Bed with no sheets

Ernestina Anchorena: Bandadas

I smoke a cigarette under the linden tree. I smoke, almost swallowing it. It is a warm November night and the kids are in bed. There is silence. I glance toward the house, all the windows are dark except for mine. As in so many other nights, I imagine myself talking to you. I tell you about my day, I narrate it to you: the alarm clock went off at six thirty. Waking up is always a relief, I stop dreaming about you. I stayed in bed half awake for another five minutes: two to remember who I am (yes, I know, you think I am full of drama), and another three minutes to mentally organise the day’s chores and finally get rid of the bad taste of waking up. I imagine you´d say: that’s the key, honey. I swear that if there were a pill that could lobotomise my nightmares, I would take it right away. A smooth brain. Without the folds and dark corners that trap the thought, “I miss you, I miss you, I miss you”, until it’s strangled and drained through the black spout that is my conscience, diluting it as it drains out. At the sixth minute after the ring-ring, ting-ting, I made a huge effort to push back the image of our bed with no sheets, that was sneaking out of those folds. I know, we hurt no one. However, from your eyes, my life seems so easy. We argue. I hesitate whether to tell you or not, that while I was making an effort to wake up and return to my reality, I could sense the echo of the previous night´s nightmare: me telling Juana, my neighbour, about my pirouettes on that bed with no sheets and just then my sister-in-law ringing the bell, bringing me smack back to reality. I would never tell Juana about you because Juana, apart from being my neighbour and my friend, is a friend of other friends, and a friend cannot hold the weight of a confidence by herself, Juana would have to lighten her load with another friend.

I was not sure I should tell you that part, because there are things about me I won’t share, because with you, I can invent myself.
I spent a minute dowsing my face in cold water, allowing my mind to finish building walls around my mind. Then I wetted and smoothed my bangs; toothpaste in my mouth, three rinses. I turned toward my pure reality, I could now celebrate it was Monday at last and start seeing the day from beginning to end, from top to bottom, from dawn to dusk; with each of this Monday’s chores, identical to any other Monday’s.
I saw myself in the mirror. I didn’t intend to, I saw myself when I bent down to get my slippers from the bottom shelf. I was definitely not the same woman that I see from your eyes. Then, slippers, flip, flop, and down the stairs I went in my comfy sleeveless undershirt and panties, which in the bed with no sheets, flew through the air, onto the floor in no time at all. I heated water for coffee. Took the milk out of the fridge, putting my nose in the corner of the milk carton to make sure it had not turned sour during the night. It was good. I got the butter. Flip, flop, dragging my slippers towards my children’s bedroom.
Well, yes, one has children.
And in spite of how much one complains: Thank goodness! Right? Kids make us feel we are in the world for an irrefutable reason. Time to get up, get up, come on, come on, and I opened the curtains. The youngest said she was feeling sick, really sick. I looked for the thermometer. Ninety-six point four. You need one more degree to have a fever, I told her. And while I picked up the dirty clothes from the floor, I preached about responsibility: don’t be silly, it’s much worse to be absent, then you get behind and you won’t understand what is going on in class. She insisted: really, mom, I feel so bad, I swear it upon my life (as exaggerated as her mother, you would say).
I didn’t give in; now hugging the big pile of dirty laundry, I again gave a long-winded speech about responsibility, look at your dad, I said, how he works so hard for us. Really, going to school is the only responsibility you have. I finally managed to have her dressed, having her chocolate milk and toasts with butter with the rest of the children. I felt a little remorse. The poor thing had such a face! But one has to teach them to be brave and that the things you have to do, you have to do.
Besides, it was Monday: the house would be all mine at last.
I prepared the lunch boxes and, as a surprise, I put a coin in each lunch box to buy a snack during recess.
They left.
The best moment of the day was just beginning, wasn’t it? The quiet house just for me, because my husband, who would have taken another hour to leave, was on a business trip. Flip, flop to the little wicker couch next to the window. I put my feet under the cushion, with coffee cup in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Monday: the end of Saturday and Sunday and children yelling and running around and jumping here and there and the mother-in-law criticising the salads even though I had prepared her favorite, Creole salad, made with onions and peppers of three different colors, though I had forgotten to soak the onions and she could taste them all afternoon. What am I telling you? That the day was still pale and the grass had an off-white frost that looked more like chalk dust than ice. I play the poet. I narrate as if every event in one´s life would have a special meaning. A blue bird was pecking at the grass. How come he does not freeze? I wondered, distracted in my Monday joy with steaming-cup in hand and finding the poetic meaning of details. I then realized that the white dust on the grass was not frost but the reflection of the sun’s rays that at that moment were shining somewhere else beyond my garden. We are in November I thought, and it does not freeze in November in this part of the world. The bird was fat-chested with majestic blue feathers. Dazzling. In my poetic mood I felt that the bird and I, in that quiet morning, understood each other. It was probably there to tell me something, bring me a message. But I did not know what. It stood on its outstretched legs and leaned its head backwards in a condescending way, as if looking down on me. Then: zap! The little bird pecked the grass and suddenly a worm hanged from its beak.
