Ki m Yu-j eong
Tr ans l at edbyYoonnaCho
Downpour By Kim Yu-jeong Translated by Yoonna Cho
Literature Translation Institute of Korea
Originally published in Korean as Sonakbi in Chosun Ilbo, 1935 Translation ⓒ 2014 by Yoonna Cho
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, Yu-jeong Downpour [electronic resource] / authored by Kim Yu-jeong ; translated by Yoonna Cho. -- [Seoul] : Literature Translation Institute of Korea, 2014 p. 원표제: 소낙비 Translated from Korean ISBN 978-89-93360-64-6 05810 : Not for sale 813.61-KDC5 895.733-DDC21
About Kim Yu-jeong
Kim Yu-jeong (1908 – 1937)’s stories portray, with a unique, folksy sense of humor, everyday people living out hardscrabble lives against the bleak backdrop of rural Korea. Kim Yu-jeong made his literary debut in 1935 with the selection of “The Rainstorm” by the Chosun Ilbo, and “The Bonanza” by the Joseon Jungang Ilbo. He then went on to publish prolifically during the two short years before his death in 1937, leaving behind more than 30 novels and 10 essays, and opening up a new horizon in Korean literature. Many of Kim Yu-jeong’s most representational stories—including “Spring, Spring”, “The Mountain Traveler”, “Scoundrels”, “The Golden Bean Patch”, and “Camelias”—depict various aspects of life in rural Korea. Kim’s prose, with its liberal use of lively onomatopoeia, rustic dialects, and homespun colloquialisms, lends great animation to his subjects, providing us with vitality-filled sketches of the impoverished and miserable lives lived by the lowest classes in rural villages under Japanese colonial rule. The particular significance of Kim’s stories within Korean literature, however, comes from the consistent sensitivity of feeling which they evince in their telling.
About “Downpour” “Downpour” (Sonakbi, alternately translated as “The Rainstorm,” 1935), with its casual depiction of domestic violence, survival sex, and gambling as coping mechanisms in colonial-era rural Korea, offers a rare glimpse into what life must have been like for the uneducated and disempowered in that period. While the weather metaphor may strike some readers as slightly on-the-nose, it is executed with undeniable poetry, as exemplified in such scenes as Chunho and his wife (who is never named) sharing a rare moment in each other’s arms while rain batters against their roof. From the atmospheric first sentence to the laconically uttered last line, “Downpour” is a masterful piece of storytelling from one of the great voices of 1930s Korean literature.
Black clouds brewing over the sky threatened rain at any moment, but the rogue sun still blazed over the remote village tucked away in the mountains, as if it would like to swallow it whole. A ghoulish wind whipped through the trees that lined the rice paddies and fields, shaking them erratically. The atmosphere in the village of Anmal was somber without its farmers, who had all gone off to find work elsewhere. Only the cicadas in the smooth-skinned poplars were left to lament the harshening countryside… Chunho was sitting before the threshold of his house—the moldering hut he had bought for five won this spring—chin in hand, stonily watching his wife wash the potatoes for their supper. His weather-beaten face looked even more haggard than usual, as he had been berating her day and night for several days. “What about those two won, eh?” he tried again, in a menacing tone this time. His wife made no reply but carried on scrubbing potatoes. Chunho was maddened by her silence. Nobody in the village would give him a loan, as he was an outsider, and he had found no buyers willing to pay even two won for their miserable house. His wife was young and handsome enough, surely a pittance like two won would be no problem for her, but here she was pretending she had not even heard him. “What about that money, eh?” he screeched once more, giving his chest a thump. No response from his wife. Enraged, Chunho leapt to his feet. He seized a heavy stick that had been leaning against the wall and rushed towards his wife, eyes blazing. “You stupid bitch, what’s a wife good for? A wife’s good for helping her husband out, you hear me?” The stick came down hard on his wife’s supple waist. Her screams of pain could have been heard far outside their ruined fence. Without missing a beat, the stick nipped at her heels and crashed down over her buttocks. “You bitch, you’d have me beggin' you?” he shouted, mad as a tiger, and with each wallop of the stick the wife let out a single scream. Staggering from the repeated blows, she half-crawled outside the gate. Tears streaming down her face, she slipped down the hill in front of their house and crossed the brook, taking the bean field path on the other side. “Where do you think you’re goin'?” The wife stopped in her tracks at the loaded threat. Turning around, she saw her husband still standing by the gate, stick in hand. Like a scolded child, her lips moved
