From THE IMPOSSIBLE FAIRY TALE, by Han Yujoo. Copyright © 2017 by Han Yujoo. English translation copyright © 2017 by Janet Hong. Reproduced with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
See the dog.
See the dog drifting by.
See the dog, swimming, following the current of the river.
Perhaps the dog is doing nothing more than being swept down the river, but it looks as though it’s swimming, as though it’s following the current, heading toward the dam where two rivers meet. No, it looks as though it’s being swept down the river. Since the dog can- not speak, no one knows how it ended up drifting in the current, and even if it were able to speak, bark, or cry, the noise would get swallowed up by the water, and silently, it would be washed away with the dog. The dog is black and large, but because its soaking wet hair is as black as black can be and its large body is mostly submerged, its blackness and largeness aren’t immediately apparent. The dog is submerged in water, the water is moving, the dog is moving, and so the river is moving. The dog’s name, the dog’s age, the dog’s sex, the dog’s breed, and even the dog’s language are unknown. The dog that is far, right now so far away, even if it had a language, even if it were a dog’s language, there is no truth that can be known about the dog. It’s a dog, just a dog. A dog that happens to be swimming.
The dog is swimming wordlessly.
All of a sudden shouts ring out from the riverbank where frost has yet to form. Three or four people are gathered there, shouting at the dog. Video cameras. Microphones. Reeds. Wind. Summer. Four in the afternoon. And a point just past that. No one knows why the cameras are there. A small, run-down boat moored across the river looks as though it’s adrift. Before the dog is carried to the dam, before it’s cast away, before the water meets the barrier, it must be scooped out.
If it were winter right now, if there were a cold snap and the harsh days continued until the air froze, until the whole river froze, then the dog could simply slide across the top of the thick ice. No, if it were a dry season instead, if the dry days contin- ued until the sand became dust, until the river dried up, until the bottom of the river creased and cracked like wrinkled lips, then the dog could simply walk across the bottom of the river, on its four legs, without leaving any paw prints behind.
The dog moves on.
The dog isn’t interested in crossing the river, or it looks as though it’s not, since it’s not fighting the current and just continues down- river. On and on it goes, front paws, back paws side by side, paws crisscrossing, on and onward. Someone shouts its name, but it seems unreasonable to the dog to call its name in a language not its own, and so it doesn’t respond, it doesn’t look back, but stares straight ahead—no, somewhere a bit higher than that—and keeps swimming, with its head pointing above the surface of the water at a thirty-degree angle. The dog is swimming calmly, but who can know how calm it really is? The people standing on the riverbank begin to walk in the direction the dog is heading. Quickly or slowly. Only if the dog could walk on water, only if it could run on water . . . While someone shouts again, while someone anxiously calls its name again, while its name is on everyone’s lips, it acts as though it can’t hear anything, or it pretends it can’t, and with the bottom half of its drooping ears submerged in water, it moves on and on, westward and westward. The dog that is just a dog will sink before it sinks. It’s a strange way to put it, but there’s no other suitable expression. When its blackness and largeness are no longer in anyone’s sight, it will disappear. The dog and the river, the river and the dog.
The dog must cross the river. There are cameras waiting to record that moment—the moment it crosses from that side of the river to this side—and there are people standing safely among the reeds not entrusting their bodies to the current, who are hoping, no, who had hoped it would cross the river. The reason someone was able to become the dog’s owner was because he or she had given it a name, and as a result, he or she had told it to cross the river, or perhaps had commanded it to cross the river, and after fastening a metal collar around its neck, had pushed it into the water. Perhaps the weight of the collar will cause the dog to sink to the bottom of the river. Therefore the cameras standing by across the river will also have to sink. Therefore the dog’s name and the dog’s language will also sink. The spot where the dog should have landed has already disappeared from the dog’s sight and is disappearing from everyone’s sight. No one knows why the dog doesn’t cross the river, why it doesn’t cut across or sail across, or how it has come to drift with the current. The dog isn’t crossing the river and the dog isn’t swimming. The dog is drifting by.
See the dog drifting by. The dog is there.
The dog is not there.
Han Yujoo was born in Seoul in 1982 and is the author of four short story collections. She is an active member of an experimental group called Rue and also runs Oulipopress, an independent publisher. The Impossible Fairy Tale is her first book to appear in English.