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This chapter is updated by Wuxia.Blog
Translated by: ShawnSuh
Edited by: SootyOwl
As Mr. Moon stepped into the room, the club members began to write in earnest. Needless to say, Juho’s progress was significantly faster than those of his clubmates.
“Here we go,” Juho said and picked up his manuscript. A thin stack of paper, thin enough to fold over like it would wrap around his hand, it was the piece Juho had written after returning home from the Nebula Award celebration with Yun Seo and Hyun Do. Given the impulsive nature of the piece, it would probably need a significant amount of revision.
Then, Juho looked down at the fingernail in his hand holding a pen. It was a plain-old fingernail with a tinge of red. In contrast to his plain nails, Juho remembered yet another set of nails that had been colorfully decorated. They had belonged to a hand that had been holding the receiver of a payphone, and they had been clearly visible, even from afar. Juho had been in the convenience store across the street from the booth at the time of the phone call, and he also remembered telling her a small, seemingly insignificant lie. Part of him had found the long, pointy shape of her nails threatening, and he imagined them digging into his neck. It had been at that moment that it had occurred to the young author to use fingernails as an ingredient in his writing.
Juho read through the sentences of the manuscript. The narrator awoke from their sleep, starting the day as usual. It was morning, which repeated itself day after day, tedious and uninteresting. Feeling groggy no matter how many hours of sleep he had gotten, the narrator prepared to go to work. The monologue continued, and nobody talked to the narrator while he got ready for work.
The narrator got on the subway and got carried to another destination along with other, similarly dressed people sitting together in a tight space. The handles dangled from the top. Then, a set of five nails appeared, stopping one of them from moving. Both long and sharp, they were decorated to the point of being distracting, and the narrator was turned off by what he saw. ‘Those are not fingernails.’ No matter how the narrator looked at them, the fingernails didn’t seem to be serving their intended purpose, and looking at them made for an unpleasant experience, something that resembled watching a beast on a leash crying out in pain. The narrator wasn’t fond of cloned sheep, lions in zoo cages, or seedless watermelons. Therefore, the narrator was also not fond of the artificial-looking colors of the woman’s fingernails, nor of the strange looking bits glued on to them. The narrator stared intently at the scarlet nails. They were long and thick, and every time the wearer moved, they shone brightly as the angle changed. The impeccably-smooth surface of the nails reminded the narrator that they weren’t natural. The narrator pitied the woman’s real nails underneath the artificial ones. To the point of anger, perhaps.
With a sense of pleasure that lingered in thought, the narrator arrived safely at work, where even bigger challenges awaited. The new boss began to nitpick the state of the narrator’s fingernails. There was nothing wrong with them, nor would they affect the narrator’s performance at work. However, the boss ordered constantly: “Cut ’em shorter. Even shorter than you have them now. Short enough that you can’t feel them when you feel your fingertips.” There was no choice but to obey. Although the subordinates spoke behind their boss’ back about the unreasonable requests, the narrator ran to the convenience store without a delay. What was supposed to be a precious, protective tool, had to be cut away by its owner, and the narrator couldn’t to do it. The idea was repulsive, and a tiny feeling of fear followed shortly after.
Then, the setting changed, following the narrator’s fear into the past. Instead of at a company, the narrator was now attending school, wearing a uniform instead of professional attire, riding a bicycle rather than taking the subway. However, mornings were no different from the one in the future.
There was a new home economics teacher at the school who said, “From now on, I will be checking your nails before we start. They should be short enough that you can’t feel them when you feel your fingertips. Those who fail to abide will not only receive penalty points, but they will also be required to clip their nails with the nail clipper I bring with me.” There was no choice but to obey. So, the narrator looked down at her fingers and saw the white, crescent-shaped nails at the end of her red fingers, smiling at her. They needed to be cut out.
“They don’t check our nails, do they?” Juho asked, and the freshmen, sophomore, and juniors nodded in turn.
