied if you already knew? What do you have to be mad about unless you're thinking dirty thoughts about what we did? To tell you the truth, the reason I lied that night was that you looked so pathetic sitting there in your suit like a barnacle, so I lied. Yeah, you were like a little child that I had to undress and lay out the bedding for. Is it fair that I always have to wait for you when you don't give me any notice about when you’re coming back? I waited for you for four nights. I waited, wondering is it tonight or another night, and then I got so tired of it that I went out for a quick walk around the block. I ran into Junho on my way back so I had dinner with him. Is that such a crime? Just for one minute think about the person who’s sitting there waiting for you with everything ready. Would I have intentionally gone out and left the house empty if I’d gotten a telegram saying you were coming? Why? Who cares? Does that count as an excuse? If it didn't, forget it. I didn't try very hard to explain it anyway. If I hadn't said I'd gone to my sister’s we wouldn’t be fighting like this. Yeah, if I'd just said that I had dinner and went for a stroll with Junho that night, I’m so sure you would have said, Oh good, good job. Right. Mister, what’s this mister? Calling your friend mister as if you need to be respectful. Mr. Junho this, Mr. Junho that, you keep calling him Mister. It's too much, coming from you. If I'd told you that night you would have gone crazy with jealousy. Who knows, maybe I lied because I felt bad that you would've gotten so jealous you'd have lost sleep. What. So what? Humph. Jealous? What’s jealousy to someone like you? This nitpicking you’re doing right now isn’t jealousy, it’s jealousy’s distant cousin. How old are you, and how old am I? I’m halfway to seventy and you'll be forty the day after tomorrow, won’t you? What are we, people who just met at a bar or in the street yesterday? Fine. Fine. Like I would have an affair with a kid like that, no matter how much of a torturous bitch I am. Psh. Forget it. Forget it. That’s what you’re saying, isn’t it? Okay, fine. Fine. 5
What, how come? You’re going ahead before anyone can say anything. You assume something happened and you're jumping to conclusions. Fine, you’re saying I’ve ruined my reputation. Why don’t you stop this spineless nonsense? If a man is too foolish his wife will want to cheat on him. I know I haven’t been perfect either, but why couldn’t you say anything to Junho? You had your enemy right in front of you, but you just smiled and said nothing. And now you’re shouting at me? Hmm… and you say Junho didn’t do anything wrong. That only my lie was a crime? You must not like to think of your wife as someone’s plaything. What’s the big deal? You’re a bitch, bitch, you say. That's just great. So what if you call a bitch as rude as me a bitch? Great. Some dirty bitch. If you want to see something dirty just look in a mirror. Who’s the dirty one? You can’t even take a swing at the man you think is fooling around with your wife and then you come back here and yell at me for lying? Why do you think I took a fancy to Junho? And what if I did? I felt happy when I was with him. Do you have what he has? Who wants to live with a dirty bastard? I could live without you. You think you’re the only husband in the world for me? Oh, Cha Namsu thinks I live like this because being with him is like being in heaven. He’s got me living in the lap of luxury and thinks I’ll become a beggar if I leave him. Cha Namsu is going to become so important that if I left him, I’d lose my mind like I’d been thrown out of heaven. Yeah, I know, I know. I already knew you would say that. And I already knew how twisted you were; I knew you never got a divorce from that bitch in the country. That wasn’t even a question ten years ago. That’s because I never legally became a part of your family. And now you’re going to use that to throw me out. I’m just meat on the butcher's block. If I had at least one little brat at my feet I wouldn’t be suffering this abuse. But you said a baby would hinder the movement so I had that surgery and now you’ve made me into a cripple who can’t have children. Since you already had a son and daughter out in the country. Yeah. You made me a cripple, turned me into a concubine, didn’t even give me any kids and now you’re asking me to leave? Say something. What big important things are you doing now? Didn’t you just lie to me so you could go down to the country to see your children? Why'd you lie and send the money I had to beg for down to them for their school fees? And they say your family is still rich. Does that balding old man down there not know his