Her mother had constantly referred to her as The Princess when she was younger. As in the one from The Princess and the Pea. But Lara’s staunch requirements for cultivating the perfect bed to rest upon were not without origins. For it was her own mother that propelled them in choosing to get her the most sumptuous canopy bed when she turned six. With a down comforter and feather-filled pillows to accompany it. Maybe it’s more affordable to buy children’s luxury items than adult ones (yet another sign of how everything is wasted on the young). Or so Lara tried to justify on her mother’s sudden stingy behalf. For once she outgrew the bed, it was replaced with a hard twin mattress that made Vincent Van Gogh’s bed in Arles look practically princely. She couldn’t understand what she had done to make Virginia suddenly treat her with such disregard. Had she not been a doting and dutiful daughter? Pretending to care about sewing and cooking while her father went to work and left them to revel in their “womanhood”?
It was a question that plagued her when she thought wistfully of that canopy bed that Virginia sold for twice as much now that it was considered a vintage item and highly back in vogue during this brief period when it was safe for the upper middle class to spend their money. But not so safe that they wanted others to believe they were rolling in it by actually buying a new bed instead of showing their financial prudence in buying used. The point was, the canopy was gone. And in its place was this goddamn cardboard excuse for a bed. At the very least, she still had her feather-filled pillow, though it was losing some of its former plushness. Knowing that Virginia would say no, Lara, at age fourteen, knew that the person to take a risk on in asking for something was her father. The problem was, he was such an illusory presence in their home that she often wondered if he was, in fact, just a mirage. What’s more, it was impossible to get him in a moment when Virginia wasn’t cloying and clinging to him. He was rarely available for an audience on his own. Worst of all, Richard was the kind of father one envisions stepping straight out of the 1800s: stern, taciturn and completely unaffectionate toward his daughter.
Lara wouldn’t be surprised if the imaginary stenographer documenting her life tallied up a total of twenty words ever exchanged between them. But she couldn’t take the bed anymore. Or, at the very least, wanted a new pillow. What the fuck were they playing at with this “feigning to be poor” bullshit? She knew they at least had a little something called good credit to buy her a new and improved lavish bed that she had been conditioned already to be accustomed to. She was fourteen but she wasn’t brain dead. She had her rights. Rights that they themselves had instilled within her eight years ago. How could she be wrong for asking what she had been led to believe was baseline normal?
So she bided her time, waited for an opening, a blessed moment when Virginia wasn’t in the same room with him. It finally happened on a September night (she’ll always remember because it was unseasonably cold, and her father had actually started a fire in the fireplace in his study). Richard told Virginia to leave him in peace so that he might read. Though she knew it was a risk to interrupt him when he had already sent away her mother, she had to take her opportunity while it was there. Thus, she tiptoed into the room, scarcely noticeable to her patriarch until she accidentally on purpose knocked a book off of his desk. The sound made him jump, and he looked up at her in dismay.
“Lara, what are you doing in here?”
He rolled his eyes. “Don’t beat around the bush. What is it that you want?”
She ran her hand against the back of her neck, stressed to no end already by this germinal interaction. “I haven’t really been sleeping all that well.”
“And? What do you want me to do about it?”
“Well, um, I was thinking…”
“Yes? Hurry it along, I have a limited time to unwind alone, you know.”
“Can you possibly buy me a new bed? And comforter, and pillows filled with feathers?”
Richard blinked at her for a few seconds before being overcome with an uproarious fit of laughter. It was so loud that it drew in the attention of Virginia, startled to see Lara standing in the study, serving as the apparent source of his howling.
“What on earth is going on in here?” she demanded sternly of Lara. “You know you’re not supposed to bother your father in here. This is his sanctuary.”
Richard held his hand up toward Virginia. “Now, now. Lara was just telling me that her sleeping life has been slightly unbearable. Maybe more unbearable than her waking one.”
“And what does that mean?”
“She’s demanded new bedding accommodations.”
