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by J. R. Salling

“What does it matter when I finish,” Violet said aloud and shivered ever so slightly at the sound of her fragile voice vibrating through the hall of the apartment. “The last few details will bring it all to life if I place them right. Or they’ll kill it. Even you can see, Jerry, why I don’t rush. Can you see that, Jerry? Can you see why it has taken so long?”

It had been weeks since her husband last noted the delays in her project. He didn’t like the mess her clippings made in the bedroom. “What do you care? You’re never here,” she had answered. She had been very bold to challenge him.

He pretended not to hear of course, but she had said it, even if he didn’t understand. That was something. She had almost added something else. She had almost said, “And even when you are here you never touch me.” But then he might have laughed. She was glad to have kept that last observation to herself.

It was October now, seven months since she first started to sketch the paper house, a Victorian design that sat upon the promontory of her dresser. The front porch looked out over a disheveled plateau of a bed surrounded by piles of rank clothes like eroded foothills. Every detail of the structure had been drawn with a architect’s precision, traced on a bright white cover stock, cut out with an x-acto knife, scored, folded, and glued into place, all with equal care. Her perfect white house. Well, close to perfection.

Earlier that morning when Violet awakened, she wondered why Jerry’s side of the bed was empty before remembering that he was away on another of his frequent business trips. They seemed to take more and more of his time, these trips did. Even when he managed to make it home for a few days, he stayed on his cell phone the entire time. She thought of the conversations between her husband and his colleagues. So easy. So intimate. She hated overhearing them. She listened only because she wanted to know his plans without having to ask.

Time to go to work. The solution to the window boxes had occurred to her, like all of her best ideas, during that brief moment when her head emerged from the dream hole of sleep. She put her plan into action at nine and worked until mid-afternoon, cutting and threading the flowers through the slits in the tiny shelves designed to fit the boxes. She glued the completed bouquets inside before eating a late lunch that also served as an early dinner. All that remained was to fasten the flower boxes into place and her white house would be ready.

She loved the idea of owning her own house, especially one designed to her own tastes. It would have been nice to inform Jerry that she was about to add the finishing touches, she thought, so she waited. Sometimes he would call at night when away on his trips, but he had not called by ten. Jerry always called before ten if he bothered to call at all. He would not give her the satisfaction, she decided.

Violet slipped into a white silk nightgown, then went into the kitchen and poured herself a glass of milk; whole milk, because it seemed whiter, more pure. Then she removed several bottles of prescription medicine and emptied the capsules on the counter one by one. If the contents were white, she mixed them into the milk.

She carried the glass upstairs and set it aside while she completed the window boxes. She admired the structure for a few minutes, straightened the sheets on the bed, then remembered her drink. The mixture had a bitter taste, but she drank it all before turning off the light and sliding under the sheets.

“In the morning I will be small enough to enter my paper house,” she said. “And then it will be perfect.” When her body began to tingle Violet knew the long delayed process had begun. She would be small... very, very small.

Copyright © 2006 by J. R. Salling

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