My wife is away with work this week, and whenever she does this I go on a little holiday of my own, by which I mean that I sleep on her side of the bed.
It’s strange how such a small alteration makes the world so different a place. It’s funny, too, how couples do this; we have our set sides of the bed, of the sofa, we divide our little lives into halves and segments. Both flats we have lived in I have slept on the right, closest to the window, furthest from the bathroom. On every sofa I have sat on the left. Maybe all married couples become their very own versions of Ant and Dec, just in case people have difficulty telling the difference.
Spending time in someone else’s segment, the shape of the bedroom feels altered in a subtle but perceptible way. I can leap to the bathroom without having to wander round the perimeter of the bed, usually a precarious voyage embarked upon in greyscale darkness in the middle of the night. The alarm clock, and the power of deciding by how long to postpone the inevitable, is within my reach. There is twice as much of everything – two piles of books to perch my glasses on, two coasters to gather empty glasses and cups. It’s as if my normal world has been reflected in a mirror, one of those odd composite images of someone where both sides of their face are completely symmetrical.
Like those pictures, it doesn’t ring true – too perfect, not real. Besides, I wouldn’t want to live in a space that only reflected me. Down my side of the bed are discarded newspapers, books I haven’t put back on the shelf, the occasional empty tray from a packet of chocolates, t-shirts discarded in the middle of the night when I’m hot and half asleep. Her side of the bed is almost clear, just a box of tissues and a tube of moisturiser, nothing to hurdle when I walk through the wide open space to the bathroom.
Holidaying on my wife’s side of the bed, I wonder how this room looks to her. No clear view of the window because it’s blocked by my slumbering frame every morning. Nobody to set and snooze the alarm and control when things happen. No excuse not to go to the bathroom, or to send someone else down the long hall in search of hot beverages. She is in a hotel room I will never see, a different shape again, all huge, all hers. And yet I hope that when she settles down for sleep that she notices a me-shaped hole. Perhaps she sleeps on my side of the bed, out there.
Holidays are like Goldilocks and the three bears - some are too short, some are too long, and some are just right. There comes a point in most holidays for me, ideally close to the end but sometimes far too far from that, when I want to return to my life and see familiar things, to have that same old walk to work through the posh shopping arcade and to see the faded grandeur of the old department store on the corner, to be asked in the café if I want “the usual” and to see faces I recognise on the bus. After the first night of this particular holiday the novelty has vanished, and I know that if I sent her a postcard it would just say: Having a lovely time. Wish you were here.
On my last night alone, I go through the flat tidying up and restoring the bed to her side and my side. I fill the dishwasher and put clothes in drawers. I put the washing machine on, and at just past midnight I hang my underpants on the clothes airer while Fred Astaire sings Puttin’ On The Ritz on my iPod. I love the irony of that, and I know she would too. By the time I’m done, you would almost think she had never been away. Just one more thing, and it will all be fixed.
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