soundlessly for a few seconds before fear that her husband might come running prompted her to gasp out, “Ah have to go see Swedol’s ma.” And with that excuse she hurried off again. The wife knew well enough how badly those two won were wanted. She did not see how she could possibly come up with two won, however, not with her work. What work there was to be had—the only thing she could do was tail it up the mountains at the crack of dawn, lest too many people get there before her. With a small basket strapped to her waist, she searched for edible roots that grew in odd patches in the mountains. Dipping and weaving amongst the mossy rocks deep inside the forest, sweat poured down her slight frame from head to toe as she trudged up and down the steep hills in her straw sandals. Her old wrap skirt that she wore without a petticoat stuck to her legs and waist, hindering her step. Her legs were slippery with sweat and smarted unbearably from being scratched on brambles and thorns. The earthy smell of the dirt filled her lungs with a heavy stench. No complaints rose in her simple mind, however, fully occupied as it was with the task of survival. A joyful smile would light up her face when she spied a few edible roots poking out of the tangled vegetation. Sometimes she climbed up rocks to get them. If the rock was too steep to scale, she would grasp a kudzu vine to haul herself up. Shrugging out of her dirty, sweat-stained cotton shirt and tying it around her waist, she gave her best against the forest of the Gangwon countryside, widely acknowledged to be the toughest in those parts. Every gust of the valley breeze blew her skirt up and exposed her nakedness. The sight of her ruddy buttocks would have made the kudzu vine roar with laughter, if it had been able to. Thankfully, there was no one to laugh at her so deep in the mountains except for the cuckoo bird. And so, when she had collected a bowl or two of roots, she would descend to trade them in the village of Haedonggap. A bowl’s worth of roots was good for a bowl of barley at the inns in town. But the season was almost over and the roots were few and far between. Instead, she found work pounding someone else’s barley all day in exchange for a bowlful of the cooked stuff, which she took home and shared with her husband who, having no land to farm, spent all day loafing. This being their day-to-day existence, she would have had a better chance at fetching the moon than bringing home two won. The only way she could make that kind of money was by selling barley, which she would have to borrow. And the only person with barley to spare was Swedol’s ma, whose reputation as a kept woman was the subject of hot scrutiny and thinly veiled envy among the other women of the village. It galled her to think of going to that individual, rolling in the lap of luxury, when she had not two pennies to rub against each other. Swedol’s ma had been nothing but a lowly farmer’s wife herself until recently, but by some twist of fortune she had managed to hook Squire Yi, the richest man in the village. 5
She quickly established herself as a woman of means after that, primping and preening all day without a care for where her next meal would come from. As for Swedol’s pa, he was only too happy to turn a blind eye if it meant receiving fine clothes and free rice from the squire; it no longer mattered to him whether his crops failed or not. The truth was that all of this hit too close to home for Chunho’s wife. It was a night late last spring, with a moon as bright as day. Chunho had gone over the hill to have a drink with friends and was running later than expected. His wife thought he must be spending the night and was wondering if she should turn in, when suddenly a hulking figure dashed into the room. The intruder threw Chunho’s wife to the floor but ran away when she screamed in fright. Nobody seemed to have heard and she was thankful not to be the subject of gossip, but only realized a few days later that the intruder must have been Squire Yi. And so, although Chunho’s wife had no dealings with Swedol’s ma herself, she could not face the woman without blushing and stammering. It was as if she had done something wrong… Then there was that way Swedol’s ma had of saying, “you know I have three petticoats and four pairs of stockings, tee hee,” that always made her feel humiliated, as she suspected the other woman was making fun of her. On the other hand, it stung not a little to think that if she had been cleverer, she could have reaped the benefits that Swedol’s ma was enjoying. Surely anything must be better than the beatings from her ignorant husband that were getting worse every day. Today, she had finally made up her mind to go see Swedol’s ma. Chunho’s wife set foot on the path along the rice paddies lined all the way with weeping willows, fervently hoping that this visit would not be for nothing. She was good-looking for a countryside woman. Her figure was slim and spare and she had a look about her that suggested a good roll in the hay, as they liked to say in the village, but her shabby clothes and unwashed smell could have belonged to a beggar. She scurried along, taking care to hold her wrap skirt around her so as to not flash any bare skin. Forbidding clouds covered the sky and drifted downwards to the ground, leaving around the mountaintops a tangle that cast a gloom over everything. The sound of dogs barking in the distance echoed over the hills and beyond. The first drop fell, and another, and then the solid downpour began in earnest. Chunho’s wife took shelter under a raggedy chestnut tree next to the road and looked for Swedol’s ma’s house. Hers was in the northern hills, a low, neat little house surrounded by a tall fence. The latch to the gate was tightly shut, which meant Swedol’s ma had gone to serve the evening meal at the county office and would not be back for a while. She stood and watched patiently, waiting for Swedol’s ma to return.
