The Architect

Emil Popescu was an architect. His specialty was the oil factories and we can say, without any exaggeration, that wherever in the country an oil factory had been built in the last five or six years, one could easily tell it was the work of architect Popescu's skilled drawing and mind used to solving technical difficulties. His passion for designing oil factories went back a long way. He had ardently desired to do this ever since he was just a kid, and was spending his childhood under the enormous shadow of the oil factory close to the public transportation depot, and the Melodia cinema, on Steven the Great street. It was a tall, straight building made of scarlet-red brick and fastened with iron pins, windowless and ending, at a staggering height, in a somber fronton which seemed to be ripping the clouds. The strange construction, thrust in the middle of a deserted yard, was the twin of the Dambovitza mill down the same street, and one century ago they were both part of the famous Asan mill. When, after many years, Emil Popescu began to be interested in culture, due to the academic environment, he started to recognize the oil factory of his childhood in virtually every one of the buildings that rose, infinite and melancholy, out of the glossy album whose cover said Giorgio de Chirico. But that had been years before, and today architect Emil Popescu, born in 1950, married to Mrs. Elena Popescu, neé Deleanu, childless, was acknowledged as a specialist in his field. He had designed the oil factory in Kabul and the one just outside El Aghar, the latter being the most important of its kind in Egypt. For this reason, he was respected by his colleagues and admired by his subordinates - naturally, within the limits of the jealousy inherent in any work environment, which sometimes gave rise to gossip, not always justified. Where his family life was concerned, the architect was a happy man. He had married for love a charming Moldavian girl, herself an architect, specialist in designing dairies, and they got along just fine. They lived in Berceni district, a little farther from Martzishor, in a tastefully furnished two-bedroom apartment. The fact that they had no children, despite having been married since they were students, later helped them to save up and, if we take into account the objects which Emil had brought from Turkey, Iran and Egypt, and Elena from the Soviet Union and Bulgaria, where they had traveled on business, and which they had turned to good account, the two architects had managed to make a nice deposit with the State Savings Bank, which at the end of five years allowed them to buy a Dacia, Elena's lifelong dream. They day when they were finally able to fulfill this desire was, as Elena put it, almost as wonderful as their wedding day. Just like on that day, they kissed long and toasted a glass of wine together with the in-laws and other relatives. The tan-colored car was parked obliquely between the Lada belonging to Gheorghian, who lived on the sixth floor, and a burgundy Wartburg, property of the photographer, who was also the owner of Dolly the bulldog. The Dacia had a charming outline and the two architects could admire it night and day from their balcony. It had the best luster in the harsh spring light; it was even more shining than Colonel Boteanu's Citroën which a soldier washed every day with a hose.Emil Popescu enrolled for driving school. Until he got his license, however, he would go almost every day and walk round his car to brush off the mud cakes made by the children who played around the building, but mainly to unlock the door and sit comfortably in the front seat, before the dashboard out of which the steering wheel stuck out in a fascinating way, to inhale the intimate, sensual smell given out by the new rubber and the upholstery. When he slammed the door shut, the noise from the world outside suddenly died down and the architect felt happy in that caring, and comfortable, space where everything was made just to serve him. He didn't feel better even in his conjugal bed. Elena would join him sometimes and they would both sit there spellbound, one whole hour, like two twins in their mother's womb. They almost had no interest to get the vehicle going. They would have kept it like this, parked behind the apartment building, just to be able from time to time to savor these moments of total, genuine intimacy.The lodgers had become used to the architect's supple figure walking around his Dacia. He always wore the same shorts made from some jeans he had cut, always the same T-shirt whose print showed, at a closer look, the Romanian Athenaeum with the statue of Eminescu in front of it. He was a rather uninteresting-looking young man: facial features typical for a Romanian from the Carpathians, as somebody would have put it. He was dark haired, his jaws looked eternally unshaven, he had conspicuous masticator muscles that made him look as if he was continually muttering insults, rather inexpressive eyes, of which the only thing that can be said is that they were black. He wore his hair parted on the side. He was attractive enough to catch the eye of the Czech, and Polish, young women at the seaside, which was exactly what he had specialized in when he was a student. He would carry the blue, plastic bucket half full with water and Perlan detergent, in which there dabbled an orange sponge. He would go round and round his Dacia, cleaning and scrubbing in the tonic spring air which caused the buds to sprout out of the entire tree growth in the gardens around the building: acacias and quickset hedge.This was architect Emil Popescu. Anything we might add would be useless and even ridiculous. Does it matter that he smoked Cishmigiu cigarettes? That he was, for some reason, a supporter of the FC Bacau football team? That he used to read everything he could get his hands on about secret history files, especially Gestapo and SS? That he had a subscription to The World magazine? That he religiously bought the Magazin, The Flame and The Week magazines? That he sat through the whole TV program? That he had no tape recorder, and the electric phonograph was part of his wife's dowry, and it had come accompanied by a few records: Famous Tangos, Remo Germani, Los Paraguayos, The Lost Letter, Ion Cristoreanu, Tudor Arghezi, Rigoletto and Dentes? That he had fancied a colleague who was divorced, but after a second time he had minded his own business and stopped seeing her? That he never wore a tie? That, obviously, he dreamt of hydraulic presses and vacuum pipes indispensable for oil factories? That he played bridge every Friday with some colleagues, though, truth be told, he was a rather poor player? All these are trifles. One morning that spring, before leaving for work, Emil Popescu went round the