Once upon a chair.
The everyday, run-of-the-mill, factory assembled chair is for sitting upon, standing on to change a light bulb or hang curtains when the trip to the garage for the stepladder is too troublesome to make. Children have use it as an imaginary prop for playing cowboys and injins, or as a tower for a young princess to await longingly for a knight in shining armour to come to her rescue. In the home it has other uses too: a common place to pile folded laundry, handbags and other crap one is too busy to put immediately away.
On other occasions the backrest is handy to lean on, jam a door shut against possible intruders, and on rare erotic nights, it has been manipulated for naughty activities between consenting adults. In general, though, it is used mainly for plopping your backside on. “All in favour say aye.’
It was not until Craine had to use someone else’s chair that the object in question became more than a drab hunk of necessity. Commandeering Brenda’s chair while she was on a month long holiday was such a case. She was island hopping along the Caribbean with her husband. He could picture her moving from one sun stretched beach to another seeking the perfect tan. Hoping such climates would blend her blotchy skin into the golden airbrushed shimmer of the celebrities from one of the magazines she cooed and fondled religious over. Craine had no love of hot temperatures, but could not restrain a certain amount of pettiness from creeping into his soul.
He had nothing against Brenda. She was one of the few co-workers he liked in a co-worker kind of way. Although, he did find something unsettling on the few occasions he heard her laugh. It was more of a wicket cackle than jolly laughter. Nails scraping a blackboard held a similar sensation. Overall, Brenda was friendly and never reduced herself to moping about the office like the majority of staff. She was kind-hearted and often collected donations for different charities, and she also worked weekends in her husband’s veterinary practice.
Unlike many larger women Craine had known, Brenda never once pretended to be on a diet or made excuses for eating other than to say she was hungry. He admired her honest attitude and never had any issues with her size. In fact, he never really cared until he had to use her seat.
It should have been a simple matter of tolerance until his replacement chair arrived, but no. From day one the chair had an attitude. It should have thanked him for the change of buttockual (no it’s not a word) respite, but it showed no signs of betraying the imprint of its exiled captor.
The metal, plastic and fire resistant stuffing deserved a reward for supporting Brenda’s twenty-plus stone for the past six years. A structure capable of withstanding such severe demands was worthy of Craine’s slender figure by way of gratitude for its constant labour. Regardless of having identical settings as his previous seat, the chair fought him with every fibre of its being. Despite several variations to his sitting position, nothing felt right. All of its indentations and grooves were frustratingly uncomfortable and refused to yield one iota to his will.
Three days elapsed since the last remaining trace of flexibility from his own chair retired with an aching clunk as the spine snapped and crumbled beneath him. It would be another two days before the arrival of his new seat, and then the time honoured art of Chair Whispering would commence.
He was faced with two options: sit meditatively on the worn tiled carpeted floor, or borrow Brenda’s aging throne. Glancing down at the dreary square floor, he weighed up his options again.
Irritated, he pushed, pulled and turned every lever and knob available, but the miserable hunk of lifeless padding still refused him comfort. His effort was futile. The swivel was completed deflated to its masters will. But what annoyed him most was the strange musky odour which accompanied it. It was nothing unpleasant or over powering, but noticeable in its difference. ‘At least,’ he thought, ‘it’s not warm.’ A vivid recollection of Math class sprang to mind.
In school he dreaded changing classes once the bell rung. It was not only because the Maths teacher was a cross between a neo-Nazi-power-tripping-wannabe and a would-be comedian, but because the table he had to use. The table was assigned at the start of each term and was non- negotiable. The table itself was fine apart from the line of hardened gum fused to its underside, but the plastic moulded seat was always near melting point by whichever student’s backside generously engulfed it and selflessly poured every available ounce of body heat into it throughout the previous lesson.
Forced to sit there, Craine always felt dirty and a little victimised as he absorbed another’s warmth through his hindquarters. To him, it was like being forced to place his hand into somebody else’s running shoe after they ran the ten-thousand meters.
Craine was on all fours desperately hoping the temporarily removal of one of the borrowed chair’s caster-wheels would make all the difference. He was nearing his twentieth minute wrestling the tricky wheel and had just reached the crucial stage of extraction. Nothing could have torn him away from his struggle. Then the phone began ringing persistently.
With great dexterity, he managed to pick up the phone in one hand while two fingers from his other hand were lodged between the caster-wheel and its support. ‘A bad day to wear beige,’ he muttered, suddenly conscious of how his butt was proudly displayed like two molluscs peeping out of the sand. Before he managed to mumble out the company’s name and his department, a hushed woman’s voice softly spoke, ‘I know who you are.’
A buzzing receiver was the only reply.
‘Hello? Hello…Hello?’ He hung up and returned his full attention to tugging away at the wheel. It was obviously the wrong number or some prank caller. Craine didn’t recognise the woman’s voice. Possibly someone he knew a long time ago, but nothing sprang to mind.
He tried to let it go; passing it off as nothing but a crazy lady with nothing better to do. And for a while he did forget until the phone rang again. Abandoning the wheel and all hope of comfort, he decided to make the best of the situation. Collecting himself, he settled into a cool, laid back alpha male. ‘Rugged and in control,’ he told himself, ‘rugged and in control.’
‘Hello, Burns Brothers. How can I help you?’