son? Have I ever used a cent of your money? Try to prick yourself to see if you bleed, you bastard. How is there any blood still running through your veins? Who do you have to thank for having any life left in you? Who got you out of prison? For six years, you sent me messages from prison practically every day. And you had me be the one to send food in to you, not your family. Do you even know if your family sent you a single cent? The old man and the old lady, your own family acted like they didn’t even know you then. I took all sorts of insults and humiliation from your family and friends, and while I was sending you clothes and food and books, your old man was spreading it around that his son had 6
gone to jail because of this rotten bitch. That bitch has to die for my son to get out of danger, he said. But I could still laugh even when I heard that. I wandered around like a crazy person, grinding my bones to dust trying to get you out. And now you’re going to use that money to toss me aside like an old shoe? So working myself to the bone for you for ten years is a crime now that I have to hear you curse me and call me a bitch? Your lips might be stuck up your own ass, but there’s no way you can say that. You could have ten mouths, but there's no way you can say that garbage. In the three years since you got out of prison have you ever bought so much as a scoop of rice or some fabric for your kids’ clothes? Right, Hur Chang-hun. That’s right. Hur, the lawyer, that bastard is crazy. That bastard who’s been feeding you for all this time is a crazy man. I mean, do you even know what people are saying? Do you know that there’s a rumor going around that Hur is such a clever guy that he got Cha Namsu, who took the money from that kye before, to give him the money that he used buying off soldiers in order to raise his own social position? And do you know that people are saying that since Cha Namsu knows he’s being used, he’s turning it around and using Hur to get living expenses out of him? That's right, he overlooked the so-called “requests” of upstanding people. Yeah, Hur Chang-hun, that bastard. I’m finally going to tell you this today. You hate going over there and sounding pathetic so you always think I’ll take care of getting money from him. I’ll never forget last fall around kimchi-making season. Oh, I never meant to talk about this. I wanted to forget about it. But… ah, the sound of the fall rain on the paulownia leaves is still fresh in my ears. I was watching the light coming in through the open window and sparkling between the streaks of rain like thread while I waited for Mr. Hur to come out. I was in his sitting room, which you must know so well. I waited for twenty minutes. I wondered if I should have come. I wondered if those dirty bastards were playing a joke on all of us for a little money and I was getting angry, but we needed the money and they were people we'd known for a long time and since they’d asked me to come, I tried to hold back my anger. Then the sitting room door flew open and he smiled slyly at me. His face was red from drinking. He slipped into the room, shut the door and went over to the window, his body reeking of rotten alcohol that burned my nose. After he closed the door and pulled down the windowshade he asked me what business I had with him to come out in the rain. There was a chair on the other side of the table and a sofa over there, but he slithered over to me. Maybe if I was some young bird I wouldn’t know what was going on, but I’m an old warhorse. Do you think after all my years of experience I could see those red eyes, that quickened breath, that slurred speech, and the stink of his body and not guess what he wanted? If he lunged at me, I’d have fought back like a lion with enough strength to rip him apart. I tried my hardest to ignore the change in his attitude and it worked. He spoke again. What business do you have to 7
discuss with me today? His voice trembled, and then he looked at me again, his hot, boozy breath blasting at me as I felt a rake-like hand groping at my breasts. My hand shot out like lightning and slapped him across the face. Smack! He wasn’t expecting it and it sounded odd to me too. I moved the chair to block his path and rushed to the door. He was stunned and hadn’t moved, like he didn’t know what had hit him. In that brief moment, Hur Chang-hun was probably thinking about what had just happened, just as I was thinking about what had just happened to me and what I’d done as I ran out to the foyer. I was sad. And then the tears started to flow. I was angrier than if I’d been beaten up. I don’t know how I managed to get my shoes on. I walked out into the