The Chair Downstairs

The chair was out of place. The design was early American, so it did not fit in with the rest of the room’s Ikea aesthetic. We used to keep it upstairs in our bedroom where I paid it little attention-probably because it functioned as a catchall for our laundry and was usually buried under mounds of clothing. But, when we needed extra seating to accommodate guests, we brought it down to the living room and placed it near the bottom of the stairway where it remained, standing there dignified but an outlier, small and stiff, like something an 18th century scholar would sit in as he pored over musty books, straining his eyes to read by the dim candlelight.

Rarely did anyone choose to sit in the chair-I assumed because it looked so uncomfortable. But there was something else about it-a quality of being already occupied, as if one would need to whisper into the air, “pardon me, but mayI have that seat now?” if she wished to use it. At night, when I’d turn off the lights, I’d dash upstairs, not wanting to be left alone in the dark room with whatever sat in that chair. I could feel its gaze though, watching me take my leave, and when I’d wake during the witching hour, I’d think about the living space below and wonder.

Eventually we moved, but we did not bring the chair along with us. Whatever company it kept, I was finished entertaining.

 

A Warm October

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I waited for October’s chill to chase summer away

but instead she brought heat

a sick heat, like a fever.

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I watched the leaves, which should have ignited like flames of gold and amber,

shrivel, die and fall to the ground

then crumble under the feet of passersby who might or might not have noticed

that something was not quite right.

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In my lawn I noticed the squirrels

which should have been busy preparing for winter

forget what was their purpose

unaware that nature, although herself unburdened by the dictates of her own laws,

does not forgive those who ignore them.

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And snakes-I saw two on my morning walk.

One, a baby, I would have crushed underfoot

had I not noticed something wriggling across the pavement.

Another larger green serpent had been flattened by a car

at the end of my neighbor’s driveway.

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Night might well have been day

as I lay in bed, damp and awake.

And that thing that was wrong

began to push through my skin

leaving impressions

like slashes of a beast

on my chest.

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And, as the rest of the world rattled,

here it remained still

quiet

hot

October, insisting

like a ringing in the ears

that something was not quite right.

 

 

 

 

 

A Midafternoon Lunch in New England on a Gray December Day

I was intrigued by the elderly couple who sat across from us at the restaurant.  It was her, really, that called my attention.  She had to be in her late seventies, perhaps early eighties.  And she was beautiful in a hearty New England way. I would venture that she might not have been considered beautiful in her youth, but at that moment, as the beauty of others her age faded, she was vibrant.   She was robust, not lithe; her face full and happy; her skin porcelain and glowing.  Her eyes were blue, but what struck me most was that the lids did not sag with the heaviness of age.  Those eyes sparkled large and childlike. She drank a cocktail and breezily chatted with the gentleman who sat across from her and whose back was to me. I gleaned that he was older, mid-eighties maybe.  He sat hunched over.  His head was nearly bald.

It was a dreary, gray day, warm for December but winter nonetheless, and it seemed that the only place to be was a warm New England restaurant. The key was to ignore the view from the window and attend only to those who, like yourself, sought refuge from winter under the soft lamplight of that place. As we shared a bowl of mussels,  my husband, children and I chatted about our son’s birthday and Christmas and the wonderful things we planned to do over the winter recess, while the couple across from us appeared to do the same.

There was a gorgeous bouquet of peach and white roses on our neighbor’s table.  Their anniversary I figured.  “How wonderful,” I thought.  How long must they have been married?  Fifty years, give or take?  And still, seeming so much in love. They chatted away, her voice somewhat high pitched and girlish. She reached across the table for her companion’s hand.  She smiled and giggled and sipped her cocktail, and, at one point, she belly laughed.  It was the kind of deep, uncontrollable, sincere laugh that, unfortunately, we seldom experience. She laughed so heartily that, try as she might, she couldn’t stop herself.  It was only after about five minutes that she was able to regain her composure.  Only, you didn’t want her to stop for the sound of her laugh was so cheerful.

Later, a guest from another table, approached the couple to congratulate them on their anniversary. I heard the guest inquire how long they had been married, and I waited for the response, certain for it to be forty, fifty, perhaps even sixty years.  The elderly lady smiled and said, “It’s our one year anniversary.”

Suddenly, the entire narrative I had created for our neighbors dissolved; yet, they were still so captivating, so charming, more so perhaps. Now there were so many questions.   What had her life been like?  Did she spend the first thirty years of her adulthood in a loveless marriage?  Was she widowed while raising young children?  Did she have any children?  Maybe she didn’t have any.  That might account for youthfulness.

The couple continued on, laughing and chatting.   And then she said, “Here we are.  Having this lovely lunch in this beautiful restaurant, then we will go home and sit and it will be over.”  She reached for her partner’s hand again and smiled and looked at her roses and grew silent just for a moment.  The waitress returned and she immediately resumed her happy chatter, commenting that the when she returns she would love it if the sangria had whole blueberries in it. She ordered dessert for herself and her husband-they would share a piece of chocolate cake.

How she worked to hold onto that beautiful late afternoon lunch.  I understood.  I looked at my husband and our two children.  He and I somewhat bewildered to find ourselves in our forties, still with the silly hopes and dreams we shared in our twenties, but different now, tired, worried. And our children.  One who has so many struggles and the other  who seems to navigate through life with ease but who already shoulders the weight of being the one for whom things seem to come easier. The four of us sharing a beautiful few hours. Just us. In that place.  Wanting to stop time.  To remain just as we were in that moment.

As the sky outside the window grew darker we were realized our moment was over.  Afternoon was gone, having slipped away under a cloak of charcoal sky. Our neighbors stood up to leave.  She, tall and straight and carrying her vase of flowers, led the way to the exit.  He, fragile and stooped, followed slowly behind.  I prayed they would return again for another anniversary.