Derek Fisher

Roughly a thousand acres of trees, burnt to a crisp. Remnants have been scooped up and syphoned, using the sleek, matte black industrial machine that she has paid for, flown in, constructed. Lorna herself is on site for the construction. The device is put together by hand. Workers establish a rhythm. The curls of her black hair cling to her back sweat. The machine is ruthless, indiscriminate. It crunches, severs, accumulates. Black wood, scorned, nature’s cruel indifference, rendered down. Powder. Coal, ground to near nothing, millions of times over. Until it's not nothing. The concentrate is black paste. All hands marked, faces. Material. A density, one universe over. This impenetrable solid sludge becomes the walls of the room, the single-room dwelling, built on a grave of discarded earth. Her child writes his mother’s name on the machine, in white ash.

The house has no walls. Only hallways, and the sound of space. A breeze. There is no controlling the way air moves through it, by human hands. The serrated effect. The sound of music as a constant. Impossible to walk through the house without the attack of ambient noise. Every square foot, a new aural violation. The conductor, Ben Assayance, has commissioned this new house from her. She tells him she will come with him, take him, blindfolded, hand in hand, through the corridors. Lorna Cano’s offering, personal touch. Where, he will ask, are the walls? He won’t need his cane. But she is not there. He must feel the walls with the skin of his own cracked hand.

A trembling comes about as he enters a new room. A kitchen made of granite. Slabs, monoliths so cold, he shivers upon entry. He can’t see his nightmares unfolding in front of him, but he can hear them. He wants to put his hands to his ears. What have I done? This is what he will ask in his final days. But he needed it. He needed to die in this house. In a house of hers.

The station runs through the city’s heart, far greater in scope than it ought to be. Walls of aluminum and gold. Several hundred feet of vertical tremor. Inhabitants said for decades, central station is a forgotten dead zone. A tomb of neglected transit corpses. Lorna Cano wants to remake our grand convergence point. She will charge us half of what any other architect near her stature would. This forgotten city. No one outside Europe knows it exists. She descends. A dark cloud forms above the construction site, and doesn’t evaporate for months. Uncanny speed and efficiency. She stays in an abandoned house a kilometer from the site. She doesn’t bring her son. 12 workers die. Uncharacteristically careless accidents. A fall from scaffolding. An impalement of miserable luck. Infection. A drawn-out suffering. One dies from an illness of the lung. There’s no proof it was related. The station erects itself at break-neck speed. Workers want to be paid and exit this unholy place. Journalists from France, Italy, Germany arrive. They seek her out. They cannot find her. She smokes cigarettes in the park, watching the leaves change. She listens to sounds on her headphones. Sounds of trains. The incomprehensible height of the translucent ceiling, the shimmering metallic walls, the effect of the trains screeching to wailing halts within the station causes auditory trauma to anyone in the station that isn’t already hard of hearing. A child dies. There’s talk of police intervention. The project is complete. Tourists gather in droves to witness. Eyes and ears. Lorna fled the country some time ago. She sits on a train, modeling a new building on her laptop.

A tremble rips through her lungs. A waking, bubbled cough. No air anywhere She can’t move. She’s paralyzed by something external to her and everything else in this life. She hears her son call her. She assumes she’ll choke to death. To drown, horizontal and flat. Lying in this bed, which she designed. In this little black house of hers. This place that magazine articles have been written about. Frank Lloyd Wright’s severed head is in my dumpster, she hears herself say out loud. She hears her son.

The light catches the inside of this tiny café on its first day of opening, its walls charred black, gleaming in the raw light, the early morning, and though it doesn’t rain or snow outside, even if it may threaten to, water drips through several perforations in the ceiling. It was all arranged this way. Guests line up, flinching at cold shocks on their necks. A raw ambient mixture of conflicting sounds emits from hidden speakers. There are three separate sound systems playing different tunes all at once. She didn’t do that. The espresso machine sprays chunky brown liquid every time the porta filter is secured into the slot. No way around it. The people are hot and bothered. Why do we want them uncomfortable, she will be asked. We don’t. Guests try to move out of the way of the stinging drops. They don’t want to exit the line, forfeit their spots. The line exceeds the door, snakes around the block. It goes on, for a kilometer, more. She is nowhere near here. She is supposed to be at The University of Chicago, giving a keynote address. She isn’t there either.

