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Natural Light

The sheets were wet again. Mandy woke up in a puddle every morning, for the last years worth of mornings, so far as she could remember. Under the plush feather duvet that covered her king sized bed regardless of the season, her body becomes a furnace at night. Her $4,000 Tempur-Pedic mattress didn’t help matters any, even though she’d shelled out extra for the “Tempur-Breeze” model. Every night, from roughly 10PM to 6AM, she lay in her little nest, the foam of the mattress molding up around her, the weight of the duvet keeping her restless limbs still, and she sweat.

Reaching over on her nightstand to grab her phone, she adjusted herself over to the dry side of the bed and scrolled for a bit. The brightness of her screen illuminated a good portion of her bedroom, and in between cursory reads of tweets and Facebook posts, she scanned the things around her, taking a sort of inventory that was soothing in a very specific way. Her bed was a pine platform bed that she’d ordered online. When picking it out, she’d gone back and forth as to whether or not she should get it stained, but opted instead to keep it natural. If any humidity entered the room, which was rare because she kept the townhouse as ice cold as possible, the scent of pine would seep out, which she loved. The smell reminded her of family camping trips she’d never taken.

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In one corner she had an overstuffed leather reading chair, the kind with the high back and rolled, wide arms. She’d found that at an estate sale. Once a month she’d get out a soft wash cloth and drip a few drops of leather oil into it, the kind people use on baseball gloves and car interior, and she’d wipe it down from one side to the other, taking great care to not use too much oil, which could stain. Her bookshelf was whatever. Six shelves. Particle board. White. She’d bought that at Ikea when Ikea was still a thing. The books inside it though were her pride and joy. Carefully curated classics and obscurities that she’d picked up over the years at independent bookstores, yard sales, and Etsy. It’s amazing how many 1st editions you can find on Etsy for like $5 because people don’t know what they have. They’re unaware of their value. Mandy takes value very seriously. Most things have a use, but not everything has value. It’s special.

In Mandy’s room there are three lamps. A small squatty lamp. White. Porcelain. This was on her bedside table. She kept a light pink bulb in that one, which cast off a warm, delicate light. Like a softer version of the lights used in a chick hatchery, which are more red. There was a floor lamp that she kept next to her reading chair. White. Painted iron. Daylight simulating bulb. Bright enough to easily read by, but not blast you in the face offensive. And then she had a small round lamp, like a globe lamp, but without the actual globe aspect, which she kept on a pine chest of drawers inside of her closet. She’d removed her closet doors to separate her dressing space from the rest of the room, which gave it a chic 1950s apartment in Soho feel, she thought. Next to the chest of drawers was an ornate wood floor length mirror that her mother had given to her before she left for college. She’d been told that the mirror was a family heirloom, but she couldn’t think of a family member who would want to actually see the full length of their body with any regularity. And plus, it still had a Walmart sticker on it. Mandy had seen it right away, but didn’t say anything. She just folded it into her room, keeping the sticker on as a reminder that just because something looks like it has value, or is presented as something that has value, it could actually just be cheap trash. Her mom had given her a lot of cheap trash in her life. Huge, tacky light up watches from QVC that were like nothing she’d ever worn, or would. Fake diamond cross necklaces that had no weight in her hand, because they were mostly plastic. Huge, ill-fitting oversized shirts with some sort of nonsense on them. Usually she’d take the things in, keep them by the door, or in a space separated from her actual belongings, and then donate them when she got around to it. But the mirror, that she kept. Out of bed, standing in front of it now washed in the glow of her globe lamp, she could see her new body. Rolled. Stretched. Pocked. Like a deflating yellow birthday balloon stuck in a low branch of a mossy tree. She’d held on for as long as she could.

Mandy took a book of matches out of the wooden jewelry box on top of the chest of drawers and used one to light the oak moss candle she kept on the bistro table next to her reading chair. It was always nice to start the day with a pleasant smell. She opened and closed drawers, picking out a simple outfit for the day. Soft black jeans and an even softer black long sleeve t-shirt. The bottom drawer held all of her bathroom stuff (toothpaste, lotion, deodorant, etc) which she kept organized in a vintage 90s mint and peach Caboodle. Another Etsy purchase, though she’d had the very same one when she was much younger. It was probably in the townhouse, somewhere, and if she could ever find it, then she’d have two, which would be nice. It feels good to be organized.

With her clothes under her arm, and the handle of the Caboodle in her hand, she clicked off the globe light and made her way out the door with a hearty push. As it opened she could feel the opposition of the stuff on the hallway floor just outside of her room pushing against it. Making her way to the bathroom was like traversing an obstacle course of empty boxes, paper bags, old magazines, and Kleenex boxes that used to, at one time, contain soft, lotion coated facial tissues - probably of some seasonal variety - but now held who the hell knows what. One time she’d taken it upon herself to investigate the meaning behind a vast collection of clumped paper towels stuffed under the kitchen sink and found that inside each one was a used Poise pad. Do you know what those are? They’re for incontinence, which can mean a small variety of things. These particular Poise pads were all dotted with liquid shit. She’d find them every now and then throughout the rest of the townhouse as well. Still stuck in the crotch of her mother’s cast off underwear. As curious as Mandy was as to why her mom did these things, and why she’d dissolved into living this way, it felt healthier to try to look past it. But that wasn’t easy when, one step out of her room, she was shin deep in it.

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Passing the break in the hall that led into the small living room, she saw her mom, posted up in her usual spot at the kitchen table, arms surrounded by papers, books, and an ever smoldering red plastic ashtray. Her hair, in its neat blonde bubble, caught the morning light coming in from the slightly parted hanging blinds. Her earrings, little hang down glittery Halloween cats, backs raised in a perpetual hiss, wiggled every time she lifted her cigarette to her mouth to take a drag, blowing the smoke up into the ceiling, heavily blackened by all the years previous drags and exhales.

“I don’t know how you can smoke inside like that,” Mandy said to the back of her hair. “God. It just stinks so bad.”

Without turning, her mom reached down into the pile to the left of her chair and manifested a large bottle of Febreeze. She sprayed an even mist all around her, not caring that it had just coated everything on the table in front of her.

“Jeez, you’re in a mood.” She said, placing the bottle back down into the pile, disturbing a small mountain of thick, brightly colored hand towels.

Her mom went back to reading her book. She rarely moved from her spot at the table, reading and smoking, unless she had to pee, get a refill of pop (extra ice), or pull a fresh pack of cigarettes out of the fridge. The sun was fully up at this point in the morning, but the room seemed dark. The small amount of light coming in through the blinds cast stripes across the floor.

“How can you see in here well enough to read?” Mandy asked, flicking on the over head, which flooded humming white light, like an emergency room.

“Jesus! Shut those off! You know how I hate overhead lights.” Her mom turned to her now, face scrunched in annoyance. Mandy imagined that if she looked at her long enough her face would morph to how she's seen her throughout the totality of her lifetime, right up to that point. Her mom, pulling a candy cane from her purse and handing it to her while they waited in line at the mall to get a picture taken with Santa. Her mom, looking over her right shoulder to check on her while they walked through the Lincoln Park Zoo. Her mom, walking towards her down the grocery store aisle, holding a bag of Halloween Oreos in each hand and wriggling her eyebrows in excitement. "Found 'em!"

“Well buy a lamp then for shit’s sake,” Mandy said, flipping the light back off. "Or open the blinds all the way."

Her mom stubbed out the cigarette that had been wasting away in the lip of the ashtray, and lit a fresh one, squinting through the sliver of the swaying blinds.

"I like the light to just come when it wants to."