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What Your Mother Thinks While Making the Bed by Megan Pillow Davis


It’s a rare gift to readers when an unusual form is well-executed and deeply relevant to the content. With “What Your Mother Thinks While Making the Bed,” Megan Pillow Davis delivers a flash piece that touches the head and the heart, that lets us engage both in our reading. At the risk of diluting the experience for you, we’re keeping it vague in this introduction. Here you’ll see masterful use of punctuation and a rich interiority amplified by the structural and technical choices. There are unique similes and metaphors and strong, lyric language. There is truth: “This is the state of things: the fitted sheet is always the truth, and the top sheet is always the lie…” Don’t miss the author’s note for discussion of this form and of the inspiration for this piece.  —CRAFT


 

The bed pulling away from the wall makes a sound like (the front door opening downstairs) the unfolding of a hinge, that sharp metal groan as the legs drag across the wood. It’s the only way to get to the corner (that she gripped just an hour ago while the mailman fucked her) where the fitted sheet refuses to let go. She yanks it, and (the condom slides into place) the sheet gives with a soft pop. She can smell (him: the tang of semen, of sweat, the sickly sweet odor of his aftershave) the faint fragrance of lavender on the sheets, which she hates. She wads the sheet up (like the Kleenex that cocoons the used condom) and tosses it to the floor.

She gets a new set from the closet, the oldest set she owns, white, scattered with flowers the color of the azalea bush she and your father planted out front their first year in the house. She drops the top sheet on the stack of pillows next to the bed, shakes the folds out of the fitted one. It’s yellowing, discolored, like a waterlogged book left behind in a flooded house. The top sheet still looks brand new. This is the state of things: the fitted sheet is always the truth, and the top sheet is always the lie, the one that gets scrunched at the bottom of the bed when you’re fucking fluids into the other one, the one that’s pulled up, fresh and clean, to cover the stains. She floats the fitted sheet across the mattress, smooths it with her hands as if the sheet were a map. Here is the brown spot, (spilled there by your neighbor Carl, who bit his bottom lip while your mother pegged him and bit right through when he came; she remembers the way the leather harness dug into her thighs, the way Carl dripped blood onto the sheet until it pooled there) its edges faded, deckled, sprawling along the seam; there, the L-shaped tear (where your mother snagged it with her suitcase when, through a haze of tears, she packed to leave during that first year of marriage, that wretchedly hot August when she realized she’d made a terrible mistake) that only got worse each time (she invited a new person into her bed. The most damage was done by the girl from Kansas with the glitter acrylic nails—Laney maybe?—who gripped it and tore it two inches deeper when your mother flogged her while your father sang “Santa Baby” downstairs at That Christmas Party, you know the one, you heard all the horrible stories about it except, of course, for this) she washed it.

The sheet slides its elastic arms around the edges of the mattress the way your mother slides her arms around your father every night and holds him until he falls asleep. She remembers that first time (the electric look at the bowling alley, the fuck in the bathroom stall, the way she thought she wanted him to live inside her skin forever) she unfolded these sheets after their wedding (where she’d looked around the room at all the women and men and remembered those lines from “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”[1] and realized all of the people were water and she was parched and none of them were hers to drink). The flowers were jewels then, the sheet like a crisp white field (and she knew that she wanted nothing more than to tear it up, and she knew that she would, and that she would never tell your father). She puts the top sheet on. The flowers still look like jewels, the sheet like a crisp white field.

She imagines you arriving late tonight after six hours on the road, tired, expecting a plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes. She’ll make you sit down at the kitchen table and bring it to you and kiss the top of your head. When you’re done, she’ll take your plate to the sink and your bag from the floor beside your chair and she’ll walk you upstairs to this bedroom. She’ll pull back this sheet for you, and you’ll climb into this bed. She’ll tuck it around you, this sheet (the field where she’s buried a hundred bodies, the field where she’s planting you), and she’ll stand in the doorway and watch you—gorgeous, grown, no signs of damage, no hints of pain—fall asleep, and for a moment (she’ll remember curling up in these sheets with you as a child, how you put your arms around her neck as she cried, how you held her so tightly that she knew she could never leave, and instead, that the people would be the gifts she would give herself for staying) perhaps, she will be at peace.

 

[1] Water, water, every where,
And all the boards did shrink;
Water, water every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
—Part II, stanza 9

 


MEGAN PILLOW DAVIS is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and Paper Darts, and is forthcoming in Atticus Review and Waxwing. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.

Author’s Note

Kristen Roupenian’s recent piece in The Guardian about the “trouble” with women writing about sex is telling. Roupenian writes that her work has been compared to Mary Gaitskill’s work in part because her inclusion of sex became a focal point. Roupenian bristles at the suggestion that sex is the point of her writing, that “all other elements exist to say something about sex, and the state of sexual relations, rather than the other way around.”

I understand Roupenian’s anger. People often exhibit a reductivist tendancy toward “sex writing.” Even in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey, people still talk about erotica in hushed tones; like many other genres, sex writing is looked down upon by some who claim to sit on the pedestal of literary fiction. The larger argument is often that writing about sex can enervate your work, but it should be a passing moment, not a focal point, because sex writing isn’t serious work. The result is that those of us who often write about sex—especially those of us who identify as women—risk being taken less seriously as writers. The result is that many women writers who write excellent erotica do so under pen names.

I enjoy writing about sex, a lot in fact. It’s not just because I like reading about sex, which I do, but because I like the challenge of producing work that attempts to defy pigeonholing. Writing about kink, however, is an even bigger risk: because kink is considered anything that deviates from the straight line of sexual engagement, it’s still often seen as a fringe practice. That’s why I was excited about Monet Thomas’s kinked challenge, which is what I wrote this story specifically for: I hadn’t written kink yet, although I’d been thinking about it. I knew it would risk further reductivism, but I wanted to test those bounds.

What I’ve noticed is that many people still think kink is largely about sex alone, when for kinksters, there’s often more at the core. In addition to sex, kink encompasses an entire landscape of psychology, intimacy, autonomy, and the establishment of healthy boundaries and communication. I wanted my story to reflect some of this expansiveness.

In the end, what I wrote was a story where kink is the mechanism to help one mother cope with emotional sacrifice. I wrote the story like a folded paper fan: without the parentheticals, it’s straightforward, about a woman preparing her house for her grown child’s visit. With the parentheticals, it reveals that hidden interiority that most of us will never see when we look at our mothers, or any mother, for that matter. My hope is that it illustrates that stories can center sex and have merit because of their inclusion of sex, not in spite of it. My career is pushing me toward more of this work, and I hope it will others too: there’s a lot of terrible sex writing out there that we should all feel compelled to overshadow.

 


MEGAN PILLOW DAVIS is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is currently a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Her work has appeared recently in, among other places, Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and Paper Darts, and is forthcoming in Atticus Review and Waxwing. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.