A COUCH IN A CLEARING • by Rachel McClain

The wind stopped pushing leaves and the tinkling songbirds quieted when I reached the clearing. I heaved a final shove against the sofa and rested my back on the rough fabric that I always associate with the scratchy burlap sacks we bought cheap potatoes in. I looked back at our old house in the distance and through the dust I kicked up; I blinked at the windows that glinted in the sun like cats’ eyes do when they hide in bushes. The perfume seeping up from the cushions burned my nose with heady notes of violet and jasmine that had been violated by overuse and rotted by time. The davenport, as she would’ve called it, was almost damp with scent and the air was thickly saturated with my dead mother’s odor.

The breeze picked up tentatively, tickling the edges of the armrest covers. It lifted them slightly up, introducing itself to the stranger in its environment, shaking hands. A stronger gust pulled old, stray bits of her hair from the top of the cushions and sent them careening and twirling through the air in a haphazard dance of frivolity, depositing the long, dead hairs like bits of pollen that would fertilize nothing. Even in their singularity, the hairs were recognizable as an oddity of nature. Their red was created by meticulous attention to detail and coloring sessions done biweekly with my help as soon as I was old enough to hold mother’s bowls of eyesearing chemicals. “What lovely art projects you must do at home!” a teacher once remarked, seeing my stained cuticles.

Mother had picked the couch because its pattern wouldn’t show stains. Its deep browns and reds wove together into such an intricate plaid that, when her cigarette ashes dropped into the grooves, the resulting stain was almost indistinguishable from the original pattern. Nothing would show, the salesman told her before slipping his card into her back pocket, winking. The salesman lied. He delivered the couch himself in a white van with no windows.

Mother had run out to pick up the Chinese we’d ordered for dinner, leaving me and the salesman alone. I didn’t say anything when she returned. The last time I’d mentioned an earache, she slapped me. I didn’t tell her about how at first, he used his middle finger and how his nail was untrimmed and scratchy. At that age, I thought that people flipped the bird with the middle finger because it was the biggest and therefore the only one long enough on which, should one so desire, to write all the swears end to end. And, I didn’t tell her what happened next. The next morning, I’d scrubbed what was left behind on the couch. It mostly came clean, all except a tiny stain.

I flicked open the lighter and thumbed the barrel. The grooves on the barrel scratched against the pad of my thumb as they rolled by and ignited the flint. The flame danced in the breeze and I watched the blue center sway, shrink and grow, depending on the life the air gave it.

Once, when I’d been ill enough to be held prisoner by the couch with a bucket in my lap, my mother had taken a package of blue tissue paper and crumpled the sheets into tiny balls. She’d told me they were flowers and pinned them to the back of the couch, calling it a magical healing garden. I bent over the couch and touched the flame to the stain, and then to the back, in several spots. I watched as memories burned.


Rachel McClain is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom of the best kid on the planet (there–it’s in print so it’s true). She has recently been published in the Cup of Comfort volumes for Breast Cancer survivors and for Military Families and has work forthcoming in Fuselit and Mom Writer’s Literary Magazine. She was named an honorable mention in Women on Writing’s Winter Flash Fiction Contest and third place in their Spring Contest. She’s just finished her first young adult novel and would love if someone wanted to publish it. She blogs regularly about her awesome kid at http://thelaundryfairy.blogspot.com/.

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