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03.26.13
Architectural Absence
Architectural Absence: A–Z
Aedicule

A small shrine nominated, to the Académie Québécoise, in the category of official sacramental profanity.

Father Rossetti droned the Latin prayers in his rough voice. Curls of cold smoky dust undulated about the podium. Years ago, Gregory’s grandmother had forced him to become an altar boy. His parents—especially his father, who still, in his late forties, called himself an “ex-Catholic”—objected, but did not suspect the utility of the knowledge on their son’s first Thanksgiving home from college, when he would bury them. Something about rain and deer.
      Mourners flooded the church in rivers. His parents were beloved local architects who taught at the university. Gregory asked Mamie if she wanted to take the bodies to the cemetery in Saguenay, three hours north of Québec, but she refused, and so the Bouchard family plot of Pittsburgh began at the tomb for the “other” Bouchards, the last of whom died in 1908.
      Before shutting the leaden doors he went to check for strays. A long, languid girl, barefoot in the crunchy dewdropped grass, wearing a black dress and coat, leaned against a tree, with a textbook propped against her boots. She showed no signs of moving from where she was.


 



Brise-soleil

To break up the sun like a chocolate orange but with mortar and pestle.

Yuliya took a two-year placement in Arup’s London office after completing her engineering degree. Her thesis was on concrete support systems in cantilevered bridges.
      “England is dangerous,” warned her mother over celebratory red-sauce Italian in Bensonhurst.
      “You haven’t gone anywhere since you left Russia,” said Alex, Yuliya’s younger brother. “What do you know?”
      “That’s why.”
      On the way, Yuliya traveled for two weeks in Europe: Madrid, Barcelona, San Sebastian, Bilbao, Avignon, Nice, Milan, Rome, Venice, Florence, Paris.
      The motorized tessellation of l’Institut du Monde Arabe opened and shut, henna-freckling her pale skin like a Hindu bride’s. She considered photographing her arms. There was a studenty-beautiful French couple murmuring at the windows by the Seine. The boy took the girl’s shoulders and called out to Yuliya in a North American accent to take their picture.
      “How’d you know I spoke English?” she asked.
      “Why wouldn’t you?”
      “Oh.”
      “Is the light here good?”
      “Sure.” The photo will be blurry and light-dappled.


 



Caryatid

Draped feminine columnar forms carved of stone, returning to Earth like the walnut trees.

The train to Edinburgh was delayed. Yuliya crossed Euston Road and lay in the damp grass in front of St. Pancras Parish, gazing upward at the elegant grieving women, weighted by the burden of holding up the entablature for two hundred years. Long ago, she would breathe deep green and nap in the soft mossy churchyard of Holy New Martyrs and Confessors.
      Waking, she rubbed the sleep from her eyes and smudged blood on her index finger. In a compact mirror she saw a tiny, sharp cut at the separation between her eye socket and cheekbone. She looked around for glass.
      Eventually she bumped into a young man, sketching. He asked: “Are you all right?”
      “I fell asleep in the grass and nicked myself,” she said.
      “Have this napkin. I eat in a feral manner. Do you want me to walk you to the A&E?”
      “No,” she said, laughing. He went back to the drawing. She turned around to look at the columns again, and knew she could never be Woman, like that.


 



Deconstructivism

An analytic approach to architecture suggesting that meaning depends on the arbitrary, because it does.

Gregory became associate director of the Briggs-Crenshaw Gallery after two years as an assistant and an MA from the Slade. His first exhibition was the architect Jacques Dutronc, notorious for his use of stained glass; they had designed a large pavilion approximating the shape of a swan, with broken-shard plumes and feathers. The engineers were an older man who spoke very slowly, and a bored, belligerent girl.
      “We want to shock them,” explained Dutronc. “We want to be very … polémique.”
      “OK,” said the girl. “How tall is the space?”
      “It would be very edgy to break up the glass,” said Gregory.
      “OK,” said the girl. “How tall is the space?”
      “Would it not be formidable to suspend the globes exactly at the level of the eye?” asked Dutronc.
      “OK,” said the girl. “How tall is the space?”
      “Swan’s eggs,” said Gregory.
      “And they will break!” Dutronc exclaimed, delighted.