The house is thin, wedged between others of its kind, a copy, on the outside. But on the inside, one vertical shaft. A ladder can be used to access the stove some fifteen feet up. Stove, sink. There’s no platform on which to step. All cooking and rinsing must be done from the ladder. Speakers activate in the ceiling. A slow violin, and a woman shrieking. They refuse to make this into a gallery space. The house was purchased, as a residence, for two American million. She holds back from expressing how insulting she finds the low price. 30 feet up, a hammock can be accessed. First, the prospective sleeper takes the ladder all the way, then swings, monkey bar style, until they dangle themself into the hammock. The risk is theirs. They could put a sleeping bag on the floor, if they so choose. There’s nothing down there. White tile, ice cold block. The owner is a successful sleeper for 180 days. On the 181st he plunges to his death. His hand slipped as he considered a joke his ex-wife told him years before, a joke he decided then was funnier than he ever gave her credit for. Lorna learns of the event. She asks if she can keep forensic photos from the scene. She examines his blood, and a solid piece of something that she assumes is skull or tile. She makes scale models in 3D. The house is put on the market and sells in three days, for considerably more money than before.

Lorna practically lives at the doctor. The pain in her abdomen won’t go away. She assumes polycystic ovaries. She assumes its endometriosis. But the pain has never been this bad. It’s been two months. She sits in the waiting room, reading Modern Architect. She reads carefully until she comes to an article about herself that she’d forgotten happened. She glosses over it. The feeling in her abdomen is how she assumes it feels to be stabbed in the guts repeatedly. Her legs are crossed. Her black leather boots drip with rain water. Her face is straight and properly aligned. Black eyebrows thick, precise. Not a flinch. A look of unbreakable calm. The doctor suggests that a hysterectomy may be the only solution, at least for quality of life. The pain is so severe it has extended into her hip, down her leg. It consumes her body. She looks at the doctor the way she looks at everyone. Her face never shifts. She tells him she’ll think about it.

The house is isolated, high up the mountain. No water or electricity. It’s a two-day hike to find it. No access by car. The dwelling is small, like most of her residential designs. Morning light roasts the interior. Everything made of glass and thin black steel. Goats with ageless horns prowl the premises. She hikes with a gas cannister in her backpack. Severe response from her kidneys. She pees in the forest. Steam rises from underneath her. She left her son at home. The couple that purchased the house are excited to try making an isolated life here. They tried to tell her this directly but were unable to get in contact with her. The real estate agent got the message to her, via her assistant Peter. They’ll move in at the end of the season. She falls, well into her trek, and punctures the flesh of shin on a rock. She leaves a trail of blood through this vertical forest. She doesn’t think to smear blood on the glass of her design when she arrives. Mud stains her clothes. She wears her favourite designer shirt. They are so excited for this little glass cabin. She holds the cannister. She takes it out of her bag. She takes her bag off her shoulders. She arrives, at the house. She limps her way up the mountain. The rocks damage her. She remembered to bring a BBQ lighter.

The asylum falls apart. It was always meant to crumble. The patients are long gone. Rumors persist that a few roam in underground tunnels. Lorna is there, with Klim and Peter. They advise her on practical considerations. She says she wants only to work on the tunnels. The scabbed outer walls are a picture of grey decay. Pieces of austere edifice, failing, collapsing. Cages missing. She holds her side. Her pelvis. She tries not to make a thing out of it. Crumbling stone, that when gazed upon from below, makes the sound of a distant siren. She looks at it. Peter asks her if everything is okay. Tunnels, she says.

The office building is the tallest, thinnest in the city’s history. A man plummets to his death on the first day it is occupied, the day after completion. The sounds of children screaming are heard in the elevators, in the stairwells. On several of the floors. Throughout meetings. It’s much worse when the wind hits the building. A feeling of nonstop vertigo defines daily office life. Vomit secretes down the halls, over time. She has taken the day off, closed her computer. Some executives have questions, but she cannot be reached. Is that music, or is that an actual child? Her out-of-office is perpetually engaged. Some workers put their feet down. They form a hunting party. They search for the children. The building has many hidden tunnels, passages between floors. The sounds only grow louder. They find nothing but shimmering glass. She is on a beach in Thailand. She is in Washington Square Park. She is at her mother’s house, surrounded by trees. Her mother is long dead. She is clutching her side. Her son is with her. She does not make a face.

Derek Fisher

Derek Fisher is a writer from Toronto. He is the author of Night Life (Posthuman Magazine, 2023). He has fiction published in X-R-A-Y, Wigleaf, Maudlin House, Fugitives & Futurists, The Harvard Advocate, Heavy Feather Review, Tragickal, BULL, Atlas & Alice, and more. To see more of his writing, visit derekafisher.com. (Instagram: @d4fisher)

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