Other People’s Mattresses
Are they going to leave that there all summer for me to contemplate? The girls next door put a mattress and boxspring near the curb at least month ago. Sometimes the wind blows the boxspring over and it blocks the sidewalk. The girls come home from work and prop it up again. Am I going to say something to them? Or just watch.
On Sunday I was visiting my mother in the city. A full size, extra deluxe, puffy, pure white mattress leaned against the trash cans in the alley behind the apartment building. I watched from the window as a gang of four 8-to-10-year-olds heaved it off the trash pile. The rain had just stopped, so it must have been heavy. The team lost control of the white whale and it belly flopped into the cement roadway with a splash. A girl in a metallic blue bike helmet took charge, yelling orders to the boys. Soon they had it standing on its long edge and were dragging it downhill, two on each side, down the back alley, towards home.
“That mattress will be back by nightfall,” I said to myself. And so it was, and much less white than before.
All of this reminds me of Dad. He once put a worn out mattress on the floor of our basement, for jumping on. An alternative, I suppose he thought, to having us jumping on the beds upstairs. In the summer Dad moved the mattress outside and placed it on the lawn near the street, under the Norway maple. This might have been our idea. Our Dad was good that way, knew about playing, made contributions and allowances for it. The mattress got soaked every time it rained. Soggy jumping for a few days — we mostly avoided it then. But the stuffing dried out in the summer heat and we and the neighbor children congregated there, flopping, dancing, tumbling, sometimes pretending it was our magic carpet, or a life raft on the stormy ocean.
I think our mattress disappeared at the end of the summer. I don’t ever remember minding the smell of it, but Dad probably thought he shouldn’t put it back in its former place on the floor of the basement, over on Mom’s side, next to the laundry. Our summer play station must have left behind a large brown rectangle of dead grass for Dad to tend to that fall.