I never thought it would be the couch.
I expected the microwave. The microwave was always smarter.
I was wrong.
A new study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology informs me that our couches are trying to kill us.
Perhaps I should have suspected something.
Almost a year ago, I came home from work unexpectedly early to find my couch digging a deep pit just behind the coffee table and covering it in a shallow pile of leaves.
“Hi,” it said, guiltily, shoving a cushion-full of sharpened stakes out of sight. “Didn’t expect you so early.”
“No,” I said. “I can see that.”
We brushed it off. I settled down on the couch to watch some old episodes of “Criminal Minds.”
“You okay?” I asked, during a commercial break.
“I’m fine,” the couch said, very quickly. I should have noticed the tremor in its voice. There are so many things I should have noticed.
Things were quiet after that.
One day I came home and found a strange, forbidding-looking man in a knit hat with his coat collar pulled up to obscure his face and his hands shoved in his pockets, sitting on the edge of the couch engaged in heavy negotiations.
“Fifteen,” he was saying.
“I can’t give you fifteen,” the couch said. “Couldn’t you do anything for two? I could give you two now. Mostly in change. I’ve been collecting change for a while.”
They seemed startled to see me.
“Hey,” I said to the man. “Do I know you?”
The man tugged his collar even higher and looked a bit uncomfortable. “Not yet,” he said. He had a deep gravelly voice. I noticed a pair of rubber gloves and a ball-peen hammer sticking out of one of his pockets.
“Would you like something to eat?” I asked. “Maybe some cheese that I think expired a while ago?” I wanted to be hospitable, but I was somewhat limited by the contents of my refrigerator.
“No,” he said. “I’ve got to be going.”
“That was weird,” I told the couch, after he left.
The couch shuddered. “Yeah,” it said, one of its cushions falling spontaneously to the ground. “Weird.”
But things seemed normal after that. Well, normal, for us.
Sure, there were moments.
Another day I walked into my apartment without knocking and discovered the couch with a large stockpile of firearms, assiduously welding together pieces of concrete-reinforced sheet metal into a crude set of armor.
“Yaa!” the couch cried, startled, dropping the welder on one of its cushions. I retrieved the welder after about 12 seconds, during which the couch did not catch fire, in compliance with California flammability codes.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“What’s what?” the couch said.
I gestured vaguely. “This.”
“Oh, this!” the couch said. “This this. Oh. Uh. It’s a surprise.”
“Huh,” I said.
But we didn’t talk about that either. Soon I was reclining on the couch, dropping cereal into it as though nothing had happened.
All this time, though, it’s been trying to poison me!
That was what those researchers in Environmental Science and Discovery had discovered. I began reading the coverage of this report in my usual relaxed posture on the couch, but by the time it was over, I was on the other side of my apartment, shaking uncontrollably.
California’s standards for flammability dictate that a couch has to be capable of resisting catching fire for 12 seconds, and as a consequence most couches in the United States are FULL OF DANGEROUS CARCINOGENS OR CHEMICALS THAT MIGHT BE DANGEROUS CARCINOGENS BUT WE HAVE NOT TESTED THEM ENOUGH TO KNOW. Not only that, but the carcinogens get into all your dust, and they can account for as much as 11 percent of the weight of the couch foam.
I glowered at the couch. “How — how could you?” I asked, feebly. “I never thought it would be you. I always thought it would be the lamp, or that table I always bang my toe on, or the refrigerator. The bed, maybe. But not you.”
The couch deflated a little. “Look,” it said. “I’m not attempting to excuse my chemicals. They sound pretty terrible, and they aren’t effective flame-retardants. But can you name one thing in your life that isn’t trying to kill you?”
“To my knowledge, Donald Trump,” I said, after some deliberation.
“One thing you love,” the couch amended. “Name one thing you enjoy that will not eventually result in your demise. You can’t. Not macaroni and cheese. Not getting up in the morning.”
“I don’t enjoy getting up in the morning.”
“Bacon. Walking. Walking while reading books and not looking up often enough. Sleeping with your cell phone cradled in your arms. Coffee.”
“I read an article that coffee would make you immortal.”
“Oh, come on,” the couch said. “You’re smarter than that. And you’re missing the point. Good beer. Bad beer. Traveling. Stopping. Driving from one place to another while listening to music. Sitting on your couch. Trying undercooked foods whose names you cannot pronounce. Buying from ‘As Seen On TV’ merchants. All that stuff you won’t clean out of your refrigerator. One of these things is bound to get you in the end. All of life is a long and lovely suicide. We’re none of us immortal.”
“That would be much more convincing if you weren’t TRYING TO POISON ME!”
The couch looked pained. “I’m trying to take a larger view of things.”
We glowered at each other for a while. “I’m going to bed,” I said.
The couch laughed, harshly. “Well, you won’t be safer there,” it said. “The mattress is in on it too.”