Kim Kyung-uk

Illustration by Gianna Meola

He’d brought home someone else’s package by mistake. It was only after he had ripped the tape halfway off that he noticed again the apartment number written by the custodian of the apartment complex in Sharpie on the side of the box: 109. His face stiffened as he stared at the number. It did kind of look like 709. He was not used to the new custodian’s handwriting. Plus, because he ordered everything online, it was rare for him to head up to his apartment empty-handed. All in all, in was an understandable mistake. But he is always so careful about what he does, he is the type of person who will even proofread his texts before he sends them. On a normal day, he would have double-checked the apartment number on the box before he opened it. He felt somehow disheveled, somehow unpleasant, like the feeling of holding a sweaty hand.

In fact it was his hand that was sweaty, a symptom that arose without fail whenever he was nervous. He has no doubt that his sweaty hands were the reason he was dumped by his first love. After suddenly hearing her say that they should break up, just a few days after they first held hands, he could think of no other reason. He hadn’t held another girl’s hand since then. He had, however, touched a countless number of girls’ feet. Just today he had dealt with around twenty pairs of feet. He was the manager of the shoe department at a famous department store. Getting down on one knee, putting a shoe on the customer’s foot, checking the toe and heel for fit was his daily work. However, he always made sure to keep his hands far away from his customers' hands, careful never to let his hand touch theirs when he handed back their credit card or gave them the shoes. If a customer’s hand would even graze his, he would start as if he had touched a hot stove. He tried to convince himself that the hand was nothing more than a simple appendage, but to no avail.

Rubbing his hands on his pants, he tried to work out what had gone wrong. His hands had become sweaty because he brought home another apartment’s package, he brought home another apartment’s package because he wasn’t focused, he wasn’t focused because he was exhausted, he was exhausted because he couldn’t sleep the night before, and he couldn’t sleep the night before because the neighbor’s cat kept meowing.

He had felt a little better after figuring out the reason for his mistake. Because by knowing the reason, the chance that he would make the same mistake decreased greatly. It was the same with his sweaty hands. By staying far away from women’s hands he could avoid making the same mistake. That would have been impossible had he never figured out the reason why his first love dumped him. Avoiding a mistake was more important than being loved. Whenever he made a mistake, the first thing his father did was yell, “What the hell is wrong with you?” When he didn't respond, his father would mumble, “sweaty bastard.”

He re-taped the part of the box he had ripped open. It looked messy but there was nothing more he could do. Even if they could tell someone had opened it, they wouldn’t be able to know who. All that was left to do was to put it back in its spot. He grabbed the package and hurried out of the apartment.

He hesitated the moment he saw the custodian sitting in his office. The delivered packages were stacked against the wall just opposite the office. There was no way to put the package back and avoid being seen. He would have to tell the custodian that he had taken the package up to his apartment by mistake, and he didn’t want people to think he opened other people’s packages. He turned around, deciding it would be best to put the package back when the custodian wasn’t in his office.


The next day as he walked into the lobby of the apartment building on his way home, he noticed a middle-aged woman getting in the face of the custodian. Pretending to look over the packages, he listened to what the woman was saying.

“Are you saying the box grew feet or something?”

It was clearly apartment 109.

“Was there something valuable inside?” the custodian asked weakly.

“Why do you think I’m so upset? This is why I said we need C.C.T.V. here, but no, you guys went on and on about how much it would cost. This goddamn place . . .”

The custodian held his mouth shut, his hand playing with the brim of his hat.

He picked up a package that had 709 written on it and quickly hurried to the elevator. The back of his head felt hot. There was now no way that he could return the package. His chance to fix his mistake had disappeared forever. And it was all because of that damn cat. His hand, as it reached out to push the “door close” button, became sweaty.

As he walked by his neighbor’s front door, he kicked a plastic bag that sat in front of it. He expected only a few empty plastic dishes would spill out, but instead, leftover noodles and pickled radish shot out across the floor. He looked behind him. The hall was empty.

Holding his doorknob, he stared down at the mess. He sighed. He grabbed a pair of plastic gloves from his kitchen and came back out. He put the food back on the plate and put the plate in the bag. He then wiped the floor with a disinfectant wipe. He will be the only one in the world to know that he kicked the plastic bag. That fact made him feel a little better.

