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- 1 -

I was conceived by a carpenter with quivering hands in the back of a lumberyard. She was called Anatólia. Some days she had to fix flaws, sawing one or two parts of me again. On other days she hurled chunks of me against the wall, screaming at the bashful furniture she’d built, lined against the far wall. If she knew she’d bestowed consciousness on me with her art, perhaps she’d have other thoughts. I didn’t care. She was sturdy and careful and didn’t mind her son babbling about her being too old for this kind of work. Oak lasted for millennia. She had but a dozen wrinkles around her cheeks. Her particular way of wheezing meant nothing. She would last.

Ignoring all the humility chipped into my wood by her hands, I was a true work of oak art. Seahorses adorned the palmettes atop my backrest, which was ornately twirled with bubbles and the contours of fish. I had cockleshells on my apron and water lilies on my four feet, so exquisitely wrought that I feared the day someone would push me against fellow furniture. My upholstered cushion was velvety and crimson, not unlike the eyes of Anatólia’s son the day he entered the lumberyard and brought me to my first sunlight bath. The day I found out things I didn’t want to.

It happened two weeks after Anatólia sighed and told me some mysterious, uplifting words. She sat on one of my partners, an unconscious, wobbly stool, breathing out in her particular, noisy way.

“She’s going to love you,” she said.

The barbs of my wood bristled. Who was she? I’d ask if I had a mouth. She left after a few minutes dozing off with her hands on her knees as if mesmerized by deep thought.

It was the last time I saw her.

When Anatólia’s son brought me outside for the first time, he was weeping, and so were half a dozen other people, all gathered and hugging on the porch of a house with peeling green paint. A white truck with red lights parked on the gravel drive. The long pack that was taken inside smelled like sawdust and coffee.

Every bit of me warped and swelled sluggishly when sunlight touched me. Or it could’ve been just the realization that my carpenter was gone. Turned out she wasn’t made of oak like me, but of a weaker, less resistant structure called bone.

“Keep it,” Anatólia’s son told Aunt Suzana as if I wasn’t listening. He was pointing to me and a set of other furniture. “I have to move soon.”

Was Aunt Suzana the one who was going to love me?


- 2 - 

Aunt Suzana tucked me into the back of her SUV and kept me just enough to sell me to a Wood & Depot branch near a diner on the BR-116 road. Back then, I deemed R$20 fair enough to keep my dignity and to value all the sweat Anatólia had poured on me. Lucky ignorance. It probably paid for Aunt Suzana’s dinner later that day. Deservedly, she leaves the story now.

Life at Wood & Depot wasn’t like the life I had dreamed. The dark years had begun. Literally. João Gutierrez, the manager, decided to put me in a corner that never captured any sunlight. With the memories of the day Anatólia died at bay, I began to yearn for those light stripes that streaked through the Wood & Depot main door and picked up speckles of dust in the air. A sign was plastered on me with the number “100”. I didn’t dare to think through Aunt Suzana and João Gutierrez’s numbers. They didn’t make sense, and I didn’t want them to. What bothered me was that if that sign was kept for too long upon me, my seat would end up marked with an indelicate rectangle.

Those were also the metaphoric dark years. My days were limited to propping indifferent buttocks by day and feeling the seaweed stench of my unconscious mates by night. João Gutierrez seemed not to care that they stank. That we stank. He bragged about numbers, typed on computers, and scowled at his subordinates. He was just like Aunt Suzana. Just like Anatólia’s son. They weren’t able to love something sublimely manufactured by hands as magic as those shafts of light that greeted us every day.

Things changed one morning, about two years after Aunt Suzana dumped me. A drizzle spattered on the store’s awning, and sunlight hadn’t pierced the glass. It was 8 AM on a Thursday and the CLOSED sign was still hanging on the door. They were late. And João Gutierrez made no movement to leave his desk until ten minutes later, when he yelled, startling me.

“He’s coming! All hands on deck!”

His shout was received by woo-hoos and yells from his subordinates (though some of them might’ve been faked).

They crowded around, talked for about ten minutes, then entered into a frenzy. They dipped cloths in detergent, wrung them out, and wiped every bit of dust from the floors, beds, cabinets, cupboards, wardrobes, and tables, scrubbing even the inaccessible corners of the store. When it was my turn, they tickled me with a duster, waxed me all throughout, and rinsed my seat with oil, soap and water. They even managed to clean the rectangle marked upon my crimson velvet. In the end, I felt less crackly and dry, a bit more like Anatólia intended me to be.

So, what now? Perhaps they’d found out about Anatólia and decided to find out who was going to love me, who was the one, the right person in the whole world to whom a refined chair must be given. A sailor, perhaps? A fisherman? All that cleaning spectacle had to be a welcoming party.

The person who entered Wood & Depot was nothing like I’d pictured when Anatólia said the puzzling sentence. It was a man with a whitening Balbo beard wearing a grey tweed with a dark green blazer and sweater, elegant and overused. His hair was plastered to his head with some kind of gel that left some threads slightly spiked to the left. He folded his umbrella and squinted at the furniture around him as if we had something to confess.

