Tuesday, September 23

Roud No. 13190

THE SHOP THAT offers the greatest selection of beds in town is set back from the road as though to have been built one yard closer would soil the clean mattresses; fine black silt coughed up by the cars slowly infiltrating the establishment and turning all that is white into off-white. Just before it is a large car park that is bordered by some trees. As I was walking underneath the trees, my head as down as my spirits, someone threw something at me. So lightly did it brush my head that I stumbled and recovered myself. Where was this new hooligan? I took a look around and then believed, from all the husks at my feet, that I was stood under a horse chestnut tree and had been victim to one of its fallen seeds. Embarrassed, I crossed the car park and went into the bed shop.
Row upon row upon row of beds. The mattresses were all lined up, some covered and decorated, but most not. It was a two-storey shop but the front opened up so that you could see the giant cavity it occupied. Above were swirling fans. Dull music was coming from somewhere but could not be heard over an interminable rustling that filled the place. People – mostly women – were looking at the beds, walking along with their arms folded, tapping their lips or brushing the hair out of their eyes or stroking an infant or, in one case, throwing their toddler on to each bed to measure its bounce. The smell was of clean, new fabric and metal springs, of valances, air freshener, pressed linen, clerk aftershave, breast milk and fruit gum that had lost all its flavour but none of it scent. I was approached almost immediately by a clerk whose false left eye awkwardly rose distractingly to the sky like it was permanently saluting a deity. He said hello to me and I to him.
‘Looking for anything in particular?’
‘A mattress.’
‘Well, you’ve come to the right place.’
‘I thought so.’
‘What do you have in mind? Single or double?’
‘Double.’ It ached to say double even though it was only two syllables.
‘King size or queen?’
‘I don’t know. Neither are likely to use it.’
He laughed emphatically at my joke. Leading me by the arm, he took me up a winding staircase to a row of beds on the first floor that looked very similar to the row of beds on the ground floor. The three magnolia walls in the distance were marked in measured steps by watercolour replicas of sturdy British landscapes, and garish neon posters advertising the greatest deals they could offer you. His left eye kept looking up for god. Those beds would not do; he walked me straight past them. In the distance, on the far side of the shop were the beds that would do. He was very confident I would like those beds over there in the corner where the light dimmed to almost nothing and the music and the rustling did not reach. His aftershave ground my nostrils into a paste. His dark grey suit was immaculately pressed but only for the milky way of cat hair around his knees that, as we flew and carved our way across the shop floor, twinkled and enchanted me. He kept his left eye open for god. He appeared to dance to and fro; I hurried to keep up. As we made our way, he asked me why I was getting a new mattress. I told him—‘The old one smells of damp. I don’t know where the damp is coming from but it makes the bed smell of damp and I don’t like it. In the nighttime I put my head to the pillow and all I can smell is damp. The smell reminds me of when I was younger and I used to get a tent out of the shed and the tent half smelled of the previous summer and half smelled of damp. It’s that smell I can’t bear any longer. I need a new bed.’ The man simply replied—‘Hmm,’ to signify that he was not listening with either of his ears and that my answer was far too long for such an occasion, as it was a weekday and the sun could not be seen behind the grey clouds and all that could be heard was dull music and rustling.
The bed he showed me was not really to my liking: the colour was off-white, the pattern too flowery, the size a little too small, the buttons looked prominent and uncomfortable. He paused before it and raised his eyebrows and sniffed considerably, flashing his hand at the exhibition and begging to know what I thought—
‘Hmm . . . the colour is off-white, the pattern is too flowery, the size is a bit too small, the buttons look uncomfortable and I don’t think it’s to my liking, really.’
‘Okay, but have you tried it yet?’
I hadn’t.
He bowed deeply and implored I lie on it.
It was the most comfortable bed I had ever lied on. I rested my head on the stock pillows and stared at the shop’s ceiling and felt that it was the most comfortable bed I had ever lied on. All thoughts and memories drifted off of me. I felt warm and completely happy on that bed, even with him half-looking at me. He grinned, checked his nails for dirt and then looked at me again. He could see that I was enjoying the bed—‘I can see that you are enjoying the bed.’
I was a little dazed so that I didn’t hear him, but, toying with one of the buttons, I sat up and adjusted myself. How silly of me to lose myself like that in a public space. I rubbed my head where the horse chestnut had hit me, anxious that it was turning red. Without need or desire to further explore the gentleman’s wares—I knew that the mattress was perfect—I said I would take it without even having enquired about the price. He smacked his hands together and rubbed them. The receipt that he gave me—regurgitated from the till in a sticky and stuttering spew—felt strangely like skin. I held the receipt between my thumb and fingers, massaged it and had a song in my head: the old nursery rhyme Oranges and Lemons, which my mother used to sing to me when I was about to go to sleep, her staccato banging out the last words—‘And here comes the chopper to chop off your head.’ I didn’t know why that rhyme should have come to me then, but it would not leave me alone. I barely remembered the words, but the words I did know and the melody replayed over and over. With his assistance, I hauled the mattress on to my back and slowly walked out of the shop. A lady passed me and she was eating a toffee apple. Her tongue rolled around the toffee apple. She looked at me through pulled eyelids, warily. On the other side of the car park was a burger van, browning its onions and patties all over the tarmac for punters and pigeons. The vendor, experiencing one of the day’s many lulls, was observing the scrapping pigeons with the usual thoughtfulness one reserves for observing koi in a pond. As I broke the line of the trees again, another horse chestnut hit me, this occasion just above my right ear. Indeed this one was thrown by one of a group of boys who thought it hysterical the way I lumbered my mattress home. How will I get this on a bus? I had not enough money for a taxi or a car in which to stuff the beast, driving it home with the boot bouncing upon its off-white mouthful.
Two hours the journey took and its usual forty-minutes had been and gone but for the month of sweat over my face. That night. I could & wait for the nighttime to come when another day would be over and I could enjoy my new bed. Putting clean sheets on the bedding was a notable joy. Throwing the duvet out it swelled and shrank, puffed and sighed and lay narrowly on my new bed.
But, o, the disappointment!
Upon lying down, I was uncomfortable. The bed smelled of damp, and so quickly! I could not believe it was true: I smelled the pillows, the duvet and the mattress and all of them smelled of damp! How could it be? I rolled over, angry. I whimpered as my thumb recovered on the graze over my ear from its meeting with the horse chestnut. For two hours I endeavoured to fall asleep but at every corner sleep evaded me. It would be a tease, I, at the cusp of slipping away, would completely reawaken, torn from whatever romantic dream my subconscious was halfway through affecting on me. I slammed my fist down on the mattress, cursing at the waft of damp that arose from it. I would take it back the very next day, demand a refund and throttle the clerk who had taken me for a ride. I leapt out of bed where it was so dark that I could not see. The bedroom light blinded me temporarily and I searched everywhere – until I was even more tired – but could not find the receipt. I was close to weeping. The mattress would have to stay. No store would take a refund without a receipt, sooner calling you mad, and for all I had suffered tonight would I have to suffer many times again. I went to the window and sat on the sill with the curtains wide open as though they were braced for morning. Looking out, I saw no movement other than the bubbles of street flies under the streetlights. And so I sat, looking, not sleeping, away from my nest, the stench of damp in my nose and nowhere else.

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