Bruce Ducker

Koi

“It’s possible,” he said. It’s not impossible.” The property manager rested an elbow on an arm, rubbed the bridge of his nose.

“All the cost will be mine,” Carruthers said. “I’ll pay for everything.”

“And when you leave?”

“I’m not leaving.”

“Everyone leaves,” the property manager said. “Give it time, everyone leaves.”

“I like it here. The views, the location. I can afford to live anywhere, believe me.”

“I believe you. But everyone leaves. We’ll have to work out a deposit to cover yanking it.”

Carruthers ran other people’s money. He took more interest in theirs than his own, in large measure because he made a great deal of it. Far more, he knew, than he was worth.

“No problem. We’ll have to work it out.”

“We’ll have to work it out,” the property manager said. “And the permitting. New York, there’ll be permitting, I can promise you.”

“Whatever you need.”

So the koi pond was built. The townhouse sat by Owl’s Head Park on the edge of Brooklyn’s northwest shoulder. From his living room Carruthers could see the ferry docks in Jersey, the liberty statue waist up, Governor’s Island. From the seating pod the decorator promised on the roof, he’d see lower Manhattan. He planned to cycle over the bridge to work.

The landscaper brought fish. Four comets, goldfish to him, which, the girl told him, were cheap, less than a dollar each. Bred to feed exotics, these had outgrown feeder size, she said, her dark eyes opening to the size of cherrystones. “So you can spend the bulk of your budget on koi.”

“I don’t have a budget,” he answered.

She brought four small koi as well. Lapidary colors, the gold of citrine, gemstone red, a pair that were the blue of a winter moon. The gold was Chagoi, she said, it might grow dark as tea, and the pair Asagi. She pronounced the words carefully, to impress him. To impress her, he was.

“If the Asagi mate, you can sell their fry. They’re valuable. It’s a matched pair, male and female.”

“How can you tell?”

She grinned about the eyes. “The female doesn’t ask silly questions.” She kneeled on a foam pad by the pond, placed two bricks in the water, and across them a slate sheet as a lintel.

“There. They’ll need shelter.”

“From what? Muggers? The flights into LaGuardia?” The smile took to her lips. He thought to take her to bed. But perhaps not this time.

“They’re shy. When the lilies bloom they’ll have cover but for now they need this.”

She floated two clear plastic bags in the pond, folding back their rims as a collar of air. With a finger she tested temperatures and gradually admitted pond water. When she was satisfied, she tilted the bags. The freed fish disappeared under the shelter.

“If I can’t see them, why do I have them?”

“They’ll acclimate.” She handed him a bag of food. “Twice a day until it turns cold. Winter they fast. Feed them a few pellets at first, then more. Whatever they finish in ten minutes. Do it same time of day, same spot, soon they’ll come whenever they see you.”

“Reminds me of a girl I used to know.” She shot the same smile again, hip, sharp as a steak knife. “Except for the fasting.”

Sabine had Gallic coloring, black eyes and hair cut short, brackets about a startlingly white face. She toweled off her pale arms and wrote out a bill.

He felt the appearance of Sabine was preordained. As if he were both audience and actor, the movie with the madman in the hockey mask, and he could warn himself not to go off alone. Knowing that gave him an edge. He could choose not to have her affect his life as she otherwise would.

The sun was setting in New Jersey and the neon of the city began to glow. Like Kilauea—he’d climbed the volcano and never saw lava until dusk. Then, slowly, red veins appeared everywhere, as if the mountain were infected. Phlebitic.

The decorator set out a cocktail table and two all-weather chairs. Every day at dawn and again after the markets closed, he sat in one of the chairs and dropped pellets into the water.

The pond enjoyed long periods of sun—there were low buildings to the east and only the bay to the west—and the lilies filled in quickly. By summer’s end lurid white blossoms opened daily and a dense mob of leaves covered the surface. Lily pads, cloven, hearts imperfectly sewn. New growth fought for space, leaves rose, curled and dark, and once elevated spread out. Their funnels suggested the mouths of chicks in the nest. He pushed away the growth to make an opening, dripped pellets in the gaps, and the fish gathered below.

He considered his life complete. The markets were ever-constant and ever-changing, hands of solitaire. He took his meals in restaurants, women and friends passed through his days transient as rain.

Sabine returned in the fall to clear the filter and crop the lilies. She left him a printed sheet about water quality and winter care and, in the margin, wrote the date for the next appointment and her phone number. He had worked late that day and left a key for her with the property manager.

The fish stopped feeding in November. With the plants cut they hid under the brick lean-to. It was no longer fun. The dimension disappeared, the secret keyhole into a secret world.

When the fish lost interest, he decided to take a holiday. The markets were quiet at the end of the year. There would be an inevitable sell-off and an inevitable recovery. He went to London for Christmas, intending to go to the theatre, but in the first-class lounge he met a woman who traded bonds and they took a suite together. He appreciated the sitting room with its electric fire, though the bed, in the European style, was smaller than he liked. The hotel was expensive, the guests all seemed to be from Houston, the women in Blackgama furs.

They went about the city, he happy to pay. At the National Portrait Gallery she wrote in a notebook as if each painting might be a potential client. She suggested she handle his bond business, and when he told her that his fund owned no bonds, he was strictly equity, they parted. He flew to Paris. She went on to Turkey, where she hoped to see Cappadocia and the dervishes of Konya.

On the morning in April that was set for the spring visit, Carruthers awoke early and agitated. He roused his bed partner. She had worn a Chanel suit, unremarkable but apt for both evening and office. Now she stood next to him, at the far sink in a bikini bottom, making up her face and arguing.

“I didn’t expect to get roused at six without a diddle.