Liftoff

Picture a Sears department store in a Florida mall on a Monday evening deep into July. The store is empty but for employees whose tired expressions and absentminded twirling of lanyards makes it clear that they are waiting for time to slide away, for 8:15 p.m. to turn into their nine o’clock closing time. Drained of color, emptied of customers, the lonely space fills with the crooning of a band that sounds like it wants to be the Goo Goo Dolls.

 

… we begin to press memory foam and whisper things we have never said to each before like “coil count,” “pillow top,” and “posture-pedic.”

My husband and I have entered this deserted corner of a dismal mall to make an expensive, grown-up purchase. Under banners announcing Sears’s “Mattress Spectacular Sale,” we begin to press memory foam and whisper things we have never said to each other before like “coil count,” “pillow top,” and “posture-pedic.” The fluorescent lights buzz with a shrillness I can feel in my teeth.

We press our palms into a few mattresses: too plush, too foamy, too firm. At last, we find one that feels right. My husband sits down, swings his legs onto the bed, and strains to hold his head poised above the pillow—you never know who has been lying there before you, he later explains.

Then I try. I am tired after a long day of work, and whatever the coil count is, it has been designed to lull me to sleep right there in the dim department store. Tempting as dozing feels, I understand that there is a proper amount of time to lie on a mattress that is on display, so no more than a minute passes before I am standing again.

As I compare notes with my husband, a boy about ten years old rushes into the mattress department. Another boy zips in after him, and then another, and soon a whole flock of them has descended. They kick off their sandals and leap onto the mattresses—six pre-teenage boys in t-shirts and gym shorts jump from bed to bed. One does a backflip. They do not shout to each other. They simply laugh and bounce—high into the air.

My husband and I shake our heads. My first thought is a horrified, “Where are their parents?”

Then my husband giggles. We watch the strange impromptu circus. I imagine the give of those mattresses, the moment of lift. Seconds of weightlessness. How their hearts must soar. Then the soft feeling of bare feet meeting cushion. How free this must feel. They could be getting up to all sorts of mischief tonight, but this ecstatic flight is the mischief they’ve chosen.

The intercom cuts off the soft rock. “Security to zone three. Security to zone three!” The boys continue their jubilation, and we return to our price comparisons.

A gray-haired Sears employee in a polo shirt and khakis shuffles into the department and crooks a finger at the oldest boy, whose head hangs down as he trudges over for the reprimand. “You can’t jump on the beds,” the employee says, as if the boys have broken a cosmic rule it is a burden to remind them of. “I’m not saying you have to leave the store. Just don’t jump on the beds, okay?”

As quickly as they came, the boys clear out. The Sears employee shambles toward us. “Can I help you with anything?” he asks, a bit too sternly, as if he knows the secret pleasure I felt. We follow him from mattress to mattress, respectful, subdued. We find one that is good for back sleeping and side sleeping and that our guide says is calculated to reduce tossing and turning by fifty percent. Still, like good adults upholding the protocol for major purchases, we take a night to think about it.

We return to Sears the next evening. I know that I will not see anything like the show the night before. And I know that, careful to preserve the ten-year warranty, I will not jump on this bed once it is ours. But then again, maybe one day, after ten years of unclogging sink drains, filing quarterly taxes, sticking to a tight budget, attempting to be more assertive—and performing all the grown-up tasks I do as if the whirling of the planets depended on them—maybe after all this, I will stand on this mattress and feel the springs give under my toes as I lift off. Because, like childhood, warranties do not last forever.

Rebecca Tirrell Talbot received an MFA in creative writing from Roosevelt University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Solidago Journal, South Florida Poetry Journal, Contrary and elsewhere. She lives in South Florida.
Photo by Rafael Lodos

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