It’s a balmy spring evening in the middle of a nearly deserted parking lot San Antonio, Texas. Halfway between the street and a Habitat for Humanity furniture store squat two over-stuffed easy chairs, their muted gold, green and scarlet stripes polished to a delicate patina. Conjunto music wafts from the apartment building across the street and the salty lime aroma of fried tortillas broadcasts a suppertime message across the empty space. Plastic bags play tag around the chairs, and a scrawny dog investigates a dumpster’s possibilities. Seated in one of the chairs is Shelly Brouha wearing a Hawaiian shirt of riotous colors holding a large zebra-striped bag in her lap.
Glancing up to see if an approaching truck might be her moving van, Shelly sees an elderly woman heading toward the furniture store, grey hair pulled back in a barrette, wearing a stylish dove grey linen pantsuit. The woman stops in mid-stride, turns and stares at Shelly. After several moments, she shouts, “Why are you sitting out here in those chairs?”
“Getting a suntan?” Shelly answers and laughs.
The woman twists the handle of her purse into a tight knot and sidles closer. “But don’t you see? The sun will fade the colors and rot the fabric.” She looks up at the sky. “What if it rains?”
Shelly smiles. “I doubt they’ll be here long enough for all that to happen. I have a mover on his way to pick them up.”
The woman’s breath comes in shallow gulps. “No, that’s not possible. These are MY chairs.”
Shelly digs into her bag and pulls out a piece of paper that she dangles at the woman. “And this is my sales receipt,” she says.
The woman snatches the receipt and dashes to the store, returning shortly propelling the store manager in front of her. “That woman is stealing my chairs,” she says, pointing at Shelly. “You must do something.”
“What the hell is going on, Mr. Obregon?” Shelly says.
The woman grabs at the man’s arm when he tries to hand the receipt to Shelly. “I’m sorry, Ms. Brouha. I didn’t see her coming or I would have tried to run interference. I called her son.”
Shelly and Obregon watch as the woman leans over and rubs her cheek along the back of one of the chairs, humming softly.
Obregon clears his throat. “Her name is Winona Collins. She inherited the chairs from her grandmother. Recently she began having spells of forgetfulness so the son moved her into his house, but unfortunately there wasn’t room for the chairs. Mrs. Collins comes to the store nearly every day to visit those chairs, talk to the customers, help around the shop. She’s a dear soul, everyone loves her, but eventually this day had to come.”
“Bless her heart.” Shelly watches the woman. “How can we make this easier for her?”
“I don’t know.” Mr. Obregon touches the woman’s shoulder. “Mrs. Collins, I’ve called Philip and he’s on his way to pick you up.”
“But my chairs, Mr. Obregon? We can’t leave them out here. Someone will steal them or a dog will pee on them or birds will…” She grabs one of the chairs and drags it toward the store.
Shelly approaches the woman. “Mrs. Collins, would you let me sit with you in your chairs until your son comes? We can watch people pass by and enjoy this lovely breeze.”
“No, no. I have to …”
“Please? I’m tired and need to sit down.”
After more coaxing, they guide the woman into one of the chairs and Shelly sits down in the other. “Winona — is it okay if I call you Winona? My name’s Shelly.”
The woman nods.
“Will you tell me about your chairs?”
Mr. Obregon gives a nod and thumbs-up and hurries back to the store.
Winona strokes the arms of the chair as she speaks. “My grandmother and I always sat in these chairs when I visited her in the summers. Sometimes we listened to the radio but mostly she read stories to me and then later I read stories to her. When she died, I took the chairs, but now I can only visit them here at the store.”
“You must miss them very much,” Shelly says, patting the woman’s arm. “If you will give me permission to babysit them for you, I’ll make sure they’re never lonely, like they must be when the store is closed.”
Tears fill the woman’s eyes. “But then I’ll never see them.”
“Nonsense. Any time you want to visit your chairs, all you have to do is call me, and I’ll pick you up. I’ll make lunch and we can sit in your chairs to eat and share our stories. Do you like chicken salad?”
“Oh yes,” she says, smiling.
“And strawberry shortcake?”
“With whipping cream?”
“Of course.” Shelly hands her a note. “Here’s my phone number. I’ll give one to your son, too, just in case.”
Winona folds the note and places it in the outside pocket of her purse.
“It’s a deal, then? You’ll call me?” Shelly says.
“Yes, thank you.”
She raises her palm. “Then give me five.”
Winona grins and smacks the offered hand. “High five.”
“I seem to remember some chocolate down in here somewhere,” Shelly says, diving into her bag again. “If I get lucky, can you be tempted?”
Winona laughs and applauds when Shelly unearths a Hershey bar, snaps it in two and divvies out the portions. They nibble at the candy, wave hello to passersby and watch the sky wriggle into its silver evening gown. When the street lights blink on all at once, Winona breathes a long sigh. “It’s like a fairy godmother waved her wand over the streetlamps and set them all on fire.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“My grandmother used to sing a song about a lamplighter who went up and down the streets lighting the gas streetlamps. Do you remember that old song?”
“I do. Wait, let me think.” She pauses then sings, “He made the night a little brighter…”
“Yes, that’s it.” Winona joins in, “…wherever he would go. The old lamp lighter of long, long ago...”
It’s a balmy spring evening in the middle of a nearly deserted parking lot in San Antonio, Texas. Two women, aged 65 and 80, sit side by side in elegant old chairs, friends joined in voice and heart, hurling their song out into the twilight while the stars blink on one by one above them.