Chang’s chair was Mom’s best find in all her years of junk-hunting. Chang like Chang and Eng, you know ‘em? Those Siamese twins? Like, those original, from Siam Siamese twins? The ones who ended up in North Carolina, ‘cause when their sideshow passed through they figured the place too lovely? (Never understood it myself—I got out when I could. Didn’t want to get stuck as Pop’s whipping-boy farmhand forever.)
Anyway, Chang and Eng could never sit too far from each other, if you follow, so they had these stupid little chairs built—two, one each ‘cause they kept separate houses—wide enough for both of ‘em, and squat, real squat, since they were pint-sized guys. They were rich guys too, so they made their chairs real good, lasted forever, and that’s how Mom got Chang’s: family heirloom to garage sale to eBay to fleamarket, still intact, and then one day the thing’s just sitting next to my parents’ hearth like it’s been there forever.
Mom didn’t know what it was, course, just thought it was kee-yute, but one year, right, I’m home for Christmas and we’re watching Antiques Roadshow (Mom’s favorite) and we see Eng’s chair—the matching one, a bully well-kept thing, much nicer than ours—and the fruitcake they had appraising it said twelve grand. Twelve grand! I near enough fell off my regular chair.
So pretty much straightaway we start bickering, Mom and me, the Roadshow still humming away in the background, me saying we gotta sell it, no questions, my car’s broke and my girlfriend’s bugging me for new earrings or something and Lou ain’t paid me in weeks (Lou as in Lou’s Diner, Greensboro, SC)—and Mom saying nuh-uh, no way, we got to let it a-preets-see-ate, and if my girlfriend’s so important how come she don’t come home with me for Christmas, anyway? (Pop stayed out of it, just stood up all quiet like and said he was going for a walk.)
Well, after that it was like the goldarn Bunker house every time I went home. Easter: sell the chair! The Fourth: not on your life! Thanksgiving: jeez, Mom, they’re gonna disconnect my phone! Christmas again: you never call anyway! Went on like that for years, and the whole time Pop still wouldn’t get involved. Wouldn’t even sit with us when we started on it—just kept on going for those walks, or smoking his pipe by the sheep pen ‘til he figured we’d calmed down. Then he died, and we argued even more. The priest had to shush us at the funeral.
And before you know it, it’s another Christmas, and Mom and I are in the dining room with Lola—that’s my girlfriend (different girlfriend, but Mom didn’t know that)—and it’s windy as all hell outside, sheep would’ve been making a racket if we hadn’t got rid of ‘em after Pop died, and we’re having it out about Chang’s chair as usual—when Lola’s asking if it’s awful hot in here and did someone leave the oven on, and we all look at each other for a second and then, hup!, holy cow, we’re in the living room and we’re calling 911, lungs burning and eyes watering, ‘cause with all that wind down the chimney a spark’s flown out the fireplace, and the rug’s up in flames and everything else with it.
So here’s the kicker: a few hours later we’re sitting outside, wrapped up in blankets, with the fire chief poking through the embers and Lola hanging off him like a horny barnacle, and I look over and see Mom crying. So I try and do the sonly thing, still wondering if the chair made it through okay and cursing my damn credit card bill, and I tell her, hey, it won’t be so bad, we got relatives and she got insurance and she’ll be back on her feet in no time. And then she looks at me and says, naw, she’s just sad ‘cause she figures without the chair she won’t hear from me so much anymore. And then I’ve got tears in my eyes too, saying it’s from the smoke and knowing it ain’t, and wondering about Chang’s chair all over again.
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