Apology #7: The Ottoman or I Feel Bad About Plaid
After the taxi returns you from this latest emergency business trip to Düsseldorf, and you shoo the fifteen-pound cats from the kitchen table, I pray that your gloved fingers will find these pages first. I will be in bed, employing my new sleep regimen in an attempt to avoid “those pills,” and no doubt dreaming of your exact expression when you finally cross living room’s threshold.
So by all means, DO NOT fling this missive aside in a mad rush to the living room — though I have read that one is three times more likely to forget something when entering a new room because your mind sees the threshold as an “event boundary” and when crossing any event boundary you file away your last experience to make way for the next, which led me to consider constructing a series of illusionary doorways, thereby slowing your forgetful journey to the living room, only it slipped my mind. But if reading this far has made the thought of running to the threshold to see if you will forget why you are going there too tempting, PAY NO ATTENTION TO THAT VOICE IN YOUR HEAD, as the ottoman is not what you expect.
Yes, I did text you that the incident involved red wine, rendered bacon fat and claws. And yes, the ottoman did come from your past life with spouse X, so it indeed carries both emotional baggage and thrilling remembrances. I too once enjoyed its faded-to-orange-sherbet corduroy cover, as those ridges were so soothing in the midst of a stressful inning.
But when I first glimpsed the wreckage I thought: Oh God I’ll just have to set this out and let the birds use it for nesting materials. Then imagining your reaction to that image tipped me into one of my states and I realized that I had on the wrong shirt. The wrong plaid shirt. I changed, because a new shirt will often act as its own “event boundary” thus creating a psychic reboot.
When exactly is she coming back from Düsseldorf, I wondered while buttoning a red-blue-yellow-green-black Royal Stewart. Six whole days? Why yes. I scooped up the ottoman and carried it to the car, silently repeating the word “OTTOMAN” until it felt like I was hauling along an entire empire and drove right to Walter the Upholsterer. Walter squinted darkly, mumbled a price and said, “Saturday.” You know I am a man who could never handle swatches.
Then this morning Walter called. All done! Since I was already off to buy another sixty-four pound bag of cat food, it made sense to stop at Walter’s first. I spotted the ottoman shrouded in cloudy protective plastic and because it sat hard in the gleaming penumbra of Walter’s candy-red Harley-Davidson, I never noticed. It was only after I returned the ottoman to our beloved the living room and allowed the demon cats to shred the plastic that I began to recognize the faint outline of a mistake.
Do you need a drink? There’s a bottle of red by the cutting board. Yes, there.
Soon enough a naked burst of late morning sun exploded through the front windows and I saw that the ottoman was in fact a brilliant tower of plaid. A blue-red-green-red-green-red-white-blue beacon in a hardwood sea.
It wasn’t that I missed the old ottoman, but I was afraid you would, which led to a fresh moment of tension, so I changed my shirt. But as I opened my half of the closet, I felt the chill of epiphany.
Plaid. Plaid. Plaid. They hung from their hangers so quietly, so vertically, but they were all plaid. Within the universe of plaid there of course is near infinite variety — the subtle Dress Campbell, the boisterous MacAlister, that turquoise one that somebody just made up. And while I know it has occurred to you — the completeness of this array had never occurred to me. But there you were, aboard a Lufthansa Airbus 320, high over Reykjavik and heading home at 600 miles an hour!
How had I slipped from a mild early 90s preference based on my dead grandfather’s shirts to such uniformity? A side effect? I’m not on any meds. Plaidfluenza? Plaiddiction. Rehab? Why do we love what we love? I sat on the bed where the air seemed thicker.
And I’m not even Scottish! I am some northern European slash British Isles amalgam and I have rented Braveheart more than once and who doesn’t enjoy a little blue face paint but…
Eventually, I sensed that the infinite span of choice within the world of plaid is not the same as the choice to leave the world of plaid. So in a twitchy burst I dehangered and vowed to donate a full third of my shirts.
And as I dragged that trash bag of doomed tartan over the threshold I sensed that we might be at cross-purposes regarding plaid and therefore the ottoman. I began to understand that you might see plaid, not as a multiplicity, but a kind of visual chaos that should only be employed sparingly. Like seasoning!
Which reminds me of last night’s dream, the one where I had to run errands across an undulating green, white and maroon plaid field? Only whenever I stopped the lines of color beneath my feet would rotate from 90 degree intersections to 180 degree stripes. And I like stripes! This is progress! We might even someday reorder our worlds in parallel! So think of this not as an intensely plaid ottoman but a beacon on the path to future harmony!
Oh, the ceiling fixture burned out after the cats swung on it and I had to rearrange the furniture. Don’t trip.
Edward Hardy’s most recent novel is Keeper and Kid (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Griffin). His stories have appeared in Ploughshares, GQ, Epoch, The New England Review, Glimmer Train, Boulevard and a number of other magazines. He lives in Cranston, Rhode Island.
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Plaid by K Whiteford