The music sheets fluttered about the hard wood floor as she danced on them with her shiny tap shoes, her giggles filling the room like bubbles, distorting reality with pastel reflections of the room and her face.The soft curve of her dimpled cheek and pure pink of her sweet mouth. Her feet never stopping, just tap-tapping along the sheets, making music on the music.
She didn’t need music to dance. The song was inside. I sat on the floor, my legs crossed, my head weary with no sleep, and watched her dancing, watched the kissable rolls around her thighs. It was after midnight,but I had waken her from her sleep, watched the butterfly veins of her eyelids flutter awake. I’d taken her from the warmth of her bed, her cheeks had been flushed with heat and streaked with strands of hair that stuck to them with sweat.
“I’m home, baby,” I said. “Wakeup and dance with me.
These are the times I think of – these late nights when she was still all mine. When the sharp metal of her shoes would tear up the paper strewn about the room, when we were pleased to be together and she wanted my eyes glued to her every move until the night caught up with us again. Before she walked out on the music.
Serena Cavanaugh was born and raised in the SF Bay Area where she lives with her two kids and their poodle. A graduate of Santa Clara University, she enjoys reading, writing, cooking… and of course eating. www.serenajcavanaugh.com
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I’m 35, and I just got my sense of humor last week.
Everybody thinks they have a sense of humor – I always thought I did – but the truth is that almost nobody knows how to laugh when it really counts.
I’ve been in prison 10 years.
Armed robbery is funny, but I didn’t see it at the time. Running into that liquor store and waving a gun around, seeing the expression on the faces of the winos and the Pakistani cashier and the old men and the three college girls buying Bailey’s, was a power trip. Was a sexual rush: I had a better time thinking about making those girls suck me in front of a closed circuit security camera than I ever did really fucking. Maybe because I knew they took me seriously.
I was on the receiving end for the first few years in jail, stuck here with a manslaughter conviction, telling myself that I wasn’t a looser just because the gun had gone off accidentally – that I was as much a man as someone who fires on purpose. Telling myself, too, that I was innocent because I hadn’t meant it to happen – that I was powerful and innocent at the same time.
Nobody here has that.
And I’d lie on my bunk at night, wishing the sound of that damn drip-drip-drip faucet away, and replay the moment in my head. Over and over again I would turn to watch the pretty girls while the foreign kid reached into the cash register to get me the money, watching their faces as I pointed the gun at each one of them – one by one – and then blew the last one a kiss. I got off on that, for years, while every week somebody beat me down on my knees one more time for saying the wrong thing. I’d replay the way I turned around, pointed the gun at the Pakistani, then, wanted him to know I was in charge, and accidentally took over his life.
And the only time I ever heard laughter, somebody was getting hurt. The only time I laughed was when I was coming out on top. After five years, I learned how to fight. And I’d make the fantasies more elaborate – I’d known the gun was going to go off. I’d done more than blow that bitch a kiss.
I’ve been denied parole twice, and this year they decided to send me in for counseling, some new program that won’t be here in two years when the asshole who administers it gets a better job running the payroll department of a sweatshop. And they walked me into a room with two chairs, and they handcuffed me to one of them – I’m a bad man – and then who walks in but the girl. The girl. The fucking girl I blew that kiss to. She got her degree, went to graduate school, and is a prison shrink. Ten years later and she still has that hair with the blue highlights, the long eye-lashes, the impossibly presented chest, the eyes that are just off-color enough that you’d think they’d pour polluted tears, and the lips, yeah, the lips, that I remember aiming for.
I know that face. I sleep with it at night. It kept me warm when I was bloody.
And here’s the punch line: she doesn’t remember me.
She doesn’t blink when she sits down, she doesn’t jump when she reads my name, and when I tell her my story. . . it. . . doesn’t. . . register.
It’s her. I’m not wrong: but 10 years of daydreaming have turned my story into something she doesn’t even recognize. She must have missed the kiss: I must have read something else on her face. Maybe she was staring at the gun the whole time. For a few minutes, I had the power of life and death over her. But now she can’t pick me out of a crowd.
What the hell really happened back there? I must have killed somebody – I’m here, right? But what else?
I can’t stop laughing. And nobody’s getting hurt.
I don’t know anything, anymore, but I get it. The bars; the concrete walls; the way we’re woken up in the morning and thrown to bed at night by hacks on a state pension plan; the beatings I got; the beatings I gave; the tears and aches that I got through by remembering what I needed to think happened; the color of the applesauce they serve on Thursdays; this is what a sense of humor is for.
Because after the fact, it’s all a joke. Memory is just a set up for the present, a story you tell to illustrate a point that can’t be made with facts. And even the look of a blown kiss at gunpoint, followed moments later by a squeeze and a shattering and a boom, have no more impact then the words “Knock knock,” or a stage fading gently to black.
