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Wallpaper for a Funeral
Vallie Lynn Watson

            She was in her office when her husband called. He rarely did. Her uncle had died. She’d never considered her uncle dying.


            He asked if she was going to go home, and she was surprised he considered that place her home. She told him that he shouldn’t come with her. He offered to make plane and hotel arrangements for her, anyway.


            When she landed two days later, she got a rental car and circled the interstate to get to her hotel, avoiding the parts of town she was most familiar with. She passed a new outdoor mall, full of expensive, trendy stores, on the east side of town.


            The hotel was two stories, a chain. She put her bag on one of the two beds and went to brush her teeth. The bathroom didn’t seem clean. She walked across the service road to the gas station, and bought some Lysol and a four-pack of mini-Chardonnay.


            After the funeral she went to a house gathering, assorted family and friends. It took an hour or so for her to realize she’d forgotten she’d cared about some of them. A few people who’d been friends with her parents showed up. An old lady they’d gone to church with sat down next to her. “Your father used to worry that your mother wasn’t saved,” she said.


            She took that as her cue to leave, then drove the opposite direction of her hotel, and finally turned into the twisty, once-grand historic district. She slowed as her rental car found the triangular park that had faced her parents’ house, headlights searching the dark night for the outline of the Tudor. In a moment of panic, she thought it was gone, that the house had been leveled and no one had the courage to tell her. Or worse, that no one thought to tell her.


  Then a light turned on in the family room. She turned the car around and started for her hotel.


            Before she got there, she pulled up to the new mall, to a craft store, where she bought a two-hundred-dollar gift set of acrylics. In her room she stripped the plastic from the box, opened it, unfolded trays—paints, brushes, pencils, palettes, more, each piece nestled in a plastic cavity shaped just for it—up and out, like a tackle box. She got an unused yellow legal pad out of her bag, and painted on each of the sheets.


            First she drew single images—things in the room: the television, the corner of the dresser—with two or three colors, each drawing filling maybe half a page. Then she slowed down, using as many colors as she could on each page, filling up every corner with graffiti, words and shapes whose colors bled together. As she worked, she pulled off pages from the pad, and over the course of the evening covered every surface in the room with right-angled pieces of paper, one by one: the tables, the chair seats, the bathtub, parts of the floor, all of one bed and half of the other. She left them all in place, her art supplies on the floor, the next morning.


Vallie Lynn Watson's novel,  A River So Long, was published by Luminis Books in 2012, and her Pushcart-nominated work has appeared in journals like PANK, decomP, and Gargoyle. Watson earned her PhD in fiction writing from the University of Southern Mississippi, and teaches writing at University of North Carolina Wilmington. She enjoys hunting for sea glass in her spare time.

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