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Sex in A Sleep Number Bed
Roxane Gay

January 2010

The logistics of it trouble Celia. She likes a firm mattress.  She wants her bed so hard it feels like she’s sleeping on cold pavement. Her boyfriend Jamie prefers a mattress so soft his body sinks to the coils and he is cocooned.

On their first date, Jamie gave Celia a small plant—an African Violet. He stood on her front porch in his t-shirt and faded khaki blazer and skinny jeans holding the plant out in front of him. When Celia opened the door, Jamie smiled, lifted the plant higher like an offering. This gesture also troubled Celia. Her mother is an avid gardener, spends all her time in mud and shit and the fog of a hothouse trying to make things grow.

As a girl, Celia would sit and sweat on the dirt-covered worktable in her mother’s hothouse. She would play with gardening shears and clay pots and listen as her mother pruned and spritzed and otherwise tended to her garden, dispensing romantic advice as mediated through flora and fauna. “Don’t ever be impressed just because a man brings you flowers,” her mother would say. “Not all flowers are created equal.”

They bought the bed when they moved in together five months after they started dating. Celia had finally reconciled Jamie’s unfortunate choice of first date plants. Meeting in the middle of the large bed proved problematic. Celia would lie on her back along the fault line between their sleep number preferences while Jamie peeled her clothes off and knelt between her thighs, one of his knobby knees sinking into his side of the mattress, the other knee riding high on hers. As they fucked, the imbalance of it distracted Celia. It made her dizzy.

Sometimes they tried one side or the other but the bed was always too hard or too soft, never just right. One August night, naked, sweating after deeply unsatisfying sex, Jamie lay on his side staring at Celia who stared up at the ceiling as she considered what they might have otherwise done with the fifteen hundred dollars they spent on the bed. “We could have driven to Canada,” Celia said. The window unit coughed fetid, lukewarm air across their bodies. Celia tapped her navel with two fingers, sighing heavily. She thought of her mother’s garden, the sour stench of fertilizer. Jamie shook his head. “This bed is going to be the death of us,” he said.

Celia loves the word hothouse, the idea of four walls containing unbearable heat. Bordellos used to be called hothouses. She loves the idea of that—a house full of whores, their skin shiny and warm, the air thick with sweat and perfume and lipstick and gin.


Roxane Gay's work appears or is forthcoming in Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, Gargoyle, The Collagist, Hobart, Monkeybicycle 7 and many others. She is the associate editor of PANK and can be found online at http://www.roxanegay.com.

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