It is a good day to buy a bed because it’s Tuesday and the shops are quiet. It’s also 71 nice bed-buying weather: it’s grey and blustery, but it’s not raining and I can smell the earth stirring beneath the grass as if it’s being touched. It feels like you could peel away the clouds to reveal a purer, bluer kind of morning, if you knew how. As we walk to the second-hand furniture shop, John turns his face to the wind and breathes in and says, you can smell the spring coming, can’t you? My stomach twists, it’s only three months now and I’m still a stone away from target and I wish that were the reason I am sometimes so terrified.
It’s an important thing, to have a good bed, like good, proper people, I say to John and he laughs at me, as usual. I am joking, in a way, but our bed has been tormenting me for some time now. Springs poke into my back and I get hot and sweaty from tossing and turning while John lies sleeping like a big hairy baby. I’ve been phoning the council’s furniture recycling scheme and looking on websites for people giving away beds for months now. But I can’t seem to find anything. And then last night I couldn’t sleep again and when I eventually did, I dreamt I had really long, claw-like fingers with sharp, lethal fingernails, like in The Witches. I dreamt that I ripped through the mattress with my claws, plucked out the bed springs one by one, and chewed on them, as if they were spare ribs. I woke with the feel of the springs splintering meatily in my mouth.
John says, let’s try find a big, old, oak four-poster that we can restore and talk about when we are featured in the Style supplement. I laugh because I’m always imagining being featured in a newspaper about my ‘lifestyle’. John thinks that’s hilarious, and it is. But it would be nice.
We go to the second-hand furniture shop and there is not a bed to behold. People use up beds. John goes up to the girl at the desk to ask if they expect to get any beds in. She should tell him they never get any and even if they do they are bound to be banjaxed, but she doesn’t. She giggles and says no, but if he leaves his number, she’ll be sure to call him if they do get anything in. She has hair that is blonde and messy in a complicated way. She is about eighteen and beautiful and working part-time in a charity shop to observe human nature as she writes her first poetry collection. Probably. She should write a poem about me. I’m good at being written about.
‘C’mon my bedfellow.’
John pulls me by the hand out of the shop. He bounds a lot, my mother once pointed that out.
‘What next?’ I say, smiling, but I am also firm, like a really nice teacher.
‘Noooo,’ John is laughing but I know he’s not happy about this.
‘It’s time, we need to own our own bed. I want our bed to be our own, at least.’
I am surprised by how rational that sounds. But really, it is not unreasonable to want to own one’s own bed.
‘Okay, I suppose, it’s okay.’
‘You could write about it, John.’
‘I wouldn’t want people to know. I hate buying cheap crap in these places.’
‘Oh don’t be such a snob.’
‘I thought you loved my pretensions.’
‘Not more than sleep.’
I am a bit cross with John. I feel bad for not earning half as much money as he does and he knows that. But one of the rules of Things One of Us Always Feels Bad About is that the other person should never mention any of those things in an insensitive way and should always pretend such things are Not a Big Deal. I also feel bad for being shit at restoring things like beds.
We sit on the upper deck of the bus to the furniture superstore. The blustery spring freshness has moistened to misty rain. The city is grey and the sky dog-eared. There is no one on the bus so there are no conversations to listen in to. John is listening to music. I start thinking again about how I tried to avoid this trip, how I checked out all those recycling websites for people giving away beds and rang the council waste scheme and everything. I feel better when I think about this because I know that I tried, at least. Then I stop thinking about furniture because we’re going in the direction of Howth, and this reminds me of going out there a couple of years ago with John when I was just after finishing my post-grad and I’d won a prize for my exhibition piece. We drank cheap red wine out of Ribena bottles on the way and we were so tipsy walking around the hill of Howth that at one stage I thought we were both going to fall into the sea. I remember thinking how silly that would be, to fall into the sea when everything was so fantastic and the day was so gorgeous and blue. The heather was purple and it was August and I made John laugh by sticking my face in it to smell it, even though it smelled of pretty much nothing and was prickly.
It’s full of fat people, this shop. The beds don’t look as if they were made for fat people though: the mattresses are cheap and some of the boards don’t look like they would stand up to much in the way of strain. The light is too bright and the floor is dirty. But it’s all quite funny, in a way. I look at John, smiling, and say, Not exactly what Modern Brides would have in mind, but he frowns. I then feel guilty for laughing at these people.
We approach a salesman. He’s middle-aged with a round, neat belly and a stubby pencil behind his ear. He looks like the kind of man who dreams of getting into training greyhounds.
‘Yis lookin for a bed, is it?’
We nod. I smile.
‘Well, yis have come to the right place, so.’
I keep smiling.
