[Fiction] ‘Architecture in Reverse’ — Joe Bedford

She stands here now in broken land. Bulldozers stripped this place where people had once lived; they left behind the wrecked stone in piles too sharp for bare feet to cross. It is a plateau not of destruction but of deconstruction – architecture in reverse, a clearing that has never been cleared. It is only ‘empty’ in relation to the factory sheds on each side – not empty at all, only lifeless. (Actually, it is teeming with distorted memory.) It is mute and without smell. Dead, steel bones jut out from lumps of concrete: the skeletal flesh of houses or schools. A basketball hoop drapes its chains over the dust, and here she has come to stoop over a broken mirror laid flat. A web of fracture-lines emanates from the point of impact, a signature of hammer or fist-work perhaps, evidence of distress – notably, violence. Each shard of the mirror frames the disparate parts of her face; the only fragments she can make out clearly are her eyes. Their reflection (literally and in the expression they reproduce) creates the kind of obsequious gaze performed by master portraiteers. The morning refracts from the mirror’s surface, trying hard to catch her attention with difficult, shifting expressions of sunlight. It might be any other objet-d’art of typical kibbutz trash, but it cannot be. It is the epicentre of this space, a crack of colour amongst the grey. In it she finds an image from a nightmare she has already forgotten, shining ambiguously from a chink in herself.

The only movement in this space is the course of the sun through clear sky. Its trajectory is fixed, rising up from the chimneys on the eastern borders and arcing across towards the warehouses in the west. Its heat passes unobstructed through the rubble from dawn until sunset; the void of shelter supports the lack of life, and vice versa. The sun is shapeless; its disc-qualities can only be inferred through the glare. This power, the power to avert all human gaze, is the first indication that whatever the capacities of its earthly spectators (onlookers of the peripheries) the sun can never be, will never be, affected by them. Whilst providing warmth and light to the life below, it also hands out a burning, all-evaporating heat, blindness, and mirage. Whatever truth can be made out in the daytime is shattered irrevocably by the hallucinations that accompany it. In this haze, sometime before noon, she stands beside her broken mirror (hers now, included within her), shoeless on the scalding concrete, shifting left-foot right-foot in the wake of a bulldozed past. She stares up from the landscape. Her eyes meet the sun; her eyelids flinch. Many others have sacrificed these organs in search of clearer vision. She lets the light fill her up and overflow down her cheeks. The pain dries up quickly, and with her retinas irreversibly burnt, she is left alone to focus.

Without eyes, the fundamental laws are invisible and so, in faith, absent. Only in this darkness, this total light, can the impossible be achieved. She can feel the abstract sensation of burning in her eye-sockets; it allows the glass of her mirror to melt, superheats it to a shimmering liquid, ready to be reformed. As all colours are dissolved in blindness, so is the surrounding blanket-grey fully consumed, ready to be re-coloured as houses decorated in green, terracotta schools, black-tarmac basketball courts, white linens hung out. These visions are fleeting, living only in the small window where dreams occur before waking. The heat on her face reminds her of her purpose, and so she raises her hand. The strength of her fingers, slim as steel rods, grasp the sun by its haze and hold it. She forces her will into her hands and grips. Her power is greater than the sun’s, which burns at a near-constant, only slowly losing energy against its intentions; her vice is adjustable to the holding of a star or the cradling of an egg. She can form, in this new blind world, a universe around the sun where all matter must obey her, all time must obey her. Pain belongs now in a distant solar system. She holds the sun still with maximal effort. But her task is not complete – she did not wander out into this deconstructed place for this. There are hidden reserves within her. She searches for them, combing the rubble in her mind, turning over the broken icons and replacing them, looking all through herself. She can feel the sun pushing back as her attention is divided by the search. She picks up a few fragments of childhood, pieces of political rhetoric, diaspora, family histories. Her wandering takes her to the farthest edges, and then, from this distance, she sees a glint in the centre. She walks back to the puddle of mirror-glass still waiting to be reformed. She looks inside; her image is fluid, anonymous. Her features, detached from their order, spread and swirl like lines of liquid Arabic. These lines form a calligraphy that cannot be read, inspired not by divinity but by an incomprehensible blurring of her identity, a senseless injustice curlicued with false meaning, a nameless horror. These are words she cannot will into value; they are the language in which the crimes of history are written. She cups her hand and dips it into the pool of glass. The mirrors run through the lines of her palm, across her fingerprints and through the gaps. They drip back into their source, but in them she has already found her reserve.

Her focus returns to the sun. With new power, she pushes against it, straining, sweating. She wills against it, and there is nothing it can do in the face of her will. She guides it with all strength eastwards, back across time towards the factories. Pride reinforces her. The smoke is billowing down the chimneys, filling up the workhouses, pushing people out. The sky is losing its blue; the heat is receding. She pushes on, the sun conceding everything to her as it falls achingly downwards in a tearful crescent. She is pushing now with all her strength, heaving the impossible out of place. The mute, un-smelling world is asphyxiated at her command, and all the spectators from all the countries of the globe who have been hovering over her are seeing now their chances being brushed away. She is far beyond a simple agent of fate; she is an agent unto herself, an individual prophet of action. Dusk descends clocklessly on the landscape. New shadows stripe the ground now rippling with breath. The sun is a wobbling wrist almost arm-wrestled to the table – it is instantaneously a Newtonian apple dragged down by forces it does not understand, a mother pushed down half a flight of stairs and a blazing chariot re-routed. She is the anti-Apollo, a hand without eyes, and she will not relent.

With a final burst of brilliance, the sun falls missile-like to the point where the sky ends and life begins. Within moments coupled by near-exhaustion, the culmination of all effort and the setting of fresh law, the sun disappears. The night is all black, ready now for new architectural sketches to be drawn in chalk. It is a pregnant blank. The language of the mirror has paused at ellipsis; words and other ancient sounds can emerge there freely now. There are no more foreign factories and no more boundaries enforced without humanity. The clearing can be repopulated with voices, with fragrant spices and colours. Schools and basketball courts can sprout here like new olive groves. There can be houses here, linked by washing-lines wearing fresh linen. There can be a future here, but not for her.

She bends to run her hand over the mirror in the darkness. Under the callous of her scalded fingertips, the glass feels clean and cool. She straightens out. Someone must remain eyeless to hold back the sun, so that night (starred with its infinite, distant lights) can be established.


Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster. His short stories have been featured or are forthcoming in AdbustersCakeCranked AnvilDisclaimerEllipsisFictive DreamFlashFlockThe Ham Free Press, The Jellyfish ReviewLitroThe London Journal of FictionLunateThe Mechanics’ Institute ReviewNew CritiqueThe Nottingham ReviewRetreat West, SpelkSpontaneityStorgy, Structo, Tales from the Forest and Wilder Stories.

In 2015, Joe was Highly Commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize and again in 2018 for the Hastings LitFest short story competition. In 2019, he was longlisted for the Cambridge Short Story Prize, placed runner-up in Retreat West’s themed flash competition, and won Waterstones’ sophomore Write & Raise prize. So far this year he has been longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize and the Cambridge Flash Fiction Prize, shortlisted for the Lunate 500 and placed 2nd in the Cranked Anvil spring competition.

Alongside his own work, Joe hosts Bovine Cemetery, a regular short fiction performance night at Brighton’s Komedia theatre.

All work is the rightful property of the author and is distributed with their permission.

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