‘Is that Burns Brothers?’ A customer: male, elderly, and apparently hard of hearing.
‘Yes. How can I help you?’
‘It’s my…’ The conversation went as most of his calls did. It was business as usual. Reverting back to his normal voice, all signs of his suaveness retreated to the reserves of necessity. It left him feeling disappointed and a little embarrassed
Craine recited the lines absent-mindedly. As was company policy, he emphasised the warranty expiry quote. ‘Proof of purchase and serial number?’ To distract himself from the monotony, he opened his desk draw and spotted the delicatessen wrapper.
‘No sir, it’s definitely out of warranty, I’m afraid.’
‘I understand that sir and your case is most unfortunate but, yet again, I am afraid it is not covered under warranty.’ He half listened to the irate caller hurling insults. It was part of the job, besides, a grumble from his stomach decided it was time to open his lunch and maybe have a nibble or two. Statements of “This isn’t good enough,” and, “It is an outrage after the money I’ve spent on it!!!!” continued to ring in his ear.
Crain was past taking offence to the man shouting down the line. He was too busy sawing through pitta bread in an attempt to achieve a proper envelope to receive the salami and mayo he took from home. He was failing miserably. Though lunch was several hours away his stomach disregarded all concepts of time. Craine’s efforts came to a head when his flexible plastic knife jutted through the spine of dough and dashed a gash across his palm.
‘Ah! fucking hell!’
‘What?…what’s that? What did you just say?’ spluttered the caller.
Damn! ‘What? Oh, nothing. Now you were saying?’
The caller hesitated, unsure how to react before deciding it was best to ask his name.
It was a lie. Crain knew the caller knew it was a lie, but still he began with, ‘Well, Sylvester, let me tell you this isn’t the last you’ll hear from me.” He hung up. It went considerable well, considering.
By then a smudge of blood had stained one side of his pitta bread. Giving up, he tossed the shredded thing in the cube waste paper basket by his desk. It was only nine thirty in the a.m.. He was certain it was going to be one of those days.
The phone rang again.
“Hello, Burns Brothers. How can I help you?”
Another irate customer argued with the ethics of the company in refusing to issue a brand new appliance to replace his fifteen-year-old model. Without the distraction of his lunch, Craine returned to the more serious problem of his listing seat.
Craine was on autopilot for the rest of the morning as he jostled with the caster wheel. After several more phone calls he gave up on the seat. Instead his mind wandered through the faces of his past trying to imagine who the first rang. By lunch and well into the afternoon he came to believe it was futile.
‘I know who you are.’ It was absurd and he knew it, but he could not shake it from his thoughts. Who would ring just to say that?
The rest of the day vanished from existence until he found himself, once again, pouring whiskey at two-ish in the morning while contemplating the words, ‘I know who you are.’
Screwing the cap back on the bottle, he vaguely remembered arguing with Luanna about something earlier in the evening when he got home. Something mildly important, he guessed.
No, it was something important. Important enough for her to threaten leaving him if he did or didn’t do something again.
His head was spinning by the time he decided to make amends. An apology was needed followed by a subtle excuse that her broken English had a major part to play in whatever it was he should have or should not have done, do, did…it got confusing.
When Luanna got angry, she had a way of throwing about off-hand remarks in her mother language. A dialect Craine freely admitted in having total ignorance of. It was not that he didn’t try to learn her tongue. It was just that some words took a lot of harsh, semi-gurgling and nasal phonics that he was incapable of mastering regardless of Luanna’s lengthy efforts to discipline him. Each session left her infuriated and his throat scratched and parched. Just thinking of it made him reach for the whiskey to quench his thirst.
‘Hold on,’ he muttered to himself, ‘That’s it. Thirst. Water. Watery fruit? I’m getting there. Green fruit? Red? Red and yellow raincoats? Her coat. No! Anorak. Stack, flack, jack. Jack. Carjack. The Carjack café where she works.’ The penny dropped. He was to grab a taxi after work and pick her up on the way home. He promised he would. Damn!
Luanna mentioned on more than one occasion that he never kept his promises. This he admitted was true, but she had yet to grasp the fundamentals of is casual banter. He admitted he should have picked her up, but that was not the problem. The fact he used the word “PROMISE” was what lay behind her anger.
During conversation, Craine dropped in the word without thought, it was an old habit. ‘Yes, you can have my seat when you get back, I promise.’ Such words fill up quite a lot of conversation between people. Nobody takes them literally, but Luanna had a real hard-on for the word. For her it was something sacred. Not to be misused or abused. Craine was cautious of finding out why it held such a great meaning for her, but he knew it did. The worst thing in her eyes was someone who broke promises. He thought by now she understood things said in an off the cuff manner, but apparently not.
He sat upright in his seat. “I know who you are?”
‘That’s it!’ Several days ago he was ranting on the laptop when a bout of depression took hold. Does anybody know who they really are? Or who I am? It was a rhetorical question at the time, but somebody took it literally. Worse still someone replied.
He narrowed it down to about three or four hundred people who possibly scanned his site. A smug feeling crept over him. Like a dirty secret it was powerful. ‘I know who you are mysterious caller…well sort of.’ He leaned back in his seat with an air of triumph, interlocking his fingers behind his head to give emphases on his detective work. He heard the crack of the hind wooden legs of the chair an instant before he fell like a stone onto the kitchen floor.