canadian ~ twenty-first century literature since 1999


Celebrity Furniture

by Shane Jones

Last night, Mom tried to claw Dadís throat out over the Susan Sarandon sofa. She went after him for hours, squawking and clawing. It ended when Dad pinned her arms to her sides and wrapped her in a few dozen yards of Julia Roberts. Poor Mom, falling over like that on the living room floor, only her feet and head visible. But that doesnít matter now because Iím making thunderous leaps up the staircase, smiling like a goofball towards Tama.

At the front door, Tama tells me to stop smiling like a goofball. Then she says Iím the sweetest and touches my face. In the living room Momís squawking again while Dad tries to explain to her the rationale behind a Brad Pitt recliner. I grab Tama by the fingers and quickly guide her to my bedroom in the basement.

"You really need to get out of here," she says sitting down on my bed. "For fucks sake, look at this place." She looks around the room like itís a dungeon, which, sadly, it resembles. Itís the lack of lighting, the concrete walls, the old furniture that has taken on the look of medieval machinery. "What a situation," she says. "Youíre better than this."

Iím trying to place some of my weight into my legs when I sit down next to her. If I donít, Iíll sink into the mattress like itís pizza dough. "I know," I say, my thighs burning.

"Of course you are," she says resting a hand on my knee. "Trust me, I know you are. Remember Corporate Park? Before you got fired and we had all those days upstate?"

I tell her what I remember is getting fired last month for "unrelated work interference." She says I need to have a sense of humour about it. A sense of humour will help me move on. And how could I forget the picnic in Saratoga? I tell her sure, yeah, I remember the picnic in Saratoga, but isnít it kind of depressing that I got fired for hanging out with a twenty-year-old and had to move back home?

"Youíre only ten years older," she says, peeling the bed sheets down.

Upstairs, Mom and Dad are arguing again, but here in the basement everything is smooth and sweet when we get under the covers. Her skin smells like cigarettes and coconut.

Soon, the headboard creaks with the rhythm of my humps. Twenty humps in and Iím sweating. My confidence bottoms out when her nails trace the fat rolls on my neck.

"Is everything okay?" she asks, pushing my gut off of her when I stop. "Are you stopping?"

"Just for now," I huff. "Iím going to go get something to drink, okay? Iíll be back in a minute. You want something?"

In the kitchen, I grab some beer. I eat half a bologna sandwich. I look at myself in the mirror and notice a grossly significant weight gain in the past month. I think how Iíve probably crushed Tama. Iíve humped her ribs to dust.

On my way past my parentís bedroom, I hear Mom squawking and Dad defending the Susan Sarandon sofa. Itís bearable when Iím alone, but with Tama here I want to run downstairs, rest my head on her tiny thighs and just cry.

Back in the basement, I get under the covers with Tama and she teaches me some drinking game Iíve never heard of, not because Iím that clueless, but the amount of alcohol we consume during "Suicidal Driver" must be illegal.

On our last beers she tells me sheís working at a bar now. She asks why my breath smells like bologna and I shrug my shoulders. She says at the bar she does managerial stuff and I say Iím proud of her. Moments later things get hazy, my head hits the bed, and soon I see Kevin, her on-again-off-again boyfriend, bending her over a stool. Heís slapping her ass and giving me a big thumbs up. As a matter of fact, his thumb is ten times bigger than an average thumb. Sheís reaching back, pulling his skinny thigh into her. I want to scream stop, no, but before I can Iím awake and trembling and next to Tama who is asleep with the blankets wrapped around her.

My parents have advised me stay away from Tama, stating that the situation can only get worse. "What the hell is she anyway," my father said, "a hooker or something?" I believe sheís only trying to help. Was it her fault Rich fired me at Corporate Park? Was it her fault that I couldnít balance my priorities? Is it that bad she gave me my first sexual experience in over three years?

But when I wake the next morning sheís gone, and it hurts so bad my throat swells. This happens every time Tama leaves. Back during the days at Corporate Park, sheíd come and go ó long, endless days when she wouldnít return my phone calls. Rich would give me pep talks about how it would all work out and slap me on the back. He never said a word about my declining job performance, but Iím sure he was tracking every missed day, every lousy report.

I walk upstairs to the garage where Dadís working on the Susan Sarandon sofa. Heís wearing the Celebrity Upholstery sweatshirt again. Celebrity Upholstery in sparkly gold letters stretched across his man breasts, which Iíve unfortunately inherited. On the back, written in the same sparkly gold, but at a slant, "Give Your Furniture An Extreme Makeover Today."

