The Torture of the Comfortable Chair

by Charlotte Dovey
John William Waterhouse [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus

Ava opened the long grey envelope marked with the insignia of the local town council.  It contained a short notice.  She gritted her teeth angrily.  The letter notified her that running a business out of her house was against the local ordinance and that she was required to cease business activities immediately and/or relocate said activities to a building zoned for businesses.  Ava’s house was on the edge of town and at the end of a dirt track.  She had no sign at the end of the track, just a mailbox with her last name and the street address.  She had no neighbors within hearing range or in sight, as the trees on her property obscured any view.  Her “business” comprised of a one room detached shed where she kept woodworking equipment.  She did not generally sell out of the shed, but rather when she had a completed item of furniture she would pack it into the back of her station wagon and drive it either to one of the local galleries or to the home of one of her customers.  She designed and built handmade furniture and hand carved wooden sculptures and wall panels.

The town clerk, she knew, was married to the woman with whom she argued the week before.  The woman, Mrs. Reede, had dropped in unannounced with a friend of hers.  Mrs. Reede had knocked on her door, and when she had opened the door to answer, she and her friend stepped in without invitation.  The women looked around at Ava’s living room, that contained a number of her own pieces, and Mrs. Reede’s friend raising an eyebrow, asked in a surly tone, “Is this your shop?”

Ava replied in an equally measured tone, “I do not have a shop that is open to the public.  You can find my work at this gallery.”  She offered each of the women a business card.

Mrs. Reede did not accept the card she handed them, but asked, “Can’t you just show us some of your work now that we have driven all the way out here?”  She added, “I think you know my next-door neighbor, Mrs. Hartman.  She told me about your work.”

Ava, against her better judgement, relented.  She offered, “I have a couple of pieces that I am working on that I can show you.”  She took them out of the house and back to her shed.  She had begun to work on a set of chairs.  One was more complete than the others and she had just began to carve her distinctive figures into the wood, only so much as the outlines.  Mrs. Reed’s friend asked, “How much for one of them, then?”

“I sell them as a set.”

The woman scoffed.  Mrs. Reede asked, “How much for the set, then.”

“The set of six, each with its own set of carved figures, would be $6000.”

Mrs. Reed and her friend both laughed.  “Do you get many offers, then?”

Ava did not reply but patiently said nothing.

Mrs. Reed countered, “I’ll give you $500 for one chair.”

“I’m afraid not.  But if you like you can see other items at the gallery that your friend has the card for.”  Ava’s tone began to sound short.

The women asked her several times to reconsider, until Ava finally turned to show them the door.  As soon as she looked away from them, Mrs. Reede’s friend said aloud, in a chirpy voice, “Oops!  Sorry about that!”

Ava glanced around and saw that she had broken the delicate handle of a small whittled jug.  The friend met her gaze and said offhandedly, “You should design things to be more durable.” 

Ava replied angrily, “There was nothing wrong with that jug.  It costs $75.  You can send me a check if you don’t have the cash with you.” 

The friend said, “Right – if you can get it!”  Both women sniggered and left.   On the way down the drive they drove over some of Ava’s flowers.

After the women left Ava was able to fix the jug handle, but something repaired is never the same as it was before it was broken, and generally not as strong, so she decided to give it away to an acquaintance, an elderly woman who admired her work.  She had arranged some of her dried flowers from her garden in it for the woman; as well as a craftswoman she was also an herbalist and gardener.  She often gave some of her friends little remedies that she made.

That was five days before she read the letter from the town clerk’s office.  When she read the letter she sat down at her kitchen table, the paper still in hand, and drank the tea that she made from her garden herbs.  She knew perfectly well that Mrs. Reede had gotten her husband to indulge in this petty bit of injustice; she could see it as clear as day.

That evening, Ava set about working once more on the chair.  She patiently carved over the course of many long hours, whittling away at the forms and contours.  The designs in the chair were those of intricate animals, flora, and fauna, and images of fire, earth, air, and water.  As the light outside dimmed with the setting sun, she continued working on in the lamplight and candlelight, the glow of it illuminating the wood, making it shine and emphasizing the shadows in contours.  She muttered to herself, the red embers in her woodstove warming her and imparting a lovely scent to the small room.  In such a manner, she worked away for several days.  After the rougher whittling and carving were done, she turned to finer instruments, smaller details, then files and sandpaper, then finely grained steel wool.  Then she set about finishing the chair with a rag and linseed oil.  She rubbed and rubbed, imparting thin layers of the oil to seep into the surface.  She had imbued the oil with her own special herbs and extracts to make a special sort of stain.  She let the oil seep in and dry, then oiled it again, twice more.  Finally, she assessed her chair done.

