A Fish Called Wanda (Full Text with Audio)
- onMarch 22, 2018
- Vol.39 Spring 2018
- byBaek Minsuk
- 16 mitgeona malgeona bangmulji (Collected Short Storie)
“Do you know where I’m headed right now?”
The Jerk left a chatty message expressed in a lazy purr on my pager’s voice mail. It sounded like a drowsy cat crawling onto my lap and asking to be scratched under its chin. There were two parts to his message, with only the first being recorded on the pager. All by himself, the Jerk had used up the voice record’s maximum capacity. “What’s this noise?” he muttered at the warning buzz. “Oh, it’s nearly full. Okay, I’ll call again when I get there. There’ll definitely be some fun!” This was the end of the first part.
I can’t stand people who lack respect or courtesy for someone else’s pager. I quickly erased the recording. Among all that verbiage, I didn’t even remember where the Jerk was headed. The second part of his message was left on my phone’s automatic answering machine. His voice this time was like a lion roaring. In his excitement, the Jerk stressed almost every word. “Wow! Wow! Wow! It! Is! Time! I’ll! Stop! Here!” Thus ended the second part.
In my annoyance at his disrespect and discourtesy, I also erased the second part after listening only once, so what comes next was written down from memory several months later. My report is naturally not entirely accurate—wasn’t the Jerk’s story itself gibberish?
The first part was about a fish and the fishermen who went to catch it. They called the fish “Wanda,” and their quest was “The Great Wanda Expedition.” The Jerk was with the expedition and, as a member, was on his way to catch the fish called Wanda.
The second part was about what happened after they arrived at the place where Wanda lived, or was rumored to live. The Jerk’s message by international call was left as a recording just before the Jerk and his colleagues—namely, The Great Wanda Expedition—entered the heart of Wanda’s habitat. This was after the Jerk and the fishermen had set up camp with all kinds of equipment, secured a local guide, and prepared themselves for the high desert’s unpredictable weather changes and storms. The Jerk’s international call came from deep in the center of the North American continent’s western region.
The Jerk and the fishermen were in Utah or Nevada, some state in the western part of America. Maybe even California. They were somewhere along a border to the desert area around the Great Salt Lake. Or the Black Rock Desert. Or maybe the Mojave Desert. In the Jerk’s loud, excited voice, I also sensed a shiver of fear and horror. Such a thrill would be shared only by those who were entering a desert on a fishing expedition. My report operates on the premise that the Jerk’s message might be true, or that I am pretending to believe it is true.
If I think over the Jerk’s chatty message in the first recording, I can understand why going fishing in the middle of a desert was so natural for them. The chief curator of Gallery Comedism ordered them: Go catch the fish called Wanda.
The chief curator wanted something special for his gallery collection, something to distinguish it from other galleries, something to make it stand out. Paik Nam June was in every gallery. That was cheap. As for James Rich or Roy Lichtenstein, even the artists themselves couldn’t distinguish between original and fake. What’s worse, the copy sometimes had a higher degree of completion and more aesthetic value. Young artists are too young. For example, Sung Dong Hun has some diehard fans, but I can’t hide my suspicion that his taste is lowbrow.
The chief curator wanted a believe-it-or-not collection well-suited for the Gallery Comedism of the Great Believe It or Not Compendium. The curator recalled the Believe It or Not Museum located in a back alley of SoHo in New York. There was a collection there called A Handful of Soil from Singing Mountain. It was just a handful of soil placed in the middle of a room that blocked noise from outside, making it completely soundproof. The rules allowed only one viewer at a time to enter the room for five minutes. The room was lit only by a single five-candela light bulb of the sort normally used on a Christmas tree. Wondering what this collection was all about, the curator had entered the room and come out five minutes later feeling strange, wondering if he should believe it or not. He’d really heard a song sung by the soil.
The catalog of the collection included a copy of the guarantee by a famous psychometrist. According to him, the soil had been taken from a hill in eastern Anatolia. From the late thirteenth century to modern times, the hill had been the site of massacres, battles, and religious atrocities. The crusaders passed by in the thirteenth century, and the Mongols swept through in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. From the late sixteenth to eighteenth centuries, sporadically, those women suspected of witchcraft who had fled Europe for this pagan area were found, their limbs torn and burnt by their pursuers. In the twentieth century, the place was near the genocide wreaked by the Turks upon the Armenians, as is well known.
What was the song? According to the psychometrist, whose supernatural powers enabled him to read the history imprinted on matter, the song was an elegy for those who had died torn apart, burnt black, or parched dry on the hill from which the soil was taken. The sorrows of the dead, piled up over several centuries, could now by sheer strength of their accumulated quantity actually make themselves audible. By standing before the handful of dust—a so-called field of spiritual energy—a listener could hear that song of sorrows accumulated over centuries, an audible force field of souls.
The soil in the room had been scooped up by shovel in that field of spiritual energy and delivered by airplane from that hill in westernmost Asia to a back alley of New York City. The chief curator maintained that in the soil’s presence, he had sensed an old, somehow familiar melody, bleak but possessed of a tragic, divine beauty. From those five minutes absorbed in that meditative state, he suggested that the melody recalled some measures from Pablo Casals’s performance of Bach’s Sixth Cello Suite.
The handful of earth became a special attraction of the Believe It or Not Museum in New York. Comedism’s chief curator wanted something like that, a special attraction. Something that didn’t exist anywhere else, that existed nowhere else. For example, something like a fish called Wanda. The curator therefore sent his assistants, including the Jerk, aboard an airplane headed straight for the deepest part of the American West.
The fish called Wanda lives in the Utah or Nevada desert. Wanda seems to belong to an unidentified family of monsters that have probably drawn the curious around the world since before Christ to the late twentieth century. That family has a long, long never-ending, never-broken genealogy, including creatures from the biblical Leviathan to Jonah’s great fish, to the giant octopus Kraken, to Daedalus’ Giant Sea Snake, to the carnivorous helminth of Northern Ireland (a giant leech), to the common giant squid and jellyfish, to the enormous sperm whale Mocha Dick in the early nineteenth century (the real-life model for Herman Melville’s great whale, Moby Dick), and in recent times to the Loch Ness Monster Nessie and the Cornwall Monster. This long genealogy stretches from antiquity and continues insistently, longer than any genealogical line of the various human tribes. Wanda takes her place at the end of this genealogy of monsters.
The monsters noted above are unlike such monsters as fire-breathing dragons that appear in mythology, legend, and fantasy, the sort found in movies performed in by Sean Connery, or the monster Dijiang, a fat, headless body with six legs and four wings that appears in the Classic of Mountains and Seas (Shan Hai Jing), or even the “monstrous” Little Mermaid. Unlike these imaginary creatures, the monsters above had at least left some physical evidence, although their existence is uncertain, leaving us in doubt. Blurry black-and-white photos, even some documents of natural history left by a respected Catholic bishop from the eighteenth century, are such evidence.