“Mr. Amorim, it’s so good to have you here.” João Gutierrez’s voice was as phony as imitation velvet. “Do you mind if we bring you a cup of coffee and some snacks?”

Mr. Amorim grumbled and shook his head.

“Bad taste you have,” he said, indicating the door. “That sign says Hot Sale. You should think of a better term.”

Mr. Gutierrez trembled and flexed his fingers. Pearly beads of sweat glistened on his forehead.

“So you don’t think our prices are good enough for you? We can—”

Mr. Amorim waved him off.

“It’s just that you’re associating furniture with fire. It’s a bad omen, I think.”

Mr. Gutierrez nodded, his shoulders slumping, probably relieved because it was just a minor issue. Nothing to do with his numbers.

“Perhaps we could show you the best we have.” He made a completely fake gesture of welcome, opening his hands and stretching his arms to show the Wood & Depot’s products—which were already obviously visible. “You are a literate man, so we might recommend our bookshelf made of—”

Mr. Amorim raised a hand again. He seemed to know exactly how to remain in control.

“I want to refurbish the house for Joana.”

“Is she coming back?” Mr. Gutierrez smiled.

“Yes, after six years abroad. Anyway, I have a list.” He produced a tanned piece of paper from his pocket and handed it to João, whose smile twinkled as he skimmed across the items.

João waved a hand to his subordinates and they started to zigzag around the store, typing on computers, exchanging grins with each other, and sticking SOLD signs on some of my fellows.

Meanwhile, Mr. Amorim strolled around the place with his squinting manners, sliding fingers over my mates, knocking on glass doors yet rarely opening them. When he came closer to me, the first thing he did wasn’t to press down my upholstered seat as most people did. He smiled at my cockleshells and pressed his fingers against the seahorses’ heads on my backrest. His thumb was ridged, filled with invisible lint from his blazer. His nails were closely trimmed. I sniffed in him a scant timeworn scent of alder and beech, something that reminded me of Anatólia.

“Hmm…” It was all he said.

His back cast a shadow and loomed upon me. I clenched all my splinters. A fluttery of anticipation swirled through my velvet.

He sat on me. I creaked (but politely quick).

“Mr. Gutierrez, please, come here.” Mr. Amorim raised a hand, his voice vibrating through my wood. “I’ll take this one too. And I have a special request regarding all the furniture I’m buying. Do you have a carpenter in situ?”

And so the dark years ended as they’d begun, in the somber back of a truck.


- 3 -

I was promoted to a leader as soon as I was placed in the Amorim’s living room. From a lumberyard to the dark corner of a store to heading my own table. I admit I was a bit proud of myself. I led a set of five mahogany chairs, all of them acquired at the Wood & Depot and customized according to Mr. Amorim’s requests. Fruit and orchard motifs had been whittled on the backrests of the chairs and the edges of the table. They weren’t as perfect as my cockleshells and seahorses, of course. Mr. Gutierrez’s crew hands were more adapted to numbers than woodwork. (The chairs had their charm, though, just not like mine.)

The fruits theme seemed to please the Amorims. Their living room contained a collection of ten oil paintings depicting orchards and fruit bowls, trees and plantations, women and men doing fieldwork, all of them hanging between the furniture: a cupboard, a bookshelf, a Victorian-style pendulum clock, and a blanket-covered sofa. To the right of the entrance, the living room opened to a space with a TV rack, but that was beyond my field of view, so I only caught glimpses of its weird colorful motions when someone moved me into the house.

And here I have to add something important: There was a sash window right behind me with varnish briskly applied to its casing to hide its true age. (I called it make-up for wooden beings). Every morning, just before the pendulum clock struck 7 AM, Mr. Amorim woke up, his slippers squeaking on the stairs and echoing throughout the house. Then, he pulled the curtains and opened the window, allowing wafts of mowed lawn to barge in. And… sunlight! The gracious rays that came from that huge ball up in the sky finally fell upon me day after day, from 7 AM to 10 AM, whisking through the intricacies of my oak and warming me up.

I soon discovered just two of the Amorims lived in that castle-like residence. Eduardo Amorim, who by now you know as Mr. Amorim, and Leandro Amorim, a 15-year-old boy that seemed to be part of a system comprised of an earphone and a greyed-out Metallica t-shirt. Leandro was Mr. Amorim’s grandson, and his parents had been absent since Leandro was a toddler. Joana Amorim was Leandro’s sister and the one Mr. Amorim had mentioned in the Wood & Depot as the recipient of all that brand new furniture. She didn’t live with them but was going to spend two months at the house after a year abroad. Was she the one who was going to love me? The thought scraped through my oak as the first night in the Amorim’s home mingled to a delft blue and transformed the oil paintings into mere blackboards.

Then, there came a morning, seven days from my arrival, that Mr. Amorim’s tight voice startled me from my oaken stasis.

“Help your sister, Leandro.” His voice made my wood vibrate. He was at the door. “She’s exhausted from the long trip.”

“I’m going, I’m going.” Leandro rolled his eyes, darting down the stairs. “I’m also tired, okay? It’s not even 10 AM.”

