On Houses, Some of Which You Might Recognize
In modern city centers, where space is of utmost importance, you sometimes find the tiny houses known as mitras. These houses are elusive, moving as the city moves, squeezing into thin alleys between buildings—sometimes even showing up inside unused attics or forgotten basements. Mitraresidents wake up every morning to a new block, though they blend in nicely via confident hellos to neighbors and friendly hat tips to the local baker or fruit vendor.
They do not like to be remembered, as remembrance comes saddled with expectations. You’ve seen at least one such resident, walking down the street, and you thought they looked familiar but you were not confident enough to speak to them. This is because they are everywhere throughout the city, not caring where they are, only caring to pass through.
The downtown area of Delte is known for its traditional-style kotchke (meaning “many doors”) houses, so named because of their long and rambling hallways. Construction on kotchkes is eternal; Delteites will build in a straight line from the front of their property to the back, at which point the hallway will curve underground and snake back to the front as a basement floor. This process continues until it becomes cost-prohibitive to continue building down—for most families, three to four stories deep. At that point, another main hall will be erected parallel to the first, snaking backwards and down and frontwards and down just like the hallway before it, such that a single kotchkehouse becomes a collection of many houses which are joined together at a central foyer.
As soon as additional rooms are completed, Delteites abandon their current quarters for new ones, leaving the old kitchens and bedrooms exactly as they were in the moment of moving on. Thus, exploring abandoned sections of kotchke houses is as to watch slices of time flicker by in zoetrope fashion—a cold tile kitchen with half-eaten turkey and mayonnaise sandwiches left out on the counter, favorite books on work desks opened to page 72 or 94, pens resting inside notebook spines next to partially-written diary entries, pastel-colored rattles dropped by infants, trucks or dolls which are no longer suitable for play, double beds that have been exchanged for single beds, rotary phones that have been long replaced by push-dial phones, typewriters by computers, candles by light bulbs.
On the Equinox, Delteites will hold hands and walk backwards through their houses, then forwards again, in solemn remembrance of all past versions of themselves. In this way, as is custom, they remain safely tethered to the past.
Tunnels of Aluy
Due to the harsh sunlight in Aluy, residents prefer to live underground, deep under the sand dunes. If you were to drop down the manhole into the entrypoint at the top of the main street, you would be faced, upon landing, with a single narrow walkway that curves broadly on either side, as though to form a large circle: and this is indeed the case. Houses in Aluy are not much more than a series of burrows branched in even increments off the main walkway, much like tick marks on a large clock. The burrows are big enough only for one or two to live in.
The people of Aluy cannot build large chambers underground for fear of compromising the integrity of the sand above them, which means that every open chamber must be small, and the townspeople follow specialized diets to ensure their frames never grow too large. Children follow low protein nutrition regimens from a young age to stunt their growth, and overconsumption of food is a social faux pas. Another consequence of the small burrows is that whole families can never live together in the same one. When a new child is born, the baby is placed in an empty burrow, likely one freed up by the unfortunate passing of a town elder.
This means that the circular city of Aluy is effectively striated by age; it rotates in a wheel of birthing and dying. Babies are born and placed in empty spots. As those babies grow older, other newborns are placed in a burrow to the right of them. Once residents reach middle age, the crying of newly born children is on the furthest side of the circle and they cannot hear it at all, such that they may even forget about new generations existing—until one morning, when they will wake up to hear the crying again, very faintly and from far away.
For the latter half of their lives, Aluyites will notice the cries grow louder and slowly approach them. They know the day will come when an infant occupies the burrow directly next to theirs, and then finally the one they currently occupy. Like this, the youngest generation replaces the old, ever rotating, recycling.
Chests of Brasak
There is a furniture-maker in Brasak who specializes in chests of drawers, which are widely revered for their ornate attention to craftsmanship. The chests are made from deep black lacquer, and have tall sweeping feet with oyster-shell inlays. In a feat of lacquer-bending, not a single portion of the furniture is flat; though the top may appear to be so on first glance, from a sufficient distance you are able to see that it bows slightly upward to a degree precisely equal to that of the earth’s natural curvature, the way it looks when you stare out into the still ocean.
Perhaps most impressive is the maker’s attention to the illusion of a continuous surface. The seams on the drawers are perfectly hidden, their location given away only by a single pearl in the center of each one, and they slide out gracefully with the slightest pull of your thumb and forefinger.
The lacquer is custom-made to be such a deep black that any object placed inside the drawers will appear to shine in hyperrealistic fervor. The effect is thus: all stored objects become portraits of their owner’s lives. Wiped-away fingerprints remain visible, as do microscopic fibers or scratches from years of riding in coat pockets. Memories, too, leave remnants behind on the contents’ surfaces, as though they were fallen particulate matter or dust.
The owners may open their drawers at any time to find their triumphs smiling, their errors obvious. These dressers are frequently consulted, for instance, when one wants to win an argument about things said in prior conversations, or when one wants to look back on young decisions with an aged perspective. It is recommended (by the manufacturer) that one retrieves what is needed from the drawer and quickly shuts it again, as some are known to linger too long over that which they can no longer change.
Walking three days due east through the woods you reach a simple house, built with trees that have been trained to lie very still on their sides, one on top of the other, fastened together by dried mud. There are a few large openings along the front wall. One is near the ground, for entry, and two others are higher up. These allow the sunlight (and, if appropriate, other skyward visitors) to pass through.
But the important ones are the smaller openings you cannot see: the ones around back, underground, that let in the mice, the gaps between the roof and the walls where spiders hide, the torn seams that admit the draft in January, the pores in the wood that allow breaths to escape back into the woods and also allow the woods to breathe inside the house, the spaces between the floor planks that catch the dirt flecking off seven pairs of tall boots, the crack that has formed at the base of the side wall that will yawn upward for another fifty years before splitting in two.
Hidden in Paris
There is a well-hidden house in Paris, only showing itself when one wanders in a certain state of mind while the street is dim, and happens to make a wrong turn. You will know you have stumbled across the house when you see a brass inscription on the sidewalk and an arrow pointing to a tall wrought-iron gate. The exact text of the inscription is highly contested. Some say the inscription reads diligenter calcare, others say it reads domus relicto, others still say the letters were so worn as to be illegible.
Upon passing the gate you will see a stone spiral staircase that descends into darkness. The staircase is said to never terminate, but to loop in upon itself as though by Escherian twists. As you walk, you may hear echoes from others’ feet together with your own, some louder and some quieter (indicating the location of the walker), and when footsteps pass beside you it is customary to extend your arms and reach for the person who is there. However, know in advance that you will never touch another, only reach out to them as though to reach through them, knowing they are likewise reaching out to you, as they may have done many times before, on many passes before.
Andrea Passwater is a writer and conceptual artist based in San Francisco. While her initial writing love was poetry, she got hooked on prose along the way and has recently completed her first novel, Iron Works. Her words have previously appeared in Duende, Quiet Lightning, and as a semi-finalist in Great American Short Fiction, among others. Her most recent art installation involves visiting people in a moment of loss, and meticulously cataloging (in text) everything they have left. You can find more of her art, writings, and other anomalies on Instagram (@andreapasswater).