Dare half of the Phi Books, a collaboration with Alexandra Antonopoulou
1. Party Walls
The Wrong Intercom
Although I know little about her it would be accurate to say that Elizabeth Cho is the closest person to me in the world. If, for some reason, we pressed ourselves flat like geckos against the party wall that separates our two homes there would be less than six inches between us. Her life resonates through the cool brick border. Recently I’ve moved my bed into the fifth room so I can hear her heart beating at night. It punctuates my sleep like the touch of an unborn twin.
The other neighbours laugh at Elizabeth behind her back, I’ve heard them on the street as she pushes her sumptuous pram, cooing and making baby noises; Fake baby noises. We all know little Prince is an expensive, uncannily realistic counterfeit. No baby was ever so babyish. No nursery was ever so neutral, so still, so inert. The room has no windows, why should it? Fake babies have no need of light, quite the contrary, light, if anything, damages the high quality coloured mohair, the lovingly applied paint layers. He sleeps like all reborn dolls, in odourless, dreamless silence. Her sheep-flower.
I myself feel no contempt for Elizabeth Cho. An artificial pulse unites us. Who am I to look down on others anyway? Room 2 is testimony to my rocky position. It is a room so blank as to form an anti-room. Matter collapses in room 2. It resembles a waiting-room but it’s rarely witness to anything more substantial than a lingering dread. I even envy little Prince his unassailable calm. The status of the re-born is superior to my own on almost all fronts; Elizabeth Cho alone of all the neighbours knows this: Fake babies do not fake their beatitude.
When I hear little Prince’s sham heart beating at night I perceive the echo of my own lost qualities, but tonight I cannot hear his soft atrial rhythms, instead there is a machine-like rattle reverberating through the walls, as if Elizabeth is sewing little Prince an outfit of industrial proportions. The machine sounds enter my head as second-hand thoughts:
Who are you who are you who are you?
Who am I? Did I really think that for myself, or is there another voice leaking into the flat?
Not really anyone not really anyone not really anyone, the motorised sounds murmur
I never met my parents, though my mother would occasionally wave at me from the upper-most levels of the makeshift tower they inhabited.
The words scratch at me, sharp as mouse claws. Are these my thoughts? They have the quality of something found at the back of an over-stuffed drawer – an inherited butter knife or an album of photographs belonging to relatives I’ve never met.
The makeshift tower.
These notions do not seem part of me. Nothing does when I am in room 2. My head spins in this negatively charged chamber. A centrifugal force condenses all my thoughts into an intense mass that cannot support itself. The room is permanently prolapsed; it protrudes into its own proportions as an architectural intussusception. There is no bulge in the adjacent rooms, it simply telescopes inwards, taking all these invasive thoughts with it:
My mother would occasionally wave at me.
y mohr oud occsonlly ave at e.
y ohr ud oconlly ae t e.
y hr u conlly a t .
hr colly t .
r cll t .
The words collapse into a single bewildered eye. It finds no assurance in this room.
I never met my parents, though my mother would occasionally wave at me from the upper-most levels of the makeshift tower they inhabited. My father rarely acknowledged me and was inclined to look the other way if he accidentally caught my gaze from below. They demolished the watchtower shortly after my 18th birthday, or so I infer. A tatty notebook in room 3 has the following entry: Tower demolition fees, £1.20 per hour @ 36 hours: £43.20. I can’t remember any of this. Perhaps they did it while I was sleeping. There is a photograph of the tower amongst my effects. You can see both of my parents quite clearly, pottering around on the crooked structure. Apparently they built the tower on their honeymoon, with a view to overseeing my upbringing from its elevated viewpoints. I assume they built it in room 3 to gain maximum coverage of the dwelling. The four huge legs intruded quite awkwardly into my bath-life, (as I think of it) one leg went right through the cast iron tub and another pierced the cabinet in which I kept my pine scented shampoo and bath-salts, the other two legs grew like bamboo trunks through the black and white bathroom tiles. The cavernous elevation of the rooms provided ample space to build upwards. The notebook confirms that the final form of the tower consisted of an astonishing nine floors, each logarithmically proportioned in relation to the floor beneath it, which suggests, perhaps, an undiscovered quantity of additional lodgings below room 3, a subterranean edifice reaching ever further under the earth, possibly to the other side of it. Of course I have never had the opportunity to ask them about these matters, my parents left without any warning, on the same day as the demolition, with no goodbyes.
