by Lena Bertone
For the last 458 days of my life, I have made my bed. Tomorrow morning when I wake up, I will make my bed. If you were a stranger walking into my apartment, you could look down the short hall and through my open bedroom door to see that my bed is made in the style my mother taught me, the blanket smoothed across the width of the bed and tucked up under the pillows, then drawn over them to the headboard. This bedmaking might not seem unusual except that I had never before, in my adult life, made my bed. Do other people make their beds? Maybe this is normal. Maybe it’s normal that I should decide unfailingly to make my bed, identically and perfectly every morning, the blanket falling from each edge in equal measure, a neat cone pleat at both bottom corners. A recurring visitor asks, do you make the bed because I’m coming over? I say, no, dear. I make the bed because I make the bed.
I make the bed before I leave in the morning. If I don’t make the bed, I don’t leave. Will I be late to work? I still make the bed. Will I have time to eat if I make the bed? Of course: I can chew while I make the bed. Sometimes I dawdle and run out of time to shower, but there’s always a minute to make the bed. I may rush to get my child on the bus because I made the bed but forgot to pack her sneakers. I forget a lot of things, but I don’t forget to make the bed.
One time I forgot to make the bed and I came back and made the bed.
One time my child threw up blood and I took her to the hospital instead of making the bed.
One time I slept on the sofa so I wouldn’t have to make the bed. I make the bed the way my mother taught me, the way she’s made the bed since she was a child in Italy in a house full of children making their beds. It’s the most Italian thing I do, making the bed. I have noticed this mania among Italians, that they must make their beds upon waking, that their bedspreads must be even and flat, that the pillows must be orderly, tucked simply and plumply, without ornament, without clamor, without fuss or frou. They don’t make the bed to show off. They make the bed to make the bed.
Before the last 458 days of my life, I slept on a bed in my parents’ house and I never made that bed. Before that, I slept on beds in houses I owned with a husband. I don’t have that husband, those houses, those beds anymore, and I never made those beds. I didn’t crave the order of making the bed. I didn’t see the beauty. My mother’s girlhood bedroom was little more than a closet with a window that opened to a garden terrace. Every morning until she was a woman ready to marry, she buried and tucked every wrinkle and fold of well-worn linens, snug like skin, around a narrow mattress. Now I’m nearly twice her age then, with a bed twice the size of hers and it’s all my own. I dress it with cotton sheets and a serious quilt: one somber color and a close pattern of stitches puckering the layers into an object that lies heavy over my body at night.
When I pull back the quilt and lie under the sheet folded tight against the mattress, my feet flatten and my eyes close, and my breathing shallows, and I think of nothing.
I think of sadness. In my bed, I imagine unfurrowing the muscles of my face, those places around my eyes and lips that pinch and make me think of the old woman I will someday become. I look into the darkness of my eyelids. I think of the man who doesn’t want me, the one I still love, and the one who made me miserable for so long. I think of how that was my own fault. I think of how far I am from my past and my future. I think of the dread I feel every day, and most minutes of most days. And I lie in this bed. How good this bed feels. How good it feels when my visitor is here to share it with me, and how good it feels when I’m in it alone, like now, with my feet flattened and my breath low and me so slight under these covers that in the dark early morning, when I slip from my bed, I’ll just have to gently pull the bedclothes back into alignment, my geometric quilt so orderly in its swoop over the pillow, neat and consistent under my fingers.
My mother says that making a bed is a two-person job. I always helped her make the bed: stood on the opposite side and pulled up the blanket as I paralleled her motions, both of us ending with the final one-handed tuck under the pillow. Now I go from side to side, making and adjusting to get the same effect. I spent so much of my life not making the bed, but making the bed was there, in my hands, waiting for me. I followed my mother in many ways, some of which I regret, but one I’m grateful for is the made bed. It means almost nothing, but I do it every day. I’m afraid of not doing it. I’m afraid of the day that I don’t do it.
What will happen that day? Let me tell you: many things have fallen apart, but my bed is one thing I have made over and over again. Every day when I’m finished, I think: that bed is made for today.
Lena Bertone has stories in Wigleaf, Matchbook, Redivider, Harpur Palate, and other magazines.