 



Egg-and-dart molding

An oval form followed by an arrowlike form, in repetition, to birth birds and armies.

Yuliya worked illegally at a café in Bloomsbury after her placement ended. Two men, one with curly dark hair and his friend, a most ovoid figure—naked egg-shaped head, round belly, oval spectacles—came to the counter and ordered omelets with chips.
      “They’re so phallic and invasive,” said the dark-haired one of the moldings from the Erechtheion at the British Museum. “No coincidence, is it?”
      “I hope not. Sperm-meets-egg. Onwards and upwards.”
      Afterwards Yuliya took their plates and spilled the last dregs of yolky grease in the lap of the Erectheion-phobe. “Christ.”
      “It’s cotton,” he said. “Don’t worry.”
      “They’re on the house,” said Yuliya, dropping three pound coins on the table.
      “Nah, they were good eggs.”
      “I think she’s an engineer,” she heard him say on the way out. “The Dutronc installation?”
      “Bull’s-eye,” said his friend.


 



Fenestration

Translucent materials plus sashes, frames, mullions, or dividers, covering natural openings in the skull or other bones.

She now worked for a small firm in Hackney Road. The windows were four meters high and too tall for blinds. When she shut her eyes she saw AutoCAD lines and blistering sunspots.
      The phone at her desk rang. “Oh my God!”
      Yuliya held the phone away from her ear. “Ma?”
      “There’s a national emergency.”
      “Use a water filter.”
      “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center!”
      “What? What do you mean?”
      “Your brother works there.”
      “Alex doesn’t work in the building.”
      “What the hell are you talking about? He’s on the ninety-sixth floor!”
      Yuliya locked up and ran to the pub behind the flower market. The TV read TERRORISM ATTACKS IN US, World Trade Centre destroyed by hijacked planes. Pentagon hit and burning. Men raindropped from windows, cards from the shuffled deck. And then the second plane came. She felt her face soak warm. She nicked a cigarette from the bar and went outside.
      A louchely handsome personage with a crushed-tomato mouth asked: “Can I cadge one?”
      “It’s stolen,” said Yuliya. “Here, have the rest.”
      “I’m Gregory.”
      “Yuliya.”
      “… Do you want to get out of here?”


 



Groin vault

Analogous to the heart soaring, a squared unit formed by the intersection at right angles of two barrel vaults.

She is Natasha-Rostova-gray-eyed, with a patrician straightness of facial features and thickly arched brows. They are running-talking down Brick Lane and consider Spitalfields or mending something or eating curry. At the Tower of London—craving height—they sit in St. John’s Chapel. The room glows with locking high barrel vaults, roughly hewn arches, massive columns.
      “I was an altar boy,” says Gregory.
      “Did the priest spank you over his lap?” Yuliya asks.
      “Every day.”
      “Where are you from?”
      “Pittsburgh. Paris till I was six, but my parents were from Québec.”
      “Oh.”
      “I had a French girlfriend in Egypt and had to end it. I didn’t like being foreign. So London.”
      She has nothing to say to this, but after a moment shoves her tongue down his throat and pulls down his zipper. Life, thinks Gregory, in an ancient tourist monstrosity. But suddenly she bites his chin and breaks away.
      “I should go,” she says, and does.


 



Hermitage

A winery in exile from the Rhône Valley.

Alex came to see Yuliya on the way home from Frankfurt. Friday afternoon they went to Somerset House and saw French Drawings and Paintings From the Hermitage: Poussin to Picasso. At A Boy And His Dog, Yuliya paused.
      “What’s wrong?” Alex asked.
      “Since Bjørn left, I just stay home, waiting. Everything reminds me of him.”
      “‘Bjørn.’ Smoked fish and whispers in the boundless dark.”
      “I can’t even read a book.”
      “Let’s go. I’m starving. My bag’s in storage.”
      They went to the storage facility by the Strand. Yuliya waited outside. Suddenly she saw Gregory, in front of the Courtauld, and called out.
      “Sorry,” he said. “I’ve been in hiding.”


