Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Chair

A Short Fiction by Butternut Squash


She was beautiful when she was first carried across the threshold. I saw a picture of her once that was on a lampshade. She looked just like a movie star. Her hair was piled up on her head, in a Grace Kelly French twist. Her make-up was drawn to perfection. Her smile was wide and contagious with pencil rimmed red lips around dazzling white teeth. An intricately detailed Dior wedding gown draped her voluptuous form. It was hard to find photos of her. There weren’t many from her youth and there were fewer taken as she grew older. That photo must have survived because it was one from their wedding, or maybe because she had it made into a home decoration. She loved interesting home d├ęcor and furniture.


When they met, I imagine, it was like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton in 'The taming of the Shrew' where the man with the lascivious smile has to tame the wild beauty. She was creative and independent and said ‘silly’ things, which he found amusing. “He knew what he wanted from the first,” she once told me. With firm and constant pressure, he guided her in the direction he intended to go. After a half feigned struggle for her independence, she submitted to his will. She was proud to have caught her prince charming in the end. I thought that was a funny way to for her to put it--from the stories she told, it seemed so much the other way around.


When I was very young, she still had an amazing sense of style. It was not just the fashionable clothes and impeccable make-up. She always had piles of decorating magazines around and pored over them, as if embellishing her home was a job. As the curator of her personal museum, she cut out the perfect pieces of furniture from magazines and laid out potential rooms on a grid. Then she would meticulously place tiny swatches of paper and fabric neatly around her model of perfection. She turned my father’s house into the flower of his success, a glittering palace no less magical than OZ.


Cooking, ironing, cleaning, being a gracious hostess, making a beautiful home, these were all ways to help your husband succeed, she informed me. Having studied home economics in college, she spent hours educating us on matters of etiquette and style. But of all the things she knew, her real forte was in antique furnishings. She could look at something as ordinary as a Windsor back chair and tell you if it was antique or a reproduction, where it came from, and even give you the probable creator and date of birth. I suspect that she might have had a brilliant career in home decor if my father hadn’t had other plans for her.


His children were born between her sturdy legs, and with each child born, her shape changed a little. It became softer and rounder. The house work and romping children turned her hands and feet broad and coarse. A looser fitting yet still fashionable fabric now covered the lumpiness of her new shape. I liked the softer shape. Her lap was warm and comfortable, a perfect place for a tired child curl up fall asleep.


I don’t think she was fond of the changes though. Eventually, she gave up the designer cloth and covered herself in durable denim, strong, easy to clean, a color that would hide stains from cooking, cleaning, and the chocolaty palms of small children. She stopped going out as much and spent more and more time looking at the decorating magazines, arranging her home and waiting for her children to come back from school and jump into her lap. Eventually, she didn’t want to go out at all, and the details of her personal decoration became completely unimportant to her.


Her husband had his work and the children had school and activities. And she would say, “I’m living vicariously through the stories you bring me.” Sometimes she listened intently, and her children could imagine a deep concern for them in her eyes, and other times she drifted off to sleep as they prattled on about their daily happenings. There were a few occasions when she would start to say something, but dozed in mid sentence, her hands falling limp at the end of her resting arms. And the more sedentary she was, the less she wanted to move, the broader her back became, the wider her seat, her arms filling up like soft pillows.


Eventually, she became indistinguishable from the room around her, except that the rest of the room was not quite as worn. Her blue denim covering was becoming thread bare. This really bothered my father. “I don’t care what covering you choose, as long as it isn’t blue denim!” he demanded. I felt sorry for her. Somehow she stopped wanting to make decisions about her own coverings. In a sort of last desperate plea for help, she begged me to make a decision for her. I tried to help by choosing a pastel blue fabric with light floral buds. I thought at least it would lighten the atmosphere.


Not long after that, we children each left home one at a time to follow our own desires leaving the two of them behind. Her limited existence became almost inanimate. Occasionally, she would call just to hear us speak, but she never had anything to tell us.


If we contacted him, my father didn’t mention her anymore. It remained that way for years. That’s why I was so surprised when he called me a few weeks ago. “I have something for you,” he said. “I think you used to like to curl up in it when you were a kid. If you want to come pick it up it’s yours.” And then he added, “Just remember that whatever you take out of the house you can’t bring back.”


He probably didn’t really remember why I loved it so much, but I was delighted that he offered it to me and I went to pick it up right away. The tiny bud print on the pastel blue fabric had split wide open and the stuffing was oozing out. Too many years of use and neglect, I guess. The frame was still good and the legs still sturdy, so I have just had it recovered. It is now clothed with flowers in full bloom and is looking beautiful again. It’s still wonderful and warm to sit in. I often climb into it with my children and read them cautionary tales of princesses who are willingly enchanted by smooth tongued princes promising happily ever after in perfectly appointed castles. Sitting there together, my children and I dream of all of the things that we might someday become.

18 comments:

  1. Loved your wonderful story. It is so true that some pieces of furniture can become a part of the family. I have an oak captain's chair that belonged to my grandmother. I remember so well using it to carry me away to imaginary places. It went to my father at her death and it was the only piece of furniture I requested when my parents died. Your lovely lady looks beautiful in her new outfit.

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  2. You are a great writer. This story isn't mine but many things are very recognisable and very close to things in my life and many others I think. It feels very cosy. Hope you write many more stories Arohanui, marja

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  3. Beautifully written. A story that many women of a certain age could relate to I'm sure. Very sad what being a hostage to beliefs and expectations can do.

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  4. I'm still not sure if you were writing about your mom or the chair or both at the same time. Great story though. I really enjoyed.

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  5. hello butternut, well as the first boy to chime in here i'll tell you that i really enjoyed this story simply because it provides one more insight into the thinking of a woman. i really like the way insightful women know their connection to the surface of the world and through that connect to the deeper mapping of the worlds within this world. so thankyou. steven

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  6. I am really enjoying your comments. I don't want to say too much about my story yet because I am most interested in your perceptions of what is going on here. Thank you so much for adding your thoughts.

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  7. beautiful story, lady! will have to go back for seconds!

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  8. Hey, Butternut, I forgot the sugar in that cookie recipe. It's now been corrected, so pop over and get the right version before you make them. Sorry about that!! :P

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  9. What a powerful story - wow! Dark, but very beautifully written. I have a client like that - except she never had kids and I don't think it's her husband's fault that she collapsed in on herself. She in her early 60's now, barely ever even gets out of her bed, let alone out of the house - though she does come for massage. Life is so precious I always want to tell her. But of course it's none of my business.

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  10. Wonderful! Short story writing is a difficult art form and it looks like you're close to mastering it!

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  11. What a wonderful story and fascinating picture!

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  12. The connection of the woman to the things around her belongs to a time gone by..I loved the poignant quality of this piece..she seemed to become her own ghost story. It is sad that she disappeared to herself..I don't get the feeling that she was your mother..perhaps your father's second wife?
    Your wonderful writing lets us see a real person..
    thank you..

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  13. hey lady - just popping over to say hello - have a wonderful remainder of the weekend!

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  14. Part Two?

    I thought that it was done. I will have to think about part two.

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  15. My oh my... was there a transition here or did I simply imagine it. Chairs don't usually marry or call their children on the phone or cut things from magazines, but perhaps I'm being far too literal. Where does the chair end and mother begin?

    Very thought provoking piece.

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  16. Exactly, Mojo! It is definitely not a literal piece. I was aiming for a sort of dark queasy feeling.

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