Jerry Buys a Chair
In Jerry’s belt bag she held a receipt, a coupon for a free pack of two-ply toilet paper, and a large bottle of prescription painkillers she planned to take later that evening. She looked forward to killing herself. Thought of it while walking home from the grocery store where she had worked most of her life, sucking flavoured popcorn dust off her fingers, spicy and sweet, washing it down with a bottle of sparkling water she had bought after quitting. She had kissed James O'Connor on both pockmarked cheeks hard enough to make him blush and told him he had been a great manager, just the best. It was thirty degrees and climbing and so she bought the sparkling water, feeling guilty knowing she shouldn’t--plastic water bottles were bad for the environment. Jerry heard that on the news, and knew if they didn’t stop driving cars, or using hairspray, or buying plastic, a big hole in the ozone layer would tear them all up, or they’d have to walk around in hazmat suits and SPF 1000 just to survive a walk to the store, her favourite thing to do, with a flask full of wine she put in her back pocket and took out for long sips. This is something she did now, stopping at the corner of Third and King, and tipping it back while waving to the young men who whistled at her as they drove by in their jeep. She recognized them from the meat department.
Jerry touched her hair and thought of the hairspray she had used that morning, another thing Jerry felt guilty for being unable to give up, but she wanted her hair combed and teased high in the back. It was how her hair had looked the day she met her husband almost 26 years ago. She thought of this, sipping her wine and enjoying the sucking sound her sandals made on the sidewalk as she went. She had met her husband at a church barbecue event. She didn’t want to go, found people who liked Jesus also liked to talk too close, their breath smelling like hotdogs and garlic while they asked for donations. But her friend, Rita, who cut hair at McGrady’s on Fifth and Pacific and once had two men at the same time, told her she needed to have some fun and gave her a yellow dress with white lace trim which showed off a nice amount of leg and Jerry had to admit she did have nice legs. So she wore it, and she teased her hair, and that day, she met her husband. Tom, barbecuing veggie burgers for Nancy Carroway, the one vegetarian in town who had moved there after her husband caught Nancy’s face pressed between the breasts of their son’s sixth grade teacher. Or so Jerry had heard. She liked Tom right away, with his beer belly and thick shoulder length hair, giving Nancy a shy smile every time she laughed too hard at one of his jokes. He was handsome if you met him on a hot day and he stood a reasonable distance away while asking what you did, and made you an ice-cold vodka soda, or four. They married not long after, six months or so, and Jerry thought of their wedding night often, the two of them slow-dancing in her parent’s backyard, full of flat champagne and red velvet cake.
He had died six months ago of a heart attack. Since then, Jerry had taken to carrying a polaroid taken by Rita on that night of the two of them standing next to each other. He looked so handsome, in a dark blue suit; his hair pulled back and face shaved smooth, and her white dress she bought at a vintage shop. It smelled like incense, but the dress went just below her knees with a sort of tulle Tom found irresistible. He told her that on their wedding night as he unzipped her out of it, drawing his fingers down her back. Irresistible.
Jerry thought of this while she walked, enjoying the way the road was now paved, smooth and clear, something Tom used to complain about. Swearing when he got home about his tires bouncing over the little rocks and broken concrete. Spending money on everything but the important things, he would say, opening a beer and kissing her on the cheek after a long day at work, smelling like sweat and barbecue chips, his favourite flavour which she kept in the cupboard. Maybe she would eat a bag before swallowing the pills. Maybe she would eat until she made herself sick, so her stomach would absorb them quicker. She thought about this and then turned the corner at Belleview and Jackson, heard music coming from one of the lawns. Music with a cha-cha sort of rhythm. Jerry smiled, she liked that, made her want to dance. Feeling light, so light, she thought she could stop before getting home, not like anyone was waiting for her. She took another sip out of her flask and followed the music. What she saw was a woman, sitting in a lawn chair with an empty tin can by her feet, a tower of beers stacked in front of her and a pack of cigarettes in her lap. Behind her there were a variety of items in boxes; a clothing rack with men’s jackets, an open drawer filled with forks and buttons, a blow-up doll with a round, open mouth and red lips. The tower of empty beer cans, teetering one on top of the other, had been Tom’s favourite brand, and Jerry took that as a good sign.
She went and stopped in front of the woman, who at first didn’t do anything, just kept staring out in the distance, a can in her hand she held with a weak grasp. Her nipples pushed against the flimsy cotton of her shirt, and below her denim shorts there was a big tattoo on her thigh, a rose on a vine with something written in cursive letters below that Jerry couldn’t make out. But her knees were smooth and unblemished and beneath the sour scent of cigarettes on her clothes, Jerry smelled something like lavender and the must of unearthed antiques. Jerry thought this woman looked like a woman who put out quick. Not that she judged a woman for her sexual desires. She tried judging Rita once years ago, the two of them sitting on the lawn in front of Rita’s house, a couple months into dating Tom. They were dizzy off gin and a split joint, Jerry making a passing comment about the rising cost of condoms and Rita only making minimum wage. Jerry had stayed over in the guest room that night, unable to drive, and had woken up in a bed full of rubber sex toys and Rita squirting lube on the sheets. She would miss Rita, but Jerry thought she’d understand.