rain, through the paulownia, the junipers, and the firs. I could hear someone calling Miss Jeong-sook, Miss Jeong-sook behind me. Of course, it was Hur Chang-hun chasing after me. He came running recklessly through the leaves, the branches, the forest of that rainy courtyard. And then he caught me and got down on his knees and begged me to forgive him for his sin. I wondered whether I should kick him. But I just looked down at him and walked around him towards the gate. He followed me again and thrust an envelope at me. When I tried to refuse, he tossed it at me and ran off. I stood there and cried. It rained even harder. Then you must know what happened to that envelope. I bought cabbage and radishes and peppers and salt. I bought garlic too, and parsley and oysters. I even got fish brine. You and I both had kimchi tonight, didn’t we? Ah, that’s your friend. This is the friend who for ten, no, twenty years has taken better care of you than your own mother and father have. Say something. Why haven’t you said anything? This is when you’re supposed to look at me and start shouting. I’ve hidden this for so long it started gathering dust. Do you think something that dark was about me having an affair with Chang-hun? Say something. This can’t be less important than lying about going for a walk with someone. If you were a man you’d grab a knife and go after Chang-hun right now. You’d throw all that money back at him and stab him in the heart. And he says he’s going put up the money to start a publishing company? Become a publisher and be involved in a cultural enterprise? If you had a conscience, you’d put out a journal or publish a newspaper serial or a collection of poems; you’d hear less about being conscientious with that kind of business. You needed a vocation, of course. But if you were going to start a business like that, why haven’t you done anything yet but sit around? You should’ve done it last year. No, you should’ve done it the year before that. Cultural enterprise. What a great word. So you’re going to launch a cultural enterprise with Chang-hun, that kind friendly fellow with so much civic virtue as your patron. Hmph, socialism is a great word too. That childish lot that crowds around you calling teacher, teacher, is it that exciting for you? You’re so puffed up now that you’ve become 8
confused. It’s dirty, dirty. You don’t even know that someone grabbed your wife’s breast because all you can see is the money in front of you. Do they think going to prison is so admirable? They think giving a penny to a beggar after ten years is like giving alms to the poor? Why are you hitting me? Why are you hitting me? This bastard is hitting me? Bastard. You thieving bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Bastard. Just kill me. You thief. Just kill me. What have you done to think you can lay a hand on me? Bastard. Just kill me! Kill me. Here. Kill me with this. Yeah, you bastard. Hey, you socialists are really grand. Now I know this is what a socialist looks like after twenty years. Envious. Jealous. Cliquish. Vain. Insulting. Show-offs. Cowards. Swindlers. Middlemen. If there’s one drop left of the blood coursing through your veins that's still for the people, then why don't you offer them my neck? Is socialism wandering around talking about politics? Is it going around making noise about current events? Is this what a great thinker is? Someone who couldn’t earn a grain of rice in a day of a thousand years? Who beats the wife who devoted herself to him for over ten years? Time is so wonderful that when you're an old man doddering in the breeze, you can babble on about how going to prison was like heaven, and you can pass yourself off as a socialist for another hundred years. I’ve done that kind of socialism too. Only I couldn’t repay people’s kindness with my fist. I had surgery because I was afraid to have a child, not thinking that I would suffer this fate. This foolish bitch served her husband like a god for ten years like it was a day, through slander and persecution, hot and cold, not knowing she’d be tossed out in the end as a concubine. She didn't wear what she wanted to wear or eat what she wanted to eat because she was always thinking about her husband, thinking in her foolish heart that it wouldn’t be fair. She only knew to swallow any complaints about her husband or any resentment towards his family; she didn't know how to take it out on someone else. All of that became a crime… that’s why I deserve your fists now. What? Where are you going? Why are you running off to the other room? You must have more to say, you must have more strength in you. Why don't you hit me a little more before you go, huh?