He stared down awhile at the unreturnable package and then roughly ripped off the tape. When part of the cardboard tore off violently with the tape, his body shook with a sharp pleasure. This unexpected feeling of pleasure was new to him, and it confused him.

He suddenly thought of the time he had drinks with his first love the day before he held her hand. He must have drunk a lot. When they got up to leave, the girl said, “This cup is beautiful. I want it.” It looked like just a regular cup to him but she was going on like it was the most valuable thing in the world. Probably because he was drunk, he slid the cup into his jacket pocket. His heart pounded. He felt the excitement of committing a crime but was also scared of getting caught. He put the cup on the counter and asked the cashier in a low voice, “How much can I give you for this cup?”

He opened the package. It was filled with all kinds of beauty products, from cotton balls to nail polish. The only thing useful to him was a can of spray-on deodorant, meant for an armpit. He sprayed it into the air. It was lavender-scented. He kept the spray and threw everything else in the trash.


The next time he brought home someone else’s package it was not by mistake. He couldn’t stop thinking about the pleasure he got from opening that first package. This time he took the package from the building next to his. He chose a small box that would be easy to carry and waited for when the custodian was out of his office.

In front of the elevator, he imagined what could be in the box, but was snapped out of his reverie when he felt the bottom of his pants grow wet and smelled urine. He looked down and saw a cat. It was his neighbor’s cat, he knew, as he had seen her carrying it before. It was a completely normal-looking tabby cat, but he couldn’t forget the arrogant look on the cat’s face as it stared at him. Even more unforgettable was the back of the woman, especially her memorable legs coming down out of her skirt. His hands became sweaty. The smell of urine was indeed strong, but what was stronger were his memories of the night before. Just when he thought the cat had grown quiet, it would cry out again. He hadn’t been able sleep at all. At five o’clock in the morning he’d heard the sound of the woman’s shoes in the hallway, like he did every morning. He had been up all night. She came home at the same time every day, waking him up at the same time every day. He hated the sound of her footsteps. If it wasn’t for them, he could sleep another hour or two. His ears weren’t particularly more sensitive than other people’s, but for some reason, whenever he heard her footsteps coming down the hall, his eyes would pop open. Whether he liked it or not, he would hear the sound of her shower as he sat on the toilet, would hear her radio while he tied his tie, and would hear her talk to her cat as he left the house.

Like usual, that morning he listened to the sound of her shower as he sat on the toilet, but he couldn’t poop. Because he was up all night. Apparently his whole day would be ruined. He flushed the toilet out of habit, and anger suddenly rose up within him. As soon as he came out of the bathroom, he picked up the intercom and entered the number of his neighbor. He heard the weak ringing and swallowed hard. It was the first time he'd spoken to the woman next door.


“It’s your neighbor.”

“Is there a problem?” Her voice was studded with wariness.

“I couldn’t sleep at all last night because your cat was meowing.”

“Oh my, really?”


“That’s strange, my cat doesn’t meow like that.”

“It was definitely meowing all night. And last night wasn’t the first time.”

There was silence a moment; then the woman asked,

“What apartment are you in?”

He froze. His hands grew sweaty.

“I’m in 709.” He rubbed his hands on his pants.

“No one else has said anything.”

“I’m telling you, I didn’t sleep at all last night!”

He raised his voice. He was the type of person who bowed deeply to a customer who left without buying anything, even after trying nine different pairs of shoes. The sharpness of his voice ringing out in his quiet apartment sounded strange to him.


That was it. There was no sorry, no I’ll see what I can do. She hung up. He slowly placed the phone back in its cradle and softly whispered, “Okay.” His palms grew cold.


He stared down at the cat. Meow. The cat waved its tail and licked the feet of the young woman talking on the phone. His neighbor. He was about to complain about what the cat had just done, but the moment the woman looked over at him he quickly turned his head away. He rubbed his hands on his pants and glanced sideways at her. Is she not going to work today? She wore a pink tracksuit, with the letters PINK spelled out across the butt. He hated this type of clothing. It reminded him of a horse with a brand burned into its rear. Just seemed . . . trashy.

