Love in the Sleeping Time

Bill Jeffery

They call me "King of the Doubles," and I don't mind at all when strangers imagine that I must be a tennis star, or have some special talent at picking the Daily Double at the track, or that I have that in- your-face courage required to place high-stake "double-or-nothing" bets at the gaming tables -- or any of those macho things.

The fact is, I am a mattress salesman. For fifteen years I have sold more "double" mattresses (we call them "full" size sleeping foundations these days) than any three salesmen in the department. Oh, I sell King and Queen sizes, but my heart isn't in it. I know they give sleepers more room and supposedly a better night's rest, but I know now that they don't do for a couple what the old "double" can do. (Besides, after a sale, we always tell our customers to turn their new mattress over every two or three weeks so it will last longer. Have you ever tried to turn a King size mattress? We should be ashamed.)

I confess that a negative attitude towards the larger products contributed to my concentration on the "full" size, but Mr. and Mrs. Saleski brought the big change. They made me see a new dimension to mattresses -- that I could sell more than a product, something more than a soft place to be unconscious for a third of one's life, and more than a pad on which to "make love" (does that phrase sound peculiar to you? a bit self-conscious? or like a manufacturing process instead of an honest invitation to warm and intimate sex?)

Anyway, Mr. Saleski and his wife were well known at the mall where I worked. For years, on days when the weather was bad, they could be seen taking their exercise along the concourse. Mrs. Saleski always trailed her husband, one pace to the left and two paces to the rear, still adhering to the custom in the "Old Country" from which they had come as teen-aged bride and groom. They seldom spoke, touched, or had eye contact. One wondered if they ever communicated. To me, there was little evidence of the mutual regard or concern usually thought necessary to hold couples together over long periods of time.

Sometimes Mr. Saleski would appear alone. He entered various stores but never bought anything. One got the impression that these were pre-purchase forays, because a few days later, he would arrive with Mrs. Saleski. They would go into a store he had previously examined and come out with a purchase he seemed to have decided upon before she got there. It was evident to us at the mall that the couple lived a passionless, sort of gray, male-dominated existence.

One day, Mr. Saleski appeared in the mattress department. I was "up" (that is, it was my turn to serve a customer.) I approached him and my re-education began.

I made more commission on the larger products, so I pitched the merits of King and Queen sizes, assuring him that he and "the Mrs." would enjoy having more space for themselves, would get more uninterrupted rest. That when one rolled over, the other would never know it, and when he had to get up in the night, the mattress would give no hint that he was no longer beside her. They would be together but separate.

The old man smiled, and his words came with a tenderness I had not expected. He said he and Helena had shared the smaller "double" bed for almost fifty years. He explained that the extra space I had extolled in King and Queen size beds was not attractive to them, that the Full size just naturally put them close. Because of that closeness, he was aware of her all through the sleeping time. When he reached out his arm, it had to touch her. He would gently smooth her hair, sure that she enjoyed it in her sleep as she did when awake, just as she was aware of the message of that touch.

Because of that closeness, he had thrilled to the kicks of their first unborn child as his wife slept against his back, and after her child-bearing days were over, his understanding of her as a woman heightened when he awoke to the extreme heat and heavy perspiration from her body, soaking him as well, as he knew of her discomfort during "the change."

Sometimes with his head close to hers, he would try to breathe when she breathed, exhale when she exhaled, trying to capture the rhythm of her life -- to be closer. There were dozens of little things, like a shivery little wiggle against his back saying, "Hey! I'm here and I'm happy," or just a slight restless movement, or a faint sound telling him that her dream was changing subjects. In winter, there would be the shock of cold feet against an unsuspecting thigh, an instant rejection, then the offending member would be taken back to be warmed.

The old man continued, talking of placing his arm gently across her body until sleep came and changed this caress into weight, and she understood. He told of the disappearance of his feeling of coldness in the night, because she had sensed his discomfort and had quietly pulled a comforter over his shoulders.

Then he said, "sometimes, in the middle of the night, I would send her a message. I would tap my foot against hers: one/one, two, three, four/one, two, three (I love you.) She would press her answer: one/one, two, three, four/one, two, three, and an extra one, two, three (I love you, too.) Once, because of my strange sense of humor, I deliberately assigned a new interpretation to her last three taps and in the silence, I whispered, ŒWho is DAN?' We laughed and laughed and hugged and appreciated each other."

Mr. Saleski's voice trailed off. For a time he just sat there on the edge of a mattress. Then he left -- I did not try to make a sale.

It turned out that Mrs. Saleski had been nearly blind for several years and found it helpful to have her husband check the stores for the things she wanted before she ventured out to buy them. Learning of this and listening to the old man, I had come to know that this couple, so reserved in public, shared an unusual, warm, intimate love. My judging of people has changed forever.

Some time later, Helena died. I understand Mr. Saleski followed her in just a few days. I've always thought it was because he just couldn't stand that empty space beside him.

Why not try a "Full" size, folks? It just might give you a better life.

©Copyright 2002-2011 Terry Marotta, All Rights Reserved.