Great drops of rain rolled down her cheeks and seeped into her breast. Each gust of wind blasted her with an icy sheet of rain. Her skirt was wringing wet, clinging to and revealing every last bit of her waist, hips, and legs. She had waited for a long time now but there was still no sign of Swedol’s ma. She fidgeted and yawned, standing there, when she heard someone coming from the left of the hill. She turned to see who it was and almost immediately ducked behind the tree. It was potbellied Squire Yi, waddling down the path to Swedol’s ma’s house with an oilpaper umbrella over his head. He was only a short thing, but with his thick whiskers and the only horsehair hat in the village on his head; he cut a fine figure—a portly gentleman in his fifties. He went right up to the gate and, pushing it open as casually as if it had been his own house, sauntered inside. The sight of this distressed Chunho’s wife all over again. Here she was no better than a dog or swine, beaten and driven all her life. And here was Swedol’s ma, petted and pampered by husband and lover alike. Such was her envy at Swedol’s ma’s good fortune, the bitterness of dashed hopes and regret pricked her more viciously than ever. A heavy sigh escaped her as she gazed upon the house. Muddy water washed down from the hills and trickled over her feet. She was soaked to the skin and shivering with cold. She shuddered once, and looked around carefully. Nobody was around. She turned her eyes back to the house and calculated rapidly. Squire Yi was alone in the house. The fact that the gate had been latched before he came and that nobody had come out to take in the laundry told her that there was nobody else in the house except him. She ran over to the house without bothering to shield herself from the rain. Bounding into the courtyard, she called, “Swedol’s ma?” There was no reply from that person, of course. In a flash, however, the head of Squire Yi popped out of the bedroom. Blinking with surprise, his eyes ran greedily over Chunho’s wife’s breasts, belly, and thighs, which were clearly outlined through her wet clothes. An affable smile broke over his leering face. Stepping out into the courtyard, he affected with great regret, “You came for Swedol’s ma? Why, she just stepped outside. She won’t be long, so if you’ll wait inside…” “Where’d she go in this rain?” “She just went out for a bit, she’ll be back soon…” “If ah knowed…” Chun-ho’s wife lamented, as she appeared to waver for a moment before turning to leave. “Ah’ll be goin’ then, sir, good-bye.” Chunho’s wife said, sprightly as a swallow. “She’ll be back very soon, you could wait…” “Ah’ll come again.” “No, wait. Hey, look here, looky here!”
