Edgar lived in Baltimore, in his parents’ spare room, next to the garage. The garage had five large freezers, bought to hold extra frozen food during his mother’s extreme couponing phase, that now sat empty.
Edgar had lost his job six months earlier, and now spent hours every day on the Internet. He told his parents he was looking for work, but he was really looking for anything of interest. He was depressed, and the only thing that shook him out of that funk was when something sparked his imagination. One day, he found DIY instructions for building an igloo.
“That might be a fun project,” he said to himself, “And if it turned out nice, I could live there.” He felt guilty about sleeping in the guest room, because it meant his parents couldn’t have overnight visitors.
He walked to the dollar store a few blocks away and bought as many small, rectangular, plastic wastebaskets as he could carry. They were light, so he got quite a few. He turned on the unused freezers in the garage, and filled them with wastebaskets of water. When those froze, he removed the blocks of ice, and made another batch.
It took him several days to make enough ice bricks for an igloo, but the garage was pretty cold, so the finished bricks didn’t melt much. He assembled the igloo in the backyard, brick by brick. First an ice foundation. Then one long, round row that circled in as it got higher.
The trickiest part was the capstone. He measured from inside the igloo and then created a specially-shaped ice block to fit the hole in the ceiling. He found a pair of dull gardening shears in the garage that he could use as tongs. He stood on a stepladder and lifted the final block into position on top of the igloo.
When the igloo was complete, he knew he finally had a place that was his, a place where he belonged. He wriggled through the doorway into his new home, and right away, felt at peace. It was cool inside the igloo, even in the hot afternoon sun.
After a few minutes in there, Edgar began to worry about how soon it would melt. He wanted the igloo to last as long as possible.
He remembered that when he was young, and his parents took him camping, they had a canopy tarp that they used to create a shaded area for the picnic table. He dug around in the garage until he found it. It was dirty and creased, but still usable. He set up the collapsible poles so that the tarp would shade the igloo during the hottest part of the day.
Inside the igloo, he spent most of his time laying on the wet floor and listening. The ice muffled the noise from the world outside pretty well, so it was quiet in there, but there was always a sense of silent drippiness, like in a cave, where you knew the drips were forming stalactites or stalagmites. In the igloo, the drips cut grooves in the walls.
Edgar kept the freezers full of ice, and whenever the igloo began to collapse, he built a new one in the same spot. He did this again and again. Building the igloo was hard work, and the physical exertion was good for his brain. He felt more hopeful about life. Instead of hunching over a laptop, he built the same igloo over and over.
He started telling people he lived at 4765 1/2 Fairview Ave, and that the 1/2 was the address for the igloo around back. He hadn’t yet convinced the mailman to bring his mail to the igloo, but it was probably just a matter of time.
One day a woman in a business suit came to the door of the igloo. Well, there wasn’t really a door, so she called through the opening. When Edgar crawled through the little tunnel, she explained that she was from the housing department and he didn’t have a permit to construct a dwelling. A USPS representative had confirmed to her that the structure had been there several months, so it no longer qualified as temporary.
She looked at the igloo, and said, “Though I’m not sure how it could’ve lasted that long.”
“I make a lot of repairs,” Edgar said. The truth was, the igloo was in one of its meltier phases and did not feel very secure. The woman had reason to be concerned.
The woman handed him an envelope and said, "This is the official notice. You’re going to have to remove it from the premises within 24 hours, or face a fine of up to $10,000 for each day it remains standing. Get rid of the igloo. You have 24 hours. I will be back tomorrow.
After she left, Edgar was torn. He didn’t have any money to pay the fines, but building the igloo made him feel good about himself. It put light in his eyes and hope in his heart. He considered the consequences, and rebuilt the igloo anyway. It turned out really nice.
The next day, the woman returned. She sighed when she saw the igloo, and then said, “It looks different than I remember.”
“I rebuilt it after you left.”
“I told you, you need a permit to do this kind of construction. Now I have to fill out the paperwork to fine you.”
“Wait,” he said, “Where do I get a permit?”
“From my department,” she said with another sigh. “The housing department.”
Edgar asked if it would be helpful if she took a look at it from the inside, to see how it was structured.
“It might,” she said.
She followed him in through the narrow tunnel, and he lay a blue tarp on the ground for her to sit on. He took a comforter out of a plastic garbage bag and put that on the tarp so she wouldn’t get cold.
“Is it safe?” she asked, sitting on the comforter.
“Safest structure you’ve ever been in.”
“What do you do in here?”
“Mostly lay and think. It’s very relaxing. Try it, if you want.”
They lay side by side, looking up at the roof of the igloo, at the swirl of bricks.
“Listen,” he said.
“It sounds alive,” she said.
“It is,” he said. “It’s part of the earth, it’s always changing. It reminds me that nothing lasts. Some things only matter for a moment. Some moments are beautiful, but you miss them if you aren’t paying attention.”
She reached for his hand.
He held her hand in his.
They lay still for hours, listening to the muffled world, the drops of water, and each other’s breathing.
Sometimes they talked a little, but mostly, they lay in silence, holding hands.
Eventually, the woman sat up. “I am going to give you a permit, but it’s only good for the construction you’ve done so far.”
“What about when I need to rebuild?” he asked.
“Call me,” she said.
And he did, and she not only brought him a new permit, she helped him rebuild the igloo chunk by chunk. It was easier with two people. She helped him refill the molds, helped carry the ice out to the yard, and helped stack the cubes in neat curved lines.
“What is it like at night?” She asked, as they finished the igloo.
“Dark,” he said, “Dark and lovely. Would you like to come over tomorrow after work?”
“Yes,” she said. “That sounds nice.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek and said goodbye.
The next afternoon, Edgar lay in the igloo. The latest batch of bricks was more transparent than usual, and he was surprised how much sunlight came through the ice. It made the most amazing shadow patterns on the floor around him.
It was the best igloo he had ever seen, maybe the best one that had ever been built, at least in Baltimore.
He heard a shuffling sound from the door, like papers sliding through an icy tunnel. He looked over. The postman had delivered the mail.