Mom and Dad went out to dinner for their anniversary so they asked Grandpa to babysit. Carrie was already asleep when he arrived. Lynn and Jim and Neal played Go Fish on the couch while he sat and read. They talked in whispers so they didn’t wake Carrie up. Carrie was scary when she was grumpy.
“Do you have a seahorse?” Jim whispered.
“Yes.” Neal shuffled through the cards in his hand. “At least I think I do. Where did it go?” He looked around. “Did I drop it?”
Neal stood up. He wasn’t sitting on it. He looked on the floor and under the couch. Jim leaned over and checked in the space between the couch cushions. “Here it is. The couch ate it.”
Lynn rolled her eyes. “No, it didn’t. Couches can’t eat anything. They aren’t alive, you know.”
“It’s just an expression. It’s not like I thought the couch had grown teeth or something.” Jim handed the card to Neal.
“Didn’t you ask for it? It’s yours now,” Neal whispered.
“Oh, that’s right.”
Grandpa put his book down and came and sat on the arm of the couch. “This seems like a nice, safe couch.”
“I suppose it’s sufficiently sturdy,” Lynn said politely.
“Not like the couches when I was younger,” Grandpa added.
“Did they fall apart when you sat on them?” Neal asked. “What were they made out of? Cardboard or hay or something?”
“Cardboard wasn’t invented when Grandpa was little, right?” Jim looked at Grandpa, waiting for him to agree.
Lynn snorted. “Of course it was. Cardboard’s been around for at least a century.”
Grandpa smiled. “Oh, the furniture was sturdy enough when I was younger, and made of the same sorts of things. It just hadn’t been domesticated yet.”
“Like wolves or boars or tigers?” Neal leaned forward. “Did couches really eat people back then?”
“I repeat: couches are not alive,” Lynn whispered sharply. Everyone ignored her.
“Couches didn’t eat people. But they did bite pretty hard if they were spooked. I can remember going to the fairgrounds after a big furniture round-up. We’d go see what was on sale. My mother insisted on only buying furniture that was broken in, but some people liked to buy new furniture that was still a little wild. We just liked to see the show.”
“The show? Was it like a rodeo?” Neal asked. He looked delighted.
Grandpa chuckled. “Pretty much. I once saw someone ride a bucking rocking chair for a minute and a half. Those were the days.”
“But there isn’t any wild furniture now.” Jim put his cards down and looked puzzled. “What happened?”
“Woodpeckers and termites. They came out of nowhere. Some people believe they escaped from the lab of a mad scientists. Others believe it was the result of the glaciers receding after the ice age. In any case, all the wild furniture died out in less than a hundred years.”
“It was never alive to begin with,” Lynn said.
“That’s so sad,” Neal said. “So it only exists in captivity? How did they train the furniture to sit still and be sat on?”
“Lots of treats. Furniture likes to be dusted. It likes to eat cleaning products too, the kind it can absorb like furniture polish.” Grandpa pointed to the dusty shelves of the bookcase. “When I was younger, the dust on those shelves would have made the shelves spit out all those books and run around the room.”
“Really?” Jim looked uncertain. “But I’ve never seen the furniture move at all. Not even when it’s dusty. Do we not polish it enough? Is the couch starving? No wonder it ate our card.”
Grandpa nodded. “Well, now that you know, you can take care of it. Furniture is trained well before they sell it at stores nowadays, but you don’t want to lose its trust. When I was younger, there was a boy who kept leaning back in his chair. We all told him to stop, but he didn’t listen.”
“What happened?” Neal grinned. “Did it eat him?”
“He probably just fell over. That’s why Mom tells you not to do it,” Lynn said.
“That’s right,” Grandpa said, smiling at Lynn. “He fell over, and the chair did too. None of the chairs trusted him for months. They all scooted out of the way when he tried to sit down, and he ended up falling on the floor.”
“Ouch. That must’ve hurt. What did he do?” Jim asked.
“He apologized to all the furniture in the house. Then he dusted and polished for a week straight. Then he could finally sit on the chairs again.”
Neal’s eyebrows scrunched together. “But grandpa, what did people do before furniture? Where did you sit or eat or sleep?”
“On the ground, of course,” Lynn said. “Not that grandpa was alive before people had furniture in their houses. That’s ridiculous.”
“I need to treat our furniture better. Then it won’t eat my cards or dump me on the floor.” Neal looked around warily. “Do you think it would eat my dinner?”
“Not unless you eat furniture polish,” Jim said. He gathered the cards. “Now that Grandpa’s done reading, let’s deal him in to the game.”
“Just watch out for the card-eating couch,” Neal said.
“Don’t worry.” Grandpa gave the couch a fond pat. “This one is domesticated.” Lynn snorted. Jim dealt the cards and they started another quiet round of Go Fish. Carrie didn’t wake up. Grandpa won every round.