Benjamin Wachs is a partner at Omnibucket. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
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Back in 2009 Omnibucket partner Dave Senecal profiled the artwork of Paglilunga for the Lithopolis Honey Festival. Why? Because it's awesome, and you should know about it. That's why we're reprinting it now.
Nestled within the hills of southern Ohio, a few minutes drive south of Columbus, a distinct buzz could be felt on the cool September breeze blowing through the normally quiet, and exotically named town of Lithopolis.
The Lithopolis Honey fest is an annual attraction that takes place on the grounds of the Wagnalls Memorial estate. Built in 1925 by Mabel Wagnalls Jones, daughter of Adam and Ana Wagnalls, the Wagnalls Memorial is part library, part art museum, and bears the namesake of the co-founder of the Funk and Wagnalls publishing company.
The Lithopolis Honey festival delivers exactly what it promises; a one day annual, celebration of all things sweet and “apiar-iffic” (bees, dude). Among the many talented artisans and honey related vendors and activities, one in particular stood out among the rest; The botanical glass artwork of John Paglialunga of Johnstown, Ohio.
A graduate of the Ohio State University, Paglialunga, creates work that at first glance resembles meticulously painted stained glass. Upon closer inspection, the works reveal themselves to be more complex and skillfully constructed works of layered, light capturing sculpture.
Drawing upon a background in Landscape Architecture, Paglialunga successfully connects the functional aspects of earth shaping with the formal design elements of line and shape. The effect is subtle, but quite clearly visible in the artwork that results.
Paglialunga works with reclaimed lumber from a variety of locations to craft his work in a stained-glass tradition. He pushes the tradition further by combining actual botanical specimens with found object material to striking effect.
The work that results reminds viewers of 18th century botanical studies (think James Sowerby) and the storytelling stained glass of European cathedrals. Deceptively
light in and airy in appearance, Paglialunga’s sculptures are actually quite heavy and substantial but not so much so as, to exclude them from being ready to hang in a gallery or on your wall.
To learn more about Paglialunga’s artwork, click here.
To learn more about the Lithopolis Honey Festival, click here.
There were two guards. They handled him roughly. They tossed him into a metal room, and before he could stand up they hauled him to his feet and strapped him down to a cold and uncomfortable chair. In front of him, sat a dark haired officer in an unusual uniform.
“Name?” asked the officer coldly.
“Who are you?”
“Peter, yes,” the officer was not amused. “Peter Kreppner, of 1602 Benson Court, here in the city. Yes. Do you know why you’re here?”
That was the question. That was the question. “God no.”
“Yesterday,” said the officer. “You were overheard.” He held up a digital recorder. He pressed play. Out came Peter’s voice, slightly broken up through a cell phone call.
Peter of yesterday said “Traffic was murder.”
The officer pressed stop. “You were overheard,” he repeated.
Peter looked away. “Is that … all?”
“IS THAT ALL?” asked the officer. “ALL?”
“Look, I know it’s a lazy metaphor …”
The officer motioned, and a guard slapped Peter across the face.
“Lazy,” the officer said, “would imply easy but apt. This was is no way apt. In what way …” his disgust caught in his throat, and he had to start again. “In what way was traffic … murder?”
Peter hesitated. “I want to see a lawyer.”
One of the guard’s chuckled.
“It was an exaggeration,” said the officer. “An extreme one, at that, reached for without thought for the implications. People like you … such lazy clichés of… your kind makes me sick.” He grabbed Peter by the chin and held his face up into the light. “Pick the worst thing you can think of and compare a minor inconvenience to it. Traffic on the freeway was murder? Why not traffic on the freeway was genocide, traffic on the freeway was rape, traffic on the freeway was a 16 year old boy being bullied by a gang of football players, traffic on the freeway was a dogfight, traffic on the freeway was a widow losing her children in a house fire, traffic on the freeway was a prison guard forcibly sodomizing a mentally ill inmate with a nightstick, traffic on the freeway was a hurricane that left ten thousand poor people homeless.”
The officer’s fingers pushed Peter’s lips against his teeth. “Lawyer!” Peter called out.
The officer tightened his grip. “Language is an aesthetic concern, not an egalitarian endeavor,” he said. “You have no rights here.”
He let Peter go, stepped back, and kneeled down, looking at him in the eye. “If I had my way, you’d rot in a prison you’d probably call ‘dark.’ But there is a way out for you. A way to emancipate yourself. Are you listening? Listening with attention? Good.”
A guard stepped behind the officer, holding a notebook and a pen.