 



Ionic

Of the electrostatic charge between oppositely charged ions in the sixth century.

Later that week she is in his kitchen, naked, talking. She has been crowned by curly black acanthus leaves, and the volutes of her shoulders tuck under as she crosses her arms in the cold. He buries his face in her hair before carrying her to the sofa, a flat, blonde thing with fluting in the frame. Her hands stroke the corrugated surface, and she whispers in his favorite ear:
      “When is Karin back from Finland?”
      “Tuesday.”
      “So the beautiful woman in the draped dress standing in the front doorway staring at us isn’t her?” Yuliya excuses herself and closes the bedroom door to get dressed.


 



Joist

A bridge of sleeping women linking together two beams.

Gregory and his architect girlfriend Karin bought a first-floor flat in an ex-piano factory in Hackney. It faced ugly sixties council housing, but the development had a garden and cobblestones. There was, aptly, a music school, and a piano plinked in the distance.
      Yuliya provided engineering services. They were tearing out the floor. Concrete-matted, rotting wood planks; carcinogenic solvents, violent power tools, rust and pulp, mold and sawdust in their eyes.
      “This is going to take longer than we thought,” she said.
      “Then patch it up. Forget it,” said Karin.
      “No,” said Yuliya. “Your floor is rotting.”
      It had been like this since Karin saw them nude and supine on the sofa she had carved of pine from Kälö—on the east coast of a miniscule island off the southwest coast of Finland in the Baltic Sea just 367 miles west of St. Petersburg, Yuliya Googled—with her bare hands.
      After she left, Yuliya asked, “Why did you buy an apartment together?”
      Gregory sighed. “Why impede progress?”


 



Kerb

The edge between the road and sidewalk, restraining or limiting desires.

Gregory called her Suki, after his neighbor’s Springer spaniel. They staggered to Victoria Park when the sun cracked the sky. On a bench, Yuliya curled up with her head in Gregory’s lap. “I love you so much I would saw off my arm.”
      “It’s just an arm,” he said. She pinched him.
      They got up to stroll home, elbows buckled. Yuliya liked the late London winters, which had enough dampness to keep everybody warm.
      At the roundabout near Lauriston Road, Gregory said, “I hate bikers.”
      “Karin cycles.”
      “Finns live in a lawless universe.”
      He rarely looked before crossing; she always looked left, right, left, right. Yuliya was one-and-a-half seconds behind Gregory, enough for him to be hit smack in the left femur by a cycling schoolgirl with a long ponytail. He was knocked upward and onto his side, filling his cheek with bloody gravel.
      Karin, home from a hen do in Barcelona, left the piano factory on Friday. Yuliya took a rough linen blanket—once draped over the Kälö pine sofa—from the things she discarded.


 



Loggia

An arcaded structure accessible from the interior, providing eyes.

At museums they asked each other what they liked and were always let down, spiraling away from each other in a kind of place ballet. Even in Florence, bouleversement-averse Yuliya gazed through paintings. Excessive beauty made her recoil with anxiety. Gregory thought she admired the statues with knots of bone and flesh and wing and bronze; Medusa’s gory head in Perseus’s palm, the Sabine woman whirling in her attackers’ clutches, Menelaus grieving Patroclus’s limp body, until he knew she didn’t.
      “Beautiful,” she said, as at the Uffizi, the Accademia, the Piazzale Michelangelo, and Peretola Airport.
      “Do you really mean that?”
      Yuliya laughed. They passed a lemony wall of restaurants across the Piazza della Signoria. “Can we have coffee?” she asked. The menu was in eight languages. Gregory obliged and ordered espresso and biscotti. She asked for a latte in English.
      “Same thing in Italian,” said Gregory.
      “I can still have a vat of milk, right?” she asked. “It’s eleven.”
      “Here anything goes.”
      “Rogue.”
      “My disdain turns you mad with lust?”
      “No,” said Yuliya. “Precisely the opposite.”


