The House That Jack Built

200 9 13

This is the gardener, sowing his corn–

The knife slipped and Jack nicked his skin just beneath a knuckle.

"Sssnnn," he winced, hissing at his finger, angry that it could know pain. He threw the knife against the wall.

The deep brown blood dripped like molasses.

There, in the choppy, wind-beat North Atlantic, just off center on an olive-sienna island, in the middle of an unassuming valley, in the center of a field of autumnal grass–

The house that Jack built.

Just a box, really, opened at the back for easy access. Three floors sized just right for the miniature grandfather clock, the minuscule hobbyhorse, and a handful of bureaus whose drawers would never open.

A woman doll sat in the upper right bedroom. Her companion, similarly dressed but for his blue ascot, was bent at his hips. The couples' legs remained straight at the knees, molded and locked in position.

Their bodies were plastic, but they had real faces.

Jack had cut out his and Liz's heads from photographs, and then glued them over the anonymous plastic grins. He also tied human-sized rings around the dolls' necks.

Jack fretted. Would Liz understand that his proposal, although jokey on the surface, was dead serious underneath?

"Not dead," Jack thought. "Happily-ever-after should not begin so morbidly." He snorted and laughed.

"What?" asked Liz.

"Oh, nothing," Jack shrugged.

She pushed him hard in the arm.

"I hate it when you do that." She bared her teeth and shook her head.

A taste of winter played in the air as Jack and Liz walked down into the valley, hand-in-hand.

Jack focused on the sensation of her skin as her hand fitted inside his. He knew nothing better than to touch her, simply to touch her.

"Hey, check it out!" Liz nodded into the field.

There, crouched in the browning nadir, partially hidden, sat a tiny house.

Liz put a lock of hair behind her ear. She squinted. The toy house looked broken and abandoned from this distance.

Jack feigned ignorance. "Hmmm?" he groaned. He fixed his eyes on a passing cloud.

Liz pulled on his arm, but Jack's feet were too assuredly rooted for him to be moved.

"C'mon!" Liz insisted. She took a few cautious steps into the field.

"I'm not going out there!" Jack teased.

"Fine!" Liz sensed a game. "I'll go myself!" she declared.

Jack grinned through thin lips, watching Liz trot eagerly into the pale, dewy grass. He waited with satisfaction as she bounded over the heather and knelt before the tiny building.

Liz's eye, round like a harvest moon, dark and rich like thick amber, loomed large in the triangular attic window.

"Oh gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh," she thought. "This is it, this is it. And-- this is it!" She nearly squealed. "I do," she muttered, much too low for anyone to hear, still looking into the toy window.

She had seen the rings.

Liz scrambled around the back of the house and yanked the dolls from their home, like some benevolent force majeure.

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