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K. Marvin Bruce
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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.

“Very funny.”

“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.”

“I didn’t.”  I talk over my coffee, cupping the warm mug in my chilly fingers.  Black bitterness starts each day.

“Now who’s being funny?”  She smiles an expression so familiar that it has almost become a grimace.

“Not 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 me out.”

“I’m 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 a shower.”

She stands 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, who did?”

“Maybe 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 before seven.”

I notice, 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.”

“I noticed.”

“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 the police.”

“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 crime?”

“Is 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.

“Have you?”

“My 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 locked.

“I think we should call the police.”

“We’d better get dressed first.”

The officer who arrives looks stern and muscular, not particularly prone to deep thought.  “And what is missing?”

“Nothing,” Lentene 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,” she reasons.

He gives 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?”

The next 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 ya go.”

I hand 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 strangely ominous.

“You don’t suppose it’s a ghost, do you?” Lentene wonders.

“A 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 heard nothing.

“I don’t know.  It’s not something people talk about.  Growing up Mom used to change them once a month.”

“Once 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,” I confess.

“Well, I’m 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 disposal.”

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 suddenly self-conscious.

      “I’m counting on it,” she grins, slipping off her blouse.


K. Marvin 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.

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