“Things don’t just disappear; they can always be found if you know where to look,” Leslietta Bernadard had said, rather fatefully, to her boss on Monday, as he was searching the office for his car keys at the end of the workday. Perhaps the universe overheard her and fancied itself a prankster, or perhaps her coworker overheard and fancied himself a cynic, because either way, Leslietta Bernadard walked into Donald Troy Insurance on Tuesday and found herself without a chair.
She was thankful she had stopped herself after swinging her purse to the ground that morning, because she had almost taken for granted that it would be there and plopped into it, the way she had every weekday morning for the past ten years. She was always the first one to the office and unlocked the door before the seven men she worked with arrived, since she was the only employee in the office who could actually be depended upon. After flicking on all the office lights, Leslie always fell into her desk chair and pulled up her email, eyes blinking to acclimate to the fluorescent daylight. Then, when she found no messages from her boss, Mr. Troy, she would scuttle to the break room and brew a pot of coffee—one cup for her, and the rest of the pot for her boss when he finally meandered into work anywhere from 20 to 50 minutes late each day.
This routine was tried and true, and ten years solidified, so when Leslie rounded her desk and saw only the plastic mat on the floor where her chair was usually at, she stopped and puzzled for a moment, not fully processing what was wrong today.
She looked about her, jacket still fastened and scarf still tied around her wide neck. Frowning her faint eyebrows and pursing her fuchsia-painted lips, she spotted nothing abnormal or out of place, other than the absence of her chair. It was just her desk and the front door, as usual.
But things don’t just disappear; they can always be found if one knows where to look. So Leslie walked down the hallway, her pumps clicking, her fingers flicking on each office’s lights and neck peering in to see which asinine insurance agent stole her chair last night and neglected to put it back at her desk. How rude it was for these men to help themselves to her belongings and be so inconsiderate to not replace it. They are atrocious at cleaning up after themselves… she complained to herself. Yet, when her search was complete, every office had its proper desk chair and two wooden client chairs, and the break room at the end of the hall merely had its two cushioned chairs in the corner.
Her first round of investigations over, Leslie loudly clucked her tongue and sighed sharply. She made her way back to her desk, and, her forehead beginning to bead with perspiration, she tugged at her scarf and finally removed her jacket, hanging it up on the coat rack beside her desk. She was a plump woman and ran hot, so she was relieved to feel the cool office air on her bare arms. Today she was wearing a ruffled short sleeve blouse with roses printed in collage, and a black skirt with matching black panty hose. Her feet stuffed into scuffed black Mary Janes.
As the agents began filing in, greeting Leslie as they waltzed through the door, she stood beside her desk and confronted each man in salutation with, “Good morning, Mr. ______, do you see my chair is missing?”
Yet every suit that clocked in that morning dismissed Leslie’s missing chair in their own way, either with cluelessness, unconcerned humor, or blatant rudeness. “I don’t know what to tell you, Mrs. Bernadard,” the sweetest of the agents said, bringing up the rear of men to file in. He was a bald, chubby man with a mustache so well grown it may have been an implant. “I can loan you one of my office chairs, if you like.”
Leslie liked very much, and the man, Dalton Smith, grunted as he lugged one of the wooden chairs from his office down the hall and set it up for Leslie to sit in.
It was rather uncomfortable for her, but yet she was used to discomfort in that office. Aside from working with a boys’ club’s worth of agents, her missing chair had more seniority at the office than she did—and it felt like it, too. Leslie had hated her office chair to begin with; it was a black computer chair, the cushion worn flat and hard, the leather on the arm rests torn and foam padding poking out. The back support wasn’t doing any supporting, and was more so launching an active campaign against Leslie’s back. (She often attributed her back problems to that chair and joked of suing it for malicious practice.) But while she hated her desk chair, now she desperately wished she knew where it was, because however bad it was, this wooden chair was worse: smaller, and less giving. And not hers.
