FICTION | A Bed to Rule Them All

By Shaun Tan

By Shaun Tan

Founder, Editor-in-Chief, and Staff Writer


It is a Tuesday, the day I go to buy a bed.


It’s a nice shop, with one side open to the setting sun, light streaming in and lining the rows of white beds with gold, like a field of clouds glimpsed at dusk from a plane window.


It’s meant to be a straightforward purchase, a replacement for the rather unremarkable single bed that came with the apartment (too narrow when having company) and a small extravagance to commemorate my fifth year at Goldman.


It’s meant to be a straightforward purchase, I remind myself, but this thought is soon lost as the shop assistant (Ray) leads me on, elaborating on numbers of coils and layers of springs and pressure points, eschewing the cheaper models, convinced a person of my station appreciates – and deserves – finer things. He stops by some of the beds, inviting me to test them out, which I do, clambering atop the mattresses, bouncing against the springs. As I experimentally arrange my body into different positions, he waits, boundlessly patient and accommodating.


“And here,” he says, gesturing to a particularly stately queen with a flourish, “is our best model. The crème de la crème.”


I look at the bed he indicates, note the delicious white leather headboard, square-patterned like a bar of white chocolate, note the swell of its angled pillows, note its snowy quilt and its gentle folds.


“Go on,” he encourages, “try it out,” and I climb into a bed as fluffy as a cloud.


How to describe the sensation? Like dissolving into a cake, like curling up in a snowdrift as a polar bear, safe and snug and cool. I feel the mattress molding itself to my body, feel my muscles relax and loosen.

How to describe the sensation? Like dissolving into a cake, like curling up in a snowdrift as a polar bear, safe and snug and cool.

“How do you like it, sir?” asks Ray as my mind begins to drift. He leans his skinny frame against the headboard and smiles knowingly. “It’s good, isn’t it?” He explains how the mattress was handmade from natural fibers, allowing air to circulate inside it, and as I lie there, I think I can feel the air moving around me and swirling beneath the covers in soothing eddies.


When he tells me the price, however, my heart sinks. I hate to ever seem like I can’t afford something, so I nod insouciantly, but what he’s saying is crazy. Who the hell would pay three-hundred-thousand dollars for a bed? Reluctantly, I slide off and slip back into my shoes.


“Is there anything wrong?” Ray asks, his smile wavering.


“Oh no,” I say, as casually as I can. Then – “It just seems quite a bit to spend on a bed.”


“Sir,” Ray sighs, as if explaining something very basic, “you have to understand you’re not buying just a bed, you’re buying a lifestyle.” He places a hand on my shoulder like he’s learned in a training course that physical contact makes customers more agreeable (which he probably has).

“You’re not buying just a bed, you’re buying a lifestyle.”

He explains how this bed has been specially designed to dramatically increase the amount of Deep Sleep someone gets, and how Deep Sleep is essential for the repair and regeneration of tissue, muscle growth, strengthening of the immune system, and optimal brain functioning. How many hours did I spend at the gym each week? How much more efficiently would my time there be spent with more Deep Sleep? How about my work? More Deep Sleep would make me smarter, faster, sharper than my colleagues, and I’d soon be promoted over them, given a raise, made the Asia head of my bank! Could I put a price on that? Could I put a price on that??


It’s hard to argue with that. I imagine the success that could come with this new bed, imagine the look of envy and dismay on Shlinker’s face when I make VP before him.


“Put it this way,” he says, waving his hands. “If you sleep eight out of twenty-four hours a day, you spend a third of your life in bed. How old are you now? Twenty-seven? If you live till you’re ninety you’d spend more than twenty years of your life in bed. Are you going to skimp on something that involves one third of your life? Are you going to pay less money and settle for something that’s not the best?”


He’s got me there. I am pathologically incapable of accepting anything second-best. From the start it had to be Oxford, and then it had to be Goldman.


“And also” – and here he nudges me conspiratorially and gives a lewd wink – “you get a girl to sit on this and she’ll melt!” He pats me on the back and laughs. “She will straight away want to lie down!”


I laugh too, but already I’m thinking of all the hot pussy I’m gonna get with this bed.


“Anyway, you can afford it!” Ray says with another laugh and another pat. “Let me put it this way: if I could afford it – if I was as successful as you – this bed would be the first thing I buy. This is the best investment you’ll ever make: it will repay itself many, many times over.”


He makes a good case. I think for a moment, but I am nothing if not decisive.


“Alright,” I say. “I’ll take it.”


I am there when it arrives. The deliverymen take apart the old bed and cart it off, like the flotsam of an old life. Then they heave the new one into my apartment. They assemble its frame, locking the pieces together. I bring out my Egyptian cotton sheets and they dress the mattress for me, before hefting it and lowering it onto the frame.


As soon as they leave, I arrange my quilt, pillows, and bolster on top and slide into bed, liquid bliss instantly coursing through my spine, each muscle crying out in pleasure, each moment a glorious, gratifying vindication of my choice.


As my mind hazes, my last thought is of the Deep Sleep I will get with this bed and the new heights of success it will bring. Yes, I think, with this bed I will straddle the world.


It is a month later when I storm into the store.


Ray looks up. “Can I help you, sir?”


I round on him and seize him by the shoulders. I tell him how the bed is so comfortable that it’s impossible to get out of it in the morning. I tell him how, as a result, I was repeatedly late for work, and how, as a result of that, I was laid off when my bank retrenched.


I also tell him how every time a girl lies on the bed she instantly nods off and is no longer interested in doing anything fun.