Room 3 resembles a shabby bed-sit with a hazardous gas fire and squalid cooking facilities. A cast-iron bath is hidden beneath a dark and slimy draining board, though I rarely drain anything on it other than my limpid smalls, my worn-out sundries, regardless of the fact that about seven feet above the tub there’s a hand drawn sign announcing GOD IS WATCHING YOU’ written in threatening yet clumsy characters, like those of an antagonistic nine year old unfamiliar with joining letters. I assume it was put there by the management, whom you may think of as my parents.
Though I can describe the room in some detail it is hard to conceive of a dependable specification for it. The words I composed previously are quite inconsistent with my current perception of both events and structures, I’m not even sure if it was I who really formulated them. Such doubts are a steady feature of room 3, that and the fact that one enters it via a prolapsed waiting room, a system of intricate, humid tunnels that correspond to some sort of digestive process. The room is apparently a type of stomach, lined with a series of moist folds that lend it an unfeasibly vast and voracious surface area. The churning motions frequently experienced in room 3 support an impression of motility and incessant reduction. In this room memories and sensations are also subject to these strangulations, squeezed by layer upon layer of constricting surface.
Is Elizabeth Cho’s flat subject to the same processes? I have never entered her home but my impression is of oppressive stillness and order; she lives by precise arithmetical codes, one can see this in the arrangement of her four flower-boxes, in which fake blooms are placed symmetrically as mathematical functions of the optical spectrum.
This morning I found a house key Sellotaped to the plain white door of room 4, there’s a tag attached to the key with these words written on it:
Who put the key there? What does it all mean? Is there a room inside room 4 that hasn’t been discovered yet? This is plausible. Room 4 is a complex of supplementary rooms and tunnels, many of which have never been explored. I had no notion to go in to room 4 today but the note and the key have changed all my plans.
But that is not to suggest things should be rushed.
Finding the lock that will work with this key isn’t going to be easy. I will have to think very carefully before proceeding, or at least think that I am thinking. Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum was, after all, my school motto, and thinking that I am thinking things through has long been my practice when confronted with complicating fears, for room 4 does indeed represent a minefield of possible dangers. Behind the bland white door that leads to the immense wilderness of room 4 there is a system of irregular earth mounds and spires, these structures contain chambers and corridors that were the main locations for my primary, secondary and tertiary education. The termiataria (as I like to call them) house libraries, laboratories and a multitude of specialised workshops. Some of the chambers are subterranean while others are stacked vertically like American skyscrapers, by day their vast windows allow light into the lower sections. From the inside these titanic structures can be quite daunting; they are conducive to subservient erudition, beneath vaulted ceilings decorated with ornate lamellae of coral and glass. This intimidating multitude of tunnels, towers and chambers represents diverse subjects and miscellaneous pedagogic methods. The so-called Big Tunnels of Erudition twist far beneath room 4, beyond even the boundaries of this house, in places they burrow deep below Elizabeth Cho’s flat and even further into the utmost outskirts of the city. 
To find the lock that works with this key I will have to visit every section of room 4, but is there a logical point from which to begin my search? The structure is non-hierarchical so a top-down exploration is not possible. Before I begin my hunt I should prepare thoroughly: wash the bath, organise my shoes, send letters to key manufactures, chart the sections which I need to traverse and itemise their salient features. Perhaps I should draw a map from memory, accurately represented by a typographic code? There are so many preparations needed, too many to grasp in one mind. I’m particularly reluctant to put myself in a position where I am lost at night beneath this building. Nighttimes in the termiataria are fearful, little shadows run across the passageways, unknowable sounds resonate for seconds in this strange manufactory of echoes. Must I really make myself into an explorer? How did I manage when I was a child?
