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DANIEL MILLER

 

 

 

 

Daniel Miller

Daniel Miller is currently enrolled in the Master's in Creative Writing program at the University of Missouri.  His work has most recently appeared in Tempo Magazine, Go Read Your Lunch, and Anvil & Lyre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blueprints

 

 

 

The Architect

“A roll of tracing paper,” the architect would say, “and a drafting pencil.” 

            This is what he told me to call him—the architect. He was no longer Ben or, as mother used to call him, Benjamin. The first nights that he slept on the pull-out sofa, the first meals at the dining room table, I had called him Ben and he refused to listen.  Instead, the architect would continue flipping through the I.M. Pei coffee table book, would continue spooning peas into his mouth. He told me it was a calling and I asked the architect if he meant the drafting or what had happened to her. Each day when I left for work, the architect would give me a list of necessary supplies and I would supply him. Often it was tracing paper, new pencils. Sometimes the architect would snap a thin, metal T-square on the corner of the desk. “Wrong, wrong,” he said, “it’s all wrong.”  I had seen many of his drafts. He taped them to the apartment walls. I had seen the architect ripping large sheets of tracing paper in half, shoving the floor-plans and sketches into the kitchen trash can. The day after, the architect would put in an order of more paper, a new measuring device, a magnifying glass-light that he could clip onto the desk’s edge. 

 

The Master Bedroom

            The architect had many drafts of the master bedroom. In some aspects it was normal. The architect drew to scale of course a bed, a closet, two nightstands, two dressers. In other aspects it was not. There was no door. There was a block of cement, impossible to open or close or shift in any manner. There was, in the architect’s precise script, notes near each nightstand, near each dresser and printed neatly atop the bed.  The notes said this: mine, mine, hers, hers, my side, and her side. 

            The architect kept all of his clothes in a large plastic container. In another container, he kept her clothes. Folded within lay two jackets, one thicker and lined with wool, pairs of her shoes, boots, slippers and socks, pairs of jeans, underwear folded, neatly and tucked between the heavier garments. The architect kept a handful of shirts and blouses, sweaters and knitted caps, a scarf that her mother had knitted. 

            “A bed, a dresser,” I said, “the guest bedroom is always open.” The architect would not budge. He kept his plastic containers inside of a hall closet, each day carefully pulling the boxes out to find an outfit to wear, to refold or iron his or her clothes. Beneath a throw pillow, that which he laid his head on each night, the architect kept one of her nightshirts. The shirt was grey, threadbare. The architect would keep one hand, his right, below the pillow and within the fabric.

            The architect told me that nothing bad could come into the master bedroom, that it was a safe zone. He said that the block of cement was coated with such a material that no germs or virus could seep through the pores into the room. No missile of any caliber could pierce the block. No intruder of any kind could cross the threshold. There were no windows. There were monitors. Each monitor would be linked to a different security camera, cameras that would be bolted into various ceilings around the house including the ceiling just outside the master bedroom. Who could ever enter such a room, I thought, who could ever leave? 

 

The Hallway

            There were only two drafts of the hallwayone from the perspective of the far end of the hall, one from the near end. The architect sketched identical doorways side by side down the hallway. “Each door is identical,” he said. “It would be impossible for them to find their way into our bedroom.” No scale was given, no length of the hallway in total, the doors sketched in each draft went on and on and on ad infinitum. 

            The architect didn’t often go to the basement. He didn’t often go to the second floor where the guest room, where my room was. The architect stayed on the ground level. He slept on the pull-out sofa. He ate at the kitchen table across from me, spooning peas into his mouth. He sat at the oak desk, passed down from father, pulling out T-squares and rulers and mechanical pencils and compasses, holding his breath while he softly left graphite lines across the tracing paper. 

            It was three weeks after he had moved in that they began—his sobbing fits. The architect cried before that. Of course he did because who wouldn’t, but it was not until the third week that he sobbed. Most nights I fell asleep listening to his sobs. The architect would wail into his hands and I would find comfort in those faint wails as they seeped through the living room ceiling, through the bedroom floorboards and into my ears. 

            It was the fourth week that his wailing was not faint. The architect’s nightly sounds traveled not through the ceiling and into the room but rather through the cracks between door and doorframe, through the pores. I laid there for a long time deciding whether to get up or not, to emerge into the hallway and console Ben. Benjamin. One and a half years my elder, the architect was the consoler of our childhood. When I had broken my foot, when grandfather cried on the tiled bathroom floor, gripping his head and rocking, endlessly rocking, when Mr. Dillard read father’s will, divvying up ancient furniture and the little savings he kept, the architect would place his hand on my shoulder. We did not hug, never did we hug. Instead we patted backs. Instead we offered each other a silent relief. It was this that I thought about our childhood and the architect’s louder, closer wails that put me to sleep. 

