I am the worn and well-loved bedsheet Janetta slept on for fifty-four years, before she got trapped in the bathtub one day for over twenty-four hours, and never lay on me again.
She ordered me out of one of those Sears catalogues when she got married in the early 1940s, a stunning young woman, all sharp cheekbones and inscrutable green eyes. Awash in the double glow of matrimony and the purchase of her first real home, she was drawn to my muted tones, which suited her quiet-but-pleasant personality.
I remember her talking with her stepmother before she decided on me. Asking her opinion. Janetta did that with everything. All matters to do with the house had to go through Margaret’s approval process first, before anything could be definitively decided upon.
It’s just the way Janetta was. Motherless since the age of nine, she looked to the practical older woman, her middle-aged father’s brand-new wife, for all sorts of guidance when it came to life.
Margaret was kind in a blunt, straightforward way, happy to educate her stepdaughter when it came to all things etiquette. She knew how to set a table, how to cook the perfect pot roast, and most importantly, how to fend off unwanted advances from unsavoury men.
When she saw my pretty-yet-practical pattern peeking out of the catalogue, she promptly nodded her assent.
I remember when Janetta’s husband started spending more time with me, refusing to get out of bed. He’d been through the war years before, and his own internal battles, as well. A shell of the man he’d once been was the version of him who eventually came home to her.
He bought her a panda that sat on their dresser. He called her “Jan” in private. He genuinely loved her. But as he got older, he suddenly stopped wanting to go out. His social anxiety and psoriasis became his whole universe, and it was hard for her to live with.
I can’t count how many of her tears seeped into me over the span of their marriage.
Sometimes his water and salt would silently roll down and plop onto me, too.
I kept all their secrets in my pleats.
By morning, though, I was always dry again. And spotless.
But bickering and stubbornness leave their invisible stains and strains, and it was clear even to me that something essential had been lost between them. A lump of bitterness grew as they tossed and turned at night. During the day, they would take to their separate quarters of the house. Him to read the newspaper in the study, her to her domain in the living room, to watch daytime TV.
No matter the mood of their marriage, however, she always washed me religiously. Every Sunday I took a tumble and was spit out, bunched up and soaking wet. Never a believer in dryers, Janetta would pin me on the line to sway happily in the breeze.
The backyard, with the combined scent of her flowers and his cigarette smoke, became my beloved second home. The rays of sun hitting the folds of my fabric felt like heaven.
When he was gone for good, Janetta would spend more time curled up on top of me, childlike and empty. I could tell she was lonely by the way she would just lie there, clutching one of her many teddy bears. She had an entire collection sitting on her bedroom shelves.
It was during those times of sadness that I wished I could curl my corners around her in a comforting embrace.
Instead, I would just leave lines and marks on her already-wrinkled face.
When she laid out her trousers and blouse on me that fateful Saturday afternoon before her bath, I never dreamed that that time would be the last.
I could hear her calling out in pain from the mint-green tub when she couldn’t get out, and then a silence descended, more frightening then her whimpers had been.
I had witnessed so much of her life being a part of her bed, but I could not see the beginning of her end.
Eventually the firemen broke down the front door and rescued her, but she slept on the couch that night after her grown children eventually left.
I was suddenly and irrevocably bereft.
The next morning, Janetta would go to the hospital and never return home. Weeks later, her daughter would wonder out loud at her formal clothes laid out on the bed, and weep as she put them away for donation.
As he cleared out the house, room by room, her son would dutifully strip me off the mattress and toss me carelessly into a black garbage bag, as if I was worthless.
It was only when one of Janetta’s granddaughters came to look through the house for keepsakes that I dared let myself hope. When her fingers fumbled across me underneath some old, frayed pillowcases, my heart leapt.
I could tell she was looking for some mementoes and sentimental things to remember her grandmother by. As I lay there, all folded in on myself in sorrow, I saw her go to the kitchen, and I thought my chance at salvation gone.
When she came back a minute later with a pair of scissors, I was puzzled at first. Then she proceeded to cut out a square and put a patch of me in her pocket.
All I could think was that a part of me had survived, when Janetta and her husband had not.
Now I spend my days pinned to a crowded bulletin board in the granddaughter’s sunlit den. Faded by time, I am tacked up beside an old black-and-white photo of Janetta and Alfred as they strolled down Yonge Street in the 1940s. Glamorous and gorgeous, they are frozen in a frame, a forever way back when. And me? I am content, grateful to be close enough to brush up against their edges once again.
Tara Mandarano is a writer, editor, and copyeditor based in Canada. She balances life with a tyrannical toddler by consistently reading past her bedtime. Her work has also been published on Canadian Living, The Huffington Post, The Sunlight Press, Mogul, Mothers Always Write, Thought Catalog and Mamalode. Please visit taramandarano.com to see more of her writing or follow her on Instagram @taramandarano.