building to take one more look at his car. The night before he had gone to a friend's birthday party and drunk some Albanian Cabernet, which had made him sick. All night he had been painfully aware of the chemicals in his liver and had woken up with an aching neck, and a slight nausea dripping through his sinuses. But the cool air refreshed him, even if it carried the characteristic smell of garbage cans. The tan-colored automobile shone dully, geometrically, its windows sparkling clean, parked close to the bar on which people use to beat the dust off their carpets, between the Lada and the Wartburg. The architect took the silvery key out of his pocket and unlocked the door. He put his attaché case down against the wheel and got into the car for a moment. He switched on the headlights, playing with the long and the short beam. He then switched on the windscreen wipers, then the radio. A man's voice was giving a weather forecast. The architect smiled. Everything was in order. And then he delicately pressed the disc in the middle of the steering wheel, under whose plexiglass cover he could make out the logo: UAP (Piteshti Automobile Factory). The tenor voice of the horn gushed out and did not stop even when he removed his finger from the disc. The sound persisted, monotonous, shrill, ripping the dark at half past six in the morning. The architect pressed the plexiglass disc desperately several times, to no avail. He felt he was going crazy. He got quickly out of the car, forgetting to switch off the headlights, and pattered around it helplessly. After about one minute of unbearable howling, citizens started showing up at the windows and in the balconies in their pajamas, shouting something down to the architect, but because of the hooting they could not make themselves heard. The young man wished for the earth to open up and swallow him. He opened the hood and started shaking up randomly the yellow, black and red wires insulated with thick plastic sheathes, which looped from place to place. The stench of petrol and the noise made his head split asunder. He did not know which were the horn's electric connections, and with every second that went by he was growing more and more nervous, and feeling more and more ridiculous. Elena had come down, too and they kept fretting, perplexed, round the monster that wouldn't stop bellowing. A small potato hit the hood of the Dacia and ricocheted. Someone had thrown it down from a balcony, for the entire building was up by now and unshaven men, women with no make-up on and unwashed children were shouting down at the miserable owners of the Dacia. In the end, Colonel Boteanu, in a vest and pajama trousers, came down from his apartment, rounded the building, shoved Emil Popescu aside without a word and in a single, magician-like gesture which he performed in the darkness around the engine, cut short the noise and walked away scornfully. Their ears still tingling, the two architects were able to hear what the neighbors were shouting. They were not pleasant things.That day, Emil Popescu was unable to perform to his usual standards at work. In front of his drawing board, staring at the plastic jar full of pencils with all kinds of leads, playing with the Richter compasses and the Rotring markers, absentmindedly following the thousands of lines on special paper of the project he was working on, the architect felt suddenly tired. His mind kept reliving the scene from that morning. The loud, uniform hooting of the horn obsessed him. He started thinking about all sorts of horns, from spring-operated bicycle ones that sounded like an alarm clock, to those with rubber balloons on the ramshackle automobiles in the Famous Comics of the Screen TV show. Back home, he asked his wife, whom he hardly dared to look in the eyes, for the car's operating manual. He leafed through the glossy pages of the brochure full of poorly superimposed color photographs that showed the Dacia 1300 from all possible angles, amused himself reading the badly spelled texts, but found too few details about the horn. Apparently it was the commonest type, electromagnetic, made by Electrobobinajul factory in Bucharest. Dissatisfied for a reason he didn't even know, all the evening the architect kept spoiling for a fight with his wife and slept on the living room sofa. He fell asleep late, with the manual on his chest.Next day, after work, he stopped by the factory. He was familiar with this industrial unit: as a child he used to steal magnets and brass ribbons by jumping over the concrete fence; later, when he was in high school, he had had practical training here. It was rather a cooperative society where dozens of female workers looped huge coils all day long. There persisted a permanent smell of stranded wire and oil-impregnated cardboard. The architect talked to an elderly foreman, who finally provided him with all the information on the various kinds of automobile horns. When he learnt that there were also musical horns, which included several electrical cornets and could play a musical sequence, Emil Popescu was enthusiastic, although he didn't know why. He asked the foreman to tell him where he could get such a horn. The foreman referred him to a chap who worked in the Auto Repair Shop in Colentina, on Nicolae Apostol street, and who dealt in things like that. Emil Popescu could hardly wait for the next day. He tossed and turned all night long, desperately desiring the miraculous horn. Next morning he was two hours late for work, for the first time ever, and went directly to the repair shop. The chap had indeed what he was looking for, it was a Gordini model with six nickel-plated trumpets and it played the first bars from the Triumphal March in Aida. He didn't actually have it, he could get it for him, he knew an Italian guy who was pressed for money. In about a week he would tell him what he had managed to do. Naturally, as it was not made in Romania, it could be rather expensive. Emil Popescu told the young man he would pay any amount, and he even slipped a one hundred lei bill in his overalls pocket, because he needed to be sure of the outcome. He left for home feeling both happy and unhappy, terrified at the prospect of waiting for a whole week, and spent his evening humming obsessively "Gloria all'Egitto, ad Iside…"After only four days the architect received the anxiously expected call. He dashed to the repair shop on Nicolae Apostol street where, in one of the dirty workshops, among cars on stocks and telescopic platforms, the chap in the greasy overalls was expecting him. The young man showed him an odd-looking piece of machinery, a sort of ebonite plate with six small brass trumpets sticking out on one side, and various electrical wires on the other. When plugged in, the mechanism sent forth, with burlesque