The Chair – a short story

I apologize that this post is 2,576 words. I considered breaking it up into two posts  but decided against this as it breaks the flow. I hope that some of my readers can read it at one sitting. 

The chair was located in the entrance hall of an elegant single story home in Austin, Texas. He wasn’t sure if he stood or sat in his place; stood because he had four legs, but sat because that was his function. The dilemma constantly puzzled him for he had ample time to ruminate. From his location he could see the dining room with its long polished table and set of eight perfect matching chairs in a similar Chippendale style to his own.  How he envied those chairs with their table and how he hated to see them in use.  He creaked with sadness every time someone sat in the regal arm chair at the head of the table for he regarded this location as his rightful place. He was, after all, the oldest, most decorated, most elegant armchair in the home and yet the only person who sat upon him was his house mistress when she was putting on or removing her walking shoes. On other occasions, when the family had guests, he was reduced to clothes-horse and repository for discarded overcoats, purses, socks and shoes.

He wondered how long his boring life would drift on in this way and sometimes dreamed of Edward Lear and the chummy relationship between the table and chair of his poem The Table and the Chair.  He was particularly fond of the first two verses with the table’s suggestion “If we took a little walk, We might have a little talk! and tried to imagine what it might be like for him to go for a walk with a table at his side. His real fascination was his private dream that he might be able to use such an expedition to initiate a search for his lost family. Daily he repeated the verses to himself, letting the words tingle his ribbon back.

When it was first put in place the chair noticed that the elegant dining table of the next room didn’t have legs in the traditional sense it stood on two huge wheel mounted pedestals; it could roll, perhaps, but never walk. As for the chilblains mentioned in Lear’s poem, thankfully Austin, Texas, never got cold enough, but the heat, also mentioned in the poem, oh the heat and the often desert-like low humidity; they were a curse from which the chair did suffer. He could feel his wood dehydrating and becoming more brittle as the years rolled by. He took vicarious consolation that the same conditions were assailing the occupants of the dining room. He was sure that going for walks never occurred to those youthful chairs.

The chair was located opposite a tall stately grandfather clock with ancient dial and gently disintegrating veneered case. Initially the chair didn’t like the grandfather clock because the incessant ticking and hourly bouts of noisy chimes upset his dreary thoughts. In 2005 his attitude began to change when old grandfather announced that he intended to celebrate his 290th birthday with a set of twenty-nine chimes at mid-night. The chair gave his approval and unexpectedly, even for him, asked whether the celebration could include his 255th birthday.  This, of course, was a lie as the chair knew that he was only 140 years old. The moment that he said it he regretted his bravado and wondered why he needed to impress the friendly clock. The clock instantly agreed and seemed to give the chair’s purported age special credence by suggesting that he would give 25 chimes at midnight for the chair and add another 4 at 1:00 am for himself. Their celebration back-fired because the mistress of the house awoke and heard the chimes; she might have missed the  twenty-five at midnight, putting it down to her being partially asleep but the four at 1:00 am were unmistakable. The next day she called in a clock ‘doctor’ and the clock’s head was dismantled and hauled away to ‘The Clock Shop’. That was when the chair realized that he missed his companion, the old clock, and even longed for the return of ticking and regular chimes.

The clock was very chipper when he returned and smiled gently down upon the chair. At night he talked of his trip. He talked of the several dozen clocks whom he had met. He regaled about the joy of chiming is unison, and of the cacophony of sound. The chair responded by quoting Edward Lear sighing sadly that he had no-one to walk or talk to. The clock knew the poem and asked the chair whether he heeded the last three verse in which the table and chair get lost and employ a duck, mouse and beetle to guide them home. The time away had made the clock loquacious and he went on, “I abhor mice. First and foremost I because they are dirty creatures who are known to chew wood with their awful pointed teeth.” He paused to chime and then continued, “A nasty family once nested in my case; you can’t see it but I have a hole in my heel where they nibbled a door for themselves.” After an hour the clock chimed again, it was 1:00 am, he sighed and took up his dialogue where he had left off, “Yep, I hate ‘em because every kid imagines a mouse running up my case and quotes that trite nursery rhyme Hickory, dickory, dock. 

The chair tapped his four legs in approval when  the clock quoted the lyrics; then he continued his monologue, “I dislike that rhyme on many levels. It is older than I, not that age is particularly important.” At this point the chair wondered whether the clock’s comment was an indirect jab of the clock’s at his deceit in reporting his age. While the chair let his thoughts wander momentarily the clock continued, “The rhyme was originally coined in 1659 to ridicule Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard, or Hickory Dick who only ruled England for one year, hence the strike of one. Second verse is a little better because now Richard is a pig to be brought down by Charles 11. Few people know this verse.” said the clock gently hummed the words which go like this:

Dickory, dickory, dare,
The pig flew in the air.
The man in brown
Soon brought him down,
Dickory, dickory, dare.