 



Maithunas

Figures depicting absorption through the skin, and not vice versa.

She became a flutter of sound and didn’t know who moved her mouth. Their backs were bruised and their knees were cut. It was the purifying extremities of presence and absence, darkness and light, of distance and proximity, a physical and metaphysical pas de deux, a corporeal proof of voids and solids.
      Their universe was a series of abysses and chasms, imploding with density, collapsing like black knots with unseen surfaces, and their days exploded with light scattered through the universe but it was earthly, solid and damp and green, and every time they were hurled back through it and all its layers till they reached the hot nickel core, except when it was like being pushed through the ground, faster, faster, and then, like saplings, it started again.


 



New Urbanism

Walkability

Yuliya lived in a shared flat in Mile End, and stumbled home across the park from Gregory’s each morning to shower.


Mixed Housing

She loved her flatshare! Everyone else was a Marxist academic from South America.


Quality Architecture

Every room had mold. Her bedroom fit only a bed and looked into an airshaft. She could be anywhere awful in the world.


Green Transportation

Yuliya lost her job when the partners returned to Germany, but couldn’t tell Gregory. She cycled instead of taking the Tube.


Sustainability

“I just don’t understand how we can go on like this,” said Gregory.
      “It’s been only two years.”
      “Four. I know. Your American right to be an eternal teenager.”
      “You’re from Pittsburgh, babe. Calm down.”


Quality of Life

On Sundays, secretly, she went to the Russian Orthodox Church in Chiswick. One week, in the middle of the service, she realized there was no time to waste. She called Gregory and ordered him to be home in an hour. She took the slow District Line and the late 26 bus and twisted her ankle on the cobblestones.
      “Marry me,” she demanded.
      “Yes” fell out of his mouth.


 



Obelisk

A harbinging stone needle of sunlight designed to represent speech.

They went for a long walk after signing the marriage papers. At the waist-curvature of the Victoria Embankment, Yuliya asked about the statue of the girl grieving at the—feet? ribs?—of an armless bust. Gregory didn’t know. At water’s edge, they came to Cleopatra’s Needle, flanked by sphinxes, casting a long shadow.
      “What does it say?” she asked.
      “I’d need the Rosetta Stone,” said Gregory. “It’s like the one in Paris. Or Central Park.”
      “There’s one in New York?”
      “Damn, Suki; don’t you ever look up?”
      Gregory, who had been studying Arabic since high school, spent his last year of college in Cairo. He fell in with some journalists and became a translator. One night he was with Bernard, an AFP photographer, when they saw an empty-faced man being beaten in the crowd. Bernard threw himself in the middle to punch the main attacker between the eyes. Gregory fled.
      “I was sure he’d died.”
      “Why’d you run?”
      “Wouldn’t you?” But this was another difference between them.


 



Pagoda

A tapered Buddhist tower asking lightning to strike at the finial.

Gregory was advising a master plan for a new cultural center in Hong Kong. Saturday morning he went to the art museum, where there was a selection of works by Mark Rothko from the National Gallery in Washington and some early paintings from Guangdong. He disliked Rothko. Sometimes he thought he left America because of Rothko.
      He was staying with Sadia, his flatmate from college. They went to meet her friend Nathalie in the New Territories in the afternoon. She was making a documentary about sex trafficking and would interview police in Shenzhen before meeting them.
      “I told her you were catnip,” Sadia teased. “Don’t disappoint me.”
      “I’m married.”
      “Uh-huh.”
      Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda squat in mud, encircled by the city. Sadia, who ran the Ping Shan Heritage Trail in high school, said, “Well, I feel accomplished: This is the oldest pagoda in Hong Kong.” Her phone buzzed. “She’s at the station. I’ll tell her to come here.”
      Nathalie was dressed for a Benetton safari in the 1980s—khaki shorts, a men’s white T-shirt, Jesus sandals—but Gregory understood it as refined and nuanced sensuality.
      The first thing Sadia told her was, “The description says it’s supposed to prevent flooding.”
      “Epic fail,” he said. “Gregory.”


