Born Halloween, 1952, Chris Miller has placed fiction in the Barcelona Review, Libbon, Literary Mary, COSMOS,
Nossa Morte w/ honorable mention in Ellen Darlow's "2007 Year's Best Fantasy and Horror" anthology, and of
course here at The Battered Suitcase. Every piece is an experiment. He writes in many genres with a special
fondness for the essay, epistolary forms, erotica, science fiction and horror. Chris has self "published" one
novel and two collections of shorts stories, all for love.
The Rocking Chair
"Amos. Amos! Wake up now Amos. Day's a wasting. Land sake now, Amos. Sun's been up for almost a good full hour and there
you lay just a usin' up what precious little time the good Lord gave you."
Amos Martin opened his eyes slowly. He had slept fitfully, disturbed by confusing dreams, and their uneasy feelings lingered. Annie
was right. The sun was well up. It poured in through the open blinds, cutting a sparkling swath through floating particles of dust,
settling warmly on the old floral print wall paper that had been in the bedroom ever since they'd bought the house. Forty-two
years of loving and living together and this simple room hadn't changed a bit. Same old plain pine chest-of-drawers and night
tables that he called "coffin wood junk" and his wife called antiques; same old threadbare woven throw rugs covering the
"You need something honest and easy to return to in this life." That was Annie's reason for keeping their bedroom an oasis of
familiar comfort in an otherwise changing world. They had spent their first night together in it, just the way it was now. Amos
suspected his wife's memories ran a little deeper than his own. Women feel things ways men just weren't made to. But when he
gave it the thought, he knew she was right. He was as happy as a man was meant to be. It was nice to have something to hold
"Amos, I declare! Your eyes are open but I swear you're still asleep. Don't you leave me here talking to myself." Annie reached
down and tugged his pillow out from under his head and gave it a solid thwack with the palm of her hand. A fresh burst of
glittering dust was released, swirling to the energetic rhythm of her mock anger in the streaming sunlight. Amos smiled, the
memory of a long edgy nightmare began to evaporate.
So it had just been a bad dream. "Have a snack too late at night, expect your dreams to run a fright." Annie had a couplet of
wisdom for every occasion. She used to lay that one on their son Benjamin when he was little and tried the timeless childhood
ruse of faked hunger to stall off bedtime. Amos tried to think back to what he had eaten before bed, but could not with any
certainty. Probably a couple of Annie's fresh baked Schmecken rolls. Even if he wasn't hungry they were always too good to pass
"Come get breakfast 'fore it's too late. May have to warm it you lazy bag of bones. Abraham crowed an hour ago."
Amos pictured their old rooster strutting majestically along the top rail of the wooden fence that kept their few cows from grazing
the yard. "Haven't we eaten him yet? Soon be too tough to enjoy."
"Amos! For pity sake, what a terrible thing to say. You know I can cook anything to just as tender as mercy. Now let's get a move
At face value some would call it "nagging" or, if they felt the need to be modern and vulgar, "bitching." But Amos knew that these
manifestations of Annie's wit and humor were too grounded in love to be considered either. It was just her way of expressing
affection and need, of drawing him out and into her life whenever he grew withdrawn.
"Now Annie, you know I'm just shucking. Old Abe is like family. I could no more take him to the block than I could old Gurdy."
Gertrude was the name Annie had given the large stupid bird that had been their turkey up until last Thanksgiving.
"I declare, Amos, if you get any more sour you'll start to curdle. Where's the kind and gentle man I married?"
Amos could recall Annie in her wedding dress with a vividness that dimmed the present, her long red hair painstakingly braided
with white ribbons and fine yellow rosebuds. Fresh, flushed and achingly lovely. Nervous. Excited. All his. No, only almost his. An
open challenge. Always a challenge.
Suddenly, Amos saw another much older likeness dressed in formal grey, laid calm in a narrow bed of satin and lilies, her
complexion sallow beneath artificial rouges that she normally eschewed. She had always shunned makeup when she was alive. The
thought blew through him like a December draft from an open door.
"Amos! You gone again already. If the Lord had wanted me to be alone he would have made me a spinster."
Amos looked with relief into the hazel eyes and upon the natural aged beauty of the woman he loved. "I'm sorry. Got something
on my mind, can't seem to work through. Sounds silly, but I can't even say exactly what it is."
"You're getting old and lazy. That's what it is. You need more to do, and less to stew. I got a house full of chores to fix what ails
Annie was right as usual. He should have never shared out all the land. Next year he'd keep forty just to putter on, plant beans,
maybe subcontract hogs again. An empty barn is a sad place for sure.
"Had a funny dream last night. Wish I could remember. Everything in it was so fuzzy. Everything except this sound that is."
"What sound was that Amos?" Annie had the wisdom to know when to push and when to pull.
Amos thought. "Kind of a hard creaking sound. Back and forth. Real slow rhythm."
Annie's laugh sounded like the unsuccessfully suppressed giggles of a little girl. "You fell asleep in your old rocker down in front of
the television. Coaxing you to bed was like trying to make a mule walk backwards."
Amos tried harder to recall. He had been in his rocking chair. Oddly, it had still been with him when everything else he owned was
gone. And yes, there had been a TV on last night, but a large color box, not his small black-and-white RCA. He could hear the
vibrating blare of canned laughter, meandering musical themes and the gibberish of many accents, but could not remember any
particular program. The channels were constantly changing, and pastel women kept interrupting him with annoying, mindless
"Go to the bathroom now." a voice would order. Or, "Swallow now," and something sweet with a very bitter aftertaste would be
spooned into his mouth.
There had been others present, lots of others, strangers like him, background people, lost and broken, full of silent suffering.
Some not so silent. It had been a starkly lit place full of gaudy colored vinyl and chrome, where a stale tobacco smell lingered
beneath another that was both antiseptic and dirty.
This had not been his comfortable den with its oak trim, soft yellow table lighting, subdued earth tones and the warm musty smell
of decaying parchment.
"Annie," Amos said more to himself than to his wife, "I am glad we've always gone to church."
Her eyes spoke of sympathy and understanding. Her silence bade him continue.
"I believe that in my dream I died and that the Lord showed me Hell last night." Amos paused to collect the experience in a way
Annie could comprehend. "It was a very bad place, different than I would have expected. Even worse maybe. It was a place of
endless humiliation and boredom."
Amos thought he saw an unstated question pass across Annie's face. This was not the Hell she had been taught to fear.
Amos tried to clarify for her. "There was not even the variety of night and day, just the same nothingness played over and over.
But you know what was worst of all?" He began to shake as the horror of it became clear in his own mind.
Annie took his hand to steady it, but still did not interrupt.
"The worst thing about it was the total lack of privacy, and... " Amos paused, knowing what he was about to say contradicted
itself. "... and the utter loneliness of it." Amos stopped to stifle a sob which threatened to break his voice.
Annie sat down next to where he lay, the feel of the mattress sagging, drawing him in her direction, strangely satisfying.
"It isn't like that," she finally spoke. "Only life is sometimes like that." Her voice had taken on an authority, a somber surety that
was new to him.
Amos again looked up into Annie's face. She was smiling now. It made her look younger and even more beautiful than ever. The
window with the sun full in it was behind her, yet did not make him squint or hurt his eyes. Instead it cast a bright halo around
her, framing her features in a glorious flame of harmonic light patterns. Then she was leaning over him. No, he was sitting up,
rising up effortlessly towards her. Then he knew that they would always be together.