Issue No. 8, Spring 2014

The Dalmatian Print Chair
Denise Calhoun

It was Cinco de Mayo. Mutual and Peter were having lunch on a cafe patio, the kind with sequined sombreros and fluffy pinatas, drinking margaritas and arguing about cars as art. Were they or weren’t they?

They had lived together for what seemed like a long time, and their relationship was a rocky one. There was no subject too inane to fight about, too inane to threaten to split up over, whether it was a catty comment Mutual might make about a woman she disliked or Peter’s unwillingness to defend her against a slight from a waiter.

Sometime, say halfway through the second margarita, just as Mutual was opening her mouth to say some cars are art and some are not, she met Peter’s eyes. She looked into them deeply.

And she knew, just like the argument, that their relationship was pointless.

So she packed her hats, her shoes, her Dalmatian-print chair, her books, her typewriter, and her dog named Joe, and she moved.

She lived alone for awhile. She wasn’t exactly sure how long in hours or days or even months, but long enough to sell three essays and one short-short story.

And then one night at a party filled with useless rich ornaments and bused-in artists, she met Joel.

It wasn’t the first time. They had met before, at other redundant parties. But this time, it was different.

“Hey,” Joel said.

“Hey, yourself,” she replied.

No banter. No snappy repartee. Nothing to make one think of those glamorous 1940s movies with a saucy heroine in a perky cocktail hat with a bird perched upon it and a dark hero gazing down at her through the smoke from his Lucky Strike.

But, still, it was different. This time, she looked deeply into his eyes. She looked deeply into his eyes and she knew she loved him and had loved him since long before she’d ever met him, in fact, since the night of her conception. She looked deeply into his eyes and she saw the future and it was Joel.

Like bad poetry.

It was also different for Joel. He, too, had looked deeply into her eyes, and he, too, knew he loved her and would love her till long after the last spade of dirt was tossed over his coffin. He looked deeply into her eyes, and he knew he would love her forever.

So Joel asked her to a movie.

Mutual said yes. She told him to meet her at a theater in the suburbs, miles away from their hip inner-city neighborhood. She was specific about time (early afternoon) and where he should sit (two rows from the back). She would meet him there. Get popcorn, please. No butter.

“I will buy the cokes,” she said.

Joel agreed, and they met at the theater the next day. 2:05 p.m. Suburban multiplex. Stale popcorn. Dull movie. Afterward, they dined at one of those restaurants of questionable gustatory quality usually found in strip shopping centers, gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, and drinking bad wine, overpriced. After dinner, they went back to Mutual’s apartment.

When Joel unzipped her houndstooth sheath, her skin tingled as if a knife blade had been flicked all the way from the base of her neck to the point just below her waist where her bottom began its outward curve. She turned into his arms, and they looked deeply into each other’s eyes. They drowned in each other’s gaze, and no one existed except each other.

“Joel,” she sighed, running one Matador red nail over his very prominent Adam’s apple.

“Mutual,” he whispered, dropping to his knees and removing her panties, the ones with the high-gusset arch like Bettie Page’s. “Mutual, your legs are a work of art.”

Bad poetry.

They met at the movies the next day and the next and the next. They met in secret, which caused many problems because they were inseparable, like fuzzballs and belly buttons. They met at the movies, always a multiplex in the suburbs far from their hip inner-city neighborhood, then dined on food that tasted no better than the orange vinyl hugging their booth. Afterward, they went back to Mutual’s duplex, had sex in the Dalmatian-print chair, and slept in Mutual’s bed, Joe curled up at their feet. The next morning, after Mutual’s neighbor had left for work, Joel would go home, pick up fresh clothes, think about the art he should be creating, shake off the guilt like a worn-out sweater, then meet Mutual at the movies.

It was very important to Mutual that no one know they were seeing each other. Not because either was married or engaged or anything of that sordid nature. But Mutual did not want people to talk about their relationship, amusing themselves at love’s expense as they sipped free Chardonnay at art openings.

This went on for some time. Mutual didn’t know how long in hours or days or months, but long enough to sell two short stories.

Then romance blossomed full, just like in a bad poem, and Joel wanted more. He wanted marriage, a band of gold, a piece of paper. Legality.

Mutual did not. She wanted things to go on as they were. Full of fun and lust and gazing deeply into each other’s eyes, with each existing only for the other.

“Why mess it up, Joel?” Mutual asked.

“Because,” Joel replied. “I want to grow old with you, sitting on a porch, swaying back and forth in a swing built for two as the sun goes down.”

“Joel,” Mutual sighed, shaking her head.

But Joel, like any determined and ardent lover, would not give up. He persisted. Asking for Mutual’s hand each afternoon in the cool suburban multiplex, then again over bad wine, overpriced, in the strip shopping center restaurant booth, and again as they welded themselves into the Dalmatian chair.

Over time, Mutual began to soften. It might not be so bad, marriage. After all, they were different. Perhaps they could wed. Yes, perhaps they could, but it must be in secret.

Joel was growing tired of the subterfuge, but he wanted Mutual, so he agreed. They could elope to a nearby state and perform their nuptials there.

“No,” disagreed Mutual. “No JP wedding for me. I want a white tulle gown with a frothy veil and a train as big as a Cadillac. I want a cake as tall as a broomstick and bridesmaids in frilly dresses that they will never wear again.”

“Whatever you want, my darling,” Joel said. “A happy Mutual is a happy Joel.”

Still, Mutual was not ready for the announcement in the newspaper in 9-point type. She did not want to be the subject of tittering over young love, the object of speculation about how long the wedded would be blissful. So, the ceremony was held, complete with the white tulle and the frothy veil and the cake as tall as a broomstick and one frilly bridesmaid — but in a faraway state and with only their two closest friends, who were sworn to secrecy.

After the wedding, they each sold all of their belongings (at separate garage sales, of course) except for Mutual’s hats and typewriter and Joel’s cowboy boot lamp and art supplies, and they moved to the desert, miles from the nearest town, which had only a tavern, a general store, a filling station and a post office, far away from anyone they knew.

They did not tell their friends they were married or tell them where they were moving, and they especially did not tell them they were moving together. Each gave their friends post office box numbers in different towns somewhat close to their new abode. Mutual would not relinquish the secret.

And they lived happily, together yet alone, with Mutual writing several hours each day and Joel painting those same hours. Their work was good and plentiful.

And each night, they gazed deeply into each other’s eyes and drowned in each other’s gaze, and each knew that their love, like bad poetry, would last forever.

Denise Calhoun lives in Albuquerque – land of winds so fierce they snap trees like toothpicks, sunsets the color of watermelons and more aging nuclear warheads than she cares to think about – and writes short stories. Calhoun, who was a journalist at The Houston Chronicle for fourteen years, is working on a novel and stops occasionally to write a short story when instant gratification is required. Her first fiction publication recently appeared in Black Heart Magazine.