 



Quadrangle

A shifty square dance between buildings.

They sat in the grass, gazing at the large portico. Gregory lectured at the Slade on Tuesdays. He’d spent the summer in Berlin writing a book on the use of biological materials in contemporary architecture, an illustrated treatise on machine and nature.
      Yuliya batted away insects. She also wore an ill-fitting white T-shirt, khaki shorts, and ugly sandals, but that was because she was an engineer. “I saw Karin Sunday,” she said. “On the Tube.”
      “Why didn’t you tell me?” Gregory asked. “What did you say?”
      “Nothing. She was on the other side, reading a book.”
      “I wonder if she knows we’re married,” said Gregory. “Anyway, the department has tickets to a string quartet Thursday. Ligeti. Do you want to go?”
      “No, but you’re not asking, are you?”
      Nathalie was a tetraphobe: “Four” in Chinese sounded like the word for death. After the weeks in Berlin, they spoke about nothings, like fours, and knew no greater happiness.


 



Rococo

The catalyst of the crisis of modern science, characterized by asymmetry, grace, and lightness.

In French her husband signed his name with an accent: Grégory. He was being wooed into directing an eminent commercial gallery. The president was an investment banker with an ornate hat collection and cluttered office: seashells, stones, potted palm trees. She took them to Versailles. In the Queen’s Apartment, she said—in English, for Yuliya—“Most of the royal family were born here.” Gregory asked about the ostrich-feathered baldachin.
      Yuliya’s pregnant face swelled to Brobdingnagian proportions, and even at three months she felt phantom tension in her lower back and ankles. That evening she declined another dinner with curators, so Gregory took his friend Nathalie, to their delight: Her documentary was the jewel of the festival circuit. Nathalie so loved her subjects, he told Yuliya, that her work was more like a poem or a painting in which great devotion had been invested, and visually so stunning that it flew in the face of the rigid political correctness with which sexual slavery was frequently depicted.


 



Slab

A rectangular architectural element, with animal organization determined by depth from façade to façade or core to core.

Yuliya miscarried in the twenty-third week. It was a girl, she said on the telephone. Gregory said he would come that evening. Nathalie didn’t know Yuliya was pregnant and shouted him out of her flat. He missed the last Eurostar and sat awake all night at Gare du Nord.
      English law called it a stillbirth. They cremated and buried Odile—after his mother; Yuliya refused to name her—in Highgate with a flat black stone.
      Gregory’s head was on fire: He would curse at his colleagues and shopkeepers and customs officers and teenage boys. During the obligatory weekend visits, Yuliya stayed in bed all day, on the left side.
      “Don’t come next time,” she said, one day, without looking up.
      He hadn’t spent a fortnight without the grounding murmur of a woman’s heart in twenty years. Céline, his psychiatrist cousin, recommended an expensive Lacanian analyst.
      His friend Bob from the British Museum was in town Tuesday. They met for lunch at the Bibliothèque Nationale, slicing cheddar into tiles in the shadow of the monoliths.
      “I’m sorry about the baby,” Bob said after a Stonehenge silence. “Yuliya told me.”
      “It was inevitable. Her womb is a tomb.”


 



Truss

To tie down and secure with ropes.

