This piece is a part of a series called “Walking Tours of Your Home.” The physical component of this section is an accordion pamphlet advertising a series of tours (read the image description of the pamphlet here).
Press play to listen to the audio as you read along.
There you are. You’re panicking. You’re mourning. You’re both frightened and frightening like a feral dog. If you were on a bus, people might say, “Look at her. She’s a wreck. Look at her mascara. Has she been crying for a year? What did she do? She needs a wash and a rest and a drink.” Well, you’ve come to the right place. I am going to fix your heart.
Here’s the plan: I am going to take you on a tour of your bedroom. You’ve been escaping into YouTube makeup tutorials and high-proof liquor since [in an ominous echo] the night . No more. It is time to face down what happened here. The bad love, the sudden death. Would you call this, your bedroom, a crime scene? I would. So listen closely. To get to the other side of your guilt and your pain, you must do exactly as I say.
Now, stand in the doorway of your bedroom. Yes, right there. And look around. What do you see? You can admit, it’s nothing much: beige and blank like a room at the Days Inn. No posters, a single second story window with a crack through it like a lightning bolt, a half-broken dresser, a small closet, a lamp on your side table. But, the bed, that bed, my god, that bed is beautiful. You went for the king-size mattress. You paid extra for the memory foam. You asked the mattress guy if that meant the mattress would remember you. He said, “A curtain can’t remember you. A light fixture. But this mattress goes beyond a home furnishing. It’s loyal, like an animal. It loves only you.”
Your ex moved the mattress up the two flights of stairs and into your bedroom a few weeks ago. You know, [in an ominous echo] the night. You used your ex that way, for heavy lifting. When you called his number, he answered [a deep-voiced male speaks], “Help desk.” Your ex showed up to move the mattress in his sleeveless shirt [ with a whoosh we flash to a memory of you and him:]
“But it’s about to storm,” [you say.]
“I get heat stroke, otherwise,” [he says.]
“They’re predicting hail.”
“You have no idea what goes on in my body.”
[Another whoosh pulls us back out of the memory. ]
Now, it’s time for you to enter your bedroom and lie down on your mattress. Yes, just like that, like the wounded lover you are. Hold on, you’re coated in a nervous sweat. [We hear the muted outdoor sounds.] We need some air in here for this to work. Reach for your window. There you go, now slide it open [the window opens, and the people talking and birds chirping become sharper, closer.] Do you hear it? Outside, it is summer. Men barbequing shirtless. Children setting off fireworks. Women sweeping and setting tables. Everyone glistening. The sun goes down, the sun comes up. You should be tanning, but instead all you can do is replay that night in your mind. [Background noise abruptly stops.] Murderer is a word. Manslaughterer is not. What do you even call yourself now? There is no word for what you are. In your king-size bed, you pull your laptop toward you, and you turn to the internet for comfort. This is always a mistake. You check your phone, you hit the wrong button.
[A Siri-like voice speaks] “What can I help you with? Go ahead, I am listening.”
[You say] “Body overheating cause of death?”
“Here is what I found…”
[A man begins speaking over the applause of an audience] “To die, to sleep. No more; and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand naturals…” [The crowd cheers wildly.]
[Answering machine] “You have one unheard message.”
[The voicemail begins, and a woman is speaking] “I left groceries at your door. Get them before the raccoons this time. Let’s not forget Hamlet was a bad man. They call it heart failure for a reason. Please eat, and stop drinking your neighbor’s moonshine.”
[The narrator returns] Now, turn away from the door and curl onto your side on the mattress. Feel your body grow heavy with a homemade alcohol. Fortified for what comes next. In your heartache, evaporate into sleep and let your ex visit you. Only then can you lift this veil of grief and remember what a total dick he was. Ah, here he is. [A memory begins.]
[Your ex speaks, a clock ticking in the background] “Typical, in bed laying there like some moody corpse with your back to me, your back to life. You have a problem with time and making nothing of it. You should be dating someone more like Kurt Cobain and less like, I don’t know, a leading man. I know you’re awake. You’re a bad actress. You’re doing like the community theater version of being asleep. I don’t get it. It’s like you’d just love to get cancer or get into a car crash, so you could just legit go on bed rest when other people are curing things and tracking comets. You know what you’re missing? You’re missing heat. I just ran for two hours. I’m hot. I struggled, I grew, I have lungs, and my lungs will function at their peak because, in case you didn’t hear, I just landed the role of Hamlet. I’m doing military workouts now because every night I will be going to war. You’re missing the point. You always ask what is life? Just do it.”
