Fitness instructor Kendra Wakefield wakes up to find an impossible note on her iPhone, warning her not to look under her bed; by Chere Taylor.
Don’t look under the bed.
Kendra Wakefield stared at the glowing message from her iPhone in the comfort of her flower themed bathroom. Every morning, she inspected her gold and black braids for frizz, then did her stretching exercises, and finally caught up on her emails with her phone. Kendra liked to perform all these actions before starting another glorious day as the Sweat or Regret’s fitness instructor and owner.
But this morning she was greeted with that strange message, coming from her Notes app of all places. How odd.
It’s Jeremiah, she thought. He snuck in here last night wanting to apologize by leaving me a gift under my bed.
Kendra squealed with delight and ran into the adjoining bedroom. She scrambled across the pink and purple comforter to poke her head underneath the bed frame.
Then the impossibility hit her. How could Jeremiah sneak into her bedroom when her apartment door was locked overnight? Jeremiah hadn’t earned key privileges yet. And wouldn’t it be more convenient to simply text her instead of leaving an awkward message on her Notes app?
So who wrote that message?
Her head dangled upside down as she laid on the mattress, her long braids coiling onto the floor like miniature snakes. It would be an easy thing to lift the rose patterned bed skirt and confront any surprise waiting for her there.
Don’t look under the bed.
Instead, Kendra scooted herself back into a sitting position, grinding her teeth in irritation that she was actually obeying the anonymous note. Where was the fearless black woman who defied all odds by owning and operating a gym at the tender age twenty-two? The Kendra that wore the label of hard-headed, and an obstinate child from foster parents and teachers alike with a sense of pride? Where was that Kendra Wakefield?
What stupid shit are you talking about? I’m not afraid to look under the bed. Wake up, Wakefield!
Instead, she returned to the reading and responding of emails before sliding out from under the blankets to take a shower. She left the bed unmade (Kendra’s house cleaning skills left much to be desired), and when she stepped painfully on her finger barbell, she angrily kicked it back under the bed. The Notes message was forgotten.
Kendra gyrated her hips to the Sweat or Regrets exercise music while urging her class to make those same bends at the waist. One, two, three, four. Come on ladies, give me more! All the while, she secretly envied the wonderfully curvy bodies of her clientele. Kendra’s own body was flat chested, hard and lean like a male’s.
The hardness that was her body, and her mentality as well, had always been a part of her. Ever since her fifteen-year-old mother tucked Kendra’s premature newborn body into a shoebox along with the afterbirth and then packed said shoebox into the closet. My God, Michaela. You were pregnant? Kendra imagined her grandmother screaming upon her rescue, examining the premature infant with the bony limbs and thick skull. The tearless infant that had refused to cooperate in her own would-be demise. Oh God, Michaela. Oh. My. God.
So her hardness, her determination, became the key to her survival, and she cultivated it, nurtured it like a sapling until it grew into an Olympic sized tree. But Kendra’s rooted firmness couldn’t distract her from thinking about the ominous message. What did it mean exactly? Its purpose? Was it a warning? From whom?
Kendra chanted again out loud, “One, two, three, four! Pushing limits, wanting more!”
As if in direct response the thought occurred to her…
I really should ask Jeremiah’s opinion about this.
True, he had been acting a little strange lately, not always returning her phone calls or texts. But Jemmy was still her closest friend, romantically involved or not. He felt like a solution of some kind.
Abruptly, Kendra walked out of the studio for a so-called bathroom break. She heard groaning and complaints from her students. Though one or two might have collapsed to the ground with relief.
While in the stall, she texted Jeremiah. Lunch at the Magical Mall at 12:30? He responded with a green check mark. Grinning Kendra re-entered the dance room.
Blissfully they returned to punishing their bodies together.
He arrived in his business attire as always, wearing his smooth, bald head and beardless cheeks and chin with the confidence of a male model, though Jeremiah had no particular interest in fashion. He worked as a paralegal for the Caracy Law Firm.
Kendra offered her lips to him and he barely grazed them with his own before plopping his food tray and soda down on the table. He turned the chair backwards and sat, in that cool dude fashion of his.
“So?” he asked and took a giant bite from his foil-wrapped burrito. Kendra wrinkled her nose. She could smell the calories from across the table.
“That’s all I get?” Kendra replied. “No ‘hi’ or ‘hello’?”.
Jeremiah sighed. “What exactly is it that you want, Kendra.” His eyes were cold.
Yes, our breakup is imminent, Kendra thought, if it isn’t already here. Something fluttered inside her chest and she squashed it. There were real threats out there, like from whoever sent that stupid note, for example. She refused to feel fear over losing a man.
“You see this?” Kendra scooted her cell phone towards him. She tried to imitate his distant, business-like style.
Jeremiah glanced at her phone without picking it up.
“You wrote it?” she continued.
“Who do you suppose did?”
