Sitting in the chair means the mouth of it swallows your ass. You don’t take to the chair, it takes to your body and keeps parts after you’ve risen from it. It hulks in the corner of the living room, oversized and broken down, leather gouged from years of service. It is stuffed with nostalgia. It holds nostalgia like stagnant water.
It’s called the “man’s chair.” It’s meant for the head of the household and it molds to that flesh accordingly. The seat is a father’s prerogative. It’s the chair that watches football and racist cartoons and TGIF, Thank God It’s Friday and safe for the little ears. It holds sway over all household decisions. It upholds what is “morally right.” It told us about God and Country and Queers and The Problem With Americans Today and jokes about immigrants and slavery and Don’t You Know Your Father/Brother/Grandfather Was In The Service And Fought For Your Right To Bitch About What’s Happening?
The chair told us unity meant starting and ending every sentence “for the good of the household.” The unspoken part of the sentence said “to the detriment of others.”
During holidays the chair sat beside the Christmas tree. It absorbed fevers, took piss and took shit and collected dog dander. Throws meant to cover its nakedness slid off its overstuffed back. It belonged to our grandfathers and then to our fathers. Now we look at the chair and don’t see it, though the chair has been party to many important events. It remembers everything we can’t stand to think about. The chair withstood the century and sits sentient, absorbing whatever is put in front of it. It took in the blue glow of televised civil rights demonstrations. It reflected the glow off our faces and changed the channel to HGTV.
Come to me, it says. I will support you when you’re ready to forget again.
Its cushions hold blood from children’s ripped fingernails. It remembers spankings, the slap of flesh on flesh. Muffled cries from hurt and spit up from babies with colic. Laughter from Horsey Rides. It contains salt from tears and stains itself white and back to red again. No one cleans the chair. It only absorbs, absorbs. It gives back what it receives threefold. It makes a nest for itself in what we love about the past, forgetting everything the past holds in the bottom of its unwashed cup. Mold and mildew, rotten food.
No one wants to get rid of it. No one wants to be the one in the family who speaks the necessary words. What does it mean to call the family chair by its real name? To understand what cocooning yourself in comfort means for your heart? The chair is the heart of the household. It is the Heart of the Household. It is the HEART OF THE HO– USEHOLD. It sits below a plaque that reads God Bless This House, as though the house would keep all blessings for itself and forget that there were others that need blessings, too.
The chair proclaims:
As for me and my house, we will serve and uphold the rhetoric of the chair. As for Me and My House, we will continue to nest beneath throw pillows and lodge our bodies in the mouth of cushions that block out discomfort. As for Me and My God Bless This House, we refuse to recognize that the call is coming from inside the house, that the dial tone has faded to white noise. It has propagated White Noise above any other sound and will continue with glory and honor, forever, amen.
To the chair, lodged infected in our bloodstream, we have placed fear and reverence and yes, we have put love there, too. Slash the seat and let the dust fly up. Recognize that in loving the chair, we have reveled in nostalgia. Pull the teeth from our asses and know that most of the teeth are our own. Offer up the chair to the fire and do not put it out at the curb for another family to absorb into their household.
As for me and my house, we will gut the chair.
Kristen Arnett is a queer fiction and essay writer. She was awarded Ninth Letter’s 2015 Literary Award in Fiction, was runner-up for the 2016 Robert Watson Literary Prize at The Greensboro Review, and was a finalist for Indiana Review’s 2016 Fiction Prize. Her work has either appeared or is upcoming at North American Review, The Normal School, OSU’s The Journal, Catapult, Bennington Review, Portland Review, Grist Journal, Tin House Flash Fridays/The Guardian, Salon, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. You can find her on twitter here: @Kristen_Arnett