Polished Oak

A Short Story

Jonathan Chatfield
5 min readJan 7, 2020
Photo by Dave on Unsplash

Martin heard the bell of his 5:30 am alarm in his head before it went off. He didn’t need it to wake up anymore. Truth be told, he hadn’t needed it in years. But, “Better safe than sorry”, his beautiful Edith would remind him. They were married for fifty-four years, so she reminded him about a lot of things.

Sliding his spindly, wrinkled legs off the edge of the bed, he touched his toes to the cold floorboards. The floor was never warm — not in July and not in January — polished oak was like that. Beautiful, but always cold. He couldn’t bring himself to wear socks to bed, and he was too cheap to buy slippers. What good was a pair of shoes you only wore to get out of bed and to get the newspaper?

Breakfast would be bran flakes. It was always bran flakes. Sometimes with raisins, if he was lucky. Martin was rarely lucky — regular, but never lucky — today was no different.

After eating his fiber, he poured a cup of freshly brewed coffee that was always waiting for him when he woke up. He enjoyed a cup of coffee or two while he read the paper. Something about the richness of it made swallowing all the bullshit he was reading go down a little easier. Thank God for coffee, there was always a lot of bullshit. Today was no different.

Edith didn’t like it when he cursed. He tried not to do it, but he did it often. Not the really foul words mind you. But, a ‘shit’ or a ‘sonufa bitch’ were regular occurrences. He reserved the ‘F’ word for special occasions, like that time he smacked his head on the cabinets when he was fixing the plumbing. His wife threatened him with a ‘curse jar’ more than once — Dear Abby recommended it in a column she read — but never followed through. It’s a good thing, too; he’d have gone broke.

After his breakfast, coffee, and the paper — Chock full o’Nuts and Chock full o’bullshit — he shuffled back to his bedroom to get dressed. Some days he would stay in his pajamas and robe. But he had to go somewhere today and needed to wear his suit. He hadn’t had a reason to wear it in a while, but today he needed it. It was neatly pressed and hanging out for him. Edith always made sure it was pressed. He chose a shirt and a nice blue tie that would match the dress he bought for her.

He got dressed and combed his thin gray hair. He put on a splash of Edith’s favorite aftershave. She liked Old Spice, which was fine for him because it was cheap. It didn’t have to be some expensive eau de toilette to make her happy and he liked to keep her happy; His life was easier when she was happy. A marriage doesn’t last fifty-four years if the wife isn’t happy.

Martin collected a few items from his dresser. He put on his wedding ring first, he couldn’t sleep with it on. It was right on top of his jewelry box so he would remember it every day. Since he was getting dressed up he decided to use his pocket watch. Edith always thought it was fancy when men wore them, it made them look important. Important people always had someplace to be. He had someplace to be today.

He checked the time on the pocket watch — Edith would be at the church by noon — it was nine-thirty am. St. Mary’s was across town and a few stops away by subway. He would have to leave soon if he wanted to make it on time.

Martin shuffled around the house, room to room, and made sure all the lights were off. Electricity wasn’t cheap, and he was. He paused in the foyer to have a look at himself in the mirror, hardly recognizing the man staring back at him. When did he get so old?

He didn’t care for the subway. It was crowded and always smelled like stale urine and mildew. The long dark tunnels reaching out in every direction made him uneasy, though he never knew why. Still, the subway would get him to St. Mary’s, and that’s where he needed to be today. Edith would already be there, in the blue dress he bought for her that matched his tie. The train shuddered and began to move away from the station.

St. Mary’s was a beautiful building. Edith always loved the architecture, she said it reminded her of a fairy tale. Martin wasn’t a religious man, but Edith was faithful. This place held a lot of memories for them. They got married here, and their children had been baptized here.

He checked his pocket watch — almost noon — and made his way into the cathedral. There were quite a few people here for the service today. Edith would be at the front, in the pretty blue dress he bought for her that matched his tie. He shuffled down the aisle towards the front of the church, this was a trip he had taken before so he knew the way.

Edith was already there, just as he knew she would be, and she looked beautiful. Her make-up was perfect, and her hair just so, like it always was. All their years together did not diminish the love he felt when he saw her.

He walked over to where she was and put a hand on her shoulder. He wanted her to know he was there. He leaned down and whispered in her ear, “I’m here sweetheart”, and kissed her softly on her cheek before taking his seat in the pew.

After the service, he stood up and went to her. With a tear in his eye, he said goodbye one last time. They closed the lid of the ornate wooden box where she rested, and then he wept. Resting one hand on top of the box. It felt cold. Polished oak was like that. Beautiful, but always cold.



Jonathan Chatfield

I am just one primate, in a world of billions. I have thoughts, dreams, and opinions. I have fears and reservations. I will share them all, for better or worse.