In a panic that his prey might slip away, Squire Yi abandoned all decorum. He had tried to coax the girl to stay, but clearly that was not working. It was a miracle that Chunho’s wife had come here at all and what with the storm and no-one around but the two of them, who knew when he would have another chance like this? Practically frothing at the mouth, he tossed his long pipe aside and grabbed the girl by the waist, dragging her back into the courtyard. “Whatcher doin', leggo of me,” the girl said in a great fright, resisting his advances. “Just a moment,” Squire Yi wheedled, eyeing the girl in his arms hungrily. Left hand hurriedly undoing his trousers and right hand clutched around the girl, he struggled with her for a moment before pushing her inside the room. Quick as a flash, he bolted the door from the inside. From outside could be heard the sound of heavy drops bouncing off cabbage leaves and the trees roaring in the wind. From time to time there was a clap of thunder, like tin cans crashing against each other, and the day grew darker and darker. They stayed like that for a spell. Squire Yi allowed himself a sigh of satisfaction that the girl had finally been gentled. He patted the girl approvingly as she lay before him quite still, unable to struggle or run away thanks to the fortuitous storm. She was soaked in sweat, quite overheated. He took an undershirt belonging to Swedol’s ma from a hook on the wall and began using it to towel off the girl’s body. From the tips of her toes to her face… “You’re eighteen, yes?” Squire Yi breathed heavily. “Ye-es,” came the timid reply. The girl lay still, pinned down by Squire Yi’s hands and unable to move a muscle. After he had finished wiping her down, the squire exhaled heavily as he filled his pipe. “That husband of yours still beating you up?” he asked. Getting no answer, he continued, “That’s no way to live. No, you can’t go on like this. What if he beats you to death, you won’t get your day in court then, I’m telling you. You’d be better off without him, if you value your life.” He was speaking in this concerned vein when he remembered something. “I heard people say you had a dead baby.” “Ye-es.” “Does it even feel like you had one?” The girl flushed red and turned her head away, giving no reply. Squire Yi gave up this line of questioning, which held little interest for him anyway. He wrinkled his nose at the devilish stench in the room, like turnips rotting, that he had not noticed before. Now that he had, however, it was positively turning his stomach. Pointing the bowl of his pipe at the girl’s navel, he tut-tutted as if slighted by some outrageous offence. “Look at this grime here. Water’s a-plenty, when will you learn to wash yourself?”
This was too much for the girl, who rose to put on her skirt. The squire gave out a roar of genuine offence and knocked the garment out of her hands before seating her down again. He then proceeded to scold her as soundly as if she had been his daughter. “Why can’t you keep still? Flighty little thing, aren’t you…” Chunho’s wife left the house after an hour or so. Outside it was still raining hard. She had just sweated buckets inside there. But everything had worked out surprisingly well—in fact, she had been extremely lucky. She skipped along with a little smile playing on her lips. It had been a degrading, humiliating affair and the man was loathsome, but overall it had been a success. Why, she would do it a hundred times over again if it meant her husband would stop beating her and behave in a pleasant manner. Adversity came before good fortune, after all. Squire Yi was her savior. Not only did he want her to become his mistress in exchange for a piece of farmland for her husband, but he had promised that she should have two won if she came to Swedol’s ma’s house the next day, discreetly, of course. The offer was almost too generous, and she felt as if a heavy load had been lifted from her heart. Her only concern was that her husband would probably beat her to death when he found out about it. Thus consumed by equal parts joy and apprehension, she sped towards her house in the pouring rain. Chunho was still sulking by himself. It was three years now since he had left his hometown of Inje. With each failed crop his creditors had only become more demanding, more aggressive. In the end he had abandoned everything and ran away in the dead of the night. He had dragged his young wife all over the mountain range, looking for a good place to live. For all the pains he had taken in selecting this village, however, he might as well have stayed where he came from. Shoulder his hoe all he might, he never got any welcome, only chilly anxiety and starvation at every corner. Nobody would let an outsider farm his land. Nobody wanted a hired hand, as there was no work. The couple had nothing to eat. Finally he had caught the gambling fever that was incongruously sweeping the countryside and its displaced farmers. For the past few nights running, he had observed a big game going on over the hills. He had hung about in hopes of joining, only to be turned away until he could scrape up the cash for the pot. Two won! If he had that, who was to say he couldn’t turn those two won into thirty or forty, enough to pay off their debts and buy some new clothes for each of them before skipping this blasted town. He wanted to go to Seoul, where he could pimp his wife out while he worked as a laborer. With the two of them earning, they could surely make enough to live comfortably; there was no point starving to death in a dead-end town like this. How 9
