She buried her head into the pillow in the dark. The cotton sighed around her as she made herself comfortable; wrapping the doona around her legs but making sure he had enough too. The sheet underneath her felt cold, she’d just changed it and there was something nice about a fresh sheet. The crisp feeling would be gone by morning, so she moved her legs slightly to enjoy the sensation.
Bed. Cocoon. The darkness felt close and complete, and only forgiven by a sliver of light in the window. The nighttime sounded like a sigh.
He rustled next to her. She could feel the lines being drawn down the centre of the bed. Etching slowly, so she didn’t recognize them at first, but as the minutes ticked by they gathered themselves into road markings. Familiar road signs which made her heart sink. This is my side, that is yours, they declared.
He moved and shuffled, and she felt her ears prick in concentration. Was he awake? They’d only just gotten into bed. The bedside clock seared its red 10.44pm if she craned her neck over the hump she thought was his shoulder. He couldn’t be asleep yet. So she moved closer to the borderline, wondering if she should reach out. Her eyes adjusted to the shadows and the monochrome shapes, and itched to run her hand down the swell of his shoulder to his waist. He wouldn’t stop her, but he’d freeze. Just a fraction of a movement, but it would be there. So she didn’t.
She tucked her hand inside her chest as if to stop herself.
The roadsigns down the centre of the bed were glowing now, and might as well have had pulsating lights and roadworks signs telling her to ‘detour’ and ‘no way round – go back’. The barrier was in place.
She closed her eyes and wondered how she’d gotten here. The bed started its familiar shape shifting as she settled into the zone. The shape shifting meant the bed wasn’t a bed anymore. This was a regular occurrence. The bed would start to open up with her on it. All of sudden she was lying on a rooftop, on the edge and feeling a precipice close by. The bed had become wide, like a field, stretching on for miles and she was at one end of it. He was at the other. It didn’t matter if she wanted to put out her hand and touch him now, because she wouldn’t be able to reach him if she tried. He was lying at the other end of the field, actually she couldn’t tell if he was lying down because it was too damned far to see.
“Hold me,” she murmured without thinking.
Too late, it was out now. She’d said it. The bed froze. There. In that fraction of a second she’d heard his response. She too had frozen. Stupid, stupid woman, she thought. You’ve done it now. She lay in her curl, and berated herself. The field opened up wide and raw, and she clung to the edge of it. But as she clung she felt the frustration start to push at her.
‘What are you doing?’ her inner voice screamed. ‘Turn over, face him, and tell him this is foolish.’
She swallowed, feeling her palms grow sweaty as she argued with herself.
‘I can’t,’ she pleaded back again.
‘Why not? You’re a grown intelligent woman, you have a degree, and you’ve been married to him for eight years. Surely to God you can reach out and touch your husband.’
But she didn’t.
‘He’s not touched you for over six months. He’s barely even looked at you for the last year,’ the screaming voice continued. ‘You’re a fool if you think you can let him get away with this. The longer it goes on, the harder it will be for you to ever hold him. And let’s be honest here, when did you ever really hold him?’
She didn’t want this level of truth, but the screaming voice just continued – getting louder and more insistent. She concentrated on the bed. The feeling of the bed was like a field of barren soil, hard clumps of red dirt underneath her. If she squinted she could almost see the borderline of trees around the edge. Anything to take her mind off the noise.
‘He doesn’t like to touch you. He never has. But you’re married to him. So what are you going to do? Lie here for the next thirty years wondering what real life would feel like?’
With her heart in her mouth she rolled over. Bed was never meant to be this hard, this political. Bed was always supposed to be safe and welcoming, a place of spiritual peace. But this bed, this time, this voice in her head just meant every night was a battlefield of lines and territory. There had to be a stratagem to crack through the walls which had been built. And damn it, the voice was right. If she was ever going to be close to her husband then this should be the time.
Another swallow, pushing the voice down into her chest.
“Will you hold me?” she quietly asked her husband’s shoulder.
No movement. Was he asleep? Another heartbeat passed, and even the voice was quiet waiting for an answer.
No answer. No movement. The field stretched out again by another couple of hectares. She took out her imaginary loudhailer. She strained in the darkness to hear, as if the black had taken away her ability to hear properly. She felt like curling tighter against the black.
‘Christ woman,’ said the screaming voice again. The voice had fists which thumped against the inside of her chest, banging against her rib cage.
“Why not?” she asked again, holding her hands close to her heart as if to silence the noise. Surely he can hear it, she thought.
Frustration washed out from him in response to the question. He shuddered and reorganised himself under the sheets. The movement caused the field to contract and she was suddenly brought in close to him, too close almost. She recoiled a bit from the sudden realisation that they lay only a metre apart, not hundreds. He sighed an answer to her question, a hot fast sigh. It was a sigh which said ‘why are you stupid enough to ask me again?’
There was a low guttural screaming in her head, beating out a thumping drum on her rib cage, picking up pace. The voice threw itself around the inside of her body, raging. The black night around her was red, and pitted with dots of moving light. She lay still, emulating calm. She swallowed, and her throat was hot.
“Please hold me,” she asked.
Although, she knew she wasn’t really asking. She knew she was begging. “Please?”
The blood was racing around her body as the raging voice tried to find a place to release itself. It swooshed through her ears, and pulsed down along her arms. It was shouting abuse and rage at her, throwing aside her innards in an attempt to get out. She started to tingle and burn between her legs, so she held herself there for comfort.
He turned over again breaking her concentration, and the sharp jutting mountain of his shoulder which had looked so inviting was hard and craggy.
She couldn’t tell what the voice was saying anymore, it was so loud and persistent. Repeating something over and over, until she felt her skin around her face cracking. Trying not to listen she kept her mouth closed and could feel the voice banging inside her teeth, yelling obscenities it seemed. The fingers of the voice were trying to pry her mouth and eyes open, scratching at her eyelids until she felt them warm and wet. The sharp pain of the repeating kicking of her ribs had taken her breath, her skin was tight and hot.
He seemed so unaware of the battle. The sheet moved over her as he took his share of the doona and blankets, she was barely conscious that he was putting the final statements onto his conversation with his tidying up of the roadsigns between them. He settled again, ending the unspoken sentence with a full stop and the bulk of his shoulder.
She didn’t see anything of this.
As she lay there she felt the crack of her pelvis, and her skin flinting off. There was an enormous sound which echoed through her bones and throbbed away into the bed and down into the soil beneath the house. The voice had worked its way free, scratching and clawing its way out of her, and finally thrust itself into the air on an exhalation of breath. It leapt into the night black which encircled her body and screamed the sound only she could hear of freedom and infinite pain. There was no blood, no gore. What was left was dry and husky, with an oil of dignity seeping away.
She rolled over, and went to sleep.