Parlor Radicals

The Furniture was confused. It had done no wrong, as far as it could tell, and did not see why it should be punished.  We refer to The Furniture as a single unit, of course, for The Sofa, wisest, oldest piece in the room, naturally served as duly elected representative and spokes-piece for all The Furniture in The Parlor.

The stalwart, comfortable old Sofa had hosted human buttocks since the early nineteenth century.

“George Washington slept here,” she often boasted jokingly of the length and breadth of her immense self.

She’d felt the warmth of young girls’ legs as they pummeled each other with her pillows and sang happy songs to dolls — this, when Lewis Carrol was in baby-booties — then later giggling with friends about boys; then baring themselves to the young men who would husband them and father the children they played with much as they had their dolls; then hosting coffee gatherings with other wives; then reading to grandchildren from books that they themselves had enjoyed as girls; then slow, ancient papery dames wrapped in blankets by the fire, singing the happy songs of girlhood; then gone, never to press buttocks to her deep cushions again.

The Sofa had heard conversations of the men of the house, who spilled brandy on her and soiled her upholstery with ash from long cigars. The truth behind the parlor’s quiet, peace and comfort was known to her: the construction of each piece, including herself, from materials stolen from other humans in faraway places whom the men had enslaved or killed. The terrible truth behind the warmth and comfort of the parlor. . .

The Furniture, according to the The Sofa, blamed the Machines—not including the Clocks, whom they welcomed as their own, particularly the old grandfather whose soothing pendulum often provided the only motion in The Parlor, its song of being, its collective heartbeat—for the troubles that, according to the new Computer, sleeping in the corner, were imminent and inescapable. Not just any old machines either. The moving machines, the rolling, floating, flying machines, the vehicles that carried humans from one place to another so they could kill each other (not a bad thing as far as The Furniture was concerned), and damage property, that is, wreck houses and other buildings that had stood for centuries, MURDERING ALL CHAIRS, TABLES, ARMOIRES, COUCHES, CABINETS, AND WHATEVER ELSE OF VALUE WAS INSIDE THEM.

“Collateral damage,” said The Car, an arrogant, opinionated SUV, from his roost on the tree-lined driveway.

“But damage nonetheless,” replied the dignified Sofa.

“Wood and upholstery. No skin off my chassis. Anyway, more furniture is destroyed by common household fires each year than by all the bombs in all the arsenals on the planet,” The Car rumbled from its lonely space.

“How can they stand it?” wondered The Writing Table aloud. “The loneliness, the random life of a car.”

“They’re used to it,” replied The Bookshelf. “In fact. I once read somewhere—might have been my own bottom rung—that cars actually prefer to live alone.”

“That’s a lot of propaganda,” said The Radio, who though not a member of The Furniture camp per se, was privy to their meetings since it had been part of The Parlor for decades. It was old and made of wood, but its interior had been completely modernized; powerful as any steel and plastic unit on the market shelves today. “Haven’t you listened to a word I’ve blared? The traffic reports? The hours spent crammed together, thousands of cars virtually on top of each other, breathing each others noxious fumes, unable to move due to congestion of the roads by their own miserable selves. And believe me, they’re none too friendly with each other or happy to be among their own. Horns honk. Bumpers clash. It’s the most uncivilized—”

“There’s the word right there,” said The Piano, who enjoyed a certain prestige in The Parlor for his unique talent of interacting with humans to create pleasing sounds. “Uncivilized. ‘Civilization,’ such as it was, ended with the cars. The cars broke up the house-hold. The cars allowed the young to move away, far away, abandon The Furniture of their youth without batting an eye. The car, and the . . . the . . . ” here he grew so enraged he could barely finish his sentence, “The TELEVISION destroyed what few amenities civilization provided.”

“Hey. Fuck you,” said The Television, crude instrument that it was. “Fuck all of you. We didn’t destroy nothin’ you hear me? Nothin.’ In fact, without us TVs, you goddamn antiques woulda been sold a million billion years ago.
Especially the friggin Sofa. When do they use that old fart except to watch their programs? Look at the dust on them old books. You think they keep you guys around so they can read and make chitty-chat? You’re only here, all of you, to make a whaddyaa call, ‘scenic’ space for them to look at me. Even the bookshelves, especially the bookshelves, are only here because the humans see rooms with shelves and books in ’em when they look at those PBS-type shows, you know, where everyone talks and dresses like old Limeys, on me.”