Mr. Amorim peeked anxiously through the wicket while turning his key on the door. A half-smile hung on his mouth.

“She’s early,” he muttered to himself. “Should’ve thought of a better suit.” He was wearing a black jacket with the same linen trousers he was wearing when he bought me.

Mr. Amorim left, and Leandro went right after him. (And here I’d like to pause and add a side note about magic hands. It would be much better if they also granted moving legs to furniture. I’d stretch them now and follow the duo outside to see firsthand the arrival of Joana, the woman who could or could not love me. But, no. I didn’t move.) I could only distinguish Mr. Amorim’s voice. At that moment, I discovered what happiness meant. It was that thrilled tone of voice, a bit higher than usual, even if muffled and indistinguishable by the rumble of the car outside. It was the different set of dimples around Mr. Amorim’s cheeks when he came back carrying a piece of blue luggage filled with stickers. It was the way he carefully but quickly set it on the floor just to look back outside again.

Leandro came next, carrying a stuffy backpack.

Then Joana, bluish circles around her eyes, mouth lined downward, and dark hair tied in a bun. She smelled like leather couches. She wasn’t like the other Amorims. In her early thirties, she didn’t have the analytical, sophisticated look of her grandpa. Joana was the kind of bone-made creature that seemed to have left a lot behind. Even more than Mr. Amorim himself, despite his age. The question that lingered in the air was whether she’d left part of her somewhere or somewhen.

At the moment when she closed the door behind her, I expected her eyes to glint in full realization of what her grandfather had done, the customization of the furniture, the unskilled-but-neat apples and oranges crusted into my fellow chairs’ backrests, the smoothness of that mahogany table where Mr. Amorim had put two golden candelabra and Leandro had left a Master of Puppets CD case. And me, of course, at the opposite wall, hidden by it all but exhibiting seahorses and fish leaping from imaginary water, the details on their eyes soulfully fashioned. And I could see in Mr. Amorim’s eyes that he had about the same expectations.

Joana stared around the living room.

“Your place is…” She frowned. “It smells like trees.”

My seat puffed out on a micro level. Trees? Really? It’s the same thing to say you all smell like flesh.

“We’ll bring your stuff upstairs,” Mr. Amorim said, lips fluttering. “Your room is just as you left it.”

“I’ll stay for two months, Eduardo.” At the time, I couldn’t say if her insipidity was due to the long trip or if that was her. “I’m just here to make sure you and Leandro are fine.”

She grabbed her backpack, tousled Leandro’s hair, and moved upstairs. Mr. Amorim rubbed his hands and stared up, unsaid words swishing across his lips. Even Leandro took his eyes off his smartphone and paused whatever was drilling through his ears. During the coming years, I would know and accommodate the rears of many of the Amorims’ guests. Their cousin Morena; Eduardo’s brother, Jorge; Leandro’s girlfriends, then boyfriends; a couple of Mr. Amorim’s affairs; Jacir, the ponytailed mailman; the neighbors’ dogs frolicking and wiggling their tails. And none of those beings had a reception so warm as the one the Amorims gave to Joana, and none ever responded with such unenthusiastic manners.

And she didn’t even spare a look at my curves.

The days went by, inevitably. I could say the Amorim’s residence was my first one. The lumberyard couldn’t be considered a home because I was being assembled. Neither could the shaded, dusty corner in the Wood & Depot. But with the Amorims it was different. My surroundings gained life.

Mr. Amorim—and I think I can call him Eduardo by now—set a breakfast every morning for his grandchildren (and sometimes for me, when Leandro dropped buttered toast on my seat, and you probably know the rules about falling buttered toast). It consisted of scrambled eggs, bread, butter, avocado toast, grilled cheese, orange juice, and pineapple yogurt, the latter specifically for Joana. But she didn’t mind all the effort Eduardo put into pleasing her, the minutes he spent scouring the cupboard’s drawer for a pretty tablecloth, the alarm he set on the refrigerator to serve the yogurt at the temperature she deemed ideal, those dimples and those sparkling eyes on his face, his smiles.

On weekdays, a bus picked up Leandro for school just after they finished breakfast. He was in secondary school, in the stage teenagers absorbed all that was around them and channeled it out into excitement, frustration, and acne. And it was during the huge gaps between Leandro going and coming back from school that Eduardo tried to penetrate the mysterious Joana’s barrier.

“I don’t know the title of your thesis,” Eduardo said one time, three days after Joana arrived. They sat across from each other at the table. (Eduardo didn’t sit on me at all, he often let his grandchildren pick me if they wanted. Even when alone, he spared my seat from his rear.) “I know it’s about fish.”

Oh. That could be the reason why I was picked.

“Fish.” Joana twisted her lips. “You oversimplify it.”

Eduardo shrugged. “You didn’t call very much when you were there.”

“It’s about the patterns of saltwater fish in the Iberian Peninsula.”

“It seems interesting.” Eduardo actually wanted to know more. You could see it in the way he leaned over the table with his eyes glinting. It was like he just found out he had a granddaughter. “I didn’t know they have patterns.”

“All things do.” Her eyes never met his. “In nature.”

“And Portugal? Is it nice?”

She just nodded.