infuriating it was, then, that his wife scampered about dodging his blows instead of bringing home the desired sum of money. So, when she ran into the courtyard looking like a drowned rat, Chunho smashed his fist across her face before she had a chance to open her mouth. “You miserable bitch, where you been running off to?” Stunned by the sudden blow, the wife could not have replied if she had wanted to. When the husband raised his stick, however, she managed to force a few words out, cowering in supplication. “Ah got the money…ah git it tomorrow,” she informed the tyrant, half sobbing. The husband blinked with surprise. “Tomorrow?” he raised his voice. “Yes, yes!” “You sure?” “Yes, yes, tomorrow.” The husband was a canny man and did not bother to ask where or how she had gotten two won. He sat down and struck a match for his pipe with the look of a man whose mind had been set at ease. The wife crept towards the kitchen to boil the potatoes for supper when the husband waved her off, saying, in a conciliatory tone, “You’ll catch your death, go dry your clothes. Ah’ll boil the potatoes.” Night fell, as dark as ink. The sound of the storm rumbled louder than ever through their flimsy walls. The ceiling held tight but water seeped through the old floor that they had not been able to cover with oil-paper—it sagged too much, as if a whale had sat on it. Two straw mats spread on this floor comprised their bed. It was as black as pitch, as they could not afford a kerosene lamp. The room itself was crawling with fleas. Being accustomed to sleeping rough, however, the pair lay down, perfectly content to listen to the storm. On this night, even these two shared a fleeting moment, rare enough since their poverty-stricken days were usually devoted to beatings, moaning, and resentment. Even if it was only to pore over the hopes the husband had for those two won. “When we goin’ to Seoul?” the wife asked, making a half-hearted attempt at pouting as they cuddled together. The husband had impressed the glamorous streets of Seoul and the generosity of its inhabitants upon her many times, so she was aware of its charms but had never actually been there. She longed for the day they would quit their mean life and move to the great city. “Soon, would be sooner if we hadn’t got this debt.” “We best be goin', we kin give back the money later.” “Sure. We leave this month.” The husband assented readily. He had gained some notoriety as a small-town gambler and was actually very good at it. The prospect of all the money he would rake in the following night, with his two won, had him already gloating inside. He practiced his sleight of hand in the darkness, for his own satisfaction. 10
“You’ve never been, have you?” he said, with all the superiority of one who once visited that great city. Being an impatient man, he was anxious to start preparing for their move as soon as possible. What concerned him most was the ridicule his country bumpkin wife would attract and the myriad ways she might not fit in. And so he launched into a long explanation of all the things she must keep in mind when they went to Seoul. The first thing on his list was the question of dialect. Bumbling country-speak was a surefire way to be spotted as a mark, so she must never use dialect or say Ah instead of I or D'you instead of Do you, nor end sentences like a question; gawping was also discouraged; she should look sharp and walk with a smart step. The wife was forced to listen to this horrible speech and acquiesce on every point. Having discoursed at length on the customs and mores of Seoul, giving his opinion on every subject possible, the husband finally broached the topic of makeup. He had heard that a country woman that kept the right company could afford to buy a house in the capital after a few years, but she had better be pretty. “So you need to charm the man, see, oil your hair every day, wear powder 'n stockings…” He was warming up to his subject when he heard a soft snore and turned to see his wife already sound asleep. “Silly cow, couldn’t keep awake for nothing,” the husband muttered to himself, tucking away strands of hair that straggled over her forehead. How dear she was to him! His heart ached with the weight of knowing that he, her husband, had never so much as provided a suit of clothes for her, and that it was his fault that the only life she knew was one of drudgery. He threw his arms around her waist and held her close to him. The rain that drummed against the roof all night finally stopped that morning, and by noon the sun had come out. The rice paddies gurgled noisily. Children looking for fish in the river shouted amongst themselves, and the farmers could be heard singing their work songs lustily. The rain seemed to have washed away Chunho’s troubles, for today even he was smiling. “It’ll be suppertime before you’re finished, hurry up…” he urged his wife repeatedly, patience running out. “Ah ain’t done yet.” “What now!” The wife was busy combing her hair per the husband’s orders, but it was taking a long time to take out a month’s worth of tangles and knots. Her face was rosy from the rare warmth she had shared with her usually fearsome husband the previous night. A smile lit up her face from time to time. The wife’s preparations were far too slow for the husband’s liking. Snatching the wide tooth comb out of her hands, he deftly combed her hair in swift strokes. Hair untangled, he dipped his fingers in a bowlful of water and smoothed down each side of her part. Then it was only a matter of braiding and pinning her hair up in a smart coil, after which 11
he eased her feet into the straw sandals he had taken such pains over that morning and pressed them into shape with his knuckles. “There now, git going!” he said, and “Don’t be too long, alright?” as he sent his wife to get those two won.