When he notices me standing in the doorway, he tells me Maryís going with the Susan Sarandon and holds up a sheet of turquoise fabric.

"I know," I say, perhaps a bit too sarcastically, not looking up from my chest.

"I see youíre really packing on the pounds there," he says, drum slapping his stomach.

I find a note tapped on the refrigerator from Tama saying sheíll be at Kevinís for the week. Everything inside me contracts like flowers in reverse bloom, and in one final effort I try to hold back.

I run downstairs to my bedroom and nose-dive into the pillows. Iím better than this I remind myself. Iím in a rut, thatís all. I sit up and look around my basement bedroom and think how things will change because they have to. Iím due for some good luck. Then itís time for lunch, so I run back upstairs for some hot dogs and potato salad.

*

For the rest of the afternoon I work with Dad in the garage. Iím an employee of Celebrity Upholstery if I want to be or not. It came with moving back home. Mom squawked that I didnít have to do anything I didnít want to, but Dad calculated part-time help equalled rent.

I sew some Susan Sarandon fabric and listen to Dad name some new ones. I think about my ridiculous feelings for Tama, like some idiotic fish returning to the same lure again and again.

Today, a white fabric with yellow stripes becomes Teri Hatcher. Purple velvet is now Angelica Huston. Dark green with a sparkle to it, born into Jessica Simpson. A deep shade of orange with rose print, now thatís a Halle Berry, Dad says.

According to Dad, the fabric names will build his dingy garage-based business into a glimmering empire. People will buy anything attached to a celebrity name. Why not furniture?

In two months, heís received two orders for sofas, both from the same woman. And this is the real cause of my motherís anger ó this woman, an old co-worker of his, Mary. Dad said years ago, while at a work party with my mother, that she has a great ass. And at his retirement last year that Mary has the thinnest legs heís ever seen. I thought it was bad enough when he told me the first time about starting Celebrity Upholstery. "What," he said, a meatball dangling on his fork. "No good?"

I turn around and find Dad staring at me like heís expecting me to say something.

"Pretty good names?" he says.

I shrug. "Pretty good."

He proudly folds a sheet of Teri Hatcher. "At least I have a job," he says.

"Dad, please."

"I know, I know," he says. "But you ask me, you shouldnít have been fired in the first place. That shithead Rich had it out for you from day one."

From my first day at Corporate Park, Rich didnít like me. Iíd find a half-eaten cheeseburger on my desk with a note: Thought you might want to finish this. On another occasion, a diet book, Smash The Fat in my desk drawer. Iíd report these incidents to Rich, who said heíd confront the staff, but never did. I didnít care too much, as long as I had Tama waiting for me during lunch breaks, or even better, after work. The worst was when I found FATHEAD keyed into my driverís side door.

"Okay kid-o," he says. "We gotta get this Sarandon finished and over to Maryís, pronto."

*

"Whoa," says Mary when she sees me. "Where did you find him?"

"My son," says Dad massaging his lower back after we put down the sofa in her living room.

"Is he a wrestler?"

"No," Dad grimaces. "Heís thirty and lives in the basement."

Mary is a tiny woman of about fifty-five with skin the colour of diluted eggnog. Sheís scarecrow thin and layered in make-up. Sheís exactly how I imagined a woman who buys into Celebrity Upholstery would look.

What happens next happens when Iím thinking about Tama and the two months Iíve known her. Iím trying to understand why she bothered with me in the first place.

What happens is, Mary bends over and waves her hand along the top of the Susan Sarandon sofa. When she does this, her hair falls over her eyes, and my father reaches out and tucks it behind her ear.

At the dinner table, on the sofa watching television, or out walking the dog, he was always doing that for Mom when I was a kid. He was a handyman whose single job was to keep those strands of blonde neatly tucked away. The touch of his finger riding her earlobe always made her smile.

Mary smiles too. Then she looks at me and awkwardly asks if I need something to eat. I say no thanks. Dad tells me to wait in the car because thereís paperwork to fill out.

Twenty minutes later, he comes back to the van with a small chair. Dad flips open the catalogue of fabrics. "Looks like this one is going to be . . . a Britney," he says pointing to a shade of hot pink. "See," he says smiling, "I told you this thing was going to blast off."

*

That night, I decide to go meet Tama at Kevinís party. Since being fired and moving back home, last night was the first time Iíve seen her. If only briefly, it opened up a well of desire to see Tama more and more.

