Monthly Archive for November, 2012

The Architecture of Things

Fiction by Andrew McNabb 


To John Thomas’s mind, architecture didn’t relate exclusively to the form and shape of buildings, but to the form and shape of everything.  For example, he knew that it was their physical forms that had brought him and Aoife together; and he also knew that it wasn’t because either of them possessed overwhelming physical beauty, but that their respective flaws were comparable—some might say, complementary—and that none couldn’t be overlooked. 

Her form, though, often made him wonder, what made a woman with a small waistline and large breasts and full lips and a pear shaped bottom the best of what was to be desired?  And why did a dimpled behind and small flat breasts and ill-defined calves represent something less than perfect?  Whatever the detailed answer was, in short, it was human.  Human?  But what did that mean?  That it couldn’t be helped? 

Some might say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and that might be true, but John Thomas would say it’s in the mind, and it’s in the fingers.  A man has needs, the saying goes, and when the mind triggers the body so that blood rushes to his penis those small flat breasts and that big dimpled behind and those ill-defined calves could actually look quite nice.  But even more than that, to the human fingers those parts were all covered by the same thing, flesh, and when your eyes were closed, flesh on one feels pretty much the same as flesh on the other.  The substance beneath that skin might be different—one posterior might consist of more of that visually-valued muscle mass, another, more fatty tissue—but it was the job of the fingers simply to feel, and in each case what they felt was exactly the same: the epidermis. 

But finally, thought John Thomas, and perhaps most importantly, when it came to physical feeling, in that ultimate act of human contact, that cavern into which the penis is inserted is essentially a piece of hardware and can, by no realistic man’s definition, be considered a thing of beauty; and in his experience, which was not record-breaking, but hardly inconsiderable, all of those he had had experience with looked and felt approximately the same. 




But to stay together, the architecture of a relationship needed to be on firm footing.  And because one measure of a relationship is the intensity of physical contact, imagine John Thomas’s surprise when Aoife said, “I’m a virgin.” 

Like him, she was thirty.  Wow.  So what were you supposed to think about when you heard news like that?  His thoughts, for a moment, went to the fact that that bit down there was still intact.  But that bit was just a line of skin, a physical representation of an idea, really.  What was more compelling was imagining all those years of her slapping hands away, of pulsating down there, being kept awake at night, of going quiet when the girls talked about their escapades. 

At first, Aoife’s ardent Catholicism was a curiosity he indulged, an eccentricity he found no different than if she had had a thick series of tattoos running up and down her arms, or a lifelong collection of Asian Barbies—amusing, peculiar, and something he didn’t want for himself.  But it ended up defining the both of them anyway.

It was confusing the way she wouldn’t let him penetrate her, but would wrap herself in all sorts of unusual positions to make him climax, each more lurid and depraved than the next; and then not more than an hour or a day later she’d have no problem going up and sticking out her tongue to receive her Christ. 

Long after the newness had worn off, and shortly after a fight about what they were doing, where they were going, and after a series of news bits from friends who were advancing in careers, getting married, having babies, a particularly heated sexual episode occurred that needed to go somewhere further.  Aoife got herself down on all fours.  When he moved right in she stopped him. 

“No, higher,” she said. 

He complied.  That was a different bit of hardware, for sure.

When they were done, she sobbed, and he said they wouldn’t do that again.  He said he loved her.  And after a half hour of lying there and feeling like he really did, he said, “Why don’t we just get married?”

And so they did.



By no means should the architecture of buildings be discounted.  Bodies needed to be protected, of course, but it wasn’t just that; being inside the proper architecture, immersed in a space and surrounded by thoughtfully designed details could provide a feeling that everything would be okay.  Except that maybe it wouldn’t; if you were Aoife, at least.  She said she tried to live her life as if material things were fleeting, and John Thomas couldn’t disagree that that was the case, but he also made the point that those things were still a component of this here life, just be sure to not let them rule you. 

And that was the reason they finally settled on Portland.  You could buy a house more cheaply there than you could in many other places.  Not that they were in a position to do so just yet.  But for the here and now at least you could walk among the turreted peaks and the orangey brick facades they’d seen nowhere else, floating on the thought that if they searched hard enough, they would find an interesting place of their own.

