“The Long Haul” by Beth Fiencke
We’d like to present a new Feature Story here at Metro Fiction. Please check the Metro Fiction page for more information about us.
This week, a chair – and its owners – are on a journey.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “The Long Haul” by Beth Fiencke
The day we list the recliner on Freecycle is sunny—the first bright, cloudless day of spring. The new chair is coming—perfectly upholstered with its own ottoman, overstuffed. When I pull the old chair out to the yard I am embarrassed. The duct tape on the arms glints silver in the sun and the foam spilling out of the back is faded yellow and spongy, like cake.
Ambrose follows me outside, old red ski cap pulled over his ears as usual. Across the street the McLaughlin girls are jumping rope, chanting some kind of rhyme about a woman with buttons down her back. The woman’s buttons are apparently straight, like the smooth, blonde braids on the McLaughlin girls, whose pale skin is always perfect and who always keep their games and playtime demurely in the confines of their own yard.
They stop and sit down on their stoop, staring as Ambrose begins tiptoeing in circles, once again, around the patch of marigolds that surrounds our lamppost.
When I planted the flowers last week he crouched next to me, watching, sticking one finger down into the over-turned dirt. I offered him the spade and he just stared at me, watching as I filled in each little hole, patting the soil firmly after each planting.
“Do you want to help me plant the flowers?” I’d asked, hopeful, but he stuck his tongue out sideways in his mouth and started pushing a stick into the mulch a few feet away—where I planned to put the pansies this year.
“Worms,” he said. “Worms, worms, worms in the dirt.” But when I went to watch what he was doing he pulled away, ran into the backyard. I didn’t see any worms in the patch he’d vacated.
“Talking is good,” the therapists say. “Encourage him to try to communicate with you in any way he can.” That night I added “worms” to the little spiral notebook we keep of Ambrose’s vocabulary. Right under “nuggets” for the only food he will eat and “rules” which he chants sometimes when marching all over the first floor.
Today he continues circling on tiptoe, round and round the marigolds until he starts walking away. He passes the old recliner at the front of the lawn and heads down the little slope towards the sidewalk and the street, hands on his hat, heels in the air. The McLaughlin girls continue to stare, tittering behind their hands. You would think toe-walking is a crime these days.
“Ambrose come back,” I say, then lean down to grab his shoulder. He tenses under my grip but I gently lead him back up the slope into the yard to his red bucket of toys.
Finally the takers arrive—an old man and his daughter, dressed in bright colors and speaking what I think is Urdu. They point at the chair and walk around it—the man hitting the back several times to test its firmness, I imagine. The daughter sits in the chair, pushing the arms forward to test the recline function, which still works. I show her how to push the footrest back down.
“It sometimes sticks,” I say. “A little tricky.” She nods and looks at her father who gives the brown leather back one more punch and he nods. They smile.
“Thank you,” one of them says. I think it is the man.
“Do you have a car or anything?” I ask, looking around. “A van?”
They shake their heads and the old man bends his knees, puts his arms behind him and grabs the front of the chair, pulling. His daughter hikes up her long skirt and moves behind the chair, lifting and pushing as they slowly move down the slope, over the curb and into the street.
“Be careful,” I call out. “Don’t hurt yourselves,” but they don’t answer as they continue their long, slow progress down the block. I think they came from the red brick apartment building a few blocks away, the other side of the convenience store. The McLaughlin girls continue to stare as the pair continues shuffling down the street, stopping every 100 yards or so to take a break.
The new chair arrives later that afternoon. It is perfect—soft and luxurious. It seems to meld into my back when I sit—the ottoman giving just enough under my feet. The pattern matches the new drapes perfectly, and there are no rips or stains. Somehow, though, it still seems wrong in the living room. The cat avoids the chair, choosing the old rust-colored carpet instead, or the sofa, and Ambrose picks at the arm, looking for the duct tape, I think, or something familiar. When he is in bed, I vacuum the new chair again, pat the seat and sit down in front of the TV. I am a little jealous, still, of the old recliner, spilling stuffing as it is dragged down the street for a fresh start, flaws and all.
Beth Posniak Fiencke lives in Arlington, Virginia, with her husband, daughter and two cats. Her work has previously appeared in “The Northville Review.”
Tags: beth fiencke, fiction, metro fiction, short stories