2. Namsu sank down to the ground, drained. He could still hear his wife crying, but his head was full of smoke. The smoke turned into a lump of iron, then into a cloud like a wet sponge 9
being wrung out before it floated apart to fill his head. All the blood rushed to his face and his face turned redder and redder until the dandruff in his hair started to prickle and itch. His temples pounded like hammers. I feel like I can't breathe. Namsu didn’t even light a cigarette, he only lay flat on his back. The ten-watt lamp looked down at him. He closed his eyes, but he could still see the face up on the ceiling. It was a respectable-looking gentleman with eyeglasses and a mustache. Hur Chang-hun, my friend. What did you do to my wife? You tried to grab a piece of her and then what did you two do? Was that the only time that you wanted her, or did you the time before that, or the time before that? You defiled my wife, and then, your breath rotten with alcohol and your voice trembling you asked her if there was anything to discuss? What did you really want to discuss with her? Jeong-sook is my wife. My lover. My comrade. You know that better than anyone else. What did you want to “discuss” with my wife? No, I don’t believe that anything happened between you and Jeong-sook beyond what she confessed to me — not on any day before that while I was still away and my wife was alone, or any day after that. I won't believe that. I’m not going to believe that anything more happened even if the whole world knows and everyone is whispering and laughing behind my back. I can't believe it if I want to save myself. You know what would happen to me the day I start to believe that? I’d have to stab you both. I’d become the sorry hero of some tragic love triangle whose jealousy and righteous indignation drive him to take up a fiery blade and stab you filthy cheaters. You two wouldn’t put me in a farce like that, would you? Chang-hun. After all this time, do you have to have your boundless generosity to me repaid by my knife? Fine. I forgot that you’re just another person too. I forgot that you’re just a beast, no, a truly human person, who forgets who the woman standing before you is when you get aroused by her womanly charms. Maybe it’s your own sister, or your own brother’s wife, or maybe even your uncle’s wife, or your nephew’s wife, or no, even your father's young concubine. When you first see that plump breast you’d never even considered before under a thin blouse; when you see the downy soft white skin arcing down their spine from afar; when you see their moist, jammy lips pouting right in front you, or when they’re stretching after they’ve just woken up and their skirt slips down a little and you catch a brief glimpse of flesh, when you feel like you have to avert your eyes, which have turned into piercing nails burning out of your head… but that’s when you say to yourself, wait, who is that? Who hasn’t had that moment when you feel yourself reverting into an animal? You’re not my comrade. I mean, who tries to couple with his friend’s wife? What’s a friend’s wife, after all? I've been in situations like that. So have you. Every man in the world has. The only scoundrel who ever felt that way towards my wife, though, is you, Hur Changhun. I mean, I don’t know if my wife felt that for Junho but this is the same thing. I mean, even back when we were going to the Youth Association Hall, there were several men who wanted 10
Jeong-sook. They thought about it every night and tried to touch her every time there was a chance. No one knows now how hard I tried not to think about what other men were doing to her and what she was feeling towards other men while I was on the inside. If I can be honest about my time in prison though, whenever I started thinking about that, I never once got physically riled up. Then what is this? I’m feeling this more now that I’m out and have my wife by my side. While I was gone, I got more worked up thinking about work than I did about that. The wife was acting the same as before, no, she was even more well-behaved than she was before, always staying at home, but I feel like it’s completely different now. Have I gone mad with jealousy? I know this too, of course. I’ve known for a while that my wife has been unhappy with me. Didn’t she prove that to me tonight? The fact is, I've been unhappy with her for a long time too, but I didn’t know that her dissatisfaction with me had spread throughout her entire body. All of her complaints, all the accusations she leveled at me…it was like she was wagging her finger in my face, but there wasn’t a single lie in anything she said I did. It was all true, but I’d never thought about it — I couldn’t have even imagined that it had taken that form and become so deeply