Five into Forty-Nine Is a Fraction

by Kate Gehan

I’m not fat shaming, because all bodies are beautiful and you know better than anyone how mine expands and contracts with time and lust and depression and children, but the salesman is doughy, does not make me feel like a strange lioness, and he wants to know what kind of mattress I’m on right now—what’s my current situation? I could mangle some babe’s lyrics about how I put too much on my table and there was too much at stake. Or I could say, well honey, we’re all just waiting for someone to give us permission to die. I could tell him the mattress is covered in blood, how we couldn’t keep it clean no matter how hard we tried. I like the way he evaluates my body in the showroom while I roll upon foam and spring, comfort and air, and he can guess my habit of reacting sexually to a crisis, although I keep my feet and head on the protective coverlets. He interrogates: how firm do you like it, is this just for you, do you know what you’re looking for?—and he pushes the bridge of his glasses against broken blood vessels. Bars of fluorescent lights glow orange through my eyelids. What did it mean when you, blind as a bat after you folded your own glasses on the bedside table, said I was gorgeous, and did you say the same to her?

I whisper to the mattress salesman I like it very firm; everything will be for me from now on; I am looking for joy. I tell him about the chandelier in the art museum’s contemporary design wing, which is made of forty-nine precariously balanced love notes written in different languages. They smolder in the center light, each a rectangle of creamy vellum, quality paper stock, like the kind used for wedding invitations. The designer intended his extravagant mobile to include blank sheets for the owner to compose their own notes, and I really sell it to the guy, throw out examples of how a person could provide instructions on how to make a lover’s eyes roll back, how to properly kiss the underside of a knee, or scribble mon amour ne mourra jamais. All the days since I last stood beneath such flaming love, I’ve tried to compose forty-nine love notes for you, but I’ve only come up with five. See if you can find them here, where I’ve tucked them in, hospital-corner tight.

Kate Gehan’s debut short story collection, The Girl and The Fox Pirate, was published by Mojave River Press in 2018. Her writing has appeared in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency, Bending Genres, Literary Mama, The Stockholm Review, Sundog Lit, Split Lip Magazine, People Holding, WhiskeyPaper, After the Pause, Cheap Pop, and others. She is nonfiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Say hello @StateofKate and find her work at kategehan.com.