Yuliya dreamt of her all the time, especially when she saw water. They had been buoyed and anchored together by a cord, floating gently. And then it betrayed them both. Her daughter had been hanged and drowned at once in her belly. Yuliya could not swim out to sea because she was the sea, and the net, and the noose.
      She worked for herself now. Gregory kept asking her to move to Paris. “Why would anyone stigmatize you for losing a child? How would they even know?”
      “Paris is a necropolis.”
      “So go back to New York.”
      “That’s not fair.”
      “What are you doing in Scotland, anyway?”
      “Implementing a concrete support system for a cantilevered bridge on the Firth of Forth.”
      “You’re obsessed with fucking cantilevers! Can’t you build another kind of bridge?”
      “What?”
      “Sorry, I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.”


 



Urbicide

In which younger European married couples massacre the City.

Gregory left the gallery to finish his overdue second book, about the loss of Chinese character forms in Southeast Asia and colonial architecture. The French publisher laughed at his “cynical sense of humor” and asked whether the genocide chapter could be a cartoon. Sometimes he loathed the daintiness of his decorative profession.
      Yuliya had adopted the time-consuming maternal habit of kissing his eyelids and ten fingers as greetings and good-byes. One day, Gregory said he was going to write in the RIBA library, but went to the Japanese café behind Dalston Junction. He took the paper. Prizes to bankers for achievement in social Darwinism. Water rose like a phoenix after years of abuse, wetly slapping Haiti again and again, shoving over a dam with brute force in Nepal.
      He went out and walked. The sky was London dark rosy gray. The high street, lined with pound shops and falafel, crowded him off the sidewalk. From somewhere he heard her. She was coming out of Poundsavers.
      “He lies about everything, you know? If he can’t control it,” said Yuliya, “is it his fault?”
     


 



Verdigris

A mossy patina of rusty growth on brass or copper surfaces.

Gregory, a Midwesterner, adored rust; the blue-green work of oxygen calcifying like ocean around the nails on copper pots. Alex instructed Gregory not to come to his wedding. Yuliya said he could come if he wished, but didn’t understand why he would. Then her mother said she was delighted such a gregarious man could tolerate her daughter. Gamely he posed at the Statue of Liberty with Yuliya’s relatives. Masha and Sonia on his left. Yuliya and Alex and Lara and Lev and Vlad and Larisa and Misha and Yana on his right.
      At the reception, Alex raised a glass “to Gregory’s Catholic guilt!” Everyone laughed, because no one knew who he was.
      Yuliya sat outside smoking against a tree on the cold ground. Gregory asked her to waltz. She obliged. Usually she said being a bad dancer highlighted how bad at life she was. She wore on her right ring finger a thin strip of metal he’d brought ten years before from the Russian-Kazakh border. He saw flecks of red in it and the slight swelling of her skin.


 



Wainscoting

A wagon partition planking the walls.

At the thickly paneled solicitors’ office in Holborn, they argued whether to apply on the grounds of adultery (Yuliya) or “unreasonable behaviour” (Gregory). The lawyer was their age and resembled Yuliya, who looked like his mother, and it was like being scolded at once by every woman he’d ever met.
      “Decide soon how you want to proceed,” she advised, “or you’ll need to go to court.”
      “The flat’s his,” said Yuliya.
      “Your debts and assets are shared,” said the solicitor.
      “She’s my lodger. £600 a month in rent. We split the bleeding electric bill,” said Gregory. “We lived apart when I was in Paris.”
      “You lived with Nathalie,” said Yuliya.
      The solicitor frowned. “You don’t sound very married.”
      “Can’t you see? She proposed when her visa expired.”
      “Please, please shut up,” said Yuliya.
      They still shared a bed, but Yuliya chose the hard surfaces of the kitchen. His damp back was gauchely mashed against the raw blond wood there to prevent the walls from swelling, finely splintering his flesh. Once Gregory had been amused by the way she regarded such marks as signs of ardor, but now knew this enthusiasm to be evidence of Yuliya’s profound emotional and sexual repression.
      Afterwards he examined a purple form on her hip bone. “It’s from the early days,” she said proudly. “Normandy, on the way back.”
      “That was a year and a half ago.”


 



Xylography

The contemporary art form of engraving ephemeral objects for eternity.