rooted in her body. Is there any way I can find Jeong-sook’s old self? Her thoughts, her observations, her criticism… all of her perspectives that were never the same as other middle class wives, but that were all the better for it. I wanted to cry. I wanted to hit. So I beat her for the first time in my life. My fists hesitated a few times and I could have tried to control myself, but in the end, I beat her. I couldn't say a word to her and I just beat her. It felt like I was trying to hit myself. Chang-hun my friend. Talk to me. Are you going to steal my wife and still make me a publisher? Every time I’m gone, are you going to come over with some money and try to harass Jeong-sook? Are you going to grab at her breasts and blast your rank breath in her face again? Are you going to smile slyly and ask her, knowing full well what you’re going to do, are you going to ask her what business she has with you and slither over to her side? Knowing all this, do I still have to start a business with you? I’m still going to do it, even knowing all this. If you’d played by the rules, I never would have lost to you. Whatever you did, I’ll close my eyes to it and I’ll take the fifty thousand won this time. If you want to cover your eyes and play peek-a-boo, so will I. And to think I saw you just two days after you did that to my wife. You acted natural then. Didn’t you feel bad at all? What you felt for Jeong-sook wasn’t affection; it was lust. You know that lust and love aren’t the same, but which one was it? These are all useless questions. Choi Jeong-sook is my wife. And I beat her. I hit her even as she wept. She’s lying on the floor in the other room right now, not saying a thing. She’s 11
probably thinking, what did I just say? I’m sure she’s shocked about what she said to me. I don’t know if she’s touching the places where I hit her. There must be bumps and bruises. She’ll realize, though, that she was the one who hit her face and pulled her hair. With that proof, she’s up in that room, not sleeping and not crying, just being quiet. Her swollen eyes are probably glaring at something right now. Kim Junho. I have something to say to you too. You’re a fine young man. When I told my wife that you were a bright young man, she staunchly disagreed. She laughed and said you were a superficial fop. Really, stop it, she said. Whoever this Kim Junho is, you’re too much of a softie. How can you take one look at someone and know what they’re about? As you know, she likes you now. My wife said she felt happy when she had dinner and took a stroll with you. She said she’s fallen for you. I’m going to have to think a little more about whether what she said was true, whether my wife really loves you and has truly fallen for you. It could have been something she threw in my face to make me angry. But I can’t think that what she said about being happy when she went for a walk with you was completely groundless. Didn’t she ask in the end if I had what you have? That’s it. Now I’m thinking that I don’t have it now and only you have it, Junho. Do you really have something that I don’t? How can you, who she said was shallow and who she looked down on and laughed about, have that something that makes her happy when she sees you and excited when you take her for a walk? Is your frivolity itself your charm? If it's not that, do you overpower women and enchant them with your intensity like some sort of panther cub? I have no interest in trying to analyze the honest impression I got from you when we first met, and while we’ve been working together on the plans for this publishing house. I’d much rather investigate the relationship between you and Jeong-sook. Like I said before, my wife has her complaints about her husband. There are several things that are tied up with the more run of the mill complaints. She couldn’t see it that clearly, and she was afraid of what would happen if she did. Her whole body is completely steeped in her dissatisfaction, and she’s realizing that it has permeated every fiber of her being. And that’s when you showed up. You were radiant and hard to pin down, lighthearted and freewheeling, you seemed uncomplicated and easy-going, you weren’t heavy-hearted and you had this free-spirited personality… that’s definitely why Jeong-sook reacted so strongly to you. But she immediately resisted that. She even called you a shallow and reckless scamp. Isn’t a newspaper reporter just a loafer? That’s what she said, and that’s what she convinced herself of. And she would laugh to herself about how I approved of you, and how we wanted to start a publishing company and printing press with Hur Chang-hun and a few others with money from Honam Province. What kind of business can you start with someone like that, she would say.
