As a writing exercise, I wrote a speculative piece inspired by one of my favourite installations ‘In Bed’ by Ron Mueck usually exhibited at the Gallery of Modern Art but currently on tour. I hope it comes back home soon.
I will tell you a secret. I haven’t gotten out of bed since July 2005. I remember it had been an unusually chilly winter. The wind whipped in between the cracks of the fibro panels of the old Queenslander and literally coated the heater with ice-crystals. When it found me, it attacked with gusto –sharp pinpricks on my cheeks and playful nips at my ear lobes. I shivered and snuggled down deeper into my doona and drew the hot water bottle in between my feet.
That was when I decided to spend all winter in bed. Family and friends kept me well entertained with endless supplies of books and hot chocolate. I got re-acquainted with my beloved Jane Austen characters and wished for my own Mr Darcy, one that was not sculpted from pillows and quilts.
Spring arrived through the cracks of my venetian blinds. At 5am, the birds breakfasted off the giant grevillea bush outside my window and cheekily chirped, ‘Wake up get up wake up get up wake up’.
My mother told the rest of the family I was sick. This precipitated an influx of visitors – cheerful Florence Nightingales who wallpapered my room with ‘Get Well Soon’ cards and hobbyist doctors who dispensed medicinal advice. They left brightly coloured gerberas and chrysanthemums to keep me in spirits but set off a spell of hay fever so for awhile I was genuinely ill.
By summer, I had kicked off the top doona and turned on the overhead fan. Little good did it do to disperse the sweltering heat but it did keep the flies away. In the absence of friends and family who had gone away for summer holidays, I had grown very fond of my bedroom. Since my constant inhabitancy, I’ve noticed its unique musty odour and the creaks and groans as the floorboards expanded and contracted with the weather.
Not surprisingly I was unemployed by then so when the Gallery Of Modern Art called me up and offered me a job, I jumped at the opportunity. I still had no intention of getting out of bed but my new boss assured me that I was hired explicitly because of my dedication to staying in bed.
I was to form part of a new exhibit in their gallery space. They built a customised bed for me with wide timber slates which smelled like fresh pine wood. It was set down low like a futon and the mattress was covered with Egyptian cotton sheets. Someone had thoughtfully laid down five punchy pillows in case I wanted to prop myself up at night to read.
It was lovely to be in air-conditioning after being trapped in a greenhouse all summer but it did dry out my skin. At first, I was uncomfortable with people staring at me. I felt bloated and large. By then, my legs had atrophied from disuse. I was nothing more than a giant head and torso with two rubbery tubes sticking out where toned, tanned calves should have been.
During the day, I laid perfectly still while people walked all around me and gawked at my translucent skin, brittle hair, shrunken eyes and thin lips. Business women in tailored suits would tread carefully as if afraid the clickity-clack of high heels may disturb my slumber.
Middle aged men with thinning hair and Ralph Lauren polo shirts would shake their head in disbelief and murmur, ‘It’s so real.’
Little kids would see me and cry, ‘Mummy is that large woman sick?’
One day a young couple had been scrutinizing me for at least fifteen minutes. I did not like the look of the boyfriend. He had his hand tucked possessively into the girl’s back jean pocket and he smelled of cigarettes.
‘What’s this called eh? In Bed. Looks like she’s dying. Check out that look in her eyes like she’s doped out on painkillers. How’d you like to go like that eh? Probably ovarian cancer,’ he brayed.
It is the same with most jobs – sometimes there are just nasty people that make you want to crawl into bed and never get up. In that respect, I suppose I am lucky.