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Published: Wed Apr 15 2009
Eva LundsagerUnder Constant Still (detail), 2017–2021, oil on canvas
The Abjection

We are not sleeping well. Our eyes are open. Perhaps the bed is too hard, says the one. The bed is not too hard, says the other. Night is over. The bed is unmoved. It is not the first time. The bed is new. It must be paid off within the year. We must avoid unnecessary charges. We must make regular payments. A small portion of our modest salaries. A reasonable sum for comfort. For sleep. Because our credit is not good. We are afraid to ask. We just pay. What else can we do? We pay and we pay. We pay. It cannot be the bed. But we are not sleeping well. We sleep without touching. The bed is wide. We have room to turn. We would not even know. We do not turn. We lie awake. We hear ourselves. We do not ask, “Are you awake?” Not anymore. We are awake. Perhaps the bed is too hard, says the one. The bed is not too hard, says the other. We dismantle the frame. We reassemble the frame. We tighten the frame. We use tools. Splendidly they fit our hands. Our hands are the perfect size. Still we are not sleeping well. Perhaps it is not the frame, says the one. We turn the mattress over. We make the foot the head. We turn the mattress over. Perhaps it is not the mattress, says the other. We move the bed to the window. We move it away from the window. We point it toward the door. But we have heard that this is unlucky. We angle the bed in the corner. The three other corners. We cannot open the door. We cannot reach the closet. Our clothes hang in the dark. We imagine them. They have no shape. They are shapeless. They were not made for us. No memory of us. Nothing of our bodies. We are naked. We move the bed. There is another bedroom. There is a bathroom. There is another bedroom. There is a kitchen. We are naked. There is a laundry room. There is a breakfast nook. There is a dining room. There is a living room. There is a bathroom. There is a den. There is a hall. The bed does not fit. Not in all of these rooms. It does not fit the breakfast nook. It passes down the hall. The bed enters where it can. We do not force it. The one will not sleep in the kitchen. The other proposes a deck. A sleeping porch. First we must pay off the bed. Our sleep has not improved. We lie on our sides. Our joints are sore. We lie on our backs. Our backs our sore. We lie on our stomachs. Our spines prick our organs. We lie close together. We lie horizontally. We lie obliquely. We do not sleep. We lie in opposite directions. We transverse the bed. Feet in our faces. A blister on the one. A callous on the other. A soft instep. A twitch and a curl of toes. Our friends do not call. Because we are irritable. We are rude. We curse. We are gratuitous. “Fuck … fuck … fuck,” we say. “Fuck … fuck … fuck.” We do not invite them for dinner. We are tired. We are too tired to make dinner. Our stomachs are empty. We are consumed by the bed. We do not meet our friends. They have drinks after work. After dinner. Before dinner. They are always drinking, says the one. They are drunks, says the other. We are not invited. Not anymore. We would not go anyway. We will not get in the car. We watch it from the window. We will refuse. We will show them. They should call AA. We are defiant. They will end up in jail. They will kill someone. They will end up mutilated and dead. We will watch it from the window. We have no friends, says the one. Not anymore, says the other. We are grumbling. We say it again. We are grumbling. The telephone does not ring. The house is quiet. The television is off. The radio is off. The lights are off. The bed has returned to the bedroom. We watch it from the doorway. We watch it through the window. As if we were burglars. Desperate criminals. Hungry. Malignant. Misanthropic. Without money. Without friends. Coveting our possessions. Murderous. As if we don’t give a fuck. We hide from the neighbors. We are not in the mood. We don’t belong in the garden. Something rustles the hydrangea. The grass is too long. The birdbath is dry. Something is biting us. Something smells. We retreat inside. As if we have failed. The bed has not moved. The bed in the moonlight. Our work suffers. We are thinking about the bed. We talk of nothing else. The one is in the break-room. The other is in the toilet stall. We are in the elevator. No one says anything. Silently the numbers rise. We are thinking about the bed. They don’t want to hear it. Not anymore. They are hearing flute music. Flute music is all they want to hear. They want to hear no one talking. They are not watching us thinking. Thinking about the bed. We are in someone’s cubicle. We say we are