She scorned you, looked down on you and detested you, but because of that, she was more aroused by you and that feeling intensified. I’ve been thoroughly taking stock of myself as I try to think about this. It's an affront to my pride. I can feel that. But you're the one standing back and coolly observing another man's wife becoming attracted to something in a young man that her husband doesn’t have. I don’t know if it’s anything to you, but it’s agony for me. Junho, you’ve probably looked at other girls the way you look at my wife. That fact is, I can’t even begin to imagine what you find so attractive about my wife. I know how it feels to be intoxicated by a woman, though. Whether you recognize it or not, that is your secret power over woman. You use it on any woman. Barmaid, gisaeng, young woman, or another man’s wife — that’s quite a powerful stimulus, especially for a depressed middle-aged wife. With one quick glance, you show interest in a woman and you seem kind to them, but at the same time you don't seem like that kind of person… other people get red in the face and get angry, but you can easily laugh things off and say it's unnatural to get angry, while you sound so sincere and funny at the same time — these are things that are attractive to a woman. Sometimes you act like a man in love and other times you treat her like she's someone else entirely. But she doesn’t even refuse to give up completely, for some inexplicable reason she holds on to some shred of hope. You deftly and easily wield your vitality in front of them like a panther. You hide most of that, so I don’t actually know how you treat these women. Even if you don’t treat the objects of your libido like the incarnation of Buddha, at least you don’t seem to employ base tricks or toy with them. It’s not surprising that my wife, who feels no excitement after our ten years together, who is completely bored, would start to feel an attraction to you that she hasn’t been able to find again with me. I felt this quite a long time ago. More than anything, I could sense that when she was so unduly harsh in underestimating you. Jeong-sook came back from Jongno one day and told me this story. I ran into Junho today as I was coming out of the department store. He was chattering and laughing with a woman in Western clothing, and when he saw me looking at him he came to say hello and wouldn’t you know, he left with me? After he left the woman, he acted like nothing had happened and said laughingly what a beautiful view it was now that I’d arrived, and should we try to make such a lovely scene together sometime? I said what kind of cheeky thing is that to say, and he said well, since I’ve offended you let’s at least go have a cup of tea. And then we went to some bar that sells tea during the day and liquor at night. As we walked there he grinned and told me that the woman was an actress who was famous for her large chest. His remark was so crass that I thought I should curse him out, but he seemed like a willow branch that would snap in a strong wind. But what he did when we went into the teahouse was really something. The waitress could tell he was a loafer, but he sat down right next to her and said, okay, I’ll ask you one thing and if you 13
answer I’ll buy you a drink, but if you lose, then you have to give me your most prized possession. Let's say I have to hand over my most prized possession too — that would be good. Then he held up a square of white paper in front of him and asked, okay, what kind of drawing is this? The waitress couldn’t see anything but white paper. She picked it up and touched it, but couldn’t see anything. Her answer was a great one, too. What she said was that it was a drawing of the wind, since wind is invisible. Junho shook his head and said she was close, but he couldn't give it to her. Here is my analysis of this work, he said. This is a drawing of a rabbit following a tortoise. The tortoise is ahead, so it's already run past the edges of the picture and the rabbit is behind, so it hasn’t gotten to the page yet. When the girl clapped her hands in delight, Junho said, but you lost? You’re going to be in an uproar about trying to settle this with a kiss. What kind of lewd games are these to be playing in front of a lady? Your friend is really something. He’s some kind of lout. Beggarly bastard. I smiled as I listened to this story, but I was surprised at that last part. Because that's when I knew that Jeong-sook was consciously resisting Junho. She was consciously trying to push him aside — and the more she tried to do that the more he was worming his way in. After that my wife started to curse you at least once or twice a day. He’s a tramp. He has no morals. Every time she did this, I would think to myself, oh, she’s fighting her own thoughts. Even our fight tonight might not have turned out this way if it wasn’t for that. I didn’t start picking on her because I felt insecure that she’d lied to me, or that I got jealous imagining what you did on your walk. I acted like I was teasing her about it but she suddenly turned pale and busied herself with other things. That’s when I started to get a twinge in my heart. If I think about it, it might have been jealousy. We went back and forth, unable to stop fighting about things we knew were meaningless. So, Junho my friend, for what it’s worth, I trusted you as a friend and kept working with you. What could you have done with my wife? Didn’t you yourself point out that my wife had hidden the truth? And even when people said there was more between you, I didn’t want to think about it. Even though I became a laughingstock. At any rate, Choi Jeong-sook is my wife. What she said tonight wasn’t something a wife should say, but she exaggerated her grievances to point them out to me, and that will be good medicine for me, I’m sure. She’s extremely upset right now, but she’ll be back to herself in no time. Anyhow, we have to continue with the publishing company. We must follow through with what we decided upon. Even if it’s not an enterprise, it would still be good to call it a business.
