The Spectrum

The home above us is made of red crystal. Its inhabitants are illuminated so brilliantly they become red platelets moving about in red veins. A new form of space is created: there are the crystal walls, the emptiness in between them that makes a house, and then there is the red. The red is as much of an inhabitant as the home’s owners, and it is as integral to the design as the load-bearing support beams.

The ecclesiastics of old Chartres built their gothic cathedral with 186 windows of coloured crystal. “Each piece of glass is not merely a surface of reflected colour but rather a source of radiant light, which explains why the effect of medieval stained glass cannot be reproduced by photograph or painting but only by glass itself. Until the last ray of light has faded from the sky the windows of Chartres retain their incandescence.” Our vertical neighbours have been to Chartres. There they saw the surviving windows.

“We couldn’t believe our eyes,” they said.

“Seeing the Chartres windows made us realize: our house should be built of coloured crystal.”

They chose the colour red because that’s the colour of our Victorian stained-glass walls. They will tell you otherwise. Red has always been a favourite colour of theirs, in their minds. But the real truth is that they saw our house and knew that they could beat it. Once fashionable, Victorian stained-glass walls are preferable to walls that aren’t made of coloured glass. The light that reflects through them, however, is unsuitably foggy. The sun’s rays have to pass through two layers of colour, and then the glass sandwiched in between them, in order to reach us. During this process, the light is diffused and becomes muddled. In the house above us, the light only has to pass through the one body of pure red crystal.

We are the dim basement, the broken stool on which their polished gem of a home stands. Compared to them, we’re nothing. We can’t forget it.

Just one example: every morning we discover that the wind has blown the remains of our neighbours’s previous night’s partying over their balcony and into our own. Dutifully, we retrieve this detritus and dispose of it. Have we ever heard a whisper of thanks waft down from our friends on the floor above? No. It seems that they believe it’s their right to make us pick up their trash, to have us hear the shattering of beer bottles and wine glasses as they slip under the railing and crash against our doorstep. It is their red crystal walls that give them this right, or so they believe.

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