Anselmo J. Alliegro gained a scholarship and took writing courses at the New School University in New York City. Alliegro has been published in Badlands Literary Journal, Bewildering Stories, The William and Mary Review, and Artifact Nouveau, the literary magazine published by the San Joaquin Delta College Writers' Guild, among other publications.
THE FALLING HOUSE
They had arrived that evening from the Real Estate Board of New York’s fancy cocktail party. Roscoe Alderman was sitting on a sofa in Delmer Lindquist’s neomodernist house, drinking wine along with Lindquist’s tipsy wife. A light snow became a blizzard and the snowbanks glittered outside and threatened to bury Delmer Lindquist with his guest. Alderman was a brawny man, ten years Lindquist’s senior, at a ripe but vital age of fifty-five, with a strong chin and jaw, unlike Lindquist’s weak chin and slight physique.
Lindquist felt he was choking, trying to loosen his bow tie, which he had fastened into a tight knot.
“Come darling, let me loosen it for you,” said Elayna, holding a cup of wine with a limp wrist. She rested the cup on her cleavage, accentuating that sexy, deep V-neck flanked by her firm and rounded breasts. She had insisted on inviting Roscoe Alderman to their home.
“I can do it,” said Lindquist, with a notable touch of anger.
“C’mon Delmer, stop fiddlefucking with it,” added Roscoe Alderman, in his usual crude way. “Let your wife help you.”
Lindquist jerked off his bow tie. He saw Elayna’s smooth thigh, exposed and tempting, poking from the high slit on her black, curve-hugging, mermaid evening gown. Her fiery lips worried him most. Alderman had told him about his fetish for bright-red lipstick; information he did not request and thought superfluous at the time. He had not seen that shade of red on Elayna’s lips, nor it applied so thickly and willfully. He wondered if she was complicit in her selection of that combustible bright-red.
“Elayna, I have to say, and I say it respectfully,” began Alderman, leaning seductively close to Lindquist’s wife. “You have such an effervescent personality, so genial. And your husband …”
“Go ahead, Roscoe. Say it,” Lindquist dared him.
“Relax, Delmer. Come sit with us, and have a nightcap,” said Alderman.
Lindquist walked to the active fireplace and threw his bow tie into it. He stayed there staring into the flames that played on the thick lenses of his glasses.
“I married my husband because he’s a genius.”
“Let’s not jump the gun, Elayna. He’s very talented, I do concede that.”
“Roscoe has a way to demote people, Elayna. I’m sure that’s how he convinced the governor and the leaseholder to hand him my project.”
“The leaseholder wanted to hire me as the lead architect for the project. You can’t complain. We’ve incorporated part of your design.”
“Yes, after months of negotiating. Had it been for you, I would have been completely excluded.”
“I lobbied for you, don’t deny it. But you have much to learn. Take this house, for example; it’s a beautiful design, I grant you that, but not very original. It’s derivative of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house,” Alderman said in an obnoxious and smug way.
Lindquist turned away from the fireplace and faced Alderman. “My admiration for Japanese architecture is no secret. Frank Lloyd Wright had a similar interest in it, and built Fallingwater in that style.”
“Tell him, honey,” encouraged Elayna, teasing the cup of wine with her fingers, her legs splayed and her upper thigh exposed with the long slit on her skirt.
“The similarities are all too obvious,” began Alderman once again. “The low ceilings, the terraces projecting at right angles, even this living room is almost an exact copy.”
“Fallingwater is a great work of architecture. I may have borrowed some elements of its design, but I didn’t copy a damn thing.”
“I hope not. The Fallingwater house has some serious structural problems,” Alderman said.
“That’s because Frank Lloyd Wright had the balls to build it on a waterfall,” replied Lindquist.
“Well,” Alderman countered, glancing at Elayna with a smile, “I’m certainly not known to play it safe.”
Delmer Lindquist admired the elegant and minimalist concept of Japanese architecture. The clean, uncluttered spaces displayed order and balance. Yet Elayna’s invitation of Roscoe Alderman brought an unsettling discord into their home.