Then there was silence only broken by the clock’s regular heart-beat ticking and the outside distant roar of night traffic. The chair continued to agonize over this deception and was beginning to formulate a way to tell the clock when the clock took up again,

‘Beetles!” he said, “Never, ever, let a beetle close to you,’ his ticking almost lost a beat in his excitement. He repeated, “Never, ever, let a beetle get close to you! What’s more,” he added with a loud creak, “What’s more the smallest ones are the worst, the most to be feared.”

“What’s so wrong with beetles?” inquired the chair, “after all, the beetle guided the table and chair home.”

“Maybe,’ came the reply, “but surely you know that wood worms are a type of beetle and so are termites. Beetles are our doom they eat our substance. Stay away from beetles! Don’t let them into your home and don’t fraternize with them. In Lear’s poem they dined on beans and bacon but I bet you that that loathsome beetle was eyeing his hosts with gluttonous desire!”

***********************************

As time went on the friendship between grandfather and the chair strengthened. They often reminisced about the old country, for they were both made in the United Kingdom and had shared the same package container when they crossed the Atlantic. Grandfather invited the chair to closely scrutinize his face to observe his maker’s name proudly etched into the brass ‘Bradley, London’ He boasted that Bradley who was apprenticed in 1688 and member of the ‘Clock and Watchmaker’s Company’ 1695-1748 becoming well known for his turret clocks including St. Paul’s, London and St. Giles, Edinburgh. The grandfather’s pride and joy was the upper mechanism of his dial which depicted the faces of the moon synchronized for London so that his first owners knew when the tide was low and they could ford the Thames.

The chair admired the clock’s assets and gradually began to share his story, “I’m built from solid mahogany ‘in the style of Thomas Chippendale’ so they say.” At this juncture the chair saw the clock’s veneer tremble and so he continued to elaborate. “Thomas Chippendale, was baptized in 1718, and died in 1779. He was a successful London cabinet maker and furniture designer. He is best remembered for The Gentleman and Cabinet Maker’s Director which is a book of his designs published in 1754. There are many chair designs in the book, most with ball and claw feet. But I like my plain feet don’t you?” The clock looked down and nodded in approval. “You can see my exact back among the pages – it has been copied everywhere. Why even the youth at the dining table yonder boast a similar design probably taken from Tomas Chippendale’s book. The chair was pleased with himself for he hadn’t said that he was a Chippendale chair or made any remark which referred to his age.

The clock again quivered in approval and commented “I love the tasteful scrolls of your back and the fact that all that carving, I assume, was done by hand out of a single mahogany plank.”

“Right-on,’ responded the chair, “and don’t forget my hand needlepointed seat with its Chippendale style image of bird and flowers.”

Several days later the clock asked, “So, chair, I’ve thought and thought about Chippendale and your heritage and can’t understand why you are always so miserable. Surely your heritage should bring you pride and joy?”

“Maybe,” responded the chair,” but there is more to my story. You see I am part of a matched set or, I like to think, ‘family’ of ten. Yes, don’t shudder like that, ten is a nice number.” He sighed. “There was me, and the lady whom I regarded as my wife. We were the two arm chairs who commanded the table from either end. We are branded I and I. I am II, ladies first you know. Then there were our eight companions. I liked to think of them as our children, four girls, and four boys, branded I though VIII. They were always located on the long sides of the table. How I miss them.”

“I can’t imagine having a family.” said the clock. “We grandfather clocks are designed to be loners. I may have enjoyed the comradely of The Clock Shop but it is exhausting and only good for short periods. The worst part is making sure that you are true to yourself and don’t slip into ticking and chiming at the exact times as everyone else. Of course they did give me respect due to my age. I was the oldest there by a long shot. Now tell me more about your family, how did you come to be separated?”

“We were all together until about 1960 when our owners both died and we were inherited by their son and daughter. The both ‘loved’ us and wanted to keep us, so they did what so many heirs do – they split us up. It happens with silverware and dinnerware all the time. Even with us chairs it is quite common; it explains why full sets are so valuable. The son took my ‘wife’, the other arm chair, and the ‘children’ IV, VI, VII and VIII. The daughter took me and I, II, III and V. We were shipped to the north of England.”

‘Ah yes, I arrived in 1965. I stood in the hall. I’m always in the hall.”