‘Are yis movin in together or lookin for an upgrade, so to speak?’
He laughs uproariously. They are enviable, these moon-faced, middle-aged men who slap their thighs at the hilarity of their own jokes.
‘Well, actually, we’ve been living together for some years now, but we’re getting married in May and we need a new bed. We want to see the best you have.’
I sound like a lady of the manor picking out a hat. Or a horse, maybe.
The man looks delighted and slightly worried.
‘Well now, that’s great. So the matrimonial… eh… nest then… so to speak. Well, we’re proud to help.’
John is quiet. He’s thinking about the gig tonight, I know. Or the feature he’s working on for next week. He takes my hand as the salesman leads us to a corner of the warehouse.
‘It’s not so bad, I suppose,’ John says. ‘We might find something half-decent. Don’t feel bad about it.’
The salesman shows us the cream of the crop, the most expensive bed in the warehouse.
It’s a perfectly ordinary bed, without a headboard, an ordinary plastic-shrouded mattress on top of a polyester covered base. It’s exactly the same as the bed we have at home, the bed belonging to the landlord, the bed we’ve slept in together for four and a half years, the bed with the springs that poke me in the small of the back. Even the pattern on the base is the same—a sort of blue and red check, like a tablecloth in a picture book.
I can’t believe it.
‘What, I am looking. It seems alright.’
I clamber onto the bed. The salesman wanders off, quite tactfully, I have to say. The seat of his trousers is very tight and the material very shiny. John gets onto the bed beside me.
‘Well?’ I’m aware my voice is shrill. I feel a bit hot.
‘Well, it’s grand. Do you want to get it?’
He looks at me, confused.
‘John, this is the exact same bed as the one at home. Even the pattern on the mattress is the same. And the base.’
I expect him to laugh. He frowns.
‘Well that’s a bit shit, isn’t it? Waste of time coming out here if this is the best they have.’
I don’t say anything. I feel very tired, all of a sudden. John gets up. Change jangles in his pocket.
‘Let’s go so. We’ll get a bed after the wedding, when I’ve a bit more cash.’
He holds out his hand to help me off the bed.
We wait for the bus in the rain. It’s getting dark. John is humming one of the songs from his set. He doesn’t seem to feel the cold.
I don’t go to the gig. John is surprised but I don’t feel like it. If I go I will get drunk because getting drunk makes me extremely happy. But in the mornings, after drinking, I wake with fear and dread and guilt. I used to think it was because it reminds me of all the times I’ve woken up after drunken nights beside different men in strange beds. But I think I’d like to think that is the reason, when the truth is I don’t feel one bit guilty about all that. Sometimes, when me and John aren’t getting on, it makes me feel better to think that I have had way more sexual experiences than he has.
I sit in the apartment, quietly, with a pile of bridal magazines on the table in front of me. A bride to be, on an evening like this, should lie in the bath with glass of wine, flicking through magazines and picking out pictures for her scrapbook. I read somewhere that when you begin planning your wedding you should cut pictures that inspire you out of magazines and stick them in a scrapbook, as this will, over time, give you an idea of what you want for your wedding. I really liked that idea. Scrapbook is such a cheerful word, and cutting things out and sticking things in is a lovely activity that people should do more often. So I started, but I never really got into it, and my scrapbook only has about four pages filled.
I should have a lovely quirky wedding as I am arty and John is music-y but I can’t think of anything arty to do that doesn’t feel fake. We’re not getting married in a church and already that feels like I’m turning my wedding into an adolescent political statement. My mother said, Why can’t you pretend, like everyone else? Not me and John, I thought at the time, our wedding is going to be an authentic expression of our love, and our love doesn’t involve the Catholic church. But now I wonder if I was right. A church is such a nice, stable building. And even the premarriage course bit probably would have been okay: John would have charmed the priest and the two of us could have had great fun eating bourbon creams and pretending to be virgins.
I look at the pile of magazines. They make me anxious because they’re full of stories about people like Cathy from Bray who set up her own wedding invitation company using organic toilet roll and I always start thinking I should use my wedding to happen upon a business opportunity. And I could then be featured in a bridal magazine, smiling and looking artful.
I look at my phone. John hasn’t rung or texted me. They’d be finished their set by now, he’d be having a few pints. I make myself some tea and look out the window. The night is so beautiful, the way it is when grey, full-bellied clouds push across a black sky. I breathe in the damp, warmish air and feel guilty. I should be busy making lists and ticking things off other lists or lying in the bath with a vibrator or any of the other things you’re supposed to do when you’re twenty-nine and about to get married.
