Between the Sheets
by K. Marvin Bruce
“Thank you for changing
the sheets,” Lentene smiles. Like most
married couples past a certain landmark, we pretty much ignore one another in bed except
on weekends. Occasionally.
She’s become part of the background chatter most of the time. Changing bedclothes and laundering them is a chore we both assiduously
avoid, but when it grows chilly enough for flannel sheets she’ll actually take the
initiative to swap them out.
“Mn-nnh,” I mumble,
already half asleep. The significance of
her words doesn’t sunk in.
September has gone out with a
chill that persists into a gray October. Fearing
the arrival of Welty Oil to fill the tank and the four-figure bill that will surely follow,
we try to resist using the furnace until November, if at all possible. Since we both work nobody’s home during the day, and flannel
sheets and a pile of blankets will do the trick at night.
I like the weight of blankets.
Over breakfast Lentene reiterates
her thanks for changing the sheets. The
implacable clouds of October hang low outside our kitchen window.
“No, I’m serious. I’d meant to change them but there was this shake-down in finance
at work and I’ve been too worried to think about things like that when I got home. I’ve been chilly in bed, so I appreciate
you changing them.”
didn’t.” I talk over my coffee, cupping the warm mug
in my chilly fingers. Black bitterness starts
being funny?” She smiles an expression so familiar that it
has almost become a grimace.
me. I didn’t change the sheets.”
Her spoon stops halfway to her
open mouth. Hovers, retreats to her bowl. “Stop joking, you’re starting to creep
not joking. I didn’t change the sheets.” I actually look her in the eyes for that one,
so she knows I’m sincere.
“Well, I didn’t either,” she
defends herself, as if doing housework requires some kind of justification. I know, I know—we’re both busy.
“Neither did I.” I chalk it up as too much work. “It's
just one of those things.”
“Just one of those things? You’re serious? You didn’t change the sheets?” The bowl is headed to the sink, half full.
Or half empty. Depends on your point of view.
“Lentene, I didn’t
change the damn sheets.” My coffee’s
gone and the pot is empty. My mind is already
on the Kriss account. “I gotta get
in my way. I know better than to push past her.
“Chas, this is serious. If you didn’t change the sheets and I didn’t,
you did it, but forgot.”
“I would remember—the mattress
is too heavy for me to shift alone. When
we got up yesterday and I made the bed, it was the navy percale. I remember
thinking they were getting a bit fusty, but I didn’t change them.”
“Well I didn’t. I had to leave early yesterday because of the Rutledge fiasco. Jesus was mad as hell. You were already here by the time I got home.”
Hands on her hips, she
remembers. “I’d just pulled up the
blankets when Trudy called. Emergency meeting
before the sales season. I skipped the shower
and headed right to the office. When I got home, I was so
exhausted I didn’t even bother to change out of my work clothes. You were practically asleep by the time I got to the bedroom.” Her arms relax and I slip past.
“I really have to get moving,
Len. Traffic’s a mess if I don’t get out
as I retie my tie, that she hasn’t made the bed.
I think I know what we both need, but I don’t have time this morning.
That evening, after kvetching
over work at supper, she brings it up again. “I
didn’t make the bed this morning.”
“Go look at it now.”
I take any invitation to the bedroom. Hope springs, as they say. “They’re
the same sheets as before,” I observe.
“Yes, but the bed is made. I didn’t do it. Did you? Have you ever made the bed?”
As superior as my diffidence
makes me feel, she has a point. This is weird. With work constantly on my mind I just don’t
have time to consider non-work life too deeply. I grab her
and kiss her passionately. Despite being upset, she lets me unmake the
bed. We’re lying, gratefully spent, on
top of the blanket.
“Okay. So you’re
saying you didn’t make the bed. I didn’t
make the bed. Yet here it is.” She runs her hand over it.
The arrangement had been military. The kind of disciplined bed you only
see on television, not in real life. “What
do you think we should do?”
“Well, I’ll be glad
to show you again—just give me a couple of minutes.”
“I think we should call
“Is anything missing?” Up on
my elbows, panic hits, shattering my profound calm.
We’re just a working couple, and we don’t have jewelry or money or shit
like that around the house. We do have a
few electronics and some rare CDs that cost us dear.
We’re out of bed, still naked, checking the house. A quick look tells us the important stuff is still here. In fact, nothing else appears to be
disturbed. If anything, it’s neater than
we left it. “How can we call the police
when nothing is missing?”
“Isn’t breaking and entering a
it breaking, though? You haven’t lost your keys, have you?” She grabs her handbag from the coatrack and
pulls them out to show me.
keys are in my right front pocket. I used them when I got home.”
They wear through my trousers too quickly, but nobody reaches in there without my
immediate attention. Right now they’re
on the bedroom floor. “Could anyone have made a copy?”
“I don’t see how. I keep my purse locked in my desk at work. Besides, I’m in my cube just about all day. Have you been taking your pants off anywhere?” I’m not sure I like the edge in her voice. I ignore it. Ignoring
is becoming my specialization.
“So, nobody’s copied the keys
and there’s nothing missing. What about
the windows?” We get our fingers grimy
by feeling along the undusted sills. All
“I think we should
call the police.”
“We’d better get dressed
who arrives looks stern and muscular, not particularly prone to deep thought. “And what is missing?”
admits. “Nothing’s missing.”
“Then why’d you call?”
he asks, tucking his notebook into a breast pocket.
I admire his black belt full of gadgets of force.
“Well, somebody broke into our
house. Isn’t that illegal?”