“The new furniture…” She looks around, a bit of scorn in her eyes. “Why?”

For you, so please be happier, I wanted to say. Look at my seahorses and those bubbles popping out around them, the fish intertwined with them.

“You know I appreciate woodwork.” He looked around the room. His hands shook slightly. “I want to revitalize the house, you know? Refreshment. Check the wiring, too, and if the fire extinguishers are okay. I think the one in the basement might be near to its expiring—”

“So you just entered Wood & Depot and bought it all?” Her jaws set in a half-grin while she stared at her grandpa. “And these fruits?”

Eduardo looked at his hands and smiled. Not to her, but to himself.

“You remember how you drew them when you were a kid?” he said without looking into her eyes. Good choice. She didn’t deserve it. “You drew them, you colored them, and then you jotted down the fruits’ names under each one. You even invented your own. And then I taught you how to sculpt an apple into a plank. Of course, I didn’t let you touch the saw and the hammer, but your eyes glinted so much…”

“I was a child.” She said as if to prove a point. “It’s all pretty, but you didn’t need to spend your money on this. I won’t stay.”

Eduardo didn’t move. Not even a nod. Of course, he knew she wouldn’t stay, she had her home somewhere miles from there, she had a Ph.D. in Biology and a completely separate life to lead. But Eduardo felt. And the conversation died as it began, without Eduardo knowing the name of her thesis.

When Joana decided to go out early in the morning or stay late in her bedroom—which meant the refrigerator beeped in vain—Eduardo scrubbed all the new furniture with a slightly wet cloth, reaching even the hardest corners and edges with cotton swabs and toothbrushes. He cleaned the cupboard’s glass, dusted the books on the bookshelf, and the surface of the table and the chairs’ seats. But he took special care of me (as I deserved, of course). He sprayed vinegary-smelling solutions on my seat and scrubbed it with precise circular motions. Then, he used exaggeratedly thin swabs and even needles to remove grime from the minute intricacies of my cockleshells, seahorses, and water lilies, never forgetting to apply specific products to my wooden legs, arms, and backrest. I felt exalted. (And here I must repeat myself: Eduardo cleaned the furniture every day, ritually, even if it had to be done after midnight.)

Later in the day Joana arrived, Eduardo said he would prepare a welcome dinner for her. But she told him she was going to have dinner outside. The same happened during the following five days. Only on her first Saturday there, she decided to stay and accept his offer. And so I’d have my first dinner leading a mahogany table with five fruit-themed mahogany chairs. I could swear the microscopic barbs across my legs ruffled.

It was set for 7 PM on Saturday. The hours stretched as I anticipated the moment. Eduardo left early for the supermarket with Leandro. After they came back and stocked the groceries, Eduardo performed his cleaning ritual. It was a bit more rushed than usual, but that was forgivable. It would be his night. When he managed to leave the kitchen for a few minutes, he paced about the living room, straightened the paintings on the wall, picked up a tablecloth, set up the candelabra in slightly different positions, and sighed with both hands on the table, eyes wide shut.

The clock eventually struck seven.

At first glance, Eduardo seemed a man of traditions, showing up in Wood & Depot all neat, selective, and provoking shudders throughout Mr. Gutierrez’s crew. But if he was, he probably abandoned some of them during his life. Furniture like me was born with some sense of what to expect from the world. And one thing I expected was the house’s main provider sitting at the head of his own home’s table. But he didn’t. Of course, he never sat on me, but he didn’t even exchange my place with one of the lower class chairs. Nor did he sit at the opposite end of the table. So it was Leandro that picked me, who was surprisingly—or forcedly—without his earphones, wearing a button-down shirt almost in tune with the ten-years-later Leandro that I would eventually get to know.

“Be careful with this chair,” Eduardo said, pointing a finger at Leandro. It was the first sentence of the dinner. Damn, I was delighted.

Eduardo lit the candles on the candelabra for the first time, and they cast a sandy halo across the room. Then, they each took their places. Leandro upon me, Eduardo and Joana facing each other again. Eduardo served—and prepared himself—grilled salmon, beansprouts, noodles, and roasted carrots with garlic and parmesan. To drink, Argentinian wine (since Joana was probably full of the Portuguese taste) for him and Joana, orange juice for Leandro. From that moment on, the sum of smells swirling through the living room became the scent of reunion to me. Luscious food, melting wax, the ever-diminishing whiff of newly fabricated wood. Chairs were made to be static, but my elementary particles span and whirled within me.

“Please, serve yourselves.” Eduardo widened his smile. “You both love salmon, so it’s what I made for today. Can’t ensure the taste is good, though. And … Joana?”

Joana stared at him, glints of suspicion in her eyes. (And here you might be asking how can I see those things with a 15-year-old headbanger sitting on me. Well, I can reveal to you that chairs have eyes in every part of their structure.)

“Welcome back,” Eduardo said, then nudged Leandro.

“Welcome back, sis.”

Leandro and Joana were like old friends that had reunited but bore no more resemblance to each other. But even so, she offered more smiles to him than to her grandpa. As she did now, turning her head and grinning at him. She was educated enough to wait for her grandpa to serve himself, but he was educated enough to serve their grandchildren first. His hands were quivering but the smile didn’t thaw from his face.

