The chair belonged to the table set I inherited when my mother passed away. It didn’t fit anywhere in the house, not in the kitchen, not in any corner space where it could be made useful. So when my partner decided to claim it for his own, the chair ended up in the garage, at a new table, where it was sat upon and enjoyed, as a resting place, a work place, a smoking place, a social place, and finally, his quiet place. I would hear the legs of the chair scrape periodically when I was in the kitchen, and although it was buffered by the door, I came to know the squeak as a prelude that soon I would have to stop what I was doing. Interrupting myself was voluntary. He would stomp into the kitchen and re-fill his coffee cup. I would generously get out of his way.
Sometimes I would have the coffee made already, and he would get his own first cup.He would pour it from the carafe at the highest angle possible, to which he informed me he did this because it formed bubbles and the coffee tasted better. How black coffee, being just black coffee could have tasted better with bubbles, was another of his made up things, those subtle things that someone you live with releases over time. During the day the chair would be empty. It waited for my partner to return, and was slightly angled to the point at which later it would receive him. It was patient, and over time the cherry oak stain became faded by the summer’s hot sun in direct path of the pair of windows on the South wall.
At mid day, or early afternoon, he would return, always to the chair first, with a few cans of beer he had bought, and a morning paper different from his regular one. He lit his cigarette and read in silence. If I happened to be outside when he arrived, I would watch him as he read, and his eyes would flutter over the page as though the words were accomplished dancers. An allonge` in the paragraph would be one extended and made more eloquent by description. He would only lift his eyes to glance out of the door to the yard when the words smashed into a block of advertising. Whitespace. A pause to form opinions. Then, he would light another cigarette and continue reading.
If he was at the table, Ginny our Maltipoo was certain to be under it, lying on an old bath mat with her ball, waiting for him to play with her. Cradling the ball, she would push it at him with her paws to get his attention. With him, and that ball, she was the star. He had a genuine smile when Ginny would roll that ball to him. At the first hearing of his voice, or the clink of the gates at the end of the drive, Ginny would slither from beneath the crawlspace under the vestibule and join him as he arrived at the chair. Otherwise, her day would be spent waiting in that little chamber in the dining room.
“Come on, Ginny,” he would say.
From the kitchen window I could see him throw the ball almost half an acre to the back fence. Ginny would dodge and dart in a grid path only making sense to her, dipping her nose along the ground to pick up the scent, her white sheep locks on her ears and tail navigating her turns. She wouldn’t give up until she found it, and I’m sure this wanderlust was what he and she had in common. He threw the ball for her over and over, until she rested in a low stance on her paws, panting from the summer heat.
He spent so much time in the chair that one day I put an upholstered chair pad, tufted with fabric buttons on the seat. He removed it, remarking, “It’s the wrong height now,” and handed it to back to me.
“I thought you’d be more comfortable,” I said.
“I don’t need it,” he replied.
My partner had perfected non needing. He did not carry a wallet, he wasn’t a collector of things like most men were. He had a few tools that were necessary, but not needed. One of the very few times we had been out shopping together, was a day we came close to running out of gas in the car. He pulled into the Husky pumps on our way home, rolled down his window and said to the person at the pump, “How are ya?”
As the elderly man looked him over, skeptical, my partner added: “This is embarrassing – I lost my wallet and I won’t make it home with the amount of gas I have… can I borrow five dollars please?”
He wasn’t at all shy about it. Stating to the man that he was embarrassed prompted the man’s glance to a point of sorry, pretentious, pathetic. The man pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to my partner without delay.
“If you leave me your number and address I will mail the cash back to you,” he offered in gratitude.
“Don’t worry about it, the gentleman responded. Get home safely.” And that was that.
I was in shock watching the whole interaction, my heart beating out of my chest. I was humiliated, and belittled. When he got back into the driver’s seat, he turned and smiled at me, waved a heartfelt thank you to the man, and drove out onto the street.
“What the Hell,’ I said to him, You have money.”’
“It’s a game,” he said.
At the time I didn’t understand what he was talking about, and he then let out a loud, spontaneous chuckle like he had gotten the best of the devil, instead of the other way around.
I came to learn over the years that there were few things he needed, except his beer, his paper, and his cigarettes. At night, the beer changed to Glenfiddich and as the night wore on into the morning hours, Gravol and Advil, and white noise from the television.
His pockets were always empty of cash, except for a few coins that would fall out when he took his pants off before going to sleep. He never felt it necessary to pick them up. He wasn’t worried that he didn’t have any money for the next day. The principle of non attachment didn’t occur to him, but he had it down pat. I envied his fear of no thing; and I choked at the thought of becoming like him, because they say the longer you spend with someone, the more you synchronize into one.
He would wake each day and tell me what he had dreamed. We would laugh at some of them, strangely impossible, and I could tell he was bemused by his own comical imagination and consciousness.