The woman got in the elevator, still talking on the phone, and he followed behind her. She stared into the mirror inside, so he could only see her back. The cat went to a corner and turned around, crouching, its tail high in the air, and let out more urine.

When the elevator doors opened, the cat was the first to get off. He got off last. The woman was still on the phone. He walked slowly, staring appreciatively at the back of her. The cat went to a bike at the end of the hallway and urinated again on the wheel. He looked down at the stain on the cuff of his pants and scowled.

As soon as he got home, he washed his pants. He rinsed them with a lot of soap but the smell of urine remained. He spread the pants out on the drying rack and sprayed the stained area with the deodorant spray. And then, as if the cat’s urine had gotten all over this body, he scrubbed himself in the shower.

Not until he had the package from the next building in front of him again did his face soften. When he ripped off the tape, he again felt that intense pleasure, like the freedom you feel when you loosen a tight necktie. Inside the box was a plastic wind-up toy dog. When the spring was wound, the dog would bark and crawl forward, then its tail would turn like a windmill and the dog would roll over. At the end of the wind, the dog would lie down on its stomach.

He picked up the dog and was headed to the trashcan when he heard his neighbor’s doorbell. He placed his ear directly against the door. “It’s me.” A man’s deep voice. The sound of the lock and of the door being opened were heard in turn.

He opened his door and went outside where it had grown dark. He leaned against the hallway railing and looked down. He wound the spring on the dog and placed it on the top of the railing. It barked and walked forward, toward the edge. He reached out his hand but the dog fell, its tail spinning like a windmill in the air. He heard the sharp sound of it cracking against the pavement. He looked around. There was no sign of anyone else.

About an hour later he heard his neighbor’s front door open. After being sure he heard it close again, he peeked outside. He saw a man in a tracksuit walking away. He didn’t hear the cat that night.

The next time he brought home someone else’s package it was, of course, not a mistake. He was not someone who kept making the same mistake. It wasn’t a mistake the next time, or the time after that, either. He went to a different building every time, grabbing a package and bringing it home. He never went to the same building twice. He kept a map of the apartment complex and marked where he had been, just in case he forgot.

He was never interested in what was inside the packages. The important thing was that sense of freedom he felt when he ripped open the box. However, when he brought home his neighbor’s package, it was not in search of that feeling of freedom, but out of curiosity.

It was the first day of a seasonal sale at the department store. There were so many customers he hardly had a chance to straighten his back all day. All he wanted to do when he got home was take a quick shower and get into bed, but he couldn't just walk by the packages in front of his building. Looking them over, his eyes grew wide. He double-checked the number. It wasn’t 108, it was clearly 708. It was the first time he had seen a package for his neighbor. That is, the first time since he'd started bringing home other people’s packages.

The custodian was asleep. He grabbed his neighbor’s package. Curiosity was part of it, sure, but he also did it out of anger. Nights that the cat kept him up had grown more frequent. The cat only meowed when the girl was not home. When she was home, it was silent, as if it had never meowed before in its life. And so his complaints were ignored time after time. She had even raised her voice to him, as if she should be the one annoyed by the situation. She had apparently gotten short of temper. He could tell that she also fought a lot with the man who visited briefly on the weekends. Though he couldn’t tell whether her temper was worse because she always fought with the man, or whether she always fought with the man because her temper was worse. The only thing he was sure of were the clothes the man wore—always a tracksuit. He had made it his duty to peek out and watch the back of the man as the man walked down the hallway toward the emergency staircase.

The package wasn’t big, but it wasn’t light either. He headed to the elevator, keeping his eyes forward. The elevator was on the fifteenth floor. It always was, the damn thing. It seemed like everyone here lived on the top floor. He started to stride up the emergency stairs. He could feel his muscles tightening. He hadn’t felt this alive in a long time.

By the time he closed his front door, he was covered in sweat. While the tension eased, he felt a listless fatigue coming on. As he lay in a hot bath, he imagined what would be inside the package. Being so heavy for its size, maybe it’s a book? What kind of book could it be? The imagination gears in his head would not turn very easily. He didn’t have a good imagination. Although he did feel like he was second to none when it came to analysis.