And I need Hur Chang-hun and Kim Junho if we’re to become a proper corporation. Hur Chang-hun… you have the money, and Kim Junho… I need your skills. In order to attract investors… you are absolutely essential for that, Kim Junho. Ah, I've gotten into the habit of fighting all night with the wife. But Chang-hun, Junho, my friends. And more than anyone, Jeong-sook. I’ll be a publisher with all of you, no, I’ll go into business with you.
3. At seven, when the sun started to fill the windows with light, Jeong-sook got up from where she was sleeping in the lower room and went to look in the mirror. Her eyeballs were swollen and the veins in her blackened eye were tangled up like a ball of string. She blinked awkwardly a couple times, then pressed her face against the glass, her vision suddenly going dark as her head spun. Holding her head in her hands, she fell to the floor. The finger that went to scratch at the tickle in her nose found blood. She crammed some paper in it and went down to the kitchen. Namsu had just fallen asleep in the upper room after finally being overcome with fatigue around dawn, but he woke up again at the sound of the door. His head hurt. Nevertheless, he bolted upright as soon as his eyes opened. He didn’t want to think about what happened last night. No, he only wanted to remember the conclusion he’d come to after thinking by himself all night. Hearing his wife making noise in the kitchen, he didn’t think about what she’d said and how he’d beaten her. Namsu thought that after a good cry, she would definitely come to the same healthy conclusion he’d arrived at. A single interior door separated this room in their house from the office worker’s house next door. Their children were already chirping like sparrows. It sounded like they had all gotten up to try to keep up with the calisthenics program on the radio with their father. Namsu thought about doing calisthenics along with them. But it was an idle thought; it couldn’t be that easy to do radio calisthenics. Above all, his effort to become cheerful was shattered by the sound of his wife, who he thought had gone to the kitchen to make breakfast. He could hear her ragged sigh as she returned to the lower room and sat heavily on the floor as though she would sink into it. It seemed that perhaps his wife hadn’t been able to forget what happened yesterday. Was she thinking about the words that had spilled from her lips? If it wasn’t that, was she angrily recalling how she’d been beaten by her husband? A long sigh — that would be more common for regret than anger, Namsu thought to himself. And if that was the case, wouldn’t it mean she was feeling new dread about what she’d 15
let slip? And wouldn’t she be bustling around like someone trying to put spilled water back in a glass? Namsu started to feel sympathetic towards her. He felt like his wife’s distress was starting to seep into his own bones, and he pitied her. Well. He had a magnanimous and generous enough heart to understand her and forgive her for this — and with this in mind, he felt the urge to go down to the lower room to console his wife, to pat her on the back comfortingly. But he couldn’t summon the courage to open the door. The morning paper arrived. The sound of the newspaper sliding through the space between the floor and the gate ended with a thud. He slid open the door noisily and picked it up, making a loud show of snapping it open and turning the pages. His wife would know now that her husband had gotten up and had stretched and gotten the paper as usual. Her husband didn’t think anything of the fight they’d had the night before. This is what Namsu wanted to show Jeong-sook. Throwing the paper aside, Namsu went down to the courtyard. He turned to face the sun and stretched, groaning with the effort, then brushed his teeth and splashed his face with cold water. Jeong-sook went back to the kitchen as well. Namsu stole a glance at her as she hunched over, washing her face. She looked somewhat sullen, but her face was mostly blank. It seemed like she had put cream on her face before washing, as she always did. Now it was done. An understanding was established, and they were reconciled. Namsu sat back down and returned to the newspaper. Jeong-sook went back and forth in the kitchen. “Absent-minded Professor, was that you I heard coughing?” It was Junho. Namsu wasn’t the only one whose heart thudded in an instant and who almost dropped what they were holding when they heard that sound outside the gate. Jeong-sook, who was in the kitchen rinsing out the rice pot, froze like someone whose blood had stopped cold too. Junho — the very person who was the