Mom Vs. Couch – Part 1
Shannon thought about this time when she was 18 and had two jobs, one at a restaurant and the other at a catering company. This one day due to someone’s bad planning she had to work full shifts at both of them with an hour bus ride and a long walk in between. She had been really tired that day. But it was nothing like this kind of tired which was like a layer of molasses seeping into her pores, practically forcing her eyes to close. She had seen pictures of Japanese salarymen so tired they slept standing up on subways and she was that kind of tired. This was probably what life was gonna be like from now on. An exercise in non-stop exhaustion. Every burden squarely on her shoulders, no one at her back. She realized she was leaning on the shopping cart for support and forced herself to straighten up and her spine cracked in about 10 spots when she did. “Mom, can we have French Dips for dinner?”
“I don’t think so, Gabby, they’re too expensive.” She took a bottle of 409 from the shelf, which was also horribly expensive, but they needed it. Starting over again meant starting over again on the ground floor, with nothing. All those little things a person took for granted like Q Tips and dryer sheets and cinnamon, she’d have to buy it all, and she had no energy to shop and no money to buy anything anyway. Getting divorced in the movies was like a fresh start, an exciting new voyage, but in reality it felt more like a forced death march.
“But you said we could get something quick and easy, and French Dips ARE quick and easy!!”
“Gabby, shut up. We can eat at Dad’s.” Sophie was on Shannon’s side, she wanted to help, wanted to help so badly that it was irritating sometimes. Sophie wanted to help so much it felt like a vote of no-confidence. And since Shannon most certainly did NOT want to take the kids to Eric’s house hungry, or dissatisfied by a cheap dinner and possibly complaining, she let them pick out whatever they wanted at the deli. Aidan, who had grown a foot over the past year and had the appetite to prove it, ordered a pound of chicken strips and 2 pounds of Jo-Jos. Gabby wanted a super fancy salad with shrimp on it. Sophie’s brow furrowed at the cost of it all and she said she wasn’t hungry. But Shannon insisted she have soup and a sandwich and then she had to get soup and a sandwich too, to reassure Sophie that everything was ok, that they weren’t broke, things would be all right. It cost way more than the French Dips would have to begin with, but at least she didn’t have to do anything. Even just heating up a pan of au jus felt daunting.
By the time they got to the apartment complex it was getting dark. A middle-aged divorcee with three teenagers living in an apartment complex. That was like something that happened to meth addicts or something, not perfectly normal people who always tried as hard as they could to make everyone else happy.
Stupid Eric and his stupid penis.
As she and the kids stood in front of the apartment door Shannon had a sinking feeling that she maybe didn’t have the key to the apartment. She had her car keys of course but the key to the apartment was kicking around loose and she hadn’t put it on the ring yet. When they’d left to go to the store she’d grabbed her keys but the apartment key was probably still sitting on the bar where she’d set it hours before.
She left the kids at the door with the groceries and went to find the super, which was exactly what she wanted to be doing right then when she was tired right down to her bones and Eric was coming by at any moment. Oh, golly gee whiz, I locked myself out of my cruddy apartment, I’m such a stupid scatterbrain just like you always said I was Eric, yep silly old me! And she’d do it, too, that was the worst part. She’d self-deprecate herself right into proving his narrative just like she always did.
Luckily the super was at home when she knocked. He was a middle aged shaved-bald guy with a devil beard. He wore a flannel shirt over an ironic t-shirt. About 90% of all middle aged guys were shaved-bald with devil beards and wore flannel shirts over an ironic t-shirt. The dress code must come in the middle aged guy handbook or something. He had round John Lennon glasses and he didn’t look like a total a-hole, which given Shannon’s current opinion of men, was saying something. “Are you the super?” she asked like an idiot even though she already knew he was the super since his door had “SUPER” on it in gold metallic letters.
“Yeah. I’m your Schneiderberry.” And then he blinked and pressed his lips together like thought he had said something stupid.
