I woke to several different noises, something being picked up and put down, a tap being turned on and off. What time is it? I said. It’s 4 a.m., said Mim. For a moment she was silhouetted in the bathroom door before the light went off and she was reabsorbed into the dark. Outside, the sky was so black that when I looked at it I was looking at nothing but my memory of the sky. Were it not for the moon shining through the narrow band of windows, I couldn’t say whether my eyes were closed or open.
The church bells rang four times down in the bay. I stuck my foot out from under the covers and tried to sleep, but my head was full of nighttime voices overtaking and interrupting one another so it sounded like there were many voices talking at once though really it was just the same voice repeating the same few meaningless questions—What month is it? Clytemnestra? Who was Tchaikovsky’s son?—which, in any case, were impossible to answer since each one seemed to dissolve the moment it caught my attention.
Lying there, the quiet was disturbed by the sound of Mim’s footsteps toing and froing on the ceiling above me. You’re too sensitive, said a voice inside my head. It’s just Mim, walking. So I rolled over and closed my eyes but on my side the sound of her footsteps dropped down in a straight line from the ceiling into my ear where, having penetrated my head, they made a right turn and took root in my sternum before infecting my heart, which started beating louder and faster than before. Relax, I told my heart, there’s nothing to worry about. But of course a heart doesn’t understand human language and the only way to still it is by force, which I did, wrapping my arms tightly over my chest, though each time I drifted off my grip relaxed and the thudding, unsuppressed, would startle me awake again. Don’t just lie there, the voice said. Why don’t you do something? Why don’t you find her and ask her what the matter is?
Because sometimes, I thought, it’s better not to know.
I must eventually have grown immune to Mim’s pacing because the church bells rang five times in the bay but by six o’clock they’d been incorporated into a dream in which I, in a concert hall, was about to premiere a concerto by a celebrated composer. The orchestra had already started but I was waiting for the conductor to bring me in, which presently he did, gesturing at me with his baton. I put my hands on the piano but when I looked up at the score all I saw was a jar of peanut butter. The next page had no musical notation either, just more pictures of peanut butter. Don’t just sit there, the conductor hissed. Do something! So I took my hands off the piano again and said, Peanut butter. And then, because what else was there to do, I said, Peanut butter again. Peanut butter, peanut butter, peanut butter . . . I said. And the orchestra, lowering their instruments, started chanting, Peanut butter, peanut butter, peanut butter . . . too.
The mood of foreboding left over from the dream dissolved the moment it was exposed to the pitiless light flooding through the bedroom windows. I pushed past the moldy blue plastic curtain separating the bathroom from the bedroom, went to the toilet, and felt empty. It was only eight o’clock—the church
I pulled the plug and the pipes behind the house shuddered and moaned as they drained away the gray water. Like everything in the house, the blue mosaic bath was a replica of the one in the Villa Savoye. The house was one of three Villa Savoye doppelgängers: there was the “shadow” version in Canberra, which was an exact copy but painted black; the “mini” Villa Savoye in Boston, in which every aspect of the original had been shrunk by 10 percent to fit the client’s budget; and my house, the House for the Study of Water, which replicated Le Corbusier’s in all aspects apart from its location since the original Villa Savoye overlooks the rural French landscape, while the one in Cape Town overlooked the sea.
Everything I knew about Le Corbusier came from a South African academic who, like a number of so-called architourists, had turned up at the house one day as though it
From OK, Mr Field. Used with permission of Tim Duggan Books. Copyright © 2018 by Katharine Kilalea.