The Historic Sofa

A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

This was a sofa that we, Alex and Victor and I, inherited from Erin in the mid 1990s. It was covered in a fabric printed with flowers against what might originally have been a white background. The sofa’s origins, and indeed its age, were unknown to us: Erin had found it in her house on Guerrero Street when she moved in, in 1991. It was already more or less decrepit then. Who knew how long it had been around, or what it had been used for? Erin and her bandmates added a sheen of grease to the historic sofa, then they gave it to us.

We kept it in Victor’s room, which we used as a common room sometimes because Victor had a large television.

At some point during its time with us, the historic sofa acquired a new set of stains, which looked very much like blood. Victor denied having bled on the sofa, and as far as we knew no one else had bled on it, either. The stains were a mystery. Were they the couchly equivalent of stigmata, blossoming in evidence of the historic sofa’s saintliness? Were the stains telltales of some secret act of violence? We didn’t know. We couldn’t get them out.

So the historic sofa became very much like history itself: a collection of marks that spoke of bloodshed and miracle and a time before memory. Of course, Victor and Alex had different ideas about the sofa, just as they had different ideas about history itself. Alex called the historic sofa a palimpsest, a collection of stories written one on top of the other, each calling for re-interpretation of the ones that came before. Victor spoke of the sofa as a witness. He was convinced that, with modern forensic tools, the entire true history of the sofa could be determined: the DNA in the bloodstains could be identified; particles of skin could be lifted from the sofa’s arms; the undercushion wealth of dust and paperclips and pocket change could be analyzed stratigraphically, like the debris of an ancient city. If the couch were further dissected, we would learn its age, and the place where it was made. Microscopic analysis of the stuffing and frame would uncover the unimaginable time before there was a sofa, even. “Imagine,” Victor said, his eyes bright, “one day this couch speaks to us of fields of cotton, and forests, Chinese forests…”

“Be quiet, Victor!” Alex and I said, at this point.

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