The Edifice

Daniel Uncapher

I warmed up to the idea of the edifice faster than Stuffy, but I still took my time with it.

My first instinct, like most, was resistance. In retrospect I can’t say why. Maybe we’re all just reactionaries. We just don’t like change.

Had we been a little less cautious, who knows? But we did what we could with the information we had at hand, with fleeting details and the specious ideas of the construction in question, and we got where we got with it.

Presentation matters. The board assembled a review committee to receive concerns from the community, a matter of due process ahead of all-but-due arrival, and we met in the basement of the city library on the appointed day. Stuffy and I took our seats at the back.

It’s true that up to that point little to no actual research had been done on the consequences of the edifice itself, only how easy and effective it would be to realize it. What would the effect be on the wildlife? What effect would it have on the tide? A surveyor expressed concern on behalf of the continental shelf; we know it likes a little wiggle room, he explained, but calculations like these are, quite frankly, beyond Newton.

Heavier questions levelled unilaterally: Who among the community even asked for the edifice? A robin-headed man without hair clocked an empty chair with his cane and, moustache in shambles, stated the problem roundly: You want to construct an edifice that juts out into the public domain, our public domain, by some measures up to twenty-five, thirty percent. An edifice in our domain.

Seconded by the woman in the turnip-hat with a +5.75 prescription. My name is Little Quinn, I live on 113 Mayoral Street in the house with the blue shutters, and I’d like to know: what kind of precedent does this set? To which there was wide, almost unanimous agreement in the room, even among the members of the listening committee, who were ostensibly supposed to remain apolitical.

Quinn is something of a poet, and she leveled analogies against the edifice in the most indiscrete language imaginable: Hundreds of thousands of peregrine falcons collide into the reflective windows of flashy high-rises and wind up in dumpsters; pregnant turtles beach themselves in human trash and starve to death in a tangle of plastics, BPA; eels are degloved by mechanical operators.

Her words cooled the room, heightened the tension. Even metaphor was clearly inadequate to the demands of the edifice. It couldn’t be that the edifice itself was unrecognizable, or we would’ve never caught on enough to complain, but it resisted certain conventions of standard articulation nonetheless. We weren’t dealing with the usual dialects but with something that resisted history altogether, and simple naturalism was not the full picture.

The narrative strained so much against the public good that it seemed like it was about to burst entirely, that the committee would simply cut the mics, flip the table, and call it a day, when a procedural engineer stood up to speak on behalf of the edifice.

What do you think the public domain is for anyway, she said, her voice cracking, if not actualization?

She pulled out her phone to read some facts but dropped it, cracking her screen.

She’s an angel, whispered Stuffy. I love her shorts.

They’re just basketball shorts, I said.

I love them, said Stuffy.

The engineer searched for words. We are dealing now with inadmissible facts, she admitted. But this is where discourse has gotten us. It’s not that there weren’t ever dinosaurs in Indiana; it’s that the glaciers obliterated their remains!

A pall set over the room at the very mention of glaciers.

As for human remains, she continued, well, to your point—that is, to the committee’s view that—to the public record, to collective inaction, to muscular logic: You can’t know until you try!

Stuffy couldn’t take any more. She seized the floor, speaking through a thousand open mouths. Shame about the turtles, she said, shame about the turtles, sure—as for the birds—who hasn’t run into a window before?

I was shocked. Where was she going with this? She didn’t sound like the Stuffy I knew at all!

Nobody here can predict the future, she continued. No one here can speak of knowing anything at all, least of all an intrusion like the edifice. The edifice has other concerns. There’s infrastructure to contend with, a new idiolect, an aesthetic regime that remains out of reach. She paused to catch her breath. You see, all hands must come in at once for this thing to be viable, for the gloves to protect from the cold. The house must turn into a home in accordance with something resembling equilibrium, status quo, from the radical refashioning of something like an architecture. Until that time the committee will remain incomplete.

She turned directly to the engineer, said: honey, I love your shorts, and sat down to a silent room.

From the periphery, our seat in the wings, I could see quite clearly that a proposition hung on everyone’s lips, an unresolved energy that rose and proceeded inwards, inauspicious but definite, flexing, acting unilaterally and from every direction on the center until the center makes a perceptible shift—possibility—change. People blink, wonder: Did you see that? Is the world just a little bit different now? And they can’t put their fingers on it, they don’t even dare put it into words, but they feel for themselves that something has changed.

Frankly Stuffy embarrassed me and I excused myself, going back upstairs to try my hand at getting a library card. The old man at the help desk was very patient with me, an absolute pleasure to do with business with. Behind him a woman with three kids exited the children’s section into the snowy obscurity of the city, withstanding the cold, and reminded me of boiled chicken.

Of the edifice I’d already made up my mind.

Daniel Uncapher is an MFA candidate at Notre Dame. His work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, the Baltimore Review, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Posit, Chantwood Magazine, Neon, and others.