not sleeping well. We say the bed is not quite hard. But it is not quite soft. We want to say that the bed is in between. But that does not mean enough. In between what? someone may ask. We say nothing. We do not say In between nothing. We say nothing. No one has asked. We cannot answer. What did we expect? We stare at someone. Someone is pretending to check email. We examine someone’s desk. There are spreadsheets. There are proposals. There are estimates. There are receipts. There are vouchers. There are invoices. There are reimbursements. Something has happened. There is evidence. Something is changing. Something has changed. We were not involved. We were not informed. Were we? The conversation is over. It is time to work. We have been warned. We slump in our ergonomic chairs. We try to seem productive. What have we missed? We were thinking about the bed. We grumble. Someone is watching. Someone is a snitch. Someone must be watched. Carefully. We try napping in the car. We have been skipping lunch. Our space is reserved. RESERVED FOR EMPLOYEE. Our name is missing. The parking structure shudders. Tires squeal. There will be a collapse. A terrifying catastrophe. A disaster. A conflagration. A holocaust. Something arduous. Something wearisome. We count the bodies. A Cadillac. A Honda. A Mercedes. A Nissan. A VW. A Saturn. The bed is cool and hard and aerodynamic. Thirty miles to the gallon. Some kind of hybrid. Something more than a bed. It rotates in our showroom. We have lost the keys. At noon it is bright. This is not helping. This changes nothing. We have been skipping lunch. This makes us dizzy. This makes us grumble. Our work suffers. We have been warned. The one in person. The other in writing. We examine the bed like a body. We could have returned it. We had thirty days. It has no lumps. It does not sag. It has no cysts. No tumors. No blemishes. No valleys. It has no canyons. No moraines. No ridges. No rifts. The bed has no topography. The bed has no landscape. The surface is clean. As if we have never been there. Not yet. Like a tomb. If we could open it. Slip ourselves in. We have heard stories. We know they are lies. A sarcophagus. Behind glass. Protected by alarms. The bed like an artifact. Protected by a curse. We watch it from the doorway. The bed like an altar. An unearthed foundation. A plinth supporting history. The bed supports us. The bed is firm. Firm enough. It is firm enough for that. The bed is solid. The bed is strong. It undermines us. Makes us ashamed. We cannot stand up straight. We are weak. We are enervated. We have grown pale. We should hang in the closet. Creased and faded. Stained. Pilled. Snagged. Shapeless. We should slip from the hanger. Pooled. It is like no other bed. None that we have known. We sensed its singularity. We had our shoes off. We thought it said Sleep. We know we were wrong. We can admit this. We know we misheard. We know. We know it. There was flute music. We had our shoes off. Children bouncing beside us. On another bed. We tried that one. It was too soft. Our socks had stripes. We did not know they had holes. The children did somersaults. Barrel Rolls and Seat Drops. Corkscrews. Cat Twists. Our eyes were closed. We thought the bed whispered. We thought we heard Sleep. It did not whisper Sleep. The bed whispers nothing. The bed is mute. The bed does not creak. The bed absorbs. The bed muffles. The bed stifles. The bed chokes. The bed silences. The bed emanates silence. The bed is zero. It inspires contemplation. White. Still. Silent. Flat. Patient. Moon. Star. Void. These are not the qualities we were seeking. Not quite. The bed feels distant. We are still making payments. Now they are late. Night is over. Our eyes are open. We are not sleeping well. We will attempt an analogy. The bed feels like stone, says the one. Like wood, says the other. We will not say steel. The bed seems natural. We agree on this. We argue. We argue the qualities of wood and of stone. Durable, says the one. Flexible, says the other. Grain. Seam. Fibrous. Foliated. We apply these to the surface of the bed. This comes to nothing. The bed is resistant. It unsettles wood. It muddles stone. The bed ramifies. We argue. It is not the first time. We know nothing. We don’t know. We are furious. We lie still. Time passes. The world grows more uncertain. Something happens. The one reconsiders wood. The other reappraises stone. We sense these changes. They warm us like fever. The bed embraces the changes. The changes in us. The bed does not change. The bed does not embrace us. It is not a bed that embraces. No caress or consolation. The bed has no tenderness. Its embrace is conceptual. But the bed is not a concept. The bed is real. It is hard on