As my husband was away, I could stay in bed a bit longer and allow myself a break, forgetting about finding the poetic meaning of things. I still had four hours of my quiet time to make beds, put dirty laundry in the washer and pick up the weekend’s mess. I never go back to bed after the kids leave, there’s always so much to do and I dread the nightmares. It takes so much effort to put them out of my mind. But that Monday with no husband in the house I could not resist the temptation of lying in bed for a little while longer, conjuring up your bed with no sheets, even with the mess all around me. Until the doorbell rang. The ring was so insistent that I had no time to put on my robe. It was Juana. She arrived with the twins in the stroller. She was crying, I gave her a cup of coffee. She sobbed so hard I could not understand a word she said. I gave her another coffee but she refused the buttered toast because she was fat. By now she was bawling and her eyes were narrow slits. I slowly began to understand her and it all had to do with her weight. Diets did not work for her, she said. I don´t think she is that fat, but you know, nowadays, magazines and TV expect us all to be skin and bones.
You because you are thin, she said. I smoke a cigarette under the linden tree. I smoke, almost swallowing it. It is a warm November night and the kids are in bed. There is silence. I glance toward the house, all the windows are dark except for mine. As in so many other nights, I imagine myself talking to you. I tell you about my day, I narrate it to you: the alarm clock went off at six thirty. Waking up is always a relief, I stop dreaming about you. I stayed in bed half awake for another five minutes: two to remember who I am (yes, I know, you think I am full of drama), and another three minutes to mentally organise the day’s chores and finally get rid of the bad taste of waking up. I imagine you´d say: that’s the key, honey. I swear that if there were a pill that could lobotomise my nightmares, I would take it right away. A smooth brain. Without the folds and dark corners that trap the thought, “I miss you, I miss you, I miss you”, until it’s strangled and drained through the black spout that is my conscience, diluting it as it drains out. At the sixth minute after the ring-ring, ting-ting, I made a huge effort to push back the image of our bed with no sheets, that was sneaking out of those folds. I know, we hurt no one. However, from your eyes, my life seems so easy. We argue. I hesitate whether to tell you or not, that while I was making an effort to wake up and return to my reality, I could sense the echo of the previous night´s nightmare: me telling Juana, my neighbour, about my pirouettes on that bed with no sheets and just then my sister-in-law ringing the bell, bringing me smack back to reality. I would never tell Juana about you because Juana, apart from being my neighbour and my friend, is a friend of other friends, and a friend cannot hold the weight of a confidence by herself, Juana would have to lighten her load with another friend.
I was not sure I should tell you that part, because there are things about me I won’t share, because with you, I can invent myself.
I spent a minute dowsing my face in cold water, allowing my mind to finish building walls around my mind. Then I wetted and smoothed my bangs; toothpaste in my mouth, three rinses. I turned toward my pure reality, I could now celebrate it was Monday at last and start seeing the day from beginning to end, from top to bottom, from dawn to dusk; with each of this Monday’s chores, identical to any other Monday’s.
I saw myself in the mirror. I didn’t intend to, I saw myself when I bent down to get my slippers from the bottom shelf. I was definitely not the same woman that I see from your eyes. Then, slippers, flip, flop, and down the stairs I went in my comfy sleeveless undershirt and panties, which in the bed with no sheets, flew through the air, onto the floor in no time at all. I heated water for coffee. Took the milk out of the fridge, putting my nose in the corner of the milk carton to make sure it had not turned sour during the night. It was good. I got the butter. Flip, flop, dragging my slippers towards my children’s bedroom.
Well, yes, one has children.
And in spite of how much one complains: Thank goodness! Right? Kids make us feel we are in the world for an irrefutable reason. Time to get up, get up, come on, come on, and I opened the curtains. The youngest said she was feeling sick, really sick. I looked for the thermometer. Ninety-six point four. You need one more degree to have a fever, I told her. And while I picked up the dirty clothes from the floor, I preached about responsibility: don’t be silly, it’s much worse to be absent, then you get behind and you won’t understand what is going on in class. She insisted: really, mom, I feel so bad, I swear it upon my life (as exaggerated as her mother, you would say).