When Mr. Troy finally popped into the office that morning, a whopping 48 minutes after the rest of the gentlemen of the office, Leslie was eager to ask him from her wooden chair if he had the faintest clue as to where it had gone. Perhaps it was all just a practical joke, an early April Fool’s Joke on the woman who was routine and reliable as the sun rising, and she could force an unenthusiastic laugh at the matter and be on with her day, business as usual. Perhaps he had felt rather cynical about her comment the day before, and took it upon himself to teach Leslie a lesson in lost objects, or a lesson in complaining about inadequate work equipment. But Mr. Troy merely shook his head and replied, “Nope, haven’t seen it,” and brushed right by her, down the hall, blowing Leslie off the way he always did.
Now Leslie was beyond curiosity, and beyond mild irritation. She was landing with panic now, because yesterday had been an especially bad day and she had done something out of the ordinary and now just wanted her damn chair back to put everything back to the way it should be. Because yesterday, furious from the spaghetti sauce splattered and hardened inside the break room microwave, and livid with Mr. Troy laughing at her request for extra vacation days this year and then shooing her out of his office, and irate from Mr. Dominic parking his Lexus way too close to her mini van in the parking lot so that she couldn’t fit between his and her driver’s side door (so that she had to open the passenger door and crawl over the center console, which took all of a twenty-minute ordeal eating into her sixty-minute lunch break), she had drafted her resignation letter, complete with passive aggressive overtones and an “effective immediately” deadline.
However, Leslie, rather than emailing it or turning it in to Mr. Troy, merely printed it off, deleted the file on her computer, and huffed and puffed to herself at her desk while folding up the letter and stuffing it into an envelope. She was so fed up with being taken for granted, but she had written this resignation letter a dozen different times in a dozen different ways, and the longer she toyed with the idea, the more she got used to swallowing her feelings and just dealing with the nonsense, because although this was a crappy job, it was still a job, and Leslie had Bills to Pay.
In fact, Leslie had so many Bills to Pay that not only should she most definitely keep her full time secretary position at Donald Troy Insurance, but she had even been considering finding a second job. Every month when she opened her credit card statement, she was faced with a number so grandiose that she wondered if it were even possible for her to accrue that sum of money, even if she harvested her entire body and sold herself organ by organ to the black market. That wasn’t even to mention her hospital bills, her mortgages, or her court fees. At least her mini van had been paid off back in 2015, when she bought it for $500 from her neighbor after she lost her car in that accident.
So, rather than march into Mr. Troy’s office and bitch slap him with her resignation letter like she so desperately daydreamed, Leslie taped it to the bottom of her office chair so that it could exist, right under the nose of that rat bastard, yet so nondescript that no one, except Leslie, would ever know of its truth.
Except, now Leslie’s office chair was missing, and said letter along with it.
Leslie gulped at the idea that her boss had toyed with it after work yesterday, and she began gnawing on her stubby nails as she worried that he had read it amidst his practical joke. If he had seen it, why didn’t he fire her on the spot this morning? Or was he playing the long game, letting her fret about it, subjecting her to unnecessary torment? Or, Leslie feared, what if Mr. Troy had gotten one of his shiny new office lackeys to chuck her chair for him, and this henchman found the note and turned it in to Mr. Troy? Then, more people would know—perhaps the whole office was in on it. How embarrassing it would be for all those guys to know exactly how she felt. What if they had read it like little boys read their sister’s diary, giggling at her expression of true feelings?
As Leslie puzzled over the various possibilities of what could have happened to her chair, she found it very hard to concentrate on her job. She responded to emails, answered phone calls, and directed clients with a creeping uneasiness at all times. Besides the wooden chair she had borrowed from Mr. Smith being terribly uncomfortable, she was restless the entire day.
After work that night, Leslie spoke on the phone with her gal friend, who had been her best friend since high school, and who she had began calling every evening since Mr. Bernadard had passed away a couple years ago.
“I just don’t know where my chair went… It’s driving me crazy! Where does a chair just disappear to?” Leslie mused, Dancing with the Stars playing on her TV as she pet her dog Chappie in her lap.