“Leandro is curious about Portugal,” Eduardo said after serving them, sitting and folding a napkin on his lap. “He watched a documentary about Saint George’s Castle some weeks before you arrived.”

Leandro nodded. “Many people used the castle throughout history.”

Joana imitated her grandpa and set the napkin on her lap. The candlelights brought out some wrinkles on her face I’d not perceived before.

“Phoenicians, Visigoths, Romans, Moors, and more,” she said. “I’ve been there twice and the views are breathtaking.”

“Greeks, Carthaginians, Suebi, even the Celtic tribes,” Leandro said, seemingly excited with the subject. “I remember their names, but have no idea who the Suebi were, for instance.”

They laughed. I was built with a mythical concept imbued in my wood, that of a happy family. It was something I was bound to witness many times during my existence. Perhaps it was a kind of intrinsic power I inherited from the magic hands of Anatólia. Those twelve seconds with the Amorims were proof that it wasn’t a myth, but those moments didn’t linger. They were like lapses of love and friendship and cheery guffawing. And perhaps that held for all families, not just for them.

“Is it preserved?” Eduardo said.

“It’s mostly made of stone,” Joana said, her eyes panning back to her plate. “Not wood.”

“My question remains.” Eduardo’s voice was rough. It was the first time I noticed him using that kind of unsatisfied voice with Joana. But it didn’t last. His eyes were shining and glancing at his granddaughter one second later. “I’m curious about these things. You might not recall, but I have a specialization in preservation.”

“Wood and furniture preservation,” she said, cutting a slice of the fish. “The castle doesn’t have much furniture today. Lots of open spaces, though.”

“Why is that even important?” Leandro shrugged.

The living room hung in silence but for the wind battering at the window, as if they were chewing upon Leandro’s question. Joana had a way of embarrassing Eduardo.

“I was thinking—” Eduardo cleared his throat and sipped the wine. “Next week we could visit the Itatiaia Castle. It’s the closest we have to a castle here. They have an awesome collection of antique wardrobes.”

“I’m leaving Monday,” Joana said.

The glass dropped from Eduardo’s hand and swayed on the table, nearly smashing on the floor. Droplets of wine peppered the linen tablecloth and some of it ran over my leg. It tasted like vinegar.

He grabbed the napkin and wiped his hand. Leandro glanced at them, from one to the other.

“You said two months,” Eduardo said. “Why so soon?”

“You have all you love here,” she said. “You don’t need us.” She looked at Leandro.

“What do you mean?” Leandro frowned his head.

“I can’t bear staying here,” she said, darting a fierce look at Eduardo. “I came back from Portugal wanting to give you a second chance. But I can’t.”

“What the hell?” Leandro crossed his arms. “I don’t want to get old and crazy like you.”

They didn’t mind Leandro. They just glared at one another, an invisible ongoing clash. I didn’t know if any of them won, but Joana stood, her salmon barely eaten, and left upstairs.

The dinner was over. Before sunrise, Joana would leave. Flies would fester on salmon and roasted carrots until Eduardo gathered the courage to clean the table at noon the next day. His eyes were red-swollen. His hands shaky. The only thing he did on that day besides cleaning the table was dusting me and trying to remove the stains of wine from my leg.


- 4 - 

“There’s been a fire over at the Bosque Verde.” Leandro entered the house, removed his coat, and hung it on a hook on the wall. “Dry leaves, it seems.”

Eduardo shuddered, his nails rasping against his cane. He was sitting on an armchair he’d put where the old pendulum clock had struck its last sigh five years before.

“Will it reach us?”

Bosque Verde was a grove on the other side of the Amorims’ property. It couldn’t be seen from there, but the scent of ashes stuck to the air like the remains of a fireplace. Eduardo had woken up that morning with the smell and yelled for Leandro, asking him to find out its source as soon as possible. Leandro obeyed. He was always there for his grandpa, though sometimes the old man seemed not to notice. In the core of old Eduardo’s soul, he probably missed Joana a lot more than she deserved.

“Vô, not even if a hurricane blows the fire toward us.” Leandro patted Eduardo’s thinning hair. “Authorities are already there and it won’t even spread too much. Just relax.”

Eduardo nodded, but his eyes remained open and attentive at the windows. He stayed like that during the remainder of the day, sometimes glancing at the windows, sometimes dozing off, other times mumbling about fires. Leandro left for college. Only when he came back later and told Eduardo the fires had been dealt with that the old man was able to rest his head on the armchair with relief.

Leandro was no more the teenager tied to an earphone that I knew when I came to live in the Amorims’ residence. Now a 25-year-old young chap, his wavy hair fell over his shoulders and his obsession with Metallica had transformed into a frayed Lady Justice on his left biceps, ironically matching his ongoing Law graduation.

“Do you still talk with your sister?” Eduardo asked when Leandro served some spaghetti for Eduardo that night, the ashy odor still adhering to the air. It was a recurrent question.

