Here begins Part the Third. Dividing up Ch. 12 into several interlinking sub-chapters. Sorry. Think of it as more opportunities for cardamom tea.
Here’s the latest from Tears for Fears, pre-released last week from their new album The Tipping Point (to be released late February 2022). Is this as good as I think it is?
Another emergency eye surgery yesterday. I know this is getting old but it’s really beginning to slow me down. Anyway, enjoy the music and I hope this part of the arc answers a few lingering questions. Or makes you ask a few new ones…!
Part III: The House With No Windows
Beverly Hills, California 12 August 1983
She was a strange girl, all brown-eyed empathy with a soul as big and ever-expanding as the universe. You could not sit with her for any length of time and not feel the peace she exuded. After her mother passed everyone gathered protectively around her, yet it was the little girl who reached out and most protected those around her. Her father most of all.
Because Ted Sorensen came undone for a while. Simply and completely.
And in the aftermath he turned inside himself. He drove up the slot canyon to the house on Collingwood and all that glass mocked him. His anger and his sorrow. Only now more than ever he did not want anyone or anything to see him like this. To see his mortality. This inhuman weakness.
But the little girl understood.
He purchased an old house on Foothill just a block from Sam’s house. A huge old house hidden within a series of rambling gardens, the place had been perfect for the silent film matinee idol who had built it fifty years before, but Ted hated the house and even before he found an architect he tore it down.
But then he found an architect – The Architect. Dina Marlowe was her name.
She was a wild, powerful creature, a clear-eyed disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright that scores of local architects had long ago taken to calling Frank Lloyd Wrong. She loved that. She loved their loathing, their self-righteous protestations to everything she drew. She walked over the old lot with Ted and listened to him as he talked about Katharine and her cancer and the total helplessness he’d felt for almost two years. She was a good listener, too.
She drove him around LA and looked at several of Wright’s houses, as well as several she’d designed, and soon she began to picture in her mind exactly what Ted Sorensen wanted. Not what he needed, but what he wanted. Then she tried to get him to see the difference between the two.
She lived down on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, a little prominence of land that juts out into the Pacific and that’s located just a few miles south of Los Angeles International. Close – but not touching – as living in PV was living a life apart, especially in those days. She rode a horse to her studio. She lived not far from where the writer Thomas Mann had lived when he came to California – before he came to his senses. She lived in a rambling house of her own design, a sprawling series of soaring copper-roofed hexagons crafted of redwood and glass, and where a series of flagstoned terraces floated like lily pads down to the rocks where the earth and the sea came together.
Dina Marlowe was almost twice Ted’s age yet she’d never married, never had children of her own. She invited Ted and the little brown eyed girl out to her house – so that together father and daughter could feel what expansive architecture was all about. Such was the power of her house that prospective clients lucky enough to earn an invitation to her house invariably came away impressed enough to sign with her on the spot. Yet oddly enough she rarely invited prospective clients to her house. She rarely deemed them worthy of her work and she didn’t care what other people thought about that.
But Ted Sorensen was different.
Because Ted Sorensen was the face of the new Hollywood. Daring to break with the past, Sorensen had broken free of all the old paradigms, the light comedies and the formulaic westerns. He was already behind several groundbreaking sci-fi epics and he had quickly begun bringing in new talent – both behind the camera as well as scores fresh faces in front. For years Paramount had fallen behind the other studios in LA – but in just a few short years all that was in the past.
And if she could get Sorensen as a client then new doors would open for her work, not just in LA but around the world. So…a new conundrum emerged.
She knew if she created what Sorensen wanted her career would be in tatters, that she would truly become a laughingstock, and that she might as well retire after her work was done for him.
And when they’d driven around LA looking at Wright’s houses he had expressed interest in only one. The Ennis House. A house that at its best looked like a Mayan temple, and that typically aroused feelings of outright dread, like something lifted right out of a dystopian Babylonian nightmare. But at least the Ennis House had windows.
