My sister’s figure leaning against the mantel in my bedroom startled me awake. The blue glow of her phone illuminated her face in the dark. She was checking her messages. I sat up and said, “What are you doing?” She didn’t answer. So, louder, I asked, “Hey! What are you doing?”
That got her attention. Her phone screen still beaming on her silhouette, she turned her head toward me. Still, she refused to speak. I punched my husband in the arm and got him involved. At my behest, he ran around the room turning on lights and looking under the bed, because my sister, in the wake of his anger at me for disturbing his sleep, disappeared.
The next day, I called her up in Tuscaloosa and confronted her about her midnight visit to my bedchamber. She denied any such doings and even hinted that she sympathized with my husband. She disclosed that she had stayed up late the night before yearning for home and scouring the Internet for property for sale in Washington, Ga. I’m letting that stand as an explanation for her alarming behavior.
She isn’t moving home, though. She’s a Georgia-born girl who met a Tennessee-born boy in Mississippi and married him. As the thought of raising a family in Mississippi was intolerable, they relocated to neutral territory. Now she’s a Faulkner expert who teaches English at the University of Alabama. Her students compose paragraphs and paragraphs of run-on sentences that make no sense, while Faulkner wielded stream of consciousness like a drunken man with a loaded gun and was proclaimed a genius.
Nonetheless, it isn’t her sadistic nature or neutral territory that’s keeping her in Alabama. It’s a sofa. Not that sofas can’t be moved. It’s just that she and her beloved have begun doing things with sofas that we Georgians think disgraceful.
To put a sofa in one’s front yard is little more than common. To put a sofa in one’s front yard and sit on it is to make a public spectacle of oneself. To put a sofa in one’s front yard, sit on it, drink mimosas and yell at the kids to quit arguing over the football is soooooo Alabama. It’s undignified.
The sofa is a crimson-colored, velvet-covered Victorian piece with an ornate back. I imagine my sister and her husband perched on it, side-by-side with stoic stares, plastic tumblers in hand. Like folks from Sand Mountain, they’ve heard the end is near and they’re waiting for the crimson tide to wash them clean. Scholars call such scenes Alabama Gothic. I understand the need to assimilate to the place in which one lives, but I do hope that snake handling is not next on their agenda.
This sofa business shows how entrenched my sister and brother-in-law have become in the Alabama dirt. While reclined on the sofa sipping mimosas, they discussed bringing more furniture into the yard. Alabamans use plastic lawn chairs, metal barrels and bench seats from cars to arrange elaborate yard seating that resembles a trash pile, while designers pull together the same ensembles inside of houses and call it shabby chic. It’s an enigma to the Alabamans who know what “enigma” means. To those who don’t, it’s a Saturday.
When rain threatened, my sister ordered the sofa inside. Her tasteful move indicates that a little bit of Georgia still shines in her soul. Maybe that’s the light I saw the night I woke to catch her leaning against the mantel in my room.