It was actually kind of funny. “Heh. That’s actually kind of funny.”
“I thought so, in my brain, but then I said it and I thought maybe not.”
“No, it was.”
“It’s so rare anyone gets my obscure pop culture references, I barely know what to say?”
“How about saying you’ll unlock my apartment for me?”
“I can do that.” And a minute later he did.
To Shannon’s chagrin once the door was open the guy started picking up the bags of groceries from beside the door and carrying them inside, setting them on the bar. The way the apartment was laid out, the front door opened practically right on top of the kitchen, separated from the living room by a bar, cabinets above and below it. The bar was covered with cheap formica that was supposed to look like a granite countertop, but didn’t. At the far end of the bar was a narrow space supposed to be used for a dining room, but since Shannon didn’t have a table anyway she figured she’d just leave it open, maybe get a plant or a fish tank or something. “Oh no, dude, stop, it’s ok, we’ll get that.”
“I don’t mind.” After the bags were inside he held out a hand to shake. “I’m Geoff, with a G.” Geoff with a G. That explained the John Lennon glasses, Shannon figured. Hippie parents.
“I know, I read the lease. If you guys need anything…” He pulled out his wallet and took out a business card and set it on the counter. “I’m almost always around in the afternoons and weekends. In the morning I’m at school but you can text me if there’s an emergency.”
“You go to school?” Gabby blinked incredulously. “But you’re OLD!” Aidan laughed and Sophie’s eyes widened in horror.
“Dammit, Gabrielle!” Shannon resolved to have a serious conversation with her youngest child at the first available opportunity.
“Well, I go to college, actually.”
“You go to college? But you’re OLD!”
Fortunately Geoff seemed to think it was all fairly amusing. He put his wallet away as if buying time to figure out what to say. “Old people go to college sometimes too. When they want to learn stuff.”
“Oh my God, I’m so terribly sorry about that, and thank you for letting me in.”
“No problem, that’s what I’m here for.” He nodded and left, shutting the door behind him.
Before Shannon could get down to yelling, her phone buzzed. It was Eric, waiting outside to pick up the kids. “Get your stuff, guys, Dad’s here.” There was chaos and goodbye kisses and then they were gone and Shannon was alone, like really alone, for the first time in a superduperly long time. She didn’t want to think about that too much so she put away some of the groceries, the stuff that needed to be kept cold, mostly. She decided to leave the rest and to put off all the moving in chores till later, and go to sleep. She’d feel better in the morning, probably.
It was a two bedroom apartment. It looked like every other two bedroom apartment she’d ever been in. The carpet was mottled beige, the walls were ecru. There was a hall off the living room leading to the bathroom and the bedrooms. The girls got a room with a bunk bed and they were just as thrilled about that as one might think, and Aidan got a room, and that meant Shannon would be sleeping on the couch. Yay.
The couch had been Eric’s old couch from back before they got married. It was orange-red speckled over with streaks of mustard, avocado, and chocolate, in a pattern that wasn’t quite plaid. It was hideous, like the puke of a thousand frat boys drunk on Spodie Odie. The couch was made of a scratchy space-age material but Shannon didn’t care, she could have slept on a bed of nails by that point. She grabbed a blanket from Sophie’s bed, soft as a cloud and with a lavender fairy on it, and she was gone as soon as she was horizontal.
