Foil by Philip Feiv Wolff


James Whittle returned home from work one afternoon and found that his wife had wrapped the entire house in aluminum foil.

The front door made alien scratching noises sliding across the tile. The overhead sconce glowed meekly between slits of metallic sail. James noted with surprise that the end table was entirely aluminum, individual pieces of mail atop its covered glass each wrapped tidy in foil like skimpy Christmas presents. The sofa, for that matter, had been wrapped one cushion at a time, giving the effect of a spacecraft bay. The footrest before it shimmered like a robot child.

Long uncut sheets encased the liquor cabinet on the route to the kitchen. James couldn’t make out the bottles within — the twenty-year-old scotch the Head of Sales had gifted him for closing the N.E.B. account, the brandy he and Wendy had received as a wedding gift, the half-empty Gray Goose, the Frangelico and Chartreuse, each swaddled within smooth foil blankets.

Even the walls had been papered over, one vertical sheet at a time. Picture frames, too — he and Wendy all smiles and sweat beside Horseshoe Falls, James and his now-deceased dad eating dogs with everything at a Yankees game, watercolor portrait of Cameron Hill inherited from Wendy’s mother, each transformed into aluminum rectangles within aluminum frames.

James found his wife in the kitchen, tube of foil in hand. Twenty-one rectangular prisms were stacked pyramid-style on the counter — a bottom row of six, the next of five, then four, then three, then two, and a capstone of one. Her own sparkling chrome Giza.

Line Pans, each box advised, for Easy Clean-Up!

“What’cha doin’?” James asked his wife. It was all he could think to say.

“We’re wrapping the kitchen,” Wendy said, unfurling a sheet without looking up.

James watched her tenderly mold foil onto a cabinet corner, biting her lip in deep concentration.

This being all she intended to offer by way of explanation, James asked an obvious follow-up. “Why are we doing that?”

“It’s safer.”

“Safer than what?”

“Safer than without,” Wendy said. And as she finished wrapping the corner, she added playfully, “You dopey.”

James chuffed a tiny laugh at the name-calling. Was this some practical joke? Was Wendy being funny?

“Do I look like I’m being funny?” she said and, with a zipping thunderous sound, unfurled another long sheet. Wendy proceeded to line the double-sink and faucet.

“How are we going to get water out of there?”

“What a question, James.” Her tone teased anger. “Which do you think is more important? Getting water out or being safe?”

James didn’t answer, as the question struck him as rhetorical. Anyway, Wendy had already moved on to wrapping the stove top, its four burners, and their knobs. Stepping back to admire her work, she said, “There, better already.”

“Honey?” James said. “Are you feeling all right?”

“No,” Wendy said.

“Would you like to talk about it?”

“No,” she said, and she opened the silverware drawer and sighed at what she saw there.

James left the kitchen as his wife began to wrap the spoons, one by one. A drink was what he needed. He made his way to the living room and reached to flick on the lights. Of course the switch was wrapped in aluminum. James plucked a thumb through the foil and flipped on the ceiling fixture. A faint glow seeped from the metal sails. At the cabinet, he pushed his fingertips through the wrappings, felt for a bottle, and extracted the first one he encountered. It too had been wrapped meticulously in foil. James felt certain every bottle within had been treated similarly. He ideally preferred the scotch, only it would be like trying to find the peas among a pantry of cans whose labels had been peeled off.

He stripped the foil from the bottle in his hands: gin. James hated gin. It had the chemical smell of a hospital. James hated hospitals. He poured himself a double anyway, and he downed it in a single pull.

He gave the living room a closer inspection. It was metal-swaddled, carpet to ceiling. Each piece of furniture had been carefully encased. The sofa, each pillow cushion. The credenza, the candelabra, the thermostat. Each picture had been wrapped like a gift and rehung, an art gallery of aluminum landscapes.

James was standing in a foil room in a foil house.

He poured another gin, sipped it, and grimaced. The liquor tasted remotely of foil. Hospital rooms and foil. He took the glass into the kitchen to watch his wife work.

“You’re going to wrap up everything?” he asked her.

“Someone has to.”

“What do you think is going to happen?”

