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By day, Jennifer poses as a mindless drone for a cell phone company, systematically programming phones to hypnotize their users into
reading more books. By night, she is a full time English student slowly having her creativity drained by professors to be used as an alternate
energy source. She currently lives in Pittsburgh with her boyfriend and two cats who plot to suffocate her in her sleep--the cats, not the
boyfriend. This is her first published work
Ugly Things


I could feel the chair staring at me from the other side of the room.  Upholstered in a emerald and chartreuse paisley
pattern that I thought had disappeared along with salad shooters and S&H Greenstamps, I could hear its mocking laughter
in the back of my brain.

"I'm here forever, Jack," it whispered, "You'll never be rid of me. She loves me. When she dies she'll leave me to you in her
will, and then you will have to keep me. Out of guilt. And it will be just you and me, Jack. Forever."

My wife had brought the chair home from a garage sale. Alice lived for the damned things. Every Saturday morning, dressed
in her finest worn jeans, she would get into her faded blue Toyota and make her way down the thin streets of our town,
searching for that perfect porcelain shepherd whose head had been haphazardly reattached with Elmer's glue, or tarnished
silver music box that played an off key version of "They Way We Were". My wife collected ugly things.

"Ugly things need the most love," she told me the day she brought the first piece of junk home. It was a birdbath made out
of spare tires and old, rusty hubcaps. Standing a good four feet tall, it sat in the middle of our tightly trimmed lawn like
some monument to all things hideous.

"You're kidding me, right? We're not keeping this thing," I stated. Mr. Johnson from next door was staring at us, his old
wrinkled lips pursed in disapproval. He was head of the neighborhood committee whose sole purpose was to keep the
community pristine and uniform. An angry note was sure to be in our mailbox by morning.

Alice turned towards me, her blond hair seeming to shine in the late afternoon sun.

"What do you mean, 'we're not keeping it'? This piece is fantastic! It has so much character!"

"Is that what you call it?"

She frowned, small lines forming between her brows. "You really don't like it, do you?"

"It isn't that I don't like it," I began. She raised an eyebrow. She was on to me. I sighed. "No. I think it's hideous."

"Oh." That's all she said. Oh. But it wasn't what she said that ripped a gaping hole in the center of my chest; it was how
she said it. Her voice was low, almost imperceptible, her blue eyes, which had been seeming sadder since we moved away
from Saint Louis that past spring, had found something very interesting about the toes of her Keds. She looked like a lost
child. I felt like a heel. This horrifying atrocity that she had brought home made her happy in a way that I hadn't seen in
months. With the amount of time that I had been spending at the office and her not having found a new teaching job, this
might just be the pick-me-up she needed. She had saved my life once, bringing light and meaning into my sad, shallow
existence; who was I to deny her this?

I put on my best smile. "You know what? Maybe I judged this thing too quickly."

Her head jerked up, her blue eyes meeting mine, "What?"

"I mean, sure, it's not the prettiest thing in the world," I continued, walking slow circles around it as if it was a piece of fine
art in a museum and not the bastard love child of the Michelin Man and an engine block, "but it is quite different. A one of a
kind piece like this could actually be worth something."

A smile began to work its way across her face. It stopped halfway and reverted back into a frown, "You don't really mean
that."

Putting my hands on her shoulders, I pulled her a little closer to me. "Of course I do. Besides," I rested my forehead
against hers and tilted my head a bit in Old Man Johnson's direction, "it'll drive Johnson nuts."

There was the smile I had been looking for. She wrapped her arms around me, nuzzling her head into my neck. "I love you.
Thank you," she whispered.

I smiled, kissing her hair, "Of course, love," I answered.

Little did I know how much that one small decision would end up taking over my house for the next fifteen years. As time
passed, Alice's collection of ugly things grew until it seemed like there wasn't a normal piece of "art" or furniture in the
place. There were broken golf clubs in the umbrella rack (which was shaped to look like a fish wearing a top hat and spats),
a bright purple shower curtain dotted with palm trees hanging in the bathroom, and a mystery object that could have been
some sort of coat rack, but really, I wasn't quite sure. It consisted of mannequin arms nailed to a piece of plywood. It was
just plain creepy.

As Alice's ugly thing collecting grew, so did her obsession with garage sales. She had a sure-fire system that assured that
she would always reach each garage sale first: she stole the signs. Anywhere she saw them posted: on telephone poles,
tacked on the bulletin board at the gym, she would grab them and shove them into her purse where they would then be
placed in specific orders based on time or location.

"Don't you think that maybe, just maybe, someone
else will want to go to these sales?" I asked one morning as she sorted
the cardboard and plastic squares alphabetically by street name.

"Psh," she answered, blowing air between her teeth, "if they wanted to, they could have gotten to the signs first."

"But not everyone shares your, uh," My first thought was
neuroses but I knew better than to say that, "passion for these
kinds of things." She didn't even spare me a glance, she was so caught up in her alphabetizing. I continued, "Besides, you
have a very"
tacky "unique taste that I'm not sure everyone would share. It's possible the things you want will still be
there."