velocity, the opera bits. Several people had thronged around them – mechanics, clients and even students from the neighboring school – wondering at the strange, singing object. The architect returned home accompanied by the young mechanic, who installed the new horn under the hood of his Dacia. Pressing the disc in the middle of the steering wheel, he elicited a wave of contradictory feelings among the neighbors, feelings ranging from admiration to envy and sacred fury. Elena emerged from the passage that cut from the front to the back of the building. For days she had been aware that something had come over her husband, but she still didn't know what it was all about and, consequently, she wasn't sure how she should react. However, when she found out how much this whim of her husband's had cost, the lady adopted the proper attitude which she had inherited from her mother, and was expressed through out-of-proportion facial expression, gestures and especially words. One whole salary has been wasted on the Italian's swindle. But Emil Popescu didn't even consider taking it back, as Elena suggested; to the contrary, sprawled on the front seat in a complete dolce far niente, he kept pressing the disc and listening, with a voluptuousness worthy of the most passionate music lover, to the small sequence from the triumphant march.Naturally, one day the architect got tired of Verdi and started browsing for something else. Elena was horrified at the joyful and primitive roughing out of the Marseillaise, Yankee Doodle and God Save the Queen that gushed out, in turn, of each musical cornet. The expense was no longer that big, because the architect had started trading with various drivers whom God only knows where he had come to meet. One time, while traveling by tram number 21, Elena spotted her husband who should have been at work but was instead circling the electrical clock in the Bucur Obor Market, listening every fifteen minutes to some well-known tune it played. Things had become tragically complicated for the kind-hearted wife, who still refused to acknowledge the cruel truth. The whole episode with the car horns lasted more than six months, during which time the architect, every day more nervous and displeased, changed eight such noise-producing machines. His initial happiness had turned into hatred and venom. Harassed by the neighbors who threatened to denounce him to prosecutor's office, by his bosses, no longer satisfied with his performance at the drawing board, by his wife who had slapped him with a conjugal ultimatum, refusing to cook or wash for him or to perform her wifely duties, the architect didn't even have the consolation of being able to enjoy his new-found passion. He had arrived too soon at a peak he couldn't possibly hope to go beyond. He had experimented on his Dacia the most state-of-the-art and complex horns available, even the celebrated product of the Toyota group, the one that played the chorus from Satisfaction by Rolling Stones. And it wasn't so much the banality and limitedness of the offer that infuriated Emil Popescu, as the passive attitude that the owner of the horn had to adopt while exercising his rights. This was the great shortcoming of all the horns that could be bought for any money. How on earth hadn't it occurred to anybody that maybe the man behind the wheel might be tired of being simply a finger pressing a button, that he might want to collaborate with his car, to be a creator? Maybe he would like to compose himself the tune played by the horn, a different one every time, according to his mood, his talent, his taste. After nights and nights when he racked his brains and bit his fingers, sleeping no more than two or three hours in the morning, the architect thought up a car horn built according to completely new principles. It was to have piano-like keys, each connected to one of the small electrical trumpets. The next day, on Sunday, he paid a visit to his cousin, Virgil Ciotoianu, who lived in the ALMO 3 building, above the Bucur Obor general store, and who was in the business of repairing TV sets. Before tackling the issue that had brought him there, the architect admired the wallpaper on one of the walls in his cousin's living room, depicting a blood-red lake in the sunset and a huge, tar-black pine tree. They talked about the newest models of color TV sets. Finally, Popescu informed his host about his plans and the repairman, after some pondering and unpleasantly surprised at his cousin's original idea, asked him why he didn't consider buying a piano, after all, so he could play in his house all he wanted. As for the horn, he had better hurry to get his driver's license, if he didn't want his car to rust away unused. But Emil Popescu was not going to give up; he patiently explained once more the shortcomings of present-day horns, and that what he really wanted was not to play the piano, but to improve honking techniques, and thus to do a service to millions of motorists. Eventually they agreed that the architect would purchase an electronic keyboard which his cousin would set up for him on the dashboard of his car. Naturally, the repairman explained, the car would become unusable, even the wheel would have to come off to accommodate the keyboard. The architect, fully consenting, insisted on his cousin coming over to set up the keyboard as soon as may be, and while gesticulating excitedly he spilled the glass of Bulgarian gin that Virgil Ciotoianu had offered him. After the architect left, the TV repairman had a low voice talk over the phone with Mrs. Popescu. Their voices betrayed their anxiety.As a consequence, Elena threatened her husband that, if he intended to destroy the car, she would divorce him without a shadow of regret. He tried to explain that the whole thing was an experiment, but she wouldn't listen to his arguments. It is true that she did not file for divorce when their relative showed up on their doorstep carrying his took kit. It was three o'clock in the morning when, starving and dead tired, the architect came back to the apartment. In the kitchen, without even sitting down, he wolfed down whatever he found in the fridge, because his mind was full of sounds. For hours on end he had randomly pressed the white and black keys, one or several at a time, feeling like a teenage boy who unexpectedly finds himself in bed with his first woman. He felt like staying there for ever to try all possible combinations, pressing the keys first one at a time, then two, then three… some sequences of sounds brought him joy, as if he knew them already and had been expecting them for a long time; others, the great majority of them, hurt and offended not only his ears, but his whole being, it seemed. He threw himself on the living room sofa and fell asleep immediately, for the