“Hello?” Jerry said.
The woman jerked, squeezing the can and bringing it up quick to her mouth.
“What do you want?”
“I liked the music,” Jerry said, and then, “my name is Jerry.”
“Mandy,” the woman said and put out her hand to shake, so Jerry took it.
She had to sell quick, Mandy said, taking off her sunglasses and swinging them around as she talked, lighting a cigarette and sucking at it with chewed up fingernails painted red. Her husband would be home around eight, he worked construction but liked to grab a drink with the guys afterwards, and she wanted all his shit to be gone.
Jerry nodded as the woman talked, trying not to make eye contact with her nipples. She did anyways, but the woman didn’t seem to notice, just waved around her sunglasses as she emphasized men were no-good and that is why she was giving her no-good husband’s shit away.
“What did he do?” Jerry said, wishing she had a cigarette of her own. She wasn’t a smoker but considered taking it up in solidarity with this strange woman who looked like she needed sunscreen and multivitamins and shrugged as if to say what didn’t he do.
“He screwed anything that was willing to get screwed,” the woman said and coughed, a thick, deep cough and then spit out the phlegm at their feet. Jerry wished she had worn closed toed shoes.
“Do you have a cigarette?” Jerry said.
“Do you have a dollar?” The woman took another drag. “I’ll tell you who never had any money, my no-good husband.”
Jerry felt lucky, lucky she had a good husband she would be seeing soon. Jerry had been tired of waking up alone, but she had woken up that day knowing it would be different and thought it felt right. Besides, there would be no one to mourn for her, she didn’t have kids, Tom hadn’t been able to, and she thought at the time this was A-Okay.
“Tom,” she had said, grabbing his hand and smiling her big, bright, irresistible smile, “This is A-Okay. We have each other.”
And they had. Tom selling used cars out at the lot by Chester Road, Hondas and Chevys and even an old vintage Mercedes once, after a daughter found her step-father in it with his underwear around his ankles and a makeshift noose around his neck. Auto-erotic asphyxiation they called it. Tom looked good heading to work in one of his ties Jerry picked out for him each morning. Afterwards, she would grab her nametag from the bowl of important things they kept by the door and fasten it to her shirt. She took pride in looking good for him and for her customers.
Jerry had liked her job at the grocery store, had been promoted to head of the deli two weeks before Tom died. She enjoyed cutting the processed meat in slices for the customers who all wanted different things. Mrs. Macdonald wanted her ham cut in thick slices, and Mr. Jackson liked his prosciutto cut thin, so thin, she could almost look through it, with the fat clean off. When she got home, unpinning her nametag from her shirt and placing it back in the bowl, she would put on dinner, a steak with a French sauce if she felt frisky. Tom wasn’t like her other friend’s husbands who wanted things she didn’t want to hear about, Rita explaining how her ex-husband Martin liked to hold her up as if she was a wheelbarrow and plow her from behind. It sounded exhausting. Tom always kissed Jerry on her neck and her mouth, and they kept their lips above each other’s waists where she thought they should be. Though Jerry knew, that did not necessarily mean he didn’t want other things, but that’s why Jerry loved him. He understood respect and restraint.
Jerry walked around the various ornaments for sale. There were a couple lamps, one with a blue stand that would look nice against the green couch she and Tom had received as a wedding present from his Aunt Polly, a woman who liked to cut lines of speed in the bathroom at family reunions, but with good taste in upholstery. She considered buying a blender, wondering if perhaps it would be quicker to mix hard liquor and the pills into a smoothie. Sip it while she watched the news until she fell asleep for good. But then Jerry saw the chair, brown leather with tufts of the inside poking out and knew she wanted it. A real hidden gem, Tom would have said, and she closed her eyes for a moment. Jerry thought of the last morning she woke up to him, the sharp smell of his morning breath as she counted his wrinkles with her lips, how she wished she had insisted they stay in bed that day.
“Could I sit in the chair?” Jerry said and Mandy just shrugged, sipping another beer.
The chair felt smooth and broken-in, the leather didn’t even stick to her thighs like she expected, no sucking sound when she sat up. She even tested it a couple times. Jerry liked this chair. Thought she could call her neighbour’s son over to take it back for her in his pickup truck.
“How much is it?” Jerry said.
“Thirty bucks, I’m burning anything that doesn’t sell,” Mandy said.
“I’ll take it.”
“Great,” Mandy said, “would you like a beer?”
Jerry said she would love one and sat in the chair, thought of going home and putting it on her front porch. Maybe she would sit and read for a little bit, at least until she heard the evening crickets, Mandy brought over a beer and Jerry was surprised in a pleasant sort of way to feel how cold it was to touch. She had missed cold beer, hadn’t been able to keep it in the house for a long while. Jerry tapped the tin against Mandy’s and sipped at it in silence, enjoying the fizz she licked off her upper lip, the comforting taste of wheat. Yes, she thought, couldn’t let a good chair like this go to waste.
Chloe Alexandra is a writer currently living in Dublin, Ireland. She has a BA in creative writing from the University of California-Santa Cruz and a master’s degree in Literature from Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.