The first place they saw, however, was not one of them.  It was part of Aoife’s general view on life that good things should be saved for.  That’s why she was always carrying around that damn calculator.  When they found themselves standing in front of a three-decker on Montreal Street in the East End, John Thomas could see her clutching the calculator in her pocketbook, and he wasn’t surprised when she said, “I could live there.”

He didn’t respond.  And they didn’t go in.  He tried to tell her that he didn’t need to see it to know what was already there.  If the floor inside the front door was not covered by a worn red carpet and the walls by a shiny brown paint job, then peeling linoleum and fading flowery wallpaper would surely be the case.  A wasted ten-speed would be tethered to the stairs, or maybe a child’s plastic bike just left, forgotten until the next time.  Three metal mailboxes, names scratched in and out, scattered take-out menus on the floor, an empty bottle of Diet Coke in the corner.  And all of it wrapped in the smell of decades of comings and goings in a place that would never really be treated as home.  So despite the rent, no.

Moving on, all it had taken him to decide on the place they were now living was the cast iron awning out front.  It was a signal, a beacon.  This building might be boxy and not so complex, but there were details here that you wouldn’t find in any three-decker.  The weathered mahogany door in the lobby, the black and white mosaic tile floor, the simple but well-polished banisters, the flowered plaster moldings.  It even had a name, Northcourt.  And after much debate, Aoife assented.



So with all of that now taken care of, John Thomas was remarking to Aoife just the other day how there were all sorts of things that enter and leave and surround our bodies, and she remarked with a smile that that was an unusual thing to think about.  The smile was because she loved him, the way they talked about things like that a lot. 

When it got to be her turn she made the point that how, finally, when certain things were in place, basic human needs met, what greatly formed the rest of you was what you ended up doing with your time.  She, the music major, had just gotten a job as a secretary, and he took this as a nudge.  He couldn’t do the same class of job, and his new neck tattoo prevented discussion of it, but she wondered if maybe there were other opportunities that, if his creativity was competently engaged, could be worthwhile.  He’d told her he’d think about that, and he did.

And so here they were, forming a life’s rhythm together, indulging, somewhat, the conventions of what it took to exist and to be able to pay for things.  They had been in that spot a month now, and just as he had said in selling the place to Aoife when they first saw it, it was nice being able to sit at the table by the window on a weekend morning and push down on a coffee press while you looked out at the little pocket park across the street.  That was the case right now, except he was all alone. 

As always, there were complications. 

Aoife was in the bathroom peeing on a pregnancy stick.  He thought it might come to this.  He didn’t want her to be pregnant.  He thought they should wait, and when he’d said that to Aoife, she’d replied she’d done all the waiting she could handle.  Her sexual maneuverings had become more mundane, more functional, and she’d also said that they couldn’t be stopped now, and the act couldn’t be covered in a plastic sheath for his penis. 

The stream of urine coming from the bathroom was lusty, fueled by morning coffee, and perhaps by Aoife’s intense wishes; and despite the gravity of the impending outcome—he couldn’t do anything about that—John Thomas let his mind settle on that little plastic stick, how it was something that you emitted the body’s waste on and then how it would tell you if there was a tiny life growing inside you.  My God, the architecture of that little piece, and the architecture of a woman’s body, a little potential something taking root right up there in a woman’s—in Aoife’s—womb.  All of that interconnected hardware.

The seconds dripped past, and then finally, with a flush, a verdict was upon them.  The door opened and Aoife emerged.  His eyes darted to her belly.  Could something be living inside her?  His eyes went to her face.  She was smiling.  But what did that mean?  That she would soon start to grow, her belly expanding and distending, a little life inside her taking its own form and a shape? 

As Aiofe kept coming, and with the sun at her back giving the appearance of flight, John Thomas had an overwhelming desire to talk, to remark that when a life was conceived wasn’t it incredible that with each passing week body parts and organs would just appear and be added?  And how when complete the tiny being would just smooth down the uterine tract and push through that cavity that had once seemed like hardware, but that now seemed like something else entirely. 

“So?” said John Thomas.  “So?”

Aoife sat, and a conversation just emerged.


Andrew McNabb is a writer, a husband and a father of four.  For more information, please visit


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