And then your ex would pause, and you would keep playing dead.
[Your ex speaks again] “I am a maximum person, and you’re a minimum person. I know you’re awake. Get up.” [ Sucks cheek.] “Get up, psycho.”
Do not get up. Roll over onto your other side. With soft eyes, watch the spot where he stood that afternoon. Imagine him there; through your eyelids, watch this man. This sturdy man, neither tall nor short, standing beside your bed. His mouth set, his arms crossed. He was fit. His sweat hit the floor like a code tapped through a telephone. Your smart friend made you promise never to do any kind of sport with him.
[The woman from the voicemail returns] “Do not go anywhere near a mountain or a river with that man. Don’t even rent a bike. You’ll die.”
All you could say to your ex, standing at the end of your bed, was, “Did you know that Hamlet backwards is ‘tell ma?’”
[Your ex speaks] “See this is why I can’t leave you. Hamlet does everything as a message to his mother. Yes, ‘tell ma.’ I’ve broken the code of the play.”
And you watched your ex’s chest flare with pride. He could not contain himself. He left your bedside, exited your bedroom. You followed him then. He was especially magnetic when he spoke your thoughts back to you. But your ex is not here to rouse you from your bed anymore, is he?
[The door of a van slams shut.] When you first met your ex, he told you that you were the woman of his dreams. You had delivered flowers to his home. A dozen roses sent from some agent with a card that read, “Break a leg.” You recognized him from a commercial for deodorant. Your ex opened the door to receive the flowers and almost immediately asked you out. “I guess so, sure,” [you’d said.] [He told you] “I am just so tired of vanity.” A few months passed.
[We whoosh into a memory. Your ex speaks to you as the clock ticks in the background] “You’re so smart. Everything that comes out of your mouth, it’s just so smart. I repeat what you say to my friends as if your ideas were my ideas, and they say, wow, you’re so smart. I love you. Come on, you have to say it back.” [Memory ends.]
I know, this is hard. Don’t blame yourself. Sit up. Put your feet on the floor. You can cut your toenails later. Now get out of bed and stand. Whoa, easy. Press your hand against the wall to steady yourself if you must. You’re weaker than I thought. You better sit down on the ground. Okay, now lie down, all the way. Stretch out. Feel the ground pushing into you. Oh, do you see where you’ve placed your body? The way you’ve sprawled yourself on the floor? It’s as if you were inside his chalk outline. That is where he fell, how he landed. That is his spot, exactly. There, there. This is progress.
We have reached the midpoint of your tour, and right on schedule, you, on the floor, have hit rock bottom. The only way now is up. Get back on your feet and look around. What a mess, you have not cleaned since [the ominous echo] the night . It’s been three weeks. Drained bottles of moonshine, your clothes on the floor like wilted versions of yourself, and are those raccoon tracks? [Echoing, as if for emphasis] Pull it together. Your body is not loveless; your body is the opposite of loveless. It’s just that now your love has nowhere to go. Get back into the bed. To fix your heart, we must go on.
[A van door slams.] Somehow, at the beginning, your ex did not bother you. You were a woman with a van full of flowers. You delivered flowers to people. That was your job, to support your writing, which had been modestly published to small audiences. The van was refrigerated so the flowers would not die. You would come home to your apartment after exchanges with widows and brides, to your ex, running his lines, and you would tell him about your time in the world, and he would steal your thoughts without understanding them. He was incredible at memorization.
[Answering machine] “You have one unheard message.”
[A voicemail from your ex begins. He’s speaking sensuously.] “Your eyes are like stars that kill.”
Your ex loved to say that he was fluent in French. He would Google translate lines of French poetry and then he would send you the translations. You judged him constantly, but for the first time, the judgments were not fatal. Until your ex, you had no interest in boyfriends. Sex was different, but finding sex was like finding air. You allowed your ex to remain in your life. You liked your effect on him. You suddenly understood why actors needed audiences.