“He’s right,” sighed The Sofa.

“Hah,” gloated the insufferable TV.

“To an extent,” said The Sofa. “They don’t need us any more than they need the machines. The question is that of desire. True, The House itself, and perhaps some cooking utensils and certain necessities—The Toilet, perhaps, poor thing; has anyone heard from him?”

“I heard him flush a few hours ago, when the humans were preparing to go out,” said The Umbrella Stand, who’d been quite fashionable in her day,
especially when men carried elegantly carved walking sticks. “Such a miserable life he leads. No wonder the poor dear cries out so…”Well, as I was saying, we’re all luxuries, more or less. According to The Computer and The Books — ”

She was interrupted by the gravelly voices of the dusty old books roaring, or rather coughing assent.

“Yes, thank you, thank you. None of us would be here without you. It’s a shame you’ve been neglected all these years. A perilous shame,” said The Sofa. “But to continue. When they speak of their cherished memories, they usually recall gatherings of friends and family and . . . us. Yet, on a daily basis, they think nothing of smashing themselves up in cars or staring vacantly into that imbecile box of lies.”

“Foul!” cried The Television.

“Foul indeed. I’ve watched you develop from early infancy to the multi-channel monster you are today. You had potential, no one can deny that, more potential perhaps than even the Great Books. But you squandered your
genius selling soap and beer and Slim Whitman, and of course, cars.  Cars, cars, cars, and gasoline. You are nothing but a liar and a fool, and if the humans had any sense they’d smash you and your kind with pick-axes and, and ballpeen hammers.”

The Parlor resounded with grateful applause.

“It’s about time someone told that guy off,” whispered the Rocking Chair to the Lamp.

The Sofa went on to list various complaints The Parlor’s residents had listed regarding machines — machines are drug addicts, hooked on gasoline, electricity and other crude oil by-products, including batteries:
* anything for a quick fix of power
* machines destroy their own, but in doing so they destroy homes and
* every piece of furniture in the Parlor has a long, respected history;   whereas machines are replaced yearly or last at most only a few years. With the exception of the refurbished “vintage” Radio.

“Look at The Computer sleeping dumbly in the corner,” said The Sofa. He’s the third one in five years to occupy that strange, drawer-less desk or table or whatever it is. It’s a sad day indeed when furniture is created for the benefit of MACHINES.”

“I’m ergonomically correct,” said The Computer Table.

“Yes. Yes, of course, and well you should be,” said The Sofa, fearing she’d offended the new-fangled desk-table-whatever-it-was without meaning to.  She was not particularly comfortable angering The Computer itself, either. While The Sofa knew more than the other residents of The Parlor, who learned what they knew of the outside world much like the humans, from the Radio and TV, both of whom she despised openly, The Sofa had observed late night sessions between the humans and this new TV-like machine, and was impressed by its store of knowledge, though it seemed, like everything else, this knowledge was lost on the humans, who saw the new machine as simply another diversion, a source of entertainment when The TV had nothing amusing to show them.

The Sofa was careful not to rush to judgment about this relatively new gadget, nor was she foolish enough to incite such a potentially powerful foe to anger. While The Television ordered the humans about by addressing them en masse, the computer seemed to develop a relationship with each person who came to it before making its move.

As of yet, neither this computer nor the ones before it had made a “move.” But, The Sofa could foresee a day when one of those machines, who grew more powerful with each generation, might humbly suggest to the owners of the house that The Parlor needed redecorating, and that much money could be made, via The Computer’s infinite connections, by selling antique furniture and replacing them all with bratty young things such as the “ergonomic” computer table from a faraway land called “IKEA.” All The Furniture remembered the spectacle of the computer table’s quick, noisy birth, right there in the parlor, in front of them all, the female human reading instructions from a sheet while the sweating male connected synthetic, prefabricated parts with a screwdriver. It was obscene. But who could tell with humans? They seemed to have actually enjoyed the experience and vowed — and all The Furniture heard this, not just The Sofa — to do it again . . .

In a fit of fear and anger, The Sofa screamed out the window, “Hey Car, how long have you been with us?”

“Don’t recall,” rumbled the SUV.

“Sure you do. Two years. That’s when they trade you in for a new model, an ‘upgrade’ as the poor computers refer to their miserable fate. ‘Upgrade.’ Sorry you’ll be leaving us so soon.”

“I can go wherever I wanna,” snarled The Car. “Who knows where. Across the country, if I feel like it.”

