The Chair Not Taken

After all these years, he’s nothing to me but an empty seat.” –Spider-Man 2

**********

Audrey looked up from her plate.  She glanced at the chair at the other end of the table, knowing full well that she wouldn’t like what she saw.  Sure enough, the chair sat unattended.

Back in her high school days Audrey had been quite the stage performer.  Her roles were the envy of all in the drama department.  It didn’t matter if she was cast as the librarian in The Music Man or if she used her uncanny grasp of Shakespeare to wow the crowd with her portrayal of Juliet.  The shows that featured her as a lead were sure to sell out.  But to this day, Audrey still remembered the night when her mom had forgotten the play and worked late.  Audrey had had hundreds of lines to recite, there were dozens of other actors around her, and the spotlights shone on her with blinding ferocity the entire time.  Yet all she had seen was that one empty seat staring back at her.  It fought to command her attention throughout the show.

Audrey knew that her husband had reasons for being away, just as her mother had.  Theirs was a happy enough existence when they were around each other.  However, as with all things, there was a catch.

Darren was an excellent salesman.  He knew the ins and outs of each product he was asked about.  Unbelievably, he wouldn’t try to sell an item if he didn’t think the customer needed it.  At first this caused some strife with his bosses when they found out.  The accolades and praise-filled letters about Darren that flooded their mailboxes soon changed their mind.

Darren was sent out to all four corners of the world and returned successfully each time.   He was such an expert at having a genuine approach and being entirely likable that his employer had him visit different markets and coach the other salesman.  That meant easy times around the Bruckner house, but only in the financial sense.  Audrey tried to be supportive, but she wanted her husband in the dining room chair, not sitting in some cramped airplane seat.

Pic from WP Clip Art

She looked across to the blue chair.  Audrey had never really like the furniture piece in the first place.  It had been Darren’s call to buy it.  He thought it seemed tremendously comfy and rather unique.  Audrey could only nod along, especially to the latter part of his reasoning.  She told herself that if it made him so happy, she could live with an ugly chair.

Now she sat and mulled over how great that piece would look if only Darren were sitting in it.  Four days had passed since she had last seen her husband.  Even then, he had only been home for two days to do his laundry after an eight-day trip.

The desolate chair spoke of the history it shared with its on-again/off-again resident.  There was the nacho cheese stain on the right armrest.  The back of the chair had a thin layer of fabric that was starting to fray from the many times her husband had turned and brushed the back against the table’s edge.  Audrey wanted the chair to feel complete so that she could say the same.  The longer the chair went unused, the harder it was to sleep at night.

What if Darren doesn’t really need me?  What if he’s staying away because it’s so much easier to be on the road than be home?  Concerns refused to leave Audrey’s head.  She had heard her friends complain before about not being able to have time with their spouses, but she never considered that it was more than just a sob story.  She had never thought to listen to their laments and log them away as precautionary tales.  Now all she pondered were plausible signs that she worried she’d missed the first time around.

Suddenly, a light shone on the blue seat.  A white beam came through the living room window and lit up the chair before moving sideways along the wall and disappearing.  Audrey turned at the familiar sound.  She recognized the path that the headlights had taken and she knew the putter of that car engine.

Before she could react, the door burst open and Darren appeared in the doorway.  His normally chubby features were heightened by a grin that showed all of his teeth, even the molars with gold crowns on them.  The king of the castle hid his richly decorated pearly whites as he ran to his wife and kissed her on the head.

“Hey, guess what?”

“You’re… you’re home early”, Audrey managed to stutter.

“Yep.  The conference was cancelled.  I put forth a proposal and my bosses loved it.  Video-conferencing.”

“What?”

“Yeah, they’ll save thousands of dollars shipping me around.  I might even be able to do it from home.”

“What about your sales calls?”

“Oh, I told them I wanted to stick with our local clients.  Sort of, reinforce our commitment to those folks.  They bought it”, Darren said as he leaned over and put his head on her shoulder.  “But the truth is, I just couldn’t stay away any longer.”

Audrey beamed.  She tried to keep her excitement tucked away quietly, but knew that she was failing miserably.  “Maybe you just wanted a piece of this chocolate cake.”