“She never reached back.” Leandro always lied. If Eduardo knew how to read eyes as I did, he would see Leandro’s evasiveness. But Eduardo just moaned in agreement.

Leandro circled the table and sat on me. He was always the one to pick me, and sometimes, even after ten years, he still blurted out compliments about my comfortable upholstered seat or my perfectly built arms and backrest. He never paid too much attention to my aquatic themes though, which were now kind of battered and unimpressive anyway. Eduardo had taught Leandro how to properly take care of me, but Leandro’s hands were never so good as Eduardo’s, never so precise. And the old man wasn’t able to kneel and scrape dirt from an equally shriveling chair. And now there were days darkness stretched and not a single spot of sunlight fell over me. It reminded me of the lonely days at Wood & Depot, just waiting to be bought. In hindsight, I remembered those times with a slight sense of nostalgia, even if deep down I knew my life was a lot more meaningful now. In the end, all I wanted was to stave off the thought that Eduardo Amorim wouldn’t be as longevous as oak. One day he would be a long pack pushed into a white truck.

Eduardo was depressed and alone since Leandro had been spending so much time in college. Sometimes Jeff, Leandro’s boyfriend, came to check on Eduardo, and the old man seized the opportunity to talk about carpentry, how he had developed novel techniques to clean glasses back in the day, and how his enterprise was bound to break, but he saved it and rode it to glory. Jeff listened all along, as patient as Leandro, preparing food for him and sometimes even cleaning me (even clumsier than Leandro). But Jeff wasn’t always available, and in the rare moments when it was only Eduardo and I in the house, the wood creaked its subtle messages. From my unprivileged position in relation to the remainder of the Amorims’ house, I couldn’t really know what happened upstairs or in the smelling domains of the kitchen. But wood spoke. It carried crepitations and voices, and sometimes I felt them shrilling up my legs, bringing Eduardo’s weeping from the privacy of his bedroom, sometimes his mumblings about what he was planning to do in the day, how the weather was bad, and how life could be different if not for his actions.

I never really thought about the second chance Joana talked about. I didn’t want to understand her, I just wanted to forget her, as if by doing so Eduardo was also going to abandon her in the corners of his mind like a neglected, unfinished piece of furniture. But that wasn’t the truth. Eduardo’s gaze hollowed out from time to time, and other times her name whispered up my legs, carried by the wood. So I knew Eduardo was dwindling in a spiral of thoughts.

One day, Eduardo left for a walk. He did so every now and then with spurs from Leandro, who insisted he needed to stay healthy. That day, Leandro brought Jeff home and they sat across each other at the table, just like Eduardo and Joana ten years before.

“My sister is very secretive,” Leandro said. “She told me something these days on the phone.”

“It’s upsetting you,” Jeff said, grabbing his boyfriend’s hands.

Leandro nodded.

“She said I should stop caring about Eduardo—and she calls him that, never grandpa or grandfather—because he was a no-good man. When I asked why she wouldn’t tell. I told her if she wasn’t going to tell me, it would be better if she had stayed silent. She hung up.”

“You have any idea what does she mean?”

“Nope. All I know is there’s something in our past, something that has to do with my parents. But they never told me, and I never insisted because I know how it bothers Vô.”

“It bothers you, too. You never tell me about your past.”

“There was a fire. My parents died. I was just a toddler back then, and have no memories of what happened. Vô brought my sister and me here and raised us. That’s all I know, and I’m not sure if I want to know more.”

“And Joana…”

“She blames him for something, I just don’t know what.”

One day, though, I came close to knowing why. Of all people, a chair. But then life intervened, like always, and things would never be the same for the Amorims. (And for me.)

The stairs creaked with Eduardo’s slippers and cane. He stopped before me, casting a long shadow. The bags under his eyes were blackened and his lips cracked. He’d been crying.

“Not many like you anymore,” he said, sliding a finger over the seahorses’ heads on my backrest. At first, I thought he was speaking about seahorses, but he kept a while at this, fingers coming and going in indecisive patterns. Then, he stopped and stared at the palm of his hands. “Not many like us.”

My hardwood crackled inside of me while his words sank in. He wasn’t just aware of my consciousness but also had the same hands as Anatólia’s, capable of bestowing a sense of existence upon woodcraft.

“I had one like you,” he told me, turning me over to face him as if the front of my backrest were my face. “A wooden stool made of beech. I didn’t choose to give it life. But it happened, so I had to take care of it as I took care of plants.” He shook his head. “No, not like plants. Not even like dogs. I treated it as if it were my child. It ruined my life, though. Not its intention, no. But it did nevertheless. Well…” Tears now crossed down his cheeks, through his wrinkles, and onto his white beard. “I suppose I ruined myself. Who am I to blame a stool?”

He guffawed.

“It was—”

Leandro came in with Jeff. Their faces had darkened shades to them, and Jeff kept throwing glances at Leandro. If I could, I’d send them out. I needed to listen to the rest of the story.

“Are you okay, Vô?” Leandro said, putting a hand over his grandpa’s shoulder. “You're crying.”

Eduardo smiled. “Just babbling romantic rhymes and poetry that came to mind. I got all cheesy.”

Leandro and Jeff exchanged not-so-relieved looks.