“How the hell should I know?”
“Do you think it’s a stalker?”
Jeremiah shrugged and then made an elaborate show of checking his watch.
Kendra turned her eyes towards the floor. “I wish I understood why you hate me so much.”
“I don’t hate you, Kenny. I just can’t play this game with you anymore. That nothing’s happened between us. That there’s no him!”
Kendra stood up so forcefully that she almost knocked her chair over in the process.
“Because there is no him! The guy you’re so jealous of came to visit the gym once, Jem. Once! I demonstrated the Back-to-Back twist to him. If you insist on reading more into it than that, well I can’t help your paranoia.”
Jeremiah laughed, a bitter sounding chuckle, and shook his head. “You just don’t get it, do you?”
“What is there to get? Nothing happened. I don’t even know the guy’s name.”
“Okay, I’m done.” Jeremiah stood up and threw his napkin on his plate. “Please don’t contact me again unless it’s an emergency. I still care for you Kenny, in my way, but I just can’t take this denial anymore.”
And with that he was gone, the twice bitten burrito still left on the table. Kendra blinked.
Well, fuck him too. She didn’t need Jeremiah. She didn’t need anybody. A child who had been abandoned to a shoebox knew how to survive. The answer was obvious anyway. Delete the note, and when she arrived home from work, look under the bed. Mystery solved and game over. It was as simple as that.
Kendra took out her phone and gazed at the message one last time …
Don’t look under the bed.
…Then she tapped the trash icon and the note melted away. It was a shame all of life’s problems couldn’t be as easily solved, with a single finger tap.
Kendra tossed the remains of Jeremiah’s burrito into the wastebasket on her way to the car.
The note tried to re-insert itself in Kendra’s thoughts and she squashed it with the same irritation and efficiency she did when swatting mosquitoes. In other words, not terribly efficient at all. Funny, how she had assumed Jeremiah’s uncouth breakup would be forefront in her mind. Instead, it was the note, its almost playful warning. Just goes to show how mixed up my priorities are, she thought with a grim smile.
When Kendra arrived home that evening, she went about her apartment switching on lights. The ceiling lamp in her bedroom tore the darkness with a savage brightness, as if it were a blazing spotlight shining on her unmade bed, daring her to touch it.
She tossed her gym bag on the bed and it landed with a soft thump. All the while she was holding her breath. Why? What was she waiting for? A cloud of flies to come swarming towards her from underneath the mattress, along with the melodramatic stench of death?
Kendra marched towards her bed, knelt down and pressed her head against the bare floorboards and peered with one eye closed. She could only see an inch of darkness. The bed skirt covered the rest.
Don’t you normally relax with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc before dinner? Isn’t that your normal routine? You don’t have to do this right now.
Squeezing both eyes against the dark, she stretched her arm into the blackness and felt about with her finger tips.
Something thin and vile slipped around her wandering fingers.
Kendra screamed, a piercing, rat-like screech. She backed away from the bed, scraping her arm against the heavy bed frame in the process. The bed frame cut into her arm causing it to sting with pain. But the thing was still attached to her hand. It refused to let her go. She lifted her arm towards her face intending to strangle the creature.
…Only to discover it was her bra strap wrapped around her fingers, the cups gently grazing her wrist.
She giggled out loud noting a slight edge of hysteria to her laughter. That’s what I get for being such a lousy housekeeper. The truth was there was nothing under the bed. Nothing. Except for dust bunnies and perhaps some more scattered underwear.
Kendra examined the top of her arm that was raw and red. Undoubtedly there would be a nasty scar once it healed.
Maybe nothing is under the bed… but I was damaged nonetheless.
She stood up and dusted herself off, deciding that was enough drama for the day. It was now time to rinse her wounded limb and perhaps enjoy that glass of wine after all. There were no boogies under the bed, the same way Jeremiah was no longer in her life. It was time, in a sense, to get out of that fucking shoebox and return to the safe and comfortable blandness of her existence.
When Kendra returned to her bedroom, dressed in her sleeping gown, phone already plugged and charging for the night, she was surprised that the spotlight sensation had not gone away. Indeed, it was more intense than ever, as if her bed were on a stage and she was part of a live performance. Ladies and Gentlemen, watch our heroine as she fiercely defends herself from the terror lurking beneath the furniture in today’s episode of… Below the Mattress!
Come on Kenny, you can’t afford to go to pieces like this. Besides, we’ve already established that there is nothing under the bed.
Wrong! We’ve established that there is nothing in the area that you’ve explored with your fingertips. We have not searched the entire darkness underneath.
It was always a bad sign when she referred to herself as ‘we’. As if there were two separate individuals hiding inside her head. One, an athletic, perfectly normal (well, normal appearing anyway) woman with the strong desire to persevere no matter what, and the other a cramped and warped fetus, still struggling for every next breath. An individual who in her private, personal way, had never left the shoebox.