He was staunchly superstitious. Dropping the salt shaker, he would immediately pass it over his left shoulder as if to thwart the devil perching there. He would always avoid the road if he saw a black cat emerging from a ditch. Odd that a person so fearless would be sucked in by histories of myth. Odd that growing up with these beliefs and being raised by grandparents, he would fall into the trap of self medicating.
He told me his very first dog he named ‘ Tareyton’, like the smokes. “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!” Everyone knew and recited that slogan. If you were young in the 60’s, that advertising campaign was elegant, and those choosing to smoke them a sign of status and bravado. His first taste from a smoke was from a butted Tareyton.
On one of his matter of fact, storytelling mornings, he recounted how his stepfather and mother put Tareyton in the back of their truck, took a drive, and let him out of the back on some barren country road he could not remember. When he told me that, I felt betrayed as well. As a young boy, to have your companion stolen from you, and you could do nothing but remain helpless, was beyond devastation. I understood then how he came to love dogs more than humans. I understood now the reason for his late night drives in the country, his wanderlust, still hoping to spot Tareyton.
He bonded with Ginny as though she was his lost companion. He always made sure she was safe when he arrived home, and he always brought her new balls from the pet store.
He remembered as a teenager his grandfather smoking in his shed, and having a drink, his solace away from the world and its despair. My partner would not understand back then, or even now, the reason why his grandfather had shot himself — in error or misdemeanor, but carried his grandfather’s burden to his own garage, and held it there hoping to change its truth. He would stream the exhale upwards, and I watched the patterns dissolve in the morning air; the bristling dryness of the tobacco burning off the tip, a scent of a small dip of caramel, how it always found me and surrounded me the same way algae folds and devours it’s host. I would say that he smoked quite sadly: a rebellious puff of tobacco meant he survived his childhood traumas; the death of his mother, the torture of his stepfather, the loss of his beloved dog, Tareyton.
I could tell by the way his eyes wandered off course; astray in the moment, that as a young boy he was never asked what happened in the secret life of his imagination; what made him angry or sad, what did he think about the world, the stars, the sea?
It was a little boy’s dread; the pulling in the plexus area that almost felt years later like his first love; but shackled by the illumination that truth ultimately betrays you, that sometimes the people that should be protecting you abandon you, and life mocks you into survival so that you forget you should be acting from civility instead of instinct. Under his eyes were pouches of skin like teabags stuffed too full; but they did not shadow the intensity of his glare, and like ice he could look right through you. In spite of everything, he could make anyone laugh as though it was their first time. Now I am alone. There is no more scraping of the chair legs. The tinkling of the wind chimes and slow tapping movement of the roman numeral clock are the sounds I keep company with as I have my morning coffee. The silence continues to row, and I cannot relieve my paralysis; it is overbearing throughout the day and evening, and more still when I look at the empty chair.
“Poor Ginny,” I say, each time she scoots under the table. Ginny cannot process separation. She still waits for him, and she will continue waiting, because that is the loyalty of the dog. My own separation feels hollow, like when we rescued turtles that had been in captivity ; how they scuttled down the embankment into the cool dark waters of our pond, returning to their intended essence, not turning back to look, not saying good-bye.
The sun keeps trying to shine though the garage door, but it is winter now, and the grey palette of the skies folds over itself like a dusty tablecloth, waiting to be shaken off of its dormant season. Warm air meets cold frost in a dictum of space, and like an art canvas begins to create its song of grief.
I do not know how 5 months passed from the fall into the winter season, and the stark, frigid winds stopped Ginny from playing ball except for a few short sessions during the day. She made only brief stops under the table, near the chair where his feet would tap the floor, the sound of him gulping the icy foam from the beer can, his fingers trapping the cigarette as he drew the smoke and studied his newspaper.
I look at the chair, now alone, no one sitting in it, and it is as cold as a tree in late winter, even through to its layers. It is the little pieces he has left, scattered from his eccentricities. Though he is gone, I realize that there are pieces that would not have been exposed except through him. I am a soul haunted, recalling his passionate gestures to me, and how he called my name, because if love is true, it makes brighter the stranger things about my own destiny I could never have imagined without him.
Throughout the winter, the white-gold feather grass lingered, not torn by north winds, or sheared by ice falling on its tender stems. The chair lingered also, a soft chill in the wood enclosed by that silenced garage, waiting like a bereaved friend, knowing it would not again hold its occupant hostage, even for the morning news. The chair will always stay empty. His glass of whiskey, his coffee cup, and his paper are there, with Ginny beneath, waiting for him to return. It won’t be today, I reason.
Once death settles in, it makes you stop and take notice of the smallest of details. Cracks in the molding of the windows, water spots from the rain. A dried leaf having fallen to its own silent demise from its tour on a branch. It could not move or have a better view. A guest from inception, it was born into this with no free will to choose. I never predicted that you dying would make my own life seem like a dream. The glow from the outdoor lights is intriguing. Against the blackened night, their warm amber twinkle is like cognac, and I can almost forget what is real and imagine how sweet it would be to be in love again with someone like you.
It was nice loving you …
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