Silva left the tacks on the floor. Rick said to. Sweep up after, it saves time. The upholstery shop smelled of pulled cotton, dry foam, and whatever scent the furniture carried from its original home. Sometimes it was garlic, sometimes mothballs and wine. The plaid wingback chair propped before Silva held an odd copper aroma. He pried rusted staples from the armrest with a pronged screwdriver, tapping its steel end with a rubber mallet. Sometimes the metal was so old it turned to dust beneath Silva’s blows. Just leave them. I’ll cut them out later, Rick would say from behind the bench where he sewed throw pillows with a foot-pedaled Singer.
Occasionally, Rick would remove a nail gun hanging from the wall to tack wayward cloth in place, sometimes he’d go out back to smoke.
It was Silva’s first reliable job and he wanted to avoid doing anything wrong, hence the constant questioning of Rick, who’d been dissecting antique furniture for fifty years. Glen needed the money. His father passed away three years before and his mother’s bookkeeping business barely kept the lights on. Rick paid eighteen an hour, far beyond minimum wage, enough to save, keeping bank accounts stable.
Rick’s hands were notched and carved from stray nails and scissors, scars thick and winding over his knuckles. Rick knew Silva’s grandfather, decided nineteen was an ideal age for apprenticeship. Silva liked the work, liked the fact his boss let him listen to music while he peeled fabric off couches from the eighteen hundreds, ottomans riddled with cigarette burns. Strip the old skin, restitch the new, Rick said.
“They have me re-cover that one every five years,” Rick said, as Silva began to fold back the chair’s fabric. Unlike most of the furniture Silva worked on, there was a second layer beneath, not the typical mesh of cotton and foam. The material was badly stained, the copper smell swelling with removal.
“What the hell,” Silva said as the fabric fell away between nail taps.
“Just ignore it. Those people pay three times our rate to leave the base layer. Get the rest off and I’ll take it from there,” Rick said.
“But, I don’t…” Silva stammered.
The majority of the fabric lay curled over the chair’s arm like discarded skin. Beneath, the outline of a body had been pressed into the material, a dark brown fading to crimson around the edges. It looked like a man who’d been reduced to the contents of his veins, as if a body had bled out and dissolved into the cushions.
“You don’t what? You’re going to see weird stuff if you stick around. Objects that shouldn’t be stuck beneath seat cushions. Notes left in pockets that were never meant to be read. You’ll see,” Rick replied, the pedal of the Singer whirring, needle never faltering as he stitched the final raised seam.
“Someone literally died in this chair. We’re destroying evidence. Shouldn’t we call the cops?”
“If I was going to do that, I would have done so thirty years ago. And we’re preserving it if anything. Some cultures leave bodies of loved ones propped in their living rooms until the decay really sets in. I think of it as more of a remembrance, someone holding on to someone they miss.”
Silva fought down his revulsion, tugging loose another dozen nails, their tarnished points singing off the linoleum floor, allowing the second skin to slip to the ground. He needed to see the image in its entirety. The outline of a man’s body was unmistakable, down to the folds in his pants, the press of his fingers into the armrest. The silhouette almost looked burnt, seared into the seat.
“Now get the underside,” Rick said.
The doorway to the shop pulled at Silva’s naval, the urge to flee tugging at his insides. His face had grown warm, sweat clawing at his armpits.
“I can’t. This is messed up. I need a couple hours of sick time or…” Silva said.
“No, you don’t. It will take ten minutes, then it’s over. I’ll do the rest and you won’t see this chair again for another five years. You’ll forget. The money’s good. A little unease is worth it.”
Silva’s best friend Chuck made nine-fifty stocking shelves at the local market. His girlfriend, Beth, pulled in just over eleven cleaning bathrooms at the hotel on 6A. Most of the older adults in his life were barely making above twenty, and they’d been at their jobs for decades. Eighteen was unheard of for starting pay. Rick promised he’d earn more than 50K when he graduated from apprentice, nearly fifteen grand more than his mother made a year.
Opportunity was rare. Silva couldn’t let it wither.
“Ten minutes isn’t much,” he said, sweeping a cluster of tacks from the base of the chair, clearing a spot where he could kneel to get at the layer of underlining draped beneath the seat. “I can do ten minutes.”
Art by Bob Schofield @anothertower