Originally posted on The Short Story Showdown
Forty-inch flat-screen Sony television, wall-mounted: $579.99. A slightly smaller version of the same television, ceiling-mounted in my bedroom: $399.95. A hyper-realistic oil painting of a diner, framed in sleek black: $74.90, plus a $5 tip to the cute girl behind the desk at the frame shop.
State-of-the-art blender: $134.99. State-of-the-art coffeemaker and espresso machine: $282.70 (on sale). State-of-the-art food processor still sitting in a box, waiting to make pesto that will never be made: $99.99.
And then the prize of my collection: a Harper all-leather black couch with white stitching, mahogany feet, red throw, and matching white-and-black checkered pillows, which ran me somewhere around $4,000 for the matching set of loveseat and chair.
After scoring the Harper, which was an upgrade from an earlier set of red canvas couches that took me back $2500 (full-size and loveseat, but that was just too family-sized for me), I joined a club online for Harper couch enthusiasts. We had a dedicated forum where the only rule was that your couch had to be featured in your avatar: your custom-designed masterpiece, straight from the hands of Indonesian adolescents. There were brown behemoths with baby blue accents, mint-green tweed swirled over beige, orange microfiber that showed every handprint that had ever crossed over it.
I attended weekly meetings. We formed microfiber and leather and canvas committees. We wrote poems about our Harpers. We wrote comments on other poster’s poems: “You really had some good imagery with the dog in the last stanza,” or, “You focused too much on description, and not enough on the raw qualities of the fabric.”
Then someone took the forum down. Or it simply disappeared. Or the guy paying for it just lost interest in couches.
I felt like my arm had been severed. My connection to my friends, partners, like-minded fellows in the throes of sofa love had been torn from me as a squalling, cottage-cheese-covered baby is torn from its mother after birth.
I stung for days. The evening after the shutdown, my girlfriend spilled red wine on one of my Harper pillows by accident and I threw her out of my apartment. Then I held the pillow and cried into its feathery suede embrace.
The next day, I considered calling her to apologize. I’d say, “It’s been such a hard week at work, with the receptionist taking off for a funeral, and the paperwork piling up, I just flew off the handle. I didn’t mean to act the way I did. I love you.” I’d coo, and she’d coo back, and come over for Battlestar Galactica and martinis on the couch. But somehow, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I looked at my phone in one hand, and glanced back at the couch, and my guts ached.
They laugh they make money
He’s got a gold watch
She has a silk dress and healthy breasts
That bounce on his Italian leather sofa.
I stared down at the phone as my favorite Cake song spilled out of it. My girlfriend was calling. Eventually, (after the second verse,) I answered.
“I’m breaking up with you, Chuck.”
My lung seized. “What?”
“I’m leaving you. I hope you and your fucking Stanton couch have a great life together.”
“It’s Harper,” I corrected.
She called me something unintelligible and hung up.
After listening to a few angry disconnected beeps, I put my phone back on the counter. I stumbled to the couch and collapsed in it as deeply and thoroughly as I could, letting the voluminous cushions envelope me.
But it felt empty. The leather was a little rough on my skin, so I adjusted to lie sideways. The couch wasn’t nearly long enough; my feet dangled off the end, cocked at an awkward angle.
I sat up. She was gone. Really, really, really gone. I knew that tone of voice: it was her “not even dinner and wine at that overpriced French place will fix this” voice. No compromise, just action.
I looked down at the sofa accusingly.
How had this black leather loveseat become dearer to me than a woman willing to take her clothes off? Had it been a slow progression, or a sudden leap from the college graduate who lived frugally to the grown man who consumed everything in his path, and even some things that weren’t?
Something that was cold inside me grew warm. It surged upward, like bile, and I rocked forward. I stood up and leaned against the wall in the kitchen for support as the thing rising in my throat turned hot.
My couch. My chair. My pillows. The spilled wine that turned me into Frankenstein.
This was real mania, the thing inside me said, and I peered at the unopened food processor on the countertop. This was the kind of behavior you saw on Maury. I’d fallen into the pit of obsession, of owning things, and it was swallowing me whole, eating me up inside.
I sank into a dining room chair. $89.95 a piece, nothing short of heirlooms. I leaned over my elbows on an oak table with fold-out leaves I never used, because I never entertained more than four people at a time.
In fact, I probably didn’t have more than four people in my phone book I could even call entertainable. Acquaintances, mostly. My (now) ex-girlfriend’s vapid wino friends who drank six times as much as they ate.
Suddenly my sofa created by an obscure British designer looked foreign to me. It was an alien being in my living room. My digital colony obsessed with overpriced home furnishings had vanished, no trace, no phone number scribbled on the palm of my hand. The only woman willing to go out with me in a ten mile radius had realized her folly and finally dropped me like the ugly stone Buddha statue I was.
I sat there on the black leather couch with the white stitching, matching pillows, mahogany feet and red throw, and stared up at my reflection in the dormant television screen. My face was swollen and puffy. My designer collared shirt stretched around my waist, revealing scraps of white underneath.
Of course I knew how it had happened, but it happened so fast. I gazed down at the suede checkered pillows and the hot bile retreated back into my stomach.
I knew what had to be done.
The pillows were the first to go. I slipped a knife into the stitching and tore, watching with a strange mixture of glee and horror as the suede fell open like a gutted pig and the intestines tumbled out, a white mess of down and cotton fiber. I tossed it across the living room into a laundry basket, and watched it scatter in a misty cloud.
The other pillow followed, stained purpley-brown with old wine. And the red throw. Then I was left with the couch: little more than a lump of cow skin and shaved mahogany.
I took off my shirt and dragged the couch across the living room, carving long lines in the wood floor as the little protective fabric bits came off and the feet dug in. It was slow going over the raised threshold to the kitchen and the too-narrow doorway to the backyard. There I had to lift the couch so it balanced sideways on one arm, and when it could fit, I shoved it through the door and it tumbled down the back steps with a horrible crunching. The sofa fell in a soundless lump to the grass.
In the kitchen I dug through a drawer, withdrawing a pair of hedge trimmers and a torch for making crème brulee–$15.90 and I’d never once made crème brulee.
First I sliced open each seam of the couch, and each seam of each cushion. I drained some gasoline from my car into a wine decanter (and some into my mouth during the suction process), and poured it over and into the exposed inner organs of the sofa.
The chair followed suit, and when I was ready, they looked like butchered animals awaiting their cremation.
I started the torch and held it over the couch. Flames leapt upward in a burst, singeing my armhair. I squealed and limped backwards as the slow burn I’d planned turned into a raging bonfire.
The grass was dry this time of year, so it caught fire in less than five seconds. Flames leapt from patch to patch, roaring upward as they claimed dead leaves and twig fodder. Smoke billowed into the sky and formed strange shapes: a skull, a dragon, a dog’s head.
Scrambling back into the kitchen, I reached for my phone and dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1, what’s your emergency?”
“I lit my backyard on fire,” I said. Knowing I sounded ridiculous, I added, “It was the couch’s fault.”
“Okay, sir. What is your address?”
I rattled it off, and she promised the fire department was on its way.
I thought about charging back inside for the bucket under my utility sink, or the fire extinguisher in the drawer under the oven, but the flames mesmerized me. They licked the sky with scarlet tongues; sparks leapt joyfully, spiritedly, like children on recess.
Somewhere beyond the inferno I heard sirens wailing, the sound contorting as the fire trucks carrying them raced around corners and blew through red lights. I watched the Harper couch and chair disintegrate, and the stench of burning animal skin filled my nostrils.
It was glorious. Now to start jogging again.