Mrs. Sanderson remembered when she first started thinking about corners. It was when she first felt the love of Lawrence. It was explained to me like this, and now I will relay the story to you….
Mrs. Sanderson yearned for the corner in her room to contain a chair. It was the room she shared with Mr. Sanderson, a hard-working man with an angular nose and a downward pointed mouth like an upside down u except on days he came back home from poker games with his friends or times out at the bar after work, and then it was a soft, stretched out squiggle.
It was on those nights that he fell asleep almost immediately that she wished to snuggle in a chair in the corner, and facing his back, which was large enough to serve as a kind of partial room divider, drop out of life with a good, absorbing book. She couldn’t read in a chair facing his face. So much vulnerability in that sleeping face. Then she would feel guilty for doing something private, something she enjoyed.
On her way home from the grocery one day, she spotted an upholstered chair in the alley of the wealthier part of her neighborhood. It wasn’t just any chair, it was the chair, she thought. And a sandy-haired young man was about to load it in his pickup when she stopped him and begged him not to take it. Could she sit on it, please, and make sure it was not meant for her instead? He laughed at her and relented, apparently indulging her, even to the point of overriding his own desire to acquire this thing, a cast off.
And so right there in the alley she sat upon the worn, auburn velvet. The curves of the back and arms were outlined by a well-loved dark wooden frame. It had the look of a country French piece, something her mother would have loved. It was hard to believe anyone could have let it go.
Are you sure you would be willing to part with it? she inquired of the young man as she ran a hand around the smooth wood of the arm, not really opening herself up to hearing an answer contrary to what she sought, but trying to soften the forcefulness of her covetousness.
I think you should have it, said the young man, smiling at her. You look at home sitting there.
And the way he said it made her blush, but she smiled. Would you like to help me? I just have a little car. I don’t think it would fit.
Lead the way, he said, and hoisted the chair into the truck bed. He secured it with rope.
She started her tiny box on wheels. She watched him. So cute. And strong. But she was forty! She laughed and shook her head, adjusting her sunglasses up on her nose, something she always did before putting the car in gear.
At home, the young man took the chair up to her bedroom. Where to? he said, looking around her bedroom though it was obvious there could only be one place it would fit. He set it down lovingly, gently in the corner.
Mrs. Sanderson brought her hands together in front of her face, like saying praying a small prayer of thanksgiving. She smiled and flushed. She hadn’t brought home anything new for herself for years.
I think you should make sure this is the right spot, the young man said, and held out a hand to indicate an invitation to sit.
She sat. It felt marvelous!
Now pretend you are my husband, she said, and lie upon the bed. What was she thinking? she demanded of herself. I want you to lie facing the opposite wall with your back to me and pretend to be asleep.
He did as instructed.
Can you see me? she said, pretending to read.
Of course not! I’m sleeping! he said.
And she laughed. He had played along marvelously. What a cute, cute boy. Then she felt ashamed.
Well, thank you for humoring an old lady, she said. You have really made my day. And she reached into her purse for her wallet. I should pay you.
Please, he said, standing and holding out a hand. Don’t. This was fun, Mrs.?
Sanderson. But call me Betty. Or even Elizabeta. That rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? But it is a secret identity. And she laughed.
He had blue eyes that crinkled at the edges. His nose was not a sharp angle like her husband’s but a gentle slope.
I’m sure you have a lovely lady to go home to, she said.
Well, my family will be home soon. This statement deflated her suddenly. It wasn’t true, but she didn’t want to venture too far out on this branch.
My name is Lawrence, he said, taking her hand and holding it with another on top as if he were holding a frail bird. When I put your chair in the corner, I remembered a famous architect. Have your heard of Gaudi?
She shook her head.
In putting your chair in a corner, it made me think: Why do we have corners? I mean, this area could just as easily be a curve, not a sharp construction. Gaudi built great things with many, many curves. Had he built this room, perhaps your corner would actually be a curving wall and you could sit in your chair like you were sitting in an embrace.
And he smiled.
She felt her face warm and redden. She withdrew her hand, but smiled at him. What an interesting man he was, and rare.
Maybe you will go to Spain someday and see his buildings in person, he said.
Oh boy this is a deluded idealist. But she smiled. She also began to think he knew this would never happen.
Lawrence, I thank you for helping me. Simpler is better for the send off, it sent a powerful message. Hopefully.
Elizabeta, it was my pleasure, he said with a playful bow. I’ll see myself out.
The air was charged after he left. The colors seemed brighter, more distinct.
When her husband came home later that night she put her arms about him and kissed his wavery, drunken mouth.
I love you, she said.
What’s this all about? he said, not disagreeably, but somewhat amused and puzzled.
I just wanted to let you know. I’ve made a pot roast if you’re still hungry. It’s warming in the oven. I’ll be upstairs.
She sat in her chair in their bedroom. She heard him banging around in the kitchen. He often ate out when he was out at night and so she had stopped providing a meal. Maybe he was eating her food tonight out of pleased gratitude. Or maybe, simple politeness.
At last the television blasted away. And there it is, she thought, smiling. Sports highlights, news.
She picked up a novel about a young man visiting a sanitorium in Germany, one of the greatest of European modern novels, but one that required a constant soaking of concentration and admittedly, she didn’t always have the focus required.
But In her chair in her corner, all sound dropped away. No other sights were visible but the world the author opened to her. She didn’t hear her husband come into the room and drop into the bed. She didn’t hear him ask about her new position in the room or the new furniture. If he had asked her about these things, she didn’t remember responding. And if he had asked her, he wouldn’t later remember asking because of his drunkenness.
The next day, she found a grocery bag on her front stoop. In it was a huge picture book full of the outlandish architecture of a Spanish man: Gaudi.
She was, she thought then, the mysterious Elizabeta of secret worlds, keeper of the marvelous and strange.