“Yes, but you have no proof
that anyone broke in.”
“Someone changed the sheets,”
me a quizzical look. I shrug my shoulders. “Someone did change the sheets.”
He goes through the same
questions that I did earlier.
“We’ve never seen
him, but he changes the sheets and makes the bed.”
“He?” the officer
asks. “How do you know it’s a he?”
“How many women would break
into another person’s house to do even more housework?” Lentene asks.
Our policeman pulls out his pad
and makes a note. “We can send an extra
car down the street for a few nights,” he eventually concedes. “See
if they find anything out of the ordinary.”
It’s dark when he steps outside. The neighbors must wonder at the police car in front of our house. “You know,” I say to Lentene, looking
around, “things could be missing and we’d never know.”
“But why would someone break
in to make the bed? Doesn’t it creep
you out that a stranger was in our bedroom?
Touching our sheets? With access to
our entire lives?”
day we have the locks changed. I have some
questions for the locksmith. “So, do
you have copies of the keys?”
“No sir. The
only keys that will fit these locks are these two, unless, of course, you make copies.”
“How easy is it
to pick a lock?”
“The technology of your basic
lock hasn’t changed for years. Well,
there’s electronic locks, but your basic key and tumblers have always been susceptible. I ‘spect ya leave the deadbolt and chain
on the back door and exit the front so that someone tryin’ to pick a lock would
be obvious to the neighbors. Like most folk do.”
“Thank you for coming out
on a weekend,” Lentene smiles.
“If you’re willing
to pay weekend rates, well, ya get what ya pay for.”
He places the keys in my hand. “Here
one of the keys to Lentene. She holds it
up, examining it like a diamond in the light. “This
thin piece of metal is all that keeps the rest of the world out,” she muses. “This bit of brass versus all the evil
intention out there.” She seems so
helpless that I actually feel sorry for her.
“Most people’re pretty decent,
Miss. But don’t tell nobody I told
ya—it’s bad for business. ‘Sides, most
crimes are inside jobs.” He packs up his
tools and heads out. His last words sound
don’t suppose it’s a ghost, do you?”
ghost?” I ask, looking after the locksmith.
“That’s been changing
the sheets and making the bed.”
“I’ve heard of ghosts
moving small things. Changing the sheets
would take plenty of energy. Lot of effort
for a ghost.”
“Whoever’s been doing it, if
they can get in without being noticed, could come and watch us in our sleep, when we can’t
respond. Would you want a stranger watching
us at night? While we sleep?”
I shudder. “Well, let’s hope this takes care of the problem.” I pat the new lock and deadbolt combination.
We’re both home all day,
but we don’t use the bedroom. Nothing
out of the ordinary happens on Saturday. Not
a thing. Monday inevitably arrives.
“How often do you suppose
normal people change their sheets?” Lentene
fixates on this like our intruder focuses on our bed. Yesterday it made the
bed again. While we were home. We
don’t know. It’s not something people talk about. Growing up Mom used to change them once a
a month?” she exclaims. “My mom
insisted on changing them every week. We
always had clean sheets.”
“And a hell of a water bill. In college Fr’breeze covered a host of sins,”
going to leave the bed unmade, and tonight, if our mysterious
guest does his trick, I’m going to change the sheets before we go to bed.”
When I get home I see that she’s
purchased new linens, although we can scarcely afford frivolous spending. The
sheets we have are perfectly fine. “The bed was made, all right,”
she calls from the kitchen. “And we
each had a mint on our pillow.”
“Do we even have any mints?”
“Not this kind. I don’t like the way this is going.”
“It’s like it’s
breaking in and giving us something. Breaking
and entering is illegal because of theft, not gifts.
Still, I wouldn’t eat those mints.”
“I already threw them down
The sterility of new sheets always bothers me. I don’t sleep well on them. Have we offended our uninvited guest?
Today after work, I find Lentene
in tears. When did I begin ignoring her like
this? I try to comfort her, but all she says
is, “Look!” I know where she
means. The bed is stripped and the new sheets
strewn angrily on the floor. We don’t
keep our room obsessively neat, but even this is beyond our usual bohemian disregard for
order. It isn’t just the disarray—it’s
the feeling of rage in the air, like after you walk into a room during a suddenly silenced
argument. I try to think of something comforting
to say on my way back to Lentene.
“Do you think he’s angry?” she
asks through her sobs.
“Who? The unknown force that’s making our bed?”
“It’s not a force—it’s
a person! You know that as well as I do!”
A person whose intentions we
can’t divine. A person we can’t see or
hear. I offer to take her out for supper. Food always cheers her up.
“Let me change my clothes,”
she says, “and wash my face.”
From the kitchen I hear her scream
and run to the bedroom. “Lentene!”
The bed is newly made. “He’s here!” she whispers. “I had
figured he left when he was done, but he must stay here.
He must be here now.”
“I’ll call the police.”
“What for? To
be laughed at again? Come on, let’s find him.”
Our house isn’t large, but
even so a clever person can avoid a search by two, especially if they won’t leave
each other’s side. We don’t find
anyone. Perhaps we don’t want to.
I’m looking at Lentene like
I’ve never seen her before. A shadow
of the cute girl I married comes through as she gives me that look. Yes, that look. I’ve
come back to her and she seeks refuge in my arms.
“Let’s make love,” she insists.
“What if he’s here?” I’m
“I’m counting on it,”
she grins, slipping off her blouse.
Bruce has published a couple dozen stories in about a dozen different places. Some
have been nominated for prizes, and a couple actually won. He works as an editor
in New York City.