“Gravitate”

I.

They stand side by side facing a row of dining room cabinets. Audrey examines each one carefully, looking for details that distinguish it from its neighbors: a unique grain, a delicate pattern on the handles, engraving in the trim. Matt opens and closes doors and pushes against the sides of the cabinets to test their sturdiness. 

He adjusts his glasses with a single push to the bridge of his nose and rests his hand on his chin. “I like this one,” he says, pointing to the blue cabinet.

“Yeah, it’s nice, but…”

“What? You don’t like it?” he asks.

“Do you think we could go by that antique store downtown?”

“The place that smells?” he asks, scrunching up his nose. 

“It smells old.”

“Exactly,” he says, opening and closing a small drawer on the cabinet meant to hold napkins or silverware. “I guess we can swing by there. I thought you’d want something new.”

“I like new things, but I gravitate toward things that have a history. Most of the furniture in our house has a history.”

“I just thought you’d want something new,” he says again as he looks past her toward the saleswoman at the front desk. He signals to her. The woman hops off her stool and grabs a clipboard.

Audrey glances over at a young couple playfully chasing each other around the rows of furniture. The man’s foot gets caught on the leg of a chair, and he falls. Giggling erupts and echoes off the warehouse walls. 

“Well?” Matt asks.

“The blue one is fine.”

“Are you sure? Do you want to look around here some more?”

“Not really. I think the blue one is fine.”

She stares at the cabinet. The blue is too bright. The finish too glossy. She doesn’t think she has been the ‘first owner’ of anything. It feels like a betrayal. 

The saleswoman approaches and says it is one of their finest pieces, but doesn’t touch it. It’s going to add a splash of color to your house, she says. It’s a really fun cabinet, she says. It’s on sale, she says. Matt nods, smiling and looking back and forth between the two women. He repeats, It’s a fun cabinet.

The drive home is quiet. The storefronts become abstract paintings with broad brushstrokes that blur together as the car picks up speed. Audrey leans against the window and drifts off to sleep and is awakened by the slowing motion of the car pulling into the drive.

II.

The old cabinet leans heavily against the garage wall, its legs broken off in the move, but its deep, polished grain still beautiful. The door hangs loosely from its hinges. Audrey traces lines in the grain with her finger. She feels the familiar inconsistencies in the smoothness of its sides, and she imagines it sighing, resigned to its fate.

Matt stands next to her and the cabinet. “The saleswoman said they can take this away when they bring the new one.” 

“Where will they take it?” 

“She didn’t say exactly. Why?”

“It was the first piece of furniture we bought together,” she says, running her hand across the top again. She can feel him watching her. If she looks at him she will see the confusion, maybe anger. They had agreed to replace it. 

“We’re making new memories. This is a fresh start, remember? Out with the old, in with the new sort-of-thing,” Matt says, trying to smile. “You can’t keep dwelling on the past. And I can’t keep apologizing. You’ve got to try.”

“I am trying,” Audrey says. “It’s not easy.” 

III.

The cabinet is heavy, but the dolly helps her navigate it through the garage and out into the driveway, the moon illuminating the road ahead. She wheels it down to the end of the street and waits, sweat beading up on her forehead and neck. Within minutes, a rust-covered pickup truck rounds the bend. She reaches into her back pocket, pulls out a few bills folded over, and hands them to the driver.

“Can you take it to the storage unit?”

“Sure. No problem. You think there’s room?”

“I think so.” 

“What are you planning to do with all this stuff anyway?”  

She doesn’t answer, only shrugs her shoulders and looks down toward the end of the street, listening for unwanted intruders.

Two men gently load the cabinet into the truck. “It’s missing two legs,” one of them says. 

“Just be careful,” the driver orders without looking back. “Life’s funny like that,” he says. “Sometimes it’s hard knowing when to let go.” 

The truck slowly pulls away. She brushes the dirt from the front of her jean jacket. Her sweatpants are ripped at the knee. She dabs at the blood with the torn material. 

IV.

Audrey slips back into bed. She dreams she is walking through rows of antique furniture, her hand lightly touching the surface of each until she comes to the cabinet. When she opens the door, memories drift like the large cottony snowflakes in the air around her. In them she sees Matt leaning in to kiss her over their first anniversary dinner, the soft glow of candlelight warming the coffee-colored walls and the surfaces of the furniture it touches. The sunlight streaming through the windows as Matt chases her around the dining room table, tripping and falling, feigning injury, grabbing her when she gets too close and kissing her furiously. Friends and family toasting each other, the subtle ring of glass on glass floating through the air. She smiles in her sleep and stays with the cabinet until the rush of activity pulls her back to the world.

V. 

“Did you move the cabinet?” Matt asks.

“Yes,” she replies.

He drops his fork in the sink. The clank against the stainless steel makes her wince.

“I thought you were okay with this.”

“I’m not ready.”

“It can’t be fixed now. It has nothing to stand on.”

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About Robin Littell

Robin Littell holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Miami University. She is the author of Flight, the 2018 Vella Chapbook Winner at Paper Nautilus Press. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Two Hawks Quarterly, Peatsmoke, Gravel, Found Polaroids, Adanna, and others. You can read some of her stories at robinlittell.com