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House of Halls
The Real

In the house of halls, there are no rooms, only corridors: a gilded corridor, a humid corridor, a corridor of ice, a corridor to a corridor, a corridor that fans out to many corridors, a darker corridor to a brighter corridor, a corridor of pay phones, a corridor with a floor of high-tensile-strength woven trampoline fabric, a cyan corridor, a corridor with a glass floor through which another corridor shows, a crimson corridor, a corridor marked like a tennis court bisected with a net, a corridor with no floor and a rope bridge over the chasm, a gridded corridor, a corridor with a belt-driven rubber floor revving on, a corridor with WWII bric-a-brac displayed on shelves inside glass casing set in the walls, a corridor of artificially warmed rosy pulsing synthetic flesh, a corridor of toilet stalls, a corridor full of low-slung ornamental hammocks that will disintegrate if sat upon, a corridor of refrigerators filled with meats and cheeses, a corridor with pillow-softened walls, a sticky corridor, a corridor of chandeliers, a corridor with a fine ankle-deep white sand, a sealed water-filled corridor that must be swam through, a soundproof corridor, a corridor of echoes, a mirrored corridor, a corridor fogged with rain clouds, a lemon-yellow corridor, a corridor that slants down to stairs down to a burrow to an annex to a channel that spirals ever up. 
      One must move slowly through the house of halls, as many of the floors are varnished or tile-laminated or moist or icy or sanded smooth or otherwise slick. 
      Though the house of halls may seem chaotic inside, it looks quite orderly from the outside. It appears to be a clean modernist structure made of interlocking precast concrete block with light relief ornamentation, perhaps in homage to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House or similar buildings. 
      The desert wind over the years has worn the house of halls’ exterior etchings into unrecognizable geometrical patterns, a hint of a circle here, a trace of a pyramid there. 
      The house of halls is 62 years old. 
      The house of halls covers 15,000 square yards. The house of halls was privately subsidized. Including labor, land, property taxes, licensing fees, construction equipment rentals, and building materials, the assembly of the house of halls cost $8,210,033. 
      Near the house of halls, through ground cracked by the sun, cuts a creek full of gray-water runoff, surrounded by piles of shale. 
      There are 317 wasp nests in the eaves of the house of halls. 
      The mean annual temperature outside the house of halls is 68.7F. 
      The nearest city with a population greater than 30,000 is two hours away by car. 
      Earthquake activity in the area remains 1,230% greater than the US average. 
      In the six decades since the house of halls first opened, it has not achieved anything near a sustainable profit margin, yet it stays fully staffed and welcomes visitors like me, year after year.

The Symbolic

It means repression. It means masks. It means sadness. 
      It means haunting. It means the old veined through the new. It means the right hand keeping secrets from the left hand. It means parent and child. 
      It means the body with organs (house) in the body without organs (desert). 
      It means the interreliant body and soul. It means rest frustrated by motion and motion slowed by rest. It means the unhappy link between right and left brain. 
      It means Germany before World War I. It means Germany after World War II. 
      It means irreconcilable class division. 
      It means the Internet. 
      It means antebellum America. 
      It means a relationship held together only by destructive patterns kept hidden by both parties in a kind of tacit agreement. 
      It means critique of fatuous modern life. It means a weak hope. 
      It means hunger. It means Vikings. 
      It means base and superstructure. It means kitsch as art. 
      It means double articulation. It means immanence. 
      It means double helix. It means form and no form. 
      It means mind under matter. It means progress arrested by progress. 
      It means society paralyzed by the strain between the ideals of democracy and the reality of free enterprise. It means loneliness. 
      It means a pack of wolves in the wolf. 
      It means the departure of function from form. 
      It means a widening gap between sign and sign’s object. 
      It means the Holy Ghost is here. 
      It means dream and dreamer. 
      It means a taking apart that creates. 
      It means only itself.

