their chair (from a work-in-progress)


I looked out just now and saw their chair by my bedroom window. Part of the patio set they won from a radio show (my mother always knew the phrase that paid and the advertiser of the hour), made of dark green webbing with textured green cushions. We brought it back from their apartment after my mother died and it’s the one my husband sits on when we have coffee on the upper deck, the deck that surrounds three sides of our second-storey bedroom and his study and our bathroom. Three sides of weather and tree tops and the mountain. Usually the chair is over by John’s study but after lunch I carried it to the small area in front of the sunroom door where the dog rose climbs around the bedroom window, along with trumpet vine, wisteria, and deep pink honeysuckle. The sun travels lower on its trajectory from east to west, from Hallowell to beyond Texada each September day, filtered more densely through Douglas firs than even a week ago; in high summer it passes directly overhead, clear of trees, from its rising at 8 until its setting at least 12 hours later. I sat in the chair for half an hour, in-between watering and making tomato jam, re-reading Portrait of a Lady. And then returned to work, because sitting felt too much like indolence. The chair smells of them. Passing it now, after its few hours in late sunlight, I can smell my parents as though they’re both there, taking the warmth of an afternoon, talking quietly, not noticing me in my old skirt and tank top, hair wrestled into a knot to keep it from my face as I reach into the tomato vines for more fruit for my jam. I never knew I would miss them as much I do now, smelling them in the coarse green cushions, my book abandoned across the seat. There was so much I never told them. They didn’t want to know about books (Henry James?) or lofty thoughts or travel plans for Europe. They hoped I’d share ideas for stretching a dollar, ways to shop thriftily, to use up odds and ends from the fridge. Varicose veins and sore teeth. Stomach acid or the wisdom of generic vitamins or difficulties with the bowels. They wanted me to prove I was theirs, that I’d paid attention to their lessons, their advice, that no one else meant more to me than them. It’s taken me so many years to learn that there is some truth to this. I look at my hands and see hers. My slow metabolism and sluggish blood-pressure, which came from him.

Later, I look out again, the back of the chair impossibly sad. His head touched the green vinyl strapping. Hers, too. On the shabby deck of the house on Mann Avenue, they sat in their chairs – this one, and a kitchen chair brought outside through the sliding doors which they locked after each use, bolting down the extra Plexiglas panel at night against all those who lurked, wanting to break in to steal their hifi, their clock radio – waiting for the seagull who came some days for old bread. Willie, they called it. Also a neighbour’s cat.The heavy foot of the mailman as he trudged up their stairs.

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