“They did back when I was in middle school, though.”
“Oh, yeah… Man, that was such a pain in the neck. I never understood why they even did that.”
“I know! They’re MY nails.”
Bom and Sun Hwa complained as if reminiscing to their past. Similarly, Seo Kwang had had an experience being openly humiliated in front of his entire class for having dirty nails. Listening to each and every one of them, Juho lowered his head back down.
In the end, the narrator got in trouble with the teacher, and after clipping her nails, the narrator was left dejected in front of a class of over forty students. The teacher had said, “You stay there until you’re done clipping your nails, and we’re not starting until you do.” All eyes had been on the narrator, and everyone had pressured the unfortunate student: clip your nails.
Reading through the manuscript, Juho marked places that needed to be revised. There were paragraphs that dragged on, as well as sentences that were unnecessary or that had repeating vocabulary. In his head, Juho tried changing the order in which the scenes took place or inserting scenes that were more specific. There were already multiple directions in which the story could go, and it was waiting for the author’s decision. So, he tried numbering the options in his head. ‘One: include the scene of the teacher clipping the narrator’s nails by force. Two: Make the class larger, from forty to fifty students. Three: The boss gives the narrator a nail clipper as a gift. Four: Include a scene of the narrator in anguish with the new nail clipper in her hands. Five: Line everything up in chronological order. Six: The narrator becomes hysteric and tries to choke her boss to death. Seven: The narrator chokes the teacher, instead.’
It felt like the more Juho thought about the choices, the bigger the list grew. But, of the numerous choices he had come up with, he had to choose the best one. The standard for that was rather simple: Which gave weight to the message he was conveying, and which one stayed true to the topic?
Juho spent some time organizing his thoughts. The nails served the same purpose that shields did, they were protection. Nails were tools that deserved more appreciation, and yet, the world demanded that people cut them off. Forgetting their intended purpose of protecting us, people focused on appearance, and that made the narrator uneasy.
Then, Juho decided to include a more thorough explanation for why the boss insisted his subordinates wear short nails. Similarly, the young author decided to include a philosophy behind the new home economics teacher’s strict standard on nail lengths, and why the students had to go through the trouble of having their nails checked on a regular basis. It was a story on cleanliness and tidiness.
With that, Juho added and took away sentences. The plot became clearer, looking more and more like the image in his head. ‘What about bringing someone to tears?’ Juho asked himself, briefly imagining the narrator weeping as her nails got clipped away, one by one. He wrote out the scene. Then, it occurred to him that the narrator never cried, no matter what, even at the cost of her fingernails.”
The piece fell short in many different places, making Juho wonder if it was really OK to go on. ‘Is the fear apparent enough? Will readers be able to resonate with what the narrator is feeling? Will they be able to catch on to the significance of fingernails? Are there only necessary scenes?’
Then, Juho began to erase the sentences he had written, one by one, making changes to the character and the story he had created. However, enduring that painful process didn’t necessarily yield better results. If at all, many authors tended to get carried away and make bad decisions. In which case, the author needed to make up for their mistake immediately, which led to even more revision. While part of the young author thought of the woman with scarlet nails choking her boss by the neck, another part of him thought of the hands quietly clipping away at the nails that had been deemed to be a tad too long. There was a stark contrast between blood splattering about the room and the pieces of nails clipped away from the hands.
Eventually, Juho came to the decision to go with the latter of the two images in his head. The narrator clips her nails willingly, and the young author made the changes to the sentences, accordingly. The two actions had a lot in common, and Juho felt something chipping away, and those fragments scattered throughout the ground. Then, he glanced down at his feet. There was nothing but chunks of dust. They had to be the fragments of sentences that were yet to be seen somewhere. ‘What happens when they pile together? Would they enhance the story and make it more mature in any way?’ Juho asked himself as he moved his hands slowly, writing away until the shouting around him died down and sank to the floor, along with the chunks of dust.
