Mothers & Fathers: Love is a couch on fire

Words by Rhys Parry

Published on December 11, 2013

Pictured: the author’s father.

My mother and father furnished their Queensland home with remarkable thrift. As such, the furniture in every room was different. A silky-oak garage sale sideboard here, a ‘kerbside collection’ chair there; the only unifying feature of the house was the uniqueness of its individual pieces.

This is the story of how a red couch came to be — and then not to be — in the Parry family household.

The red couch was bought from the next-door neighbour. He wanted to get rid of one and Mum — who also worked with him — mentioned she wouldn’t mind a better couch. Hands shook and the next day a red corduroy couch appeared in our living room.

I spent hours of my childhood fossicking the deep cracks of the couch for twenty-cent pieces until, one day, there was only a couch-sized space in the living room. What happened to the couch? I was told, at the time, that Mum simply didn’t want it anymore. There was an oddness to its absence that seemed to go against both my parents’ hoarding spirit and my mother’s inclusive nature. Parrys don’t discard furniture; they retire them to other sections of the house. But my questioning wasn’t rigorous enough and soon the space was filled by another couch, one bought in a shop of all places. It had a yellow floral pattern that, even in this museum of mismatched furniture, would never fit in with the décor.

Much later in my life the fate of the red couch was finally revealed. Over the course of a couple of months the working relationship between my mother and the neighbour had become unbearable. He was an unrelenting bully and difficult to work with, the very architect of my mother’s anxiety. And the very same one we had bought the red couch from. What happened to the couch goes something like this:

Dad comes home one day to mum crying, almost beside herself in her misery. “Right, that’s it!” I imagine he bellows as he flings open the living room doors. Singlehandedly, he drags the red couch outside. This is not an easy task; there are hills and roots that make the journey difficult. He stops when he gets to the middle of the front lawn. He has collected matches and mineral turpentine on the way out. The couch is in clear view. The neighbour’s kitchen window is close by. Dad drenches the red couch in turpentine, strikes a match and sets the whole thing alight.

I imagine him there, still and silent, brooding over the flames, moving only to feed more turpentine. The sun setting behind a flaming red couch, transforming it into a lighthouse of anger — a ‘warning’ to those who might attempt to navigate the terrain. Eventually, Dad returns to the house and kisses Mum on the forehead. “I’m sorry,” he says, but Mum just laughs and kisses him back.

Rhys Parry is an Ipswich born Science/Engineering student at The University of Queensland. He writes mostly memoir and satire and performs standup comedy around Brisbane. He tweets sporadically at @MrRhysParry but welcomes strangers to his Facebook which he runs suspiciously like a blog.