December 15, 2012 by The Citron Review
by Meredith Harper
In the grey, hollow warehouse, the industrial lights, shaded in aluminum cones, droop like stalactitic pendants over the man and the woman who weave through the rows, past the snowy BeautyRests, past the beige quilted Sertas, to the rear of the inventory, where the mattresses are brown and blue and floral. She passes her hand over one, trying not to flinch when she feels the dampness that’s settled into the fabric; he sits down with a bounce on one, then another, and finally flops back into a sea of weak springs, the sides of what used to be a nice Sealy or Simmons curling around his narrow form.
He points to a row of mattresses leaning against the wall, slouched like teenagers loitering, like workers smoking outside factory gates. How about one of those?
They, she begins, but trails off when she sees him considering the stitched-on price tags. Best deals in town, he reminds her. Hotel surplus. We don’t need anything fancy, do we, babe? She shakes her head, looks away, and he smiles. I’ve always been good with money, he reminds her.
The mattress he selects was once blue, but has faded into a violet that could be, when she squints, the color of water, the seams shimmering like waves, or the oily blue that pumps out of their car’s tailpipe. She tests with her palm the pressure of springs not quite shot; he lays it on the floor and invites her to give it a go.
They stretch out, wallow into the spaces already wallowed, lie flat and stare at those dim silver funnels above them. She twists her neck toward him and considers how the violet hue of the mattress has turned him grey. We should get it, he says, it’s a good bed.
Do you think it will last?
Looks like it’s held up. We can just flip it and sleep on the other side, give it even wear.
They lift it, and she gasps and drops her end. The mattress fish-tails out of his grasp and onto the warehouse floor, belly up, to reveal stains ranging from bleached blue to dark orange.
She leans against him and regards these stains, fighting the impulse to assign cause, to imagine the moments that led to that splotch there in the center, the one that looks like a pool of moss. Good bed, huh, he says, but she stares and stares at the stains, and thinks how it will never be their bed, only someone else’s mattress, that their history will always be part of a longer history of other men and other women, that there is nothing about them that will make them any different from other men and other women, and that nothing will never differentiate the stains they will make from the stains already there, and that they will never be able to point to a mark and say, with embarrassed pride, this was where we were, this is what we made.
It—it’ll be a good bed, she says, and sneezes.
On the way home, he drives slowly, saying, We did good today, huh, babe, and, I told you I’m good with budgets, and she sits with her arm reaching up to the mattress, squeezing a place with a dark oval, telling herself over and over they would—he would, he would—buy a nicer bed if he could, wouldn’t he?
Meredith Harper is pursuing an MFA in fiction at the University of Mississippi. She will complete and defend her thesis, The Glass Pavilions: Stories, in the spring.