Elayna extended her thirsty cup, and Alderman poured some wine. Then Alderman explored another avenue of contention.
“Honestly, Elayna,” began Alderman, looking at the room around him. He spoke in a casual way to temper the venom he was about to deliver. “You’re a great interior designer, and Delmer has given you so little to work with.”
“Is that true, honeybunny? Have you left me such tiny portions?” she taunted him and took a sip of wine, fixing her rapturous, smoky, icy blue raptor eyes on him over the rim of her cup. “One needs to appreciate the subtlety, Roscoe. It’s a deceptive simplicity.”
“Oh, I do appreciate it,” Alderman quickly noted.
“Traditional Japanese plants like bonsai and bamboo are a nice touch,” she explained. “Check out the authentic Japanese shoji, and those beautiful paintings on its sliding screen doors.”
“Considering what you’ve been given, I think you’ve worked wonders,” said Alderman, injecting another dose of poison.
Elayna leaned close to Alderman. “It’s true, Delmer failed to give me what I wanted.”
“And what did you want, Elayna?” asked Alderman, also leaning close to her, close enough to feel her warmth and smell her sweet fragrance.
“Tell us what I failed to give you,” broke in Lindquist, walking closer to them and dropping onto the low cushioned sofa facing them. They were separated by a small table with the wine bottle that Lindquist could easily breach.
Elayna said to Alderman, showing deliberate disregard for her husband, “I wanted the interior design job for the Helicoid project. I doubt he even mentioned me for it. Now someone else has that job.”
Lindquist removed his tuxedo and threw it on the couch. He calmly, in a slow and methodical way, reached up to adjust the thick-brimmed glasses on his nose, demonstrating his unlimited self-control. “Despite my effort to promote you – a considerable effort – they chose someone else. But you already know this.”
“You didn’t fight hard enough. That’s why you’ll never build a house on a waterfall. You haven’t got the balls!” Elayna insisted.
“And maybe you haven’t got the talent. They picked an award-winning designer with impeccable credentials,” Lindquist spewed back at her.
Delmer Lindquist thought that perhaps he could have been more forceful promoting his wife. However, after exhausting negotiations to retain his part of the Helicoid project, he thought any further demand might put his own work at risk. The interior designer, selected by the Chicago office of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP for the Helicoid skyscraper, was undeniably first-rate.
Elayna sprang up on her seat, roused from her tipsy demeanor, sitting rigid as the steel spire that would grace the Helicoid. Her eyes glared like red-hot coals, and burned her husband.
Before she could explode, Alderman placed a comforting hand on her knee. It was not the naked knee poking from the thigh-high slitted dress, but Lindquist noticed the gesture, skirt-covered knee or not. “Don’t worry, Elayna,” Alderman said. “I will help you get that design job.”
The tension leapt out of her. She sank on the couch and softened and turned tipsy again. “I would love that,” she said, turning to meet Alderman’s eyes.
“You deserve it,” Alderman assured her. He was smitten, and suddenly wakened from a dream and pulled away. “Hey, you know how the Helicoid got its name? They named it after my helix shape, which I based on the golden spiral. Had I seen you dance like you danced tonight at the party, I would have based it on your swirling skirt. Those amazing pirouettes!”
Lindquist thought Alderman might want to provoke him. He would declare him unfit and take over the project completely. No declarations today. He wanted to see every pane of glass and piece of steel placed on every floor of the Helicoid and his spire stab the sky.
“I just followed your lead. You can really tango. Delmer doesn’t like to dance,” Elayna said, feigning a tone of regret.
Lindquist rolled his eyes and opened a button on his shirt. “It’s getting late. You’ve had too much to drink, Elayna.”
“Honeybunny, don’t be that way. My puppy is a party pooper,” she said and smiled.
Articles had been written comparing and contrasting both architects’ work: Roscoe Alderman using organic forms, sensuous, curving and flowing, much as Elayna’s skirt; Delmer Lindquist with his geometric shapes, cubistic, rigid and precise.