Uh-huh. let’s move this fucker once and for all. No more secrets and no more bullshit.
Grunting, she attacked the bed, a bulky, king-sized monstrosity built in an era before wood or lightweight metal were considered material for frames. She shoved, pulled, and pushed. Her wounded arm bled again on her dark skin. Eventually, she was able to shift the heavy furniture about ten inches.
In the process a small, bulbous piece of plastic rolled out from underneath the bed skirt. It made a circular turn and gently nudged Kendra’s bare foot.
It’s the finger barbell, remember? The fluttering sensation had woken in her chest again. One of Jeremiah’s gag gifts along with the finger towel and the finger sweatband. We don’t need to concern ourselves with that now.
She did however, pick it up and examined it more closely. No, this was no gag gift, but a child’s toy. A garishly colored purple and green baby’s rattle to be exact.
I just can’t play this game with you anymore… Jeremiah’s words slammed into her heart at warp speed.
No. Oh no, no, no no, no.
That nothing happened between us. That there’s no him.
His name was Jay, short for Jeremiah Jr. A child who was loved by both his parents. Jay, who was not shoved into a shoebox out of youthful ignorance, but birthed by c-section in a hospital like a normal child.
He had always been a serious infant. Rarely smiling, even when she cuddled him and called him her Itty-Bitty One. He had a habit of clinging to a strand of her long, braided hair with a chubby fist. As if even he knew what kind of monster he had for a mother. Don’t forget me, mama, those solemn, unblinking eyes said. And she never did. No ma’am, and no sir. Not until that Saturday morning when she was compelled to open the Sweat or Regret fitness center personally because her regular manager called in sick. Instead of dropping off her six-month-old infant at his father’s house…
No, no, no. Kendra dropped the rattle and pushed both hands against the sides of her head, as if she could force the memory out of her skull.
…She accidentally left him dozing in the car seat at the Fitness Center’s parking lot. It was a warm summery morning that weekend, and the temperature inside her car rose to an astonishing 140 degrees.
No, no, no, no, no, no, no.
She dropped to her knees with a misery so great that all she could do was whisper ‘no’ in the face of it. No, she didn’t forget her most precious possession in the world. No, she wasn’t the irresponsible parent her own teen mother had been.
What did you do to him afterwards, you fucking bitch? Did you stuff him under your bed in a shoe box? Is that why you’re so scared to look under the bed?
Suddenly, Kendra became sure that this was exactly what she had done. After all, a woman who could forget the existence of her own son twice, once in a car seat, and again in a mad pursuit for self-preservation… that same woman could have access to that sort of evil thinking too. Like mother, like daughter. Her self-hatred wouldn’t allow herself to put it beyond her capabilities.
She buried herself underneath the bed, not caring if her wound opened further. Not even caring if she died in the process. It would be her deserved punishment to die with her already dead son.
As Kendra squirmed under the steel frame, making swimming motions on the cold, bare, floor, the darkness never abated. But she found no shoe box. No underwear, no toys. Not even the expected dust bunnies. The bed had depleted all of its secrets.
Of course Jeremiah Junior wasn’t buried in a shoe box, she scolded herself, panting heavily. He was in a casket with a proper funeral. I remember it now.
Kendra laughed and the darkness swallowed it up, muffling her voice, making it sound like she was buried legions below the earth. But there was nothing underneath the bed. There never was anything there at all. All that fear over an anonymous note.
Wait a minute…
Nothing. No life, no peace. Just a dead, sullen existence. An emptiness born of desperation, where routine was meant to suppress all terrible ideas and impulses. Here, in this cool darkness she could find blessed forgetfulness. All flaws forgiven.
Just hold on a sec…
She saw it in the form of a swirling void.
A depravity that had always been there. It was this void that caused her to forget young Jay. There was a monster under the bed after all. But it was a friend, not a terror. She wanted it, needed it. She could be free yet again. Of the guilt, of missing her baby boy. Inside that void Jay didn’t exist. All she had to do was open her mind to it. Embrace it.
But some small part of her still screamed and struggled. Do you want to betray Jay all over again?
“Siri!” she screamed, her muted voice barely penetrating through the mattress and the bed skirt. “Note to self! Don’t look under the bed! Don’t forget Jay again! Don’t -”
And the void enveloped her.
Kendra woke on top of her bed, smothered in her comforter and sheets, yet feeling renewed. Her phone shone brightly on the bedside table which was unusual for that time of the morning. She picked it up.
Don’t look under the bed.
She stared at the glowing message from her iPhone which was part of her waking ritual. Every morning she inspected her gold and black braids for frizz, then did her stretching exercises, and finally caught up on her emails with her phone. Kendra liked to perform all these actions before starting another glorious day as the Sweat or Regret’s fitness instructor and owner.
But this morning she was greeted with that strange message coming from her Notes app of all places. How odd…