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"Bedspace" by David Cook

When Anne and Gareth first got together, they’d squeezed into Gareth’s single student bed, clinging onto each other tightly, a mass of entangled limbs, neither able to imagine letting the other go. Out of love, yes, from the sheer intoxication of simply being together, that too, but also to ensure neither of them toppled off the mattress and onto the bare floorboards.

When Anne and Gareth got their own rented house together, they luxuriated in the extra space their new double bed offered them. Indeed, they barely left it for weeks after moving in. But they still spent their nights clinging onto each other in the middle of the mattress, even though neither had to worry about falling out any longer.

When Anne and Gareth finally bought a place of their own, the removal van didn’t turn up with the bed for three days, forcing them to resort to sleeping bags on the floor. Anne, always on the superstitious side, considered this an ill omen. Gareth told her she was being silly.

When Anne and Gareth had their first baby, a little boy called Jonah, Anne spent hours out of bed in the middle of every night, breastfeeding. Then, when Jonah was older, he slept between them. Gareth said this was a bad idea, but Anne said Jonah simply wouldn’t go down in his own room and Gareth was welcome to try and prove her wrong. He did. She wasn’t. But a distance far greater than the mere width of a sleeping toddler had formed between them.

When Anne and Gareth had their second baby, a little girl called Lily, Anne again spent hours out of bed in the middle of every night, breastfeeding. Soon, Lily would join Jonah in the bed with them, to the unhidden frustration of their father. As Anne and Gareth peered across the bed at each other, the distance could have been measured in miles. The nights when they clung to each other seemed a long time ago.

When Gareth eventually decided, despite Anne’s protestations, that sharing a bed with two infants was too much – “I’ve got work in the morning!” – and moved into the spare room “just for a few days”, the distance between he and Anne not only followed him, it stayed with them wherever they went, silently, but unmistakably, growing each day.

When Jonah and Lily were finally both old enough to sleep peacefully in their own beds, Gareth moved back into his and Anne’s bedroom. But so did the distance. Neither Anne nor Gareth found themselves able to close it. They slept perched on the edge of each side of the mattress, as if there were still two children in the bedspace between them.

When Anne and Gareth found themselves sleeping in separate beds in separate houses, they both wept. Anne moved Jonah and Lily back into her room for a time, clinging to them instead of Gareth in a way that brought all three some comfort. Gareth tossed and turned on his single mattress, before giving up hopes of rest. He got out of bed, padded across different, but sombrely familiar, bare floorboards and left the room. He stared at the television until the sun came up, remembering when it had been unimaginable to let Anne go.

David Cook's stories have been published in Ellipsis Zine, Janus Literary, the National Flash Fiction Anthology and more. He's a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee. He lives in Bridgend, Wales, with his wife and daughter.

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