Rose curled like a semi-colon in the saggy middle of the bed. She clutched the snuggle pillow to her stomach and closed her eyes. Comfort seeped through her fear, relief slowed her beating heart. She opened her eyes with a start when she realized she was lying in the bed again.
When she was nine months pregnant, when her belly crowded her out of her husband's bed, she came to this bed and found sleep.
After every fight with her husband, when he was finished screaming at her and slapping her around, she came to this bed and found peace.
On the day she fled his house she took the children, the money she had stashed in a coffee tin, a bag of clothes and this bed. In their first night in the new apartment, they all slept in this bed, rolled together by the old mattress as if in a hammock.
This was originally her grandmother's bed. Made in 1891 by the T. Eaton's Co. of Toronto, the date and logo were still visible on one of the steel rails. The head and footboards were made of iron, painted white, with brass fittings. The iron bars were delicate, filigreed and feminine. The single mattress was held up by a sheet of chain mail, strung between two rails. Opal Charrington delivered all nine of her children on this bed, including Rose's own mother, and then shared it with her husband, Ren, until he died in his sleep, in the bed, on one muggy night in June. After his funeral, Opal dismantled the bed by herself and dragged it up into the attic. She bought herself a new pressboard bed from the furniture store in town and new sheets from Woolworth's and she thought she might miss the saggy embrace of the old bed but she never did. If someone were to peek into her room on any moonlit night, they would have seen a child's smile on that lovely old woman's face.
Opal had willed something to every one of her 32 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren. The bed, she gave to Rose.
The bed stayed with Rose through all her single mother years. She bought beds for the children as soon as she could afford them but the iron bed was hers through nights of chicken pox and stomach aches, first dances and parties at the gravel pit, lonely nights far away from the university, sleepless nights planning details for weddings and baby showers.
She met Henry at the furniture store, of all places. He was the salesman who tried to sell her an expensive Beautyrest mattress and oak headboard. She didn't buy the bed but she did agree to have dinner with him. A few years later they got married in a simple civil ceremony and Rose moved into Henry's house and into his fancy Beautyrest bed. Rose's bed was placed in the guest room.
Henry was gentle and agreeable and never raised a hand against her. On the rare occasions they disagreed, Henry was quick to apologize. One night, however, Henry got mad because the cats had peed outside the litter box and began hollering about the damned cats and how stinky they were and how much they shed and how he didn't even like cats, just put up with them for Rose's sake.
She was suddenly overcome by fear. Without saying a word, she went to the guest bedroom, footsteps electric, fingertips numb, body shaking, and she laid down in the bed.
She thought, "I can't believe I'm in this bed again. I can't believe I'm in this position again." And she began to formulate a plan to escape.
Henry interrupted her thoughts when he knocked on the bedroom door.
"Can I come in?" he asked.
"Yes," she said.
He apologized for yelling about the cats. He said he wasn't anything like her first husband; would she please believe him. He wiped her tears with his calloused fingers and he laid down beside her on the bed, his arm draped around her thick waist and the snuggle pillow, and he kissed the back of her neck.
The bed creaked slightly as she warmed to his embrace.