Gregory became a curator of Asian architecture at the Musée du quai Branly. He crashed in Céline’s consulting room until his lease began. In the morning Bruno, her six-year-old son, pounded little fists at the heavy door to rummage through Gregory’s masks and carvings. The boy had just discovered Egypt in school and demanded drawings of pyramids and elephants from Gregory, who obliged.
      Bruno’s father, Bernard—Gregory’s photojournalist friend from Cairo—was leaving Monday to cover the Uighur riots in China and took him for the weekend. After declining invitations to the Cinéaqua, Gregory and Céline had lunch at a Moroccan restaurant in Gambetta.
      Gregory laughed. “I had a screaming match here with a girl. She said I’d carved my name on her soul.”
      “You must’ve been hot shit. When was that?”
      “Nineteen ninety-six. I stayed at yours after she kicked me out of the flat she shared with three dreadlocked antipodeans.”
      “No, those were my Aussies,” said Céline, scraping lamb off the bone.
      “Don’t you wish it were still so easy? Narcissistic fury attests to your eternal love.”
      “No,” she said. “Bruno is leverage. I never married Bernard, but it’s beyond law because he is ours, no matter what. It keeps us civilized.”
      “Tabarnak, you are one selfish shrink.”
      Céline shrugged and kissed her teeth. “After lunch I want to see if the graffiti I did under the footbridge is still there. ‘Bush plus Israel’ with a big heart around it.”


 



Yurt

A circular or octagonal wood-framed dwelling imprinting one’s homeland in the sand.

She ceded most of her things to Gregory, Oxfam, and the piano factory tenants and shipped the five boxes containing all her belongings to New York. As a cheering-up present, Alex took her to St. Petersburg and Moscow, then on the Trans-Siberian to Beijing. For a few days, near the end of the journey, they joined a guided tour and shared a yurt in the Gobi Desert.
      One night Yuliya remembered being in Bensonhurst Park, building mud huts and sprinkling them with straw. Her father, also an engineer, taught her that word: “yurt.” He went back to Russia when her mother was pregnant with Alex, but before that taught her little science experiments: setting fires with magnifying glasses, baking-soda-and-vinegar volcanoes.
      “I saw him,” said Alex, flippantly.
      “What do you mean?” demanded Yuliya.
      “He looked me up online and called the bank, like an investor. He lives in Chicago and asked if I ever passed through and I said no, but I went anyway, and there he was.”
      “What did you talk about?”
      “Geodesic domes. He lived in Montréal for a few years. I told him your ex-husband was Canadian-American. He didn’t understand.”
      Yuliya realized infant Alex was in the mud-hut memory; it was a dream, or she’d made it up.


 



Zinc

To galvanize iron with a zinc compound to prevent oxidation and corrosion.

Gregory rented a duplex on the Canal St. Martin. The bedroom ceiling was poorly insulated. Rain rolled in steel drums against the roof. He looked out at the wavy slate sea and considered playing sick: Six people were coming over for oysters. Initially Gregory felt stodgy hosting a dinner himself, but he was thirty-eight, divorced, orphaned, had buried a child, and owned a vintage zinc table.
      Feeling hermetically sealed and moderately reactive, he went out to buy wine and couldn’t stop walking; at Gare de l’Est he’d already been gone an hour. He chose an insipid Sauvignon Blanc. It was Sunday and the taxi queue was long. Sandwiched between dyspeptic packs of Swiss professionals, he noticed a woman struggling with a shiny suitcase.
      Eventually Yuliya slammed shut the door and told the driver she was in a hurry to reach the airport. Her metal suitcase had the correct magnetization properties for the materials she was taking home. In Zurich security robbed her of so much time that she missed her flight to Paris and took the train to make the connection to New York. She worked for a Swiss conglomerate that controlled the world’s electricity grids.

Monica Datta’s work has appeared several times in Conjunctions' print and online editions, as well as in The Collagist.