The Dead Man's Chair


I saw it for the first time early on a Friday morning.

I was on my way to work and the family down the street was carrying all sorts of stuff down their driveway and setting them out on their lawn for a three day rummage sale. Rocking chairs and rocking horses, lawn chairs and lawn darts, kitchen table and kitchen chairs, bookcases, televisions, radios, clothing and old toys; it looked as if they were cleaning the entire house out in ready for a move across the country. I rubbernecked the stuff with an uninterested glance. Nothing much for a recently single and very non-domestic guy like me.

Except for the lime green overstuffed chair they set right out in front on their parkway lawn. It had fat rolling arms and thick cushions and one of those off-the-wall colors that identified it as a relic from the 1930s or 1940s. It reminded me of a chair in my grandmother's living room, only hers had been a deep purple with a faint paisley print. I had buried myself in the incredibly soft comfort of that chair as a boy. It was like a magic carpet to me, and I traveled to strange worlds in my imagination while in that chair, as the delicious aromas of Nonna's Italian kitchen wafted through the apartment. I loved that old sitter, and I knew I wanted its near-twin parked on the street side grass. I pulled my car over and parked, got out and hailed down the ruddy cheeked guy who was wheezing as he carried the flotsam and jetsam of his life out of his house and onto his lawn.

"Nice chair," I said, gesturing to the old seat.

He stopped and mopped his brow with a checkered handkerchief. "Yup."

"How much?"  asked him.

He paused and gave it a long look. "I dunno. A hundred bucks, I guess."

"It's an antique," he explained as I got back into my car and drove away. One hundred dollars was about 99 dollars too much for me in those days.

I drove by the house on my way back to work. They were hauling what was left of their items into their garage. It looked like they'd sold about half of it, but the old chair was still there.

On Saturday morning I drove by and the chair was back in its spot on the parkway drive. This time there was a crudely lettered sign propped up on the seat: "Antique chair. $75." So the price had come down a bit. I would wait and see; savvy shopper, me.

That evening, I drove by again. They had sold more of their stuff, but the old chair was still there, waiting to be hauled into the garage and back out again in the morning.

The next morning the chair was back out and the $75 price had been crossed out on the sign and replaced with $50. It was Sunday, the last day of the rummage sale. I would wait and see. I was patient as a fisherman, waiting to hook that lunker trout in the stream. It was a test of wills, and I was going to win. That chair would be mine. I couldn't wait to sink into its overstuffed comfort, dreaming the old dreams I'd had as a child.

The day seemed to drag as a dilly-dallied with this and that, marking time, waiting to sink the hook and reel in my prize.

I drove by as the sun was just beginning to set. The lawn was clear of just about everything. Except the chair. There it sat forlornly, like a stray dog in the pound, passed over by all the families looking to adopt a family pet. I pulled up to the curb and parked the car.

The same ruddy-faced man was in the process of picking up the chair. I knew he didn't relish carrying it back into the house again, only to haul it back out and leave for the garbage man in the next few weeks.

"Nice chair," I said.

He didn't recognize me. "It's an antique," he said.

"I bet. How much?"

He gave me a quizzical look while closing one eye. "I dunno. 25 bucks?"

I pulled out the few bills I had in my pocket. "I have $12."

"Take it," he said. I handed him the twelve and he assisted me in fitting it as best we could into my trunk. It hung out, of course, but not enough to drop out when I took it home. I had done it. I had hooked the lunker and reeled him in. I sighed with tremendous self-satisfaction, feeling pretty damned good about myself.

He stared at it, hands on his hips. "My father-in-law loved that chair," he said.

I was climbing into the car, ready to take my hard-won booty home. "Really?" I said. "That's nice."

"Yup," he said. "He died in that damned chair."

I paused, key in the ignition, and stared, open-mouthed, back at him.

"Enjoy it," he said, and walked back up his drive and into his house.

Dammit, I thought; who had hooked whom?

I turned the key and drove the dead man's chair home, my lunker trout now hanging out of my trunk like an unwanted, bulbous carp.

c'est la vie.

Lenny Palmer 8/24/2011


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