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.
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.
“Where are you from?”
“Pittsburgh. Paris till I was six, but my parents were from Québec.”
“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.
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.”
“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.
Yuliya lived in a shared flat in Mile End, and stumbled home across the park from Gregory’s each morning to shower.
She loved her flatshare! Everyone else was a Marxist academic from South America.
Every room had mold. Her bedroom fit only a bed and looked into an airshaft. She could be anywhere awful in the world.
Yuliya lost her job when the partners returned to Germany, but couldn’t tell Gregory. She cycled instead of taking the Tube.
“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.
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.
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?”
“Sorry, I’m sorry. I love you. I’m sorry.”
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?”
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.”