The Maltese Couch
I don’t know where I caught the virus that knocked me flat. It started out last night as a foul taste in the back of my throat. At first I thought it was the homemade pesto sauce I ate with dinner, but the low grade fever and congestion that greeted me this morning told me otherwise. Crawling out of bed, I swallow some pills, take some vitamins, and suck down an herbal remedy. The congestion goes away – only to be replaced by a mind numbing exhaustion. Today’s going to be a sleep on the couch and watch TV kind of day.
And that’s a minor problem.
After years spent embarrassing my living room, my old couch is being consigned to the trash heap. The furniture store’s scheduled to deliver its replacement sometime this afternoon. I should be excited. I promised myself a new couch for two years. Now all I want to do is sleep on my old one. I don’t want to keep vigil for the delivery men. I need my rest.
I cook some soup from a can, grab the cordless phone, and slip The Maltese Falcon into the DVD player. Stretching out on my sagging couch, I put the phone next to my head so I’ll wake up when the delivery men call. By the time Sam Spade’s partner is murdered I’m in a groggy twilight zone – half remembering what I was doing when I bought my old sofa ten years ago. I had just turned thirty, gotten a new job, a new apartment, and was seeing a new girl. Life seemed full of promise. To celebrate my good fortune I drove down to the furniture store and bought what I thought was a smart looking couch.
Almost as soon as the wrapping came off the sofa, however, the girl and I broke up, my job went down the toilet, and I caught a bad cold. The cold, it turned out, was my biggest problem. At first I thought it was nothing, but after being racked with chills for two days I began fearing it was something serious. When my temperature reached 103° I called my mother in near delirium and asked her to take me to the hospital. Turns out I had double pneumonia. I was never so sick in my life. I spent two weeks sleeping on my new couch and watching TV while I recovered. My friends and family had to do my shopping, prepare my meals, and clean my apartment. I remember feeling grateful that I had my new couch to sleep on.
Then I became a waiter, moved twice, and got a dog. During one of the moves a workmen tore the couch’s fabric while jamming it through a small door. Somehow they evaded paying damages. It didn’t matter. My dog Buster finished the job. As a puppy he peed on the sofa, gnawed its legs, scratched the cushions, and teethed on a ballpoint pen – smearing blue ink all over the beige upholstery. Eventually it smelled like dog 24/7. I didn’t have the money for a new couch so I covered the rips and stains under a slipcover. There were times I felt embarrassed by my threadbare sofa, but I also considered it a comfortable and dependable friend. Eventually, however, even old friends outstay their welcomes.
The doorbell wakes me up. The deliverymen are here. They didn’t bother calling first. The sun’s almost down. My darkened living room is illuminated by white static beaming from the television set. Sam Spade sent Bridget O’Shaughnessy up the river hours ago. I shake sleep from my eyes, go downstairs, and open the door. The delivery guys are in a hurry. They’ve got another delivery to make and they’re running late. Despite my apartment being on the second floor and on the opposite end of a narrow stairway, the delivery men maneuver the couch into my living room with ease. They also deliver a matching chair and carry my old sofa to the curb. I follow them downstairs, sign some paperwork, and give them a nice tip. Back upstairs I admire my new furniture – leather, shiny, and classically styled – it wouldn’t look out of place in Sam Spade’s apartment. Maybe I should get a copy of the Black Bird for my bookcase.
Without warning I suddenly feel lightheaded and confused. The new furniture makes it seem like I’m in the wrong apartment. Discombobulated, I’m fear someone’s going to yell at me for trespassing any minute. I grab hold of a window sill and woozily tell myself it’s the antihistamines talking. As I wait for the dizziness to pass I look out the window at the street below. My old couch is sitting forlornly on the curb. Illuminated by the harsh glare of a streetlight it looks awful. Ripped and tattered, I can’t believe I waited so long to throw it out. In a strange way I feel sorry for the couch. Part of me hopes that some college kids will cart it off to a frat house where it can go out with a bang. That won’t happen. Even a skid row bum wouldn’t look twice at it. I telepath the couch my thanks for its years of service, close the blinds, and lie down on my new sofa. The leather’s slippery and cold, but I’ll get used to it and it’ll get used to me.
I pull a warm blanket around myself and turn on the DVD player. I skip to the last scene in the Maltese Falcon I remember watching. I feel a scratching at the back of my throat. I’m getting sicker. I hope history’s not repeating itself. I’d hate to get pneumonia again. As the old movie flickers before my eyes I idly wonder where I’ll be when it’s time to replace this couch. Who knows? The thought frightens me. I still hope life’s full of promise.
Before I can think anymore I fall asleep. In my dreams Sydney Greenstreet’s reading a newspaper in my new leather chair and Buster’s a silent black figurine perched on my bookshelf. As I lie on my couch Mary Astor’s spoon feeding me chicken soup, Peter Lorre’s fiddling with an old fashioned radio, and Humphrey Bogart rattling around the kitchen mixing drinks.
And somewhere in the distance a woman sings about the stuff dreams are made of.