The apartment smelled the same as it had for the last three weeks and it wasn’t exactly pleasant. It was a combination of stale cigarette smoke, dirty laundry and bongwater. There was, however, something different about the place. She noticed it immediately upon entering the third-floor walk-up she’d been sharing with him for the last four years. She dropped her laptop bag by the door and kicked off her flats. She looked at the four quarter-sized indentations in the carpet, perfectly and evenly distanced apart. That portion of the rug was a lot cleaner than the rest of it – a perfect, spotless rectangle.
“Why is the couch missing?” she asked.
“Where is the couch?”
“I sold it,” he said.
“You sold my couch?”
“I thought it was our couch.”
“I’ve had that couch since college. It was here before you moved in.”
“Oh,” he said.
He was standing in front of the television staring at something he didn’t appear to be watching. He had the same look on his face he’d worn for weeks. In fact he was wearing the same clothes he had worn for weeks. She would have turned off the television but she didn’t see the remote anywhere.
“Hey,” she said.
He ignored her.
“HEY,” she said louder. “Where the fuck is my couch?”
His tunnel vision remained stoic. “I told you,” he said. “I sold it.”
“Three guys, actually.”
“You sold my couch to three guys?”
“I sold our couch to one guy, but three guys came and picked it up.”
“I don’t think one guy could have carried it by himself.”
“No, I mean why did you sell the couch?”
She’d been giving him the benefit of the doubt for months. He’d had a bad streak of luck, sure. His father’s most recent stoke had been bad, the worst one yet. It was an ischemic stroke. That occurs when blood clots block the blood vessels to the brain. She didn’t know what an ischemic stroke was until it happened, but now they were becoming experts together. It didn’t help he was laid off a few weeks ago on top of that.
“Can you at least turn off the tv? Can we talk about this?” she asked.
“I don’t know where the remote is.”
She walked over to the wall and unplugged the television and stood in front of him trying to make eye-contact. She folded her arms and tilted her head.
“I know things have been hard on you the last few weeks but you can’t just go selling my stuff.”
“I thought it was our stuff.”
“Even so, you can’t sell our stuff without consulting me. Can you tell me why you sold the couch?”
“I didn’t like it anymore,” he said.
“Well, is there is new couch on its way?
“Not that I’m aware of.”
“How much did you sell it for?”
“I asked for a hundred.”
“I paid eleven-hundred dollars for that couch. You sold it for a hundred?”
“No. I asked for a hundred,” he said. “The guy talked me down to eighty-five.”
She was pissed. “You sold my couch for eighty-five dollars?”
“He was better at negotiating than me,” he said, before turning away and walking into the kitchen.
Things hadn’t been particularly great since even before his father’s stroke. They’d met in grad school. He parlayed his internship into a great job immediately after graduation but now that job was gone. Her apartment was bigger and actually closer to that job so when his lease expired he moved in with her. It seemed like a natural progression.
She’d already lived in the apartment since junior year and it was fully furnished by the time they’d met. He hadn’t been eager to sell off his own home furnishings but his college bachelor pad was what you could call “frat brother chic” and nothing there really fit her trendy farmhouse motif.
Her apartment wasn’t much, but at least there wasn’t a Fight Club poster hanging in the living room next to an empty fish tank, and her bed actually had a frame. Until recently she thought she’d finally done enough loads of laundry and replaced enough of his wardrobe to rid herself of the dusty clothing and stale smoke smell. He hadn’t smoked cigarettes since he moved in, but he'd picked it back up in recent weeks since his father fell ill and he lost his job. He’d started smoking pot again too, which was better than the alcohol alternative, she supposed.
She followed him into the kitchen. “We can’t keep living like this,” she said. “Did you look for a job today?”
He opened the refrigerator and took out a jar of peanut butter. He placed it on the counter and spun the jar until the label faced him. “Do we have jelly?” he asked.
She gently kicked the refrigerator door closed. “We need to talk about this.”