Room 4 visited again
The room 4 which is visited for the second time
Now I have rallied myself to actually enter room 4, it’s clear my attempts to dissect room 4 rationally, along established geometric ratios, are not helping. I am more befuddled than ever. My thoughts are an unstable compound of second-order translations and miss-hearings. I’m lost somewhere beneath Elizabeth Cho’s flat, astray in a warren of echoes. The trouble is this just isn’t how I remember room 4 at all. What happened to the school achievement board, the grand library entrance, the sick room and the sour-smelling refectory? Last time I crossed the threshold of this area the configuration was exactly as it had been throughout my childhood. If you stood beneath those colossal earthen rafters the voices of innumerable school translation machines would compete like real children chattering over lunch. Now the room is pale and self-contained. At first its edges, if anything, were conspicuously sharper than the standard limits of other rooms, until a chunky fog formed around the centre of the room and spread itself into every corner, into the lungs and cerebral folds of the surroundings, into my own edges and limits. What remains is washed-out and colourless.
The fog is radiation fog, I remember that much from school, the difference between a cloud and fog is quite absurd, a fog is denser than mist, but it’s still a colourless gas, I’ve always related to its largely insipid qualities, perhaps that’s why this fog has ‘settled’ (as they say), though settled seems entirely the wrong word for either myself or this pallid miasma. Initially the fog allows nothing to emerge from it, and then the fog thins, yes, thins, allowing three dimensional shadows to form, reminiscent of the odd rays seen in the so-called crepuscular hours (proximate to dawn and dusk), like Jacob’s ladders climbing to the sun and the sunburst stained-glass-windows set into many of the front doors along this street. Something vast emerges from the fog, at the start I think it is an arrangement of architectural features, architraves and ogives high above me, and then I hear voices deep within the unfathomable blankness.
“Cay” a female voice says, choking on the word.
Elizabeth? Is that her looking down at me, through the pearly aura of fog? She is outsized but simultaneously diminished by some strain of grief. There are metres of unhappiness behind her washed-out retinal suns. The grief radiates in grey beams into the greyer pools of her middle eyes. Can she hear me? Can she read my thoughts?
A cay, spelt C-A-Y is a sandy island; I also remember that from my geography lessons, but why is Elizabeth saying “cay” or “que” or “Kay”? I’m thinking about this when another voice, a male voice with no face, replies quite expressionlessly:
“She retreats into imagination”.
The words make Elizabeth’s ashen iris’s shrink.
“She just might not be ready for the extra-uterine world” the other voice says, regardless of Elizabeth’s evident discomposure.
Then the fog envelops her and I am alone again.
I’m alone again. It is night-time in the termiataria, the word doesn’t amuse me now. I’m frightened of the night shadows and sounds. I must have slept for several hours as time has telescoped into this blackout. I can’t see any edges; my own edges are dissolving into the unknown, the nameless in the dark. A nest of itchy fibres has formed around me; if I stay here any longer I’ll be suffocated by it. Ghost animals scurry around the nest. Revenants or bitter spirits of the returning dead whisper in both my ears. I try to memorise their words, in case they are significant to me. Perhaps I have remembered ten percent of the utterances they emptied into my head. The first voice said ‘the past is more of who we are then the present’, it was followed by others. The sentences I remember most clearly are as follows:
1: The past is more of who we are then the present [Professorial]
2: Maman died today. Or yesterday maybe, I don’t know [Weepy]
3: No, nothing matters. [Rasping]
4: Weekday Blitz Challenge 11:30AM and 1PM [Voracious]
5: Circumference of head…that’s minuscule [Terrified]
6: Ventouse doesn’t bruise [Indifferent]
7: Indicating cephalhaematoma? [Self-important]
I almost laughed when it dawned on me how they resemble a disturbing variation on Cinderella’s seven dwarves: Professorial, Weepy, Rasping, Voracious, Terrified, Indifferent and Self-important, quite a gathering.
Beside me there’s a sudden point of light like burning embers, I focus, and rub my eyes, now I can see quite clearly: It is a key hole, not more that fifteen feet from my nest bed. I pull the key out of my pocket and feel my way towards the radiating light. Upon pushing the key into the lock and twisting it leftwards the door swings open.
