Alicita Rodriguez (M.F.A., New York University) is a Cuban-American currently working toward a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Denver. She specializes in magical realism, fantastic literature, and translation. "The Architecture of Xaguas" is part of a book of short stories in progress. Recently, her stories have appeared in Washington Square and The Bilingual Review.
At first glance, the architecture of Xaguas seems preoccupied with symmetry. Where there is a spire to the east, there is a spire to the west. Windows mirror each other, forming faces, winking beneath Arabic arches and ornate pediments. If there is a stairway North, there is a stairway South. Cathedrals have the traditional apse and nave, but with magnificent altars at the crux, gold-leafed tables above which hang hallucinatory visions, psychedelic in their splendor, of the Elprisian deities, all thirty-three, sixteen male, sixteen female, and the one glorious embodiment of them all, the hermaphroditic Anofelia. Houses too are singularly balanced. Most floor plans are bilaterally symmetrical. Like the enigmatic crossword puzzles of the ancient scribes, the houses contain remarkable patterns. Parks and topiaries, fountains and manmade lagoons, all exhibit this Xaguasian architecture.
But, like mirrors which distort their reflections, the architecture of Xaguas hides secret passages, veils dark niches in which scribes and priests alike sleep, masks underground catacombs where lovers gather to stroll through haphazard and snaking hallways. In some of the best examples of Xaguasian architecture, the deviations are not so hidden. In the famous Cathedral of Our Most Sacred Bleeding Heart, there is a mastery of technique; the main staircase is the design of Frederico de Nuncio, a 14th century monk with a penchant for scientific inquiry, who modeled it after the double helix. The circular stairway dominates the entrance of the cathedral. The winding staircase is walled, so that once a person in encased within its marble, vision is limited. There are, however, small, narrow, glassless windows from which to peer. Two people can enter the staircase simultaneously, never to encounter one another. In fact, they may glimpse each other periodically through the arched windows, feeling as though their lack of coming together is merely based on height. "Slow down," one will say to the other. "You are much higher than I." But still, the person who believes to be farther may stop, and yet the two will never meet. The two may attempt to reach out to one another through the glassless windows, and while the distance seems less than an arm-length, the pair of hands will never cross fingers.