“So you were; I heard you but we were always in the dining room which, I suppose, is why we never officially met. It was a cold draughty house wasn’t it? That’s where I learnt about chilblains. In those days we never suffered from the heat. Temperature wise it was a cold place but in other respects it was warm. We were sat upon every evening when the family dined; oh the conversations, oh the food!”

Grandfather interrupted with a chime of 3:00 am and an apology. “Please go on.” he urged.

“The good times ended slowly as the family of five disintegrated, the children left home, the mother died. The best thing that happened during those years was the father’s undertaking to needlepoint seat covers for us all. He finished the covers before he died in 1998. Then there was another split up when one of the daughters took me and I, II, III and V went to Oxford with the son. I often dream of them and try to imagine what happened to them and how they are doing.”

***********************************

Another day the clock inquired about the chair’s experiences prior to the owners who died in 1960. It might have been an opportunity for the chair to come straight over his age but he didn’t, he responded,

“That part is loud and hectic. We were table four in a regimental mess hall. Look closely at my legs you can see the chips and scars where sabers hung from the men’s Sam Browne belts cut into the wood. We were happy to leave that place for the calm of a private residence with quiet family meals and a lovely elegant dining room looking out upon a fine rose garden.”

In 2015 the chair and clock shared two exciting events. Grandfather planned to celebrate his 300th birthday and the chair overheard talk of a reunion with I, II, III and V. Festivities were dampened when tattered shipping boxes arrived and I, II, III and V fell out in what looked like a pile of mahogany kindling. The mistress of the house set up a chair workshop or hospital in the garage and began the arduous task of piecing together pieces to resuscitate the four chairs. The chair in the hall waited in silence for his longed for reunion. Daily he agonized over the activities in the garage; every bang of a hammer made him shudder. The moans of chairs in vices made him flinch and the stench of finish remover made him queasy.

The clock told the chair that he planned a special chiming to celebrate his 300th birthday and offered to include the chair’s reunion in the celebration. He suggested that they perform the ritual when the mistress was on vacation and the house empty. He asked the chair, “How do you and I, II, III and V wish to celebrate your 265th?”

Chair responded, “We will celebrate our reunion by listening to your chimes. As for our birthday, I have to confess that I lied about my age. I don’t know why I did it – to impress you I suppose, but now I have other things to impress with and confess that we are only 150 years old. We are in the style of Chippendale not made by Chippendale!”

The clock chuckled, “Of course I knew. I’m glad that you are now content enough to tell me.”

“You knew, how did you know?”

“I’m a clock. We clocks always know. Time is our business!”

“You went along with my deceit?”

“Yes, after all who cares about a few hundred years?”

8 thoughts on “The Chair – a short story

  1. Enjoyed the read, Jane,
    And yes, I love the personification of furniture and indeed all things inanimate. As Ian said, the new twist to hickory dickory dock is innovative.
    If you subscribe to metaphysics, people give off vibes and these are absorbed into and resonate within furniture, fittings and buildings… but then, I digress.
    All good wishes,
    Eric

    • So good to see you back and blogging. As always I enjoy your posts. The metaphysics angle challenges on one level and yet I sense it deeply and frequently ‘feel’ the reflection of my vibes returning from inanimate objects. Your digression struck a cord – thank you!

  2. Very well done and yes, I read it in one sitting, despite distractions caused by outside events. I join all those who did not know the second verse of Hickory-Dickory-Dock, so I gained in knowledge thereby. It just occurs to me, story aside, the personification format would work well in mitigating the dryness of text books about antique furniture. Now there’s a project!

    • I am heartened by your comment and am glad that you got the version without the inclusion of the entire Lear ‘The Table & The Chair” poem. I suspect that many of our antiques have interesting stories if only they could talk!

  3. That is such a novel story. I particularly liked the new twist on hickory dickory dock. Your ability to describe things so we see them clearly in mind is first class. Always good to visit this page Jane.

  4. Well yes, Jane, I did read it in one sitting. I really like the “conceit,” and personification of the furniture works really well. You had me convinced they were really talking to each other and the length of the piece enhances that, I think—it gives one time to get to know them and like them! On the other hand I did get a bit restless in reading, wondering when and how this would end. The Lear poem is a delight, but I wonder if you need to quote so much of it….this is, after all, your story. At any rate, I enjoyed it; I am a fan of personifying inanimate objects. At this very moment, as I look up and stare at my burgundy wing-backed chair, I wonder just what it is thinking….

    • You make a good point about the Lear poem. I oscillated back and forth about quoting it in its entirety. I’ve now edited to merely quote the lines which enhance my story and omit the rest. I think that this still works. This might prevent readers from getting restless. While I was writing I’d give the chair a gentle stroke every time that I passed him in the hall. Your burgundy wing-back may be a kindred spirit.

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