House of Cards

by Jane Miller
Some people swore that the house was haunted. But to Jack, it was to be his masterpiece, his homage to Frank Lloyd Wright. “All the squares with open spaces will invite the world in.”

“It’s just a house of cards,” I said.

He protested, as I knew he would. “These walls will be the arms that hold up the ceiling to create a structure of simple, modern harmony in tune with the world.”

His words ate the silence. He even talked in his sleep.

We had come to the cabin to escape the city heat and “R2,” as Jack said, to relax and recharge, mostly the “me” part of us. But we hadn’t counted on rain.

By day three, after too many mud-splashed walks and Scrabble games, rustic had lost its charm. We began to argue as we often did, about the how to’s: how long to cook the pasta, how to keep the home fire burning and how best to dry out our soggy clothes.

Endless, boring debates, his every point a dissertation.

I retreated behind a book. Jack roamed the main room, opening and closing drawers, looking for conversation.

When he found a deck of cards, worn and well thumbed, he settled at the round table, pushing aside the artificial flowers that decorated the gloom like a bridal bouquet.

Jack held up a card, bidding for my attention. “This will be a house fit for a Queen.”

“Kind of like here,” I said, smiling, my banter safe. His building rose. It collapsed. He chose more sturdy “load-bearing” cards. I murmured encouraging words each time his little world fell apart. I read the same sentence five times. Until I couldn’t do it anymore.

I set down my book, pulled on my boots and parka and bolted outside. I returned later, damp with resignation.

“Careful,” he said, not looking up. “Voila.”

His house of cards stood like a bunker on display. I swore I shut the door, but somehow, the wind flung it wide. The cards scattered.

His arms dropped to his sides. “You just don’t care, do you?”

He stomped into the kitchen, clanging dinner pots, slamming cabinet doors.

“It was a mistake,” I called after him. “Let me fix it.”

I picked up the cards and sat down, my good intentions sure to fail and just as sure to soothe. Instead, the house seemed to build itself, as if unseen hands more agile than mine, guided it upward like a wedding cake. When only the Queen of Hearts remained, I put it down in front. A doormat.

But the unseen architect had other plans. The card jumped away every time I placed it there. A voice inside me hummed, “You gotta know when to walk away, know when to run.”

“Hey Jack,” I called out, “You gotta see this.”

Nothing was ever the same after that.
Jane Miller is outreach director for a non-profit serving people with disabilities in Delaware. Though she is a twin, she looks like her mother. In her spare time, Jane enjoys creative writing, travel, home improvement projects that actually end, buying art, and running with her dog.

© 2013, Jane Miller