Saturday, June 17, 2006

Sunday Scribblings-Bed ( a fiction)

Elizabethan Oak Bed, image from

Emily, my dearest:

Here I lie, propped up on my bed like an octogenarian Cleopatra, surrounded by entirely too many pillows (I almost wrote,"surrendered"and that sounds right as well...the war is over. The pillows reign victorious.). Is this the new send pillows in lieu of gifts, or flowers? Are mine secretly reproducing in the night (someone should enjoy this bed, after all!)? At any rate, I am sure they all have some story attached to their arrival to Periwinkle House. If not, I’ll just have to make one up.

Ah, all of this rambling about beds puts me in a Proustian mood, so I fear this will be yet another one of"Aunty Elizabeth’s stories.” Luckily, I know I always have an avid listener in you, so I feel free to indulge myself yet again to your detriment.

I suppose I should begin by telling you that I spent far more time than was strictly proper in’s where I have always done my best work (and no, not in that way your mother thought...although, now that I think of it...that too). I loved that clandestine moment of closing the door to my latest hotel room, and sighing at the sight of that great big bed, demure in its covers, with a grave economy of pillows that still somehow managed to wink at luxury and decadence. I would rush towards that bed, managing to shed my clothes along the way, desperate to pull out my notebook and spill forth everything I had seen, every conversation I’d overheard (sometimes following the poor people for hours, if things were exceptionally interesting), every impression. Thank goodness someone back home was paying me for these scribblings, but honestly, darling Emily...I would have done it for free. Writing was my way of fixing all of these occasions firmly into way of cramming every possible impression onto the page and into my lifebook. I didn’t only want to live long, you know...I wanted to live deep. And above all, I wanted to remember how startling this world can surreal and phantasmagorical and utterly beguiling.

For example...take the famous"second-best bed"left by Shakespeare to his wife.

Let me tell you, the world has gotten that story COMPLETELY wrong.

I was in Stratford-on-Avon on a whim, you see, with my latest romancer, Nicholas. Nicholas had the kind of deadly earnest, vitally important job that all but required that he get away lustily and often. And he was every bit as dashing as his name would suggest. A true Earl among men (princes are so staid and responsible! Give me a rakish Earl anyday!).

Anyway, I had made the trip from Paris (where I was staying at time, courtesy of the New Yorker) to London, picked him up, and we decided that attention must be was April 23rd, Shakespeare’s birthday...and what better way to celebrate it!

So we took a tour of his home, led by a very pedantic young man in a somber black suit. He knew all of the ins and outs of Shakespeare’s history, but one got the sense the spirit of the plays somehow eluded him. And yes, I did judge that particular volume by his glum visage. I hope I would be wiser now, but somehow I doubt it (I can hear your mother’s cosmic snort from Heaven).

We got to the famous tale of the second-best bed, and this young gentleman fairly dripped with scorn as he related the troubles that Shakespeare had with his wife.

“It is well documented that Shakespeare had many passionate relationships with others. It seems fairly obvious that he married her for her money and social position, and found his pleasure elsewhere. He managed to get the last word through his will, when he left his wife the ‘second-best bed’, the clear implication, of course, that some more-beloved, more-favored lover received the very BEST bed.”

Well! I was positively offended on poor Anne Hathaway’s behalf! His tone just raised my hackles (and you’ve seen them fully erect, haven’t you, dear? Not a pretty sight). I pulled Nicholas back towards the end of the crowd as the tour marched inexorably on. I wanted a closer look at this second-best bed...I suppose I just wanted to prove to myself that my adored Shakespeare couldn’t possibly have been so petty. We never want to see the muddy side of our Gods, after all, and I was more than half in love with the Shakespeare revealed through his plays and sonnets.

I don’t know how we managed not to get caught. I put my finger to my lips and gave him one hard tug into the room. Quickly, we shut the door and stood there, chests heaving with nerves and with that ancient feeling of being a naughty student about to get reprimanded by the principal.

But no one noticed us, and no alarm bells clanged. It was just Nicholas, the second-best bed, and I. The bed was sturdy, with crude carvings in the headboard, plainly dressed. The shine of the yellow wood was dimmed by dust and time. Clearly, no one had bothered to restore the bed to its former glory, or rather, this was the most glory it got.

Wouldn’t it be a terrific climax to say that Nicholas and I made feverish, passionate love atop the bed? I wish I could embellish the story, go back and make that a reality. But we were entirely overawed at being that close to a bed where Shakespeare actually SLEPT...a bed that must still be liberally covered with his molecules! So we contented ourselves with lying there, chastely, making sure to mix our molecules with the Bard of Avon’s.

After a suitable amount of time had passed, we snuck out of the room, thrilling at our good luck, and rejoined the dazed tour goers.

