The Nations of Us

Couch

 

It was about the couch.

It wasn’t about the couch.

It was about everything the man had done, and everything the woman had done. But, like a small country with abundant natural resources, the two powerful nations fought and bickered over it, plotting ways to use the couch to inflict maximum harm on the other.

The couch was nondescript, a yellowing, two-cushion sofa with a floral pattern dotted on the armrests. It was old and saggy in some places. Much like his wife, the man thought.

It was plain and boring, with little to offer anyone. Much like her husband, the woman thought.

In the escalating battle that was their collapsing relationship, the couch was the assassination, the invasion, and the war crime to draw the nations of them to arms.

The woman had slept with another man on the couch. The man found this out because, upon collapsing onto it after work,  he felt something under him, wedged between the cushions.

It was a wallet. Red leather. The man thought it was gaudy and ridiculous. He was very much a brown or black type of person. No nonsense.

It belonged to Trevor Ullman. Trevor Ullman looked like The Hillside Strangler, the man thought. He had the black handlebar mustache and puffy black hair. That wasn’t entirely fair, the man knew, because everyone looked liked criminals in their driver’s license photos. He himself looked like a younger, cleaner version of Charles Manson. He didn’t know who his wife resembled in her photo, but it was probably someone really nasty.

He didn’t mention the wallet. But he caught the woman searching through the cushions later that day.

“What are you looking for?”

“Oh, I dropped a sewing needle somewhere. I don’t want it to poke you.”

The man had a number of responses, each more witty and savage than the last.

You sew now? You should sew your legs shut.

Don’t want it to poke you? Thought you liked getting poked?

But he didn’t. He didn’t want to fire the first volley. Somewhere buried in all the dark bitterness was a desire to see this escalate into cataclysm, so they’d both be utterly destroyed.

The next day, she said that they should get rid of the couch.

“No,” he replied. “I like it.”

He didn’t like it. Whenever he sat on it, he thought he could smell them, smell their infidelity. Like it was imprinted in the cushions. A fabric freshener sheet, only with the scent of sweat and sex and sour feelings. But he couldn’t let her win. What would that say to the nation of him? She would get a foothold in this war, and he would be on the defensive.

The woman turned on her heel and did her foot stomping walk, to let the world know that she was not okay with this result. He heard her dial the phone, and then in a hushed tone: “I didn’t find it.”

The man wondered if she thought he was stupid.

***

 

She did think he was stupid. She assumed that he was engrossed in football games and drinking with his co-workers to notice if she found someone else. The woman wasn’t quite ready to call off the marriage yet. He would be getting a bonus at the end of the month, and that would help offset some expenses of moving her and Trevor to a lovely little apartment on the east side of town. Or that’s what she told herself.

Buried in all her dark bitterness was a desire to see this escalate into cataclysm, and to see if she would come out the victor.

The wallet, though. Trevor insisted he lost it at her house, and told her to check the couch. The dirty old thing. She stuffed her hands in the crevices, but found only crumbs. Trevor must’ve lost it at his house.

A few days later, when the man left for work, she searched the couch again. No wallet, but her fingers grabbed onto something soft and silky. “Underwear,” she thought, pulling it out. “Another woman’s underwear. A thong to be sure, the sign of a whore.”

It wasn’t. It was a hair scrunchie.

Somehow, that was worse.

Somehow, the image of another woman pulling her hair out of a ponytail and letting it fall down her shoulders in an act of seduction and affection was worse than the image of her husband fucking someone. He grunted when he did that. Pigs grunted. She could laugh at that. But taking your hair out-of-place for him was far too intimate.

She seethed with anger, squeezing the scrunchie. There was no way it was hers, she didn’t own anything orange. The woman was very much a black and grey sort of person. No nonsense. So who was this smiling, bright girl with her husband? On that couch. The same couch where she and Trevor had laid. Did both couples lay in the same grooves? Do the same things?

It took her a moment to realize it wasn’t jealousy she was feeling. It was more akin to losing a board game after being sure you were going to win.

The woman put the scrunchie on her wrist, and waited for her husband to get home.

 

***

They sat beside each other on the couch, both thinking of the other’s affair. They watched TV silently, as they conferred with their internal generals about the best mode of attack.

Neither knew when the other’s affair had started, or the extent. Whoever said it first would be effectively routed; claiming the moral high ground of “you cheated first!” was akin to cutting of supply lines to a beseiged army.

The woman struck first. A calculated, passive-aggressive strike designed to crush the psyche of her enemy and send him reeling back to his trenches and bunkers, so she could artillery shell him into submission.

She stood up and faced him, placing her hand pointedly on her hip, so the scrunchie on her wrist was fully visible. “What do you want for dinner?”

The woman had to give him credit. His eyes only flickered a little, and the corners of his mouth twitched as he gazed at her wrist.

Then he smiled. “Pizza,” he said. “Let me check my wallet.”

And he pulled out a red leather wallet that was much too gaudy for him.

Her eyes froze, but a smile etched its way onto her face. She took the scrunchie that was far too girly for her tastes and tied her hair back into a ponytail.

They stared at each other, their individual word missiles armed and ready. Loaded with explosive insults and deadly accusations. The fate of their world was going to be decided by two trigger happy lunatics who wanted nothing more than to hurt each other. But more than that, they didn’t want the game to end. They didn’t want to take the chance of losing.

“Good,” she said.

“Good,” he said.

She went and ordered the pizza. Then she came back and sat down next to him on the couch. The sitcom they were watching rolled into its third straight episode.

They sat in the silence of their mutually assured destruction.

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