Gris-Gris, an online journal of literature, culture & the arts

The Weight of Air

by Chrys Darkwater

Stanley fingered the Do-Not-Remove-Under-Penalty-of-Law tag on the mattress while the salesman rattled on about the differences between pillow-tops and summit-tops, coil counts and stitching patterns, and Diane nodded and uh-huh’ed at all the right times.

The salesman clasped his hands together and nodded as if answering a question. “This is a great bed. It’ll last ten, fifteen years easy. “

Stanley’s eyes moved from the salesman to the mattress to Diane to nowhere in particular, focused on nothing, the store reduced to a fluorescent-lit fuzziness. Outside, past her, past the salesman, Stanley could see people on the sidewalk, frozen, all of them staring in the same direction. The tinted glass of the store window muted everything, the day blanched to a shade that intimated rain.

“So what’s the word? Should I go ahead and ring this puppy up?”

Diane shrugged with her face, a lazy rise and fall of the eyebrows, a small pinch and release of the lips. “Maybe you could give us a minute to look around a little more,” she said.

“Sure, sure. But the sale ends tonight.” An undertow of sadness rolled beneath his words. He looked down at his watch as if the day could end at any minute, any second.

When he was out of earshot, Stanley laughed. “He should sell used-cars.”

Diane punched him on the shoulder. “I think he’s sweet.”

“Ten to fifteen years.” Stanley shook his head. “Sounds like a prison sentence.”

Diane turned away without saying anything. She dragged the tips of her fingers along the edges of the various shades of off-white mattresses as she slowly wandered away from him. She looked like she should be the one selling mattresses. She had the small but precise hand-gesture flourishes of a TV-model showing off the latest in sleep technology.

“The Do-Not-Remove tag,” Stanley said. “You cut it off and the Mattress Police come and take you away.” His words trailed behind her like small waves breaking.

As Stanley got closer to the front of the store, he heard the yelling, muffled and distant and still somehow clear. A couple arguing. Stanley knew what was being said just by the sound of it. He felt it like tiny glass splinters just underneath the skin. Sirens approached from the distance.

“Ten to fifteen years,” he said. “I’ve never had anything last that long.”

Diane flounced backwards onto a too soft pillow-top bed, arms stretched out wide, and lay there unmoving. “You have socks older than that,” she said.

He thought of saying something but the words dried to dust on his lips and died there, unspoken, and he swallowed them back down like chewed up aspirin, bright and bitter. “It’s a pretty big investment,” he said.

“It’s not buying a house.”

“More like buying a dog.”

“It’s not even close to the same thing. A dog is a living, breathing thing.”

Stanley sighed. “Still a big step.”

Outside, a man staggered into view, one hand pressed against the side of his head. People kept their distance, but their eyes remained on him. Blood leaked between his fingers. A woman followed, one hand extended into an accusing finger, the other held both a paper coffee cup and a cigarette in a delicate balance. Her face looked calm even though it was clear she was yelling.

Diane looked outside before turning away from the window. She inhaled loudly, exhaled, eyes closed. “He really liked this one.”

Stanley looked at the price-tag before he let it fall away. “I’m sure he’d like the commission.”

She opened her eyes long enough to roll them.

“I thought you liked a firmer mattress?”

“But I do like this one.”

An ambulance pulled up, but still no police, though Stanley knew it was only a matter of time. The man argued, arms articulating his arguments, flailing, fingers twisted like claws while the paramedics tried to strap him onto the stretcher. The whites of his eyes seemed to glow, pushing out through the mask of blood. The woman alternated between drags of her cigarette and sipping from the lipstick-smeared rim of her coffee-cup. She flicked the ash from her cigarette with a practiced nonchalance, the smallest of gestures separating fire from ash.

Stanley and Diane looked at each other, both of them closing their eyes as they shook their heads as if to clear them.

Diane closed her eyes. “It’s like sleeping on air, like sleeping on a cloud.”

“I’d think that’d be more like falling.”

Diane cracked one eye open briefly and shook her head, a whisper of movement.

The woman outside ran a finger along the edge of her cup, rubbed at what was left behind.   It smeared and ran, still there but diminished. Warped circles of smoke hung in the air before being slowly pulled apart by their own weight.

“Head-wounds,” Stanley said.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing bleeds like a head-wound. Might not kill you, but it’ll bleed like a mother.”

“You’re an expert on traumatic head injuries are you?”

Stanley scratched his head. “I guess I had my share.”

“Obviously,” she said, the sound of her voice a distant cousin to laughter.

“Obviously,” he said.

Diane kept her eyes closed. Her face was placid, like she was on the precipice of sleep. “It really is like sleeping on air.”

Stanley stared at her, watched her chest fill with air then release it, the rising and falling. “

“He’ll be fine,” Stanley said.

“What’s that?”

Before Stanley could answer, the salesman glided up between them. “So what’s the word?” He rubbed his hands together as if to warm them. “Should I go ahead and ring this up for you?” he said.