first time in months.Every day, after work, Emil Popescu would get in the comfortable front seat of his Dacia and resume, in a low tone, his "honking." When, after several decades, the architect became the subject of huge quantities of studies, monographs, comments, articles, diploma or Ph.D. papers, tens or hundreds of times more numerous that those devoted to Dante, Shakespeare and Dostoevsky together, the couple of months of sotto-voce explorations on the keys of the Reghin keyboard would come to be known as the "underground period" of the architect's activity. Some neighbor, or some old friend, would drop by from time to time, get in the left front seat and marvel each time at the strangeness of having a car with a keyboard where the dashboard and the wheel should have been. Without interrupting for a moment his noisy saraband, the architect would explain, accommodatingly, that the fundamental function of a car was not, as commonly believed, that of shortening distances and taking people from one place to another. This was only a secondary and, if you come to think of it, useless function. The nobleness of a car resided in the possibility it offered one to honk, that is to communicate, and to communicate oneself. Honking, as Emil Popescu conceived of it, was the voice, so far oppressed and stifled by man, reduced to a single bestial, guttural sound, now free, dignified and sovereign – the voice of the car. We complain about the invasion of technology, about the lack of dialogue with the car, but we never thought of giving it a chance to express itself. It is not necessary for cars to work, but it is their fundamental right to be able to express themselves. Once at this point of the argumentation, the architect would have such a bizarre gleam in his eyes that the neighbor would take his leave hastily, and go back up to his apartment where, not sure whether to laugh or to feel sympathetic, would feel troubled for the rest of the day. The underground period lasted until next spring. Once the quickset hedge and the acacias had leafed out, Emil Popescu suddenly turned up the volume in the loudspeakers, so that what he played could now be heard within meters of the Dacia, but still without disturbing the neighbors. Some of them had formed a habit out of passing by the architect's car every after-noon, suddenly amazed and fascinated with the piercing harmony that was beginning to take form, clearer every day. In the first days of spring, the architect would obstinately, monotonously, but at the same time charmingly, tackle the same sequence of full notes that seemed to grow one out of the other and convey a strange state of ataraxia. "It sounds like Pink Floyd," the young people found themselves muttering, but they soon checked themselves adding that it was Pink Floyd "gone pathetic." Indifferent to the comments, day after day our hero would play, visibly delighted, the sequence of full notes which shone dully and deeply. Telente, the gypsy fiddler who lived in the same building and had three girls covered in silver fox furs, probably gifts from the incredible succession of men who went day and night in and out of their apartment, had listened attentively to the architect's music, sometimes swearing admiringly under his thin moustache. It was a musical scale, that much he could tell, but one he had never heard before. At the Hora restaurant where he played, Telente sketched one day, during the break, the sequence of ten full notes that he had picked up from Emil Popescu. For a few seconds, the knives and forks of the motley assortment of people who frequented the restaurant stopped in mid air, as if time had suddenly dissolved, but the fiddler, himself startled, hastened to resume Tango of yore, which was usually well received by the public. After the show, Telente had another beer with the band, which had a new member, a saxophonist, a quiet boy who, after graduating from music school, had refused to go and teach music in the Argasheni village, Bacau County, where he had been given a job. But his pals in the restaurant band still called him the Professor, and they were rather boastful about having among them one who really knew his music. That evening, the Professor asked Telente what was the scale he had played after Something, their remake of Beatles. Telente didn't need any more prompting to start telling them about his neighbor, the architect from the third floor. The Professor was amused by the account, thinking how ironic history was and remembering a fragment from Eliot's Gerontion. Yes, nothing more than traps, pitfalls and twisted roads… The scale that had once been Pythagoras' glory, the famous ten sound musical scale, in which each sound corresponded to a planet (the last being the mysterious Antithonus, and the first the Sun itself) and to a segment of a straight line in a harmonious relation to the rest, according to the rule of the Golden Number, had now come to be reinvented by a maniac that kept playing it over and over again, like a broken record. Back home, in his small room with the walls covered with tattered books from floor to ceiling and a collage stuck to the dirty door, representing Saint Augustine contemplating the bare breast of a woman cut out of who knows what obscene magazine, the Professor made a note in his diary about the things they had discussed at the restaurant. But he stopped short in the middle of a sentence, because at eleven a clock he heard a knock on the door – his girlfriend Iolanda, freshly divorced and eager for lots, lots of love.All this time Elena, the architect's good wife, had consulted a host of psychiatrists whom she had brought over, on various pretexts, to see the architect. Their opinions did not concur. It certainly was no ordinary case. Most of the doctors regarded it rather as a monomania, something like collecting cactuses or stamps, but who could tell the border between a simple hobby and a pathological manifestation? After all, there are a lot of known examples of absurd passions that can lead, even with the most psychologically normal individuals, to crazy behavior. There is no shortage of examples of people who threw their TV sets out of the window during a football game. Sometimes, old people killed themselves after losing a game of backgammon. So Elena should act wisely, as long as her husband still coped with his work and the social conventions of family life. After all, she ought not to forget that she had married him for better and for worse, and she should have no doubt that, once declared mentally alienated, he would become her responsibility, since his delirium posed no danger to society. She should not hurry to get a divorce, after all they had accomplished so many things together and a man cannot be abandoned just like that, as if he were a