New Mattress

by Emily Sandberg

My sister was shopping for a new mattress. We hadn’t been in the store more than a minute when a sales clerk found us and led her off to look at some models, leaving me free to wander around on my own. Another clerk soon approached, but I waved him off, promising to find him if I had any questions. I had questions, lots of them, but not about mattresses.

I ended up at the back of the store where the expensive memory foam mattresses were. I knew the basic details: NASA-developed sleep technology that conformed to the unique contours of the individual body for unsurpassed levels of comfort and support. I lay down on the memory foam and felt it gradually give under my weight and then sat up and saw how it briefly remembered my shape. I wondered what else it might remember, its earliest memory, maybe a couple of workers in the factory where it was made, kissing, groping, stumbling up to the mattress, onto it. Or maybe its earliest memory wasn’t formed until after it arrived at the store and was laid on by so many strangers, their heads full of mattress ownership dreams, among other things.

I thought about taking the mattress home, making it my own. Which of my memories might leach down through its cells of viscoelastic polyurethane foam? Good memories, bad ones, the good running into the bad. I saw him again, or rather I saw us, in the beginning, back when it was still new and I didn’t need as much sleep as before; I saw us together, upright and moving through the world, and later, intertwined in bed; and later still, the end—it had come without warning; one night after dinner he said the few lines in a quiet voice and I could’ve protested. But if that was how he felt, I didn’t see the point. Also, I’d lost the ability to speak or even move.

I sat up, jarred from the memory by a voice asking if I needed help. It was only another sales clerk. My mind returned briefly to where it’d been: a night on a mattress of memories like those—I don’t think I’d wake up well-rested. Besides, I’m not looking to buy, I told him, go talk to my sister.

I already own a perfectly good mattress, an ordinary spring one, not any kind of fancy, past-summoning foam; in fact I think toward the future more often when I’m on it. I do this thing where I imagine my sheets taking on various forms. A man-shape, but never his—I’m careful about that. Sometimes tall and lanky, the man-shape, other times of approximately average build; still other times the man-shape’s build suggests football, farm work, the repeated lifting of heavy objects. I lay there, cycling through them, until I grow tired and the sheets go smooth again.

Emily Sandberg grew up in Iowa and now lives in Virginia. She is currently at work on a novel called The Biographer. Her short fiction can be found in Panhandler, Dragnet, decomP, Fringe and elsewhere.