The officer leaned closer, whispered to Peter “Give me the names of everyone you know who would kill for that car.”
Benjamin Wachs is a partner at Omnibucket. He archives his work at www.TheWachsGallery.com.
Fiction at Omnibucket is powered by Fiction365
She’d seen them as soon as they’d come in. They sat down, alone, on the little benches and stared out across the wide wooden floor as though it were an ocean at high tide. It wasn’t just that they were alone, though: In a room full of dancers, it’s easy to spot the people who are estranged from their bodies.
He was soft in all the usual places, with vibrantly brown hair that wouldn’t stay in place. He crossed and uncrossed his legs as he waited, and he read from a Kindle that conveniently kept him from having to pay attention to people in the room.
She was hard as granite, with strong posture, her hair tied into a long French braid. She stared straight ahead, as though guarding a prisoner for the queen.
There were one or two in every first session, lured by the word “beginners” in front of whatever class was offered. They rarely made it to a third session.
When benches were full of people, mostly women, in exercise clothes, she clapped her hands for attention. “All right, ladies and gentlemen! Senior e senioritas! It’s time to begin! Welcome to tango for beginners, I’m Madame Alyssa, and if I could get everyone to come out into the dance area and face the mirror, with their backs to the barre, we can begin!”
“Yes,” she said as they shuffled out onto the wooden floor, “that’s right. Why don’t we make two rows, one starting here, one behind them here. The people in the back row should stand so that they can still see themselves in the mirror. Make sense? Okay, let’s go.”
She stood up in front of the class, with her back to the mirror, and led them through warm ups. Stretching the calves, the back, the shoulders. Men were, as always, a distinct minority in the class. She’d developed a series of workarounds for this. She looked around, as she rolled her head around her shoulders, for the two who didn’t belong. The soft man was doing the exercises fine, but had a scowl on his face. The stone woman was standing mostly still, making small gestures that indicated her intention to perhaps stretch at some future date.
They need therapy, not dance, she thought – not for the first time. Dance could, of course, be therapy: be better than therapy. But not with a class this big.
“All right!” she said, clapping her hands again. “Now that we’re all warmed up, I’m going to show you some of the basic steps that we’ll spend the next few weeks putting together into a tango. These are the building blocks, the smallest pieces in the Lego set of movements we’ll be using.”
Neither of them would make it, she was sure. They’d come in alone, wanting to hide this effort to reconnect with themselves from their friends and family, ashamed of both the ways they move and the ways they can’t move, and it wouldn’t get better. Dance is an art performed with partners: the act of coming alone is itself a risk, and when you can’t let your body lead you, the risk is too great. Their self-consciousness would drive them away, deeper into the problems that brought them here.
Poor soft man. Poor stone woman. There ought to be a way to save them.
But she had tried it before, she had played the Samaritan and the savior; made them dance together, made them dance with her, made them dance at the back of the class, and at the front, teach them special steps, bring in ringers to dance with them … it always ended in tears.
“When you learn to move your body,” she told the class all at once, “move as though you are standing on the edge of a great abyss, and I am teaching you how to float. Dance as though your life depends on it.”
Back in 2010 Omnibucket partner Dave Senecal had a chance to chat with author Dave Wellington. You might recognize Wellington from his “Monster Island” and other web serials. Dave has tons of cool stuff going on and was a contributor to Omnibucket’s own “Brainchild…A Collection of Artifacts” in 2005.
We're re-printing this interview on our new site because, dammit, it's just that cool.
01. What have you been up to? Is there anything you can tell us about new projects in the works?
My latest novel, “Frostbite” came out October 6th. There will be a sequel next year,called “Overwinter”.
02. Having written so many books about characters who battle the undead, do you find yourself viewing the world in a strange way? For example, by considering possible escape routes, defensible positions, and potential weapons even when you are not writing, but just heading down the street as part of normal everyday occasion?
ple, ever considered the use of the ceramic “upper lid” part of a toilet as a makeshift, single-use bludgeoning weapon? I think that would be awesome. Those things are heavy and shatter into razor sharp fragments. Okay so that wasn’t really so much a question as a weird aside. I digress. Question #…)
There was definitely a time when I did that. I drove my girlfriend crazy because everywhere we went I would say, “I think that chainlink fence would stand up for at least an hour,” or “In New York traffic, you’d be better off getting out and running. The zombies would get everybody in the cars.” Her usual reaction was, “Can I just eat my dinner?”
03. Is direct interaction and discussion with your readers useful for fact checking, proof reading, etc. or does it tend to become too overwhelming to keep track of the discussions?
I don’t get a chance to do as much of that anymore, but when I did it was incredibly helpful. I really learned how to write a novel from the comments people left on my serials. It was amazing!