 

The Kitchen

            The architect was always skillful in the kitchen. That’s what he did. Before he drafted imaginary rooms, before she passed, the architect cooked. “Ben,” I said. “Architect,” I said. “Benjamin,” I said. “Maybe it’s time to find a new job.” Mother had always told us that if we were to live with her as adults then we must work, must contribute something. I did not mind the architect not contributing. He did not clean but always kept the desk and the pull-out sofa and the boxes of clothes tidy. He did not pay me for rent, this did not bother me. He did not cook meals. He did not leave the house.

            “No knives,” the architect said “no metal knives, anyway.” The floor-plan suggested no unusual kitchen. There was a pantry, an island with a built-in bar top. The architect labeled a dishwasher, an oven with a gas stove-top not electric, never electric a refrigerator, small circles meant to signify bar stools. The kitchen had two doorways, one on the west side of the room, leading into the dining room; the other on the south side of the room, leading into the living room, mounted on the walls, more security cameras. The architect described the pantry—cans and boxes of microwavable pasta, bagels, the ingredients for all of her favorite meals. He described the window—of course it would stay locked, of course it was thick, unbreakable Plexiglas. 

            It wasn’t the first time I had asked the architect to get a job. And it wasn’t as if I expected something more from him. And it wasn’t as if he never left the house because he did sometimes accompany me to the art store, pulling drafting materials off of shelves and into the cart. He was a sous-chef before, he was on salary. “Maybe it is time,” the architect said. He pulled his coat and mine off of the rack mounted next to the front door.

 

The Front Door

            The architect wouldn’t leave without me, or rather, he couldn’t. If a salesman had been making his rounds in the neighborhood and happened to knock on my door, the architect could not answer. He was suspicious of everybody. He asked that I always look through the peephole before opening the door, lest some masked intruder be waiting on the other side. The door was more than a threshold; it was a portal to the architect. I looked through the peephole and, seeing that no criminal lay in ambush, opened the door and led him to the car. 

            There are no drafts of the façade and all outside sketches of the house are obscured by the wall. There is a draft of the living room, though, and sketches of the front door. There was no door handle. There were locks built into the wood. There were twenty-five deadbolt locks and between each deadbolt lock was an iron latch and between each iron latch and each deadbolt was a steel-chain door guard and centered on the door a long iron crossbar that, when locked, extended a foot and a half past the doorframe. 

            Downtown, I urged the architect to fill out applications while I ran errands and because it was not yet night and law enforcement frequently patrolled the streets lined with storefronts and restaurants; he said that it would be okay. “Good luck,” I said. The architect was already at the car when I had finished the errands. Leaning back against the passenger side door, the sun’s glow washed over his face. The architect’s desk was placed against the south wall and when that fiery star rose above or fell below the horizon, he only ever saw the pink periphery. 

            Among all of the deadbolts and latches and the chains and crossbar was the peephole. “It will be custom made,” the architect said, “wide angle, distorted in such a way that from the outside no person could look in.”  In addition to the peephole would be a security camera bolted on the upper right and upper left corners of the door frame. An intercom system would be installed into the wall, a small speaker attached to a pedestal built onto the porch. 

            It was near dawn when the architect came to my house, pounded on the door. “She’s gone,” he said and I had opened the door and my arms and let him choose which, if any, he should enter but he only repeated himself. It was not that night that it happened. It had been four nights prior that I had sat beside Ben in the detective’s office. It had been four nights prior that we flipped through photographs and held spent pistol shells and the frayed rope that had bound her. I dropped him off after that, insisted that he spend the night with me but he insisted he couldn’t. Then, four days later, the architect pulled his plastic containers into my living room and into the closet, taking my spare house key. “As long as you’d like,” I said.

 

The Guest Bedroom

            The early drafts and floor-plans of the library are titled the guest bedroom. The architect has slashed a red x through these titles and in his handwriting, tidy and small, he inserted the new title—the library. Like the bedroom there is no door into or out of the library. Unlike the bedroom there is no block of cement. Against each of the four walls, stacked from floor to ceiling are bookshelves. In the middle of the library are a chair and a desk with a small lamp on it. There are no empty spaces on the shelves. The books are organized by subject.

