I left a memory foam marriage for a month-to-month lease. The decision was so big, it ruined my ability to make smaller ones. I couldn’t even commit to getting rid of the previous tenant’s couch. It smelled like cabbage, but it was my only bed now. When my alarm clock went off each morning, I righted the impact of my tossing and turning as I listened to NPR’s headlines with indifference.
“It’s six-oh-one,” the anchor said.
“Half-dozen of the other,” I said.
Two weeks went by, and then it was Saturday, the day before my daughter’s fortieth birthday. I was supposed to meet her for breakfast in the morning, but I didn’t know if I could go without telling her about the separation. And if I told her, she’d kill me. She still had that kind of devotion to her dad. I knew he hadn’t told her because he thought I’d move back home. And who knows, maybe I would.
I was evaluating my face in the mirror when someone knocked on my door: the previous tenant who’d handed me the keys to this illegal sublease.
“I’m here to pick up the couch,” she said.
“I didn’t know you were coming back for it.”
“I told you I was.”
“Well. I don’t have it anymore.” I pulled the door against my hip to block her view.
“I already saw it.”
“Are you forty yet?”
“What does that have to do with anything?” She stood up straighter, and I could see that she couldn’t have been over thirty, that she wasn’t yet in the habit of proving herself capable.
“I don’t know how you’ll move it by yourself.”
“I was hoping you’d help me. It fits in my pick-up.”
“You want me to help you steal my only piece of furniture so I have to sleep on the floor?”
“You’re the one stealing,” she said, though her voice had gone quiet. “But don’t sleep on the floor. The place has roaches.”
She turned abruptly and started toward the stairs. She wore her ponytail like my daughter, low and straight.
“Wait,” I said.
I decided to invite her in. I hadn’t noticed before, but the place felt hot and stagnant. I ran tap water into a chipped mug with a big “L” on it and handed it to her. Funny, she said—her name was Lydia. Mine was Lisa. We sat on opposite ends of the couch for a few seconds without speaking. She eyed the open suitcase full of folded T-shirts, the laundry basket stacked high with mystery novels.
“Where are you taking it?” I asked, tapping the couch cushion between us. “Did you move far?”
“Just down the street, but I’m taking the couch to a guy who’ll give me fifty bucks if I deliver. I need the money.”
“I thought you moved because you got a better job.”
“It’s complicated.” She picked at a ragged nail under a homemade manicure. The polish was the color of embarrassment.
“I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you let me keep it.”
I asked about Lydia’s new place, and she shrugged. “They’re always having people over.”
“I never have people over. You’re the first.”
“Maybe people would come if you had more furniture.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
But I did want someone to come—just not the Unitarian Men’s Fellowship Group or the Whiskey Tasters Society. Lydia finished her water and accepted the cash I dug out of my purse. From the window I watched her leave in a green Chevy pick-up with a sticker-plastered tailgate.
That afternoon I went to a store that sells furniture by the roomful. I asked for same-day delivery of the smallest bedroom and living room sets in stock. The salesperson couldn’t believe I didn’t want to check them out first, but the only thing that mattered was they were mine.
I made two phone calls when I got home. First, I called my husband and told him about the furniture.
“I don’t have to pay for a year,” I said.
“So you can return it before then.” Of course he would think of it that way.
“No, so I have time to save up.”
“That’s it, then.”
Next, I called my daughter and said I wanted to make her breakfast instead of going out.
“OK, I can be there by nine,” she said. She sounded annoyed.
“I’m not where you think.”
I told her then.
She didn’t kill me, but she wouldn’t come.
“Let’s reschedule,” she said, as if you could do such a thing with a milestone birthday.
“I’ll come see you instead,” I said. It’s not like I wanted to ruin her day with bad news. At least I was telling her the night before.
“Maybe next week,” she said. I took it as a win.
The furniture arrived late, the last delivery of the day. The movers put a gash in the coffee table while shoving it up the staircase, but I pretended not to notice. They took the old couch with them when they left. It was too rushed to feel momentous, but when the place was quiet again I moved between my two rooms, just looking. I set my daughter’s birthday present on the coffee table—a vintage velvet jacket with the first gift tag I’d signed only from me.
On Sunday morning I made quiche Florentine, and while it cooled I drove down the street looking for Lydia’s truck. When I found it, I left a note on her windshield. Something about a new couch to sit on and she’d know where to go if she wanted some company or quiet. It’s where I’d be, just in case someone decided to knock on the door.
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