The Lehmans Armchair
By Hayley Katzen, Ewingar
They gave him The Complete Works of Beethoven when he retired from Finn & Sons. In the car Edith patted Georges shoulder.
Tight-fisted accountants, she said, barely moving her coral pink lips. George nodded and thought about the record player in the boot of the car, wedged between his faded black graduation gown and the family portraits framed in ornate gilt.
George set the box of records on the hall table beside their tickets for the Paradise Cruise.
He was tearing plastic off the box when Edith called from the kitchen: George, have you got those suitcases down?
In the shed, behind the box of childrens books, Ediths food magazines catalogued by year and his mothers silver, George found the suitcases and a nice little corner next to the high window.
He wiped down the suitcases with the cloth Edith handed him and placed a case on either side of their bed. As Edith read to him from the brochure, he packed his new Hawaiian shirts and thought of the nice little corner in the shed.
The next morning, after George had said, You must go, Ill be fine, for the fifteenth time, Edith left alone for the Paradise Cruise. George lay in bed, the curtains drawn, under strict instructions to call the doctor if the tablet didnt work.
By noon, the migraine cleared. George carried the record player from the car and set it up on the old workbench in the shed.
For thirty years, the record player had lived in his office. Edith didnt like classical music. George only discovered that about Edith after they were married. The radio in the Just Married car with its shaving cream paintwork had been tuned to Classic FM until Edith stretched across and jiggled the dial. I cant abide that sort of racket, she said.
The childrens television and Ediths radio never left any space for the record player. So George passed evenings matching their voices to instruments. Some nights Ediths voice was a drum beat. On others he heard it only as the trumpet, bold and brassy. His daughter was harp-like and his sons breaking voice had the discordance of a triangle.
So it had only ever been at the office that hed listened to his records. Until now.
A week later, the back of her neck sunburned, Edith came home sporting a Paradise Cruise Gold Medal for bingo.
I think you should take up bowls, she said.
Why would I take up bowls at this stage in my life?
Precisely because you are at this stage of your life.
George carried his plate to the drainer.
And George, I talked to Mary. She said she came by last Wednesday night. The lights were on but no-one was home.
No, said Edith. She paused, Where were you George?
Here, Edith. Right here.
Edith scraped Georges uneaten meatloaf into the bin. Then she bit her lip and looked out at the purpling sky and her voice softened to a slow drum beat.
Is there something youre not telling me, George?
No, Edith, theres nothing.
Edith turned back to the table and wiped it down with the cloth. George stood watching her. He reached out his arm, then he dropped it. He thought he should put his arms around her, kiss her, but kissing had become a habit for them. It was what they did when he left for work in the mornings. He didnt quite know how to kiss her at a time like this. George walked down the passage and out the screen door, clicking it shut behind him.
In the shed he scanned his records. He set Mozart to play and picked up the Silvo and the shine rag and the little salt dish. This was his second bottle of Silvo. The high shelf was lined with polished milk jugs, cigarette holders and sweet dishes. He liked the way the sun caught the silver, sending uneven stars blinding outwards.
He didnt hear her come in. He had his eyes shut, shining rag in one hand, salt dish dangling in the other. Mozart all around him.
When the record ended Edith said, What are you doing, George?
He opened his eyes.
Hello dear, he said, looking down at the shining rag.
Why are you sitting in the Lehmans armchair, George?
They threw it out.
I know that George.
Edith turned and he heard her resolute steps on the concrete path to the house. George thought he should go after her. He lifted the stylus and put the record back in its cover. And then he pulled out Beethovens Fifth and blew a speck of dust from the vinyl. He set the stylus against the record and closed his eyes.
Hayley Katzen ditched life as a legal academic for life on a cattle farm in the bush west of Casino. When shes not in the cattle yards or a kitchen full of homegrown produce, she writes stories about the secret longings and moral dilemmas that haunt the battlers and dreamers of rural Australia.