The room the door opens into is plain and uncluttered, there’s a table, two chairs. An empty white dinner plate glows at the centre of the table, an unlit and unused night-light sits in a glass saucer beside the plate. An old-fashioned tape cassette player is also on the table. It looks in many ways like room 5, but none of my furniture is here. I don’t recognise any of these things. With nothing else to do I pick up the cassette player, at the front of the player there is an irresistibly inviting button with an arrow on it that looks like this:
The arrow is somehow both aggressive and helpful; it compels me to act. Upon pressing the button with the arrow there is a cheap, loud click, then two genderless voices speak from somewhere within the little black machine:
Voice 1: Kay: This table is made from untreated solid wood – it can be treated with lacquer, wax, stain or oil for a more durable surface. Solid pine; means that you can sand and treat the furniture over and over again. Solid wood, a hardwearing natural material. Basematerial/ Drawers/ Handles/ Midbeam: Solid pine
Metal tube: Pigmented epoxy/polyester powder coating, Steel.
Voice 2: But there is nothing else like that here.
Voice 1: No, you have none of this to lean on now.
Voice 2: You have nothing
Voice 1: You don’t even have any clothes
Voice 2: Or fancy words.
Voice 1: Or overly pompous metaphors
Voice 2: To pump up your meagre presence.
Voice 1: Your hold on the world could hardly be more tenuous.
Voice 1: Your little fingers are so weak.
Voice 2: You nearly died six times.
Voice 1: Six times you returned.
Voice 2: Your little heart….
Voice 1: But we can’t afford to descend into sentiment.
Voice 2: The important thing is that you have nothing that we didn’t give you.
Voice 1: Even your thoughts are not your own.
Voice 2: We gave you everything.
Voice 1: Kay.
Voice 2: Kay.
There is a pause in the talk; I can hear the blank tape continuing its journey through the revolving spools like a kind of miniature storm. Who is Kay I ask myself? Then, as if reading my thoughts the taped voices respond to my question:
Voice 2: You are Kay.
Voice 1: Kay Fairborn.
Voice 2: We gave you this name.
Voice 1: This most would consider a generous gesture.
Voice 2: More than generous.
Voice 1: But you lived as if oblivious to our bequest.
Voice 2: Your thoughts are our thoughts Kay.
Voice 1: Don’t delude yourself with fantasies of individuality
Voice 2: And unbridled freedom.
Voice 1: This isn’t a TV program.
Voice 2: Or a stupid woman’s magazine.
Voice 1: You are Kay.
Voice 1: You are ours
Voice 2: вы ours.
Voice 1: you ours.
Voice 2: voi il nostro.
Voice 1: You are our one.
Voice 2: And you, dear Kay, better not forget it.
The tape reverted to its naturally turbulent state, a wilderness of electronic murmurs. I let the white noise play on for a few minutes as I thought about the things the voices had said.
“Kay”. I said the word out loud to myself.
“Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay, Kay”.
The word was meaningless. The more I repeated it the more meaningless it became. I must have said the word about thirty thousand times before I finally collapsed with fatigue, falling with a hollow thud to the dingy wooden floor. The room had grown dark and cold.
I felt something even colder on my face and brushed it away with a chilled hand, this oddly frozen fleck was soon replaced by another ice crystal and then another. It seemed that this was the beginning of a blizzard, an indoor snowstorm. I had experienced this once before in the house, a few weeks after my 15th birthday an immense cold wave had swept over the building and I had hidden beneath my bed covers for three frozen days and nights.
Though I could hardly see through this new white-out I managed to drag myself beneath the table. Upon crawling below it a series of flaps fell into place by means of a smooth running mechanism that made hardly any noise, it was quieter than the tape machine on top of the table, a fact that struck me even in the midst of these anomalous events.
