An architect would not have aimed solely at precision and solidity -- but Herr Weissmann was an engineer. Beauty was not a concern for him, like functionality and practicality were. He believed firmly in universal laws and indestructible principles encompassing measures and ratios, and lived according to them. A very rational man, he had never envisioned his house occupied by artists, who he somehow feared and despised, and could not trust, in the understanding that their souls, made differently from his, were more inclined to chaos and unrule than his ever would -- and yet.
To fulfill his determination to retreat from the world, he built his suspended house for himself only, on a very simple plan. A bit damaged by time and weather, but very precise and clean, it could still be seen in one of the yellowing notebooks that had survived in a drawer of his table at the office. In an impressive act of exactitude, he had made a single, rather neat drawing, to then execute the house exactly like planed.
Holding a fountain pen of brown ink with a firm hand, he had traced a square within a square -- the house, and the veranda around it, had been created. He subdivided the inner square into nine equally smaller squares, thus configuring the rooms. And that was it. To avoid doors and windows, he had opened the rooms directly onto the veranda, and the house resembled the cross on the Swiss flag. Because of that, Armand vented the possibility that the engineer might have been Swiss instead of German, as it was said. Having arrived in the region by the end of the forties, Herr Weissmann might have been a war criminal. A special detail in the house, a hidden room that I would discover only a couple of days later -- not shown in the plan --, indicated that he might have been a fugitive indeed. Where did he come from? How did he get to that part of the world? What was his first name, even? The journals that had also survived where rather philosophical, up to the point when he had started building the house -- then, they became mainly technical. Personal details and impressions had been deliberately left out, it seemed.
The only exception, contradicting his aversion to art, might have been the richly detailed drawing, central to the plan, which contrasted with the simplicity of the rest of its traces -- a compass rose, beautifully and carefully worked with watercolors. A different color had been picked from the spectrum for each of the eight cardinal points. Perhaps he had even started by drawing it, just to entertain himself? The squares might have been just guidelines to help him draw the compass -- but instead, out of necessity or inspiration, a house had been born. Who could tell? The center of the compass rose, where Herr Weissmann had drawn a proper rose, its many petals shaded in bright red, crimson and pink, sat at the exact center of the house. Each of the eight surrounding squares -- or rooms, when they had become three-dimensional spaces -- lay under one of the cardinal points.
Two of the rooms were bigger. The bathroom was a rectangle occupying the adjoining squares at the center and to the South, big enough to accommodate a power generator, the water pump system, the equipment for collecting rain and dew, plus a toilet, a bathtub, a sink and a mirror. The other larger room, taking the North and Northeast squares, was Herr Weissmann's own room, now occupied by Armand, with a double bed, a dresser, a mirror and a bench. All very simple, and that might have been built by the engineer himself, too. Next to this, on the East square, pointing directly to the sunrise, was a smaller room with a single bed, a sofa and a shelf full of books, making it the library -- the room I would occupy. The Southeast square was the living room, almost bare because it had suffered more intensely from the infrequent storms that would approach the island from that side. Except for one sofa and two chairs, that room was empty, since all the furniture had been greatly damaged. Armand learned from the natives that Herr Weissmann's body, in advanced decomposition, had been found laying in that room, and the workers had never entered it. A person dying on a Birth Island was not just considered taboo -- it was doom. At Southwest was the dining room, and next to it, on the West square, facing sunset, the kitchen. The last square, at Northwest, Herr Weissmann had turned into his office. There, Armand kept more books, stacks of boxes and the precious radio. He had been standing in that square, the office at Northwest, when I had phoned him from France.
YOU ARE READING
The Last CanvasSpiritual
A starving Italian painter flees Paris in the winter of 1974. His destination -- a tiny private island lost in the Indian Ocean. His destiny -- a soul-crushing love triangle with a French nobleman and a haughty Parisian intellectual. His fate -- inv...