And Ted Sorensen wanted no visible windows, no way for anyone to see inside his new home. The house would, Sorensen demanded, literally turn in on itself. Yet while all the exterior would present an impenetrable wall to the world, the interior would be pure, unobstructed glass. And every room in the house, every single space, would look inward. Inward onto a series of lush garden pools, like some impossible landscape dug up from a primeval rainforest and transported intact to Beverly Hills California – and literally just a few hundred feet from Sunset Boulevard.
Sorensen seemed drawn to the monolithic power of Wright’s Ennis House, the impossibility of finding something so incongruously out of place where the exact opposite was not simply expected, but demanded. And even Dina Marlowe knew that when the authorities in Beverly Hills took one look at her final drawings they would shit all over themselves. Horrified. Furious. How dare anyone even contemplate building something like this – in Beverly Hills!
Which was why she had invited Ted and his daughter to spend an afternoon at her home on the cliffs.
She had a small house attached to the main house and an old French couple lived there; they looked after the house and cooked when guests came and when her draftsmen came around after hours the old couple cooked for them, too – and important impromptu gatherings that often sprang-up there on the cliffs.
When the Sorensens came the old couple prepared a simple dinner of salads and artichokes and fresh seafood caught that morning, and Debra walked around the various swimming pools – and the waterfalls that joined them into a whole – amazed that anyone could live so close to the sea. She stood, entranced, as dolphins and whales swam by just beyond the rocks, entranced as swirling clouds of gulls cried over the rocks below. In a life already full of treasured memories that afternoon on the cliffs was the one she would claim as her first.
Dina Marlowe’s draftsmen had created two sets of drawings based on her preliminary sketches; the first set was for a more traditional “prairie house” that in some ways resembled Wright’s Taliesin East, his second home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin – where Wright had started his first architecture school. She created this set of plans because she’d been a student of Wright’s and knew this would more than likely be the last time that she’d be able to create such an homage.
The second set of plans she’d spent more time on. She was already beginning to understand the role this commission would have on her career and, perhaps, she wanted to make a statement. This second set looked like the Ennis House – but on steroids, and without one single window visible from the street. Her blocks would use the same “Usonian” concrete block construction and her version incorporated similar geometric design motifs both in the blocks and in the overall design. One of her draftsmen made a quarter inch scale model of this plan out of heavy foam-board and from the street the house looked more like an ancient Babylonian ziggurat than Mayan temple, yet even in cardboard the form possessed a heavy, almost brooding presence that defied easy acquiescence. Ted Sorensen looked at the model and at once felt revolted and curious – just as Dina knew it would.
“Dear God,” he whispered as he looked at the thing, “what will people think when they see this?”
“Terror would be my guess, Ted,” Dina Marlowe sighed. “My first impression, once I saw the model, was that it looks like a place where human sacrifices once took place.”
Ted looked at her, expecting to see a smile or hear a laugh, but no – her face was a blank mask.
“Where did this come from?” he asked her.
“I listened to you, Ted. This is what you asked for. It’s a home where a person who seeks to deny their own humanity goes to lick their wounds.”
In an instant Sorensen grew furious with the audacity of her insight…
…then he fell back into her words…
“I listened to you.”
And this from an artist who made her living by listening to her clients.
He gathered his sense of himself and walked around the model again and again, then she leaned over and pulled the roofs off, revealing the series of interior courtyards and pools. “There’s no way to model the landscaping but I tried to render those here,” she said as she turned and almost theatrically uncovered three renderings of the house done in colored pencil – Wright’s favorite media for presenting renderings to clients.
“From the street about all a passersby might see was is forest, actually three layers of forest – to be more precise – with each inner layer taller than the one before. Various towers and sub-towers will be visible both above or through the forest, but never the house in its entirety, not from any angle…”
Sorensen stepped close and looked at the renderings and only then did he nod his head in dawning appreciation. “It’s majestic,” he sighed, “and utterly ominous.”
“It’s what you asked for, Ted.”
“It’s perfect,” he said as he turned to her, smiling.
“I know,” she said, sure this would amount to nothing more or less than her ruin.
And in that she could not have been more wrong.
Construction began almost as soon as a contractor willing to take on the commission could be found, while the city’s planning commission proved to be less an issue than Marlowe had feared – but only because she had no idea how much money – in the form of pure, unadulterated bribes – Sorensen had been willing to pay for a construction permit.