“You know what I think is going to happen.”

“It was a fluke, Wendy. It was one in a million.”

“One in six-hundred and seventy-five thousand.”

“Those are pretty good odds.”

“Not good enough. Not for us.”

“They did their best.”

“I was there,” Wendy said in sudden fury. “I know they did their best, James. And here we are.”

James polished off his gin, set the glass on a foil kitchen counter. “It just wasn’t meant to be.”

“It’s easy to say that now,” Wendy snapped. “Saying something wasn’t meant to be after it didn’t be. That’s no trick, predicting the past. Tell me what’s going to be, why don’t you? Tell me it is meant to be. Can you do that? Do that, why don’t you?”

“It’s meant to be.”

“Stop it. How do you know? You don’t! You don’t know.” Wendy liberated a ream of foil and began to wrap the refrigerator.

“And you think this will make it different? Wrapping the house in foil?”

“Why not? What difference do doctors make? What difference did praying make?”

“None,” he admitted. No difference at all.

“We were so excited. We were so… ready.”

“We’re excited now. Aren’t you excited?”

“I’m scared, James. I’m terrified.”

“Don’t be. Everything is fine. They say everything is fine.” He took her wrist, but she would not look at him. “Wendy, everything is fine this time.”

“How do they know?” She jerked free, went back to wrapping the fridge. “They don’t know. They don’t. And neither do you.”

“What will be, will be.”

“That’s not enough. It’s not enough.”

“And foil is?”

“Do you have,” she turned to him at last. Her eyes were liquid and red. “Any better ideas?”

Of course not. Of course he didn’t.

Wendy pulled the roll free and stared at the empty box, trying to divine meaning from the emptiness.

“How much?” James asked her. “How much is enough?”

“When it’s all gone.”

“The foil?”

“This feeling.” Wendy said, and she sank to the floor. Tears came flooding forth, free and silent.

The silence frightened him. James dropped beside her, pulled her close. “Everything is going to be all right,” he told her wet ear. “This time, it’s meant to be.”

“You don’t know that. You don’t.”

“I do. You’ll see. I do know it.”

James held her tight. Wendy began to shiver.

“You don’t know it,” she whispered.

“Believe it anyway,” he said. “Believe it with me.”

“And if we’re wrong?”

James didn’t answer. What could he say that he hadn’t already said a hundred, a thousand times over?

“What if…” Wendy didn’t finish the question. She left its second half floating between them. James would have reached out and snatched it from the air, but it wasn’t something he could touch. Oh, it was real. A real and solid thing. But it wasn’t touchable. How he’d tried. If only he could get his fingers around its throat, he’d choke it to death, make damn sure it never floated between them ever again. But it was untouchable. Like something wrapped in foil.

“I’m so tired,” Wendy said.

“Let’s go to bed.”

Wendy nodded but didn’t get up. She held the empty box. “I have to finish the kitchen.” She stood, uneasy on her weight, padded to the foil pyramid. She selected a new box and unwound a sheet. It sounded like tiny thunder.

James came up beside her, took the foil into his hands. Held it until she let go. “Tomorrow will be different,” he told her.

“How do you know? How can you know that?” Her voice was barely a whisper.

“Because,” he said. “It always is. Tomorrow always is.”

Wendy sighed, the sound of a birthday balloon deflating. One of those pink aluminum balloons printed with “It’s a girl!” She nodded, and sniffled, and kissed his cheek. And she waddled out of the kitchen.

James heard her footsteps falling on the stairs, the creak of the old bannister in this old house they’d purchased for the extra rooms. For all the extra space.

James blinked and realized he’d been standing in the kitchen for a long, long time. He was still holding the sheet of foil, and his fingers had grown numb.

He settled down on the floor and began to wrap the kitchen table.


Philip Feiv Wolff misspent his youth touring the Southeast in an alternative rock band. These days he misspends his adulthood wandering the corporate wastelands, where he writes professionally about adult learning. His work has appeared in Cagibi Literary Journal, Vanishing Point Magazine, Coffin Bell, Hippocampus Magazine, and elsewhere. Find him dancing around bonfires in his head at

Published 5/5/22