I awoke one morning to find that my mother and father had been replaced by an old wooden chair and a bag of coal. Not that I knew which was which. Maybe my mother was the bag of coal and my father the chair. It was hard to tell, but I figured mother was the chair and father the bag of coal. I reached this decision based upon their personalities, but even that was up for debate. Anyway, something was up. I began to question my thinking; but they were gone and only the chair and bag of coal remained, so it was the only logical conclusion.
Things weren’t easy for me. I found the old wooden chair uncomfortable and the bag of coal made a poor footstool. I decided something had to be done. This just wasn’t working. I tried to find somewhere to put them, but they didn’t fit into the scheme of things. They were embarrassing, sticking out like a sore thumb. I certainly couldn’t have anyone over. I didn’t know anyone who had an old wooden chair and a bag of coal in their house. Why me?
A week later, the angry phone calls started. Neither of my parents had showed up for work. Trying to be helpful, I dragged my father towards the car and tossed him into the trunk. He was a mailman, so I drove him to one of the streets he serviced. I saw people coming in and out of houses, checking their mailboxes in vain. Some looked up and down the street for my father, to no avail. In their housecoats and pyjamas, they nervously discussed what the hell was going on.
I dropped my father on the sidewalk, at the corner, and sped off – to avoid confrontation. I looked into the rear-view mirror. An angry mob surrounded my father, demanding their mail. He was steadfast. My father once said you can’t take blood from a stone; nor can you take mail from a bag of coal, evidently. The crowd slowly dispersed, leaving my father alone – a stubborn man.
I arrived home and packed my mother into the trunk. I drove her to the hospital and left her in the lobby. She was a nurse. I sneaked out, before anyone could see me. I figured if there were any issues, the hospital would call home and I’d come and get her. I had no idea when her shift ended, so I counted on them to call and let me know.
The next day, I drove to where I dropped my father, seized hold of him and tossed him into the trunk. I sped off, before irate customers could demand their mail. With my father safely in the trunk, I swung by the hospital. I looked all over the lobby but could not find my mother. I approached information. They asked me to describe her. I talked about the old wooden chair. They told me they thought they saw her in a staff meeting on the third floor. I took the elevator up, knocked and entered. They asked me if I had their sandwiches. I said no. Disappointed, they asked what I wanted. I said I was there to get my mother. They looked around, confused. Someone asked what she looked like. I told them. An older nurse, rather embarrassed, got up from my mother. She apologized and handed her to me. They watched me leave with my mother; you could hear a pin drop. The older nurse was left standing. I heard someone whisper that my mother was squeaky and uncomfortable – parting shots, I suppose. I’m not sure if my mother deserved that sort of treatment; needless to say, I didn’t have a very high opinion of hospital staff.
Months later, I began to see cracks in our relationship. Making no contribution to the upkeep of the house, my parents settled into comfortable apathy. The tables had turned. Now I had to take care of them. Maybe this was time for personal growth and reflection, but – truth be known – I was growing tired of driving them to work, dropping them off. Picking them up was even worst. My mother was never in the same place twice. I never knew who had been sitting on her. My father got moved from street to street, probably by mischievous teenagers. Oddly, some people actually got their mail, which is demonstrative of his shear tenacity, I guess.
Sometimes, after work, my mother and father invited friends and relatives over, placing an additional burden upon me. I soon realised that what people want is someone to listen and not talk; my parents were in prime positions to do just that. Guests leaned in to listen for a few seconds then, when it was obvious that my mother and father had nothing credible to say, carried on talking. Friends and relatives clearly enjoyed talking non-stop to an old wooden chair and a bag of coal, but I was growing impatient. I wanted out. I started to form plans. I asked around.
Someone told me I should give them away. Someone else, jokingly (I can only hope), said I should burn them. Several guests, closely studying the old wooden chair and bag of coal, asked how I knew which was which. They refused to believe my stories about my mother in the hospital and my father delivering mail. I decided on an experiment, to end the debate once and for all.
I dropped the bag of coal in the middle of the hospital lobby and took the old wooden chair to the mail route. Shortly after I returned home from these endeavours, the phone rang off the hook. Chaos reigned. All hell broke loose. A delicate balance had been upset. The very fabric of the known universe came undone. I immediately regretted my decision.
The hospital phoned to say that my father was found in the women’s washroom. The caller, a head nurse who ran a tight ship, demanded I come and remove him. Staff complained that he refused to budge. Several nurses had tripped over him, while searching for my mother. The head nurse told me they searched the lobby, cafeteria, staffroom, closets, storage, loading bay and offices, to no avail. She demanded to know where my mother was. I must admit, I didn’t care for her tone. I felt she was laying it on a bit thick. I asked why I was being held responsible for my father’s actions. She said staff saw me pulling him out of the trunk and put two and two together (that was embarrassing).
Adding insult to injury, the post office called. One of their mailmen accidentally sat down on my mother and fell asleep. Now TWO routes went without mail! The manager told me this was no way to run a business. I agreed. While he appreciated my mother’s efforts, he wanted to know when my father would be back to work. I said I’d drop him off, after picking him up at the hospital. The manager, concerned, hoped nothing was wrong; I said I hope so too. So that was that. I returned my parents to their rightful positions and no one doubted who wore the bag in the family.
Weeks later, I made up my mind. I was left with no choice. Enough was enough. I lit a fire, moved the old wooden chair next to it and dropped the bag of coal into it. It creaked and groaned, under the weight. I adjusted it accordingly. When it looked comfortable, I left the house, not looking back. It was the best I could do for them and the least I could do for me.