It wasn’t that she hated the piece. She didn’t. Really. It just didn’t belong in the living room. It clashed with the room’s light and airy design she had so carefully created. Early one Sunday morning, while he was still asleep, she moved it into his study. Two days later it was back in the living room, though in a different, less obvious place.
There was a story behind the piece. He’d picked it up forty years before, after college, on a motorcycle trip through the Golden Triangle, the remote opium-growing regions of Thailand, Laos, and Burma. The story involved a drug lord and a secret settlement of Chinese Kuomintang troops, who had fled to northern Thailand after their defeat by Mao in 1949. He was a quiet, modest man who had spent his entire career at the Bureau for Land Management, as a specialist in forest hydrology, and people never failed to be astonished and amused by his story. Afterwards, they looked at him a little differently, at least for a while.
When she told her best friend about her efforts to move the piece out of the living room, her friend shook her head and said, “I think you should drop it.” They were both perfectionists and had often talked about perfectionism and its perils.
“Drop the piece? What a smashing idea!” she said, and they laughed.
“I mean, what’s more important — your marriage or your décor?” her friend said.
She didn’t answer.
“I’m thinking! I’m thinking!” she said, and they laughed again.
She took her friend’s advice. “I’ve made peace with the piece,” she wrote to her in an email.
Still, sometimes she found herself thinking, guiltily, If he goes first, that thing goes next.
He did go first, and she did what she had wanted to do ever since their youngest had left home: She sold the house and moved into an apartment in the city.
When her friend came to visit for the first time, she took one look at the beautifully decorated apartment and thought, “Now she has the place she’s always wanted.”
Then she saw it, on a small round table, in front of a window.
“Wait. Isn’t that—?” she said, pointing.
Ellen smiled, holding out her arms in a gesture of helplessness, and said nothing.
Donald A. Ranard’s stories, essays, and light verse have appeared in The Atlantic, Flash Fiction Magazine, 100 Word Story, 50-Word Stories, The Washington Post, Light, and elsewhere. His essay, “The Accidental Hotel,” is anthologized in The Best Travel Writing 2005.