“Well, that certainly is one more incentive to come home”, he said as he sat across from her.

Seeing her husband sitting at home, where he belonged, Audrey felt a peace she hadn’t known in far too long.  Without her having to say anything, Darren had made it all better.  There was hope for the happy couple once again.  The chair suited Darren well.  Audrey could almost see the seat cushion’s corners bend up in a contented smile.

Winter Precautions

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Winter Precautions

When you’re safe at home, you wish that you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure, you wish that you were safe at home.” –Thornton Wilder

“Hank McRoph knew that the odds of his surviving unscathed were slim.  There were many dangers in front of him, many trials that he needed to overcome.  Truly, the first thing that he needed to do was look the challenge in front of him square in the face and guffaw in utter braveness.

“Others had laughed when he said he could cross the arctic on bare feet.  But Hank would show the unbelieving fools.  They were the same ones that claimed he couldn’t swim the Amazon or mingle amongst koalas.  As always, Henry had proven them wrong.

“So here we find the mighty Henry, about to climb the tallest peak on the cruelest continent that this earth has to offer.  The temperatures have negative signs to go with their triple digits.  The wind blows harsh and bites all it comes into contact with.  Only the manliest of all men would even look at pictures of this unforgiving realm, let alone attempt to conquer it.”

“Henry?”

“Hank McRoph remains steadfast and undeterred.  Hank looked at the odds, tossed his head back, and laughed at the danger that was in front of him!  He laughed, I tell you!  Like a careless maverick with nary a care in the world!”

“Henry!”

Henry heard his wife’s voice and was brought to reality.  He ceased his activity, pulled his head free, and turned to his wife.  “Yes, dear?”

“Henry, what are you doing?  Why is your head in the freezer?”

“I think the better question is; what are my hands and head doing in the freezer?”  Henry made a point to wiggle his glove-covered digits as he smiled.

“Henry”, Laurel said as she rolled her eyes.

“I feel that it’s pretty obvious”, Henry answered.  “I’m preparing for ski season.”

“By putting your head in the freezer?”

“Of course.  How else am I going to be ready for the great wilderness?”

“By going outside”, Laurel replied.  “You get ready for ski season by actually going skiing.  It’s still two weeks away.”

“Some of us like to take extra steps so that we’re prepared”, Henry defended.

“And the voice?”

Henry paused and then answered with a hint of hesitation in his tone.  “I was narrating.”

“Of course you were”, Laurel said with a sigh.  “Hand me that slab of beef would you?”

“Here ya go.”

“Thank you.  Now try to wrap it up somewhat soon, would you?  I’d rather not have a husband with freezer burn.”

Blind Love

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Blind Love

Ted wanted to punch the face in front of him.  For months this face had been promising him things, smiling, and then either being caught in a lie or changing his mind.  Politics, Ted thought as he angrily crumpled up the front page and threw it on the ground.  In front of him was a bowl of oatmeal that seemed determined to frustrate him.  He hadn’t added enough water to his instant breakfast and so a congealed pile of flavored goo sat on the table.  He could have attempted adding more from the faucet.  Past experience, though, had taught him that doing so would only turn this paste-like substance into a watery marsh.  Ted grumbled and attacked the oatmeal by jabbing his spoon into it.

This day was not going to go well for Ted.  He had decided that already.  Bumping his noggin on the showerhead seemed to have been the catalyst.  Slipping with his razor while he was trimming his moustache had certainly not contributed to his morning.  Ted had been left with to follicle options; trim the other side to look like some character from the nineteen-twenties, or just shave the whole thing off.  Ted rubbed his finger against his naked upper lip and dreaded his day at work.  If there was one thing Ted loathed at work, it was being evaluated.

Things would be different if Ted’s bosses had only appreciated him and all that he did.  He fixed his boss’s errors before big presentations.  That never stopped his superior from taking full credit.  He stayed after hours to finish up unreasonable piles of work.  His boss told him that he needed to work faster.  On a normal day, Ted liked his job well enough.  He found the task of getting rows and cells of numbers all lined up and inputted to be rather calming.  Unfortunately his boss was anything but calming and would often run through the office with whatever crisis he had created.  Then there were the “revolutionary new ways of doing things” that he was so thrilled to share with his underlings.  Ted shook his head at all of these.  How many different ways are there to type numbers into columns?  It is what it is, let it be.  This man, who was only paying dues until he got promoted to some other higher-up job, was the one who would be picking Ted apart and deciding how little of a raise Ted would get.  The oatmeal bore the brunt of Ted’s frustration.

