Paper House by Robin Littell
Annie lives in a paper house. It is delicate, like the wings of a satin moth. She sits on furniture drawn with charcoal, harsh black lines that leave dusty trails on her skirt. The house has four windows that face the ocean and a door the color of storm clouds. When people knock, the walls tremble, and when she answers, it opens to a busy street full of people talking, working, creating.
Sam does not see the house. He does not hear the rustling of the walls when the wind blows. He doesn’t feel the warm breeze that floats from the ocean through the window. Does not see, through the tall blades of golden marram grass, the waves cresting then breaking on the shore. He talks, works, creates with the people on the street. Makes drinks. Listens to podcasts and NPR. Has meetings via Zoom. Orders stuff from Amazon.
Sam asks, “Is it supposed to rain today?”
Annie is confused. It hasn’t rained in a long time. She had forgotten such a thing existed. She feels as dry and fragile as onion skin.
He reaches for his phone and asks it for an answer. “We’ll see about that,” he replies.
The wind rustles the grass. The blades lean in unison toward the ocean. The tide is coming in.
Sam fills his bag with memos and reports and leaves for work. When the door shuts, the paper house flutters. Annie walks from room to room touching the charcoal lines. She presses her hands against the white walls. She opens the door and lets the ocean breeze blow grains of battered sand across the floor. A butterfly she cut from cerulean paper flies through the window and lands on the arm of a charcoal chair.
She hears movement in the distance. Sam’s voice sounds muffled. Far away.
“It’s raining,” he shouts. “Where’s my umbrella?”
He is rustling through drawers. Inanimate objects hit the hardwood. A phone rings, and he projects his voice with authority and reason to whomever resides at the other end, the one receiving directions.
Sam is searching for her now. Wandering from room to room. He is asking why there are handprints on the walls. He asks if she remembers that people are coming over after work. If she bought the wine and cheese.
Annie waits for him to find her at her desk. Thunder rumbles, and she lowers her head to the paper and closes her eyes. It is smooth and cool. She is drawing a new house. First, a front door. Then windows. Then a path to the ocean through the tall marram grass, under a cloudless sky.
Robin Littell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University. She is the author of Flight, the 2018 Vella Chapbook Winner at Paper Nautilus Press. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Fiction Southeast, Two Hawks Quarterly, Peatsmoke, Gravel, Found Polaroids, Adanna, and others. You can read some of her stories at robinlittell.com.