Inside the man’s apartment, off a highway with high billboards and cars that rumbled all night was a creased, brown hippopotamus of a couch June refrained from telling him was ugly because he’d spent so much money on it, and besides, her kids liked it. It had infinite folds and crevices where they left toy cars and Cheez-Its, board game pieces, and Oreos left over from the late-night snacks he let them have, which June said she didn’t mind so much, because they were bonding, after all. The couch was covered in fur and smelled like his dog, a Border Collie mix who liked rolling in grass, who left black and white hairs all over June’s leggings, and who stared longingly sometimes out of the high living room window.
They sat on it together the way they had been since he and June had started dating nearly a year before—her kids, his dog, toys, McDonald’s wrappers, thinking they might cobble it together and make something of it. They’d met months before, when he’d come to her hotel from out of town and left his U-Haul in the back. He’d walked right up to the front desk where she was working through a burrito between checking in guests, and asked whether she could come see why his room key wasn’t working.
These evenings, watching television from the couch, June suspected, were the surest way of retaining the fleeting, happy feeling she caught some mornings when the light shone in, and he whistled while making pancakes for them, and the boys ran trucks along the floorboards.
June collected these moments like coins in a bank. Enough savored moments had to add up to something of a good life, even if it wasn’t the one she’d planned. But what tugged at her was this: the couch they sat on, rumpled, soft, uninspired fabric, while dreaming of other, better furniture where they could be sitting. Firmer cushions, sturdier wood, maybe something that twisted or had a floral design like the hotel chairs, somewhere beyond this in-between place she had accommodated herself to.
June had told the man recently she’d had a dream about her next place that was coming back to her in pieces, a hip little sunlit house decorated like the hotel rooms, a faux animal rug, a tropical plant, the rest of it she couldn’t yet recall, aside from the bright and happy feel of it. He said that sounded like a dream for twenty-year-olds, and neither of them were in their twenties any longer. He paused and didn’t finish what he was going to say next, which June gathered had something to do with the way his eyes took in her wrinkled shirt, her loose-fitting jeans, her tennis shoes that had seen better days. Then the man asked if he was in the dream, and June said it was hard to remember.
He wasn’t ever planning to go back home to Wyoming, but he missed empty spaces. He’d moved into the apartment not far from the hotel, and then put above the brown couch a painting of a man and horse on the open plains, the kind of art you might find in a hotel room, and she’d caught both him and the dog staring at it sometimes from the kitchen table. June reminded him sometimes, in moments like this, how happy they were together.
June said when she and the boys moved in completely, maybe the couch could go in another room. But he told her he liked it in the main room. He’d bought the couch after things ended with him and his wife, and it meant something to him about independence. Besides, he said, while sitting on the couch, legs up on the folding footrest June hated, that wasn’t the point. What he’d meant to say earlier but hadn’t was that the problem was the boys’ stuff everywhere, poking into everything when they tried to sit, that it was too many toys and not enough space.
June stared at the dog hair on the rug at her feet and wondered who would blink first and vacuum it up. Probably her. Probably after her next shift. Sometimes, when June worked the front desk, she watched the travelers rushing around with their suitcases and wondered what made them all come and go in such a hurry.
While the man lit a cigarette, June said she’d never gotten to pick a new sofa or chairs before. But that was a lie, she’d picked them out plenty of times over the years from the rolled-up furniture catalogues that came to her at the hotel. It wasn’t the only lie either. June had told him once she liked the couch, and it was too late to take back. There was something about the first lie that made it easier to spin another and another. June thought about that and stared up at the painting of the plains while the man took a drag. Then she closed her eyes, listened for the cars outside to pass, and made the brown couch vanish in her mind, with the crumbs and dog hair and everything else, until the apartment emptied out completely. And in its hollow place, she could almost feel the touch of fur at her feet, soft leather against her back.