Sixty Percent Chair
“Im ‘non agnus dei caesorum spolia detrahenda fabulam tibi,” Masie said, sounding out the words slowly and carefully.
Bob shifted his considerable weight and the wooden chair underneath him groaned in protest. Bob took no notice. Instead, he was hunched over, staring down at his phone, checking the Asian markets, missing Hannah’s near silent statement; in fact, everyone missed it. What she’d said was, “We shouldn’t have read that.”
“Why do you come to these if you’re just gonna be stuck to your phone the whole time?” Patricia asked, twisting a copy of De Selby’s The Water Wheel in her hands while her thumb riffled the well worn, dog-eared pages.
“Sorry, sorry,” Bob said. “Sometimes my job doesn’t let me get away even when I should.”
“Did you stay away from your phone in Aruba?” Walter asked.
“Well,” Bob stated while a shy smile blossomed upon his face, “you know how it is.”
“I’m sure your wife must have loved that,” Stephen added.
Bob shrugged, a groan escaping from his chair as he did so. “If I didn’t have to look at my phone all the time, we wouldn’t have been in Aruba. She knows who butters her bread.”
“Clearly she’s putting too much butter on yours,” Patricia said, getting little titters from throughout the room; something Bob promptly ignored.
“So,” Patricia, the host, continued, clapping her hands together, “are we going to at least pretend we read the book and continue our discussion?” The humans in the room were silent while the chairs and couch squeaked, sighed, and groaned, conducting an orchestra on their own. “Don’t everyone speak at once,” she added.
“I didn’t like it,” Walter offered after a sigh. “Who chose this garbage anyway?”
“I did,” Bob said, a smirk twitching the corners of his mouth.
“Why?” Walter asked, exasperation clear in his voice. “You almost ruined my month.”
“Oh, come on now.” It was Patricia, her thumb still working the corners of her closed book. “It wasn’t that bad.”
“It was,” Walter said. “I struggled with it. I would read a chapter, maybe two, then need to put it down. Every time I decided that it wasn’t as bad as I thought, I’d get back into it and realize within a solitary page that it was worse than I remembered.”
“It was absurd, I’ll give you that,” Masie said. “But it was quite funny and pretty brilliant at times.”
“When was it brilliant?”
“You didn’t like De Selby’s talk of being eighty-five percent bicycle?”
“Come, now. That was a stupid thing. How does one become eighty-five percent bicycle?”
“I think you’re looking at it as too much of a singular, and not enough as a recurring pattern,” Bob said, surprising them all. Four people seated around their circle looked at him with ninety-percent skepticism. It was only Stephen that nodded slightly, understanding all. Masie leaned forward, placing her elbow on her knee with her fist propped under her chin.
“What do you do the most?” Bob asked the room, looking at each of them in turn. When no one answered, he plucked his phone off the side table, next to his almost empty wine glass, and feigned scrolling through it.
“Seriously? You’re looking at your phone again,” Patricia said, exasperated.
Bob threw back his head and the room practically shook with his booming laughter.
“No, no, no,” Bob said, wiping a few tears from his eyes and cheeks. “What I mean is, my phone is always in my hand, as you’ve been saying all night,” he said, pointing at Walter. “So, using the logic in The Water Wheel, should I not be at least eighty-five percent cellphone?”
The listeners around the circle took a collected inhale and Bob knew they were in the palm of his hand. He shifted and the chair below him let out a louder groan than he would have liked. He gave it a quick, disgusted, side eye.
“De Selby is simply saying that we become the things that we use, and they us. In The Water Wheel, Brian O’Nolan rides his bike everywhere. The same bike he’s had since childhood.” While speaking the last sentence, Bob’s voice lost animation.
“Suffice it to say, he never lived in Montreal,” Stephen spoke as an aside and the room erupted in laughter; mouths expelled sounds, wooden chairs creaked, and leather seats squeaked.
“The objects we use slowly become us?” Walter said, when the laughter stopped.
“Yes, and I think Bob is right,” Patricia said. She looked in his direction, thinking to see a smile but his face was passive as he sat straight back in his chair, sipping his wine.