From beneath the table-shelter I could see how complex the mechanism was, there appeared to be many further tables built into the frame. Once the flaps or storm shutters had clicked into place a series of further actions rapidly ensued, without drama two small drawers slowly opened, as if cushioned by hydraulic devices. From the Eastern end of the table a heater emerged, glowing benevolently in the frozen dark. I reached into the nearest drawer and pulled out a pile of papers; above me a discrete spotlight came on, illuminating the documents in my hands. I felt both safe and energized in this table refuge. With the light on it was easy to read the words before me:
Stand in front of a mirror, gaze into your own eyes and repeat the following affirmations with passion:
I replace indefinite, vague dreams with specific, detailed goals and action plans.
I recognize the barriers to achieving my goals and I move around them, over them and through them.
I easily stay focused on my objectives despite interruptions and distractions.
I read these words with interest but with little sense of their relevance to my own life. What, after all did I have in the way goals? What plans filled my head beyond getting through each day in one piece? Things happened to me, I could not see causes or variations, they just happened. My life had always been like that, but I also forgot details so rapidly, the world was a kind of fast acting fog. It enveloped me, it made me feel cold, it reduced the scope of my own vision and then it left me alone again. I had read about courses that promised to make people more dynamic and demanding of life, but what purpose would they serve me? If I began to question my position in this house how could I go on? Did Elizabeth meet life with a challenge? She was the nearest person to me in the world; though I did not know her as such, I counted her as my next of kin. What would she think of my situations? There was something about the table that brought her to mind, was this room 5 actually in her house? The last few hours had disoriented me, I knew where North and South were but I had only a vague sense of where in the world I was.
I picked up the second sheet:
7 life changing affirmations:
- When in doubt, just take the next small step.
- Pay off your credit cards every month.
- Cry with someone. It’s more healing than crying alone.
- Burn the candles, use the nice sheets, wear the fancy lingerie. Don’t save it for a special occasion. Today is special
- Save for retirement starting with your first paycheck.
- Get rid of anything that isn’t useful, beautiful or joyful.
- Don’t compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
I read the contents sluggishly, rapidly losing my initial sense of excitement.
 The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister has produced a useful booklet explaining the Party Wall etc Act 1996 in detail. Copies of the Party Wall etc Act 1996 can be obtained from the HMSO website.
 In Britain, the standard modern brick is about 8.5 × 4 × 2.5 inches; there are elegant variations on this form, bricks with complex interior cavities that facilitate both insulation and fortitude, the ideal characteristics for any British home.
 Wikipedia describes the word intussusception as a medical condition in which a part of the small intestine has invaginated into another section of intestine, similar to the way in which the parts of a collapsible telescope slide into one another. The part which prolapses into the other is called the intussusceptum, and the part which receives it is called the intussuscipiens.
 This lack of specification is of course the central ‘theme’ of my life story, I do not understand, nor can I begin to outline my origins, destinations, purposes and meanings. ‘Who am I?’ the machine voices murmur, spitefully replicating my own apprehensions as I wonder from room to room trying to retrace events that mutate before I can rationally grasp them. ‘Who am I’ and which objects, spaces and memories will answer this question? I am convinced that my identity is entangled with this building, that answers are hidden in its materials and geometric relations; though we are so unalike I am certain that my belief in the secret relations of surfaces and structures links me significantly to Elizabeth Cho. Does she know this? What I hear and feel through the stolid walls of this restless building tells me that she does. She is as lost as I am but where she is lost in numbers and numeric systems I am lost in my own origins.
 Energetic, spontaneous movement.
 The words Cogito cogito ergo cogito sum or I think that I think, therefore I think that I am, were embroidered in gold lettering on the top pocket of my school blazer, they are attributed to Ambrose Bierce’s the Devil’s Dictionary.
The mounds are calibrated to the earth’s magnetism. The tall wedge-shaped mounds have their long axis oriented approximately north-south. This orientation helps thermoregulation, keeping the rooms at a stable temperature. The column of hot air rising in the above ground mounds helps drive air circulation currents inside the subterranean network. The stable air temperature could sometimes make concentration difficult on long afternoons cocooned with my algebra or calculus text books. Shelter tubes protect room 4 from hostilities; these have only been broached once in my lifetime, but I do not have time now to describe those disturbing events.
