number 12 chair

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on

She was standing at the kitchen sink, domestically engaged in a general way. Maybe washing dishes or wiping down the counter. But she stood on a stool because she wasn’t yet tall enough without it. She had a sufficiently busy, responsible air about her, as if she’d maybe been put in charge of the place.

“My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair,” she said matter-of-factly. “But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Had we been discussing number 12 chairs? What is a number 12 chair? It sounds like an institutional category, maybe something in school of which I’d been blissfully ignorant in my youth.

“What size chair do you use?” I would ask.

“A number 10,” she would reply. “My sister, if she were of average size for her age, would need a size 12. She’s four inches taller and 3.5 inches wider in the hips than anyone in her class. And, of course, ten degrees more beautiful.”

“How old is your sister?”

“Older than me.”


“Anyhow, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

Or had she been responding to an observation I’d made about her sister?

“How is your sister doing?” I would ask.

“She’s reasonably well if you don’t think about her condition.”

“What is her condition?”

“Chronic depression, secondary to unresolved issues with our late grandfather, who molested her as a toddler, always while seated in his number 12 chair.”

“That bastard.”

“Indeed. Upon his death she transferred her righteous indignation to the chair in which he’d sat, intent on posthumously neutralizing a domestic terrorist. One day she simply picked up a five-pound maul and put it out of its misery.

“But not hers?”

“Suffice it to say, my sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

In my mind, for all her diminutive stature and use of an aid, she is taller than me. I am looking up at her. This is curious, as it accentuates the advanced maturity of her age, her status as a leading figure in her demographic – if that’s not putting it too clinically. It serves to illustrate the importance of “sitting under” someone, of listening to her words. Which is to say, listening to her.

Perhaps we’d been on the subject of furniture in general.

“I think number 12 chairs are the most comfortable ever contrived by man,” I would say.

“Or woman,” she would reply.

“Touché. Do you like them?”

Photo by Steward Masweneng on

“Number 12’s? Of course. They are both elegant and sufficiently functional.”

“Well, they are chairs, after all.”

“Nothing is that simple, alas. My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair.”

“For heaven’s sake, why?”

“She’s irrationally afraid of them. The doctor says it’s idiopathic.”

“Sorry to hear it. Perhaps a shrink is in order.”

“She won’t hear of it. I’ve tried.”

“What a thing to live with.”

“But keep in mind that all things are possible.”

All of this from a random firing of synapses in that mysterious transition between unconscious napping and swimming back up to the surface of consciousness. I’ve experienced all kinds of curious things fly through my head during this brief phase. Snatches of melody; bursts of light like fireworks or lightning; someone yelling my name.

This time, a half-developed polaroid snapshot and this girl’s voice and for heaven’s sake I’ve no idea where it comes from:

My sister can’t sit in a number 12 chair. But keep in mind that all things are possible.

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