"Wow," Tama says at the end of a beer pong table, "I canít believe you actually came."

Sure, I feel odd around a bunch of twenty-year-olds, but life in the basement is unbearable. Momís squawking again and Dadís threatening to leave. "Of course," I tell Tama, "Iím always up for a party." I twist my hips, unashamed.

Tamaís drunk as it is, and it only gets worse as rounds of beer pong spin by and she wonít stop. I tell her to take it easy. I tell her we can go drink some place else if she wants.

Kevinís at the opposite end of the table sinking shots like pennies into lakes. Each time she raises another cup to her lips he smiles and nods towards his teammate.

When Tama drinks another cup, misses the shot, and Kevin sinks his shot, she grabs my arm and throws it to the side, knocking over two full cups.

"Not now," she slurs.

"Penalty shots!" Kevin yells. "Awww yeah." He does a full spin, high-fiving a circle of people behind him.

I drink for her. Tama pulls down on my arm but itís useless. I lift her an inch from the floor.

"Not you fat face," shouts Kevin. Then he turns around to his friends. "That guyís thirty."

For the second cup, she pulls down again on my arm, this time harder, this time telling me to stop it.

"Itís not maple syrup," someone says.

"Is he going to eat the cup?" someone else says.

"Quick," says Kevin, "grab the hot dogs."

After I place the cup on the table, Tama asks why I have to embarrass her.

"Tama," I say. "Iím not trying to."

"You are," she slurs. "I donít know if I want this anymore. The only reason I kept this going is because Iím a good person, you know. Because I pity you."

"Kept what going? Tama, I donít want to embarrass you."

"Then why donít you just leave."

So I leave. When I get to the front door, a hot dog thuds me in the back.

Before going home, I walk through the Taco Fiesta drive-through. The kid at the window gives me a look like Iím completely crazy. "Just let me order," I plead.

I take my bag of Beef Wraps to the top of the hill overlooking the parking lot. I think about my final weeks at Corporate Park. Why would a young girl like Tama walk into my office and invite me out for barbeque? Why would a young girl like Tama stop by several times a day and plead for me to go upstate with her? Then I see it. Rich and his big hairy face rising from the Taco Fiesta sign in swirling neon light.

*

Iím home for a few minutes when Tama calls to tell me that we canít be seeing each other anymore. "Kevinís getting jealous," she says. "Well, not exactly jealous, but you know what I mean. He just thinks itís odd for me to be around a guy your age. Iím really sorry, George. Really, really sorry things turned out this way."

"I know what you mean," I say.

"I knew you would understand. Youíre too sweet not to understand."

"Rich," I say. "Somehow, Rich had you get me fired."

"I donít know what youíre talking about, George."

After she hang ups, my father comes exploding from the bedroom, his gray hair a tilting tornado, his saggy face a deflated red balloon. He asks me why my mother thinks heís having an affair with Mary. He asks me if he could really be that stupid. I tell him no. He couldnít be that stupid. No way, Dad. You would never be doing a thing with a woman like Mary and her Susan Sarandon sofa.

Then Mom comes out from the bedroom squawking. She squawks and squawks until she asks me if my father is having an affair. I was there at Maryís. Did I see anything strange? I donít say a word and the blood flushes from Momís face.

Poor Mom. I remember when she wasnít always squawking, when she was relatively happy and we gorged ourselves on lunch buffets together. Then, sometime last year, the stars were siphoned from her eyes and the hurt boiled up to a giant squawk.

But now, for a moment, the squawks completely stop and her face crumbles. "I never deserved such a horrible life," she says. "Did I really?"

My stomach clenches and I puke into the sink. I puke sausage, eggs, beer, Cool Ranch Doritos, a turkey and cheese sandwich, and half a chocolate cake.

"Jesus," Dad whispers into his can of Pepsi and hands me the phone.

"Kevin says if he sees you around me again heís going to kick your ass. He wanted me to tell you that. Iím a good person, George. I really am. Itís just a fucked up situation, you know? And I canít be seeing you anymore. But you understand, and I knew you would."

I hang up the phone. I hug Mom. I whisper in her ear that no one deserves a horrible life but sometimes it just happens. Some good luck is due to come our way. My father walks past us and when she tries to squawk it sounds like a baby bird chirping on my shoulder.

The following night, I go looking for Tama around Kevinís place.