She dreamed that she was trapped, wrapped up in arms that she couldn’t escape, lots of arms, around her throat, across her chest, her waist, her thighs. The arms were pulling her back into something soft, something too soft, something that would smother her if she didn’t break free. She tried to struggle but the arms were too strong, they were pulling her backwards into that awful softness and she couldn’t escape. If she could just wake up she could escape but she was so tired her eyes wouldn’t open, her body was lead, her mind was fuzz, and the arms around her squeezed tighter and pulled harder. She suddenly realized the arms were crushing her, she couldn’t catch her breath, and yet still she couldn’t wake up. Why couldn’t she wake up, when all it was was a bad dream? She tried to scream but she had no air, she tried to breathe but her chest wouldn’t expand. It felt like she was dying and she thought that if she didn’t wake up she would die, yet she was so very tired her eyes just wouldn’t open, and this couldn’t be real anyway, it was just a stupid dream and so she relaxed into it and drifted back into that softness and found that it wasn’t so bad…
There was a knock at the door, and another, more insistent. Shannon’s eyes flew open and she realized the reason for her silly stupid nightmare. She’d sunk halfway back between the cushions and the back of the couch so the only part of her sticking out was her head and her lower arms and most of her legs. Her ass prickled like it was asleep and she pulled herself out of the couch and stamped her feet a couple times to wake it up. Sophie’s pretty blanket had gotten sucked down into the couch along with her and she pulled it out, noticing that it was ripped. Shredded, practically. It must have been damaged during the move, maybe it got slammed in the car door or something. She’d been so tired she hadn’t realized she was sleeping under a ruined blanket.
The clock showed she’d been asleep for 3 hours but it felt like way longer.
“If you don’t let me in right now I’m dialing 911, Shannon!” Tia. Shannon let her in and as her best friend brushed past her, a swirl of curly hair, a full-skirted forest green Stevie Nicks dress with a matching velour hoodie over the top of it, jingling jewelry, and a puff of lavender essential oil, she was impressed as she always was with the amount of space Tia took up in the world. She had a bottle of strawberry wine and a kitschy china figurine of a sad clown with a drooping cactus growing out of his sagging pants. “Happy Housewarming!” She pushed the wine and the cactus clown into Shannon’s hands and looked around appraisingly. “God this place will suck the marrow from your bones, Jesus. What dafuq is that monstrosity?” She had noticed the couch.
“Oh, get this – The Witch liked my couch and so she wanted to keep it.”
“And Eric just stood by and LET that happen?!”
“He gave me fifty bucks for it.”
“Well given that a new couch of that quality would cost two THOUSAND I’d call that just about an insult, you know that, don’t you? It is an INSULT. Omigod what is UP with the mystical hold that girl has over him? I swear to you, Shannon, I know you call her The Witch as a joke, but sometimes I wonder if she really IS a witch, seriously.”
“I’ve wondered it myself a time or two.” No joke, she had. “I figured, she’s already stolen my husband, my house, and my life, what difference does it make if she takes my couch, too?”
“You’re a bigger person than I am.” Tia shook her head. Shannon didn’t tell her that she wasn’t a bigger person, not at all, but she was a substantially less brave person than Tia. “Let’s go get some dinner, it looks like you need sustenance.”
“It’s ok, I ate with the kids.”
“Come on, girl, I don’t want you to be alone tonight. I don’t think it’s good for you.”
“I’m gonna have to start getting used to it, right?”
“Yeah, but it’ll be easier over time. Give it time. You don’t gotta dive into the deep end all at once, you know?”
“Seriously – I appreciate it, Tia, but I’m ok. Really, I promise. I’m mostly just really tired.” She set the wine and the plant on the bar next to the Dustbuster, which she’d taken since Eric insisted she’d have no room for their big vacuum in an apartment. “Rain check?”
Tia gasped. “Oh no, what happened to you?” She reached out and grabbed Shannon’s wrist, pulling it out straight to inspect the back of her upper arm. “What happened?”
Shannon didn’t even know. The back of her upper arm was bruised and purple like she had a hicky. “I don’t even know?” She examined her other arm and was surprised to see she had bruises there as well. Her joints were pretty achy too, she realized, not only just her shoulders and elbows, but all over. Which was probably understandable since she hadn’t worked so hard in years as she had that day. “I mean, I was lifting a lot of stuff…”
“Did Eric do this? You can tell me I promise I won’t freak out, God that bastard I’ll KILL him…”
“No, I swear to you, Eric never laid a finger on me. I think it’s just from all the carrying stuff I did today, that’s all.” Tia looked skeptical. “Tia, I swear to you I would be the first to call the cops if Eric had ever abused me…”
“You mean more than cheating on you, kicking you out of your own home, and now even taking your couch?”