The next day at work, she asked Dalton if he would like his wooden chair back for his clients, but he told Leslie she could borrow it as long as she needed. “I don’t have that many clients visit me anyway,” he added, his round face blushing red. “And if a client does need it, well they can stand!”
Leslie thanked him, and didn’t mention that it had made her legs go numb yesterday from cutting off her blood circulation. The seat was barely large enough to fit her, and her body squished up against the rungs on its curved back like she was stuffed in a prison box. Still, it was something, and as politely as she could, she asked her boss before she took her lunch break, “Still no word on my chair?”
“Oh, you’re still missing that?” Mr. Troy asked, unconcerned, looking up from his cell phone. His feet were crossed upon his desk, and he was reclining quite far back in his own office chair. “That’s kind of a peculiar thing to lose, your chair.”
Leslie swallowed and blinked. “Yes, it’s quite peculiar. I didn’t have much say in the matter, though,” she replied, trying to sound as pleasant and easygoing and not passive aggressive as possible.
She lingered in his doorway for another moment, waiting for him to say anything else, but his attention returned to his cell phone, and Leslie backed out, heading down the hallway back towards her desk.
As she was pulling on her jacket beside the front door, Mr. Smith, who was on his way out the door for his lunch break as well, stopped to chat with Leslie. “Do you think someone broke into the office and stole only your chair?” Dalton asked, smile playing at his lips, mustache twitching at the silliness of his thought.
Leslie scoffed and shook her head, wrapping her scarf around her neck and tossing it over her shoulder. “I don’t know! Could be… But you’re the only person in this office who has expressed any amount of concern.”
Dalton smiled, and quietly said, leaning in towards Leslie, “Yeah, most of these guys are pretty wrapped up in their own business, huh?”
“To put it mildly! You and I are the only ones here who remember what life was like before cell phones!” Leslie picked up her large maroon purse from her desk and slung it on her shoulder.
With a slight pause, Dalton looked at the ground and then back at Leslie. “Would you want to take our lunch together?”
Although Leslie had always liked Dalton the best, she had never entertained more than a few fleeting thoughts about him, or anyone, actually, since her husband had passed away. She never spoke about it, but she was superb at isolating herself and subjecting herself to a lonely life, cutting herself off from potential heartbreak and avoiding new friendships so that she didn’t have to endure the trouble of disappointment. But with Dalton’s harmless proposal, some pesky ray of light began to shine for her, and Leslie found herself more excited than she expected to spend her lunch break not entirely by herself.
She accepted, and they made the Arby’s down the street their refuge from pain in the ass coworkers and insurance problems for the hour, as Leslie vented about being the only woman in an office of self-absorbed young businessmen and how the office culture had went downhill over the years.
“Have you ever thought about training to become an agent?” Dalton asked her. “You probably know more about insurance than half of the guys.”
As she chewed a curly fry, she mulled over this idea. Leslie had always figured Mr. Troy wouldn’t be interested in promoting her, and so never dreamed of moving up in the office. But with this question and Dalton’s hint at encouragement, she replied, “No, I guess not. But I probably could, couldn’t I?”
On their way back from lunch, Leslie peeked into the dumpster in the parking lot, just in case her chair was left out there in the cold. But there were only some full black trash bags, a cardboard box, and a rather vocal squirrel whose aggressive chirping sent her scuttling away.
Back at her desk, she spent the rest of the afternoon researching office chairs so she could figure out the exact make and model of the chair she lost—in case she needed to know, to help her find it. But it was an old chair, so it was an outdated model and a little difficult to pinpoint. She found an image of a chair very similar to it though, and designed a flyer on Microsoft Word with “Lost Chair” typed across the top. She pasted the sample chair’s image and juxtaposed it next to a five-year-old photo of her sitting in it during an old office holiday party. She printed off three copies of it and hung them around the office, one in particular near her desk so she could study her coworkers’ reaction to it, noting an guilty behavior. But for the rest of the day, it was as though none of the men in the office were even remotely aware of their surroundings, and didn’t so much as glance at the flyer. Leslie rolled her eyes each time. So oblivious, she muttered to herself.