At first I canít find her. I look everywhere. I wait across the street from Kevinís apartment until I feel like a stalker. When I walk past Cumberland Farms to see if she might be inside thatís when I hear, "Oh, George," and turn around.

"Just tell me it was Rich," I say.

Tama decides we should go for a walk to talk about things. I run into Cumberland Farms and buy a Drakeís Coffee Cake and a diet Coke. "Ready," I say.

Wandering Woods is the name of the housing development we walk through. We can see into the homes like lit jack-o-lanterns. We stop and watch a couple in a livingroom watching television. Theyíre smoking, laughing, and shoving each other. When youíre together itís your own little world. You donít think anyone could be doing and feeling the same thing. You donít think the way you act together, that comfortable little world, could be repeated. But there it is, and before I can say anything, Tama says, "I wonder how many couples are doing that this very second?"

What comes out of my mouth is "Hundreds," which I kind of spit out with a pile of coffee cake.

"How sad," says Tama.

And then her eyes well up and she tells me that yes, yes it was Rich. Rich wanted to have me fired because I was distracting to the staff. Having everyone make fat jokes all day was ruining company standards. He didnít know how to do it when my own job performance was beyond company standards. Tama worked at a sister company, actually worked under Rich for a few months, and worked out a deal to cut her a big raise if Iíd falter; if it gave Rich one opening to have me fired. She was the distraction he needed.

"Iím sorry," she says. "I felt so bad about it that I still wanted to see you after it happened. I like you, George. I really do. I knew it was wrong, but I liked you more and more during those days. Saratoga, George. Saratoga was wonderful. I know, itís sick, itís totally fucked up."

Iím still looking into that one house. A moment ago, I had me and Tama at the dining room table talking about what we should do with our weekend. I had her serving a rack of lamb. I had the kids screaming upstairs. I had strawberries and chocolate cooling in the refrigerator.

But now I see my endless lonely days expand before me, out over the grass, into the brightly lit dining room, around the celebrity furniture, and down the stairs to the basement.

"I have to go," Tama says, putting her arms around half of me.

The last thing she tells me is that I need to get myself together. I need a fresh start. Maybe lose some weight and find a new job. And whatever I do, donít come around or Kevinís going to flip. I nod. Rich and Tama, I think. Rich and Tama, you have destroyed my life.

On my way home, I break into a little jog. I jog right past Taco Fiesta, and fifty yards or so from the house, I sprint.

*

The following night Kevin bruises my throat and shatters my jaw while Tama watches from the doorway.

"But Iím getting myself together," I whimper from Kevinís feet, my teeth filled with dirt and blood.

Tama has her hands on her bony little hips and says, "Boy, is this awful."

"Stay the fuck away from here," Kevin says, annunciating each word with a kick to my ribs.

"I canít," I whisper.

"Oh, you will," Kevin says with a final blow to my stomach.

This incident finally motivates me.

I exercise and go to therapy and starve myself senseless all week long. I enter a world of human refurbishing. I make my bedroom an operation room of doctors, surgeons, psychologists, who pokeĖand-pull, whisper among themselves things like, "Well, this could use some toning, and why not, letís up the IQ too." And then I lift some weights and read more self-help books. I study my body in the mirror each morning. I flex my arms and grin. I go tanning. I do Tai-Chi. I watch the needle on the scale tremble towards 150, which Iím told is my ideal weight.

When I look for apartments one morning, I visit my father who spends most of his time at Maryís. I stop by one afternoon and find them humping all over the Susan Sarandon. They quickly dress, say Iíve really turned things around, good for me. Mary, buttoning her blouse, says with a thinner face I look a little like George Clooney. My father decides to name a fabric George Clooney with me in mind. He smiles and slaps me on the back.

As for Mom, sheís not doing so well, but I talk to her each night when sheís lying in bed and tell her how Iím going to make her proud, show her that life isnít so horrible after all. I tell her that Iím pulling myself away from the old me, everything fat and wrong, all my disgusting disadvantages. Iím reforming myself in hope of emerging a better person, arms thin as snakes, a beautiful person capable of breaking hearts. Sometimes, when I hug her goodnight, she chirps so sweetly into my ear that I chirp too.

Shane Jones currently lives in Albany, New York. His favourite Canadians are Neil Young, Kids In The Hall, and Leonard Cohen. His least favourite Canadians are Avril Lavigne, Howie Mandel, and The Crash Test Dummies.

 

 

 

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TDR is produced in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

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ISSN 1494-6114. 

 

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