Even after he got out of the bathtub he didn’t open the box. He made ramen and drank tea as well. He put off the decisive moment like enjoying every bite of a delicious meal. His father always told him that there were two types of people in the world, those who ate the best food right away and those who saved it for last. You need to become a person who eats the best food first, he would say. You must eat the best thing while it has its highest value. Don’t become an idiot who saves the delicious food while filling your mouth with the most disgusting food. His father knew only dichotomy, nothing else. There were two types of people in the world and then there was him. He would starve himself until the moment that he could bring the best-tasting food to his mouth. That was how one maximized the value.

After changing into his new pajamas and even pouring a glass of champagne that he had been saving, he finally brought the package to the table. His brow furrowed as he stared down at the box. Something was strange. There was no shipping label. There was no sign that it had been torn off, either. There was simply the apartment number written largely in Sharpie. It was the same handwriting as the stuff written on the side of the box. He brought over his own package that he received yesterday to compare. It was different handwriting, not the custodian’s. A bad feeling rose up in the pit of his stomach and shot into his heart. He broke into a cold sweat as if he were standing in front of a ticking time bomb. Something just wasn’t right.

His instincts told him to get that suspicious package away from him as soon as possible, but before he even realized it, he was ripping off the tape. Inside the box was a black plastic bag, tied in nylon string.

His face scrunched up as he untied the string and peered inside the bag. It was a cat, his neighbor’s cat. To be more specific, the corpse of his neighbor’s cat. His hands became sweaty. With its mouth turned up, it looked as though the cat was smiling.

His head became busy with thought. Who could have done this? What could be the reason for sending a dead cat? Thinking of the dark intentions associated with sending someone their own dead cat, his body began to shake. This intent, the intent to so damage the girl living next door, wasn’t so different from his own thoughts when he discovered the package earlier.

He closed up the box and re-taped it, just as he had done when he’d mistakenly brought home the package meant for apartment 109. He felt a little better thinking that if he could just put it back, he would be done with it. Of course he didn’t hear the cat that night. He was able to sleep quite soundly for the first time in a long time.


The next morning he placed the problem box in a shopping bag. The neighbor’s apartment was written too large on the side of it, he didn’t want to attract any unneeded attention. He also grabbed the bill from the Red Cross that was on the table. Today was the due date. He had never missed a payment to the Red Cross. No one could say he wasn’t an upright citizen.

His eyes narrowed as soon as he got off the elevator. The custodian was sitting wide-eyed in his office, ruining his plans. The contents of the box being what they were, he couldn’t be caught having anything to do with it. His hand clenched even more tightly to the shopping bag as he passed the custodian’s office.

He had a hard time focussing on his work because the package kept popping into his mind. He had hidden it in the back of the store but couldn't forget about it. He kept thinking he heard a cat’s meow coming from the back. He tried to tell himself that he just had to wait until he could go home, but he had no patience. And besides, he couldn’t even be sure that he could put it back as he walked by tonight anyway.

Pretending that his stomach hurt, he told his boss that he needed to go see a doctor and so was able to leave. The bag felt heavier as he walked out of the store with it. It seemed to be exuding a terrible smell, as well.

He drove to the post office. He could have gone to a nearby convenience store and sent it by one of the smaller shipping companies, but he wanted to be sure. The post office is always the most reliable.

On the shipping address line he wrote his neighbor’s address and even her name. He surprised himself when he wrote her name without hesitation. Trying to recall how he knew it, he remembered that he had seen it once when he found a letter for her in his mailbox. For the sender’s information, he wrote down a fake address and a made-up name. This package has nothing to do with him. It was just slowed down a little by his curiosity.

“What are the contents of the package?”

The woman at the counter asked after she placed the box on the digital scale. He was not expecting this question.

“A cat.”

He blurted it out. He thought, Oh shit, but it was too late to do anything about it. He rubbed his hands on his pants.

“Certainly not a black cat, right?” the woman asked, smiling.


He smiled as he answered.

“It will be delivered on Monday.”

“Thank you.”

He had difficulty answering.

As he left the post office, he gave his thanks to the American writer who died young of a nervous breakdown. He didn’t forget to pay the Red Cross bill either.


