I couldn’t put it off any longer, bad back or not… the sheets needed changing and the mattress was overdue to be turned. My son, for reasons best known to himself, chose to furnish himself with one of those huge beds of the mega-super-king variety that are the size of a small playing field. The kind that is so heavy, it is impossible to move without a crane and which has a solid-seeming base that extends between mattress and floor. He is also furnished with one very small mother. Changing the bed is a job I dread as, given my vertically challenged status, I could use the duvet cover for a bivouac and still have room in there to party.
The very idea of turning the mattress makes me break out in a cold sweat. It is not a job I can easily do alone at the best of times. This time, however, the bad back was going to come in handy. There is always a silver lining somewhere, if you look hard enough. My son would have to help.
This is not as simple as it might seem, considering that standing and balancing are things he cannot do well, especially while trying to do something else. But I saw no reason why that should get in the way.
Stripping the bed was easy. It was when we came to turn the mattress that things took a turn for the worse. Halfway round, the edge of the mattress caught the slats on the bed base and pulled them out of place, unclipping them from the centre of the bed. The only thing for it was to balance the mattress as best we could, while I tiptoed between the remaining slats to put things right. All well and good… until I lifted one offending slat from the floor.
There, before my poised toe, and right beneath where my son lays his head, was a rat. Not just any rat either. Both it and its population of insect casings were mummified. I may have squealed. When I gingerly picked it up by its tail, it was a stiff as a board and the mummification process left a rat-shaped stain on the carpet.
Many things made sense. My son has a well-stocked bird table that attracts a lot of wildlife… including the creature he had watched, fascinated by its agility, before calling me to ask if there were any such thing as ‘a bald-tailed squirrel’. Boots, the first cat my son had taken pity on a couple of winters ago, is a huntress and, for the first few months of her residency, had regularly brought ‘gifts’ to his bedroom door. Usually birds, occasionally a mouse and once a full-grown rat. Or, as we now knew, twice.
After one particularly bloody episode, Boots had finally understood that her gifts were not appreciated and had given up, much to the relief of the cleaning lady… I hated seeing those poor creatures torn to shreds, though the rats she had killed and left intact.
That spring, while my son was away, I had taken the opportunity to deep clean his home and garden… everywhere except under that mountain of a mattress, which had been declared out of bounds. I did the bedroom first, shut the door to keep the cat out and started on the rest. A week or so later, I had arrived to feed his fish and found his bedroom window swarming with huge black flies. I had looked everywhere for the source of the problem… except under the bed. I let the flies out, but the same thing happened for several mornings thereafter… then nothing. Not one. I cleaned the windows again and thought no more about it. Flies nest in window frames sometimes. I’d had that happen at my own home one year.
Oddly enough, Tim, the tomcat who has also adopted my son, and who is also known as Frank and Nigel to the neighbours where he deigns to dine, has been trying to get under the bed for a while. This morning, we had found out why.
I disposed of the mummy, cleaned under the bed, fixed the slats and together we remade the bed, finding, in the process, a lost favourite sock that had lodged itself in the corner of the duvet. Bonus!
It was odd that the poor rat had lain hidden for so long, slowly decomposing while my son was away and thus not plagued by the smell. The timing of the burial beneath the bed had allowed it to pass unnoticed… until I began to see the flies. Even then, the source of the problem lay hidden until we finally found the corpse and disposed of it once and for all, cleaning the mess left behind.
I wondered how often the same thing applies to the hurt, guilt and fears we bury in the shadows of the mind and heart? We may not even know they are there… or, if we suspect their presence, choose not to look too closely, knowing that it will be unpleasant. Although we may be unaware, there is something about such things that may draw others to us, for all the wrong reasons. Such things fester and rot, eating away at the soul, leaving behind immovable stains and providing a breeding ground for darkness and pain that can cast a cloud across our own lives and those of the people we love.
No matter how unpleasant the task, it is better to delve into the dark places, tackle the mess, and decently dispose of the copses. We never know what we might uncover, or how much we will ache as we essay the task. There may well be uncomfortable surprises, but as we allow light into forgotten corners, there may also be a gift just waiting to be uncovered… even if it is something as simple as a favourite sock.