The next day, Leslie had had enough. She took one look at the wooden chair she was borrowing from Dalton, and shook her head. “I need a new office chair,” she demanded to the empty office. She resolved that as soon as her boss arrived at work, she would sternly lay out her orders and if he refused, she was prepared to speak her mind.
When Mr. Troy arrived at the office, she waited five minutes for him to get settled before knocking on his door and slipping inside. “So… Just to clarify… You have no knowledge about where my chair is?” Leslie began, as Mr. Troy stared at his computer screen, moving and clicking the mouse every few seconds.
“None whatsoever, Leslie.” He kept his eyes on his computer screen and spoke in a monotone voice to signal his apathy. “But I assure you, if I were to find out what happened to it, you would be the first person I called, right before I alerted the news media to report this much-anticipated discovery.”
Leslie’s vision spotted and she felt a tide of anger rise from her chest. In her mind, she cursed his arrogant, disrespectful attitude and his stupid premature balding head. She wished she could scream and push his computer to the floor, then grab his framed degrees and certifications off the wall and whip them at him like ninja stars. But she swallowed, and composed herself, standing up straighter and puffing up her chest.
“Fine, Mr. Troy. I will be needing a new office chair, then. My preferred model is the Omega 24/7 Chair with flip arms. Perhaps you can have it expedited to the office.” She looked at him firmly, eyes unwavering.
He looked up at her finally, and the two of them stared at each other for a moment, Leslie holding her ground, and Mr. Troy considering what she had said.
And then, Leslie had a peculiar moment of immense bravery. “Also, you may begin training me to become a certified insurance agent. I would like a promotion.” She raised her chin as she said this, emboldened.
Mr. Troy merely stared back at her, eyebrows arched.
“That is all,” she concluded, and with a nod, she turned and left his office.
But even though she had been so courageous, as she walked down the hallway back to her desk, her heart was racing rapidly and her palms were moist with sweat. She sat down in the wooden chair and wondered if Mr. Troy would accept her demands, or if he would be enraged by her audacity and fire her. She wondered if being fired would actually feel liberating, for all of five minutes before it began to feel like homelessness…
She still fantasized about where her chair went. It wasn’t so much that she loved that chair, but the mystery bothered her. What happened to it? And who had read the letter taped to its underside? Leslie was still somewhat convinced one of her coworkers had thought it funny to get rid of it, a cruel, boyish prank. Where else would it have gone? Except, that Monday evening, Leslie had been the last person to lock up the office, and so whoever it was had to have a key to the office, and she wasn’t sure if even Mr. Troy had keys; he couldn’t be trusted to keep track of anything, much less office keys!
The rest of the day, she waited and waited for Mr. Troy to approach her desk and tell her to pack up her belongings, but he ignored her as usual. Her heart would beat faster every time she saw him step out of his office, but he gave no indication of his feelings. Leslie was beginning to wish she hadn’t said anything at all to him, because then she wouldn’t have to worry about his reaction.
Dalton had brought a lunch from home that day, and so Leslie went by herself to McDonald’s during her break, but she was eager to tell him about her moment of boldness that morning. She caught him on his way out of the office that evening, and relayed the rather one-sided conversation to Dalton in hushed tones.
“Good for you!” he whispered, smiling and forming a thumbs up. “Have you heard anything from him?”
Leslie sighed and shook her head, explaining that she had been worrying about his lack of response all day. But Dalton was reassuring, and told her that’s just exactly how Mr. Troy is, and not to feel discouraged.
The next day was Friday, and after Mr. Troy swept by her as usual that morning, she told herself she was foolish to get her hopes up, and that Mr. Troy had probably merely ignored what she had said, leaving her in sort of a hellish purgatory where she wasn’t fired, but also not making any progress. Her wooden chair felt especially uncomfortable all day.