Literally thousands of the various intricately layered concrete blocks had to be formed and poured, and this proceeded as the first layer of the forest was transplanted. There would be almost no lawn adjacent to the sidewalk, at least not in any traditional meaning of the word. Though within the first few few in from the sidewalk there would indeed be some grass, almost immediately low, dense broad-leafed palm-like trees would define the first outer wall of the forest. While this planting got under underway the primary contractor moved-in and excavated the basements and subfloor footings, and within a few weeks the first walls started to appear.
And then the first wave of complaints started to trickle in to the city planning office. “What is this thing?” seemed to be the gist of these first missives, and the city replied with a form letter explicitly stating that the plans had passed the city’s usual review process with flying colors. Most people were satisfied with this and let the matter drop.
Then the second layer of the forest was planted, and the front elevation of the house began to take shape. People began driving out of their way to see the new Babylonian ziggurat taking shape on Foothill. Traffic at times backed up as people stopped their cars and gawked. Until someone noticed this appeared to be a house with no windows…and wasn’t that a code violation? More letters were sent to the planning office, then matters escalated when members of the planning commission were summoned to a meeting in the City Manager’s office.
Of course the city manager had been bought off as well, so what followed was more a strategy session to reassure the public that the house did in fact have the required number of windows and that everything was in fact okay with the design review process. But then even more people complained, because most people appeared quite uncomfortable with the idea that an ancient temple of some kind was being constructed right in the middle of a prime residential neighborhood, and it looked exactly like the sort of place where human sacrifices might take place.
Evangelical Christian leaders got involved next, alerted by parishioners that a temple dedicated to reviving the practice of ritual human sacrifice was being constructed in the heart of Los Angeles, and then these same evangelicals appeared in Palos Verdes, in the form of marching protesters outside of Dina Marlowe’s studio. She met with the gathered religious leaders and told them the story of the original Ennis House, as well as the handful of other houses around LA that Wright had designed that were also called Neo-Mayan by critics of art and architecture.
But when one of the evangelical pastors asked Marlowe if her new design was in fact intended to be a religious temple of some sort she scoffed at the idea, then she asked the pastor to drive around LA and look at Wright’s other Usonian houses. When pressed further by this pastor – he repeated his original question and added something particularly stupid about Wright having been an advocate of human sacrifice – and she laughed in the man’s face and called him a “congenital idiot…”
“Which is, I believe, on the front page of this morning’s Times,” Henry Carmichael said as Ted settled into the back of his limo.
Ted picked up the newspaper and skimmed the article, at one point laughing so hard his eyes watered – even as Henry drove the Lincoln out Melrose to the studio. “This couldn’t be going better,” Ted sighed as he looked at his reflection in the car’s window – as he turned inward and thought about all the hideous monsters out there in the world who had no idea what he had in store for them. He smiled at his father’s reflection in his mind’s eye, then leaned back and laughed when his father laughed at them too.
Teachers reacted to Debra the way everyone else had: they were drawn to her, to her eyes, and when they made contact and stared into her eyes they almost always reported feeling something like waves of complete peace-of-mind breaking over them. Even students in her classes had no idea what to think when they interacted with her on the playground. She was just…different. Bullies tried to pick on her, to intimidate her and she would smile gently and look at them – and her teachers watched as her bullies wilted like flowers under a fierce noonday sun.
One morning at early recess she was sitting on a bench talking to a friend when a small rabbit hopped over and sat beneath her dangling feet. Then another rabbit, and another and another came out of the bushes and sat there on the ground beneath the bench, looking up at her as if expecting something from her…so she went down to them and sat with them; within moments rabbits were crawling all over her legs then cuddling on her lap, and everyone on the playground – students and staff – stared in awestruck wonder at the sight of her. More rabbits came to her until dozens surrounded her, yet by then most faced outward as if they were taking a defensive stance – as if they were gathering there to protect her.
And day after day the rabbits came to her. Until one day, after a teacher called, her father came to see these strange goings-on.
And the rabbits came and sat beside Debra after she sat on the ground, and they remained there until her father came. They ran away then, and they did not come back.