You just don’t get that opportunity writing the old-fashioned way. You sit in your office for a year, not talking to anybody, hoping that what’s in your head will be entertaining to somebody else. Having immediate feedback made a huge difference.
04. Are you still surprised by the actions of your characters or do you have most of the story planned out before you begin writing it down?
It still happens. My main characters tend to be pretty smart, and to have definite, clear ideas of what is okay and what is just not cool. Occasionally they refuse to do what I tell them to. But I actually do an enormous amount of planning in advance. I always know how a book is going to end before I write the first page.
05. What’s been the most unexpected change that has come with having more support from a publisher?
The fact that it can actually happen! I spent thirty years (from age six, when I started writing) thinking I would never be published, that I was just writing for myself. Now I have actual readers and that was a huge adjustment—I realized that there really isn’t such a thing as a good book if nobody reads it.
06. Has the vampire in fiction been diluted with so many spin offs of work like the ‘Twilight’ series – or is it encouraging to see a new generation of readers taking an interest in the genre?
I’m always glad to see kids reading. I don’t enjoy “Twilight” myself. But it wasn’t written for me. For the tweens who make up its target audience, it’s obviously exactly what they want. C’est la vie. Even monsters evolve, and not necessarily in the way we’d like.
07. Some books, once picked up, are nearly impossible to put down. “23 Hours” is a good example. I had to chuckle a bit because, as I began reading it, I lost track of the day and it occurred to me that I had nearly finished reading it in the amount of time indicated in the title. This makes me wonder:
- Is that some kind of clever subconscious CIA-type stealth marketing technique!?
- With all of overlapping storylines, it must be a very busy place inside your head. How do you balance all of the projects without burning out?
The CIA categorically denies being involved in the writing of my book in any way. As for overlapping projects, I make a point of only working on one thing at a time. Otherwise I’d lose it.
08. Many of your book titles have a numerical aspect. “23 hours”, “Vampire Zero”, “13 Bullets”, “99 Coffins”- is there a particular motivation behind the use of numbers in the naming of the work?
The numbers I chose were specifically chosen, yes. I wanted numbers that would make people uneasy—they’re just slightly off, not round numbers at all. I wanted to give a sense that the world of my vampire novels was just a little different from ours, and not in a good way.
09. Do you think there is a tendency to confuse gore with horror, especially with regard to movies?
Gore is a device, horror is a genre. Good horror writers use every device at their disposal. You can write a book just using gore, but it gets very boring and repetitive very quickly. In movies, it works a little better because movie scripts have to be much more focused than novels… but still, it gets old.
10. Speaking of movies, can we expect to see a movie from your ‘Monster’ series?
I’d love to see that. Believe me.
11. Ology, as you know, “is the study of”. What’s your current Ology?
Right now, as in this week? I’m reading “A World Lit Only by Fire” by William Manchester and playing “Assassin’s Creed 2”, so it’s Renaissance History. Um, Renaissancology. I guess.
To learn more about Dave and his work, check out these sites:
Charles Barber writes in Salon that we now live in the Age of Trauma.
Every era has a particular mental disorder, you see, and for 21st century America that disorder is PTSD. He writes:
"(T)he appropriate diagnosis of the last decade — since Sept. 11, 2001, to be exact — may be PTSD: post-traumatic stress disorder. Of course legions of American soldiers have received the diagnosis, and enormous resources, appropriately, have gone into its treatment. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that nearly 30 percent of the more than 800,000 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans treated in veterans’ hospitals and clinics are diagnosed with PTSD.
But in the past 10 years, even non-veterans have been engaged in an ongoing narrative of American trauma. After 9/11 came Katrina, then the economic meltdown and the recession that never seems to end. This past year saw Sandy followed by Newtown. Along the way there’s been the mass killings at Virginia Tech, at Northern Illinois University, and in a Colorado movie theater. There also seems to be a deepening sense that one can never fully escape from potential catastrophe, not on a Boston street on a promising spring day or in a Connecticut elementary school a few weeks before Christmas.
In the popular perception, the locus, both psychologically and geographically, of the tragedies has shifted. They’ve gone from being “out there” — in, say, the remote parts of the South or West, or the inner cities — to “right here,” in respectable, suburban America. The latest chapter is the bombing in Boston, with its indelible images — the 70-year-old runner laid out on the ground; the impossibly innocent smiling face of the 8-year-old boy who was killed. And it further cements post-traumatic stress in the popular psyche and lexicon in a similar way in which depression, bipolar disorder and ADD — and the drugs to treat them — were popularized in earlier eras."
