This story is by Matthew Gaspar and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jeff looked at the price tag and bellowed, “Thirteen hundred dollars?”
“But it’s so comfy,” Grace said. “Ooh, and sturdy, too!”
“Can’t we look in the discount section?”
“I don’t like any of those chairs. I want this one.”
Jeff placed his head in his hand.
Grace continued, “I can’t tolerate those old wooden chairs anymore.”
“I bought you that seat cushion!”
“You bought it at a garage sale. It’s tattered and stained…Hey, I’m carrying your child here, don’t I deserve this?”
Jeff managed to hand his credit card to the salesman before the panic attack set in.
Jeff had recently discovered that pregnancy trumps everything. He and Grace attended a wedding a few months prior, and Grace, newly pregnant, wanted to leave early. The bride spotted them on the way out and demanded, “You can’t leave! I’m the bride, and it’s my day. You must stay!”
“I’m pregnant,” Grace replied.
The bride’s face softened as she said, “Aww, well that changes everything, congrats, you guys!” and they promptly left.
Grace and Jeff drove home with the plastic-covered fabric chair nestled in the back of their SUV. “Ya know, it’s bad enough that you force me to spend extra money on organic food.”
Grace placed a tender hand on his shoulder and replied, “Things cost money. This baby will cost money. You can’t take it with you!”
“Speaking of, ‘the baby will cost money,’ I know this is a little late, but are we sure this is even worth it? From birth to age 18, these kids cost like $250,000.” Grace put in her earbuds and played peaceful music. “Grace?”
The following day, Jeff sat on the edge of that familiar couch and Dr. Phelan entered the room, still chewing his in-between-patient snack. “Jeffrey, how have you been?”
“Doc, I can’t take it anymore. I finally came to terms with that car purchase, ya know, after it hit 200,000 miles, but I don’t feel any better.”
“Jeff, we need to explore the root cause of this maladaptive attitude toward spending.”
“Ugh, and then my wife makes me buy this chair. I’ll never be able to justify it. It’s gonna haunt me forever.”
“How’s Grace? Are you excited about the baby?”
“Not really. But part of me is hoping that the baby will save me, maybe rid me of this.”
“I caution you against such thoughts, Jeff. We never want to rely on others to solve our problems.”
* * *
Grace stared through the rain-streaked kitchen window. Trisha finally arrived, and Grace walked outside, using the “20% Off” coupon to shield her from the rain.
“Hey, Girlfriend!” Trisha said. “Oh, no, why the face?”
“Hey. It’s Jeff,” Grace sighed and buckled her seatbelt.
“Oh, Sweetie, not again? What are you gonna do? You have to buy the stroller and car seat today.”
“Oh, I will. I’m going to lie and tell him I won a contest or something.”
“You don’t have to answer, but are things okay, financially?”
“That’s the thing, we’ve never been better!”
Grace returned home to find Jeff still standing in the bedroom. Jeff asked, “Do we have to keep The Chair in here, Honey? It’s gonna be the first thing I see each morning.”
“Yes, Jeff, this is the nest.” Grace sat down and The Chair accepted her obligingly.
Although The Chair tormented him, every moment Grace enjoyed The Chair chipped a bit off of his mountain of misery.
A few months later, Grace hollered from the shower, “My water broke! Call the midwife!”
They arrived at the hospital. Jeff lugged the overstuffed duffle bag and helped Grace as she waddled to the birthing room. She offered a desperate smile before the pain of natural childbirth consumed her.
Abigail was born and Jeff became jealous of Grace’s sublime expression. “Do you want to hold her?” Grace asked. Jeff accepted the baby. The promise of hope twinkled in a small corner of his vast despair.
Jeff was thrilled with Grace’s decision to breastfeed, for the cost-saving benefits. The Chair served as the preferred spot to feed their child, slowing aiding its transition from a debit to a credit.
“I love you,” Jeff said.
“I love you, too.”
“No, seriously. I already thought you were an angel for dealing with me, but when I see you with Abigail, words can’t express how amazing you are.”
“That’s sweet. Maybe you could express it by massaging my feet.”
