The Couch Lover
by James Kanady
Residents were doing their nightly chores after supper to keep the old shelter as clean as possible. I was in the staff office contemplating the white board on the wall, trying to figure a way to get more yin and less yang or vice versa. On the board, resident rooms were marked by squares and the names of people on the waiting list arranged vertically on the right. That morning the Exec Director, Ms. Page, entered the office in wide-eyed horror, “Fix the energy in this house, Mister MacIntyre. We are out of balance.”
I knew exactly what she meant. The homeless shelter at that time had too many male residents, thirteen, and not enough females, two (one single, the other a single mom with two children). With that many men, everything was a pissing contest. Conversely, if the women had outnumbered the men, everything would be a drama-infused bitch fest. The house energy imbalance at either extreme was like spiritual hemorrhoids.
Contemplating a solution, I heard a high-pitched whine from upstairs─like an engine wrapped too tight. I walked out of the office at the same moment our Case Manager, Lyn Ott, walked out of hers, a puzzled look on her face. “What is that,” she asked.
I ran upstairs. In the hallway a new resident, Darryl Carter, was vacuuming. Trying to. Dust spewed in the air, the old upright Kirby’s whines growing louder, but Darryl kept on going back and forth as if nothing was amiss. I unplugged it from the wall socket.
Darryl looked dumbfounded at the vacuum and was startled seeing me.
“What the hell’re you doing?” I said.
“My chore. I work nights now and gotta do my chore in the daytime.”
I picked up the Kirby. A small throw rug was tangled in the mechanism. “You sucked this up and kept vacuuming?”
“I dunno how these damn things work. I been in the joint eleven years. Ain’t my fault.”
I freed the rug from the rollers, replaced the motor belt, and had Darryl plug it back in. I closed my eyes and smiled, relieved to hear the motor running normally. The last thing we needed was another repair bill. Another Chance’s budget was miniscule so even a minor expense was in reality major. If broken, I’d have to take my begging bowl to a church or community supporters to get a new one.
“Hey, you mind if I come talk to you when I’m done?”
“What about? Lyn is your case manager.”
“Yeah, but . . . she’s a woman. I can’t tell her.”
Sorrow in his gaze. That’s what hooked me even though I had more than enough on my plate as Emergency Shelter Coordinator, but looking into that man’s sad, pleading eyes had me willing to toss away my whole schedule. “Come on down when you’re ready.”
I closed and latched the top half of the staff office door for privacy. Darryl sat in the hardback chair next to my ancient metal desk, spiral notebook on his lap. I leaned back in my desk chair and considered him a moment: over six feet and skinny, with thinning blonde hair, a freckled, pale complexion, a huge bulbous nose, and a walrus mustache. But those eyes: dark blue with even darker swirls. Deep eyes filled with kindness and pain. “What do you need, Darryl?”
“Well, it’s kinda hard to say. See, I was in the joint a long time. When I got out, I was gonna move back home with my wife.”
“What’s her name?”
“Rose. Was Rose. Anyway, things changed when I’s in the joint.”
“I can imagine.”
“No, you can’t. See─” He shook his head. “I want to show you somethin’. He pulled out a sheet of notebook paper face down and slid it over. “Read that and lemme know what you think.”
“Oh, okay.” I turned the sheet over─Darryl grasped my wrist.
“Not now. Read it after I’m gone.” Darryl stood, walked out of the office, and closed the door.
As I sit here alone tonight, I think of you
And all the good times we shared
The moon light walks with roses in
Your hair I would pluck from a bush
As we passed by.
You remind me so much of Wild Roses
Growing on the mountain above town
For everyone knows it takes a special place
For a mountain rose to grow
A place filled with sunshine
Where the winter winds don’t blow
Home, was that special place
You were my sunshine
And warmed me in winter time
And kept the cold world out
You was my wild Mountain Rose!
I found Darryl drinking coffee in the dining and handed the poem back to him. “It’s nice, Darryl.”
“Thank you. You keep it. It’s in my head.”
“I take it this is about your wife?”
“Why didn’t you move back in with her?”
“She died. Cancer of the female parts.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“You and me both.”
“Thanks for sharing this.”
Darryl nodded, anxious and sheepish. I returned to the office, glanced at the poem and slipped it reverently into my backpack.
A couple of days later Larry, the Overnight Coordinator at Another Chance, came in during the day. “Why aren’t you sleeping?”
“It’s about that Darryl guy.”
I sensed his reticence to continue. “And?”
“Early the other mornin’ I looked in the livin’ room before anybody else was up and . . .”