“Well now,” Walter said. “I think this is a first, Patricia agreeing with Bob. Someone pinch me cause I must be dreaming.”
“Happens,” Bob said woodenly. He placed his wine glass on the table beside him, a soft groan escaping his lips as he bent over; the chair echoed his sentiment.
“So, essentially, that’s the crux of the whole story, then?” Masie asked.
“It would seem,” Walter admitted.
“Well, does everyone agree with that?” Masie asked, looking around the room. Everyone but Bob was sitting slightly forward, copies of their books in their hands. Only Bob was sitting up straight, the wine glass back in his hand, and from the widening of his eyes, a mouthful of it on his tongue.
“This wine is phenomenon.”
“Do you mean phenomenal?” Masie asked. “Haven’t you been drinking it all night?”
There was a momentary blank look that passed over Bob’s face, his eyes flicking up and to the left.
“Yes,” Bob said, his voice still wooden.
“Ouch,” Walter said, “I didn’t know correcting you was that big of a deal. I feel like you gave me a splinter with that tone.”
The room laughed, Bob starting a few seconds later than everyone else, his chair groaning along with the cacophony of noise.
“So, does anyone have anything they’d like to discuss about the book, now that the biggest mystery has been solved?” Masie asked, looking around the room to see who would take the first crack. She had her money on Patricia.
“I want to go back to this becoming part of a bike thing,” Stephen said, looking over at Bob, who was looking out the window. He took in a hitched breath and seemed startled as his chest expanded with the new air entering his lungs. He blinked once, twice, thrice before looking back at the group, an awkward, apologetic smile on his face.
“Well,” Masie said, slowly, “what about it would you like to talk about?”
“What happens to the other side of the eighty-five percent?” Stephen continued.
“What do you mean?” Patricia asked.
“If O’Nolan becomes eighty-five percent bike, what happens to the eighty-five percent of him that the bike took over? Does the bike become eighty-five percent O’Nolan? Does the bike take over the parts of him that used to be?”
“That’s a good question,” Walter said. “I admit, once again, that I thought the book sucked, but maybe I didn’t read enough of it to get it. I too would like to know what happened to what O’Nolan used to be.”
“Well,” Masie started, “I think that he must become the object that takes him over. It’s like a swap. It’s like a shift.”
“Okay, but what about the fact that O’Nolan drives his bike everywhere. How long does this process take?” Patricia said, taking a sip of wine to gather more of her thoughts. “Is it instantaneous, or does it happen over a long period of time? If it happens over a long period of time, exactly how long does it take? What happens when the bike takes over one-hundred percent of the person yet continues to ride the bike? Do they begin to swap back?”
“This hurts my head,” Walter said, finishing his glass of wine and rubbing at his temples. “I wasn’t ready for this existential type of conversation. I’m gonna need more wine if that’s the case.”
“I’ll get it,” Bob said, standing up. He placed both hands on the arm-rests of his chair and slowly pushed himself to his feet. Watching him, Walter noticed that his calves had a slight shake. Bob took a tentative step forward and Walter laughed.
“How drunk are you, Bobby old boy?”
Bob flashed him a smile, his teeth looking like big wooden slates. He took another step, found his footing, and went into the kitchen, the shakes quickly evaporating from his legs.
“So, back to my previous question. How long does it take for the transfer to take?” Patricia asked.
Masie shrugged. “A whole life time, maybe?”
“Why would you say that?”
“Well, think about it. O’Nolan is dead during his retelling of the story. If he’s eighty-five percent bicycle, and he was roughly sixty years old - “
“Woah, woah, woah,” Walter piped up. “How do you know he’s sixty? I didn’t read anything like that?”
“Well, he never actually said it, but it’s kind of evident,” Masie continued. “He implied that he was a new grandfather, and this was written almost twenty years ago, so we can figure that he wasn’t too old when that happened.”
“He also described himself as ‘early elderly,’ but hadn’t been able to get his pension yet,” Patricia interjected. “Remember? He made a large point about being pissed that he died before he could retire and travel the world on his bicycle.”
“I seem to remember something of that nature,” Walter said, stroking the smattering of beard he constantly grew.