Grace returned to work and Jeff started his paternity leave. “Are you ready for your bottle sweetie?” Jeff asked and sat on The Chair. “I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. Those wooden chairs were fine. There’s nothing so great about this,” and then Jeff caught a smell of her angelic head and forgot about things for a while.
“Ok, little sweetheart, bathtime.” Abigail smiled as Jeff poured water on her head. When baths were over, she’d flash the sad bottom lip and break Jeff’s heart.
Around Abigail’s first birthday, Jeff asked, “Hey, Honey, do you think Abigail is happy?”
“Of course. Why would you ask that?”
“Sometimes I feel guilty for bringing her into this world. She didn’t exist, and now she has to suffer because we selfishly wanted her here.”
They looked over to find Abigail happily rubbing bananas over her face. “Does she look like she’s suffering?” Grace asked.
“I know. But one day she might. I just hope the good outweighs the bad.”
“Well, I have some ‘good’ to hopefully outweigh the ‘bad.’ I’m pregnant.”
Jeff was aware enough not to express his doubt or shock. “Oh, wow!” he said and hugged Grace. He accepted slight comfort realizing that Grace will get more use out of The Chair, helping to further justify the price.
* * *
“It’s another girl!” The ultrasound tech announced.
Jeff’s face lit up. “That’s great! We’ll get to reuse Abigail’s clothes!” He then bent down and whispered to Grace’s belly, “Hey, baby Chloe, stay in there as long as you can. You have no clue what world you’re coming into.”
Chloe listened. One week after the due date, Jeff and Grace went to see their midwife, Jan. Grace struggled on to the exam table. Jan squirted jelly onto her belly and used the fetal doppler to locate the heartbeat.
“Everything sounds great,” Jan said. “She just wants to cook a little longer.”
A week later, Jeff and Grace found themselves back at the midwife as the baby continued to occupy the womb. Jan said, “There’s still no cause for concern. I mean, we don’t have to induce. I would try castor oil tonight and see if that does the trick.”
“What will that do?” Grace asked.
“Well, it will disrupt the digestive system and hopefully trigger labor. Just drink two ounces and wait a couple of hours. Then, maybe drink two more and repeat.”
In the drugstore parking lot, Jeff looked over as Grace cast a crestfallen gaze. Jeff said, “I’ll run in and get it, Honey. Do you need anything else?”
“No. Make sure you get organic if they have it.”
Jeff swooned after locating the thirteen-dollar bottle of organic castor oil. He bought it and returned to the car after briefly considering the nonorganic option.
Grace said, “Hey, Babe. I don’t want to drink that just yet. Can we go out to eat instead? And if Chloe doesn’t come tonight, I’ll drink that stuff in the morning, ok?”
“Sure. Where would you like to go?”
“I really want a steak.”
“Can’t I just pick one up at the grocery store and cook it at home?”
“Jeff, I want to go out. I’m pregnant.”
“Thank you,” Grace said. “My mom said Abigail is contentedly squishing play-doh between her fingers.”
They returned home after the restaurant and Grace placed the bottle of castor oil on the nightstand. She managed to sleep for a couple of hours.
“Jeff, wake up!”
“My water broke, let’s go!”
Jeff’s initial thought of satisfaction concerned returning the bottle of castor oil and getting his money back.
Grace and Jeff were blessed with another trouble-free delivery. They brought Chloe home to meet her sister two days later. Jeff couldn’t wait for Chloe’s breastfeeding sessions to hopefully render The Chair worthwhile.
“It’s time for your first bath, little one,” Jeff said.
“Oh my! Look at that little body,” Grace commented.
“I know, those little fingers!”
Jeff and Grace relished the moment, hoping to hold on to it forever.
Suddenly, a bit of apprehension crept in to disrupt the calm.
“Grace, what’s Abigail doing?”
“I don’t know. That’s a good question.”
Jeff ventured into their bedroom and found a naked Abigail sitting on The Chair pouring castor oil on her head and rubbing it all over her body.
She bounced off The Chair, revealing a permanent stain that resembled the tortured brain that Jeff currently occupies.