By Margaret Connor
Buying a new couch was easy—minivan, bribe, lookout, you get the idea. The trouble came when I wanted to get rid of the old one. The garbagemen in my neighborhood—my cousin’s neighborhood, really, since I’d been living with him—charge a cool one hundred bucks to haul away oversized furniture like that, and I had just dropped four hundred on a pleather settee, so I wasn’t about to shell out. I asked my friend Clayton what he’d done when his girlfriend made him sell his old futon, and he told me he knew two guys with a pickup truck who’d drive around on collection day and take old chairs and sofas for free. “I’ll call them for you, man,” he offered. I poured him another Solo cup of Sprite and handed him the blunt.
Tuesday morning, I was sitting outside on the front steps. It was warmer than forecasted, and I was wearing an old Ray Bourque jersey that used to belong to my old man. I’d only been on E for a few months, but Erin told me to let my chest breathe, and her word is law. My cousin Trey helped me haul the old couch into the driveway. We probably could’ve left it there, but we weren’t doing anything and figured it would be cool to give the sofa a final send-off.
“D’d’you see Jackass 3?” he asked out of nowhere.
“We watched it at Matt’s party. You were there.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Didn’t see it.”
“Why didn’t you? The party, I mean.”
“I had work.”
I shook my head. “Setting up for Dave’s band.”
“Oh, right. Hey, I think that’s our guys.” Trey sat up straight and pointed at a 2004 Toyota Hilux cruising along the street. Someone had tied Wally the Green Monster to the grill. As they pulled up to our house, I waved.
A guy in concrete-crusted work boots got out of the passenger side. “You’re Jamie, right?”
“Cool. It’s just the couch, right?”
“Wicked.” He turned to the guy in the driver’s seat. “Just the one.”
The second guy looked basically the same as the first. Same whiffle cut, same squint, same sweatpants. Maybe they were brothers, or else that’s just what guys look like around here. I wouldn’t know. I’m from Franklin.
They got it into the truck bed with less trouble than I’d figured. “Well fuck, we could’ve done that,” Trey grumbled.
“If we had a truck, I guess.”
The second guy had got into the bed and was tying down some busted patio furniture with an orange cord. “You need another bungie?” the first asked.
“Nah, I got it, man.”
“Alright. Let’s rock ’n’ roll.”
I perked up. “Hey, what do you guys do with the couches? Where do they go, I mean.”
The first guy double checked that the tailgate was tight in place. “We take it to the scrapyard east of town,” he explained. “Cars, couches, copper wires, they take everything.”
“So do you make money off it?”
He nodded. “Yeah, the guy there gives us some cash for whatever we bring.”
“And does he just strip it for metal?”
“I dunno, but that’s what I’d bet.”
“How much for our couch?”
“Maybe ten, fifteen.
“Wicked.” I turned to Trey and whispered, “So do we give them beer or something? Like helping someone move?”
He shook his head imperceptibly. “No, man. They have to drive.”
“Oh.” In a louder voice, I said, “Thanks again, guys. It’s a big help, really.”
“No problem.” As they started the engine up again, I could hear Eminem on the radio. I watched as they drove off down the street, my sofa and the martyred corpse of Wally disappearing over the hill.
“You wanna get Domino’s tonight?”
About a year later, I was at my sister’s baby shower and ended up talking to one of her friends, a film student at NYU who makes documentaries about what she called the “developing world.” While the other girls were ogling the ultrasound photos, she showed me some clips on her laptop from one of her shorter pieces. It was called Naa, and it was about a woman who ran a school in the Gambia, deep inland, way, way away from the coast. I hadn’t seen the Gambia before—or if I had, I didn’t know it. It’s a lot smaller than I expected. A lot greener, too.
The woman, who everyone called Naa, was showing the documentary team around the school, which used to be a post office. She was explaining how she’d gathered almost everything herself. She’d stitched the uniforms herself, and she’d bought the school bus, a used minivan, at a market in the capitol. “A lot of used stuff from the U.S. ends up in the Gambia,” the girl told me, looking down at the laptop screen. “It’s not great for the local economy, but …” She trailed off as Naa led them into another room, where a bunch of girls were playing ping-pong. It was the rec room, Naa explained. The girls, who were maybe middle school age, all waved and gave the camera big smiles.
“Wait, hold up,” I cut in.
She paused the video. “What’s up?”
“What the hell—I think that’s my couch.” I pointed to the oddly slack sofa some girls were sitting on that had been patched up at the seat. I was careful not to scratch the screen, ’cause I’d just started wearing these wicked long acrylics and wasn’t really used to them yet. Whenever I wore them, it felt like I had lobster forks taped to my fingers, but it was Opening Day, so I had painted them red-and-white.
She turned the laptop to face her and squinted. “Oh, yeah, maybe. We saw a lot of, I guess, refurbished stuff in that town.”
I imagined the guy at the scrapyard selling it to another scrap guy, and him to another scrap guy, and then another, each a little farther out to sea until it ended up with a Gambian scrap guy who for some reason had the same Boston accent.
“Makes sense. I just didn’t expect to see my couch ten thousand miles across the earth.”
“It’s more like four thousand,” she said, shrugging, “but yeah, you never really expect it.”
I stopped at a liquor store and got a case of Sam Adams before I went down to Alewife. There’d been champagne at the shower, but I’d stopped drinking around other people ever since I got trashed at Erin’s gender-reveal party and told her how I wanted to be a girl, too. Riding the T back home, I kept thinking about how weird it was that my old couch had gone from an undignified deadbeat divan to a springless lump in a girls’ school across the Atlantic. It was so weird, too, that I was going to be an aunt. It was weird that my sister was having a kid, making a whole human inside her, and it was so, so weird that I was now my sister’s sister. What would it feel like, to be an aunt? A mom? I wish I could ask Ma, but I’ll probably have to ask Erin instead.
Maybe it feels like watching the Sox pull through like they did in 2018. Or like watching your reflection change for days until you don’t recognize yourself in your cousin’s bathroom mirror. Or maybe it feels like watching the couch you slept and smoked and up-chucked on for six years leave your life, only for it to turn up in the Gambia, and knowing it’s better off there, with a bunch of girls whose names you’ll never know. Just like they’ll never know any of yours.