At that moment, Ted felt a pair of arms slip around his neck.  If he were anywhere else, he would have responded with panic and terror.  However this was a morning ritual.  He glanced at the long fingers that slid past his neck, down his chest, and then wrapped around him.  Locks of hair; light brown, slightly wavy, and still tangled from sleep, brushed softly against his chin.  A familiar voice spoke quietly in his ear.

“So I said to him, ‘That’s not my tire, that’s my mother-in-law!’”

Ted said nothing to his wife.  He only sat forward in his chair and avoided their routine of making up punch lines to non-existent jokes.  Taylor released him from her grip and poured herself a cup from what remained in the coffee cup.  She sat across from her husband and sipped quietly.  Taylor was the morning person, Ted was not.  She knew by now that some mornings he needed to be a grump.

“So… really looking forward to that evaluation, huh?”

The look Ted gave her cooled the temperature of the oatmeal considerably.

“Got it.  Well, just think.  After this one is all said and done it will be another three hundred and sixty-four days until you have to hold your hat out to ‘the man’.”  Taylor took her hands from the blue porcelain coffee cup and put them together in a bowl.  “Please suh”, she said in a bad English accent, “may I ‘ave some mor’?”

Ted felt a smile break out on the corners of his mouth, but he quickly subdued it.  He was irked.  He was going to stay irked.  He would not let his wife roust him from his irked state.

“Nothing, huh?”  Taylor went back to sipping her coffee.  Her voice had quieted down as she realized her husband was in no mood for jokes.

“I don’t think you understand how good you have it”, Ted commented.  “Your boss can’t really assign you work to take home.”

“True”, she replied as she put the cup down and stirred her black coffee.

“And how often do you have to work mornings?  I know, I know, you have the breakfast event here or there.  Still, there are plenty of days when being a caterer is synonymous with sleeping in.”

“Yes, because I work my fair share of nights.”

“I know”, Ted said with a hint of resignation in his voice.  “You have to work around people, but you don’t have to keep coming back to the same dolt asking you for progress reports.”

“Nope”, she answered.  “I just have a different guy every day asking me what a nice gal like me is doing serving a sad salmon like that.”  Taylor shrugged.  “We all have the parts of work that we don’t like, honey.”

“I just, aah; I don’t feel appreciated.  All the work I do and he thinks I’m this lazy slob.  I work, I earn my paycheck.  I keep waiting for morons like him to go away.  And they do.  They get promoted and they hire another moron just like them to take their place.”

Taylor sat unmoving.  To any other person her lack of gestures would have been a sign that she had no opinion on the matter.  To Ted, the body language spoke volumes.

“What?”

“You know what I think”, she said as she lifted the cup as if to punctuate her statement.

“You think that I should quit.”

“I think that if you’re going to devote forty hours a week to something it should be fulfilling.”

“The work is fine.  The people; you know.”

“Really?  All the people?  The ones’ we’ve had over here seem quite pleasant.  How many times have we gone out with Barry and Lois?”

“Okay, so it’s just the boss.”

“And you can’t see past him?  You can’t get over him and focus on the rest?”

“I could if he would realize how much work I do.  He doesn’t appreciate me.”  Ted was thinking he should go back to sulking in quiet.  The morning was ticking away.  He was that much closer to entering the pit of doom where his boss and his ego would enter and only one would leave victorious.  He looked across to Taylor and watched her sitting there with her fingers intertwined.

Taylor’s left finger started to rub gently over her right.  It was the smallest of movements.  Any person walking by would not have noticed.  For Ted, that one gesture started a wave of realization.

Perhaps it makes perfect sense that Taylor’s hands were what shook him from his depression; they were the reason he had worked up the courage to meet her.   Ted and his friend Mac had been walking through the mall.  Mac had bought some backpack from an outdoors store and Ted had been trying to decide whether or not he should take the plunge and buy a kayak.  On their way out of the mall, they had passed by a piano that was sitting unattended.  A little placard placed on the grand said that the pianist was on break and that he would return within half an hour.  Yet, there was a woman sitting at the piano playing the keys like Ted had never heard before.

