What is it with shops abbreviating everything? You’d think there was a law in England against using whole words: newsagents sell cigs, greengrocers sell tom’s and pot’s (always with the apostrophe) and apparently furniture shops have taken to purveying something called a Mem Mat. And what the hell is that?
The mat bit is obvious: it’s a large, grey, wrinkled-looking mattress. But mem? I’m half-way home on the bus before I get it.
I’d heard about these memory mattresses — they were supposed to remember your body-shape and mould themselves to it. I didn’t buy it: you’re not fixed when you’re asleep; you’re on your back or your side; you stretch out, you curl up. Only time you’re fixed is when you’re dead.
We could do with a new mattress, though. Ours is basically two hollows — his’n’hers, with a ridge between us. But I don’t want a mattress that remembers my shape. I want to be free.
Then three weeks later I came home to find a wrinkled grey memory mattress propped up in our hallway. “What’s that doing here?” I said.
Leon looked sheepish. “Mum,” he said. Grace, my mother-in-law, had a habit of splurging. When the guilt kicked in, her stuff came to us .
I fingered the outside. “But it looks brand new!” I said. “Has she even slept on it?”
“She’s had it a while. But you know how she is.” Leon gave the mattress a prod: his finger sank in as though bitten off. “And you have to admit, Leuka, ours has had it.”
I couldn’t argue with that.
So we hauled the huge flat loaf up onto our bed, covering its wrinkled surface with a sheet — and that night, to my surprise, I slept unusually well. The mattress didn’t seem to mind me wriggling: it embraced all my different positions quite happily. It felt like we understood each other.
But then I had to leave. I should have got someone else to go to that damned conference, but it was too late now; and so off I went to spend two nights on a well-used hotel mattress. On the Sunday I came home and, finding Leon still out, went for a lie-down. I stretched out in my usual position. But something was wrong: the mattress wasn’t comfortable any more. Bits of it were digging into me. I wriggled around, but if anything, it felt worse. I couldn’t fathom it: we used to understand each other so well. And as I lay looking at the ceiling, a mad notion formed in my brain. The mattress had forgotten me: and that could only mean one thing. Clearly, someone else had slept in my bed.
A cry escaped me just as the front door closed behind Leon.
I can hear his footsteps thumping up the stairs. I can’t speak for the lump in my throat — but when he comes in, my anger speaks for me and I cry out, “who’s been sleeping in my bed?”
It’s pure Goldilocks, and I almost laugh. If I had, it could have all ended there. He would have sat down and explained; I would have laughed and perhaps we’d have made love. It could have all turned out differently.
But it didn’t.
Instead, the words keep coming; the accusations, the recriminations, the realisation — oh, horror! — that but for the memory mattress I might never have known; and then I hear myself say, “how long has this been going on?”
I’m into song lyrics, but I never felt less like singing. Leon’s face turns grey; he makes a strange noise in the throat; then he turns and leaves. Footsteps thump down the stairs; the front door opens and slams.
An hour later I’ve made it downstairs. Miserably, understanding nothing, hating everything, I pour hot water over a teabag. My feet carry me to the living room; and as I perch on the sofa, I feel a hot flush of shame. How could I have said those things? Didn’t I trust Leon? Hadn’t he proved himself? After all he’d been through — his father’s affairs, his mother’s grief, how could I? The mug is burning my fingers: as I reach to put it down I feel a lump under my leg. It’s our old blue sleeping-bag, lying there like a discarded snake-skin, and on top sits a little pink card. I open it.
Thank you so much for giving me your bed. Love Mum xx.
The person who had slept in our bed was Grace.
The front door goes. Leon’s standing in the doorway.
“I’m sorry,” I say, in a tiny, Baby-Bear voice.
He’s calmer now. “Mum wants the mattress back again,” he says. “She’s not been sleeping well.”
He catches my penitent eye, and looks pained.
“I’m sorry,” I say, in my own voice this time. “I don’t know what made me think those things.”
He perches next to me on the sofa. “This is crazy,” he said, “but it’s not you — it’s that bloody mattress. It’s like it’s — I don’t know, cursed, or something. I hate it!”
Suddenly everything makes sense. “It’s her!” I say. “It’s your mother!”
“That’s it!” he said. “My mother’s memories have gone into the mattress!”
We laugh, partly because it’s so ridiculous, partly from sheer relief; and before we’ve stopped laughing we’ve started to make love.
Later we manoeuvre the mattress downstairs and prop it up in the hall. As we make up the sofa-bed, it feels like when we were first married. I can remember it so well, I’m there.
Sarada Gray is a published poet and author living in Leicester, UK. She performs poetry and has had stories published previously at Every Day Fiction. She is currently one of the guest bloggers at Mslexia magazine and one of the issues she is engaged with at the moment is her husband’s gender dysphoria, which has given rise to a number of stories, poems and articles. One of the events currently exciting the people of Leicester is the discovery of the bones of King Richard III, and she has written poetry and stories about this. Her blog can be found at lizardyoga.wordpress.com.