Mieke Eerkens: “Three Sheets, No Wind”

Even I can see his hairy bare legs splayed carelessly across my white sheets have become grotesque. He says, he says white sheets remind him of hospitals, hospitals with smells antiseptic and needles. The sheets on the gurney at the hospital have the smell of industrial laundry, rough under my tie-back gown but I don’t care, I actually revel in it, I’m in it to feel as the nurse bends over me and he tapes down my IV, to feel something. In Holland my family my relatives the Dutch, they hang their sheets to dry on a line and the sheets dry in frozen forms, rough like their working hands like their words like their judgments like knives, or No we call that Dutch sensibility pragmatism socialism WWII suffering, and their clothes and their sheets become gray with the years of murky hand-washings strung up in rows across practical vegetable gardens in their cold northern breeze. I go back year after year to these people these people, my kin, to take me in, and I lie still between cold sandpaper sheets. They say, what about our sheets, do you have something to say about it, do you think you are better than us, do you think you are better than the rest? What about your American elitism consumerism materialism ismism, what about the war the war The War, and the bombs, the camps, the hunger? Your mother knitted her underwear and sewed pants out of curtains and we had nothing, nothing, so no you cannot know us, no. I feel the anger sadness humiliation rejection, torn between two homes, halved between have and have-not and I want to yell at them, If you slept on my sheets and released yourself to them you might know what it is to feel love.

I will never sleep on satin sheets, sliding and slipping from between them like a piece of soap gripped an eel peeled grape or the smell of gardenia, no contact, no friction, how do the silky folk meet? Give me vanilla, the clean cotton of me, and I will feel my bathtime skin and read the pure books of my youth. I sat at the table with white linen spread before me, five brussels sprouts, trying to swallow them whole, five brussel sprouts, gagging and choking those vile things, five, and she said don’t you get up from this table, you think of the starving children and eat. Leaning my chin in my upturned palms, crying [child abuse grave injustice] till I slipped and my chin hit the plate and my teeth hit my lip, the blood warm and salty, the white linen tablecloth ruined, ruined, spotted with red. Ha I said, haha serves you right. Now see what you made me do.

Red flannel sheets, my arms naked and chilled, he was going to make me some sleeves, just the sleeves, the sectioning /off /of /my/body the disjointed dissociated arms having an experience separate from me, encased in cotton, not craving not touching his skin like the rest of me, like when my body starts to fall asleep before my brain and my feet feel fifty miles away maybe even someone else’s feet entirely lying there in the bed with me, or when I wake in the night with what seems to be a rubber arm on my face and I throw it off in a panic, heart pounding, it weighs about twenty pounds and plops down and only then do I see it is attached to me. Then the pins and needles come down like a jellyfish stinging, the excruciating but strangely delicious painful return to life, and slowly I move one finger then two then my whole hand, take hold of and grasp the pillows grab at sensation touch my dead hand with the living one- shake it, pump it vigorously, welcome my arm back to my body. Turning my sleep-creased face in the breaking day when I am unified into one person again I will have only the faint fading memory of an existential crisis in the night glow of an alarm clock.

In the morning the bed is so much bigger empty, my leg slides across, soft on flannel. I roll over into the dip, I spoon my pillows. Next to my bed, the contents of my clutter: nail polish, duct tape, an envelope with two buttons, headphones/no music, my watch. Outside my hazy window, a constant deep reassurance of the fog horn. I had this dream that we met at the middle of the bridge, emerging from the mist like apparitions. But the details dissipated on my waking. I am a fool. That boy has heroin eyes.

I bought a pillow-top for my mattress to make my life softer, softer, sick of concessions. I never woke lovers when they hogged the blankets, wrapping themselves when they rolled, inching across the sheets in the night, crowding me over till I was stretched out along the precipice of the bed, cold and sorry in my senseless martyrdom. Would they love me more if I suffered while they snored? I always found out. My sheets, my sheets do you hear, my sheets will be downy soft and selfish against my skin and it is ok, it is ok if I left my pen out, my fountain pen that bled spread leaked across my bed, but nobody yelled, nobody told me good one Einstein, no one reminded me that I ruined the sheets, the guest sheets the expensive sheets, PS the starving children in Cambodia, PPS the concentration camps, PPPS if you were a good woman you’d be perfect, nobody nobody, because they belong to me.

Mieke Eerkens is a Dutch-American writer who grew up divided between the foothills of California and the canals of the Netherlands. She is a graduate of the University of Iowa’s MFA program in Nonfiction Writing and her work has appeared in publications such as The Atlantic, The Sun, Best Travel Writing 2011, the Norton anthology Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts, and Creative Nonfiction magazine. She currently teaches Creative Writing to undergraduates at the University of Iowa.

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