Wednesday, August 04, 2004


Last month all our fitted sheets wore out at once. Both of them, that is. One developed a long fault line near my shoulder and the other a gaping sinkhole under my pillow. I had to admit they were unsleepable-upon. That they would probably not survive another washing. What this meant, of course, was shopping for linens.

I had a visiting professor at Wellesley who taught a wonderful course in Greek drama in translation. He liked to pepper his lectures with asides about the wealthy community in which he found himself teaching, a town so unabashedly upscale, he'd complain, that it lacked a proper grocery store. A town whose housewives, he imagined contemptuously, spent all their time "shopping for linens."

In retrospect, I'm not sure why we did not tear him limb from limb, a la Bacchae, for that sexist remark.

Anyway, DK got out the straight jacket and the gag, bundled me into the backseat of the Honda, and drove us to the mall. The experience is a blur of impossible colors, inscrutable numerologies, and strange ancillary bed garments called shams and skirts. Suffice it to say, we bought a set of sheets. Bright red sheets. Red by default, not design. The only other color was a bilious pumpkin orange with a green-at-the-gills tinge.

So I put them on the bed.

"Shouldn't we replace that wall hanging" I asked DK, pointing to a little Amish-toned quilt I'd made decades ago, "with a velvet painting of a tiger ? And maybe get some lava lamps ?" I was trying to get into the spirit of the red sheets. The Dionysian sheets.

That night we climbed into bed. Was I crazy or did the bed seem, well, hotter than usual ? Can one feel colors through one's skin ? I suddenly recalled an old Life magazine article, circa 1960's, that had impressed me mightily as a child. It was about some Russian scientists who claimed that certain people could distinguish colors with their fingertips. They'd called this skill "dermo-optical perception" or DOP, and the article included some test swatches where we could check ourselves for this skill.

I tried and tried and tried. I was, alas, not one of the lucky gifted ones.

Until now and the arrival of the sheets. The red sheets. The blood red sheets. The meat-red sheets. The sheets incarnadine. The wine-dark sheets. The pomegranite-red sheets.

I can feel them through my skin. They redden my dreams. I awaken tired, as if I'd been fleeing hellfires all night. Sitting downstairs in the den, I can hear them pulsating through the floorboards, even over the Red Sox game.

"DK -- did you hear that ?"

"What ?"

"Upstairs. That, uh, throbbing."

"Throbbing ? It's probably just some kitty."

The sheets are unhingeing me. August is unhingeing me. The upstairs is hot and smells of litterbox. The railings are too sticky to touch. The flies are lording it all over me, buzzing just out of reach. And this morning, right in the middle of my passion-red pillow, curled a single, long, witchy gray hair.

At that moment I gave in. Stopped fighting. And waved a blissfully, cool, crisp, Apollonian white flag of surrender at the victorious, red sheets.

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