Flash Fiction Friday: Couch Shopping
Their tax refund had finally arrived and there were a thousand things he wanted, but she Just. Wanted. A. Fucking. Couch. They’d been sitting on camping chairs for nearly a year now. In the beginning they could pretend it was convenient. Sit wherever you’d like! Even the fabric mesh cup holders were a lovely bonus. Don’t worry about the pooch knocking over your beer! Now, they were an impossible to clean reminder, filled with wet crumbs and dog hair. The chairs were minimally comfortable and noisy. Don’t fucking move! The creak of plastic rubbing plastic, the scratch of nylon canvas interrupting shows at their most critical juncture. James’ sigh, and aggressive jabbing at the remote to rewind the program to ten decisive seconds earlier. His eyes rolling, lower lip jutting and the barely noticeable head shake.
It was her fault. According to James, she was the reason he had to rewind the goddamn show for the goddamned fiftieth time. She was the reason he wasn’t comfortable and they lived like nomads. She was why they were unhappy. It had to be her, it couldn’t possibly the layoff, or the stress of job hunting, or the interviewing, or the rejection, that was slowly killing him. At first, the weight of his anger crushed her into the thick, wool carpet, but now, now she was ice.
Cash in hand, she walked around the warehouse and wondered if they delivered. She rode the bus. He drove a twenty year old civic. The store had to deliver or there was no deal. A field of baby poop brown, mustard yellow, and burgundy floral lumps lay before her. It didn’t matter what it looked like, it just had to shut him up.
The Superbowl had been the kicker. Their annual party would be quite different than in years before. No longer did the budget have space for cases of beer, delivered pizzas or mountains of wings. But everyone was tightening their belts, right? This economy and all that nonsense. He was okay with telling his friends to bring their own beer, and serving them chips from Aldi. What he couldn’t survive was no couch. No furniture at all in their four thousand square foot coffin. “I can’t fucking have the guys over, Candice. What do I tell them? Bring your own seat? Sorry fellas, I didn’t take the pizza delivery job so we have no chairs” he said, as if she was three. As if she didn’t have two brain cells to rub together. As if she hadn’t been stressing about this exact problem for months. They’d sent the kids to her parents that night and watched the game in the dark. He didn’t say a single word.
She paused too long in front of one greenish plaid monstrosity and the shiny shirted salesman attacked. “Isn’t this a beauty?” He stood too close, her personal space bubble popping with his intrusion. “Such good quality for the price! You’ll be passing it along to your grandchildren.” She could smell the pomade in his hair.
He continued talking but her phone rang. She reached into her Kate Spade bag to pull out her pay as you go flip phone. The bag that she’d bought herself to celebrate finishing grad school. The bag that she hid so that he couldn’t pawn it. The call was James. He had an interview today. It wouldn’t go any differently than the last dozen. When you have a job, the headhunters won’t leave you alone. When you don’t, and you’re low hanging fruit, they let you rot on the vine. Desperation is decidedly unsexy. She didn’t want to deal with his excuses and claims of prejudice. James’ refusal to lower himself to a lesser position rubbed her raw. She knew exactly how shitty it was to take a job that was below you. She felt the shame every day at first as she rode line seven from her middle school teacher day job, to wait tables at night. For her survival trumped ego. For him it didn’t, but then he didn’t have the privilege of grocery shopping with food stamps. Someone in their house needed to work. Money was money. It would be better for him to flip burgers or scrub toilets than sit at home in those god-damned chairs and watch TV. If she answered she wouldn’t be able to bite her tongue today.
“Do you have something…plainer? Maybe a bit more modern? Grey?” She asked. She may be poor, but that didn’t mean her couch had to be ugly. He lead her to the back corner of the warehouse where he pointed out a small, square navy velour loveseat. Candice sunk into the upholstery and buried her face in the seat back.
It wasn’t modern or pretty, but it looked exactly like the loveseat they’d had when they first got married. Tiny and cheap it fit perfectly in their little walk up apartment. Back then they’d had no money for cable or cell phones, but preferred to spend their evening making love instead of watching TV. They’d had no one to talk to but each other. They didn’t mind eating ramen noodles and boxed mac and cheese, as long as they were together. Things had been simpler then, before kids, stressful jobs, credit cards, mortgages and car payments. Easier then, before cut backs and lay-offs and selling the furniture piece by piece to pay the electric bill.
Her phone rang again. She ignored the irritating tone in favor of her reminiscing. Maybe they could go back to when things were hard but beautiful, before every word out of his mouth was angry.
“Do you like it?” the salesman asked. Candice’s hand caressing the soft nap of the velour, watching it change shades with each stroke. James would hate this couch. A ding signaled the arrival of a text.
Where the fuck are you? I got the job.
“It’s perfect, I’ll take it.”