“Yeah. More than that. I promise, ok? Everything’s cool. I just need some rest, that’s all.”
Tia stared at her intently and Shannon raised her eyebrows and grinned reassuringly. “Ok, if you say so, I believe you.” She wrapped Shannon into a hug and squeezed right down to the marrow of her bones and she realized how sore she was. “Love you, Bae.”
“I love you too, Tee.”
“Breakfast tomorrow – no excuses.”
“All right, all right.” Tia gave her a stern look and shut the door. Shannon locked the deadbolt behind her. Then she went into the bathroom and looked at her arms. So weird. The bruises ran under her t-shirt and she took it off, shocked to find that her back was just as badly bruised as her arms were. The bruises ran down into her pants and she tugged down her leggings enough to reveal bruises running down her rear and the back of her legs too. So, so weird. She started to panic, wondering if she was dying, if she should go to the ER, like maybe she had ebola or sudden onset hemophilia or something. But then she recalled how she’d sunk into the couch and had that bizarre dream. She realized what had happened, the couch must’ve gave her bruises when she was stuck inside it and dreaming and trying to roll around, probably. That made sense.
The panic evaporated and she was suddenly exhausted again. She decided to just keep sleeping in her clothes since they’d been comfortable enough, but she slithered out of her bra and shoved it in one of the bathroom drawers. Better.
She didn’t want to end up falling down into the couch again, that was for sure. Shannon contemplated sleeping in one of the girls’ beds, but neither of them had made their beds and they’d both stacked piles of crap all over their bare mattresses. Aidan’s bed was cleaned off and had a sheet on it, but it smelled like the bed of a 15 year old boy. And even though she loved him to the moon and back, she didn’t want to sleep in his stinky bed. So she decided to just shove a bunch of pillows down inside the couch for the night so she couldn’t slip back inside it and then tomorrow she’d return Eric’s insulting $50 and tell him to give her back her goddamn couch and buy The Witch her own. She grabbed Sophie’s pillows and shoved them into the couch and they just vanished into the crack. Then she grabbed Gabby’s pillows and shoved them into the couch too and it still didn’t help, there was still this massive gap a person could fall right down into.
It was bizarre. Shannon couldn’t figure out where the pillows were even going to. She looked at the back of the couch expecting to see a bulge in the fabric where the pillows were but the back of the couch was perfectly flat. It was like the pillows were going somewhere inside, maybe between the couch springs or something. So she went and got Aiden’s pillows too but when she came back into the room the strangest thing had happened, it was as if the couch had rotated somehow and now it was looking at her. Before it had been facing perpendicular to the wall, and now it was at a 45 degree angle to the wall like it was trying to keep an eye on her or something.
The couch had these cloth-wrapped buttons on it, one in the upper right corner of the outermost pillow, one on the upper left corner of the outermost pillow, that were kind of like eyes and the crinkles in the fabric around them were like the eyelashes and now she was being totally ridiculous. They were just buttons, of course they were just buttons, and the couch had gotten shifted when she was tucking the pillows down inside and she hadn’t noticed.
She walked tentatively towards the couch and as she did she noticed that the button on the innermost left corner of the innermost pillow and the innermost right corner of the innermost pillow were perfectly positioned to be nostrils, if the uppermost buttons were in fact eyes, and the crack between the cushions and the back of the couch was kind of like a mouth. When she’d slipped down into the crack it was almost like the couch was trying to swallow her or something, swallow her whole. Shannon broke out in goosebumps looking at the couch’s face.
She really needed to get some sleep.