dog. There are worse husbands than that, who cheat on their wives, drink, have kinky preferences… lots of women would like their good-for-nothing husbands to spend all after noon playing… well, something. Faced with such professional advice, which echoed the advice she had received from her family, the poor woman resigned herself to waiting a little longer. It was really difficult. The architect was no longer the man he used to be, he was not interested in anything that had to do with her, or with their home. She tried for a while to sleep in the same bed with him; she had even intended to be loving, but not only did he seem any longer to have no sexual desires, but also to be oblivious to their existence altogether. Little by little, he was losing the most elementary human notions. In the morning, for instance, he needed to be reminded to shave.Telente now dropped by the tan-colored Dacia every day before heading for the bus stop to get on trolley bus number 95 that took him downtown, wherefrom he took number 88 to get to work. He stayed and listened to the architect's musical phrases for a couple of minutes. He had quickly realized that the architect no longer repeated the same scale endlessly, but was building short bizarre melodies starting from it, proving an obvious technical evolution. His fingers, so clumsy and unskilled in the beginning, had become agile and supple, ivory-hard at the tips. Still the melodies seemed rather to lack rhythm and flowed in dawdling litanies, successions of full or double notes. The fiddler, champion of frenzied musical pieces, of gypsy cabaret glissandos and tremolos, found Emil Popescu's musical production rather hard to swallow. He memorized, nevertheless, one fragment that seemed more knit together, and more melodious, and played it for the Professor as a curiosity, after the restaurant closed for the night. This time the saxophonist pricked his ears, because the melody sounded bloody familiar. No, it could not be another coincidence. Once every thousand years someone, by pressing the keys randomly, could reproduce a ten sound musical scale, but this was something else. He went back to his semi-basement room feeling preoccupied and looked over his old notebooks from the course on archaic music. He played the few phrases of the melody on his saxophone a few times (his big drama was the absence of an upright piano, which he wouldn't have been able to fit into his room anyway), but on this barbarian, though refined, instrument they sounded original, piercing. Over-excited, he made a note in his diary that "the same maniac" had managed the bizarre feat of reinventing, note by note, by who knows what para-psychological intuition, the only orphic hymn that has survived from Greek Antiquity. It must indeed be, the Professor further wrote, something like "speaking languages", or that kind of detailed visions some people have of cities they have never seen. Next day he asked Telente to put him in contact with the organist in the car. The encounter between the Professor and Emil Popescu is historic. There is no assessing the role played by the young saxophonist in popularizing the gigantic creation and personality of the architect. From the first note sent forth by the architect's keyboard, to which he listened from the front seat of the car where he had been kindly invited to sit, the Professor had an intuition of what was really going on because, after he played the orphic hymn a couple of times, the architect suddenly passed on to something else. It was a new scale in his repertoire, in reality thousands of years old, a scale that could be heard, turned into song, on the shores of Asia Minor. After he played the minor scale several times, Emil Popescu went on to improvise starting from it. The Professor asked him a few questions and realized the architect had no idea he was making music. Entranced, he kept presenting his theories about the various aspects of the man-car communication through honking. What he was doing was but modulated honking, prompted by the intimacy with the automobile. There was nothing more one could get from him. He paid no heed to the Professor's attempts to talk to him about scales and melodies, but at the same time his fingers were giving birth to a paean devoted to Apollo, in which the saxophonist identified a composition by Onesicrates. It was only in the evening that he finally tore himself away, but from that day the Professor would come every day to listen to the architect's fantastic creations. At night, when he was not assailed by beautiful and sensual Iolanda, the young man read over and over again the music history textbooks, always marking the architect's progress and even trying to foresee the steps he would take next. Because, after he exhausted the successive phases of antique music, one after-noon Emil Popescu surprised the saxophonist with the first chords from a Gregorian cantus plenus that flowed with unmistakable grandness. About this time the neighbors began to take up interest in their eccentric fellow lodger, especially the old ladies who had started to like his "churchly music," even if it sounded different from what they were familiar with, so every after-noon, for about a couple of weeks, a bunch of grannies could be seen dozing on some stools around the Dacia.In the Professor's mind there was no doubt. He abandoned his job, too, turned his whole life upside down and even left Iolanda in order to be always around the architect. His diary, in which he had so far written only about the books he had read, and impressions from his concerts, plus various love affairs and no more frequently than once a week, was now growing to the dimensions of a saga novel. It was all there, in a jumble of text and crooked staves, indicating the implausible explosions of spirit by which Emil Popescu managed to go from one stage to the next, from one mentality to the next, from some conventions to others, repeating, rediscovering, step by step, the history of music. In an apparently inextricable confusion, scales, harmony and counterpoint exercises appeared one after the other every evening until late in the night in the darkened air behind the apartment building, scintillating maybe ten minutes in a crystal-clear melody only to plunge into murky explorations and anxieties that the architect did not have the slightest idea of. The seasons succeeded one another blending their colors, rolling their clouds in the ever changing sky, but still every dusk and every springing of the stars found the two men behind the windscreen of the Dacia 1300, now dirty and dusty beyond comparison. Luckily, the Professor made sure the battery was recharged now and again, and he also passed a sponge over the tan-dyed coachwork lest it should be eaten away by rust. The children