A Gnashinghttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/lb46.jpg?fit=1080%2C1350&ssl=110801350Travis DahlkeTravis Dahlkehttps://i0.wp.com/barrenmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/travisdahlke.png?fit=96%2C96&ssl=1
I was a better fortune teller before I saw the armchair. In my patients I could read how a tongue shaped words used to embellish how often one flossed or saw their grandchildren. How weekends were actually spent indoors despite imaginary barbecues. I comforted myself in the draft that wafted up from the shafts of their throats. Decay. Old batteries. Folgers. Adele hung in a fog from the overhead speaker. It was a curated Pandora station just for offices. Together, Adele and I worked in divinations.
On cardboard someone had written FREE as the recliner’s price. It was missing an arm cover. It had been left out where the backroads I took to work patterned off to your neighborhood. I comforted myself by assuming this chair was liberated from a place ruled by glass trout that swam in milk. Where children opened too many Christmas presents. Somewhere very glad. FREE was written on the cardboard and the cardboard was from the box that a Fisher Price kitchen set came in. I wished this armchair to be from a loving home. The way in which the E was crammed to the cardboard’s edge implied otherwise. Its next owner would keep it with more ellipticals, more wrapping paper and more framed photos of deceased aunts that made your fingers smell like salt & vinegar chips.
A week passed without anyone claiming it. Morning frosts and bright sun had not been kind. I thought about the drool of beige leather with my hands in the faces of patients, reading whole entire lives in damp maps. I could tell how long Ted Farfurin cheated on his diet by the saccharine and Diet Pepsi burned white to his pallet. Linda St. David, since her appointment just before Thanksgiving, had contracted something from drinking at her secretary’s orgasms. Nicole Balinger was addicted to the fumes from the rubber cement that her kids used to build fighter jets. It said so right on her pallet.
After a weekend snowstorm I drove in late, braving sun glare on slush and I saw the armchair’s once handsome bronze was frosted over in what would inevitably go wet and rot its insides. We didn’t make eye contact, the armchair and I. Other garbage was accruing at its feet. The lumbar was beginning to slump over, which gave the appearance of someone glowering at their own distended gut.
My last appointment before going home was Saul Verichese, a widower who was lonelier than he let on. At every appointment Saul would tell me, if only I was twenty-five years younger. The last time he was in he had bit down softly on my finger, moved his lips around and said whoops and I said whoops. I pulled out slow because that’s what we’re told to do. Don’t recoil. Just press against your own leg to feel what tapered things have been hidden in the left pocket.
Saul arrived early. He was confused as to why I had no New Year’s plans and no boyfriend to celebrate with. We discussed a show about EMTs with psychic powers as I smeared medicine on his cavity. He moaned twice for yes when I asked him if he’d been flossing and then I saw marking his tongue the blue spot of death. The blue spot of death was named in PreMed by hisses, cited by skulls in the thick of text books. The blue spot of death is more of a ring than a spot. The blue spot of death indicates a cancer in people who have had too much sun inside their mouth. The can’t-go-back kind. Saul had no idea that in a month or two, the world would move on without him. When I turned around I could feel his voice on my ass and so I took my time, hoisting up my scrubs. Really letting him dig in.
I’ll be right back, I said. Just one moment. In the storage room I treated myself to as many incisors as my pocket could hold. Over the weekend, I would later sharpen them on the rocks in my garden.
Valerie at the desk will schedule your next appointment, I said. Come back in the spring, how’s that?
On the way home I saw a dream about two people sizing up the chair with their pickup truck backed up to the curb. We whispered our goodbyes. It was then that Adele and I realized what had to be done. Saul would be dead inside a month. All I could offer was a specific kind of hospice. A little comfort.
But in the morning the chair remained, just more askew and sleet battered. Its sign was crumpled on the sidewalk. One of the chair’s legs had been broken so that it sat with a limp.
Saul was waiting for me when I got in, coughing through short tempered exchanges with Valerie. His filling hadn’t set properly. I had been sloppy. I put us in the barely used office at the end of the hall where we kept the outdated machinery and mouse traps.
Do anything fun over the weekend?
No, not really. I didn’t mention what was in my pocket.
Do you always look so stunning on a Monday, my goodness, he said. You know I have high blood pressure.
I placed sunglasses over his eyes to shield him from my lamp. Its bulb needed replacing. I told Saul he looked beautiful and he said he had been losing weight. Most of the staff was out to lunch. Adele warned me as I shaped numbing gel into a blue clod. Even though it had been less than a month, Saul was noticeably thinner, pants fitting loose like a diet pill model. He went on about his new grandkid and a son who could be making more at a job managing a bank. Saul’s breath was non-dairy creamer and bird seed. I reclined him, coating myself in topical anesthetic before hovering over his crotch and shoving my hand down the front gap in his pants, collecting a rubbery mass of balls and member together in one motion.
What in god’s name. What are you doing. He jerked his body so violently it sent the tool tray crashing to the floor. I put my lips to his neck hair.
Isn’t that good, and pressed my thigh to him until I could tell a chorus of other people’s teeth were breaking through my scrubs to meet the skin.
You’re fucking crazy. He stormed out, spitting. He left his Carhartt hanging in the waiting room. Ted Farfurin did not look up from his Southern Bride Quarterly.
On my way home I stopped next to the armchair. It had turned black. It fit just fine with the backseat folded over.
Springtime brought poison ivy up in a garden to smother winter’s roadside trash. The amount I paid for a full reupholstery was probably four times as much as the armchair was new. I returned it to the intersection, except now it had fresh gray skin pulled taught with bullets. In its center cushion floated my canines, sharp as boxcutters and sealed in by inverted French seams. Its recliner was re-sprung. My sign was drawn in perfect calligraphy: COMPLIMENTARY.
I reinstalled a crown on Linda St. John, putting a pretend bicuspid in place of the real one. Peering downward at Linda, I thought, if only I was one hundred years older. Adele was so frequent that I believed her to be one long chorus I was experiencing.
Did you hear that Saul guy passed away? The hygienist said, slurping a milder form of blood.
Yes, I answered through my mask. Saul’s jacket was becoming increasingly buried in the Lost and Found.
Driving home, I slowed at your intersection to see the armchair was gone.
Travis Dahlke is a writer from Connecticut with work forthcoming or appearing in Joyland Magazine, Outlook Springs, SAND Journal, Structo, and The Longleaf Review, among other literary journals and collections. Find his work at deffbridges.com.