Thirdly Speaking

Kate sits in the big red chair, the only thing in the house that she rightfully owns. Everything else belongs to Chris or Chris's family. The television with television stand, matching antique maple bureaus in the bedroom, forest green drapes made from a heavy, velvetlike material, all sit on his credit card, except for Kate's chair. When she bought it that day, she watched him furrow his brow and cross this arms over his chest, puffed out with his back straight, chin up.

He said, "It's expensive for something so shapeless."

"That's its style," she said. "You see chairs like this everywhere, but this one's good because it's the perfect size." And Kate turned back to the chair then, looking down on it kindly, longingly, as if to say I will defend you to the death.

"Like a marshmallow," Chris said, rocking slowly and slightly on his feet, growing impatient and wary of her decision. "The back cushion, it's like a mutant marshmallow or something, with Gremlin ears, you know, when they're flat, straight out." With his hands, fingers nestled tight together, he gave himself the ears for demonstration, a six-foot Gremlin in a red baseball cap.

Kate said, "But we need something for the living room," which was currently occupied only by the television and boxes of dishes, some table linens ready to cover a table that was still on order. Kate and Chris moved into their new house three years ago, as soon as the last inspector had inspected, and after Kate had convinced Chris to install the front and back door locks first, the bathroom floor tiles second.

"Why this?" And he used this hand to motion at it dismissively, convinced it was not for them, this red lump. It was not meant for their living room, stark white with high ceilings, the ceiling windows inviting rays from the sun down for 11-hour stays, filling the room with a honied glow and a healthy warmth they could never match through use of central heat. It would not complement the four French doors that led out to the deck that curled itself around the back of the house, the place where they could look out on the far horizon of the ocean, the tiny cottages owned by people wealthier than them that sat on its shore. "Why red, for chrissakes?" Chris asked. A red like Hester's A.

Kate sighed, collapsed in it again like she had right before the salesman aproached them with a careful smile. She sat low and loose, territorially: legs spread, arms draped over the rests, head back on the marshmallow mutant. She looked at Chris, watched him move the cap on his head, repositioning it two, three times before he brought the visor low over his eyes and let it be. He shook his head, cleared his throat. It's what he did when his mouth wanted to fight but the words couldn't come.

Kate said, "It's my money, so just let it go."

Chris put his hands up then, stepping back and looking far across the furniture showroom, saying, "I know, all right."

Kate used her hands to push herself up and sit straight, cross her legs. She watched Chris, trying to put a time on when she had lost her interest. He lost the fat, his puffy cheeks and eyelids only eight months after he had finished chemotherapy. He worked with his hands and his legs, his back, ever since recovery, building houses for his father's construction business on the south shore. Chris was tall and lean, the muscles in his calves and forearms well defined. Kate used to run her fingers against the baby hairs on his arms, tracing the muscles lightly, until he pulled away and accused her of tickling.

Chris was pretty. Even with a face that went two days without a shave. Even with that ugly red baseball hat that Kate had hidden in the cabinets above the refrigerator but he found every time. He had light blue eyes and full lips, long eyelashes. He kept his hair buzzed close enough to show off a perfectly shaped head, his hair thin and light brown, his scalp free of any scars or dents from childhood injuries. Chris was so handsome, he looked feminine.

"He looks like Jared Leto," Heather had said once, Kate's high school friend, when they waited for the bell to sound and signal the beginning of the school day. Heather looked over Kate's shoulder, fully absorbed, at Chris who stood with his friends. She said, "If you don't do it, I will."

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