who played behind the building had long seen to it that all four tires be let down. Elena came down there sometimes, too, and got in the back seat of the car. For some time now she had started to drop by more often, not so much to listen to the sophisticated melodies composed by her husband, who was now going through the counterpoint fury of a Dunstable, Palestrina, Dufay, Ockeghem, Josquin des Prés and especially Orlando di Lasso, superimposing almost alchemic chords, as because she was beginning to feel a certain attraction, why not admit it, to the rather romantic appearance of the young saxophonist. She had long been aware that, while playing, Emil Popescu was virtually separated from the real world, deaf and blind to any kind of external stimulus. No matter what one said to him he mumbled the same text about honking, every day more obscure, more delirious. So she did not shrink from complaining about her husband to the Professor, who listened first with one ear, then with both, without comprehending too much. Yet, when he opened his eyes or rather looked up from his diary, he was suddenly interested, because Elena had very beautiful breasts. They resembled those of the girl in the photograph that poor Augustine was forced to stare at in the young man's cell. And these breasts hadn't been caressed for a long time. When the saxophonist, after a few nights' explorations and ever more turbid spiritual intimacy, touched her cheek with his fingers (he had finally joined her on the back seat), Elena was the first to seek his mouth with her half-open lips. They made love there, on the back seat of the car, to the first measures of the Adagio from Bach's concerto for violin and orchestra in E minor. From that moment the trio became inseparable. When she came home from work, Elena usually found the two men already in the car. Ever since the architect started to play Bach, one year before, the neighbors had all turned music lovers and even asked him to turn up the volume in the loudspeakers for a couple of hours every night.The Professor kept writing with all his might. He had already published in Magazin, in the "dialogue with the readers" column, a note about the musical phenomenon occurring behind an apartment building in Berceni district. He then sent an article to The Flame magazine, which was published the following week, calling the attention of the authorities to the case. As it was increasingly difficult to communicate with the architect, and the saxophonist had been paid the handsome sum of 380 lei for his article, he took it upon himself to act as impresario for his strange friend. And since it involved the harmless, and always useful, classical music, the architect eventually caught the eye of the Radio and Television Corporation, so that it became customary to have on Saturday evening, or on Thursday morning, on Channel 3, some concert on electronic keyboard by the amateur artist Emil Popescu. The Radio Corporation was killing several birds with one stone with these broadcasts. While providing musical education to its listeners, it also proved that new talents spring up every day among the common people. At the same time, the recordings emphasized the quality of the musical instruments produced by the well-known factory in Reghin.The following year, the national television for the first time brought the image of the architect into millions of homes across the country. Television crews, watched by tens of neighbors in pajamas, stopped in front of the building and uncoiled long, orange and blue cables that went all the way to the architect's car, where two cameras blinked their green lights below the lens. The reporter, after speaking passionately for some time with his face to the cameras, tried to get in the Dacia and talk to the architect. But Elena and the Professor explained that the master, whose incredibly long fingers danced on the ivory keys, could not be roused from his trance. Finally, the TV people were content with a fifteen minute feature report that spoke about Mozart to the architect's music.It was about then that Elena found out she was pregnant. She was scared in the beginning, but the saxophonist, who in fact had given up playing his instrument altogether, but spent his mornings between the radio, the television and various newspaper offices, while in the evening meticulously filled his seventh or eighth notebook with notes and staves, the Professor, therefore, who for some months had been living in the architect's apartment, calmed her down and together they made the decision that had been a necessity for some time, namely her divorce from the architect. The divorce proceedings did not take too long, eight months give or take, the facts being obvious and Elena's pregnancy advancing rapidly. The settlement satisfied both parties: Elena got the house and all the furniture, while Emil Popescu got the car and a sum of money that she agreed to pay in the form of board and lodging. So in reality the only thing that had changed was the marital status of the three people, who soon became four. This unusual divorce had caused quite a scandal, naturally, and it would have looked rather promiscuous if the public opinion had not had time to get used to the architect's unusual person.He had changed significantly in the few years that had passed since the first fatal honk of his Dacia. He had put on a lot of weight despite the fact that he almost didn't eat, the skin was stretched on his cheeks, the eyes looked fixedly, heedful of nothing in this world. A cobweb-like, rare beard with unusually long hairs was tangled across his cheeks. But what was beginning to surpass even the pathological, entering the domain of teratology, were his hands. His fingers were more than thirty centimeters long. Spread out, they covered the whole keyboard. Thick intersecting ropes of muscles moved his phalanges, contracting and relaxing with incredible speed. You could barely see the tips of his fingers running like so many nervous mosquito legs along the cold keys. With these monstrous hands Emil Popescu played whole concertos by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky without ever having listened to them before, reinventing them in a state of continuous hallucination. Whenever he stopped playing, his fingers, which now went down to his knees, seemed to ache unbearably, so after only two years the architect had quit his job and had severed any connection with normal social life. He now played uninterruptedly, day and night. Short notes about the Romanian keyboard player appeared in the oddity columns of all the important papers and magazines. Reporters from New York Herald Tribune, Life, Strange Astonishing Stories Magazine, Paris Match and Penthouse kept showing up behind the apartment building in Berceni, blazing