Jessica was reading the names and numbers displayed on the metal panel six inches in front of her face. She chanted them like a mantra to keep herself calm.
She let out a sigh then clenched her fists and blurted, “It could be any of these assholes!”
A pigeon took flight from the sidewalk, frightened by her outburst.
“Let’s just try to be understanding. Maybe they got distracted or something. Moving can be stressful. They probably have a lot going on.”
“Well, if they’re not answering their phone, how long do we wait?”
“We’ve only been waiting ten minutes. Let’s give them five more.”
Jessica and her roommate Mary were standing at the entrance of an apartment building constructed of drab brown brick. It was early evening on a September Sunday and the sun was beginning to set, the most melancholy time of the week for the two young professionals. Normally at this hour on a Sunday they would be in the comfort of their apartment, drinking wine and eating takeout food, bracing themselves for the onslaught of another work week.
But this Sunday’s agenda was irrevocably changed by four words. “Big Chair Must Go.” While Mary was scrolling Craigslist that morning and drinking her coffee, those four words grabbed her by the eyeballs. The pictures of Big Chair proved it was exactly what they needed to complete their living room.
They weren’t sure who exactly would sit in Big Chair or when. Their apartment rarely saw guests and each of them were already loyal to specific sections of the light blue sofa that cradled their brunch-bloated bodies every Sunday as they drank wine and ate takeout. But they would be more likely to invite friends over if those friends had a place to sit, such as Big Chair. They assured one another this was the barrier preventing their two-bedroom apartment from becoming a social hotspot and gathering place. Big Chair Must Have.
The five minutes had passed. Mary brought the phone down, away from her disappointed face. “Voicemail again” she said, with acid in her tone. Her fuse was longer than her roommate’s but it was burning fast.
Meanwhile, an exasperated Jessica looked up at the building’s windows and pleaded with the residents. “Just give us the chair, man.”
Big Chair was light gray. It had little wooden feet. It had a place where the upholstery was coming apart along one of the seams on its back side, creating a hole you could fit an average-sized thumb through. An unusually large thumb may not fit. This blemish wasn’t mentioned in the craigslist post. Oh, and it had a man sitting in it.
The man was tall and lanky such that the core of his body rested on Big Chair but his limbs stretched out like vines, beyond its bounds. His torso swelled and emptied with each breath while he snored and his appendages dangled. You could barely see him in the fading light of a late September Sunday. Just then, his dangling left arm was illuminated from below by the blue-white light of an incoming call. His phone sat on a thin layer of plastic that covered the carpet beneath. It didn’t ring, but vibrated, creating a gentle crackling noise against the plastic that was immediately dampened by the carpet fibers. He kept snoring and the room went dark again.
“Fuck them and fuck their chair”
Mary angrily swiped her Metro card.
“Too fast” the screen on the turnstile informed her.
“Ugh” she shrieked, swiping again with more restraint.
Upon realizing they’d be going home empty handed, the roommates traded dispositions. Jessica had become calm and optimistic while Mary melted down.
“There will be other chairs, Mar.” Jessica assured her.
“I know but just… who the fuck does this to someone? They confirmed an hour beforehand and then they just go silent? Is this some kind of twisted game for them?”
“I don’t know. Let’s just get some wine and-”
“I’m gonna text them,” Mary interrupted her, “I need closure. They have to know this is fucked up.”
An incensed Mary started composing a message to the lanky, sleepy, would-be chair merchant. She poured her fury into the phone’s touchscreen keyboard.
“We’ve gone home. I hope you’re okay and there hasn’t been an emergency that prevented you from contacting me. Although, that would mean you’ve wasted an hour and a half of my Sunday with no excuse. So you’re either dealing with something urgent or an asshole. Either way, it’s not good to be you.”
The message laid dormant in the man’s inbox for 47 minutes until suddenly, for no reason at all, his eyes snapped open and his long legs came to life, shooting him upright in his apartment. His weight was back on his feet, pressing his shoe soles into the plastic. The room was pitch black and time was a mystery. He grabbed his phone to see several missed calls and unread texts. It was 7:53. His appointment had been for 6:30.
“Oh no. Oh shit.” he muttered, realizing what had happened.
He ran his spindly fingers through his dark hair and a worried expression came over his face.
He fumbled for the light switch, accidentally kicking a roll of duct tape across the floor in the process, then collapsed back onto Big Chair and held his head in his hands, thinking of what to do next. His thoughts were as disorganized as the room’s decor. Several pieces of art had been taken down and leaned against one wall. The furniture was all pushed into a corner. The floor was littered with boxes, rope, zip ties, trash bags and cleaning supplies.
The plan was botched and he knew he should let it go. But he was struggling. He wondered what she looked like. All he knew was her name but Big Chair usually attracted a certain type. He wondered if this… Mary... might have fit that mold. And what about her friend? Two people is more work but it’s usually worth it. He could’ve lived off this encounter for months. His mind raced and his toes tapped the plastic, stamping it with the same pattern over and over and over. His desperation got the better of him. He picked up his phone and poured his regret into the touch screen keyboard.
“I’m so, so sorry. I fell asleep and I left my phone on silent. I feel terrible. The chair is yours for half price if you can come back tonight. Please let me make it up to you.”
He waited for a response, feeling more deflated with each passing moment. He kept texting.
“I’m truly so, so sorry. What if I give it to you for free? Can you come tonight?”
He begged as if he were begging for his life. He looked through his photo library and found other images that he’d used for different postings.
“I just want to make this right. Do you need a dresser? I can give you the chair AND this dresser for FREE.”
No reply. His disappointment turned to anger now. “Fuck!” he shouted and started peeling plastic up from the floor, ripping it down from the walls. He kicked the roll of duct tape across the room on purpose this time, then stomped over to the corner where all the furniture was gathered. He yanked open a dresser drawer, pulled out his favorite meat cleaver and spoke to it. “Not tonight, pal!” He raised it overhead and brought it down hard, wedging the blade three inches deep into the backrest of Big Chair. He trudged to the opposite corner of the room, dripping sweat onto the bare carpet with each step. His long arms reached up and turned off the hidden camera. Then he collapsed where he stood, his lanky limbs all tangled up in themselves, and sobbed.
“Well look who we have here!” said Mary, waving her phone back and forth for Jessica to see.
Jessica paused The Bachelorette and took another sip of her wine.
“What’s he got to say for himself?” she asked.
“He says he fell asleep.”
Jessica rolled her eyes. “Ok dude. Whatever.”
Mary’s phone received another text.
“Haha. Wow, now he’s offering it for half price. If he thinks that’s gonna get us up off this couch and back outside, he is so wrong. Wait… wait.... he’s still typing… now it’s free!”
“Wooow” said Jessica, slipping a bite of kung pao chicken from a takeout container into her mouth, “Let’s hold out. Maybe he’ll pay us to take the chair.”
Mary was laughing at Jessica’s joke when her phone received yet another message. Her laugh grew into a cackle now.
“I’m dying, Jess! He’s offering us this fugly dresser now too! Oh my God.”
She tossed her phone across the couch and it landed in the soft folds of the fleece blanket covering Jessica’s lap. Jessica picked it up, took one look at the dresser and joined Mary in a fit delirious, wine drunk laughter.
“Tell Rip Van Winkle to lose your number!” she howled, gasping for air.
The pair finally regained their composure after this catharsis, wiping tears from their eyes. Jessica pressed play and the blonde woman on their television screen resumed her monologue,
“I’m just afraid he’s not here for the right reasons” the blonde woman worried.
Deep down Mary and Jessica knew all about the dreadful fate waiting for them the following morning but they tried their best to remain blissfully unaware.