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(SAF) Lamp

Once the place was theirs, they went to Kaufman’s like everyone else. He didn’t see why: they had plenty of furniture, some of it antiques, even. But, it was her belief that “that old stuff wouldn’t look right in a new house.” And, he knew better than to argue. The move to Long Island was his idea. He was the one who insisted that it would be good for the kids. He was the one who dismissed her suggestion that they instead move to Manhattan with a terse “I die in that hell hole everyday and I don’t want to die there every night, too.”

So, to Kaufman’s for new furniture it was.

They looked at sofas and bedroom sets, dining tables and chairs. For what seemed like hours. In the end, he got away cheap. A corner table and a lamp were all they took home that day. Both were in the Danish modern vein that was then the rage. Light brown, clean lines, little adornment. The lamp was wood with a ceramic base and a linen shade.

He thought they looked insubstantial and cheap—that they lacked the eminence of the “family heirlooms” that she was so ready to pack off to the Council of Jewish Women. For her part, she loved the new stuff. She thought it “beautiful, elegant even” and a welcome break from a stuffy past that she associated with her mother-in-law.

From the day that they brought them home until the day she moved 32 years later, the table sat in the corner of the living room, huddled between sofa and arm chair and nesting in a pile of green shag, the lamp occupying its northwest corner. They were perfect together. Like the dogs they got as puppies, it was hard to imagine them ever apart.

Although she did her best to care for the furniture, time took its toll. The table, in particular, soon showed its age. Despite all that Pledge promised, its finish did yellow and fade. It bore the ghosts of coffees and Manhattans past, testaments to guests’ poor manners or judgment. A couple of cigarette burns were attributable to good times long forgotten. (She never did discover the gum that was stuck on the underside.) After a while, all this became part of the patina of age, as inevitable as it was forgettable and forgivable.

For its part, the lamp would have reached its maturity virtually unscathed had it not suffered a chip in its ceramic base, the result of their son’s indiscretion with a wiffle ball on a boring rainy day in his ninth year. The boy displayed, first, resourcefulness in trying to first repair the damage with Elmer’s and, then, deceit in attempting to hide it from view by rotating the lamp. Both acts were futile as she discovered the carnage straightaway.

She was furious and demanded blood. The kids knew better than to play in the living room and some one would be made to pay. The girls were able to deny all responsibility unequivocally, and with no small degree of relief. That left but one suspect. Discovered in his room, the boy feigned homework and ignorance. The denials only stoked her fury, and when he refused to face her, she cuffed him a good one, sending him teary and traumatized to his bed where he remained until the following morning, missing dinner and Bonanza.

Unbeknownst to all, she had a surprisingly effective right hook and his right cheek remained bruised for a week.

What the chip removed from the lamp in resale value, it reinvested in sentiment. As much as she loved the way it complimented the table and made that corner of the living room so indescribably perfect, after the accident, the lamp stepped out of the table’s shadow. From then on, whenever she looked at it, she was reminded of the love she held for her darling boy. For his part, the son wished he had smashed it into a million fucking pieces.

As the Kaufman’s salesman had predicted, the table did end up outliving all of them. Presumably, anyway. Three years after her husband’s cardiac arrest, and 44 days after she sold the house, it was carted away by two Puerto Rican men and taken, like her mother-in-law’s “antiques” before it to the Council of Jewish Women, where, eventually, it found a nice home with a young family who paid more for it used than it had originally cost.

The lamp had other places to go. It she packed, along with her furs and jewelry and 40 years worth of Kodak memories, into the back seat of her Cadillac and took with her to L.A.

With her husband dead and her friends dead or dying or in Florida (or both), and her kids all moved away, she decided to hell with Long Island and moved out to the Coast to be closer to her darling son, who had himself moved West some years before to become the unemployed boyfriend of a successful art director in the pictures.

She and the lamp settled into a little apartment on the Westside where there seemed to be a concentration of women like her, with stories not dissimilar to her own. She quickly tapped into a community of the like-minded (and like-situated) and, so, spent the next 19 years in good company, playing mahjong, drinking coffee, kvelling about grandchildren, and kvetching about just about everything else. Although she never really lost her Brooklyn accent, she seemed to have no trouble acclimating to life as a widow on the other side of the country. In fact, she seemed to flourish. She was perennially tanned from water aerobics. And, freed from the responsibility of raising children and from being the emotional anchor for an insecure nebbish, she was relaxed and loquacious and, really, happy.

While her son never got over the fact the she was his mother, his boyfriend turned out to be “such a sweet boy! (Are you sure you’re gay?),” who fell madly in love with her, found her charming and hilarious, and, much to her son’s chagrin, had her over often.

Through it all, the lamp provided her with steady illumination, the cast of its light a fair bit warmer that it had been in Long Island.

It was a good life. Until it wasn’t. The California sun and the dry Santa Ana winds took their toll on the lamp’s linen shade, which became brittle and cracked. The story of her own demise was all too familiar: a symptom, some testing, a missed diagnosis, medication prescribed, more symptoms, more testing, more medication, a positive diagnosis, a negative prognosis.

The children argued over what remained of her estate. There was some money, which they divided, and the pictures, which they cherry-picked. One of the girls took the china; the other took the silver. Neither wanted the furs. They each got some pearls. The son got the engagement ring.

The lamp went unclaimed.

It was left to the son to call the Council of Jewish Women and have them cart the remainder of her possessions away. He hated all of her things and it was a cruel irony that it was left to him to deal with their disposal. The prospect left him morose and anxious. He bitched and moaned and took to his bed and procrastinated and came up with some novel excuses to avoid dealing with the task.

As often happened when he got like that, his-boyfriend-the-art-director took charge.

And so it was that, after three days of packing and cleaning and supervising the surrender of the remnants of her life to the Council’s charge, the boyfriend returned home to her son tired and sad, with but a single memento to remember her by: the vintage ceramic-and-wood Danish modern lamp that was missing a chip.