their blinding sophisticated camera flashes, recording video tapes and whole audio tapes with the architect's wonderful music and with his unintelligible stammering no less. The Professor was always close by, "translating" the musician's words, and in early spring he published his notes simultaneously in Paris and London, under the respective titles Un génie aux portes de l'Orient and A Man of Genius at the Gates of the Orient. The unimaginable success, among musicians and the uninitiated alike, enjoyed by these books which were soon followed by new editions in all possible languages, made Emil Popescu the man of the hour across the world. In the following years the saxophonist, now married to Elena, who was bringing up her child in peace, traveled the world, tirelessly giving one conference after another. Emil Popescu became thus the best-known Romanian artist abroad, and a Japanese company offered him a superb sound synthesizer to broaden his range of musical expression. After a trip by plane and lorry the huge instrument, eleven meters long and two meters wide, landed behind the apartment building. Several lodgers had to give up their parking space. Also, the support for cleaning the carpets was dislodged and moved several meters further. A special structure made of transparent plexiglass protected the gadget from bad weather. The two Japanese specialists that had accompanied it set up the whole machinery and tried to convince the architect to move under the plexiglass roof. But it was impossible to get him out of his car. The tan-colored coachwork of the Dacia seemed to be as important as music itself to Emil Popescu. Resourceful as always, the Japanese resorted to the only available solution. They moved the architect onto the back seat of the car, removed the front seat and the old keyboard of the Reghin electronic organ and, after a few days' work, set up, in the space thus created, an immense machinery, a staggering jumble of screens, potentiometers, digital dials and eight rows of specially designed keys, so that the whole thing looked like the interior of a space ship. After they set the synthesizer working, the two little men tried to strike up a dialogue with the famous musician. To their huge surprise and relief, the architect handled the electronic equipment, pressed the buttons and tuned the frequencies as if he had been doing it all his life. From the first touching of the keys there gushed out, with a purity and a richness of sound that were striking after the primitive sound of the Reghin keyboard, the successive waves, first soaring and then restrained as by a great suffering, of Ravel's Waltz. The great Mishiba could reproduce any sound, either natural or issued by an instrument. For a few years, Emil Popescu did nothing but explore tirelessly the fantastic possibilities offered by the synthesizer. Now and again, among the most faithfully rendered noises from nature – the rustle of dry leaves, the whistle of a blackbird, the gushing of a river, exhaustingly sweet female voice inflexions, an airplane taking off, dolphins making bubbles – the saxophonist, during the few hours he still spent behind the building, had the opportunity to write down, feverishly, musical pieces orchestrated in the most moving manner. He could hear, in such a crystal-clear timbre as no one could get by natural means, flutes and violas, horns and bassoons, triangles and cymbals weaving their melodic lines in filigreed melodies or in brilliant dissonances. The architect's paws, whose fingers had now dozens of joints, ran along the hundreds of keys, tuned the thousands of concurrent frequencies, simultaneously programming whole orchestras. The modest loudspeakers of the Reghin keyboard had been replaced with a huge ball of special wire, more than three meters in diameter and capable of emitting a quadraphonic sound with multiple, guided echo. Except for the small drawback represented by the fact that the building eventually collapsed due to all the lodgers' suffering from severe stress, there existed the advantage that a large part of the city was permanently under the sound umbrella issued by the architect. The ground where the building used to stand, now carefully leveled, was surrounded with a concrete and board fence, and inside this enclosure fir trees were planted. Schönberg's and Webern's serial music agreed with them, so that their needle-leafed branches soon stretched out over the rusty Dacia, enclosing with their brownish needles the plexiglass block that sheltered the huge belly of the synthesizer, together with the two Japanese specialists, who were growing bald. Day and night the music bleated and rumbled, vibrated and whizzed taking over everything.Elena and the saxophonist occupied the glass and metal villa that had been erected on the foundations of the former building. Surrounded by the intense smell of ozone, they lived in peace. They became aware that they were growing old when their son got married. The Professor was acknowledged as a brilliant agent, but for some time nobody seemed to need him any longer. He was still invited to various symposiums as honorary president, but what was asked of him was always the same thing – to tell about the circumstances of his first meeting with Emil Popescu. The latter's popularity seemed oblivious of any fashion; it kept growing constantly, even at an exponential rate. Listeners of all ages requested the same music, which was unheard-of and sociologically inexplicable. Three quarters of all cable TV broadcasts and video tapes on the market were Emil Popescu's concerts. The crucial moment for establishing the architect's melocracy went unnoticed by the public opinion. It occurred the night when the saxophonist, upon returning home from a conference at the new Athenaeum, found Elena, now somewhat portlier and greyer, listening entranced to her ex husband's music. According to an old convention, they never talked about him and his music, and never paid more attention to the matter than professional duties required. Since she had stopped feeding the architect, Elena appeared to have forgotten him for good. But there she was, on the veranda, listening enraptured to the desperate screams of an electronically simulated guitar. The Professor was furious. The music was like lead in his legs, too, but this time he didn't heed his fascination. He pictured himself, in a moment of lucidity, as an old man who, just like the owner of some circus, had made a living out of exhibiting a nightmarish monster to the public curiosity. He suddenly felt a terrible hatred of the man who, just feet away, across the lawn, was psychically abducting his wife, winning her back through the sheer power of music. He left Elena on the veranda and went into the kitchen. He grabbed the sparkling