Ava telephoned Mrs. Reede’s neighbor, Mrs. Hartman, the police chief’s wife and a terrible local gossip.  Mrs. Hartman often said that she would like to buy something of hers and she would show up to look at Ava’s work, but spent the time talking, keeping her from other more pressing business, but never buying anything.  Mrs. Hartman had even told her that she wanted to commission a piece of work and asked her to sketch out drawings, but even then, no real offers materialized.  Mrs. Hartman did not answer the telephone but had an answering machine.  Ava left a message saying that she had a chair for $700, and that she was leaving it at the end of the track if she cared to look at it.  She sat and drank her special herbal tea.  Then, about two hours later, knowing that the time was right, she acted.

As it was a sunny day, Ava carried the chair to the end of the dirt track and left it with a sign saying “For Sale:  $700.”  Then she sat on a rock, obscured from view from the road by bushes, and waited.  After another twenty-five minutes, the same car that Mrs. Reede had arrived in the week before drove up and pulled onto the track.  She watched as Mrs. Reede tossed the sign into the road and lifted the chair into the back of her car. 

Mrs. Reede knew that Mrs. Hartman had not just told her about the message, but about half a dozen other people, too; she was the sort of person who like to believe that she was important, and she did this by showing off how much she knew about people and events in the town.  As such, Mrs. Reede thought to herself that while she may be suspected, so too could many other people and she could always claim that she’d bought the chair from someone else.  She put the chair in her husband’s study.  She complained bitterly to her husband about the fact that Ava was running a business out of her house, in direct violation of the town rules that Mr. Reede had helped draw up.  After a couple of days, she persuaded him to do something about it. 

Not long after procuring the chair, Mrs. Reede had bought some very plush cushions for it, as it was just carved wood without upholstery.  After the cushions arrived, she placed them on the chair, then sat down on it to see how comfortable it was.  As she arranged herself, the chair seemed to beckon her deeper into it and envelope her.  In no time at all she fell fast asleep.

Mrs. Reede began to dream.  In her dream she was not exactly herself, but was transformed into a magpie.  She, as her magpie familiar, was nevertheless in the same chair, the same room.  She looked to the open window on the opposite side of the room, the same windows that she had left open to air the room earlier in the day.  She flapped her wings for a short bit, fluttering around on the seat of the chair, then she flew right out of the open window, exhilarated by the flight.  When she had gone some distance, she began to look for a place to land, to rest.  She landed near another bird’s nest, resting on the branch.  As she edged closer to the nest, another bird squawked angrily and dove down to knock her off.  She instinctively flew off, but she landed in another branch close by.  As soon as the other bird flew off again, she flew in to throw its young from the nest.  Before she could do so, a group of birds swooped to attack her and knocked her to the ground, injuring her.  They pecked at her mercilessly.  She thrashed about furiously, but the other birds quickly overtook her.  They began to tear into her more furiously, slashing her flesh.  In her dream, she slowly lost consciousness.

When Mr. Reede got home that evening there was no sign of Mrs. Reed.  It was highly unusual for her to be out late without at least leaving a note or phoning him.  He waited nervously, and when she failed to come home by midnight he called the police.  The dispatcher reassured Mr. Reede that the police force would keep an eye out for her car.  

Mr. Reede did not sleep that night, and the next day he called into his office sick.  He spent the morning in his bedroom, his face buried in his pillow.  That morning the police chief, his neighbor, called and said that he would call around to the state police and let him know as soon as he heard anything.

Mr. and Mrs. Reede had a part-time maid that came in one or twice per week, a rather lazy woman who was slow at her work and had a somewhat dubious past, but the woman put up with Mrs. Reede’s nasty remarks and tempers, so she was kept on.  This was the maid’s day to come in, and Mr. Reede had not thought to call her and ask her not to come.  The woman had a key to their house, and not knowing that anything was amiss, she began in the house as she usually did.  Mrs. Reede was often not there when she worked, and as she did not see her there today, and did not know that Mr. Reede was upstairs, she plunked herself down in the kitchen and drank her morning coffee and ate her breakfast while watching the television, that consisted of several sugary rolls from the local bakery.  Then she set about her work.  She was not supposed to be in Mr. Reede’s study, but seeing the door open, she peered in.  She spied the beautiful chair that was new to the room and crossed over to it and sat herself in it.  She quickly fell asleep in the chair.  She began to dream that she was a pig in a pen, happily revelling in her slop.  At about this time Mr. Reede had come down to his study to rifle through some banking documents, hoping that they may give a clue about what may have happened to his wife, but to his great confusion and dismay he found that a pig had gotten into the room.  He called a local farmer whom he knew and sometimes had beer with after work.  His farmer friend came in short order and the two men cornered the pig.  The farmer took it away and the men agreed that the farmer would butcher it and give him some of the proceeds.    