cause of all of this was here now. They could hear him calling again from outside the gate. “Professor, are you still asleep?” Namsu and Jeong-sook ran out to the courtyard at the same time. Namsu was the one who answered, “Yes, I’m coming out,” but Jeong-sook opened the door. Stooping to enter the gate, Junho began, “I’m sorry to have woken you,” looking at each of them in turn. “What time is it that you’re all still asleep?” Namsu stuck out his hand. He wanted to shake. He was inwardly happy that everything could be resolved this way. The two men clasped hands and shook. He turned and saw Jeongsook standing silently off to the side. “It seems you’ve been injured recently. Have you been unwell?” Junho asked. Jeong-sook touched her face and laughed softly, “Injured? Well, I suppose you could say so. Just a bit of spring fever.” “Yes, spring fever. That’s good. Spring fever is a terribly good thing,” Junho chuckled. 16
“That’s disgusting, what’s so good about spring fever?” “But what’s that blue mark on your cheek?” he pressed. Jeong-sook felt her face growing red as Junho stared at her and she nervously touched the bump on her face. It still hurts a bit. Bearing the pain, she pressed and prodded at it. “Which one? This? Is there something there? It’s nothing. It must be my psoriasis,” she said, turning away. “Please come in. It’s not proper to stand here in the yard like this,” Namsu said. The two men sat across from each other in the upper room and smoked. Why would someone I saw last night come around again so early in the morning Namsu wondered, but in any case his coming around had been a good opportunity for reconciling with the wife so he was happy. They smoked for a while, but Junho only chatted idly, never bringing up any business. So when he stopped talking for a moment, Namsu looked Junho in the eyes and asked, “Have you found any new investors? You certainly seemed like you had good news for me.” “What, you mean I can’t stop by without some business to attend to?” Junho grinned, but he slowly put out his cigarette and grew serious. “It’s not that,” he began, and what followed went something like this. Junho had been trying to get a job at a certain newspaper company unbeknownst to Namsu, and he’d received word about it that morning. Therefore, even though he hadn’t been able to help much, he would henceforth have to cut all ties with the publishing company, and since he would be starting his new job in two or three days, he would turn over all the work he’d done to Namsu. “Anyhow, I wanted to live the salary life for a few more years and being a newspaper reporter is the best way for me to do that. Also, this time I’ll be at the city desk, so it’ll be good if I’m going to try to get into the government general, and it seems like there will be so much for me to learn…” He had come this far sitting across from his enemy without so much as a disagreeable expression, still sociable and polished, but Namsu couldn’t smile and wish him well in the future. Thinking of the old folk saying about getting bitten by a cow you've fed for years, Namsu decided to give him one good meal and send him off. This is the bastard who toyed with my wife, he thought, this is the bastard who made sport of me too, becoming indignant again. I offered first. I stood at the helm of this project and dreamed up this idea, and then he went behind our backs and applied for jobs. What is this, suddenly slipping out like an eel the second something better comes up? “It looked like the price of paper was going down again but the market price flattened today. Chances seem slim that it’ll go down again.”
Junho was hinting at troubles ahead for the publishing industry, finally disparaging what was now someone else’s work. Namsu clenched his fists, thinking he should give Junho a good thrashing. His fists cooled down, however, and if he thought about it, he knew he was the foolish one. He felt like hitting his wife, who was making rice in the kitchen completely unawares. “You felt happy going for a stroll with him, you bitch?” he’d say as he punched. His desire to beat her came back to him as his own pitiful conscience. Junho had pulled a document from his pocket and was muttering to himself while Namsu looked out the window at nothing. The commands of the calisthenics program on the radio echoed in his ears.
Kim Nam-cheon was a prominent colonial Korea's author and critic. “After Beating Your Wife…” is the realization of a critical theory Kim Nam...
Published on Sep 16, 2015
Kim Nam-cheon was a prominent colonial Korea's author and critic. “After Beating Your Wife…” is the realization of a critical theory Kim Nam...