“Mattress World” by Shannon Connor Winward

The sign said:

MANAGER
MATTRESS WORLD
Inquire Within

At first I did not, having no special interest
or knowledge of bed stuff beyond
the usual day’s end (or, very occasional
noonish) variety

also me not being the managerial-type, and also
within being an ominous looking door
on an ominous looking house
(shutters drawn, gray paint
peeling like old skin, a river
of knee-high weeds
where a lawn should have been)

but on the third day of my sixth week jobless
sweaty, footsore and headsick from
another do-so-do of going-nowhere
interviews, I looked up from the corner
bus stop bench and, I tell you the sign read:

MATTRESS WORLD
No, really, Simon
Inquire Within

Being a Simon of the what-the-hell
inquisitive sort, I figured, well.
You know.

“You’re late,” observed the woman
who let me in, with no room in the foyer for reply
beyond, “Yes, Ma’am. Sorry.” Sidling by
cans of mixed vegetables stacked ceiling-high, she
showed me to the stairs.

“What sort of—” I began
but she shushed me, and led me aloft
her pink pantsuit swooshing in an oddly
melodic way, like rattles—no, rain sticks, which
made me think of stormy afternoons
when the rain patters lovingly on the roof
and the air offers a cool kiss
through the window, slightly open, not like this
sweltering August dog-day heat.

As we rounded the twenty-second landing
of the two-story house, I tried again. “But can you
tell me where—”
“SSSSSHHHH,” she said. And though her hair
was vampire-red, and stacked like a beehive
atop her head, there was something in that
no-nonsense hiss reminiscent of my mother
God rest her soul. I did as I was told.

We reached the apex somewhere
near the forty-fourth floor (I’d lost count,
couldn’t be sure). Through a rosette window I saw
only mist; no sign of the bus stop or roofs below.
“Now listen,” I insisted. “This is getting weird,”
“Tell me about it,” my hostess replied
with a sideways look at my sweat-stained suit
(no better for climbing forty sets of stairs)
and my Evil Dead tie.
She pointed towards an ivory door.

“On second th—” is all I got out.
The lady had already begun her long descent
taking the top steps with her. Faster than I’d have
imagined possible, she’d left me to either try
the straight-down fall or explore the door.

I don’t know quite what I expected; certainly not
a single mattress in an empty room.
An unremarkable-seeming mattress, at that; clean
to be sure, but not factory-fresh
not large nor particularly small
just a mattress-like mattress
in the middle of the floor.

“You call this a store?!?” I cried
to no one in particular. There came no reply—
just a sudden, irrepressible need
to retire.
“Well that’s just what they want you to do
Simon,” I warned myself. “Don’t be that guy.”
But never one to listen to sound advice
I peeled off my shoes and tie and, well
from this point on it gets kind of hard to explain.

To say that I dreamed would be misleading
or that I died—this too, would be untrue
better to say I’ve became… well-rested
in a sense no man has ever been.

And no, it’s not to do with Princess of Feathers
who embraced me upon arrival
(though, yes, she is lovely, her kisses
soft (and wet) as clouds),or the fact that
the natives are all multilingual cats
who nevertheless prefer to speak
in headbutts and kneads (and the occasional
rasp-tongue lash for emphasis).

It’s that the currency here is gratitude
the food is satisfaction, and I’ve grown fat
in all the best possible ways.
I feast on fringe benefits, like thank you, and
well done, Simon, and Simon
you are needed

every day.

In Mattress World, I manage
legions of eager minions. I solve puzzles.
I put down wars. Any job that needs
doing, I am the resident expert. And if I can’t
remember what I used to do (technical… something.
computers?) and if I look up sometimes
to see the sky is a ceiling, it will rain
soon enough. Mattress World will call me back
draw me in, warm and snug
and tell me I belong.

I’m no dummy.
I know what it’s about. In the (years?)
since I have been here, I’ve had time to work it out.
Yes, it’s some sort of… hypnotic induction.
Yes, my real body is being slowly “devoured”.
There is no world of happiness
full of all my favorite things. Just a me-sized
mat of entropy, extraplanar synchrony
(a scientist! that’s it!…), and I am lying
in a bed of eldritch gluttony,
but… you know, it’s just so damned relaxing and, well.
I’m okay with that.

Shannon Connor Winward is the author of the Elgin-Award winning chapbook Undoing Winter (Finishing Line Press, 2014) and the Elgin-nominated full-length collection The Year of the Witch (Sycorax Press, 2018). Her writing has appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction, Analog, Pseudopod (Artemis Rising), Strange Horizons, Star*Line and elsewhere. In between parenting, writing, and other madness, Shannon is also founding editor of Riddled with Arrows Literary Journal.

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