In addition to the print version, some extra content is available here. This issue presents a short story created by American author Barry Yourgrau. The piece was inspired by his experience of staying at I-House. If you have read the beginning of the story in the Quarterly, you can continue reading from here.→
Carp Wisdom by Barry Yourgrau
A man stays the night at the International House. With its airy, comforting horizontals, its sliding white screens, his room delights him. At twilight his heart swells to bursting on the balcony, ravished by the Edo-ambience of the Japanese garden below with its shaped vistas of the smooth, the rounded, the shaggy…its stone lanterns by a little rocky carp pond.
How can he ever leave here, return to normal life?
In the middle of the night, his distress is overwhelming. No, he must hide away here, somewhere—for good!
He scribbles a furtive note to his sleeping girlfriend, and slips out into the garden in his pajamas.
The moonlit landscape makes his head swim. He starts up a path, to secrete himself in the leafy depths of the trees. Then suddenly he remembers reading that bats were about at night. He stops. He hates bats. Frantically he scurries toward the carp pond’s lantern. He’ll hide there, in the water, in the shadows under the overhanging I-H café.
The pond is cool. He beams, head just above water in his hideaway.
Some orange and white carp come nuzzling over. “What’s going on?” one demands.
The man blinks.
“This pond is for us fish, you know,” adds another carp.
“I’m-I’m just hiding here. So I don’t have to leave this wonderful place,” answers the man, stammering. “You can speak?” he asks.
“Sure we can,” snorts the first carp. “Where you from?”
“From New York,” the man murmurs, a bit dazed, understandably.
“New York!” cry the carp. “You don’t want to go back to Yankee Stadium? Go, Yankees!”
“No. And actually I’m not a Yankees fan,” the man informs them.
“You prefer our lovely Momoyama-ambience garden!” says the first carp.
“Yes! Though I understood it’s an Edo-ambience garden,” says the man, who’s a bit of a pedant.
“Let’s not argue,” says the man.
“Funny,” says the second carp, “the three distinguished architects who designed this building tried to hide in our pond, too. Also Mr. Courvoiser, when he visited. He’s the master of the International-style, you know.”
“I know. And it’s Le Corbusier,” corrects the man.
“But they all had to leave,” says the first carp, “because this pond is for fishes!”
“But I can’t bear to leave lovely International House!” the man bleats.
“Take some cellphone pictures,” says the second carp, “as keepsakes to stir fond memories later.”
“But he can stay a couple days if he takes a selfie with us!” pipes up a third carp.
“What are you doing?’ grumbles the man’s girlfriend. “You woke me up with the noise!”
“I’m just trying to find my damn cellphone to take a selfie with the fish,” the man replies, rummaging about desperately in the dark room.
“Are you crazy? And you’re soaking wet!” cries his girlfriend.
Unable to find his cellphone, the man breaks down. “I just can’t bear to depart from here,” he sobs.
“I know how you feel,” says his girlfriend. “But all the pictures you’ve taken, they’ll be your keepsakes to stir fond memories later.”
“That’s very much how the fish said it, too,” the man says, startled.
“Anyway, do you want to take a selfie with Yankee fans?” she asks.
The man stares. “How did you know they’re Yankees fans?” he whispers.
“Everybody knows that,” she says. “Now dry off and come to bed. And thanks again for waking me up.”
And she yawns and cuddles the pillow close and shuts her eyes, leaving the man to figure it all out.
Photo credit: Anya von Bremzen
“I can never remember my dreams so Mr. Yourgrau’s stories are a pretty good substitute.”— David Byrne
Author-performer Barry Yourgrau is the author of books of surreal, funny, very brief stories, including A Man Jumps Out of An Airplane, Wearing Dad’s Head, Haunted Traveller, and The Sadness of Sex, in whose film version he starred.
He’s also written a memoir, Mess, and anti-kids’ stories for kids, Nastybook.
Yourgrau is the only American author who has published short fiction on Japanese cellphones (keitai shosetsu). Many of his books have been translated into Japanese by renowned translator Shibata Motoyuki.
As a performer, Yourgrau and his stories have appeared on MTV and radio. He was invited to Sundance Theater Lab to adapt Haunted Traveller theatrically, and is proud to have starred in the heavymetal music video of Anthrax’s “Black Lodge”.
Yourgrau’s fictions have been widely published in magazines and anthologized. He’s written as well for the NY Times, New Yorker.com, Wall Street Journal, Spin, Paris Review, New York Review Daily, and Asahi Shimbun.
Born in South Africa, he lives in New York and Istanbul. And travels widely.