Ten years is a long time to keep a mattress. Our bodies must sleep at least six hours each night and sometimes we nap; a mattress must be able to support the weight of a life in dreaming. At 6 years old, how could I have understood the short lives of mattresses? At that age, I had yet to outlive one. Once my mother was out of sight, I would jump on the nearest bed and bounce, the springs groaning and squealing under a little girl trying to fly.
. . .
Itís true. At that age, you have yet to understand limits. You havenít seen the beginning, you havenít seen the end, opines Jimmy as he peers over my shoulder.
. . .
Across the street from the Emiliano Zapata Street Academy and a tiny high-steepled red church, we bounce and frown while the mattress-seller watches patiently, commenting droopily in a Midwestern accent. Like Jimmyís parents had stressed, The most important purchases in oneís life are shoes and mattresses.
Yet the firmness of a mattress, the price of a certain brand, the quantity of springs - these practical details are difficult to mind; pragmatic I am not. Other details attract, the sort ignored by those more serious about the business of mattresses, mundane details, like the dust on fake flower petals or the features of a calendar pin-up girl - Vietnamese, rouged and blue-eyed. Contacts or real, I wonder. The copy of Left Behind, a Christian drama starring Kurt Cameron. The stickers for credit card companies, arranged in a cross behind the mattress-sellerís chair. The flick of a cyclo and its driver, taped to a wall. The framed studio photo of a couple, propped on the dresser next to the mattress we would buy.
I recognize the woman. Sheís the Vietnamese florist next door, selling miniature stars-and-stripes alongside orchids, miniature ferns, and pedestrian roses, the kind that you see, cellopane-bundled, in supermarket refrigerators next to shiny Mylar balloons and this weekís special. I wonder, briefly, if she had her hair permed on the day the photo was snapped.
. . .
Nestled in a cul-de-sac in my novel is a small, two-bedroom house painted yellow with pink trim. In the front yard a Red Delicious apple tree sheds blossom. The rooms are painted fresh cream. Under a bed lies a suitcase from the 60s, dusty, vinyl and white; there are secrets latched within.