Around this time, a local man, a petty thief and swindler, showed up to Ava’s house.  He had been wandering some of the quieter roads to scope out potential properties to rob.  He drove a van and pretended to do small jobs.  Sometimes he even hired himself out for small jobs with the object of stealing from those people who hired him, often older people who were naive or confused.  When he knocked on Ava’s door, she answered straight away.  She told him that she had no jobs for him, but that Mrs. Reede may have something for him to do.  She gave him the address. 

The man arrived at the Reede’s house just as the farmer was leaving with the pig.  He told Mr. Reede that his wife had asked him to come to do some work on the house – that she had some slow drains to see to.  Mr. Reede told him that it wasn’t a good time, but the workman, being an experienced conman, indignantly and somewhat angrily replied that he had driven all the way out, that he had come when Mrs. Reede had asked him to.  Mr. Reede was in no condition to think clearly, so he let the man in and retreated from the house, explaining that he had to run an errand (he was going back to the police station, but did not wish to tell that to a workman) and would be back shortly. 

The thief wandered through the house.  He found Mr. Reede’s study door left ajar.  Knowing that this was just the sort of place where financial documents would be kept, he crept in, aware that Mr. Reede could return.  The man stopped in front of the chair.  He instantly recognized that it would be a valuable item.  He eyed it, and strangely compelled, he sat on it for a moment. 

This man had a deeply suspicious nature and the worst thing he could think of was dropping his guard, but as soon as he sat in the chair it encased him in a deep sleep.  He had the most vivid dream that he was in a tranquil place.  The people about him were contented and placid.  No one had use for money and there was no need to lie.  When he demanded to know where was, those around him merely smiled gently.  One explained, “heaven.”  He suddenly bolted in a panic and found himself back in the room, but now no longer alone.  The official had returned, but did not acknowledge his presence.  The thief tried to speak to Mr. Reede, to lie and say that he had felt ill and needed to sit, but no words came out.  He passed over the room to the official and reached out to touch the man’s shoulder but his hand passed through him.  Then he saw the mirror behind the chair – there was only one figure in it, Mr. Reede.  The man fled from the house, but he flew through the wall and straight out into the garden beyond, twelve feet above the ground.  He had no idea what to do next, no idea where to go.  There was nothing for him.  He flew around the town, but when he flung himself into a tree he merely passed through it.  He finally landed on some train tracks.  He allowed an oncoming train to run into him, but he found himself merely left behind as the train passed through him.  He wandered off aimlessly.  No one ever saw him again.

Two policemen turned up at the official’s house the next day.  They had not found the man’s wife, and had also discovered that the Reede’s maid had also been reported missing.  They began asking him questions.  He fumbled through answers and couldn’t explain how it was that the women who had been there had suddenly disappeared.  He was shaky and nervous.  They eyed him suspiciously and cautioned him not to leave town because they may have further need of him.

That evening, the official was despondent.  He went to his study to calm himself with a glass of whisky.  He sat in the chair, exhausted.  He found it surprisingly comfortable and was soon drifting off.  He dreamt that he was a poor man being chased down by the police, who had decided to arrest him on trumped-up charges.  He ran from them, and in the dream he found himself in a maze of corridors, not knowing how to get out.  At the end of each corridor there were turns, other corridors, and locked doors.  Then the corridors began to get smaller and smaller, tighter and tighter.  As he kept running he felt the corridors close in on him.  Finally, he struggled to force himself through the tiny corridors, feeling more and more squeezed until he could no longer breathe.

The policemen returned the following day.  They found a dead python in the chair but no sign of the official.

About a month after the official’s disappearance, Ava passed the official’s house.  She saw a young man carrying the chair out of the house, along with a few other things from the man’s study.  She stopped and told him with a smile, “I made that chair.”

He looked confused at first, but then smiled.  He replied, “It’s beautiful.  It must have taken a long time.”

“That belonged to the Reedes, I believe?”

“Yes, I work for the law office that is organizing some of their affairs.”

“Why are you taking the chair?”

“He left some instructions.  We found a note on his desk saying that we should take the chair away and get rid of it.”

Ava suggested, “Mr. Reede was friendly with the police chief.  Why don’t you give the chair to him?  He would take it as a nice gesture.”  Then she added, “It would suit him very well.”

The clerk considered briefly and decided that it was a good idea, knowing well the importance of being in the good books of the police chief. 

© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica

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