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   c o n c r e t e

--- N O A H   N U S S B A U M

Jung, my assistant, draws so furiously, too furiously. It's just a building layout. It will be revised a dozen times. My studio is hot with stagnant, used up air. No ventilation in the place. I'll open the doors to the corridor and the parking lot. Sometimes after I open the doors a lost visitor wanders in, thinking they've entered another corridor in this converted warehouse. Everything here is white: the doors, the walls, the ceiling. It's like being snow blind. Sharp sounds echo from upstairs, a few loud, distinct bangs, probably a hammer against wood. The building's full of sculptors, painters. I might be the only architect. Jung works fast. Doesn't notice much more than my occasional instruction. Who knows if she'll ever make it as an architect. Some talent though. Mostly, it doesn't matter anyway. Another loud crack from upstairs. I'd like to close the door. But suffocation. "Make the hall six feet, nine inches wide," I say. A door slams somewhere. Jung doesn't look up. You can hear everything in this place but can never quite tell from where it comes; the building is a labyrinth. Footsteps on the concrete floor. All the floors are poured concrete. Made to support loads. Walk on them and your shoes make a wet, slapping sound as if you're stepping alone through a cavern with only the glowworms watching. The sounds can get you thinking about other things, such as the dream I once had about my grandmother. She complained her dead husband was spending too much money. This space wasn't made for people. Skull cracking floors; twenty foot ceilings; no fresh air. Bad neighborhood, although from inside you'd never know; there are no windows, just white, cement walls. At last a good breeze comes in through the door to the parking lot, cools me down. No more banging upstairs. Good. I can hear cars outside on the street, though not too many: we're at a dead end under a steel bridge. From the corridor footsteps getting louder. Who's that? Someone strides through the front door. He walks quickly, intent on the door to the parking lot. We work in the corner far to his left. Jung doesn't notice him; why should she? He's lost, this guy, probably looking for the lobby. About five-and-a-half feet tall. Face so white you'd think he's never been outside. No belt. Jeans, no cuffs. Beige imitation leather shoes. Wearing a blue and white herring-bone pattern shirt under a blue windbreaker. Doesn't live here. Everyone here wears black. He hasn't seen us yet. Must be in a hurry. This'll be good when he notices the furniture, the black and white photographs, realizes he's in my living room. He races along, then suddenly confused glances all around, sees us. He stops, turns. Gentle brown eyes. Strange look on his face. Thinking of what, I wonder. More than where am I it seems. I smile at him. "Howdy," I say. He smiles back weakly, still thinking, looking around. Worried face, concerned. He's embarrassed I suppose. Then he reaches into his jacket, grips something under his arm. He hesitates. Considers. Starts to remove his hand. Is that a leather holster strap across his chest? Everything in me stops. He considers again. I just stare, somehow hoping to be overlooked by what might be coming. He starts to remove his hand again. I glance over to Jung. Should I try to grab her and run? She's still working, unaware. Jung pay attention. Look up. Jung look up. Why aren't you looking? If she were looking maybe I could signal her to pull out the loaded thirty-eight I keep in the drawer, by the broken t-square. The guy's hand comes out of his jacket empty. "Sorry," he says in a thick foreign accent, Polish maybe. "Did not realizing," he says, "that I think, did not mean to be intrude." He strides out quickly into the parking lot. I jump for the drawer, the gun, startling Jung who quits working. Shaking I remove the safety. Outside, the fence rattles. He's jumping it. I wonder if those were shots, the loud bangs from upstairs two minutes ago. I wonder if someone is dead. Though maybe for us it doesn't matter. I pull my eyes from the door, and Jung is staring at me and the gun. She didn't notice the man, doesn't understand. I smile at her so she won't be frightened; I tell her again and again not to worry.

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