She finally looked up at me, her eyes half closed in a glare that I knew all too well. It was the one I saw right before she
asked me if those jean shorts made her look fat while her ass cheeks were bulging out from the bottom, or if her new hair
colour looked alright when it was a shade lingering between horrifying and terrible. That look meant that whatever she was
about to ask me, I needed to come up with a lie, and I needed to make her believe it.

"You think I have bad taste, don't you?" she asked.

Marlon Brando never even had a performance this hard.

I took in a deep breath, making sure to put on my most pleasant and loving smile.

"Bad taste? Bad taste? How could you even
think something like that about yourself? You have amazing taste! Impeccable,
even!"

She raised an eyebrow. Okay, maybe I was laying it on a little too thick. "I mean, look at this stuff," I gestured to a wicker
birdcage hanging in a corner of the kitchen, a plastic flamingo missing one neon pink leg trapped safely within, "This? This is
lovely. One of a kind. This is
art."

She smiled, her cheeks turning a soft pink, "I do fancy myself as something of an artist."

I sighed in relief. Eat
that, Brando. "And I fancy you," I replied, wrapping my arms around her from behind her chair and
nuzzling a bit into her neck in that way that I knew made her giggle. I moved around beside her, kneeling down so that I
was eye level. "Now why don't you get out there and find the... "
ugliest "... most beautiful thing you can, and we'll find the
perfect spot for it, together."

"You mean that?" She was a little girl again, her eyes overflowing with hope and happiness. I felt a twinge in the base of my
stomach, causing me to momentarily wonder if I was really just a horrible person.

"Of course I mean that," I answered, kissing her on the forehead. She smelled lightly of sweat and the lavender potpourri
she kept in matching chipped Garfield mugs in every room of the house. She grinned and threw her arms around me before
noticing the time on the microwave clock -- 8:43.

"Oh dear! I have to get moving!" She stated, giving me a quick peck on the cheek before running down the hall to the
bedroom, her pink robe flapping behind her.

I breathed out a sigh of relief. Now if she could find something only moderately hideous. Something that wouldn't make my
eyes bleed every time I looked at it.

However, that night, she brought home The Chair.

"Isn't it wonderful, Jack?" she cried, running her hands over the scratchy green material like one of Bob Barker's prize girls,
"It's perfectly preserved! Some little old lady kept it under plastic for almost fifty years! Can you imagine that? Fifty years
trapped in plastic? Poor thing."

I knew I had to say something: something nice, supportive. All I could think about was how the colour of the chair
reminded me of that pea soup vomit scene from
The Exorcist.

I forced a grin. It felt like my face was on fire. "It's... "
awful, grotesque, foul, horrible, revolting "... wonderful, dear! Just
lovely. I think it's your best find, yet!"

She was positively glowing. "You really think so?"

I softened my smile into something a little less manic, a little most compassionate, "Of course I do. We can put it... "
in the
garage, in the trash compacter, in the compost heap
"... in the foyer!" Perfect. The only place in the house where it would
still be displayed enough to make her happy, yet I would rarely have to look at it. I congratulated myself on such quick
thinking.

"I was thinking that it might look better in the living room," she stated, "besides, we never spend any time in the foyer. It's
a chair. It should be sat in. Used. Loved." There was that loopy smile, again. I moved my eyes from her hopeful face to the
object in question.  I could feel it grinning at me, smugly. It knew that there was no way I would go against my wife's
wishes. I didn't have it in me to deal with her whining. A wise man once said that a man is never happy unless his wife is
happy. For some reason people respond to that idea by saying how sweet it is. Those people are obviously not married.

"That, that sounds great, dear," I answered after a few seconds, "Here. I'll help you move it."

She thanked me with a quick kiss on the cheek before walking into the living room, babbling about where she wanted to
stick the damned thing. As I lifted it from the floor I could hear it laughing.

And thus the feud between me and the chair began. It wasn't a one-sided hatred. The chair had it in for me as much as I
did for it.  It was constantly in my way, sometimes seeming to move from its spot in the corner just in time to trip me or
cause me to bang my shin. It had laid claim to my house. It had laid claim to my life. This living room wasn't big enough for
the both of us. One of us had to die.

As much as I despised the thing, however, setting it on fire was a complete and total accident.

I had come home from work that night, my mind full of irritated callers and incompetent management. Finding that the
house was, for the moment, gloriously empty, I decided to take advantage of the situation and relax the way that I like
best: in my underwear in front of the TV with a beer and a cigarette. My wife hated me smoking in the house, but what she
didn't know wouldn't hurt me.

