Sitting Places

An incomplete list of seats

by Maddie Mahoney

Illustration by Maddie Mahoney

published April 17, 2020



Do you ever sit in someone else’s kitchen while they cook for you?

You drink half a glass of wine you don’t like (you don’t like wine). You think about how dinner parties aren’t as fun when you’re not up to participating in the main activities (the drinking of wine and eating of dinner). You’re not hungry (you ate too soon before). Or maybe you’re too hungry, and that’s why you’re getting anxious, impatient. Hunger is on your body’s time, not your brain’s, so why are there so many decisions? Why do people act like this is easy?

“Come over, I’ll cook dinner!” they say. You think: Please just say, “Come over! You can get high and sit on the couch and listen to me talk and you don’t have to say anything, just listen. I’ll pour you a glass of sparkling water and play a show we don’t particularly enjoy on the TV in the background. You can help me water my plants and collect all the mugs from my bedroom.”

What do people talk about at dinner?

You can talk about anything at dinner. You can talk about pets: pet food, new pets, and pets who have died. You can talk about your cousin, the one who is a chef, “But their roasted brussels sprouts don’t even compare to these, Jeff!” or your cousin, the one who had a baby, “Make sure they’re getting that contact! Skin to skin! It’s got to be skin to skin.” You burned your skin getting this pan out of the oven. People shed skin all the time. How much dead skin is on this table? The question bothers some but not others.




Do you ever share weed or snacks or sweet drinks with your body on grass or your feet on grass, smelling grass? You haven’t, not yet. Only in parked cars or bedrooms or backyards in the summertime.

You think about how if you don’t kiss people on park benches, it’s either because you don’t go to enough parks or sit on enough benches or kiss enough.

What’s the right number of visits to the park, minutes spent on benches, seconds spent kissing outside?

Maybe if it was summer and you had just pulled two joints out of the little breast pocket that’s sometimes on T-shirts and started one for her, in the almost-dark.



Do you like sitting on the ledges of windows on second floors, maybe thirds, but not fourths (too high)? Not to sit but to observe the not-sitting. Not to be silent but not to talk.

When asked, you say that you’re afraid of heights, but you’re not sure what the people who aren’t scared feel when they’re so many stories above ground and looking straight down, down. They must feel more than nothing. They probably feel exhilarated, and that’s barely any different from fear. If someone were to tell you, “No, I’m not afraid of heights,” you would probably tell them, “Well, of course you are.”



When you’re 20 you don’t kiss people on couches as much as you did before you were 20. Remember kissing on a velvet loveseat in a house that wasn’t yours and not even the person you are kissing’s? And then when your lips get chapped, you go home and listen to the kind of music that makes you wish you were sitting on a small orange couch in the almost-dark. Perhaps kissing.

When you’re 20 you kiss people on beds. Sometimes you think about when you hadn’t kissed on a bed. Beds are far too luxurious and yet—what’s the opposite of luxurious? Functional?



What makes the drums different from other instruments is that the hardest part is the keeping going. You can be a great drummer if you do just that: you keep going. No pauses, no interruptions, nothing surprising or jarring except one or two fast improvisations right before the chorus. It seems like you’re living for a ratta-tatta ratta-tatta rat-a-tat-tat right before the chorus.

But you also just want to keep going. You’ll forego the improv if it keeps your hands from getting so sweaty that you drop your drumsticks.



Sometimes, public tables have chewed gum stuck to their undersides, and sometimes, the gum is scraped off.

What’s the word for when you touch underneath a table and feel something that squishes like gum, sticks like gum, must be gum? What’s the word for the feeling when you have a piece of gum in your mouth and you become positively revolted by the idea of having a piece of gum in your mouth? What’s the word for the sensation when your gum is really minty and you take a sip of ice-cold water? What’s the word for chewing gum when you’d actually rather be eating?

You think about being taught to blow bubbles and almost getting it, but not quite. You think about the kids blowing big pink bubbles that would pop loudly and collapse on their faces. They laugh, the bubbles laugh.




Maybe you’re with Dad, driving to hockey practice at that rink in Fall River, where they made you get dressed in a closet because the locker rooms were for the boys. The girls take off their shirts and put their hair in ponytails. You steal glances and lend hair ties.

For her birthday, you draw her that picture of a flamingo and frame it. You give it to her in the closet after skating, breathing hard. Hug, sweaty. Feel like a flamingo, bright pink, sticking out, balancing on one leg.



You’re there for minutes, maybe seconds. You drink your drinks and laugh your laughs and your insides are like a balloon that swells and swells with air or helium. It happens often these days, but usually with air, rarely with helium.

You remember the bartender the way you remember most bartenders when you’re high and it’s dark and beer travels through bottleneck then lime wedge then more bottleneck then lips–perfectly and also not at all.



If you can remember the feeling but you’d rather feel it with your body, not hear it in your head, sit alone in the middle of a big couch. Think about how many other people could be on this couch with you but aren’t. Keep your feet on the floor. Listen to the song from the playlist you made after she said, “Yes, pick me up at eight.” Listen to it when you want the “happy it happened” feeling. Listen to it when you want the “sad it’s over” feeling. Listen to it when you feel one but want to feel the other.

Listen to it when your heart swells in the way that makes you lighter, or when it swells in the way that presses hard against your chest.



Tear ducts in the shower are like showerheads in a thunderstorm. Suddenly everything is water, everything is cleansing. It’s like sad music while you write or grandmothers squinting their bad eyes to read on comfortable wicker furniture in their meticulously-tended gardens. Or balloons deflating just enough that they don’t fly away. Red doors on purple houses with marigolds in the yard.

Suddenly everything’s a song, everything is lively, everything is floating, everything is bright. And maybe, despite all that, you’re still sad.



You recently learned from the internet that there are many different kinds of armchairs: barrel chairs, wingbacks, club chairs, tub chairs, even occasional chairs—which are more for decoration than anything. Like uncomfortable shoes and Hallmark cards.

Weeks ago, you stopped in an antique store in the evening and sat in two bergères (big seat, exposed wood) with torn upholstery—one currant (dark red), one sangria (darker red). She took in her arms a forty-dollar nylon-string travel guitar. She would have bought it if you hadn’t promised to bring your full-size steel string for her next time.

You think about your purpose. How small. How important! To sit in a bergère, hold her hand, and talk about cracked porcelain figurines and old clocks and dusty croquet sets and guitars. Now, you send texts sweet enough to fill in for gifted string instruments and make phone calls when you want to hold her hand.

You think about how armchairs are meant for one, but that sometimes, two of them angle towards one another on either side of a table that’s good for reading lamps and cups of tea. And you think about feeling guitarless, purposeless, and breathless.



So often the end of a bed is transitory; it’s for waiting-sitting. Waiting-sitting is leg-shaking-sitting and knuckle-cracking sitting and breath-holding sitting and sitting that includes unimportant reading—reading that will be forgotten, reading that will stop when you’re called into an office or your bus arrives, reading that you care about much less than the thing you’re waiting for. Are you waiting to get into bed or are you waiting to get up?

You think about sitting next to someone on the end of a bed, absorbing your thoughts and imagining theirs. The tucked-in covers loom (you could be under them). The door looms (you could be on the other side). You like to sit where there is enough to absorb and enough to imagine so the looming doesn’t loom so hard.

The next time you sit on the end of a bed, think about if you’d rather be in it or sitting someplace else or not sitting at all. And that should tell you all you need to know.


MADDIE MAHONEY B'20 is reclining on a cushy faux leather sectional.