Mac and Ted had approached, each of them for their own reasons.  Mac kept pointing at Taylor and elbowing his friend, while Ted couldn’t stop listening to the music.  Before he knew it, he found himself standing behind her and looking down as her long fingers danced and flitted over the instrument.  As she finished the song, she looked at Ted who was clearly inside her personal area.

“Help you with something?”  Taylor had a hint of annoyance in her voice, but it was not a cruel tone.

“Oh, I’m sorry”, he had muttered as he back away to a more reasonable distance.  “I couldn’t help but notice your fingers.”

“My fingers”, she said questioning him.  “I haven’t heard that one before.”

“No, I didn’t mean that.  I wasn’t trying to hit on you.  I, I mean, you have great hands.”

“Thanks”, she said starting to get up.

“How long have you been playing here in the mall?”

“What, that?  That was me having fun.  I don’t know where the musician is”, she said.

“You’re not even a professional?”  Ted couldn’t believe it.  “You do that for fun?”

“Sure.  Is there a better reason to play?”

Image

Sunset Stroll On The Beach by Andrew Schmidt

With that, Ted had been smitten.  It had taken a few dates and a bouquet or two of flowers, but Taylor had fallen as well.  Ted’s initial theory had proven correct; hands like those belonged to a woman with a quiet grace and a peaceful way about her.  He remembered something that he all too often forgot.

“Is that what I do to you?”  Ted pushed aside his oatmeal bowl and leaned across the table.

“Huh?”

“Do I take you for granted?  Do I forget to see how much you do for me and how amazing you are?  I probably do.  You take care of the house; you work.  Yet here you sit and listen to me wallow.”

“You’ve had your finer moments”, she said softly.  “You’re not so bad, most of the time.”

“Thank you, but c’mon.  I don’t always see you, do I?  I look right through you some mornings, don’t I?”

“It’s okay”, Taylor replied.  She slowly and unintentionally swallowed the lump in her throat.  “We’ve been married for eight years.  We take each other for granted.  We aren’t the youthful, mysterious people that we once were all twitter-pated for.”

“Yeah”, Ted replied.  “Still, at the end of the day, I don’t tell you how much I love you.”

“I still know”, she answered.  “And I love you too.”

“Nope”, Ted said as he stood up and the chair fell backwards.  “I owe you.  What if I asked you out tonight?  What would you say?  You probably get tired of this house, right?  We should go out, dress up or something.”

“Ted, you don’t have to.”

“I know I don’t have to.  Do you want to?  Please?  Let me spend some time with you?”

“You aren’t tired of seeing me every day?”

Ted stood up, walked to the other side of the table, and kneeled in front of her.  He took Taylor’s hands in his and looked her in the eye.  “No.  Not even close.”

Taylor’s eyes started to water and she pulled her hands away so she could wipe her face.  Ted had obviously clued into a sore spot with her.  It was time to make good.

“Okay.  So I’m going to go to work.  I’m not going to worry about this evaluation because it doesn’t really matter.  You do.  We do.  And when I get home we’re going to get all dressed up, go out, and eat in a fancy Indian restaurant.”

“Ted”, Taylor warned, “you hate Indian food.”

“It’s not my favorite”, Ted admitted.  “However I happen to know that it’s yours.  That’s enough.”

“Really?”

“Really”, he reassured.  “You matter; you.  Not work, not politics; you.  So I should spend time reminding you of that.  Come on, when was the last time we dressed up for no reason?  I haven’t brought you flowers in I don’t know how long.  You deserve it.”

“Can I make fun of your mother?”

“If you don’t, I will”, he said.

“Then hurry up and go to work”, she said as she got up from her chair.  “You’re a good husband, do I tell you that enough?”  Ted watched as she lightly put her fingers under his chin and let her thumbs rub across his upper lip.  “Plus, I like you without the mustache.”

Ted’s day was not going to be a great one.  He was already trying to fast forward through his office routine.  Tonight though, Ted pondered.  Tonight held the potential to be pretty amazing.

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