Thirteen Mattresses

Finally, with thirteen mattresses piled high, I could sleep without thinking of the man I’d killed.

At twelve, it was more of an echo. A question. Did I still feel the shape of it, or was it my imagination playing tricks?

Eleven was hope. I fell asleep for nearly an hour that night, and the one dreamless hour promised that I was nearly there, nearly far enough from the event, from the singular moment of my life. Soon the lump seemed to whisper, soon you will not feel me pressing up against your stomach.

Ten soldiers arrived from his father’s palace, in crisp green uniforms. I stood at my throne, grateful for the whale-bone stays helping me keep my back straight as I answered their careful questions.

I had entertained great quantities of optimism that the ninth mattress would be sufficient to my needs. Three times three is a most powerful number, infinite in its magical potential, an everlasting loop. But it was not strong enough to cushion my guilt.

We had been engaged for eight years, he and I. Eight years trading letters and miniature portraits of all different expressions. That had been his idea. A portrait of smiles, a portrait of sorrow. Shining with anger. In play and at work. With crowns proud against our brows, and again with no finery. A portrait of how our faces shaped when we thought of each other.

The seventh mattress raised questions.

On the sixth night, as my women dragged the newest mattress atop the pile, I stared at the golden threads quilting its surface. I traced their lines as if the pattern would explain to me why my marriage bed had become this ever-climbing mountain. I should have liked to see my husband splayed out across it, smiling indolently at me with his jacket undone and the thin silver consort’s crown dangling from his fingers. I should have liked to slide over him and kiss his temple, the corners of his eyes, his lips. I should have liked that better than stretching out to sleep, only to feel the hard lump pushing up through even so many layers of feather-down, of straw, cotton, silk, and woven-rushes.

Five minutes I waited on the bed, freshly married, finally to have my prince to myself. The candelabra dripped wax, sending flickers of orange light to make the tapestries come alive. I was anxious and ready, and when he entered, pushing the double doors open in a dramatic gesture, I laughed and stood. I held out my hands. But my prince hesitated. His arms fell to his sides and as the doors swung closed he said, “My queen, I must be honest.”

Four mattresses should have been plenty! They should have distributed my weight, should have cushioned me well enough. I ached all that night, bent in half and wanting to bleed.

Three words to tell me he loved another.

My mother’s sword had hung over the mantle since the night she died. I calmly walked to it, lifted it off its setting, and cut through his chest twice. Though it was my own heart I destroyed. And two more hours for my wizard to burn the body – all but two pieces: the head and a finger. The latter of which he would use to lay spells to hide what I’d done. The former because he’d been my husband.

One skull, polished to shine like a pearl, pushed under my mattress.


The common prompt today is “Princess and the Pea (The Real Princess),” by Edmund Dulac

48 thoughts on “Thirteen Mattresses

  1. I really love this. I’ve never really understood the original fairytale or liked it that much compared to others, but this great. It makes sense now! And with so few words. And it’s backwards (forwards?) which makes it even more interesting.

    “Three times three is a most powerful number, infinite in its magical potential, an everlasting loop.”

    I love that line the most.

  2. Apparently you and I lurves the murder angle on this prompt. Of course, your piece was fantastic and developed (and mine was not), but I’m amused by the similar theme between what you wrote and what I did for the contest entry last week. 🙂

    Also, congrats on finishing your draft! (As seen in your blog post elsewhere.) Whoohoo!

  3. Wow. This is good. This is wow. I think, how can this have murder in it? It’s the princess and the pea. But somehow, this just…works. It’s a darker version without it feeling too dark.

  4. Wow, awesome! I really love the countdown aspect of this (and wish I could do something like that! haha.) I love how dark it is, too.

    …Apparently I’m not the only person who thought murder would make The Princess and the Pea more intriguing. 🙂

  5. This is great! I love the murder angle, and overall the story flowed very well. That line about “three times three” is probably my favorite. 🙂

  6. Why oh why does this make me think of Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House? The numbers and that photo! or being bat guano crazy and haunted by the ones you’ve killed. I love it, creeptastic! True skeletons in the closet or in this case under the bed.

  7. This was SO DARK. I ached for the poor queen and this is a PERFECT example of why love is never black and white. It’s a brightly coloured mattress with a thousand different gold/silver and coloured threads. BRAVA, TESSA! 😀

  8. I loved this. I read it aloud to my best friend, who sighed and said, “Wow, that’s awesome!” Thank you!

  9. I’ve never been a fan of the original tale either. I was in a musical version in high school and… it didn’t get any better. Haha.

    So of course when I don’t like something I add blood and/or bones! Hee hee. and experiment with timeline. 😀

    Thanks!

  10. Hahaha, I haven’t read back through the entries yet! Looking forward to it.

    Murder makes everything better. 😀

  11. Thanks! I wanted to play with the counting. Everybody else is doing it! Hee hee.

    Murder makes everything better. in fiction, I mean… hehe.

  12. Necessity made me succinct. I just finished a death march to the end of my novel, and this just HAD to be short. Hee hee. But thank you.

  13. Thank you! I love number magic. And murder – does a body good. Um, when a body is a story. Or something like that…

  14. I’ve heard of that house! Would love love love to see it. Have you been there?

    Thank you!

  15. Oooo reading it out loud! That also makes me so happy! I love reading out loud, and thinking of my stories BEING read aloud. Thanks!

  16. And judging from your previous stories, you didn’t have to say that. I suspected that you could before this story. I think that I momentarily forgot that this was your story. 🙂

  17. This was great, I haven’t read the original story but as this is a fairy tale re-telling it is appropriately dark and equally well written ^_^.

  18. “Murder makes everything better.” = Unlikely new slogan for crime/detective units everywhere. 😉

  19. It does SO well for a dramatic effect. We’re both drama nerds, and it was just divine. If I still did such things, I would use it as an audition monologue in a second (with your permission, of course). 🙂

  20. It was much better than the original… The backward-ness (It wouldn’t have made sense if read from 1 to 13, which was why it was so amazing) and the killing, that was good too…
    But I was just wondering, and wondering, and wondering, that it’s obviously not a pea that’s under her bed, and what is it… But it was just the first and thirteenth one that gave me chills… The rest just made me confused and wondering and frowning and scrunching my face up… About what was under the mattress…

  21. Why thank you! Re-telling with lots more dark (or rather, going back toward the originally dark sides of fairy tales) is one of my favorite things!

  22. Brilliant! I love how it’s a countdown and the polished skull, among other lovable parts. Must contact you about Fiction Mingle for our gory October posts!

  23. Got your message!

    And thanks. 😀 and the polished skull, among other lovable parts makes it sound like their are other body parts lying around. Hehehehe…

  24. Oh my goodness. This is amazing!! Only took the first sentence to tell that this was going to be a great story…
    Love the way its written, counting down and going back in time. Its fun knowing the ending at the beginning, and the beginning at the end! 😀

  25. Thank you so much! I’m glad the experiment worked. Sometimes my experiments are less successful. But I’m pleased with this one.

  26. Fairytale justifiable homicide for the win! Because if he couldn’t fess up in eight bloody years, then he was a right bastard and deserved the sword. I would have used the skull as a quill holder, personally, but that wouldn’t have fit the story. 😉

    I like how counting backward brought the end back around to the beginning.

  27. Hahaha. In my head he only fell in love very recently – but you’re right, it could have been any time. I didn’t put anything about that timing into the words.

    I’d love a skull quill holder! LOL. ❤

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