“So, judging by that,” Patricia continued, “there’s no way the process can be reversed.”
“Unless there’s a spell that can do it, or accelerate the process.” The humans in the room looked at Hannah as she said something about the book for the first time. She spoke with a sense of foreboding.
“What’s with the worried tone?” Walter asked.
“How much do you know about De Selby?” she asked the group. When no one answered outside of a few shrugs, she continued. “I read a few things from him over the years. He was a stickler for facts and research, which is why he only published six books.”
“As my mother always said, what does that have to do with the price of butter?” Patricia asked.
“Well, he was heavy into the occult and the whole life-after-death experience. He dug and dug and dug and used to work with witches. I’m worried that maybe the spell we read earlier was real.”
The room erupted with laughter. Walter slapped his knee, an old knee slapper, was Walter. Masie rocked back and forth, holding her stomach while silent guffaws wheezed out of her. Patricia wiped streaming tears from her cheeks.
“I don’t think this is a laughing matter,” Hannah said when everyone had their giggles out of their systems.
“Oh, come no,” Walter said, “I bet - ”
“Have you read anything else by him? Have you studied him?”
“Er, well, no,” Walter admitted.
“Then keep quiet and listen. His death was shrouded in mystery. It looked like a ritualistic killing, but everyone in his circle kept mum about it. The predominant theory is that he sacrificed himself to obtain immortality in the form of objects. In fact, the last letter he wrote to his oldest childhood friend was, ‘I found it. I’ve found the incantation. If you wish to join me in eternal knowledge, you can read aloud the final book I’ll publish before passing from this meat suit.’”
“Oh, come now,” Walter said. “That sounds like a load of baloney.”
Hannah saw skepticism in the eyes and faces that stared back at her. Before she could speak again, to try to plead her case more, Masie spoke.
“What happened to Bob?”
“He has been gone a long time,” Patricia mused. “Hey, Bob. You get lost in the kitchen? We could use more wine in here,” she said with a raised voice.
He didn’t answer.
With a perplexed look on her face, Patricia stood up and went to the kitchen. Hannah and the others followed her. What they saw was equal parts strange and disturbing. Bob had his back flat up against the wall, bent at the waist, with his thighs running parallel to the ground and his knees bent, so his feet were planted firmly on the floor.
“What are you doing?” Walter asked.
Bob’s head turned, slowly, to look at the five guests gathered in the opening of the kitchen.
“I - I - I -,” he stammered, his jaw unlocked, his eyes rolling back. A sudden series of convulsions shook him, yet his legs stayed locked in their position; only his upper body shivered.
“I think he’s having a stroke!” Masie exclaimed, rushing toward him.
Hannah reached out, cat quick, and grabbed Masie on the forearm, her grip so tight that Masie was jerked back when she reached the end of her purchase.
“Nobody touch him!” she yelled.
“Are you crazy?” Walter blurted. “He’s gonna be hurt, or die if we don’t help.”
“Don’t touch him!” Hannah yelled again.
Walter ignored her and moved forward. As he did, Bob’s eyes rolled back down and he looked at them with a piercing intensity that stopped Walter in his tracks. He began speaking in some sort of tongue that no one understood. No one, but Hannah.
“Someone call 9-1-1,” Masie yelled. No one moved.
Hannah gave a gentle tug on Masie’s arm. The woman looked at her with bulging eyes.
“You should call,” she said to the host. “It’s your house.”
Masie nodded and reached into her pocket for her phone. Not finding it there, Hannah watched as a lazy panic with underlying shock tried to squeeze its way in. Without letting go of the other woman, Hannah produced her phone and handed it over.
“What’s your password?”
Hannah laid her thumb across the biometric reader so Masie could continue her task. By then, Patricia had Bob lying on his back while he shook and shivered; her hands placed snugly on either side of his neck, keeping it still. Walter was trying to get Bob’s legs to lay down flat, but they refused to be straightened. Every time Walter pushed them so they touched the floor, his thighs would spring back up to a ninety-degree angle while his calves would float up, running parallel with the floor.
“Can we move his feet against the wall?” Walter asked, exasperated, by the time Masie was done giving the pertinent information to the 9-1-1 dispatcher.
