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You find yourself lying on your back staring blankly at the multitude of fluorescent lights overhead feeling self-conscious, as if your fairy tale Goldilocks has been relocated into a scene from Groundhog Day.

She announces, “this one’s too soft.” Just like the last four beds you and your wife tested. There must be a term for the action of laying down upon a mattress in order to discern whether or not it’s suitable to take home. Test-lay? Test lie? Faux sleep?

“Is this how everyone chooses a new mattress?” You can’t see the saleswoman but you can hear her breathing, waiting for your pronouncement and to direct you to the next possible candidate.

You push up onto an elbow to look back at a line of white cotton pillow-tops and wonder if you could skip a quarter across the showroom floor. Eyeing the firmer specimens considering their superior bounce factor for your quarter experiment you know that the stockmen at Samuel’s Furniture store have stacked the deck against you. The bastards have placed two sets of bunk beds side by side. Your quarter never had a chance to escape. Neither do you as you push yourself onto your feet for the 7th time to move to the next euro plush pocket coil Serta or Sealy in line.

Fifteen minutes, minimum. According to the internet that’s how long it takes to settle into a bed to determine if it fits you. I’m indifferent. If the decision were left to me, I’d pick the third or fourth one. The one between too firm and too soft and tell the salesperson to deliver it next Friday.

It’s not up to me. In this the more discerning partner chooses, and that isn’t me. Having consulted six websites and an outdated consumer reports article she’s stymied by the practice of mattress companies renaming their products according to the retailer thereby making comparison shopping almost impossible. A Serta Cloud pillowtop could be the Bellagio Euro top in another store, and Infinity Plush in yet another.  So here I am lying toes up, palms down at my side for another ten minutes.

This is not natural. I don’t sleep on my back, in my clothes, with the lights on, while on display in Samuel’s mattress section in Ferntucky, Washington. That’s how I feel, like I’m on display. How often does a lesbian couple drive the fifteen miles from Blaine to test beds? The twelfth of never, right? I had this paranoid feeling that the stockmen changed the sign out front just as we were settling ourselves on the third mattress set. The saleswoman’s in on it too, she’s stalling us, making us try the “meh” beds before she shows us the good stuff.

“Attention: churchgoing townies! Lesbians on display inside. Yes indeed, live lesbians. Samuel’s always brings you the very best and tonight we have lesbians in their natural habitat.” I chuckle at the turn my thoughts have taken and wonder “What exactly is the proper habitat for homo-sapiens of the lesbian persuasion?”

I want to reach out and touch the hand of the woman I love. My wife, although not my wife in this country. Here in America, the land of the free, I am a domestic partner properly registered with the Division of Corporations. After receiving the proper fee and a single notarized sheet of paper the Washington DOC joyfully sent us plastic cards confirming our un-married status. No fanfare, no party, no formal announcements, a fucking plastic card in the regular mail not unlike a handgun permit or the registration of a motor vehicle, and clearly just as dangerous to society. All this staring at the ceiling has me needing comfort and frankly the more beds we try the more comfortable I’m getting with the public process. I want to forget my surroundings completely and snuggle up on my side behind her, tuck her head into my shoulder and wrap my arms around her body until we fall asleep.

But I’m afraid to touch her. The woman I love more than earth itself and I’m afraid to hold her hand. We pass from one mattress cloud to the next chaste. Minutes tick past dragging their seconds as my heart beats, marking time until we can leave this place. She feels it too, the palpable tension in the air, the eyes of the elderly woman trying not to stare, the children hushed and turned away, the men nod, one winks.

“Time to go.” I reach for her hand as she reaches for the sales woman’s business card. Tracing a path through the mattresses, past the sofas, and loveseats, clearly avoiding the appliances and sundry housewares, she plots the straightest course to the front doors. We throw a thank you over our shoulders and retreat to the safety of our car.

As we close the doors and clasp the safety belts shut we look at each other and say “Let’s try Bellingham.”

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