We had sex on someone else’s waterbed. This was maybe 45 years ago. It was our first date, and in those days, I kept my thighs clamped tight, but your mouth was everywhere, and yada, yada, it didn’t take long before you finagled your way in.
You were in grad school and lived with two other guys and a dog named Dan. I shared an apartment with a Pan Am flight attendant so it was as if I didn’t have a roommate. You and I spent most nights together in the double bed I brought from home. You were working at a Mexican restaurant, so we fucked and slept in a miasma of fry oil and tacos.
This was back when being female and single at twenty-five had a certain amount of failure attached to it. I told you, now or never, Lone Ranger. You called me Tonto. After the big event, we rented a two-bedroom house and bought a waterbed. In those days, the contraption consisted of a single rubber bladder. You made the frame out of planks of wood from Builders Emporium and stained it a nice red maple. The first night on that bed was perfect. Beer, a joint, and “Stairway to Heaven.”
We bought a house in a sketchy neighborhood. A two-story Spanish with ugly carpeting, avocado appliances, and peeling wallpaper painted a dingy gray. We invited friends over to help us move and when we got everything squared away—boxes stacked, fridge plugged in, hoses strung together to fill the waterbed upstairs—I decided we should draw on the living room walls. A dedication of sorts. Armed with their weed, your Margaritas, and my felt markers we fell to it. Clouds, ivy vines, a dog, a robot, an Aztec sun, even Kilroy was there. After a while, someone yelped, hand on her noggin, blinking at the ceiling. Heads tilted. Water dripped through the plaster, a Niagara fall of drips. You shouted, “Waterbed!” and we clambered up the stairs. It was like sighting a whale in the middle of our bedroom, a giant blue leviathan spouting little streams of water out a hundred little blow-holes!
Eventually, we bought another fixer, a Tudor in a nicer neighborhood. Similar shag, similar green. We brought our replacement waterbed—one with four bladders and a heater. We were real adults by then and knew better than to forget the garden hose in our bedroom. Maybe that proved that we were adults, but no, we weren’t that old. We didn’t draw on walls, further proof of our growing maturity. Instead we stripped wallpaper and painted, tried to make our house comfortable. Then came kids. Chaos ensued. Our waterbed barely had enough room for the four of us after earthquake number one and earthquake number two rattled the rafters. We needed a bigger bed. We bought a Sealy or a Serta, a queen this time because we both wanted more space, you on the left, me on the right, a valley for the kids if necessary, or so you could roll closer to me to drape an arm, a leg.
You and I got along fine, except when we didn’t, but we apologized before bed. It almost always worked, and when it didn’t, I cried in the hammock in the backyard until you came and found me.
At some point, pillows began to fill the gap between us in our queen-sized bed. These pillows weren’t a wall exactly, but we were two hardworking adults, tired and stressed and less likely to find our bodies glued together one on top of the other, with hot flushed skin and a fourth of July sky exploding behind our eyelids. Besides we went straight in eighty-eight, the kids old enough to wonder what that burned hemp smell was.
You left for work at six AM to beat the traffic. I had a part-time job as a spy for a chain of furniture stores. I traveled to Commerce, Pomona, Riverside, so I could grade the sales staff on their ability to make me want to buy. I asked questions about sofa cushion density, refrigerator capacity, and test-drove different mattresses: innerspring, memory foam, gel, hybrid latex. Rushing home to pick up the kids from school, I carted them to swimming, made dinner, oversaw homework. You and I watched TV till we fell asleep on the sofa, and eventually, stumbled upstairs to bed.
After the kids were on their own, we remodeled our bedroom, adding a master bath, walk-in closet, and enough space to buy a king-size bed. We spent hours at the Sit-n-Sleep store, me showing off expertise gleaned from my secret-shopper days, you sprawling on every mattress, shifting positions, adjusting sleep numbers, until we found the perfect one. We chose a vibrating king with the sit-up-in-bed option. The salesman claimed it was the “Mattress of the Stars.” Frank Sinatra! Rita Hayworth! John and Yoko Lennon! It was expensive, but probably the last one we would ever buy.
The bed was luxurious, a billowy cloud. The first several weeks we slept in the middle, our bodies close enough to exchange heat, but slowly, driven by your snoring and my sleep-talking, we began to migrate to our own sides. It seemed a shame not to spread out, to stretch our legs, and in this way, we grew old.
I smooth the body-shaped depression on my side of the bed, straighten the faded quilt, plump the pillow. Glance at the sag where you slept.
Tonight, I decide, I’ll nestle where you used to be so I can smell your smell and remember the fireworks and the kids and know that soon we’ll be together again.
Gay Degani has received nominations and honors for her work including Pushcart consideration and Best Small Fictions. She’s published a collection of eight stories about mothers, Pomegranate, a full-length collection, Rattle of Want, (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). She occasionally blogs at Words in Place.