Alderman referred to her swirling skirt as a possible inspiration, which seemed more like excitation. Lindquist thought of drawing her with sharp edges, sharp enough to make a man bleed.
She dipped a finger into her wine and flicked it at her husband. “You’ll never, ever build a house on a waterfall. No Fallingwater for you – just a falling house.”
“Elayna, it’s late and you’re drunk,” Lindquist said firmly.
“One million dollars! That’s how much he threw away,” she spat at Lindquist.
“We’ve discussed this before,” said Lindquist, and leaned across the small table separating them. “Drop the subject.”
She had urged him to defend himself and sue the leaseholder for more than a million dollars of unpaid fees for his initial draft of the Helicoid. When he settled for less than half of the total million, she held it against him. She carried the simmering, stubborn grudge from that meager total thereafter and totally.
Delmer Lindquist didn’t expect to draw his masterpiece building and have it built according to his exact specifications. He was always prepared to compromise to some degree. That is what he told her, and that is what he had to tell himself.
“I think you’re referring to the case against the leaseholder,” Alderman said. “I think he did a wise thing, Elayna.”
“Of course you do. His weakness was your strength. It made you lead architect of the Helicoid project. Good for you,” Elayna said. She leaned over to Alderman, and placed a kiss near his lips.
Alderman smiled, wearing a print of Elayna’s fiery lips near his own. He looked at Lindquist, proud and adorned with his wife’s lipstick. “Your husband ended the fighting and settled for less. He negotiated to be a collaborator on the project.”
“I wasn’t willing to compromise my whole project away,” Delmer Lindquist said. His great spire will rise, and the luminous, rotating, all-seeing eye at its apex.
Roscoe Alderman went home in the cold, leaving the sparse Lindquist residence colder than the bitter winter night. Husband and wife were left alone in a silence that lingered and permeated the house. Elayna’s empty heart offered nothing; Alderman had taken it with him, and Lindquist feared he would never get it back.
That was one month ago, and Delmer Lindquist was reluctant to remember Alderman’s blatant flirtations, and that incendiary shade of red on Elayna’s lips. He stored those nasty thoughts in a deep and dark place and let them fester.
The Helicoid project begged to be the focus of Lindquist’s attention. As he worked late at night in his architectural firm in the city, he heard the devastating news from his colleagues.
Alderman had altered the master plan and wanted to shorten his beloved spire! This reneged on his hard-fought compromise, demoting his role even further. He would appeal to the governor to keep his original spire.
Delmer Lindquist drove home from the firm on a dark Long Island Expressway service road. The red lights on the roadside were small and faint and headed in his direction. They gradually sharpened as he approached them. Now he saw the red bicycle reflectors, and the rider was none other than Roscoe Alderman. No doubt he had been visiting with Elayna.
Lindquist pressed on the accelerator and swerved at his target. He got jolted into a destructive trajectory where nothing mattered, not his life or life itself. Shattered bones and metal and Lindquist sped onward and crashed into a thick band of trees along the road.
Investigations ensued and suspicions remained over the deaths of the two prominent architects. The politicians didn’t want to sully the multibillion dollar Helicoid project with a scandalous story. Delmer Lindquist lost control of his car on the icy road and struck Roscoe Alderman who frequently rode his bicycle in the area before he crashed into a tree. The vehicle had worn tires and was unsafe to drive. A tragic and freak accident - that’s what it was and needed to be.
Elayna watched the Helicoid rise, each floor climbing closer to heaven, culminating with her husband’s majestic spire that was preserved by the builders in respect of his memory.
Being the tallest structure in the city, Elayna could see the Helicoid from multiple vantage points, and the Helicoid could see her. Its steady gaze shadowed her day and night, down busy streets and crowded sidewalks; it swept over the vast metropolis, beyond the lower east side to midtown and to the upper west side, through narrow alleys and wide avenues. Elayna could not lose it or herself. She imagined that conflicted edifice shifting under its own weight, its metal groaning from the unbearable stress. Despite of her, this falling house stood strong.