It must have been the molecules that did it, because once we got back to the hotel and fell asleep (slightly less chastely that time), I received one of my visitations (please tell your mother to stop chortling! It makes me lose my train of thought!). In a series of images, Anne Hathaway showed me the second-best bed as it had existed in their household. Emily...this was the bed where they had lived, day to day, made love, slept. I saw their son bound in and awaken them, saw Shakespeare rub his eyes as he rose to a new day.

Then I saw the very BEST bed...proud like moneybags in the spare room, elegantly and ornately decorated, velvet coverings and silken pillowshams...the works!

But this bed was never used, never touched. It existed solely to redound to Shakespeare’s newfound credit as an author, existed as a tangible symbol of the family’s prosperity.

But no one ever slept on it, dreamt under its covers, loved on it.

Anne seemed to be telling me, through images, that they regretted that. But that Shakespeare left her the second-best bed as a reminder of the beauty of the life they had lived together, as a reminder that true riches can come in plain packages. It wasn’t a punishment. It was the ultimate honor.

And now I am passing this story onto you, my Emily. Make sure to always sleep on the very BEST bed, smash the glass and wear the jewelry, dress in your finest everyday, pull art from the walls and touch it, love it as best you know how. No sacred cows, ever. Anything worthy, precious, beautiful needs to be handled and truly lived with. Otherwise it has no point.

I have lived my own life this way, and it has served me very well. I lived hard, will die old, and will leave a beautiful corpse. No doubt on this fluffy white island of a bed, mourned first by my myriad pillows.

And I will kiss your mother on the lips for you, when I see her again.

Much love,
Your aunty Elizabeth

More bedtime stories here.



Blogger Jessie said...

"I didn’t only want to live long, you know...I wanted to live deep."

That line says it all. I want to live deeply too. That line spoke directly to my heart.

(and btw, as for watching that movie: yes--let's!) :)

12:28 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger GreenishLady said...

This is wonderful! Such a well-woven tale.

4:41 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger paris parfait said...

This is a rich picture you have painted with your well-chosen words. Lovely, fascinating tale. Thank you!

7:07 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

This is marvelous! You've created such a wonderful voice and tone -- I can just picture that adventurous old dame lying there, mocking her pillows, dreaming back on her loves and antics! I could see a whole lifetime of stories unfurling that way, in these fun letters. Love it. And I always love stories that weave historical "fact" in with fiction so the line becomes indistinct. Especially such great mysteries as Shakespeare's lives and loves. Is the secone-best bed story true (the part about the will, anyway)? Back in 1993 or so my Shakespeare professor at Berkeley (a luminary in the field) told us how he'd been courted by some Hollywood types who were trying to come up with a story for a Shakespeare movie, and he gave them one, and never heard from them again. He told us what that story was, and some years later the movie Shakespeare in Love came out... with that exact plot! But the producer's twenty-year-old son was claiming the credit for it, and my professor was nowhere named. Hmmm.

9:36 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Left-handed Trees... said...

So opulent and rich--the velvets, the adornments, Shakespeare's birthday...even the tone of the character's voice spoke to the mood of this piece. I truly enjoyed it!

9:57 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Mardougrrl said...

Yep, the second-best bed in Shakespeare's will caused quite a bit of controversy. Here's a Wikipedia entry about Anne Hathaway that mentions the infamous "second-best bed" bequest.'s_wife)


And hmmm, indeed, Laini. Sounds like your professor was robbed by his own son! How positively Shakespearian!

And thanks for your comments all...I love Sunday Scribbling readers! :)

10:01 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

"making sure to mix our molecules with the Bard of Avon’s."

what a goofy, wonderful idea. so clever. your story is great.

11:48 AM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger Living Part Deux said...

I can hear the tone of her voice right through her (your) words - and imagine hair colored a little too blue, with rouged cheeks and inseemly lipstick. Brilliant character development. Lovely culmination.

12:26 PM, June 18, 2006  
Blogger deirdre said...

Glorious, wise, witty. I love it.

1:35 PM, June 18, 2006  
Anonymous krista said...

I wish my pillows would secretly reproduce in the night. I have the opposite issue, I think they create escape plans in the night. Where and how do they go????

I could have written about that when Sunday Scribbles was "Mystery"

6:27 AM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger earnest and game said...

Oh, isn't it fun to develop new voices? What a funny and droll character. And what a interesting idea to seed your story, that 2nd best bed. xoxooxox

2:13 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

I don't know if you'll see this comment, this late in the week, but I just wanted to tell you how much I loved it. And the source for your illustration may just solve a problem I have been thinking about lately. Thanks

5:08 AM, June 23, 2006  

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