No one knows when we became Builders. The first Building in our town is nothing special, just a ranch with asymmetrical windows and light blue vinyl siding. The couple who made it are long gone, dead or divorced. And careless.
Every time I walk past the first Building, crowded now by the Tudor on the right and the lofted treehouse on the left, I imagine those first two Builders lovelessly grinding away on each other. They couldnt have known what they were doing, not at first. But once they saw the foundation creeping in, the walls growing up short and squat, the oddly placed windows; wouldn’t they think to try a little harder? Look at some blueprints before bed?
There’s a plaque out front and everything. I just find it embarrassing, and Mikhail agrees. We have the benefit of data now, studies. There are certain positions that are statistically more effective. There are certain people who, when they get together, will naturally Build a more unified structure. Scientists still can’t figure out why some people get to Build and others don’t, but Mikhails parents were Builders and so were mine. It’s almost guaranteed that we’ll be Builders, too.
At night, we take walks. Mikhail has a thing for turrets. I like a nice wraparound porch. By the time we get back to my parents’ place, Im almost dizzy for him. We’ve only kissed and done some hand stuff. Nothing else, not yet. We’re planning everything out. We agree that it’s best to wait for the right moment, but sometimes I wonder what would happen if we just tried it once. For practice.
In school they showed us what happened in the big cities. Foundations started popping up everywhere, uprooting existing homes, apartment buildings, offices. People would just meet and start Building with no plan to finish the structure, no shared vision for how long they’d need to keep at it until it they’d made the perfect home.
I want skylights and a pool in the backyard and a little balcony with a telescope so Mikhail and I can look up at the stars. Mikhail wants a big kitchen and walk-in closets for both of us. I want to hover above Mikhail and make a curtain around our faces with my hair. I want him to be under me and everywhere.
Fall comes: cooler nights, bare tree branches. From my parents’ porch up on the ridge, Mikhail and I sit wrapped in our coats, sipping cocoa and looking through the fence of trees to the lights of the city below. My father tells us there’s a demolition planned for the following weekend. The site is an old industrial park: close to the waterfront, and a straight shot up the back roads to our families on the ridge. My mother tells us there are couples camping in the trees beyond the site. She brings a sack of sandwiches and apples. My father packs the truck with blankets, pillows, flashlights, and firewood.
We leave in the morning. I drive the truck and Mikhail finds music on the radio. The song is one we both love, the one where the chorus repeats until the singer sounds like another instrument. We roll down the windows and the truck’s cab smells of road dust and leaf smoke. Mikhail leans back with his eyes closed to the cloudless sky and sings along, oooh oooh oooh, all the way down the ridge.
The site sprawls huge, glints with machinery metal and pockets of parked cars. We leave the truck near the main road and walk hand in hand, our packs heavy, our minds calculating square footage and sight lines. A pair of silos loom over a grid of low-slung warehouses. By the end of the weekend, the buildings will be rubble. By the end of the year, the site will be a new neighborhood. I imagine a ring of fresh Buildings decorated in holiday lights, each new roof coated with powdery snow.
We raise our tent in a scrubby patch of soil where the gravel turns back to earth. I watch Mikhail roll out the sleeping bags. I listen to the low moans of Building already sounding from the other tents and lean-tos, from the hammocks strung up between the pines. Mikhail bends and reaches, fluffs up our pillows. His shirt rides up and I see a strip of his smooth back. I want to memorize this moment. I want to remember it even when we’re old and gray and lying tired in our beds in the place we Built with our own two bodies, our hands and all the rest.
I lift my shirt over my head, unfasten my bra. Mikhail backs out of the tent like a crab. He turns to face me and his eyes go first to the little pile of clothes at my feet. My breath steams in the chilly air, every hair on my body standing out like antennae. I try to think of bay windows, of hardwood flooring. I unbuckle my belt, slide out of my jeans. Mikhail raises his head slowly, his lips parted. I think of the closets, the half bath beneath the stairway, but then Mikhail moves closer and I don’t think of anything at all.
We Build until we are sore. We forget to eat our sandwiches and worms find their way into the apples. We run naked to the creek and drink the cold water from our cupped hands. We start Building again, right there in the fallen leaves and pine needles. When we finish, we splash water on our swollen, sticky skin.
We do this for three days straight, and on the fourth day we find the barest outline of a brick wall nudging up from beneath the gravel, the sun warming each small, red face.