issue no. 1:
Very Big Furniture / Anca Szilágy
In 1968 we inherited very big furniture. American Chippendale‹hefty things that barely fit through the door. We had to grease the thresholds with a bit of oil when they arrived. The doorway to our apartment was nicked a couple of times, and the furniture was damaged a bit, but Mother sat down with wood polish and made them like new. They sit dark and low in our sitting room: one sofa, two armchairs, and an armoire. Upholstered with deep red leather.
Mother was very proud of the furniture. Cousin Michael's success brought to our very own home. She made me get all dressed up in ruffled holiday clothes, and sit on the sofa. It felt enormous, with my feet sticking out just past the edge. She and Father sat in the armchairs looking at me, then at each other, swinging their dangling legs. Father took out his violin and played the national anthem. Then he began a folk song before Mother shot him a look, told him to pass the violin around. I played what I knew at the time, and then Mother played. Later she had her friend with the camera come by and take our portrait, the three of us with dangling legs off the couch, me on the edge in the middle.
She and Cousin Michael hadn't seen each other in years, and now that he was old and dying, he wanted to make sure the family received the fruits of his labor. He packed his furniture into large wooden crates, and sent them half way around the world. The news of his death arrived before the furniture.
"He had lived long enough," said Mother, folding the letter back into the airmail envelope. Cousin Michael was ninety-three.
Soon after, Mother got sick. Doctor said it was the air in the apartment, damp and ridden with mold. He suggested we take a holiday on the Black Sea, and consider moving. Mother was all for the holiday. We locked up the apartment and got onto Father's motorcycle: they on the bike, I in the sidecar. A glorious long weekend on the beach. Mother stretched and took deep salty breaths and said, "I feel better already," shaking her dark hair down.
Our last day there, a carnival arrived. On the boardwalk, Mother danced with a bald, powder-white clown in pink polka dots. The clown chased her with a cream pie down the beach, enormous shoes flopping in the sand, until she turned the chase on him and pushed him into the ocean. The clown sat in the water, seaweed atop his head, makeup running. Father's face softened and he chuckled. We all danced to the motorcycle, laughing. On the way home, I watched Mother sleep against Father's back. Halfway back to Bucharest, the motorcycle died. We pushed it uphill and rode it downhill until a man with an old Carpati gave us a lift.
At home, no one discussed moving. The sea air still tingled in our noses, the taste of fried dough battered in sugar on our tongues. Mother cut her hair short and let it gray. "With dignity," she said. She and Father were older than my friends' parents. More accomplished, they had said, without blinking an eye. Father had been the conductor of the Timisoara Philharmonic a long time ago. He was also a lawyer and spoke several languages. His hair was already white. Mother was about to attend art school around the time that father could not lead the orchestra anymore. After I was born she began teaching and only drew occasionally.
It was not long before Mother got sick again. Doctor reiterated his point about the apartment, making gestures in the air indicating the bad atmosphere, and Father listened, chin in hand. Mother took his hand and said it might be difficult with Cousin Michael's furniture. Father nodded.
"We'll find a way," he said.
Every time Mother got sick, we made an effort to go to the sea. My parents discussed moving.
"Our furniture is too big," said Mother one October evening. "There's just no way we can move."
"What if we left it here?" asked Father.
Mother eyed him with suspicion.
"There's just no way," she repeated.
Father began to grow irritated with Mother's stubbornness. The discussions picked up and stopped abruptly with long intervals in between, continuing where they left off months later.
"Of course there's a way," muttered Father, shaking salt onto a boiled potato. Mother looked out the window, at the large spring snowflakes.
"Don't be so sure," she said, arm draped over eyes, lying on the beach.
Mother's bouts of illness grew longer.
"We can't always run to the sea," he said one day, as we entered the sitting room from another weekend away.
"So it's about money," she said, cheek to his back, on the road to the resort.
"No," replied Father, reading a newspaper in Doctor's office. "That's not it at all."
"Then what," asked Mother.
"You are too attached to...to stuff!" he said, sweeping his arm around the sitting room, punctuated with one emphatic shake. "Things," he added. He rubbed his fingers together in a petty gesture.
"Stuff?" she said, voice thin. "Things? This," she said, patting the leather of a chair, moving along the sofa and touching it, "this is my family. What else should I do?"
"I am your family now," said Father. Mother, standing in the middle of the sitting room, closed her eyes.
Once, when Mother returned from a month long stay in the hospital, the first thing she did was recline on the sofa. Her body was smaller now, and paler. It looked as if the crease of the couch were sucking her in.
"Perhaps, dear," said Father, "after all this, we should move away. Give the furniture to a close friend for the time being, maybe." Father shrugged, flung up his hands. "Maybe move to Israel, someplace warm." There was an unprecedented lilt in his voice. Begging was not in his repertoire. Mother caressed the leather of the sofa, the crook of her arm resting over her eyes.
"No," she said, "I can't do that."
Father's slightly wrinkled cheeks rouged. He walked out into the hall, broke open the case to the building's emergency axe and wielded it forward into the living room.
"That's it!" he said. "I've had quite enough of this furniture." He shook the axe in Mother's general direction. The white crook of Mother's arm still shielded her eyes; she lifted her elbow slightly, and peeked through the triangle at her elderly husband.
"Now stop that," she muttered.
"I won't stop it," he gestured, the steel glinting in a rare shaft of sunlight. "I won't." He raised the axe and sunk it into the arm of a chair. Mother sat up slowly, her face tinting a faint green. She watched as he tried to lift out the axe and hack at the chair again. He did, with some difficulty, his waning muscles quivering as the chair's filling slowly spilled out, a sickly yellow foam, porous and decrepit through the jagged red leather.
"Sasha, stop," she said. He lifted up the axe, heaved it one last time into the seat of the chair, wedged in such a way that he could not lift it out. He wheezed. The axe stayed.
After he cooled off, Father turned the chair around, facing the corner. Jaundiced foam still exposed from the side, almost leering from around the back. Mother's eyes were red. Father took out his violin and played her favorite songs until she fell asleep. He lifted her body out of the couch and brought her into the bedroom.
In the dark silence she winced, and groaned, at a barely perceptible level. Father shifted the sheets, dabbed her forehead with a wet cloth. He laid his head on her chest, and listened to the slowing beat. Stayed up with Mother until the sky grayed. Doctor would not be in that day, or the next. Outside, the crows sang.