This is true. Rebecca, with whom I could have sex with for hours (fine, one hour), fell into a coma-like slumber as soon as she lay down, and Michelle, whose rapturous ululations used to reverberate across the walls of my bedroom, curled up into a ball and dozed, lethargic and content as a baby.


In fact, the last night Michelle came over went like this:

Michelle: Mmm, this bed feels so comfy.

Me: It does, doesn’t it?

Michelle: I just wanna go to sleep.

Me: *Laughs* There’ll be time enough for that.

Michelle: *Turning on her side* Goodnight.

Me: *Reaching out to her and rubbing her crotch* Not yet. Don’t you wanna…?

Michelle: *Smacking my hand and swatting it aside* Mhm. Lemme lone.

Me: ………


The next day she slept-in till noon and then I’d walked her to the MTR station, where she’d given me a chaste peck on the lips and thanked me.


“I had such a good rest,” she said brightly. “That was better than sex.”


“In some ways,” I’d agreed.


But it wasn’t. But it wasn’t.


“Sir. Sir,” Oh yes, Ray.


I haven’t seen Michelle since, and all her texts have been ambivalent. I get the feeling she might be seeing someone else, but I’m not sure.




“Yeah,” I say, angrily, looking back at him. “Your stupid bed ruined my life! You asshole!” I grab him by his skinny tie and demand a refund.

“Your stupid bed ruined my life!”

Visibly shaken, Ray explains that that is impossible. The company has a strict no-returns policy, it was in the contract I signed, and if I don’t calm down, he’ll have to call security.


“What do you mean no-returns?” I shout. “I spent three-hundred-thousand fucking dollars on that thing!” I shake him until his teeth rattle.


In the end, two security guards drag me out of the store, cursing.


When I get home, I’m in a foul mood. I’m sexually frustrated and jobless – not to mention down by three-hundred-thousand.


In a rage I kick the bed, which, given its sturdy frame, is a mistake, and I hop on one foot in pain. Furiously, I grab the mattress and drag it off the frame, intending to get rid of it. It’s a very heavy mattress, and it takes all my strength to lift it and pull it to the floor. Before I’m halfway out of my room I have to take a moment to catch my breath. Panting with the exertion, I look down at it with its soft, inviting expanse and its hidden promises, and figure I might as well take a short break.


I lie down. My body sinks into the mattress and it pulls me deep down into its cushiony depths. It surrounds me like a womb and I feel safe and at peace. The mattress seems to sing to me, to lull me to sleep. What was it I was angry about again? I don’t remember, and my eyes close like falling shutters. Now that I no longer have any particular reason to get up, I lie there while the sun and the moon and the stars circle me. Several times my mind emerges briefly from its warm torpid haze, before submerging again.


I wake finally with a start and reach for my phone. Outside the sky is dark. Upon seeing the date and time I leap from the mattress and shake myself.


Somehow, I’ve lain there for a day and a half.


I stride into the bathroom and splash my face with cold water. A few meters away, the mattress lies, innocent and placid.


I know not how I slept for so long. I know only that if I let it, this bed will be my tomb.


With trembling hands, I pick up my phone and dial a number.


They come the next day, the moving men with their sweaty shirts and stocky arms. They move quickly, efficiently, dismantling the bed, breaking off its legs, stripping the mattress of its sheets and turning it roughly on its side, each motion an act of violence, an act of murder.


I can only half-watch. I am a coward. I have not the strength to dispose of the bed myself, and so I have hired others to do it for me.


The mattress screams at me as they carry it out. “Traitor! Traitor!


I hide my face in shame.


Bereft of a bed, I sleep on the floor that night, an exercise mat the only buffer between my body and the hard wood surface.


My back complaining, spoilt from a month of luxury, I sleep badly, tossing and turning in the dark.


I dream. I dream of my bed, my lovely, soft, three-hundred-thousand-dollar bed lying on a trash heap, springs sticking out of the mattress like broken ribs. I dream of poor people rolling on it with their unwashed, grubby bodies.


“Deeep sleeep!” they chant, laughing. “Deeep sleeep!”

“Deeep sleeep!” they chant, laughing. “Deeep sleeep!”

I dream of the mattress standing upright in front of me. “Why?” it asks. “Why?


“I had to,” I protest, my tongue sticking in my mouth. “I had no choice.”


And then the mattress lunges forward and swallows me and I am trapped in its cushiony embrace. I feel my limbs go limp, my muscles turn to water.


No! I think, suddenly, furiously, and I claw around. My fingers find purchase and I tear, tear as the mattress screams around me. I rip my way out of the mattress as it convulses in agonized paroxysms. Finally, I feel a draft, and I rip and push and crawl until I emerge from its surface into the world.


I gasp for breath as the mattress slinks off like a giant slug, trailing stuffing, mortally wounded.


When I wake, birds are chirping and the morning is breaking across the sky.


I reach for my phone to check the time. I see a message there from Michelle that she sent me at 1 am – a half-assed reply to a question I asked her last week.


I contemplate texting, but my back aches and I am tired and annoyed and I can’t be bothered, so I call her instead.


The phone rings five times before she picks up.


“Mhm?” she says, drowsy, unpleasantly surprised.


“Let’s get breakfast.”


Now? Who calls at, like…8 am on a Saturday morning? I was sleeping!”


“Well, you’re up now.”


“I suppose I am.”


“Good. Meet me at Central Station in an hour. And don’t be late,” I say. “I’m hungry.”

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