I sat alone at my kitchen table. At least, I was supposed to be alone. I pushed my food around my plate with my fork. I hadn’t eaten much in the last two weeks. Not since I noticed the chair across from me looked less empty, and I felt less alone.
The chair was pulled out just a little further than the rest, as if a child had been sitting there. But I didn’t move the chair. I didn’t have any children. I didn’t have anybody.
I’d push the chair back in when I was done, but it always moved back to the same place, pushed out just slightly.
I paid more attention to it as I passed by, making sure I wasn’t accidentally pushing the chair. I didn’t hang my jacket on it, and I didn’t let any guests sit there.
I had forgotten about it for a couple of days. The chair didn’t move. But I came home one day and saw that it had moved again, but this time it had been pushed in.
It unsettled me, but I brushed it off. Until I came to sit down for dinner later that night and saw that once again the chair had been moved out.
I went to the kitchen to put my plate in the sink, and heard a small, brief scrape. I spun on my heel and my plate crashed to the floor.
The chair had slid back in, and there was no sign of who or what had moved it.
I had to be seeing things. Hearing things. One beer couldn’t do that to me, could it? That beer was the cheapest of the cheap.
I tried to be preventative from that point on. Before I ate, I would pull the chair out. When I was done, I’d push it back in. It didn’t move on its own again.
I began to relax a bit, but I never forgot to move the chair.
A knock came at my door one evening. I wasn’t expecting anybody.
I braced myself, then open the door. I sighed in relief. “Paul,” I said, my shoulders relaxing. “What are you doing here?”
He looked at me quizzically. “You called me here.”
I shook my head. “No I didn’t”.
“Well, someone did and it came from your phone and sure sounded a hell of a lot like you.”
I swallowed hard, my mouth suddenly dry, my throat thick. I turned behind me to look at my table. My phone was on the table in front of the chair that was pulled out.
I had stepped aside enough that Paul took it as an invitation.
“I’ll grab you a beer,” I said absentmindedly, still staring at the table.
“Hey, you okay, man?” Paul asked. “You’ve been weird lately.”
“I’m fine,” I answered a little too quickly.
Paul clapped me on the back. “Well, I’m always here if you need me.”
“Yeah, thanks.” My voice was flat.
I went to the kitchen and grabbed a couple of beers from the fridge. I heard a chair scrape on the floor and nearly dropped the cans.
I moved slowly to the dining room.
Paul had pulled the chair all the way out and was sitting in it.
He watched me as I moved slowly towards the table and set the beers down. Paul only looked at me with curiosity, his head cocked to the side.
“Will you take me home?” Paul asked, but it was almost in a childish manner, as if he were lost at the supermarket.
“You just got here.”
Paul smiled. “I’ve been here for a long time.”
A rancid sickenss wrapped itself around my stomach, squeezing into my throat.
“Have you been the one sitting in my chair?”
Paul didn’t answer my question. “Will you take me home?”
“Don’t hurt my friend,” I demanded.
“I don’t want to hurt anybody. I just want to go home.”
I hesitated, then playing along I asked, “Where’s home?”
Paul stood and beckoned me to follow, smiling playfully as if he were getting ready to show me his cool fort.
I followed him out the front door. He stopped and looked at me, making sure he had my attention.
Then, he pointed to the stars. “Home.”