The Orange Lawn Chair
Sleet drummed against the bonus room windows as the garage door sprang to life. Maggie’s temples pulsed and she feared another migraine as she wrote out one more shipping label for a pair of socks. The backs of her hands reminded her of Manhattan subway maps, lines of bones and veins instead of the colorful 1 or A trains.
Old lady hands, she thought. “That’s because you are an old lady,” she said to the empty room.
She slapped the shipping label on a manila envelope and dropped that on the molehill of packages she’d drive to the post office later. It had been smart to list her home-knit creations on Etsy. Lucrative. She enjoyed the extra cash and welcomed the extra activity to mainly housebound days.
Downstairs the mudroom door opened and she braced. If only she could turn back the calendar. Two years would do the trick.
“Maggie?” Jerry called.
“Mom, we’re back,” said Brian.
The mudroom door closed and outdoor smells perfumed her cozy upstairs workspace with pine, ice and something minty. “Up here.” She laid her reading glasses on the desk, hoped she’d remember where she’d left them in an hour, or ten minutes.
Heavy footsteps climbed the stairs. Jerry’s footsteps. Forty-six years married to the man and she could have picked out his plodding gait from amongst a stampeding herd. She shivered. Until a few days ago, the temperatures had been mild for December in northern New Hampshire.
Jerry appeared in the doorway holding an orange lawn chair, the price tag dangling off its plastic arm like a surrender flag. To most, her husband seemed like any other senior citizen, gray-haired, stoop-shouldered, and movements deliberate.
However, to Maggie, Jerry appeared as tall and handsome as the day they’d met, almost fifty years ago, when he was the quick-witted young man telling stories at her cousin’s graduation party. He’d kept the group spellbound with oral snapshots from his life in the mailroom at the Boston ad agency, Bunker and Chase. There were about eight of them gathered around that sweltering summer day, either sitting on the grass or on plastic chairs that if you wore shorts it stuck to your legs. The evening air held sweet remnants of lemonade and meats charred on the grill. Jerry talked and his blue eyes repeatedly sought her out as if he’d saved all his best stories for their first meeting.
“There’s my beautiful bride. Sending out those scarves?” Jerry wobbled forward into the bonus room.
Her fingers combed a few silver strands off her face and she thought, here we go. “I’m shipping the socks today. The scarves were last week. Remember, we talked about that this morning?”
She picked up a string of purple yarn, rubbed it between her thumb and forefinger. “What do you have there?”
“I told you I’d replace the chair. It’s pretty close to the one that washed away from the beach.”
“Yes it is. You’re good to your word.”
“Should I put it in the garage?”
“No, I’ll take it.” She dropped the thread and eased the chair from him. “You know I like things where I like them.” As she pecked his cheek, needle-like stubble poked her lips. “We need to make sure you shave later.”
“Didn’t I shave this morning?”
“You didn’t want to, but we’ll do it before dinner.” She rubbed his flannel-covered arm and then pulled away after a quick static shock. Jerry didn’t notice. “Go in the den and I’ll bring you and Brian some hot chocolate.”
“Perfect.” He placed a hand on the rail and stayed tethered to it as he negotiated his way down the stairs.
Her knees ached as she carried the chair to the bonus room’s storage closet. A snow storm was headed their way and her knobby, psychic bones were better predictors than any of the boobs on The Weather Channel.
Maggie’s hand rested on the closet knob.
“Mom,” Brian said from behind.
She hadn’t heard him come up. There were purple shadows under his eyes. These weekly Home Depot shopping trips with Jerry took a toll on their son, but he insisted on being the one to take him. Jerry’s only other weekly outing was with her to the supermarket on Thursdays, where he insisted on holding the list, pushing the cart and announcing the things they needed while she gathered them. “I’m going to make Dad and you hot chocolate.”
“I can’t stay. Emily has a basketball game in a half hour. They’re playing Eastside again.”
She nodded. “Tell my granddaughter to play hard. I’ll try to get to next week’s game. And tell her not to take any crap from that big girl on the other team, the one with the pink braces.”
“You want me say ‘don’t take any crap?’”
“Clean up my language however you like.”
She knew his smirk matched hers, teeth framed by duck-shaped lips. “Did everything go okay at the store?” she asked.
His eyes traveled past her to the closet door. “Once they brought the chair out from the stock room he calmed down. I tried to explain that stores don’t keep lawn chairs on display in December.”
“How angry did he get?”
“Not too bad this week.” Brian tapped the handrail a few times. “I’ll call later tonight.” He thumped down the stairs in the same run-jump pattern he’d had as a kid.
Then Maggie opened the closet door where five orange lawn chairs lay stacked.
It had been thirty years since the orange chair that Jerry thought he was replacing had washed away. They’d been vacationing at the shore in New Jersey, leaving an umbrella, a blanket and the chair to walk along the beach, caramel miles of feet dipping in and out of the Atlantic, their sometimes loud exchanges drowned out by surf and gulls.
“I forgive you,” she’d said after an hour. His eyes were red and swollen, his nose raw, each feature matching her own.
Jerry’s affair had started the year before, one boozy night after landing a diaper account. Of all things, she’d thought, diapers. The woman was on the client team, some sort of marketing genius, also unmarried and flirtatious. He swore it had only lasted a month. Maggie never would have found out about the thing if six months after it ended she hadn’t been cleaning out worn luggage to donate to Goodwill. A letter from the woman was tucked under a stretch of torn lining.
When Jerry and she returned to their spot of beach still marked by their umbrella, the blanket and the chair had been swept away, the chair visible in a few flashes of orange.
“Should I go after it?” Jerry had asked.
“Let it go.”
“I’ll buy you a new one,” he said.
Now, thirty years later, he had kept that promise every week for six weeks running, his stroke-addled memory trapping him in a Groundhog-style Day of Atonement.
She opened the new chair, set it on the cream carpet and sat. The straps felt stiff, and the plastic armrests chilled her palms. With her eyes shut, she leaned back, thoughts transporting her to a different day on the beach, one that took place the month after Brian’s wedding. Jerry and she had vacationed for a week on the Cape, and this particular day the two of them had come to the beach for lunch. After eating, they’d stretched out on the blanket, him with The New Yorker and her with some bestselling thriller for book group. They were content and had been for some time. She knew her husband like nobody else, how he liked raspberry jelly with his peanut butter, farted every morning as he woke up, and that he didn’t give a damn about the hair poking out from his ears.
A single tear tracked down her cheek. “Damn silly old woman.” She wiped her eyes.
A crash from downstairs sent her to her feet, knees angry and bitching.
“Uh-oh. Maggie,” Jerry called.
“Coming.” Then she placed the chair on top of the rest and shut the closet door.
Sharon Kurtzman is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post and BetterAfter50. Recently, two of her fiction pieces were nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Hippocampus Magazine, South Writ Large, Crack the Spine, Cleaver Magazine, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Literary Magazine, Still Crazy Literary Magazine, Every Writer’s Resource: Stories, Crab Fat Literary Magazine, Belle Reve Literary Journal, Main Street Rag’s anthology, Voices from the Porch, and Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Writers. To read more of her work, visit her website www.sharonkurtzman.com and follow her on Twitter at @sharonkurtzman1.