Four New Chairs and a Persian Rug

Before landing a fresh job and quitting the service industry altogether, Mary’s life revolved around shelf talkers, the diligent tallying of registers, and stock replenishment. Clocking-in-and-clocking-out.

She was an expert on conflict de-escalation and had mastered the art of locking up shop, every day finding new ways to optimize her work and securing the coveted title of Employee of the Month; reducing time theft, expanding her already comprehensive knowledge of the assortment, even going as far as baking carrot cake and lemon-raspberry muffins for her frazzled coworkers. That sort of thing.

The job was undeniably straightforward and uncomplicated in every respect, far different from the glamor and prestige of working as a Hollywood actress or criminal defence lawyer; however, she had come to realize that by feigning the significance of her tasks and responsibilities, she could get through the day. After all, it felt oddly freeing taking orders and shutting up. Being driven by another’s purpose.

Perhaps it was just easier to look away—disregarding the stack of unread paperbacks with broken spines that kept piling up on the nightstand, never getting around to trying out that recipe she had been waiting to make (chicken roulade with fresh herbs, sun-dried tomatoes, and roasted summer vegetables on the side). When had she last cleaned her bathroom? Or wrapped herself around the shower curtain, pretending it was a long dress? When did her jewellery box, cotton pads, and laundry all become props?

She later wondered if this had been the first warning. How foolish she had been, insisting upon attending after-hours briefings and hanging up red and pink garlands for Valentine’s Day. She had refused to believe that she could be crushed and eaten, that the world has its ways and will guzzle anything that is gentle and sweet. When had she last underlined a passage in a book?

Soon, she began to experience a sense of flatness. Her skin turned chalky and dull, and she found herself beset by bouts of strange and excessive daydreaming—intentionally showing up late for work, forgetting to hand out receipts, or doing nothing all day but flipping through loose sheets of paper. It didn’t matter to her, not at all.

She wasn’t normally like this, so careless and inattentive. Normally, she honoured her commitments, felt somehow responsible for every little thing. She’d move quietly about her apartment in silent slippers, draped in a sizable bathrobe (troubled by all the things she didn’t get to do today). Maybe she’d even open a bottle of dessert wine or watch the news to unwind. A commonplace Border Collie. Someone easily missed.

It had always been that way. Now, something had started to churn in her. It was suddenly the easiest thing in the world to wait for everything to stop existing.

She started to spend most of her time joking around. A drawn-out smoke break here and there, contemplating the course of her short story, or envisioning her latest ex-girlfriend walking through the door, demanding that she bag her items. She thought it odd how she imagined her past lovers’ faces—glittering and demonic apparitions with flushed cheeks and lace sleeves, their mouths strangely wide and their hair wet with a tar-like consistency.

Sometimes it was hard to remember what any of them even looked like anymore.

It’s not that she had entirely forgotten, though. At least, she hadn’t forgotten her last relationship, a columnist from Coney Island, who dressed exclusively in Afghan coats with endless square pockets and long suede skirts. She hadn’t forgotten that her hair was blonde and jagged, or that she looked like a jazz singer with plumb cheeks and over-the-knee boots. She still remembered how cool and composed she somehow always was. How she could name any famous duo and then immediately tell which of them was which: Paranormal investigator and her favourite ghost, tireless documentarian and her trusty camera, Indiana Jones and his new girl (cue laugh track).

There’s a lot of heartbreak in remembering, she thought. This was a strange confession to her, uncomfortable even. That something too big or too burdensome had finally made rooms in her, nesting its eggs: What is this sudden sense of unease? Will I ever get out of here? Will the air come to taste like spoiled fruit?

These interrogations led her to realize that she couldn’t stand the sight of her own home (that big, silly box crammed with things!)—stained champagne glasses left in the sink, bottles of olive oil, sheets and tealights, even the television made her sick. It was all evidence, small pieces of proof that something rotten lived within the walls.

She thought about the young man she had seen handing out flyers for a socialist party. He was stationed at the metro downtown and always preaching about one thing or another. Gruff and handsome, with slender arms and narrow hips. He would stand there most afternoons, dedicated, purposeful and completely devoid of doubt. This felt significant to her. She then remembered the girl, always in corduroy pants, legwarmers, and a checkered men’s coat. A regular at the bakery, she would sit cross-legged with a spiral sketchbook in her lap, eating Turkish delight from the saucer and chewing her pen. Possibly a designer of sorts, maybe even an illustrator for whimsical children’s books, but undoubtedly creative and alive.

These people lived, she was sure of it. They booked hairdresser appointments and had pictures to stick on their fridges. They wrote wish lists and jotted down important birthdays in their big, square calendars. They marked special occasions with tacky greeting cards and luxury toffee, and maybe they’d even host dinner parties with nice cloth napkins, dirty martinis, and flower bouquets. These people had places to go.

Mary quit her job in February. The next day, she bought four new chairs and a Persian rug for her living room. Her hair felt like weighty curtains against her lower back. She kept trying to pin it up with large hair clips, but they just kept breaking somehow.


Tilde Gyldholm Aunfelt is a student and sales assistant based in Copenhagen.