There was now nothing to disturb his sound sleep. He wondered who did the cat in, but more important than that was the fact that it could no longer meow. A cat that can’t meow. That was sufficient enough. If the cat didn’t meow then he could get a good night’s sleep, if he could get a good night’s sleep then his focus wouldn’t wane, if his focus didn’t wane then goodbye to the mistake of bringing home someone else’s package. When he realized the last part about the packages, the smile that had crept onto his face disappeared. He was sad that he could no longer bring home other people’s packages.

After putting on his sleeping socks and turning on the humidifier, he got into bed. He didn’t wake once until he heard the sound of his neighbor’s shoes in the hallway. He found himself glad to hear the sound.

The returned peace of night only lasted one day before it turned its back on him. The next day being a holiday, he went to bed feeling happy, only to be awoken in the middle of the night by the uproar next door. The sound of a severe argument beat sharply against the wall. The girl was screaming. “Liar! Cheater! Fraud!” Each word broke like glass. Other things were actually breaking too. He heard the man’s voice as well, the man who was surely wearing a tracksuit. But all the man said was “Fuck!” or sometimes “Oh, fuck!” Just as it seemed that the argument was quieting down it picked back up again. It was louder and worse than the cat. After the tracksuit slammed the front door and left, the neighboring apartment grew quiet.

He turned on the bedside lamp and checked the clock radio. 2 a.m. He felt a little better knowing that at least he didn’t have to go to work in the morning. Nevertheless, he still felt annoyed, like something had been stolen from him. He drank some warm milk and went back to bed.

Just as he was drifting off to sleep again, his eyes popped open. There was a banging sound coming from next door. The girl was throwing whatever she could get her hands on. A clock broke, a plate shattered. A glass cup shattered as well. He could handle the breaking, but not the shattering. Things just shattered and shattered and shattered. His hands became sweaty. His feet became sweaty too.

He pulled off the sleeping socks. It was rare for his feet to sweat. The girl seemed like she would go on shattering things all night. Someone needed to stop her. Feeling glad that he had sent the box with the dead cat to her, he got out of bed. His face hard and angry, he picked up the intercom phone. After it rang several times, the girl picked up.

“Do you know what time it is?”

He asked politely.

The girl said nothing. He wiped his hands on his pajamas.

“I asked if you knew what time it is.”

He said again, politely.


The girl said in a cold voice.

He felt as if he had been whacked in the back of the head. No one had said such a serious curse to him before. The worst he had ever heard before was when his father criticized him and called him a sweaty bastard. Stunned by the counterpunch, he felt out of breath and his legs shook. He squeezed the phone in his hand.

Suddenly the girl began to bawl, sobbing as if the levees of her emotions had given way. She cried and cried. He heard her sobbing through the phone as well as through the wall.

Not until the girl had stopped crying and wordlessly hung up the phone did he hang up as well. His hand was soaked, as if he had been holding the girl’s hand. Anger became a thing of the past, and remorse flowed in to take its place. He felt like he had done something wrong to her. He wanted to kneel in front of her and touch her feet. He regretted kicking the empty dishes in front of her door, regretted hating her cat, regretted calling to say she was being too noisy. But more than anything, he felt bad for sending her the box with the dead cat in it. The thought of revenge grew distant in his mind. He had to stop her from seeing the cat’s dead body with her own eyes. Is it not a cat that can longer meow?


The next day, after eating breakfast, he drove his car to a spot overlooking the front of his apartment building and slid down in the driver’s seat. He had no idea when the postal truck was going to come. To fend off sleepiness, he lifted his thermos full of coffee to his mouth over and over. He quickly took care of lunch with the bread and milk he had brought with him. He even urinated into an empty plastic bottle, not wanting to leave his post for anything. He felt like a detective on stakeout.

But the thing that really bothered this gumshoe was not sleepiness or hunger but a bubbling sense of shame. Just what in the world am I doing? Whether my neighbor sees the body of the dead cat or not has nothing to do with me, he thought. He suddenly felt deflated and hurt—his neighbor would never be able to know about how hard he had worked for her. But he stayed put. He had already settled on it and started; no point in letting it go to waste. He felt a strong determination.

