Short Story: The Man who Wanted to Become a Snail by Park Chan-soon


Translated by Cho Yoon-jung

The Best Asian Speculative Fiction

I had been walking back and forth in front of the house for an hour already. But still I couldn’t knock on the door. Nothing conclusive had been found. With things turning out this way, even I found it hard to understand myself. Why was I so hung up on this unsolved case that I’d taken a day off to come here. Like a real estate agent, I was scouting the houses in the neighbourhood, as if I had nothing better to do. In this high-tech age, when most families relied on AI robots to play not only housemaid and babysitter but even lawyer, judge, doctor and fund manager, the lives of the people on the fringes continued to be as dismal as ever.

At the pocket park inside the neighbourhood hung a banner that reads: “Making Mt. Bukhan a global park.” The residents had responded by pulling down the walls. All the houses had been built so close together in the first place that even with the walls gone, a garden only the size of a picnic mat was left. But the clustered pots of marigolds, geraniums, and cyclamens were more than enough to wipe away the gloomy air of the neighbourhood. That small excess of loveliness, however, could not wipe away the uneasiness in my heart. This was one of those rare places in Seoul inhabited by people who tore down walls. Until recently K had been living here among them.

It was early on a Sunday morning, when I was fast asleep, that the discovery of someone’s SG was reported. It was after a night of tussling in bed with J and my body was limp. But when the phone sounded, shattering the dawn time peace, instinctively I reached for the SG lying next to the pillow. My tiredness vanished. A young girl shaking with fright was caught on the remote surveillance camera attached to the SG.

“I didn’t open them … these SGs—smart glasses. Ah, um it seems some man left them behind. He … he sat for a long time on this ben … bench,” she said.

“How do you know?” I asked. “At this time …”

“I … I came out to exercise. I’m going on a trip to Mars, so I have … have to strengthen my respiratory system.”

“Are you going with your family?”

“No. I’m go … going with some friends who want to grow taller. They say that you … that you return having added a few centimetres.”

Travel to Mars. To grow taller. Did she really have no idea? That when you return to Earth, where gravity is stronger, you return to your original height? Anyway, this was 2040. The age of space travel. The high school girl stuttered, and her voice quivered. The message that popped up before her eyes when she touched the SG must have frightened her: “Operating another person’s SG is punishable under the Personal Information Protection Act.”

J, woken by the phone, leant against the bedhead and grumbled. “It’s not easy dating a detective. No matter how urgent it is, shouldn’t you finish that morning after thing you do before you leave? That’s my Honey’s highlight.”

But even sweeter seduction wouldn’t have stopped me from getting up.

I first met J after my divorce seven years ago, and without the pressure of marriage we got on like friends.

 

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