Back to Archive


Breakfront by Lesley C. Weston

I grabbed the bag she still held and untied the knot she’d made with the handles.  I pulled out a bulb and threw it as hard as I could at the Christmas lights across the street.

“Please, stop.”

I reached in for another bulb.

“Hey,” she said.  “That looks like him.”  She pointed up the street to the corner.  A car, pulling a U-Haul was at the stop sign, its fan belt shrieking.

I dropped the bulb and kicked it into the bushes, then closed the bag and carried it up the driveway to the van.

The station wagon pulled into our drive, making the turn too fast.  It skidded on a patch of ice, and the U-Haul jack-knifed.  The driver yanked the wheel and the car spun, skidded off the drive and plowed into the yard, heading straight for my mother.

“Shit.  Shit,” I yelled.  I dropped the bag and ran.

Mom jumped backwards, and landed hard on her butt.  The car jerked to a stop two feet from her.

A florid-faced man and a whippet-thin woman climbed out of the car.  Their radio blasted “Jingle Bell Rock” into the air before they slammed their doors.

I pulled Mom up from the ground, and the man ran over to us.  “Jesus, that was close!” he said.  “Are you all right?”

He looked back at the driveway, took a deep breath, and let it out in a shaky laugh.  He brushed at his sleeve as if he’d been the one that had fallen.  “You should really put down some salt.”  Adrenaline pumped through me, and I started to go for him.

Mom grabbed my jacket, and hissed, “Go get Mike.”  She jabbed me with her elbow, and then moved toward the man with her hand extended.

He took her hand.  “I’m sorry.  It was my fault.  I was driving too fast.”  His eyes flicked toward the breakfront; then looked up at the sky, “Going to have a white Christmas, from the look of it.”

“Don’t worry.  We’ll have it loaded in time,” I said.  Mom nudged me toward the house.

As I turned and climbed the stairs, the woman high-stepped across the drive.  She stopped next to the breakfront, and ran her gloved hand across the wood.  “Is it really mahogany?  I don’t want veneer.”  She took off a glove and picked at the edge of one of the moldings framing the glass in the bookcase.

Her husband stuck his hands in his pockets, rolled his eyes, and shook his head.  “She’s just worked up from my driving.  It’s a beautiful piece.”

I looked back at Mom.  Her lips were tight against her teeth, either in anger or pain.  She stared at the woman, blinking.  “Get the appraisal paper, Annie.  In the red folder on top of the steamer trunk.”

I pulled the door open and hollered, “They’re here, Mike.”  Then I spun around, clomped down the steps, heading for the van.

Mike stepped onto the porch with my dad behind him.  Both of them carried moving blankets, and Mike had some rope looped around his neck.

While I rummaged for the folder, my dad walked over to the breakfront.  The woman ignored his greeting, and stepped away as Dad approached.

Dad put his hands on the ledge, and rested his head against the glass.  I came back from the van and handed him the folder.

“I’m sorry, Dad,”  I whispered.

“Doesn’t matter.”  He bent to remove a drawer.

“Let Mike and me do this.  You and Mom go wait inside.”

“It was my grandfather’s.”

“I know.”  I leaned down and kissed his unshaven cheek.  “Go on, now.  Mike and I can handle this.”

Dad handed me the drawer, took the folder by the edge.  He walked past the woman, handing it off without looking at her.

The woman started to open it, but her husband called out, “Honey, why don’t you wait in the car.”

Mom came down to the base of the steps, and tucked her arm through Dad’s.  She helped him up the stairs.  I followed behind them, in case Dad stumbled.  Once they’d gone inside, I pulled the door closed, and set the drawer down on the porch.

A different version of “Oh Holy Night” was playing on the radio.  I turned it off, and Mike and I went to work.  I pulled the drawers and carried them to the porch, while Mike laid blankets on the floor of the U-Haul.

The woman sat in the car, with the engine running, and the window cracked open.  The chipmunks sang more carols, and then the “Little Drummer Boy” played again.

We put each section into the cart, tied it down, and wrapped it in blankets.  As we were settling the last drawer in place, the man walked to the back of the trailer and said, “What happened to the handle for this drawer?  It was there when I left the deposit.”

Mike glanced at the drawer, then at me.  His eyes narrowed and he squared his shoulders.  “Like shit it was.  Been missing since I was a kid.”

The woman leaned across the front seat, and rolled down the driver’s side window.  She glared up at us.  “We paid for perfect condition.”

“Frosty the Snowman” blasted from the radio.

“Well,” the man said, his neck and chest all puffy, “it’ll be hard to find a match.  Probably have to replace the whole set.  How about deducting something from the balance?”  I put my hand on Mike’s arm, pulled him to the side and took his place, in front of the man.

“I’ll take a hammer to it before I’ll take one cent less.  We’re not unloading it, either.  You can pay us.  Or you can stiff us, and haul it home for kindling.  I don’t give a shit, mister.”

Mike edged back to my side.  “Give us the money, or I’ll help her smash it.”  His voice cracked with anger.

The guy’s wife cranked the window all the way down and stuck her head out.  “Make them unload it!” she said.

The man stared at us for a second, his face red and his lips pursed.  Then he closed his eyes and sighed.  When he opened them, he turned to his wife and made a shushing gesture with his hand.  “For God’s sake, Martha, it’s still a beautiful piece.  Maybe I just didn’t notice.”

I nodded, and forced myself to smile.  “You can keep the blankets.  Save you another trip.”

“That’s not right,” the woman snapped.  “We paid -"

I turned to Mike, and pointed at the fireplace poker, where it was stuck in the mulch.

The man put his hands up, another shushing gesture, this time toward Mike.  “It’s okay, son.  I’ll keep the blankets.  We’ll call it even.”

He pulled out a fat wad of money, and counted the bills into my hand.  As he gave me the last one he leaned in close to me, turning his body so his wife’s view was blocked.  “You all have a safe trip.  Don’t drive like me.”  He shot a quick glance over his shoulder then pressed an extra hundred into my palm.  “For loading.”

When the man wrenched his door open, “Silent Night” filled the air.  His wife was still leaning across the driver’s side.  “Move over, Martha,” he said.  “You’re in my seat.”

Once his legs were inside, I reached out and closed his door.  He winked at me, rolled up the window and backed slowly down the drive.

Mike and I stood in the ruined garden, watching the car, the U-Haul, and Dad’s most precious possession pull into the street. When their taillights blinked at the corner, Mike put his arm around my shoulder and I wrapped my arm around his waist.

Flakes of snow drifted down. I caught the first one in my hand.

Mike threw his head back, and opened his mouth, catching some on his tongue. When he looked at me, he was crying.

“I wanted you to have it,” I said, pulling the handle from my pocket.

He shook his head. “You keep it. I always figured the breakfront would be yours.”

“You know, don’t you?”

He nodded, and stared at the lights across the street, his eyes filled with tears. After a while, he tightened his grip on my shoulder, looked down at me. “If you really want to give me something, sing me the song.”

“What song?”

“You know.”

“I can’t.”

I turned my back to him, but he wrapped his arms around me, pulled me close, and rested his chin on the top of my head. “Yes, you can,” he said. “Just pretend everything is okay, Annie. Just for a minute, pretend it’s Christmas and we’re still little kids. If you do, I promise, I’ll take the batteries out of the radio.”

I looked down at the handle. It was warm in my palm. I cleared my throat and sang.


Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas.