This is the room where the architect lives. It is eight feet by ten feet, box-shaped and all white, even the pipes that hang precariously suspended from the ceiling above honey-colored parquet floors. They spit and gurgle late into the night until reaching a full-blown cough, often waking the architect and all of the things in the architect’s room. Weighty books are stacked in a corner and concern the styles that interest him most: the miniature tiling of Iranian porticos, Chinese terraces as flat as fields, the Royall House in Medford Massachusetts.
There is also the desk, the square-cornered futon, the arching lamp with a sixty-watt bulb. To the left of the desk is a single long window that looks out onto an open roof, slate-colored and studded with birdshit, which the architect accepts as a necessary and a tolerable amount of chaos.
Otherwise, the architect believes, it is best to keep the room as neat and clean as possible.
This afternoon the architect returns from his office and stands in the center of the room. His hands are placed firmly on his hips. The architect breathes in, and all the non-living elements are aroused. The chairs sit up straight; the window lifts its brow; the floor stretches its belly as far as it will go. The architect places his square briefcase on top of his square desk. A pen falls to the honey-colored parquet with a clack. He bends over at the waist, stretching his muscles and tendons. His left hip pops, unintentionally.
This annoys him.
The architect reaches his arms behind his head, yawns, and considers siesta. He runs his hands through his hair and strands fall out into his palms, making him feel as though time itself were suddenly tangible; something you could reach up and pull out until there wasn’t any left. The architect removes his shoes, parks them next to the square-cornered futon in their proper space, and then he lies down.
It’s raining again.
When it rains, the architect enjoys staring out at the roof, watching how the angle of the rain turns as if on axle. He does this now, reflecting that it has taken him years to reach this comfortable moment. Guilt and other untidy emotions, the architect has come to understand, will always be there. So why not organize them into a tidy room, over which he has complete control? The architect is soothed by the grayness that covers the room like a tucked blanket, making the square parts squarer, the neat parts neater.
He gazes lazily out the window.
Then, a cloud divides.
A slice of sun breaks off and opens in a bright rectangle in the center of the parquet floor. It’s beautiful, thinks the architect, as inviting as a stage. It is always lovely when nature does what you would like it to do. But as the architect admires the particular rectangularness of this particular rectangle, he notices for the first time a small crack in the parquet. He props himself on an elbow, leans over, and lightly inspects the crack with a finger. He discovers with astonishment that one of the floorboards has split.
A flash of silver appears beneath the crack.
The architect’s throat tightens. He blinks, thinking he has seen a sunspot. Then the flash flashes again, this time in full. “What the,” the architect says, and reaches for his glasses on the nightstand. He places his glasses gently on the tip of his nose, then lowers himself to his hands and knees on the floor to see better. It’s a silverfish, thinks the architect, and shudders. But before he can even finish shuddering the silverfish appears again. This time it lingers on the flat surface of the parquet, soaking up the drench of the sun with a shell no wider than the edge of a nickel.
A tail like a pin.
The architect watches as the silverfish darts two inches west. It moves with the speed of something trying to escape its own body, then stops suddenly, as if sensing a larger danger. But it’s not really danger it senses, the architect thinks, it’s shadow. He waves his hand over the crack and the silverfish silvers two inches north. Then another silverfish appears. And this silverfish moves quickly to the tail of the first silverfish, and then comes another.
The architect jumps to his futon. He sits up alert, quickly looking out the window and then under the futon in an attempt to find the source. But seven are out now, gliding lengthwise across the parquet.
“My God!” cries the architect. He grabs an old textbook on industrial design and slams it over the crack. But some of the silverfish have scuttled underneath his chair and are making their way up a leg of the desk. Others explore his shoes, and when they do, their backs become dark and the shine dulls. The lamp with the sixty-watt bulb recoils its bendable neck. The ceiling pipes boast their invulnerable geography. But not for long. One silverfish finds its way up a clean flat wall and circles maddeningly around the pipes’ curves, making them rumble and bang disagreeably. Then another fish breaks out from beneath the book in a silver flash and then boldly comes another.
Then they all spill out, marching, resentful for the book, spinning in their silver circles, sparkling like the crest of a wave. The sun flexes its muscle and shines yellower than it has in the lifetime of a thousand architects. And this architect has no choice but to lie still on his back and close his eyes while they swim over him. He lies down. He takes a deep breath. He holds it, thinking about the miniature tiling of Iranian porticos, Chinese terraces as flat as fields, the Royall House in Medford, Massachusetts for prayer; for relief of the unbearable pressure.
Jessica Anthony's stories appear in CutBank, New American Writing, Rattapallax, Mid-American Review and elsewhere. She has won the fiction fellowship to Summer Literary Seminars in St. Petersburg, Russia, and was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She lives in Portland, Maine.