I didn’t give in; now hugging the big pile of dirty laundry, I again gave a long-winded speech about responsibility, look at your dad, I said, how he works so hard for us. Really, going to school is the only responsibility you have. I finally managed to have her dressed, having her chocolate milk and toasts with butter with the rest of the children. I felt a little remorse. The poor thing had such a face! But one has to teach them to be brave and that the things you have to do, you have to do.
Besides, it was Monday: the house would be all mine at last.
I prepared the lunch boxes and, as a surprise, I put a coin in each lunch box to buy a snack during recess.
They left.
The best moment of the day was just beginning, wasn’t it? The quiet house just for me, because my husband, who would have taken another hour to leave, was on a business trip. Flip, flop to the little wicker couch next to the window. I put my feet under the cushion, with coffee cup in one hand and the newspaper in the other. Monday: the end of Saturday and Sunday and children yelling and running around and jumping here and there and the mother-in-law criticising the salads even though I had prepared her favorite, Creole salad, made with onions and peppers of three different colors, though I had forgotten to soak the onions and she could taste them all afternoon. What am I telling you? That the day was still pale and the grass had an off-white frost that looked more like chalk dust than ice. I play the poet. I narrate as if every event in one´s life would have a special meaning. A blue bird was pecking at the grass. How come he does not freeze? I wondered, distracted in my Monday joy with steaming-cup in hand and finding the poetic meaning of details. I then realized that the white dust on the grass was not frost but the reflection of the sun’s rays that at that moment were shining somewhere else beyond my garden. We are in November I thought, and it does not freeze in November in this part of the world. The bird was fat-chested with majestic blue feathers. Dazzling. In my poetic mood I felt that the bird and I, in that quiet morning, understood each other. It was probably there to tell me something, bring me a message. But I did not know what. It stood on its outstretched legs and leaned its head backwards in a condescending way, as if looking down on me. Then: zap! The little bird pecked the grass and suddenly a worm hanged from its beak.
As my husband was away, I could stay in bed a bit longer and allow myself a break, forgetting about finding the poetic meaning of things. I still had four hours of my quiet time to make beds, put dirty laundry in the washer and pick up the weekend’s mess. I never go back to bed after the kids leave, there’s always so much to do and I dread the nightmares. It takes so much effort to put them out of my mind. But that Monday with no husband in the house I could not resist the temptation of lying in bed for a little while longer, conjuring up your bed with no sheets, even with the mess all around me. Until the doorbell rang. The ring was so insistent that I had no time to put on my robe. It was Juana. She arrived with the twins in the stroller. She was crying, I gave her a cup of coffee. She sobbed so hard I could not understand a word she said. I gave her another coffee but she refused the buttered toast because she was fat. By now she was bawling and her eyes were narrow slits. I slowly began to understand her and it all had to do with her weight. Diets did not work for her, she said. I don´t think she is that fat, but you know, nowadays, magazines and TV expect us all to be skin and bones.
You because you are thin, she said.

Last Friday had been Juana’s birthday and I had brought a vanilla cake with chocolate frosting. Juana was blowing the candles when her husband told her: Tuck your tummy in, will you?
I could have killed him. Idiot!
But, today, I found the subject boring. It did not seem an issue to be crying about in your friend’s kitchen. I would like to be fat. To eat and eat instead of driving myself crazy having fictitious conversations with you like last night. And, cigarettes.
One has certain rights, said Juana, Don’t you think? Sex at least once a week. I don´t ask for much.
Now I was interested.
She told me the night before (that is, on Sunday), she had seduced her husband into making love with music and two brand new blue candles. She was on top, about to get what had been slipping away from her for so long, when her husband said: You look like a Buddha.
Suddenly, I don’t know why, maybe to give her hope, maybe to help her live above her husband’s indifference and meanness, I told her. Me, the listener, the one who always keeps things inside, all of a sudden decides to open her big mouth.
Juana looked at me with eyes open as wide as lemons. The twins sucking their pacifiers also looked at me, as if they understood. Juana no longer cried, she rubbed her hands together and said we had to celebrate. She went to the cupboard and brought out chocolate cookies.
You jerk, she said, you jerk. You kept a secret. Tell me.