 Indeed, if I enter the tunnels to check information (which I frequently do) I can sometimes sense the immobility and blankness of Elizabeth’s personality through the brick foundations; it’s like a sort of magnetic force.
As I have mentioned there are many other sections and passageways within room 4, many of which I have never explored.
The main sections are as follows:
Numeric passages: My youthful numeric methods often depended on hand interpolation in large printed tables which were engraved on the ceiling of the numeric passages, necessitating a rapid sprint around several hundred square feet of inscribed warren to solve even the simplest differential equation. I cannot remember any locked doors in this area.
Religious education: A befuddling multitude of shrines, temples, pagodas, stupas, altars and sundry other structures representing not merely the eight main religions ((Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Shinto, Sikh, Baha’I and Jain) but the vast complexity of human belief systems and cosmological discourse. An overlooked lock could easily be hidden in this zone.
School Sick room: many locked cabinets and metal cases. An overwhelming odour of sick and sawdust, antiseptic and plaster strips.
Sensory education: an open and unsecretive section. No locks here., This area has nothing to hide; it is dedicated to a complete abandonment to the realm of the senses.
Reading : Shelf after shelf of tome, a collection to rival the fabled library of Babel. Who built this library and all the other sections encompassed by room 4? The architect of these structures represents an intelligence beyond anything my parents could assemble. The architecture feels ancient; perhaps it was erected by insects or grew organically from the Earth? I do not suggest this facetiously, I can only guess the origins of these pedagogic structures. As to the key, there are many books in the great library with padlocked covers and impregnable casings.
 I must conclude that children are far braver than adults. I suppose every adult realises this as they get older.
 There is still a trace of the areas old function as an echo chamber of translations, a mocking undertone, like a groan; does this mean I am remembering accurately, the fact that these polyglot reverberations are still partially energised? Barely audible voices whisper over each other, echoes of my own thoughts are automatically translated into Russian:
Это нет как я вспоминаю его на всех. Я в моих правых чувствах? Что случилось к доске достижения школы, грандиозному входу архива, больной комнате и прогоркловатому refectory? Последний раз i пересек порог этой комнаты конфигурация была точно по мере того как она была в течении моего детства. Если вы стояли справедливо здесь под этим lintel, то запревать голоса машин миллиона переводов состязались бы как реальные дети тараторя над обедом.
These groans and whispers, in turn, are transmuted into a broken form of Italian:
Ciò non è come la ricordo affatto. Sono nei miei giusti sensi? Che cosa è accaduto al bordo di successo della scuola, alla grande entrata delle biblioteche, alla stanza ammalata ed al refettorio rancido? L’ultima volta ho oltrepassato la soglia di questa stanza che la configurazione era esattamente poichè era stata durante la mia infanzia. Se vi levaste in piedi a destra qui sotto questo architrave di decomposizione le voci delle macchine di milione traduzioni farebbero concorrenza come i bambini reali che vibrano sopra il pranzo
Before departing on my search I attempted to impose a rational structure
on the chaotic geometry of room 4, using the (supposedly) ineffable logic of the Phi ratios.
And then from messed-up Italianinto English and Japanese;
This is not like the memory at all. They are in my just senses? What is happened to the edge of succeeding of the school, to the great entrance of the libraries, to the ill room and the refectory rancido? L’ last time I have exceeded the threshold of this room that the configuration was exactly since had been during my infancy. If you are raised in feet to right here under this architrave of decomposition the voices of it blots some of million translations would make competition like the real children who vibrate over the lunch.
これは記憶のよう全然ではない。 それらは私の公正な感覚にあるか。 、病気部屋および食堂のrancidoへの図書館の大きい入口への学校の成功の端に何が起こるか。 L’ 最後私はこの部屋の境界を超過し構成が私の幼年時代の間に持たれていることを以来丁度あったことある。 それの声が百万の翻訳のいくつかにする昼食に振動させる実質の子供のような競争をしみを付ける分解のこのarchitraveの下でフィートでここに正しく育てられれば。
 Room 4 it seems is both whispering and decaying, the word decomposition is itself aptly corroded as it reflects from the intricate surfaces: