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The Hemingway Resource Center Short Story Contest> Winning Entries>The Couch by Georgia Browne (Fall 1999)


  The Couch
Georgia Browne


~for my daughter, Jennifer~


    Jerry Brown wasn't looking for proof, but he found it the day he was in the couch. After his mother went to work and his father left for the union hall to begin a new job, Jerry hoped for a calm day to explore the emptiness of their home. But it was anything but quiet.   Bob Brown had been fired from his position as floodlight repairman for the district parks, and had kept the secret to himself. There wasn't another chance of union employment, yet that day he went out the door just the same. An hour later, he was back.
     Nine-year old Jerry heard the old Chevy pull into the driveway while he was finishing his Rice Krispies. His hands began to shake as he slid the empty bowl under the television. Punishment for missing school included a week of doing dishes, this after a belt slashing across his backside; so in avoidance Jerry crawled into the couch. He didn't climb onto the couch as some would expect, but instead slipped into its empty coffin. The springs had all sprung and Mrs. Brown, insisting that it was a safety hazard, had asked her husband to remove them. "After all," she said, "How many people are comfortable sitting on rusty steel?"
     "Okay Addie," he had replied. "As soon as I get a spare minute."
     Bob seemed to always have spare time, but never a moment for her. When the sight of those popped up coils began to annoy her, she reinforced the issue: "Bob, take those springs out, or forget your new car. This family needs a couch!" Out he scurried, to the tool shed. He returned with a monkey wrench.
     Mrs. Brown didn't care if they had an empty couch, as long as they had one on display for the neighbors. Of course no one could sit on it with its innards stripped and its cushions balanced on a wooden plank that had been retrieved from the garage, but there it was. And there was Jerry all cramped up and flitting earwigs from his fingers as they crawled along the linoleum. Sunshine beamed through the windows of the New England cape and the boy wished he had closed the shades. Carefully balancing the two cushions with his blonde head, he lifted them a pinch to let the air circulate since it was so stuffy in there. The youngster peered through the opening to see his father standing in the hallway, with her.  The face wasn't an unfamiliar one, and the little brunette had the same hat on that she wore the day the young boy arrived home from school, and noticed her sitting, proud as a peacock, in his father's car.  Mr. Brown had scrambled out the back door that day and saw his son staring at the woman from the bottom step of the front porch. Jerry had asked his father who she was, but speechless, Mr. Brown glared at him in a mind-your-own-business type of look, the kind of stare he got before receiving a belt to his backside. So, Jerry knew not to press him any further. He watched his father slide behind the steering wheel, and back the old car out of the driveway.
     He had approached his sister Debbie because if anyone knew what was going on, she did. A junior in high school, she knew everything. Or so he thought. When he asked her about the woman, she acted surprised. Then she said she needed proof; she wasn't going to bear the burden of telling Adele unless she had facts. Jerry couldn't understand it because Deb told their mother everything, especially things pertaining to him, but that day she wasn't about to squeal on their father. So there in the dark, adjusting his shoulders to an as-much-as-bearable, uncomfortable position, Jerry had a feeling that today he would get the facts...and a backlash if he wasn't careful.
     The couple moved to the kitchen, and he thought he heard his father ask, "Would you like a cup of tea," though surely he'd heard wrong. Tea? He doesn't even know how to use the stove. There wasn't any verbal response, but Jerry figured she must have said yes, because his dad responded a bit louder this time; "Okay Honey, let me put the kettle on," and asked if he could butter a muffin for the lady.  Tea and muffins? He's making tea, and buttering day old muffins. The boy was mystified and began to perspire in the darkness of the couch. But his head maintained the balance of the cushions. "So, what did you decide Robert?" Her voice seemed to echo through the house.
     "Well you know Honey, I haven't…."
     Quickly she interjected, "What do mean? You haven't told her yet?"
     "Come sit with me in the other room," Bob said in a nervous manner. Mr. Brown handed the woman an ashtray, then lowered himself into the leather recliner. Verne slumped into Adele's antique wing chair. She stripped the straw hat from her head, and tousled her cropped hairdo in a feminine attempt to grab the man's attention. Bob stood up and walked over to open the window. As he yanked the old, wooden sash up, careful not to disturb Adele's glass figures which dangled from the shade pull, fresh air streamed through the screen. Stalling, he glanced at the feeders in the backyard of their country home. "The birds should be happy."  He knew that Verne wasn't.  Jerry knew that too, by the curt tone of her voice: "Lovely day Robert, real fine." She lit a cigarette; took a few, quick puffs, then she snuffed it out in the ashtray.  What a waste. Timmy Boulder would tell ya to toke it to the very end. The smoke filtered across the sunlit room and Jerry tilted the cushions back down.
     Out of nowhere, the woman yelled. She just screamed loud and clear. If she wanted Bob's attention, she had it--his and the neighbors'. "Robert! What do you plan on doing?"
     Click,click,click…. Bob's loafers flopped along the floor as he hustled back to the recliner. Softly he told her that it was a difficult situation and that he needed more time. "Well, it's the car. You know it's on its last leg, and Adele promised I could get another one after she finished paying for the 'fridge. It'll only be a month, maybe two."
     The screams were a sure indication that she wasn't interested in listening to what he had to say: "A month! …two!…How long have I heard this?" 
     Jerry's eyes peered through the crack again. He was amazed to see her shuffle across the room and just slap his father across the face as hard as he'd hit a golf ball. As it developed, the red imprint began to look like it stung pretty badly. Visible signs of Bob's anger began to appear: a beet red face and clenched hands. Here we go, lashing time. The boy half-expected his father to remove his lizard skin belt and flog Verne any minute. But it didn't happen.  Instead, Verne kissed Bob on the cheek, and softly said, "Sweetie, let's decide. I think you should tell her."    Bob seemed to relax. He shook his head and replied, "Verne, not yet. It's not time." Jerry couldn't imagine what he saw next! She slapped him again, this time on the other cheek, only harder! His father's eyes stared right through hers.
     "I'll tell her myself!" She screamed as she shuffled over to the window. Peeking out, she shouted, "Yoo-Hoo birds! Verne's here!"
     By that time, Bob had heard enough and he jumped from the recliner. He tried to calm her down by touching her on the shoulder, but she merely leaned into the open window and began yelling, "OH NEIGHBORS, Verne's HERE!"
     She glanced at Bob as he stood there with that bright red face, and those twisted fists, then hunched over into the window again, "I'm here with HIM, THE COWARD!" 
     Better watch Mom's sun-catchers. She won't be happy if that blue chicken breaks.  Jerry heard the sound; saw it too, but he tried to convince himself that he hadn't. It was a powerful thug! Verne collapsed over the windowsill; her body hung inside the house, her neck beneath the sash.
     The glass chicken was unharmed, but Verne stopped yelling. Bob had slammed the window down on the back of her neck as hard as he could! As she hung limp, the blood drained from her face.
     "Now no one will tell her," Bob mumbled as he hoisted the body and started to drag it towards the couch. An ear-piercing squeak carried through the house as her shoes dragged along; across the linoleum towards the sofa. The cushion flopped down.
      Huddled in the darkness, Jerry mumbled to himself, "No, no, no!  Please no! There's not enough room for both of us." The perspiration mounted.  The noise grew louder and then it stopped. Minutes later it started again and began to fade. When Jerry heard the door slam and the rough start of his dad's car, he poked his damp head out from under the cushions. Assured that he was alone in the house, he scampered out of the couch, and fled to his room. Wait'll Deb gets these facts!


     As usual, Mr. Brown was late for dinner; wandering in long after Adele had scoured the dishes. "How was your day?" she shouted from the kitchen as he took his place at the head of the dining room table.
     "Long Honey, another long day," he said calmly and sighed. "My dinner ready?"He turned to his children who sat patiently at the table. "Looked for cars today kids. After work, I …."
     Interrupting her husband, Adele shouted, "I'm buying a couch!" Her eyes lit up as she sauntered into the dining room with a covered dinner plate and continued, "A big, red paisley one, with throw back pillows."
     Bob looked at Adele as if she had lost her mind, and he shook his head in firm disapproval. "No couch. Dad needs a new car."
    She handed him the plate, and he removed the cover and gasped. "What "Dad" needs is a lawyer," said Mrs. Brown. He stared at the crinkled, straw hat.
     As he nudged his sister, Jerry smirked. "Proof," he whispered, and began to scratch the bug bites on his arms.


The End






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