Lara tried to step in to explain that it wasn’t as diva-sounding as all that, but it was too late. Virginia’s beast within had been awakened.
“You’ve got to be kidding me. After everything we give you already? You still want more?” She sighed. “This is my fault. I never should’ve gotten you that canopy bed when you were six. Your father warned me it would have lasting repercussions.”
Richard nodded his assent at that. “I hate being right, Virginia, but I knew this day would come to roost. We have to deprogram the luxury she got used to at such a formative age. I can’t say I didn’t know already that this day would come…” he trailed off ominously, rising from his armchair to rotely grab Lara by the ear and take her to an erstwhile unknown part of the house to her: the basement. He tossed her onto a mound of hay (she reckoned it was refuse from the more manicured kind they had in the barn). “You wanted a new bed, this is going to be it until you can learn to understand to be grateful for the things you have already.”
And with that, he slammed the door shut on her. It was the single most determinative experience of her life, one that would propel her to get out of that house as soon as she could. In so doing, she would at last be able to cultivate the perfect bedroom. The perfect pillow. In short, the perfect sleep experience which had for so long deprived her from everyone’s natural right to escape reality for about eight hours a day.
Years later, when she was finally on her own, financially independent and far-removed from her Georgian hometown, she had bought a penthouse in Manhattan. That’s what a CEO’s salary was for, after all. One that could accommodate the canopy bed that was ripped from her at too early of an age. She had lavished it with satin valances and sheer curtains that could be pulled back in the day when she wasn’t sleeping. The pillows were of the plushest feel, crafted also out of satin and stuffed with duck feathers. It was the entire reason she had worked so hard, tirelessly and without a single thought about her final objective in sacrificing her soul to be a corporate stooge. This bedroom.
Yet it had been quite some time since she had slowed down long enough to think about such frivolities as actually, say, fucking in the bed. The thought was anathema to her. As though it would soil her very soul (again, not that she had one anymore) in addition to the linens themselves. But the occasion seemed to be arising one evening when she decided to walk down the street to one of the few bars still left on the Upper East Side. It was at 2nd and 89th. The type of faux elegant after work date spot that made her want to cringe, yet at this moment was currently void as they had all gone home with one another by this hour. Save for one business suited man at the other end of the bar, clearly lying in wait for someone such as her to walk in.
It only took a couple of top shelf vodka sodas for her to loosen up to the idea of having sex with him. But when he mentioned it would have to be at her place as he lived downtown, she bristled. She couldn’t bear the idea of her sanctuary being compromised by a greasy man. For all men were greasy. Meant to be mechanics since they couldn’t fix much else that was wrong in the world. Still, her defenses were down, and she was amenable to being cajoled into the act, even if it meant taking someone into her bed for the first time. In fact, she couldn’t really recall the last instance of someone penetrating her. It might have been all the way back in college if she was being honest with herself. This is precisely why this “mood” overtook her. Forced her to go against her better judgment.
Yet even in her drunken stupor, she still found the words to warn him, “Don’t use my pillow. Don’t move it in any way, all right?” He shrugged, “Yeah, sure, baby. Whatever you say.”
With that he pushed her down on the bed and unzipped. When it was over–all too predictably quickly–he defied her only wish and grabbed the pillow closest to him, which was hers. She wanted to scream. To let out the sort of cry that would put any banshee to shame. Instead, she bit her lip and let him pass out on the hallowed headrest. Waiting for the moment to take the other pillow, the one that he was supposed to sleep on, and suffocate him with it. She would never make the mistake of letting someone taint her precious pillow–her sacred sleep space–again. Celibacy would have to be the tradeoff if she didn’t want to become a serial murderer. Deciding, in lieu of that, to be a one-time killer. Minus, one supposes, that time she killed her parents.
One thought on “A Hard Pill(ow) to Swallow”
Dude, you are a good writer. Maybe a little messed up, but that’s maybe why you’re good. I like your protagonist, and I have to say, the ending totally caught me by surprise. Great storytelling voice here.