Shannon forced herself to ease forward. She decided to pull out Sophie and Gabby’s pillows from the crack so she could prove to herself that there was nothing inside but lint and hair and pennies and some old Goldfish crackers, prove to herself that this couch was not alive and hadn’t tried to eat her and that it was a safe place to sleep for the night. But when she put her hand into the crack, the pillows were gone. She had just shoved four pillows inside the crevice and they were gone. But they couldn’t be gone, because where could they go? So she reached a little deeper and there was nothing there, the pillows were gone, like, vanished, and she decided that was just about enough of couches and being alone for one day and she would go sleep at Tia’s for the night.
But when she tried to pull her hand out, it wouldn’t come. She pulled and pulled and it was like someone had grabbed hold of her hand. Some frightened noises came from her throat but weirdly, she wasn’t panicking, panic was for a person who didn’t have to fight for her life. A person who had to fight for their life could not afford to panic. A person who had to fight for their life needed their mind to work properly. This could not be happening, it made no sense that it was happening, and so that simply meant she had to pull free, that was all. She twisted her hand to the right and left, tried tugging slowly and yanking suddenly, but it wouldn’t come.
Then without warning whatever had hold of her hand pulled in a swift sharp motion and she was up to her neck inside the couch’s mouth. The two innermost buttons WERE nostrils and she knew this because the pillows leaned in and sniffed her throat and hair and then the calm lucid rationality she’d been experiencing evaporated and she began to buck and kick and flail. The couch liked it. She didn’t know how she knew but she knew that the couch wanted her to struggle and that was the reason it hadn’t eaten her when she was sleeping. It liked its prey alive and moving. It liked its prey to KNOW.
When she was sleeping it had just been tasting her, savoring her, prolonging the anticipation. Understanding this, she forced herself to stop moving and the couch grew angry. It shook her. Once, twice, then it shook her back and forth like a rag doll trying to provoke her into fighting again. She felt a sickening pop as her arm slipped from the socket, felt a fiery pain so intense that black spots swam before her eyes and she knew she would faint if it continued.
The couch knew it too and it stopped shaking her. It wanted her conscious and cognizant of everything that was happening to her. It waited to see what she would do next and she was sure she could feel it breathing beneath her, its seat cushions rising and falling ever so slightly.
Shannon realized that one of Aidan’s pillows was still within reach. A desperate thought crossed her mind – the couch hadn’t grabbed her until she’d reached into it empty handed. Maybe it couldn’t latch on so easily to a pillow as it could to a hand. She grabbed Aidan’s pillow in her fingers and prayed she was right. With a sudden movement she got her legs under her and shoved the pillow into the couch’s mouth where it had hold of her arm. The couch made a gagging sound and whether it was the pillow itself or the fact that it smelled like a 15 year old boy, Shannon could feel it working, she could move her hand little by little backwards. But it hurt so badly that she didn’t think she could do it, didn’t think she could pull free, because her dislocated arm was just held on by skin and torn ligaments. She didn’t have enough leverage to pull her arm free without the strength of bone.
But then she rammed the pillow into the couch’s throat again harder and this time it jumped back a little as it gagged. When it jumped it pulled up on her arm sharply and Shannon screamed in agony as her arm slipped back into the socket. She lurched, reeling from the pain, and as she did, her sudden motion surprised the couch and her arm came free. She tumbled backwards onto her ass and the couch started moving towards her, scooting one leg after the other across the carpet, the little decorative skirt at the bottom shimmying wildly. It shuddered and managed to choke down Aidan’s pillow as she scrambled to her feet and ran for the door. The couch began to…run? scooting faster and faster across the carpet one side forward, then the other side, then the other side again, and as she reached the door Shannon tried to open it but she’d locked the deadbolt when Tia had left. It took her a split second to figure out why the door wouldn’t open and turn the deadbolt but by then the couch was on her, except, except for the bar. The couch couldn’t fit through the narrow opening created by the bar dividing the kitchen from the living room, and so Shannon was safe for a moment where she stood in the linoleum-floored entryway. The couch snarled and snapped at her but it couldn’t reach her. She flung the door open and ran into the night.
Photo by Alyssa L. Miller