House of Words by Paul Negri
The door to Dora’s house is always open. The windows, too. And it is always a sunny day. But she never goes outside, nor does anyone ever come in. The house, she knows, cannot hold anyone but herself. And it is a wonderful house.
“Can you help me find my umbrella?” Bess asks Stan.
“Umbrella,” says Dora. She says it three times. umbrage under age under the bridge oh undulating refrigerator humming in the house happily humming umbrella umpteenth ha!
“I think you had it in the gazebo,” says Stan.
“Gazebo,” says Dora. She is delighted. “Gazebo.” gazelle gaze hello well hi! thanks for not visiting graze in the gazebo all you want grazie! Don’t mind if I do
“Stan, don’t you have one in the car?”
“Yes, hon. But the car’s in the rain.”
“You’d look dashing in the rain,” says Bess and smiles at Dora.
Bess moves Dora before the window. “Open the window, so she can feel it.” Stan opens the window to the rain. He puts his hands on the arms of the wheelchair and leans in toward Dora.
“What do you say, Big Sis? Should I dash through the deluge?”
“Oh, you can do better than that,” says Bess. “Give her a good one.”
Stan stands up straight. “Okay. I’ve been saving this one, but the moment seems right. I’ll march to the car through the medicane.”
“Medicane. A very rare cyclone that occurs only in the Mediterranean. It’s in the book on climate change I’m reading. What do you think of that, Sis? Medicane.”
“Medicane,” says Dora. She says it five times. medicament metagrobolize figure it out why don’t you, ha! meditabund the house in the lotus megalith in the attic me and the moribund fire in the fireplace
“Well, there’s no helping it, I guess,” says Stan, and starts unbuttoning his shirt.
Bess laughs. “What are you doing?”
“Don’t want to get my shirt wet.”
“Golly Ollie,” says Bess.
“Ollie, ollie, ollie,” says Dora. oligarchy oligomania won’t you stay out? occupancy one a hand in a glove onomatopoeia over the rainbow
Though she cannot see, Dora watches Stan run through the sunny day to the car at the curb. Bess is laughing and looking in at Dora from outside through the window. Dora waves.
Stan bursts shirtless and drenched back into the house.
“What a ninny,” laughs Bess. “Why didn’t you open the umbrella?”
“Forgot I had it,” says Stan.
“Dora, your little brother’s a boob,” says Bess.
“Boob,” says Dora. Twice. Three times.
“Hello, Mrs. Pratt. Just in time. We’re a little late.”
Dora sees Mrs. Pratt on the sunny front lawn. Sometimes she looks like Mary Poppins and sometimes like Dora’s mother and sometimes like Dora herself.
“I read the article about Dora on Wikipedia,” says Mrs. Pratt. “I had no idea. She won the American Crossword Tournament four times straight?”
“Five,” says Stan. “She’s in the Guinness book. She designed syndicated crosswords for tons of newspapers. Book collections, too.”
“When was that?” asks Mrs. Pratt.
“Oh, long ago. Years before the stroke. She was the best of the best.” Bess smooths Dora’s hair back from her forehead. “You can put her down whenever you want to.”
“Isn’t it a bit early?” asks Mrs. Pratt.
“Doesn’t matter,” says Stan. “Just put her to bed, draw the curtains, and shut the door. She’ll be out like a light.”
Bess kisses Dora on the forehead and whispers to Mrs. Pratt, “Just don’t say anything. And keep the TV low. She’ll be fine as long as she doesn’t hear a word.”
After Bess and Stan have left, Mrs. Pratt tends to Dora and puts her to bed. She gives her one last word, draws the curtains closed, then leaves and gently shuts the door.
Dora’s last string of words plays itself out and slowly fades away. The silence grows and thickens around her. The wonderful house folds in half, then folds again, and again once more, folds snugly around her like a comfy coffin. Dora dies.
Tomorrow, at the first word spoken, the house will unfold, open bright and sunny, and Dora will be born again.
Paul Negri (he/him) had a birthday on May 30th. If you didn't send him a card, that's okay. Maybe next year. He's had stories in Flash Fiction Magazine, The Penn Review, Reflex Fiction and more than 60 other publications. He lives in Clifton, New Jersey. He tweets @skeptikoi.