I'm quite sympathetic to the idea that every era can be known by its particular form of mental disorder - althrough for my money we're still in the "Age of Anxiety." While Barber is right to say that trauma is being "normalized" in America, I still see far, far, more people experiencing existential anxiety than I do even mild forms of PTSD. We want to know if we're doing the right thing, and how we'd know that. We want to know if we'll hold on to our economic life and our social capital far more than we want to know we'll live to see next year. The question America wants answered isn't "Am I safe," but "Am I okay?" That's anxiety.
But the thing that really astonishes me is what comes next, where Barber writes: "Yes, PTSD is the reigning diagnosis of the day. But unlike other diagnoses in other eras, there is no clear drug and no definitive way of treating PTSD."
Wait ... we had a definitive cure for depression? And nobody told me?
What Barber means is, we had drugs for it. And while we have drugs for PTSD too, those drugs (unlike the ones for anxiety or depression) don't work. "Starting in the Prozac-fueled late 1980s and 1990s," he says, "the omnipresent diagnosis was depression."
Yes it was - but did Prozac work? Have we beaten depression? Is that problem solved?
Hardly. A 2011 study sponsored by the World Health Organization showed that America is one of the two most depressed countries in the world. (The other was France, but deep down you knew that). According to news reports, depression rates in America have tripled over the last two decades.
Is that what happens with a successful drug treatment? By any objective measure, Prozac (and like compounds) were a dismal failure. Perhaps that's why multiple studies have since suggested that antidepressants are no better than placebos (except for some cases of severe depression) - only with harmful side-effects.
No, we haven't drugged our way out of depression anymore than we have anxiety. I can take the argument that we're in the "Age of Trauma" - though I disagree - but it's absurd to say that what distinguishes trauma is that we can't cure it by taking a little pill.
As for the idea that every era has an era defining drug, I think the definitive word on that came from Margaret Talbot in the Guardian of London, in an amazing 2009 piece on the off-label use of "neuro-enhancers." The whole thing's incredible and well worth the read, but here's the kicker:
"(I)t's not the mind-expanding 1960s any more. Every era, it seems, has its own defining drug. Neuroenhancers are perfectly suited to the anxiety of white-collar competition in a floundering economy. And they have a synergistic relationship with our multiplying digital technologies: the more gadgets we own, the more distracted we become and the more we need help in order to focus. The experience that neuroenhancement offers is not, for the most part, about opening the doors of perception, or about breaking the bonds of the self, or about experiencing a surge of genius. It's about squeezing out an extra few hours to finish those sales figures when you'd really rather collapse into bed; getting a B instead of a B-minus on the final exam in a lecture class where you spent half your time texting; cramming for the GREs (postgraduate entrance exams) at night, because the information-industry job you got after college turned out to be deadening. Neuroenhancers don't offer freedom. Rather, they facilitate a pinched, unromantic, grindingly efficient form of productivity."
Be honest: doesn't that sound way more like us than any drug for PTSD?
The mother was dreaming about the closet.
The closet was always there, just around the corner in Bill’s room, a closet with a lock on the outside.
She’d only been put in there three times, but it seemed like fifty because of the dreams.
The groping shirtsleeves.
The smell of stale, stored cigarettes.
The smell of shoes.
Worst of all, the smell of the guns.
The first time he put her in there, he’d forgotten about the guns.
That bitter smell, the smell that went with the sheen of oil on metal, that smell was everywhere, and then the bang like a fireworks bang, and then she was awake in the quiet dark.
Old again. Free again. In her house without closets, almost without doors.
Leslie Ingham is a founding member of the Portuguese Artists Colony. She is currently at work on a novel.
This is how it happened.
Time is circular, so after the serpent convinced Adam and Even to bite the forbidden apple, they were given the knowledge of good and evil, made more like God, and expelled from paradise. Not being God, they did not understand why, and so they tilled the soil with their hands, and then with makeshift hoes, and then with plows. They domesticated horses, and built with mud and clay, and gradually learned to stack rocks on top of one another and seal them together, to create the first wall, and then the first city.
They created laws, which they obeyed and broke depending on their prospects. They fought wars and colonized the earth. Their only constant was a refusal to stand still – which inevitably became a lust for money and a dream of new technology that they pursued, first because it made their lives easier, and then for its own sake. They bought and sold to finance the cost of buying and selling, always on the lookout for new markets. Whole fields of study, whole industries, becoming experts at convincing people with no needs in the world that they needed to pay for something to solve their problems.
Humanity’s eyes grew narrow, and as people began controlling technology through alpha-wave readers attached to their brains, their hands grew small and weak, and as personal transportation devices grew more and more effective, their legs withered away.
Time being circular, this was the snake Adam and Eve saw in the Garden of Eden, who convinced them that paradise was not good enough unless they could have the apple, and who still did not understand why they now had to be sent away.
