The Kitchen Table
by Sarah Brokamp
Runestone, volume 3
It sat in the furniture store window like an unmarked island. Annette pictured china she couldn’t afford decorating its surface. Coordinating dessert plates on top of gold-rimmed dinner plates. Every piece of unnecessary silverware, down to the oyster fork, engraved with looping filigree. Wine glasses with long stems, tiny bubbles wiggling to the surface only to fizz and pop. She could see her reflection in the dark varnish. She wanted to run her finger along the lines in the wood. Its shape was long and oval. It wasn’t bulky and square like the Martins’. It reminded her of a TV film set, everything sparkling even in black and white. Everything in its place, and because of that, it was perfect.
Jack and Annette had just moved out of the city. There were flower boxes, there were block parties, and there were kids on tricycles. There were sidewalks without cracks and yellowed grass poking through. Barking dogs and mailmen, things that went with the words “pleasant” and “fine.” Everyone was moving out of the city. The Martins had just left their cramped apartment last month and were now living in Firebrook, a mile or so away from Jack and Annette. The O’Maras were currently unpacking boxes down the street. The needle on their record player had snapped off after taking a tumble out of the moving truck. Annette had contemplated giving them money to help replace it as a housewarming gift, but realized showing up with money in an envelope seemed tasteless. Tracy Martin had given them a picnic basket with pasta salad and macadamia nut cookies. She even tied a red-checkered blanket into a bow around the wicker handle. Annette needed something cleverer, maybe a cake with homemade frosting.
Jack, of course, didn’t like the idea of Annette spending money on someone else. “I give you money to provide for us, to bake for us. Let the other ladies do their own baking.” He didn’t understand the point of housewarming gifts. His expectations were simple, which in some ways, Annette appreciated. But it was also overwhelming trying to remember what to buy and what not to. He would ask for receipts every day whether it was from grocery shopping or from a hair appointment. He asked her to return anything “frivolous.”
She missed working at Mr. Sloan’s office. She missed the sound of typewriter clicking, the muffled voices behind meeting room doors she couldn’t enter. She missed the long stretches of alphabetizing. It was simple and mind numbing but it gave her a feeling of purpose. She looked at women working as waitresses and cashiers with jealousy even though they also looked miserable. But they had something to fill their time and that’s what she wanted.
“Ma’am, do you want me to mark the table down at the register? The display is the only one left.” She felt her heart quicken. She unclasped her purse and counted the money Jack had given her that morning. She still had her last paycheck from the office. She had enough money, more than enough. She knew she should wait to ask Jack but then the table might be gone and her chance lost.
“Ma’am?” The saleswoman was wearing a dark red shade of lipstick, sloppily applied on chapped lips. Annette hated it and restrained herself from offering a tissue to wipe it off.
“Um, I think I’m going to keep looking.”
The saleswoman moved her tongue along her top row of teeth and tapped her nails on the table’s surface. They were also dark red.
“You know, another lady was in here right before you eyeing this thing and it wouldn’t surprise me if she came walking back in to buy it. I could see her coming back in the next hour.” Her sales pitch was terrible but Annette wanted the table badly enough that it was almost working. She recounted the money.
“I’m not sure, I really should ask my husband first.”
“Do you know what his answer will be,” asked the saleswoman. Annette looked at the table again. She unfolded the dollar bills and gave the saleswoman her address.
“We’ll have it delivered this afternoon.”
Annette had driven to the furniture store across town because it was nicer than the one in the strip mall close to her house. It was a 20-minute drive home that seemed both long and not long enough. Her hands slipped on the steering wheel from sweat. It felt like her heart was bursting through the skin on her chest like in the morning cartoons. Her mouth felt dry and her head felt heavy. It was 2:00 pm. Jack would be home at 6:00 pm; an hour after the table arrived. She had 4 hours left of her secret purchase. The receipt was folded into a neat triangle in her purse. She tried not to think about it. She tried not to think about handing the receipt to Jack, him shaking his head as if to say, you really thought I would let you keep this thing? She tried not to think of him loading the table into his truck, tipping it on its side, its legs pointing harshly up at the sky.
The light ahead changed to red and she was still going at full speed. She slammed on her brakes, jerking her body forward. It wasn’t until then that she noticed the loud scratching coming from the radio. She turned down the dial and took the receipt out of her purse. Annette smoothed out the creases until it was almost flat. She scanned over the numbers. She had paid for almost half of it with her paycheck from work. She owned at least a third of it. That Jack couldn’t argue. She started a small tear at the top center of the receipt. The light had turned green, the cars behind her were honking. She could feel her face reddening as she dragged her grip further down, ripping through the faint creases and decimal points on the receipt. She rolled down the window, cars now angrily speeding around her. She dropped the two halves out the window, driving away before they hit the asphalt.
University of Cincinnati
Sarah Brokamp is a junior majoring in creative writing and psychology. Her work mostly consists of short fiction but she also enjoys writing poetry. Sarah is currently one of the poetry editors of University of Cincinnati’s literary journal, Short Vine. She hopes to attend graduate school and attain her M.F.A. in creative writing after she completes her undergraduate degrees.