The Interior Design
I can’t stop thinking about the wallpaper. The walls are so white, so sterile; but do they have to be? The right wallpaper could transform everything. I picture something floral, dense. Something to get lost in. Would that not be a better prospect to close your eyes to than white walls that almost glow with their lack? But do they close their eyes? I can’t remember. One hears stories about eyes fixed open, even bursting… This could be the reason for the white walls: the ease with which they can be cleaned, sterilized. But surely there must be wallpaper that is easily cleansed: grubby fingerprints wiped away, morning coffee splatters erased. I’ll have to make a note: contact suppliers and inquire about maintenance.
What I imagine is practically a thicket. Thorns might be too much, but flowers certainly. A pattern much like the one that covered the walls of my grandmother’s parlor. People used to have parlors then. The background, I think, was a deep, rich brown. Vines wove and snarled across, but am I imagining almost hidden creatures? Parrots, possibly a monkey, and butterflies so large, their wings so velvety, that I could practically feel them. The birds must have been there, but monkeys seem extreme; those I must be imagining.
I used to hide in that room of upholstered shadows; the serenity I felt is what I’m hoping to recreate. I lay on the plush carpet until I could not distinguish my own body from the pile. This is another question for the warden: one would imagine they must be strapped down, for their own good, but on such a hard and unforgiving surface? There is no question, I suppose, that this must be easy to clean, but not even a blanket? One that can—afterwards—be washed in hot, hot water.
Charles has assured me that I will have a chance to present my vision to Warden Conway soon: he will ask him to dinner. How I wish I had thought of this when we were there, when I had the opportunity. Charles, for all his good qualities, is somewhat slow, and I truly think this should not wait. Not for one more… occurrence. It does give me time to plan the dinner meticulously however. Is the warden a married man? This I need to ask Charles. The right dishes, veal? with other little touches—flowers, candles—can soften even the most hardened man. And the warden must be very hard to carry out his job; he has to be. Although he did not strike me as overly so in those cataclysmic moments when—
Perhaps hide is the wrong word. I did not hide in my grandmother’s parlor, for what had I to hide from? But I did find some sanctuary there. The drapes were permanently drawn… window coverings! This is another thing to consider, although I don't recall there were any windows in that room. Was it in the basement? I do remember holding onto Charles as he led me down stairs I feared would not end. But maybe windows could be painted on. Surely a skilled muralist would donate time to such a cause, paint a scene that has some suggestion of a world beyond… In any case, that sanctuary is what I think is needed. Why must they spend their last seconds in a hard, cold, vacant room? Surely we can offer some small measure of comfort?
Charles is true to his word! He has asked the warden to dine in one week’s time. I am in a state. There is so much to do before then, for I don't want merely to tell him of my vision, I want to show him. And so I must find and purchase wallpaper samples and fabric swatches, I must uncover my colored pencils and attempt to sketch, as truly as I can, a space transformed, a place where those deformed souls can be cradled and taken up. Or down, as must occur in most cases.
Would an armchair in the corner be too much? With a shaded lamp and a small side table? It would have to be empty. No one could ever sit in it. The room must be empty aside from the condemned; he does not see his executioners. They are in the room next door, the chemicals pumped through the walls after the proper button is pushed. But maybe a comfortable chair would supply the possibility of a benevolent presence in the room. Someone cared for these people at some point in their ruined lives—I know it to be so! They die with the eyes of their victims’ families on them, should one die only in the bright light of so much hatred?
Tonight is the night! I will dress with care for I must admit that the last time Warden Conway saw me I was not at my best. But this past week I have left the house and had my hair taken care of, also bought what I think is a suitable dress, as well as a new shade of lipstick. I know Charles thinks I have invested too much of myself in this scheme. He took my hand this morning as if it were a small, living creature, and told me as much. He fears I will be disappointed. But I think not. I have all my props carefully displayed: the tiny room, I have even hand painted the wallpaper down to the proper scale. In a moment of whimsy, I’m embarrassed to say, I painted a miniscule monkey in the bottom corner of the room. But I do not think the warden’s eyes are sharp enough to catch it.
I have never been this mortified–the entire evening a sham! Not that Warden Conway did not examine all my careful work. He did. He studied every detail, from the tiny blanket I knitted upon embroidery needles, to my clumsy approximation of what a true artist might paint upon those cement walls: an ocean, nothing as banal as a sunset, but I did try to suggest an infinite horizon. And he admired my craftsmanship; he complimented me. And even now I believe he was sincere. But he has no intention of implementing my suggestions; he was humoring me, and at the request of Charles. Betrayed by my own husband!
I admit that I did not deport myself as I should have. But that is not the reason he did not take me seriously. I became overexcited—I see that now. My stomach was too nervous to accept such a rich meal, and I drank too much champagne. But this past week has been a whirlwind for me! The first time I’ve left the house since… Charles was right: I was overwrought. I spoke too much and too fast and my cheeks became too flushed. But can’t they see that this was because the warden had shown such sincere regard for all my planning? Even when Charles took my hand and quietly said it was time for bed, and took me upstairs, and I acquiesced, knowing that I should not make a scene, I climbed the stairs ebullient for I felt the warden would certainly forgive me one too many glasses of champagne, would be so swayed by what he had seen, what he had heard.
But I could not sleep; my head was spinning. I only crept to the top of the stairs to see if our guest had left, to celebrate with Charles, even to hear him apologize for doubting me—it’s been so long since we’ve had any joy between us. But what I did hear let vipers loose in the cavern of my ribs. The two men stood before the front door, their hands were clasped, a gesture of secrecy, of confidants. Thank you, Charles said in such a very sad tone I wondered whom he could possibly be that sad for. I hope you know I would never have presumed upon you if I did not think her fragile health depended upon it. And the warden? After sticking his fat finger into my tiny room? That brother of hers was a vicious animal. What we done for him? Too good for that son of a bitch. And she grew up alongside him…? If wallpaper is going to make her feel better, you bring that wallpaper on in and I’ll let my secretary take it home and paper her powder room.
A writer emerging from motherhood, Kathryn Lipari's short fiction has recently appeared in journals including Smokelong Quarterly, Typehouse Ink, and Women's Studies Quarterly. She is a member of Full Frontal Writing Collective and smallSalon.com. When not writing she might be found running Portland's muddy trails or hectoring her three imaginative kids. Bienvenue au Danse, Kathryn.