meat chopper and made for the silhouette of the out fashioned Dacia that shimmered dully in the dark. The Professor saw the coachwork literally eaten by rust, the twisted rims of the former wheels, the glassless windows. Inside, however, there twinkled fantastically thousands of green, red and blue lights where the dashboard once stood. They went rhythmically on and off, exerting a hypnotic effect on the saxophonist. He got closer and looked inside.And there he was. His body, which must have weighed at least four hundred kilograms, had come to literally fill, like a snail does his shell, formless, naked and whitish – for his clothes had long burst to pieces – the entire rear part of the car, spilling over through the windows. His head had become welded to his upper body, his features were little more than fine lines drawn across the fleshy face, while his eyes had united into a single, panoramic eye which took in the whole complicated machinery of the synthesizer's command desk. His elbows and forearms had been absorbed into his rib cage, so that out of his chest there now jutted out the two bunches of fingers, each comprising several dozens twig-like, but elaborately articulated filaments which tirelessly touched the ivory keys. The Professor felt like throwing up, a shudder of sacred horror went through his bones at the sight of this being which had almost nothing human in it. To make sure he wouldn't have time to think twice, he switched off the headlight and rushed to the front door of the car. No sooner had he pulled it open than it came loose from the rotten hinges and fell on the grass like a crooked shell fragment. He grabbed firmly at the clump of fingers closest to him and started chopping furiously. Blood and chunks of fingers trickled down the architect's now greasy body, but he seemed unaware of it. The fingers still intact continued unruffled to wriggle on the keys. A heavy smell, like that of a room where a woman is giving birth, spread beneath the fir trees. When the last finger fell throbbing on the striated rubber at the architect's feet, the saxophonist, flashing his hewing axe under the small, floury stars, rounded the remains of the coachwork through which he could see the dark engine, and grasped tightly in his fist the stump from which the other clump of fingers stuck out. This time, however, when he was about to hew with all his might, the most amazing happened. All of a sudden the fingers waved delicately, like a quiver in the antennae of a Phylloxera, on the superposed keyboards and out of the huge sphere of metallic wire there issued a few maddening chords. It was no Alban Berg, no Orff, no Duke Ellington, no Pink Floyd. It was nothing anyone had ever heard before, nothing the human mind could conceive could ever be heard. The saxophonist listened dumbfounded. It was music you didn't listen to with your ears, but with your entire skin at once, it filled your veins with echoes that your whole bone structure came into resonance with. Once in the brain, at the gates of the soul, just like a drug or a sweet spider that injects its dissolving enzymes into the body of its victim, this music took the place of the soul and, just like a disloyal homunculus, took in firm hands the reins of the body. Then the music, like some azure peristaltic waves, floated down the jugular, invaded the lymphatic channels, sparkled iridescently in the fusiform muscle packs, overcame, along the spinal nerves, the internal organs, the hexagonal cells in the liver, the heart with its electric embryos, the adrenal glands and the great cavity of the bladder, descended like a rainy dusk into the thighs and ran along the thighbone, the shinbone and the fibula down to the tips of the toes, replacing every cell, every mitochondrion, every drop of nucleic acid with a musical tangle. Overwhelmed, with that sensation that the world is coming apart that only those who suffered a heart attack are said to experience, the saxophonist collapsed onto the grass next to the door. It seemed to him that the great sheet of the sky, into which the stars were set, became distorted, came down on him, wrapped around his body and swathed him tightly, like a motley shroud. He lost consciousness.When he came to, it was daylight, but the shadow of the Dacia trembling on the grass shielded him from the molten disc of the sun. He was covered in blood. He stood up and looked at the monster in the car. The stump from which he had cut off the enormous fingers had healed up and, like so many little nails, the offshoots of new fingers had started to bud out. The Professor broke down and cried pathetically, sobbing and choking. He didn't feel up to anything. The world seemed to him a burnt down inferno, beyond his endurance. He lingered desperately for those few chords he had listened to during the night. For about eight hours he suffered like a dog. He felt sick in his body and in his soul. A paranoid delirium was growing inside his skull and finally the professor grabbed the chopping knife again and launched himself at the architect, determined to finish him off this time. But the same ecstatic music threw him to the ground.He understood then that the architect issued those painfully melodious sounds as a poisonous secretion against all kind of aggression. It was enough for him to feign an assault if he wanted to hear again the music without which he could not live. The more forceful the attack, the more overwhelming the music. For years on end, to the end of his life, the saxophonist took advantage, viciously, of his discovery. To heighten the effect of the music, he tried to asphyxiate the architect, to burn him, to scald him, to blow him up, to electrocute him, to irradiate him. With each new attempt the melodic line changed, the sonorous and more than sonorous volutes twisted differently, making up compositions more powerful and more penetrating than anything ever achieved by the creative genius of any composer. For, in moments like this, the architect no longer imitated styles and modalities already extant, but became himself a supra-artist and a supra-interpreter.Throughout the decades, the entire human mentality had changed under the overpowering influence of the architect. There were no more conflicts, because every human being had no other interest but to be able to listen day and night to the uninterrupted recital. All that came out of any printing press were but whole newspapers devoted to the architect, books about the architect; all painters painted official portraits of the architect and every poem was a hymn of praise dedicated to him. The little work that was still carried on was meant to ensure the minimum means of subsistence, and to maintain the vast network of satellites that kept broadcasting the architect's music. People love