In the morning there are marks where the pillow touched his face, where his T-shirt wrinkled against his back, from the waistband of his underwear, elastic indentations, ghostly traces. He peels off the socks he wore to sleep. The pattern is like a picket fence. With her fingernail she writes on his chest, Milk, Butter, Eggs, Sugar. The invisible ink of her finger rises up like a welt.
In the shower it becomes perfectly clear dermatographism. For the moment he is a walking grocery list it will fade within the hour.
"I dreamt I was in the eighteenth century, having tea in a very elaborate cup." He is a clock maker lost in time, keeping track of the seconds, fascinated by the beats, hours passing, future becoming past. "And you? How did you sleep?"
"I dreamt the building was sealed, there were no doors, no windows, no way in or out, nothing to knock, nothing to ring, nothing to bang against," she says. "The house of glass was suddenly all solid walls."
"You are what you dream," he says.
"It's true." She puts on her shoes, slipping a small piece of lead into both left and right, to keep her mind from wandering, to keep herself steady.
"I'm late," she says.
"You have a feather," he reaches out to pluck something poking out of her skin. She sometimes gets feathers; they erupt as pimples and then a hard quill like a splinter presses through the same way a feather sticks through the ticking of a pillow or the seat of a sofa.
"Is that the only one?" she asks.
He searches her arms and legs and pulls out a couple more. "All plucked and ready to go," he says.
"Thanks," she says. "Don't forget the groceries."
He nods. "Yesterday there was a fox in the woods; for a minute I thought it was you. I went to say hello and it gave me an angry eye you're not angry with me are you?"
"It wasn't me. I was at the office all day."
On her way out the door she puts a clump of dirt in her mouth, presses a pumpkin seed in and swallows for good luck.
"Drive carefully," he says. He sprinkles fish food into the pond of Koi, flips a penny in and waves good-bye.
Outside the lawns are being watered, the garden men are going around with their weed wackers, trimming, pruning. Everything is shape and order. There is the tsk, tsk, tsk hissing tick as the sprinklers spit water over the grass.
Winding down the hill, the landscape reminds her of Japan, of Scotland, of another country in another time. There are big rocks, boulders, and sand; a desert, dense vegetation clinging to the sides of craggy hills. There are palm trees, and date trees, and orange and lemon groves.
There is fog in the canyons, a hint of blue sky at the top of the hill.
The weather changes from block to block it is impossible to know what kind of day it will be.
She sits at her desk, poring over drawings, reading between the lines.
Her workspace is industrial, minimal: a skylight, an exposed wooden ceiling, furniture from an old factory.
Four pens on her desk, ten paper clips, a plastic spoon. Twenty steps from her desk to the door. She is always counting. There is something reassuring about numbers, she does math in her head, math to keep herself entertained, to keep everything in order.
Magnetized, she attracts things right now she has a paper clip on the tip of every finger like press-on nails. When she's bored, she decorates herself in loose change, quarters all up and down her arms. Her watch clings to her wrist, synched with her heartbeat. Her pulse an even sixty beats per minute. When she exercises, she takes the watch off, afraid of breaking time.
"You are a magnetic, highly influential person," a psychic once told her. "People and things are drawn to you."
Making herself a cup of tea, she puts in a pinch of catnip it makes her pleasant and playful. When she smiles, a thin line of soil at her gumline is easily mistaken for a tobacco stain.
Architectural forensics is her field why buildings do what they do.
Often called upon as an expert witness, she is known as "X-ray specs" for her ability to read the inanimate, to intuit what transformed it, to find the otherwise invisible marks of what happened and why. She is the one you want to call when there is a problem to solve cracking, sinking, the seemingly inexplicable.
Her first appointment is a disaster. From the moment she's out of the car, she's uncomfortable. She has flashes of things she doesn't want to know other people's memories. The owner meets her in the parking lot. "It's an insurance question. It's a liability question. It's a question of who's going to pay," he tells her, as he sweeps a single long lock of hair across his bald head and sweat pastes it down.
"There's something wrong with your facade," she tells him.
"A partial collapse," the owner says, pointing at the damage.
She circles the building. If the man weren't watching, she would make herself into a squirrel or a bee and get inside it. She would get between the walls, between what was original and what was applied later. Instead, she simply uses an extension rod and pokes at things.
The owner moves to let her into the building.
"Old keys have more power than new," she says, as the man fumbles.
"Could I have seen it coming? Could I have known? There was no warning."
"Or was there? Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't there there is something called willful blindness."
"Is that a legal term?" he asks, nervously.
"No." She says getting back into her car.
"Don't you need to get inside?" he asks.
"I've seen enough," she says.
"A woman died," the man confesses.
She already knows.
A click of the shutter. Her day is spent looking, taking notes with her camera, making permanent what she sees in her mind's eye. She is a special kind of anthropologist, studying what can't be touched or seen. She drives, moving through air, counting the molecules.
She is thinking of shapes volumes, groined vaults of gothic cathedrals, cable roofs, tents. She is thinking of different kinds of ceilings. She is noticing there is a lot of smog, a suffocating layer.
As a child she fell down a well, like something out of a nursery rhyme.
"That explains it," her teachers used to say, but it didn't. One thing had nothing to do with the next, except that she was curious, always curious, but there was more to it than that.
She walks with a slight limp, an unnecessary reminder. She remembers the well, she remembers thinking that she saw something there she was eight, almost nine leaning over, catching a glimpse of something in the corner of her eye.
She remembers screaming as she fell, the echo of her voice swelling the well. Wedged, her leg oddly bent. She remembers silence.
And she remembers her mother shouting down to her, "Imagine you are a bird, a winged thing and push yourself up. Imagine you are a flower, growing. Imagine you are something that can scale a stony wall." Her mother shouting: many, many hours of firemen and ropes. She remembers thinking she would fall to the center of the earth, she remembers the blackness. And her picture in all the papers.
After that, while she was resting in bed, her broken leg healing, her mother would hold her hand and stroke it, "What does it feel like to be a kitten? What does a little kitten hear or see?" And slowly her features would change and she would be a little kitten-headed girl. "And what does a kitten do with her paws?" her mother would ask, stroking her hand and little furry mitts would appear.
"You're very special," her mother would say. "When you fell down the well, you didn't know that."
She nods, still not sure what her mother is getting at aren't all little girls special?
"Some children are born with a fine coating of hair, but when you were born, you had feathers that's how I knew. When you were living inside me, you were a duck, splashing. You know what a good swimmer you are you had a lot of practice."