The brides on the magazine covers stare at me, cheerfully. They have white teeth and perky tits. They almost seem to be goading me, daring me to ignore them. So I pick up a magazine and start to flick through it. I pick out my favourites, the brides who look like they might be good craic, and I cut them out. I make a neat pile of cute, fun-loving brides. I then cut out my favourites from all the other magazines. When I’ve done this, I just keep going, cutting away, cutting out every bride from every magazine I can find. I’m surprised at how many I have, they’re all over the flat: under the bed, on top of the wardrobe, in the bathroom. As I work, I’m reminded of cutting out bits of felt in Arts and Crafts summer-camps with those awkward kiddy-scissors that hurt your hand. I remember weak diluted orange and soggy biscuits and the pride of finishing something that you could show your mam.
The ground is soon littered with bits of shiny paper: jagged bits of dream-honeymoons, mother of the bride hats, fat sleek cars. I cut out romantic brides, glamorous brides, classic brides, modern brides, bohemian brides, beach casual brides. As I cut, I imagine what kind of women these brides are. I imagine them as ‘sporty’, ‘slutty’, ‘intellectual’, or ‘career-driven’: clean-cut, comprehensible characters, like in a TV programme. In this way, I grow rather fond of them. When there is not a bride left in any of the magazines, I make a small hole in each of the their pretty little heads and I loop them onto a long piece of twine which I find in the bottom of the kitchen drawer. I then hang this across the living room, like a Christmas decoration. I tie one end to the curtain pole and sellotape the other to the ceiling by the door. The brides hang across the living room, a dangling row of pretty whiteness. All of this takes some time, a few hours maybe. When I finish, I feel tired so I go to bed. I am so tired that the springs in the bed don’t bother me much and I fall asleep quickly.
‘What the fuck?’
The next morning. John has just noticed the brides. He mustn’t have turned on the light last night when he came in. I am still in bed.
‘What were you doing?’
John doesn’t sound amused. John sounds annoyed. I stumble out of bed and into the living room.
He is standing in the middle of the room waving his hands towards the ceiling, the way cartoon characters do when they’re admonishing God for a terrible fate. The floor is still littered with bits of magazine pages.
‘What were you doing?’ he says again.
I don’t say anything for a minute. I look at all my lovely brides swaying slightly in the breeze from the open window. Last night, under the harsh yellow light of the kitchen, the brides were garishly white and a little threatening. But in the daylight, as the sun streams into the room picking up all the dust on the floor and on top of the telly, the brides are muted, harmless and friendly. ‘Sporty’ almost seems to wink at me. Looking at them, at my brides strung up in the air, I suddenly feel I can do anything. I feel the way I used to feel, way back in art college, way back before it all became so serious. I feel light and amused, and full of fun and hope.
John’s face is a picture of utter confusion. He looks helplessly from me to the brides. It’s actually quite funny.
So I laugh. I feel sorry for poor John, but it’s all so funny that I can’t stop laughing. I laugh the way children do, the way you do when you know you’re not supposed to, when knowing that you’re not supposed to makes it impossible to stop. ‘What are you laughing about? Is this a joke?’
‘No… well, yeah… yes a joke. That’s what it is, a joke.’
‘Well, I don’t get it.’ He’s sulky now, which is understandable. It’s not nice to be laughed at.
I try to explain. ‘I was just… I was just… bored. And looking at the magazines annoyed me. So I decided…’
‘You decided to decorate our house with brides.’
‘Yeah.’ ** ‘And you think that’s a normal thing to do?’
‘I just felt like cutting up some brides. What’s the problem?’ I’m still laughing.
‘The problem. The problem is that that’s nut-job behaviour.’
He says this quietly, like it’s a hard fact, as if in an important book somewhere, someone has written down: Cutting brides out of magazines and stringing them across the living room=nut-job behaviour.
I say nothing. John turns around and heads out the front door. I know he’s not really angry, that he’s just confused and tired, and that he’ll be back soon with some coffee. I go back to bed to wait for him.
But the springs poke me in the back. I get out of bed. I go to the kitchen and find a clean, sharp knife. I go back to the bedroom and whip the sheets off the bed. They raise up a cloud of dust which looks lovely as it swirls in the bright morning sun. I take the knife and shove it into the mattress. I pull my hand down, making a big groove in the middle of mattress. It’s difficult, and I can’t go deep because obviously you can’t cut through bed springs with a crappy old kitchen knife. But I manage to make a big rip in the surface of the mattress. It’s hard work but I manage. I then go over to the other side of the bed and cut a line down the other way. Destroying a bed seems like an impossible thing to do, until you do it. And anyway, I don’t really destroy it, the cross is really quite neat. Our bed, our springy nightmare bed, now looks like a hot cross bun. A hot cross bun bed. Or a crusader bed. It’s quite funny, really.