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Fully clothed, Richard Yoost lay flat as a plank across the covers on the king-size bed. It was ninety degrees out and only a slight cross breeze came through the bedroom windows. The plank position was his first response test, and he learned early on it left an impression that he usually sided with at the end of his inspection. There was one time two years ago that he was fooled by a fluffed up feather bed. Otherwise, at this point in his career even on top of the bedding, he was generally dead-on, immediately. The rest was just measurements and paperwork.
At the threshold of the bedroom, Mrs. Spigel cleared her throat, her lips pressed firmly together. She was becoming impatient with this smartly dressed, bespectacled man, sent from the mattress company’s quality control department. He was a complete stranger until three minutes ago and his street clothes, no matter how seemingly tidy, were roughing up the delicate stitching on her bedding. The fabric and thread was one hundred percent mulberry silk.
Mrs. Spigel watched Richard's hands spread out from his sides, wandering across the intricate design of her elaborate duvet cover. It was inspired by a trip to the Palace of Versailles, which marked the single most spectacular day of her life. She longed to live in any corner of that magnificent structure. Mr. Spigel, whom she called Hal, chose to spend the day sipping cappuccinos at the café by their hotel. It was their honeymoon, and Mrs. Spigel’s only trip abroad. When Richard's left hand hit a decorative pillow with an embroidered chandelier copied from the Hall of Mirrors, Mrs. Spigel had enough. She stepped inside the room.
“How long does this take?” She reached over Richard and removed the pillow.
Richard sighed. He did not mind being watched, in fact when he was in the zone he forgot completely about whoever was standing above him. His mind tended to drift, the way one's does when first falling off to sleep, only to be jolted in an unpleasant manner back to the waking world. That is how Richard felt at the sound of Mrs. Spigel's voice. Richard sat up, and consulted the clipboard he had placed on the edge of the bed when he entered the room. His finger scanned until he reached, CLIENT: ANNETTE SPIGEL.
“Well, Ms. Spigel, it varies from mattress to mattress.”
“Mrs. Spigel,” she corrected him, the way a grade school teacher might an insolent pupil even though they were around the same age, both mid-forties. Richard looked a bit younger on account of his natural brown hair that had not yet grayed, the way men look more distinguished and handsome as they age, and women tend to look like they are trying too hard. Mrs. Spigel touched the side of her head, glad she had put her hair up.
“Mrs. Spigel, it depends on the type of claim you are filing, as well as the length of time the mattress has been in your possession.” He flipped a few pages. “You are requesting a full refund, plus a replacement mattress. The mattress has been in your possession a total of three years, 7 months and 25 days, does this sound accurate?”
She nodded. “It said, a twenty year warranty. It's been less than four.”
“This is a potentially expensive claim. I must take my time to ensure you either deserve this refund, plus replacement, or you do not.”
Richard took his job as a mattress inspector very seriously. Every house he went to was a new adventure. You would be surprised how much you could learn about a person by entering their bedroom and lying in their bed. For example, it was immediately clear to Richard that Mr. Spigel did not spend many nights in this bed, and when he did sleep here, it was on his side likely turned away from his wife, hugging the edge. Whereas Mrs. Spigel likely lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, watching the headlights from the passing cars flash through their open window in the summer time. Richard found many insomniacs slept on the ground floor of their houses. People who had to climb a staircase to bed generally sleep more soundly. Perhaps it was a coincidence, perhaps not. Marriage was not a possibility for Richard, as his work demanded constant travel and these types of visits reinforced his decision.
Richard got off the bed and stood next to Mrs. Spigel. He could count the number of times people had adequately prepared for his visit by stripping the bed clean: 4. There was a reason people were reluctant to let you into their homes with the bed stripped bare.
Mr. and Mrs. Spigel had no children, no pets and besides their bedding being a grand homage to the Sun King, little decoration in their bedroom. Only a dresser, two black walnut nightstands, hers with a digital clock and a grocery store romance novel and his empty with white rings staining the finish of the wood, suggesting he left icy drinks sweating on hot nights without a coaster.
Richard waited a moment to appreciate the effort Mrs. Spigel expended, re-imagining Versailles and using her bedding as a canvas. Then he said, “In my spare time, I research intriguing historical figures. Four years ago my subject was Louis the XIV. He would have commissioned something exactly like this.” He let that sink in and then said, “We need to remove the bedding.”
Wordlessly, Mrs. Spigel picked up the decorative pillows, each a bright remnant from the Hall of Mirrors and remembered what a challenge it had been creating them. Although, in the decade since their inception, Mr. Spigel, Hal, had never once commented on any of it. When she first completed the project she revealed it to Sonya, the next-door neighbor. Sonya had no idea what it was, this was quickly clear, but she expressed her love for it nonetheless.