“I have something to say.” Leandro pulled out one of my apple-themed friends and sat on it, rubbing his hands and pinching his lips.

“You are going to get married,” Eduardo said, propping his elbow on me. This was the news I’d like to hear, something that would make the old man forget his broken family at least for a while. But Eduardo was trembling. Both of us could read Leandro’s eyes very well. We’d learned many things through the years. Leandro had something else to say, something we weren’t going to like.

Leandro shook his head and stared at Jeff one last time. Jeff nodded, even if hesitantly.

“Joana went back to Portugal,” Leandro said. “She’s going to live there for good.”

Eduardo sat on me.


- 5 -

The sunlight I loved so much when I was varnished and good-smelling wasn’t so friendly in the long run. Twenty years after I yearned so much for those light streaks cutting through the lumberyard’s boards, my wood darkened, dried out, and rifted at the edges. The luster varnish I thought would endure until the end of time had dulled to a stained, rough finish. But the sun wasn’t the only one to blame. My seahorses had heads a little more flattened now, and the furrows in their lines had accumulated grime and dust. The water lilies on two of my feet were unrecognizable, just bulks of wood, the result of years bumping into the table and the other chairs. My seat faded from crimson to a whitish violet, though it was mostly intact but for a small cut on its side. I imagined myself looking a lot more like Anatólia in her last days.

And speaking of my carpenter, I had her sentence figured out.

Leandro and Jeff decided to hire an apartment nearby, so they could spend more time with Eduardo and keep encouraging him to maintain a healthy routine. Rare were the moments of laughter and joy in the Amorims’ residence, but there was still something flowing there. And whatever it was, I decided to call it love. I might be completely wrong, being a chair and all, but that was what answered the doubts I had about Anatólia’s sentence. Who was she, the one who would love me? It didn’t matter as long as I was there with them, static, partially hidden by the table. And love—or whatever you might call it—surged from Leandro to Jeff, from Jeff to his grandfather-in-law, and from Eduardo to me. The old man and I shared a special bond by now, an old bone-made creature and a piece of battered oak-built furniture.

Sometimes, Eduardo threw glances only I understood, sometimes he smiled, other times he whispered, and when he was alone he told me about that time when Leandro and Joana’s parents were alive and they decided to plant trees in the backyard. Or that other time when Joana tried to count the fish swimming in shoals in a creek not a mile away from the house. He was the head of a broken family, a man whose shoulders were bulky with guilt. But he knew how to love and to be loved.

I never learned the full story about the stool from Eduardo himself. After discovering Joana was leaving, he drowned in a personal sulkiness of guilt that lasted for some time. His habits changed, his voice went from the tight, educated tone filled with analysis and self-control to the rough and downtrodden mood of the defeated. Time improved his temper, but something got lost in the way. It was as if Joana had died. In a way, she did. She’d never called Eduardo again in the decade that followed, but the gossip reverberating through unconscious wood told me that Eduardo scoured for phone numbers and searched the internet for his granddaughter’s whereabouts. He never found a thing.

Until he did.

Eduardo was in the kitchen against Leandro’s orders. His grandson had asked him not to use the stove when alone. The smell of fish—not salmon, but cod—floated across the living room, sticking to my wood and my seat. And it lingered there for over an hour. I worried, but I was a chair. What should I do beyond worrying? I stood there and did nothing even when the salty scent of cod transformed into that of fire.

“God!” I heard Eduardo’s gasp from the kitchen. “Leandro, come here. Not again, please! No, no!”

The fire alarms he’d installed nine years before sprang to life.

Eduardo came out from the kitchen and stood with a hand on the table, back slightly bent forward, eyes hollow. For a moment, it was like he was having a heart attack. His hands shivered through the table and it thrilled through me coming from the table’s foot that was touching my own.

“Vô!” Leandro’s voice. “What’s this smell?”

At this point, smoke was spreading through the room.

“My son, let’s get out of here.” Eduardo finally moved, and my barbs shifted in relief. “Get the chair.”

“What are you talking about?” Leandro didn’t stop. He ran to a closet in the small corridor that led to the kitchen and grabbed a fire extinguisher. He was precise. Years ago, Eduardo had paid firemen to provide instructions for him and Jeff.

“Let’s save our lives, Leandro,” Eduardo muttered, his hands still on the table. “Get the chair. The one with the seahorses.”

In the kitchen, I heard the fire extinguisher pouring its chemical on the flames with rapid swooshing jets. It muted Eduardo’s whimpering.

Leandro came several minutes later and his Vô was still static with his hand on the table, looking at the door as if unable to reach it.

“We lost the oven,” Leandro said, smudges of grey on his face and shirt. “What got into you, Vô?” He wasn’t angry but his voice was mildly sad.

“Joana’s thesis is called The Migration Flow of Saltwater Fish in the Southern Shores of Portugal. I found it on a webpage.”

“Is it?” Leandro wiped the sweat on his brow, his eyes escaping his grandfather’s gaze. He opened all the windows and sent a text, probably to the house insurance. When he turned back to Eduardo, he shook his head and ushered him to one of the chairs, pulling it out for him.