I told her everything in great detail. Blame it on being half-awake when there is so much to do, with my eyes barely open from sleep and not being able to be alert. The house was a total mess and I in my underwear and tank top, and the bell ringing again. If it is my sister-in-law, I dreamt it, I told Juana. Murphy´s law, obviously. I saw my sister-in-law through the little window next to the door. I lowered my head and went back to the kitchen. Shh, I told Juana with a finger across my mouth. I wanted to muzzle the twins that were crawling on the tiled floor. If the twins made a noise and my sister-in-law stuck her face against the kitchen window and realized I had not gone out to the supermarket as I would tell her later. Even worse if she saw me in my underwear at ten thirty in the morning with my hair standing on end: lyrics for my husband´s complaints.
Another ring.
Juana covered her mouth with both hands to hide her laughter. It seemed as if my friend had arrived turned off and now was on. Because of my story, obviously. She forgot about herself as a victim and she was already seeing herself as the prima donna among the others, because she had such a big story to tell. We do that, we compete for tales about the ones not there, don’t we? As soon as we got rid of my sister-in-law, I told her: you will go around telling my story and you´ll tell a different story than the one I told you, I know because I dreamt about it.
The twins had fallen asleep in the baby carriage with their pacifiers, one in front of the other.
No way, I won’t tell. I’m your friend, trust me, said Juana. And begged for details.
She wanted to know if in the bed with no sheets he gave me time and if he had his own particular scent and if he did this or that and where did you find him and if he gave me the feeling that having me was the best thing that had happened to him in his whole life. That would certainly make me lose weight, she said.
All of a sudden my story sounded dirty. Although I dyed it with the color of adventure, my mouth began to stretch upward on its own accord, into a smile, and I described her the sweet and slow caresses along the spine with the palms his hands, as if done with a feather, the kisses on the ears, the words, “I cannot believe my luck,” and my tears of gratefulness.
Then I went silent. Juana waited. She waited for what, I wondered.
You fell in love, she said.
The kitchen floor was cold. I stood up. I put a tea towel on the tiled floor under my feet and sat down again and lit a cigarette.
That´s not it, I said, not convinced she would understand.
Of course, she said. To have the leading role.
Don’t start with your own fantasy of a bed with no sheets, I said suddenly. It is even worse. Then you go about your life with the bitter taste of frustration.
Because of the guilt? She asked.
Because of the pain caused by my imagination, I said.
She did not understand, she could not understand. She insisted: I do not ask for much.
Neither you nor I have the means for a divorce.
Who talked about divorce, she said.
What would you achieve, I continued, as if she had not interrupted me; a home without a husband but everything else remains the same, only you are a divorcée that every once in a while gets a bed with no sheets. Once it is allowed it is not the same, now you can talk about a relationship that grows and of a future.
You can say that because you are skinny, said Juana.
I cursed the moment I opened my mouth. What does being thin or fat have to do with anything? I said. What kind of future do you have once your kids are you ex-husband’s kids? You are not going to bring the guy into the house. First, because your kids would give you a hard time and second, too much rain muddies the waters.
Who said anything about splitting up? Said Juana.
Bed with no sheets and sneaking around, I yelled. You go about your day with a knot in your stomach, your head somewhere else, always wanting what you do not have and again you get repetitiveness. You always get repetitiveness.
What’s wrong?, she said.
Just like my husband, always asking me what is wrong as if asking me if I am dumb. So I said: There’s nothing wrong with me, I am just saying that wanting what is not real, hurts even more.
I realized I was yelling, but I could not lower my voice.
You fell in love, she said.
Juana didn’t get it. At first, in the bed with no sheets everything is agreeable, but, all of a sudden, you end up back again doing everything. There, you also end up begging to be loved.
I don´t ask for much, she insisted.
The twins woke up crying, they needed to be fed. Juana stared at me, in expectation. But I had already said too much. She left saying she would call me in the afternoon. I said tomorrow, I had too much to do.
I went upstairs to get dressed and I pushed myself to put the house back together, wash everything and hang it up straight and smooth on the clothesline, wash the sneakers until they turned white again and as punishment for my big mouth, cook semolina gnocchi that I find so hard to make. I would leave my musings for the night, for my time under the linden tree with cigarette in hand, just like tonight, looking back at the house talking to the air and making up our conversation. Though tonight it sounds different. I realize that I know your remarks by heart, your expressions, your teases showing off how smart you are and at the same time making my innocence, feebleness and cowardice obvious. I know I will be submissive. I am fully aware of the enormous gap between you and the man I invent. You would never fit in his shoes.
I feel I have grown old.