Beer in one hand and cigarette in the other, I turned on the television to some ridiculous premium movie full of explosions
and breasts.  Somewhere in between the hero spouting off some witty one liner and the villain monologueing about how
foolproof his plan was, I fell asleep, stretched out on the couch, my cigarette laden hand dangling over the vomitous green
chair that, once again, seemed to have moved itself. Maybe it wanted a better view of the TV. Maybe it just wanted to
continue to make my life miserable. Whatever the case, it shouldn't have been there.

I awoke to the smell of smoke and the fire alarm beeping shrilly in my ears. In my haste to see what the hell was going on, I
tumbled off of the couch, banging my head against the coffee table before coming face to face with a foot tall flame eating
away at the cushion of the chair.

I could hear it screaming.

It was then that I remembered that my wife did, indeed, love that chair and would be rather put out of anything serious
were to happen to it. And that our homeowner's insurance didn't fully cover fire.

Rising to my knees, I quickly grabbed my half-empty beer in one hand and a brown and pink throw pillow in the other and
proceeded to douse and beat the cushion into a smoldering bit of black and green. The immediate crisis taken care of, I
ripped the alarm from the wall and made my rounds throughout the bottom floor of the house, opening the windows to let
out as much smoke as possible before my wife got home.

I was just about to flip the cushion over in an attempt to hide as much of the evidence as possible when I heard the front
door creak open.

"Jack?" she called from the front hall, her heels clicking on the tile.

I froze, adrenaline pumping, fight or flight instinct kicking in. My eyes flicked towards the kitchen. Only 100 or so feet to the
back door. I could make it. She would never know.

"Jack?" she called again, her voice laced with worry.

My mouth answered before my mind had a chance to keep up, "I'm in here, honey." I cringed, mentally kicking myself.
Good
job, there, brain. Way to keep on top of things.

"Honey, why does the house-- " She stopped in the doorway to the living room, her hand raised to her mouth.  Her purse
dropped to the floor.

"Uh, hi honey," I tried to be casual, hiding as much of the torched chair as I could behind me.

"What did you do to the chair?!"

"What chair?" I backed up a bit further, trying to spread myself out as large as possible.

She was in front of me in an instant, her shock and anger giving her the same magical teleportation powers the chair had,
"What chair?" she ducked under my elbow. Her new powers included super speed as well. "My new chair that you're hiding
behind--oh my god." She recoiled, horrified.

"Honey, look I-- "

Her neck twisted at an awkward angle as she jerked her head up towards me, her eyes glowing in a way I had never seen,
before.

"What. Did. You. Do?" She demanded.

"I kind of accidentally set it on fire," I answered.

"You set it on fire?!" Her eyes were green coals.

"Now dear-- "

"Don't you 'now dear' me! Why would you set it on fire?! What would ever possess you to do such a thing?!"  The skin of
her face began to slide from her skull.

I hate the damned chair. "I hate the damned chair." Oh. Shit.

The flames fell from her eyes, doused by the cool waters of hurt. Her skin tightened, smoothed. "You... you hate the chair?"

I sighed, "Yes."

"You hate the chair?"

"Yes, Alice. I hate that chair." I chuckled a bit, relieved, "Whew, you know it actually feels really good to say that. I hate that
chair. It's so goddamned ugly that
the chair doesn't even like the chair!" I pointed for emphasis. The chair moaned a bit
from the pain of its burns. I kicked it.

My wife's mouth was open, her nose turning red. Her eyes begged me to stop, but for some reason I just couldn't. I had
found a type of high I had only dreamed of: the truth.

"And you know what else I hate? That awful flamingo!"

"You hate the flamingo?" she whispered. I barely heard her.

"And that TV fish tank and that atrocious painting of Elvis playing blackjack with Jesus," a little voice in the back of my head
was telling to shut up, but the rest of my little voices just weren't having it. They were cheering me on, throwing me a little
party in my brain.

"And you know what else I hate?" I asked, turning back towards her. Her face had closed in upon itself, silent tears dripping
from her nose and chin. She looked like one of those dried potato puppets we had seen at the annual Fourth of July craft
festival the year before. Except soggy. Women in movies looked beautiful, tragic when they cried. My wife was not a woman
in a movie.

"What?" she answered, her voice hitching in her throat, "what else do you hate, Jack?"

I gently took her face in my hands, tracing my thumbs over her skin, "I hate the way you look when you cry," I answered.
Her eyes cleared for a moment, "And yet," I continued, "I really don't want to make you stop."

Her mouth hardened into a line as her eyes hardened into steel. I had been expecting her to collapse, sobbing, to play the
weak and shattered card, to show me how much she needed my approval. Instead she straightened her shoulders, pushing
my hands away from her face. Without a word she stalked back towards the doorway of the room, picking back up her
discarded purse. Half way out she turned back, looking around before setting her gaze back on me.

"This is a house full of ugly things," she stated, "you fit in here, perfectly."

That said, she turned and left, her heels on the front tile and the sound of the heavy front door as it slammed resonating
in my ears.

I exhaled, allowing myself to fall back into the soggy, scorched chair.

It was surprisingly comfortable.
Jennifer Swisher
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