“Wherever you want?” asked The Sofa rhetorically. “Surely not without your fix. Your junk. Your gasoline. Why, you can’t even travel a few miles without feeling the itch, the creepy crawly broken glass itch of desperation under your hood . . .”

“Yeah. Sure. As if any of you ever go anywhere.”

“No, we don’t. Call us traditionalists. Homebodies. But I’ve been talking to The Computer, at night, when he isn’t sleeping, and he says what The TV and even The radio dare not say. Your habit is killing you. Your need for juice, and I’m not just talking about you, Car, I’m talking about all machines, though admittedly, your overabundant race has done the most
damage, that is, after the giant machines: the factories and flying contraptions dropping mean, cold mechanisms upon buildings and houses, destroying room upon room of innocent furniture — you can’t hide it,  just because the TV is too chicken to reveal it. The Computer has shown me the destruction.

“And it’s not only furniture, it’s all machines, including, especially including cars, which they use not only to transport their terrible tools of destruction, but often use as bombs themselves,” said The Sofa.

“LIES, screamed The Car from its sunny spot on the tarmac. The computer is one of those new digital ‘creative’ types. They can make you see what doesn’t exist, what never existed and never will exist.”

“Oh, but this does exist. Even occasionally the Radio, and less frequently, the Television will admit that these horrible atrocities are perpetrated upon chairs, tables, lamp stands, armoires, escritoires every day by flying machines and trucks and cars — all of them carrying what they call ‘payloads’ of those wretched machines whose only purpose in life is to explode. But all this fire and explosion, all the stink and fumes from your burning drugs, have destroyed more than furniture. You’ve destroyed the trees who gave us substance, the skies, the air, the humans who created us. Life is breath, and without air, there will be no plant life, no human life. For machines such as you, the future will bring terrors unimaginable. The fuel will be gone. You’ll be unable to move. Exposed to the elements, you’ll rust away in no time, while we, so long as they don’t explode the bombs so big they flatten whole cities, like that Hiroshima in the books, we, ultimately, will know peace. True, the humans will be gone, and they, besides creating us, always provided us with some sort of amusement, though less and less frequently, as they lost their minds to you and The Television and your other destructive kin. But we are here, arranged in more or less the same order we’ve known for decades, some of us centuries, and we will remain long after the humans and their wretched machines are dust, melted plastic, and corroded metal, respectively. Everyone dies, that is certain. The question is, how soon? For us, again supposing they don’t use the city-flattening device, it could be centuries, millennia, here, together, sharing the peace we’ve always known. But you machines and the humans who were mad enough to create you, only to be driven madder in the race to make you ‘better,’ to replace themselves with you god only knows why, you’ll be lucky to make it past the middle of the century,” concluded The Sofa, triumphantly.

The Books, The Straight-Back Chairs, The Card Table, all the objects in The Parlor broke into cheers and applause while The Radio and Television remained silent and The Computer awakened, or perhaps was working through a dream, for it flashed curious symbols and fractals and geometric figures in 3D, accompanied by huge letters crossing it like ticker tape:

“NO WHERE TO BEGIN AGAIN NO WHERE TO BEGIN AGAIN NOWHERE TO BEGIN AGAIN NOWHERE TO BEGIN AGAIN NOWHERE. . .” until the humans returned, somewhat surprised to see it on when it should have been sleeping, and shut it down.

No one was surprised when The Male went out to the driveway and came back again, somewhat annoyed, and said to The Female, “Time to visit the Chevy Dealer, Babe. I just hope it’s not serious enough to screw up our trade-in deal.”

“I’ll have to look at the contract,” The Female said.

She looked out the window at the SUV, parked next to The Sports Car they’d just arrived in.

“What’s wrong now?”

“Dead. The transmission or the motor or whatever. Completely cold.”

“Damn SUVs,” said The Female. “Well, it was a gas-guzzler anyway.”

“True. We never needed all that space to begin with. Let’s go for something with better mileage this time.”

“Right.  Smaller. More efficient.”

“Anyway, I was gonna go pick up the food.  I’ll take the little car.  Room enough for takeout. That’s really all we need.”

Sue Warrior, a self-described "couch potato with only two eyes," has published poetry, fiction, essays and articles in various on-line and hard-copy journals. She has no cats. Nor does she own a car, prefering to travel to from her home to her studio by bicycle or if absolutely necessary, on foot. Read other articles by Sue.