The Imaginary

I go to the house of halls after you leave me for a vacation to the coast of France, to the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, to visit the house of your friend M. and M.’s father and M.’s brothers. 
      Long ago, in high school, M. had been an exchange student that you’d lost your virginity to when he stayed for a time with your family, and you had kept in touch with him. M. is your close friend even now. You would tell me what you remember about him even lying naked in bed by me. M. has blue eyes. In photos his father’s house looks like a castle—in fact, it was used as a convent centuries ago—and it shows the accumulation of its age, ivy and creeping vines, stained glass, battlements, a clerestory, tapestries, banquet tables, paintings, trapdoors, busts of saints. The ocean is visible from the window of a certain ivy-covered turret. You would talk about it until I said, please, I didn’t want to hear more, but you always found a way to revisit the subject. 
      I pay the ticket-booth operator at the gate $100 for the day pass. It’s a brilliant morning and the concrete surface of the house of halls shines white. In the heavily padded lobby of the house of halls, the guard leads me to a brass door that closes behind me and I am alone in a tunnel carpeted from floor to ceiling in lush red shag that swallows the sound of my footsteps. I reach my hand out to trail through strands on the wall and my hand comes away with a powder of dust on it. There is heaviness in the air, the smell of mold, and I wonder how often the house of halls is cleaned. There are no footsteps or voices I can hear, only a trickle of water from someplace over the ceiling and a muffled sound like a circular saw through wood and the rattling of machines at work in corridors far off. 
      I push myself through the corridor of ice on my knees to avoid injury. It leaves my hands red and shaking. I pull the sleeves of my jacket over my fists, like gloves. 
      I stumble through the corridor of darkness toward the light at the other side. It smells like a lawn. 
      When I enter the lemon-yellow corridor my shoelaces are grass stained. I can imagine you in the pasture by the sea. The light of the sun shows the fuzz along the line of your jaw. Your forearms have more hair than mine. 
      I bypass the corridor of water for the corridor of burlap. 
      I vomit twice in my hands in the corridor of meat. 
      Dirty, stinking, still nauseous from the corridor of meat, I sit in the wicker chair in the middle of the corridor of prisms. The refractions of light on the walls dizzy me. 
      I lie curled around myself in the corner of the crimson corridor. It is like a womb or a throat. 
      In the corridor of light, I must close my eyes against the brilliance and place my hand along the wall to help myself through. A high tone from the light keens my ears. 
      In the corridor of Jacuzzis, I inhale the humid air deeply. It has a chemical edge that stays in my mouth. The wallpaper is peeling away. The floor shows mold in its seams. 
      In the corridor of pay phones, I use my phone card to call the number you gave me. A man answers. I can barely hear him. M.’s father? M.? I ask for you. 
      “Bonjour?” Your voice sounds far off, tinny. 
      “It’s you! How are you? In France.” 
      “I got a massage just now from M.’s three little brothers, all at the same time. Little brothers rule.” 
      “At the same time.” 
      “I can’t believe you called me.” 
      “We had to take the dog to a country hospital here.” 
      “Is he dead?” 
      “You don’t take dead things to hospitals.” 
      “Oh yeah.” 
      “What happened?” 
      “Where are you now?” 
      “I’m in the house of halls.” 
      “I’m in the house of halls. You know the house of halls. I went out there.” 
      “The Japanese game show …” 
      “Two times …” 
      “Hello?” I say. “Hello?” 
      Static crackles. Dial tone. I hang the phone in its silver cradle and then I put my ear to the earpiece again. Dial tone. I hang it up. I have a pressure in my bladder. 
      In the corridor of thin aluminum, my shoes leave faint half-moons behind in the floor. 
      Finally, in the corridor of crystal, I have to relieve myself. I go in the corner. I run away from the pool as it spreads out quickly. 
      In a darkened corridor, the floor drops and I am plummeting down, down, down. It is a tube. My center falls away. I can’t see. I’m upside down. I’m forward on my stomach with my hands flailing out. I hear my scream. I tumble out into the padding of the lobby floor. The guard helps me to my feet. 
      Outside the house of halls, the day is purpling into dusk and the dust of the desert spreads around, its cholla, its leaning saguaro, its shale, its yellowed tufts of brittlebush fluttering gently in the wind, over the hills. In the car, the leather of the driver’s seat hurts my thighs through my jeans. I take off my jacket and I spread it underneath me to sit on. My own stink comes up around. I start the car. The ticket-booth operator opens the gate for me. She raises her hand as I pass. 
      I can sense the house of halls gets smaller behind as I drive into the hills, though I don’t look in the mirror to see the second when it finally goes out from my line of sight.

Joe Aguilar is the author of Half Out Where. His fiction is in Conjunctions, X-R-A-Y, and Threepenny Review.