The house was strange and angular, but in a way that seemed natural. Catherine tried not to stare as she was led down a narrow hallway to the study to conduct the interview. Dr. Stasik was older than she had expected—stooped and brittle, but with a mental acuity that was evident from the moment she entered the house.
He gestured her into the study, where she sat and opened her notebook (no laptops or recording devices, he had requested in advance). The room was high-ceilinged and airy, a mid-century post and beam affair in Stasik’s distinctive style. Its rather dirty windows overlooked a beautiful Japanese-style garden.
On the floor, leather briefcases and stacks of old magazines drifted up against the walls at the desk. The shelves were crammed with an odd assortment of artefacts—books, of course (dusty volumes of poetry and philosophy alongside architectural tomes), but also feathers, glass bottles, keys, and ceramics. One shelf was filled entirely with bones. She was struck by them—their delicate forms at once sterile and profane; awkwardly shaped, yet obviously correct. She asked him about them.
“Oh, I collect them.”
“Here and there.”
His eyes met hers, a disarmingly clear blue. He did not smile, but neither did he look angry. She had the distinct feeling that this would not be an easy interview.
Catherine opened with her first question, a warm-up about his architectural style and past achievements. He rattled off a press-ready spiel about acute angles and the forms of geometry in biology. She thought it might be verbatim from his publicist’s website; she wished she had her recorder with her.
As the interview progressed, her suspicions were confirmed. Dr. Stasik either answered briefly, or went on tangents about his influence on other notable architects. She tried dutifully to scrawl notes in the leather-bound book she had brought for the purpose.
When she asked him about the prize he was being awarded (the reason for the article), he was dismissive of the founding donor’s credentials and suggested that while the prize was of course appreciated, it was not something he was particularly proud of.
“Of course, there has been some backlash at the Institution,” said Catherine carefully. “Some people would rather that you didn’t receive any prizes.”
She waited for him to pick up the thread, to defend himself or dismiss his adversaries’ claims. He gazed out into the garden, seeming quite at ease, but did not respond. She noticed he had rather long fingernails, and recoiled slightly.
“Some people feel that due to the allegations…” she tried again.
He turned to face her, now, but still said nothing. They sat in silence for several long moments. He met her gaze unflinchingly. The extended eye contact began to make her feel uncomfortable, but she felt that to look away would show weakness. She flushed.
“Do you deny what they say you did?”
The corners of his mouth turned up slightly, but it was not a smile.
“We won’t be talking about that. Would you like a tour of the house before you go?”
And just like that, the interview was over.
He led her politely through each room of the house, pointing out features here and there. It was hard to believe that anyone could live in a state of such disarray, let alone a man with such a reputation for strictness of design. Papers cascaded over the furniture like snowdrifts. Artistic mugs were scattered throughout the rooms, perched on side tables or bookshelves, dust and coffee rings graduating up the insides. Spider plants descended from hanging pots in the rafters, nearly low enough to brush her shoulders as she walked below. Sun drifted in through the dusty, arching windows.
On the way up to the attic she felt his long fingernails graze her back, and nearly cried out—but realized, embarrassed, that he was simply protecting her on the rickety ladder. The tour ended in the garden, where he shook her hand cordially and escorted her back out the swinging gate to the street. She stood in some confusion, blinking in the clear daylight.