“I’m not worried about Joana, Vô. The house caught fire. I’m worried about you.”

Leandro kneeled before him and grasped his hands.

“I shouldn’t have been born like this…” Eduardo wept. “With these hands…”

Leandro frowned. “What?”

“That stool…”

“You said something about a chair minutes ago. What’s that?”

Eduardo’s gaze was far away, not here and not at the now, but it quickly focused on Leandro. Completely lucid. And he spoke for the first time about his past. While he was at it, I could feel his body shifting in the chair. Not shivering, but releasing something out of him.

“You and Joana were safe in the garden. I came back inside to save your parents, then I saw the stool. It didn’t seem like anything serious, right? Just a burst outlet, right? Do you remember that day?”

Leandro shook his head and mouthed a negative. His lips fluttered.

“I was quick. I bragged about being a quick man back then, you know? I hurried inside, saw the stool, brought it outside. Ten seconds? Maybe thirty. Your parents were sleeping, so I had yet to wake them if the smell didn’t do it. So I ran back inside, climbed the stairs of that old house, and—”

Eduardo straightened his back. My legs clicked.

“Flames were blocking the door already. I heard them talking inside, I think. Trying to understand what was happening. I called them, but the floorboards crackled and pushed me back. I had to go back down the stairs. I called the fire department, but… The fire spread quickly in that old house. I screamed for them at the window, but all I saw were shadows as the fire spread through the curtains.”

“Why did you never tell me this?” Leandro’s voice was hoarse, his teeth clinking, but his hands still grasping those of his Vô.

“The firemen were quick enough, but it was too late. And your sis… Your sis waited for me with you on her lap. She was sitting on the stool. She was trembling. She was—she was crying a lot and you were too. And the first thing she said to me was… It was… She asked me why did I bring the stool out first? She was twenty then, you were barely six months.”

“And why did you?” Leandro pulled a chair and sat facing his grandpa.

“I gave it life once. It was my duty to save it.”

Leandro just gaped at Eduardo, their hands stitched together and resonating with the table, the chairs, the floorboards, me. Leandro could ask anything at this point. If that was the reason Joana didn’t like him, if he consciously saved a stool knowing he could be sacrificing his son and his daughter-in-law, if the seahorses chair in the living room also had life. Instead, he just stooped forward and embraced Eduardo. They stood like this for a while, still resonating, smelling like smoke and fire.

I could never say if Leandro believed his grandfather. If I had to guess, I’d say he picked something in the middle. Perhaps he called Joana to confirm the story about the stool, perhaps he researched about blessed woodworkers only to find nothing at all. Perhaps he didn’t care as long as he had his Vô with him.

In the end, it didn’t matter. My time with the Amorims was over.

Eduardo died seven days later of a heart attack.


- 6 - 

The house went on sale. This time, the SOLD sign was placed on a pole in the house’s garden. It was sad to see João Gutierrez’s employees again. They bought back the furniture, probably to bring them back to its origins and restart the wood cycle. Leandro and João Gutierrez didn’t speak too long about numbers. They signed a deal and the gang started to shift everything I knew, everything I could call home. Only I was spared. Leandro didn’t want to sell me, so perhaps he found a sliver of truth in his grandfather’s words.

I moved to Leandro and Jeff’s apartment. Like Eduardo, my days were ending. Oak could last for millennia, but only as long as it was nurtured by the soil. Furniture lasted as long as it was preserved, taken care of, and properly maintained in the appropriate environment. Which held true for feelings too, now that I thought of it.

Life in Leandro and Jeff’s apartment was never the same. Sun bathed me during the morning and part of the afternoon, its rays sneaking in through electronic blinds. But I didn’t care anymore. I was placed to lead a glass table with two sets of plastic chairs that didn’t even smell of anything authentic. But I also didn’t care about leading. All I cared about was seeing how Leandro was happy. And Jeff. And after a couple of years, the 4-year-old girl they brought home. Sarah.

It was Sarah who broke me, I must confess. My legs weren’t as fierce as Anatólia’s hands anymore, so one day they just snapped. Sarah hurt her knees but it was just the beginning for those tiny bones. Leandro tried to repair me, visibly sad, mentioning to Jeff and Sarah how I was important to his Vô. How I should be kept, how I should be repaired. But I was beyond my days. The mildew growing through my seat could tell.

I didn’t want anything more either.

Leandro and Jeff shipped me to spend my last couple of months in a private deposit rented at Wood & Depot’s warehouse. It was dark and damp, and only through a small hatch window did the sunlight rarely filter in. What would be of me? It didn’t matter. All I knew was my consciousness, Anatólia’s gift, was fading fast. But I must tell you that I’ve never been so glad in my life, because right there in the dark, remembering little Sarah’s giggles, I discovered I was one of the Amorims. And we were made of oak.

Renan Bernardo is a science fiction and fantasy writer from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. His fiction appeared in Apex Magazine, Podcastle, Escape Pod, Daily Science Fiction, and others. His fiction has also appeared in multiple languages, including German, Italian, Japanese, and Portuguese. He can be found on Twitter (@RenanBernardo) and his website: