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"Out of Focus" by Kim Hye-jin


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Mother ate lunch alone like her fired co-workers had done and stared at people’s backs when not on the phone. 

She said greetings that nobody acknowledged and made jokes that nobody laughed at and asked questions that nobody answered. 

That was when she realized that her name was on the list.

엄마는 영미씨나 은영씨, 화숙언니, 지선언니가 했던 것처럼

저만치 떨어져 혼자 점심을 먹었고,

상담 전화가 없는 동안 사람들의 뒤통수를 가만히 바라보았다.

아무도 듣지 않는 인사를 하고,

아무도 웃지 않는 농담을 하고,

아무도 답하지 않는 질문을 하면서

엄마는 자신의 이름이 명단에 올랐다는 걸 깨달았다고 했다.

Not long after Ju-ho’s mother was given a pink slip.

Mother stood at the front entrance of the building all day long. She trained her body to do the new job. 

Her new job was to count the floors and then count the windows to find her former office and stare at it all day. 

The closely spaced windows were all of the same size and shape. Just when she thought she had spotted the right window, her former office oftentimes hid and disappeared among the same windows. 

But nobody asked for her again. Her co-workers looked away from her when they entered the building or pretended to focus on their phones. Some co-workers went to work before Mother came and went home after Mother left. 

She remained unflappable despite that. She stayed there every day.

엄마는 종일 회사 정문 앞을 지켰다.

새로운 일에 몸을 단련시키면서.

하나, 둘, 셋 층수를 세고 하나, 둘, 호수를 헤아리며 사무실을 찾은 다음,

종일 그곳을 올려다보는 일이었다.

창들은 모두 같은 크기와 모양으로 다닥다닥 붙어 있었다.

겨우 찾았다 싶으면, 사무실은 비슷비슷한 창들 사이로 숨었고, 

엉켰고, 사라지기 일쑤였다.

하지만 아무도 엄마를 다시 찾지 않았다.

얼굴을 아는 동료들은 회사를 드나들 때마다

다른 쪽으로 고개를 돌리거나 휴대폰 속에 얼굴을 빠뜨리고 걷는다고 했다.

엄마가 오기 전에 출근하고 엄마가 돌아간 다음 퇴근하는 이들도 있었다.

그러거나 말거나 엄마는 하루도 빠짐없이 그곳을 지켰다.

Interview by literary critic Jeon So-yeong

The story’s title is “Out of Focus,” which refers to a cinematography technic in which the subject is made blurry by not focusing on it. This out of focus technique is compared to the isolated lives of modern men. For instance, ever since Ju-ho’s mother is put on the layoff list, she is treated like a ghost. Her desk has been moved out of the building and nobody paid attention to her. We can see such sentences repeated many times in the text. These sentences show how Ju-ho’s mother is being moved out of focus by society, her co-workers, and even her family. 

Kim Hye-jin (Born in 1983, Daegu)

: Debuted by winning in the Dong-A Ilbo Spring Writing Contest with “Chicken Run” in 2012

Won the JoongAng Literary Award in 2013

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