S H O R T S T O R Y
THE ARCHITECTURAL GENIUS
b y b a r b a r a j a c k s h a ~ s a n t a f e, n e w m e x i c o
THEY SAY he was an architectural genius, with an obsession for all things round. Squares, he said, belong to worlds where muscles bulge in ninety-degree turns and words erupt as bursts of meaning without intonation's silky drawl. He claimed we should embrace our essence, build gentle, rounded structures that reflect us from our pumpkin heads and slat-barrel chests to the curved nubs of our toes.
Long ago the genius leapt from the grid of the city. He tumbled into the countryside, where for years he rode each bump and valley, swept across prairies that draped the Earth's shoulder like a shawl. As he traveled, he strung a necklace of new works behind him. His dense stone fences meandered with the creeks. Cows took shelter under wooden, circus-tent barns. He built clusters of domed houses that to this day loll like ripe melons in a field.
Then one summer evening he came upon an old, wooden silo that nodded toward the russet sun of the west. They say the silo called to him with the whisper of a long-held secret. Captured by the call, the genius circled the silo's sagging base and ducked through the single, gnome-sized door. Inside, he walked to the empty center, where balls of light dripped down and splattered across his chest. He looked up. There, in the unbroken circle of the wall and the radiating spokes of the dome, he saw a wheel of perpetual motion frozen long ago in place. The feel of the wheel gripped him, so he threw out his arms and spun like a compass on its sharp, infinite point. In the whirling kaleidoscope above, he saw the cycles of the moon, the circumference of atoms that breathe darkness into life. He saw, in the silo, a withered stalk willing to reverse its stroll through time and flower once again.
The genius rushed to the nearby village and ordered the silo swept free of musty kernels and mice. He trucked in loads of wood, plaster and nails. Curious villagers gathered; they watched him build stair after twirling stair, raise platform upon platform. He moved upward in the silo's belly without notion or plan, following only the call of the Nautilus to build and build again.
Finally, when he reached the chrome-plated summit, he risked all that he'd done by breaking through with sledgehammer and saw. Strip by strip, he peeled away the metal and exposed new growth to the air. Then he raised the spiral farther, wrapping each new level in glass until the silo wore a bright, faceted jewel upon its cylindrical crown.
The silo glowed like a beacon in the night. People from around the county swept in and wound their way to the top. There, in the hills and valleys that spilled out before them, they finally saw where they'd each spent a lifetime. They saw how the rivers and roads stitched their patchwork farms into a wide, rolling quilt of their own unconscious design.
Word of this marvel spread, and soon the silo teemed with visitors day and night. Elsewhere, farmers dumped their grain in piles; each hoped that their empty silo might be the next glittering scepter raised to the sky. People bribed and begged for more, but the architectural genius politely declined.
He declared he'd found the perfect bowl of a valley and would build a new silo of his own. This time he called for the oddest materials: water-warped lumber, bald tractor tires, clock springs, and thick meadow stone. People watched him dig deep into the Earth. They watched as he set his stones, as levels of the new structure grew. They looked on as he hammered and sawed, as he mortared in tall, glittering windows that would ensure safe passage of the sun. Then he began to invent new colors to splash against the walls. He brought in plants for tropical gardens, led in animals, vibrant and strange. The people began to whisper; they knocked and clamored to see. Their desire swirled thick and hot as bonfire smoke, but this time no one was allowed inside.
Months passed as the genius built high into the shifting orbit of the clouds. He rarely returned to Earth, barely set foot upon the ground. As moss and vines shrouded the silo, people lost sight of the doorway; they lost interest in work that progressed beyond their sight. They drifted away until finally, only a stray, speckled dog remained.
The genius disappeared one night, in the aura of a full harvest moon. Only the speckled dog knows what truly happened. Some say he was snatched by a sudden wind. Some say the genius reached the summit and bared himself to the judgment of the moon's round, benevolent face. Some say he still walks the inner gardens, no longer able to speak as a man. But the wise ones say he simply completed his passageway and stepped back into the stars.
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