He hoped that the girl next door would not be home. That way the mailman would leave the package with the custodian and things would be a lot easier for him. He could wait for the custodian to leave his desk and stealth the package away; or even if the custodian stayed there, he could pretend like he was taking the package by mistake. Things would get difficult if the mailman went up to her apartment, where his neighbor remained.

The mail truck showed up at 4:30 p.m. He had been on the lookout for over eight hours. As soon as he saw the truck, his heart began to pound. He checked the custodian’s office—the ever-present man wasn’t there. He pulled a cap low on his brow, put on a surgical mask, and got out of the car.

The mail truck stopped in front of his building and the mailman got out. He looked nimble and strong. With quick, precise movements, the mailman went to the back of the truck and pulled out a box. It was the box he sent. The box with the dead cat in it.

The mailman quickly walked to the building’s entrance. He followed, walking quietly. His hands became sweaty. Somehow, he had to stop the mailman.

The mailman stood in front of the elevator. As always, the elevator was stopped on the fifteenth floor. Without hesitation, the mailman headed to the stairs and began to ascend. He followed after the mailman. The mailman went up the stairs quickly. He clenched his teeth and made sure not to fall behind. If the mailman got away, it was all over. He stayed right behind the mailman, waiting for the right opportunity.

His opportunity came at the landing for the sixth floor. The mailman’s phone rang, and, unbelievably, the mailman stopped and set down the package. Just as the mailman pulled his phone out of his jacket pocket, he grabbed the package and sprinted down the sixth floor hallway.

“Hey! Come back here!” the mailman screamed after him. He ran for the stairs at the other end of the hallway. The elevator was on its way down to the first floor. He frantically started running down the stairs.

It didn’t take long for the mailman to catch him from behind. It wasn’t that he was slow, the mailman was just that fast. The mailman grabbed him by the collar of his shirt on the landing between the fifth and fourth floors. The strong, precise grip of the mailman flipped him right around.

“Give it here.”

The mailman tried to take the box from him, but he desperately resisted. The mailman was about to have control of it, so he tightened his grip and shook it side to side. The mailman’s body also shook side to side. The mailman was light. When the mailman lost hold of the box, it flew into the air, crashed into the wall and rolled down the stairs. The mailman leaned his body against the railing and peered down, eyes following the rolling package. The box rolled all the way to the entrance to the fourth floor.

“What the hell is wrong with you?!”

The mailman grabbed him by the neck and screamed.

He couldn’t breathe. The mailman had a menacing look in his eyes as he pressed down on him. His body leaned back over the railing. He needed to breathe. He grabbed the mailman by the belt, causing the mailman to teeter, and, legs getting tangled up, the mailman lost his balance and slammed into a corner of the landing. The mailman didn’t even scream. It was he who screamed.

The mailman didn’t move. The neck looked broken. Oh God. Instantly caught with fear, his throat went dry. The mailman was motionless, looked dead.

He began to shake violently. His head went white and his eyes grew dark. He felt like the world was falling down around him. What was actually falling was his consciousness.


When he came to, he was back in his apartment. He couldn’t understand what had just happened, couldn’t believe his bad luck. His heart was still pounding. His heart knew everything that had just happened. The heart is a black box. He was struck with a desire to pull out his heart and replay everything that had happened. Why did he follow the mailman? It was then that he remembered the box with the dead cat in it.

As if possessed, he ran back outside. He needed to get that box. If he could just get rid of the dead cat, everything would turn out alright. He went to the fourth floor, to the place the box had rolled. But it wasn’t there. He double-checked the number on the wall. This was definitely the right spot. Did someone take it? Did all that stuff actually happen? Maybe it was just a nightmare brought on by his overstressed mind? His bourgeoning hope died the moment he saw the mailman’s body on the landing just above him.

Back in his apartment, he agonized over whether he should call 911 or not. He couldn’t be sure that the mailman was actually dead. It was possible that if he got to a hospital in time that he could still live. But if he was already dead? A pulsing abscess. While he was thus agonizing, he heard sirens. He looked out his window and saw, not an ambulance, but a police car. So the mailman was dead. Now he had to agonize about whether or not to turn himself in. How much prison time would he get if he did?

