Sunday Stories: “A Country of Warehouses”

A Country of Warehouses
by Brian Mihok

Everything is made in warehouses. The small plastic bottles that pills are kept in. Coins. Chairs. Schools. Typically there are two-thousand students per course. Each degree takes one course to complete. You graduate in the same warehouse. Everyone has degrees. There is a warehouse in every town. All roads are required to connect to at least one warehouse.

Erica tried to explain all this to Taiga. In Taiga’s country there was no infrastructure. It had been destroyed by years of civil war. We had a civil war once but it was a long time ago, Erica said. Taiga wasn’t interested in hearing about it. Civil wars are civil wars. Is this a warehouse? he said. This is a café, she said. But everything in this café was made in a warehouse. Even me, she said. You were made? Taiga said. I was born in a hospital, but the hospital was a warehouse. They have tall ceilings and cross beams that are very beautiful, Erica said.

One time I saw the People’s Arch, Taiga said. It was beautiful. It had many names carved into it. My name was added when I was a boy. If you stood under it when the rain fell, the light from the heavens came to you so that you could see God. Of course many people stood in the rain too long and got sick, Taiga said and laughed.

We have war memorials like that, but they’re all in warehouses, protected from the weather, Erica said. This made a lot of sense to Taiga. He thought of all the healthy people that must live in such a country. A country of these warehouses. They finished their coffee and went to Erica’s apartment. She showed him her croquet set and the painting she bought from the art fair. What is it? Taiga asked. I don’t know, she said. It had large swathes of color. Mostly blue. The light hit the painting so that it was brighter than anything else in the room. Sometimes I don’t like to look at it, Erica said. I wish they had put a little warehouse in it or something.

Taiga learned the ways of the country. After three degrees and a few years as the protégé of a powerful executive, Taiga became the leader of a large corporation in charge of many warehouses. He dressed in a suit everyday. His favorite was a yellow three-piece. There was a picture of him wearing it, which he sent to Erica. She laughed when she saw it and put it on the refrigerator. When she came home it was one of the first things she saw.

Taiga was able to take a trip back to his home country. He wanted to see the People’s Arch again. When he got to the site it was rubble. Then Taiga remembered that the arch had been destroyed in the civil war. He couldn’t believe he had forgotten. Most of the stone from the arch had been stolen. There were only two great rocky stumps left. He took his shoes off and rubbed his feet on the uneven stumps. The edges of the stone scraped his skin. The sun was out and the air was hot. There was a low lying dust everywhere. He looked up and imagined the arch in its full glory. He squinted at the blue sky, devoid of rain clouds through which to see God.

Then he flew home and was happy to be back at work. He ordered a new warehouse built. It would contain a replica of the arch. The finest limestone was ordered. Warehouse engineers, which is to say the best engineers, were retained. A special company-wide newsletter was created. It kept everyone apprised of the project’s progress. Taiga wanted the spirit of the replica to have a unique feel so he had the stone cut by hand. The heavy limestone cubes were placed with the designing architectural engineers standing by. The warehouse itself was completed ahead of schedule. It was several blocks long and over fifteen stories high. It captured the majesty and strength for which warehouses stood. The arch replica took twenty times longer to build than if warehouse machines had made it, but Taiga felt a sense of accomplishment anyway. He knew it had been done right . Human precision gave the new arch a quality that machine precision could not, no matter the accuracy.

In a letter to Erica he explained it all. She wrote back how proud she was of him and how she wanted to be there for the dedication. She flew in and gave Taiga a long hug. He took her to see the arch the night before its unveiling. They entered the warehouse and their voices went distant and came back to them. Taiga turned on the lights. My god, Erica said with her hand on her chest. At its apex the arch had a complicated design that reminded her of a strange looking rope knot. There were names hand carved into every inch of both legs. The names went up to the top near the knot over 150 feet above them. Where are the names from? Erica said. I purchased a warehouse in San Francisco. It held old photographs of the original arch, Taiga said.

So your  name is on this one? she said. He pushed a button on a control panel which engaged a series of commands in the computer. They stepped onto a steel platform and a magnifying glass swooped down from the rafters. Taiga spoke his name into a microphone and the magnifying glass moved to a spot on the arch. The steel lift rose from the floor and sent them up a hundred feet to meet the glass. Taiga’s name was just legible through the blur. Erica looked up and saw the steel rafters and how they reflected the lights pointed at the arch. She might have sworn right then that it was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen.

People are going to love it. They will come to see it forever, she said. Taiga shrugged and said he wouldn’t know. I’ve already sold it, he said.

What do you mean? Why ever would you sell it? Erica said.

Taiga pushed a few buttons and the magnifying glass swooped away and the brought them down. I came here to make new things. Sometimes the new things are like the old things, he said.

It’s not right. I just want to look at it forever, Taiga, she said.

Forever? Taiga said like he’d never heard the word before.

They went to dinner at a trendy warehouse restaurant. Taiga talked about the process of remaking the arch and his ideas for the next few projects. To try and cheer her up he ordered Erica her favorite ice cream atop a truffle brownie for dessert. Before it came Erica excused herself to the restroom.

She washed her hands and looked in the mirror. She patted the puffy skin around her eyes. Some foundation came off on her finger. She washed it again and wondered whether she wore too much makeup. She looked up again and caught the light in her blue irises. They stood out from her mustard colored dress. She got very close to the mirror. Around two black pupils were ridges of blue tissue. Shapes, pyramids, arches. Her head tilted back and light flooded down. Her pupils strangled themselves shut. It was hard to see the shapes now. She looked into the tiny black dots and willed them to open but they didn’t. That’s your only job and you won’t even do that, she thought.

Back at the table she ate her dessert.

Taiga folded his hands and said, I think I know why you would look at it forever. Forever is a beautiful idea. You know what I’d like to do forever? No matter the weather. No matter the cost. If nothing else, build and build and build and build and build.

Brian Mihok’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Tarpaulin Sky, TRNSFR, Necessary Fiction and elsewhere. He edits matchbook, a journal of indeterminate prose.

Art by Margarita Korol.