Do You Know the Mattress Man?
I crawl into Joe’s van when I turn sixteen. The Owl Creek Park oak trees are still dressed in jaundiced leaves. There are no back seats, only a stack of mattresses from dorm dumpsters and apartment eviction piles.
It’s the edge of summer, when it still stays hot until midnight. He tells me I am hot until midnight too. I believe him; he makes me feel like a Charlie’s Angel instead of a not-yet-woman wearing wool knee socks and a St. Agnes’s pleated skirt.
“Look, you can see the stars,” he says.
There is only a cloudy moon roof above us. Laying on stained mattresses, it feels like there is something hidden between them, a frozen pea or a mood ring or another girl’s earring.
“Is that the Big Dipper?” I ask.
“Maybe,” he says.
I catch a whiff of gas station lemon air freshener waxing his sunkissed, knotty naughty skin. I think about Edith Bunker when she was raped on “All in the Family.” She told the police her attacker asked what perfume she was wearing and she answered, Lemon Pledge. I giggled with that laugh track but Mama didn’t and kept dusting our fake lemon tree after Daddy slapped her double-knit, double-wide butt.
I wait for Joe to sing happy birthday but he doesn’t. Instead, he traces constellations on my starched white blouse.
“What if someone wants to buy your mattresses?” I ask.
“You think I sell those?”
I wonder what I’ll tell the police. Will I say, “he wore lemon air freshener?”
As he laugh-track-laughs and reaches for me, I close my eyes and imagine Mama dusting our television console and Edith Bunker screaming lemon-scented screams and naked trees with piles of yellow Tuesday panties around their ankles.
Amy Barnes has words at sites including: FlashBack Fiction, Popshot Quarterly, Flash Fiction Magazine, X-Ray Lit, Penny Fiction, Stymie Lit, No Contact Mag, JMMW, The Molotov Cocktail, Lucent Dreaming, Lunate Fiction, Rejection Lit, Perhappened, Cabinet of Heed, Spartan Lit, and others. She volunteers at Fractured Lit (Associate Editor), CRAFT, Taco Bell Quarterly, Retreat West, NFFD, The MacGuffin, and Narratively. She is nominated for Best Microfiction and the Pushcart. Her flash collection, Mother Figures is forthcoming in 2021.