“Dios mio!” Sonya had exclaimed. “You are a very talented woman. Muy bonita!” This moment was really the start of their friendship, despite being neighbors for years. Sonya had thought Mrs. Spigel was antipático, but that day Sonya said, “You are artista!” It was the only time Sonya caught a glimpse of what looked like a smile from Mrs. Spigel’s lips.
When Hal came home two days later from Cincinnati or maybe Philadelphia, this was around the time Mrs. Spigel stopped keeping track, he fell into bed without a hello or good night. Mrs. Spigel had silently stared at the ceiling all night waiting, but Hal never said a peep. The next day while Hal showered, she quickly made the bed. The sun from the open window poured in and illuminated the gold trim that outlined the grand façade of the Palace of Versailles and she could not take it anymore.
Hal was dipping wet and angry when he saw her holding his towel in the doorway. “Could you hand me that?” he more demanded than asked. She liked seeing him exposed, vulnerable and on the edge. It was time the tables were turned.
“I made this. I spent three years making this. To commemorate the only trip we’ve ever taken!” She threw his towel on the ground, far out of his reach.
After she left, Hal looked upon the golden monstrosity that was now overpowering their formerly pleasant and minimalistic bedroom. It was gaudy, grandiose, and his least favorite shade of yellow. Then he grabbed his towel. Knowing it was not an argument he’d ever win, he never mentioned it.
The bed was entirely bare, naked. Mrs. Spigel carefully folded, then placed the bedding in a pile beneath the open window. Richard held one of the decorative pillows in his hands. He stood near Mrs. Spigel, so close their elbows touched. “Here, right here, is where you seem to lose focus.” Richard pointed to the top section of the embroidered chandelier.
Mrs. Spigel could not fathom how he saw this. But he was correct. How many times had she stopped in that spot, mid-stitch, temporarily paralyzed by the loneliness, the pointlessness of it all. She’d married Hal in the hopes they’d grow closer, but they remained distant, strangers at the dinner table, the nights he came home early enough to eat with her. The other nights, she sat under her light therapy box stitching that impossible design and trying to remember the joy she felt the day she wandered through the Hall of Mirrors. The beauty and opulence formed a transcendent experience she shared through her needlepoint.
“It’s not a criticism,” Richard added quickly. “But there’s a difference when you are enamored with the project and when it becomes a burden.”
“No one has ever seen this,” Mrs. Spigel said. That’s not what she meant, she meant no one has looked at it, not the way she had, and not the way Richard was.
The mattress was in pristine condition. You did not see that too often. There were exactly 2 times (not including this) Richard saw a mattress he would place in the pristine category. Meaning, there was no pet hair, no discoloration, no wandering pieces of lint, and no dust in the quilted crevasses. Factory new, factory clean.
Mrs. Spigel watched Richard with a new appreciation as he removed his tools from his attaché case. No man besides Hal had ever been in this bedroom. And no one, not even Sonya, had truly understood and respected her masterpiece.
As Richard readied himself for the more qualitative measurements, he also got his game face on. This part for him with his level of experience and expertise was an ex post facto exercise. He already knew what he would be writing in his report and his recommendations were always accepted.
He placed an expandable level in the middle of the mattress, then crouched down and penciled in some numbers. He unclipped the synthetic leather case that generally lived above his right hip, and pulled out his tape measure attaching a small plumb bob to the end. Careful not to touch the mattress, or the level, he calculated the size of a small divot by dropping the plumb bob into the indentation.
“What are you measuring?” Mrs. Spigel's voice had changed into one of genuine curiosity, not what Richard expected. He'd seen a hundred Mrs. Spigel's in his day, and his fantasy of them all usually involved his tape measure and generally ended the same. She’d bring him a cool glass of water. He’d take it and electricity would explode as soon as their hands met. He’d make a lewd comment regarding the size of his equipment, and she’d use the tape measure to call his bluff. Well, she’d be pleasantly surprised.
“I asked, what you were measuring?” In reality no matter how hot it was no one ever thought to bring him a glass of water.
“I don't like to give away my trade secrets, but I'll show you.” Richard removed his jacket, folded it neatly on the floor. He was conservative with his movements, as he did not want to break into a sweat. He took Mrs. Spigel’s hands. She made a quick inhalation, it was small and subtle and Richard would have never noticed if the room, the house, the entire block had not been so silent.
Richard guided her hands from behind. They both leaned across the mattress. Mrs. Spigel slightly tensed up at his touch, but she did not move away. Being the gentleman he was, Richard was about to step aside to demonstrate for her, but for some reason unknown to him in the moment, he held fast his position.
