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“The Bill” by Lee Seon-hee

2023-12-05

ⓒ Getty Images Bank
I prayed for my husband to lose one of his legs in a car accident or by being kicked by a running horse. The reason being that I had lost a leg seven months earlier and had earned the proud nickname of a cripple. If my husband had two legs while I had only one, it would surely ruin the balance between us. Whatever is out of balance cannot be whole. 


의심은 도둑고양이와 같다.
Suspicion is like a stray cat. 

그 새 넥타이를 맨 남편이 이 밤에 내가 아닌 다른 여인에게
좀 더 많은 호감을 사려고 온갖 지혜를 짜내지 않으리라고 누가 보장할 것인가.
Who can say for sure that my husband with his new tie was not using his brains to charm a woman other than me. 

그는 두어 마디 다녀온다는 말을 마치고 전에 없이 급하게 나가 버렸다.
나는 나도 모르게 벌떡 일어나려고 했으나 
다리가 말을 듣지 않아 그냥 벽에다 몸을 기대버렸다.
He rushed out, saying he would be back soon. I tried to stand up, but my leg didn’t work, so I ended up leaning against the wall. 

도둑고양이와 같은 의심은 내 모든 것을 무시하고 나를 미치게 했다.
내 모든 교양이 애써 쌓아오던 자존심과 체면
그리고 그와 나 사이에 굳게 받들던 믿음을 무시하고 
끝끝내 이러한 결론을 만들고야 말았다.
The cat-like suspicion ignored everything in me and drove me crazy. My dignity pushed aside my self-esteem and honor, even the trust built between the two of us, and arrived at the following conclusion.

‘남편은 새 넥타이를 매고 두 다리가 성한 계집을 찾아갔다.’
‘My husband wore a new tie and went to see a bitch with two intact legs.’ 


# Interview with literary critic Jeon So-yeong
The protagonist’s lost leg represents her plight and the freedom lost through her marriage. The story criticizes not her husband, but the institution of marriage that binds a woman to a family, hurts her, and makes her lose herself. She says she should get his life, not his leg, to even up the balance sheet, but this idea wasn’t out of revenge or anger, but out of cold calculation. She believes that only when she is compensated with her husband’s leg or life, her relationship with her husband will be made equal and the balance between them restored. It wasn’t just because she was in an accident, but the positions of a woman and a man bound by marriage in the 1930s tended to be imbalanced. So, the protagonist talks about a bill for not only herself but for all women who are wives.


밤이 어지간히 깊어진 모양이다.
스토브에 불이 꺼진 지 오래여서 추워서 견딜 수 없다.
아무리 잠이 아니 와도 저 나무 침대 속으로 들어가야 할까보다.
집을 떠나 일곱의 밤을 뜬 눈으로 새워도 조금도 피로를 모르겠다.
기적이란 아마 이따위겠지.
The night seemed to have grown deep. I couldn’t stand the cold because it’s been a while since the stove went cold. Maybe I should crawl back into bed even though I’m not sleepy at all. I don’t feel tired even though I spent seven sleepless nights after I left home. Perhaps this is what they call a miracle.

나는 아직 살인을 하지 않은 채 이곳으로 왔다.
받을 것을 다 못 받고 그대로 주저앉는 것이
모든 아내 된 자의 약점이요, 애교인 모양이다.
I came here without committing murder. It is the weakness, the affection of every wife that I settled here without getting what I am due.

나는 얼마 동안 이곳에 더 머무를 것이다.
내 계산서를 완전히 청산할 때까지 이 땅에 더 있을 것이다.
I intend to stay here for a while. I will stay in this land until my bill is completely settled. 

이 땅은 마적이 있어서 좋고 
돼지가 죽은 아이 시체를 물고 뜯어먹는다는 이야기가 있어서 좋고
죽음 같은 고독이 있어서 좋다.
I like it that in this land there are bandits, a story about pigs that feed on a dead child’s body, and solitude like death. 



Lee Seon-hee (Born in Hamheung, Hamkyongnam-do Prov., 1911~?)
Debuted with short story “Streetlight” in 1934

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