She filled the kettle and glanced out of the verandah doors into the garden. The grass had grown. He always cut the grass. The kettle boiled, and she poured some boiling water into the teapot, swilled it and poured it out. Then she placed an Earl Grey tea bag in the pot and filled it with just enough water for one mug of tea. Last, she put a tea cozy over the teapot.
She remembered how he made his tea, squeezing out the tea bag in his mug with a spoon. He didn't have time to play about with teapots. He never had time for small, slow details. Just like their sex. Lustful, groping, sweaty, simple. Afterwards they lay, skin touching, fingers intertwined. Sometimes, while he slept, she traced the outline of his face with her finger from his curly black hair, down his forehead, to his nose, then over his lips, to his chin. And he never woke. Her monolith.
The days were cold and dark after the funeral. One night in bed she rolled instinctively to her left, as she used to do to brush against him, and instead she rolled into the deep valley formed by his body. She smelt him on the pillows and pulled her legs to her stomach and let out a cry. When he died, all she could think was how she wished they had a child. She stared at the ceiling, unable to sleep in this bed, so she forced her feet over the edge to touch the bare cold floorboards and to stand up, and then, wrapped in the warm duvet around her shoulders, she stepped carefully through the dark to the guest bedroom.
Old magazines and papers were spread over the unmade bed. This was his make-shift office where he worked while he was ill. She pushed everything to the floor, to spill and scatter, and then lay on the hard mattress and pulled the musty pillow under her neck, and fell asleep.
She woke with a start as if someone had put a fist into her and pulled her back from the dead. At first she was confused. The curtains were open, and the sun shone into the room. For a brief moment she imagined she was back in Normandy at her grandmother’s house. Then reality pressed its weight back down on her and she thought, ‘Maybe I need to change that mattress’ and this thought became like a refrain to a song she could not get out of her
‘I think it is a double.’
‘It is best to check before you purchase. It could be a king-size. Some of our customers get confused and buy the wrong size.’
‘No. I’m sure it is a double.’
She spent the morning looking at mattresses. She remembered how her mother took them to buy their first matrimonial bed. ‘Go on, get on it, try it out.’ How long ago was that? Thirty-seven years ago. She was twenty-five, he was twenty-nine. She was so embarrassed. Nothing could embarrass her nowadays. She wore gloves as well as a mask and the salesman gave her a linen sheet to spread over each mattress, and then stood two metres away, and proclaimed the benefits of the traditional spring mattresses, pocket spring mattresses, combination mattresses and memory foam mattresses, loud enough for everyone to hear.
She sank into the memory mattress. She didn’t like it. She realised that she needed a mattress that pushed back, that resisted her, not one that embraced her. So she picked a medium hard pocket spring mattress. It cost a lot of money, but she knew this would be the last mattress she would ever buy, so it might as well be the best.
It was raining when the van arrived. Two masked and gloved men carried the mattress along the garden path to her door. She put her mask on and let them in. They were young and friendly and she suddenly realised they were the first strangers in the house since his death.
They were worried about their boots so she put down old sheets and covered the carpets, and then they heaved the mattress up the narrow stairs and over the bannisters, to the bedroom. She had already stripped the sheets off the bed and done a hasty clean, throwing her dirty linen, underwear and shirts in a cupboard. The men leant the new mattress against a chest of drawers and lifted the old mattress off the bedstead.
She vacuumed under the bed frame and saw a gold cufflink. She picked it up. His initials were engraved on both panels. She remembered how he had searched for this on his hands and knees. And here it was, all along. The men waited patiently as she inspected the cufflink. She stood as if frozen, lost in thought.
She looked up at them. Their masks were so sinister. She could only see their eyes and she could not read their expressions.
‘Sorry.’ She said.
The men carefully laid the new mattress on the bedstead. She smiled: it was a double. She had been right.
She signed the paperwork and stood by the door watching the van drive away. She turned and removed her mask, then went around the house cleaning all the surfaces with soap and water. She wiped the bannister railings, the door handles, the chest of drawers, the bedstead. Only then did she make the bed. She had bought new sheets, pillows, pillowcases, duvet covers and a goose down duvet. When she was done, she stood back and inspected her work. The fresh clean duvet and pillows seemed out of place in their bedroom where suddenly, everything else felt worn and shabby.
She sat down on the edge of her new bed. Crying was beyond her now. There were no more tears. Not for the first time she felt intensely lonely, and she thought of asking for the old mattress to be returned.