“I don’t think we should move him,” Patricia said.
“His seizures have stopped,” Walter said. An abundance of sweat peppered his brow while he continued applying slight pressure to Bob’s legs to no avail. “He just won’t fucking let his legs rest, so let’s give him a break, huh?”
Patricia looked up and around the room, her face pleading for help on the decision. It was Hannah who spoke up.
They pushed Bob until his feet were touching the wall and a slight smirk grew upon his face. Patricia stayed down on the floor, bracing his neck while the rest of them muddled around in the kitchen, unsure of what to do next. Hannah excused herself and went back to the den. She thought she heard a groan or a creek, her head darting around, looking for the source of the sound. Her eyes centered on the chair that had only a short time ago held Bob’s hefty weight. She went over to it, running her fingers along it, placing her palms upon it, trying to get a sense of how much of Bob was still in the room with her. She felt a low vibration, like the chair was straining to reach back to her, and pulled her hand away like she’d burned it.
Curiosity eventually got the better of her and she took a seat upon it. The moment she did, Bob began screaming from the kitchen. She bolted to her feet and the screaming stopped. It was replaced by Bob’s big, booming voice.
“Bring me the chair! Please,” he wailed.
Hannah plucked it up and walked into the kitchen where the small crowd’s reactions ran the gauntlet of scared to absolute terror. Bob’s right hand reached out and caressed the chair after Hannah placed it beside him, his face going soft and slack. The look of everyone else relaxed as the warble of the ambulance siren grew louder.
“Help will be here soon, buddy,” Walter said.
The chair made muffled noises as it occasionally slapped against the side of Hannah’s jean clad legs. She figured she’d have a rather nasty bruise in her immediate future but didn’t care. She was willing to do anything if it would help out an old friend.
“I want to thank you for bringing that along,” Bob’s doctor said, seeming to take notice of the chair for the first time since she’d arrived.
“I was planning on bringing it regardless, once he got settled in.” She paused, and the doctor took a few steps before he too stopped and turned around to her, his eyebrows raised in a quizzical manner.
“How is he doing, anyway?” she ventured.
“Well, he hasn’t changed much since he was brought here. He doesn’t bother anyone except for the staff.” It was Hannah’s turn to raise her eyebrows. “His condition freaks a lot of them out,” the doctor finished.
“Oh. Okay. Do you know what’s the matter with him?”
“He believes he’s part chair.” The doctor shook his head, “Sorry, no, not part. Majority chair. I won’t lie and say I’ve dealt with this sort of thing much in my career. Normally people think they’re other people or part animal, not inanimate objects.”
Hannah nodded along and kept the proper surprised look on her face, despite knowing more than the doctor ever would. She started walking again and the doctor fell in step beside her. They continued on in a comfortable silence until they reached the room that housed Bob. Looking in through the pane of glass on the window, Hannah saw Bob leaning against the wall, his thighs parallel with the ground, his feet firmly planted on the floor. His head was turned to the window that looked out onto the park that surrounded the institution, or as it was known by the workers, ‘The House That Renton Built.’
“There will be an orderly close by if something happens,” the doctor said, nodding toward the man leaning against the wall a few meters away. “If you need anything, just ask. If the patient gets violent, holler and we’ll be inside in a flash.”
Hannah nodded her thanks and opened the door. Bob turned to look toward her and a smile broke out on his face with lazy ease. His eyes darted to the chair in her hands and the smile blossomed into full radiance. She stepped forward to the window and unfolded the chair, patting it once with her hand. Bob stood up and made his way over to her like a robot with creaky joints in need of oil.
He sat in the chair and she took a seat on the floor next to him. He seemed relaxed and dopey. She reached out and took his hand in hers. He gave it a perfunctory squeeze without looking at her. They sat that way, watching the squirrels play and the birds flutter, until visiting hours ended.
Hannah stood up, planted a kiss on his forehead and whispered, “I’m sorry.” She saw a tear spring out in his eye and she gently wiped it away.
She left the room and closed the door, sparing Bob one final glance before leaving. He sat motionless, watching a life he’d never experience again flourish outside his window.