“Mr. Moon,” Juho called to the teacher in the staffroom. Then, remaining seated in his seat, Mr. Moon turned his head toward Juho’s voice. The room was mostly empty as most teachers were probably in their respective clubs by that time. On one side of the office, was the math teacher, leaning back on his chair with his eyes closed. There was no mistaking that he was asleep.
“What do you want?”
“I wanted to turn my manuscript in. It’s for the exhibition,” Juho said like an author who had managed to meet his deadline, submitting his manuscript to his editor with a mild sense of accomplishment and anxiety. Upon taking the manuscript from the young author’s hands, the teacher began to read, and while contemplating whether he should leave or stay, Juho stood in his place, looking around the staffroom.
Each of the desks were distinct enough for Juho to be able to distinguish to whom they belonged. Textbooks, backscratchers, attendance books, progress reports, exams, massage slippers, pencil stubs, poetry compilations, compasses, jump ropes, various portable gaming consoles, and makeup products, which had clearly been confiscated from the students. There was also a stark difference between the desk of a rookie teacher and that of a teacher who was close to retiring.
“This is good,” Mr. Moon said briefly.
“Do I need to change anything?”
“It seems fine to me. You’ve already revised it a number of times, haven’t you?”
“Just thought I should ask,” Juho said, remembering the look of disappointment on Mr. Moon’s face as he read Juho’s recent failure. Because Juho hadn’t been in the habit of ruining his pieces with absurd endings as of late, he hadn’t seen an expression like that on Mr. Moon’s face in a while.
“Good call on not taking this part out,” the teacher said, pointing to something on the first page. It was the scene of the narrator waking up early in the morning. In his recent failure, that narrator had found himself in a completely different world. Thankfully, Mr. Moon seemed to be fond of the monologue, which continued until the narrator opened her eyes and started moving.
“That’s because you were making a scene, saying that I shouldn’t let such a good intro go to waste.”
“I sure did. I still think it would’ve gone to waste if you had left it out. You see, that heavy style of yours tends to shine in the most unrealistic of scenes.”
Then, after staring intently at the manuscript for a little while, Mr. Moon said, “I gotta admit. I was worried that you might get carried away after winning that award, but it seems like I got nothing to worry about.”
A look of relief appeared on the teacher’s face for a split second.
“Did you think I’d get cocky?”
“At least uncomfortable.”
“I think I kind of am still.”
“Well, as long it doesn’t show in your writing.”
With that, Mr. Moon took the manuscript from Juho so that it could be made into a book and exhibited in the library. Published under the name Juho Woo, it would be his first book since being awarded the Nebula, and with that, the young author walked outside, feeling relieved.
“Sigh,” a man let out in the room, alone. With a serious look on his face, he picked up a book with a title written in Korean from the top of a stack of manuscript paper filled with words in English. ‘Sublimation.’ The black cover wrapping the book gave it an ominous feeling. Then, looking at it with a dark expression, the man brushed his hand down the cover of the book and sighed once again.
“This has gotta be the most convoluted book in my three decades as a translator.”
Remembering ‘Language of God,’ which he had translated not too long ago, the man opened ‘Sublimation’ once again, and the bookmark fell to the floor. However, rather than picking it up, he read on with all seriousness. Then, picking up the original manuscript, he placed it next to its transcription in English and took turns reading them, sentence by sentence. His faded green eyes traversed through the words in a rush.
“Will this be good enough?” he let out. The manuscript he was working on was of a novel written by the first Asian, and the youngest winner of the Nebula Award, Yun Woo, and it was scheduled to be published in the States for the first time since the author’s victory of the award. Fernand didn’t hesitate in its decision to reach out to the young author. Then, the company immediately hired one of the most widely-recognized translators, one who had proven himself through his numerous works: Taylor Sanders.
“Hm,” the translator let out. Then, closing the book, he began to write an email to the editor in charge of Yun Woo.
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