Feeling rather discouraged, Leslie took down her chair flyers and tossed them in the recycling bin. Maybe she would just have to save up her own money and bring her own chair to work. At least that way, whenever she did quit or get fired, she could take it with her. Leslie rolled her eyes at the thought of Mr. Troy immediately buying a new office chair for whatever pretty, young secretary he would hire to replace her, whenever that day came—Leslie wondered if it would even be today.
She and Dalton got lunch together again that day, and she found out that he was a divorcee with two teenage daughters. Leslie and her late husband had never had children; they had tried, but after two miscarriages, they had resolved to stop trying. Although they had similar statures, Dalton was much different from her husband—he was sweet and conversational, whereas Mr. Bernadard had been very stoic and quiet. Ultimately, Leslie’s life had not changed much when he died, except she fell farther in debt and missed the presence of companionship, even if his presence had been rather muted to begin with.
“I hope this isn’t too corny of me, but now I’m actually kind of glad my chair went missing, because I gained a friend,” Leslie said, a little timidly, as they threw away the trash from their lunch in the Burger King garbage. He glanced at her, and she smiled.
“Me too,” he said.
“It was a stupid chair anyway. It was a lousy Mainstay brand,” Leslie added, and they laughed as they pushed through the glass doors and out into the parking lot.
By Leslie’s standards, it was a pretty good Friday. None of her coworkers bumped into her in the office hallway, Mr. Dominic had called off work so there was plenty of room in the parking lot, and a client even complimented her on how helpful she had been, not to mention she was feeling elevated from her lunch break with Dalton. She actually didn’t even think about her missing chair much that afternoon—maybe she was finally coming to terms with its disappearance.
And then, just when Leslie was grabbing her coat at the end of the day, resolved that being a secretary wasn’t so bad after all, Mr. Troy whisked by, briefcase in hand. He paused as he arrived at the front door, and Leslie watched him as he turned towards her, index finger pointed.
“Your new chair should be in next week,” he said.
Leslie’s face lit up, and he turned and slipped out the door without further comment. As the door shut behind him, she celebrated to herself with a quick fist pump and excited squeal. She had won this round.
Two years later, Leslie and Dalton drove through the city on their way to work. As he drove, Dalton chatted about their upcoming plans to visit Nashville for a mini vacation. Leslie listened and watched the buildings pass by, contributing a few comments here and there, “Oh yes, that sounds perfect!”
Their hybrid SUV slowed and stopped at a traffic light, and as Dalton was reporting the weather forecast for their trip, something caught Leslie’s eye and she squinted intently.
“Only a 30% chance of rain on Friday, and then sunshine all weekend,” Dalton was saying, and then Leslie interrupted him.
“Is that—my chair?!” Leslie cried, pointing frantically at the corner of 5th Ave and Main St.
Dalton rubbernecked and squinted too, trying to spot what Leslie was seeing.
A homeless man with ragged hair, torn up pants, and a black cap sat on a black office chair, a few plastic bags surrounding him on the sidewalk. He held a sign in his lap “VETERAN. UNLUCKY. HUNGRY.” sprawled in marker on a flap of cardboard, and he slowly swiveled from side to side.
“How would you know?” Dalton asked, the light turning green. He slowly accelerated, allowing Leslie an extra moment to gawk without disrupting the flow of traffic.
Leslie kept her vision locked on the man until they left it far behind them. “I just know,” she replied, her mind wandering. “I just know.”
“How the heck did it end up with him?” Dalton asked, frowning and switching lanes to make a left into their new workplace’s parking lot, Caviar and Caviar Insurance.
With a shake of her head, Leslie thought about where she had been two years ago when her chair went missing. Although it had been a peculiar and seemingly minuscule event, it had led to much more than she could have ever predicted.
“Who’s to say?” she shrugged, and resolved that she would go back to that homeless man on her lunch break today, with an Arby’s roast beef sandwich and a curly fry.
Just to thank him.
2 thoughts on “The Missing Chair”
That is a Beautiful – well crafted story- Great Job Brittany!
dan and michele – wg customers
Thank you, Dan and Michele! I miss you two!