05/01/2013 - 10:16am
The Mattress Inspector
by Stephanie Vernier

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.

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Stephanie Vernier's fiction has appeared in Instant City and Full of Crow.  She lives and writes in San Francisco.

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