“It was a yes or no answer.”
“Not the fucking jelly. Why did you sell the couch without asking me? Did you need the money for something?”
He ignored the question. “I don’t know what the big deal is. That couch was old.”
“But now we don’t have a couch at all,” she said. “If you wanted a new couch you could have told me and we could have picked one out together.”
“You threw away a bunch of my clothes when I moved in. You never asked me about that.”
“But I bought you new clothes. You didn’t buy us a new couch.”
“It’s just stuff,” he said.
“Is this the stand you’re taking? Materialism? Is this some sort of Fight Club thing? The more possessions you own, the more your possessions own you?”
“Well fuck you, Tyler Durden. That was my couch,” she said,
“I thought it was our couch.”
He gave up on his sandwich and walked back into the living room. She followed him after putting the peanut butter away.
“So what now?” she asked. “Are we getting a new couch? What’s the plan for your eighty-five-dollar windfall? Are we getting a futon? Maybe a couple of beanbag chairs could tie the room together?”
“So it’s about money now? Again?”
“Don’t gaslight me. It’s not about money, it’s about you selling the couch without asking my permission.”
“Why do I always need your permission? You didn’t need permission to throw away my Nine Inch Nails t-shirt.”
“That shirt was at least fifteen-years old. Probably older."
“So there were holes in the armpits and the word Nails was so faded the shirt just read ‘Nine Inch.’ I shouldn’t have to tell you how weird that looked.”
“I was at that concert.”
“Don’t change the subject. Can you please tell me why you sold the couch for eighty-five dollars?”
He finally looked at her face. She saw something she hadn’t seen before, even after all these years. He had tears in his eyes.
He spoke slowly. “I needed to help my father pay for his stroke medication,” he said. “He needed a tPA shot or something. It’s called alteplase. It’s supposed to help with the blood clots. His insurance covered most of it but there was still a copay. I didn’t know what else to do. He needed my help. He’s always been there for me and I needed to be there for him. I haven’t been working and I don’t have much left in savings.”
The dam broke in his eyes and the tears slowly rolled down his face. She wanted to give him a hug but she just stood there. They stared at one another. Before she could say anything there was a knock on the door. It startled them both.
“Are you expecting anyone?” she asked. He only shrugged in response and wiped the tears off his cheek. She opened the door to find a short, round bearded man who could have either been twenty-five or fifty.
“Can I help you?” she asked.
The man lifted up a television remote control. “This was stuck in the couch cushions,” he said. “Figured you’d be missing it.”
She took the remote from his stubby hand, thanked the bearded man and closed the door. She tried to make light of the situation. “Well, that mystery is solved,” she said.
She walked into the kitchen and filled the green teapot with tap water. “Do you want tea? It might make you feel better.”
She pulled two mugs from the cupboard above the sink. His was a yellow Homer Simpson mug and hers was off-white with black letters that read “Here’s a cup of calm the fuck down.” She managed to laugh a little. It seemed fitting.
“Sure, I’ll have some tea,” he said, still standing in the living room.
She dropped two bags of chamomile into the mugs and waited for the water to boil. She walked back into the living room, took the clips out of her hair and shook out her auburn locks. She decided to change the subject. “Work sucked today,” she said.
“Yeah, more than usual.”
He didn’t say anything.
“I’m going to go change while the water boils,” she said. “Did the eighty-five dollars cover the entire copay? I’m not even sure I know what a tPA shot is. I’ve never heard of alteplase either. Is that common?”
He spoke to her as she walked down the hallway towards the bedroom.
“It covered some of it,” he said. “But not everything. It’s kind of expensive.”
She reached the end of the hallway and opened the bedroom door. He was still talking but she couldn’t make out the words. She entered the bedroom and stopped dead in her tracks. The whistle from the teapot hissed through the apartment. He was still talking but she wasn’t listening. She was distracted by emptiness.
To no one in particular she asked, “Why is the mattress missing?”