The old sofa has been on the verandah for twenty years, rain, hail, snow or sunshine. It was second-hand when we got it, and its two armchairs are long gone, but the sofa was spared. It has been shifted a couple of times – once when the roof above it began leaking, and once when I decided, in an uncharacteristic fit of house-beautiful-itis, to clean up and re-coat the decking. The rest of the time it has stood against the wall, peacefully subsiding into decrepitude.
Its upholstery has faded from a cheerful chintz (how old-fashioned that sounds) to a sun-bleached nothingness. It doesn’t seem to have absorbed much of the coffee, or wine, that has been spilt over it, although lifting the cushions reveals old sandwich crumbs along with the dried leaves and the crisp remains of insects. The stuffing has been escaping through various holes in the fabric for some time now but it is a slow process.
It has been alleged, but never proved, that a family of mice has lived in, behind or under the sofa, undisturbed for generations, safe from marauding cats and fussy housekeeping. Fanciful stories have been woven about the mice but they know their place, keep themselves to themselves and don’t bother me.
Sometimes a neighbouring cat – Hoover or Scratty – curls up in a corner of the sofa. I welcome either, no longer having any of my own. Stinky was another matter – a dirty aggressive tom that hung around the neighbourhood until his people moved away. One morning I found old Max there – the large black dog from further down who was miserably tied up most of the time, and must have got loose somehow. He looked sheepish when I sat down beside him, and when his owner turned up after my phone call, Max was clearly unwilling to leave with her. I was relieved when, a short time later, he was given a very good home elsewhere.
Twice I have tried to give the sofa away to young people who were going off to university in Dunedin. Students there have a tradition of burning old sofas in the streets while celebrating and I was willing to sacrifice mine in a good cause. Luckily my offers were rejected, and I have continued to spend time on the deck in dreamy contemplation of nothing much while waiting for the inspiration that poet Carolyn McCurdie says hides “in shadows of ploughed furrows” (1)
Not for long now, though. The bulldozer is lurking. The mice will have to move house. Hoover and Scratty must find other places to visit. The sofa must soon be carted away. Where is a student when you want one?
(1) Carolyn McCurdie: Where do ideas come from?