[Answering machine] “You have one unheard message.”
[A voicemail from your ex begins] “Your tail makes me crazy like a dog in the shining sun.”
Your ex begged and begged, but you would not let him move in. He sulked, stormed off, came in here, your bedroom, and did his pushups and vocal warmups [in the background we hear him muttering vocal warmups to himself: “Red leather, yellow leather, red leather, yellow leather...], while you made an early dinner. He was due at the theater that night. In a few hours, he would be Hamlet to twoand people. [He mutters, “A tiny tiger tied her tiny… ] On his way back into the kitchen, your ex huffed like a large mammal looking to fight or mate, and then he stared at you.
“What?” [you asked with a sigh.]
“You should set an alarm so that you can switch out your sleeping positions because your face is becoming uneven from spending so much time in bed, lying on your left side. How many bouquets did you deliver today?”
“None. No love, no death, no flowers.”
“You look better when you angle your face to the light. Psycho, look for the light.”
Then your ex said you were beginning to look like Willem Dafoe.
[You had said] “I love Willem Dafoe.”
“Yeah, he’s cool, but I don’t want to fuck him.” [Memory fades .]
[A door rattles.] That your door? It’s probably just the wind through that crack in your window [wind blows at a high pitch]. Don’t read into it. He’s not haunting you. His ghost is busy working out. You’re shivering, and there’s plenty of air in here now. Why don’t you close your window? [The wind abruptly stops.] There you go. Now pull that weighted blanket over your body. Better to feel held for this next part. It’s time to return to the breakup, and then, well, you know, [echoes ominously] the night .
[A din of people chatting, plates and utensils.] It was a Monday. In the theater, Mondays are the dark days, the day you don’t perform. With your ex’s friends who were all stunt people, you went to a restaurant. You sat before an aquarium filled with lobsters you were supposed to eat. The lobsters mostly bobbed, their claws bound. They would be lifted out of the tank, briefly held in the air, and then plunged into boiling water where they would scream and die. [A lobster’s shell is cracked in two.] Your ex broke apart your lobster, and you felt it in your pelvis. You could not eat it.
“The exoskeleton is an evolutionary miracle. I want an exoskeleton,” you said to your ex.
“What did you say,” your ex’s large friends asked, and your ex, in his plastic bib, his mouth slicked with hot butter, said casually, “I want an exoskeleton.” His stuntman friends laughed and said, “Dude, so true.” Your ex went back to cracking your lobster apart for you. “Love,” he complained to his friends.
Later that night, once you were home and having sex, your ex said, “I’m getting famous, but it’s not enough fame. I want to die on stage like that guy, that legend, what was his name? Oh, god!” [he comes]. Then your ex looked up at you and said, “You know, beauty can be augmented. Imagine what a surgeon could do.”
[You responded ,] “This is my best face.”
“My face has done its best.”
And with the force of a slap, your mind was cleared.
You thought of that expression, the dark day. The day the performance stops. You were done with being watched, being measured. He had you all wrong. Why had you stayed so long inside something that had been so bad for you? He had ruined your relationship—not with him, but with yourself, whatever that was exactly, that private feeling, and you needed to get it back. Like a jungle cat, you rolled off his body, got out of the bed, walked him to the bedroom door, and pushed him out. Then, you slammed the door and piled everything you owned in front of it. All of the clothes that you wore and he hated. They were too loose, your ex complained. He called them mental patient clothes, asked you if you got them off the set of Girl, Interrupted . Asked if you were going skiing because you were wearing so many things at once. He wanted you to dress hotter, he said, like a secretary but from a more sexist era. That dresser, that lamp, that side table, your blanket, your books and manuscripts; you piled them all as he threw his ripped, maximum body against the door. You climbed back into bed and fell into a perfect, deep sleep.
This is a lot, I know, but you’re doing okay. Breathe. Let’s continue.
[The van door slams.] A week later when you got home from the mattress store with this mattress roped to the roof of your van, you saw there was no way you could move it. You could not call your smart friend. She, like you, had only accidental muscle. You had to call your ex. It was Monday, his dark day. He would be home. As you expected, he arrived in a sleeveless “Just Do It” shirt. [Cars pass by in the background.] The sky threatened rain. He explained that since you had broken up with him, his body temperature had gone up like fifteen degrees, and he was not sure whether this was a sign of good health or bad health. To you, he looked sunburned. He looked the color of hell.
