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The Circular Bed

January 23, 2007

For Lou
Last summer, Yon and Benna bought a circular bed: never again, they decided, would they have to face getting out on the wrong side. The couple had wanted a circular bed since the day they moved in together four years ago, but wanting and having are two different things. For six months they scoured the local stores and the Internet, but they needn’t have bothered. On that very first bed-buying expedition, to Sleep EZ, one fact was made unassailably clear: beds came in two basic forms – various shades of rectangular and nearly square.

Tans already fading from the honeymoon trip to Israel, a present from Yon’s dad and his fifth wife, Nel, Yon and Benna walked to the bus stop in the muggy afternoon. It was overcast and there were no trees. Only windowless concrete warehouses, a uniform skyline temporarily interrupted by bulging plastic signs. Home Bazaar. Papillon Home Store. Mega! Entertainment Systems. The Office Warehouse. Waller Hardware and Pets. Arrow. The Sleep EZ gift certificate, a wedding present from Yon’s dad’s third wife, dangled apologetically, like an unfulfilled promise, in Benna’s right hand.
“The problem is the sheets. No one makes round sheets.”
“We could have made round sheets ourselves. Used Nel’s sewing machine.”
“Waste of time.”
“Look who’s talking.”
“Look who’s talking what?”
The waste of time in question referred to the month that Yon spent attempting to make costumes for a Chinese New Year Slash Burns Night Party that he and Benna threw to celebrate something else entirely. Yon’s creation was supposed to be a snaky, smoke-heaving dragon in red and green tartan: a Highland Riff on an Oriental Theme. The idea was that just before midnight, everyone would form a Conga line under the costume and dance around the block accompanied by Benna playing “On The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond” on the Erhu. In the process of fashioning the bi-cultural serpent, Yon had taken Nel’s sewing machine to the repair store twice -- an hour’s trip on the bus hauling a very heavy box, spent 450 bucks on tartan-print fabric, and forgotten Benna’s 32nd birthday. Several days before the party, he abandoned the project entirely when Nel, arriving one afternoon to deliver a crate of persimmons and a promised tutorial on sequin-sewing, pointed out that the dragon’s fifty-foot trunk was much too narrow: “You’ll be lucky to squeeze a toddler down that tube, sweetie, much less your pa.”
When they got home, Yon turned up the air-conditioning and Benna sold the Sleep EZ certificate instantly in an online auction to a woman in Poughkeepsie. She got close to the full printed value for it too. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon. Good to be inside after the gray and pointless shopping expedition. In the bedroom, Benna took off her sandals and T-shirt and lay down on her back on the rectangular bed. Cool air from the overhead fan lapped at strands of her peroxide bob and made ripples on the pale blue rectangular quilt, another wedding present, from her stepmother’s oldest friend, who had also supplied matching rectangular sheets in heavy cotton.
Benna shuffled over to the right side of the bed and turned to face the wall. Always on the right side. Whatever bed in whatever room, Benna always slept on the right side. Couldn’t sleep on the left.
“Why?”
“I always sleep on the right.”
“Is that right as you’re looking at the bed or right as you’re on the bed looking out?”
“Same thing.”
“No it isn’t.”
“Oh. Right. I mean right as you’re looking at the bed. Always.”
“What would you do if I slept on your side of the bed?”
“You wouldn’t dare.”
There was one night, in Yon’s memory, when his wife and he had switched sides. It happened when they were living with Yon’s father, two years before they were married. Yon’s dad was coming out of his fourth divorce at the time and had just met Nel. He wasn’t home much. Benna, who had lost five of her best clients in one week to a rival personal nutrition consultant, went out with some friends that night and did tequila slammers with a magazine editor or newspaper reporter or someone like that. Yon had also been out. But there’s only so much $8-a-bottle beer -- ice cold and peptic-fizzy to disguise the fact that there is no taste -- that can be drunk in one evening at the ballpark. When Yon got home, Benna was lying face down on the bed. On the left hand side.
Yon only vaguely noticed Benna’s position. They had been living together for a few months, each one keeping, night after night, to the same side of the bed, for no particular reason, he thought, just an organic co-habitation thing, like him drinking coffee out of the mug with his zodiac sign on it and her drinking coffee out of the mug with the college arms on it; each one sticking to his or her pre-living-together habits. These were almost imperceptible behaviors, barely worth thinking about really. Yon brushed his teeth, took off his clothes, crawled in next to Benna. Her body felt warm and slightly damp to the touch. He fell asleep.
Benna threw up quietly in the night, apparently without waking up. The next day she washed the rectangular sheets and grieved.
“Hello You.”
“Huh?”
“You OK?”
“No. Not really.”
“What’s up?”
“Hmm?”
“What’s up? You OK?”
“No. Not really. I have a headache. I feel slow.”
“How come?”
“I don’t know. I get like this when,”
“When what?”
“Sometimes I just get out of bed on the wrong side.”