our backs. On our joints. It crushes our genitals. The bed seems less and less like wood or stone. A bit more like steel. An object forged to do violence to our bodies. The bed is not natural. We can admit this. The bed is a scourge. The bed is wrathful. We feel compelled. As by a spring. As by a catapult. We are propelled into the air. Our feet are driven to the floor. The floor is cold and hard. Our feet are bare and tender. It is a cruel bed. We can admit this. We are behind on our payments. Our work suffers. We have been warned. One of us is fired. The other begins to smoke. Smoke marijuana. Smoke opium. It is not the first time. The other drinks beaujolais. Syrah and malbec. Has an affair. Why try and hide it? There is significant evidence. We have an argument. It is not the first. There was some intercourse. Intercourse at a motel. One of us slept. The one at the motel. The other was awake. The one is well-rested. The one slept for hours. There was also some intercourse. But that’s not the point. The one is well-rested. The one feels good. The other resents the sleeping. More than the intercourse. The other wants to punish the one. Wants the one to feel worse. Worse than the other. Wants the one to sleep poorly. Wants the one to lie on the bed. Lie awake. Wants the one to lie with anyone but the other. To lie on the bed. Wants to punish anyone. Wants to witness the one suffering. Wants to fall asleep to cries for mercy. The punishment is conceptual. The other will lie on a couch. The one on another. No one lies on the bed. We lie in separate rooms. Still we are not sleeping well. We lie awake. We contemplate separation. We would move out of the house. Neither would take the bed. Not the one. Not the other. One or the other would take the late payments. The bed would remain in its room. Alone. Independent. Enduring. The bed invincible. The bed victorious. The bed will not separate. Never. The bed will remain whole. The bed will remain. Immovable. Immutable. Ineluctable. The bed is unity. We see this from the doorway. It counsels reunification. We kneel before the bed. We stand before the bed. We reconcile on the bed. But we do not sleep. We are not sleeping well. The bed is unmoved. The bed is redoubtable. The bed is impenetrable. The bed is impregnable. The bed is a fortress. The bed is a bastion. The bed is virginal. As if we have never laid upon it. As if the bed is a concept that we conceived together. As if our imagination had begotten a bed. A bed that is greater than us. Celibate. More severe. More unforgiving. More rigorous than us. A bed that chastises us for our flaws. Our sins and our foibles. We are exposed by the bed. We are humiliated. We are refused. We are rejected by the bed. We are driven out. We beg to return. We watch it from the doorway. We long to be restored. We abase ourselves. We lie on the floor. We lie like animals. Like vertebrates. We lie like invertebrates. We lie like crash victims. Victims of an attack. Sufferers of disease. We lie like the living and like the dead. These attitudes are conceptual. Our suffering exceeds us. We are seeking a form. One that does not yet exist. Our representations are avant garde. The bed is bounded by traditions. It refuses to recognize. Its ways are esoteric. The bed is inscrutable. Its intentions are ambiguous. We lie in its shadow. The bed is not reassuring. We doubt it will protect us. The shadow is conceptual. We feel it in the dark. As if the bed would collapse on us. Like a failed civilization. We feel it teeming with plots and assassinations. We submit ourselves. What else can we do? We crawl underneath it. Our hair is there. Things lost and forgotten. Signs of a past we cannot recognize. A body ornament. A utensil. A shard of pottery. A garment made of wool. A page of text and numerals. A calendar. A figurine. A weapon. It is close. The bed. It rests on us. It compresses us. It is dark underneath. And inappropriate. And unsanitary. And there is something else. Something vaguely familiar. Something that is not me. Something moist that is panting. That is weeping.

See what's inside AGNI 69

Michael Mejia is the recipient of a Literature Fellowship in Prose from the National Endowment for the Arts and a grant from the Ludwig Vogelstein Foundation. His novel Forgetfulness was published by Fiction Collective 2, and his fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews have appeared in Denver Quarterly, Esquire.com, Notre Dame Review, Seneca Review, New Orleans Review, Salt Hill, AGNIPleiades, and American Book Review, among other magazines. He teaches creative writing at Berry College in Mount Berry, Georgia. (updated 4/2009)

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