When The Couch Comes

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When the couch comes, you’re not wearing a bra, because of course you’re not, it’s not even noon yet and you work for the Internet.

When the couch comes, you’re sitting on the old couch, the stained, battered, second-hand couch the color of thwarted dreams, which you got five years ago from Housing Works. The lady who was supposed to come pick it up last night flaked and asked if she could come a day or two later instead, and your husband said sure, because he had postponed delivery.

Except the delivery proceeds as planned. Earlier than planned, even. The crisp woman on the phone had originally told you today between 1:00 and 5:00 PM.

This couch cost more than almost anything you’ve ever bought except the apartment you’re putting it in, the apartment you were told would look “nice — once it has some real furniture in it,” and here it is, the real furniture, at last, all the way from Seattle, and you’re receiving it like a schlub. Will the couch even deign to enter?

You throw on a proper shirt before opening the doors, opening all the doors, except some of the doors won’t open properly. Your heart is banging against your ribs. Damn it, you’re going to look like such a dork in front of the moving men, these real adults who are bigger than you and have probably been up and dressed since dawn and whose hair doesn’t show signs of having let their toddlers brush it.

“I’m so sorry,” you say, as the moving men maneuver the new couch through the front doors. “The woman who was supposed to pick up the old couch hasn’t yet. Would you mind carrying it out?”

Though you have paid extra for delivery and set-up, you will tip them, these men. You will over-tip them, even, out of guilt and nervousness and gratitude. But by how much?

The men agree to carry out the couch, though to do so they need you to open your apartment’s second door, which is blocked by a protuberance on the floor. “It won’t go,” one of the men says, pointing at the protuberance.

“Okay,” you say. “What do we need?”

“A knife,” he says. “Bread knife.”

The kitchen is filthy. You’ve been overwhelmed since returning from vacation and have been suspended between emptying the dishwasher and filling it again for over 24 hours now; the dishes seem to be reproducing, covering all available surfaces like kudzu. Thank god they don’t need to come in here, you think, before grabbing the bread knife and hustling back to where the men — four of them now — are inspecting the protuberance. One of them starts slicing.

“Screwdriver,” asks one of the other men, the way George Clooney would have asked for a scalpel on “ER.”

You scurry to the bedroom, which is as much a mess as the kitchen and reflexively shove several bras under your new Japanese buckwheat pillow ($25). Why do the bras matter? They’re not coming back here. Still. You’re so flustered you can’t see anything except what’s embarrassing, what makes you feel unfit to let strange, strong men into your house to deliver an expensive new couch: laundry that hasn’t been put away, yes; the unmade bed, yes; Ender’s Shadow, which you’ve been rereading, on the nightstand, yes; screwdriver or tool box, no.

By the time you emerge to admit defeat, the men tell you they didn’t need the screwdriver, they did without. They have surgically removed only the relevant part of the protuberance, opened both of your double doors, swapped the couches, and sealed the protuberance back up so that no one would even notice it had been sawed open.

Is twenty dollars enough to express gratitude for such resourcefulness?, you wonder. Thirty? There are four of these men; they’re each playing a part.

One of the men tosses two pillows to one of the others, who places them neatly on the new couch. They look good. They match. Your shoulders begin to relax a bit; oxygen flows through your lungs again. You helped pick these pillows. You helped pick the couch and the apartment it fits in, for that matter. You helped earn the money to pay for all of it down to these new springy cushions, and you won’t merely fart into them; you’ll sit on them with your laptop on your knees as you do more work and earn more money, some of it while wearing only too-big gym pants and the top you slept in, and nobody will care because results matter, not counters topped with dishes or beds strewn with laundry.

One of the men asks you to sign and you sign. Your hand doesn’t shake. Your hand doesn’t shake as you give him two twenties, either, and thank him. When you sit your ass down on your new couch, it feels just right.

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