He looked up the punishment for manslaughter on the internet. A maximum of two years in prison and a fine of seven million won. The price of a person’s life was cheaper than he expected. If he emptied the savings he had in a C.O.D. in five months, that would be four million won. His car was pretty old but he felt like he could get at least two million for it. He got on a used car website to check the value. After entering the model, year, and trim, it told him the value was around 1.2 million won.

“Highway robbery!”

He slammed his fist on his desk and yelled.

It was the next night that the police came to his door. He hadn’t called them. He was still debating about turning himself in. He wasn’t as worried about the two years in prison or the seven-million-won fine as he was about hearing his father call him a sweaty bastard again. He couldn’t remember the mailman’s face, but he could still hear what the mailman had yelled when he had him by the throat. What the hell is wrong with you?! His father was right. He was a sweaty bastard.

The moment the person outside his door said he was a police officer, his hands became sweaty. They had actually come. And much faster than he had expected. He should have turned himself in right away. He opened the door feeling deep in despair. It was time to come clean.

“Did you kill the cat?” the police officer asked, leaning against the doorframe.


“Did you kill your neighbor’s cat?”


“You did complain about the cat’s meowing before, right?”


“You really didn’t kill it?”


The police officer stared at him, eyes like lie detectors. He couldn’t avoid those eyes. The officer explained the details about their investigation, looking around the apartment.

“Looks like you sweat a lot.”

Said the officer in a calm voice.

“I’m sorry?”

“We use that a lot, too.”

The officer motioned with his chin to the spray can on the shoe cabinet. The deodorant spray. The one from the package he brought home by accident.

“Yeah, I do; I sweat a lot,” he answered, scratching his head.

The officer thanked him for his cooperation and left. He breathed a sigh of relief after he closed the door. He was innocent regarding the cat’s death. But he couldn’t get too excited. The dead cat had made it to the girl next door. He had something new to worry about now. They could find out that he was the one who mailed the box to her. To prove that he did not kill that cat, he would have to admit that he stole the package, he would have to end up admitting that he had taken many packages.

He got online and searched for the punishment for theft. Simple theft carried a maximum sentence of six years' imprisonment and up to a ten million won fine. Much worse than manslaughter. On top of that, he was a serial thief. He spread out his map of the apartment complex and counted the Xs. Nine. He would see no mercy. Plus he could still be charged with the death of the cat. He looked up the punishment for killing a pet. There was a fine of five million won for violating the Animal Protection law and another three years in prison and seven million won for damages to another’s property. Add it all up and his life was over. So if he turns himself in? Thanks to this and that, his life would certainly become a sweaty mess. He felt like biting his tongue off.

Searching online he was also able to find out about the mailman. Yesterday afternoon at such and such apartments, a mailman was found passed out in the stairwell. He was taken to the hospital but remained unconscious. The police believed that he been tired and had fallen down the stairs. He felt better knowing that the mailman was not dead.


His neighbor’s apartment was silent that night. It was silent the next day, and the day after that, too. Quiet as a mouse. He didn’t hear his neighbor’s footsteps in the hall at five in the morning anymore, either. The empty take-out dishes that used to be in front of her door daily—they were gone, too. The mailman was still in a coma.

He picked up the intercom and called the custodian.

“It’s apartment 709.”

“What’s the problem?”

“My neighbor is quiet.”


“It’s just too quiet.”

“And that’s a problem?”


He heard the thud from outside just as he was holding the intercom phone in his hand, debating about calling his neighbor. He put the phone down and went out to look down from his balcony. Someone was lying in the flowerbed below. A pink tracksuit, a shapely back, it was the girl from next door. He saw a few people start to gather around her. He saw the custodian as well. The custodian looked up, as did the others. He quickly hid himself.

He waited awhile and then looked down again. People were still gathered around the body, talking. Somebody was making a call. Nobody was looking up. Looking down, he thoroughly looked over the girl’s profile. It was the first time he had seen her face. His hands became sweaty. The sofa, table, bed, dresser, shoes, computer, dishes, and light switch all became sweaty as well. He sprayed his hands with the deodorant spray. He sprayed the sofa, table, bed, dresser, shoes, computer, dishes, and light switch as well. A lavender scent filled the apartment. A smell that should have been coming from the armpits of the person in apartment 109.

translated from the Korean by Jason Woodruff