This sort of closeness had happened to Richard on the job exactly once. Mrs. Westing. Eight years ago, 349 Georgian Blvd., king-size firm with complaints of sagging in the center. She had climbed into bed with him. This was when he was still perfecting his first response test, a task impossible to accomplish with another person compromising the surface of the bed. Mrs. Westing spilled most of her second martini (at least the second since Richard arrived ten minutes prior) in Richard's lap, and when she attempted to clean it up with her scarf, the professional line had officially been crossed. He quickly vacated her house. He believed marriage to be sacred, even if he did not participate in the tradition and he was not so arrogant he thought himself above the practices of any institution.
His final report for Mrs. Westing’s case had stated: Inspection aborted due to untenable circumstances. Please refer to another agent.
Mrs. Spigel was light-years from Mrs. Westing, as she was a proper lady and Richard guessed her kindness lived beneath a penetrable surface of sorrow. “You see here.” Richard pointed to the spot he imagined Mrs. Spigel spent most nights tossing and turning, and creating her very own chasm inside what had been at the time of purchase, the most luxurious and durable, top-selling mattress. “Right here, I notice a problem. Probably feels like you're crawling out of a hole in the morning.”
Richard worked Mrs. Spigel's hands with the tape measure and plumb bob, and together they measured the deepest divot. “Just as I suspected,” Richard said. He waited for Mrs. Spigel to move away but she stayed, her back pressing up against the front of his body. “I've seen deeper, but for the length of time you've had this mattress, that is deep.” He could feel a line of sweat forming at his brow, but he did not want to risk disturbing this moment. He pushed a little harder on her, and her hand landed on the mattress in time to catch herself. “Let's measure here, but we have to be careful not to disturb the surface.”
“I'll try to reach,” Mrs. Spigel said. She backed herself up into Richard, spreading her legs slightly apart. While it was obvious what was happening here, or what could happen, there was a safety in not officially acknowledging it. As far as anyone knew, Sonya or Hal, she was just assisting the mattress inspector in order to potentially expedite a refund, or a new bed. She desperately needed a new mattress. It not only felt like crawling out of a hole in the morning, but suffocating inside a dark void, alone and so far away from human touch.
“Just a little farther, we want the exact middle, which is there. I'll hang on to you.” This was a completely unnecessary exercise. Mrs. Spigel could have easily realized it would have been simpler and more efficient to walk around and measure from the other side than leaning her body over the mattress. This was a test. Richard smiled into Mrs. Spigel's back as his hands held her just under her breasts. She stayed and participated in the somewhat impossible measurement exercise. They were on the same page. He felt the thick seam of her skirt that ran directly between her legs, moving almost imperceptibly back and forth against the front of his trousers. “Maybe you can reach across, a bit more, I don't think you have it yet.” He was somewhat alarmed that his beliefs were so quickly eclipsed by the pleasure he received being close to her. Something inside switched off the logic and his hands moved up her body.
Mrs. Spigel could hardly believe what she was engaged in. Improper behavior with this man, his hands moved up her blouse, rubbing her breasts. Any other day, in any other circumstance she would be appalled by the very idea of anyone, not even venturing to think of herself, participating in such behavior. But, today she tried to reach the furthest divot. She failed and fell onto the bed.
Sonya had lived next door to Mr. and Mrs. Spigel for the duration of their marriage, which was fourteen years. During that time, Sonya has raised and pushed out of her house five children. Now that she had an empty nest and Mrs. Spigel had grown much friendlier and kinder, they often had tea on Tuesday afternoons. More often than not, Sonya would enter the Spigel's house from the backyard.
When Sonya first passed by the bedroom window, she was alarmed. There were some unusual sounds, and she saw that Mrs. Spigel's beloved decorative pillows were scattered across the bedroom floor. Then came the cries. Sonya ran to the open window, not thinking, not taking a moment to concern herself with her own safety, but rather only concerned with the safety of her dear friend.
Mrs. Spigel was face down on her bare mattress, her skirt bunched up at her waist and a man, naked from the waist down entered her from behind. Sonya gasped.
Mrs. Spigel’s cheek rubbed against the double-threaded seams on the mattress top. She imagined the Sun King behind her. The walls of their room adorned with golden tapestries, blazing candles, and crown molding.
Richard was too immersed in what would definitely be remembered as the most exciting day of his career to notice Sonya. In his ten years as a mattress inspector he had bedded exactly zero clients. He wanted to remember everything. He noted the divots in the mattress suggested an unnatural wearing, an anomaly he had never experienced before. He changed his mind, he would be recommending her for a refund.
Stephanie Vernier's fiction has appeared in Instant City and Full of Crow. She lives and writes in San Francisco.
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