            There was less of an apprehension in the days following our trip downtown. The architect still spent much of his day at the desk, holding his breath while pulling lines across the thin paper. “The library on Fifth,” he said. I looked through the peephole, ensured our safety before getting into the car and pulling out of the driveway. The architect became more comfortable with our daytime trips. He began to partition his life. Half of the day the architect would be hunched over a floor plan. The other half he would spend seated on the pull-out sofa, flipping through the stacks of books he borrowed that week.

            “Crime thrillers,” the architect said, “biographies on killers, biographies on the killed.” He had described the library to me in great detail. “Books on law; books on crime; books on criminals and breaking and entering,” he said. “The Encyclopedia of Criminology and Justice; The Encyclopedia of Crime; Encyclopedia of Crime and Punishment; True Crime Magazine, a quarterly publication printed for three years following the Manson murders. “Knots,” the architect said, “books on how to tie them, how to untie them; nautical knots; cookbooks and biographies on chefs; all of her textbooks, tomes of research on the autism spectrum in five to ten year olds.” There would be a ladder on a track, rolling around the room and reaching to the ceiling. The floorboards would be ancient and matte and soft to the touch. The desk heavy and its legs leave imprints into wood beneath. 

            Of course they called—the restaurants. His résumé showed his experience through its culinary timeline. A one-Michelin star French restaurant called while the architect was reading Home Invaders: Who Is at Fault?  “An interview,” the voice said, “next Friday at two.” The architect did not close his book. “Maybe we were wrong,” he said. 

 

The Wall

            The drafts and floor plans are drawn to scale. The architect carefully marks how the scale is measured and the square-footage of each wall of each room. The fortress he is designing is humble. It is two floors tall and contains two bedrooms and two bathrooms and the necessary rooms that any humble but secure fortress must have. There is a kitchen which opens into both living room and dining room. The architect did not tape the outside sketches onto the wall. Instead, after showing me, he would tuck them into father’s desk with all other details regarding the wall.

            The wall keeps the fortress protected and was designed to do such with efficiency. The wall, as the drafts describe, is more than twice the height of the fortress and stone built. Looping atop the wall are ribbons of steel and from the ribbons jut sharpened blades. “Paper thin and razor sharp,” the architect said. I had imagined, when he told me this, the feeling of steel sliding through flesh. On either side of the wall the architect has sketched a moat of his handwriting notes two yards width and three yards depth.  The wall has no gate.

            The restaurants stopped calling and then the architect stopped reading. His piles of books went untouched until I returned them. He spent more time at father’s desk, no; he spent all of his time at father’s desk. If he slept, I know not when. He still wailed each night, still sobbed over his pencils and rulers and bundles of drawings and I still fell asleep to his pain. The drafts and sketches of the fortress became more impossible. The first and second floor were connected by an Escherian staircase, illusive steps that ran into walls and ceiling and twisted and flipped in such a way that allowed no clear passage between levels. The stone wall surrounding the fortress became diamond, impenetrable and blinding as the sun ripped through octahedrons. The fortress itself was altered from being two stories upward to two stories below the surface of the earth. The living room, the dining room, the kitchen, one bathroom moved to the top floor. The library, the master bedroom, the second bathroom moved downward. The kitchen window removed, the front door reinforced with more locks and chains and levers and a mechanical switch that, when pulled, caused gears to shift and a row of thick, iron pikes with pointed tops to emerge outside the exterior of the threshold. 

 

The Architect

            The architect would say nothing. “Dinner,” I would say, “materials, anything?” Hunched over father’s desk he would meticulously draft more rooms, more details of the wall and fortress. The architect continued to hang his drawings and drafts onto the living room walls. The architect built a fortress around him of grey graphite on white tracing paper or white ink on blue—the ammonium iron citrate and potassium ferrocyanide reacting on empty sheets that hung in our windows. The fortress was impassable. The architect could not leave and I could not enter and the architect would say nothing. He did not iron and fold his or her clothes that lay in the plastic containers. The architect did not spoon peas into his mouth. The architect did not leave the desk. Instead, the architect taped to it a photograph of her, a portrait buried within his wallet. Instead, the architect continued to build around him the fortress, the wall of blueprints.

 

 

©2014 Daniel Miller

 

 

Author Links

 

"Pump District #6" by Daniel Miller at Go Read Your Lunch

 

 

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