[You told him,] “Nice tan.”
[He said,] “It’s not a tan. I’ve had this horrible pressure in my chest all the time.”
“I’m sorry.” You apologized, but you still needed your new mattress moved. When your ex saw the mattress, he said, “You’ll ruin your face on that thing, which means it’ll ruin your life.”
“But I’m a writer. My face doesn’t matter.”
“Don’t kid yourself.”
Your ex untied the ropes, balanced the mattress on his head, and you followed as he climbed one and then two flights of stairs. He began to wheeze, and you watched as the back of his neck turned an even darker shade of red. You couldn’t get the lobster out of your head. Your ex reached your bedroom, and he threw the mattress to the floor right there like it was on fire. He staggered slightly. You asked if he was alright. He clutched his chest. You asked if he was being dramatic. He said with an injured look that he was sleeping with Ophelia, but it wasn’t the same.
[He said,] “She needs so much feedback after sex. You never needed feedback about anything. Everything is blurry.” Your ex sucked in some oxygen through jagged breaths and said, strained, “Love pains me in the morning. The beginning of our dog life.” You understood he was speaking in translation trying to get you back. He swayed as he spoke. You reached for him, but before you could get to him—[a heavy thud, a body falling to the floor]. Obviously, you should have called an ambulance, but you hit the wrong button.
[Siri says,] “Go ahead, I am listening.”
[You pant and say,] “How to give CPR.”
“Sorry, I am not sure about that.”
[You try to give CPR, saying,] “One, two, three, come on. Come on, one, two, three. Come on. Come on.”
The way your ex carried the mattress up the two flights of stairs to your bedroom was the way you carried his body down [we hear thumps; hail begins]. Out of the house, through the hail storm. He looked so peaceful among the bouquets in the back of your delivery van. He looked kind and fragile, like he had been performing the wrong personality the whole time you knew him, like he’d been miscast. You felt for him. You felt the effort of having had to be him. How relentless. “I love you.” At last, you said it back.
[Wind rips and whines, the rain and hail dampen everything.] The hail had made the road slick, but you were an excellent driver. You could handle the weather. You felt superhuman. Where had your strength come from? You could not understand it. Your ex was a heavy-set two-hundred-pound man. You could’ve easily moved the king-size mattress yourself. The regret was crushing. You were only minutes from the hospital, but you knew. His lips were blue. He had no pulse; he was long past saving.
[A flashback, now echoey and far away, we hear your ex again saying,] “It’s not enough fame. I want more fame than I want life. I want to die on stage like that guy, thatd.” [Flashbulbs and shutters.]
[The car speeds up, whips around; the rain continues.] This was the last thing you could do for him, the only gift that would matter. Being the dark day, the theater was. You used Hamlet’s keys to get in [the rain fades], and you positioned him, the tormented prince, handsomely center stage. You found the lighting booth easily enough and you made the spotlight hit his face just so. In the theater, you wiped down every surface you touched with moonshine, and you drove home to your apartment, to here, to your king-size mattress. Your mattress remembers you. Now, let your body sink into it and rest. Do you feel that? Your love knows just where to go. [The lights of a theater shut off, then silence.]
Claudia Dey’s most recent novel is Heartbreaker . She lives in Toronto.
Eliza Smith and Jacob Winik are the cofounders of Cosmic Standard, a podcast production and audio design company. Jacob has recorded and produced hundreds of albums, engineered and recorded live events, and managed recording studios. He has gone on to engineer and mix content for TV, film, news radio, and podcasts, working on projects for CBS, Disney, Discovery Channel, KQED, and WNYC. Eliza Smith has been working in public radio for over a decade. She has been a reporter, a DJ, a radio playwright, and a producer. Her work with Snap Judgment spans seven years. In 2016, she launched the show’s first spin-off podcast, Spooked , which regularly tops the charts and has more than one million listeners. Jacob and Eliza live together in Oakland with their dog, ZZ, and their cat, Blue.