She loved him, of course. She could see the goodness in him. She could see past the monster everyone else saw.
The first time she saw the House With No Windows she did not know what to think. In a way the imposing hulk of the small towers peeking out of the little forest reminded her of one of her father’s movies, and she expected stunted little creatures to come crawling out to greet her. Two streams ran through the forest in the front of the house and two glass bridges crossed over the running water, and she didn’t realize this was to be her new home because she felt like she was on one of her father’s film sets.
The front walk wound slowly through the forest to a small opening, and then, after a short turn not visible until then, a door appeared…and that first time there her father and Dina Marlowe took her inside to show her around.
The same blocks on the outside made up the inner walls, and the floors appeared to be highly polished concrete stained a deep mahogany brown. A fireplace as big as a kitchen drew her eye inward, until she saw the forest atrium just outside the living room and she couldn’t help but run to the glass wall and look out there.
“Can we swim in that?” she asked Dina. “The water looks very dark, Dina, almost like a pool in a river, only at night.”
“Yes you can, Debra. This is just like any other swimming pool, only the inside of this pool is dark so it will look more like a pool within a stream. Do you like it?”
She nodded but remained unconvinced. “It feels very strange, Dina. Like some kind of power is hidden inside.”
“Inside? The water?” her father asked. “Really? What do you mean by that, Debra?”
But the girl simply shook her head, and slowly – as she turned and looked at Dina. “I don’t know, father,” she said as she looked around the house and the garden pools again. “I’m really not sure.”
But she did know, and she was sure. She had seen a place just like this once upon a time, though by the time she stood there inside the house the ‘here and now’ felt like it must have been a very long time ago. She looked into the dark water again, and then into Dina’s eyes all while trying to understand what she was feeling – again. Echoes? Something like echoes of another time and place, feeling the gut punch of knowing absolutely that she had been here before.
But she understood it was a long time ago, and very far from this place.
She read all the time. And she remembered everything she read. Word for word. Page by page.
When her classmates were reading Dick and Jane books aloud in her first grade class she was finishing up Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind, because that was one of her father’s favorite movies. The next book she read was Mann’s Death in Venice and she struggled with the idea that an old man could be attracted to someone so young, but Dina had given her the book. She asked her father about the von Aschenbach character and he told her that many men in their 40s and 50s became confused about their place in the world when their bodies began changing…
“What about women? Do they become confused too?”
Her father nodded. “I think so, yes, but maybe you should ask your grandmother.”
“What is a psychiatrist, father?”
“Well, do you know how some people become ill? Like when they catch a cold?”
“Yes. Of course.”
“Well, sometimes peoples’ brains become ill. Sometimes it is a kind of sickness, while there are other times when a person’s brain develops that way.”
“You mean genetics, don’t you?”
“Chromosomes, DNA, genetic codes and markers? Those things?”
Ted looked at her, now only seven years old but already so conversant in so many subjects. “Yes, those things. Where did you hear about those? At school?”
“No, the other teachers.”
He looked up from his dinner, looked her in the eye: “What other teachers?”
“The ones who come to me in the night.”
He felt cold dread. A piercing heaviness gripped his chest. He began to sweat a little, too. “People come to you? In the night?”
“Yes, father, but I am unsure if they are people.”
“What does that mean, Debra? What do they look like?”
“They are usually very tall, too tall to stand in my room, and most of them are covered in feathers. Pink feathers.”
“You’ve seen more than one?”
“Not usually, but sometimes.”
He was watching her closely then, looking into her eyes, looking for evasiveness or any other signs she was making this up – but when he saw only frank honesty he decided he’d call his mother after he put her to bed. “Do they stay in the room with you at night?”
“Usually, but we have been to the ocean, and once they took me to see a star.”
“Yes, only it wasn’t a star. It was some kind of machine.”
“A machine? What did the machine do, Debra?”
“I think it was talking, Father.”
“Talking? To who?”
“Father, I think it was talking to God.”
© 2021-22 adrian leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkühnwrites.com all rights reserved, and as usual this is just a little bit of fiction, pure and simple.