Last summer, Yon and Benna were shopping for castors to attach to the legs of a side table for the garden. Yon had fashioned the table out of a silver dustbin lid and four empty bottles of Chilean Pinot Noir, smeared in concrete and encrusted with small, colorful ceramic mosaic squares that jutted out at awkward angles against the contours of the bottles. Yon spent an entire afternoon battering the ridged steel lid to flatness with a mallet. The process of transforming the lid created a deafening noise. Benna sat in the garden on a wicker recliner all the while, alternately reading a book about vitamin supplements and regarding her husband. WormyThe metallic clanging pleased Benna: it overrode the headachy listlessness that had been haunting her all morning. When the lid was as flat as a Pre-Copernican map and pockmarked like a steel drum, the couple went to Vendea.
The trip to Vendea was not to be undertaken lightly. The store’s signature concrete and Perspex dome, a hallmark of Vendea stores worldwide, was its own city-state, a sprawling landscape of chunky-cheerful furniture and flexible fixtures that were cheap and looked it but had come to define the homes of students and newlyweds all over the globe. The store was located about ten miles outside the city center and always packed with people. You could walk for hours around Vendea and never cross the same couch or toothbrush holder twice. Inside, the place was pedestrian friendly. There were ergonomic lime green chairs to sit on, and a couple of cafes in which shoppers consumed ice-cream sundaes and hotdogs at tables tastefully decorated with skinny, test-tube vases cradling single marigold stems. There were even several roomy play areas equipped with teddy bear-shaped climbing frames made of ultra-strong plastic and playpens full of lightweight lime green plastic spheres, into which small children dived head-first, and weary parents rummaged for lost sandals.
No buses or trains stopped at Vendea or even came close to the building. The store was completely inaccessible to anyone without four wheels. Yon and Benna had to rent a car to get there. It wouldn’t have been worth the effort but for the fact that Vendea was the only place in the area – perhaps the entire country -- that sold the castors that had occupied Yon’s thoughts in the weeks since he had created the three-dimensional models for the table using a bootlegged copy of the design software stolen from the architectural firm where he worked. It had taken a long time and a great deal of effort to track these castors down.
Now that he had found what he was looking for, Yon was not dealing with the thought of sitting in the car all the way to Vendea very well. He had taken a couple of painkillers and a sleeping pill, and still an ugly acid fear rose from his gut to his throat, stinging his tonsils, making him wish he’d had them removed.
“What if I drive out there and pick ’em up on my own? You don’t have to come, you know.”
“You know there’s nothing I’d rather do than stay here.”
“So stay.”
“You don’t get it.”
“I don’t?”
“I was all set on buying the pearly glass ones, but there’s a slight chance that the durable plastic might be better. I wasn’t thinking about wood at all, but then I saw that they have wooden castors in three varieties: beech, oak, and maple veneer, which might be even better. But you just can’t tell what to get from the catalogue and you can’t order the things online or over the phone, so it’s not like I can send them back if they don’t work. So I don’t have any choice. I’ve got to come.”
“Not if you throw up like last time.”
“Last time when?”
“When we drove to Dad and Nel’s wedding. You cried all the way to Breyville. I had to stop the car on the hard shoulder to let you out. You vomited in the grass. It took me an hour to persuade you to get back in. We were late for the ceremony.”
“I don’t know. From the moment I woke up that day, I felt off.”
“Right.”
“Got out of bed on the wrong side, that’s all.”
Dressed in a loose hooded sweatshirt and sweatpants, Yon lay on his side in the back of the car with the windows down. The narrow seat was not big enough to accommodate his wiry frame, so Yon’s knees were tucked close to his chest. When one foot slipped off the seat and fell into the trough below, as it did from time to time, especially on the bends, Yon yanked it back towards his body as if he’d been stung. Benna drove. Yon visualized pearly castors behind closed lids. Benna tilted the rear-view mirror down, and glanced into it unnecessarily frequently. Both breathed slowly, deeply.
Yon and Benna spent an hour getting to Vendea. Benna had to pull over twice to let Yon out for fresh air. Including the time it took for Yon to recover from his automotive ordeal, another hour was consumed in search of the castor section. A sales assistant wearing a radioactive smile and crisp lime green T-shirt eventually pointed it out. The castors lay in plain plywood trunks adjacent to the bed linen section. Yon picked up a pearly glass castor and blew air at it, sending it skittering round and round on its axis like a pinwheel. He put it back. Next he studied, intensely, a pair of wooden castors in contrasting veneers. And put them back a few moments later. Some shiny black wheels with white enamel centers caught his eye. Not quite right. He went back to the original idea. The pearly castors looked good against the mosaic squares, he thought, matching one to a swatch of tiles. Yon looked to Benna for a second opinion, but his wife had wandered off and was standing a few feet away staring at a rack of bed linens.
“What do you think of these castors? Don’t you think they’ll look great with the ceramic and steel.”
“Look.”
“Look at what?”
“This.”
“What?”
“These sheets.”
“We don’t need sheets. We need castors.”
Benna grabbed a packet of bed linens from the rack and held them up an inch away from Yon’s nose.
“I can’t believe it.”
“No way.”
Benna opened the packet and pulled out a starchy white sheet and ran her fingers frenetically around its edges as if she were reading Braille. The sheet had no corners. Benna lurched for the nearest sales assistant.
“Excuse me please.
“Can I help you?"
“I was wondering: do you have a bed to match these sheets?”

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