short prose contest 2016 runner up
FREE ARMCHAIR, WORCESTER
He pinches the j between his first two fingers squints an eye against the ribbon of smoke sliding up and over his cheekbone. It’s me my buddy Ant and Ant’s step-dad Randy a half-ass house painter who’s always trying to hit us up for weed or pills even though we’re thirteen and don’t do pills or have any idea how to get them. We’re driving Randy’s work van into Worcester to pick up a recliner he found in the free section of the Globe. Ant hates his guts and I don’t like him much either but Ant’s always doing stuff for me like asking his mom if I can stay the night when I get kicked out or sneaking me empanadas when my dad doesn’t come home so I go along. Ant up front me in the back. Bracing myself against the wheelwells trying not to get knocked around too bad. Randy pulls up in front of the house and we try stuffing the armchair in the back but the arms are too wide. We flip it on one end heave it onto the roof. Lash it down with a tangle of rope from the glovebox and step back. It’s not a bad looking chair. Fabric ratty at the edges but sturdy. Mostly clean. Randy twists another j to celebrate and buys us sandwiches. We post up in an Arby’s parking lot the three of us cracking jokes Randy belting folk songs in spanish. Recliner strapped to the van like a prize buck. He flicks the roach into the weeds says but you skinny-asses you little faggots you could barely lift it and we stop laughing. I look over at Ant and he’s sort of picking at his jeans face tight like he got caught doing something dumb like he’s ashamed or something and for a second it’s like what’s gonna happen has already happened. Like the rope’s already snapped the armchair gone headlong into the road behind us. Like we’re pulled off on the shoulder Randy punching the wheel calling us dumbfucks fuckheads sons-of-bitches. Sending us out to wait for a lull in traffic drag the wreckage onto the median. Like we’ve already started to say what we’ll say over and over: We knew the whole time. Chair was too heavy. Rope too frayed. Too thin. Nah we knew. No shit we knew. You think we’re stupid?
Edgar Kunz is a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. His work appears in Narrative, New England Review, The Missouri Review, AGNI, Best New Poets 2015, and other places. His writing has been supported by the Academy of American Poets, the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference, and Vanderbilt University, where he earned his MFA. He lives in Oakland, California.