“He was fuckin’ the couch.”
“His pants was down and he was fuckin’ the couch.”
“Yeah, Mac, he was humpin’ the shit out of it. I went back in the office until, you know, he was done. I figured you oughta know.”
I closed my eyes and did my should-be-patented incredulous exhale. “Thanks, Larry. I’ll deal with it.”
I put off talking to Darryl about his erotic couch encounter hoping the incident would simply fade away.
Larry caught him at again a week later.
Unable to avoid the issue, I called Darryl into the office one evening after he’d finished his chore for the night (the living room) and closed the door. “Am I in trouble?” Darryl squirmed with the usual trepidation of an ex-con.
“No,” I said, sitting down, and then, “Well, you might be. It’s just─” I took a breath.
“What’d I do?”
“I’ve gotten some eyewitness reports that you, uh, were having relations with the couch in the living room.”
“Oh, fuckin’ the couch?” Darryl didn’t bat an eye. “Yeah, I done that. So what? I used a rubber. I didn’t make no mess.”
“Better’n fuckin’ animals, ain’t it?”
I lacked a suitable response.
“Besides,” Darryl said, “I have my reasons. I’m not a weirdo.” He paused dramatically. “It’s the closest thing to my late wife I’ve ever found.”
“I don’t understand.”
“She died while I was in the joint. After I was released I went crazy chasin’ puss, but none of them was Rose. One night I was all fucked-up on weed and Wild Turkey and, well, one thing led to another and I fucked my couch and it felt just like Rose! I mean, it was her! I never went back to a live woman again. Then I lost my job and my apartment and ended up here. I couldn’t afford no storage, so I lost that couch,”
“How did you happen to, uh, start loving our couch?”
“Watchin’ TV one night, my room key fell between the cushions. I dug around and, damn, it was as tight as Rose. After that I couldn’t sleep. I just had to get down here and knock off a piece. This couch is more Rose than the other one. When I’m doin’ it, I’m . . . with her. Understand?
“I can see you have strong feelings, but you can’t fuck─make love—to that couch anymore Darryl, okay? I’ll have to kick you out of here and I don’t want to do that.”
Darryl nodded, looking sad. “I won’t.” He stood. As he opened the office door, he said, “I sure do miss her.”
Darryl was true to his word; there were no more reports of couch lovemaking. Although the left corner of the couch became his spot to sit during TV time; he guarded it like a mother bear a cub. He found a job at a metal recycling yard and within two months had saved enough for first month rent and deposit on a small apartment four blocks from Another Chance.
I was able to find him a donated TV, easy chair, coffee table, and a small dining table with two rickety chairs. During that time, a local minister from a supportive Methodist church called about wanting to donate a couch.
The proverbial light bulb clicked in my brain. When the church people delivered the donated couch, I had them switch it with the old couch─the Rose couch─and load it in their pickup.
Darryl came to the door of his new house. I smiled and said, “Got something for you.”
Darryl gasped as the church volunteers carried the Rose couch inside and placed it against the wall opposite his TV. I explained the story of the couch donated to Another Chance and how I thought it appropriate Darryl have the old one (without the volunteers knowing the true reason).
Darryl hugged me so hard the vertebrae between my shoulder blades audibly cracked.
I went to Pogue’s Tavern for a sandwich and a couple of beers that evening. But as it often did, a couple turned into too many. Pogue locked the door at midnight and as he cleaned up, he slipped me a few shots of Jameson from under the bar.
With that much lubrication, my lips grew loose. “Hey, Pogue, what would you say if a guy missed his dead wife so much, he’d have sex with a couch to recreate her memory?”
Blankly, Pogue said, “I should’a cut you off an hour ago.”
“No, I’m serious. If a guy was so in love that the only way he could find a hint of her in the here and now was to screw a couch, what would you say?”
“I’d say that poor bastard needs new pussy bad!”
Pogue couldn’t grasp the higher meaning; could not wrap his head around a man who’d found a way to reconnect beyond the grave with his beloved wife. As for me, jaded as I was after my failed marriage, I found it inspiring that this poor ex-inmate’s love was so strong he’d do anything to keep her memory alive.
Any thing. And if sex is truly just in the brain as the scientists claim, what did it matter in the end how one achieved erotic transcendence?
In my apartment later, I cracked open a Shiner Bock I did not need and plopped on the couch. Before passing out, I raised my bottle in the air to the most faithful man I have ever known.
I woke up at two o’clock, TV blaring, and got up to go to bed. The TV remote was sandwiched between my couch cushions. I pulled it out, noticing how snug the fit was and─