Silk Upholstered Chair

‘You’ve been despondent for weeks.’ How to spell dispondent? or is it with an e? Despondent makes me think of a New York office in the middle of a particularly hot 1960’s summer; I don’t know why, the furniture, the tobacco smoke, a corner office with plush furniture and men in waistcoats. The men don’t look at me, but I look at them when I spell despondent. The men I see, are they even alive anymore, did they ever exist? I’m playing Scrabble with my mother. ‘The only time I saw you show any emotion was with the girls, when they were here.’ My nieces came to visit for three days, in contravention of the government’s advice. Everyone was worried about neighbours calling the police, as they did down my brother’s road—full of young families looking to claw their way up the property ladder, smugly proud of their infants and their lawn, aspirational voting down the polling booth, a choking landscape of people overlooking one another’s garden, no business too personal, no net curtain unfingered, the sort of place I could really die in. My nieces came to visit for three days. I was asked if I would mind the noise; I told them no. Besides, it didn’t really matter what I minded, it was good that they came, and my work—which I carried out in the kitchen—may suffer but it was of minor consequence. Either way they weren’t too loud, and during meetings the noise of their screams, giggles, laughter, cries of joy, was ignored. At one point, the youngest poked her face into a video call — ‘Uh, there’s a little person next to you.’ I smiled at her, and, having been caught, she waddled away. Often she, the youngest, almost two, would be playing behind me with some figurines on a small table. She gurgled make-believe conversation between a figurine in each hand. The words were nonsense but they made sense to her. I turned around and, if she had her back to me, I would observe for a while; otherwise she would become mildly embarrassed, chuckle and run away. Occasionally she would walk up to me and present one of the figurines, I would ask the figurine’s name and she would gurgle and say ‘Yeah?’ None of what she said made sense, but I liked to be a part of it. When sat in her high-chair, I would walk past and kiss her on the top of her head, which had the loveliest smell. It was a smell that floated all about the house within hours of her arrival; I smelled it when I went to bed and when I woke up in the morning. Across the dinner table she glared at me, so that I would look up, catch her and raise my eyebrows; she would laugh and screw her nose up at me, then shovel food into her mouth. Her hair is blonde but it’ll darken with age. Eventually she’ll grow up and life will turn her, but, for now, I enjoy her presence very much.

‘It was good to have them around, but already it feels like ages ago… which is strange because…’ I put down synergy—‘It was only last week. Usually time flies.’ Thirty-eight points. ‘Thirty-eight.’ I wrote it down.

After they left, I took the figurine my youngest niece played with and placed it on the desk next to me.
Like a mad dog, I go for walks under the midday sun. Previously I would be accompanied by my mother, but it’s become too hot for her now. I try to focus my thoughts, to ponder things—how have I let it come to this!—but my mind wanders. Soon I am staring at abandoned houses or vacant lots, little anomalies down picturesque avenues. About the dead buildings flutter apparitions of the past. Dogs follow me along the edge of their garden, poking their noses through gaps in the fence and putting their tongues out in a smile; I smile in return and think to stroke them—but, no, the owners are probably watching me. I become intoxicated on the heady aroma of flowers. The flowers come & go; is it life or death? Flowers that bloomed so brightly last week are no more; their petals desiccated, ashen, the stems limp and nothing to bounce in the wind. Flowers that I stopped to photograph for Her seven days ago are now dead. Is it them I can smell? It turns my stomach. There is a folded sheet of paper in my back pocket with a question on it. The question is written in HB pencil and above it a date and time. Trying not to stumble, I read the question—with one word scribbled out—and attempt to answer it. Not my best handwriting. God, the smell of the flowers! I catch myself stumbling and my throat is dry. The paper has been in there for days, now set to the curvature of my left buttock. I spin it in my fingers and repeat the question in my head; until I come across a tree stretched back by the wind, covered in tiny pink flowers and I remark aloud—‘I really like this tree.’

I can still feel the folded sheet of A4 in my back pocket as she plays her word: insecure, using the n from my synergy. For some reason, its presence there is most reassuring to me, even though it houses only a question, a date and a time. Such simple things I had never thought of! and now I sit there with a headache. She has lost interest in the game, and is making it known.

‘Come on!’ I say.
‘What’s the point? I’m losing.’
‘That’s how I feel about life.’
‘Tell me about it! … Top me up, would you, darling?’

I get the bottle of wine from the fridge, top up her glass and get myself another beer. Yes, I am winning, which is unusual, so I try to draw some fight out of her while concealing my own glee. The game proceeds and victory is claimed, modestly, mind, as I underline my score—just as I do with hers when she wins, although my flick of the pencil is a little more enthusiastic.

‘I feel like this lockdown has undone the last five years of therapy,’ my cousin tells me. I listen keenly, asking questions and adding—‘Forgive me for prying.’ I understand. I think I understand. I barely recognise myself from the start of this, seventy-three days ago. I left myself back there and it seems so long ago. The way the sun sets here and lights up the houses at the end of the garden, turning the stucco gold and the blue sky above it slowly dying. I take a photo and send it to Her. I left myself back there.