I found the mattress on Facebook Marketplace. Listen to me when I say it was the mustang of mattresses. As plush as hugs from the Charmin bears. It felt like a world-class bowl of mac and cheese after giving up carbs. And completely free. Before I knew it, my sexy mustang mattress with the prints that resembled lace on my favorite black bra was tempting me to pounce on it as if it were our honeymoon. Knock. No, I’ll ignore that. Once I get this girl in the bedroom you’re going to have to have a crowbar and an oily bodybuilder to peel me off. Knock, knock. Dr. Wells said not to let those thoughts in unless they’re reasonable and they’re never reasonable. Now should I put this in the center of the bedroom or — KNOCK! I glance at my Beautyrest stallion. Because that’s exactly what a free $6,000 mattress is and I’ll let nothing distr— KNOCK! KNOCK! For fuck’s sake what could be so important? BED BUGS ARE YOU — Close it! Close the damn door now! Too late. It’s in my head. The thought alone turns me into a goldfish with a singular drop of water. The mattress is infested.

Quick, check the edges Don’t fucking touch it They live inside the mattress Maybe I should slice it open They’ve made their way to my closet by now Everything is infected with them Burn the mattress then Burn the house If I set everything on fire, then it’ll be fine The lighter is in the kitchen If I sprint there now and get back within 12 seconds then I can save the house But they’re in your clothes I need a magnifying glass Did you feel that on your leg There’s nothing there That’s because you looked away They’re fast crawlers Next time slap your leg and then look you fucking idiot. Slap. You were just too slow, be faster next time. Slap.

Is it me or is this house running out of oxygen because I can’t seem to get enough air. It’s because there are bedbugs in your lungs. You should throw up. That will get them out of your body. What are you doing? Vomit already — don’t you want to get rid of them?! Yes, but — “Babe?” I jump at his words. He’s standing at the entrance to our apartment, birds ignorantly chirping behind him as if the whole house doesn’t need to be thrown away immediately. “Did — did you touch the mattress? It has fucking bed bugs! I knew it was too good to be true — I just knew it.” I can’t talk fast enough. I feel my lungs constricting, my breaths hastening. Half a second passes before I hear myself burst, “DID YOU HEAR WHAT I SAID? IT HAS BEDBUGS, ANDREW.”

He looks at me suspiciously before closing the distance with two steps and placing his hands on my shoulders as he says the words that disable me. “Did you find one? We can haul it back outside…” I feel my voice getting small and my heart becoming offensive. The speed in my voice is still unwavering, “Well… no. Not yet, but they’re there, I promise. I need your help to find them. They’re fast you know and nocturnal so we might have to look until nighttime.” I check my watch. 2:35 PM. I glance up at him as he towers over me. In situations like this where I have to plead for help, my five foot two stature makes me feel like a child in comparison to his six foot one. “Please. I — we have to — I know they’re here. I’m not asking you to believe me, I’m asking you to help me find them.” His lips form a line as his ocean eyes search mine for sanity. He cups my cheek with his palm and his thumb moves a chestnut curl from my sight. His head falls as he releases a sigh signaling that I’ve lost. “I want to believe you and I will… but only if you feel this way after you’ve taken your medication. I’ll swing by your brother’s and pick it up. That’s where you forgot it, right?” He slides his keys out of his jeans pocket and slowly takes a backward step towards the door. I feel my opportunity disintegrating while the bugs crawl on our couch by now.

“Yes, but I need help now — right now! I’ll take my medication, but please just believe me this time. Please.”

As he mulls over my request, my eyes stalk the mattress for anything that corroborates my case. I know they’re here. If I can just find them then he’ll stay to help me. “I don’t wanna play devil’s advocate, but baby, I don’t think you’ll feel this way once you take your Xanax… I’ll be right back, okay? Sit here. Take some deep breaths. 20 minutes.”

He heads for the door and my breathing isn’t working — my heart won’t cease fluttering. I hear the low roar of our beat-up Mazda as it speeds off, abandoning me to fight alone as I feel bugs crawling all over me. My thoughts attack me at a pace that’s impossible to maintain. Did you see that? That speck on the wall moved. Why isn’t breathing working? My head feels like it’s crammed into a box filled with bed bugs. Knock, knock. Without a second thought, I answer. Burn the house. Burn the bed bugs. Your clothes are infected. Burn the bed bugs. Your home is infected. Burn the house. It’s too late to save everything. Burn the house. I make my way to the kitchen. Burn the house. I can feel them crawling on my clothes, but this time I refuse to look down. Burn. The. House. As if in slow motion, I hear the flick of the lighter and watch the flames lick the lace-like pattern of my mustang mattress before fully consuming it. As I inhale the smoke and head for the door, I feel like I can truly breathe.

Naomi C. Gates is an aspiring author and native Philadelphian who thrives in piles of blankets alongside her noble sidekick, Hamish (who happens to be a four-legged loaf of bread). She is in the midst of writing her debut novel. Her work is centered around creating characters that are hated for their authenticity and adored for their vulnerable lifestyles. As a mental health advocate and black woman, Naomi constantly tries to destroy stigmas around black mental health and bring representation to the positive aspects of black culture through literary practices.

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